the Concord MagazineJune '98

Concord, Slaves and Two Fights for Freedom

By D. Michael Ryan, Sergeant/drummer with the Concord Minute Men and Associate Dean of Students at Boston College.

battle scene
Undepicted patriots: Concord's slaves are not usually seen in North Bridge battle images such as this one.
The Provincial Congress in Concord, April 1774, reflected upon "the propriety, that while we are attempting to free ourselves from our present embarrassments and preserve ourselves from slavery, that we also take into consideration the state and circumstances of the negro slaves".

On the eve of a revolution to avoid "the horrors of slavery" and maintain the natural rights of men, some 12 Concord families owned slaves. This peculiar institution, part of town life since 1708, included at its height some 20 men, women and children. Better treated than their counterparts in some colonies, Concord slaves could exercise certain rights, had to be educated in the ways of God and religion, often were inclusive parts of the family served and could obtain freeman status.

Historically, law prohibited blacks from serving in militias but was often ignored during most 18th Century American colonial wars due to manpower shortages. With the master's consent, a slave could enter the military but was rarely allowed to because of his value.

A common fear among whites was that armed slaves might revolt. In 1768 this feeling was reinforced when a British officer was arrested in Boston for inciting blacks "to fight against their masters". In 1774, some Boston slaves supposedly offered their military service to Gen. Gage if they would be freed. And even as their minute and militia companies marched to the 19 April alarm, remaining Framingham citizens armed themselves in fear of a black uprising.

During the Fall and Winter of 1774, blacks (including Concord's) most likely did not drill with town militias. But, as Spring approached and with it the threat of armed conflict with England, volunteers were sought which in some instances included blacks. While no official records list negroes as serving in Concord's companies by 1775, one roll call seems to indicate Philip Barrett (slave of Col. Barrett) present at a militia muster. Since he was only age 14, it is more likely that he only accompanied the colonel but did not directly serve. This may also have been the case with several other Concord slaves.

In addition to Barrett, other town slave owners in 1775 included Tory and former slave trader Duncan Ingraham (Cato); Town Meeting moderator, Dr./Col. John Cuming (Brister); militia Capt. George Minot (Caesar); muster master Samuel Whitney (Casey); Rev. William Emerson (Frank); Deacon Simon Hunt (Caesar); and Tory, religious activist Dr. Joseph Lee (Cato). While these slaves may not have fought at North Bridge, some would later serve in the war.

A few records document the role of blacks fighting British Regulars alongside their white townsmen on April 19, 1775. Prince Estabrook, a member of Parker's militia, would be wounded on Lexington Green. At Concord's North Bridge, Caesar Jones (with Lt. Timothy Jones), Cambridge Moore and Caesar Prescott were in the Bedford ranks and Caesar Bason (later killed at Breed's Hill) may have represented Westford. Numerous towns counted black men in their ranks as they marched to "Battle Road".

One Concord story of April 19th centers on Cato Ingraham standing at his owner's house, hands behind his back as the Regulars approached. A soldier (possibly Maj. Pitcairn?) believing he had a weapon, pointed a pistol to his head and demanded his arms. Unflustered, Cato raised his left, then his right, noting that those were the only arms he possessed.

Heroic tales of local people of color are recorded on April 19th including Menotomy's Cuff Cartright (ignoring British bribes) riding to spread the alarm through town and mulatto David Lamson leading the old men of Menotomy in the capture of a British supply wagon.

Although maybe not involved at the Bridge fight, Concord's blacks would distinguish themselves in later military service. Philip Barrett would march in July 1775, enlist in Capt. Heald's company (1779), serve a 6 month tour at West Point (1780-81) and never return to Concord. Brister (Cuming) Freeman would serve under Col. John Buttrick at Saratoga (1777), see Burgoyne surrender, enlist again in 1779, earn his freedom, return to Concord, settle and marry. His burial site in Lincoln next to 5 British soldiers would be noted by Thoreau in Walden. Caesar Minot served 3 months (1775-76) and then signed for a 3 year enlistment (1779), returning to Concord at war's end. Casey Whitney would flee snowballs and the threats of his owner's son, enlist in the army, be freed and also return to Concord.

While many Concordians had opposed slavery and supported its abolition, a General Court resolve on the matter was vetoed in 1771 by Governor Hutchinson. By 1780, the State Constitution would be ratified but only after a Bill of Rights was added which included a ban on slavery.

The military role of Concord's slaves and freeman (along with their local peers) in the American Revolution should neither be ignored nor diminished. For their fight for liberty encompassed many emotions plus several fronts and facets while their bearing of arms in the American cause would gain freedom for a nation and often themselves while raising the hopes of a people.

In the epitaph of Concord's most famous slave, John Jack, written by Tory Daniel Bliss in 1773, "God wishes man free, man wills us slaves. I will as God wills; God's will be done".

Sources:

"Black Yankees" by William D. Piersen, 1988

"Black Bondage in the North" by Edgar J. McManus, 1973

"Concord: Its Black History 1636-1860" by Barbara K. Elliott and Janet W. Jones, 1976

"Concord and the Negro" by Joan Trumbull, 1944

"The Role of Blacks in the Battle of April 19, 1775" by Doug Sabin, 1987

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Concord Slave Names

We still see signs of Concord's slaves in the place names we use. Jennie Dugan Road and Jennie Dugan Spring, Brister's Hill Road, and Peter Spring Road are all named for the slaves who, after gaining their freedom, came to settle down in these parts of town.



Related Links

neighborhoods.net, a collaboration of community Webmasters in Eastern MA, has a page of links about black history in Massachusetts. These range from Boston's Black Heritage Trail to the history of the local underground railway.

©1998 The Concord, MA Homepage Photo: Painting by Edward Simmons. Courtesy of Art Today



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