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African- Americans that served in the

6th Connecticut Regiment

 

The following article appeared in the Wallingford Voice newspaper on February 16, 2003, and is used here with permission from the author (1). All footnotes that appear belong to the Historian of the 6th Connecticut Regiment.

 

Wallingford African Americans Fought For Freedom
By Scott Trauner

 

Some of them carried surnames like Liberty and Freedom, reminders of the very principle they had hoped someday experience for themselves.

For these men, the chance for freedom wasn’t just a dream, either. It was as real as the rifles (2) they carried along with their prophetic names.

In the early years of the American Revolution, white colonists were split on whether or not blacks should be allowed to fight. But by 1777, almost every unit in Connecticut had a black soldier.

 

Many of these soldiers were slaves whose owners promised them emancipation if they fought in the war. The informality of these agreements, however, is illustrated in the case of Jack Arabus, a black Connecticut sailor, who made such a deal with his owner, returned after six years of military service, and was still denied his freedom (3).

 

Despite the existence of such cruel slave owners, many black men preferred the dignity of being a soldier to the humiliation of being a slave and risked their lives knowing there were no guarantees of freedom afterwards.

 

In all, Connecticut had over 300 black soldiers fight during the Revolutionary War, and many of these brave men are known to have been from Wallingford. Probably the most interesting of these stories is that of Chatham Freeman. Freeman was a slave of Wallingford’s Noah Yale, but more importantly he rose from that status to become a soldier, landowner, husband and father who personified perseverance.

In 1777, Yale offered Freeman emancipation in exchange for fighting as a substitute for his (Yale’s) son who recently drafted to the war. Freeman took this opportunity to obtain his freedom and enlisted in the army on June 2 of that year. He served as a private in the Connecticut’s Sixth Regiment. This regiment consisted of men mostly from New Haven County, and Freeman even found himself in the same company as a fife player from Wallingford. Dick Freedom, another black soldier from Wallingford, also fought in the Sixth Regiment, but he was in Captain Mansfield’s Company while Freeman fought in the company led by Major Eli Leavenworth.

 

During Freeman’s three years of service with the Sixth Regiment, he found himself in some very trying situations. He spent the summer of 1777 at Peekskill, N. Y., training on the banks of the Hudson River. Freeman then spent the winter of 1777 at West Point making fortifications around that area and then the following summer at White Plains where General Washington’s army had formed a camp. Companies of the Sixth Regiment were also involved in several conflicts along the Hudson River, including the Battle of Stony Point, where Americans attacked an important British fort.

Freeman was discharged from the army on April 25, 1780, and he returned to Wallingford shortly after. Freeman didn’t receive his freedom right away, though. Instead, Freeman and Yale revised the original deal because Chatham wanted to marry Yale’s slave, Rhea, but Yale would only allow this if Freeman would work for him an additional seven years. This certainly prolonged Freeman’s quest for freedom, but he loved Rhea and was determined to start a family. Freeman agreed to Yale’s offer and the marriage took place.

 

Emancipation came sooner than expected for the couple. According to a town record signed and probably drafted by Yale himself, freedom was granted to Freeman, his wife, and child “for divers good causes” on April 29, 1782, almost two years to the day of his discharge form the army.

In this emancipation document, Yale refers to a law passed in October 1777 that required the selectman of the town to determine whether or not a slave was capable of supporting himself once he was freed. Yale’s document is signed by several selectman, but the years to come would be proof that Freeman was not only more capable of supporting himself, but a family of four as well. Town birth records show that the child mentioned in the emancipation document was Freeman’s son, Jube, who was only six months old at the time the family was granted freedom. On March 1, 1784, the Freeman’s had their second child, a daughter named Kate.

 

If Freeman’s status as a veteran didn’t win the due respect of his neighbors, than perhaps his eventual status as a landowner did. Freeman is one of the few slaves who owned property in Wallingford. On November 25, 1785, the Freeman family purchased their first of several properties from Samuel Ives and his brother Bezaleel Ives near today’s Hartford Turnpike. The lot is described in the deed as 40 rods in size, which is referring to square rods, is about a quarter acre. The family paid 15 pounds for the property.

While it is unknown what Freeman did for a living after the war, he received a pension as a veteran. Until March 18, 1818, only soldiers injured during the war received payments. Freeman is not mentioned as having been wounded, so the income he was receiving at the time he bought his first home was probably from whatever job he had.

 

One black soldier from Wallingford was wounded in 1779 when the British invaded West Haven, but this wasn’t Freeman because the Sixth Regiment was in New York at the time. Either way, the pension that he did receive could not fully compensate the years he spent as a slave and soldier working towards his freedom.

 

Besides raising his own family, Freeman’s line of descent reached far into 19th Century Wallingford. One descendant, Robert Prim, was a popular violinist who was often hired to play at social events throughout the town in the 1800′s. Another descendant was still living in Wallingford almost a century after Freeman’s service in the war.

It took Chatham Freeman many years to acquire his freedom and raise a family to share it with. Freeman’s story not only tells about one black man’s struggle to fulfill a dream, but also the perseverance that is representative of many more brave black men from this town. Unfortunately, history has left very little but a roll call of their names behind: Africa Buel, Lemuel Cumber, Cato Freeman, Dick Freeman, Prince Hotchkiss, Job Hull, Sharp Liberty, Samson Smith, and Sharp Yale.

 

There are also those listed by first names or nicknames: Boston, Job, Boss, Peter, Prince, Samson, Toney and many more whose services were probably never correctly recorded and therefore lost forever. While these men only appear sporadically in the history books that tell the story of our country’s birth, their efforts are seen in every good thing that America is today.

 

Footnotes:

(1) Permission granted via email, “I’d be happy if you posted my article on your web site”

(2) Smoothbore Muskets were most likely carried.

(3) Jack Arabus won his freedom in court. Arabus verses Ivers, Root’s Reports, I., p. 92, 1784,
“Upon the ground that he was a free man, absolutely manumitted from his master by enlisting and serving in the army.”

The True Story of Chatham Freeman