I’m going to break my usual rule and talk a bit about the slaveholders here, because the language of the manumission document is interesting and unusual. According to the land records from the rural town of Canterbury, between April 1775 (time of their purchase) and January 3, 1780 (date of the document), they had come to believe that:
the great God the Creator of Mankind did create them all with equal priviledge, and being willing that they should sit under their own Vine, and enjoy the good of their Labour, and none to lord it over them or make them afraid …
and accordingly, they had decided to free these enslaved people. Would that more slaveholders had reached this conclusion sooner (or ever, in most cases).
But we are really talking about Katharine, “wife of Christopher or Kitt Ama a Negro man,” and his children Archelaus, Cloe, and Zackeus. I emphasize the “his” here because, as Gloria McCahon Whiting has pointed out, it was much more common for enslaved children to be referred to as children of their mother, whose enslaved status guaranteed her children’s enslaved status.1 Notice, also, that Katharine, though enslaved, was married to a free man. This record does not indicate whether they lived together (unlikely, according to Whiting’s research), but they certainly saw each other often enough, and privately enough, to have children together. Christopher is also given the status of an accepted surname – and in these same land records, he also has land transactions from the 1770s and 1780s under that and similar names, as well as variants of “Kitt.” We haven’t seen the last of variations/uncertainty in African-Americans’ names, either in this particular case or in general.
The document is not all good news, however. Although Katharine and Archelaus were made free immediately, the liberty of Cloe (or Chloe) had to wait until she reached 18 years of age. This suggests that Archelaus was at least 18, but I have no records available to confirm that. In addition, Zackeus (or Zaccheus2) was not living with his family, because he had been “bound out” to work for another man; the manumission provided that he was to become free when that indenture expired, but gave no specific date.
The slaveholders presumably could have bought out Zackeus’s indenture, but their conversion to the ideal of liberty did not, it seems, extend to paying any money. Their continuing hold on Cloe, on the other hand, suggests continuing doubts about whether her parents could really support her. It is also possible, however, that they had worked out some deal with her – perhaps if she worked for them longer, they would give her clothing or money at the end? The document does not specify.
The Canterbury Vital Records report that Christopher Ama, “negro,” passed away on January 26, 1802. They also recorded the birth of Zacheus on January 25, 1765, to “Christ & Nancy.” The latter name, Nancy, may be a transcription error or a mistake in the original record, because all the other entries are for the children of Zacheus and Nancy. These were: Obadiah (November 16, 1792); Hardin (May 4, 1794); Betsey (May 17, 1798); Lote (January 17, 1800); and Ebenezer (January 22, 180x). The family was also known as “Amy,” as shown by the record of the marriage of Hardin or Harding Amy of Canterbury, by a justice of the peace, to Mary Jane Bailey of Providence, R.I., on December 7 of either 1827 or 1828 (the two records of the event disagree on the year).3
According to the land records, both Zacheus and Harding/Harden Ama/Amy owned land in Canterbury through the 1820s, and Hardin was married there toward the end of that decade. Research on this land ownership is ongoing, but we can see just from these records that three generations of this African-American family were prosperous enough to own land and stayed in town.
Turning to the Census records, however, we find an even longer tenure. Christopher Amy/Amey appeared in both the 1790 and 1800 records, first with a family of just one other person and himself, and then with a family of five. The 1810 census marshal for Canterbury did not list any individual African-Americans in town, just the total number (48). In 1820, Zacheus “Almy” had a family of four; in 1830, the widow of Zachariah Amy had two other people in her family. By 1840, Hardin Almy represented the family with four other people in his household; he appeared with his wife Mary in the 1850 census, owning $300 in real estate, and was still there in 1860, living alone at the age of 67, with the same amount of real estate. I’ll have to check the probate records to see what they say about the members of this family.
Of the other family members besides Zacheus, Hardin, and their wives, I haven’t found any trace in Connecticut records. I expect to be following up with this family in the land records – Canterbury has a rather prominent place in Connecticut’s African-American history – but that’s in the future. For now, it’s enough to know that at least some members of the family managed to hold on to the land that Christopher and Katherine acquired even before Connecticut’s passage of its gradual emancipation act in 1784 – and also before and during the Revolution.
Speaking of which, I found in Record of Connecticut Men in the Military and Naval Service During the War of the Revolution, 1775-1783,4 that “Arkelas Ama” served with the 8th Regiment of the “Connecticut Line” between July and December 1780:
Then “Archelaus Ames” served in the 3rd Regiment between March and December 1781 as well:
Though this may not be the same man, since members of the 8th were supposed to have gone into the reorganized 5th in 1781; still, Archelaus is a pretty rare name, and Ames is close to Ama. I’ll probably have to do a bit more research with service and pension records, but I’ll do that when I have a list of all the people I want to research, not one at a time.
This is already enough, though, for us to know that the Ama family, frequently-changing surname and all, was just as able and willing to be a part of Connecticut’s economy and military as any white family.
1 “Power, Patriarchy, and Provision: African Families Negotiate Gender and Slavery in New England,” J. American History 103 no. 3 (2016): 583-605.
2 Or Lackeus/Laccheus, depending on how one reads the first letter of his name as written.
3 CTGenWeb Project, “Barbour Collection of CT Vital Records – Town of Canterbury, Connecticut.” Accessed March 23, 2017. http://www.ctgenweb.org/county/cowindham/records/barbour/barbourcanterburya.htm
4 Connecticut. Adjutant-General’s Office, and Henry Phelps Johnston. Record of Connecticut Men in the Military and Naval Service During the War of the Revolution, 1775-1783. Hartford, CT: Case, Lockwood & Brainard Company, 1889.