Black Lives in Early Longmeadow

by Beth Hoff, Board member, Longmeadow Historical Society

Unidentified Woman
Cordis Family Photograph Collection, LHS Archives
[click image to enlarge]

African Americans have lived in Longmeadow since colonial days, but we have few images and only several documents to aid us in telling their stories.

While records do not mention free blacks in Longmeadow during the colonial period, they do tell of enslaved persons who lived in our community. The diary of Rev. Stephen Williams, church records, valuation records, colonial censuses, and day books in the archives of the Longmeadow Historical Society refer to specific individuals who were considered property.  Click here for more information about Longmeadow's enslaved population in the 1700s.
ongmeadow did not have a large community of black residents in the 1800s such as those that existed in other Connecticut Valley communities, and no black resident shows up in more than one census. Since census records show that the vast majority of Longmeadow’s black residents were born in either Connecticut or Massachusetts, it is likely that they had ties to larger African American communities that existed in nearby towns, such as Springfield. 

Unidentified man
by Alice Willard of Longmeadow (1866-1946)

Federal and state census records demonstrate that the black community never reached 1% of the town's total population. At most, six people of color resided in town in any census year in the 1800s.

Most individuals were single and they lived with the white families who employed them. Notably, two African American men headed their own households in Longmeadow:

Esop Weeks lived here with three other family members in 1810.

1810 US Federal Census

Sampson Freeman and his wife, Angelina, lived here in 1865.  Sampson was 43 and worked as a blacksmith. He could not read, but he was a legal voter in Massachusetts. Angelina was 29. Both were born in Connecticut.

1865 Massachusetts Census

Members of the Arnum family appear to have the closest ties to Longmeadow. According to town marriage records, Eliza C. Arnum of Longmeadow married Lybbeus Staunton on Nov. 30, 1843.

And, at least four members of the Arnum family found work in Longmeadow and they lived with their employers. Sharlotte Arnum (age 50) lived in the household of Henry Crooks in 1850.

In 1860, three persons with the surname of Arnum worked for different neighboring households in Longmeadow:

  • Maria Arnum (aged 28) worked for Henry Markham
  • Almira Arnum (aged 30) worked for Gideon Burt, and
  • George Arnum (aged 40) worked for William H. Burt

Unidentified woman
by Alice Willard of Longmeadow (1866-1946)

Church and town records identify a few additional African American residents who died in Longmeadow, including David Church (who died on Feb. 10, 1835) and Peter Cambridge (who died on Mar. 3, 1803). And, they record several marriages, including the union of Elisha Story and Mehittable Fletcher in Apr. 1811 and that of Lewis Washington and Julia B. Smith on Mar. 29, 1905.

Alice Willard (1866-1946), a resident of Longmeadow and the first drawing teacher in our public schools, created the drawings shown in this article during the last half of the nineteenth century. We cannot confirm the names of any of the subjects.

We would love to be able to fill in the gaps in the story of black Longmeadow residents. If you know of any stories, documents, images, or other information that can help us to do so, please contact us at LongmeadowHS@gmail.com or (413) 567-3600.

Unidentified man
by Alice Willard of Longmeadow (1866-1946)

Recent ground penetrating explorations have revealed portions of the Longmeadow Cemetery that likely contains bodies of enslaved, as well as impoverished, persons from the earliest days of our community. Representatives from the Longmeadow Cemetery Association are working with other community groups on strategies to best recognize and honor these remains. And, members of the Historical Society are developing a presentation on these discoveries which we hope to share with the community this winter.   

1850 U.S. Federal Census, 1860 U.S. Federal Census, 1865 Massachusetts Census
Longmeadow Historical Society Archives

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Longmeadow Historical Society

697 Longmeadow Street
Longmeadow, MA 01106
(413) 567-3600
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