Early Black Cambridge Taxpayers, 1795–1825

by Leslie Brunetta for the Cambridge Black History Project

(To cite or for permissions to reuse, please contact the Cambridge Black History Project.)

EARLY TAX RECORDS

at first glance are just a series of names & numbers

Early tax records—at first glance just a series of names and numbers—can provide an invaluable look at the Black Cambridge population in the early years of the republic.

Men aged 16 and older were required to pay a poll tax; they and women were also taxed on real estate they owned as well as on certain other kinds of property. These tax records therefore allow us to see the names of all adult men residing in Cambridge each year. Given that the census took place only every 10 years and we don’t have the kind of Cambridge street directories preserved since the 1840s for these early years, these tax records allow us to fill in years between censuses and entries in church and other records of births, marriages, and deaths.

However, the tax records do not—with rare exceptions—indicate a taxpayer’s color, which means that, while we do have a list of the men in Cambridge each year, we cannot know which of these men were of African descent by looking at tax records alone. The men (and one woman) in the following notes have been

identified as Black through cross-referencing the tax lists with vital records, town histories, memoirs, and newspaper articles that did mention color. It’s possible there are still more Black people in this set of tax records who have not yet been identified.

This spreadsheet allows one to see a list of the people of African descent resident and paying taxes in Cambridge in the years 1795 to 1825. A maroon cell indicates a paid poll tax, and an orange cell indicates paid real estate tax in addition to paid poll tax (although there are a few cases of people resident for years recorded in isolated years as paying real estate tax but not poll tax; I don’t have an explanation for this). (NRES = nonresident paying a real estate tax.) This spreadsheet also allows one to see at a glance the length of each person’s residence in Cambridge during these years, plus which people lived in Cambridge at the same time: for example, by looking at 1797, we can see that nine Black men were assessed for taxes that year; in 1815, the beginning of a financial panic following the end of the War of 1812, only two were—the well-established businessmen Camaralzaman Gould and Charles Lenox.

There are still many things that these tax records cannot tell us: they tell us nothing about the number of women living in Cambridge, nor the number of children, and therefore nothing (with one exception) about women and children of African descent. They don’t tell us who was married and who wasn’t, who was related to whom, a person’s age, or where in Cambridge they lived.

I’ve therefore relied on other records to write a short biography for each Black taxpayer, found below. They appear alphabetically. Birth and death dates are given, as are the years the person was assessed for taxes. The person’s approximate age at the time they first appear in this set of Cambridge tax records is also given.

A significant number of these men are documented as having taken part in community and civil rights organizations and activities, often with each other.

As the lives of more early Black Cantabrigians are uncovered, we see a community of people who contributed to the building of Cambridge and Cambridge-area culture not only physically, but also morally, philosophically, politically, and also—as seen through tax records—financially.

TAXPAYERS:

Joseph Ball (c. 1760-1837) (age: 35) (taxed 1795-1799): This may be Joseph Ball, member of the African Society, and father of Joseph T. Ball (early member of Church of Latter Day Saints) and abolitionists Lucy M. and Martha V. Ball. Joseph Ball was in the Boston area in 1796, when the African Society was founded.

True Butler (c. 1761-1832) (age: 48) (taxed 1809): Little is known about him. Married Rosannah Miller in Boston in 1831. Died age 71 in Boston in 1832. In 1794, signed a receipt in Andover for payment for “one year and one week’s service and all demands to this day” from Samuel Abbot. From 1795 into 1807, signed multiple receipts in Beverly for payments and advances from Joseph Lee. In March 1807, signed in Boston for advance from Lee, and signed no further receipts in Lee’s account book.

Violet Casimere (?-?) (age: ?) (taxed 1810-1812): (No poll tax because women did not pay this tax.) Only African-descended woman known to have paid taxes in Cambridge during this period. As Violet Gill, married Casimir Zephron in 1801. Known as both Violet Zephron and Violet Casimir. Had a daughter, Christina. Took in laundry at Peter Waters’s house in Harvard Square. Later owned property and lived at today’s 348-350 Broadway.

Scipio Dalton (c. 1750-1822) (age: 70) (taxed 1820-1821): Well-documented abolitionist. Member of the African Society and African Lodge. Previously owned property on the north slope of Beacon Hill. Owned property and lived at today’s 5 West St.

Henry (sometimes Harry) Felstead (sometimes Felston) (?-1825) (age: ?) (taxed 1814, 1816, 1820-1823): Little is known about him. Married Affa Nichols in Cambridge in 1817. Had children in Cambridge; some children died in Cambridge. Son Samuel-Isaac baptized at King’s Chapel in Boston in 1824. Died in Boston in 1825.

