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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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Who Was Crispus Attucks’s Father?

Many websites and books identify Crispus Attucks’s father as Prince Yongey (or Young or Jonar), based on the fact that Framingham records say a man of that name married Nancy Peterattuck on 19 May 1737.

However, according to William Brown’s runaway advertisements, “Crispas” was about twenty-seven years old in 1750. That means he would have been about fourteen when Nancy Peterattuck married Prince Yongey.

Furthermore, in 1860 someone from Natick informed William C. Nell that Attucks’s parents were “Jacob Peter Attucks” and “Nanny,” which might have been another form of Nancy. This source said there were other children in the family—Sam, Sal, and Peter—and that they were all “uncommonly large.”

William Barry’s 1847 history of Framingham says Jacob Peterattucks was in that town by 1730 working for “Col. Buckminster.” There was a series of prominent men with that surname, including Joseph (1666-1747) and his sons Joseph (1697-1780) and Thomas (1698-1795).

It seems more likely, therefore, that Prince Yongey was Crispus Attucks’s stepfather, marrying his mother in 1737 after his father Jacob Peterattucks’s death. There are, of course, many other possible scenarios, including multiple people with the same name, unreliable informants, or a church marriage performed years into the relationship because the couple’s owner got religion.

Jacob Peterattucks was previously listed as a member of John Shipley’s military company in 1722, described as “Servt. John Wood.” On 16 May 1723, he was one of several men dismissed as “Sick, lame and unfit for Servis, by thear own Requests.” Notably, the lieutenant of that company was Joseph “Buckmaster.” Crispus Attucks was born around that year.

(In addition, a Moses Peter Attucks of Leicester served as a private at Fort Massachusetts under Lt. Elisha Hawley and Capt. Ephraim Williams in 1747-49. Another member of the family?)

We have no way of knowing whether Prince Yongey had any influence on Crispus Attucks, who was enslaved to Brown by 1750 and perhaps earlier, and therefore may never have lived with a stepfather. Yongey did become a Framingham fixture, as local historian Barry learned from townspeople who had known him:
But the most noted individual of the class under consideration, was Prince, sometimes called Prince Young, but whose name is recorded as Prince Yongey, and Prince Jonar, by which last name he is noticed [and “rated”] in the Town Rec. in 1767. He was brought from Africa when a young man of about 25 years, having been a person of consideration in his native land, from whence, probably, he derived his name. He was first owned by Col. Joseph Buckminster, and afterwards by his son, the late Dea. Thomas. He married, (by name Prince Yongey) in 1737, Nanny Peterattucks, of Framingham, (the name indicating Indian extraction) by whom he had several children, among them a son, who died young, and a daughter Phebe, who never married.

Prince was a faithful servant, and by his general honesty, temperance and prudence, so gained the confidence of his first master. Col. Buckminster, that for about a quarter of a century, he was left with the management of a large farm, during his master’s absence at the General Court. He occupied a cabin near the Turnpike, and cultivated, for his own use, a piece of meadow, which has since been known as Prince’s meadow. He chose the spot as resembling the soil of his native country.

During the latter part of his life he was offered his freedom, which he had the sagacity to decline; pithily saying, “massa eat the meat; he now pick the bone.” Prince shunned the society of persons of his own color, and though accustomed to appear in public armed with a tomahawk, was a great favorite with the young, whom, under all provocations, he was never known but in one instance to strike.

He had been sufficiently instructed to read, and possessed the religious turn characteristic of the African race. In his last sickness, he remarked with much simplicity, that he was “not afraid to be dead, but to die.” He passed an extreme old age in the family of Dea. Thos. Buckminster, and died Dec. 21, 1797, at the age of 99 years and some months. Numerous anecdotes are yet related, illustrating the simplicity, intelligence, and humor of “Old Prince.”
This description of Prince Yongey is evidently based on people who knew him as an old man, probably after his wife and perhaps his children were gone. He outlived the institution of slavery in Massachusetts, though he insisted that the Buckminster family was obliged to look after him in his old age, and he even outlived Deacon Buckminster.

It occurred to me that some elements of Prince Yongey’s life might have gotten mixed in with locals’ memories of Crispus Attucks, especially if they were indeed part of the same extended family. Brown’s descendants recalled Attucks being allowed to “trade cattle upon his own judgement”; locals recalled Yongey managing the Buckminster farm for his master. And did ”Prince’s meadow” become remembered as the “cellar hole” where the Attucks family lived?

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