Slavery in Cornwall

Slaves and Slave Owners in Cornwall

by Ann Schillinger and Ryan Bachman

Very little information about enslaved people exists in the Cornwall public records. Except for the two emancipations in the land records, they rarely appear by name. There are exceptions. The children’s birth dates and names of two entire enslaved families (their parents were James and Patience, Essex and Dinah) are recorded after March 1, 1784, thanks to a “gradual emancipation” law passed by the Connecticut Assembly requiring slave owners to formally register the births of their slaves’ children. (This measure was intended to make sure that no enslaved African Americans were brought into the state after that date, and to establish birth dates for enforcing the law.) This new law freed no slaves; attempts to pass an abolition law had repeatedly failed. Instead, it established that all Connecticut children born into slavery after that date would be automatically free at the age of 25.

Censuses: “An Account of the Inhabitants of the Town of Cornwall,” a local census in September, 1776, certified by Thomas Porter and John Pierce, Select-Men, shows eleven African Americans in the town, enumerated for their color with no reference to whether they were enslaved or free, but likely enslaved. These unidentified people were listed as:

2 males under 20
2 females under 20
5 males above 20
2 females above 20

In first U.S. Census (1790), nineteen slaves were enumerated in the town. By 1800, there were only four, and none were recorded in the Census after that. Only the heads of households were named on Census records until 1850; we find all other persons registered only by marks to indicate age, gender, and/or color. Town records did not register slave deaths (unlike those of free people of color). However, some information appears in the baptism and death records of the First Church of Christ.

No burial ground for enslaved people seems to have existed in Cornwall, perhaps because there were not very many of them. They may have been buried on owners’ properties or even in empty parts or on the margins of the graveyards.

Further research in these and other records may produce further information. In cases where identification as enslaved or free cannot yet be made, names are marked with ‡. In cases where people are registered in the records without surnames, they are considered here to have been enslaved.


(TCLR) Town of Cornwall Land Records

(TCVR) Town of Cornwall Vital Records:
BMD 1740-1854
BMD 1852-1867 (no pagination)
BMD 1828-1854

(TCL) Town of Cornwall Grand Lists 1742-1820 **

“An Account of the Inhabitants of the Town of Cornwall,” September, 1776 (CHS archives)

(USC) U.S. Census Records

(CC1&2) 18th and 19th Century Baptism, Marriage, Death and Membership Records of the Church of Christ/First Congregational Church of Cornwall, Connecticut, 1755-1902*

