Tobiah and Rachel
Captain Wooster's most important helps in the management of his farm and tavern were a colored man, named Tobiah, and his wife Rachel.
At that time slavery was recognized and protected by law in Connecticut. It was always of a comparatively mild type, being free from most of those oppressive features which in later years attached to the institution in our southern states. The marriage of slaves was legal; they might own property, and, if they could, learn to read and write; indeed, most people felt it to be their religious duty to see that their negroes were so far instructed as to be able to read the Bible. Though subject to chastisement for petty offenses, they were protected by law, and by that public sentiment which is more powerful than law, from the inhumanities to which the system nearly always gives rise. Indeed, the condition of a slave, except what pertained to his social status, differed from that of a free man chiefly in that his services were compulsory, and without compensation.
Few slaves were, or ever had been, held in Waterbury.
The few slaves that were held in this town seem to have belonged mostly to the clergymen. Rev. Messrs. Southmayd, Leavenworth, and Scovill, of Waterbury Center, and Rev. Mr. Trumbull, of Westbury, now Watertown, owned two each – generally a man and woman. One of these, named Dick, once owned by Mr. Scovill, died in 1835, at the age of ninety. Some half a dozen other persons are mentioned as holding this species of property. In Derby, Rev. Daniel Humphries had two slaves, named Cambridge and Kate, his wife. Dr. Mansfield had several, and many more were held by other men of the town. Indeed, Derby having been a seaport, enjoying, before the war, a considerable trade with the West Indies, had imported numerous slaves from those islands, so that there was comparatively a large colored population in the town.
In some cases the slaves were Indians. In the earlier periods of New England, the practice of reducing the aborigines to bondage prevailed quite extensively through all the colonies.
Nor were slaves procured from the colored races
alone. Not a few emigrants from England and Ireland,
who were too poor to pay their passage, were
sold, with their own consent, on their arrival, for a
limited time. In one of the newspapers at New
Haven, under date of 1764, is an advertisement of
At the time of the Revolution, the essential wrongfulness of slavery, except for the punishment of offenders, began to be commonly acknowledged. The discussions that were had, as to the inalienable rights of all men, tended to set this matter in a clearer light than had ever been attained before. Very many persons voluntarily emancipated their slaves – some by direct gift, some by will, enjoining it upon their heirs to support comfortably such as should be unable to take care of themselves. Indeed, prior to 1777, such support was made compulsory by law on all who should free their slaves. The following anecdote, related in Dr. Stiles' History of Ancient Windsor, will show in what estimation this provision of the law was held by some, at least, of the colored people themselves;–
An aged and infirm Windsor slave, working in the
fields with his master, was observed to be very moody
and silent. At length he broke the silence by saying
that such a neighbor had given his slave his freedom,
and modestly suggested that,
The master quietly replied,–
Tom stood looking upon the ground more moodily than ever, while his master went on with his work. After half an hour's consideration, Tom resumed his labor, remarking, with a knowing look,–
In 1777, a law was passed authorizing the selectmen
of the towns, upon application of any master, to
grant liberty of emancipation, without such liability,
whenever they were satisfied
In 1784, the year after the war, an act went into effect, declaring that no negro or mulatto child, born in Connecticut subsequent to March 1 of that year, should be held in servitude after he or she had attained the age of twenty-five years. Other laws, from time to time, still further restricted the institution, and ameliorated the condition of those held under it, and in 1848 it was abolished altogether.
Among the negroes that had been brought to Derby
from the West Indies was a man named Pero, belonging
to Deacon Riggs, who lived on the road, called
But this lazy life of indulgence did not last long, and he was soon made to feel what slavery is. I know not how he came to be sold, but he had scarcely arrived at manhood before he found himself removed to Connecticut, under the comparatively mild ownership and authority of the good Puritan Deacon Riggs. In due time, by consent of his master, he took to himself, as a wife, Hagar, a slave of Rev. Dr. Mansfield. By her he had two sons, Tobiah and Laban, – both noted persons in their day, – and perhaps other children.
Tobiah had been purchased by Captain Wooster, and was, at this time, his man of all work. He was about thirty years old, of a mahogany rather than sable complexion, and his face scarred by small-pox. He was tall and muscular, lithe of limb and fleet of foot, bearing the palm – of which he was not a little proud – for running, leaping, and wrestling among all the men of that region. He wore in winter an immense fur cap, made of the skin of a wildcat, which he had caught in a trap in the woods, the short tail banging behind his head, and the grinning teeth fastened in front as if about to spring upon its prey. His brother Laban is remembered. also, as having worn a somewhat similar cap, made of the skin of a loon, – a large aquatic bird, sometimes caught in this latitude, – which had been dressed with its feathers on, and was so shaped as to resemble the living bird brooding upon his head. Of these caps the brothers were proud, both as trophies of their skill in hunting and as specimens of their taste in the fine arts. A coarse flannel frock, often mended with parti-colored patches and bound about his waist with a rope's end, constituted Tobiah's outer garment, which, if not as gay as Joseph's coat of many colors, answered at least as good a purpose for wear, without subjecting him to the inconvenience, which the too fondly loved son experienced, of being made the object of envy from those less fortunate in their earthly possessions.
