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Enslaved in Silas Deane’s House
“Two Slaves Man & Woman Pompey & Hagar £0-5-0” This note on Silas Deane’s 1792 probate inventory was one of the only references to Silas Deane as a slave owner. (see Doc 61i) Until recently slavery in Connecticut and New England has been largely ignored in history books. Instead, the focus has been on the larger-scale plantation slavery of the South. The North continues to be identified primarily with the abolitionist movement. What does your textbook say about slavery in New England? Why do you think this is? Do you agree?

The scale of slavery in Silas Deane’s (see portrait) and John Adams’ (see portrait) New England was significantly different than that in George Washington’s (see portrait) and Arthur Lee’s Virginia. However, slavery was an accepted part of 17th and 18th century life in the North as well as the South. Slave labor contributed both directly and indirectly to New England’s prosperity. Abolition did not begin in the North until after the American Revolution. Although in Connecticut gradual emancipation began in 1784, slavery was not completely abolished in the state until 1848.

At least one-third of all the members of the Continental Congress were or had been slave owners. Slaves were a mark of status. Therefore many of the delegates to the Continental Congress would have had personal slaves or servants in attendance. William Lee, Washington’s personal slave traveled with him throughout the war and may have been with him on both his visit to Silas Deane’s house in 1775 and to Deane’s stepson Joseph Webb’s house in 1781. At the Webb House, Washington met with General Rochambeau (see portrait) of France; the strategy formulated at that meeting led to the joint American-French victory at Yorktown. (See information about Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum). One can only imagine the discussions when captive people and other members of the serving classes from the thirteen colonies gathered informally in places like Philadelphia where the Founding Fathers met to discuss “independence.”

Archaeologists often argue that “the truth is in the ground.” Working in the area around Independence Hall, archaeologists have learned a great deal about the enslaved people who lived and worked in the “Executive Mansion” during the period when George Washington was president and Philadelphia was the nation’s first capital. (see ushistory.org/presidentshouse) Much has also been revealed about the lives of enslaved people at Mount Vernon, Washington’s Virginia plantation. (see mountvernon.org). By looking through Washington’s papers for plantation records, accounts, runaway notices, and the careful instructions in his final will, we can discover much about George Washington’s treatment of his slaves and his changing thoughts on slavery in general. (see gwpapers.virginia.edu/slavery/index.html or memory.loc.gov/ammem/gwhtml/gwhome.html)

John Adams was from Massachusetts where slavery was legal until the 1783 court decision in the Quock Walker case. (see masshist.org/longroad/01slavery/walker.htm) Unlike Washington and Deane, John Adams had long been personally opposed to the institution. He decried slavery as “a foul contagion in the human character” and “an evil of colossal magnitude.” Personally he refused to own slaves. (David McCullough, John Adams. 2001, Simon & Schuster, NY. p. 134)

Although his wife Abigail had grown up in a slaveholding household, she shared John’s convictions. Their opinions often were expressed in letters to each other. (see masshist.org/digitaladams). Abigail believed that that slavery was a great sin punishable by God and commented on the contradiction between the American struggle for independence and what “we are daily robbing and plundering from those who have as good a right to freedom as we have.” (Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams, 22 September 1774 [electronic edition]. Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive. Massachusetts Historical Society. (see masshist.org/digitaladams))

Slavery, she felt, was not only morally wrong, but also an inefficient system of labor. She believed that it undermined the work ethic of owners who themselves often stood idly by watching as their slaves “half-fed and destitute of clothing” worked. (from Abigail to Cotton Tufts 11-28-1800, Adams Papers, MHS as quoted in David McCullough, John Adams. 2001, Simon & Schuster, NY. p.553)

It is more difficult to discern Silas Deane’s opinions on slavery. It is even more challenging to discover his record as a slaveholder and the number and identities of those people he “owned”. In his preserved public and private letters, Deane seldom reflected on either slavery or the situation of the enslaved. Once in a letter to his brother Barnabas, Deane commented on slavery in Virginia. (Doc. 75) How do his comments compare with those of Abigail Adam?

