On May 31, 1777, the administrators of the estate of a New Haven slaveholder received, in consideration for two enslaved people, sixty pounds (the British pound was still the currency of the rebellious colonies). As in the manumission discussed just prior to this one, however, the “buyer” was problematic:
for the Consideration of Sixty pounds Lawfull money rec[eive]d of Ceaser a Negro man we have Sold and by these presents do hereby convey to Sd Ceaser Rose a Negro woman and Cato her Son
To be clear, this says that the estate’s executors were convinced by the payment of a large sum of money to “transfer” the “ownership” of an African-American woman and her child to an African-American man – presumably the child’s father. Why does the document make no mention of this? Probably because the child’s enslaved status was a result of his mother’s enslaved status, which was the important thing as far the slaveholders were concerned.
Again, this is a bit early for reliable additional data on this family, especially since they are denied a surname. But we do, astonishingly, have two vital records entries for them:
Although this seems to indicate that Prise and Cato were born free before their mother’s manumission in 1777, I think the record was actually made in the 1780s, in an effort to ensure that the children were identified as being free people. This was a wise strategy, because it was not impossible for some white person to claim that a free African-American was really an enslaved person. Yes: African-Americans’ freedom was frequently contingent upon never coming to the attention of a white liar.
Why Prise was not included in the manumission is not known to me as of yet. Moving forward in time, the 1790 census did contain an entry for a three-person nonwhite family headed by a Ceaser (see below), when Prise would have been 20 and Cato 15. Of course, the couple could have had more children by then, and the older ones had moved out; the simple family size of 3 is not very informative. This could even be another family entirely.
White people, by the way, were grouped into females, males 16 and over, and males under 16 (and slaves, like “all other free persons,” were all lumped together). Collecting data about non-white people, aside from their total numbers, was not a priority.
In the 1800 census there were three non-white men named Cato: Cato Edwards (family of 4 in total), Cato Saunciy (family of 3), and Cato Thomas (family of 4). If the families had been white, they would have been divided into male and female, each with five age groupings, but they were still just “all other free persons” (and also the last category, “slaves”). So although we know that the Cato we are interested in would have been about 25, we have no way to identify which of these men was him.
So here we stop; the 1810 census marshal for New Haven recorded, very unhelpfully, only the first initial of the people there; in the 1820 and 1830 censuses there was nobody named Cato in New Haven, even if they had age groupings for non-white people (which they didn’t); and the 1840 census, which did include age groups, still had no one named Cato.
And that’s enough with the lost ends. I found out a lot more about this family than I ever expected to – thanks for sticking with me this far!