Cato Freeman (?-?) (age: ?) (taxed 1797-1798): There appears to have been more than one Cato Freeman in Massachusetts during this time period. This taxpayer is most likely Cato Freeman of Cambridge who married Lucy Freeman in Medford in 1796. According to the 1800 Boston Taking Records, a Cato Freeman was living in Boston with or next to someone named Lewis and someone named Bassett, which could be a Cambridge connection. Cato Freeman of Cambridge served in the Revolutionary War.

Cato Foster (?-?) (age: ?) (taxed 1798): There appears to have been more than one Cato Foster in Massachusetts during this time period, and it is not known yet which this taxpayer is. However, in 1815, “Catro, formerly servant of Bosinger Foster,” died in Cambridge at age 51. Bossenger Foster was Andrew Craigie, Jr.’s brother-in-law and business partner.

Cato Foster (later appearance) (?-?) (age: ?) (taxed 1819): Unclear which Cato Foster this is or whether record is a mistake for another man named Cato.

Neptune Frost (c. 1753-?) (age: 42) (taxed 1795-1804): Previously enslaved by Gideon Frost of Cambridge. Revolutionary War veteran. Married Bathsheba Locke in Lexington in 1787. In 1798 tax records, he and Peter Waters listed as living on Gideon Frost’s property. Bathsheba Locke Frost died in Cambridge 1808.

Jethro Gardner (c. 1748-1838) (age: 54) (taxed 1802-1803): Several of his children died in Cambridge in the 1790s. Appears as head of household of three in Cambridge 1800 census. Died in 1838 in Dorchester. (Not to be confused with white Jethro Gardner, born in Nantucket, who also lived in Cambridge.)

Thomas Gibbs (?-?) (age: ?) (taxed 1802-1803): Lived in the part of Cambridge now Brighton. Married Rose Breck in Cambridge in 1790. Probably a Revolutionary War veteran.

Camaralzaman Gould (c.1763-1842) (age: 36) (taxed 1809-1825): Soapmaker. Grew up on South Shore; parents Richard and Elizabeth. Revolutionary War veteran. Well-known senior community member, often leading important ceremonies. In the early 1800s, owned two small houses on Beacon Hill, where he was a shoemaker. First wife, Charlotte, buried in Lenox family grave in Old Burial Ground. Father of Charlotte, who married Lewis Laws. Second wife Kezia Hill descendent of Massasoit; she married into the Revaleon family after Camaralzaman’s death in 1842. Gould owned property and lived at today’s 372 Broadway, 348-350 Broadway (also known as 3 West Place), and 5 West St.

Scipio (Sip, Cip) Hemenway (1761-1827) (age: 35) (taxed 1796-1797): Born in Worcester in 1761, son of Primus and Jean (Jane). Married Rose Brinson there in 1783. In 1801, owned property on the north side of Boston’s Beacon Hill. Married Lucy Boston Fagins in Peterborough, NH, in 1806; they had children in Keene, NH. Died at the Boston House of Industry, 1827.

Jack (?-1807) (age: ?) (taxed 1805-1806): No surname or age, died in Cambridge, March 1807. It is striking in these tax records that he is identified as “a negro” and appears by first name and no last name, especially given he appears a decade after slavery was ruled unconstitutional in Massachusetts.

John Jackson (?-?) (age: ?) (taxed 1804): This may be the John Jackson who died in Cambridge in 1807, aged 52. A Black John Jackson served in the Revolutionary War, enlisting from Holliston; no confirmation that this is the same man. There is evidence of multiple Black John Jacksons living in Boston in the late 1700s.

Charles Lenox (c.1781-1852) (age: 30) (taxed 1811-1825): Cambridge’s Black financier.

John Levi (Levy) (1797-1871) (age: 26) (taxed 1823-1824): Born in Nevis. Mariner, carpenter, barber, abolitionist, author. Married Sophia Lewis in 1822. Lived most of his career in Lowell and Lawrence.

Adam Lewis (c.1794-?) (age: 22) (taxed 1816-1825): First of the well-known Lewis family to move to Cambridge. Follow the “Lewis family” link to find information on all the Lewis family members mentioned here.

Enoch Lewis (c.1801-1858) (age: 18) (taxed 1819, 1823, 1825): Adam’s brother.

Joseph Lewis (c. 1796-1852) (age: 28) (taxed 1824): Adam’s brother.

Mark Lewis (c.1736-1808) (age: 60) (taxed 1796-1807): See Maycock and Sullivan, Building Old Cambridgefor more information. May have been enslaved earlier by Judge Joseph Lee. Married to Juno. 1798 tax records have him living on Andrew Craigie’s property. Owned property on Sparks St.