Several years later, in a draft of a paper refuting “the calumnious reports propagated [and] fabricated” about him by Henry Laurens, Deane uses anti-slavery rhetoric as a means of differentiating himself from Laurens (Doc. 76).

Yet slavery had been a part of Deane’s life growing up in Groton/New London, Connecticut. His father owned at least 1-1/2 slaves (the “one-half slave” reflected shared ownership or interest in a slave). As a merchant and ship owner with business interests in the West Indies, Silas Deane would have been aware of slave labor and trade even if not directly involved in transport or sale of slaves. But Deane himself owned slaves even at the time he was writing against Henry Laurens.

We may never know the number or identities of most of the enslaved people who worked for Deane, making his lifestyle possible and contributing to his economic success as a Connecticut merchant and lawyer. Deane’s personal account books have disappeared. A will might have specified his wishes for the distribution of his property including slaves. However, he requested that the first will he wrote be destroyed. The will that replaced it has also vanished. Nor did he leave any written notes mentioning his slaves. Therefore, in an attempt to learn about the enslaved people in the Deane house we must do “paper archaeology,” i.e., search for scraps of information that may provide clues regarding the lives of his slaves.

Historians examine many different kinds of documents when doing research. Then, like an archaeologist reconstructing an earthenware pitcher, the historian puts the scattered pieces together to recreate an image of life in the past. For example, account books of merchants and craftsmen (such as shoemakers) tell us who purchased goods and services for whom. In a barter economy, items were often paid for with other goods and services, including the labor of slaves. By looking at entries for the same date you might discover what individuals might have worked together or what jobs they performed.

Tax lists provide a different kind of information. Although the items taxed vary over time and location, most tax lists record the name of the person responsible for payment, items taxed and the amount of the tax. In 18th century Connecticut taxes included: a “poll” or “head” tax on all adult males; a “faculty” or special amount assigned for specific skills, e.g. an attorney or leatherworker; taxes on different types of land; and livestock. Sometimes you can find out quite a bit about a person by looking at his tax records.

In addition to wills, probate papers include inventories or lists of the land and personal property owned by a person at the time of his or her death. For purposes of settling the deceased’s estate, monetary values were assigned to each of the items. By looking at the things a person owned you might be able imagine the inside of his or her house, how they dressed, their chores or occupation.

Other records provide even more details. By clicking on the following documents you can piece together the story of Hagar and Pompey.
Hurlbut Account Book (Doc. 77)

The first mention of Deane’s slaves occurs in an account book kept by Thomas Hurlbut, a Wethersfield shoemaker. About the time of his first marriage, Silas Deane’s account was charged for the purchase and repair of shoes for “your Negro garl,” “Negro boy,” Negro man,” “Negro fellor,” “ Negro woman.” Specific names such as Jube/Juber, Noah, Mink and Lankton are listed alongside purchases of shoes and repairs for members of Deane’s own family.

Then, shortly after he married Elizabeth Saltonstall (see portrait), Deane began ordering shoes and shoe repairs for a man named Pompey or Pomp and a woman with the biblical name Hagar. Although not the only slaves laboring to make the Deanes’ success and lifestyle possible, Hagar and Pomp were the two who grew old in the impressive mansion house on High Street and outlived both Elizabeth and Silas Deane. See how impressive the outside and inside of the Deane house are by taking the Virtual Tour (see Virtual Tour).

Letters from Silas to Elizabeth Deane (Doc. 16 & 65)
In passing, these letters mention a person named “Dick” and “my boy.” What do these letters reveal about the people who worked for Deane? Unfortunately, Deane’s letters to Elizabeth contain no mention of either Hagar or Pomp. There was little discussion of household matters and few of Elizabeth’s letters remain. If she was having difficulty with the slaves and servants in her household or was pleased with their work there is no mention. Shoes and repairs continued to be charged to Deane’s account until the time of Elizabeth’s death in 1777.

Although not written by either Elizabeth or Silas Deane, two other letters do supply a bit of information regarding Pompey.

Letter from Gurdon Saltonstall to Silas Deane re. horses. (Doc. 06)
Referring to Pompey’s skill with horses, Elizabeth’s father wrote to Silas Deane expressing concern over a mare that his daughter wanted.

