Free Blacks in Hartford 1790 Census

Methodology and Process

     In the Spring of 2018 our research team from Central Connecticut State University was tasked with uncovering the lost history of Native, African and African-American burials in Hartford’s Ancient Burying Ground.  Previous estimates said that about 300 such burials occurred here, though there are no extant stones to mark them. Using probate records, census data, vital records, church records, state archival materials, seaman’s protection certificates, newspapers, and many other sources, we have attempted to piece together what remains of this obscured past. The majority of the records we used were housed in the Connecticut State Library and the most valuable were the earliest church records, Connecticut Church Records: Hartford First Church, vol. 1, 1684-1910, reel 505. A copy of the Kingsbury Census (the Negro Census of 1805) is at the Stowe Center. Ancestry.com was also a valuable database, but searching it required special techniques to find records as we initially lacked names. We used the online card catalogue to locate Connecticut-specific sources and the keyword feature to locate people described as Negro, colored, black, Indian, and Native. We also used the Mystic Seaport Research online database of seamen’s certificates; seamen’s certificates are also in Ancestry’s card catalogue, but we found we needed to search both databases to retrieve all information.

Registers of Seamen’s Protection Certificates

Registers of Seamen’s Protection Certificates

Ancestry Card Catalogue Search

Ancestry Card Catalogue Search

 

 

 

 

We also accessed Central Connecticut State University’s databases: America’s Historical Newspapers, African-American Periodicals, and American Periodicals. These databases are available at many other colleges and universities. Hathitrust and Google Books have digests, local history and town records online. Library shelves also held printed, transcribed records including the Particular Court Records, Court of Assistants Minutes and the Hartford County Court Minutes. Our bibliography lists the sources we used.

    In addition to research our task was also to create a website which hosts a searchable database of demographic information on these individuals, an explanation of the burial ground itself, featured pages of notable connections, and a user-friendly interface for the general public.

     The project was completed between May 2018 and April 2019. It is likely that as the public uses the site, the number of discovered records will continue to grow and expand. We estimate that several research projects could result from the findings here. We hope the site will continue to challenge and change how historians write about the indigenous people and people of African heritage in Hartford. The research here may further many different kinds of projects, such as genealogy and family histories, community studies, histories of Connecticut, studies of slavery, labor history, and more. 

Normand Morison's slave ownership as documented in his inventory

Normand Morison’s slave ownership as documented in his inventory

We discovered two previously unknown transatlantic slave voyages in the estate administration of Normand Morison; it is possible that by identifying such records, more will be found. In order to fully understand a person, one must look further than genealogy. Therefore, the website is divided into a database portion complete with a full bibliography as well as a portion for several of these important profiles that list genealogy, relationship trees, biographies, and links to other family members.

     We conducted our research fully cognizant that the people we were searching for usually lacked a strong voice in the records of their society. Although they were not the authors of the records, they are mentioned in them. It was necessary to pay careful attention to details to try to find out more about them. We also looked for female connections among both the white and non-white population. Women changed their names upon marriage, and they could also carry property with them. Finding marriage records helped us follow white women’s property, which included people of color. Moreover, the African, African-American and Native populations in Hartford had different naming practices and circumstances than the white population. Some had dual names. African people might have an African name and an Anglicized name by which they were called. Some black people assumed the surnames of their white masters or created surnames for themselves when they were manumitted, but recordkeepers did not always honor these surname choices. Native people changed names as they aged or changed status. Colonists did not have standardized spelling rules, so variant spellings had to be checked as well. Names had meaning, both to masters and those who held them. Diminutive English names indicated a subordinate status. A name like Scipio, with its Roman reference to Scipio Africanus, could signal a visible African heritage even if the man was Native. Masters used names to emphasize and enforce the patriarchal order. Names like Prince or Caesar might have seemed humorous to masters, but some captive Africans were princes and men of high status. While more research is needed on naming in Hartford, we tried to pay attention to what it might tell us.[1]

     This project lays the foundation for similar projects to follow throughout the state of Connecticut and helps with redefining how we interpret the past.

The Database Categories

     Our original spreadsheet, which serves as the basis for the individual profiles on this website, included the following categories:

     Name, Confidence, Race/Ethnicity, Nation, Sex, Age at Death, Date of Death or Burial, Birthplace or Origin, Date of Baptism or Church Membership, Name of Master(s)/Mistress(es), Indenture Date, Purchase Date, Manumission Date, Occupation, Race/Ethnicity of Mother, Race/Ethnicity of Father, Spouse(s), Child(ren), Additional Relationships, Most Recent Place of Residence, Longest Place of Residence, Notes, Bibliography.

