Monday, October 19, 2015

Early African Americans in Colrain

At our final meeting for 2015 in October an interesting program presented by Bob Drinkwater of the Association for Gravestone Studies focused on the presence of free and enslaved African Americans in western Massachusetts in the 18th and 19th centuries. Local town and Federal census records, as well as gravestones in town cemeteries, reveal that African Americans were here early on in greater numbers than was previously known, generally living in some obscurity on the fringes of society.

After the French and Indian Wars, some later settlers of Colrain brought black slaves with them. The census of 1790 lists slaves in the households of five men.

Stone posts and a sign at the entrance to the Brick School Cemetery in East Colrain.

In East Colrain a granite gravestone installed in 2005 by the DAR in the Brick School Cemetery marks the burial place of Peter Green, who was born in Africa in about 1750, lived as a slave in Colrain and fought in the Revolutionary War. He is believed to have earned his freedom by that service. On his death in 1836 he was probably buried here with no stone to mark the place. His wife, Violette, was also born in Africa, but her place of burial is unknown.
Gravestone for Peter Green in the Brick School Cemetery. Born circa 1750, died 1836.

Their son Peter is also buried in the Brick Cemetery. He was married, with children, who in the census of 1850 are described as “mulatto.” The Colrain Historical Society collection includes a deed recording the sale of land in Colrain by Peter Green, Jr., “Negro,” to William Newhouse, “Yeoman,” in 1813.
Gravestone for Peter Green in the Brick School Cemetery. Born 1787, died 1866.

Another son, Charles, in 1840 took Angeline Palmer into his Colrain home for her protection. She was a 10-year-old freeborn black girl who escaped an attempt by her Belchertown employers to sell her into slavery in Georgia. Charles was a blacksmith.
Gravestone for Charles Green in the Brick School Cemetery. Born 1791, died 1864.

- submitted by Belden Merims

photos by D. Purington