Biography of Private Hampton Barton

Private Hampton Barton was born in Warren, Rhode Island in 1747,[1] the year the Town was founded.  He grew up enslaved on the farm of Benjamin Barton and was known only by his first name.  The first Town record that mentions him is the 1774 “Inventory of Sundry Farming Implements & Stock”, a separate document from the Personal Inventory of the estate of Benjamin Barton submitted shortly after his death in 1773.  Hampton was listed by name in this inventory[2] (valued at 51 pounds) along with a woman named Phillis and a girl named Hollon.  (A fourth enslaved person, named Hadley, is covered separately.)  These three people became the property of Benjamin’s son, Richard Barton.[3] 

       On April 29, 1777,  at the age of 30, Hampton was enlisted[4] in the Continental Army; his owner likely received 42 pounds in bounty[5].  When he passed muster, Hampton became a free man and soldier: Private Hampton Barton.[6]  During the summer of 1777, as a private in the 1st Rhode Island Regiment (private was the only rank allowed for a Black soldier and he could never be promoted regardless of seniority), Barton would have been inoculated against smallpox[7] and given basic training.  In the fall, his Company, under the leadership of Captain Arnold[8], took part in the campaigns at Forts Mercer and Mifflin in New Jersey as well as the Battle of Red Bank.  In late fall, along with 12,000 others, he encamped at Valley Forge, where he likely shared a self-built cabin with other Black Rhode Island soldiers, receiving  military training when weather and circumstance allowed. 

        In June of 1778, as the Rhode Island military formally recruited Black and Indian men, the two regiments at Valley Forge went from integrated to segregated, with all white soldiers moved into the 2nd Regiment, all Black and Native American soldiers to the 1st.  Pvt. Barton’s Company moved north, fought under Washington at the Battle of Monmouth and shortly thereafter encamped to East Greenwich, Rhode Island.  Along with guarding a section of Narragansett Bay, the soldiers spent time making fascines, a mat of saplings used to strengthen unstable areas enough for heavy equipment. In August, Pvt. Barton’s Company fought against the Hessians at the Battle of Rhode Island but was then sent back to East Greenwich.  Keeping these Black men out of the war doing what many might been considered “busy work” could well have been because white soldiers would not serve alongside Black men and thus they were sidelined. 

        Private Barton was honorably discharged on May 20, 1780[9].   Two months later he reenlisted[10] in the Rhode Island Continental Battalion for six months.  Washington ordered the company to repair a fort in Newport but lack of adequate clothing and firewood for the troops lead to its early decommission on November 30[11]; the men were home by Christmas. 

       Hampton Barton, first a slave and then a soldier, had no home to go to. (Whether Phyllis, Hadley and Hollon from the Barton farm were family to him we do not know.) Where he lived for the next decade is not recorded, but he was living in Warren in 1792, eleven years after he left the Continental Army.  April 2 of that year the Warren Town Council voted to take control of Barton’s life.  Minutes of the meeting state:  …the said Council do adjudge Hampton Negro Man formerly belonging to Richard Barton* to be incapable of managing his affairs…appoints Mr. Ichabod Cole guardian to the said Hampton.[12]  (It should be noted that although Hampton Barton was a veteran and free man with a first and last name, the Council chose to refer to him by only his first name.) Ichabod Cole, a veteran and talented cabinetmaker[13], was a contemporary of Hampton’s; they were both in their mid-forties at the time of the guardianship.  Did Hampton become an assistant to Ichabod?  Cole’s masterful work is dated from 1785-1800;  he was Hampton’s guardian for the majority of that time.   There are no records showing the billing from or payment to Ichabod Cole for the care of  Hampton Barton, though they typically would have been submitted to the Council and payment made after a vote.

There are no further records for Hampton Barton nor is his death date or burial place known.   Although he honorably served his country for three and a half years, and there were numerous records of his service at the Rhode Island State Archives, his name was not included on the 2000 Warren Town Honor Roll of those who fought in the Revolutionary War; it was added in 2021. [14]

[1] RI Continental Batallion Enlistment record “In the Town of Warren” in the summer of 1780.  From Military Papers of the Revolutionary War, Rhode Island State Archives.

[2] Warren Wills & Inventories, Volume 1, page 436-437, Warren Town Clerk’s Office. “Inventory of Sundry Farming Implements & Stock Belonging to the Estate of Capt.Benjamin Barton” dated March 29, 1774.

[3] Ibid, pg 425-427, Will of Captain Benjamin Barton, dated July 7, 1768

[4] RI Continental Batallion 1780

[5] September 16,1776 the Continental Congress voted to increase bounty for new soldiers recruited in 1777 to 20 pounds.  In April 1777 Rhode Island Assembly voted to provide a maximum of 22 pounds per recruit.

[6] Enslaved people did not have surnames.  Enslaved men who entered the Continental Army were promised their freedom once they “passed muster.” Enslaved men were generally given the surname of the person who had owned them.

[7] George Washington: “Finding the smallpox to be spreading much and fearing that no precaution can prevent it from running thro’ the whole of our Army, I have determined that the Troops shall be inoculated. This Expedient may be attended with some inconveniences and some disadvantages, but yet I trust, in its consequences will have the most happy effects.”

[8]Date of the Enlistments of the Inlisted in Capt. Arnold’s Company” Rhode Island Historical Society

[9] Col. Greene’s Company, Muster Roll dated May 4, 1781, Compiled Military Service Records, National Archives,  Washington DC.  Hampton Barton,

[10] RI Continental Batallion 1780 Muster Roll,

[11] Daniel M. Popeck, They Fought Bravely, but Were Unfortunate:The True Story of Rhode Island’s “Black Regiment” and the Failure of Segregation in Rhode Island’s Continental Line, 1777-1783, pg. 400

[12]  Warren Wills & Inventories, Volume 2, pg 59

[13] In 2016, Yale University Art Gallery had an exhibit entitled Art and Industry in Early AmericaRhode Island Furniture, 1650–1830. A desk and bookcase, made and signed by Ichabod Cole with the date 1790, was displayed.

