Thursday, October 27, 2011

Book Review: Black Families in Hampden County, Massachusetts 1650-1865

The second edition of Black Families in Hampden County, Massachusetts 1650-1865 by Joseph Carvalho III was released this year by the New England Historic Genealogical Society. This second edition was over twenty-five years in the making.

When a second edition comes out readers often wonder whether enough changes were made to warrant the purchase. At an impressive 400 pages, the resounding answer for this edition is “Yes!” The new edition is nearly double the size of the 211 page original.

What has changed? The title has been altered for starters. The first edition covered the years 1650-1855. With twenty-five years of advancement in technology, computers and increased access to genealogical and historical documents, the book now extends to the year 1865.

The book begins with a helpful historical overview of African Americans in Hampden County. This will help both the beginning and advanced researcher to better put their ancestors’ lives in proper context.

The bulk of the book continues to be the biographies and genealogies of black families of Hampden County. With the new documentation, both from public sources and private collections, the section has been increased over one hundred pages.

I used one of my personal research interests, Jethro Jones, as a test case. Jethro lived from 1733 to 1828. He is not an ideal example to demonstrate the breadth of additions from 1855-1865 but never-the-less his biography was re-written and augmented. In-line citations are still included throughout this section but written more clearly and fully.

In addition to the main section, new content in the form of Appendixes has been added covering topics such as military service, ancestry and nations of origin, occupations and avocations, bylaws of the U.S. League of Gileadites and demographic statistical tables. The included bibliography is a lengthy fourteen pages.

While the title Black Families in Hampden County, Massachusetts 1650-1865 is accurate, it falls short of the true depth and reach of the book. In reality, this work reflects the migration and movement of African Americans from all over New England and New York. Black families who lived in Connecticut and moved north appear here, as are those from New York who sought greater freedom in Massachusetts. And I would be remiss not to mention all the others, like Jethro Jones, who followed the more traditional pattern of moving westward into Hampden County from Eastern Massachusetts.

Black Families in Hampden County is essential for any researcher who is searching for African Americans in New England up until 1865. It is also a tremendous example of the wide variety of original and secondary sources available to researchers delving into the often challenging arena of African American research.

As a one-county study, this work shines as beacon of outstanding and comprehensive research. Others wishing to do one-county studies on sub-groups, whether based on national origin, religion, race or some other topic, would do well to use this book as their source of inspiration. Black Families in Hampden County, Massachusetts, 1650-1865 belongs on the shelf of every serious researcher of African Americans as well as every genealogical library. Joseph Carvalho’s labor of love is a magnificent work that shows in-depth research at its best.

Author: Joseph Carvalho III
Title: Black Families in Hampden County, Massachusetts 1650-1865, 2nd Edition
400 pages with illustrations; bibliography; index; appendixes; black and white
Publisher: New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS), 2011
ISBN: 978-0-88082-259-6
Available From: NEHGS (1-888-296-3447) and other book sellers
Cost: Hardcover $29.95


  1. I was born in Springfield, MA in Hampden County. Unfortunately my father had just come to be the pastor of St. John's Congregational Church and my family was not there in the period covered. Sounds interesting and I may look into it anyway. I love the cover photo.

  2. This is a book that I would be interested in purchasing. Thank you for the information.

  3. There no mention of the Hazard or Hazzard families in Western MA in early 1800s into late 1800s. I am researching now a photo of Benjamin Hazzard ( Hazard) taken in 1850s who lived (documented) in Westfield & Monson MA. Also likely Springfield. There were Hazard families also in Hampden & Berkshire MA.Reference Facebook "Photo History".

    1. He was listed in Springfield MA census of 1850 as a Vagrant who could not read or write & was a resident of the House of Corrections!

  4. I looked up census from 1850 Springfield, Mass and big age difference between Benjamin Hazzard Monson, Mass and Springfield, Mass. Do you have something outside same name? The Benjamin Hazzard in 1855 is born about 1765 and in 1860 he is born about 1764. Now the Benjamin in Springfield, Mass is born 1790 and this is a big gap between the two men. Plus the Benjamin in Monson, Mass always gives Connecticut as state of birth. This is completely different from Benjamin you found in Springfield, Mass with no known birth location. The other thing worth noting is Benjamin Hazzard in Monson is known as blind and a very spiritual person (see obit) Not fitting with a person in prison who is bothersome to his community.

    1. I'm sorry I haven't done any research on Benjamin Hazzard so I wouldn't be able to differentiate between the two. But they certainly sound like two different people.