Category Archives: Connecticut History

The Connection Between Elizabeth Freeman and Theodore Sedgwick.

Mum Bett was born a slave in 1742, and worked  in Colonel John Ashley’s house in Sheffield, Massachusetts. Ashley was a local leader, a merchant and very prominent in his community. He was also married to Hannah Ashley. Mum Bet was born a slave and was owned by the Ashley residence for 40 years. One day, Hannah Ashley struck and hit Bet in the face with a burning shovel. This badly scarred her face. After the incident, she decided she was going to use her natural rights, that “all men are born free and equal,” and fight for her freedom.

Screen Shot 2017-05-23 at 10.47.51 AM.png

John Ashley’s House

She later became the first African American slave to be free in the state of Massachusetts. She then went to Stockbridge to Theodore Sedgwick’s household. Sedgwick was an attorney and a lawyer, and agreed to help Mum Bett in her freedom suit fight. How did Mum Bet know that Theodore Sedgwick would help her though? After research, the answer has been found. Theodore Sedgwick used to live in Sheffield Massachusetts and knew John Ashley. They were both very prominent and wealthy in the community. Actually, Sedgwick often visited the Ashley home along with a group of men who put together the Sheffield Resolves. The Sheffield resolves, in short

was a Colonial American petition against British tyranny and manifesto for individual rights, drawn up as a series of resolves approved by the Town of Sheffield, Massachusetts, on January 12, 1773 and printed in The Massachusetts Spy, Or, Thomas’s Boston Journal on February 18, 1773. It is said that the meeting took place in the Colonel John Ashley House” (Document 2).

Screen Shot 2017-05-16 at 10.28.31 AM.png

Drawing of Mum Bett

Sedgwick and Ashley sat together in the Ashley’s living room and agreed on a petition against their individual rights, yet Ashley still had multiple slaves working for his family. This is what most New England families stood for. They believed they should rebel against the British, and fight for their lives yet they were still enslaving other humans who should have also had those rights. Sedgwick believed in natural rights for African Americans, while Ashley did not. This may be because of his education and upbringing.

Sedgwick was born in West Hartford, Connecticut and was born into an immigrant ancestor family. He attended Yale College, where he studied law. Although he did not finish, he “read law” with Mark Hopkins. Mark Hopkins was an American educator and later went on to be the president of Williams College. Sedgwick was surrounded by liberal teachings. He understood the difficulty of being an immigrant because of his family. His relative, Robert Sedgwick actually came over on the “Truelove” boat in 1635. He studied at very liberal colleges and learned from liberal teachers, like Mark Hopkins.

Ashley, on the other hand, also attended Yale to study law but did not finish. Instead, he took a different path and settled for being a town merchant instead. He spent ten years in the military at first, and became very prominent in his town. He later became one of the town lawyers.

These two men had very different upbringings, making them different in many ways. This infers that is why they have different opinions about African American rights. Mum Bet was working during one of their meetings, and happened to overhear the part about natural rights. She knew Sedgwick and what he stood for, which is why she had the confidence to knock on his door that day.

After a successful court case and a mark in history, a friendship between Theodore and Mum Bett  bloomed. After Bett won her freedom she changed her name to Elizabeth Freeman and tried to start a new life. The problem was, trying to build a life as the only free African American women in Western Massachusetts became very challenging. In her words, trying to live in a racist world was close to impossible. Elizabeth decided to turn to Sedgwick for help again. Considering their wonderful friendship, Sedgwick hired Freeman to work for his family.

Screen Shot 2017-05-19 at 12.02.31 PM.png

Elizabeth Freeman’s Grave

They built her a home on their property, so she could raise her daughter. Elizabeth worked for their family for the rest of her life. She died in Stockbridge December 28, 1829 and was buried in the Stockbridge cemetery. She actually was buried in the Sedgwick family’s part of the cemetery because they really did consider her one of their own.

