By Hana Greif
Walking along the bustling Guilford Green — Cilantros and the adorable Village Chocolatier to the left, grass and trees intermingled on the right — one would hardly believe that, centuries ago, this little town square was a stage for slavery. Many do not know. Stories of the enslaved people who lived in Guilford have been lost over the hundreds of years. During their routine walks around our little town, residents don’t think about slavery — don’t even let it cross their consumed minds — yet it was real. During the eighteenth and nineteenth century, slavery diminished the opportunities and happiness of enslaved people throughout Guilford. One such person was a woman named Phillis. Phillis, who lived from circa 1710 to 1772, was owned by David and Ruth Naughty of Guilford for approximately forty-four years (Burgis). Throughout her tragic life, she was dehumanized, mistreated, untrusted, and devalued by the economics of slavery. Yet, she showed great agency, and although this agency didn’t directly reward her, in the end, it shaped the lives of those who lived later.
Phillis, who was born circa 1710, of African descent, was imported by ship on September 3, 1728. Before her arrival in Massachusetts, she was purchased from Provence — a Central American island. She was imported by Captain Peter King for David Naughty (Hall 2), a merchant of Guilford (Hoadley 17). There, she was enslaved until her death in 1772 (Burgis). At the home of David Naughty and his wife Ruth, Phillis worked as a spinner and a cook. It is likely that she had other jobs at the house, but the spinning wheels and cooking utensils left to her in Ruth Naughty’s will confirm that these were her two main occupations (Probate Court 3).
Along with Phillis, David Naughty bought a male slave named Montross. Montross was imported on a different ship by Captain Waterhouse (Hall 2). Although the amount of money that Phillis and Montross were purchased for is unknown, an inventory of David Naughty lists the two as being worth £190. This was less than the cost of 675 gallons of rum and thirty-six gallons of molasses, which were worth £197. However, £190 was more than the vast majority of the item’s economic values. Although there were exceptions, an enslaved person was one of the most valuable possessions that someone living in this time would own, not that the price assigned to them ever actually fit their worth as humans (Probate Court 14). These different prices show both the economics and dehumanization involved in slavery. Not only does this information reveal how much money an enslaved person was worth to slave owners, it also reveals how slaveowners objectified the people that they owned. A price being assigned to a human, which meant to describe their value, dehumanized a life. The value of a person is based on so many aspects and certainly cannot be defined by an amount of money, if it can even be defined at all.
In addition to being described by a number, Phillis was also denied the right to a name and considered a possession. In many old documents, the way that the enslaved are listed easily portrays dehumanization. For example, in these documents enslaved people are virtually never given last names, and often given no names at all (Burgis). A name is a basic human right, something that any person can take pride in as their own. When a name is taken away, people lose their originality. Also, the enslaved are listed with common objects that are, or should be, worth much less than a person. Some of these objects include fish, from the Massachusetts Historical Society importation list (Hall 3), and yarn, molasses, saddles, and kettles, from the Inventory of David Naughty’s Estate (Probate Court 14). Being listed with these objects suggests that the lives of enslaved people were worth approximately the same amount as, or less than, pots and pans to slaveowners.
In 1729, Phillis and Montross had their first child, a boy named Pompey. Over the next twenty-two years, Phillis and Montross had eight children, half of whom died very young. Their second child, Caesar, was born in 1732 and lived only three days. Four years later Phillis had a second Caesar who lived for two years. Flora, a daughter, was born in 1739. Two years later, Moses was born to Phillis, followed by Aaron. Phillis’s last son, Abel, lived for only ten years. The final child of Phillis was a daughter named Candace, born in 1751. In 1765, Phillis and Montross’s first daughter, Flora had a son named Caesar. This son was the only grandson of Phillis. Eventually, Flora also died at the young age of thirty-two (Connecticut Vital Records 235-236). The high mortality rate of Phillis’s children indicates harsh treatment and poor living conditions. Although an average of more children died young at that time, the fact that so many could not survive must not have been a coincidence. It would seem accurate that, of all people, an enslaved child, who was not treated equally to others their age, would have the lowest chance of staying healthy. This could be due to malnourishment, lack of medicine, lack of money, or abuse. The treatment that Phillis and other enslaved adults faced would have been similar, if not harsher, than that a child faced.
In 1738, ten years after Phillis was brought to Guilford, David Naughty wrote a will. His will instructed that, at his wife’s death, Phillis, Montross, and all of their children would be freed. He asked that — once they were freed — Phillis, Montross, and Pompey all be paid ten pounds per year throughout the rest of their lives. In addition, Naughty requested that three years after the family gained freedom, a house would be built for them, complete with furniture, utensils, and farm animals (Probate Court 1-3). David Naughty’s requests for Phillis and her family proved that great agency must have been shown. If Phillis and Montross had not been diligent and law-abiding slaves, it is unlikely that David Naughty would have bestowed upon them the estate that he did. Although we may think of agency as acts of rebellion that empower the oppressed, acts of respect can also empower. The respectful work ethic of Phillis and Montross gained them money, shelter, and other necessities. Using these gifts they were able to better the lives of their children and generations to come, thus empowering their descendants.
