African-American Land Owners in 18th c. Simsbury

The Connecticut Historical Society’s website is Please visit the site to learn more about us! (Due to issues beyond our control the site is not currently listed with Google. )

And now back to our regularly scheduled blogging…

One of the collections I cataloged this week is the Joshua Holcomb papers. Holcomb was a landowner in Simsbury, Connecticut. His papers include farming accounts, some records about the local militia, estate inventories, and a number of property deeds. It was among the deeds that I found one for land sold to Holcomb by “London Negro.” Yes, a free, African-American man owned land in Simsbury, Connecticut in 1759.

Property deed (front), Joshua Holcomb papers, 1759-1816, Ms 41605. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

London Negro sold five acres of land in the Turkey Hills Society to Joshua Holcomb for £ 66.  The deed is a standard printed form, with language still in use today. The location of the land is handwritten, detailing the adjacent parcels and landowners.

An interesting addition to this deed is a handwritten mortgage. I will admit I have not had enough time yet to study this and completely understand what is happening. It appears, though, that London Negro is paying Joshua Holcomb for something over the course of the next three years.

Property deed (back), Joshua Holcomb papers, 1759-1816, Ms 41605. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

According to Mary L. Nason, who published African-Americans in Simsbury, 1725-1925, there were two Londons in the region who owned property. They were “London [Wallis], ‘negro lately slave to Isaac Owen of Windsor, deceased, now a free negro’ and a London Freebody, ‘negro of Capt. Nathaniel Holcomb and wife.'” Nason states that London Wallis served Mrs. Mary Griffin, but was able to build a home for his family in Tariffville and eventually buy the land. By the late 1750s he was free, and able to purchase more land. London Freebody lived near Simsbury’s Barn Door Hills but was not very successful in his business dealings. Freebody ended up in debtors prison. There were too many obstacles for Wallis and Freeman in the business world and, according to Nason, neither succeeded. Eventually both men lost their property (Nason, 5).

The deed, and the rest of the collection, are open for research. Please visit!


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