J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

“I do therefore...free him and discharge him”

The New England Historic Genealogical Society is offering an online look at the 28 May 1776 document by which John Hoar of Lincoln emancipated his enslaved worker Cuff. (This article is in the N.E.G.H.S. collection, but was discussed at a Massachusetts Historical Society meeting in 1894. Hmmm.) In the transcription, “the P. Cuff” and “his P. master” should be “the s[ai]d. Cuff” and “his s[ai]d. master.”

I Googled to see if some of the phrases in this document—“he now desiring to be made Free”; “without the denial or contradiction of me”—show up in other manumissions, and didn’t find examples. The term “free [him] and discharge him” has precedents, but in laws covering debts. So it appears that a manumission was still rare enough that Hoar didn’t have formulaic language to follow.

The Seth Kaller documents firm is displaying another manumission document, this one from Stephen Hopkins, chief justice of Rhode Island, in 1772. If anyone would know the legal formulas, Hopkins would. But the language he used to free “a certain Negro Man Named Saint Jago” was mostly religious.

As for the man freed in Lincoln, John C. MacLean describes what few other things we know about him in “Resources for Researching Massachusetts Slaves and Slaveholders”:

Cuff Hoar...was paying a poll tax by 1778. Like many freed slaves, Cuff would soon change his name. In the 1780 tax list the name “Cuff Hoar” was written and then crossed out. His new name of “Cuff Kneeland” was written below. Vital records show that Cuff Kneeland married Sudbury’s Dinah Young on 1 February 1781, but regrettably he died the following month.
Dinah Kneeland, Nealon, or Nealen of Sudbury then married another former slave, Cato Walker of Worcester, on 22 Jan 1783. Dinah was Walker’s third wife, after Dido Chandler in 1771 and Prudence Williams in 1778. He had a son named Cato, born in 1779.

In 1784, the Worcester town meeting authorized its selectmen “to provide a Black Smiths anvel” for Cato Walker as either a loan or a grant—evidently a small-business stimulus to allow him to support his family. That year the town was reimbursing people for food they gave Walker. By 1785, however, Walker was on the tax rolls, though he could pay only a portion of what he owed.

According to their introduction to From Bondage to Belonging: The Worcester Slave Narratives, by B. Eugene McCarthy and Thomas L. Doughton, Walker was one of five African-American heads of household on Worcester tax lists in the late 1780s. His name also appears in Stephen Salisbury’s accounts from the 1790s. Cato Walker apparently died in 1816.

1 comment:

scott said...

Great blog, I like it alot!