Jamestown Historical Society

Remington Only Local Slave to Buy Freedom

This article is part of a series written by Peter Fay for The Jamestown Press on February 23, 2023.
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Remington Farm, residence of enslaved Orman Remington; and Eldred Farm, residence of his enslaved wife and children.
Remington Farm, residence of enslaved Orman Remington; and Eldred Farm, residence of his enslaved wife and children.

Orman Remington was enslaved at Gershom Remington’s farm, which is now Watson Farm, on North Road.

He was the only known slave in Jamestown’s history to purchase his own freedom, an exceptionally rare event that often was enabled by other people assisting with payment.

His owner, Gershom Remington, received “100 Spanish silver milled dollars … hereof well & truly paid by my Negro man slave named Ormond (sic) … I do grant, bargain and sell unto the said Ormond his freedom” in 1781.

Joanne Melish’s book on the decline of slavery in Rhode Island, “Disowning Slavery,” says Rhode Islanders disowned not only their slaves but also all memory of slavery, attempting to free white owners of the long-lasting consequences of the institution after its decline.

For those freed Black families and their descendants, however, the opposite desire prevailed. There was a determination to own their history and safeguard the memory of their achievements.

Newly freed Orman Remington was not content with his own freedom. His wife and children were still enslaved on another farm, which was owned by the vaunted Revolutionary War patriot, Capt. John Eldred on the other side of the island (see map). Two years later, Orman purchased his wife, Cate, and three children, Jenny, 8, Acuba, 3, and Sue, 9 months, from Eldred for “fifty silver milled dollars.” The parents revealed their African heritage by naming the middle child Acuba, the Ghanian “Day-Name” for girls born on Wednesdays.

A decade after purchasing his family’s freedom, Remington became the first Black person to purchase land in Jamestown. He made his home on a quarter-acre plot at Cranston Cove north of Carr Lane, purchased for $5. He died in Jamestown in 1816 and is buried in an unknown location.

Henry O. Remington (Rice Family Collection. Photo from Newport History, Vol. 97, No. 286)
Henry O. Remington (Rice Family Collection. Photo from Newport History, Vol. 97, No. 286)

Acuba Remington bore a son in 1817, Henry O. Remington, a year after the grandfather Orman died. All former slaves lacked opportunity and land ownership in rural towns, however, and many ended up in poorhouses. In 1817, the town council ordered the overseer of the poor “to bind out all the blacks in the town that is likely to become chargeable,” that is, to indenture all impoverished Blacks. Most Black people left Jamestown.

Perhaps seeking a more hospitable community, Acuba moved to Newport. In 1840, however, the city expelled her stating she was an “unsuitable person to become an inhabitant.” Back in Jamestown, she was boarded by the overseer of the poor, George Hull. By 1850, she found a supportive Black community in Newport while living with her daughter’s family next to a Black church. She died there in 1857 at age 79. Because her father purchased her as a child, she lived all but three years as a free woman.

Henry O. Remington, who was aware of his mother’s and grandparents’ experience overcoming enslavement, moved to the booming Massachusetts whaling city of New Bedford as a young man. While building a reputation as an outspoken opponent of slavery, he lived among the large Black community and worked at a soap factory.

Remington also was befriended by the abolitionist leader, Frederick Douglass, who fled to New England after escaping slavery in Maryland. In 1842, Remington married Mary Ann Rice, the daughter of Isaac Rice, an abolitionist and civil rights advocate in Newport.

By 1846, Remington was a leading voice amongst Blacks in New England. He opposed the Mexican-American War by presciently warning it was a pretext for extending the territory of slavery.

In 1851, Remington petitioned the Massachusetts legislature to reject the newly enacted federal Fugitive Slave Act. When he served as marshal of the 1853 British West India Emancipation Day, Douglass described him as “a real military looking man, as erect and sturdy as a mountain pine, and about as proudly defiant of danger one would think.”

William Lloyd Garrison’s Liberator newspaper reported his election as president of the State Council of Colored People, an association “under the control of the colored people,” and “a source of wealth … promoting our union and elevation.”

A working man his entire life, Remington injured his thumb at work in 1860, contracted tetanus and died.

Newspapers honored his memory as “the incorruptible citizen, the consistent Christian, the honest man,” and “a true friend of the oppressed.” Douglass lamented that his death “has made a void which remains unfulfilled.”

Near the end of his life, Henry O. Remington erected two memorials in New Bedford which still stand. One is in memory of his grandfather, Orman, who had freed his family from slavery in Jamestown. The other memorial honors his mother, Acuba.

Henry O. Remington, Marshall of the British West India Emancipation Day as described in Frederick Douglass’ Paper – 1853
Henry O. Remington, Marshall of the British West India Emancipation Day as described in Frederick Douglass’ Paper – 1853

Bibliography

Florence Abena Dolphyne, “The Languages of the Akan Peoples”, Kwame Da-aku Memorial Volume, 1975 in Research Review (New Series), Michigan State University, https://d.lib.msu.edu/asrvns/20 (accessed 1/30/2023).

Joanne Pope Melish, Disowning Slavery: Gradual Emancipation and “Race” in New England, 1780–1860 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998).

John M. Rice, “Frederick Douglass and His Abolitionist Friends in Newport and New Bedford”, Newport History 97:286, Fall 2022.

Kathryn Glover, Fugitive’s Gibraltar: Escaping Slaves and Abolitionism in New Bedford, Massachusetts (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2009).

Mark A. Lause, A Secret Society History of the Civil War (Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press, 2011), 78.

Jamestown Land Evidence, Jamestown, R.I.

Jamestown Town Council & Probate, Jamestown, R.I.

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