Slavery in Northampton

In 1764 Northampton there were at least seven people held in slavery by prominent English colonists.  Those enslaved, along with three other people, were listed as being “negroes” in that year’s King George III’s Census, according to historian James Trumbull in his two volume History of Northampton  (published 1898 and 1902.) The names of the enslavers, but not the enslaved, were included. It is likely that they were from, or descendants of those from, West Africa, abducted, sold, and exported as merchandise to be resold in the British Colonies.

Three sentences about these ten Black people are the only acknowledgement in Trumbull’s 1300 page History of Northampton that the settlement practiced slavery.  Aside from a few additional notes on two of these people, James Trumbull and subsequent town historians omitted mentioning this past as the institution of slavery became unpopular in this region. Robert Romer found this practice of historical erasure common in most of the local area, calling it deliberate amnesia in his history, Slavery in the Connecticut Valley of Massachusetts (2009).. It would be another one hundred years before historians began to rectify this lapse in memory.

The scope of this deliberate amnesia became most readily apparent to me when, this past year, I turned to Massachusetts: a Concise History by Richard D. Brown and Jack Tager. The revised edition was published in 2000 by the University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst.  The history includes no mention of slavery until the narrative reaches the 1800s and the developing slavery abolition movement. The false impression given is that slavery was never practiced in Massachusetts. Many, now startling to me, facts about this past have been deliberately left out of historical accounts and, thus, general education.

Of the thirteen British colonies, Massachusetts Bay that was the first to explicitly legalize slavery. In 1641, the General Court added an article to the Body of Liberties addressing “bond slaverie.” 

Article 91 legally formalized the status of enslaved Africans who, as early as 1638, had begun to be imported and sold in Massachusetts. It also formalized the status of Indigenous people who were captured by the colonists, “taken in just wars,” and as “captives” forced to serve in English households or exported for sale as enslaved. [That is another story for later post.] These actions and the English colonists’ rationale are included in a very recently published history of New England slavery, Jared Ross Hardesty’s  Black Lives, Native Lands, White Worlds (2019). Published by the University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst, it begins to fill an egregious gap in their sponsored literature.

During the colonial era, numerous additional laws were passed to control those enslaved in Massachusetts: ensuring that the children of slave women were also enslaved, regulating movement and marriage among slaves, and prohibiting black males from having sex with English women. Massachusetts Bay colony residents increasingly bought slaves, “servants for life.”  Some enriched themselves as Boston, an Atlantic port, became one of the largest centers of that trade in the enslaved.

As British colonization spread from the coast up the Connecticut River Valley, so too did slavery. The English first planted themselves in Springfield, founded as a trading post in 1636 by William Pynchon. Though he is not known to have enslaved Africans, Pynchon brought with him an indentured servant Peter Swinck. According to Joseph Carvalho’s history Black Families in Hampden County, Massachusetts (2010) Swinck is the first African American known to have lived in Western Massachusetts. He later was indentured to William’s   son and successor John Pynchon. The first record of enslavement in WMass is a note dated 1657 that John had paid a man for “bringing up [the Connecticut River] my negroes.” He is also known to have enslaved at least five Africans between 1680 and 1700. Springfield may have been the first Valley center of trading in the enslaved, with recorded sales made in the 1720s within Springfield and up the river valley.

The earliest mention of enslaved people in Northampton by James Trumbull concerns someone from outside of the settlement, related by him in the segment “Burning of William Clarke’s House:”

” On the night of July 14, 1681, Lt. Clarke’s house caught fire with Clarke, his wife, and grandson within. The tradition is that the door was locked from outside before the fire was set in revenge for some perceived mistreatment inflicted on the arson by Clarke. The residents escaped the log house with effort before an explosion of some combustible blew off the roof tree.”

“Jack, a slave run away from his Wethersfield CT owner was later caught and accused of the arson. He confessed to starting the fire, but claimed it began accidentally when he was inside searching for food by the light of a pine torch. Jack was taken to Boston for trial in the Superior Court. A jury found him guilty and sentenced him to be ‘hanged by the neck till he be dead and then taken down and be burnt to ashes in the fire with Maria, the negro’.”

 “Maria was under sentence for burning the houses of [her enslaver and his brother-in-law] in Roxbury. She was burned alive [at the stake]. Both of these negroes were slaves. Why the body of Jack was burned is not known.”

In a footnote, Trumbull adds, “Many slaves were burned alive in New York and New Jersey, and in the southern colonies, but few in Massachusetts.”

Wendy Warren, in her history of slavery and colonization in early America, New England Bound (2016),researched this Sep. 22, 1681 execution by burning, which was the first in New England. From the trial transcript, she was able to add some details to Jack’s story. He testified that he “came from Wethersfield and is Run away from Mr. Samuel Wolcott because he always beates him sometimes with 100 blows so that he hath told his master that he would sometime or other hang himself.” Jack told the court he had been on the run for a week and a half before his capture [somewhere in Hampshire County] by a miller he was trying to rob. A Springfield court sentenced Jack to prison, but he escaped. Thirteen days later he set fire to the house in Northampton.

Earlier, in 1652, because of fires set by “Indians and Negroes,” Massachusetts had passed a law making arson a capital crime, punishable by death. Warren posits that arson was perceived as a particular threat after the conflagrations of the [Pequot] War, and the example of two major uprisings–a servants’ rebellion in Virginia and a slaves’ rebellion on Barbados. Warren wonders if the severity of the form of execution came from the English colonists’ generalized fear of conspiracy and a need to terrify any others who might imitate Maria’s actions. Jack’s body being added to her consuming fire may have been a symbolic linking of their state of enslavement and their crimes.

