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Waterbury's African Americans
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There were several African American women in Waterbury and Westbury named Phyllis (sometimes spelled Filis, Fillis or Philis).

Capt. William Hickcox's estate inventory, taken in 1737, included "Filis the negro woman," valued at £100, and "Lewis the negro man," valued at £140. They were among the first African Americans to be enslaved in Waterbury.

A "negro girl" named Fillis was mentioned in the 1755 will of Rev. John Southmayd, minister of Waterbury's Congregational church. Fillis and Sampson, Southmayd's "negro man", were promised their freedom if they were "faithful, careful and industrious" in helping to raise Southmayd's grandchildren. They would then be able to "live with any of my [Southmayd's] children they shall choose, or any other person, and if they live with any of mine, and should live to be a charge the charge to be levied out of my estate, except it should appear that those they have lived with have been considerably profitably by them.” Fillis also appeared on a bill for the medical expenses incurred by a white woman named Lydia Cosset in the winter of 1749-50. "Philas", as her name was written, cared for Lydia Cosset for one day, and her services were valued at 10 shillings, the same as the white women who also took care of Cosset.

Southmayd's successor as minister of the Congregational church, Rev. Mark Leavenworth, also owned two slaves, Phyllis and Peg. The 1790 census recorded one person enslaved in the Leavenworth household, presumably either Peg or Phyllis; the 1800 census listed two. Peg died in 1806; Phyllis died May 20, 1821, when she was 60 years old, too young to have been the same woman in Southmayd's household. Mark Leavenworth died in 1797. Phyllis and Peg became the property of his widow, Sarah. Following her death in 1808, Phyllis became the property of the Leavenworth's son-in-law, Dr. Edward Field. Phyllis appears in the 1810 census record as a slave in the Field household and as the only person still enslaved in Waterbury. The 1820 census listed her again in the Field household, but as a free person.

The minister of the Episcopal church, Rev. James Scovill, is reputed to have owned two slaves, Dick and Phillis. No historical records have yet been found about this Phillis.

The 1790 census recorded a free African American woman named Phillis as a head of household, with one other African American in her home, in Waterbury.

Phillis Freeman, age 82, died in Watertown on Aug. 2, 1838.


Related Biographies

William Hickcox's Estate Inventory
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William Hickcox's Estate Inventory - 1737
The second of three pages. Halfway down are "Lewis the negro man" valued at £140 and "Filis the negro woman" valued at £100. Neither Lewis nor Fillis appeared in the estate distribution in 1739, nor were they mentioned in Hickcox's will. Collection of the Connecticut State Library, State Archives.

Waterbury Selectmen's Bill
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Waterbury Selectmen's Bill - 1749/50
"Philas the negro of Mr. Southmayd" cared for Lydia Cosset, a Simsbury resident who became ill while in Waterbury. Collection of the Mattatuck Museum

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