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Enslaved in Longmeadow
by Elizabeth Hoff- Board member, Longmeadow Historical Society- July 2016

In his day-book for May 20, 1769, “Marchant” Samuel Colton, one of the wealthiest men in Longmeadow, wrote, “George Cooley, Somers, Cr. By a negrow man named Jack, Sd Cooley Gave me a bil of Sale of Sd negrow for £60”. Legend has it that Jack was freed after the merchant’s death when his owner, the Widow Colton, overheard him grumbling. When Jack asked for his freedom, she led him to the door and manumitted him by a literal shove of the hand out of her door. Unfortunately, as for many newly freed enslaved persons, Jack found it difficult to support himself in freedom. White society did not welcome business competition from free blacks and this limited opportunities for employment and advancement.   

In Massachusetts, we are justifiably proud of our abolitionist heritage. Unfortunately, slavery was an institution which at one time existed throughout the English colonies, even in the Connecticut River Valley and Longmeadow. In fact, Massachusetts was the first colony to legalize slavery when, in 1641, the Massachusetts General Court passed the “Body of Liberties” Act which afforded slavery “the sanctity of law.”

While African slavery in New England differed from slavery in other English colonies, New England slavery was no less degrading or dehumanizing for those who were trapped within the system. But, it was more intimate. If a New England household included enslaved persons, it usually involved only one or two enslaved persons who shared a house with their owners.

Due to the cost to maintain a slave, only prominent and/or wealthy persons could afford to buy and keep them; nevertheless, the institution was commonplace throughout the Valley. In Springfield, John Pynchon used slave labor starting in the 1650s. Joseph Carvalho III has extensively researched African presence and influence in Hampden County in his book Black Families in Hampden County, Massachusetts 1650–1865. Both Westfield and Deerfield had significant populations of enslaved persons and Robert H. Romer has demonstrated in Slavery in the Connecticut Valley of Massachusetts that a subculture of enslaved persons existed in Deerfield in 1752. Black Yankees:  The Development of an Afro-American Subculture in Eighteenth-Century New England by William D. Piersen further explores this subculture.

In Longmeadow, available records document that at least “Marchant” Samuel Colton, Thomas Field, Samuel Keep, Sgt. John Cooley, Capt. George Colton, and Rev. Stephen Williams owned people. However, it is likely that there were many more slaves (or “servants” as they were called) for whom no records exist. Most of the references below are from primary source documents, either the Diary of Reverend Stephen Williams (“Diary”) or Copy of the Church Records from Rev. Stephen Williams, Richard Salter Storrs, Rev. Baxter Dickinson, Rev. Jonathan Condit 1716-1841 (“Church records”). Quoted materials from these documents, while sometimes offensive to our modern ears, reflect the time period in which they were written.

In addition to Jack discussed above, "Marchant" Samuel Colton owned at least the following persons:   

·   Tom and Patte:  “Marchant” Colton’s records in the Storrs House Museum archives show that he bought Tom for £100 in 1744 and Patte, negro household help, for £300 in 1746 from his uncle, Ephraim Colton.

·   Tony:  The August 23, 1774 entry in the Diary is all that we know of Tony:  “this day – we in the place were called to attend ye funeral of Tony, negro servant to Mr. Samuel Colton.” Tony’s death does not appear in the Church records.

·   Unnamed female slave & child:  On March 1, 1776, Rev. Williams wrote that “S. Colton desired me to go down to his House in the afternoon for that his negro child – just nine months old – was dead in ye bed by its mother.”  Unless Samuel Colton bought Patte as a child, this mother is probably not Patte. The child’s death does not appear in the Church records.

The only mention of Zick, who was owned by Thomas Field of Longmeadow, is in the Church records which state that on June 9, 1741 “Caesar, negro, servant to Capt. George Colton and Zick, a negro, servant to Thomas Field were baptized.” Later that year, on October 25, the Church records show that another person owned by Thomas Field, Eichis, was admitted to church membership. 

While he was awaiting completion of his house, Rev. Stephen Williams lived with the Keep family and in his Diary he referred to Samuel Keep as “Landlord Keep”. It is clear that the Keep family had at least one enslaved person because Rev. Williams wrote on November 13, 1717 that, “this day I had occasion to correct my Landlord’s negro Boy for his false-hood and wickedness.” We have no further information on what sin he had committed or how he was corrected.

In the Church records of February 17, 1733, Peter, an enslaved person belonging to Sgt. John Cooley, is referenced: “I baptized Peter, negro servant to Sergt. John Cooley and Phillis, negro servant to Stephen Williams.” Peter was possibly the enslaved person of Sgt. John Cooley who was admitted to church membership on May 25, 1735. By 1744, Peter had moved to Westfield: “Peter, negro servant (formerly) to Serg’t John Cooley was dismissed to ye church in Westfield.” It is unclear whether or not Peter had been freed by Sgt. Cooley or sold to another person who lived in Westfield.

Captain George Colton had two enslaved males who were mentioned in Church records:

·   Caesar, who, like Zick, was baptized on June 9, 1741. Later, in October of that year, Caesar was admitted to church membership.