[14]  Warren Times Gazette, November 17, 2021, “Restored Warren Honor Roll memorializes soldiers of past and present”

Enslaved to enlisted: Warren men who became soldiers in the Revolutionary War.

Last Thursday, I spoke at the unveiling of the revised Warren Veterans Honor Roll which now includes the names of an additional 55 men and women. Some were not included in the original Honor Roll installed 20 years ago while many others became veterans since the original unveiling. I will post a picture of the new additions as soon as I get a chance to do so. Here is the transcript of my speech:

Good morning.  We come here today to honor Warren’s Veterans. It is a solemn occasion but it is also an important one for the families and friends of those honored for the first time this year.  Unique among those names, unique among all the veterans here are six men who were soldiers in the Revolutionary War who entered service after enduring many years of enslavement.  Sarah and I found their military records at the State Archives and we are joyful to have them recognized here for their service.  Their names are Ceasar Cole, Hampton Barton, Prince Childs, Warren Mason, Bristol Miller and Bristol Luther.  Their stories span the war years 1776 to 1781. Between them they struggled at the Battle of Red Bank, wintered at Valley Forge, fought at the Battles of Monmyth and Rhode Island eventually beating the British at Yorktown. In the end, only two of the six survived and returned to Warren.

Why did so many of them die when the original honor roll of nearly 200 men listed only a single death, that of Luther Cole? The likely reason is that all but one of them served in the Continental Army for at least three years rather than state or local militias where men were home part time, sleeping in their own beds, eating at the family table.   We all understand that longer service means more chances to be injured, wounded or killed, more exposure to deprivation and disease. And since they these men were barred from promotion above the rank of private, regardless of seniority, we can assume they were given the most grueling of tasks.      

Ceasar Cole, enslaved on the farm of Benjamin Cole, escaped at the age of 20, emerging as a Private in the Continental Army six years later in 1776.  He was reenslaved when his owner found out Private Cole was stationed on a ship in the Warren River and demanded his return.    

But then the State offered a bounty of 42 pounds for new enlistments and so  Benjamin Cole turned around and reenlisted Ceasar.  Richard Barton, a landowner in Touisset, followed suit, enlisting 27-year-old Hampton, who had been enslaved on that farm since birth.  A third man named Prince, owned by one of the Childs, a major shipbuilding family, was also enlisted  And so in the summer of 1777 Privates Cole, Barton and Childs were the only Black men in Arnold’s Company of the 1st Rhode Island Regiment.

After basic training and the smallpox vaccination Washington required, Rhode Island’s two regiments marched south to Forts Mercer and Mifflin in New Jersey, building fortifications and preparing for a fight.  They won the first and lost the second, encamping at Valley Forge in December.  The scarcity of food and clothing, squalid living conditions and close quarters led disease to spread quickly; 2000 died.  Private Ceasar Cole was one of them, dying on the night of January 24th 1778.

Meanwhile, the Rhode Island Assembly was desperate to meet Washington’s new recruitment quotas, and so they passed the Slave Enlistment Act that allowed  enslaved Black, Indian or mixed race men to enlist and become free, while their owners were paid as much as 120 pounds.  At this point, the decision was made to segregate the troops.  All men of color became part of the 1st Regiment—which became known as the Black Regiment–though all the officers were white.    

Back at Valley Forge, Privates Barton and Childs of the 1st Regiment saw all their white compatriots moved to the 2nd Regiment replaced by 50 men of color. That must have been quite an upheaval.  In June, both regiments fought at the Battle of Monmyth in New Jersey.  They did not win but they showed they were an effective fighting force and soon headed north.  Back in Rhode Island, Barton and Childs might well have met a new recruit from Warren who was enlisted by his owner John Mason, a prosperous farm owner in Touisset, for the 120 pound signing bonus  Sadly, just four months later, Private Mason fell ill and died on August 28, the eve of the Battle of Rhode Island.

It is for this battle in 1778 that the Black Regiment is usually remembered.  It was here that the seasoned veterans who had fought at Red Bank, survived Valley Forge and proved their metal at Monmyth would stand their ground and repel three waves of Hessians.  Privates Barton and Childs were a part of that fight; they both survived.  That winter they quartered in warehouses along the Warren waterfront.

By spring the war had moved south. The 1st Regiment, greatly reduced, returned to East Greenwich to patrol the shore and fabricate battle materials.  In the spring of 1780, after 3 years of service, Private Barton was honorably discharged.  He came back to Warren homeless and likely penniless.  Two months later, he signed up for six more months—maybe he figured he would at least be fed and clothed.  He joined Bristol Miller, a 21-year-old man, born in Africa, who was enslaved by Captain Nathan Miller, Brigadier General for the Rhode Island militias.  Private Miller had served once before and not been freed so he agreed to service only after his owner put the promise of freedom in writing.  The Battalion was dissolved 5 months later and Privates Barton and Miller returned to Warren as free men.  

With Barton and Miller honorably discharged, Cole and Mason dead, the only man left standing was  Prince Childs.  He was part of a guard detail with Colonel Christopher Greene at a river crossing in upstate New York called Pines Bridge.  In a Loyalist ambush ten men were slaughtered.  Private Childs died from his wounds on May 18, 1781 exactly four years after he enlisted. 

