Local histories can be valuable sources of information on New
England African Americans and their communities. They may provide general
information about the community in which your ancestor lived, stories and
information about individuals, names of slaves and slave-owners, genealogies,
and sometimes photographs. As with all secondary sources, the information
presented in a local history must be approached with caution until one is able
to confirm the facts from other sources. In some cases the source of the
information is cited, but not always. What is exciting about many of the entries
is that the authors of these histories were at times recounting “first hand”
information about people they knew or repeating anecdotes that had been passed
down by the older generations. In such cases they can provide clues that can
lead the researcher in a new, more profitable direction. NEHGS trustee Tony
Burroughs provides an excellent discussion of the use of local histories in
African American genealogical research in his book Black Roots: A Beginner's
Guide to Tracing the African American Family Tree.
Genealogists researching African American families in New England will find a
valuable Internet resource in the Connecticut Historical Society’s online
finding aid African American Resources at CHS ( http://www.chs.org/finding_aides/afamcoll/index.htm). CHS has
compiled a very thorough index of all of their primary and secondary resources,
including objects and photographs. It is cross-referenced and easy to navigate.
Their resources extend beyond Connecticut to include many town histories in
other New England states and New York State. The index also includes national
resources. All entries are annotated, as shown in the following example:
Goodwin, Joseph Olcott.East Hartford: Its
History and Traditions. Hartford: Case, Lockwood & Brainard, 1879.
Brief discussion of slaves owned by East Hartford residents (pp. 234-236),
plus two references to Pomp Equality, an African-American who owned a boat as
well as some real estate (pp. 179, 224). 
NEHGS has an extensive collection of New England town and county histories
available at the library and for loan through their Circulating Library. In
addition, they recently have added thousands of local histories to their online
store. These custom reproductions are printed and bound on demand.
Almost every county and town in New England has a published history, many of
which were written in the late nineteenth century. While it is helpful that the
author was closer to the history he or she is describing, it also means that the
descriptions and editorial comments reflect nineteenth-century New England
attitudes towards slavery and African Americans. These often self-serving and
incorrect passages are sometimes difficult to read, but they communicate the
environment and attitudes to which African Americans were subjected. In his
history of Lexington, Massachusetts, Charles Hudson briefly recaps the history
of slavery in Massachusetts and presents this amazing false statement: “There
never was a time when our courts would not have given freedom to the children of
It is best to consult town and county histories when you are fairly sure that
your family once resided in that locale. Not all local histories are indexed,
and many indexes do not include all names that appear in the history. Remember
to search the index for not only your ancestors’ names, but also under Blacks,
colored, mulattos, Negroes, slaves, and slavery. But as Tony Burroughs relates,
it sometimes means reading the entire volume to find the nugget you seek.
Some town and county histories identify and describe African American
communities in their region. For instance, The History of Newport, New
Hampshire, from 1766 to 1878, With a Genealogical Register contains a
description of the African American “colony” at Coit Mountain and its vicinity,
as well as a description of a “Negro Wedding.”  There are also town histories
that tell us about African American communities up through the twentieth
century, such as Stamford: An Illustrated History and From Wintonbury
to Bloomfield, Bloomfield Sketches: A Collection of Papers on the History of the
Town of Bloomfield, Connecticut, Formerly Known as Wintonbury.
Many town histories contain anecdotes about specific African Americans, such
as the History of the Town of Acton, which tells about the town parson’s
sale of his slave, Frank Benson.  The History of Woburn, Massachusetts
contains a chapter on “Longevity in Woburn,” with brief descriptions of three
aged African Americans: Chloe, Prince Walker, and Jane Burkeland. Both
publications have valuable references to diaries and obituaries. 
An example of a detailed anecdote is the story of the “Malay” slave, Caesar,
who arrived in Medford with an East Indian merchant, William Andriesse. After
Andriesse’s death his widow left America for the Netherlands taking all her
slaves but Caeser, whom she sold to the son of a neighbor. That son took Caesar
to his plantation in the south, but when he returned to visit his father in
Medford, Caesar escaped. Although recaptured by his master, his Medford
neighbors freed him. The Medford town history tells us how he defended his
freedom in court, later lived in Woburn, and was known as Mr. Anderson. 
This narrative has many exciting details, but the careful genealogist must
check all aspects of the tale to determine the facts. A perusal of the vital
records of Medford, Massachusetts shows that indeed William Andresse (also
called Andrews), variously described as a “Dutchman” and a “Dutch comadore,”
died of diarrhea either July 1, 1799 or July 30, 1799.  Elizabeth Andries is
indexed as a head of household in Medford, Massachusetts, in the 1800 U.S.
Census. A death record of “A Malay slave of Andresse” on February 27, 1801, also
described as “An Injan Girl of Mrs. Andrews,” confirms the existence of the
“Malay” slaves.  And the Medford vital records also list the death of a
child of Cesar, “a Malay,” on February 24, 1816. 