The challenges of controlling the lives of the enslaved didn’t discourage ownership in Massachusetts. Warren points out that, given large-scale plantation slavery never developed in New England, chattel slavery might be seen as a vanity project of the very wealthy. One such example is merchant John Pynchon of Springfield, who benefited from the increase in West Indies trade. What the wealthy had, the less wealthy also wanted. The population of enslaved Africans in Massachusetts, including the Valley, grew over the next century as increasing numbers of the more well-to-do colonists owned at least one.

 From Pynchon’s Springfield, colonial plantations spread up the Connecticut River. Northampton was founded in 1654, Hadley in 1659, Deerfield in 1670, and Northfield in 1673. Over the next century, slave ownership also spread up the Valley. In the Provincial Enumeration in 1754-55 of Negro Slaves Sixteen Years or Older, a total of 75 were counted in Hampshire County, which then meant all of Western Massachusetts. Scholar Robert Romer notes, however, that numbers for more than half the Valley settlements were lost or never tabulated. Those missing numbers included Deerfield, where he discovered at least 25 slaves were owned. Numbers are not provided for Northampton, either.

Romer was surprised to discover that a significant number of ministers in the Valley owned slaves. In account books, estate papers and Probate court records, he found evidence to list slave-holding religious leaders in at least seventeen communities. Jonathan Edwards, who led Northampton’s Congregation from 1729 to 1750, is among them. In 1731, Edwards went to Newport, Rhode Island to purchase a “Negro Girle named Venus” for eighty pounds. He bought other slaves during his Northampton ministry, owned a slave called Rose when he left for Stockbridge in 1750, and “a negro boy named Titus,” at the time of his death in 1758.

Edwards’ enslavement of others has been most thoroughly researched by scholar Kenneth Minkema. In his paper on “… Edwards’ Defense of Slavery,” he notes “that within Northampton, a small but growing number of elites typically owned one or two slaves— a female for domestic chores and a male for fieldwork—and Edwards was willing to commit a substantial part of his annual salary to establish his membership in this select group.”  He mentions that these elite included prominent merchants, politicians, and militia officers, among them John Stoddard, Maj. Ebenezer Pomeroy, and Col. Timothy Wright.

Puritans in Massachusetts regarded themselves as God’s Elect, and so they had no difficulty with slavery, which had the sanction of the Law of the God of Israel. The Calvinist doctrine of predestination easily supported Puritans in a position that Blacks were a people cursed and condemned by God to serve whites. Jonathan Edwards subscribed to this thinking and defended another minister in the Valley criticized by his congregation for, among other things, owning slaves.

Lorenzo Greene’s the Negro in Colonial New England is by cited Douglass Harper for his early (1942) establishment of factual information, including population. The number of blacks in Massachusetts increased ten-fold between 1676 and 1720, from 200 to 2000.The population then doubled from 2,600 in 1735 to 5,235 in 1764, by which time blacks, not all of whom were slaves, had become approximately 2.2 percent of the total Massachusetts population. They were generally concentrated in the industrial and coastal towns, with Boston in 1752 having the highest concentration at 10%. 

The black population of colonial Western Massachusetts was slower to grow than the eastern part of the colony, as well as being in smaller numbers, but also shows a pattern of increase. According to William Piersen’s Black Yankees tabulation the Western counties’ black population grew from 74 [under]counted in 1754 to 5,983 in 1790. This also reflected an increasing percentage of Massachusetts total black population, from 3 to 12%. Though Northampton numbers weren’t included in the 1755 Enumeration of Slaves, the fact of  Jonathan Edwards’ being an enslaver suggests there were others owned and uncounted in the plantation at that time. That the numbers increased in subsequent years is suggested by the findings reported by Trumbull.

These are the few sentences in James Trumbull’s History of Northampton acknowledging that the settlement practiced slavery. In his summary of the 1764 King’s Census results, Trumbull writes:

“In addition [to a population of 1,274 whites] there were ten negroes, five males and five females. Apparently they were nearly all slaves, and were distributed in the following families:  Mrs. Prudence Stoddard, widow of Col. John, one female; Lieut. Caleb Strong, one male; Joseph and Jonathan Clapp, one each; Joseph Hunt one of each sex. There was one negro at Moses Kingsley’s, not a slave, another at Zadoc Danks, and Bathsheba Hull was then living near South Street bridge. [Author’s note: the arithmetic is dodgy.] “

Little is known about these few identified Africans. A Trumbull footnote later in his history adds, “…before the Revolution, Midah, a negro employed in the tannery of Caleb Strong Sr., was the principal fiddler in town.” In another passage, he describes Bathsheba Hull in 1765 as “a negress, widow of Amos Hull, and occupied a small house on the Island near South Street Bridge, formed by the Mill Trench.” The town claimed the land had been illegally squatted on and wished to evict her. Two years later, they had apparently bought her out and paid to move her to lower Pleasant Street.

