Thursday, July 11, 2013

John Jackson never lived here

“Not until the first hours of May 29, 1711, could they finally act. On that day, Jackson stood watchful and uneasy on his master’s boat, as he and John Rogers maneuvered it across the dark waters of the Sound." - Allegra Di Bonaventure, For Adam’s Sake, p.153 

In was the middle of the night when John Jackson, father of Hempsted slave Adam Jackson, sailed from New London, CT to Long Island, NY with his former owner, John Rogers, at the helm. Once on Long Island, John would sneak into the home of his wife’s owner and, without waking the other occupants, find his wife, Joan Jackson, and their two children inside. The group would leave the house, return to the boat and sail back to New London undetected. The next day Joan and the two children would be spirited away to Rhode Island while John Jackson and John Rogers faced an angry New London court– where no one doubted who had done the daring deed.

At the time of this dramatic event Adam Jackson was 11 years old. It will be nearly 16 years before Adam will be enslaved at Hempsted House.

So here is the question – Is this amazing tale an appropriate story to tell at the Hempsted House?  By the definition of many historic home interpretations the answer is clearly no. The story did not take place within the Hempsted property and had little impact on the occupants at the time. Yet if you were visiting the Hempsted House in New London and wanted to learn about Colonial slavery wouldn’t you want to hear this story?  

Certainly the story and its aftermath must have helped to form Adam Jackson’s view of his world. Adam would have heard of the later capture of Joan, his mother, and two of his siblings within months of the dramatic rescue and their immediate sale to yet another family. He may have gotten regular updates of his father’s extraordinary efforts to gain Joan’s freedom over the next 6 years and even longer to regain the freedom of Jack, his little brother, and Rachel, his little sister, in the Massachusetts courts system. He would also see his parents and siblings struggle with the limits of freedom for free men and women of color in Colonial America.  For Adam the idea and reality of freedom must have been complex.

Joshua Hempsted himself chronicled the murder of a 9 year old slave named Zeno. Whipped to death by her master, Zeno’s death and the heavily attended trial of her well-heeled master grabbed the attention of all of New London. While clearly the community disapproved, in the end her owner, the upper crust Nicholas Lechmere, would escape punishment. Joshua and Adam would have known all of the players in this drama personally, and it is hard to image that this life experience did not shape both their views as a slave owner and a slave – yet none of this took place within the Hempsted House nor involved its occupants.

Which leads to our question:  is this an appropriate story to share at the Hempsted House?  What do you think?

Robert Kiihne of RK Exhibits will be participating in the teen audience research this summer and will draft the exhibitions component of the interpretive plan in the fall.

1 comment:

  1. The question -- whether to tell the story -- presents some of the challenges we (I am the site administrator at Hempsted) currently face in telling the story of the Hempsted Houses. So little time, so much history! Depending on the interests of our visitors, we currently do on occasion tell this story in connection with Adam Jackson as we believe it must have deeply influenced him and illustrates the complex relationships in the community. And we will tell it next Friday (July 19) during a special evening tour focusing on colonial attitudes toward love, romance and fidelity.