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, January 07, 2010

Clo Pratt at Old Sturbridge Village, 18 Jan.

I thought I’d finished with announcements of events this month, and then I read how Old Sturbridge Village is offering a historical presentation on an intriguing and hard-to-research aspect of life in colonial America:

Storyteller and museum educator Tammy Denease Richardson will present “Life after Slavery: the Clo Pratt Story” as part of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day activities at Old Sturbridge Village Jan. 18. The performance is based on the true story of Clo Pratt, an African-American woman born into slavery in Massachusetts in 1737. . . .

In character as former slave Clo Pratt, storyteller Richardson introduces her audience to a fascinating woman whose story has been obscured through history, but who was influential in the African-American community of her day. In 1774 after her owner’s death, Pratt finds she has been willed her freedom and must earn a living and make a place for herself in colonial New England.
Old Sturbridge normally presents life in the 1830s, but also tries to do well by other aspects of life in central New England, and this is one of them.

Clo Pratt was owned by the Rev. Daniel Russell of the Rocky Hill section of Wethersfield, Connecticut; it was common for New England ministers to own a person or two as household servants. Russell died in 1767. His widow Katherine made out a will in June 1773 that said:
my will is that my Negro woman Named Cloe prut Shall then Be free and Have Her time and also I Give to Her the Bead that She Lyeth on and furniture Belonging to it and a Loom that she weaveth in and tackling & a porige pot one old Chest with one Draw one puter pint pot one knife and fork and a plate and one puter platter and one quart Bason one tramil peil and tongs two old Chairs one pail one Small Square table one Large trunk and Several Books that are Called Her own one Small Brass Kittel and my Every Day wearing apperel and a Red Short Cloak and two spoons
I’m especially struck by “Several Books that are Called Her own.”

Eventually Pratt, by then in her sixties, lived with Hagar and Pompey Dorus, who had been enslaved in the house of Silas Deane.

In January, Old Sturbridge Village is offering free admission for children not in school groups when accompanied by an adult. Other King Day activities include “ice skating (bring your own skates), sledding on 1830s-style sleds, and sleigh rides (snow permitting).”

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