Bathsheba Hull is also mentioned in Mr. and Mrs. Prince, the acclaimed history by Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina. Abijah Prince, recently freed in Northfield, lived in Northampton from 1752 to 1754. He stayed with Amos and Bathsheba Hull, suggesting a circle of acquaintance among free Black former slaves in the Valley, some of whom owned property. Gerzina writes that Bijah (short for Abijah) worked for the hatter and church deacon Ebenezer Hunt, and that Amos, a freed former slave, was the servant of Hunt’s brother. As the Hulls were starting a family, they rented a farm. There is a gap in the story, with no explanation of how or when Amos died, or how the widow wound up living by the South Street bridge, or where or how many children they had.  Later in the time Gerzina finds Bathsheba and children living in Stockbridge.

Gerzina observes that while slavery in the North may have been less violent than that of the South, it was still slavery. Children and parents were sold away from each other, and freedom only came when a white person granted it. They, like their southern counterparts, ran away in large numbers, worked in the fields and houses of their owners, and were hired out without receiving any pay. Unlike southern slaves, however, they traveled between towns easily, could marry, learned to read, and had to attend church. In eighteenth century rural New England, the enslaved carried arms for hunting, military service, and protection. Still, Gerzina found, there were also suicides.

 People had their names taken from them when they were enslaved. The Africans were given names by their new owners, often biblical or mythological, and rarely with a surname except as an indication of race or status. This stripping of personal identity continued beyond their deaths as historians have had to struggle to find the record of their lives. Abijah Negro is listed on the Northfield poll tax, and Abijah Prince is also in records as, after his manumission, Abijah Freeman.

In addition to those in Northampton identified by Trumbull and Minkema, Robert Romer’s research added another seven names, for a total of at least fifteen slaveholders in Northampton. We do not know yet how many more there were or who the enslaved people were.

We also don’t know how those enslaved made the transition to being free women and men. In 1780, when the Massachusetts Constitution went into effect, slavery was still legal. Over the next several years, Freedom suits brought to court by those enslaved established that slavery wasn’t compatible with the new Constitution that declared “all men are born free and equal.” By the first federal census, which was in 1790, no one in Massachusetts was willing to go on record as still owning slaves. One assumes they all had either been sold out of state, freed to set up their own lives, or continued as hired-for-wages workers. This change in status is a whole other story. The data for Northampton is missing, however, so we can only guess that there were some – as the census put it — “all other [than white] free people” living here.

Historic Northampton is presently engaged in a long-term research project to identify and learn more about the lives of enslaved people in Northampton. Emma Winter Zeig is leading the project and, with interns, is systematically combing through all public and related private records. About thirty five enslaved people have been identified so far. Searches of the slaveholding family papers for any details are underway. Emma reports that the research is most complicated by lack of records. The researchers have been able to establish some surnames, identified familial relationships, and found more documentation of networks of relationship between people of color in Northampton. Some of their favorite finds have been the few sources that shed light on the daily lives of enslaved people_what Amos Hull was asked at catechism, for example. The project’s long term goal is to link with similar information from other towns to create a region-wide picture.

Two stones , side by side, mark the graves of two black women in the Bridge Street Cemetery in Northampton. They read:

SYLVA CHURCH b. 1756 d. April 12, 1822 Sacred to the Memory of Sylva Church A Coloured woman, who for many years lived in the family of N. Storrs, died 12 April, 1822, Very few possessed more good qualities than she did. She was for many years a member of Mr. Williams’ Church, and we trust lived agreeable to her profession, and is now inheriting the promises.

SARAH GRAY b. 1808 d. 1831 In memory of SARAH GRAY a coloured woman, By those who experienced her faithful services She died Oct. 7, 1831 Aged 23

Northampton author Susan Stinson’s novel Spider in the Tree is a fictional account of Reverend Jonathan Edwards that includes his slaveholding. Susan has given tours of the Bridge Street Cemetery. On one such occasion, she was approached by Frank Carbin, whose sister came on the tour one year, and pointed Susan to a reference that confirmed that Sylva Church was enslaved in the household of Jonathan Edwards’ daughter and later granddaughter. 

“There was a slave woman, “Lil”, as she was called, or Sylvia Church (her true name), who was too important a character in the household of Major Dwight and his widow, not to deserve at least a brief remembrance. She was bought on Long Island, when but 9 years old, and lived to advanced years, dying April 12, 1822, being, as is supposed, at that time, 66 years old. The last 15 years of her life she spent with Mrs. Storrs, dau. of Major Dwight. She was pious, faithful, industrious and economical. She had ‘all the pride of the family’ in her heart. She ruled the children of the house and indeed the whole street. She was in fact a strong-minded woman and a ‘character’ in the most striking sense of the word. Says John Tappan, Esq.,..”In addition to the fascination of the parlor, there was the faithful African in the kitchen, by the name of ‘Lilly,’ who ever welcomed me and was not one whit behind her mistress in fascinating my young heart.” At more than 40 years, she was hopefully made a member of Christ’s kingdom, when she first learned to read her Bible, which before had no attractions to her. ..” from The History of the Descendants of John Dwight of Dedham, Mass, by Benjamin W. Dwight, pages 130-140,  John Trow & Sons, Printers & Bookbinders, NY, 1874.

Bob Drinkwater would point out that these gravestones are white markers for people of color. In his book about searching for the gravestones of African Americans in Western Massachusetts, In Memory of Susan Freedom, he states that many-perhaps most- early Massachusetts residents of color now lie forgotten in unmarked graves on the periphery of common burying grounds and municipal cemeteries. If they were marked at all, it was often with field stones.

