Juneteenth at Casey Farm, Sunday June 19, 2022
2325 Boston Neck Road, Saunderstown, RI
Historic New England’s Casey Farm is located on the ancestral homeland of the Narragansett people. By 1755, soon after this house was built, 19% of people in South County were enslaved. Casey Farm was one of many Rhode Island plantations that used forced labor by people of Indigenous and African descent to care for crops, animals, and domestic duties. Enslaved people allowed the farm to prosper, so centuries later, Historic New England could steward the land. The non-profit cultivates and conserves 300 acres of land with its circa 1750 farmhouse, nineteenth century barns and outbuildings, and miles of stone walls. The RISHM marker is located on the front lawn of the farmhouse.
Enslaved People and their Legacy at Casey Farm
By Jane Hennedy, Site Manager for Historic New England at Casey Farm, and Hannah Francis, PhD candidate in history at Rice University
Narragansett Planters: Commercial Agriculture in Colonial South County
The labor of enslaved people in New England and the West Indies made the Casey Farm we appreciate today, though we cannot yet document the physical presence of any enslaved person on the farmland. While we have no direct evidence that enslaved people worked at Casey Farm, we do know that several of the proprietors of this farm owned at least fifteen enslaved people at the other properties where they lived and that they profited from the slave trade. It was frequently the case in Southern Rhode Island that enslavers known as the Narragansett Planters employed their own enslaved people and “rented” others from their neighbors to help with seasonal agricultural labor—i.e., during spring ploughing and planting and during the fall harvest–not always leaving written records of these transactions.
Joseph Morey purchased the farm in 1702. His 1716 will and inventory on file in the Jamestown Town Hall documented four enslaved people: a “Negro man,” a “Negro boy,” a “Negro woman,” and an “Indian girl.” Morey’s inventory listed these people and their appraisals along with his sundries, furniture, and livestock. The unnamed “Negro man” was valued at £46 while the other three enslaved people were all appraised at £40. The following year, Mary Morey, Joseph’s widow, bequeathed four unnamed enslaved people referred to as “two Negro men” and “a Negro woman and her child” to their daughter Mary Morey Coggeshall. The subsequent generations of this family to own the farm would continue their dependence upon enslaved people despite their membership in the Society of Friends.
Mary Morey Coggeshall inherited the farm from her father with instructions to leave it to her son. Upon the death of her husband Daniel Coggeshall in 1717, Mary received two of the four Indigenous enslaved people he owned–Phillis, Peter, Betty and Jeffrey. According to this probate record from Portsmouth, Daniel Coggeshall gave his wife an Indigenous woman called Betty and “her sucking child,” Jeffrey. So, in the year 1717, she inherited a total of six enslaved people including four from her mother.
After Mary Morey Coggeshall’s death in 1724, her son Daniel Coggeshall became the owner of the farm. During this time period, the existing farmhouse was built for the family in the 1750s at the height of slave ownership in South County. When he died intestate in 1774 without an inventory to inform us of his slave ownership status the farm was divided between his heirs, which included his daughter Abigail Coggeshall Casey. She married Silas Casey whose last name the farm now carries. We know that Abigail Coggeshall Casey’s husband Silas Casey and their son Wanton not only enslaved people but also engaged in businesses that helped sustain Atlantic Slavery.
Silas Casey (1734-1814) was an enslaver of at least three people named Walter (aka Wat), Ezekiel, and Moses who may have worked at the North Kingstown farm or at his other property in what was then Warwick, Rhode Island (today’s East Greenwich). Bills of sale for Wat (dated 1765), Ezekiel (dated 1766), and Moses (dated 1766) were passed down through the Casey family and are now in the archives of Historic New England. Though representing the horrendous fact of the sales of human beings, these deeds convey some information about their lives. Both Ezekiel and Moses were sold to satisfy the debts of their former enslaver, Benjamin Sheffield of North Kingstown. These two enslaved men were sold a year apart; Ezekiel sold for £49 and Moses for £45. Walter came from the household of Benjamin Fry of East Greenwich, for a price of £55. All three were sold at public auctions in Newport to satisfy the debts of their former enslavers to Silas Casey, who was also the highest bidder.
