In his 1905 book, History of Hadley, Sylvester Judd writes, “On March 6, 1778, David Mitchell of [South Hadley] gave to his negro man, Caesar Cambridge, his freedom, in consideration of 85 pounds paid in cash, and of an order for his wages in a cruise to the brig Defence, supposed to be 40 pounds. The 125 pounds may have been equal to 100 silver dollars, which the negro had earned, partly, if not wholly, in the service of his county. The emancipating paper was recorded.” (p. 402)
In this post, I note what is known of Caesar Cambridge’s life and that of his enslaver, David Buck Mitchell.
Caesar Cambridge’s Military Service
Although the Continental Congress had passed legislation forbidding the enlistment of slaves, and although George Washington voiced early resistance to any African Americans enlisting, in practice it was not unusual for slaveowners to enlist slaves in the Continental Army, or for free men of color to serve in the revolutionary cause, in the Navy or in the Army. In some cases, although by no means all, service on the American side was followed by or associated with emancipation.
Revolutionary War records indicates that Caesar Cambridge served first on sea, then on land, then on sea again.
The earliest military service record I have seen for Caesar Cambridge notes him joining the Navy of the State of Connecticut on January 1, 1776, and being discharged in 1777, earning wages of 13 pounds (History of Maritime Connecticut during the American Revolution, 1775-1783, p. 74). During this period he served on the brigantine Defence, which was a Connecticut vessel, earlier known as the Lily Ann, before being purchased by Connecticut in late 1775. The Defence evidently entered service in April 1776.
Captained first by Seth Harding of Norwich, and then Samuel Smedley of Fairfield, the Defence was less than one hundred feet long and carried sixteen carriage six pounder guns and a crew, according to one account, of 103 officers and men. It had a dramatic naval career, especially for a relatively small vessel (a brig is smaller than an official “ship”) . Over the course of three years, the Defence captured thirteen Brisish naval vessels including about 600 prisoners. Its most daring action appears to have been in June 1776, when it captured two British ships and a brig with 330 officers and men of a Highland Regiment. (History of maritime Connecticut during the American revolution, 1775-1783, p. 408). Jackson Kuhl explains that after the Defence had captured the British ships in Boston Harbor in June 1776, Captain Smedley, was frustrated that none of the spoils went to him, his crew or the State of Connecticut, and decided to concentrate his efforts on targeting British shipping in the West Indies, a more lucrative source of prizes than the theater of naval operations in New England. The brig ultimately brought in an estimated $500,000 in prizes, some seized in the West Indies.
Connecticut, unlike the Continental Congress, only awarded the crew of its ships one third of the prizes seized, which caused considerable protest by the Defence sailors in Boston after their second successful cruise. ( Jackson Kuhl Samuel Smedley and Prize Division, Journal of the American Revolution. August 22, 2013)
Evidently, around late 1777 or early 1778, Caesar Cambridge was discharged from the Defence, perhaps in Boston.
Captain Smedley, it should be noted, was a slaveowner, although it does not appear any of his slaves served on board the Defence with him. In his 1812 Will he notes he has emancipated, “my negro boy Boston,” and set him up as a shoemaker, bequeathing his one thousand dollars, and provides $30 a year for Boston’s father York.
Revolutionary War muster rolls next record that Caesar Cambridge of South Hadley enlisted in the Continental Army on 5 March 1778 for a term of three years or the length of the war, serving in Captain Benson’s Company in the 5th Massachusetts Regiment. (This enlistment date is one day before his emancipation by David Mitchell is recorded.)
On August 5, 1778 he is listed with the rank of Private, on duty in White Plains, New York. A muster roll of December 15, 1778 records him on duty as Camp Soldier’s Fortune, which was located near West Point, New York. On October 1, 1779 he is recorded at Camp Bedford (evidently, in Westchester County, New York, a town which was burned to the ground by troops under the command of the British officer Samuel Birch on 11 July 1779 ). Caesar is referenced as discharged in a 1780 muster roll, in the “Corps of Invalids. “ (The Corps of Invalids consisted of veterans or disabled or infirm men, who could still carry out limited duties, such as guard duty; many in the Corps seem to have been posted to West Point. New York). His final discharge note appears to be on October 10, 1780, indicating he had performed guard service at West Point, for 3 months and 3 days in Lt. William Birdie’s Company.