     For most individuals, it was impossible to fill all of this information.

Finding Information on the Burials

     None of the people included in this database have extant gravestones in the Ancient Burying Ground, requiring our team to engage in extensive archival research. As a result, any who wish to make use of our findings should be made aware of several key distinctions that had to be made. First and foremost is that any names listed in the database cannot be claimed to be buried there with 100% certainty as there are no marked gravesites left to cross-reference our findings. No original map of the graveyard or archaeological findings exists to confirm the number of burials. All of our findings are made through written sources, and we can state for each name a varying degree of confidence of their location. Therefore, under each name listed is a category marked as “Confidence” that either states “Highly Confident,” “Somewhat Confident,” “Slightly Confident,” or “Not Confident.”  Those marked “Highly Confident” usually have a death date provided in a church record of some kind or some other record indicating a high likelihood that they are in the burial ground. Those for whom we are “Somewhat Confident” usually appeared in church records as baptized people or had a close relative (a spouse or child) who we are highly confident was buried in the cemetery. They might also have had a will or probated estate. We marked as “Slightly Confident” those who may have died in Hartford during the time period that the cemetery was in operation for whom we have no other corroboration. Those indicated as “Not Confident” may have died after 1806 but before 1815, perhaps with family members in the graveyard. They may also include people whose bodies could have been taken elsewhere for burial, like two Native people executed in 1711 for murder in Hartford or enslaved people who appeared in personal estate inventories for whom no other record exists. Enslaved people may have been buried on family land, or farms outside the city. We did not include all Native or African people we found in the records, because some people were transient or were potentially sold by their white owners. We looked for some indication that inclusion in the burial ground was possible.

     Lastly, 120 people whom we are highly or somewhat confident are buried in the cemetery were unnamed. They had death dates recorded in church records or in the newspaper, but no name in the death record. These unnamed people may well overlap with people whose names we found in other records for whom we have no death date. For example, Quamino, who appeared on the 1805 Kingsbury Census, could be the same person as “Unnamed” who died in 1808, marked slightly confident, whose death was reported in the Connecticut Courant. The paucity of information in all the records about people of color made it nearly impossible to match up the unnamed with names we had from other sources. Even those names which we suspected were not actually buried in the burial ground are still significant. These individuals could be close relatives of those buried, or they could have some other interpersonal relationship that still highlights how these individuals might have lived.

Terminology

     As we developed the categories for our database and the narratives that accompany it, terminology became a concern. Many of the terms used while the burying ground was in operation are outdated and today can seem insensitive or offensive. We have tried to balance our goals of historical accuracy with modern usage. It is essential to convey faithfully the complexity of the past, and to represent clearly types of relationships that no longer exist, from fictive kinships to indentured servitude to enslavement.

     Native people, Africans and African Americans could have a range of statuses in the colonial world: free, indentured, enslaved. One person might pass through two or even three of these stages in his or her lifetime. In any of these statuses, one might be described as a “servant” if one worked for someone else. Hartford was composed of both free people of color and bound people of color from its inception, just as it had free white people and bound white people. A sharp contrast existed, though, between free and enslaved. No white people were enslaved in colonial Connecticut. We use the word “servant” where the documents use it. In general, documents about individuals from the time often do not refer to “slaves;” one might see the term in a newspaper but rarely in a will, estate inventory, or church record. We mostly have used “enslaved” rather than “slave” in our narratives in order to emphasize the action of enslavers and colonists, for a person is not inherently a “slave.” In rare cases, where “slave” was appropriate for its historical meaning or particular usage, we retained it. When we use the word “slave,” it is to indicate the master class’s point of view and it is selective. We also use the words “master” and “mistress,” and occasionally “owners,” words that may seem jarring today, for two reasons. First, both indentured people and enslaved people had masters or mistresses, so we could not use the word “enslaver” in an overarching category. Moreover, enslavement happened at several intervals, from capture in Africa to sale in the Americas, and in continued possession and captivity. The law of master/servant remains to this day accepted terminology to indicate employment relationships. Our use of these terms does not indicate the superiority of one person and the inferiority of another, but it does indicate the dominance of one and the oppression of the other. The harsh reality of captivity should not be rendered invisible by more palatable terms. Slavery occurred because international law and practice recognized it, and then colonial legislatures made it legal, not because it was a natural state of being. Connecticut recognized lifetime slavery by statute in 1650.

Ad for a runaways described as a "yellow Negro man" and a "Mungerel squaw."