 Drinkwater believes these two black women’s graves were once segregated at the edge of the cemetery, before white burials expanded around them. Standing side by side he posits that the younger Sarah Gray served in the same household. Elsewhere in the Bridge Street cemetery, he noted at least a few other gravestones for African Americans, buried several decades later, among their white neighbors. One is for Samuel Blakeman who died in 1879. Another is for Mattie “a Negro” who died in 1862.  Far fewer graves are evident than the many people we are coming to know once lived and worked in Northampton. Just as the lives of Northampton’s early black residents were often left out of the written record, so too their deaths.

Bridge Street Cemetery, photo from Historic Northampton


__Massachusetts: a Concise History by Richard D. Brown and Jack Tager. The revised edition was published in 2000 by the University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst. 

__Trumbull, James Russell. History of Northampton Massachusetts: From its Settlement in 1654. Volume I. 1898, Volume II. 1902. Northampton.

__Romer, Robert H. Slavery in the Connecticut Valley of Massachusetts. Levellers Press, Florence MA. 2009.

__Warren, Wendy. New England Bound: Slavery and Colonization in Early America. W.W. Norton & Company, New York, London. 2016

__Hardesty, Jared Ross. Black Lives, Native Lands, White Worlds: A History of Slavery in New England. University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst and Boston MA. 2019.

__Carvalho III, Joseph. Black Families in Hampden County, Massachusetts 1650-1865. Revised second edition, 2010. Accessed on Oct. 26, 2020.

__Minkema, Kenneth P. ”Jonathan Edward’s Defense of Slavery.” Massachusetts Historical Review, Vol. 4, Race & Slavery (2002), pp.23-59. Massachusetts Historical Society. Courtesy of Historic Northampton.

__Minkema, Kenneth P. “Jonathan Edwards on Slavery and the Slave Trade.” The William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 54. No. 4 (Oct., 1997), pp. 823-834. Omohondro Institute of Early American History. Courtesy of Historic Northampton

__Harper, Douglass. “Slavery in Massachusetts.”  Slavery in the North. Retrieved 2020, Aug 6.

__Greene, Lorenzo J. The Negro in Colonial New England 1620-1776. Atheneum , New York. edition 1968 of original 1942.

__Piersen, William D. Black Yankees: The Development of an Afro-American Subculture in Eighteenth-Century New England. University of Massachusetts press. Amherst. 1988.

__Gerzina, Gretchen Holbrook. Mr. and Mrs. Prince: How an Extraordinary Eighteenth-Century Family Moved Out of Slavery and Into Legend. HarperCollins Publishers, New York,NY. 2008. My favorite history book, not only local and very readable but illuminating the lives of enslaved blacks and how history is written.

__Sweet, John Wood. Bodies Politic: Negotiating Race in the American North, 1730-1830. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia PA. 2003.

__Sharpe, Elizabeth and Zeig, Emma Winter. Historic Northampton. Email correspondence Aug-Sep, 2020.

 __Bureau of the Census. Bicentennial Edition: Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1970. Part 2, Chapter Z.Series Z 1-19 Estimated Population of American Colonies: 1610-1780. Colonial and Pre-Federal Statistics.

__Stinson, Susan. Spider in a Tree: a novel of the First Great Awakening. Small Beer Press Easthampton MA. 2013.

__Stinson, Susan. Email correspondence Sep. 2020.

__Drinkwater, Bob. In Memory of Susan Freedom: Searching for Gravestones of African Americans in Western Massachusetts. Levellers Press. Amherst MA. 2020.


Woman of the Year 1964: Barbara Gittings

Little notes, typed on Dictaphone paper, used to come in the mail for me and my partner Susan. The scribbled initials on each were those of the editor of the Ladder and, sometimes, her partner Kay. Through such brief, dashed off, means she gathered news, reviews, stories and ,yes, illustrations from hundreds of gay women across the country to publish in this sole U.S. lesbian magazine. Two of my blog posts detail a few of my early interactions with Barbara Gittings. Time Magazine’s tribute to unsung women was an appropriate start to this Women’s History Month. It feels, at a time frozen in pandemic, an appropriate reminder of resistance to end this month of March with her cover and Michael Bedwell’s tribute as shared to OutHistory.
Image may contain: 1 person, eyeglasses and text
Michael Bedwell

GAY RIGHTS PIONEER BARBARA GITTINGS’ SURVIVING PARTNER of 46 years Kay Tobin Lahusen called me yesterday to alert me to Barbara’s inclusion in “TIME” magazine’s 100 Women of the Year project. They commissioned 89 new “TIME” mock covers to commemorate 89 women who should have been on the magazine’s covers over its near century of existence. The remaining 11 are existing real covers of women who had been named Person of the Year.

BARBARA’S cover used a 1964 photo by Kay rendered by Serbian artist Ivana Besevic, and incorporates the motto “Gay Is Good” coined in 1968 by Barbara & Kay’s close friend and mentor Frank Kameny, the father of the modern gay rights movement. The accompanying text by “TIME’s” San Francisco Bureau Chief Katy Steinmetz reads:

“The Stonewall riots have become the focal point of the modern LGBTQ-rights movement, but they didn’t start it. The groundwork was laid in the previous decade by activists like Barbara Gittings, who understood that before marginalized people can prevail, they must understand that they are worthy and that they are not alone.

In an era when it was dangerous to be out, Gittings edited the Ladder, a periodical published by the nation’s first known lesbian-rights organization, the Daughters of Bilitis, creating a sense of national identity and providing a platform for resistance. In the August 1964 issue, her editorial blasted a medical report that described homosexuality as a disease, writing that it treated lesbians like her more as “curious specimens” than as humans.

