Archive for November, 2021

By Cliff McCarthy

(A version of this story appears on the website “Freedom Stories of the Pioneer Valley” (https://freedomstoriespv.wordpress.com) and is used here with permission.)

Of the formerly enslaved people who settled in Springfield, we probably know the most about William Green. He published his story in 1853 under the title, A Narrative of Events in the Life of William Green, Formerly a Slave, Written by Himself.[1] In this 24-page booklet, Green told of his life in slavery and of his escape to freedom. However, a few years after its publication, he and his family seemingly disappeared from the written record.  Recent research has uncovered new information that continues William Green’s life story.

(courtesy Wood Museum of Springfield History)

Born at Oxford Neck, in Talbot County on Maryland’s eastern shore, Green describes his mother, Matilda Jackson, as an enslaved woman who was granted her freedom when their mistress died just three months after William’s birth. William was supposed to gain his freedom at age 25, but in the various transactions that subsequently occurred, that point got lost. He felt as though he had been cheated of his freedom.

In his narrative, he describes his masters, both good and bad. Sold to Mr. Edward Hamilton, Green remained with him until he was given as a wedding present to Hamilton’s daughter, Henrietta Hamilton Jenkings, and her new husband, Dr. Solomon Jenkings. Green clashed with Dr. Jenkings, with whom he had a violent confrontation, but was protected somewhat by Henrietta. However, after Henrietta’s early death, Green saw the writing on the wall and was determined “not to let any one man whip me.”  He recruits Joseph, “a young friend … with whom I had often talked about this freedom” and together they made their escape.

While hiding from searchers throughout their perilous journey, Green and his friend traveled north with the assistance of sympathetic strangers — enslaved African Americans who helped them cross rivers, Quakers who directed them to the homes of other Friends, and sympathetic whites who warned them away from dangerous areas. Green and Joseph eventually reached Philadelphia, where they remained one night before traveling by boat to New York.

Once in New York, they secured a place to stay and attempted to find work. But Green and his friend ran out of money after two weeks and decided to “throw ourselves upon the mercy of our landlady, and tell her our condition.” Their landlady was sympathetic and helped them avoid recapture when constables came looking for them at the boarding house.  She also helped them make contact with other “friends of the slave” — they were aided by David Ruggles, among others.[2] They then were brought up to Hartford and Springfield, where they spent a few days with Rev. Samuel Osgood, pastor of the First Church of Christ, before Green found a job and living quarters and settled into the Springfield community. He married Parthenia Peters, and they had four children by the time his story was published in 1853. He wrote that his friend Joseph had died shortly after reaching Springfield. Green’s narrative concludes at this point.

In 2012, David Armenti, working at the Maryland State Archives, researched Green’s narrative. He found that while some of the details are slightly off — such as his use of the names “Molly Goldsbury” instead of the more accurate “Polly Goldsborough” and “Hamilton” and “Jenkings” instead of “Hambleton” and “Jenkins” — the broad narrative holds together.  However, the details of the estate transactions of his early owners — the wills and slave distributions — were significantly more complicated than Green portrayed in his story. Armenti includes this bit of understatement: “Very little is known about the former Maryland slave in the years following the pamphlet’s publication.”[3]

In Springfield, the record shows that William Green and Parthenia Peters were married at the First Church in Springfield (probably by Rev. Osgood) on October 20, 1841.[4] Their child, Mary E., was born in Springfield on 18 October 1844 and another child, Ann Maria, was born to them in 1847.[5] That same year, Green first appears in the Springfield city directory as a “jobber” and in 1848, he is listed with J. B. Adams as “Green and Adams, Whitewashers.”[6] The 1850 U.S. Census shows William and “Parthinia” Green in Springfield with three children: Mary, Anna, and Martha.[7] William was working as a whitewasher and Parthinia was listed as born in Connecticut. He was a trustee of the Zion Methodist Church.

