Tobiah was a patriot. With the political principles
of his master, and so many others of the
residents of that tory neighborhood, he had
no sympathy. He had, indeed, no very precise idea
of the issues involved in the war. Books and papers
afforded him but scant information, for he had little
ability or leisure for reading. But he was skillful in
learning from others. He listened attentively to the
conversation of persons who came to the inn, to the
stories of soldiers that had been in the army, and even
what was said by the tories themselves in their denunciations
of the war and of all who were engaged in it.
It was enough that it was a struggle for freedom.
Liberty was to Tobiah a word of transcendent import,
and he could not hesitate, when this was the question
in dispute, on which side to bestow his sympathy.
The same thing was true, as a general rule, with
the colored people throughout the colonies. Though
slavery existed under the colonial laws, yet it was of
a far milder type than that which was maintained in
the West Indies. The slave trade was carried on in
English ships, and under the authority and patronage
of the British crown. When the colonies had attempted
to abolish the infamous traffic, their enactments
were overruled and annulled by the acts of Parliament.
It was one of the most stinging charges
hurled against King George III., in the first draft of
the Declaration of Independence, that he had thus
protected the slave trade; and though the paragraph
was finally stricken out of that immortal document before
it was adopted, yet everybody knew it was true.
Said Jefferson, its author,â€“
For the most trifling reasons, and sometimes for
no conceivable reason at all, his majesty had rejected
laws of the most salutary tendency. The abolition of
domestic slavery is the great subject of desire in those
colonies, where it was, unhappily, introduced in their
infant state. But previous to the enfranchisement of
the slaves we have, it is necessary to exclude all importations
from Africa. Yet our repeated attempts to
effect this by prohibitions, and by imposing duties
which might amount to prohibition, have been hitherto
defeated by his majesty's negative; thus preferring
the immediate advantages of a few British corsairs
to the lasting interests of the American states, and to
the rights of human nature, deeply wounded by this
Not only, therefore, on general grounds of political
right, but also as specially connected with the condition
of their own race, were the colored people of that
day friends to the cause of Independence. The very
leader of the mob that assailed the British troops at
the time of the famous Boston Massacre, and the first
that was shot down by them, was Crispus Attucks,
who, twenty years before, had been advertised in the
Boston Gazette as a runaway slave, with a reward of
ten pounds offered for his return to his master. At
the battle of Bunker Hill, one of the most memorable
events was the shooting of Major Pitcairn, of the British
army, by the colored soldier, Peter Salem, a fact
appropriately commemorated by Colonel Trumbull
in his celebrated painting of that battle.
The major, said an eye-witness of the affair,
passed the storm of our fire without, and had
mounted the redoubt, when, waving his sword, he
commanded, in a loud voice, the "rebels" to surrender.
His sudden appearance and his commanding air
at first startled the men immediately before him.
They neither answered nor fired, probably not being
exactly certain what was next to be done. At this
critical moment, a negro soldier stepped forward, and
aiming his musket directly at the major's bosom, blew
Another event in which a negro bore a conspicuous
part was the capture of the British General Prescott,
at Newport, in 1777.
The exploit, says Livermore,
commended at the time, as its results
were highly important, and Colonel Barton very
properly received from Congress the compliment of a
sword for ingenuity and bravery. It seems, however,
that it took more than one head to execute the undertaking.
They landed about five miles from Newport, and
three-quarters of a mile from the house, which they
approached cautiously, avoiding the main guard,
which was at some distance. The colonel went foremost,
with a stout, active negro close behind him, and
another at a small distance; the rest followed so as to
be near, but not seen.
A single sentinel at the door saw and hailed the
colonel; he answered by exclaiming against, and inquiring
for, rebel prisoners, but kept slowly advancing.
The sentinel again challenged him, and required
the countersign. He said he had not the countersign,
but amused the sentry by talking about rebel prisoners,
and still advancing till he came within reach of
the bayonet, which, he presenting, the colonel suddenly
struck aside, and seized him. He was immediately
secured, and ordered to be silent on pain of
death. Meanwhile, the rest of the men surrounding
the house, the negro, with his head, at the second
stroke, forced a passage into it, and then into the landlord's
apartment. The landlord at first refused to
give the necessary intelligence, but on the prospect of
present death, he pointed to the general's chamber,
which being instantly opened by the negro's head, the
colonel, calling the general by name, told him he was
a prisoner. â€“ Moore's Diary.
These events, and many others in which colored
men showed their bravery and fidelity to the cause of
the colonies, were much talked of, at the time,
throughout the country, and Tobiah was very proud
of them. The battle of Bunker Hill particularly excited
his most intense enthusiasm. Though it was
apparently a defeat for the patriot troops, yet in its effects
â€“ inspiring courage and hope â€“ it was equivalent
to a victory. That the raw Yankee troops should
dare to meet the veteran soldiers of Britain, â€“ the veritable
red-coats; â€“ should stand their fire and return
it with such deadly effect, and, but for the failure of
their ammunition, should have had the certainty of
victory, was too much almost for belief. Tobiah
loved to repeat the story, with such embellishments
as his own fervid imagination suggested. Especially
did he never omit to mention the brave deed of Peter
Up be come, said he,
dat Major Pitcairn,
struttin' like Peacock, wid his red coat and top-boots,
and sword a wavin' over his head. 'Peared as if he
tought dey'd all cut an' run when dey seed him. But
dey didn't, by no means. Oh, no! Peter, he jess
loaded his gun, an' he up wid it, and says he, 'Ho,
massa major! git down dar; yer no wanted inside ob
dis.' Den he let fly â€“ bang! an' he tumble right off
de fort, and never speak. Golly! don't I wish I'd
been dere to see it!
