Maine Genealogy Blog

Negro Slaves and Servants of Wells

Source: Edward E. Bourne, The history of Wells and Kennebunk: from the earliest settlement to... (Portland Me.: B. Thurston & Co., 1875).

[p. 406] It will be seen from the foregoing that the great sin of the South, for which the day of wrath, predicted by Jefferson, came upon the whole country, in the bloodshed and sorrows of the great rebellion, in some measure existed here. For almost a century it maintained its position in Wells, as an element of social life. Human beings were regarded as chattels; used and sold in the market as freely as cattle. The number was small, but only so in consequence of the inability of the people to purchase and maintain a large number. It will be seen also that slavery was not the status of the black man only. The Indian was also doomed to a like condition. Kittery returned three of that class. They may have been reduced to servitude from their character as "captives taken in just wars." A rational man with these facts before him, could surely not complain that the natives retaliated by a resort to the same disposition of the English who fell into their hands during war. God is just, and what is right in reference to one man is right in regard to another, under the same circumstances. These slaves were generally treated with kindness by their masters. Some fell into cruel hands, and were called to endure the severe burdens and other ill treatment which inhumanity seldom fails to inflict on those who fall under its unlimited control. The free use of intoxicating liquor frequently worked up an unhappy relationship between master and slave. Passion excited on the part of one, seldom failed to provoke a like influence on the other. In the year of which we are speaking, the number of slaves in Wells was small. At some periods it was larger, sometimes less.

The old Weare house in York, which stood about three-quarters of a mile east of Freeman's tavern, and which was taken down a [p. 407] few years ago, was at one period a slave factory. Here were several negro families, and many negro children were sent from it to market. How this traffic was managed we are unable to state. But we are well assured that many scenes were witnessed there, on such occasions, which would make the heart ache.

But our slaves were generally purchased in Wells. In the latter part of the slave era there were many small vessels owned on the seaboard, which were employed in the West India trade, by which they were readily transported here. Almost every vessel would return with a few, and they were purchased at very low prices. They were also sold very frequently from the necessities of life among ourselves. Joseph Hobbs had two, Zelph and Phillis. Phillis had a little daughter of the age of five years, to whom she was bound by all the ties which take hold of a mother's heart. But a distinguished Revolutionary officer, with the same heartlessness which we have been wont to attribute to those engaged in the slave trade, took this little child from its mother, and, as he would any article of produce, carried her to Saco, and there sold her. The agony of the poor mother in this cruel separation, was said to be indescribable. Yet there were no relentings and no remorse on the part of the trader, which led to any attempt to rescind the unholy contract. It does not seem that our own townsmen had any more doubt, in the judgment of conscience, as to the legitimacy of this traffic; and that a negro was a mere chattel, subject to be bought and sold at the will of the master, than they had that the right of sale in the owner, was a condition or incident of any other property. There was no special callousness of heart in this transaction. The same feeling was general in relation to the slave; and all the odious features of the institution, of which so much has been said at the present day, were exhibited everywhere in New England. In the middle of the last century no newspaper was published in Maine. The advertising community were obliged to avail themselves of the aid of the nearest paper published in a neighboring state, which was the New Hampshire Gazette, published at Portsmouth. In that we find the same notices of runaway negroes which, until recently, were seen in Southern prints, headed with the picture of a negro trudging along with a pack on his back, also notices of slaves for sale. Thus in that paper, in 1764, we find the following advertisement: "A young negro woman. To be sold for no fault" (with one exception not necessary to [p. 408] state). Enquire of the Printer. April 3d, 1764." Also another, as thus stated: "To be sold at public auction on the 22d of April instant, one yoke of oxen, several steers, cow, sheep, a good horse, several calves, also a likely negro girl."

In all inventories they were generally classed with the stock on the farm, or with the animals of the homestead. So also in all wills. In the inventory of the estate of Waldo Emerson, who lived where Henry Kingsbury now does, is the following: "1 negro wench named Phillis £30 .0 .0, 1 large horse £6 .0 .0,1 Mare £18 .0 .0." John Fernald, of Kittery, died in 1773. The following is the order of appraisal of his estate: "Bible and other books $10.50—One Negro Man $40.00, 2 oxen 9.60." James Scammon, of Biddeford, died in 1754. The appraisal of his estate runs thus: Horse £9 .6 .8 A mair £10 .13 .4—3 calves 32 .0—a negro boy £53 .6 .8—5 pair sheep £A—5 swine £5 .17 .4.

