For slaves, that is. I have, comparatively speaking, ample information regarding the Royalls, the Browns and quite a few folks on Tory Row. The scant about I have on enslaved Africans, on the other hand, serves only to tantalize.
BELINDA: Everything I know about her I know courtesy of Alexandra Chan and the Royall House archives. She was born in Ghana, probably around the Upper Volta. She was likely Akan. She was captured by white men around age twelve. She applied for, was granted, and then fought to actually receive a pension for her years of service. She was largely illiterate, at least in English. She was also, as previously stated, mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.
CAESAR: I don’t know where he was born; I know only where he lived and where he mostly likely died (a free black community in New England, most likely Rhode Island). I suspect he was born in Rhode Island to his already enslaved father. He was owned by Moses Brown, who freed him after becoming an abolitionist. He lived long enough to build a life with his father who, for all I know, may have been all the family he had at the time. He built a house and probably felt the pride only a person who builds a home with his own two hands could feel. He also had issues finding tools and dealing with local authorities. He seems to have remained on good terms with his old master. Meanwhile, everything I know about him I learned from the archives at the Providence Historical Society
ADAM: A cipher among ciphers. The only information I have about him is from his tombstone and even that is fading from memory. He lived and worked in Newport. Given that he is described as a “servant” he was probably specialized labor and likely worked in the house. His mistress was “Elizabeth;” I forget her last name. Given that he was given a proper tombstone and plot, he may have done as well for himself as he could have given the circumstances. He is also a testament to my fallibility as a researcher (write the damn name down next time, dumbass).
From here it’s a matter of filling in the blanks and coming up with an “identity” or “subjectivity” of sorts for these people, allowing for the fact that it will most likely be wildly inaccurate but hoping it’s at least somewhat bolstered by the information at hand. The three of them would probably spin in their graves if they knew the conclusions I was drawing. I like to think of Belinda as a spitfire (NOT a sassy black woman [tm]), demanding what’s rightfully hers as some small recompense for her interrupted childhood by the river. Caesar I like to think of as a frustrated homeowner and dutiful son, caring for his father in his old age, fighting against the contemporary equivalent of a zoning board, cursing himself for buying the wrong kind of nails. Adam . . . I have only the barest outline. It seems he died while still in slavery. He probably lived and died the way some other Newport slaves granted plots did — in a specialized employ, owned by well-meaning white people who thought they were doing him a favor. He may have been taught to read by Elizabeth. Given his name he was probably converted to Christianity (Baptist or some brand of Calvinist Protestant). Since his owner was a woman he may have been a coachman or steward of some kind (nothing too intimate). I fight against my inner romantic who roots for a romantic relationship: it’s probably wildly inaccurate at best and utterly patronizing at worst. As mentioned above, for a stranger in a strange land or a Rhode Islander born to strangers in a strange land, he probably did the best he could.
He probably was slowly dying inside.
I need to see that tombstone again.