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The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Researching the Early History of Black Lives in the Connecticut River Valley


Researchers use city directories to obtain information about individuals in specific places at particular points in time, and they can be very helpful in identifying people of color. City directories include names, addresses, and occupations. They may also reveal age, marital status, home ownership, and race. In addition, these resources frequently list information regarding churches, cemeteries, schools, local businesses, railways, newspapers, social organizations, town services, and city officials.

Over the course of the nineteenth century, city directories in the Connecticut River Valley changed their approach to listing people of color. Earlier in the century, some city directories flagged people of color with a “c.” following their entry, while others listed people of color in separate sections. For instance, in Hartford, Connecticut, directories listed “colored persons” separately from 1843 to 1868.  In Springfield, Massachusetts, the earliest directories (1845-1859) do not include designations for people of color; however, beginning in 1860, when the Samuel Bowles Co., took over publishing the city directory, the volumes do include a designation of ("col'd") next to the names of people of color, a practice that persisted until 1879. 

It is important to note that directories tend to record only a fraction of the city’s Black (or White) population; to take Hartford again as a point of comparison, the 1850 census found 443 Black residents, but only 167 appear in the 1851 city directory.  

Also of Interest

Selected Materials in the W.E.B. Du Bois Library

Valley Directories available online

Many city directories from the Massachusetts section of the Connecticut River Valley are available online, though there is not necessarily one repository that gathers them all.  The HathiTrust Digital Library is a good place to begin: here one can find full text and searchable city directories for Amherst between 1890 and 1919 (which encompassed, in various years, Hadley, Hatfield, and Belchertown); Northampton (1860-61; 1882); and Greenfield (1800).  Sixty volumes of city directories from Springfield, Massachusetts beginning in 1846 are available via the Internet Archive, as are directories from Amherst (1889-98), and Amherst and neighboring towns (Hadley, Hatfield, and Belchertown) between 1908 and 1923.