This bill of sale for “One Negro Man, named Wat” (also known as Walter) was drawn up on October 26, 1765 after a public auction in Newport. This document and many others are made available through Historic New England’s Library and Archives.
Records of Silas Casey indicate that in 1768, Walter and Moses were put up as collateral for a loan of £100. Silas apparently did not default on the loan because in 1777, Walter and Moses were listed as members of Silas Casey’s household for a military census. Currently, the fates of Ezekiel and Moses after the 1770s remain hidden; however, Walter appears in Silas Casey’s shipping records into the 1780s. Casey’s records indicate that Walter provided labor on the Schooner Sexton (1779), the Sloop Polley (1780), the Brig Abigail (1782), and the Schooner Sally (1783). By 1790, when Silas had retired to live at the farm, no enslaved people or free people of color are listed in his household.
Despite not having clear evidence of enslaved people working at Casey Farm, the farm’s owners from Joseph Morey to Silas Casey lived in a culture that condoned and promoted slavery and benefited from an economy largely based on the kidnap and sale of human beings who were then forced to work without compensation. It is well documented that large plantations on Boston Neck and in Southern Rhode Island purchased enslaved people from nearby Newport to produce wool, mutton, cheese, and other products to clothe and feed enslaved people in the Caribbean who worked on sugar plantations.
By 1755 during the heyday of the plantation culture in Southern Rhode Island, called the Narragansett Country, the percentage of enslaved people was far higher than any other Northern colony. Scholar Christy Clark-Pujara of the University of Madison-Wisconsin sheds much light on the subject in her book Dark Work: The Business of Slavery in Rhode Island:
All northern colonists, New Englanders in particular, participated in the West Indian and Atlantic slave trades, but Rhode Islanders were the most deeply entrenched. Their domination of the North American trade in African slaves gave them increased access to slaves. Merchants and tradesmen in Newport and Providence put their slaves to work in their homes and shops and on their ships. Farmers in the Narragansett Country put thousands of enslaved men, women, and children to work producing foodstuffs and raising livestock for the West Indian trade. Local slave labor played a key role in the growth of commerce in Rhode Island; moreover, abundant plantations of the West Indies provided farmers and merchants with a near-perpetual market for their slave-produced goods.
From the late 1760s to the 1780s, Silas Casey along with a group of investors participated in this provision trade to the West Indies. In 1769, Casey’s Sloop the Rhoda went to the West Indies with crops including corn, turnips, pork, and potatoes as well as goods. Fourteen years later in 1783, his Brig the Abigail went to Cape François in Saint Domingue (modern day Haiti) with provisions like menhaden fish and items such as tablecloths and candles for sale. Casey’s business provided food for populations of these islands as well as luxury goods for the wealthy members of society such as enslavers.
Silas Casey’s son, Wanton Casey, was apprenticed in Nantes, France, a known European center of the slave trade designated as “the city of slavers [slave ships].” Most likely, he participated in accounting for vessels that brought enslaved human beings across the Middle Passage from Africa to the Caribbean and North America. The correspondence exchanged between this father and son suggests that Wanton Casey went to France for several reasons. Perhaps, the most important catalyst for this trip was the need to recuperate from an unnamed illness. While in Nantes, he shipped goods such as Morlaix linen to Rhode Island. Wanton Casey also went to Nantes with the intention of improving his French language skills, which would be useful for his family’s West Indian trade business.
It appears that Wanton Casey learned French and succeed to his father’s business. In 1806, Wanton Casey along with a group of investors sent a Schooner called Dolphin to Guadeloupe with goods for sale. As with his father, this shipment included provisions such as pork and potatoes. The business records of both Silas and Wanton Casey demonstrate that they profited from the institution of slavery.
People Who Worked the Land
The first people who made their living from the land and waterways were the Narragansett and Niantic. Archaeological evidence and tribal knowledge tell us there were villages of people cultivating, hunting, and gathering in the place they called Namcook, or “the place of the fish,” for up to twenty thousand years ago. The land now called Casey Farm was part of the sad history of disease, unfair dealings, war, oppression, and enslavement inflicted on these peoples by colonists of white European descent that displaced them from their lands.
