As I was reviewing my notes and preparing to write about the Powers family, I found myself going down lots of “rabbit holes”. That’s the fun part about researching the family, and sometimes you uncover an interesting piece of information. I have an inquisitive mind that just never seems to stop, often keeping me awake at night as I come up with more questions seeking answers.
I found a reference in a book that Polly Powers of Ludlow provided a safe haven for a significant number of former slaves at her farm. I wanted to know more about this part of her life. I did not find a lot of additional information, but I learned a lot more about the Underground Railroad along the Connecticut River Valley. Ludlow, where Polly lived, is very close to Springfield which was a hub of abolition activity. In looking for land records of the Powers family, I found a record of Mark Powers purchasing land in West Springfield, Massachusetts in 1794, and also verified that the family came from Suffield, Connecticut.
I was curious why many of the early ancestors living in Massachusetts were born in Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New York. Why had they come to Massachusetts? The answers to that question led me back to slavery in New England. Slavery was abolished in Massachusetts by judicial decree in 1783. Massachusetts and Vermont were the only safe havens for people of color at that time. Connecticut and Rhode Island enacted gradual emancipation laws, which meant that the children of slaves born after March 1, 1784 would be emancipated after completing a period of servitude, ranging from 21 to 25 years. These laws did not provide for emancipating those born before 1784. Rhode Island did not formally ban slavery until 1843, Connecticut not until 1848. New York enacted a gradual emancipation law in 1799 but again children must remain in servitude 25 to 28 years before they were free. This was gradual abolition but not freedom. So the answer to the question as to why Massachusetts – it was so they and their children could be free.
Phebe Powers was the mother of Lovina Jones, Calvin Dexter Andrews’ wife. As mentioned in the post on Calvin and Lovina, the only time Jones was used as a surname was on her death records and her tombstone. I do not know where it came from, if it was her father’s name, or if it was a mistake. I did not find a record of her birth or marriage.
Phebe was born January 9, 1801 in Suffield, Connecticut. She was the daughter of MarkPowers (also known as Marcus) and his wife Lovina. Mark and his family were listed as other free people (not white) in the 1790 and 1800 censuses for Suffield. Phebe was living in Wilbraham, Massachusetts in 1825 when her daughter Lovina was born. The next time she was found in records was May 9, 1834, when she filed intentions to marry Dea(con) Oliver Dutton, a 74 year old white man who was a widower. Phebe would have been 33 years old. The marriage was not recorded as having taken place, and he died nine years later.
Almost four years later, on January 23, 1837 Phebe married Henry Newport in Hardwick, Massachusetts. Henry was born about 1806 in Massachusetts, and was recently widowed. His first wife died in 1836 and he had three young children. Henry was a farmer and a laborer, and he died February 5, 1859 in Chicopee, Massachusetts. The cause of his death was “fits”, which sounds like he had a seizure.
Phebe and Henry had three children together:
- William P. was born about 1841 and died December 8, 1843 in Ludlow.
- Nancy was born in September 1846. She married Levi Johnson about 1877, and they had three children. She lived in Ludlow, Monson, and Springfield.
- Spencer was born about 1847 in Ludlow. By 1883 he was living in Boston and working as a coachman. He married Annie Frances Jones, from Norfolk, Virginia, on February 23, 1885. They had at least one child. By 1889 Spencer was living in Cambridge and working as a janitor. He was 70 years old when he died on April 13, 1917. His wife preceded him in death on April 14, 1914. They are buried in Cedar Grove Cemetery in Dorchester, Massachusetts.
Beginning in 1843 and through 1845, Phebe, her husband and children are on the state paupers list for Ludlow. In 1850 she is living next to her daughter Lovina and her family. In 1855, they had moved to Chicopee, Massachusetts. In 1860, as a new widow, she is once again living in Ludlow and working as a washerwoman. Her daughter Nancy is a domestic, and her son Spencer was also in the household. Life must have been hard as a single mother trying to support her family.
In February 1863 Phebe received $10 from Solomon Pierce, relinquishing her rights in the estate of her brother, Prince Powers of Monson, Massachusetts. Prince had a small farm in Monson, and he died in January 1863. Phebe died April 1, 1879 in Ludlow from old age and dropsy (an old term for edema). She was 78 years old, and working as a servant at the time of her death.
The next post will be on Mark and Lovina Powers and their other identified children, Charles James Powers and Prince Powers.
Until next time…..