Tales of My Home
Stories about the Lower Merrimack Valley region of Massachusetts
If you have read my biography, you’ll know my genealogical story. Some ancestors of mine showed up from England in the early 1630s, settled briefly at the mouth of the Merrimack River in Salisbury, Newbury and Ipswich, then quickly moved to the (then) frontier towns of Haverhill and Andover about twenty miles upriver. Then they stayed there…for centuries.
Later, those towns got divided into other towns: Andover into North Andover and the south part of Lawrence; Haverhill into Methuen and the north part of Lawrence as well as a bunch of New Hampshire border towns – Plaistow, Hempstead, Atkinson, Salem. Please see my chart about the division of Merrimack Valley towns.
Other ancestors of mine kept showing up over time – Irish, Scandinavians, Scots – and they also stayed and mixed with each other and the general population. Based on extensive genealogical research, the vast majority of ancestors of mine who were born in the United States or the colonies seem to have been born in Haverhill or Andover or in a town set off from them.
In genealogy there are always surprises. And I’m not even getting into the “surprises” made possibly by the very latest genealogical tools, DNA testing. (“What do you mean grandpa’s not really my grandpa??”)
Never in a million years did I expect to find that family members possibly owned a slave.
The setting for coming across this information is quite dramatic: the Indian raid on Haverhill on August 29, 1708, which was part of Queen Anne’s War between the English and the French and their respective Native American proxies. See Glossary for more on Queen Anne’s War.
I was researching Samuel Ayer, my eighth great grandfather, born 1654 in Haverhill. He was a yeoman, a man of property. He succeeded his father as a member of the committee for the control of the common lands of the town. He was killed while trying to free prisoners taken by Indians after the attack on Haverhill on August 27, 1708.
On that day, Haverhill, then a compact village of about thirty houses, was attacked and almost entirely destroyed by well over two hundred Algonquin, St. Francois and Penobscot Indians under the direction of the French forces from Arcadia (Arcadia was the French-controlled area that was renamed New Brunswick when the English took it).
Sixteen of Haverhill’s inhabitants were massacred with swords and tomahawks, including Rev. Benjamin Rolfe and family [being a puritan Reverend was a big deal in those days]. However, Rolfe’s female African slave, named Hagar, and two of Rolfe’s children survived by hiding under barrels in the cellar. When the Indians and French retreated, they were followed by Captain Samuel Ayer with a company of twenty men who, though out-numbered thirteen to one, attacked them, killing nine of their number and retaking several prisoners. The Captain was shot in the groin and died just as his son reached the scene with reinforcements.
Interesting story. Attacks on frontier towns by Indians and their French manipulators was common enough, though, although now mostly forgotten. The Maine frontier was particularly hard-hit in the late 1600s: Kennebunk in September of 1688, Salmon Falls – now Berwick Maine – in March 1690 (in which about 90 English villagers were killed or imprisoned for ransom), Wells in June 1691, and York in January 1692 (in which 200 English villagers were killed or imprisoned for ransom).
So: Indian raid, schmindian raid. The detail that jumped out at me was rather: the minister had an African slave??
I am not a relative of Rolfe’s, as far as I can tell. However, the slave detail got me focused on whether any of my Haverhill ancestors from this time also owned slaves.
It turns out that in 1705 there were about 550 African slaves in Massachusetts, mainly received in exchange for Indians sent into slavery in the West Indies after being captured in war by the English colonists starting at the time of King Philip’s War in 1675.
Slaves in Haverhill
Chase’s History of Haverhill (which should be required reading for all residents of Haverhill and its offspring-towns) says the following about slaves:
We believe that the earliest distinct allusion to “servants” we have met with in the records or traditions of this town, is the record of the death of “Hopewell, an Indian Servant of John Hutchins,” in 1668.
The next, is found in the account of the remarkable preservation of Rev. Mr. Rolfe's children, by his "negro woman," Hagar, in 1708. Hagar "owned the covenant, and was baptized," with her children (two sons and one daughter) by Rev. Mr. Gardner, in 1711.
In 1709, the house of Colonel Richard Saltonstall was blown up, by “his negro wench,” whom he had previously “corrected.”
In 1723, Rev. Mr. Brown had an Indian servant, as may be seen from the following entry in his book of church records: — “Baptized Phillis an Indian Girl, Servant of John & Joanna Brown.”
In 1728, Mr. Brown baptized “Mariah, negro servant of Richard Saltonstall.”
In 1738, Rev. Mr. Bachellor baptized “Celia, Negro child of John Corliss.”
