Liberty and Property: Cash Africa’s American Revolution

Cropped to Litchfield County Martha Africa Elopement advertisement, Litchfield Courier, July 2, 1787.

The 1774 colonial census for Litchfield, Connecticut lists 2,554 people living in this western New England town. Of these, just forty-five are people of color, including those of African origin described as “negroes” and indigenous Americans counted as “Indians.” Among fifteen “negro” males, eight are under twenty years old and seven are above.[1] During the Revolutionary War, four African American men from Litchfield enlisted in the Continental Army, and one of them—Cash Africa—served during all eight years of the conflict.

The name “Cash” appears just twice among Connecticut’s known African American soldiers of the Revolution.[2] Possibly it derives from “Quash,” a traditional name of West African origin that denotes a male child born on a Sunday.[3] There were several people with the surname “Africa” living in Litchfield and surrounding communities in the 1770s, but given how few people of color were counted in Litchfield in the 1774 census, it is highly unlikely that more than one of them would be named Cash Africa. The records of his name from this time period almost assuredly refer to the same individual, including a court case from 1777[4] that notably took place while Cash Africa was in the army, but at a time when he was recorded as “absent.”[5]

Although his origins remain obscure, it is possible to reconstruct a remarkable chronology of Cash Africa’s adult life and experiences between 1774 and 1796 using surviving muster rolls, court records, newspaper advertisements, diary entries, letters, marriage records and labor contracts. Although some of these documents express his thoughts and motivations indirectly, none are his own words, nor are written in his own hand.

“Liberty and Property” was the watchword of the era, even emblazoned across a huge scarlet flag atop a seventy-eight foot liberty pole in a nearby Litchfield County town.[6] The story of Cash Africa that emerges from the historic record is one where property is central: its pursuit, defense, and the right to profit from one’s own labor. It is also as story of racial discrimination that is sometimes overcome but never vanquished.

Cash Africa enlisted for the first time in May 1775, and his last muster took place in May 1783. That eight-year span is itself remarkable. It was no small thing for a Black man from Connecticut to have remained a soldier from the outset of the war until its conclusion, especially in the beginning when both Gen. George Washington and Congress actively discouraged African Americans from joining the Continental Army. There is also strong evidence that Cash Africa was compelled to enlist not just once, but three times as an enslaved person, and as one who had been “wrongly” held in bondage.

Within weeks of the outbreak of hostilities, Maj. David Welsh of Litchfield raised a company for service in Col. David Wooster’s 1st Connecticut Regiment. Cash Africa joined this company. Although the enlistment roll is missing, the commission date of its officers was May 1, 1775 and recruiting from Major Welsh’s Company would have taken place during that Spring. Colonel Wooster’s regiment was soon dispatched for service at Harlem, New York, before being assigned to the Northern Department at the end of September 1775. Pvt. Cash Africa’s name appears on a subsequent return with a discharge date of November 23, 1775, making him one of the very last in his company to be released from service.[7] He was likely present during the siege and capture of St. John’s and the taking of Montréal.

He was soon back with the Northern Army, though not in a Connecticut regiment. In late November, 1775, Capt. Eleazer Curtis of East Kent (now Warren) Connecticut returned from service in the North with a new commission from Maj. Gen. Philip Schuyler authorizing him to raise an independent company in his home state for Continental service.[8] In mid-February 1776, Captain Curtis’s company was incorporated into Col. Goose van Schaick’s unnumbered Continental Regiment, raised on New York’s establishment for service in the Northern Department. A careful review of two surviving rosters and lists of men from Captain Curtis’s company shows that fifteen of them were from Litchfield, including Cash Africa.[9] Four of Colonel Van Schaick’s companies, including Captain Curtis’s, were send into Canada to help bolster the American forces under Brig. Gen. John Sullivan but soon joined them in retreat.[10] They were later stationed at Fort George, and Cash Africa finished his service under Colonel Van Schaick at Saratoga on December 7, 1776.

