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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Friday, May 04, 2018

“With child Quaco, about nine months old”

Here’s another connection between the Worcester Art Museum’s portrait of Lucretia Murray and the institution of slavery in Massachusetts.

John Singleton Copley painted that portrait in 1763, two years after Lucretia Chandler had married John Murray of Rutland. Copley’s portrait of John, also at the Worcester Art Museum, appears here. (This Murray is often called “Col. John Murray” because he held that rank in the militia and it helps to distinguish him from the Rev. John Murray, the pioneering Universalist.)

Murray was Rutland’s leading gentleman, which meant he had a hand in a lot of legal matters. In 1754, he witnessed this bill of sale, quoted here:
Rutland District, May 4th, 1754

Sold this day to a Mr. James Caldwell of said District, the County of Worcester, & Province of the Massachusetts-Bay, a certain negro man named Mingo, about twenty Years of Age, and also one negro wench named Dinah, about nineteen years of age, with child Quaco, about nine months old—all sound and well for the Sum of One hundred & eight pounds, lawful money, recd. to my full satisfaction: which Negroes, I the subscriber to warrant and defend against all claims whatsoever as witness my hand

Zedekiah Stone.
James Caldwell thus became the owner of a young family consisting of Mingo, Dinah, and baby Quaco.

Nine years later, Caldwell died unexpectedly. How unexpectedly? According to Hurd’s History of Worcester County:
James was killed in 1763, he, with one of his slaves, having taken refuge under a tree during a heavy thunder-shower. The tree was struck by lightning, and falling, killed him and broke a thigh of the negro.
Not expecting a lightning strike, Caldwell didn’t leave a will. John Murray got involved in settling the estate by becoming guardian for Caldwell’s children, preserving their interest in their father’s property. That property included the enslaved family, assigned to Isabel Caldwell as part of her widow’s third.

A lot happened to those families over the next decade:
  • Mingo escaped from Isabel Caldwell, as shown by an advertisement she placed in the Boston News-Letter on 13 and 20 June 1765. 
  • Dinah Caldwell, the wife Mingo left behind, married a black man named Cumberland Chandler in Worcester on 29 Nov 1767. He was no doubt linked to Lucretia Murray’s relations. 
  • Lucretia Murray died in 1768, and John Murray married again at the end of the following year. 
  • On 28 Mar 1769, Isabel Caldwell married Nathaniel Jennison. They lived in the part of Rutland that had become the town of Hutchinson in 1774 and then the town of Barre in 1776. She brought Mingo and Dinah’s enslaved son, now named Quock and in his late teens, to the new household. 
  • In 1774, Isabel Jennison died, and her property went to her husband, Nathaniel.  
  • The uprising in central Massachusetts late that same summer sent John Murray, recently appointed to the Massachusetts Council, fleeing into Boston for safety. He eventually settled in New Brunswick.
According to Quock, James Caldwell had promised him freedom on his twenty-fifth birthday. And Isabel Caldwell reportedly amended that to freedom on his twenty-first birthday, a promise Nathaniel Jennison committed to when he married her. But as the late 1770s went on, Jennison refused to manumit the young man.

In April 1781 Quock, now using the surname Walker, left Jennison’s house and went to the farm of John and Seth Caldwell—sons of the man who had bought him as a baby in 1754. (John Murray had served as their guardian in the mid-1760s.) The Caldwell brothers, who had probably grown up with Quock Walker, were ready to employ him as a free, wage-earning laborer.

Days later, Jennison violently forced Walker back to his own farm, ignoring the Caldwells’ objections that he deserved to be free. Walker sued Jennison. Jennison sued the Caldwells. The dispute landed in the Superior Court in the spring of 1783, becoming one of the cases by which judges declared that Massachusetts’s new constitution provided no protection for slavery.

(Historical Digression has an excellent discussion of this case.)


Chris Hurley of Woburn said...

There is damage to the portrait of Col. John Murray above the right ear visible in this image.

There's a story associated to the damage.
"A mob gathered at his home to force his resignation and it is thought that one of the protesters, in an effort to underline the threat, thrust his bayonet through Murray‟s portrait, causing a larger puncture in the sitter‟s hair and a smaller one near his right temple."

Remembering the Past: The Role of Social Memory in the Restoration of Damaged Paintings

The author cites “Feature,” The New Brunswick Museum History Bulletin (Winter 1961).
Or maybe somewhere in the past someone handling the portrait just had an 'oopsie' moment.

J. L. Bell said...

That damage is mentioned as early as Lorenzo Sabine’s Loyaliats, and “the tradition in the family” indeed says it was done by one of the men who’d been hoping to make him resign from the Council in 1774.