New Haven: Gad (1777)

On May 28, 1777, a man named Gad agreed to serve in the Revolutionary War in exchange for his freedom. The entry in the land record book simply says,

This may Certify that Gad my Negro Servant just purchased … I do discharge from my Service and shall have no demands on him myself, nor his heirs Exr nor assigns but shall be free to all intents and purposes in case I can be free from him on condition he shall serve in the Continental Army during the War


New Haven Land Records, Vol. 36, Pg. 419

One of the witnesses noted that he understood that Gad had enlisted that same day with Captain Prentice’s company.

What we learn from this document is that the slaveholder almost certainly purchased Gad in order to have him serve as a substitute in the army, though this document doesn’t actually say that. Presumably, he consulted Gad in advance about the idea – it would hardly do him any good to spend the money and then find that the enslaved man refused to join the army, even in exchange for freedom.

After diligent searching through Record of Connecticut Men in the Military and Naval Service During the War of the Revolution, 1775-1783, I determined that Captain Prentice was probably part of Connecticut’s Sixth Regiment. And there, on page 214, was this entry:


Connecticut. Adjutant-General’s Office, and Henry Phelps Johnson. Record of Connecticut Men in the Military and Naval Service During the War of the Revolution, 1775-1783. Hartford, CT: Case, Lockwood & Brainard Company, 1889.

So he did join, and he served almost two years. According to my cursory research (thank you, Wikipedia), the Sixth Regiment traveled to Peekskill, New York in May, and stayed at West Point over the winter of 1777-1778. They worked on fortifications, including one called the “Meigs Redoubt,” probably named after their colonel.

The next summer, the Sixth joined Washington’s main army in White Plains, New York. Then their brigade spent the winter of 1778-1779 at Redding, Connecticut, where Major General Israel Putnam (of Connecticut) took command of the troops there. In early 1779, they camped across the Hudson from West Point.

And there, on March 16, Gad Stone deserted. He missed, I can’t help but note, the Connecticut troops’ attempt to respond to Tryon’s raid (they missed him) and their successful storming of the British fort at New York’s Stony Point in July.

But why did Gad desert? I don’t know. As can be seen from the book snippet, he was far from the only Revolutionary War soldier to desert. Reasons for desertion were surely as many as the men involved – dislike of military life, conflict with officers, the need to help family back home, or whatever.

I would have to dig a lot deeper to find any more details about his service. It seems unlikely that I could learn anything about his life after the military – if he had any sense, he would have carefully avoided the slaveholder he was substituting for and changed his name.

But even so, he was a free man, living under whatever name he chose, wherever he chose.

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New Haven: Amasa and Silva (1772)

Amasa, “a negro” about nineteen years old, was freed on September 21, 1772, as was Silva, a “negro girl” about seventeen years old. These manumissions, by the same slaveholder (a widowed woman), took place under a different legal situation than the later ones that I’ve looked at. Because of this, the language in each emphasizes that the slaveholder is renouncing any claim to the freed person’s labor, as in the one for Amasa:

I do make him a free man to all intents & purposes, so yt from the day of the Date hereof what ever he ye sd Amasa Shall by honest Labour & industry or in any Lawfull way gain or acquire Shall be his own property and at his Sole dispose and free from any Demand or Claim either in his person or Estate by me or my heirs …

New Haven Land Records, Vol. 33, Pg. 387, 09/21/1772

New Haven Land Records, Vol. 33, Pg. 387, 09/21/1772

The absence here of a stipulation that the freed person will have no claim on the former slaveholder for future support is interesting – I’m not sure yet whether that is an exception or a reflection of the legal environment. Speaking of which, I wouldn’t read too much into the emphasis on “honest Labour” and “Lawfull way.” I think that reflects a concern to not inadvertently claim other people’s property, or ill-gotten gains that would properly belong to the state. Legal documents can be very oddly precise in some ways.

