James and Nancy Wallace – the Original Family Settlers in Monson, Massachusetts

We recently celebrated Memorial Day. Although Memorial Day was established to honor those who died in American wars, for our family it is also a time to visit the graveyards and remember our departed loved ones. We clean the gravestones, and leave flowers as a tribute to those who were close to us. We hope that our children and grandchildren will continue this tradition when we are no longer able to do so.


James and Ruth DeBoise

In the last post I finished the story of SAMUEL and EMILY WALLACE and their fifteen children. This week we are visiting with JAMES and NANCY, Samuel’s parents.


In one of my early trips to Monson town hall, long before records were on the Internet and you had to search for information the old fashion way spending hours looking through the original records, I was going through all of Monson’s vital records looking for information on anyone named Wallis or Wallace. Thankfully Monson is not a large town and this task was manageable. The staff working at the Town Hall was really nice and let me have access to the records. Not all places that I have visited in my genealogy research have been so helpful.

I found a card in the death index for JAMES WALLACE who died January 23, 1823. All it said about him, besides his date of death, was male and Black. In 1823 Monson, there were very few black families. JAMES WALLACE was listed in the 1820 Monson Federal Census, with one male over 45 years of age, and nine free black persons in the family. Until 1850, only the name of the Head of Household was listed in the census, making the connection of early families more difficult.

Was James the grandfather of the James who served in the Civil War and was married to Anna Gibbons? Naming a child after one’s father is a common naming practice. How was the “Widow Wallace”, a free black in the 1830 Federal Census, related to this James?

After many years of not finding answers to my questions, I began building “family trees” for all the old Wallace/Wallis families and I began to find the connections. I found the given name of “Widow” Wallace (Nancy), where she and her first husband James were from, and the children who were born after they moved to Massachusetts. Their story is not complete, but it is no longer silent.

The Wallace family is one of the earliest black families to settle in Monson. The JAMES WALLACE family, the first Wallace family found in the records for Monson, is from New York. They are first listed in the 1820 Federal Census as living in Monson, but might have been living in Palmer as early as 1801 when one of their children was born. They were not found living as an independent household in the 1800 or 1810 census for Palmer. However, only heads of households were listed, and if they lived with another family they would be listed as a number of free persons of color in that household.

So why would they move to Massachusetts from New York around the turn of the century? We don’t know if they were free people of color when living in New York. Slavery had not ended in New York, and did not end until 1827. In 1799, New York passed a gradual emancipation law that freed children born after July 4, 1799, but they were indentured until they were young adults. In 1817 a new law was passed freeing all slaves but not until 1827.

Massachusetts and Vermont had both abolished slavery before 1800. Blacks in Massachusetts could vote, and could move within the state without legal restrictions. Although I will never know for certain, James and Nancy probably moved to Massachusetts from New York because they knew they could raise their family without the threat of slavery.

The family is listed under James Wallace in the 1820 Federal Census with nine in the family, and as a free family of color. The family is listed in the 1830 Federal Census in Monson as Widow Wallace with seven in the family, again as a free family of color. Dolly Wallace (James and Nancy’s daughter) is listed as head of a separate household. I believe that all of the early Wallace families from Monson are related to James and Nancy. Birth records in Monson for this time period are very incomplete. Marriage, death, and census records were very helpful in trying to tie these relationships together.

JAMES WALLACE was born between 1755 and 1770 in New York. This is an estimated date of birth, based on various dates of birth given for his wife Nancy. Men were generally, but not always, a few years older than their wife. He died on January 23, 1823 in Monson. James probably worked as a laborer on the farms in Monson.

NANCY (last name unknown) was born between 1757 and 1775 in Staten Island, New York. She was listed as the head of house in the 1830 census in Monson, with seven living in the household, including one female between 36 and 55 years of age. On April 10, 1841 she filed intentions to marry (2) HENRY MILLER. He was born about 1797 in New York. She is listed in the 1850 census as Nancy Miller in the household of Henry Miller. She is 80 years old and he is 57 years old and a laborer. Neither Henry nor Nancy can read or write. Her son Dickerson is also living in the household.

In the 1855 Massachusetts State Census she is living in the household of her son Henry, is 91 years old and blind. Her husband is no longer living. She died February 13, 1860. Her death record states she was widowed and 103 years of age. I think she was old, but not that old. The 1850 census indicates that she was 80, and the 1830 census indicates that there was one female 36 – 55 years old in the household, both placing her birth around 1770 or 1775. Her youngest child was born in 1816. It is very unlikely a woman is having a baby when she is 60 years old!

I found records on five of their children. They might have had more. Children of James and Nancy are:


The families of Dolly, Henry, Roxanna and Dickerson will be discussed in the next blog.

Have a great week!


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