William Green was one of the courageous black men who affixed his name to the document that codified the actions of the League of Gileadites.  Created at the instigation of John Brown in response to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, the Gileadites were a group of African American men and women in Springfield who were determined to protect fugitives by any means, including the use of violence. The initial meeting of the group was in January of 1851.[8]

Another child, Littleton [or Liddleton], was born to the Greens in Springfield in 1853 and died a year later, also in Springfield.[9]

Next, the 1855 Massachusetts State Census shows the family in Worcester: William, working as a whitewasher; Parthenia, 37 years old; with children Mary E., Anna M., Martha C., and George T.[10]The Worcester vital records show a daughter Georgiana born in that city in 1854 and dying there the following year. Son George T. also died that year in Worcester.[11]

Then nothing.

For decades, researchers have wondered what happened to William Green and his family that they suddenly disappear from the records.  In fear of the Fugitive Slave Law, did they go into hiding? Did they move to Canada? or Europe? Were they re-captured and taken south — even though Parthenia and her children were not fugitives from slavery? No one knew.

However, recent research has revealed some new details about this family. The 1860 U.S. Census shows the family in Utica, New York under a different surname –- Adams.[12]

Remember Green’s business partner in Springfield was J. B. Adams.  Did he take that name to honor his friend? The answer is not known at this time, but the census lists the family, this way:

William Adams, 45, male, black, whitewasher, born in Maryland
Parthenia    ”      , 40, female, black, born in Connecticut
Mary             ”     , 15, female, black, born in Massachusetts
Anne             ”     , 13, female, black, born in Massachusetts
Martha         ”     , 11, female, black, born in Massachusetts
Bennett        ”     , 2, male, black, born in Massachusetts

In 1870, the family is listed in Brooklyn, NY, with 56 year-old William and 50 year-old Parthenia with their daughter, Martha, 21.  William is working as a whitewasher and has personal property worth $375.  Also living with them is daughter Ann and her new husband Assu Foster, who was born in China. The couple had a one year-old son, Arthur, born in New York.[13]

Five years later, William, Parthenia, and Martha Adams are recorded in Brooklyn. William was working as a “plasterer.”[14]

In the 1880 U.S. Census, the three are living at 589 Baltic Street in Brooklyn with William working at “cleaning & repairing furniture.”[15]

An African American newspaper, the New York Freeman, carried the following item in March 1885: “Mr. William Adams is seen on the street again after an illness of several months.”[16] William Adams is a common name, but the fact that this appeared under the “Springfield Notes” column, with references to other people from western Massachusetts, leads one to believe this might be a reference to the subject of this piece.

Parthenia Adams died in Brooklyn on 5 November 1882. William died as “William Adams” in Brooklyn, NY on 5 December 1895. They rest in Brooklyn’s Evergreen Cemetery.[17]

More research is needed on the fate of their children.  If they had descendants, was the story of William Green’s escape to freedom in Springfield preserved in family lore?

 

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.

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[1]A Narrative of Events in the Life of William Green, Formerly a Slave, Written by Himself, L. M. Guernsey, Book, Job and Card Printer, Springfield, Mass., 1853.

[2] Foner, Eric, Gateway to Freedom, W. W. Norton & Co., New York, 2015, pgs. 72-73; Also Hodges, Graham Russell Gao, David Ruggles, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 2010, pgs. 124 & 132.

[3]Armenti, David, “William Green (b.1819 – d.?)”, Maryland State Archives (Biographical Series), 2012, MSA SC 5496-8781, available online at http://msa.maryland.gov.

[4]Stott, Clifford L., Vital Records of Springfield, Massachusetts to 1850, New England Historic Genealogical Society, Boston, 2003, p. 900.

[5]Stott, Clifford L., Vital Records of Springfield, Massachusetts to 1850, New England Historic Genealogical Society, Boston, 2003, p. 900.

[6]Springfield Almanac, Directory, and Business Advertiser, Valentine W. Skiff, Springfield, 1847 & 1848.

[7]1850 U.S. Census for William Green, (Springfield, Hampden Co., MA).