The last enslaved man from Warren to serve was Private Bristol Luther who had been owned by shipbuilder Martin Luther.  Enlisted in May of 1781, he joined the now integrated Rhode Island Regiment, which was chosen by Washington as the lead Regiment at the Battle of Yorktown.  After the British surrender, Private Luther took ill and died on December 30, 1781. But he might well have left behind a son, because just a few months later a Black baby boy was born in Martin Luther’s house…and he carried the name Bristol Luther.

And so at the end of the war, only two of these six soldiers are alive: Hampton Barton, possibly disabled mentally and physically from enslavement and war, struggled.  At the age of 45, he became a ward of the town and disappeared from local records.  Bristol Miller, a younger man, married a woman named Peg and had a son Ceasar.  They owned a farm in Touisset.  Miller lived to be at least 70.  

Six men of Warren.  Six patriots of the American Revolution.  Thank you for listening to their stories. 

Warren Honor Roll November 11

I am happy to report that among the dozens of veterans that will be added to the Warren Veterans’ Honor Roll on November 11will be six men who were enslaved in Warren before they became soldiers in the Revolutionary War.  I have been given the honor of telling their stories during the morning event, which begins at 11am at the Warren Town Common.  The event will be held outside so I don’t know what we will face weather wise so that is a consideration.  It is an open event so attendance is free to all.  Would love to see you but certainly understand if you can’t make it.  I plan on posting their stories here in November.

Pat Mues Warren Middle Passage Project

Getting our research down on paper

Over the past year much thought has been given to how the Warren Middle Passage Project should continue providing information on the slave trade and the enslaved of Warren. With in-person presentations not possible, we considered virtual presentations. To be honest, however, we felt those online meetings do not allow for the response to and discussion of the issues that have arisen during past presentations of Finding Phebe: Uncovering the History of Enslavement in Warren. We also considered a virtual tour of those sites in Warren connected to the slave trade as well as places we know people were enslaved–we have identified more than a dozen. Again, not being able to have an in-person discussion during such a tour leaves a lot to be desired. For now, we are writing the biographies of those enslaved people we have identified, beginning with the six men who were soldiers in the Revolutionary War. We will keep you informed as we proceed. As Christy Clark-Pujara, author of Dark Work: The Business of Slavery in Rhode Island, said in a lecture at John Carter Brown Library “History tells us who matters, who’s worthy, who’s contributing, who belongs.”

Are we seeing a new Middle Passage?

Smugglers Throw Migrants Overboard; at Least 20 Are Feared Drowned

Several times in recent years, migrants trying to cross between Djibouti and Yemen have been thrown into the sea.

Racist words from the Chair of the Board of Canvassers.

I just learned last night that Bette Midler, an outspoken critic of the President, went onto Twitter earlier this week and criticized Melania Trump for her accent and for being an immigrant.  Such a comment is anathema to those who support equality and diversity and it angers and saddens me to read about it.

Her comment launched a firestorm on Facebook with people of all political stripes denouncing her remark.  Here in Warren, that discussion took a nasty, ugly, racist turn when the Chair of the Board of Canvassers ( decided to comment on that in a public Facebook post.  After lambasting Midler as “Typical Hollywood Liberal S**t Head”, he decided to dial things up by mentioning Former First Lady Michelle Obama and describing her appearance using a racist two-word phrase I cannot bring myself to write here.

Within hours there was a letter to the Town Council decrying his words and by Thursday afternoon the Warren Times Gazette reported that he was going to resign the Board of Canvassers on Friday, saying “Evidently they don’t want me to exercise my first amendment rights.  I’m just going to resign.” As of the end of day Friday, no such resignation was forthcoming.

As I write this, I think about what it will look like when this story is picked up by the Providence Journal and from there goes to news outlets throughout the country.  What will people think when they learn that a man who writes racist things in public oversees our local election?  That one of his roles, along with other board members, is to go out into the community and help those who request assistance filling out their ballots.  One cannot help but wonder what kind of conversation is he having with the elderly woman who is confused by the ballot or the disabled person who needs help checking the boxes correctly?   What happens on those occasions should never be of concern.

The residents of Warren give the Warren Board of Canvassers the power they have in good faith, faith that they will put aside their political biases and personal prejudices to make sure everyone gets to vote without influencing how they vote or what happens to those votes.  The comment by the Chair belies that trust.  If he will not resign, the Council should take whatever steps are necessary to remove him from office.

How jaywalking lead to a Black American’s murder.

Have you ever jaywalked?  I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve done it.  I am so brazen about it that twice I’ve done it in front of police officers and one time got yelled at not to do it again.  Nobody stopped and frisked me.  Nobody asked to look inside my purse. ( I should also note that people who are homeless often have to carry their worldly possessions with them.  The rest of us can stash at home those items that might be illegal.)  I am a white, middle class woman and that just doesn’t happen.

Now let’s consider the story of Muhammed Muhaymin Jr, a Black American who lived in Phoenix.  (I give full credit to the CNN article that I have summarized and used text and image from in this post.  It includes a video of his murder which I have not watched.

A father of two, Mr. Muhaymin had been a garbage truck driver until his father’s death in 2006 lead to mental health issues and periods of homelessness; he was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia and had auditory hallucinations.  And so it was that in 2016 he was stopped for jaywalking in nearby Mesa, Arizona. The officer searched his bag and found a marijuana pipe — not marijuana — and charged him with misdemeanor possession of that marijuana pipe.chiquita

Three months later, in January of 2017, 40-year-old Mr. Muhaymin tried to enter a Phoenix community center restroom with his certified support dog, a Chihuahua named Chiquita.  An employee called the police who did a background check and found the outstanding warrant for the possession of a marijuana PIPE and decided to arrest him.  Although police officers reported this 5′ 7″ man, trying to keep hold of Chiquita, did not kick, bite or slap, they reported he was “passive aggressive.” And so he was set upon by four officers–three on his legs and back–and the fourth applying a knee to his head and neck.  Mr. Muhaymin cried out “I can’t breathe” multiple times, vomited and eventually stopped breathing and died.