In 1740, he baptized “Levi, Negro child of Samuel Parker.”
In 1757, he baptized “Dinah, negro child of Samuel Haseltine ;” and, also, “Lot & Candace, negroes belonging to Richard and Martha Ayer.”
In 1764, he baptized “Gin, negro Girl of Peter Carleton.”
Mr. Bachellor had himself a negro servant, as we find, in the church book of records of the West Parish, under date of March 24, 1785, the following entry among the deaths: — “Nero, servant to ye Revd Mr Bachellor.”
There is a tradition that he had a negro named “Pomp,” who is said to have dug the well near the old meeting-house. As the story goes, just before setting out for an exchange with a distant minister, Mr. Bachellor set Pomp at work to dig the well, and gave him positive instructions to have it done by the time he returned. Pomp labored diligently, and with good success, until he came to a solid ledge. This was too hard for his pick and spade, and poor Pomp was greatly perplexed. His “massa” [cringe] had directed him to have the well done when he returned, but how to get through the solid rock was more than Pomp could tell. While in this dilemma, a neighbor happened along, who advised that the ledge should be blasted with powder, and kindly instructed Pomp how to drill a hole for the blast. The latter, much pleased at the prospect of getting his job finished in season, worked vigorously at his drill, and soon had a hole nearly deep enough, when he suddenly struck through the ledge, and the water commenced rushing up through the hole with such force, that he was obliged to scramble out of the well as fast as possible, to escape drowning. It is said that the well has never been dry since. [Pomp seems to have been a popular name of African slaves – Pomp’s Pond in Andover was named after one…see below.]
From Rev. Mr. Parker's book of church records, in the East Parish, we find that, in 1750, he “baptized Jenny, the Servant child of Joseph & Mary Greelee;” in 1758, “Phillis, the negro child of Ezekiel and Sarah Davis;” and, in 1764, “Meroy, the negro child of Seth & Hannah Johnson.”
From the official census of 1754, wo find that there were then in this town sixteen slaves, “of sixteen years old and upwards.” In 1764, the number was twenty-five.
From a partial file of the town valuation lists, from 1750 to 1800, we learn that the following persons in this town owned slaves. It is worthy of note, that with the very few exceptions noted, but one negro was owned by each person: — 1753. John Cogswell, John Dimond, Benj Harrod, John Hazzen (2), Col Richd Saltonstall (2), Wm Swonten (2), John Sawyer, Saml White. These were all in the First Parish.
1754. In the East Parish, Joseph Greelee, Wm Morse, Amos Peaslee, Timothy Hardey.
1755. In the First Parish, John Cogswell. In the West Parish, John Corlis.
1759. In the First Parish, Moses Clements, Samuel White, Samuel White Esq, Thos West. In the West Parish, Joseph Haynes.
1761. In the West Parish, Samuel Bacheller, Joseph Haynes,
1766. In the First Parish, Moses Clements, Nathl Cogswell, James Methard, Samuel White, Samuel White jun (2), John White. jun
1769. In the East Parish, Dudley Tyler.
1770. In the First Parish, Moses Clements, James Methard, Samuel Souther, Saml White, Saml White jun (2), John White.
1771. In the First Parish, Jona Webster, Saml Souther, John White, Saml White Esq.f James Methard, Moses Clement, Enoch Bartlett. In the East Parish, Dudley Tyler.
1776. In the East Parish, Wm Moors, Dudley Tyler.
This is the latest date we find "negroes," or "servants," entered in the valuation lists in the town. In one list, the date of which is lost, but which was apparently somewhere between 1750 and 1760, we find the following : — Robert Hutching, Moses Hazzen (2), Robert Peaslee (2), John Sanders, John Sweat, Saml White, Saml White jun, Christ; Bartlett, John Clements, Joseph Harimin, Joshua Harimin, Eadmun Hale, Daniel Johnson, Jona Roberds, Wm Whitiker.
We are informed by Mr. James Davis, that his father, Amos Davis, of the East Parish, owned two negroes named Prince and Judith, whom he purchased when young, in Newburyport. The bill of sale of them is still preserved in the family. Prince married to white woman, and, after securing his freedom, removed to Sanbornton, N.H., where he has descendants still living. Judith remained in the family until her death.
Deacon Chase, who lived in the edge of Amesbury, not far from the Rocks' Village, also owned a negro, named Peter, who is remembered by many persons now living [Chase’s History was published in 1861].
After the death of his master, he passed into the possession of a Mr. Pilsbury, with whom he lived until his death. William Morse, of the East Parish, had a negro servant, named Jenny. We also learn of one in the family of Job Tyler in the same Parish.
