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African American Revolutionary War Documents,
Including Caesar Ferrit, Said to Have Fought at Lexington
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Weapon receipts, bearing signatures of two African American patriots, remarkably early in the Revolution.

[AMERICAN REVOLUTION]. Archive. Six Manuscript Documents, Natick, Mass., May 15, 1775. One document (.16) is signed by the town selectmen, listing the disposition and values of eleven guns, 6¼ x 7½ in.; and five smaller corresponding receipts (.17-.21) signed by the recipients. 6 pp. total.

Inventory #20632.16-.21       Price: $18,000

INVENTORY

.16  Manuscript Document Signed by Selectmen Elijah Goodenow, Oliver Bacon, and Timothy Smith, Natick, May 15, 1775.  Lists 11 troops, at least 6 of whom were African or Native American.

Partial Transcript

“The Province of Massachusetts to the District of Natick, Debtor[,] To Eleven Guns Delivered to the Soldiers that were Inlisted into the Service from Natick”

Listed under Capt. Morse are:

            Elijah Emes

            Cesar Ferit [see Quintal, Patriots of Color]

            Paul Thomas [Native American]

Listed under “Leut Perry under Capt Millions of hopkenton,” are:

            Plato Labord [see Quintal, Patriots of Color]

            James Antony [see Quintal, Patriots of Color]

            John Mcgrah

            Benjamin Budger

            Cato Fare [see Quintal, Patriots of Color]

            Isaac Dunton

            Thomas Madority [see Quintal, Patriots of Color]

            William Dyer

Each of the eleven named soldiers are shown as owing varying amounts of money to other Natick citizens, possibly as a deposit or security on the arms.

The following five individual, corresponding receipts have survived with the above document, and bear the signatures of 2 of these minority soldiers. They follow the general wording of:  “Natick May 15: 1775 Received of the Select men of Natick for the use of the Massachusetts Service one Gun Prized at Sixteen Shillings.”

.17  Manuscript Document Signed by William Dyer, Natick, May 15, 1775.

.18  Manuscript Document Signed by James Antony, with his mark, Natick, May 15, 1775.

.19  Manuscript Document Signed by John McGrah, Natick, May 15, 1775.

.20  Manuscript Document Signed by Isaac Dunzen/Dunton, Natick, May 15, 1775.

.21  Manuscript Document Signed by Thomas McMadorothy [sic], with his mark, Natick, May 15, 1775.

Historical Background

Caesar Ferrit (ca. 1718 - 1799).  A “mulatto” and the oldest of just 21 African American and Native American soldiers sourced by Quintal as having fought at Battle Road on April 19, 1775.  Two of his sons, John and Thomas were also among that figure.  According to Biglow’s 1830 History of the Town of Natick:

Caesar Ferrit and his son John arrived at a house near Lexington meeting house, but a short time before the British soldiers reached that place, on their retreat from Concord.  These two discharged their muskets upon the regulars from the entry, and secreted themselves under the cellar stairs, till the enemy had passed by, though a considerable number of them entered the house and made diligent search for their annoyers.

According to several modern online sources, Ceasar and John Ferrit also fought at Concord’s North Bridge along with Peter Salem.  While we know that the Ferrits (with two of the selectmen signatories, Oliver Bacon, and Timothy Smith) marched on April 19 in Captain Joseph Morse’s company, Colonel Samuel Bullard’s regiment [Thomas Ferrit marched in a Dedham company], primary records regarding Morse’s company’s specific actions seem to be lacking, and Quintal (2004) concluded that their Battle Road service was “probable.”

On April 24, 1775 Caesar Ferrit enlisted in the eight month’s service in Morse’s company in Colonel John Paterson’s regiment.  In December 1776 he joined Captain Sabin Mann’s company of Medfield militia “to reinforce the Continental Army at New York,” and in 1781 enlisted in an expedition to Rhode Island.

Samuel Adams Drake in his History of Middlesex County…Vol. II (1880) wrote:

The negroes of Natick joined in the patriotic struggle.  Out of an hundred and twenty who enlisted, some twenty had been slaves.  Caesar Ferrit and his son John were in the ranks nearly all the war, beginning at Lexington.  Caesar came from the West Indies, and used to say that the blood of four nations flowed in his veins; for he had a French and also a Dutch grandfather, and one of his grandmothers was an Indian, the other an African.

According to David Mandell’s Indians in Eighteenth Century Massachusetts, Behind the Frontier (1996), Ferrit,

was raised in an English family in Milton and ‘Taught Husbandry-business,’ he moved to Boston, but, driven by high unemployment and the cost of living in the city, he had “a desire to dwell at Natick among his own Nation the aboriginal Natives” [and] ... purchased land there in 1751.

Ferrit and his family became members of the Natick Praying Indian community.

We believe that he is the Cesar Ferre who married Naomi Isaac, at Dorchester, February 7, 1737. According to Biglow, she was “a white New England woman.” A further account is given in “Local Centennial Events” in the June 18, 1875 Natick Bulletin:

[Caesar] had been coachman for a wealthy gentleman in Boston.  The ward of this gentleman had fallen in love with Caesar.  Another choice had been made for the lady, and the wedding day appointed, when this affection for Caesar was discovered.  The alternative was given -- wealth, and a husband of her guardian's choosing, or poverty, and a black husband.  The girl chose Caesar, and himself and wife took up their lot in this home for the outcast -- Natick.