The will of Col. John Wheelright, of Wells, so prominent in the early part of our history, and a worthy member of the Christian church, who died in 1745, contains this item: "In consideration of the love and affection I bear to my beloved wife, I give her all my cattle, and creatures of all kinds, negro or molatto servants." In Judge Wheelright's will, allowed in 1700, is a similar item. "I do give and bequeath unto Esther, my beloved wife, all my cattle of all sorts, with one negro servant named Titus." Joseph Hill, who died in 1743, left a will with these items: "I give to my wife Sarah, my negro boy Tom. I give to my wife also the service of my negro man named Sharper. I give to my son Nathaniel Hill, my negro named Plato, and after the term is ended which my negro Sharper is to serve my wife, the said negro is to be the servant of said Nathaniel." Dr. Sawyer who died in 1774, says in his will, "I give to my daughter Eunice, one-third part of the schooner Prosperous, also my negro girl Phillis." Previously he owned two others, Scipio and Sharper. Rev. Samuel Emery owned one, named Violet. In addition to those stated in his will, Joseph Hill owned Dinah and Scipio. John Goodale owned one named Phillis. Josiah Littlefield owned one, Will Morgage. Pelatiah Littlefield owned two, Fortune and Cato, both of whom were drowned. The first Pelatiah Littlefield bought one in Boston, paying for him eighty pounds. Deacon Thomas Wells owned one by the name of Jeff, who came down as an heir-loom to several successive generations. Ebenezer Sawyer [p. 409] owned one by the name of Pomp, who was decidedly in advance of the age in which he lived. He changed his name and that of his master, got or forged a counterfeit pass, and ran away Dec. 23, 1774.

John Bourne owned one by the name of Salem. He was always called Salem Bourne. He had another called Pompey. He was very kindly treated, and his soul responded affectionately to the kind feelings of the family. He was married to Elizabeth Miles in 1778. He dressed in a short jacket and trowsers made of moose-skin, a fabric of a texture somewhat more durable than would be coveted by the taste of the present age. Pompey was a bold and daring adventurer, and did not die without leaving his mark in the world. He was an excellent sailor, and much distinguished as a gunner. He was one of the kindest men in the world, and it was said that in consequence of his goodness of heart, his mistress spoiled him by over-indulgence. His master finally thought it best to dispose of him, and he was sold to Benjamin Littlefield. In an evil hour his religion failed him. He stole a sheep in Kittery, was imprisoned for his offense; and to pay prison charges, he was sold and carried off to the West Indies.

Capt. James Littlefield had several slaves; Scipio, Sharper, Dinah and Tom. Tom married Phillis, but soon after died. She then married Prime. Prime died. She then took Old Tom. Old Tom! We shall never see his like again. Many who have lived in the last half century, will remember him. Some are still living, who in olden time danced away a happy hour, enlivened by the same old tune, which for more than fifty years he was wont to grind out from that same old fiddle. They cannot forget his gentle, manly deportment, his meek and kind spirit. Who ever turned Old Tom from his door without endeavoring to meet his wants? We of Kennebunk well remember him in the house of God, separated from his fellow-men in his lone seat, though far above all the other worshipers, emblematical, perhaps, in the wisdom of God, though not so designed by the pride of man, of his more exalted seat in the mansions of the blest. As his face far outshone those of his white brethren on earth, so may it now be encircled with a more distinguished glory in Heaven. Old Tom! While his memory remains, nothing but good will ever be associated with his name.

Before the close of the last century the few slaves that remained, having been emancipated, were gathered together on Negro Hill in [p. 410] front of the house of Nathaniel Bragdon. Here were three or four houses. Old Tom and Phillis occupied one. Many kind and charitable friends were wont to visit him. His conjugal relations with Phillis were of a genial and sympathetic character. Her death was a severe blow to him. At her funeral he told Mr. Fletcher, the minister, that he should never get such another. He was then about eighty years of age. He afterwards took old Pegg. But she had not the gracious, mild and courteous spirit which he needed; and he was made thereby to feel more deeply the loss of Phillis. Not long after her death—after his marriage to Pegg—some ladies of the village called to see him. Pegg told him to go and get his fiddle to amuse the young folks. But Tom said no, Phillis has been dead so little while he could not play. But Pegg insisted and commanded. He was obliged to submit; got his fiddle, played, and Pegg danced three-quarters of an hour. He died in 18—, supposed to be a hundred years old. Rev. Mr. Wells who performed the funeral services, delivered a very interesting and pathetic address on the occasion.

As was said of Old Tom, the slaves in church were seated by themselves. They were generally kept apart from the white men, in their joys, their sorrows, their sympathies and their worship. On the eastern end of the old meeting-house was a large porch two stories high. There, in the upper story, nearly all of them used to sit during service. The churches generally in those days had similar accomodations for the negroes, although some few were in the habit of sitting on the step of the pew door, the pews then being elevated above the aisles, and requiring this step for their convenient entrance.

 Published July 20, 2009