Friday, April 14, 2023

A matter of the historical record: The enslavers and the enslaved of 18th century Windham

By Walter Lunt

They were called “servants.” Most did not have a surname. Tax records referred to them as “servants for life” (to distinguish them from indentured servants). They were African Americans and in 18th century Maine (a district of Massachusetts) their numbers were estimated to be about 4,000, including about 20 in Windham, according to one scholarly estimate. And to be clear, they were slaves.

A bill of sale sent by Thomas Chute to Moses
Pearson of Standish. Chute was Windham's
founding settler and a tailor. Chute lists 
clothing he made for Pearson's slave.
“There is a misconception that we (Northern slavers) were good to our slaves,” says history researcher Vana Carmona, who has been researching named slaves of Cumberland County for over nine years, “This is something we try to tell ourselves to make us feel better about what (the enslavers) were doing. It’s a lie!”

Carmona’s analysis is echoed by Maine historian Charles P.M. Outwin. Writing for the Maine Historical Society’s publication Maine History, Outwin states, “Although some slaves in New England may have developed a close relationship with their masters, no slave was pampered. All were one way or another exploited in the northern colonies, as they were in the southern colonies.”

Writing in the current issue of Maine History (Winter, 2023), author Gayle Kinney-Cornelius writes, “Although there is much that will never be known, current historic discoveries…prove that New England’s reputation as a bastion of slave well-being and universal freedom is inaccurate. Research historians have dug deeply into archives and uncovered a more balanced understanding of slavery in New England.”

Horrific, even grisly, events induced by northern enslavers do survive history’s whitewashed stories. A Maine minister sent his young slave girl out in the snow to retrieve cows. Unable to find them and too afraid to return without them, the girl remained outside into the night and was found froze to death the next day. In a coastal town, a fisherman sliced off a section of his dead slave’s buttocks to use for fish bait. According to author Kinney-Cornelius, “…efforts to (uncover the dark secrets of colonial slavery) have been hindered by both the dearth of and the erasure of essential historic documentation…when memories of an event causes shame or embarrassment.”

The work of male slaves in the District of Maine and in other New England states consisted of farming, lumbering, fishing, and manufacturing. Enslaved women worked in the home as cooks, laundresses, maids and nurses. Some were trained in spinning, knitting, and weaving.

Documentation from primary and secondary source materials reveal three individuals of African descent enslaved in Windham in the 18th century. They were Phyllis, Chloe and Lonnon. Phyllis was the domestic “servant” of another Maine minister, Parson Peter Thatcher Smith and his wife Elizabeth Hunt Wendell (who built Windham’s well-known Parson Smith House in 1762). Phyllis was in very real terms the “wedding present” of Elizabeth’s mother, Madam Wendell of Boston.

Phyllis has the distinction of being the only slave in Cumberland County to be memorialized in a life-sized portrait. The oil painting on wood, or dummy board, shows a short, slender woman with brown curly hair, brown eyes and a small mouth turned slightly upward in a barely-there smile. She carries a tray of steaming cups of chocolate. Unfortunately, the portrait no longer resides with the historic house. It is unlikely that Phyllis was ever freed, and it is believed she is buried in an unmarked grave in the nearby Smith-Anderson Cemetery.

Two other early Windham slaves were boarded in the same neighborhood on River Road. They were Lonnon and Chloe, owned by the family of Windham’s second settler, William Mayberry. They were married by Parson Smith in 1763, but when Mayberry died soon after, Lonnon and Chloe were bestowed separately to his two sons. Lonnon enlisted in the Continental Army in the War for Independence for which he was paid 20 pounds, which he turned over to the Mayberry’s for his freedom. He would die, probably from misery and exposure under Gen. Washington at Valley Forge, and is buried at Whitemarsh Encampment, New Jersey. Chloe and a daughter, Lucy, remained in Windham for six years, after which, according to historian Outwin, she married Prince, the former slave of William McLellan of Gorham. Prince had gained his freedom following service in the Revolutionary War.

Another likely slave in Windham is identified as Romeo Smith. Little is known about Romeo except that he was born a slave and resided in Windham some time before 1775. With the promise of freedom, he opted for military service in the Revolution. Outwin reports that Romeo “served as drummer for Captain Skillings’ company in the Continental Army.” Following the war, under threat of being reclaimed as a slave, he sought help from General Henry Knox who wrote a proclamation substantiating Romeo’s three years of military service and that “Romeo Smith is a free man…”

One great irony, as noted by historian Kinney-Cornelius, “Black people could not vote, nor could they serve on juries, but they were required to pay taxes. This is…an example of taxation without representation, one of the very conditions that had angered white colonists and led to the American Revolution.”

