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The University of Massachusetts Amherst

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


Ledgers containing records of financial transactions can be useful sources of insight into daily life, including activities associated with African Americans. Account books are organized by the name of the person engaging in commerce; typically the book’s keeper assigned pages to the person they were trading with, and in the best-kept examples, listed debits (the goods or services acquired) on the left page, and credits (the goods or services they offered in return) on the right, with values assigned. Many early Americans were only generally familiar with accounting systems, so not all account books are arranged this clearly. Another form of financial ledger is a daybook, which is not, like account books, organized alphabetically, but rather chronologically, as transactions occurred on a day by day basis. This can be more challenging to review as researchers must simply scan all the pages, but these records contain similar information as account books.

In both cases, researchers can scan columns for references to African Americans, who sometimes appear as account holders and sometimes as laborers appearing on behalf of enslavers, and later, employers.  In the eighteenth and early nineteenth century, financial records associated with physicians can be a valuable source of insight, as enslavers sometimes sought medical treatment for enslaved workers.

Records associated with Black-owned businesses are also critically important sources of insight.  Fewer of these records are currently known to survive in the Valley, though Massachusetts newspaper advertisements and city directory listings document many black-owned businesses beginning in the second quarter of the nineteenth century (the first meeting of the National Negro Business League was held in Boston in 1900, and the Springfield Republican reported when former city resident Samuel Scottron attended their 1904 Indianapolis convention. See Republican Sept 7 and Sept 13, 1904).  Later on, The Negro Motorist Green Book (made available digitally by the New York Public Library), contains references to businesses friendly to Black travelers in Springfield, including the Hotel Springfield (1937-48), the "tourist homes" run by Mrs. M.E. Gillum and Mrs Sheppard (1937), the "beauty parlor" of Mrs Florence Laws (1948), American Cleaners (tailors, 1943), and others.

UMass Special Collections and Archives

The W.E.B. Du Bois library's Special Collections and Archives holds several account books that could be reviewed for references to people of color in the Valley. These include:<

Grocer's Daybook (Amherst), 

D. Chauncey Brewer Account Book (Springfield), 1848-1869. 1 vol. 0.1 linear feet.Call no.: MS 1089 bd

Bela Burnett Account Book (Granby),1801-1842. 1 vol,0.25 linear feet.  Champion and Stebbins Family Account Books (West Springfield),1753-1865. 8 vols.2 linear feet. Call no.: MS 228

V. Conor Account Book (various). 1887-1891. 1 vol. 0.1 linear feet. Call no.: MS 620 bd

Amory Gale Ledgers (Warwick),  1840-1872.  2 vols.0.5 linear feet. Call no.: MS 259 bd

George Cooley & Co. Ledger (Chicopee), 1843-1851. 1 vol.0.25 linear feet, 

Samuel Henry Accounts Books (Amherst). 1813-1881. 2 boxes 0.75 linear feet. Call no.: MS 013 

W. W. Hunt Account Book (Wendell), 1886-1888. 0.25 linear feet. Call no.: MS 621 bd

Rufus Kellogg Ledger (Amherst), 1840-1850, 1 vol.0.1 linear feet.  Call no.: MS 041 bd

New Salem (Mass.) General Store Daybook, 1841 June-1845 Aug. 1 vol.0.2 linear feet Call no.: MS 1090 bd

Northampton Cutlery Company Records (Northampton), 1869-1987. 113 boxes 55.75 linear feet Call no.: MS 058

Lewis Smith Account Book (Northampton), 1784-1828.0.15 linear feet. Call no.: MS 085

Memorial Libraries (Historic Deerfield, Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association)

Barnard, Joseph (1717-1785): Joseph was a storekeeper in Deerfield who regularly used slave labor. In his account and daybooks, he records work done by his Uncle Samuel’s slaves for him, as well as the work of his own enslaved person, Prince. In the daybook, Joseph records
purchasing Prince from Thomas Wells in 1743. Later on, Barnard also records purchasing Prince’s belongings from Wells, including clothes, a blanket, etc. In the account book, Barnard records work he and Prince do on behalf of the town. He also records that James Crouch made a
coffin for Prince in 1752. Among Barnard’s papers is a copy of the advertisement he placed in a Boston newspaper after Prince ran away in 1749. The account and daybooks are here: Account Book Collection and the newspaper ad is here: Barnard Family Papers, Box 1, Folder 12.

Russell, John (1731-1775): Russell was a tailor who was famous for his leather breeches. He also kept a store and acted as an innkeeper. In the first volume of his two account books, he records making a coat for “Hartford,” an enslaved person of Thomas Dickinson. In addition, he charges “Town Negro” for goods and services as well. This “Town” was probably the enslaved person of Elijah Williams. Russell’s account books may contain other references to slavery. Account Book Collection

Williams, Elijah (1712-1771): Within the account and daybooks of Williams are multiple accounts of enslaved persons purchasing items or doing work on their master’s behalf, or on their own behalf. The account books cover 1743-1769; the daybooks cover 1742-1772. Among the people mentioned are Caesar, the enslaved person of Jonathan Hoyt; Ishmael, enslaved person of Thomas Dickinson; Cato and Titus, enslaved persons of Jonathan Ashley; Meseck and Caesar, enslaved persons of Abigail Williams Silliman; and others, with at least 18 enslaved persons and
free blacks having accounts with Williams. Account Book Collection.

Williams, Thomas (1718-1775): Dr. Williams treated Humphry, the enslaved person of Timothy Childs beginning in 1748 for injuries. Humphry did work for Williams to pay the bill. In 1749, Williams charged David Field to treat his “negro,” and the following year to extract a tooth from his “Neg. Fem.” Williams also treated Samuel Hinsdale’s enslaved person in 1749. He also tended Thomas Dickinson’s enslaved person, Peter between 1755 and 1757, and Caesar, the enslaved person of Jonathan Hoyt in the 1750s. These accounts are in Williams’ account and daybooks. Other accounts may show other enslaved persons receiving treatment. Account Book Collection.

Recommend Reading

Avitable, Joseph. "The Atlantic world economy and colonial Connecticut," Ph.D Dissertation, University of Rochester, 2009. 

Boston National Historic Park. "Alice Casneau."

Jones, Jacqueline.  Labor of Love: Black Women, Work and Family From Slavery to the Present.  1985.

Kimball, Eric. "An Essential Link in a Vast Chain: New England and the West Indies, 1700-1775" Ph.D Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh, 2009.

Labbe, Isabella.  "Tracing Black History in Boston with the Green Book."  Boston Preservation Alliance, Augist 6, 2019.

Miller, Marla R. “Mehitable Primus and Addie Brown: Women of Color and Hartford’s Nineteenth-Century Dressmaking Trades,” in Peter Benes, ed., Clothing New England, Proceedings of the 2010 Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife (Deerfield: Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife, 2014).

Museum of African American History, Boston and Nantucket.  Black Entrepreneurs of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries (museum exhibition catalog), 2009.

Porter, Dorothy Burnett.  "The Remonds of Salem, Massachusetts: A Nineteenth-Century Family Revisited."  Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society 95 (October 1985): 259-95.

Thomas, Felicia Y. “‘Fit for Town or Country’: Black Women and Work in Colonial Massachusetts.” Journal of African American History 105, no. 2 (Spring 2020): 191–212. doi:10.1086/707945.

Walker, Juliet E. K. The History of Black Business in America: Capitalism, Race, Entrepreneurship, (2 Vols). Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2009.