But there’s more – at least about Amasa (I haven’t had time to try to figure out what became of Silva). On September 23, 1772, the ex-slaveholder gave him, free and clear, ten acres of land (which she noted used to belong to her late husband). I mean literally “gave.” The consideration noted in the deed was

the respect and Regard that I have toward Amasa my Late negro Servant whom I have Lately Set free as by a writing under my hand appears


New Haven Land Records, Vol. 33, Pg. 397, 09/23/1772

I’m rarely surprised when looking at land deeds these days, but that floored me. Consideration of this intangible sort usually appears in transactions between close relatives – parents and children, most often, or siblings, will cite “love and affection” or similar formulation as fictive compensation. “Respect and regard” hits the same notes in a different key, I think, specifically the key of “not setting off the panic alarms of my racist culture.” It makes me think that Amasa lived in this slaveholder’s household from childhood, and she came to have strong parental feelings towards him. But it’s also a very interesting choice of words, suggesting that she also had a high opinion of his character and competence.

And ten acres! I’ve seen occasional gifts of land to former enslaved people, but they’re usually an acre or two at most. I desperately want to find out what Amasa made of this gift and his freedom, but haven’t had time to look. It’s especially difficult since I suspect he took a surname; I found this deed only because it was indexed under “negro” with several of the manumissions. Connecticut deeds rarely mention the race of the parties, so unless you’re looking for a specific name or (in earlier years) under terms like “negro” or “slave,” it’s hard to find these transactions.

If and when I do find out more, I’ll update, of course.

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New Haven: Socoro (1815)

Socoro was about 44 years old in 1815, when she was brought to Connecticut from Trinidad. The woman who held her in slavery had inherited her from her (the slaveholder’s) mother, and had traveled to New Haven (it appears) to marry a local businessman. Socoro arrived in August and by October had successfully made arrangements to leave again – or at least to be liberated.

Specifically, she had “manifested a wish to be made free and emancipated from her master and mistress and their service and to return to said Island of Trinidad.” And on October 5 they signed the manumission document just quoted (and excerpted below).


New Haven Land Records, Vol. 64, Pg. 97, 10/05/1815.

Why did the slaveholders agree to this? Given that the woman was a newlywed, it seems possible that Socoro had been a major part of her upbringing, perhaps even her nursemaid; there may have been some affection in the relationship, despite the inherent inequality of the two. The husband was part of a New Haven family that had been prominent during the Revolutionary War, and may have been just as happy to not be involved in slaveholding. There’s no direct evidence for either possibility, of course, but we can still speculate.

Why did Socoro want to leave? Well, it would take an effort to find a place more different from Trinidad than Connecticut. No doubt all her friends and family were in Trinidad. She may have been entirely miserable in this foreign place. Still, I’ve wondered whether it was her actual birthplace or not, and tried to think it through. If she was 44 in 1815, then she was born in about 1771, well before the island was taken from the Spanish by the British in 1797. Her name actually means “help” or “relief” in Spanish, suggesting that she was one of the more than 10,000 enslaved people on the island in 1797. But was she born there? For about a decade before 1797, a lot of migration of slaveholders brought people from French islands in the Caribbean; and it is always possible that she was actually born in Africa. Even more enslaved people were brought in after the British takeover. On the other hand, there’s her apparently-Spanish name suggesting origins during the Spanish period there – and the Spanish surname of the slaveholders she formerly lived with. It actually seems possible that she didn’t even speak English very well.

But regardless of what her birthplace actually was, she wanted to go back to Trinidad, and she wanted to go back free, it must be noted. The slaveholding woman’s family still lived in Trinidad, and Socoro could have been sent back to them as a slave; but no, she wanted freedom, and was indeed emancipated.

How she planned to find the money to take ship back home, I don’t know. Nor do I know whether she actually did go – it is possible that the “going home” part was more wish than solid intent, and mentioned largely to convince the New Haven authorities that she was not going to wind up on the town’s pauper rolls. But I prefer to imagine her sailing back, freedom papers and perhaps a bit of money in hand, and joining the community of thousands of free people of color that already existed on the island.