 

 

 

 

Places:  “Colonel John Ashley House,” 2017.

http://www.thetrustees.org/places-to-visit/berkshires/ashley-house.html

 

Documents: Sjc. “The Mum Bett Case.” Court System. N.p., 09 Dec. 2013. Web. 23 May 2017.<http://www.mass.gov/courts/court-info/sjc/edu-res-center/abolition/abolition-4-gen.html&gt;.

“Sheffield Declaration (1773).” Constitution Society: Everything Needed to Decide Constitutional Issues. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 May 2017. <http://www.constitution.org/bcp/sheffield_declaration.html&gt;.

Cori Urban | Special to The Republican. “Favorite Place: Ashley House in Sheffield Tells Stories of Landowners, Slaves Who Lived There.” Masslive.com. Masslive.com, 17 Sept. 2012. Web. 23 May 2017. <http://www.masslive.com/entertainment/index.ssf/2012/09/favorite_place_ashley_house_in.html&gt;.

Sedgwick, Dennis. SEDGWICK.ORG – Major General Robert Sedgwick (1613 – 1656). N.p., n.d. Web. 23 May 2017. <http://www.sedgwick.org/na/families/robert1613/sedgwick-robert1613.html>.

 

Book: Rudolph, Frederick. Mark Hopkins and the Log: Williams College, 1836-1872. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1957. Print.

Advertisements

Digging into Richard Fortune’s Whole Story Part II

Ancestry.com, 1 of 3 Images

Ancestry.com 2 of 3

Researching history about slavery and freedom in Suffield Connecticut has evolved into a powerful and important partnership of public history. With help from an independent genealogist from the Suffield Historical Society combined with help from the National Mall Liberty Fund in Washington, DC, I was able to examine more information about Richard Fortune. The National Mall Liberty Fund DC sent us a URL of an amazing and far-reaching text, Forgotten Patriots, published by the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution in 2008. Here’s a URL for the text; wait a few moments for the URL to load on your computer. You can then perform searches of key words. Searching Suffield will help you find the information about Richard Fortune as well as a “Titus” from Suffield as well as two other African-American soldiers we know more information about, Cesar Negro and Titus Kent. http://www.dar.org/sites/default/files/media/library/xpublications/Forgotten_Patriots_ISBN-978-1-892237-10-1.pdf

Click here for a pdf that shows the DAR Sources for Richard Fortune in the important text, Forgotten Patriots.

Simultaneously, a member from the Suffield Historical Society, sent us a most important clue about a letter written by General Israel Putnam’s son who testified to Richard Fortune’s long service, which included Fortune signing up again for service.

Again, below is  from a classmate who found the National Mall Liberty Fund link that my classmate discovered in the winter: http://libertyfunddc.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/HARTFORD-COUNTY-BACKGROUND-AFRICAN-AMERICAN-REVOLUTIONARY-WAR-RESOLUTION.pdf  See page 5 of 5 of this pdf published by the Liberty Fund organization.

The genealogist from the Suffield Historical Society clues also lead us more to the eastern Connecticut story of Richard Fortune. Our initial search discovered his alias as well as someone from eastern Connecticut writing a letter on his behalf when Richard Fortune sought his pension in 1818. Our slide show presents that information: https://caisctpbl.wordpress.com/2017/04/14/suffield-academy-students-present-at-suffield-historical-society-meeting-on-april-18th/

If any reader knows more about Richard Fortune or has a suggestion for a source that will help our research, please leave a comment on this post. I will get an email notifying me of your comment and look forward to learning more.

Below is my first attempt at transcribing the letter; please comment any suggestions where I have a question mark by a word or let me know if I made a mistake with a word.