[8]Sanborn, Franklin B., Life and Letters of John Brown, The, Roberts Brothers, Boston, 1885.

[9]Vital Records for Springfield, Mass., available online at AmericanAncestors.org.

[10]1855 Massachusetts State Census for William Green, (Ward #2, Worcester, Worcester Co., MA).

[11]Vital Records for Worcester, Mass., available online at AmericanAncestors.org.

[12]1860 U.S. Census for William Adams, (Ward #4, Utica, Oneida Co., NY).

[13]1870 U.S. Census for William Adams, (Ward #11, Brooklyn, Kings Co., NY).

[14]1875 New York State Census for William Adams, (3rd Election Dist., 10th Ward, Brooklyn, Kings Co., NY).

[15]1880 U.S. Census for William Adams, (Dist. #78, Brooklyn, Kings Co., NY).

[16] “Springfield Notes,” New York Freeman, The, March 1885.

[17]“New York, New York City Municipal Deaths, 1795-1949,” database, FamilySearch.org

 

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by Carol Aleman

Harry Walter Putnam, an early bicycle enthusiast, sportsman, and athlete in Greenfield, began life in November 1870 in Springfield, Massachusetts,1 the son of John H. Putnam of Greenfield2 and Ann Eliza Smith of Pittsfield.3 By March, 1875 his father had died,4 and within five years Harry’s time was divided between his mother’s Wells Street home and the busy household of his grandparents, barber John and Julia Putnam,  just down the street.5 In 1880 the Black population in Greenfield – less than 30 – included four families, plus eight individuals working as servants. Children under 10 numbered four, including Harry and his sister, Annie.6

Although he attended Greenfield High School,7 Harry’s name fails to appear in the record of GHS graduates. Yet, it’s clear that he was a familiar member of the community, captured in a front-page photo of the blizzard of 1888, atop a mountain of snow.8 In the warmer weather, Harry spent time as a fisherman, joining other young men of the village to cast his line and sport an impressive catch.9

A broken collarbone in 1892, suffered while playing football for the local YMCA at Franklin Park, appears to be the singular notable moment of the one-sided game mentioned in the local paper.10 That his was a vibrant presence in the community is further signaled bythe nature of Harry’s work. Over the years he developed skills as a bootblack, a chauffeur, and a mechanic at Potter Brothers garage11 and was entrusted with the care of the town’s Sportsmen’s Club.12

By 1894 Harry was competing as a Greenfield wheelman with a small group of other local men in bicycle races that featured entrants from New York and all of New England.13 Besides these New York contests where Harry frequently took honors, the Greenfield Athletic Club sponsored its first annual Labor Day bicycle meet in 1895,14 the same year Harry was married to Carrie Amelia Marcy of Worcester.15 The sports event attracted bicyclists from outside the county, including the Springfield and Massasoit clubs.16 Harry participated and again scored well; in 1896 he was put in charge of planning and managing thesecond annual Labor Day event.17

In 1897 Harry and Carrie became the parents of a son, Hubert Percy Putnam,18 who would follow his father’s course in pursuing sports and excelling in them. But Carrie’s death in 189819 would leave a gap in Harry’s life and his story. The notice of his own sudden death twelve years later20 describes Carrie only as “a white woman, who died about ten years ago.” In those years between her death and his own, Harry remained popular among his peers, receiving multiple awards in Highland Park track and field events21 and watched as his son began to take his own prizes in similar contests.22

The turn of the century would see Harry operating the production of baseball bats in Greenfield23 for teams as prestigious as Williams College baseball.24 Later, Hubert would inspire the people of town with his own athletic prowess and high diving skills,25 make a name for himself by starting a  juvenile drum corps in town,26 complete WW I service at the rank of colonel in France,27 and thereafter be recognized for his fancy diving at events that included the Scottsdale Defense Fund Benefit sponsored by the NAACP.28

Today Harry’s memory is preserved in the baseball bats and bicycle races of Greenfield’s historical memory – artifacts that represent the life and experiences of an athlete and citizen, whose dedication to community guided his choices and defined his purpose.