Jaywalking is not a capital offense.  Neither is possessing a marijuana pipe.  Neither is being black, being homeless, being schizophrenic.  Yet an American man was murdered because of all those things.  Shouldn’t that be a capital offense?




Major Black films free through August 30 — Get Watching!

UniversalPics and the AFIMovieClub event spotlighting diverse & unique narratives from celebrated Black films. Each film will be free to rent now thru Sunday. The films are: Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman, Jordan Peele’s Get Out, Malcolm D. Lee’s Girls Trip, Jeff Nichols’ Loving and F. Gary Gray’s Straight Outta Compton.
Each of the above-listed films will be available to rent for free via Amazon, Apple, Charter, Comcast, Cox, Dish, FandangoNOW, Redbox, Verizon and Vudu and others, beginning Aug. 24 through Aug. 30.

John Lewis

Mr. Lewis, the civil rights leader who died on July 17, wrote this essay shortly before his death, to be published upon the day of his funeral, which was held today, July 30, 2020. I have taken the complete text from TheNew York Times. I hope they won’t mind.bloody sunday

March 7, 1965, during a voting rights march in Selma, Alabama, John Lewis (in the foreground) was beaten by a state trooper and suffered a fractured skull.  His testimony of that day can be found here.  The Voting Rights Act was signed into law 5 months later by then President Lyndon Johnson. (Photograph taken by James “Spider” Martin.)

Together, You Can Redeem the Soul
of Our Nation

While my time here has now come to an end, I want you to know that in the last days and hours of my life you inspired me. You filled me with hope about the next chapter of the great American story when you used your power to make a difference in our society. Millions of people motivated simply by human compassion laid down the burdens of division. Around the country and the world you set aside race, class, age, language and nationality to demand respect for human dignity.

That is why I had to visit Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, though I was admitted to the hospital the following day. I just had to see and feel it for myself that, after many years of silent witness, the truth is still marching on.

Emmett Till was my George Floyd. He was my Rayshard Brooks, Sandra Bland and Breonna Taylor. He was 14 when he was killed, and I was only 15 years old at the time. I will never ever forget the moment when it became so clear that he could easily have been me. In those days, fear constrained us like an imaginary prison, and troubling thoughts of potential brutality committed for no understandable reason were the bars.

Though I was surrounded by two loving parents, plenty of brothers, sisters and cousins, their love could not protect me from the unholy oppression waiting just outside that family circle. Unchecked, unrestrained violence and government-sanctioned terror had the power to turn a simple stroll to the store for some Skittles or an innocent morning jog down a lonesome country road into a nightmare. If we are to survive as one unified nation, we must discover what so readily takes root in our hearts that could rob Mother Emanuel Church in South Carolina of her brightest and best, shoot unwitting concertgoers in Las Vegas and choke to death the hopes and dreams of a gifted violinist like Elijah McClain.

Like so many young people today, I was searching for a way out, or some might say a way in, and then I heard the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on an old radio. He was talking about the philosophy and discipline of nonviolence. He said we are all complicit when we tolerate injustice. He said it is not enough to say it will get better by and by. He said each of us has a moral obligation to stand up, speak up and speak out. When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something. Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself.

Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.

You must also study and learn the lessons of history because humanity has been involved in this soul-wrenching, existential struggle for a very long time. People on every continent have stood in your shoes, through decades and centuries before you. The truth does not change, and that is why the answers worked out long ago can help you find solutions to the challenges of our time. Continue to build union between movements stretching across the globe because we must put away our willingness to profit from the exploitation of others.

Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.

When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.

John Lewis, the civil rights leader and congressman who died on July 17, wrote this essay shortly before his death.

Let’s read about reparations.

“Reparations?  For what?”  That is a response you are likely to get when you bring up the subject of reparations among people who are not African-American.  Even the idea of TALKING, yes just talking about Reparations is a bridge too far for many.  So for now, let’s not talk about it, let’s read about it.


A good place to start is with  The Case for Reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coates – The Atlantic.  It’s a long piece but worth every minute.  It is divided into ten chapters so that gives a starting and ending point when things get heavy–and they will get  heavy.  There are also a number of videos that tell the story firsthand and every one of those is worth watching.  (There is also an audio version on the site; it runs an hour and a half.)

This article was published six years ago and much has happened since then.  But if we do want to understand what America has done to its African-American citizens, it is surely a place to start.

“They bought PEOPLE?”

For many years Warren has brought our 4th graders into Town for a tour that includes warren waterfrontdiscussion of architecture, important sites and a little bit of history.  For the last two years there has also been some inclusion about the slave trade and people who were enslaved here.  Standing at the Town Wharf near where Warren’s first slave ship departed in 1789, I tell the kids a little about the slave trade.  Now you have to understand these kids tend to be squirmy, have a hard time listening and can be easily distracted by the humm and bustle of Water Street. 

The first year I talked about the ship the Abigail that went to Africa and returned with slaves.  That barely raised an eyebrow.  But when I did it last year, I explained that the ship went to Africa where they bought people to bring back here.  Some of the kids got quiet and looked at me slightly shocked.  One boy said loudly “They bought people?  You can buy people?”  Well that lead to a flurry of discussion about exactly what slavery was and whether there was still slavery.  We agreed that yes there still was but then the bus came and we ran out of time.  (Which was a relief to the adults who weren’t quite sure how they were going to explain sex trafficking and child enslavement to 4th graders.)  

