By Melissa Cybulski

Peter was an enslaved man owned by Rev. Stephen Williams of Longmeadow, MA.  He appears several times in Williams’ diary from approximately 1755-1774.  He may appear as early as 1751, but it is difficult to parse out which “Peter” is being referenced in the diary since there was at least one other enslaved man named Peter in town.

Peter, who was referred to as “ye Boy” in some early entries, indicating his youthfulness,  appears to have been trusted with the task of acting as messenger between Stephen Williams’ parsonage in Longmeadow and son John Williams’ farm in Somers.  He brought news of illness, deaths, and childbirths back and forth between the two homes.[1]  On October 24, 1766,   “Petr negro” drove the team of oxen in from Somers.[2] On October 9, 1769, Peter appeared with John Williams bringing “meats and butter” to Stephen Williams.[3]

In March 1771, Stephen Williams drafted a will stating, “I do give to my said sons John and Samll, their heirs and assigns, my negro servant Peter; to John and Samll, I say, in equal proportions, that is that one shall have one half and the other one half of right and interest in him.”[4]

Between July 1771 and August 1773, tensions seem to have been very high in John Williams’ household.  His wife, Ann, died leaving him with a house full of children, and his oldest son Stephen ran away only to return after several months, upsetting the balance of an already stressed home.  In August 1773, it was Peter who ran away from John’s farm.  John placed an ad in the Connecticut Courant on August 17, 1773.  The details in the ad give a rare and powerful glimpse into the humanity of this enslaved man:

Run Away last night from his Master, John Williams of Somers, a negro servant named Peter, a stout well set fellow of betwixt 30 and 40 years of age, very black, he took a considerable quantity of cloathing with him. He can read and write well, it is not unlikely he may have a forg’d pass; he can play well upon a fiddle, and took a good one with him.  If any person will take him up and bring him to his said master, they shall have 8 dollars reward, per me, John Williams. Somers, August 12 1773.[5]

Peter’s flight prompted Rev. Stephen Williams to record in his diary on August 12, 1773:

This day my son John sends me word, that Peter Negro is run away ungratefully, left my son – (now under difficulty) who has been kind to him and very tender of him-. I had been thinking of setting him at liberty (if it could be done without injury to me, or the public) what measures to take now – I am at a loss – desire I may not do anything, that may be dishonourable -to religion.[6]

It would appear that Peter either returned or was captured and returned because six months later Stephen Williams recorded in his diary that he “went to see poor Peter Negro – who is in a low state… And has grievous sores on his legs (which are greatly swelled) I prayed with him – and ye poor creature appears very thankful…”

By September 1774 Peter was dead. Williams records in his diary, “Srgt David Burt came in – told me peter negro died last night very suddenly, and almost alone.”

 

Melissa M. Cybulski is Vice President of the Longmeadow Historical Society.  She has worked as a high school English teacher and has extensive experience working as a guide at museums, most recently The Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, MA.  She lives in Longmeadow, MA with her husband and two children.

Stephen Williams Diaries are available online at: https://www.longmeadowlibrary.org/stephen-williams-diary-online/

———————————————-

[1] Williams, Stephen, Diary.  1764: April 16, Sept 14-20, 1764, Transcript Vol 6, pgs 133, 161-3.

[2] Williams, Stephen, Diary.  1766: Oct 24.  Transcript Vol 6, pg 338.

[3] Williams, Stephen, Diary. 1769: October 9. Transcript Vol 7, pg 197

[4] Williams, Stephen.  Last Will and Testament. 1771: March 26.  Original and  Transcription in Box 20 of Family & Gen. Collection at the Storrs House Museum, Longmeadow Historical Society, Longmeadow, MA

[5] Connecticut Courant, Aug 17-24th, 1773, page 3.

[6] Williams, Stephen, Diary. 1783: Aug 12. Transcript Vol. 8, pg 186.

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