Carmona, the researcher, writes, “There was nothing “ambiguous” about an unfree servant who is not referred to as a slave. Everything was always at the convenience of the enslavers…the Mayberry’s wanted money from Lonnon when he went to war…the enslavers wanted compensation. But the formerly enslaved got nothing.”

Outwin concludes his commentary this way, “With the slaves of Cumberland County, named and anonymous, they are part of a melancholy company of shadows forever haunting the twilight margins of Maine’s colonial history. <

Friday, April 7, 2023

The Pioneer Personality of Raymond

By Ernest H. Knight

Dominicus Jordan, one of Raymond’s most colorful earliest settlers, came to the town in 1770 when it was just a grant of land from the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It was awarded to the company of men of Beverely under Captain Raymond as compensation for unpaid services in the Expedition to Canada in 1690 to replace previously granted land from which they had been evicted after settlement of the disputed boundary between New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

An ell at the Crockett House in Raymond, shown to the left
of the residence, is the original home of one of Raymond's
earliest settlers, Dominicus Jordan. COURTESY PHOTO  
There always have been and still are Jordans in Raymond, though not in the quantity of earlier times, descendants of the pioneer Robert Jordan of Cape Elizabeth, the immigrant minister who specialized in business and town affairs there and whose progeny leapfrogged the surrounding countryside as the local farmlands became overcrowded. One of Robert’s children was Dominicus Jordan, the first of many so named in direct or ancillary lines.

That Dominicus then had a son, Dominicus, who in turn had a son, Dominicus, both of whom were victims of an Indian raid in which the father was killed by a tomahawk and the son taken captive to Canada. After his repatriation he also had a son, Dominicus, to continue the tradition. But it was the third Dominicus who had a brother, Nathaniel, who provided the Dominicus Jordan who first came to Raymond.

Nathaniel Jordan had acquired from the Proprietors of Raymondtown a 100-acre lot in the fledgling township, but it was his son Dominicus who started out in 1770 to stake the claim in chance company with Joseph Dingey from Duxbury, Massachusetts, who was going to Raymondtown for the same purpose, both with the knowledge that the first to arrive would be entitled to an extra 100-acre lot.

A survey had been made by George Peirce, later active in Otisfield, but the survey was poorly done, proved unsuitable and later had to be redone, with considerable confusion for the settlers. In the meantime, Dominicus and Jospeh camped at night at a carrying place on the Presumpscot, from where Joseph made a quiet and early start the next morning, leaving Dominicus to follow later by foot along the shore of Sebago Pond to the river later named for him where he stopped and stayed.

In 1790, due to the influx of settlers and the inadequate map, Joseph and Dominicus were engaged by the proprietors to remap the township, for which they hired Nathan Winslow, and the new layout was presented to the proprietors in 1791. In 1794, both settlers and records had been shuffled so that deeds could be written and Dominicus was deeded his father’s lot and one for himself, Lots 2 and 3 in the Second Range, which included land on both sides of the mouth of the Jordan River and extending back through the present shopping center on Route 302.

The race for first honors was apparently accepted by Dominicus, but not forgotten or forgiven until the score was settled by another race. Jospeh and Dominicus were summoned to a proprietor’s meeting in Beverly on a matter between them of considerable benefit to whichever presented the most convincing case. Traveling together, they stopped at a tavern en route and at some distance after resuming their journey, a sheriff caught up with them to search for a spoon missing from the table where they had partaken a meal, resulting from information from an anonymous tipster.

Joseph was surprised, though Dominicus was not, when the spoon was found in Joseph’s pocket, and he was escorted back to the tavern to straighten matters out with the aggrieved tavern keeper. Dominicus had to continue his travels alone, but he was enabled to go before the proprietors with uncontested testimony.

The homestead building of Dominicus Jordan, perhaps the oldest structure in Raymond, is the ell behind what is called the Crockett House.

The name Dominicus, along with many others of biblical or ancient derivation, is never heard now except in historical context, but it does have honorable significance in Maine and Raymond, thanks to Robert Jordan and our first pioneer settler of Raymond, Dominicus Jordan. <

This article was written by the late Ernest H. Knight, one of the founders of the Raymond-Casco Historical Society and contained in his book “Historical Gems of Raymond and Casco.” It was submitted by the Raymond-Casco Historical Society and articles about Raymond history from the historical society will appear regularly in The Windham Eagle newspaper. To find out more about the Raymond-Casco Historical Society, call Frank McDermott at 207-655-4646.