Gittings would go on to be instrumental in getting the American Psychiatric Association to stop classifying homosexuality as a mental illness and in getting libraries to carry gay literature. Whether she was wielding a pen or a protest sign, the militant advocate had a simple message: when society said that being gay was an abomination, Gittings said that gay was good.”

Prints of the illustration are available at:…/barbara-gittings-1964-time.html

Barbara was memorialized in 2012 along Chicago’s Legacy Walk, the world’s first outdoor museum of LGBT history. SEE:

The Stone Wall

stone wall

I was thrilled to discover I live just down the road from the childhood home of the author of America’s first lesbian autobiography, The Stone Wall. The book was published in 1930 in Chicago under a pseudonym. It wasn’t until 2003 that the author’s birth and married names were discovered by Tufts University doctoral candidate Sherry Ann Darling in what historian Jonathan Katz calls “a major example of creative, historical detective work.” I was just as excited to find that the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, NYC – oft cited as the place the Gay Revolution began in 1969 – was originally opened the same year the Stone Wall was published, as a tearoom and in probable tribute to the author.

I first found mention of the autobiography in The History Project’s Improper Bostonians (1998). One tantalizing sidebar paragraph: ”’Mary Casal’ (her real name is not known) was born in Western Massachusetts in 1864. Her autobiography, The Stone Wall, published in 1930, is the amazing psycho-sexual self-portrait of a young woman’s growing awareness and acceptance of her lesbian identity. For a time, she taught in a ‘very select girls’ day school on Beacon Hill’ and is quite possibly included in [a] photograph of Miss Ireland’s school… ”

stone cover

Casal’s Massachusetts’ roots were not mentioned in earlier notice by lesbian literature authority Barbara Grier or historian Jonathan Katz. Darling includes Grier’s 1976 review reprint in an online OutHistory bibliography   :

Grier, Barbara (alias: Gene Damon). “Life History of a Lesbian: Mary Casal. Reproduced from  Lesbian Lives: Biographies of Women from the Ladder. Editors Barbara Grier and Coletta Reid. Diana Press 1976 :

“Apparently this is an undoctored life history of a Lesbian. Mary Casal wrote her life story in a casual conversational and entirely frank manner. Since Miss Casal was born in 1864 and was at the time of writing 65 years old, the complete detail of her love affair is almost amazing. Miss Casal was born in New England on a farm and apparently was a part of the class described as upper middle class. Her parents were a rather odd mixture, her mother a descendent of the very pure Puritans and her father a descendent of a distinguished English family of artists and musicians. She was the youngest of nine children and her childhood friends were all male… By the time she had completed her college education she had had three or four … crushes and one of them had apparently been physically satisfactory. In her effort to make her autobiography utterly untraceable, Miss Casal has obscured the sequence of her life to an extent that makes dates impossible to find in relation to her big love affair. However, somewhere in her middle thirties she met and fell in love with a girl two years younger. The affair was entirely complete and very happy for both women for many years, approximately fifteen years or a little more. During these happy years the women discovered many other women of like temperament and the authoress expresses her initial surprise at this, because previously Mary and her friend Juno had thought they were the only women in the world who loved another woman.

Miss Casal’s revelations about the Lesbian world of New York and Paris around the turn of this century are most interesting. Although Miss Casal tries to give the impression that she was never a professional author, it is hard to believe in view of the quality of writing in her memoirs. I heartily recommend this as almost a class[ic] case of lesbianism. Unfortunately the book is very rare and quite expensive. Those willing to take the trouble can borrow the book through the Library of Congress.”

lesbian lives cover

This review by Grier was likely published in the Ladder before The Stone Wall was reprinted in 1975 by Arco Press. A more recent reprint in 2018 by Forgotten Books makes hardback and paperback editions more readily available. The Stone Wall  is also now available for free online.

Jonathan Katz offered a much longer critical review of The Stone Wall in his work Gay American History (1976). has now made this available online.

I encourage anyone to read The Stone Wall. It is a concise two hundred pages. Given that the author would have been the age of my grandmother when she wrote it, I was struck by her unusual frankness about sex. Her autobiography also provides examples of of what are now called #MeToo moments in late 1800s-early 1900s. Casal discusses childhood abuse and struggles with marital sex. She also gives accounts of intimacy with other women and entry into the subculture of women like her. Nowhere does she refer to herself as a lesbian, though Sherry Darling discovered that Casal’s editor/publisher referred to her a lesbian in correspondence with others and may have edited out anything he considered “too hot” for 1930. At the age of sixty-six, the last of her family still alive, she was not too reticent, although she did disguise some facts to spare her peers.

It is a delight to see historians recover more of her story, linking her solitary work to a much larger, vibrant subculture.   In 2004, David Carter, investigating Stonewall: the Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution, discovered that the same year Casal’s autobiography was published, a tearoom named Bonnie’s Stonewall Inn opened on Seventh Avenue South in Greenwich Village NYC. The owner was Vincent Bonavia.

In those Prohibition days, the tearoom gained a reputation as one of the most notorious in the Village. Bonnie’s Stonewall Inn was raided for selling liquor. Carter also  postulated that its name selection sent a coded message that lesbians were welcome there. Casal and her woman partner lived for a number of years in Greenwich Village.