From what we know about colonists’ farms in the region which were founded in the first decades of the eighteenth century, a variety of crops were grown relying on the labor of enslaved Indigenous and African people. Professor Christy Clark-Pujara in her book Dark Work: The Business of Slavery in Rhode Island described what is also evident in the archives for Casey Farm:
Located along the southeastern coast of Rhode Island, the Narragansett Country—also known as South County—was first cleared and farmed by Native Americans. The region’s rich soil, moderate temperatures, and easy access to Newport trade made it an ideal place for large-scale commercial agriculture and grazing. There was no staple crop. Instead farmers bred horses, cattle, and sheep, manufactured dairy products (primarily cheese), and cultivated small amounts of Indian corn, rye, hemp, flax, and tobacco. Slave labor was essential to the economy in the Narragansett, as slaves produced nearly all the exported goods.
Professor Clark-Pujara points out that enslaved people “lived and labored in Rhode Island from the birth of the colony, in 1636, until slavery was abolished in 1842.” The number of enslaved people in Rhode Island slowly diminished from the 1780s through its official end in the state in 1842 due to runaways, manumissions, and a gradual emancipation law. In practice, slaveholding only ended in Rhode Island because it was no longer a profitable economic model after overseas trade was disrupted during the American Revolution. Despite laws prohibiting the importation of slaves, Rhode Islanders increased their participation in the Atlantic slave trade to Southern and Caribbean ports until the Civil War.
We know far too little about the lives of enslaved people, farmhands, and tenant farmers whose lives were not often deemed worthy of recording and even whose burial places were not marked adequately. There are some rough fieldstones in the Casey family cemetery on the property that could possibly represent the final resting places for people of color, or for the Coggeshalls, and some very fine gravestone markers that tell another story of enslavement. There are three sets of slate headstones and footstones signed by William Stevens of Newport. In business since 1705, the John Stevens Shop used the labor of enslaved people who were apprenticed as stone carvers. One of these African-descended people was Pompe Stevens, bonded to William Stevens. Pompe signed his own work on stones for his family members in God’s Little Acre in Newport which are the inspiration for the design of the Rhode Island Slave History Medallion. He was also documented as having carved elements of stones for William’s work in other cemeteries. Could it be that Pompe had a hand in carving stones that can still be seen at Casey Farm today? We are still researching these questions.
This headstone stands in the Silas Casey Cemetery on the grounds of Casey Farm. It memorializes Mary Coggeshall and was signed by William Stevens in 1747. William’s enslaved apprentice, Pompe Stevens, may have had a hand in carving this and two other gravestones at the farm.
Tenant Farmers and Hired Hands
Even after emancipation, formerly enslaved people and their descendants contended with continued oppression, racism, and economic disparity. It is documented that Casey Farm was mainly worked by tenants, some African American, some Native American, some of European descent, throughout its history. In addition, Silas Casey’s records show payments to twenty-seven men (nine of whom were identified as people of color) working as hired hands in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. These farmers produced corn, wheat, rye, barley, apples, raised sheep, dairy cows, and made famous Narragansett cheese.
One person of color that appears often in the account books over a span of fifteen years is Cuff Gardner. He did a variety of work on the farm, from killing hogs and butchering, to carting wood, setting apple trees and trimming the orchard, and building the orchard wall. He was paid in cash as well as salt, corn, and potatoes. Prof. Clark-Pujara gives us insight into life in Rhode Island as a free person of color like Cuff Gardner:
The vast majority of black and mixed-race Rhode Islanders…were free by the turn of the nineteenth century; however, free was a terribly relative term. People of color still had to contend with slavery on multiple levels. The practice of slavery still continued, as did statutory slavery. Free blacks also had to cope with the legacies of slavery—most urgently the poverty that came with nothing but freedom. Moreover, being free did not mean having rights. Free blacks had ambiguous legal protections because they were not universally recognized as citizens…Interracial marriages were banned in 1789, and African American men were barred from voting in 1822.
In 1804 Silas Casey noted Cuff’s “lost days,” which included “Negro Election” and “Negro Town Meeting,” and a half day lost to being unwell. By reading deeper, we see glimpses of personal time and social life, particularly the regular participation in Negro Election festivities.