So ends Chase’s summary of the slaveholdings in Haverhill over the years.
Slaves in Andover
There were also slaves in Andover at the same time, although I can’t presently find such a comprehensive investigation as the one above for Haverhill.
According to Bill Dalton in an article for the Andover Townsman in 2013,
“The often repeated tale of Andover slaves Pompey Lovejoy and Rose Foster is a relatively pleasant one, as slave histories go. So, let’s start the story of slaves in Andover by visiting their legend.
Pompey, shortened to “Pomp,” was born a slave in 1724, and he was owned by Captain William Lovejoy, who gave Pomp his freedom upon his death in 1765. Pomp married Rose Foster, a freed slave, and the two of them were granted land near a pond, which today is named after him. Well into middle age, Pomp served on the Colonialist side in the Revolutionary War, and he was granted a pension for that service. Pomp and Rose were well-liked in town. Rose’s served election day cakes and other refreshments during town meetings and any other elections, and Pomp played the fiddle while white folks danced.
Neither Pomp nor Rose were allowed to vote as they were Negroes.
When Pomp died at age 102, it was said he was the oldest man in Essex County. His epitaph in the South Parish Burial Ground reads: “Born in Boston a slave/ Died in Andover a Free Man/ February 23, 1826/ Much respected and a sensible amiable upright man.” Rose died not long after at age 98. By all evidence, they lived the good life and were well-loved by townspeople and Phillips students who frequently visited them.
Another slave named Pompey didn’t fare so well. In 1795 he was hanged for murdering his master, Capt. Charles Furbush. This Pomp is said to have suffered from insanity that occasionally required him to be kept under guard. Historian Sarah Loring Bailey said of Furbush’s murder, “...the community was [so] shocked at the act and its circumstances of horror [that] the negro was sentenced to the extreme penalty of the law.”
Dalton also writes that Reverend Samuel Phillips, founder of Phillips Acadamy, owned slaves. He and his wife each had a personal attendant (this last detail is from Sarah Loring Bailey’s history of Andover).
Here are some other details from his article:
In the Old Burying Ground near North Andover Commons, there is a headstone that reads: In Memory of Primus/ Who was a faithful servant of Mr. Benjamin Stevens Jr/ Who died July 25, 1792/ Aged 72 years, 5 months, 16 days.
In the South Parish Burying Ground is the grave of the last slave born in Andover, Rose Coburn, wife of Titus Coburn. The stone says she died at age 92 in 1859. Historian Bailey, who must have known Rose, says of her, “She was a slave born in Andover and the last survivor of all born here in that condition. A pension was paid to her as the widow of a soldier of the Revolution. She was a person of great honesty, veracity, and intelligence and retained all her facilities in a singular degree to the last.”
Sometimes a passing sentence in a book reveals a lot, and leaves more questions unanswered.
In Sarah Loring Bailey’s history of Andover, she says about the South Parish Church, “In 1766 it was voted that ‘All the English women in the Parish who marry or associate with Negro or Melatto-men be seated in the Meeting-House with the Negro-women.’
Fascinating for so many reasons: (1) the meetinghouse/church still maintained the puritan practice of separating men and women for worship almost on the eve of the American Revolution; (2) seating was also segregated based on race; and (3) there were mixed race marriages.
So What About my Ancestors?
Now that the stage is set, what about my ancestors? I’m afraid that the record is still ambiguous. A website called olddeadrelatives.com has an entry for Captain Samuel Ayer, slaveowner. However, it has as parents for this Samuel Ayer “Coronet Peter Ayer” and “Hannah Allen” whereas I have the following people as the parents of the Samuel Ayer who was killed in the 1708 raid: Robert Ayer and Elizabeth Palmer. So it might not be the same Samuel Ayer, although perhaps a cousin. More investigation is needed. The sole citation given by olddeadrelatives.com is A Genealogical Dictionary of The First Settlers of New England Before 1692; Savage, James (Little, Brown and Co, Boston, MA. 1862). I will have to track down this book, which apparently does have a description of slave ownership in Massachusetts at this time.
I also note the name Peaslee among the list of Haverhill slaveholders in the Chase book, as well as other Ayer slaveholders (Richard and Martha). Then there is the surname Lovejoy attached to the slave for whom Pomp's Pond is named. I am descended from a Peaslee of Haverhill and a Lovejoy of Andover, so these slaveowners might be relatives of mine. Something else to investigate...
That’s the thing about genealogical research: you can never finish, there is always another question to answer.