I tell this story because there is an ongoing discussion about the use of the word “slave” vs “enslaved person.”  If I had any doubt about which way to go on that, the discussion down at the wharf sealed it.  And so there will be occasions when I will use the word slave, I try to make that a conscious decision every time.  Anyone have their own take on this issue?

Warren Town Council votes to raise Black Lives Matter flag at Town Hall

Last evening the Warren Town Council voted 4 to 0, Councilman Hanley was absent, to raise the Black Lives Matter flag.  It is reported today in the Warren Times Gazette,82445

If you are not able to access the article, you can watch the meeting on youtube:  Here’s a brief summary:  two people sent written comments against raising the BLM flag, one because it was those Democrats who were funding this nationally so it was political and a second who interestingly tied it to SDS of the 60s and well he was against it.  I (Pat Mues, founder and co-chair of the Warren Middle Passage Project) submitted a letter — signed by a dozen people — reminding the Council of our slave trading past and asked for the passage of the resolution “in the memory of those who died or were enslaved because of the actions of Warren residents, as well as the many people enslaved within Warren; we know thirty of them by name:


Councilman DePasquale spoke at length about our early history including our murder and enslavement of the Native Americans whose land we stole.  He has spent a good deal of time studying our history and his remarks were excellent.

Learning more about the Revolutionary War soldiers

It has been months since our last posting, but we have been busy.  Our main efforts have been toward a better understanding of the role enslaved African American men of Warren played in the Revolutionary War.  The records of the War are fractured and incomplete — a fire in 1800 destroyed the majority of records at the War Department in DC,  with more destroyed when the British invaded the capitol during War of 1812 — but most were reconstituted and our State Archives have many of their own.  We also have spent time with websites and books including Bob Geake’s From Slaves to Soldiers, Judith Van Buskirk’s Standing in Their Own Light and the DAR’s  downloadable 900 pages on Native and African Americans who served in the Revolutionary War entitled Forgotten Patriots(2008) with Supplement (2012).

Rhode Island didn’t allow black men to join the military until February 14, 1778 (and that only lasted for four months) so it was baffling to see three enslaved Warren men –Hampton Barton, Caesar Cole and Prince Child — show up enlisted in the Spring of 1777.  But the thing is they went into the Continental Army which was desperate for men (enlistment was for a minimum of 3 years vs a few months in the local militias) and so these three African Americans were “enlisted”, likely by their owners, for the 44 pound bounty being offered.  Did these men have a choice?  Likely not, but even the Continental Army might have seemed a better option if it meant they were free men.

More to come…


Join us at the Warren Baptist Church on Sunday August 25 at 2:30


We will be marking the 400th anniversary of the first enslaved Africans being brought to Point Comfort Virginia in 1619.  Jeff Davies will be ringing the Baptist Church Bell  for 4 minutes, 1 minute for each one hundred years.   Pat Mues and Sarah Weed along with Pastor Esther Irish, will discuss the slave trade, enslavement and its legacy.

The National Park Service at Fort Monroe (once Point Comfort) press release states:

The landing of the first enslaved Africans was one of the most significant events in our country’s history, but is still widely unknown. Originally, the “20 and odd” enslaved Africans onboard the White Lion were never to be brought to the English colonies but rather stay in the Caribbean and South America in the Spanish colonies where slavery was already established. At the time, slavery did not exist in the English Colonies.

The White Lion was in desperate need of rations before making the long journey back to Europe. They landed at Point Comfort seeking to trade the “20 and odd” Africans for provisions. The enslaved persons were skilled farmers, herders, blacksmiths and artisans. Along with their skills, they brought their own culture, language and beliefs that shaped innovations in food production, crop cultivation, music and dance. Despite all the skills and innovations they brought to this new land they would undergo generations of hardship and turmoil. Those first “20 and odd” Africans who landed at Point Comfort marked the beginning of 246 years of slavery in the United States.  

fort monroe

Join us at 2:30 to learn more about 1619 and the role of Rhode Island and Warren in the slave trade, who the African Americans enslaved in Warren were, and the part those men, women and children played in the founding of our country.




(Photo from

The true story of the Statue of Liberty.

We all learned that the Statue of Liberty was given to us by France to stand in the harbor of New York City as a beacon of hope to immigrants coming to Ellis Island, right?  Well, the words we all can quote by heart, Emma Lazarus’s poem which ends:  Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free/  The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.  Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door! was not placed at the base of the Statue until 1903, nearly 20 years after the statue’s dedication in 1886.

The Statue’s shackles and feet. The Statue of Liberty was the idea of Eduardo de Laboulaye, a French political thinker and staunch abolitionist.  And it was meant to celebrate the end of slavery and the victory of the North in the Civil War.  Broken shackles at her foot symbolize that fact.

You can find more on the subject at the National Park Service site you can reach here.

Warren Historic Marker for the Middle Passage


Thursday, June 20th, we dedicated a marker that tells the history of Warren’s involvement in the transatlantic slave trade and the people who were enslaved in Warren.  I will be posting about those people throughout the month, but wanted to begin with the marker.  It has been placed in a prominent location on Water Street facing the sidewalk at the entrance to the Town Wharf.  History tells us the wharf that was here in the 18th century, Collins Wharf, was the launching point for Warren’s first transatlantic slave voyage to Africa on September 24, 1789, two years after such voyages were declared illegal by the Rhode Island General Assembly.  No photo description available.