Silas Casey entered into agreements with two men of color who worked as tenant farmers and were housed in a small dwelling about a half-mile from the Casey farmhouse. First, he engaged Henry Niles in 1802-1803, a free Indigenous person. Next, he engaged Henry Carr, a free African American. Each of the men and their families lived in a small house, rent-free in return for working for Casey a specific number of days per week. They had the use of a separate plot of land, likely for their own vegetable garden, and Carr was paid yearly the sum of about $80 plus in corn. Archaeological evidence from Henry Carr’s house site tell us something of how he and his wife and possibly children lived circa 1804 – 1814 as analyzed by Ann-Eliza Lewis, PhD. She proposed that small items such as hair combs, thimbles and sewing implements, a tea pot and cups, a piece of chalk for marking slate, and a variety of contemporary ceramic and glasswares showed that the Carrs had the ability to purchase some unnecessary items and engage in leisure activities like taking tea. Henry Carr’s noted participation in Negro Election Day, like Cuff’s, show engagement in African American culture despite his white employer’s control and oversight as recorded in account books and the physical isolation from both the owner’s residence and from other neighbors.
Casey Farm Today
Casey Farm’s Rhode Island Slave History Medallion, dedicated on June 19th, 2022, is part of a tapestry of angels that mark those historic sites connected to the history of slavery in Rhode Island. This medallion is dedicated to Ezekiel, Walter, Moses, Phillis, Peter, Betty, and Jeffrey who were bonded to the Morey/Coggeshall/Casey family, along with numerous unnamed and unrecorded people who worked these lands. We still benefit from this history of cultivation tied to oppression even as we strive to enlighten ourselves and our visitors about it, and as we work toward inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility through our organization. Partnering with Black, Indigenous, and people of color via organizations and individuals, we have made strides toward decolonizing our museum gallery and outdoor spaces. We are dedicated to keep researching and bringing facts to light about all the people whose lives contributed to the survival and success of this place. For more information, and to plan to visit Casey Farm, please visit our virtual tour experience at Casey.Farm and our website at HistoricNewEngland.org.
Lorén Spears (left), Executive Director of Tomaquag Museum, and Charles Roberts (right) of RISHM were featured speakers at the dedication of the medallion at Casey Farm on Juneteenth of 2022.[/caption]Lorén Spears (left), Executive Director of Tomaquag Museum, and Charles Roberts (right) of RISHM were featured speakers at the dedication of the medallion at Casey Farm on Juneteenth of 2022.
The crowd participated in the djembe drumming performance by Sidy Maiga and family at the June 19 dedication event. Rhode Island Black Storytellers, Africa Sanké, and Nettukkusqk Singers all performed on the farm. Historic New England partnered with RISHM and the Narrow River Preservation Association to make this project happen.
1. Christy Clark-Pujara, Dark Work: the Business of Slavery in Rhode Island (New York: New York University Press, 2016), 49.
2. “Casey Farm (c. 1750),” Historic New England, 2022, https://www.historicnewengland.org/property/casey-farm/. Joseph Morey, will dated May 22, 1716, p. 210, Jamestown Probate Records, Jamestown, RI.
3. Mary Morey, will dated 1717, p. 261, Jamestown Probate Records, Jamestown, RI.
4. Joseph Morey, will dated May 22, 1716, p. 207, Jamestown Probate Records, Jamestown, RI. Daniel Coggeshall, will dated May 13, 1717, p. 194, 195, 197, Portsmouth Probate Records, Portsmouth, RI.
5. ¬¬Daniel Coggeshall, will dated May 13, 1717, p. 194, 195, 197, Portsmouth Probate Records, Portsmouth, RI.
6. Mary Morey, will dated 1717, p. 261, Jamestown Probate Records, Jamestown, RI.
7. Daniel Coggeshall, jr., Intestate Probate Record dated March 11, 1776, p. 181-183, North Kingstown Probate Records, North Kingstown, RI. James Newell Arnold. Rhode Island Vital Extracts, 1636–1850, p. 19. Providence, R.I.: Narragansett Historical Publishing Company, 1891–1912. Digitized images from New England Historic Genealogical Society, Boston, Massachusetts from Ancestry.com.
