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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Saturday, April 02, 2016

A New Clue to Caesar Marion

Back in 2006, I wrote about a black man named Caesar Marion who protested a town meeting measure in August 1775, during the siege of Boston. The Essex Gazette referred to him as “the well-known Caesar Merriam.”

I’d found the name of Caesar Marion on the 1771 provincial tax list, indicating that he owned property. Being a free black with real estate might have been rare enough on its own to make him “well-known.” Marion’s willingness to speak out against the authorities, even to the length of being put in jail, suggests he might also have been a recognized community leader.

But I didn’t know anything more about Marion until last month Jared Hardesty shared “Finding Agency in Unexpected Places” on the African American Intellectual History Society’s website.

Hardesty examined the records of Ezekiel Price, a well-connected notary, court clerk, and insurance agent in eighteenth-century Boston, at the Boston Athenaeum. He found transcripts of documents that Price had been asked to notarize by African-American townspeople:
Upon obtaining their freedom, many blacks turned to Price to help them record and lay claim to property. In this sense, freedom was only the first step. Property would allow freed men and women to enjoy that liberty and, more importantly, secure independence within white society. There are two instances of free blacks looking to secure property in Price’s books. The first involved a man named Charles whose former master gifted him a small Hopkinton, Massachusetts farm in his will. Charles had Price record three different testimonials from white neighbors acknowledging his inheritance. The other document belonged to a freedman named Caesar Marion, whose master, retired blacksmith Edward Marion, not only manumitted his slave in 1769, but also gave Caesar all of his tools and use of his shop. Caesar then used this property to go into business for himself, becoming one of the few black property owners in Boston listed in the 1771 Massachusetts tax assessment.
This document thus helps to fill in a crucial part of Caesar Marion’s story.

TOMORROW: Edward Marion’s grant.


J. L. Bell said...

I should mention that Jared Hardesty is sharing a paper on the construction of Castle William at the Boston Early American History Seminar series on Tuesday. Here's the link.

RBK said...