Black Roots in Southeastern Connecticut, 1650 – 1900

Title:Black Roots in Southeastern Connecticut, 1650 – 1900
Author:Barbara W. Brown , James M. Rose
Publication date:1980
Publisher:Gale Research Company
Digitizing Sponsor:Charles E. Shain Library
Contributor:Charles E. Shain Library
Repository:Internet Archive
Black Roots in Southeastern Connecticut, 1650 - 1900
Black Roots in Southeastern Connecticut, 1650 – 1900


In the process of compiling the material for BLACK GENESIS (Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1978) it became apparent that one specific form of genealogical research was necessary in reconstructing the ancestry of blacks in the United States. That specific form is collecting and collating every scrap of material which can be found on all the blacks in a defined geographical area. While this type of research has been used to some extent for other groups (see J .S. Fulthy and G. Cope, HISTORY OF CHESTER COUNTY, PA. Philadelphia: Louis and Everts, 1881), it is one which must be developed and used for many areas if the ancestral beginnings of blacks in the colonies are to be found.

Brown and Rose’s work on Southeastern Connecticut is, for that reason, a milestone in black genealogical research. The result of the more than eight years of research is presented in this volume. Their systematic approach in recovering and utilizing appropriate records is one which can be adapted to a number of geographical areas, particularly colonial ports. While the types of records available from region to region may differ, the same procedures can easily be applied to other areas.

In the introduction which follows, their procedure is outlined with examples of problems likely to be uncovered. The thoroughness with which this material was researched and edited makes it quite probable that blacks who have reason to believe their ancestors are from this important trading center will find their roots in these pages. It is hoped that other research teams will be motivated by the wealth of information on these pages and use the research procedure to develop similar indexes for other areas. Then perhaps we can speak more realistically about the search for black roots in America.


The southeastern region of Connecticut was chosen for this research project for several reasons. First, in 1774, shortly before Connecticut’s statehood, it was one of the largest slaveholding sections of New England. Consequently, a large number of blacks were brought to its shores, forming hundreds of family nuclei. Second, both researchers have strong personal ties with the area and are well acquainted with its history, geography and genealogy. Third, very little has been published about early black history in New England.

As a foundation stone, a sizeable list of early blacks in southeastern Connecticut was compiled from a search of each federal census from 1790 through 1870. Other names were obtained from a multitude of available records: land deeds; manumission documents; vital records of births, marriages, and deaths; church records; newspapers; court records; probate files; account books; tax assessment lists; town treasurers’ records; pension papers; diaries.

As work progressed, each individual, slave or free, was entered on an index card, as was all information discovered about that person. It was possible, by accumulating thousands of cards, to become very familiar with many of the free blacks listed in the early census records. The task of identification was often made difficult by the fact that, in the 1790 census, blacks were usually listed by one name only. For instance, a woman named Jemima appeared in the 1790 census for the Bozrah area with two in her household. The Bozrah land records revealed that Jemima: was the widow of Bristol Baldwin, former slave of Thomas Baldwin of Norwich. They also showed that Jemima was known locally as Jemima Baldwin or Jemima Brister.

This fluidity of surname among the early free blacks presents special problems to the genealogical researcher. Very often a man’s wife and children took his given name as their surname. Thus Jemima was referred to by the surname Brister, a variation of Bristol. This custom explains why some of the children of Guy Warris of the Norwich area took the surname Guy and why the sons of Primus Richards of Colchester were sometimes known as George and Henry Primus.

Other problems, characteristic of any genealogical research, hindered identification of individuals. One such obstacle is represented by the often erratic spelling in early records. For example, the 1830 census for Lyme listed an Isaac Costin, while the 1840 census for East Lyme showed an {Isaac Costar, and other records use the spelling Castin.

Certain interesting sidelights were indicated in the census records, especially when that data was combined with other information. For example, Mary Craig was listed in the 1840 census for New London with thirteen in the household. In looking at this record, one could possibly assume that she was the head of.a large family. Close examination, however, revealed that the ages of the males in the household did not substantiate this assumption. It seemed more likely that Mary was running a boarding house for men, probably sailors. Ten years later, a Norwich census record showed that she had been jailed for operating a bordello.

While the census research was in progress, information was also being collected from the vital records. Connecticut is fortunate in having a centralized location in Hartford for vital statistics, but it was still necessary to. check other sources. For example, the Holt Record of Deaths in New London was found at the New London County Historical Society and provided much data not other~ wise mentioned in the official records.

