Early African American Families

Dorchester’s African American Families During the Revolution and in the Early Republic

Dorchester has long been home to people from broad and diverse heritages. Among these are families of African descent who can be found living in Dorchester from the earliest days of the republic, and before.
Some heads of household and family names from the early days include:
–Ceasar (Caesar) Thatcher and a family of four, in 1790 and 1800. He married Anna Drew of Milton on October 13th, 1796. Their daughter Venus was born June 10th, 1783. In 1780 Mr. Thatcher, then aged 32, joined the Continental Army at Springfield as a Private, serving under Sgt. Charles Newcomb.
–Cipio (Scipio) Sutton and a family of three in 1790. Scipio had married Mary Cork in Bridgewater on April 22, 1783. She later died on August 30th, 1793.
–Prince Darby (a husbandman, e.g., skilled at the care of cattle and stock) and a family of six in 1790. He first served in the Continental Army for nine months, enlisting June 18, 1779 at Springfield, in Captain Hall’s Company, Colonel Gill’s Regiment. On July 29th, 1780 Prince Darby then enlisted with the Continental Army at Springfield for Dorchester. He served in Colonel Rufus Putnam’s 5th Regiment. He served six months until January 1781 at West Point, and Totoway, and then five more months until May 1781. In one account, Mr. Darby, formerly enslaved by Deacon Edward Pierce, was promised his freedom in exchange for military service of three years.
–Prince Robinson and a family of four in 1790. He and Anna Close of Roxbury published intentions to marry, in Roxbury, on March 29, 1789.
–Richard Dodge and a family of 5 in 1800. He had married Venus Bradee in 1796, on June 20th in Dorchester. Their intentions of marriage were published by the town clerk, Noah Clap, on April 4, 1796: “This may certify that Richard dodge & Venus Bradee both of Dorchester have had their purpose of Marriage entered with me fifteen days & that due publication thereof has been made by me.” By 1810 Mr. Dodge and his family of 6 were living in South Boston.
–Gethro (Jethro) Gardner, a farmer, with a family of four (wife, son and daughter) in 1820. The family had their share of sorrow in Cambridge at the end of the eighteenth century. In 1796, two children of the family died: one, an infant on April 27th. On May 5th, their son William died at age 2. Two years later, 1798 while living in Cambridge, their son Samuel died of consumption. His death is recorded in the the First Church in Cambridge parish records for that year. (In 1802 a Thankful Gardner who may have been related, died at age 30.) The family still lived in Cambridge through 1800. But, by 1810 the family had moved to Dorchester, and another child had been born.
These brief sketches are very preliminary information–look for more to come on these families, and please add more if you can.
We also know that a number of Patriots of the Revolution who fought at the battle of Dorchester Heights on March 4-5th 1776 had African heritage.


Additional information