Ad for two runaways, described as a “yellow Negro man” and a “Mungerel squaw.”

Race and ethnicity are also complicated subjects. Colonists often thought of race as both a matter of complexion and a matter of nationality. In runaway advertisements words of color could be used to modify the word “Negro.” A “yellow Negro” was another way of describing someone who was multiracial. “Mungerel squaw” meant a Native woman who was of mixed racial background. Mongrel was a term that meant “half-breed.” Complexion was not just a matter of color. It could describe a person’s physical condition in subtle ways.[2]

Complexions from the Seamen's Protection Certificates

Complexions from the Seamen’s Protection Certificates

The English were notoriously xenophobic, and anyone who was not of English origin was usually designated with a qualifier in records. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, those designators included “Negro” for someone who appeared to be of fully African descent; “mulatto” or “colored” for someone who was of more than one race or ethnic stock, but usually a Euro-African heritage; “Indian” for an indigenous person; “mustee” for a Euro- or Afro-Indian heritage (rarely used in Connecticut, but frequently used in Rhode Island). In our database we have retained “Negro” when it was used in place of a name (“A Negro Man”), but we used “Black” to indicate the race of someone of African descent, though we recognize how problematic that usage is. The captive people from Africa represented many different nationalities and ethnicities and were hardly monolithic.[3] We used “multiracial” instead of mulatto or mustee, and “Native” instead of Indian. When we knew the tribal affiliation or nation of a Native person or the tribe or country from which an African came, we placed that in a separate column labeled “Nation.” At times we ran into difficulty with these classifications, such as when parents and some children were designated as “Negro” or “black” and others in the same family were termed “mulatto” or “colored.” Seaman’s protection certificates sometimes described Native people as “copper,” and a man who had two parents of some African descent might be described as mulatto or as having a light or dark complexion, depending on how he looked. We were sometimes confronted with having two black parents, a black child, and a multiracial child in one family. Several explanations are possible for this, from inconsistent racial designations in records to the impregnating of a black woman by a white man. In only one case, that of Abda Duce-Ginnings, was a white father identifiable from the historical record.

It has become common for scholars and journalists to refer to Native, African and African-American people in this period as “marginal” or “marginalized.” One must ask, “Marginal to whom?” They were absolutely essential, both to their own families and to the colonists. White colonists tried to marginalize them, by relegating Native people to reserved lands away from towns and free Africans to poor neighborhoods. Practices such as “warning out” existed, to remove strangers of any race or ethnicity who might wind up on poor relief. Colonial life, however, depended on the labor, trade, and knowledge systems of Native, African, and African-American people. 

Dates

     Before 1753 England and all of its colonies observed the Julian Calendar. After 1753, England began to observe the Gregorian Calendar. In England and its colonies, the Julian calendar began on January 1, but its new civil year began on March 25; the Gregorian calendar is the one in use today, and it begins the new civil year on January 1. This can be very confusing. There is a formula for calculating a date in both Julian and Gregorian terms. For example, Phillip Moore, Jr. died January 5, 1697 according to the Julian calendar. In some sources, this would be written January 5, 1697/98, to indicate that he was born in the eleventh month of the year 1697 or the first month of the year 1698. Yet a true conversion would have to account for a difference of 10 to 11 days between the two calendars. Thus, Phillip’s Gregorian death date was January 15, 1698.

     In order to simplify our spreadsheet and to record the dates as they were written down by those at the time, we have not done a full conversion on the dates. We have written Phillip Moore, Jr.’s death date as 01/05/1697 O.S. The initials stand for Old Style and indicate that this is how the death was reported in its time. Of course, January was not really the first month, but since we recognize it as such now, we kept that in the numerical form.

Ancestry.com Family Trees

Sample Ancestry.com Family Tree

Sample Ancestry.com Family Tree

Each individual is linked with a family tree on Ancestry.com that can be viewed by anyone with a membership or free trial membership to Ancestry.com. For several of the largest slaveholding families, we also did family trees.

     Each family tree has a timeline for each individual-in-the-tree’s profile. Where possible we have attached information on birth, life events, and death. Sometimes there were probate records. If the individual was mentioned in a history or other sources external to Ancestry.com, we tried to include a reference for that, though it is possible we did not find every primary or secondary source that mentioned someone.

Dr. Jepson's Ancestry.com Timeline

Dr. Jepson’s Ancestry.com Timeline

There are more people in the family trees than there are in the database, because we often found descendants not buried in the Ancient Burying Ground. We went as far as we could in the time allowed in developing the family trees, but doubtless more information will come to light. Occasionally we made guesses about relationships between people we thought were of the same family, and we made a note in the timeline to indicate when something was conjecture. We expect these trees to be corrected and to grow.