“History tells us who matters, who’s worthy, who’s contributing.” 

dark work coverIn February of 2016, Christy Clark-Pujara — author of Dark Work: The Business of Slavery in Rhode Island — gave a talk at the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University.  It can be seen in full on Youtube here.  Dr. Clark-Pujara is a great speaker and she gives us insights into what it must have been like to be enslaved that we incorporate in our own presentations. I encourage everyone to take the time to watch this lecture when you can sit back and take it in.

But since I know most folks will not be able to watch and listen to 72 minutes, let me suggest that you go to the last ten, a Q & A session where Christy talks about the importance of plaques, memorials and markers in public places.  Her discussion on that issue is worth at least ten minutes of your time.

Finding the names of Warren’s enslaved people.

The work of the Warren Middle Passage Project, to date, has been focused on providing all the information we can on the involvement of the Town and its residents in the slave trade as well as identifying those African Americans who lived in Warren in the 18th and early 19th century.  (Our future efforts will take us forward from that period to identify people of color who are their descendants.)

Finding people who have been forgotten or erased is crucial to our mission.  Here are names of those men, women and children we have identified so far.  Those with [brackets] arround their last name show the name of their owner, which they may or may not have taken.  Those in bold served in the Revolutionary War.  Those in italics were owned by visitors to Warren who moved on after a few years.

Enslaved people were known only by their first name; they had no surname.  Once freed, some chose to take their previous owners last name.  In fact, it is those last names that provide the link between a person and Warren.  For some of these people, we know they retained the surname of their enslaver because we follow their later history.  For others, who appear to us in Warren Town Council records only on the day of their emancipation, we do not know what name they chose to use once free.  With women, we also must face the fact that their last names often disappear once married.  But we have to work with what we have while remembering these men and women might well have wanted to choose their names for themselves.






























“Phebe” will be at Roger Williams University this Thursday

Sorry for the last minute announcement, but we were not certain how much space was available at this presentation of “Finding Phebe: Uncovering the History of Enslavement in Warren, RI”.  We can tell you it is worth coming just for the view, because we are presenting at the gorgeous Sailing and Education Center at Roger Williams. Here is a link to an older map of the RWU campus; the Center is #29.  The presentation begins at six and it is free to all.

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois

duboisW. E. B. Du Bois, while at Harvard University, wrote his doctoral dissertation: The Suppression of the African Slave-trade to the United States of America  1638-1870.  I had not known about this monograph until I picked up a compendium of his work at the George Hail Library here in Warren.  I also discovered the website site that gives links to the various editions of the work online as well as much of what has been written about it since its publication in 1896.  It is a masterful work, using facts to show how that “suppression” was, until the end, nonexistent.  In the final chapter, he observes the catastrophic result of the failure of the men at the Constitutional Convention to address slavery at the end of the Revolutionary War:  …there was never a time in the history of America when the system [of slavery] had a slighter economic, political, and moral justification than in 1787; and yet with this real, existent, growing evil before their eyes, a bargain largely of dollars and cents was allowed to open the highway that led straight to the Civil War.

Along with the nearly 200-page text of this piece, Dr. Du Bois also offers an impressive  appendices

list of appendices.  Appendix C includes a list of American vessels carrying Africans into slavery after the trade was “outlawed” in 1808; it goes on for many pages.

You can also see much more of Du Bois’ writings and correspondence via Credo at UMass Amherst.  Born in Massachusetts in 1868 (just 3 years after the ratification of the 13th Amendment), he moved to Ghana late in life and died there at the age of 95, on the eve of the historic March on Washington in 1963.


Finding Primus.

Last night Sarah and I presented “Finding Phebe” to an audience of about sixty people at East Providence Library.  They were a great group who expressed their emotions loud enough for us to hear them and that always encourages us.

When we go outside of Warren, we try and find some information on enslavement in the town where we are presenting since there is no place in Rhode Island where people weren’t enslaved.  East Providence was founded after the end of slavery, so we went to the East Providence Historical Society site and found that the group’s headquarters were in the John Hunt House circa 1750 — East Providence was a part of Rehoboth MA at the time — so we started there; we didn’t need to go any further.  When I put that name and date into, it presented the Will and Inventory for Mr. Hunt dated 1751.  After reading the first two pages of his will, I found an all too common bequest — a human being.primus will huntPrimus could well have been an adult, the use of the derogatory term “boy” tells us nothing about his age. Did John Hunt own any other people?  None were mentioned in the will so we looked at the inventory of property taken after his death, and we found the answer.

negro woman hunt

Listed among the livestock were “a Negro woman and her child.”  Although it may be shocking to think about, it was not unusual for people to own slaves but not mention them in their wills at all, only to find them turning up in lists similar to Hunt’s inventory.

And so with the information from those probate records, coupled with the information available on the house owned by John Hunt, we can say that three enslaved people lived in John Hunt’s house in what was then Rehoboth, now East Providence.  For more house details, click here.hunt_restored

The next step toward finding Primus and the woman and child enslaved in the Hunt house would be to look at more wills, go through Rehoboth town council records for possible emancipations or other actions involving the enslaved, and look at any family papers from that period as well as the earliest census for Massachusetts, 1790.  This work can be tedious and frustrating but it is truly rewarding to find those who have been forgotten.  There are folks thoughout the state happy to guide such searches.  Let us know if you would like to look for those within your home town.


Thank you East Providence.

We had a great turnout last night for “Finding Phebe” with an audience that showed their emotions throughout the presentation.  They also asked great questions and offered important information.  Jeff Howe, who has done extensive research on African Americans and Native Americans in Rhode Island, was in the audience and it was nice to hear his comments.  We also had discussions about identifying the African nations where specific people came from — in Warren we know only one for sure right now .  There was also a discussion about whether our black soldiers were in the Rhode Island Regiment.  We know two men died before the regiment was formed, another was definitely in it and will find the answer for the other three before our next presentation.