 

Carol Aleman, representing the Historical Society of Greenfield as organizational participant, is a budding researcher, a lifelong student, and a current member of the historical society’s Board. 

______________

1 Massachusetts Vital Records, 1841-1910. https://www.sec.state.ma.us/vitalrecordssearch/vitalrecordssearch.aspx

2 U.S. Census, Greenfield, Massachusetts, 1860.

3U.S. Census, Pittsfield, Massachusetts, 1850.

4 Massachusetts Vital Records, 1841-1910. https://www.sec.state.ma.us/vitalrecordssearch/vitalrecordssearch.aspx

5 U.S Census, Greenfield, Massachusetts, 1880.

6 U.S Census, Greenfield, Massachusetts, 1880.

7Greenfield Recorder,  5 November 1910, p. 4.

8Greenfield Recorder, 22 March 1928, front page.

9 Gazette & Courier, Greenfield, Mass., 30 July 1888, p. 4, and Greenfield Recorder, 19 July 1902, p. 5.

10Gazette & Courier, Greenfield, Mass., 10 September 1892, p. 4.

11 Town of Greenfield directories, 1895-1909.

12Greenfield Recorder, 8 May 1902, p. 3.

13The New York Press, N.Y., 8 July 1894, p. 4.

14 Greenfield Gazette & Courier, 7 September 1895, p. 4.

15 Massachusetts Vital Records, 1841-1910. https://www.sec.state.ma.us/vitalrecordssearch/vitalrecordssearch.aspx

16Greenfield Gazette & Courier, 7 September 1895, p. 4.

17Greenfield Gazette & Courier, 5 September 1896, p. 4.

18Massachusetts Vital Records, 1841-1910. https://www.sec.state.ma.us/vitalrecordssearch/vitalrecordssearch.aspx

19Massachusetts Vital Records, 1841-1910. https://www.sec.state.ma.us/vitalrecordssearch/vitalrecordssearch.aspx

20Greenfield Recorder, 5 November 1910, p. 4.

21Greenfield Gazette & Courier, 8 July 1899, p. 6.

22Greenfield Recorder, 30 June 1909, front page.

23Greenfield Recorder, 13 April 1904, p. 4.

24Greenfield Recorder, 13 April 1904, p. 4.

25Greenfield Recorder, 25 July 1939, p. 4.

26Greenfield Recorder, 22 June 1908, p. 4.

27Greenfield Recorder, 8 January 1919, p. 12

28The New York Age, 29 August 1931, p. 2.

 

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By Cliff McCarthy

“We learn from Belchertown, that a respectable black man was killed by his son by a stab with a knife, on Monday evening last.”[1]

This brief item appeared in newspapers around the Commonwealth during the last
days of December in 1814. Who was the nameless black man and what were the circumstances surrounding the incident?

This item was found in the Congregational Church records at the Stone House Museum in Belchertown:

December 26, 1814. Jack or John or Jonathan Jewett, a black, killed by his son, Jonathan, who in a passion seized a butcher knife, which lay on the shelf and thrust it to his father’s heart. He died instantly. 75.[2]

Even if the identity of the victim remained uncertain to the events’ chronicler, he likely had been enumerated in some other early records. The 1800 U.S. census for Belchertown lists “Jonth. Jewett, black man” as the head of a household of four.[3] Both “Jonathan Jewet” and “Jonathan Jewet, Jun.” [also spelled “Juet”] are identified among the voters in the “Middle of the Town District” in a disputed election of 1810.[4] Jonathan Jewett’s name appears regularly on town tax lists of the period. Sometimes, his son was also listed. The tax lists indicate he was a man of very meager means, with two acres of land and usually one horse or pig.[5] No deeds appear under his name. We know nothing about the origins of Jonathan Jewett and his son. They do not appear among the African American communities in either Amherst or Springfield.