In Sherry A. Darling’s dissertation on Mary Casal, she uncovered the underground lesbian community centered around actresses in the legitimate theatre in NYC circa 1890-1920 that the author was part of. Darling believes, based on her research, that one character in Casal’s memoir is a male impersonator and actress who introduced Casal and her partner to others in that circle.

In 1934 the tea room, now a bar, moved to two former stables that had been merged and renovated at 51-53 Christopher Street, the current site of the Stonewall Inn.

stone stables

In this pre-1930 photo, the horse stable on the left #53 had already been converted to use as a bakery and the third floor of the stable on the right had yet to be razed.



This 1939 NYC tax photo shows Bonnie’s Stonewall Inn sign on the far right over the joined buildings. Source:NYC Municipal archives.

The business changed hands and function over the decades but retained some variation of the same name on the old signage.


Matchbook cover circa the 1940s before it became a restaurant. Courtesy of Tom Bernardin.


In 1969, as the Mafia-owned gay bar the Stonewall Inn, it returned to its uproarious origins.

Stonewall- daviesnypl1

Diana Davies photo of the Stonewall Inn taken Sep. 9, 1969 after the June-July riots had closed it down. Note on the sign that “Restaurant” had replaced “Bonnie’s.” Photo courtesy New York Public Library.

Through extensive research into the few concrete details in The Stone Wall, Darling discovered that Casal was Ruth Fuller Field, born and raised in Deerfield, Massachusetts. Field later lived with her husband in nearby Montague on the Connecticut River. Casal had written that as a young lady she had spent the summer with a married sister whose family was great friends with the neighboring Governor, who had recently lost his wife. Given the approximate time period Darling was able to identity the Governor. Through his diaries and local property deeds, she identified his friends and neighbors. Through the genealogy records of those friendly neighbors and corroborating detail in The Stone Wall Darling found the name of the sister who had visited them that summer: Ruth Fuller Field.

I easily found confirmation that the person Darling identified as using the Casal pseudonym grew up in Deerfield. These documented details about Ruth Fuller Field echoed elements in Casal’s autobiography as well.

There is the 1870 U.S. Census record filled out by Deerfield’s historian George Sheldon. Ruth W. is the youngest, at 5, of six children living with their parents Joseph and Lydia Fuller. A black “colored” male farm laborer also lived with them.

stone 1870 census

George Sheldon also wrote Deerfield’s history and genealogy in 1896. In it, Sheldon included the Joseph Fuller family, noting that he was a teacher of music as well as a farmer and that by then he resided in Mont[ague]. In addition to the children in the 1870 census, three deceased children were listed. Ruth W. is the last of the living children listed. She was born June 17, 1864. She married Feb 12, 1887 to Frank A. Field of Mont[ague].

There appear to be no street names or house numbers back then, but an online search of the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Society’s collection provided details about Ruth’s most famous uncle, George, who painted landscapes of the neighborhood where the Fuller families lived. Called the Bars, because of some residents’ use of whole tree trunks stacked up to make fences, it was several miles south of (Old) Deerfield center, just past the saw and grist mills on the Deerfield River.

I was curious about just where that might be. It sounded as if it was on or near one of my favorite drives, a back way to Old Deerfield that passes through woods and farm fields before it comes out along the Deerfield River, where I might pass an acre of lavender in bloom.

When I searched for old maps, I found a watercolor tinted lithograph online dated 1871, from an atlas of Franklin County by Frederick Beers. The mills on the river (Mill Village) were marked south of Deerfield center. The race, a small canal, diverted the river to the mills. Each building was marked with its function or the names of its residents. Clustered together on the road south of the mills were the Fuller residences!

1971 map of Deerfield closeup Fuller neighorhood_edited-1

Enlarged neighborhood detail from 1871 Deerfield map by Frederick Beers.

The J.N. Fuller family (Ruth’s) lived next to Joseph’s father Aaron and his mother Sophia, and across the road from his brother George, who became the acclaimed painter even as he struggled to make a living as a farmer.

A Mill Village Road starts across the highway from where I live. Since it was a sunny March day when I found the map, I copied it and drove down that road. I passed by odd housing developments and cornfield stubble still under melting snow. The road started to descend toward the river.

Coming around a wooded bend, I saw a sign on the right side of the road, the Bar’s Farm Stand. Pulling over into its vacant, muddy little parking lot, I stared straight ahead at an old gambreled house, large and immaculately preserved. It looked like the one in photos at the PVMA identified as belonging to George, Ruth’s uncle. Across the street were two houses, just as marked on the old map. One, a boxier, old white painted house was in the position marked as the residence of Ruth’s grandfather Aaron. Next to it, with a driveway lined with sugar maples, sap buckets hung out, was a dark-stained wooden house. It was just where the map indicates Ruth’s family would have lived.

JN Fuller home Mill Village-1

Photo by Kaymarion Raymond, March 2019

The cluster of old houses were indeed located on a plateau, higher ground above the river flood plain with woods uphill and fields around that would have been in hay or planted with potatoes. As I continued north toward Old Deerfield, the road dropped down to the river, met Stillwater Road. The one room school the Fuller children attended at that crossroads was gone. Where the mills would have been on the river was now a dairy cow pasture, but running through it was a winding shallow gully that must have been the remains of the race that diverted water to the mill wheels. If I had gone farther, I would have passed a favorite Fuller swimming hole. Already I’d gone by a man pulling on his waders, getting ready to fish in the river.

