Category Archives: Flora

Finding More About Exeter and Flora Through 19th Century Depositions

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While reading through the depositions of “Horace Noble taken at his dwelling house in the town of Southwick in the said County of Hamden, Commonwealth of Massachusetts on the 16th day of August 1849,” we learned that Exeter lived with Thomas Hanchett, who was no relation to Oliver Hanchett.Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 9.44.53 PM.pngWe then checked the 1790s Census to confirmed this fact, and saw that there is one person accounted for in the “All other free Persons” penultimate column. We think that it is most likely Exeter. This second image of the 1790s Census is interesting because it lists the neighbors and other people mentioned in other depositions.

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Flora’s Life with Scott

Based on the statements of people who knew Flora before, it is likely that Flora was a slave before her marriage and freed after the marriage. In 1770s, she legally married with Exeter in Southwick, MA, but they lived separately. Exeter lived in Southwick, MA, and Flora lived in Suffield, CT. Flora was also a servant to Benjamin Scott. According to the document written by Hannah King, “I have ever lived in the town of Suffield and with in 1 mile of Benjamin Scott the resident of Benjamin Scott decided that Flora, a negro woman lives in a family ?aia [unknown text] Scott  several years and attended Church at that Suffield with his (Scott family) during the time of Rev. John Graham’s ministry in a West Suffield and that she left  the family of ?aia [unknown text] Scott a free woman and not a slave as I understand at the time. and that afterwards Flora and her children” (https://caisctpbl.wordpress.com/2016/02/01/transcription/). I have also read the depositions of a few people (Sarah Nelson, Silence Remington, Abraham Rising, and Bela Spencer) who have known Flora and Scott before. People mentioned that Flora was living at Benjamin Scott’s. Flora was a slave (many stated that she belonged to Scott), but Exeter was a free man even before the marriage to Flora. Flora was probably freed from Scott. Some people heard that he made her free, which is a common report at that time. When Scott moved to Balndford, Massachusetts, Scott gave Flora her time, and she went to Hanchett’s and lived there as hired servant or slave for a year or two. However, one said that Flora lived with her master, Scott, in Suffield, and one does not know that she ever lived with Exeter, but Flora was back and forth frequently, until her master thought she was up there too much and sold her to Captain Hanchett. In addition, according to the source from the Library of Virginia, in 1781, Scott sold Flora to Oliver Hanchett for 30 pounds, but Flora resisted and ran away. I cannot find out the specific information of Flora and Scott because of lack of materials. What I need to find out is the relationship between Scott and Flora and how Flora worked in Scott’s house. We are not sure that Scott freed Flora or sold her to Hanchett.

There is another part of our mystery of Flora’s possible son. Flora had a son (we do not know his name), and Scott let her take care of him when he was two or three months old. Then Scott told Exeter that if he would give him a boy, he would take care of the boy, but if he would not, he must take it away, so Exeter took the boy away and hired Aunt betty to keep him a year. After that, Exeter hired somebody in Feeding Hills, which is in Massachusetts, to keep his son.

Who Has the Legal Custody Over Flora?

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Mumbett, Elizabeth Freeman:the first African-American woman to win her way out of slavery in 1781. We don’t have an image for Flora, but we can take Mumbett as a reference to get a general idea of how Flora might looks like since they have similar background. Source:

As we are doing history in a project based learning environment and preparing a presentation for the Suffield Historical Society on the other Underground Railroad, especially about the Flora’s kidnapping case, we posed a question: Did Exeter, her husband, has the legal custody of Flora, or did Hanchett, the slave owner, have the property rights over his slave. Flora’s case is about a married black woman who was kidnapped and sold back into slavery.

We found a book, Love of Freedom: Black Women in Colonial and Revolutionary New England, written by Catherine Adams and Elizabeth H. Pleck, and an article, “Flora’s flight: A Montgomery county freedom suit” from Library of Virginia, which both mention that Exeter sued Hanchett for his legal title to the ownership of Flora. In this case, the court of common pleas in Hampshire County, Massachusetts, sentenced Hanchett guilty because Hanchett was known as a villain in town. Exeter was awarded damages around £65.  However, there was another state case in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, in which Hanchett claimed that Flora and Exeter had “consented” to limit their marital rights in their wedding so that Flora should be remained a “servant” obligated to him, the slave master. Unfortunately, Exeter lost the case because the judges of the Court respect the property rights of an owner from outside the state as Exeter and Hanchett are from Connecticut.

As we connected with the Library of Virginia, we were given a court archive about Exeter v. Hanchett case. The document is all handwritten in cursive, so it will take us a significant amount of time to transcribe it. We will also post it on our classroom blog and ask other experts to guide us in the process. On top of that, we are wondering if the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and Hampden County Superior Court have the same court documents and depositions about Exeter v. Hanchett case.

