Monday, November 22, 2010

More New England African American Stories Uncovered

Part of what makes African American research in New England so fascinating is that it has been hidden for so long. People don't associate New England with generations upon generations of African American history. But African Americans have been in New England since the 1600s. One of my goals is to ensure that it stays hidden no longer.

With that in mind, there are three recent stories of New England African American research that are not only interesting but provide real insight into the complexity of life for early African Americans.

The first two appear in the current issue (Fall 2010) of American Ancestors published by the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS).

In an article (p. 41) called "Chance Bradstreet (1762-1810), Servant of Abraham Dodge of Ipswich, Massachusetts", Christopher Challender Child remarks how he saw an exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History that mentioned the slave, Chance.  However, the exhibit only had information on Chance between 1777 and 1789.  Child took it as a personal challenge  to re-discover the remaining details of Chance's life.  The fascinating article details his discoveries.

Further on in the same issue be sure to stop and read Diane Rapaport's article "Freeing Joan Jackson: The Precarious Status of a New England Woman." (p.51)  This incredulous tale demonstrates one African American family's struggle to remain together and to retain their freedom.  The article explores the extremely complex issues surrounding emancipation in Massachusetts in the 1780s.

Lastly is an article that appeared in the New Canaan Patch (CT) entitled "Hidden History: The Last Slave of Connecticut" (17 November 2010) which you can read online.  It tells the story of Onesimus Comstock who was born into slavery in 1761 and how he became the last slave of Connecticut.  This article discusses the same time frame as the other two but touches on the disenfranchisement and limited options available to slaves once they attained their freedom.

All three articles provide important insight into the lives of early African Americans in New England.  Together they illustrate and reveal the complexities of what it meant to be African American in the 18th century.


  1. Marian, since it is near Thanksgiving I have been thinking all week about Abraham Pearce. Is there any recent research to confirm or deny that he was of African descent? He would have been one of the earliest African Americans in the Plymouth Colony. Dolor Davis, my 10x great grandfather, described him as "Negro". I hope you don't think of this as off topic.

  2. Heather - not off topic at all. I really can't answer your question which is of course a very interesting one.

    There is some interesting discussion here:

  3. What I do not understand is that they list a year of death for Chance, but where did he die? Are there any records?

    1. I emailed the author and he said that Chance died in Marblehead, Massachusetts. There may be some records related to the working house in Marblehead.