There is no mention of Caesar or a Mr. Anderson (or Andrews) in the Woburn
vital records or the History of the Town of Woburn; but a Cesar Anderson
is indexed as a head of household in the 1820 U.S. Census in Boston. The story
raises several other questions such as why Mr. and Mrs. Andriesse were allowed
to keep their slaves even though slavery had been abolished in Massachusetts
around 1789. One should also question whether Caesar, described as “Malay,” was
a native of Africa or East India (Malaysia or Indonesia). Further research would
be conducted in the Middlesex County, Massachusetts court and probate records,
the state’s vital records, U.S. census records, and at the Medford Historical
Many New England town histories list the names of slave-owners in the town
and, at times, the names of their slaves. The History of the Town of Durham,
New Hampshire and A History of Barrington, Rhode Island both
contain chapters on slavery and slave holding.  Others like the
Historical Records of the Town of Cornwall, Litchfield County, Connecticut,
and the previously mentioned histories of Lexington and Medford in
Massachusetts provide lists of slave-owners and slaves. 
Even more valuable are the town histories that append genealogies. Volume II
of Hudson’s Lexington town history is entitled “Genealogies,” and contains
family groups of the Barbadoes, Chessor, and Tulip African American families.
 And, Shirley Uplands and Intervales: Annals of a Border Town of Old
Middlesex, With Some Genealogical Sketches presents genealogies of African
American families with the surnames Boston, Giger, Hasteneleven, Hazard, Henesy,
and Mitchell.  Most exciting for family historians are volumes such as the
History of Norfolk, Litchfield County, Connecticut, that includes not
only anecdotes, but also photographs of some of the African Americans discussed.
In conclusion, those in search of their African American ancestors in New
England should definitely consult town, city, and county histories. The local
histories may provide only general information, but they often contain
individual anecdotes, names and family groups, population statistics,
geographical information, and even photographs. All secondary information should
be approached with caution. But like oral histories, local histories can provide
clues that come from oral traditions.
 Burroughs, Tony. Black Roots: A Beginners Guide to Tracing the African
American Family Tree, Fireside Division of Simon & Schuster, 2001,
 Hudson, Charles History of the Town of Lexington, Middlesex County,
Massachusetts from First Settlement to 1868. Revised and continued to
1912 by the Lexington Historical Society. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin,
1913, vol. I, p. 482.
 Wheeler, The History of Newport, New Hampshire, from 1766 to 1878,
With a Genealogical Register. Concord, NH: Republican, 1879, pp. 252-253.
 Feinstein, Estelle F., and Joyce S. Pendery. Stamford: An
Illustrated History. Woodland Hills, CA: Windsor Publications, 1984 and
Wintonbury Historical Society. From Wintonbury to Bloomfield,
Bloomfield Sketches: A Collection of Papers on the History of the Town of
Bloomfield, Connecticut, Formerly Known as Wintonbury. Bloomfield:
Wintonbury Historical Society, 1983.
 Phalen, Harold R. History of the Town of Acton.
Cambridge, MA: Middlesex Press, Inc., 1954, p. 385.
 Sewall, Samuel, Charles Chauncy Sewall and Samuel Thompson. The
History of Woburn, Middlesex County, Massachusetts the grant of its territory to
Charlestown, in 1640, to the year1860. Boston: Wiggen and Lunt, 1868,
reprint 1990, pp. 158-160.
 Brooks, Charles History of the Town of Medford ,Middlesex Medford,
Middlesex County, Massachusetts, from First Settlement in 1630 to 1855; revised
1885 by James W. Usher. Boston: Rand, Avery & Co., 1886, pp. 355-357.
 Vital Records of Medford, Massachusetts to the Year 1850, p. 335.
 Ibid, p. 468.
 Ibid, p. 469.
 Stackpole, Everett S. History of the Town of Durham, New
Hampshire (Oyster River Plantation), With Genealogical
Notes.(. (1913) Vol. 1, Ch. 9, and Bicknell, Thomas
Williams, A History of Barrington, Rhode Island. Providence: Snow
& Farnham, 1898.
 Gold, Theodore Sedgwick, ed. Historical Records of the Town of
Cornwall, Litchfield County, Connecticut. 2nd ed. Hartford: Case, Lockwood
& Brainard, 1904.
 Hudson, vol. II, pp. 489-490.
 Bolton, Ethel Stanwood. Shirley Uplands and Intervales: Annals of a
Border Town of Old Middlesex, With Some Genealogical Sketches. Boston:
Littlefield, 1914. Pp. 361-366.
 Crissey, Theron Wilmot, comp. History of Norfolk, Litchfield
County, Connecticut. Everett, MA: Massachusetts Publishing, 1900, pp.