We always have posters up at the presentations giving people some basic information on the Rhode Island slave trade, the people who profited from it in Warren,  and the laws affecting people of color. Some people requested copies of the information.  It needs to be photographed and uploaded, so please come back tomorrow to see it. And thank you all for coming to “Finding Phebe.”


PHEBE ANNOUNCEMENT WITH ENSLAVEMENTAt East Providence Library on Monday, February 26th at 7 pm, Sarah Weed and Pat Mues from the Warren Middle Passage Project will be making a presentation and having a discussion.  Please come if you would like to learn more about the enslaved of Warren in the 18th and early 19th century.

An exhibition worth seeing at URI Providence. Runs through February 22.


This exhibit focuses on Rhode Island’s deep ties to slavery, from the transatlantic slave trade to the cotton that gave birth to the textile industry. Giving a face to the labor underlying the business of slavery, it includes images from historical archives that highlight the role the slave trade, enslaved labor and products of slavery played in Rhode Island’s economic boom in the 19th century.  Historian Peter Fay has done an incredible amount of research for this impressive presentation.

The display features the work of Rhode Island artist Deborah Baronas, whose drawings and textile scrims allow the viewer to face these workers and sense their ghosts in our midst. Also making their labor tangible will be mature cotton plants the audience can touch. The exhibition will also include a loom from Slater Mill.

For specific time and place, click here.

We do a lot of reading and research in our work. Here’s the list of our resources.

Warren Middle Passage Project Resource List


Arnold, James N., Vital Record of RI, Volume 6, Narragansett Historical Publishing Company, 1891-1912

Baker, Virginia, History of Warren in the War of the Revolution, Virginia Baker, 1901

Baptist, Edward E., The Half has never been told: Slavery and the making of American capitalism, Basic Books, 2014

Bartlett, I. H., From slave to citizen: The story of the Negro in RI, Urban League of Greater Rhode Island, 1954

Bartlett, John R. (ed.), Records of the Colony of RI and Providence Plantations in New England, 1678 to 1706, Volume III, Knowles and Anthony, 1858

Berlin, Ira, and Hoffman, Ronald, Slavery and freedom in the age of the American Revolution, University of Illinois, 1986

Bicknell, Thomas W., History and Genealogy of the Bicknell Family, and some collected…, Bicknell, 1913

Bicknell, Thomas W., A History of the Town of Barrington, RI, Snow and Farnham, 1898

Clark-Pujara, Christy, Dark work: The business of Slavery in RI, New York University Press, 2016

Coleman, Peter J., The Transformation of RI, 1790-1860, Brown University Press, 1963

Cottrol, Robert J., The Afro-Yankees: Providence’s Black community in the Antebellum Era, Greenwood Press, 1982

Coughtry, Jay, The Notorious triangle: RI and the African slave trade, 1700-1807, Temple University Press, 1981

Geake, Robert A., and Spears, Loren, From slaves to soldiers: The First RI Regiment in the American Revolution, Westholm Publishing, 2016

Grundset, Eric G., Forgotten patriots: African-American and American Indian patriots in the Revolutionary War…, National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, 2008

Herndon, Virginia W., Unwelcome Americans: Living on the margin in Early New England, Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 2001

Horton, James O., and Horton, Lois E, Slavery and public history: The Tough stuff of American memory, University of North Carolina Press, 2009

Johnston, William D., Slavery in RI, 1775-1776, Papers from the Historical Seminary of Brown University, 1894

Jones, Daniel P., The economic and social transformation of Rural RI, 1780-1850, Northeastern University Press, 1992

Mason, Alverdo H., Genealogy of the Sampson Mason Family, A. H. Mason, 1903

Melish, Joanne Pope, Disowning Slavery: Gradual emancipation and ‘Race’ in New England, 1780-1860, Cornell Univ., 2000

O’Toole, Marjory Gomez, If Jane should want to be sold: Stories of enslavement, indenture, and freedom in Little Compton, RI, Little Compton Historical Society, 2016

Pierson, William D., Black Yankees: The development of an Afro-American subculture in 18th Century New England, University of Massachusetts Press, 1988

Popek, Daniel M., “They Fought Bravely, But Were Unfortunate”…..The Story of Rhode Island’s Black Regiment…, Anchor House, 2015

Register of Seaman’s Protection Certificates from the Providence, RI Customs Districts, 1796-1870

RI Black Heritage Society, Creative survival: The Providence Black community in the Nineteenth Century, RI Black Heritage Society, 1995

RI Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission, Warren, RI, Statewide Preservation Report B-W-1, RI Historic Preservation Commission, 1975

Rider, Sidney, S., An Historical Inquiry concerning the attempt to raise a Regiment of slaves by RI During the War of Revolution, S. S. Rider, 1880

Roediger, D. and Blatt, M. H. (eds.), The Meaning of slavery in the North, Garland Publishing, 1999

SenGupta, Gunja, From Slavery to poverty, New York University Press, 2009

Slavery and Justice: Report of the Brown University Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice, Brown University, 2007

Sweet, John W., Bodies politic: Negotiating race in the American North, 1730-1830, University of Penn. Press,

2003 Warren 250th Anniversary Committee, Warren 250th Anniversary book, Town of Warren, 1998

Wright, Otis, History of Swansea, Massachusetts, 1667-1917, Published by the Town, 1917

Youngken, Richard C., African Americans in Newport,: An Introduction to the heritage of African Americans in Newport, RI, 1770-1945, RI Historic Preservation and Heritage Commission and RI Black Heritage Society, 1995