Letter to General Sam Webb (Deane’s stepson) re. a hunt. (Doc. 78)
A later letter addressed to Deane’s stepson thanked him for the loan of Pompey for a hunting trip.

Letters re. Washington’s Visit (Doc. 56 & 57)
Writing from Philadelphia June 22, 1775, Silas Deane informed his wife that Generals Washington and Lee would pass through Wethersfield and gave her instructions regarding their visit. Elizabeth directed the preparations (see image), but it would have been Hagar, Pompey and other slaves and free servants who supplied the labor. We can assume that Hagar spent most of her time cooking (see image), laundering, cleaning, preparing for guests such as George Washington and General Lee. Hagar and Pompey would probably have cared for Elizabeth in her illness.

Although some of these chores sound similar to women’s work in the 21st century, without modern technology, the extent of 18th century labor was far more arduous than the list implies.

Tax Lists 1773 & 1776 (Doc. 60)
What would the items on these tax lists tell us about Deane? What might they mean for Hagar and Pompey? For example, the tax lists show that Deane owned one cow in 1773 and three in 1776. Women were responsible for dairying. What might that have meant for Hagar?

Pomp may have been responsible for much of the exterior house maintenance, carting of goods, fence mending, and tending to the cows, horses, and land mentioned on various tax lists. Who else who shared these tasks?

This information tells us primarily about Hagar and Pompey as property, i.e. in terms of their value to the Deanes and members of the white elite. But how did their work affect the enslaved? How might they have felt? What was life like in their own spaces – the kitchen, the chamber above, attic or cellar where they might have slept? (You can contemplate these spaces on the Virtual Tour.)

Hagar and Pompey were not the only enslaved persons in Wethersfield. On the eve of the War of Independence, nearly one of every twenty people in their town was a “person of color” either free or enslaved. They delivered messages, traveled on errands, transported goods, labored on land located away from the owner’s residence, worked alongside other free and enslaved people and performed labor for others as payment for their owners’ debts. They developed their own relationships and network of communication. What did they do at the times when they could escape the eyes and ears of their owners and employers? What was life like in the community which these people shaped but which the history books ignore? Who were some of these others that might have shared Pompey and Hagar’s hopes and sorrows?

Here are some clues.

Katherine Russel’s Will (Doc. 64)
Clo Prutt or Pratt lived in the same town as Hagar and Pomp. She was owned by Rev. Daniel Russell of the Rocky Hill section of Wethersfield. When the minister died in 1763, he willed Clo to his wife Katherine. Look at Katherine Russell’s 1773 will to find out what happened to Clo.

Clo received clothing and a number of household items. Can you imagine Clo wearing her short red cloak and coming to visit Pompey and Hagar? She would have entered through the kitchen door at the back of the Dean House in contrast to George Washington who would have entered through the wide front door wide front door into the impressive hallway. What do you think the various things from Katherine meant to Clo in her new life? Do any of the items surprise you? What do the several books that she called her own tell us about enslavement in Connecticut? Why do you think the loom might be especially important to Clo’s future?

Silas Deane’s Probate Inventory (Doc. 61)
When Deane died in 1789, not only was he disgraced, he was also financially ruined. His probate file lists him as insolvent. Anything of value would be sold to pay outstanding debts. The meager contents of his estate included “2 slaves Man & Woman Pompey and Hagar.” Slaves were valuable property worth many pounds (£), often priced as high as land, small houses or large and fancy gravestones. What value was place on Hagar and Pompey?

Look at his inventory (Doc. 61) to discover the value of other items he owned. Silas Deane’s only son Jesse was now an adult. As Silas’ only heir, Jesse would have responsibility for disposing of his father’s property to settle any outstanding debts. What would he do with Pompey and Hagar?

Connecticut Legislation re. freeing slaves (Doc. 79)
Connecticut had legal restrictions about freeing slaves. Pompey was over 70 years old. Although younger, Hagar also must have been over 45. The two were financial liabilities representing low productivity and high medical costs. What would their life be like? Would Jesse keep them? Would they be sold? Did they have any money put aside? Could anyone help them?