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New Haven: Polly (1821)

In 1821, Polly convinced the woman who held her in slavery to file a formal manumission agreement on the land records of New Haven, Connecticut. Appalling though the use of the land records for this purpose now seems, it is also the case that municipal land records were extremely unlikely to be “lost” – they were, arguably, the best option for maintaining a truly permanent record. Short of ordering all the municipalities to start keeping a special-purpose record of manumissions, anyway. I can imagine the members of the legislature rolling their eyes at the idea that such a thing was necessary.

But to return to Polly: Why am I saying that she “convinced” the slaveholder to do this? That’s an extrapolation from the contents of the manumission record. The slaveholder – and presumably Polly – had recently moved to New Haven from “Natches,” which I believe must be Natchez, Mississippi. In October 1821, however, the slaveholder proposed to visit Natchez and bring Polly with her.

Clearly, Polly objected to this plan. Her specific reasons will probably never be known, but I can think of several possible ones, such as: She feared being sold and forced to remain in the South. She liked Connecticut better. She had established relationships with New Haven African-Americans (most of whom were free at this time). She wanted to be free. Or, as I truly expect, it was some combination of these.

What arguments did she use to convince this slaveholder to make this agreement? Perhaps a personal appeal was enough; it could have been that the two had known each other all their lives. Perhaps she threatened to run away. Perhaps her local friends added their appeals. Again, we can’t really know. But she convinced the slaveholder to make this contract with her:

[I] stipulate and agree with her that on her arrival at Natches whither I am now about to proceed with her she shall be emancipated and set free and on her arrival as aforesaid she is by these presents set free and emancipated provided nevertheless that unless she shall forthwith proceed with me to Nathes [sic] as aforesaid this stipulation shall be void.

New Haven Land Records, Vol. 69, Pg. 149, 10/10/1821.

New Haven Land Records, Vol. 69, Pg. 149, 10/10/1821.

Obviously this was a compromise. Perhaps the slaveholder believed that if she freed Polly in New Haven, the woman would refuse to go to Natchez at all (which seems like a rational belief, really). Freeing Polly in Natchez meant, I expect, that she would stick with the slaveholder in order to return to Connecticut after the visit.

I see two strong-willed women here, negotiating in a situation where one had great power over the other, but not enough of it (or enough will) to simply compel the enslaved person to stay with her. Alas, I have no idea what became of Polly – whether she did go back to New Haven as a free woman, or anything she did after this date. But in this document I see her getting part of what she wanted, and I hope that it was enough.

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Wednesday Research Notes

This post finished up Middlesex County. Next up, Killingworth and its 34 census pages. 8 nonwhite people in 7 households, none of them nonwhite-headed.

Middletown will be a different story, but there were 96 pages to get through. 211 nonwhite individuals in 69 households, 33 of them nonwhite (a long list):

Mary    Boardman 5
Thomas    Lewis    2
George    Pinney    9
William    Green    3
Curaco    Daniels    4
Daniel W. Leonard 2
James    Williams 6
George    Smith    4
Hammet    Achmet    3
Mather    Henry    10
Macar    [none]    1
Nancy    Boston    6
James    Davis    7
Nancy    Augustus 3
Asa    Jeffery    11
Harvey    Beech    6
Robert    Caples    5
Rachal    Staunton 4
John    Randell    2
Henry    Freeman    3
William    Freeman    3
Jehial C. Bemont 7 [I think this is really Jehiel Beman]
John    Hammittan 4
Samuel    Condol    6
John    Suffra    4
Joseph    Gilbert    3
Frank    Staunton 8
Cipio    Treat    3
Jude    Cambridge 5
William    Jackson    4
Jesse    Caples    2
Rushull    C    4
Phillis    Freeman    1

Next up is Saybrook, also the last town in Middlesex County, with 64 census pages. Two additional enslaved persons, a woman in the 55-100 age range, and another in the

36-54 age range. 63 individuals in 23 households, 9 independent.

