Friday, October 9, 2020

A matter of historical record: Lonnon Rhode of Windham – slave and Revolutionary War soldier

By Walter Lunt

Before he was a rebel soldier during the American Revolution, Lonnon Rhode was the house “servant” of Windham’s second settler, the blacksmith William Mayberry. According to history writers Andy O’Brien and Will Chapman (The End of Slavery in Maine – Mainer, June, 2020), due to “…the ambiguous status (of) many African Americans in the north at the time, (a servant) was not considered a slave in the household, but neither was he truly free.”

Many African-Americans in the north
were not considered a slave in the 
household, but neither was she or he
truly free. COURTESY PHOTO 
Add caption
Rhode married Chloe (surname unknown) in December of 1763, according to old records, in a ceremony officiated by Parson Peter Thatcher Smith (The Windham Eagle – Sept. 25, 2020). They were “owned” by Mayberry and, as such, taxed as “property.”

According to the late Windham historian, Kay Soldier, William Mayberry died soon after the couple married; under the estate settlement, Lonnon was bestowed to Mayberry’s son and daughter-in-law, Thomas and Margaret, while Chloe went to another son.

Lonnon and Chloe would have four children. Three died young. Lucy, believed to be their youngest, would live out her 65 years as a pauper.

Slavery in Massachusetts (including the District of Maine) would not be abolished until 1783. However, freedom prior to that could be achieved in a variety of ways; one was service in the War for Independence. For his enlistment in Capt. John Skillings’ Company in January of 1777,  Lonnon would receive 26 British pounds; he would pledge 20 pounds of that to Margaret Mayberry for his freedom.

Lonnon served with distinction in the Revolutionary War, including the bloody and pivotable battles of Hubbardton and Saratoga. His company joined Gen. George Washington’s army at Valley Forge in December. It was there he died, probably of exposure after 10 ½ months of combat and misery. It is believed he was buried where he died.

Of the nearly two dozen Windham soldiers who served at Valley Forge, historian Samuel T. Dole (Windham in the Past – 1916) wrote “…their sufferings were almost beyond human endurance. They were without sufficient food, clothing, and shelter…the destitution of these soldiers…cannot be expressed by any language we possess.”

Lonnon Rhode left a widow and his 5-year old daughter, Lucy. After her mother died, as was the custom of the time, Lucy would be “auctioned” off annually at town meeting. She would go to the highest bidder to perform household duties and farm chores in exchange for room, board and clothing. Records show that in 1817, Dr. James Merrill paid $36 to the town in exchange for Lucy’s services for one year. Later, she would live at Windham’s Town Farm (for the poor). Lucy died, age 65, in 1837 and is buried in the paupers’ section of Brown Cemetery on Chute Road in Windham.

In their book Maine’s Visible Black History, authors Price and Talbot comment on the life and military service of Lonnon Rhode, “(He) bought his freedom by paying twice – to earn the money and with his life.”  <                                                             

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