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 slaves, Jack found it difficult to support himself
White society did not welcome business competition from
free blacks and it limited their opportunities for
employment and advancement.
It was said that Jack used to come back to Widow
Colton and plead for restoration, but to no avail.
In western Massachusetts, we are
justifiably proud of our abolitionist heritage and when
you think of slavery in the United States, you probably
envision bent-over slaves picking fields of cotton in
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.
Most households in New England that included
slaves had only one or two slaves and they 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 had used slave labor
since at least the 1650s.
Joseph Carvalho III has extensively researched
African presence and influence in Hampden County in his
book Black Families in Hampden County, Massachusetts
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.
The Development of an Afro-American Subculture in
Eighteenth-Century New England by William D. Piersen
further explores the development of that 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 slaves.
However, it is likely that there were many more
slaves (or “servants” as they were called) for whom no
Most of the references below are from 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”).
In addition to
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, a negro household help, for £300 in 1746 from
his uncle, Ephraim Colton.
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.”
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 only mention of
slave of 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 of
Thomas Field’s slaves,
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
It is clear that the Keep family had at least one
slave 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.”
In the Church records of February 17,
1733, a slave of Sgt. John Cooley is referenced:
negro servant to Sergt. John Cooley and Phillis, negro
servant to Stephen Williams.”
A slave of Sgt. John Cooley (possibly Peter) was
admitted to church membership on May 25, 1735.
Apparently, by 1744 Sgt. Cooley had freed Peter
because Church records reflect that on March 25 of that
year, “Peter, negro servant (formerly) to Serg’t John
Cooley was dismissed to ye church in Westfield.”
Captain George Colton had two slaves
who were mentioned in Church records:
who, like Zick, was baptized on June 9, 1741.
Later, in October of that year, Caesar was
admitted to church membership.
baptized on July 13, 1735.
He married Phillis, the slave of Stephen
Williams, on May 22, 1744.
Even though the Puritan moral code recommended
marriage of slaves to prevent the sin of fornication,
slaves were only permitted to marry with their owner’s
Most slaves were never able to marry, but those who
lived in the same household or on neighboring estates
were sometimes allowed to do so.
Eighteenth-century New Englanders
believed that slavery was part of God’s plan for
evangelization of Africans.
Most New England clergy did not recognize the
immorality of slavery and many of them, including the
first pastor of Longmeadow’s Congregational church, Rev.
Stephen Williams, kept slaves.
During his tenure as pastor of
Longmeadow, Stephen Williams owned at least eight male
slaves (Nicholas, Scipio, Stanford, Tobiah, Peter, Tom,
Cato, and Joseph) and two female slaves (Phillis and
Other references to his slaves are sprinkled throughout
the Diary, but it is impossible to definitively connect
them with a specific person.
Although he benefitted from owning these slaves,
they often proved to be a burden to him and he worried
about them in his diary entries.
The first slave 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 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
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
Church records show that Phillis was
baptized on February 17, 1733 and was admitted to church
membership in 1735.
Despite concern over her selection of husband,
Rev. Williams allowed her to be married to Peter, the
slave of Capt. George Colton, in 1744.
Rev. Williams provided for Phillis in
his will, but Phillis preceded Rev. Williams and died in
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
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 had a short life because
the Diary reports that he died in April 1732.
If Scipio was not Phillis’s child, Stanford may
He first appears in the Diary at the end of December,
1735 when he fell from a mow and the Diary records his
illness and death at the end of January 1752.
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.
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.
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
However, Rev. Williams outlived Peter who died on
September 9, 1774.
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
Davenport found him dead in the mill pond on October 1.
The official inquest into Tom’s death ruled it a
“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
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
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
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
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.
Since he is not mentioned in Rev. Williams’s 1771
will, he probably had either died or been sold or freed
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 a slave as well.
Betty is mentioned in 1959 and she left with Mr.
Lowder of Boston (probably sold to him) in September
February 1769, Joseph received word that Betty had died
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
Article 1 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 1 and the courts
established that enslaved persons are entitled to these
By the end of the 18th century, slavery in
Massachusetts had effectively come to an end.
Bailey, Richard A., Race and
Redemption in Puritan New England (Oxford University
Carvalho III, Joseph, Black
Families in Hampden County, Massachusetts 1650–1865
(New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2011)
Copy of the Church Records from
Rev. Stephen Williams, Richard Salter Storrs, Rev.
Baxter Dickinson, Rev. Jonathan Condit 1716-1841
of the body of Tom,” October 1756, Suffolk County Files,
76356, Massachusetts State Archives, Boston
Massachusetts Declaration of
Piersen, William D., Black
Development of an Afro-American Subculture in
Eighteenth-Century New England (University of
Massachusetts Press, 1988)
Proceedings at the Centennial
Celebration of the Incorporation of the Town of
Romer, Robert H., Slavery in the
Connecticut Valley of Massachusetts (Levellers
Williams, Stephen, The Diary of
Reverend Stephen Williams
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