These records are consistent with the known duties of the 5th Massachusetts, which during this period of the Revolutionary War was assigned to the Highlands Department, north of New York City, responsible for protecting the Hudson River from British assault.
The next chapter is a little perplexing, given, as noted above, that Caesar was discharged from the Continental Army’s Corps of Invalids on 10 October 1780. A different records indicates that Caesar Cambridge served as a seaman on board the 20 or 28 gun Massachusetts Navy frigate Protector , commanded by Captain John Foster Williams. Caesar was engaged May 1, 1780 and discharged August 17, 1780, amounting to service of 3 months, 10 days. This means Caesar would have been involved in the Protector’s single ship action against the British privateer General Duff on June 9, 1780, off the coast of Newfoundland, in which the General Duff caught fire and exploded, leading to the rescue by the Protector of 55 British sailors.
Following the two discharges notes (of August 1780 from the Massachusetts State Navy and October 1780 from the Corps of Invalids) I do not see any subsequent reference to Caesar Cambridge. He does not, for example, appear in the 1790 Federal Census, or the subsequent Revolutionary War pension records (Not until 1818 did Congress provide for pensions for Revolutionary War veterans without disabilities.) I see no record of Caesar’s death or burial.
I should also note that as of this writing, we have not been able to locate the manumission document (6 March 1778) referred to by Judd (1905), in South Hadley Town records, the Registry of Deeds for Hampshire or Hampden County, Massachusetts Judicial records, or even in Judd’s voluminous handwritten transcriptions of historical documents, stored in the Hampshire Room of the Northampton Public Library.
The Slaveowner David Mitchell (1739-1800) and his in laws, the Wolcott Family of Wethersfield, CT
David Buck Mitchell is recorded as born in Wethersfield, Hartford County, Connecticut, 28 December 1739, the child of James Mitchell (born, Glasgow, Scotland, 1705-1776) and Mabel (Buck) Mitchell. Wethersfield, Connecticut is about 40 miles due south along the Connecticut River from South Hadley. For a comprehensive review of slavery in Wethersfield, by Martha Smart, see: https://www.wethersfieldhistory.org/articles/slavery-and-wethersfield/
David Mitchell was the half brother of Stephen Mix Mitchell (1743-1835), who represented Connecticut in the Continental Congress and later served as a U. S. senator and the first Chief Justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court. Stephen Mix owned several slaves into the 1790s. In 1793, Smart notes, Stephen Mix Mitchell committed to free his slave Zimri in three years if he “behave as becomth an honest, faithful, obedient, diligent servant…and he be guilty of no stealing or bad conduct no more than is common for good servants.” Smart further observes, “in releases of 1797 and 1798, [Stephen Mix] Mitchell frees first Phillis and then Dorcas with no requirements attached. Mix notes that he bought Phillis from Rev. Napthali Dagget, late of New Haven. Dorcus he describes as a “negro girl slave.”
(The 1776 will of their father, James Michell, assigns David Mitchell land and furniture, but makes no reference of slaves.)
David Mitchell married Mary Wolcott in Wethersfield on 11 May 1761. Mary Wolcott was the daughter of Samuel Wolcott III (1713-1800), son of the wealthy “importing merchant” Samuel Wolcott Jr. (1679-1734), son of Samuel Wolcott Sr. (1656-1695) of Wethersfield, against whom, Martha Smart notes, were filed multiple charges for violent treatment of his black and Native American slaves. Among these abused persons was the enslaved man Jack, perhaps the first recorded escaped slave in Connecticut, fleeing in 1681. At his trial etting fire to a house in Northampton, evidently by accident, Jack testified that his owner Samuel Wolcott Sr, regularly beat him “sometimes with 100 blows so that he hath told his master that he would some time or other hang himself” (see Warren, Wendy. New England Bound: Slavery and Colonization in Early America, pp. 204–206). Jack was sentenced to death by hanging and then burned on a pyre. See description of account book of Samuel Wolcott, Sr.