8. Deputy Sheriff Elijah Johnson of Kent County, RI, Silas Casey’s purchase of Wat dated October 26, 1765, Casey Family Papers, Historic New England Archives, Otis House, Boston, MA. Deputy Sheriff Elijah Johnson of Kent County, RI, Silas Casey’s purchase of Ezekiel dated April 26, 1766, Casey Family Papers, Otis House. Deputy Sheriff Elijah Johnson of Kent County, RI, Silas Casey’s purchase of Moses dated December 27, 1766, Casey Family Papers, Otis House.
9. Henry Rice, Silas Casey’s use of Walter and Moses as security for a loan dated September 3, 1768, Casey Family Papers, Otis House. Mildred M. Chamberlain, The Rhode Island Military Census, 1777 (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1985), 121. Silas Casey, Shipping Records for the Schooner Sexton dated December 16, 1779, Casey Family Papers, Otis House. Silas Casey, Shipping Records for the Sloop Polley dated July 23, 1780, Casey Family Papers, Otis House. Silas Casey, Shipping Records for the Brig Abigail dated August 22, 1782, Casey Family Papers, Otis House. Silas Casey, Shipping Records for the Schooner Sally dated June 25, 1783, Casey Family Papers, Otis House.
10. First Census of the United States, Washington County [Rhode Island], https://sites.rootsweb.com/~rigenweb/census/1790pg46.jpg, 1790, 46.
11. Christy Clark-Pujara, Dark Work: the Business of Slavery in Rhode Island (New York: New York University Press, 2016), 4, 26.
12. Clark-Pujara, Dark Work, 28-29.
13. Silas Casey, Shipping Records, “Schooner Sally in Account with her Owners,” Casey Family Papers, Otis House. Silas Casey, Shipping Records, “Sloop Rhoda Voyage to the West Indies,” dated 1769, Casey Family Papers, Otis House. Silas Casey, Shipping Records, “Brigatine Abigail to Silas Casey for her outfits to Cape François,” dated 1783, Casey Family Papers, Otis House.
14. Wanton Casey, “Letter to Silas Casey,” (Nantes, October 20, 1780) in the Casey Family Papers, Otis House. Mark Wilde-Ramsing and Linda F. Carnes-McNaughton, Blackbeard’s Sunken Prize: the 300-year Voyage of Queen Anne’s Revenge (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2018), 22.
15. Wanton Casey, “Letter to Silas Casey,” (Nantes, October 20, 1780) in the Casey Family Papers, Otis House. Wanton Casey, Shipping Records for Sally dated March 18, 1781, Casey Family Papers, Otis House. Wanton Casey, “Letter to Silas Casey,” (Nantes, October 20, 1780) in the Casey Family Papers, Otis House.
16. Wanton Casey, Shipping Records for the Schooner Dolphin dated November 26, 1806, Casey Family Papers, Otis House.
17. “Casey Farm (c. 1750),” Historic New England, 2022, https://www.historicnewengland.org/property/casey-farm/.
18. Clark-Pujara, Dark Work, 26.
19. Clark-Pujara, Dark Work, 3.
20. Clark-Pujara, Dark Work, 76 – 80.
21. Caitlin Galante-DeAngelis Hopkins, “Object Lesson: Pompe Stevens, Enslaved Artisan,” Common Place: The Journal of Early American Life, The American Antiquarian Society and Omohundro Institute of Early American History, Spring 2013, http://commonplace.online/article/object-lesson-pompe-stevens/. “About Us,” John Stevens Shop, 2022, https://www.johnstevensshop.com/about-us/.
22. Myron O. Stachiw and Dawn Castiglia, “Summary Report: Casey Family Manuscript Survey and Research for Casey Farm, North Kingstown, Rhode Island,” Historic New England Library and Archives, Otis House, Boston, MA, 1992, Table 4.
23. Jennifer Pustz, “Orchard Walls, ‘Lost Days,’ and Elections: African American Stories at Casey Farm,” Historic New England, Summer 2014, 31.
24. Clark-Pujara, Dark Work, 94.
25. Pustz, “Orchard Walls, ‘Lost Days,’ and Elections: African American Stories at Casey Farm,” 31.
26. Ann-Eliza Lewis, “Defining and creating African-American identity: An archaeological study of ethnicity at Casey Farm, Saunderstown, Rhode Island, 1790-1820,” (PhD dissertation, Boston University, 1998), 12, 103, 105, 196, 203, 209, and 217.