Further Reading: Justin Cascio provides a overview of the Mafia in Greenwich Village and the Stonewall Inn in his blog


__Casal, Mary.[Ruth Fuller Field.:] The Stone Wall: An Autobiography. Eyncourt Press. Chicago. 1930. Free online PDF.

__The [Boston] History Project. Improper Bostonians. Beacon Press, Boston. 1998.

__Darling, Sherry A. “A Critical Introduction to The Stone Wall: An Autobiography.” Dissertation, Tufts University. 2003. Hat tip to Anne Moore UMass archivists for accessing a copy of this for me.

__Katz, Jonathan Ned. Introduction, Mary Casal, pseudonym of Ruth Fuller Field: The Autobiography of an American Lesbian (1930).

__Darling, Sherry Ann. Bibliography, Mary Casal, pseudonym of Ruth Fuller Field: The Autobiography of an American Lesbian (1930).         includes article by Grier cited below:

__Grier, Barbara (AKA Gene Damon). “Life History of a Lesbian: Mary Casal.” Lesbian Lives: Biographies of Women From the Ladder. Editors Barbara Grier and Coletta Reid. Diana Press.1976.

__Carter, David. Stonewall: the Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2004.

__ Landmarks Preservation Commission (NYC).June 23, 2015, Designation List 483LP-2574STONEWALL INN, 51-53 Christopher Street, Manhattan. Includes pieces of the building history not included in other sources.

__Stonewall photos used here, and many more, gathered from various sources into an excellent online slideshow.

__”The 40 Songs on the Stonewall Inn Jukebox June 1969.” Just for fun if you read this far,  oldtimer nostalgia. Playlist on Spotify by Douglas Bender on Feb 18 2014.“[Motown] is not an audible sound. It’s spiritual, and it comes from the people that make it happen.” – Smokey Robinson. Record Compilation Credit: Williamson Henderson, President SVA.

__Deerfield Mass. Census of 1870. Schedule 1, Inhabitants, Page 6.

__Sheldon, George. A History of Deerfield, Massachusetts: The Times when the People by Whom it was Settled, Unsettled and Resettled. Volume 2. Press of E.A. Hall & Company, Deerfield Mass, 1896.


__Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Society. Deerfield Massachusetts online collection. Much information online about George Fuller, Ruth’s Uncle, including paintings and descriptions of their neighborhood.

__Beers, Frederick. “Deerfield.” Atlas of Franklin County. 1871.

cold brook farm

In the Field family since 1866.

  Cold Brook Farm, Montague, MA
Description ‘125 acre plantation, 6 or 8 buildings, electric water-powered generator, sawmill, cider mill, 26-room house for summer guests, dairy and beef hogs, tobacco, onions, asparagus, various garden vegetables, steamboat landing, Black family as cooks, had electricity before the town was electrified.’
Contributor Name Parzych, Joseph A.
Decade 1990-1999


Mysterious Hanging in 1676

Thomas Cole, the Oxbow

I only had the vaguest sense of the Puritan origins of Massachusetts when I moved here from out of state. In my search for Northampton’s queer past, I have become more and more astounded that from a foundation of severe social constraint this Commonwealth has moved to become a national leader in gay rights and same-sex marriage. It’s as though, even as Puritanism and capitalism seems to still prevail, the state’s rebellious radical roots surface from time to time as well.

Among the colonies of Europeans trying to plant themselves on the east coast of this continent, the Massachusetts Bay Colony had a reputation for extreme intolerance. While chartered by the King of England and under that law, the settlers were secretly religious radical separatists intent on establishing a new Eden, separate from the English Anglican Church, in which everyone belonged to a congregation based on the same ideologically “pure” Christian covenant.

Throughout much of Massachusetts, one sees remnants of this past in the frequent presence of the white spires of Congregational Churches, whose founding dates back to the origins of those towns, when the towns were not distinguished from religious congregations. The colonizers went beyond English law to form this new society by requiring every new plantation (as towns were often called) to be strictly organized around Church, State and Family. The church mandated attendance by all, whether townspeople were admitted members or not. Initially, only those men who were full Church members and property owners constituted town government, with a vote and the ability to serve in offices both in the town and in the government of the colony. Everyone had to live within extended family households headed by such patriarchs.

This congregational social form was reflected in the regulated development of each new plantation as specified in detail by the Colony’s government. The meeting house was built first in what would be the center of the community. It was used for both church and government meetings. All dwellings, in early Nonotuck/Northampton on four acre lots, were built within a half-mile walking distance of the meeting house. The commonly held land of woods, pasture and field surrounded this center.

From James Trumbull, History of Northampton. Historic Northampton’s digital map collection. The Meeting house was at the intersection of Main and King Streets. Its common was probably where punishment stocks were located and where this hanging may have taken place.

It’s hard to imagine how small, closed, and conformist early Nonotuck, as it was first called, would have been. While the founding fathers may have been as interested in establishing their own estates as in creating a religious community, they did follow the Puritan blueprint dictated by the colony. The settlers were a single congregation that literally built the town around the church.

Within it, individual behavior came under constant, but often unsuccessful, regulation. No one could settle or even visit for more than ten days without permission. From the beginning, no single persons were allowed to live alone, but had to be part of an established household monitored by a patriarch for “disorderly living.” As the plantation grew, tithingmen were appointed to regularly inspect ten to twelve neighboring households to enforce the Sabbath and the 9pm curfew. They were also on the alert for idleness and drinking.