     As we worked on the database we used primary sources like the United States Federal Census of 1790 and 1800, and the Kingsbury Census of 1805 to identify people. Sometimes we had information about the deaths of people on these rolls, but more often we found out they died after the period when the cemetery was accepting burials. If we had already created a tree on Ancestry for that person, we let it remain even if we removed the individual from the database. Thus, there are more family trees on Ancestry than there are families in the database.

Relationship Trees

     One of the difficulties with using genealogical programs like Ancestry.com is that it records only family relationships, and these programs cannot accommodate friendships, neighbors, or fictive kin. If one does not know how “Aunt” Sarah is one’s aunt, she has no place in the tree. Genealogies also have no place for master and servant or master and enslaved relationships, even though these were highly significant relationships for many people in the past.

     Kinship networks are particularly important for understanding how societies work, but the African and Native people who lived in the colonized world had their kinship networks disrupted, misrepresented in records and histories, and reordered by necessity. Fictive kinship networks sometimes developed. Enslaved and indentured people of color in white households could sometimes range in age from young to old but be unrelated biologically. In New England, most enslaved people lived in households with one or two others of Native or African descendent. Elders took care of younger ones, women of the same age became sisterly, and children became like siblings, forming families of necessity. We wanted to be able to document these relationships, and the interactions with colonists just as one would do in a visual family tree.

      Working with a team of computer science undergraduates from Central Connecticut State University (Austin Barrett, Kyle Sturmer, and Max Meyer), supervised by Professor Stan Kurkovsky, Dr. Katherine Hermes created a program called “RelationshipTree” to incorporate all immediate relationships in a person’s life. The relationship trees connect people, events, places, documents and groups to one another. We have completed relationship trees for some of the people in the burying ground to show their wider relationships. We have placed pictures of the relationships on the website, with links to the RelationshipTree graphs.

Confidence in the Burial List

     Each person in the spreadsheet is marked with a confidence level that reflects how certain we were that the person was in the burying ground: highly confident, somewhat confident, slightly, not confident. If a person died in Hartford, he or she was usually buried in the burying ground. There were exceptions. Native people might have been buried on native land. Some people chose to be buried in their own gardens, like Dr. Normand Morison, whose grave is now on Market Street. His headstone and his son’s footstone mark that location. Others might have been buried in family plots. In the case of enslaved people, we sometimes could not be sure, without a death record, they actually died in Hartford. If we found someone listed as a slave in an inventory, we included that person in the spreadsheet if he or she was an adult, but even when a family had held someone in bondage for decades, sale was still possible. We tried to follow inheritances to determine whether an enslaved person remained in Hartford or went elsewhere with an heir, but it was not always clear.

Demographics and Statistics

     Population figures are difficult to come by for the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Jackson Turner Main’s examination of Connecticut probate records revealed that one-tenth of all inventories in 1700 included slaves. In 1709 Governor Gurdon Saltonstall reported there were only 110 white and black servants in the colony, though that figure seems impossibly low. In 1730, the black population climbed to 700, but out of a total enumeration of 38,000. Main estimated one percent of the adult male population in the colony was enslaved, but that by 1750 one-sixth of all black persons in Connecticut were free. At the time of the Revolution, Connecticut had a black population of over 6000; one-fourth of probate inventories included enslaved people. A post-Revolutionary War census taken in 1782 enumerated 1320 blacks and Indians living in Hartford County alone. Gradual emancipation in 1784 resulted in less than a 1% decline in the number of blacks in the colony by 1790. For a few, freedom may have meant moving out of the state, but enslaved or freed, most remained.[4]

     We had 495 individual entries in the spreadsheet when we finalized it in March 2019. Older histories of the burying ground frequently cite 300 as the approximate number of African Americans buried there. About 350 can be well documented, but the actual number remains elusive. We are highly confident of 279 individuals buried in the burying ground, somewhat confident of 70, slightly confident of 35 and not confident of 111. 

    Our data shows that 35 people were identified as Native, 430 as Black, one as Native/Black, 17 as Multiracial, and 7 as unknown. Yet some of the Black people are probably duplicates, unnamed in the sexton’s records, but named in some other record. We found among the Native population at least one individual who was Pequot, Nipmuk, and Taino; seven were Wangunk.  Of the African people, we identified two as Ibo. We found 213 men, 147 women, and 136 of unidentified gender. Because of the possible duplication in the Black numbers as well as the unidentified, conclusions about a sex ratio cannot be certain. We were able to identify 36 free people of color, with 19 manumissions, but there may have been more. 

