Saturday, September 5, 2015

£20 Reward and All Necessary Charges Paid by Isaac Fowler

While watching the genealogical/family history program hosted by Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Finding Your Roots, I can’t help thinking of all the celebrities whose ancestors were either slaves or slave holders. I couldn't help but feel a little ashamed that our great country had such an early dark history like that, but at the same time I was very curious if any of my American ancestors owned (or was) a slave. 

The Slave Trade Act of 1807 didn’t abolish slavery in the United States, it only stopped the Atlantic trading. Sad isn't it? We would have to wait another 60 some years for slavery to be abolished. Slavery was not always confined to our southern colonies/states either. Before the abolishment of the slave trade in the early 1800s, there were many slaves “owned" in the "Deep" North. There is one Northern state which interests me — Rhode Island — where my mother's ancestors lived since the 1650s.

It is interesting how a coincidence plays a role in me writing this blog post. I had emailed cousin Kevin about the re-burial of King Richard III and it didn't take long for our emails to wander in a different direction, on a different topic. Kevin asked "Did we discuss Isaac Fowler's advertisement for his runaway?" Then shortly after that email, I received my electronic newsletter/blog The Weekly Genealogist, August 26 issue from the New England Historic Genealogical Society. Coincidence. . .

In the section "Stories of Interest" there was a link I just had to follow Rhode Island Church Taking Unusual Step to Illuminate Its Slavery Role.”

On August 23, 2015, there was an article in the New York Times online about this church to create a museum to tell their slavery story. It is quite a nice article. According to the article:  

One of the darkest chapters of Rhode Island history involved the state’s pre-eminence in the slave trade, beginning in the 1700s. More than half of the slaving voyages from the United States left from ports in Providence, Newport and Bristol — so many, and so contrary to the popular image of slavery as primarily a scourge of the South, that Rhode Island has been called “the Deep North.” 

. . .a ceremony was held Sunday [Aug. 23, 2015] in Boston, where the first slave ship in New England is believed to have arrived in 1638; . . . The ceremony Sunday was part of a larger project commemorating the two million slaves who died and the 10 million who survived the trans-Atlantic slave trade.  

The article goes on to tell about the role Rhode Island played in the slave trade “thanks to the state’s financiers, a seafaring work force and officials who turned a blind eye to antislavery laws.” Slave ships were built in Boston, but were “supplied, manned and dispatched from Rhode Island ports. Between 1725 and 1807, more than 1,000 slaving voyages. . .” Seems that over half the ships left from Providence, Newport, and Bristol. These ships would sail to West Africa carrying rum, trade the rum for “human cargo” (slaves), then transport that cargo to the Caribbean in the infamous Middle Passage of the triangle.” From there the ships were “emptied of slaves and loaded with sugar, which was brought back to Rhode Island distilleries to make more rum. . .” and the cycle repeats.

Not all the slaves were owned in the southern reaches, slaves were also brought North for numerous households and plantations. It is said about 10 percent of the Rhode Islanders were enslaved according to a Brown University report.

Slavery in the North provided for a healthy economy. It started around the early 1600s. The slaves in the South picked the cotton the textile mills of the North used for their wares. The merchants grew wealthy off the backs of the slaves. According to the NY Times article, “Later, merchants and suppliers who grew wealthy from the slave trade founded and endowed several Ivy League colleges. . .”  [Gee, I wonder how those schools feel about that?]

My Fowler ancestors lived in Rhode Island during these times. On the 15 Jul 1772, Isaac Fowler’s Will was written. Isaac died sometime prior to his Will being probated 10 May 1773. He seems to be fairly well-to-do. In the distribution of his wealth, he gave his son Simeon “all my Lands and my Dwelling House”; his son Christopher was given “one hundred & twenty five good silver Spanish milld Dollars” and one of “my cows”; son Thomas was given “Thirteen good Spanish milld Dollars” only if he “should live to come to his colony again. . .”; to his daughter Mary “Twelve good silver Spanish Mill’d Dollars & one half a Dollar. . .The reason I give her no more she hath misbehaved herself”; to his grandson Samuel the son of Christopher “my silver watch.” Daughters Hannah [Fowler] Milliman and Deborah received “Goods not disposed of” and Hannah received “Twenty five good silver Spanish Mill’d Dollars”; his son Simeon also was given oxen and the rest of the residue of his estate. Isaac named Simeon executor.

