One of the finest Federal period mansions in Providence is this well-sited home on College Hill known as the Captain George Benson House. George Benson was a partner of the mercantile firm of Brown, Benson & Ives, who made immense sums of money at the end of the 18th century. The firm did well as the movement to abolish the transatlantic slave trade grew at the time in Rhode Island, many abolitionists placed their faith in so-called “legitimate commerce,” an African trade centered on commodities other than enslaved people. In 1794, the firm run by Nicholas Brown, Jr., and his partners George Benson and Thomas Ives, tried the legitimate trade, and dispatched the ship Charlotte to Freetown Africa, under the command of Benson’s half brother, Martin. George’s half-brother Martin was a slave trader, a job that may have accounted for the unusually explicit tone in a 1794 letter of instructions: “by no means take any Slaves on board the Ship on any terms whatever as we desire to have nothing to do with business.” Three years later, George had this Federal style mansion constructed on the peak of College Hill which remains one of the best in the area over 200 years later.
Calvin Chaddock (1765-1823) graduated from Dartmouth in 1791 and three years later earned a Master of Arts degree from the college. In 1792, he married Meletiah Nye and they settled in Rochester, Massachusetts, where he became pastor of a Congregational parish in the rural northern part of town. In 1798, he opened an academy for boys and girls in the village and built this beautiful Federal style home as a boarding house for students to reside in (the schoolhouse is no longer extant). By 1804, he had “a respectable number of students from different parts of the United States.” The man moved to Ohio before settling in Charlestown, West Virginia, where he lived in a homestead with his family and three enslaved people, Charles, Thomas, and an unnamed woman. Upon his death in 1823, the three people enslaved by Chaddock, were sold at auction. The former boarding house in Rochester was later occupied as a tavern and stagecoach stop, and a store, when it was given some 19th century alterations. It has been a private home for the past hundred years.
Land that Mount Hope Farm sits upon in Bristol, Rhode Island was formerly council lands of the Wampanoag Indians, where King Philip’s War of 1675 may be said to have begun and ended. For those of you who do not know about the war, it was an armed conflict running 1675–1678 between indigenous peoples of New England and New England colonists and their indigenous allies. Massasoit, leader of the Wampanoag, had maintained a long-standing alliance with the colonists. Metacom (c. 1638–1676) was his younger son, and he became “sachem” (elected chief) in 1662 after Massasoit’s death. Metacom, however, forwent his father’s alliance between the Wampanoags and the colonists and they fought back. Metacom’s forces could not beat the growing numbers of the colonists, and he was eventually killed near Mount Hope, in Bristol. After his death, his wife and nine-year-old son were captured and sold as slaves in Bermuda. Philip’s head was mounted on a pike at the entrance to Plymouth, Massachusetts, where it remained for more than two decades. His body was cut into quarters and hung in trees. This story, shows how American history is built upon death and suffering and has often been whitewashed to portray early settlers treating native peoples with respect and as equals, which was rarely the case.
Mount Hope Farm as we know in colonial times, was originally 550 acres in size, owned in 1680 by Nathaniel Byfield. In 1744, the estate was acquired by Isaac Royall. Royall began construction of the house soon after. Isaac Royall Jr. was the son of Isaac Royall Sr. (1677–1739) a slave owner, slave trader, and Antiguan plantation owner who had a home and slave quarters (both extant) in Medford, MA. After his father’s death, Royall Jr. inherited his immense wealth, built upon the backs of others, and built this Georgian farmhouse. It is unknown to me if he ever resided there or had slaves maintain the property, but the home was rented for some time. In 1776, Mount Hope Farm was confiscated by the state, after Royall, a loyalist to England, fled to Nova Scotia. The property was added onto in the 19th and 20th centuries and now sits on 127-acres of land, and is run as a park, inn, and event space.