Tobiah's patriotism at last won for him the boon
which, more than all things else, he craved - his
freedom. I have before spoken of the law which authorized
the towns to permit the emancipation of
slaves on condition of their enlistment into the army.
In pursuance of this law, we find, in the records of
Derby, that at a town meeting, held January 8, 1781,
voted that the authority and selectmen be impowered
and directed to give certificates to Captain
Daniel Holbrook and Captain John Wooster to free
and emancipate their servants, â€“ negro men, â€“ on the
condition that the said negro men enlist into the state
regiment, to be raised for the defense of this state, for
the term of one year. It is not known whether
Tobiah continued in the service longer than the term
specified, but as the war was now drawing to a close,
the presumption is, that he did not. Still he had
served long enough to win his own liberty, and enroll
his humble name in the list of those brave men, who,
by their heroic endurance as well as active efforts,
achieved, with the divine blessing, the liberty of their
From a considerable period before the Revolution
there has prevailed among the negroes a singular custom,
which may not improperly be mentioned here.
It is that of choosing annually, from among themselves,
a governor of Connecticut.
Election Day, so called, not because
and other officials are then voted for by the people,
but because the result of their choice is then declared,
and the persons chosen inducted into office, thus making
the election complete, has always been a political
holiday in this state. Formerly it was celebrated with
more eclat than at present. The military paraded,
gentlemen of distinction â€“ magistrates, lawyers, clergymen
and others â€“ marched in procession to attend
divine service, and hear the election sermon, after
which a sumptuous dinner was partaken of, and other
festivities continued through the day and evening.
All over the state similar rejoicings were indulged in,
and that family must be very poor in purse and patriotism
who had not a least their
Such a day, of course would be one of high account
among the colored people. Those who lived within
any moderate distance of the capital were sure to be
there, arrayed in their very best. Not a few, from
the more distant parts, came also as servants in attendance
upon their masters. It followed, therefore, that
the colored people of the state were well represented
on these occasions, and in imitation of their superiors,
they, too, elected a governor, who was uniformly
treated with great attention, and always addressed by
At the election in May, 1776, Governor Cuff, who
had held his office ten years, resigned, and a successor
was appointed. This event was formally announced
to the public in the following proclamation:â€“
Hartford, May 11, 1776.
I Governor Cuff of the Niegro's in the province of
Connecticut do resign my Govermentship to John Anderson
Niegor man to Governor Skene.
And I hope that you will obeye him as you have
Done me for this ten year's past when Colonel Willis'
Niegor Dayed I was the next. But being weak and
unfit for that office do Resine the said Governmentshipe
to John Anderson.
I: John Anderson having the Honour to be appointed
Governor over you I will do my utmost endevere
to serve you in Every Respect and I hope you
will obey me accordingly.
John Anderson, Governor
over the Niegors in Connecticut.
- The late Governor Cuff, Hartford.
- Peter Wadsworth,
- Pomp Willis,
- John Jones,
It will hardly be believed that this farcical affair
awakened great alarm among the white authorities.
The Governor Skene whose servant succeeded to the
sable gubernatorial dignity was a tory who had been
in command of the forts at Ticonderoga and Crown
Point at the time of their capture by Colonel Ethan
Allen, and was now a prisoner on parole at Hartford.
It was feared that this choice of his servant had
been instigated by him with the design of bringing
the negroes of the colony under the influence of the
tory party. It was a critical time in public affairs,
and the people were jealous and alarmed at the rustling
of every leaf. Skene denied having had anything
to do with the appointment, and after a rigid examination
of both him and the blacks, it was concluded
that there was no cause for alarm. Still, there was
so much apprehension of possible evil that neither the
new governor nor any of the suspected tory negroes
were permitted to pay anything for the expenses of the
election. A dance and entertainment were held at the
tavern at a cost of fifty shillings, which was paid by
Majors French and Dermet.
In consequence, doubtless, of the impossibility of
assembling from all parts of the state at the capital,
the practice or choosing a governor for the whole commonwealth
gradually ceased, and different localities
chose each such a dignitary for itself. In Derby and
the vicinity, this has continued to the present time.
Tobiah was early elevated to this high office, and bore
its honors and responsibilities with all becoming dignity.
Of late years, we are informed, the election has
generally been bestowed by rotation. The occasion
is celebrated by a military parade, a procession, horseback
and on foot, and music, ending with a supper
and dancing. And though those engaged in it have
been often laughed at by their more fortunate fellow-citizens
of a lighter hue, it may at least be truly said
that the day has rarely been disgraced by fighting or
drunkenness. While never a St. Patrick's Day nor a
Fourth of July passes without broken heads and
bloody noses, the blacks, who have been despised as
inferior to Saxon and Celt, have enjoyed their harmless
fun without disturbing the peace, or sending new
recruits to the almshouse or penitentiary.
- Jefferson's Works, vol. i. p. 135.
- Livermore's Historical Researches, p. 119.
- Hist. Res p 143.
- Hinman's Historical Collections, pp. 31-33.