Jonathan Jewett, Jr. was arrested and held for trial by the Supreme Judicial Court sitting in Northampton in late September 1815. The Hampshire Gazette covered the trial, which lasted one day. The prisoner pled “not guilty” and was “very ably and eloquently” represented by attorneys Eli P. Ashmun and Samuel Howe. Nonetheless, the jury took about one hour to return a guilty verdict. The sentence of death delivered by Chief Justice Isaac Parker, who presided over the trial, has been recorded by the newspapers of the time. In it we learn some more details:

The record of this Court will only show that you have been guilty of murder; but it was proved on the trial that the victim of your furious and vindictive passion was a feeble old man, bowed down with the weight of years and infirmities, had been spared by the almighty beyond the common period of human life, and that this man was the author of your being, your father. .. This aged man, from whose loins you sprang, and under whose roof you enjoyed protection and support, chided you for your idle and dissolute life, and that not with the severity that your habits and conduct required … with the ferocity of a savage or beast of prey, you sprang towards the instrument of death, and with remorseless fury buried it in the bosom of your father, and even after this fatal blow, which pierced the fountain of life itself, was struck, you dragged the poor victim of your brutal rage across the room, and gave him another cruel and probably mortal wound, with the same deadly weapon.[6]

Of the trial, Chief Justice Parker said, “The testimony upon which this verdict was founded came from witnesses of your own colour and kindred, so that no bias or prejudice against you can be suspected.”[7]  He concluded with the fateful words:

The sentence of the law, which according to the solemn duty imposed upon them, the Court now declares, is that you be removed from this bar to the prison from whence you was taken, that from thence you be carried to the place of Execution, where you shall be hanged by the neck until you are dead. And may God Almighty of his infinite grace, have mercy upon your soul.[8]

The execution was cause for a public display; in Hampshire County, executions had long been events that drew crowds. Newspapers in Boston and all over the Commonwealth ran items like the following, copied from the Gazette:

Northampton, Nov. 1 – Execution –
Jonathan Jewett, Jun., who was lately tried before the Supreme Judicial Court in this town; for the murder of his feeble old father and sentenced to be hung – is to be executed on Thursday the 9th inst. Between the hours of 12 and 3 o’clock. A
sermon by the Rev. Mr. Porter of Belchertown, at 11 o’clock.[9]

However, Jewett had other plans. He cheated the hangman, and the anticipating crowd, by taking his own life the night before his scheduled execution. Newspapers ran the following, under the title of “Jewett’s Last Dreadful Act”:

… he was found by the Jailor, between daylight and sunrise hanging by a cord from the grate of his apartment [jail cell]. His body was still warm and efforts were immediately made to resuscitate him; but in vain. His life of wickedness and folly had been rashly terminated by his own hands. A Coroner’s Inquest set upon the body, but was unable to ascertain by whose aid he was enabled to wrest from the arm of justice his forfeited life. It appeared however that a hardened and abandoned wretch who was confined in an adjacent room [cell], had frequently instigated him to the horrid deed, and was heard by the other prisoners conversing with him on this subject from his window, but a short time before his body was discovered. [10]

Sounding disappointed, the newspapers consoled the public with the following:

Although the thousands who were drawn together for the purpose were thus prevented from witnessing his public execution, they may still derive much benefit from a serious consideration of his wicked life, and awful death. A Prayer was made, and an excellent Discourse delivered upon the occasion, to a large concourse of people, by the Rev. Mr. Porter of Belchertown. [11]

As if this story wasn’t sordid enough, there was another bizarre twist. George Bowen, the prisoner who was suspected of instigating Jewett’s suicide, was immediately indicted for murder. He stood trial the following September before the same court and judge that had sentenced Jewett.[12]

The prosecution alleged that Bowen, who was also known as James Newell, was guilty of the murder of Jonathan Jewett, Jr. “by compelling him and aiding him” to commit suicide. The case was largely based on the testimony of Cephas Clap the Northampton jailer and others, who described several conversations overheard between the prisoners.[13] In his charge to the jury, Chief Justice Parker said:

It may be thought singular and unjust that the life of a man [Bowen] should be forfeited merely because he has been instrumental in procuring the death of a culprit [Jewett] a few hours before his death by the sentence of the law. But the community has an interest in the execution of criminals; and to take such a one out of the reach of the law is no trivial offense … Hence, you are not to consider the atrocity of this offense in the least degree diminished by the consideration that justice was thirsting for a sacrifice and that but a small portion of Jewett’s earthly existence could in any event remain to him.[14]

The jury acquitted Bowen on the 19th of September 1816 from a doubt whether the advice given by him “was in any measure the procuring cause of Jewett’s death.” The case, however, was a significant one in the annals of American jurisprudence and in Massachusetts case law.[15]

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.

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[1] The Repertory, Boston, Mass., 31 December 1814.

[2] Records of the Congregational Church, Stone House Museum, Belchertown, MA.

[3] 1800 U.S. Census for Jonathan Jewett (Belchertown, Hampshire Co., MA).

[4] “Report on the Case of Belchertown Elections, 1810”, Massachusetts State Legislature, Stone House Museum, Belchertown, MA, Box 057, Folder 12

[5] “Tax Lists”, Belchertown, Mass., Stone House Museum, Belchertown, MA, Box 045

[6] “Trial of Jewett”, Hampshire Gazette, 27 September 1815.

[7] “Trial of Jewett”, Hampshire Gazette, 27 September 1815.

[8] “Trial of Jewett”, Hampshire Gazette, 27 September 1815.

[9] “Northampton, Nov. 1 – Execution –“, Boston Daily Advertiser, Boston, MA, 6 November 1815.

[10] “Jewett’s Last Dreadful Act,” Hampshire Gazette, 15 December 1815. See also “Jewett’s Last Dradful Act,” Merrimack Intelligencer, 25 November 1815.

[11] “Jewett’s Last Dreadful Act,” Hampshire Gazette, 15 December 1815. See also “Jewett’s Last Dradful Act,” Merrimack Intelligencer, 25 November 1815.

[12] Franklin Herald, 1 October 1816.

[13] “Singular Trial,” Boston Intelligencer, 11 January 1817

[14] “Commonwealth v. Bowen, Supreme Court of Massachusetts,” in Kenny, Courtney Stanhope, A Selection of Cases Illustrative of English Criminal Law, Cambridge University Press, 1912. 3rd Edition.

[15] “Commonwealth v. Bowen, Supreme Court of Massachusetts,” in Kenny, Courtney Stanhope, A Selection of Cases Illustrative of English Criminal Law, Cambridge University Press, 1912. 3rd Edition.

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by Zoë Cheek

Alexander Hughes in the National Cyclopedia of Colored Persons, 1919

Alexander Hughes was born into slavery on a plantation outside of Richmond, Virginia on January 17th, 1857, to Cyrus Hughes and Sarah (Claxon) Hughes. He was four years old when the Civil War broke out but his family remained on the plantation for the entirety of the war. After the end of the war, his father Cyrus and the plantation owner, John Young, arranged for some of the Hughes children, including Alexander, to remain on the plantation for a few years. He left for Richmond by age 13 where he took several odd jobs throughout the city until at age 24 when he moved to Springfield, Massachusetts, to be with his brother, Alfred W. Hughes, and his sister, Caroline C. (Williams) Hughes.[1]

Once in Springfield, Hughes drove a wagon for a local grocery company, and did several other odd jobs, notably cleaning basements and furnaces. Hughes joined the YMCA in 1882 and took night classes to learn how to read and write. Sometime in 1884, Hughes met the president of Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance, John A. Hall, when Hughes took over from Hall’s regular furnace cleaner for a week. Hughes made such an impression on Hall that a few years later, in 1888, when a space in the company’s shipping department opened, Hall invited Hughes to join the company.[2]

In addition to his work with MassMutual, Hughes and his second wife, Pauline Simms, frequently catered events across the city and grew flowers at their home at 16 Munson Street. Hughes was an avid gardener, routinely winning awards from the Springfield Republican for his flowers and lawn, winning the first of many prizes in 1910. He was best known for his many varieties of dahlias, phlox, hydrangeas, and roses. Hughes often catered and decorated company events with his flowers from his garden.[3]

The Hughes’ home at 16 Monson Ave surrounded by flowers. Springfield Republican, Sept 9 1909.

