Andover Townsman, Andover, MA


February 7, 2013

Dalton column: Salem Poor's heroism and disappointing life


In any event, Poor re-enlisted, and probably saw more combat, although there is no definitive record of it. He was discharged in March 1780.

Until 2007, it was thought that the rest of Poor’s life was obscured by the years, but a Boston newspaper story that year discussed the findings of Boston genealogist David Lambert, who is a descendant of the Andover family who owned Poor. According to the records Lambert found, in 1780 Salem Poor married Mary Twing, a former slave, and they lived in Providence where they were ordered to leave, probably because they were paupers. In 1785, Poor publicly disavowed Mary’s debts in a newspaper advertisement, and Poor married a white woman by the name of Sarah Stevens in 1787. They spent several weeks in a Boston Almshouse in 1793, and he spent a short time in jail for breach of the peace in 1799. He married again in 1801.

According to historian Mofford, Salem Poor’s Andover wife “seems to have been part Native American, part African American, and part folklore.” She may have lived in a wigwam in Carmel Woods near the center of the South Parish. Mofford continues, “Contemporaries described her as tall, wild-looking, and said that she was fond of calling out cuss words. She supported herself as a spinster, going door to door with a spinning wheel strapped to her back.”

There is no mention by genealogist Lambert of any divorce or death records regarding Poor’s wives, so he was probably a polygamist. Nor do we know what happened to Salem and Nancy Poor’s child, Jonas, who was born in Andover.

We do know that Salem Poor was a hero of Bunker Hill and one of at least 5,000 African Americans who served on the side of the Colonists. Many more thousands served with the British forces as a means of gaining their freedom.

Salem Poor died in a Boston Almshouse a few months after his final marriage. On Feb. 5, 1802, the Boston Overseers of the Poor noted the burial of Salem Poor, stating he was “...a negro man belonging to the Town of Andover.” It was a sad end for a hero.

Bill Dalton writes a weekly column for the Andover Townsman. His email address is




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