In turn, the 29 Aug 1734 inventory of the estate of the son of Samuel Wolcott Sr, Samuel Wolcott, Jr. lists two slaves, one negro boy named Tony? valued at 90 pounds, and one negro woman name Lillie? , 6 pounds.
Perhaps David Mitchell acquired Caesar Cambridge through his 1761 marriage to Mary Wolcott?
David Mitchell appears to have continued to reside in his hometown of Wethersfield until at least February 1776. On February 1, 1776, Mitchell buried an infant son in Wethersfield and on February 11, he buried his father there. In May 1776, he submitted a petition, “showing removal to South Hadley to keep tavern and asking liberty to transport rum, sugar & etc” (Martha Smart, Wethersfield Historical Society: personal communication).
In March 1777, Mitchell was elected to a South Hadley committee, although he does not appear to have undertaken military service. (Sophie Eastman references him gathering crops in support of the Revolutionary cause, while his slave Caesar Cambridge served in the Navy and Army).
As noted above, Caesar Cambridge served in the Connecticut State Navy until June 15, 1777. On March 5, 1778, in South Hadley Caesar enlisted in the Continental Army. So it seems possible that after June 1777, Caesar was brought from Connecticut (or from Boston) to South Hadley, MA, and labored as an enslaved man for Mitchell until he enlisted in the army on March 5, 1778. The next day Caesar was emancipated, on condition that all his wages were transferred to Mitchell.
I am not sure how many enslaved people David Mitchell owned, or where Caesar and others were held. Sophia E. Eastman’s In Old South Hadley asserts the road past David Mitchell’s home was “designated for years as Slave Street,” p, 168. In Old South Hadley references Mitchell as residing at the “Old Hyde Place. ” This presumably the old home of Ira or Ara Hyde, married to Harriet Hyde, who is listed in the 1850 Federal census and the 1855 Massachusetts State Census. This may have been at what is now the intersection of Morgan and East Streets, about 1500 feet south-southeast of the Mount Holyoke Equestrian Center. Perhaps the current Morgan Street, running along the south border of the Mount Holyoke College campus, was the so called “Slave Street” in the late 1700s.
The former slaveowner David Mitchell appears in the 1790 census in South Hadley, Massachusetts, with one free person of color in his household (no sex or age is provided,) Perhaps this individual was Caesar Cambridge, or Caesar may have been residing elsewhere, or perhaps Caesar was no longer alive at this point. (From 1790 to 1840, only the head of household is listed by name in the US Federal Census; other household members are at times listed only by age and gender.)
David Mitchell died 9 June 1800 and is buried in Evergreen Cemetery, South Hadley, Massachusetts.
David Mitchell’s two daughters were:
- Mary Mitchell Bingham, 1762-1790 (buried in the Dartmouth College Cemetery) married Jabez Bingham.
Their children include:
David Mitchell Bingham
- Mabel Mitchell White (1764-1840) married Deacon Josiah White. Their children include
Possible Relatives of Caesar Cambridge
Several people of color with the surname Cambridge do appear in late 18th and early 19th century records in Massachusetts and Connecticut, and may be kin to Caesar:
–The 1800 census in South Hadley lists a Phillip Mitchell, in a household of three free people of color; he resides six households away from a “Negro Freedman,” whose household consists of six persons of color. Perhaps Phillip Mitchell was, like Caesar Cambridge, owned by David Mitchell.
It is intriguing that a decade later the 1810 census in South Hadley lists a Philip Cambridge, who also heads a household of three free people of color. Might it be that the two Phillips from that of his former master “Mitchell” to “Cambridge”? Perhaps he was kin to Caesar Cambridge?