While much of the downtown area of Bristol features early 19th century wood-frame houses, there are some substantial masonry homes providing a great layering of styles and materials in the neighborhood. This brick Federal style home was built in 1805 for William Throop Jr. (1771-1850), a stonemason and merchant, who had a shop on the DeWolf wharf in Bristol, where many slave ships set sail from. Throop himself was a descendant of William Throope, who built “Throope Place” (previously featured) on the north side of town. We understand that William Jr. likely had connections to the slave traders of Bristol based on his ties to the DeWolf Family, which is compounded by the fact his two daughters Juliana and Jane married Judge James Eppinger of Georgia. Juliana first married Eppinger in 1820, but died in 1859, and her younger sister Jane then married James Eppinger one year later. The Eppingers built a house in Bristol where they would spend time, and often brought enslaved with them to maintain their home. On October 12, 1829, Nancy Gindrat, a 22 year old slave to James and Juliana Throop Eppinger, escaped in Bristol. Eppinger frantically wrote to his father in-law William Throop and others that he would offer a large sum to anyone who could find her, though he never did. It was interesting to learn how inter-connected Rhode Island and Georgia were in the early 19th century, both bonded by the slave trade. The William Throop Jr. House remained in the family for a century until it was converted into a rooming house in the early 20th century, to house workers at the nearby industrial buildings. The home was restored and reverted back to a one-or-two-family residence in the 1970s.
New England is lucky to have so many examples of pre-Revolution Georgian homes to gawk at, and this home in Bristol is one of them. The home was likely constructed by Benjamin Reynolds, a cobbler (shoemaker) for his family. The home was purchased by Benjamin and Abigail Bosworth sometime before the Revolutionary War, and Benjamin served with the Continental Army, at the rank of Major. In 1786, Mark Antony DeWolf the patriarch of the infamous DeWolf Family (who made their fortunes on the backs of the enslaved) returned to Bristol after it was burned by the British, and purchased this home where he lived until his death in 1793. At that time, one of Mark Antony DeWolf’s many children, Levi, moved into the home. Levi DeWolf (1766-1848) was a Quaker, who was an avid reader. While his involvement in the slave trade was a shadow of that of his siblings, he was complicit and travelled to Africa at least three times on behalf of his brother James. After the trips, James offered to outfit a vessel for him to continue the trade, but Levi’s conscience likely caused him to decline. In the late 1790s, Levi had the home updated, with a new, elaborate pedimented entrance with a modillion and dentil cornice.
Lewis Hayden was born into slavery in Lexington, Kentucky, in 1811, as one of a family of 25. Hayden was first owned by a Presbyterian minister, Rev. Adam Rankin. He sold off Lewis’ brothers and sisters in preparation for moving to Pennsylvania, and he traded 10-year-old Hayden for two carriage horses to a man who traveled the state selling clocks. In the mid-1830s, Hayden married Esther Harvey, also a slave. She and their son were sold to U.S. Senator Henry Clay, who sold them both to the Deep South, and Hayden never saw them again. By 1842, Hayden married a second time, to Harriet Bell, who was also enslaved, and he cared for her son Joseph as his stepson. After this marriage, Hayden began making plans to escape to the North, as he feared his second family might be split up like the first. In 1844, he and his family escaped with assistance of abolitionists all the way to Canada. From Canada, the Haydens moved in 1845 to Detroit in the free state of Michigan, and the next year, they moved to Boston, at the center of anti-slavery activity with the city’s strong abolitionist base. In Boston, Hayden became a lecturer and ran a clothing shop, acquiring enough money to live in this large home in Beacon Hill. The Haydens routinely cared for fugitive slaves at their home, which served as a boarding house. Guests included Ellen and William Craft, who escaped from slavery in 1848. Hayden prevented slave catchers from taking the Crafts by threatening to blow up his home with gunpowder if they tried to reclaim the pair. Hayden died in 1889, outliving the abolishment of slavery. Harriet died in 1894 and left $5,000, the entirety of their estate, to the Harvard University for scholarships for African American medical students. It was believed to have been the first, and perhaps only, endowment to a university by a former slave. Their former home remains a stop on Boston’s Black Heritage Trail.