Amongst such constraint and near constant oversight, the existence of people who we would today call gay, lesbian, queer, or transgressive in some way would have been severely challenged. Research in queer history, summarized in a recent post , demonstrates that same-sex eroticism and gender crossing existed from the very founding of the Massachusetts colonies. It is likely to have existed in Northampton as well, yet is still hidden history.

A standard source on the history of the early settlement is James Trumbull’s History of Northampton (1898), the first and largest published town history. There is only one major entry suggestive of queerness in this entire two-volume work: a mysterious hanging in 1676 in which neither the man nor his crime are named. Under the heading “First Capital Punishment in Northampton,” Trumbull quotes from the journal of Rev. Simon Bradstreet of New Haven:

“July 1676. A souldier in ye Garrison at Northampton in ye Collony, was hanged. * * *    He was condemned by a councll of warre. He was about 25 or 26. He was but a stranger in this county, prest out against the Indians.”

Trumbull found no other reference to this hanging and remarks on the lack of facts, noting that “the crime must have been of a more than usually reprehensible character.”

from James Trumbull History of Northampton

I am left to wonder if this man was hung for sodomy, one of the Colony’s capital crimes. Although only one such execution has been discovered so far in Massachusetts, historians have suggested from records for all the eastern Colonies that sodomy was disproportionately punished by death. Such executions most  often occurred during early colonization, within communities struggling to survive.

We do not know what form the execution took beyond it was a hanging. Here is an artist’s later interpretation of a hanging that took place that same year (1656) in Boston on the Commons of Ann Hibbins for witchcraft.

Northampton had been established for barely twenty years and consisted of eighty households at the time of the hanging. It had also recently suffered both internal dissension and external threats. In the past year, the settlement had undergone witchcraft and sumptuary law trials. The conflict between displaced Indigenous people and settlers had been raging throughout New England. Just four months previous to the hanging the plantation had been attacked by five hundred Native Americans who had broken through the recently erected palisade, killing five settlers and burning ten buildings. The attack on Northampton was one of the last of the southern campaign of “King Phillip’s War,” and the reason militia from outside the area had been garrisoned in the settlement.


Although the judgement was reached by a “councll of warre,” it is very likely that Northampton militia officers, other settlement officials, and its minister Rev. Stoddard were part of the council. It is quite possible that Stoddard may have read a sermon published and widely circulated two years before on the sins of Sodom. Attributed to Boston’s Rev. Danforth, it urged the death penalty for sodomy and bestiality as a way to set an example for youth and avoid God’s vengeance on the community. Was the extreme measure a way for a settlement feeling under siege to placate a deity? The very lack of facts about the hanging suggests active censorship. Was this because the capital crime committed was “filth…not fit to be known in a public way, so as to prevent further spread of the idea as a pathogen? We are left to wonder if Rev. Bradstreet simply didn’t know any more about this case or if he was one of those ministers who literally applied the injunction that it was “wickedness not to be named.”

If any early court records for Northampton exist, they still remain to be examined for similar obscuring language. Although Jonathan Edwards scholars have made a start, search needs to be done for the entire colonial period for any local examples of lesser offenses known to have prosecuted in the Massachusetts Bay Colony that covered same-sex eroticism or gender crossing such as: “unchaste or lewd behavior, unseemly practices, uncleane carriage one with another, uncivell living together, licentiousness, lascivious speech, disorderly living” and improper dress.



__Katz, Jonathan. Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A.: a Documentary History. Meridian, 1992.

__Katz, Jonathan. Gay/Lesbian Almanac: A New Documentary. Harper & Row, 1983; reprint NY: Carroll & Graf, 1994.

__[Boston] History Project. Improper Bostonians: Lesbian and Gay History from the Puritans to Playland. Beacon Press. Boston. 1998.

__ Haskins, G. L. Law and Authority in Early Massachusetts – A Study in Tradition and Design. Macdonald & Co.1960.

__Trumbull, James Russell. History of Northampton Massachusetts from its Settlement in 1654. Press of Gazette Printing Co. Northampton, Mass. Volume I, 1898. Volume II, 1902.

Available online: Volume one:;view=1up;seq=11 

Volume two:

Further reading:

__new perspective; Our Beloved Kin: Remapping a New History of the King Philip’s War by Lisa Brooks, an interactive website.

__ McLain, Guy A. Pioneer Valley: a pictorial history. Virginia Beach, Va. Donning Co. 1991. By the Director of Wood Museum of Springfield History, it has an excellent essay on the largely exploitive economic relationship of the European settlers and the local indigenous people. Readily available in local libraries.





Tea rooms for students

Includes mentions of Northampton, Smith and Mt. Holyoke Colleges

Restaurant-ing through history

College and high school students of the 20th century led many eating-out trends and customs. Not only did they help make certain foods popular, they also influenced meal habits and adopted frequent restaurant-going as part of their social lives.

Drive-ins, coffee houses, and vegetarian restaurants were some of the types of eating places heavily shaped by student patrons in the middle and later decades of the last century. But a bit earlier, in the early 20th century, the eating places of choice for many college students were tea rooms that attracted women students. Not than men students didn’t also like tea rooms. An example was The Cactus Tea Room, built in 1917 with weird carvings of university types adorning its eaves, and serving both male and female students at the University of Texas in Austin.

Although tea rooms were more likely to be found near residential colleges, high school…

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