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Rhoda Bristol

Rhoda came to Waterbury from Woodbury in 1748 as the indentured servant of Mary Wheeler. Wheeler was newly married to Waterbury farmer Stephen Judd, but died the following year, possibly from complications due to childbirth. Judd had two children from a previous marriage, and Rhoda probably helped care for them. Judd married for the third time in 1751. Three weeks after the wedding, on April 6, 1751, Judd sold Rhoda to Joseph Hall of Cheshire.

When Judd sold Rhoda, her sold her as a slave for life, which she was not. Rhoda had been born a free person. Her mother was a free Native American; her father may have been African American. In 1741, Rhoda had become the indentured servant of Woodbury’s Adam Hurd. In 1747, Hurd sold Rhoda to Mary Wheeler. Somewhere in these transfers, or perhaps when Mary Wheeler died, Rhoda’s status as a free person was ignored and lost. Decades later, her son Hampton sued for his family's freedom on the grounds that Stephen Judd had illegally sold his mother into slavery.

Rhoda lived in Joseph Hall’s household for twenty-eight years. During this time, she married an African American man named Dick Bristol. Dick may have once been enslaved by Cheshire’s Bristol family, but by the 1780s was a free man. Rhoda and Dick had four children: Hampton, Peter, Lilly and George. Because Joseph Hall believed Rhoda to be legally enslaved, her children were also considered to be slaves.

According to the state records, Joseph Hall “educated and brought up” Rhoda, and he was “at great Expence in taking Care of nursing & bringing ... up” her children, who were born in his house.

The Bristol family was broken up in 1779, when Lilly, Rhoda and Peter were sold by Joseph Hall. George was also sold, at an unknown date. Joseph Hall kept Hampton in his household. Rhoda was eventually purchased by her husband in 1784, thirty-three years after she had been forced into slavery.


In the late 1780s, the Bristols’ son Hampton, still a minor, sued Jonathan Hall, Joseph Hall’s son and executor, stating that Rhoda was born free, the daughter of a “Spanish squaw,” and that he, Hampton, was therefore also born free. The State Superior Court ruled in favor of Hall and against Hampton’s freedom. Hampton by now had been sold to a man named Robert Martin; when Martin died, Hampton sued Robert Martin’s executors for assault, describing that he had been beaten and then imprisoned for several months, and again stated that he was born free. This second suit resulted in the jury declaring Hampton free.

Following Hampton’s success, Dick Bristol sued Jonathan Hall for illegally selling Rhoda’s children into slavery. The parties involved, Jonathan Hall, Elam and Abigail Cook, and Samuel and Phebe Talmadge, all living in Cheshire, and David Hall, living in Essex, Vermont, petitioned the Connecticut General Assembly to intervene. The Assembly agreed to determine whether or not Rhoda and her children had been born free, thereby saving the plaintiffs from endless litigation and financial ruin.

The State General Assembly appointed a Committee of three men, Stephen Mix Mitchell, Jonathan Ingersol and Asher Miller, to determine if Rhoda had indeed been born free. In 1791, the Committee attempted to appoint legal guardians for the children who were still minors, but the appointees refused to accept the responsibility, which delayed the investigation for a year.

Finally, in the spring of 1793, the Committee reported to the General Assembly that Rhoda and all her children were born free. The “last and intermediate” purchasers were awarded financial compensation from each person or estate from which they purchased Rhoda and her children. The petitioners were awarded £25 and all related court costs from Thomas Fenn, the administrator for the estate of Stephen Judd.

The committee did not recommend any financial compensation for the Bristols. The committee specifically stated that Dick Bristol was not to be awarded any damages, because the man he purchased Rhoda from was not involved in the petition. There was no discussion of any financial compensation to be given to Rhoda and her children for the decades of labor they had performed.

Seven years later, the 1800 census reported that Dick Bristol lived alone in Cheshire. He died sometime after 1810.

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