Jabez CLARK, esquire Brooklyn 1818
Sir I received a line from you on Saturday last request on info regarding the services of Richard fortune, a black man in the army of the Revolution. This man has the commencement of the war was slave, belonging to general Putnam. In December 1775 he was ordered by his master ??? And entered as a soldier in Durkus(?) Regiment as that time ??? For the continental? He was taken from the regiment into the family of his master as a servant and continued with him until April 1777 remaining in the Munster rolls, and drawing pay as a soldier in that regiment. Some time in April 1777 under the promise of freedom as the close of the war he enlisted again in the same regiment and continued as a servant in general Putnam’s (family?) till about the first of April 1779 when he was discharged from service. When I state his services in General Putnam’s family it is to be understood his military family in Corps where he served with such fidelity and good conduct as to obtain?? An honorable discharge from the army had also from (?) Claims of his master.
I state these facts from my own knowledge having hear myself an aide de camp to (?) General Putnam and services in his family most of the (?)(?) In service in the time of the Revolution
I am respectfully (?)
Your servant (?)
David Putnam

Digging into Richard Fortune’s Whole Story

Screen Shot 2017-02-27 at 10.40.55 AM

Richard Fortune Record in Ancestry.com

Researching history about slavery and freedom in Suffield Connecticut, I was able to come across Richard Fortune from a classmate who found this source: http://libertyfunddc.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/HARTFORD-COUNTY-BACKGROUND-AFRICAN-AMERICAN-REVOLUTIONARY-WAR-RESOLUTION.pdf  See page 5 of 5 of this pdf published by the Liberty Fund organization.

While we have no other source that proves Richard Fortune was from Suffield in 1774 or prior to 1774, he is clearly listed on this source. We are in the process of verifying with the research that places Richard Fortune in Suffield, Ct.

Nevertheless, we discovered a great deal about Richard Fortune’s life during and after the Revolutionary War. He entered into the army at the age of around 18. Below are bullet points on more information we have on Richard Fortune.

  •      Was Born in 1747
  •      Fought in Revolutionary War
  •      African American soldier that lived in Suffield
  •      Lived in Berlin CT as well
  •      Wrote a petition for pension on April 8th 1818
  •      Was a Private in the War
  •      Married Dinah Fortune
  •      Died at the age of 88
  •      Death date April 7th 1835
  •      Died in Hampton, CT

This is all the info we have on him but it seems to be after the war. Do you have any information on him before, during or after the Revolutionary War?

The Significance of Suffield’s 1774 Resolves

In response to the 1773 Boston Tea Party, the British Parliament passed the Coercive Acts. The Coercive Acts, also referred to as the Intolerable Acts by the Colonists, were four laws passed in protest to the Colonists rising rebellion, with the hope of restoring order. Among these acts was the Massachusetts Government Act, which provided the British Parliament full control over any elections, and prohibited town meetings.The Colonists protested these acts in many ways, including the creation of The Committee of Correspondence, which was started in 1772 by Samuel Adams. Small towns of Massachusetts and Connecticut  joined in on this, creating their own committees, including Suffield. The town of Sheffield was one of the first to create Resolves, and was the template for other towns. Their resolves petitioned against British tyranny and manifesto for individual rights, and were approved on January 12th, 1773. A month later on February 18th, the Sheffield resolves were printed in the Massachusetts Spy, also known as Thomas’s Boston Journal. Having these resolves printed in a newspaper allowed them to be shared and seen all around the colonies. Of their resolutions, one stands out the most, “Mankind in a state of nature are equal, free, and independent of each other, and have a right to the undisturbed enjoyment of their lives, their liberty and property,” this resolution foreshadows a huge part of the Declaration of Independence and the Colonies fight for freedom and independence.

In August of 1774 a committee was formed in Suffield, Connecticut, by Gideon Granger, Alexander King, and Joseph Pease. These three men were all influential men in the community and crucial for the fight for freedom in Suffield. Gideon Granger trained young men to attend Yale and become lawyers. Joseph Pease was a strong supporter and extremely wealthy. He had a diary, and there is specific evidence that shows town residents were ready to go to Boston in the fall of 1774 during the false alarm.

They composed their own resolves and sent it to Boston where the Committee of Correspondence met. The small text, “Suffield and the Lexington Alarm in April, 1775” by H.S. Sheldon described the resolves perfectly.

“A year previous, many of the Towns had, like Suffield, passed Resolutions of condolence with the suffering inhabitants of Boston, and of resistance to the tyrannical acts of the British Parliament. It is worth of comment, that the ‘Resolves’ were conceived two years before the Declaration of Independance, and are in some respects similar in spirit and language.”

