I went looking for her parents and found a slave

Well, this essay was supposed to be about something completely different, about someone completely different. And then a simple check of the 1860 Census brought me up short: nowhere in my growing knowledge bank of New Jersey history was there a mention that slavery was legal in 1860.  No that’s not a typo: slavery ended in New Jersey with the passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865.

It began as a straight forward “fill in the missing ancestor” exercise. As I was verifying something in RootsMagic,  I noticed that I had never filled in the parents of my great grandmother.  In typical Squirrel fashion, I diverted for a moment to do a bit of research on the parents of Catherine Fisher (wife of Thomas Hiram Mount). I had a family notation that it was John Fisher but nothing further. Since this family was firmly settled in Mercer County, NJ by the middle of the 18th century, I started there and quickly found many references to John Fisher, born circa 1792, resident of West Windsor township. In bringing up the 1860 Census I was STUNNED to see the names and occupations of the people living in that household:

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Diana Updike, 76 year old female, black, Slave servant, born New Jersey.  Wait, what?!? Well, a deep dive into state history and I unearthed the fascinating fact (sarcasm much?) that although New Jersey had abolished slavery in 1804, that pertained to incoming or new slaves.  Resident slaves in 1804 remained slaves and their children served lengthy periods of indentured servitude and were freed at the will of their owners.  Slavery was abolished in 1865 in New Jersey the same way it was abolished in Kentucky, by the ratification of the 13th Amendment.

And that is where Diana/Dina fits in.  She is enslaved in 1804, she is enslaved and named in the 1860 Census and she is inherited by John Fisher’s wife Susan by deed of his will, probated after his death in 1863.

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I discovered that in 1865, upon the ratification of the 13th Amendment, New Jersey freed 16 slaves.  I have yet to find their names.  Diana/Dina, if you were one of those slaves, I would like to do you the honor of telling your story. I will continue to research this topic as I am able.

For now let me simply end the story with a bit of advice for anyone who thinks they have all the answers: you don’t know what you don’t know.

 

 

Samuel Tompkins

LittleCompton_1831_webI have to admit, after the DeWolfe media frenzy about that family’s discovery that they made their money in the slave trade, I was alarmed when I found that multiple generations of the Tompkins family had lived in Rhode Island during the height of the Atlantic slave trade.  Even if they were not involved in shipping, all the ancillary trades that go into supporting the shipping industry are tied to that profit source as well.  So for this week of #52ancestors I picked an ancestor whose life would have touched on this dark period in American history.
Samuel Tompkins, son of Nathaniel and Elizabeth Waters Tompkins, was born 24 May 1681 in Little Compton, Rhode Island.  He was a middle child in a family of ten.  He married late for that time, he was almost 31 years old when he married Sarah Coe (1690-1741) in 24 January 1712.
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Samuel and Sarah produced twelve children over the next eighteen years.
  • Joseph Tompkins, b. 26 Oct 1712
  • John, b. 14 Sep 1714
  • Elizabeth, b. 8 Dec 1715
  • Christopher, b. 8 Dec 1715
  • Abigail, b. 28 Jan 1717
  • Nathaniel, b. 19 Nov 1719, d. 20 Jan 1724
  • Gideon, b. 19 Nov 1720, d. Mar 1774
  • Micah, b. 20 Jan 1722, d. May 1771
  • Benjamin, b. 26 Jan 1723
  • Augustine, b. 19 Mar 1725, d. 16 Feb 1747
  • Prescilla, b. 6 June 1726, d. 18 Aug 1739
  • William, b. 17 Oct. 1730, d. Nov 1768
Little_Compton_todayLittle Compton and the neighboring town of Tiverton were first established as part of Massachusetts in the middle of the 17th century.  In 1673, the town was plotted and twenty-nine settlers made claims, most of them Puritans.  Later in 1747, the state of Rhode Island formed and the towns became part of that.  A Colonial Census was done at that time and Samuel is listed in Little Compton, New Port County.
I have had a great deal of trouble finding records of Samuel but one of the most useful has been the will and estate papers for his father, Nathaniel Tompkins.  Nathaniel appears to have been a farmer  rather than a mariner, which I have to admit relieves me in many ways as many of the mariners in this part of Rhode Island were involved in the transatlantic slave trade.
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Nathaniel’s will is sent through probate in 1724 and names Samuel as the executor.  There is a very helpful inventory of the personal property held at the time of his death which includes one mare, five cows, one yoke of oxen and fifteen sheep.  There is also mention of one and a quarter acres of land.  This makes me wonder if land has already been given over to Samuel or one of his siblings, as that is too little land to feed all those animals.
I have also read through many years of the Town Records for Little Compton, which are a fascinating glimpse into the daily lives of a Puritan community in the 18th century.  I have found print sources that state Samuel Tompkins died in 1760 but the Town Records did not confirm this.  They did, however, document the response of the community to a small pox break out that year and I wonder if that is what caused Samuel’s death in May.
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But the real answer lies in Samuel Tompkins’ will.  Or does it?  I have reviewed all of the pages in the Town Records covering the Council minutes, the will, and the inventory done in June of 1760.  None of these records mention slaves or indentured servants.  However, my ancestor is his son Benjamin Tompkins, who receives very little in this will (compared to his siblings) and I don’t know if that means that he was given money or property before Samuel’s death and therefore gets little of the estate.  It is possible that Benjamin was given a slave or indentured servants were transferred to him before 1760.  I am not off the hook yet, I need to look hard at the next generation.
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