Belatedly – Black History – Holliston

Sambo Freeman

The following (all italics) comes from the book, “Holliston: A Good Town,” written by local historian Joanne Hulbert and published in 2000. I intended to work Sambo Freeman into a blog for February, Black History Month, but time got by me. So instead, I am posting it as she wrote it in her book. I will be forever grateful to Joanne for her generosity in sharing her research and writing with me and others who share her love and passion for the history of the town we call home.

Sambo Freeman. His name was a slur that I heard often growing up in a mixed neighborhood in Springfield, MA 1944-1953. I also remember hearing about the book, “Little Black Sambo,” written in 1922 by Helen Bannerman. Then racism was overt and blatant.

As for Sambo’s last name, I always assumed the name came from freed slaves in the U.S., and I suspect his did; but the name originated in the Middle Ages and referred to freed “serfs” that were released by their masters. History repeats, right?

I discovered that there were Freemans that came over on the Mayflower, and one even settled in Dedham, but I could find no link between him and Sambo. Perhaps a better storyteller could craft some salacious romance to tell about a freed Negro woman and a white land baron of Dedham, but I will leave that for others…or at least another day.

As the events leading up to the American Revolution, as the breezes blowing thoughts of liberty and freedom wafted out to Holliston and were inhaled by all the citizens, talk at Littlefield’s Tavern tended to lean toward Loyalist

Littlefield Tavern, west end of Washington St. still stands today.

thoughts, while ideas nearer the village were strongly in favor of independence. All minds were at work on the subject. One citizen in particular was paying careful attention and gave the new ideas of independence much reflection.

Sambo Freeman had received a Quitclaim from his master in 1754, and continued to live and work as a carpenter in Holliston since that time. Several years later on January 6, 1773, Governor Hutchinson received “the humble Petition of many Slaves, living in the Town of Boston, and other Towns in the Province. . . who have had every Day of their Lives imbittered with this most intollerable reflection, That, let their behavior be what it will, nor their Children to all generations, shall ever be able to do, or to possess and enjoy any Thing, no not even Life itself, but in a Manner as the Beasts that perish. We have no Property! We have no Wives! No Children! We have no City! No Country!” The petition was signed, simply, “Felix.”

Three months later, a printed leaflet, a letter to the delegates of the towns in the House of Representatives, was circulated by four African Americans: Felix Holbrook, Peter Bestes, Chester Joie, and Sambo Freeman. The leaflet began with a challenge: “We expect great things from men who have made such a noble stand against the designs of their fellow-men to enslave them” and continued with a request, that now, at least, to allow the “Africans . . . one day in a week to work for themselves, to enable them to earn money” in order that they may be able to buy their freedom. “Even so, there is no future in America. We will leave the province . . . as soon as we can, from our joynt labors procure money to transport ourselves to some part of the Coast of Africa, where we propose a settlement.”
There would be more than one hundred years to pass before Martin Delany and Marcus Garvey would mount the same intention to relocate former slaves in Sierra Leone and Liberia. The House tabled the petition, and the four petitioners carried their appeal to Governor Hutchinson, who said he could not help them.

Quit Claim and Release

Joanne included in her book the Quit Claim given to Sambo to release him from servitude. I find it rather chilling but encouraging at the same time. It was, after all, long before the Civil War.

Sambo Freeman’s discharge from servitude 1754

To all People to whom these Presents shall come Greeting Know Ye that I John Adams of Wrentham in the County of Suffolk in the Province of the Massachusetts Bay in New England Yeoman For and in consideration of the Sum of Thirteen Pounds Six shillings and eight pence to me in hand paid Have Quit Claimed, and do by these Presents for myself my Heirs executors Administrators and Assigns fully absolutely and freely Remiss Release Discharge acquit and resign all my right Claim or Interest in and to a Certain Negro man named Sambo who of late Belongs to Mr. William Burgess late of Medway Deceased and by him left to his wife Mrs. Bethiah Burgess from whom I derived my right to said Negro man who I now have Dismissed and discharged and by these presents do for myself my Heirs Executor’s Administrators and Assigns, do fully intirely and freely dismiss release and discharge him the said Sambo to be at his own free Dispose forever free from any Claim made by me or any Person by or under me whom soever or by my means in any form whatsoever. Given under my hand and seal the fifth Day of April Anno Domini One Thousand seven hundred and fifty and four in the Twenty seventh Year of His Majesty’s Reign George the second of Great Britain King, etc.
Signed Sealed and Delivered
In the Presence of John Adams
Jeremiah Daniell

Sambo’s Life

There’s not a lot about him, but apparently Sambo lived on Long Hill, now the Cedar Street area near the Ashland line. We learn a bit about his family from his Last Will and Testament.


In the name of God, Amen, I Sambo Freeman of Holliston in the county of Middlesex, Yeoman being weak in body, but of sound and perfect mind and memory, blessed be almighty god for the same, do make and publish this my last Will and Testament in manner and form following (that is to say). First I give and bequeath unto my beloved wife Eleanor Freeman the use and improvement of all my estate both real and personal so long as she shall remain my widow and at her decease or marriage which may first happen my will is that all my said real estate and so much of my said personal estate as shall then be left, shall be equally divided between my four children after named (my debts and funeral charges being first paid out of my said personal estate by my said wife whom I hereby appoint sole executrix of this my last will and testament) my said four children being my sons Obadiah and Philip and my daughters Eleanor and Esther, they their heirs and affairs to have and to hold the same forever equal shares after the decease or marriage of my said wife, which may first happen and they my said four children, upon their coming into possession of the same shall pay to my son Amos Freeman or his heirs the sum of five dollars which sum I give to him to make up his full share out of my estate. And lastly I do hereby revoke all former wills by me made. In witness whereof I have unto set my hand and seal the twenty-ninth day of September in the year of our Lord, one thousand seven hundred and ninety seven.
His Mark:  X
Sambo Freeman

And from the local news accounts:

Friday September 29, 1797 – I visited and prayed with Sambo Freeman, an old Negro. He talked like a Christian. He said, this is his last sickness.

Saturday, September 30, 1797 – In my study. Sambo died at 11 o’clock, AM.

Monday, October 2, 1797 – The Negroes have, today, paid great respect to Sambo’s character. They buried him with great decency.

Timothy Dickinson (local minister)

3 responses to “Belatedly – Black History – Holliston”

  1. Susan Baldacci says:

    This is so interesting. Thank you so much for posting it.

  2. Ceci LeBeau says:


  3. Kate Connors says:

    So interesting to read about this man’s life. Thanks, Mary, and Joanne!

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