Peter    Fordham    3
Harman    Penros    3
Elikaim    Bardoo    5
Asahel    De Forest 4
Isaac    Littlefield 8
Frederck Basby    5
Sabra    Carter    9
Lewis    Matson    6


Fairfield    1,388
Hartford    1,051
Litchfield    1,069
Middlesex      522



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Tuesday Research Notes

Starting on Middlesex County with Chatham (now known as East Hampton), which Heritage Quest’s data jockeys blithely separated into the First, Second, and Third Parishes – following the census marshal’s subdivisions as if they were town divisions. (They weren’t.) Anyway, there were 59 individuals in 30 households, 8 of them nonwhite. Interestingly, all but 1 of the independent households was listed on the last page (in the 3rd Parish). Does this reflect actual geographic location or the census marshal just clumping them all together? I do not know, as of right now.

Erastus    Allan    1
Peter    Harris    8
Lewis S. Gates    5
Charles    Stedman    5
Harvey    Russell    7
Aquilla    Proctor    3
Jacob Jr. Adams    5
Jacob    Adams    3

Next town is Durham, with only 18 census pages. 30 individuals in 13 households, 5 of them nonwhite.

Hayward    Bristol    3
John    Thacher    5
Dana    Smith    5
Harry    Lyman    2
James    Ranson    5

East Haddam, the next town, had 34 census pages. There were 104 (!) individuals in 23 households, a surprising 14 of them nonwhite. This marshal’s handwriting is a bit difficult, but I think they were headed by:

Stepney    Strong    7
John    Mason    10
Mary    Robbins    2
Horace    Caples    9
Henry    Hunting    6
Luna    Fields    4
William    Robinson 4
Josiah    Warmley    6
Daniel    Smith    5
George I. Mason    8
Charlotte Thompson 6
Hanwell    Moseley    8
Anson    Jackson    10
Leonard    Brown    7

That’s a surprising number of potentially intact households, something I need to look into as I go along.

But the next town is Haddam, with 38 census pages. 47 individuals in 10 households, 8 of them nonwhite! East Haddam and Haddam are definitely places to look at more closely.

George    Smith    7
Samuel    Peyton    7
Mary    Hubbard    3
Timothy    Jackson    5
Peres    Morgan    4
Charles    Halstead 5
Solomon    Smith    9
John    Campbell 5

Next up, Killingworth and its 34 census pages. 8 nonwhite people in 7 households, none of them nonwhite-headed.

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Thursday Research Notes

Next town is Warren and its 14 pages of census. Not all that close to the end because there are 5 “W” towns in Litchfield County. Warren has 19 individuals in 7 households, 3 of them nonwhite.

Amos Cables    5
John Carr    4
William James    6

Washington has 22 census pages. 14 individuals in 11 households, only 1 of them nonwhite: a family of 4 headed by Benjamin Freeman.

Watertown is next, also with 22 pages (and 3rd to last in the county). 26 people in 10 households, 6 of them nonwhite:

German    Freeman    5
Adolfen    Freeman    4
Pomp    Freeman    2
Pollard    Freeman    5
Silvia    Freeman    2
Obed    Linsley    3

Winchester and its 24 pages of census are next. Another female centenarian! And our first nonwhite blind person (in a different family). 60 individuals in 16 households, 10 (!!) of them nonwhite-headed:

Jane    Atwater    1
James    Pembleton 8
Isaac    Waterman 2
Henry    Waterman 2
Isaac    Jacklin    10
James    Wallace    5
Orange C. Governer 4
James    Hazzard    5
Henry    Adams    10
Richard    Dolphin    6

Next (and last for the county!): Woodbury‘s 28 census pages. 68 individuals in 28 households, 12 of them nonwhite:

Galloway [none]    2
Cyrus    Freeman    4
Aaron    Freeman    4
Lot    Jackson    7
Ansor    Townsend 3
Daniel    Mallory    2
Harry    Botsford 4
Ambrose    Platt    2
Simon    Osborn    8
Ja’s J.    Freeman    4
Varmanth Chatfield 4
George    Camm    4

Your reward for patience is … a chart!



Fairfield    1,388
Hartford    1,051
Litchfield    1,069

And your reward for continued patience is … a map!


I’ve already almost finished Middlesex County (a relatively small one). Stay tuned!

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