Within a month he enlisted once again, this time as one of ninety-two men credited to Litchfield as its quota for Continental Service in the coming year.[11] Two companies of Col. Philip Burr Bradley’s 5th Connecticut Regiment recruited heavily in Litchfield. Cash Africa joined Capt. Eli Catlin’s Company on January 16, 1777, enlisting for the duration of the war.[12] The first return that survives from Captain Catlin’s company was filed on August 11,, 1777 and lists Cash Africa “on command.” The next month’s return (dated September 11, 1777) merely lists him as “absent.” He was back with his company by October 25, which at this time was with General Washington’s main army in Pennsylvania.

During the time that he was absent, it appears that Cash Africa was in Litchfield raising charges in court against an elderly widow named Deborah Marsh. The charge was criminal trespass against his person and falsely holding him in slavery since September 1774. It is not clear how Cash Africa came to be enslaved by the widow Marsh, but the period during which he claimed to have been held against his will includes his consecutive enlistments in the regiments of Colonel Wooster in 1775, Colonel Van Schaick in 1776 and Colonel Bradley in 1777. There were other slave soldiers in the Continental Army at this time, enrolled by their enslavers, and it appears that Cash Africa was among them.

The record of the case consists of a single page that describes how the widow Marsh was summoned to appear in court on the fourth Tuesday in September, 1777 to answer to Cash Africa’s claim of unlawful enslavement:

That the Def[endan]t at Litchfield aforesaid on the 15th Day of September 1774 did an Assault make upon the Pl[aintif]f and did then & there with force & Arms unlawfully seise upon the person of the Pl[aintif]f and with the same force imprison the Pl[aintif]f and hold him to hard labour from that time to this writ, all which doings of the Def[endan]t made against the law & to the Damage of the Pl[aintiff] the sum of one hundred pounds lawful money to recover which with just cause the Pl[aintif]f brings this writ hereof[13]

Deborah Marsh was the widow of Col. Ebenezer Marsh of Litchfield who died in 1773. Several members of the Marsh family were noted for their loyalism, including Deborah’s son, Capt. Solomon Marsh, who refused to turn out with his company for the Danbury alarm in April, 1777 and would later be cashiered by the Connecticut General Assembly for “a general neglect of the duties of his office, arising from an unfriendliness to the grand American cause &c.”[14] Perhaps this fact influenced the court, or perhaps the case he made against the widow Marsh was just too compelling, but Cash Africa won his suit and was awarded both the financial compensation he sought and his freedom.

No longer a slave soldier but still committed to military service for the duration of the war, Cash Africa returned to the 5th Connecticut Regiment in Pennsylvania. He spent the winter at Valley Forge, where he was listed “sick in camp” on a return from February 21, 1778 and “on guard” as of April 2, 1778. He took part in the Monmouth campaign, but from August through early November 1778 he was on detached service in Waterbury, Connecticut. He overwintered at the encampment of the Connecticut Line at Reading, continuing his service as of February 1779 in the Colonel’s Company of the 5th Connecticut. In February and March 1779 he was “on command” at Norwalk and spent much of the remainder of the year on detached duty.[15]

On November 26, 1779, Cash Africa received a five-day furlough. Having failed to return by January 1, 1780, he was listed as a deserter, but returned on April 1, 1780.[16] His unauthorized time away does not appear to have affected how he was treated after his return to duty. He was “sick, present” that August, received another furlough in September 1780 and ended the year on “extra service” with Colonel Bradley.

Under the reauthorization of the Continental Army in 1781, the 5th and 7th Connecticut Regiments were consolidated into a new 2nd Connecticut Regiment under Col. Heman Swift of Cornwall. Cash Africa was initially assigned to Capt. Thaddeus Weed’s Company, but later that May he was chosen to join Capt. John St. John’s Light Infantry company, then on command in Virginia with Maj. Gen. Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier de La Fayette,Marquis de Lafayette.[17] By June 1, 1781 he reached his company, now under command of Capt. Elijah Chapman and serving in Lt. Col. Jean-Joseph Sourbaderde Gimat’s Battalion of Major General Lafayette’s Light Division. These troops shadowed the British army in Virginia, and were present but not engaged at the Battle of Green Spring on July 6,, 1781. At Yorktown, Cash Africa would have been in the thick of the fighting on October 14, 1781 when Lt. Col. Alexander Hamilton lead Lieutenant Colonel Gimat’s men in the assault on Redoubt. No. 10.