–The 1790 census lists a Stephen Cambridge, whose household contains two free persons of color in Sandisfield, Hampshire County, MA, about 40 miles southwest of South Hadley.
––Peter Cambridge, died Longmeadow, Massachusetts (16 miles south of South Hadley) March 3, 1803. (Source: Black Families in Hampden County, Massachusetts) The 1800 census for Longmeadow does not list anyone with the surname Cambridge, but does record two households containing non-white persons: two reside with Nathaniel Ely, and one resides with John Cooms. One of these may have been Peter.
—Shem Cambridge, colored, died in Granville, Hampden County, MA, about 30 miles southwest of South Hadley. (born est 1760, died 8 July 1819 or 1820) Buried in Woodlands Cemetery, Granville. Sources: 1. Find a Grave; 2. Vital Records of Granville Massachusetts to the Year 1850. . p, 186. [S135CAM in the Dataset of Documenting the Early History of Black LIves in the Connecticut River Valley.] The age of Shem might suggest he was a brother of Caesar Cambridge, but this is only speculative.
On 4 May 1789, Shem Cambridge married Annis Moranday, in New Marlborough, Berkshire County, MA, about 20 miles east of Granville. They were married by Rev. Jacob Cullen, Minister of the Gospel.
Perhaps related is a “Eunice Cambridge”, born around 1802 and buried in the South Burying Ground, Boston on 23 February 1832, evidently having been a resident of the Boston Poorhouse.
There seems to have been a cluster of free black Cambridges residing in New Haven, Litchfield, and Middletown, Connecticut, in the late 18th and early 19th century.
Nando Cambridge marries Ruth Roberts in New Haven, Connecticut on 1 Apr 1773. He would seem to be the same Nando Cambridge who died in Connecticut in 1790.
A second Nando Cambridge, presumably the son of the first Nando Cambridge, appears in the 1820 census in Milford, New Haven County, Connecticut, in a family of four free persons of color. He marries Clarissa Cambridge.and they have a daughter Martha Cambridge, born New Welford, CT. In 10 May 1854 in Lee, Massachusetts, Martha Cambridge, marries the farmer Levi Bird. Martha Cambridge Bird died on 8 July 1856 in Lee, MA. A daughter of Levi Bird and Martha (Cambridge) Bird was Elizabeth Bird, born in Lee, Massachusetts in 1804, died in Lee, MA, on 19 Jan 1856.
A Clarissa Cambridge , born 1796, is listed in the 1850 census residing in Sharon, Litchfield County, Connecticut, about 70 miles southwest of South Hadley, MA. She is perhaps the widow of the second Nando Cambridge. Living with her are her apparent children, in laws and/or grandchildren: Julia, 25; Eliza, 23, Mary, 21; Robert, 19; George, 6; Charlotte, 3; Henrietta, 1, and Hannah, 3 months. The 1860 census records Clarissa Cambridge as a servant, residing in the household of the mulatto David Hecter, in Sharon, Connecticut. The 1870 census records Clarissa still residing in Sharon, once again with Eliza and Robert.
Ruth Cambridge, perhaps the widow of the elder Nando Cambridge, is enumerated in the 1790 census in New Haven, in a household of two free persons of color. She appears to be the same Ruth Cambridge who married Stephen Foster on 27 February 1794 in New Haven, and may be the “Ruth Foster” in the New Haven 1800 census, residing alone as a woman of color.
Perhaps related is Ichabod Cambridge, who died in Middletown, Connecticut on 9 September 1853, age 72 so born around 1781. He is presumably the father of Ichabod L Cambridge, Jr. (b 1824 • Connecticut; d 28 APR 1901 • Connecticut) who spent his life in Hartford, CT. Ichabod Jr married Samantha Way in Hartford on 5 April 1854; his children include Walter I , Lilla M , Bertha Annis, Carrie Samantha Ebenezer, and Eva L Collaso; this line has numerous descendants.