It is troubling to learn that such a stunning historic home can represent such a dark history. I was walking Washington Street in Beverly Massachusetts, a residential street full of charm, when I snapped a photo of this home. When doing a little more research on the owner, I learned that Captain Ezra Foster was a sea captain involved with transporting slaves and other goods between Boston, Africa, and Rio De Janiero, Brazil. When many think of the dark history of slavery in America, they often think of the South. While slavery was eventually deemed unconstitutional in many New England states, it was common in the region historically; though not at the same numbers as the south. More research needs to be done to analyze and contextualize what happened in New England and how prevalent the slave trade was here for so long.
Built in 1785, the Sedgwick House on Main Street in Stockbridge, MA, is the oldest of several Federal mansions built in town after the Revolution. Theodore Sedgwick (1746-1813), one of the early lawyers of Berkshire County, moved to Stockbridge in 1785 and built this house. From 1796 to 1799 he was a Senator in the federal government, and declined a position of Secretary of the Treasury offered by George Washington. Before this, when a House Representative, he was nominated the fourth Speaker of the House. An ardent Federalist, Theodore retired from the national arena upon Thomas Jefferson’s election. Sedgwick was also a member of an early abolitionist society organized in Pennsylvania in 1775 and played a key role in abolishing slavery in Massachusetts by his win in the case of Bett v. Ashley. In this case, Sedgwick served as attorney of Mum Bet (also known as Elizabeth Freeman) an enslaved woman in nearby Sheffield and argued that slavery was inconsistent with the 1780 Massachusetts State Constitution, and won. Bet became the first enslaved African American to file and win a freedom suit in Massachusetts, effectively abolishing slavery in the state. She was later buried in the Sedgwick Family burial plot in Stockbridge. The home was later owned and occupied by Catharine Maria Sedgwick, Theodore’s daughter, who became one of nineteenth-century America’s most prolific women writers. She published six novels, two biographies, eight works for children, novellas, over 100 pieces of short prose and other works.
This home was built for John and Mary Fuller in rural Suffield, CT in 1823 and operated as a farm by the family for over fifty years. The town of Suffield purchased the house and farmland before the 1880s for use as a poor farm. Poor farms (also known as almshouses) were often rural houses where paupers (mainly elderly and disabled people) were supported at public expense. The land was available for the elderly and workers to harvest crops for sale and sustenance. According to an 1886 article, a former slave from Stamford, CT died in the poorhouse. “Old Cato” was a slave owned by Maj. John Davenport, a lawyer and politician of Stamford. Davenport offered Old Cato his freedom in 1812 if he enlisted to serve in the War of 1812, which he did. By the 1820s, he moved to Suffield CT, and worked at the West Suffield Congregational Church, paid to ring the bell at the church, likely also maintaining the property. He eventually ended up at the poorhouse and died, estimated to be over 100 years old. Back to the house… It was sold by the town at private auction in 1952 and purchased as a single family home, which it remains to this day. The house is a great example of a vernacular brick Federal style home with fanlights.
The Maxwell House was built between in 1743 by the Reverend Samuel Maxwell. The house, which is the oldest brick dwelling in Warren, is distinguished by the distinctive Flemish bond pattern of the brickwork, its field stone foundation, and its large central chimney. Maxwell was born in Boston and was ordained a Baptist minister in 1732 and settled in Newport. He later moved to Warren and had this house built at the corner of Church and Water Streets. His eldest son, James, appears to have been willed the home after Rev. Maxwell’s death. James Maxwell was a sea captain and slave trader in the Triangle Trade and reputed to be one of the wealthiest men in Warren (he later built homes as wedding gifts to his daughters). James Maxwell likely gained much of his wealth by participating in the sale of slaves including some who had been listed as being aboard his own schooler Abigail, where in 1790, the Captain Charles Collins, purchased 64 slaves on the coast of Africa and brought 53 back alive. The Maxwell House is owned by The Massasoit Historical Association and is maintained as a working museum.