After returning north, Cash Africa remained in the Light Company of the 2nd Connecticut until June 13, 1782 when he transferred into Capt. Ephraim Chamberlain’s Company, and subsequently continued in the same company under Capt. Samuel Comestock. Captain Comestock’s Company had both White and Black soldiers, in contrast to Capt. David Humphries’ segregated 2nd Company of the 4th Connecticut Regiment which had only Black soldiers serving under White officers.[18] Cash Africa was assigned to General McDougall’s Guard at Newburgh during December 1782 and January, 1783. He mustered for the last time on May 26, 1783 in the Hudson Highlands and was discharged with the rest of the Connecticut Line shortly thereafter.[19]

Eight years of military service had taken Private Africa on campaigns ranging from Canada to Virginia. Now that the war had ended, he returned to Litchfield with a warrant for bounty land that he would later sell on October 7, 1789 to fellow Litchfield townsman (and land speculator) Benjamin Tallmadge.[20] He also hired himself out to Tallmadge for a season of work in 1788 “in the services of forty shillings per month.” Tallmadge agreed to provide boarding and lodging as well as wages but reserved the right to cancel the agreement if Africa failed to act “in a becoming manner.”[21] There were several enslaved people working for Tallmadge at this time, including one under contract from another enslaver, but only Cash Africa was free to negotiate the terms of his own labor.

Before this, however, Cash Africa did something that was commonplace among white men in Connecticut but highly unusual for a man of color. He placed an advertisement in the local newspaper claiming that his wife, Martha, had abandoned him.[22] In the prescribed language of this kind of notice, he announced that she had “eloped from my bed and board” and that he would not be responsible for any debts she might incur in his name. A woodcut depicting a woman wearing a bonnet and carrying a walking stick accompanies the advertisement. A typical illustration for notices of this sort, the figure represents a White woman. This brief announcement—effectively a divorce—is the only record of Martha Africa’s existence.

Cash Africa married a second time. Church records from Sharon, Connecticut show that on May 6, 1792, Anna Jackson married “Cash Africa, of Litchfield.”[23] There was a new community along the Housatonic River in Sharon established by Black former soldiers and their families along what is now called Guinea Road, named for the part of West Africa from which some of them had come to North America. Several members of Cash Africa’s old regiment were living there, but he and Anna did not join them. Perhaps there were few prospects for work, or not enough money left from the sale of his bounty warrant for Cash to purchase land. Rather than stay in Sharon, Cash and Anna Africa returned to Litchfield.

It must have been a precarious existence. We know that they had at least two children together, thanks to the prolific writings of Dr. Elihu Hubbard Smith of Litchfield, whose diaries and letters from late 1795 and early 1796 contain a number of references to Cash Africa and his family.[24] Doctor Smith was a brilliant young man, a graduate of Yale College and a member of the New York Abolition Society. He was also a paternalistic busybody, and his writings concerning Cash Africa reveal deeply prejudiced views of the character and capabilities of Black people.

By 1795, Cash Africa had left Anna and their children behind in Litchfield and sought work in New York. It is not clear where Anna Africa and her family were living in Litchfield at this time, but their circumstances became a matter of interest both to Doctor Smith and to Mrs. Susan Tracy, also of Litchfield, with whom he had a long correspondence. These White citizens of Litchfield decided that Cash Africa was not meeting his obligations as a husband and provider and decided to do something about it.

Doctor Smith wrote in his diary on November 16, 1795, “I am to speak with Mr. Sands, in New York, (The gentleman who hires Cash)—a negro man of this Place—on the subject of sending part of his pay to his wife—who is here, & in great distress.”[25]He then went to New York, and in a subsequent letter to Mrs. Tracy he described how he met Cash by chance in the street and confronted him about the plight of his family back in Litchfield:

The fellow promises well. That, you know, he always does. I have, however, found out with whom he lives; and, if he does not fulfill his engagements, I shall apply to his master. He promised to bring me five or six dollars, before Thursday noon. If he should, I shall take the liberty to inclose them to you, & have no doubts of your applying them, to their best use. He has further engaged to do something more, for his family, at intervals, as he shall be able. I hope to effect something for the poor animals, but fear it must be, as it is now, uncertain.[26]