     We had 120 people for whom we had records of death but no name: one Indian girl, 14 black infants, two Native children, 45 Negroes of unknown gender, two Negro boys, 35 Negro children (32 unknown gender, 2 female and one male), one Negro fellow, one Negro girl, three Negro maids, three Negro men, two Negro soldiers, three Negro women, one Native woman (“squaw”), two unnamed whose race and gender is unknown, three unnamed Negroes with unknown gender, two unnamed Negro males and two unnamed Negro females, and one unnamed black woman. The sexton or minister who recorded the deaths of these unnamed individuals noted the date and the race of the person, and occasionally the cause of death and the age of the person, but he left out the deceased’s identity. Such an omission did not occur with the vast majority of whites, unless they were poor and transient. In all, 281 records had death dates. 

     In the spreadsheet we used the terminology of the recordkeeper. That could vary; hence, the use of Negro man, Negro fellow, Negro soldier, and unnamed Negro male in the spreadsheet all refer to black men without names in an effort to reflect the record. Some of the unnamed may match a person with a name for whom we do not have an exact death date; “Negro man” could have been “Caesar” and constitute a duplicate entry. The failure to name so many individuals can only have been purposeful. Occasionally the recordkeeper may not have known someone’s name, but there are too many without appellations for a lack of knowledge to have been the norm. More likely, the name did not matter to the recordkeeper as much as the cause of death or the age, the kind of data of interest to those who wanted to count the number of cases of dropsy or calculate lifespans. In 136 cases gender was also missing, a fact that under usual circumstances would have been highly visible to anyone who viewed the body. Numerical ages or approximate ages in weeks, months or years were noted for 112 individuals.

     In 277 cases we were able to identify the masters and mistresses of the indentured and/or enslaved people.  Often if a white person owned one slave, they owned several. For instance, the Reverend Timothy Woodbridge, a minister in the First Church and a founder of Yale, married Abigail Lord, the widow of Richard Lord, a businessman with several warehouses and transatlantic commercial interests. In Hartford, Abigail and her husbands held in bondage at least 31 enslaved black people, one indentured black servant, and one indentured Native person. They made gifts of enslaved people to their children, so the number in their household was constantly shifting. There perhaps were more whose deaths were not recorded and whose lives did not show up in probate inventories or other court records, people who were bought and sold too quickly to register in public documents. Many in the learned professions and elites—ministers, deacons, doctors, lawyers, and magistrates—owned more than one slave. If white people owned slaves, they tended to acquire them later in life; 37% of slave-owning white men were over age 40.[5]

The downloadable spreadsheet can be used to calculate other statistics. We encourage researchers to download it for their own studies. 

 


Notes

 

[1] Margaret Williamson, “Slave Names and Naming in the Anglophone Atlantic,” Oxford Bibliographies, last modified April, 2018; DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199730414-0291; Robert K. Fitts, Inventing New England’s Slave Paradise: Master/slave Relations in Eighteenth-Century Narragansett, Rhode Island (New York: Routledge, 1998), 188-192.

[2] Sharon Block, Colonial Complexions: Race and Bodies in Eighteenth-Century America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018), 2-3, 65-66.

[3] Katherine J. Harris, “Freedom and Slavery,” African American Connecticut Explored, Elizabeth J. Normen, ed. (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2014), 6.

[4] Jackson Turner Main, Society and Economy in Colonial Connecticut (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983), 177-178; Frank Andrews Stone, African American Connecticut: The Black Scene in a New England State (Victoria, BC, Canada: Trafford Publishing, 2008), 45; “A Return of the Number of Inhabitants in the State of Connecticut, February 1, 1782; and Also of the Indians and Negroes,” Trumbull Papers, vol. XXIV, document 178, Connecticut State Library, https://libapps.s3.amazonaws.com/accounts/41502/images/1782_Conn_census_return.jpg

[5] Lorenzo Johnston Greene, The Negro in Colonial New England, 1620-1776 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1942), 74-75; Main, 177 n.2; Harris, “Freedom and Slavery,” 8.

 

Uncovering Their History: Africans, African Americans and Native Americans Buried in the Ancient Burying Ground  is a project of the Ancient Burying Ground Association, and was funded in part by the Connecticut State Historic Preservation Office of the Department of Economic and Community Development with funds from the Community Investment Act.