Location: 26 Meeting House Lane, Madison, Connecticut
We believe Lettuce Bailey was born in 1765, given that she was 55 years old when she died in 1820. We are not sure where she was born, but a late 18th century account from Rev. James Dana suggests it could have been on the West Coast of Africa. In a sermon delivered after the death of Rev. Jonathan Todd, minister of the First Congregational Church in what is now Madison, Rev. Dana shares a story about a ship washing ashore near town. “From the wreck several Africans, directly from Guinea, emerged,” he wrote. “I never knew all the circumstances, but they came into his hands.” At the very least, we know that Lettuce’s mother, Tamar, was on that ship, because Rev. Dana describes how Rev. Todd gave the Africans who “came into his hands” names from scripture, such as “Cush, Tamar, and the like.”
We know virtually nothing about Lettuce’s childhood, although again Rev. Dana’s sermon may provide a clue. After taking in the Africans from the ship that had been “cast ashore,” Rev. Todd “made pets of them all,” Rev. Dana wrote, adding that Rev. Todd “had diverse schemes” for the “elevation” of those who had “come into his hands,” and he “set about to educate them.”
The first record we have in which Lettuce is mentioned by name appears in Rev. Todd’s will, written on his deathbed in 1791, when Lettuce would have been 26 years old. By then she was the mother of three children – Emma, Sukey, and Peleg. She, her mother, Tamar, and the children were among the nine individuals mentioned as property in Rev. Todd’s will. All are listed without surnames, and Lettuce and Tamar are described as “servant maids.” Writing that he had “long been convinced … that the enslaving of the Africans brought from Africa, or those born in this country, is unjust, and it is one of the sins of the land,” Rev. Todd freed Lettuce, Tamar, Sukey, Peleg, and Emma. He also promised Lettuce and Tamar land and a cow for their use. However, these provisions, including their freedom, were entirely conditional: If they failed to take care of themselves, they would “fall under the discretion of [Rev. Todd’s] heirs.”
Apparently that is what happened, because in relatively short order Lettuce and Tamar seem to have reverted to the property of Rev. Todd’s heir, his nephew, also named Jonathan Todd. There is no record of Lettuce or Tamar ever holding property or owning a cow.
A year later, in 1792, a new Connecticut law was enacted saying that, provided an enslaved man or woman wished to be freed, was between the ages of 25 and 45, and could pass a test indicating he or she was physically healthy, freedom could be granted without condition. Lettuce took the opportunity. As indicated in a November 25, 1793, “Letter of Emancipation” from Jonathan Todd (her late owner’s nephew), Lettuce met those conditions and she was emancipated for a second time. This time it held.
Although she had finally gained her freedom, records suggest Lettuce’s remaining years were hardly carefree. In the First Congregational Church archives, there is a listing for the death of an unnamed infant child of Lettuce in 1794. There is also a listing for the death of Tamar in 1810. Both Tamar and the child of Lettuce are listed under the “No Surname” category, along with other people who are described as “negro” or “black.”
For the decade starting in 1810, perhaps coinciding with the death of her mother, there are also multiple entries for a Lettuce Bailey in the records for the Guilford almshouse. (This is the first time a surname is listed for Lettuce; there is also a Cesar Bailey mentioned in the almshouse records, and given that Lettuce’s death record indicates she was married to a Cesar Bailey, we believe he was her husband). At the time, almshouses were places where people of limited means would go to live and work when they couldn’t afford to house, feed, and clothe themselves or their children. Records suggest that while Lettuce was living in the almshouse, she may have worked as a weaver.
Almshouse records also suggest that Lettuce had to “bind out” her children during the decade between 1810 and her death in 1820. In the 19th century, children whose parents could not afford to take care of them were often bound out, with the children effectively serving as indentured servants for a specified period of time. Almshouse records list the binding out of Lettuce’s daughter “R.” and also refer to the binding out of two unnamed children of Lettuce.
These almshouse records, along with a few other records found just before and after Lettuce’s death, lead us to draw a few tentative conclusions. We believe Lettuce may have had as many as seven children. There were Sukey, Peleg, and Emma, the three listed in Rev. Todd’s 1791 will; the infant who died in 1794 and was listed in the church records; and the three mentioned in the almshouse records: a daughter of Lettuce named “R.” and two young men by the last name of Bailey who were bound out.
No children are mentioned in her death record. All that is recorded on a handwritten copy of Guilford’s Birth, Marriage, and Death records is the following: On page 538, the person listed second from the bottom is “Lettuce Bailey – a negro wife of Cesar – 55 – Dec 4th 1820.”
Although Lettuce’s personal recorded history may have ended there, we believe her story continued in her children. On May 15, 1820, just a few months before Lettuce’s death, an advertisement was posted by a Samuel Johnson in New Haven’s Connecticut Journal indicating he was searching for a runaway “negro boy named Frederic Baily” [sic]. Two years later, a “Frederic Bailey” [sic] shows up in church records in Saybrook, where he was married to a woman named Clary Exiter by Rev. Frederick Hotchkiss, minister of the First Church of Saybrook and a fervent abolitionist.
The second bound out Bailey child seems to appear in some records a few years later. On December 26, 1825, a letter was sent to the selectmen of Guilford about “the terms of the indenture binding African-American boy Eli Bailey to Amos Morris of East Haven.” According to the letter, an Eli Bailey had failed to return to his indenture binding after visiting friends in Guilford, but Amos Morris had died and his heirs said they had no further claim on the young man. A year later, an “Ely Bailey” [sic], listed as a resident of East Haven, shows up in the records of the First Church of Saybrook, where the same Rev. Hotchkiss officiated in a marriage to Sally Carter of Saybrook. Five years after that, an “Ely” Bailey, now from Guilford, was back in the church, where Rev. Hotchkiss officiated in his marriage to Mary Ann Robison of Hartford. (It should be noted that there was a prominent, free black family named Robinson – or Robison? – in Saybrook at the time.)
This peek we have had into the lives of the two Bailey sons indicates that, at least at the outset, they seem to have lived their lives with agency and a commitment to freedom and self-determination. We hope that arc continued and wish their mother could have lived to see it. More information