Sources:

  1. “Love of Freedom: Black Women in Colonial and Revolutionary New England.”Google Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Dec. 2015.
  2. FLORA’S PLIGHT: A MONTGOMERY COUNTY FREEDOM SUIT
  1. http://www.mass.gov/courts/court-info/courthouses/hampden-holyoke/hampden-superior-court-generic.html
  2. http://www.sec.state.ma.us/arc/arccol/colidx.htm#court
  3. Image from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Freeman#/media/File:Mumbett70.jpg

 

 

 

Extended Research: Exeter v. Hanchett Court Case

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After getting the big picture of our research, we started to focus on different tiny parts of details. We utilized the source Love of Freedom by Catherine Adams. I discovered something very useful and largely related to the project from the footnotes: a book named Seventeen Eighty-Three: The Turning Point in the Law of Slavery and Freedom in Massachusetts by Emily Blanck. Blanck guided us through the change in slavery law mainly in the state of Massachusetts during the late 18th century. More importantly, Blanck used Flora’s trial as one of the three major historical events in supporting her book’s thesis. After analyzing the booking, I found that Blanck gave us a clearer image on how exactly Flora’s case was like, from Exeter’s perspective and the responses of both lawyers. For example, she described the process of how Exeter and Flora married as “servants” when ruled by Benjamin Scott and both remained enslaved. While Exeter was set free before, and that became the main supporting evidence to the court case- Flora should be Exeter’s property under their marriage. In conclusion, Hanchett was only found guilty for stealing the couple’s personal items but not for kidnapping Flora. Other than that, Blanck left some clues for us to solve as well, which include if the Supreme Court did inappropriately infringe upon the property rights of a Connecticut slaverowner (42) or not and to find out the actual copies of documents filed in the appeals of the trials (39). I see that a lot more things were being solved from this document and it helped us take a big step forward towards solving our mystery.

Citations:

Seventeen Eighty-Three: The Turning Point in the Law of Slavery and Freedom in Massachusetts, Emily Blanck, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1559880?seq=15#page_scan_tab_contents

Who is Exeter?

Dear administrator of Congressional Church of Southwick,

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The Congressional Church of Southwick

I am a Suffield Academy student, and as a class, we are doing project based learning class and a presentation in Suffield historical society on Underground Railroad, especially about the Flora’s kidnapping case. The Flora’s case is about a married black woman and being kidnapped and sold as slaves. There are different storylines derived from Flora’s case during our research; one of the most significant clue is her husband, Exeter, while he was on his journey searching for Flora. By searching the information from the book Black Families in Hampden County, Massachusetts 1650-1865, 2nd edition, we found that Exeter’s birth and death records may be stored in Congressional Church of Southwick, 1775-1814, composed by Joseph Carvalho III. Could you please help us investigate Exeter’s history? Does your archive have the record for Exeter’s baptism and his death or his marriage record? Or if you can provide any extra information to help us verify Exeter’s identity?

In our previous investigation, we also found a book, Love of Freedom: Black Women in Colonial and Revolutionary New England, written by Catherine Adams and Elizabeth H. Pleck, which provides a glimpse about Exeter’s attempt to free his wife, Flora. We learned that Exeter searched for Flora, walked from Suffield and Southwick to New York without any efficient transportation during that time and died without anyone knowing anything. If we can prove that the Exeter mentioned in the Church’s record is the one we are searching for, Exeter’s baptism and death record may be our new start point to discover more information about him. In the future, we hope to find out what happen during his journey, who did he meet, and how did he die. Furthermore, according to the historical documents, Exeter experienced two appeals, one in the lower court and the other in the Massachusetts Superior Court. Exeter won the first appeal because the local judges know that Hanchett, the man who kidnapped Flora, was a villain in on the boarder between Suffield and Southwick; however, Exeter lost the second one because the case was judged based on the state law at that time, in which claimed slave holders still possessed the slaves after their marriages.  Therefore, we aim to find the deposition and the court document about these two trials because any details or resources may be a key factor in determining what happened during Flora’s kidnapping case. This project requires a lot of research skills and critical thinking skills because we never know if the information we find is authentic or explicable, and it’s hard to find any paper form documents due to its long history. If you can please provide any clues, this will be a huge progress in our research.

Best regards,

Coco Cao

Suffield Academy 16’

Thank you.

 

Sources:

  1. “Love of Freedom: Black Women in Colonial and Revolutionary New England.”Google Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Dec. 2015.
  2. FLORA’S PLIGHT: A MONTGOMERY COUNTY FREEDOM SUIT
  3. Pictured from : http://mass.historicbuildingsct.com/?p=2905

Research Update: Flow Chart of Flora’s Descendants

In my class, each student had to pick the topic they wanted to research and share what they have found to other classmates. I chose to make a flow chart of Flora’s descendants because it is important to display the specific information of descendants to understand more easily about law court cases. In addition, since most of the people are visual learners, the flow chart will help them know the story well and connect to the court issues. After Flora began to sue her illegal owner, her children and grandchildren had court battles against Virginia slave owners, such as Charlton’s heirs and family member swho had either been given or sold members of Flora’s family. However, I could not complete the flow chart because although I found many names of descendants, none of the sources stated the particular information of each descendants. The descendants’ names are: Andrew, Reuben, Julius, William, Helen, Mary, Tarlton, Matilda, James, and Flora / Rhoda Ann, Phyllis, William, Henry, Mary, Tarlton, Matilda, Flora and James (both are from other sources). At least I know that Cena/Caeana and Rose (later called Unis) are Flora’s daughters, and Andrew is Flora’s grandson. Nonetheless, I do not know if Andrew is Cena’s or Unis’s son.

Fortunately, I found some other information that I was curious about during this research. Flora was a slave before her marriage with Exeter but became a free woman after the marriage; hence, it is justifiable for Flora to fight against her owners. Flora and Exeter had three children (one of them (son, I guess) was not kidnapped). Unis and Cena had a same owner, Jacob Lawrence, while Flora was sold to different owner, James Stephens.

In the future, I need to put more effort to complete the flow chart. Even though I found some multiple names of people who are blood-related to Flora, I could not find the detailed relationship among them. Therefore, we need to search for other sources or try to find out the specific legal battles, or send email to ask a question to a reliable institute, such as Library of Virginia.