E. C. Starr’s History of Cornwall, Connecticut, 1926

T. S. Gold’s Historical Records of the Town of Cornwall, 1904

Arnold Copy, [Town of Cornwall] Births, 1740-1854

Enslaved People Slave Owners
TOBY: rented out by owner in 1760 to other families Judah Kellogg
One slave
(USC 1790)
Nehemiah Beardsley
One slave
(USC 1790)
Benjamin Bell
One slave
(USC 1790)
Joseph Wakefield Gold (son of Rev. Hezekiah)
One slave
(USC 1790)
Asahel Graves
Three slaves
(USC 1790)
Patrick Hindman
Two slaves
(USC 1800)
John Hindman
One slave
(USC 1790)
Ebenezer Jackson
One slave (Toby?)
(USC 1790)
Judah Kellogg
One slave
(USC 1790)
Joshua Pierce 1st
One slave
(USC 1790)
Noah Rogers
Three slaves (USC 1790):  JAMES and PATIENCE, bought March 9, 1789 from previous owner, Benjamin Buckingham, New Milford (TCVR 1781-1828), with son EDWARD or NED (which see), b. 3/1789 (TCVR 1781-1828, p.46) Heman Swift
Four slaves
(USC 1790)
Rufus Swift
One slave
(USC 1790);
one slave
(USC 1800)
Trial Tanner
OBED [later OBADIAH FREEMAN]:   (USC 1790 & 1800) Emancipated Cornwall, 1805 (TCLR, p. 450) [See Free People of Color Living in Cornwall] Ebenezer Birdsey
JACKSON, SELE:  baptized 7/8/1758 (1Ch, V.1, p. 2) Deacon Abbitt
__ILLAH (f.): – “negro gall of Mr. Gold” baptized 7/28/1763 (1Ch, V.1, p. 101) (probably Rev. Hezekiah Gold)
______ :   (TCLR, 1772, p. 41) Ensign Benoni Peck
PRINCE:  ran away in May 1774; owner advertised for him in the Connecticut Courant Stephen Royce
HETH or HESSE and his wife:  Samuel(?), in Parson’s Sixth Continentals; sick at Stamford; discharged 11/1776.  Quarreled with Thomas Warrups, Ind, (see Cornwall Free People of Color). Sold after 1795 to Deacon James Thompson of Goshen (see Index, Essex and Dinah), who freed him and his wife and gave them land in Goshen (Goshen Congregational Church Records, p., 149).         Died in Goshen. Patrick or John Hindman, also Samuel Wadsworth
       , Negro servant, baptized 6/6/1779
(1 Ch, V.1, p. 9)
MARY:  “gall” under the care of Saml. Wright baptized 6/13/1779
(1Ch, V.1, p. 9)
Samuel Wright
‡[A child]  baptized 2/1782, belonging to Caleb Abbit
(1Ch, V. 1, p. 6)
Caleb Abbit
‡[A child] baptized 2/1782, belonging to Clemens Dibble
(1Ch, V.1, p. 10)
Clemens Dibble
ESSEX and DINAH [later ESSEX and DINAH FREEMAN], parents of Nancy, Amos, and Rachel (which see).  Emancipated in Goshen.  See Additional Information below for later history. Samuel Bassett
NANCY:  “Daughter of Essex and Dinah his Wife, both Servants of Mr. Samuel Bassett,” b. Cornwall 4/4/1785 (TCVR 1781-1828, p. 12); d. Goshen, age 19, 2/28/1804  (see Essex and Dinah, above) Samuel Bassett
AMOS:  “Son of Essex and Dinah his wife (Negro Servants), b. Cornwall 7/15/1787
(TCVR 1781-1828, p. 21)
Samuel Bassett
JAMES and PATIENCE, parents of Edward or Ned, Peony, and Lettis (which see), bought March 9, 1789 from previous owner, Benjamin Buckingham, New Milford
(TCVR 1781-1828).
Heman Swift
EDWARD or NED:  “a son of James and Patience, Negroes;” b. New Milford 3/9/1789; bought March 9, 1789 (which see) (TCVR 1781-1846, p. 46) Heman Swift
RACHEL:  daughter of Essex and Dinah, b. Cornwall 9/14/1789 (TCVR 1781-1828, p. 21) Samuel Bassett
PEONY:  “Daughter of the Same Persons,” (James and Patience), b. Cornwall 10/6/1791 (TCVR 1781-1828, p. 46) Heman Swift
PEG (later PEG NEGRO]:  “a Negro woman freed by Rev. Mr. Gold’s heirs” 11/29/1792
(1Ch, V.1, p. 62) (USC 1790).
See also Peg Barber.
Rev. Hezekiah Gold (Joseph W. Gold, heir)
POMP (m.):  anecdote in Starr’s History, p. 305; and Gold’s Historical Records, p. 367.
(1st Ch. 1755-1786)
Rev. Hezekiah Gold
ZELPHA:  d. age 4, 3/28/1793
(1Ch, V.1, p. 101)
Rev. Hezekiah Gold
DALPHIN:  died 6/18/1793, “a negro belonging to ..”
(1Ch, V.1, p. 101)
Mr. Bell
BERTHA:  “child of Lyllaj”??, 3 years old, d. January 2, 1794
(1Ch, V.1, p. 101)
MARGETT:  a negro woman age 34 or 35, d. 4/1794
(1Ch, V.1, p. 101)
LETTIS:  “a Negro child, born of Patience, a servant of Heman Swift, Esqr.,”  b. Cornwall 10/22/1795
(TCVR 1781-1828, p. 44).
Heman Swift
‡[A Negro child], north part of town, about six months old, 3/10/1800
(1Ch, V.1, p. 106)
Heman Swift
______:  b. 5/10/1773
(Arnold Copy Births, Vol. 2, p. 13)
Heman Swift
WILLIAM:  “a negro 24 or 25 years old,” 5/1803
(1Ch, Vol.1, p. 107)
Heman Swift
WILLIAM & PARTHENA, parents of three below.
TCVR, Births, 1740-1854 (Arnold copy)
Heman Swift
ORSENAS:  “son of William & Parthena,”b. 8/11/1801
(TCVR, Arnold Copy Births, Vol. 3, p.18)
Heman Swift
BENJAMIN:  “son of William & Parthena,” b. 6/6/1807
TCVR, Arnold Copy Births, Vol. 3, p. 18
Heman Swift
WIILLIAM BAYLEY:  “son of William & Parthena,” b. 5/7/1810
TCVR, Arnold Copy Births, Vol. 3, p. 18
Heman Swift

* published by the Cornwall Historical Society, 2006
** published by the Cornwall Historical Society, 2003
*** see Free People of Color Living in Cornwall, Connecticut from 1787 through 1870

Ann Schillinger
Last amended 8/3/2015



It appears that their owner Samuel Bassett sold Essex and Dinah to Deacon James Thompson some time between September 14, 1789 (when their daughter Rachel was born in Cornwall) and August 2, 1790, when the 1790 US Census was recorded and Thompson was recorded with. Apparently, Essex asked Bassett to sell him and his family to a religious man, and Bassett agreed to sell them to the Deacon. According to the records of the Goshen Congregational Church, Essex joined that church in 1793, after transferring his membership from Cornwall (where he never appears as a member). Dinah joined several years later. In the Goshen property records, Thompson emancipated Essex and Dinah on August 26, 1795 and according to local history, gave them land and a house somewhere on his family’s property near the Cornwall border (he apparently also later bought Hess/Heth and his wife from the Hindmans and gave them land as well). Sometime prior to 1800, Essex and Dinah took the last name of “Freeman” and appear as such in the 1800 US Census. On February 28, 1804 Nancy, daughter of the Freemans, died at age 19 (she was born into slavery in Cornwall in 1785 and would have been free at age 25).

On January 7, 1815, Essex and Dinah transferred their Goshen church membership to a Congregational church in Augusta, NY (the Goshen church noted that they were sad to see them go and that they were among the most pious members of the congregation).

Goshen town history tells that in Augusta they lived on land again given to them by James Thompson in upstate NY, and that at least one of their children remained in Goshen: their daughter Lucina didn’t move to Augusta until 1823 (Goshen Congregational Church Records, p. 149). Once they moved to Augusta, all records of them disappear.

Ryan Bachman, 2014