Peter Lewis (1807-1845) (age: 16) (taxed 1823-1825): Adam’s brother.

Samuel Lewis (c. 1792-1852) (age: 33) (taxed 1825): Adam’s brother.

Walker Lewis (c.1798-1856) (age: 25) (taxed 1823-1825): Adam’s brother.

John Maranda (Miranda, Mirander, Moralda) (?-?) (age: ?) (taxed 1819-1823): Anthony (Tony) and Cuba Vassall’s daughter Flora married Bristol Miranday. This may be John, their son mentioned in each of their probate records. John, son of Bristol and Flora Maranday, was baptized at Boston’s King’s Chapel in 1804 with his two sisters, Susannah and Margaret. The family lived and owned property in Charlestown. Anthony’s property was still in the family after Anthony’s death, so John may have lived there.

Cato Rawson (?-?) (age: ?) (taxed 1796, 1799-1808): Probably the Cato Rawson engaged for Braintree for Continental service in 1781. Member of the African Society. Worked as a righthand man for both Andrew Craigie and Bossenger Foster.

Domingo (Mingo, Mungo) Russell (1735-1805) (age: 62) (taxed 1797-1799, 1803, 1805): In 1787, signed petition with Prince Hall and others to General Court asking for help to return to Africa because, although the new Massachusetts constitution had led to them being “lately in some measure delivered…But we yet find ourselves in many aspects in very disagreeable and disadvantageous circumstances, most of which must attend us so long as we and our children live in America.”  Documented to have come into Cambridge with his wife, Rhoda, from Lincoln in 1791; it is therefore likely he was previously enslaved by Chambers Russell and his heirs, and a Mingo does appear in Chambers Russell’s 1767 probate inventory. Worked in Harvard’s kitchen. Family members died in Cambridge. Died in Cambridge in 1805, aged 70.

Benjamin Skinner (?-?) (age: ?) (taxed 1819-1822): No information has been found on him except that he appears in the 1820 Cambridge census between Asahel Stearns and Jacob Wyeth heading a household of “free colored persons,” one male and one female, both aged from 26 to under 45.

Cato Stone (?-?) (age: ?) (taxed 1796-1797): No information. He may be the Cato Stone who married Tamuz or Tamzon Tarrant in Beverly in 1771.

Anthony (Tony) Vassall (c. 1713-1811) (age: 82) (taxed 1795-1811; estate taxed after his death): Father of the well-documented family enslaved by the Royall and Vassal families and later activists for their own and community rights.

Darby Vassall (1769-1861) (taxed as nonresident 1821-1825, presumably for Anthony Vassall’s estate): Anthony Vassall’s son. Darby and his brother Cyrus members of the African Society. Well-known and -documented abolitionist. Lived in Boston during these years.

Peter Waters (?-?) (age: ?) (taxed 1795-1810): In March 1790, Caleb Gannett, Harvard College steward, notified the Cambridge selectmen that he had lodging in his house and in employment at the college Waters, “a blackman, born in Maryland, served in the American Army in the late war, afterwards lived in Newton, and from thence came into the subscriber’s employment March 15th, 1789.” Waters appears in earlier Newton tax records. Married Violet Locke in Newton in February 1790. Worked in the Harvard kitchens for many years. In 1798, listed as occupying John Foxcroft’s property and also listed with Neptune Frost as occupying Gideon Frost’s property. Later owned property at today’s 12 Appian Way and 1531 Mass Ave.

Caesar Wentworth (?-?) (age: ?) (taxed 1796): Likely previously enslaved by a branch of New Hampshire’s prominent Wentworth family; sources point to possibility that he was enslaved by the family of Colonel John Wentworth and John Wentworth, Jr., delegate to the Continental Congress, of Somersworth, NH. Married Mary Furnald Lock of Lexington in Lexington in 1795. Daughter Violet Sophia born in Cambridge 1797. By 1800, living in Portsmouth, NH, and still there in 1810. More research is needed, but there is a real possibility he was the Caesar Wentworth who was cook on the USS Scorpion of the Chesapeake Bay Flotilla in 1814.

A Note on Sources:

The Cambridge Room of the Cambridge Public Library houses bound copies of the Assessor’s Records of valuations and taxpayers.

Sources for biographical notes include vital records found through Ancestry.com, census records, newspapers, histories of Cambridge, and various memoirs. If you would like more information on individual taxpayers or sources, please write me at info@cambridgeblackhistoryproject.org.

Thanks to Alyssa Pacy of the Cambridge Room for research help.

For more information about Black Cambridge during these years:

Mapping Black Cambridge, 1790-1820, by Joan Brunetta and Eve Loftus

The Black Population of Cambridge by Census Year, 1790–2020, compiled by Alyssa Pacy