By Dominik Dadak
The text that follows is a story of Moses Montrose, a slave in the quaint town of Guilford, Connecticut, and how he came to be the “king” of Guilford.
During the 1700s and 1800s, slavery was widespread in the U.S. Many of the slave-masters were very harsh and gave their servants little to no rights. However, out of the ashes of racism and prejudice, there is evidence that there is always an exception to the rule. Moses showed his community that there is more to a person than his social status.
Moses was born on April 30th, 1741 (Guilford Vital Records). Due to the laws and traditions at the time, because Moses was the son of the slaves Montrose and Phillis, he would also become a slave. In The Last Will and Testament of David Naughty, Mr. Naughty states that he wants Montrose, Phillis, and their child Pompey to be free, and that “(at the Decease of my [said] wife Ruth) Shall be free and no longer Servant or Slaves; and also any Child or Children that may hereafter be born of S’d Phillis Shall be free in like manner at the Decease of my s’d wife” (Probate), and that a house for them was to be built on Nut Plains with furniture, one cow and one calf. This was written about three years before the birth of Moses, so technically he would be set free upon birth. However, Ruth Naughty wrote her will on 12/14/1771 (thirty years later) and instead stated that “My Will is that [said] Montross and Phillis be free and no Longer Servants or Slaves, & that my [said] Husbands will be fully performed with respect to them. As to the [said] Pompey & the other children which have been born Of [said] Phillis since the date of my [said] Husband’s Will (viz) Moses, Aaron & Candace thinking it much better for them to Live in some good Regular & Religious families as servants than to enjoy Freedom” (Probate). What Mrs. Naughty is saying, is that she thinks it would be better for the children of Montrose and Phillis (Moses, Pompey, Aaron, and Candace) to remain as slaves upon her death against her husband’s will, but for Montrose and Phillis to be free (upon her death). Sadly, according to the Burgis Bill of Mortality at the time, Phillis died before Ruth, so she never got to experience freedom.
According to the document Indenture of Moses a Slave, Moses was transferred from Ruth Naughty to Amos Fowler in the year 1762 at a price of £12 a year, showing us the economics of slavery at the time. This meant that Moses was being paid for and rented as property, and according to the contract, would work for Amos for the rest of his life, thus proving Moses suffered from paternalism. Moses showed us agency by sending Rev. Fowler’s son Johnny off to college as stated in Lyman Beecher’s autobiography (Beecher 14). According to this autobiography, Moses managed farms and ring church bells, paid the bills, and sent a son of his owner at the time, Johnny Fowler, to college (Beecher 14). Mr. Beecher also mentions that Moses “lived a slave because he was a king” (Beecher 14). Black kings and governors were people that were highly respected by their community, and acted as mediators between the black and white communities. They would also uphold law, and, when necessary, meted out punishments (Piascik). Moses was dehumanized every time his ownership changed hands, because each and every time his owner was changed he wasn’t referred to as a person, but as property. He was deprived of the basic human right of the pursuit of happiness. However, we know that Moses and his siblings sold Montrose’s land for twenty-six dollars and sixty-seven cents, thus showing another example of agency (Guilford Town Clerk).
Moses died on March 1st, 1812. What was left after his death wasn’t of much monetary value, but it was the respect of both communities, black and white, that really show how respectable this man was.
Moses Fact Sheet
Adapted from Colby Ambroziak
Date of Birth: April 30, 1741
Place of Birth: Guilford, Connecticut Colony
Name of Parents: Montros and Phillis, enslaved by Ruth Naughty (Connecticut Vital)
Names of Siblings: 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, Pompey birthday January 23, 1729/30. (Connecticut Vital)
Family Details: Moses was the second son of Montros and Phillis to survive until adulthood. When he reached twenty years of age, he was indentured by Mrs. Ruth Naughty to Rev. Amos Fowler for life gaining Mrs. Naughty £12 a year for the remainder of her life (about 10 years.) (Fowler)
Baptism/Church Membership: There are no records that he belonged to a church but his second owner, Rev. Amos Fowler was the pastor of the Congregational Church. He is said to have rung the church bell. (Beecher)
Places Enslaved: On the Guilford Green where Guilford Savings Bank is today, in the Nut Plains neighborhood where the Naughtys owned farm and on the Green where the Town Hall is today. (Guilford Property)
Owners: Ruth Naughty, Rev. Amos Fowler, John Hart Fowler. (Probate Court)
Work Performed/Skills: “Paid the bills, managed the farm, rung the church bell and was a factotum… he was a king.” (Beecher)
Later Life/ Death
Date of Death: March 1, 1812
Place of Death: Guilford, Connecticut