Paul Thomas (b. 1760). Natick Praying Indian. Son of Daniel & Mary (Tray) Thomas, most if not all of his immediate forebears are known to have been Natick Indians.  He enlisted in the eight month’s service on May 6, 1775 in the company of Captain Joseph Morse, Colonel John Paterson’s regiment, and likely participated at the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Plato Labord (ca. 1737 - bef. 1810) [usually recorded as Plato Lambert, but also seen as Lambord, Lombert, & Lomboard].  An entry in the births section of the Framingham Vital Records for December 1, 1737, reads: “Plato Lambert...Taken when an infant by Mrs. Martha Nichols of Framingham.” Noted contemporary Peter Salem was also of Framingham. According to “Local Centennial Events” in the June 18, 1875 Natick Bulletin, Lambert “was a man of gigantic stature.”  The Bulletin and Drake (1880) note that he was the same “Negroe Man Servant, Named Plato” who was manumitted by Samuel and Hannah Taylor, of Natick, June 21, 1764.

On May 1, 1775, Lambert enlisted in the eight month’s service in the company of Capt. James Mellen, Colonel Jonathan Ward’s regiment.  He was listed in an order for cartridge boxes at Camp Cambridge, on June 18, 1775, a strong indicator of participation in the Battle of Bunker Hill the day before.  In late December of 1775 he was stationed at Dorchester.

“Years after peace was ratified [Lambert] took to roaming around the country with his great dog.  But man and dog strangely were missing at last.  A large skeleton corresponding to Plato’s size was found near the lake a long time after his disappearance.  He had been murdered, it was said, but by whom was never known” (Drake, 194).

James Antony / Anthony.  Little is known of his early life, but the Antony / Anthony surname in the Natick-Dedham area at the time is in all cases considered of Indian heritage in the paternal line.  In nearby Grafton, a Joseph Anthony of mixed African and Indian heritage served in the war.  On May 2, 1775, James Anthony enlisted in the eight month’s service in the company of Captain James Mellen, Colonel Jonathan Ward’s regiment.  He probably served at Bunker Hill.  No record of 1776 service has been found, but he enlisted March 14, 1777 for three years in the Continental Army, in Captain Reuben Slayton’s company, Colonel William Shepard’s 4th Massachusetts regiment.  His unit fought valiantly at both Battles of Saratoga and then wintered at Valley Forge.  On a January 1778 roll he was listed as “sick at home.”  From 1778 to 1780, he served at Providence and West Point.

Cato Fair (ca. 1735 - 1800). Married Jenney Tom or Thomas at Waltham, May 4, 1756.  The death of one of their daughters was recorded two year prior in Weston. (see the Vital Records of each respective town).  Described as a “negro,” but also numbered among the Natick Praying Indian community, Fair joined the eight month’s service on May 4, 1775 in the company of Captain James Mellen, Colonel Jonathan Ward’s regiment.  He probably served at Bunker Hill.  Daughter Sarah married in 1783 Charlestown Harding, also a black Revolutionary War soldier.

Thomas Madority / Dority / Dorothy (ca. 1750 - aft. 1790).  His marriage intention to Lucy Jonah was recorded in Natick in 1774.  On April 30, 1775, Dority enlisted in the eight month’s service in the company of Captain James Mellen, Colonel Jonathan Ward’s regiment.  He was listed in an order for cartridge boxes at Camp Cambridge, on June 18, 1775, a strong indicator of participation in the Battle of Bunker Hill the day before.  In 1777, he served in the Saratoga campaign.  Described as a “negro.” According to “Local Centennial Events” in the June 18, 1875 Natick Bulletin:

After the war he traveled about the country with a violin strapped upon his back; and at musters and trainings, when well filled with cider, which was then a ‘legal’ beverage, made much sport for the assembled multitude. The writer has heard two venerable persons of 80 years of age, relate a few years ago, with much gusto, the sport they had in smashing poor Tom’s fiddle by pelting it with apples.

References

Bunker Hill Monument Association. Proceedings of the Bunker Hill Monument Association, at the Annual Meeting, June 17, 1907. Boston: The Association, 1907.

Thomas Doughton, “Eighteenth Century Indian Veterans: Example.”  Citizenship, Property, Identity & Representation: the Historical Journey of Southern New England’s Native Peoples.

Samuel Adams Drake, History of Middlesex County, Massachusetts…Vol. II (1880).

Sidney Kaplan and Emma Nogrady Kaplan, The Black Presence in the Era of the American Revolution.  Revised edition, University of Massachusetts Press, 1989.

David R. Mandell, Behind the Frontier: Indians in Eighteenth-Century Eastern Massachusetts. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1996.

Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors in the War of the Revolution.  Vols. I-XVII.  Boston, 1896.

Jean M.  O’Brien, Dispossession by Degrees, Indian Land and Identity in Natick, Massachusetts, 1650-1790.  University of Nebraska Press, 1997.

Benjamin Quarles, The Negro in the American Revolution.  University of North Carolina Press, 1996.

George Quintal, Patriots of Color: ‘a Peculiar Beauty and Merit,’ African Americans and Native Americans at Battle Road & Bunker Hill.  Boston National Historical Park, 2004.

Revolutionary War service records, www.footnote.com

Condition

Very fine


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