In 1772, about thirty-three years after she was promised her freedom, Phillis passed away (Burgis). The cause of her death is unknown, but its timing was a crucial part of her life story.
After David Naughty’s death, his wife Ruth decided not to fully execute his requests. In her will written in 1771, she refused to free the four living children of Phillis and instead loaned each of them to separate people for lifelong indentures (Probate Court 1-3). The only explanation that Ruth gave for her actions was that she thought “it much better for them to Live in some good Regular & Religious families as servants than to enjoy Freedom” (Probate Court 2). This is certainly not a satisfying explanation. It can be determined, through the Indenture of Moses to Rev. Amos Fowler, that these four indentures had less of the qualities of apprenticeships and more of the harsh qualities of slavery. No money, knowledge, or license was gained through the work that Pompey, Moses, Aaron and Candace did. Also, the time span of the indentures was limitless (Fowler). Due to these two qualities that resemble slavery, we can assume that treatment in these indentures was similar to slavery as well.
If Ruth had truly thought about what was “better” for the four enslaved people, she would have freed them. However, she may have been tempted by the money that she could procure through indentures. Each person who rented one of the four enslaved people had to pay Ruth for that person’s work. We know that Rev. Amos Fowler had to pay Ruth twelve pounds every year while he rented Moses (Fowler). These indentures were a great economic benefit for Ruth because she made money with no output. She was not the one working and, because she had owned Phillis when her children were born, she had never paid any money for Phillis’s children (Connecticut Vital Records 235-236). Therefore, she was making money without ever giving anything for it. The money that she made off of slavery may have been very important to her income.
In creating these four indentures, Ruth Naughty also showed paternalism. She made a major decision for Pompey, Moses, Aaron, and Candace, who were completely capable of making decisions for themselves. All four children had “Come to years of Discretion” (Probate Court 2-3) at this time, and though Ruth claimed to have their consent (Probate Court 2), it seems extremely unlikely that four adults who truly comprehended the situation would have chosen a life of slavery over freedom. We can assume that Ruth took it upon herself to make this decision because she believed that she could determine the best solution more accurately than those whom it concerned. If Ruth had only decided to free these four people, all of their lives could have been drastically different. This kind of paternalism is something that Phillis would have faced on a daily basis. As a slave, she would not have been trusted by those who thought that they were smarter than she.
Even after her own death, the actions of Phillis during her life prevailed. The agency that she showed through hard work for her owners gave her family an advantage that they would not otherwise have had. She overcame the harsh dehumanization, mistreatment, untrust, and devaluation of slavery because she knew that if she did, the lives of her children, grandchildren, and all who came after would be improved. Signs of Phillis’s agency are scattered throughout history. We see this agency in the sale of Montross’s property from his children and grandchildren to Abraham Evarts (Sale of Montross’ Property). We see this agency in Candace’s will, the will of a free woman who passes down her estate to the three children of her nephew (Probate Court). We see this agency in the life of Elymas Rogers, great great grandson of Phillis, a minister whose goal was to establish a colony in Africa as a residence of African Americans (Wilson 191-194). We see this agency in Bertram Wadsworth Wilson, a descendant of Caesar Rogers, who fought for the American Airforce during the Korean, Vietnam, and Second World Wars (Kearns 1-2). And, lastly, we see this agency in ourselves. For, without the actions of Phillis, and all those lives which her actions affected, we might not be here today.
Facts of Life: Phillis
By Olivia Biagiotti
Date of Birth: Circa 1710
Place of Birth: Africa (?)
Family Details: Phillis had one spouse, eight children and one grandchild.
Spouse: Montros (Hall)
Children: Aaron birthday September 25,1743, Abel birthday January 20, 1748/9, died at 10 years old September 18, 1759, Candace birthday June 2, 1751, Ceazer birthday February 1732 and died three days later, Ceazer birthday May 6, 1736, died February 12, 1738, Flora birthday January 12, 1741, Moses birthday April 30, 1741, Pompey birthday January 23, 1729/30. (Connecticut Vital)
Baptism/Church Membership: Unknown
Anecdotes: Phillis had 8 children and their names were Aaron, Abel, Candace, Ceazer, Ceazer, Flora, Moses, and Pompey. Unfortunately, 3 children, Abel, Ceazer and Ceazer died at a very young age. Abel died at 10 years old, Ceazer at 3 days old and Ceazer died around three years old. The children may have died at such a young age because of the lack of medical care and treatment from the slave owners.
Places Enslaved: On the Guilford Green and Near Nut Plains Farm in Guilford, Connecticut (Probate Court)
Owners: David Naughty, Ruth Naughty (Probate Court)
Work Performed/Skills: Spinner and Cook (Probate Court)
Later Life/ Death
Date of Death: March 17, 1772
Place of Death: Guilford, Connecticut