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 in freedom.  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 the South.  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 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 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 records exist.  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 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, a 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.”

·         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 only mention of Zick, 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, 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 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:  “I baptized Peter, 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:

·         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, 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 permission.  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 Betty).  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. 

·         Nicholas:  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.''

·         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 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 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.” 

·         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 had a short life because the Diary reports that he died in April 1732.

·         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 and the Diary records his illness and death at the end of January 1752.

·         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.

·         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 Davenport 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.  Since he is not mentioned in Rev. Williams’s 1771 will, 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 a slave 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.

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 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 liberties.  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 Press, 2011)

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

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

Massachusetts Declaration of Rights

Piersen, William D., Black Yankees:  The 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 Longmeadow

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

Williams, Stephen, The Diary of Reverend Stephen Williams

Check back to the Town Crier Archive often to read new articles as they are posted.

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