The Land Records reveal part of the answer.

Purchase of House (Doc. 63)
What do you notice when you read this land record? Who is buying the house? Notice the names. Who is not mentioned? What is and is not included in the sale? How does this change Pompey and Hagar’s lives?

Only rarely during the next years do the names of Hagar Doras, Clo Pratt/Prutt, or Pomp appear in passing in an account book, census or on town or church records. The Census 1800 lists “Pomp Doras (Black) as head of a household of four. Why is he listed as head of the household? Who is the fourth person in the household? At this point we have found only a few clues about the rest of their lives.

We get a brief glimpse “Cloe Prut & Hager Dores” on the last day of November 1807 as they purchased 1 Barrel Cyder for 9 shillings and 2 Bushels of corn for 4 shillings on credit. This listing in Daniel Buck’s Account Book also tells us that they returned in December to settle their account with a cash payment of 13 shillings. (Daniel Buck Account Book 1807-1812,p.16 at WHS)

When the next census was taken in 1810, there were only three people in Pomp’s household. On April 9, 1810 Hagar and Pompey arranged for the burial of their friend Cloe. The Church record states that she had died of “Dropsy” at the age of 70 years. On the website olivetreegenealogy.com dropsy is defined as congestive heart failure that includes presence of abnormally large amounts of fluid.

Then on November 8, 1811 “Pompey Duras an African” died (Wethersfield First church Records, v. 2, p. 335). Born somewhere in Africa, 92 year-old Pompey had lived at least half of his life in Wethersfield, Connecticut. Will we ever know the circumstances of his capture and removal from his land and culture? More importantly, just what did being “an African” in Connecticut mean to Pompey and other captive people? This is the most difficult question to answer.

In Connecticut archaeologists are working to learn more about the persistence of African culture and spiritual beliefs under conditions of enslavement. ” (see archaeology.org; and “The Hartford Courant” slavery section entitled “Complicity” at ctnow.com/news/local/northest/hc-slavery.special.) In other places, archaeologists have uncovered evidence that northern and southern African Americans to their native Africa. e.g. at the Carroll House in Maryland (see bsos.umd.edu/anth/aia/TourAIA.htm and newsouthassoc.com/newsletters/newsletter27.html#anchor213532).

At the Levi Jordan Plantation in Texas, the interpretation of uncovered
artifacts raises interesting and sometimes controversial questions. (see webarchaeology.com/html/kongocos.htm)

Can you find the crossed-line star shape in this picture? Is this simply a crack in a stone or an intentional carving? Designs similar to these have been found in West Africa, in the West Indies, and on pottery in South Carolina. Known as “cosmograms,” designs such as these symbolize the oneness of life and the unity between the spirit world and the world of the living. More recently, at the Lott House in Brooklyn, NY. where Africans once lived, arrangements of corncobs and other materials suggestive of such symbols and ritual practices have been found hidden under attic floorboards (see archaeology.org/0105/abstracts/lott.html). Are these all random acts of nature? Or were they deliberately created by people in the past? If so, what do they mean? Still these findings and the questions they provoke are testimony to the persistence of African life, spirit and tradition despite enslavement.

What things might have held meaning for Hagar and Pomp? What might they have had in their house? Unfortunately Cloe, Hagar and Pompey’s house no longer stands and the land on which it stood has long since been disturbed to make way for modern development.

Japhet Wills’ Land purchase (Doc. 62)
After Cloe and Pompey’s deaths, Jesse Deane sold the property on which Hagar and Cloe’s house stood. The new owner was Japhet Wills, a freed slave. However, for a time Hagar continued to live in the small house that she and her friend Cloe Pratt once had bought.

 

 



Deane’s Probate Inventory


Silas Deane


John Adams


George Washington


General Rochambeau


Purchase of house


Cosmogram


Daniel Buck Account Book


Thomas Hurlburt Account Book


Thomas Hurlburt Account Book


clock jack


Deane house kitchen


Elizabeth Deane


Deane house


Japhet Will Deed


Katherine Russel’s Will


 
           
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