By the 1920s, Hughes was the department manager of the shipping department at MassMutual and tracked all incoming and outgoing deliveries for the company. Unfortunately, in 1927, while fetching ice cream for a company event, Hughes suffered an accident that left him blinded in his left eye and he was forced to retire from the company after 39 years of service.[4]

Throughout his tenure at MassMutual and well after his retirement, Hughes was involved in many different organizations across Springfield. These included The Golden Chain Lodge of Odd Fellows (a fraternal organization), The YMCA, Household of Ruth, the Negro Civic League, Springfield Improvement Association, Union Relief Association, and the Saturday Afternoon Club.[5] In Springfield, Hughes was also recognized in the “National Cyclopedia of the Colored Race” in 1919 as one of the most prominent citizens in the city.[6]

Hughes was also the treasurer of the Mutual Housing Company, a Springfield based co-operative organized by Hughes and other prominent African Americans, like Rev. William DeBerry, that fundraised and purchased homes across the city that would be held by the group until they could be sold to another African American.[7]Founded in 1908, this was one of the oldest organizations of its kind in the city, and by the 1930s it was also holding homes for immigrants from countries like Italy.

He was a member of three different congregations in Springfield, first with the Third Baptist Church, then St. John’s Congregational where he was active as a deacon, Sunday school teacher, and in other charitable activities through the churches. In 1912, Dr. Booker T. Washington visited Springfield, stopping to speak at St. John’s Congregational Church. In his speech, Washington described that he had a photograph of Alexander Hughes’ award winning garden in his office at the Tuskegee Institute as a reminder of how far a man born into slavery was able to go in Springfield. After this speech, Washington, his secretary Charles Chesnutt, and Rev. William N. DeBerry had lunch with Hughes and his wife at their home.[8]Before his death, Hughes became a congregant at Hope Congregational Church, also in Springfield.

Hughes was the second African American to be awarded the Pynchon Medal by the Springfield Advertising Club in 1941 at the age of 83. The medal is awarded to Springfield residents who have contributed meaningful service to the community, which Hughes did in many of his activities.[9] In an interview regarding the award, Hughes stated that “There’s probably no one in the city of Springfield gets more pleasure of life than I do.”[10] Five years later, at the age of 88, Hughes passed away from a brief illness. He was buried in Springfield Cemetery with his wife Pauline and her mother Rebecca Simms.[11]

Alexander Hughes’ home at 16 Monson Avenue is still standing in Springfield’s Old Hill neighborhood. Currently, the home is not listed as a historic building, nor does it appear on any tours given by the area’s historic societies, but maybe it deserves its place on the map.

 

Zoë Cheek is an archivist at the Springfield Museums, a board member of PVHN, and is currently a Public History M.A. student at UMASS Amherst.

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[1]“Three Humanitarians to Be Awarded…” Springfield Republican, March 23, 1941

[2] “Obituary – Alexander Hughes” Springfield Republican, September 3, 1946

[3]“The Yard of Alexander Hughes” Springfield Republican, September 9, 1909.

[4]“Obituary – Alexander Hughes” Springfield Republican, September 3, 1946

[5]Richardson, Clement, The National Cyclopedia of the Colored Race. Ed 1. Montgomery, AL: National Publishing Company, Inc. 1919. 190.

[6]Ibid. 190

[7]“Mutual Housing Company” Springfield Republican, October 3, 1907

[8]“Washington at St. John’s” Springfield Republican, January 25, 1912.

[9]  “Three Humanitarians to Be Awarded…” Springfield Republican, March 23, 1941

[10] Ibid.

[11] “Obituary – Alexander Hughes” Springfield Republican, September 3, 1946

 

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