Captain Wooster was a great hunter, the extensive
mountainous region bordering upon the Naugatuck
Valley, and stretching off to Great Hill and the Housatonic,
furnishing a large variety of game. Wolves,
bears, wildcats, deer, and many smaller animals had
once abounded there. Indeed, he had enclosed a tract
of some hundred acres of land, running up on to the
hill west of his house as a deer park, within which be
claimed the exclusive right to keep and hunt the
animals. It is said that on one side of the enclosure
the boundary, for some distance, was a natural precipice,
from which the deer, when pursued by hunters
in the adjacent regions, would leap into the fold,
where they would be safe. The place, we believe, is
Tobiah's venatorial instincts of course found much to gratify them in this district, and few men caught more foxes, and coons, and rabbits, and squirrels than he. Equally congenial to him, likewise, were the duties connected with the tavern, the care of horses, waiting upon guests, and the like. He loved to hear the news, to pick up the small gossip and stories in circulation, and after his chores were done, to mingle in the sports of the youngsters, – the leaping, and running, and practical jokes, – in which he rarely came out second best. His imperturbable good humor, his strength, and skill, and wit, made him a general favorite, not only in the neighborhood, but among travelers and others who sought the hospitalities of the inn.
But Tobiah, like many another man more renowned than be, found his destiny and the crown of his happiness in the smiles of a woman. Rachel, Mrs. Wooster's kitchen drudge, was the daughter of Peter Hull, an aged negro, who had long been in the service of the Woosters. Peter's wife was dead, and be had become decrepit with years and toil. He lived in a small hut under the hill, a short distance from the captain's, which was reached by a lane crossing the brook, in the rear of the tavern. Here Rachel, with filial affection, cared for his comfort, nursed his rheumatism, and did what she could to cheer his lonely days.
Rachel was as frolicsome as a kitten, and delighted in playing off her pranks upon Tobiah. Indeed, it might be said that it was by these she won his heart. She would hide his cap or mittens when he was going out; she would put chestnut burs into his bed; she would throw her dish-cloth in his face, if he came near her in the kitchen, or spill the salt in his cup of cider, or drop an icicle down his neck, or snatch the chair from behind him as he was about sitting down. When he attempted to catch her for retaliation, she would evade his grasp with the suppleness of an eel, while her rippling laugh and merry crow of exultation completed his discomfiture.
At last he could stand it no longer. He vowed he'd
Tobiah was as nimble as she, and set forth after her at his utmost speed. But Rachel had a minute's start of him, and notwithstanding his longer stride, she reached the cabin, and shut and fastened the door behind her, before he could overtake her. The echo of her laugh might have been heard half a mile as she appeared at one of the windows, and cried out to him,–
Rachel did not mind the inquiry, but continued her frolic with her lover. He tried to open the door, but finding it fastened, he appeared at the window where she had defied him, and begged to be admitted to the house. She refused, and called him all sorts of nicknames, then raised the window an inch or two, and as he put his hand underneath, suddenly brought it down again to pinch his fingers. At last, wearied with her fun, and perhaps with some tender relentings at the vexation she was causing Tobiah, who in her heart she really liked, she coyly unfastened the door, and opened it a little way, taking care, however, to brace herself behind it. But this was of little avail to stay the impetuous Tobiah, who, with one strong push, burst open the door, and caught her securely in his arms.
It was a great day at the tavern when Tobiah and
Rachel were married. Peter, who had given his
The barns were published according to law, and on the appointed evening, the good parson presented himself in Captain Wooster's kitchen for the performance of his official duty. Her mistress had given Rachel a white dress which had belonged to Miss Ruth, and if there was any lack of diamonds, it was fully compensated by the sparkle of the laughing black eyes, which could not be sober even in a time of so much importance as this. Tobiah was gorgeous in crimson small-clothes and white stockings, while his woolly head, powdered after the fashion of the times, towered a foot above the red and yellow handkerchief which did duty as a turban by his side.
The ceremonies were completed, the festivities of the occasion were over, the clergyman was about to depart. Tobiah had apparently forgotten the promise which he made, when the latter jocosely reminded him of it.
Amid the loud laugh which followed this speech, the minister, somewhat disconcerted, replied,–
Argument was unavailing; the joke was too good to be spoiled, and the continued merriment of the company convinced Dr. Mansfield that he had better leave the matter as it was, unless he was prepared to meet fully Tobiah's expectations. So be said,–