Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

February 14, 2013

Dalton column: Slaves in Andover

Bill Dalton
The Andover Townsman

---- — The often repeated tale of Andover slaves Pompey Lovejoy and Rose Foster is a relatively pleasant one, as slave histories go. So, let’s start the story of slaves in Andover by visiting their legend.

Pompey, shortened to “Pomp,” was born a slave in 1724, and he was owned by Captain William Lovejoy, who gave Pomp his freedom upon his death in 1765. Pomp married Rose Foster, a freed slave, and the two of them were granted land near a pond, which today is named after him. Well into middle age, Pomp served on the Colonialist side in the Revolutionary War, and he was granted a pension for that service. Pomp and Rose were well-liked in town. Rose’s served election day cakes and other refreshments during town meetings and any other elections, and Pomp played the fiddle while white folks danced. Neither Pomp nor Rose were allowed to vote as they were Negroes.

When Pomp died at age 102, it was said he was the oldest man in Essex County. His epitaph in the South Parish Burial Ground reads: “Born in Boston a slave/ Died in Andover a Free Man/ February 23, 1826/ Much respected and a sensible amiable upright man.” Rose died not long after at age 98. By all evidence, they lived the good life and were well-loved by townspeople and Phillips students who frequently visited them.

Another slave named Pompey didn’t fare so well. In 1795 he was hanged for murdering his master, Capt. Charles Furbush. This Pomp is said to have suffered from insanity that occasionally required him to be kept under guard. Historian Sarah Loring Bailey said of Furbush’s murder, “...the community was [so] shocked at the act and its circumstances of horror [that] the negro was sentenced to the extreme penalty of the law.” The use by Bailey of the words “sentenced” and “law” indicate that this poor soul was given some due process and a trial, and I hope that may have been true, but who knows?

Although there may be local stories about the mistreatment of Andover slaves, I’ve found none in the records. There is evidence there that Andover’s slaves were treated well and many were taught to read and write. Some slaves were treated more like servants than slaves and may have been paid for their work. There is, on record, the writing a slave once owned by Rev. Samuel Phillips that is articulate and sensitive, showing loyalty to his masters.

On record, there is an indication of a bond between slaves and their owners. In the Old Burying Ground near North Andover Commons, is a headstone that reads: In Memory of Primus/ Who was a faithful servant of Mr. Benjamin Stevens Jr/ Who died July 25, 1792/ Aged 72 years, 5 months, 16 days.

We can assume that poor relations between masters and slaves never went to record, although Andover was such a lightly populated town that it’s hard to believe that a bad master would have escaped unnoticed or unpunished. Although many crimes occurred in old Andover, few escaped notice, for the townspeoplewere basically good and would not have tolerated bad people, I believe (excepting the strange period of the witch hysteria, that to me is still not explained or understood).

In the South Parish Burying Ground is the grave of the last slave born in Andover, Rose Coburn, wife of Titus Coburn. The stone says she died at age 92 in 1859. Historian Bailey, who must have known Rose, says of her, “She was a slave born in Andover and the last survivor of all born here in that condition. A pension was paid to her as the widow of a soldier of the Revolution. She was a person of great honesty, veracity, and intelligence and retained all her facilities in a singular degree to the last.”

In 1783, owning slaves was effectively outlawed in Massachusetts when the courts refused to recognize the right to hold slaves under the ground-breaking Massachusetts Constitution of 1780.

There is more about Andover’s slavery, and not much on the sparse records suggests harsh treatment, but who really knows? There is no question that Andover’s abolitionists from the 1830s to the Civil War were a strong, cohesive group, and churches split up over the issue. Before the Civil War at least one Phillips Academy student was expelled for holding abolitionist views, for which he was willing to fight, but the school thought he should be studying instead; however, it wouldn’t be long until town and Phillips boys were giving freely their blood in the American Civil War.

Bill Dalton writes a weekly column for the Andover Townsman. His email address is BillDalton@AndoverTownie.com