From Slavery to Indenturing Children: The Russell and Anderson Families of Connecticut

I usually think of indentured servants as those immigrants who came to the colonies, and in exchange for their passage across the ocean were indentured for a period of years, usually seven, to work off their debt to their benefactor. Yes, it was a form of slavery, but there was an end in sight. Some of my relatives came to this new land as indentured servants, and I had relatives who as children were indentured following the death of their father.

However, I was surprised to see in the Connecticut families we are following parents, who themselves had been enslaved, indenturing their children. I can only guess at the reasons. Time travel would be the only way of knowing for sure! Were the families so poor that they were having trouble supporting their children? Did they truly want their children to learn a trade so that they might have more opportunities for employment in post-Revolutionary War New England?

“To Selectmen of Middletown: My son Samuel Peters is now living with Joel (Foote) Esq. of Marlborough and I wish to have him bound out to him until he arrives to the age of 21. The Mr. Foote doing by the boy as is customary and learn him a trade.” Signed by Fortune Russell and Jane Russell. Indenture date was March 28, 1826. Samuel was about eight years old. [1]

Sawney Anderson, the father of Fortune’s first wife Rebecca, bound out three of his children. However, their contracts were more specific with the type of trade they were to learn, and I would consider this more as apprenticeships, however without payment. Daniel Anderson was 19 when he was bound to Roger Brown of Wethersfield for two years to learn the trade of cordwainer. Sawney’s daughter, Else Anderson, was 12 when she was bound to Elisha Hale of Glastonbury to age 18 to learn the trade as servant. And Sonny Jr. was 17 when he was bound to Elisha Hale for four years to learn the trade of cooper. [2] Sonny did become a cooper in Glastonbury following the apprenticeship.

This week we will visit the Russell, Peters, and Anderson families. As we get closer to the Revolutionary War and slavery in Connecticut, the information available on the families become more limited, and as we “dead end” it is likely because individuals and families were enslaved.

The parents of Mary Ann Fortune Russell, the wife of Edward Carter Freeman and whose family we discussed in the last blog, were Fortune Russell and Jane Peters.

Although some records indicate that Fortune Russell was born around 1775 in Marlborough, Connecticut, I believe he was actually born earlier than that. I have found no actual documentation verifying his date of birth. However, on June 13, 1790 he married his first wife, Rebecca Anderson, of Glastonbury, Connecticut. Few men married at the early age of fifteen years. I think he was probably at least ten years older and was born around 1765. It is very possible that he was born into slavery, but had been freed by the time of his marriage.

Rebecca Anderson, born May 8, 1768 in Glastonbury, was the daughter of Sawney Anderson and Susannah Freeman. Sawney was formerly a slave of Captain Peter Harris of New London, Connecticut and was part of the sale of the estate of Captain Harris upon his death. Sawney was purchased by Venture Smith, himself a former slave, and was allowed to work for wages and pay off his debt for his own freedom.

“…in the consideration of the Sum of Forty Pounds in Money & Ten Bushels in Corn & Ten Bushels Rye to us in Hand paid by Venture Smith of East Haddam in Hartford County received to our full Satisfaction……Sell. Set-Over & deliver unto the said Venture Smith a Certain Negro Man named Sawney which was the Property of said Capt. Peter Harris Deceased. Seventh Day of December 1778
East Haddam October 26, 1779

The Within Bill of Sale was given upon Condition in Nature of a Mortgage for a small sum that I was bound in for Sawney & he having paid the same. I do this day Deliver this Bill of Sale to Sawney having no further claims upon him.
Venture (his X mark) Smith” [3]

Sawney moved to Glastonbury and purchased property. He and his son, Sawney, Jr. also owned a sloop. Sawney did indenture several of his children to learn trades, and his second wife, Phillis, died in the poor house. Sawney and his wife Susannah had at least seven children.

Rebecca Anderson and Fortune Russell had eight children. The original vital records did not always include the year of birth, or the year was illegible.

1. Horace was born December 20, 1785 and died March 14, 1848. He married (unknown) Carter on May 13, 1813. He died from dropsy (edema) due to intemperance (excessive use of alcohol). His year of birth is based on his death records, which indicated he was 63 at the time of death.
2. Elias was born August 13, 1799. No further information has been found on him.
3. Emeline was born December 20, unknown year. No additional information is known about her.
4. Daniel Anderson was born March 20, 1806, and died July 29, 1847 from dropsy due to intemperance.
5. Caroline was born March 20, unknown year. She married Rosewell Russell, Jr. on August 25, 1845, and she died August 31, 1869.
6. Lucretia was born February 5, unknown year. No additional information is known about her.
7. Ichabod Pease was born May 1, unknown year. No additional information is known about him.
8. Clarissa was born October 11, unknown year and died August 31, 1869. No additional information is known about her.

Rebecca died January 27, 1810 in Glastonbury. Fortune’s second wife was Jane Peters. Jane was born about 1780 in Glastonbury. I was not able to determine who her parents were, but she was probably related to the other Peters families living in Glastonbury. Fortune and Jane married on December 1, 1822. Children of Fortune and Jane are:

1. Samuel Peters was born about 1818. Other than the information on his indenture, nothing else is known about him.
2. Mary Ann Fortune was born August 20, 1817 and was discussed in the previous blog on the Edward Carter Freeman family.
3. George was born July 1, 1819. No additional information is known about him.

Fortune was found in the Federal Census for Glastonbury in 1810, 1820, and 1830. He probably died between 1830 and 1840. Jane was found in the 1850 Federal Census living in the Oliver Hale family household. She was 70, and the only black person living in the household. She likely was a servant in the household. She probably died between 1850 and 1860.

I recommend the following autobiography to learn more about slavery in Connecticut. It is available on-line.

A Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Venture, a Native of Africa: But Resident above Sixty Years in the United States of America. Related by Himself: Electronic Edition. Smith, Venture, 1729?-1805

Venture was almost seven years old when he was captured in Africa and sold into slavery. His autobiography provides insight into what it was like to be enslaved, and his journey towards regaining his freedom. Venture purchased Sawney Anderson and allowed him to regain his freedom.
[1] Kathy A. Ritter. Apprentices of Connecticut 1637-1900. Salt Lake City, Utah: Ancestry Publishing, 1986.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Patricia A. Trapp. Silent Voices and Forgotten Footsteps. A Chronicle of the Early Black Culture of Glastonbury, 1693-1860. Thesis for Masters of Arts in Liberal Studies, 1996. Wesleyan University. Self published.

We will finish this line of the family tree in the next post where we will discuss the Eli Freeman family, and the Ned Carter family.

Until next time…..


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