·   Peter was baptized on July 13, 1735. He married Phillis, a woman owned by Rev. Stephen Williams, on May 22, 1744. Even though the Puritan moral code recommended that enslaved persons marry to prevent the sin of fornication, they were only permitted to marry with their owner’s permission. This was rarely given and most enslaved persons were never able to marry; those who lived in the same household or on neighboring estates were sometimes allowed to do so.

George Colton owned Cesar and Peter until he died. Pursuant to his 1758 will, Cesar and Peter transferred to his wife, Mary, and son, Timothy, “to their dispose forever and I hereby will and ordain they shall well maintain them during their natural lives.”

Eighteenth-century Puritan New Englanders believed that slavery was part of God’s plan for evangelizing Africans. Most New England clergy did not recognize the immorality of slavery and many pastors, including the first pastor of Longmeadow’s Congregational church, Rev. Stephen Williams, owned enslaved persons. 

During his tenure as pastor of Longmeadow, Stephen Williams owned at least eight males (Nicholas, Scipio, Stanford, Tobiah, Peter, Tom, Cato, and Joseph) and two females (Phillis and Betty). Other references to enslaved people are sprinkled throughout the Diary, but it is impossible to definitively connect them with a specific person. Although he benefitted from owning enslaved persons, they often proved to be a burden to Rev. Williams; he both worried about them and disciplined them. Diary entries often bring to life the horrors that bondage inflicted on enslaved persons.  

·   Nicholas: The first enslaved person mentioned in the Diary is Nicholas, who appears starting in January 1717. After many difficulties with him, Rev. Williams sold him on Oct. 21, 1718. “I went to Deerfield north Tr I sold my Boy Nicholas – he seemed unconcerned – that he was sold about & truly – I seemed to be grieved for him – but yet I tho’t it will be for his benefit to be sold to a master that would have him to business - as well as for my profit.” We know nothing further about Nicholas.

·   Phillis: We know a lot about Phillis’s life because she lived with the Williams family for at least 44 years and is frequently mentioned in the Diary. Diary entries about Phillis begin in February 1728 but become more frequent as concerns about her grew. On June 12, 1730, “last night our black wench was delivered of a son – thus there has been sin, & trouble – ye Lord be pleased to forgive ye Sin that she has been Guilty of.”

Church records show that Phillis was baptized on February 17, 1733 and that she was admitted to church membership in 1735. Despite concern over her selected husband, Rev. Williams allowed her to be married to Peter, a man belonging to Capt. George Colton, in 1744.

Rev. Williams provided for Phillis in his will, but Phillis preceded Rev. Williams in death, dying in May 1774. The Williams family mourned her passing. “Death,” wrote Williams, “is come into our House–ye Lord Grant we may hearken to his voice–phillis had ye character of being Honest–& I hope had had sight of Christ by faith, ye Lord be pleasd to pardon my Defects of Duty–towards her, & to my other Servants Deceasd.” But, her death does not appear in the Church records.

·   Scipio: Scipio may have been Phillis’s child. Church records show that on October 17, 1731, “I baptized our negro boy, Scipio, I and my wife publicly promising that we would endeavor (God assisting us also) that he would have a Christian education.” Unfortunately, Scipio never received the education because the Diary reports that he died in April 1732. Scipio’s death does not appear in the Church records.

·   Stanford: If Scipio was not Phillis’s child, Stanford may have been. He first appears in the Diary at the end of December, 1735 when he fell from a mow. We know nothing more about Stanford until January 1752 when the Diary records his illness and death. Stanford’s death does not appear in the Church records.

·   Tobiah: On August 16, 1747, Rev. Williams “baptized one Negro Boy Tobiah – and publicly declared before God and his people that I would endeavour and assisting that he should have a Christian education if God we pleased to spare him tru’ my life. Stephen Williams.” Although Tobiah does not show up in either the diary or elsewhere in Church records, several scholars have concluded that this public declaration by Rev. Williams assumes ownership of Tobiah.

·   Peter: The Diary first mentions Peter in 1751.  He ran away several times, the last time in August 1773, and in his will, Rev. Williams left him to his sons. However, Rev. Williams outlived Peter who died on September 9, 1774. Peter’s death does not appear in the Church records.

·   Tom: Tom first appears in the Diary in September 1753 when he was violently ill. Later, in April 1754, Rev. Williams writes that, “this morning poor Tom, behaved Saucily & unbecomingly – that we were forced to tye him up – he appeared penitent - & I forgave him.” The next notice of Tom was on September 21, 1756 when Tom disappeared. The Williams sons searched for Tom until they found him dead in the mill pond on October 1. The official inquest into Tom’s death ruled it a suicide: Tom “then and there voluntarily and Feloniously as a Felon of Himself Did kill and Murder Himself by Drowning himself in a Certain Mill Pond in the Precinct of Longmeadow.”