There are two other parts to this Will giving daughters Hannah and Deborah cows, furniture, and one “negro girl” to each. 

“Item. I give and bequeath unto my well beloved Daughter Hannah Milliman & to her heirs and assigns my negro girl named Roco, and one of my cows.” 

“item. I give and bequeath unto my well beloved Daughter Deborah Fowler one negro girl named Clary  Two feather beds and furniture one oval Table Two Chests & six chairs & ye one half of all my other Household goods & Twenty five good Spanish mill’d dollars to be paid by my Executor within one year after my decease. I also give to said Daughter one of my milch cows which she shall chose and further my will is that my sd Daughter shall have during ye Time she shall remain Unmarried a sufficient Room in my now Dwelling House for her to live in free from rent or any charge.” 

To read that is striking. It is hard to imagine including a human being along with chattle and goods, as inventory. History tells the times.

This is the first knowledge I had my ancestor, my 6th great-grandfather Isaac had owned slaves. I’ve had the Will for several years now, but hadn’t REALLY read it because I was still heavily researching my father’s PORTAS family of Lincolnshire, England. I just gathered the Will and set it aside for later. Well, you know how that goes. Later became several years later.

Another item I had set it aside was Isaac's advertisement for his runaway. This item came out of a book Escaping Bondage. A Documentary History of Runaway Slaves in Eighteenth-Century New England, 1700-1789 Edited by Antonio T. Bly. Copyright 2012 by Lexington Books. I have to thank cousin Kevin for sending me the link.

In 1753, a young slave named Caesar ran away from his “owner/master.” That Master  was my ancestor! 
On page 112, Massachusetts Notices 
Boston Post Boy, 06-18-1753 
Ran away the 19th Instant from Isaac Fowler, of North Kingstown, a dark Mustee[*] Fellow, named Caesar about 21 Years of Age, well-set, has a thick short neck, and a down Look. Had on when he went away, an old Felt Hat, striped Flannel Jacket, and a Full-cloath dark grey Jacket, Check Shirt, Leather Breeches, white Thread Stockings, and old Shoes; took with him a Frock and Trowsers. Whoever takes up and secures said Fellow, so that his Master may have again, shall have TWENTY POUNDS Reward, and all necessary Charges, paid by,Isaac Fowler.Reprint: Boston Post Boy, 06-25-1753.
*Mustee (Métis) definition in Wikipedia: In Canada, the Métis are Aboriginal people. They are descendants of specific mixed First Nations and European ancestry who self-identify as Métis According to Wikipedia, the term mestee was widely used in antebellum United States for mixed-race individuals and often used for European and African mixed-race person such as a mulatto.

There was no mention of Caesar in Isaac's Will, so he probably wasn't in the household 20 years after he ran away. I tried to find out if Caesar was ever returned or if he somehow became a free man possibly escaping to Canada, but so far there is nothing on this instance. If I ever find a conclusion, I will certainly add to this story. It is hard to believe one of my ancestors would have a slave. I hope he treated them well. . .will we ever know?

Reading about the runaway and the two girls reminds me of a story my mother often mentioned. She said we had some “black” in our family way back. I had always thought of inter-racial marriage of one of my ancestors and that could still be the case, yet, I rather think this family story had been told over and over so many years that it morphed into another scenario. Now after seeing these items — the Will and the advertisement, I do believe it was just slave ownership that is the real family story here.

Yes, I’m a little ashamed, but this happened several hundred years ago. I don't condone what they did back then. I can't help but have a little turn in the stomach thinking about those slaves and colonials who owned them back then. It was part of that period in time. As a family historian, I will just put it into our family’s story because it is part of history. What else can I do? We genealogists have to keep an open mind and take the bad with the good. Then just write it down. 

For more reading and information on Slavery in the North click here.
To view a powerful movie about the abolishment of slavery in Britain the movie "Amazing Grace" is still available here. [Buy $14.99 or Rent $3.99 on iTunes Store]