by Cliff McCarthy

Rev. Justus Forward, Belchertown’s Congregational minister, recorded the following in his records on 8 May 1785:

Eunice a Squaw, wife of Amos Hull a Negro man, died at Elisha Root’s house, of a Consumption Aged 36.[1]

“Hull” is not a familiar name in Belchertown and this reference sparked some interest. No record of their marriage or deaths has appeared in local vital records. So, who were Amos and Eunice Hull?

The 1790 U.S. Census for Belchertown also shows one person of color living in Elisha Root’s household – this being, quite possibly, Amos Hull.[2] However, in those early enumerations, the names or ages of “other free persons” were not recorded, so we cannot be certain.

However, Amos Hull does appear as a soldier in the Revolution. Credited to the Town of Hadley, Amos Hull is recorded as early as 13 January 1776 at Charlestown, being paid for traveling 100 miles in service to the patriot cause. He was enrolled in the 4th Hampshire Regiment in the Continental Army, under Col. Rufus Putnam. He seems to have served during 1776 and 1777, but was reported as having deserted in December of 1777. A description of him, recorded during his enlistment, states that he was “reported a negro,” thirty years of age, 5 feet, 9 inches in stature, and of “black complexion.”[3]

Recent research in the Judd Manuscript, held at the Forbes Library, shows some items on Amos & Bathsheba Hull, early free persons of color in Northampton.[4] These were the parents of the Amos, the soldier. Their labors for the town are recorded in the manuscripts until 1761, after which only Bathsheba is noted — it seems Amos, Sr. passed away about that time. In the “Genealogies” section of the manuscripts, “Amos,” son of “Amos Negro” was baptized in Northampton on 15 September 1754. This was most certainly Amos Hull, Jr. Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina came to the same conclusion in her work, Mr. and Mrs. Prince, when she states, “Amos and Bathsheba had their first baby in September 1754.”[5]

A careful reading of the references to Amos and Bathsheba Hull in the Judd Manuscript, verifies that they were also the parents of Agrippa Hull, the well-known soldier of the Revolution.[6]

According to tradition, Agrippa was born in Northampton and brought to Stockbridge at the age of six, after his father died, by a black man named Joab, a former servant of the Rev. Jonathan Edwards. He was a teenager when “the shot heard ‘round the world” signaled the commencement of hostilities.

When the Revolution began, white commanders debated whether it was appropriate or acceptable for black men to serve, despite the willingness of blacks – even the enslaved – to risk their lives for the Revolutionary cause. In May of 1775, a committee weighed the use of black soldiers in the Continental Army and decided that only free blacks could enlist. In October, it was decreed that no Blacks – neither free nor enslaved — could serve, but things soon changed.[7]

New England units widely ignored the policy, and as the war dragged on and the colonies faced a severe manpower shortage, the numbers of Blacks in uniform increased. When George Washington learned that the British were offering freedom to any enslaved person who escaped to their lines, he promptly reversed his decision, giving the recruiting officers permission to accept free Blacks into the army. By then, however, hundreds of men of African descent were already serving the patriot cause.[8]

By early 1777, any free Black person was allowed to enlist; later that year, desperate to fill depleted ranks, the Congress finally authorized the enlistment of enslaved people. With the exception of Maryland, the southern states refused to send Blacks to fight, but New England towns increasingly relied on African Americans to meet their quotas. While white New Englanders typically enlisted for a single campaign, a large percentage of Black soldiers served three-year terms or “for the duration.”

Agrippa Hull was one of these. In May of 1777, he enlisted for the duration as a private in General John Paterson’s brigade of the Massachusetts Line. Hull served as General Paterson’s “orderly,” or personal assistant, for two years; then, he filled the same role for Paterson’s friend, the Polish general and engineer Taddeusz Kosciuszko. The MassMoments website, describes it this way:

During four years service with Kosciuszko, Hull saw action in a variety of battles, ranging from Saratoga in New York to Eutaw Springs in South Carolina. There he was assigned to assist the surgeons, and the horror of the amputations they performed stayed with him for the rest of his life. On the lighter side, on at least one occasion Hull dressed in Kosciuszko’s uniform and threw a party for his black friends. The Polish officer and the black private remained close and had an affectionate reunion during Kosciuszko’s visit to the United States in 1797.[9]

When Agrippa Hull left the army in July of 1783, he received a discharge signed by George Washington. Years later, when required to send it to Washington as part of his pension application, he refused, explaining that he would “rather forego the pension than lose the discharge.”[10]

Returning to Stockbridge after the war, Agrippa Hull went to work as manservant for Hon. Theodore Sedgwick. Sedgwick was the same lawyer who had argued the case that won freedom for Elizabeth “Mumbet” Freeman. At Hull’s urging, Sedgwick also won the freedom of another enslaved woman, Jane Darby, who became Hull’s wife.[11]

Agrippa had an engaging personality and was well-known and highly regarded in and around Stockbridge.[12] He was the largest Black landowner in Stockbridge.[13] Agrippa Hull died in 1848 at the age of 89. A portrait of him, showing a dignified elderly gentleman, hangs in the Stockbridge Public Library.[14]

 

Cliff McCarthy, Archivist at the Lyman & Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History and at the Stone House Museum in Belchertown, is also Vice-President of the Pioneer Valley History Network.

————————————

[1] Rev. Justus Forward’s Vital Records Books, Stone House Museum Archives, Belchertown, Box 016, Folder 06.

[2] 1790 U.S. Census for Elisha Root (Belchertown, Hampshire Co., MA).

[3] Massachusetts Soldiers & Sailors of the Revolutionary War, Secretary of the Commonwealth, Boston, MA: Wright & Potter Printing, 1896-1908.

[4] Judd Manuscript Collection, Hampshire Room for Local History, Forbes Library, Northampton, MA.

[5] Gerzina, Gretchen Holbrook, Mr. and Mrs. Prince, Amistad, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishing, New York, NY, 2008.

[6] Judd Manuscript Collection, Hampshire Room for Local History, Forbes Library, Northampton, MA.

[7] Phaneuf, Wayne E. and Joseph Carvalho, III, The Struggle for Freedom, Heritage Book Series, The Republican, Springfield, MA, 2013.

[8] Phaneuf, Wayne E. and Joseph Carvalho, III, The Struggle for Freedom, Heritage Book Series, The Republican, Springfield, MA, 2013.

[9]“Agrippa Hull Enlists,” Mass Moments, a project of Mass Humanities, at: https://www.massmoments.org/moment-details/agrippa-hull-enlists.html

[10] “Agrippa Hull Enlists,” Mass Moments, a project of Mass Humanities, at: https://www.massmoments.org/moment-details/agrippa-hull-enlists.html

[11] Sedgwick, John, In My Blood, HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY, 2007.

[12] Sedgwick, John, In My Blood, HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY, 2007.

[13] Nash, Gary, “Agrippa Hull: Revolutionary Patriot,” BlackPast, at: https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/agrippa-hull-revolutionary-patriot

[14] “Agrippa Hull Enlists,” Mass Moments, a project of Mass Humanities, at: https://www.massmoments.org/moment-details/agrippa-hull-enlists.html

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