In turn, John Cambridge, born around 1815, died 1 DEC 1858 in Connecticut. married to Eunice Brooks. The 1830 census, in Meriden, New Haven, CT, records him in a household consisting of four persons of color. He is buried in Middletown, CT. His widow, Eunice Cambridge is recorded in the 1860 census as residing in Middletown, with her daughter Jeanette, married to James Brooks, seaman. James appears in the 1870 census, in Middletown, residing alone.
The 1860 census in Wethersfield, where Caesar Cambridge was likely enslaved, lists a Henry Cambridge, born around 1834, as an inmate in the State Prison. He was evidently convicted in 1857 of burglary and his occupation is listed as a boot and shoe maker.
Other Enslaved people and Slaveowners in South Hadley
From the 1754 Massachusetts slave census the records of 2,720 slaver have been preserved, although the actual number of enslaved people appears to have been considerably higher. The 1754 census records that 13 enslaved males and 5 enslaved females were held in Hadley, MA. No enslaved people were recorded in South Hadley that year. By the time of Stamp Act, it appears that about 7,000 persons were enslaved in Massachusetts. Key legal cases from 1781-83 effectively ended enslavement in Massachusetts.
The book Forgotten Patriots; African American and Native American Patriots in the Revolutionary War (edited by Eric G Grundset) records two individuals of color in South Hadely, a John Way, mulatto, and a Toby White, as both serving in the Revolutionary War. I am unsure if they were free or enslaved during this time period.
The Revolutionary War rolls records that a John Way enlisted on 17 February 1776 in the Foot company of Captain Israel Chapman (1758-1793), in the Regiment commanded by Colonel Elisha Porter (1742-1796). Colonel Porter, from the Porter family of Hadley, MA, served during the war in the Fourth Hampshire Regiment, and participated in the important Saratoga Campaign. He was the Sheriff of Hampshire County during and after the Revolutionary War.
A subsequent reference states that John Way deserted the regiment June 10, 1776. Age 30 years. Five feet, nine inches.
Perhaps related to John Way, Ralph Way enlisted on February 15, 1776 as Private. Professor Marla Miller (UMass Amherst) explains, “Ralph Way was indentured to Samuel Porter (not enslaved) but when Porter died in 1722 his children waived the three years left on Way’s contract.” She further notes, ” Ralph Way was married to Lois Way. They had at least one son, Ralph Jr, whose first marriage was in 1765 (Phillis Smith). He served in the military in 1777, 1778, and 1779.” Perhaps John Wray was also a son of Ralph Sr and Lois Way. The 1790 census for Hadley, Massachusetts records a Ralph Way, heading a household consisting of nine non-white persons
The 1790 census for South Hadley records eleven all-white households headed by persons with the surname White, who might perhaps be related to the slaveowner of Toby White. It may be relevant that Mabel Mitchell (1764-1840), daughter of David Mitchell (the owner of Caesar Cambridge) in 1787 married Deacon Josiah White of South Hadley.
Robert Drinkwater’s In Memory of Susan Freedom: Searching for Gravestones of African Americans in Western Massachusetts (p. 63) records a headstone for William MaGee, said to born enslaved and buried in South Hadley. Died March 2, 1851, aged 101 (which would suggest born around 1760). Headstone said to have been moved “from present site of Gaylord library to the rear of Evergreen Cemetery. ” (fn 119, p, 133). The 1860 census list William MacGee as 99 years old, a servant in the household of white farmer Ayro Burnett in South Hadley. The 1850 census shows him residing in the household of Alpheus Ingram, in South Hadley; his age is difficult to discern, but may be 81, which would imply a birth year of around 1769. He is not evident in earlier censuses, which only listed heads of household. I am not sure if he was enslaved in South Hadley or elsewhere.
