Today in class we found an excerpt from the book called The Biography of a Town by one of our town’s historians, Robert Hayden Alcorn. This book gives us a history of Suffield, Connecticut from 1670-1970. Towards the beginning of the book on page 80 there is a page that mentions George Washington’s two visits. He came to Suffield in 1775 and 1789. On both occasions, he traveled up from Windsor and continued on to Springfield, MA. In 1775, we learned that he addressed Suffield’s residents across from the Austin tavern and under the town’s two sentinel elms. In this image of an excerpt from Alcorn’s history,
Excerpt from Alcorn’s The Biography of a Town
we also found another letter (primary source) regarding Mary Austin (Seth Austin’s wife) who wrote to Washington in 1789 about the Austin Tavern receiving counterfeit money from a man named Jonas Mace, who apparently made a very good career by counterfeiting money. She wrote to Washington asking for help to see if he could save them. She writes: “Necessity is my only apology for addressing a Gentleman of your dignified Merit—Having no alternative; you will excuse me…” In this letter she said her household and tavern had about twenty people living there, and they were very low on money and in much distress. I believe that these twenty people must have included the five slaves that my classmate discovered on the 1790s census. This fact rings true with how we learned that ministers and tavern owners owned slaves throughout the Connecticut River Valley.
The webpage Founder Online, published by the National Archives, supports our claim that George Washington had lunch at the Austin Tavern in 1775 when he was passing through on his way to take control of the Continental Army in Cambridge. This letter that Mary writes was written after the war.
In our project-based learning class we are studying slavery and freedom in Connecticut in 1774. I started my research on the founding families of Suffield and ended up focusing on the Austin Family who were related to Stephen F. Austin, the founder of Austin, Texas. The Austins owned a popular tavern on main street that was visited by people like George Washington and John Adams. These taverns were popular place for gossip. Unlike todays bars, people in these coloniel taverns discussed politics like we would discuss sports and celebrities in modern day. The Austins also owned five slaves to help them run their house and the tavern. In relation to famous people at the Austin’s tavern, we found information in a journal from John Adams. In this journal he discusses his trip through the Northeast, and he mentions Suffield. He mentions that when traveling through Suffield, a group of militiamen trained with a man in a green coat. This goes against what most people know about the revolutionary war. This is because most people thought the militiamen were just untrained soldier who did guerrilla warfare. This diary entry from John Adams shows us that they were trained even if it was just a little bit. We also read through the Joseph Pease’s diary, but we didn’t really find anything that was important to our topic of slavery and freedom in 1774.
Next in my research I’d like to read more into John Adams’ diary and find all that I can in it. After this I would like to try to find out more of what slaves in Suffield during 1774 and maybe what the Austin family slaves did to help the tavern along with what they did to help around the house. I think if I can find more diaries, I might be able to find this information along with how people felt about slavery in Suffield compared to other people in the north and to people in the south. We know that 1/3 of the Connecticut militia was made up of people from Suffield. Thus I assume that they were against slavery, but I would like solid evidence.
In our American studies class at Suffield Academy, we are studying the slavery and freedom in Suffield during 1774. I will study the Austin family, which was one of the founding families, and their effect on the town of Suffield in the year of 1774. I want to find out what they did for an occupation, what relationship they have with Steven F. Austin who the city of Austin, Texas (which I am from) is named after, and I would like to know how many slaves they had and what they did. From my initial research I have found that they have lived in Suffield for multiple generations and haven’t showed any signs of moving down to Texas. This currently makes me unsure about if they had anything to do with the founding of the city of Austin or not. The family seems to have started with Anthony Austin. Captain Anthony Austin moved to Suffield when he was just two years of age with his parents Richard and Elizabeth Austin. Anthony Austin was among the first grantees and proprietors in Suffield. There were only one hundred amongst the first who were the first to start to settle in Suffield. Seth Austin was the son of Thomas Austin who was the grandson of Captain Anthony Austin. He was a Tavern keeper during the Revolutionary War time and was taxed in 1778 on two “first rate” houses, which I deduce one was his own house and the other was his tavern. I found this information on a website called Strong Family Genealogy, this source seems very reliable because it references specific documents that actually exist and says where to find them. He owned 5 slaves which seems like a high number compared to everyone else in the town of Suffield.
In the Kent Library in Suffield it is said have a photocopy of his taxes from 1778. The tavern was taken down in 1899. I think it would help to go see the photocopy and see what he had to taxes for and see how many things he owned, which his slaves would have had to operate. To further my research, I want to look into the tavern that the Austin’s owned and I want to learn more about Captain Austin. Just like the house that the class found in the woods last year there may be some remains of his house of his somewhere in Suffield, which would be really great to find.
Information about the life of Nathaniel Austin
Suffield’s own information on the Austin Family through the generations
The genealogy of the Austin Family in Suffield