The resolves are the clearest description of a peek into the mindset of the town in 1774, and rather than just investigating how the country reacted, we can learn about how the town we live in responded to the Boston Tea Party.

There are many significant aspects of the Suffield resolves.

Screen Shot 2017-05-15 at 10.47.05 AM.png

Original Sheffield Resolves

This collective claim gives the class a better understanding of how the people throughout the thirteen colonies felt about the closing of the ports, as well as the British influence, as the resolves were written in order to support the residents of Boston. These resolves fought to reject the Massachusetts Government Act, and boycott all imported British goods with the hope of having the Coercive Acts repealed. Another important aspect of the resolves was the fact that it inspired many people. For instance, slave Elizabeth Freeman, better known as Mum Bett was so inspired by the resolves that it gave her the courage to sue for her freedom in 1781. Once she gained her freedom other slaves such as Quack Walker decided to sue as well. The resolves helped people gain strength to fight for what they believed in.

The town of Suffield had many influential visitors such as John Adams and George Washington.Both of these men were strong patriots and had a very noticeable impact on the town, as so many rallied behind them and supported their fight for freedom. George Washington stopped in Suffield on his way to take over the army. This suggests that Suffield was a force that had to be acknowledged.

In a diary entry written by John Adams, while passing through Suffield, he recalls seeing a group of militiamen trained with a man in a green coat.

Screen Shot 2017-05-11 at 12.02.58 PM.png

John Adam’s Diary Regarding Suffield

This goes against what most people know about the revolutionary war. This is because most people thought the militiamen were just untrained soldiers who did guerrilla warfare.  This diary entry from John Adams shows us that the Suffield men were in fact trained, even if it was just for a small period of time.

Committees from Suffolk, Middlesex, and Essex counties all met in Boston to create a formal response on August 26th, 1774, showing great representation and initiative from all the small towns working together, including Suffield. The declaration, formally made on September 9th, 1774, rejected the Massachusetts Government Act and boycotted imported goods from Britain, unless the intolerable acts were repealed. These resolutions showed great foresight for the Declaration of Independence, as one of the main arguments was a man’s right to life, liberty, and happiness.

 

Places:

“Suffield Historical Society,” 2016.

http://www.suffieldhistoricalsociety.org/

“Suffield Town Hall,” 2017.

http://www.suffieldct.gov

 

Documents:

“Suffield.” NYPL Digital Collections. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 May 2017. <https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/87721580-da40-0132-1544-58d385a7b928>.

“Boston Committee of Correspondence Records 1772-1784 D.” Boston Committee of Correspondence Records. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 May 2017. <http://archives.nypl.org/mss/343#overview>.

“Voices of the Revolution: Sons of Liberty.” The Sons of Liberty. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 May 2017. <https://www.constitutionfacts.com/us-declaration-of-independence/sons-of-liberty/>.

Documentary History of Suffield : In the Colony and Province of the Massachusetts Bay, in New England, 1660-1749. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 May 2017. <https://archive.org/stream/documentaryhisto00shel#page/22/mode/2up/search/harry+roco&gt;.

 

Books:

Egerton, Douglas R. “Mum Best Takes a Name.” Death or Liberty: African Americans and Revolutionary America. New York: Oxford UP, 2011. 150-90. Print.

We’re Writing #CTHistory & We Need Your Help

Screen Shot 2017-04-03 at 4.38.14 PM.png

Suffield Resolves, July 4th, 1774

We’re writing Connecticut History, and we need your help.

Between the Boston Tea Party and “the shot heard round the world” at Lexington and Concord spans the most important introductory chapter of American history that many history books passover and rush to the Declaration of Independence. Did you know that eighteen towns in Connecticut wrote Resolves to support the residents of Boston after Parliament closed the port.

Lesson plan #1: ask students to do research about your area in between the Boston Tea Party and Lexington and Concord events. Then ask them to try to read and understand the set of resovles document from your area.