In addition to David Mitchell, other slaveowners in South Hadley included Deacon David Nash (1719-1803), “who had slaves enough to till his fields when he was absent”, Deacon William Eastman, and Squire Benjamine Eastman. ( Sophia Eastman, Old South Hadley, p. 158), Sophia Eastman (p,168) reports a story about two brothers, evidently Eastmans; one of whom was so violent against his enslaved man, that the other brother sheltered the slave, until the first brother swore upon the Bible to desist from violent assaults on him.
The 1790 census indicates that David Nash no longer owned slaves, but, like David Mitchell, had one free person of color residing in his household.
Free Persons of Color in South Hadley: 1790-1810
The 1790 census lists the following ten free persons of color residing in South Hadley, compared to a population of 749 white people.
- Cuffe Freeman, a free man of color, with three persons of color in his household. He seems to be the same Cuff Freeman listed as serving in the Revolutionary War, 2nd Massachusetts, according to a record dated 14 October 1783. I am not sure if he is the same Cuff Freeman as appears in many Revolutionary War muster rolls in Connecticut from 1777-1780. (The name Cuff or Cuffe, derived from the Akan name “Kofi,” is rather frequent among enslaved men during the period.)
2; Joel Peto or Pito or Pits (?), a free man of color, with two persons of color in his household. He may be the same Joel Pito or Joel Pits who married Hannah Show in Conway, Franklin County , Massachusetts or Deerfield (about 25 miles north of South Hadley) on 27 Nov 1788. “Joel” may be same person as the escaped slave Joseph Pito, “Mulatto Fellow, six feet high, 20th year of his age, runaway”, advertised for by the enslaver William Allis, on page 4 of the Hampshire Herald on 19 June 1785, having escaped from Hatfield MA, about 10 miles north of South Hadley.
3. Casar Hayes, a free man of color, with three persons of color in his household. Perhaps a former slave of Rev. Joel Hayes of South Hadley, 1753-1827, or of his father Joel Hayes, Sr, 1728-1800, of Granby, Hartford, Connecticut (who had served as a Lieutenant in the American Revolution).
4. One person of color (name unknown) in the household of David Mitchell (the former slaveowner of Caesar Cambridge)
5; One person of color (name unknown) in the household of David Nash, a former slaveowner.
The 1800 Census records nine free persons of color in South Hadley:
- Negro Freedman, a free man of color, perhaps the same person as Cuffe Freedman in the 1790 census, with six free persons of color in his household
2. Phillip Mitchell, a free man of color, with three free persons of color in his household
The 1810 census lists only three persons of color in South Hadley, all residing in the household of Phillip Cambridge, a free man of color. (As noted, I speculate that Phillip Mitchell and Phillip Cambridge may have been the same person).
Memorializing through a Witness Stone?
Perhaps we might explore commemorating Caesar Cambridge’s life, in slavery and freedom, though a stone marker in the Witness Stone project, a Connecticut and New England initiative modeled on the Stolpersteine (Stumbling Stone) project in Berlin and elsewhere in Europe.
Sophia Eastman, In Old South Hadley (Chicago, 1912).
Sylvester Judd, History of Hadley, South Hadley, Amherst and Granby, Massachusetts (Picton Press, 1905, reissued 1993).
Jackson Kuhl Samuel Smedley and Prize Division, Journal of the American Revolution. August 22, 2013)
Alice M. Walker, Historic Hadley: A Story of the Making of a Famous Massachusetts Town (New York, 1906).
Historic Northampton Slavery Research Project
Documenting the Early History of Black LIves in the Connecticut River Valley
Acknowledgements: For historical guidance, we are grateful to Martha Smart (Wethersfield Historical Society, Connecticut); Sara Monalea McMahon (Hampshire Law Library), Leo Labonte (independent historian, South Hadley); Cliff McCarthy (Archivist, Springfield Museums), Zoe Cheek (Librarian, Springfield Museums), Marla Miller (Department of History, UMass Amherst), and staff at the Massachusetts Historical Society, the Massachusetts State Archive, and the Hampshire Room of the Northampton Public Library. Thanks as well to Jean Akin.