It is clear that Doctor Smith’s support for the abolition of slavery in no way extended to racial equality, or even fellow feeling for Cash Africa and his family whom he describes as “poor animals.” In a second letter to Mrs. Tracy, he provided an update that reveals as much about his own character as it does the situation of Cash Africa and his family:

When I was at Phila. Mr. Tracy gave me a letter, for Cash, from his wife, which, in the hurry of his passage thro’ New York, he forgot. This I delivered, yesterday, to Cash; & at the same time, informed him that, notwithstanding his promises, his wife had recd. nothing. He assures me, that, on the very day I last spake to him, on this matter, he purchased seven yards of baize, (I think it was,) which he put in the hands of a man, who was going to Litchfield, & who engaged to leave it, at Seymour’s Shop in Litchfield. He says that what he sent was sufficient to furnish his Wife & children, with short-gowns, & the children with petticoats. Of this I am no judge. On my representing to him the insufficiency of so small a provision, & urging him to do something more for them, immediately, he has promised to bring me something for them, to-morrow—in time to send by the Post: money, or clothing. I fear that this will turn out to be one of his old tricks; & that he neither has sent, nor will send, any thing. It may be well to inquire, whether any thing has been recd. At Seymour’s; &, if he does not furnish me with some aid for his family, I shall apply to his master.[27]

From this exchange it is clear that there were at least two female children living with Anna Africa and they must have been quite young. Doctor Smith did not believe that Cash had purchased baize cloth to clothe his family, and clearly considered him willfully deceptive on the matter. What Cash Africa thought of this white man’s interference in his life and work can only be guessed, but it struck at his core identity as a free man, a husband and a provider. He was up against the pervasive, near universal trope of the unreliable and absent Black male, and a systemic racism that would always stand in his way.

Cash Africa yielded to Doctor Smith’s pressure, whose diary records,

This day I recd. of James R. Smith, the master of Cash Africa—five dollars—which sum is part of the wages of Cash—& is, by his consent, advanced to me, for his Wife—who lives in Litchfield. I gave a receit, to this effect, to Mr. Smith.[28]

On February 27, 1796, Doctor Smith concluded the transaction; “While at Litchfield I paid Cash Africa’s Wife the money which I had procured, of his master, for her. She gave me her receit.[29]

This is the last reference to either Cash Africa or his family that has come to light. It is unknown whether he remained in New York or returned to Litchfield, nor if he sent for his family or abandoned them. Although he would have been eligible for a Continental soldier’s pension under the Act of 1818, there is no record that he ever applied for one, and by this time he may no longer have been alive.

His wartime service did not impress the White citizens of Litchfield. He was not honored as a Patriot during his lifetime, and a land speculator became the primary beneficiary of his bounty land warrant. Like many others, he sought work in the city when the countryside did not afford him a livelihood.

In the end, Cash Africa emerges as a survivor, a man with the strength of will to sue a White woman for wrongfully enslaving him, and the fortitude to endure eight years as a soldier. For him, as for many of his White compatriots, the Revolution and the peace that followed were about “Liberty and Property.” In the pursuit of both objects, he gained his freedom and a measure of autonomy, even disavowing the debts of his first wife, Martha, who possessed fewer rights than he. His own pursuit of happiness remained “a dream deferred.”[30]

 

[1]Public Records of the Colony of Connecticut, Volume 14, ed. Charles J. Hoadly (Hartford: Brown & Parsons, 1887), 490.

[2]David O. White, Connecticut’s Black Soldiers 1775-1783 (Chester, CT: Pequot Press, 1973).

[3]John C. Inscoe, “Carolina Slave Names: An Index to Acculturation,” The Journal of Southern History vol. 49 no. 4 (November 1983), 527-554.

[4]The Litchfield County Court Minorities Collection at the Connecticut State Archives (RG003_LLC_Minorities) is an artificial collection consisting of photocopies of cases involving African Americans and Native Americans from the Files and Papers by Subjectseries of Litchfield County Court records. All originals have been retired and second copies have been inserted in the places where the originals were once located.The case in question, Africa v. Marsh (September 7, 1777) is located in Box 1 Folder 9 of the collection (hereafter Africa v. Marsh).