Primary sources

Aaron Lopez Papers and Aaron Lopez Account Book, Newport Historical Society

Births, Marriages, and Deaths, Town of Warren, 1774-1844

Newport Historical Society

Rhode Island Judicial Archives

Rhode Island State Archives

Warren Town Records Collection, 1746-1811, Volume 1, Parts 1 & 2,


Wills and Inventories of the Town of Warren, Volume 1, 1746-1789, Volume 2, 1789-1802, Volume 3, 1810-1819


Clark-Pujara, Christy, Slavery, emancipation, and Black freedom in RI, 1652-1842, Thesis, University of Iowa,

2009 Glickman, Jessica, A War at the heart of Man: The Structure And construction of ships bound for Africa, Thesis, University of RI, 2015

Morrill, Rebecca, Religion and social influences upon the Anti-Slavery Movement in RI, 1773-1799, Thesis, Brown University, 1989


Internet Archives MA,

Wills and Probate Records, 1635-1991

RI Historic Cemetery Commission Database

RI Vital Extracts, 1636-1899

RI, Wills and Probate Records, 1582-1932

Slavery in the North

US Census Bureau us

US Revolutionary War Rolls

Voyages: The Transatlantic Slave Trade Database

Wills and Inventories, Warren, RI

February, 2018

This Thursday, February 8, a discussion of RI textiles and Southern Slavery.

Visible Cloth, Invisible Bodies: Rhode Island Textiles and Southern Slavery in the 19th Century

Thursday, Feb 8, 2018 6:30-8 p.m.

Expert Panel Discussion:

Dr. Gregory O’Malley, Associate Professor of History at the University of California, Santa Cruz

Dr. Seth Rockman. Associate Professor of history at Brown University

Christine Mitchell, Historical Interpreter, Old Slave Mart Museum, Charleston, S.C.

Moderator: Valerie Tutson, Rhode Island Black Storytellers

Providence Campus of University of Rhode Island

80 Washington Street

Providence, RI 02903


Community leaders meet to discuss Middle Passage Memorial.

On January 30th, more than a dozen community leaders came to a Warren Middle Passage Project meeting to discuss how we move forward in our efforts to memorialize those who died or were enslaved and to recognize the pivotal role African Americans played in the building of America.

After Sarah Weed and Pat Mues gave a brief overview of Warren’s role in the slave trade and the story of those enslaved within the town, folks broke up into small groups to brainstorm on how to make sure we get a good turnout for our community meeting later this year.

The consensus was educate, educate, educate people about our history.  Some of the people present had grown up and gone to school here and had never heard a word about slavery and Warren.  Some knew about Bristol, Newport and Providence but never thought Warren was connected.  And so, we will continue to present “Finding Phebe” whenever we can and hope that community groups will get in touch so we can find new venues within Warren.

“Finding Phebe” spurs conversation.

Last night Sarah and I presented “Finding Phebe” at Linden Place in Bristol.  We had a great group of about sixty people including students from the Roger William School of Law.  Those men and women asked questions and joined the discussion, giving us all a chance to talk about why this subject echoes through to today.

For those of you who would like to know more about the work being done by students and scholars, you might want to check out the website of Brown University’s Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice which states “Recognizing that racial and chattel slavery were central to the historical formation of the Americas and the modern world, the CSSJ creates a space for the interdisciplinary study of the historical forms of slavery while also examining how these legacies shape our contemporary world.”

dark work coverLocated on the campus of Brown University, the Center always has an interesting, small exhibition and hosts events throughout the year.  They have a great video archive of past presentations and conferences, including a lecture by Christy Clark-Pujara author of Dark Work.  In her hour long talk she lays out how the business of slavery permeated Rhode Island.  Listening to her is the easiest way to begin to understand that part of our state’s history; her book has become a ready reference for our work.



“Finding Phebe” is coming to Linden Place.

On Wednesday, January 24th at 7 pm, Sarah Weed and Pat Mues will be presenting “Finding Phebe: Uncovering the History of Enslavement in Warren, RI” at Linden Place in Bristol.  Please click here for details, reservations are required.

As you may or may not know, Linden Place was once home to the DeWolfs who made their fortune forcing African men, women and children into slavery, most often on their sugar plantations in Cuba.  This presentation will be focused on the enslaved in Warren in the 18th century, though we are including some information on the situation in Bristol at the time as well as the plight of a young woman listed in a will in the year 1755.

1789: Warren enters the slave trade.

The schooner Abigail would become Warren’s first slave ship in 1789, two years after slave trading had been declared illegal for Rhode Island residents.  But that did not deter Warren’s Ebenezer Cole (Town Councilman for 11 terms), Captain Charles Collins (Town Councilman for 3 terms) and James and Level Maxwell from investing in the ship.  It was designed with a middle deck less than five feet high where the kidnapped Africans would be imprisoned.  The ship would not return for more than 8 months.

We know little about that journey.  But the records of The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database — — states that 64 African men, women and children were forced onto the ship and then imprisoned for two months. Traveling through the torturous Middle Passage, at least eleven died; it’s likely their bodies were thrown overboard on the open sea.  The surviving 53 people were sold into slavery in the Caribbean and the Abigail returned home with the profits.



Welcome to the Warren Middle Passage Project blog.

The Warren Middle Passage Project is an all-volunteer group researching the history of the slave trade and enslavement in Warren, Rhode Island. Our goal is to document that history, build a memorial to those Africans who died or were sold into slavery, identify those people who were enslaved here as well as their descendants and recognize the crucial role African-Americans played in the building of Warren, Rhode Island and the United States.