Cemetery records and grave stones furnished equally valuable information. A case in point concerned the tombstone of Brister Avery, who was buried twenty yards from his master. The date of his death and his age provided the link that aided in the tracing of a Freeman family from 1741 to the present. This information was supplemented by the perusal of wills of ‘the prominent Avery family of Groton and by a study of the genealogy of that family. This aspect of black genealogical research is particularly important. Many Avery wills between 1720 and 1800 included the names of slaves, which heir was to re~ ceive them, and, frequently, relationships within the black families. When the research was completed, the genealogy of the Freeman family could be verified and substantiated by the oral history obtained from present-day descendants.

Church records were also used in documenting the Freeman genealogy. From the earliest days of the colony, the Avery family had been part of the Congregational Church in Groton. Their slaves were thus baptized in the church and often became members of the congregation. The dates of these events were dutifully kept by the church, and records of this sort were, fortunately, numerous in Connecticut.

While probate and church records were of immense value, it was war records which provided perhaps the most vivid information. One of the more exciting examples is that of Edward “Ned” Carter, whose genealogy is outlined at the end of this introduction. He fought in the French and Indian War and later, with four of his sons, distinguished himself at the storming of Stony Point in 1781. A vivid account of the Revolutionary experiences of Cuff Saunders, alias Cuff Wells, is related in the pension application of his widow. Joseph Hyde’s application for a Civil War pension provides a good insight into the black experience during the war. Furthermore, most of these pension papers contain invaluable genealogical data, a wealth of family information.

These official records, which are discussed in further detail in the section entitled “Sources,” have been supplemented by a number of miscellaneous records. Among these, account books are perhaps the most helpful. During the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, merchants, doctors, and lawyers kept accounts which often provided notations concerning family relationships not found elsewhere. Records left by local doctors often give dates of birth of babies delivered and clues as to residence and dates of death of many individuals.

Other excellent sources of information include newspapers, local histories, family genealogies, and published diaries. In the latter category, the gem is undoubtedly the DIARY OF JOSHUA HEMPSTEAD. This detailed account of life in eighteenth-century New London provided a treasure trove of informa~ tion on the family of John and Joan Jackson.

In the construction of black genealogies, two major problems become apparent: the use of surnames, previously discussed, and the issue of miscegenation. Throughout the period between 1700 and 1900, intermarriage between whites, Indians, and blacks was not uncommon. Children born of these unions were often referred to as mulattoes and recorded as such in public records. Thus, the term “mulatto,” as used in early New London County documents, may refer to any racial combination: black-white, Indian-white, or black~indian. However, unlike the case of South America, where a definite group called “mulatto” emerged, our unique form of racism forced the mulatto to make a most important decision: whether or not fo pass for white. Many such cases were found in southeastern Connecticut, including that of Adam Rogers, a mulatto servant of James Rogers of New London. Adam married a white woman named Catherine Jones in 1702, and their children and their descendants were regarded as whites.

The regularity with which intermarriage between blacks and native Americans occurred has necessitated the inclusion in this study of many Indian genealogical records. William Apes, for example, was of Indian origin and was a servant of Capt. Joseph Taylor of Colchester just prior fo 1800. Taylor also had a black slave named Candace, who became Ape’s wife. Unlike the descen~ dants of Adam Rogers, the children and grandchildren of William and Candace Apes were recorded as black.

A third problem encountered by genealogists is the mobility of most ancestors. Inward migration, indeed, forced a decision concerning the scope of this book. Since it was clear that hundreds of families moved into southeastern Connecticut in the nineteenth century, it seemed that the quantity of data would become cumbersome if it included all blacks who immigrated into the area. Consequently, we have included only those individuals who arrived before the Civil Wear or those who married into a previously established Connecticut family.

In addition to the problems of inward migration, there was the problem of following blacks out of the area. Again, census records of neighboring states are of great help. Church records often provide the new residence of individuals in their lists of dismissals, For example, the Exeter (Lebanon) Con=gregational Church excluded Marietta Watson in 1864, “she having united with a Baptist church in Philadelphia.” Newspaper items provided the names of a number of persons who emigrated to Liberia. In short, the records are there, but it takes time, patience, and, most important, a certain amount of luck.

There are hundreds of fascinating family stories to be found in BLACK ROOTS. Some of them are traced even further in our TAPESTRY–A LIVING HISTORY OF THE BLACK FAMILY IN SOUTHEASTERN CONNECTICUT (New London, Conn.: New London Historical Society, 1979). One, however, is included here as an example of one possible way of recording a family line. It is the story of Edward “Ned” Carter.


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