[5]Muster Roll of Captn. Catlin’s Compy., Col. P. Bradleys Regt. for July, Incl. (dated August 11, 1777) and Muster Roll of Captn. Catlin’s Compy., Col. P. Bradleys Regt. for August 1777 Incl. (dated September 12, 1777), NARA M246. US Revolutionary War Muster Rolls 1775-1783, Fold3.com, US Revolutionary War, www.fold3.com/collection/us-revolutionary-war-us), (hereafter NARA M246US Revolutionary War Muster Rolls 1775-1783).

[6]The Connecticut Courant and Hartford Weekly Intelligencer, No. 497 July 12, 1774.

[7]Record of Connecticut Men in the Military and Naval Service during the War of the Revolution1775-1783, ed. Henry P. Johnston (Hartford: under the authority of the Adjutant-General of Connecticut, 1889), 40.

[8]Philip Schuyler to Captain Eleazer Curtis November 16, 1775, Ticonderoga, New York, Northern Illinois University Digital Library, Document ID S4-V3-P01-sp32-D0015,digital.lib.niu.edu/islandora/object/niu-amarch%3A103360.

[9]A list of names who have not yet received a bounty for service in the Continental Army from Captain Moses Martin & Lieut. Ebenezer Hills. Dated Fort George, Sept. 9 & 11th, 1776. On the back, dated Saratoga, Nov. 21, 1776 is a receipt from Moses Martin, Capt. and Ebenezer Hills, Lieut., that they received a bounty of 31 pounds four shillings from Major Ebenezer Curtis. Included in the list of names is Cash Africa. See also NARA M 246, A Muster Roll of the Late Captn Eleazer Curtis’s Now Captn Moses Martin’s Company in Colo. Goose Van Schaick’s Battalion of the Forces Rais’d in the State of New York & Now in the Service of the United States of America Dated in Barracks at Saratoga December 17th 1776, Litchfield Historical Society, Litchfield, Connecticut.

[10]Philip J. Schuyler to George Washington, June 15, 1776, in George Washington Papers, Library of Congress, Manuscript Division,MSS 44693: Reel 036, series: Series 4, General Correspondence, 1697-1799.

[11]Lists and Returns of Connecticut Men in the Revolution 1775-1783, Collections of the Connecticut Historical Society, Vol. XII (Hartford: published by the Society, 1909), 53.

[12]NARA M246, US Revolutionary War Muster Rolls 1775-1783. See also Rolls and Lists of Connecticut Men, 68.

[13]Africa v. Marsh.

[14]Public Records of the State of Connecticut, with the Journal of the Council of Safety and an Appendix, Vol. 1 (Hartford: Brown & Parsons, 1894), 484.

[15]NARA M246, US Revolutionary War Muster Rolls 1775-1783.

[16]Ibid. See also Lists and Returns, 228.

[17]NARA M246, US Revolutionary War Muster Rolls 1775-1783. See also Record of Connecticut Men, 352.

[18]White, Connecticut’s Black Soldiers, 32-34.

[19]NARA M246, US Revolutionary War Muster Rolls 1775-1783.

[20]NARA M246 US Revolutionary War Bounty Land Warrant Record Card No. 5375.

[21]Agreement that Cash Africa will serve Benjamin Tallmadge, May 19, 1788, Tallmadge Collection, Litchfield Historical Society, Litchfield, Connecticut.

[22]Litchfield Weekly Monitor, July 2, 1787.

[23]Lawrence Van Alstyne, Born, Married and Died in Sharon Connecticut; A Record of Births, marriages and Deaths in the Town of Sharon, Connecticut from 1721-1879 (Press of the Pawling Chronicle: 1897), 6, 73.

[24]The Diary of Elihu Hubbard Smith (1771-1798), ed. James E Cronin (Philadelphia: The American Philosophical Society, 1973).

[25]Ibid., entry of November 15, 1795, 89.

[26]Ibid., Letter to Mrs. Tracy, December 15, 1795, 105.

[27]Ibid., Letter to Mrs. Tracy (in continuation), January 20, 1796, 124.

[28]Ibid., entry of February 17, 1796, 132.

[29]Ibid., entry of February 27, 1796, 134.

[30]Langston Hughes, “Harlem,” The Collected Works of Langston Hughes (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2001).

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