Ashford, Brooklyn, East Haddam, Farmington, Glassenburry (colonial spelling), Groton, Hartford, Lyme, Middletown, New Haven, Norwich, Pomfret, Preston, Salisbury and Stonington, Suffield, Wethersfield, Windham and Woodstock. Click here to view your town’s resolves: https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/collections/boston-committee-of-correspondence-records#/?tab=navigation&roots=1:9b3ce660-d01a-0132-39b2-58d385a7b928/1:aeb447e0-d01a-0132-04d3-58d385a7b928

Can you find out more about the citizens who gathered to discuss and agree upon these results? What portion of the population in your area supported the loyalist cars in 1774? Because these conversations about human rights and freedom or pervasive throughout the colonies what effect did this spirit have on the African-American population in your hometown? Want to know the African-American population in your town, click on the Colony of Connecticut Census from 1774, pp. 484-492. Look up your town and begin investigating. https://archive.org/stream/publicrecordsofc014conn#page/492/mode/2up   

Lesson Plan #2: Did any African-Americans listed in the 1774 colony of Connecticut senses later respond to the Lexington alarm? Or did they later and list to fight not only for the Continental Army but for the freedom?  Did any fight in the American Revolution? Click here and scroll down for exact names and towns of African-American veterans.  http://libertyfunddc.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/HARTFORD-COUNTY-BACKGROUND-AFRICAN-AMERICAN-REVOLUTIONARY-WAR-RESOLUTION.pdf

This link will help you find your county and town statistics: http://libertyfunddc.com/community-support#toggle-id-3

Every town in Connecticut by law provides access to town records. What do your town records report on this issue in 1774? This could be a fun little field trip to investigate.

A class at Suffield Academy recently discovered a great deal of information about the turbulent and pivotal year of 1774. You can read more about their discoveries on this blog that you are visiting: https://caisctpbl.wordpress.com/  Their public presentation slides from an April 19th program are here: https://caisctpbl.wordpress.com/2017/04/18/slides-for-community-presentation/

Join us in planning a symposium at the Connecticut Historical Society later this spring where we share what we learned and show how he learned it. Look for a sign process soon. In the meantime, you can facilitate other primary source documents on this blog or at your local historical society to help us collaborate and write the complex Connecticut history of 1774.

Did Richard Fortune Earn his Freedom in the War?

While Titus Kent is an African-American Revolutionary War veteran recognized on Suffield Veterans Memorial, a classmate discovered that a Richard Fortune fought in the Connecticut Regiment, and he is listed as being from Suffield. This discovery made me reflect on my previous research where I read Katherine Harris’ introduction in African American Connecticut Explored, where she opens the collection of history with this reflection: “The coexistence of freedom and slavery shape the lives of people of African descent from their first arrival in the Connecticut colony.” I then read David O White’s work, Revolutionary War Service; Path to Freedom in the collection and began more research on Richard Fortune.

We were able to get more in depth about what an important Katherine Harris’ research was. Looking into her researching history about slavery and freedom in Suffield Connecticut, I was able to come across Richard Fortune. Just like Titus Kent, who has
been researched by one of my classmates was an important

Screen Shot 2017-02-27 at 10.40.55 AM.png

Researched on Ancestry.com

Richard Fortune was pa
rt of the Revolutionary War and entered into the army at the age of around 18. In the 1820’s there are records of the United States Federal Census. This record informs us that Richard Fortune had to be the age of 45 and up in the year 1820. It also gave us information on his spouse. His wife was Diana Fortune who was able to live longer than him and she received his pension benefits when she was his widow. There is also a record of
her age in the year 1820. It says she was in between 26 and 44 years of age. This is a broad range, but it gives us the idea that she was fairly younger than Mr.

Screen Shot 2017-02-27 at 10.45.20 AM.png

Researching on Ancestry.com

Fortune.
As a class we were hoping to get more background information if possible on Richard Fortune. Researching Titus Kent gave us a good deal of information on Connecticut Slavery and Freedom during 1774. Thus, so finding more information on another African American soldier would get us closer to answers we are looking for as a class. If we could find more information on Richard Fortune, that could be great for my class. Can anyone help us with more sources and resources to find out more about Richard Fortune’s life after the war?