·   Cato: Like Tom (above), we first learn of Cato when he is ill in April 1758. Over the next few years, Cato sought spiritual advice from his owner on several occasions. Then, at the end of October 1762, Rev. Williams wrote that, “we had an uncomfortable night – poor Cato was in a piteous case – had (I fear) drank too much cider & his mind – turmoiled.” During public worship the next day, Cato was still out of sorts but spoke out loud at the end of the afternoon sermon. His behavior concerned his owner and Stephen Williams commented on Cato’s actions and attitude, describing him as “dull & Heavy.”

Cato’s unusual behavior came to a head on November 15, 1762. Rev. Williams wrote “this day poor Cato behaved himself in a most Audacious manner Stript himself naked – ran after E. A. & flung her down – but help came Speedily – I am at utmost loss what to do – don’t know whether ye fellow is crazy & deprived of his reason or Given up to his own Hearts Lusts – I ask of God to Give me & my family wisdom – to direct us – oh that God would prevent any mischief.” The next day, following his neighbor’s advice, Rev. Williams had Cato “whipped very severely - & I have put him into ye Hands of my Sons John and Samuel after his correction he appears Somewhat penitent.  I wish – he may be truly so.” Rev. Williams was disappointed, however, to find that Cato’s oppositional conduct the next day required that he be “severely corrected again”.

Over the next month, Cato’s wounds healed and the Williams family frequently discussed what to do with him. On December 24, son John Williams took Cato to his farm in Wilbraham and Cato seemed to settle in to life on the farm. However, on January 8, 1763, Cato was found drowned in the well “a most awefull & affecting affair”. Cato’s death weighed heavily on Rev. Williams and he examined his conscience with regards to his conduct towards him.

·   Joseph: Joseph, the brother of Betty, shows up in the Diary in February, 1759 as “our negro Joseph” being ill with the measles. Thereafter, Joseph occasionally shows up in the Diary through 1769, but then he disappears from record. He is not mentioned in Rev. Williams’s 1771 will, so he probably had either died or been sold or freed by then.

·   Betty: Our only references to Betty are in the Diary. While Betty was never identified as a slave, Joseph, her brother, was enslaved so we can assume that Betty was as well. Betty is mentioned in 1959 and she left with Mr. Lowder of Boston (probably sold to him) in September 1761. In February 1769, Joseph received word that Betty had died of consumption.

In addition to life-long enslavement, paupers in New England, including African American paupers, could be bound as apprentices by indenture. Recently found in the Storrs House Museum archives is an indenture of August 31, 1799 which binds “Guy Gordon, a poor Negro Boy Son of Azuba, a Negro Woman of said Longmeadow, an Apprentice to John Watson of East Windsor in Hartford County and the State of Connecticut to learn the Art of Husbandry.” The indenture was to last until Guy Gordon turned 21 on July 14, 1816 (so, Guy was age 5 when he was apprenticed). In accordance with the terms of indenture, John Watson was required to “take proper care to learn him the Art of Husbandry” and teach him to read and write. John Watson also agreed to “provide for and suitably supply the said Gordon with good & sufficient house room, meat, drink, washing, lodging & apparel, and all other things necessary for him, both in sickness & in health.” The apparel would include two good suits “for all parts of his Body, the one suitable for Sabbath day & the other for common or working day, and a good Bible.”

The indenture was made by the Hezekiah Hale, Elijah Burt, and Nathaniel Ely, Jr., Selectmen and Overseers of the Poor of Longmeadow. In a practice carried over from England, towns were required to support paupers who were registered to that town. Massachusetts law gave Overseers of the Poor the power to fulfill this support obligation by binding out poor children as apprentices. Usually, but not always, the parent had to consent to the apprenticeship.

Forty-five African American men from Hampden County, both enslaved men and free men, fought for the patriot cause in the Revolutionary War.  In 1780, Massachusetts passed the Declaration of Rights.  Article I stated that,

“All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights; among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; that of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property; in fine, that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness.” 

Several freedom suits followed quickly after passage of Article I and the courts established that enslaved persons are entitled to these liberties.  Nevertheless, slavery did not officially end in Massachusetts until 1865 and the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

References:

  1. Bailey, Richard A., Race and Redemption in Puritan New England (Oxford University Press, 2011)

  2. Carvalho III, Joseph, Black Families in Hampden County, Massachusetts 1650–1865 (New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2011)

  3. Copy of the Church Records from Rev. Stephen Williams, Richard Salter Storrs, Rev. Baxter Dickinson, Rev. Jonathan Condit 1716-1841

  4. “Inquisition of the body of Tom,” October 1756, Suffolk County Files, 76356, Massachusetts State Archives, Boston

  5. Longmeadow Historical Society archives

  6. Massachusetts Declaration of Rights

  7. Piersen, William D., Black Yankees:  The Development of an Afro-American Subculture in Eighteenth-Century New England (University of Massachusetts Press, 1988)

  8. Proceedings at the Centennial Celebration of the Incorporation of the Town of Longmeadow

  9. Romer, Robert H., Slavery in the Connecticut Valley of Massachusetts (Levellers Press, 2009)

  10. Williams, Stephen, The Diary of Reverend Stephen Williams


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Longmeadow Historical Society

697 Longmeadow Street
Longmeadow, MA 01106
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