February is Black History Month when we try to tell the story of the remarkable African American soldiers who served in the Battles of Saratoga.
Eden (Edom) London from Winchendon and Hatfleld, Massachusetts. He served in the 10th Massachusetts Regiment. London first came to attention because of the research of George Quintal, Jr. in the NPS study Patriots of Color. African and Native Americans at Battle Road and Bunker Hill. 2005.
London was a slave who in July 1776 was sold to Daniel Goodridge, also of Winchendon. Shortly thereafter, London enlisted in the army for three years and Goodridge received “the whole of his bounty, and part of his wages.”
After the war, Edom London lived in both Winchendon and Hatfield. London became destitute and needed community support which lead to a court case. The question considered by the court was, which town was liable for London’s support? The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts finally decreed that neither town was liable because London was a freeman, stating, “slavery was abolished in Massachusetts by the Declaration of Rights on the adoption of the Constitution of the Commonwealth in 1780.”
Occupation: N/ A
Residence: Fitchburg, MA
Religion N/ A
The respected Lancaster (MA) historian Nourse describes Eden London as ’colored’. There was a London, ’negro of Joseph Moores’, who was baptized at Chocksett Church in Lancaster on 16 June 1744 and who is most likely the same person as the soldier described below.
Due to the legal case Winchendon V. Hatﬁeld (described below), we know that ’in nineteen years [he] changed masters no less than eleven times, besides twice enlisting in the Continental Army. He enlisted in the eight months’ service from Fitchburg (MA) on 10 May 1775, in the company of Capt. James Burt in Asa Whitcomb’s regiment.
His name appears on a 3 June 1775 order for advance pay, on the 1 August 1775 muster roll and on the October 1775 company return. Nourse states that he ’fought at Bunker Hill’. There is no record of 1776 service.
With Gen. Burgoyne preparing to advance on northern New York, the call went out for soldiers to meet this serious threat. He enlisted from Winchendon on 7 December 1776 for three years in the Continental Army, in Capt. William Warner’s company in Col Thomas Marshall’s 10th Massachusetts regiment. This unit fought valiantly at both Battles of Saratoga, spent the winter at Valley Forge and then fought in the stifling heat at Monmouth (NJ). From January to April 1779 he served at West Point. He was discharged on 7 December 1779.
The History of Winchendon describes an important legal case in which Eden London was the principle character. THE SLAVE CASE It is a curious fact that the question whether chattel slave ever existed in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, was settled, in part by a case in which this town was involved as a party at law.
The subject is referred to in an article which appeared in the Historical Magazine, (N.Y.) in 1866, written apparently in a spirit hostile to the fair fame of the State. A reply to this article appeared in the Boston Daily Advertiser. A concise statement of this case belongs to this period of our narrative. On the 2d of August, 1804, the town voted “that the Selectmen should see and take care of the matter concerning the Negro, that the town of Ipswich has notiﬁed this town to take and support.” No name is given, but it is supposed that the same person is referred to in the following action, taken on the 4th of the next March, (1805.) “Chose Thomas Graton and Thomas Greenwood, agents to look into the matter of Eden London, (named in the Records of the Court, Edom,) a poor negro man, and find out where he ought to be supported.” On the 6th of May following, it was farther voted, “that the agents, with the assistance of the Selectmen, notify the town of Weston, or the town of Hatfield, or any other town, as soon as they can gain knowledge, which town said London was left a citizen, according to law.“ Later still, on the 18th of August, 1806, the agents were directed to “carry on the suit against Hatfield, concerning Eden London, according to the best counsel they can get, to ﬁnal issue.” At the same time a grant of $50 was made to carry on the lawsuit.
The contest was now between Hatfield and Winchendon. It had first been brought before a justice of the peace in Worcester county, where the decision was in favor of Hatfield, affirming the decision of the justice. The case was tried, at the December term, 1806. It was next appealed to the Supreme Judicial Court, March term, 1808. The record of the Court of Common Pleas, as certiﬁed by the presiding justice, as follows: Worcester, ss. Court of Common Pleas, December, 1806. The town of Winchendon, in the county of Worcester, complainants against the town of Hatfield. in the county of Hampshire, before this court of appeal from the adjudication of Hon Dwight Foster, Esq., one of the justices of the peace for said county, setting forth in their complaint, that Edom London. a Negro man, now resident in said town of Winchendon. is poorand become chargeable to said town, and that the said town of Hatfield is the place of his lawful settlement, and praying that it may be so adjudged The facts in the case, from the evidence before the court are, that said Edom, in the year 1757, was the proper estate of one Samuel Bond, and then by him sold to William Williams of Weston ; that some time in the year 1760, and after the decease of the aid Williams, said Edom was set off as the estate of said Williams to the wife of Oliver Partridge of Hatfield. who was the daughter of said deceased, as part of the portion in said deceased’s estate, and then went to live with said Partridge, in said town of Hatfield, and continued his servant until the 2d day of October, AD. 1767, at which time he was sold by Partridge to John lngersoll, Esq., of Westfield, in said county of Hampshire, and continued with him about three years; was then sold by said lngersoll to John M’Cluster of Longrneadow, lived with him a few weeks; was then sold by said M‘Cluster to Joshua Holcomb, of Simsbury, Ct and lived with him about four years; then sold by Holcomb to William Bond of Lincoln, and lived with him a short time; was then sold by said Bond to Thomas Cowdin, of Fitchburg, and lived with him three or four years; was then sold by Cowdin to Jonathan Stimson; of Winchendon; and the day following he absconded and enlisted in the eight months‘ service in Cambridge and before he expiration of the said eight months’ service and in the year 1775, was sold by said Stimson to Thomas Sawyer of Winchendon with whom he lived some time; then he was sold by said Sawyer to Daniel Goodridge, of the same Winchendon, in the month of July 1776 with whom he lived about five weeks; then he enlisted into the three years‘ service and the said Goodridge received the whole of his bounty, and part of his wages. Such was the case before the Court of Common Pleas, which affirmed the judgment of justice Foster, and adjudged that London’s settlement was not in Hatfield. It may be said here in passing, that according to tradition, Eden London had his freedom from Mr. Goodridge, on condition that he, London, should take the place of his master, in the three years‘ of service.
The case was brought up before the Supreme Court, at Worcester in September, 1807, when Upham appeared in behalf of the plaintiffs that is, the town of Winchendon. The case was continued, and at the March term, 1808, Bigelow argued the case for this town. After hearing the arguments, the Court, Chief Justice Parsons, presiding decided as follows: “ls is stated that the pauper was once the slave of Oliver Partridge living several years with him at Hatfield, where his master was settled. The pauper then acquired a derivative settlement in Hatfield. Afterwards his master sold him to J. lngersoll, Esq and inhabitant of, and settled in Westfield. There he lived several years with his new master, and then he lost his settlement in Hatfield, by gaining a new derivative settlement in Westfield, either as a slave of a freeman, it is unnecessary to pursue the case further. Having lost his settlemmt in Hatﬁeld, and not having regained a new settlement there. the defendants are not liable for maintenance, and the judgment must be affirmed with costs.” The decision relieved Hatfield from the support of Eden London, and threw the costs of the suit upon Winchendon; but must Winchendon continue to support him? It was claimed by the town’s counsel, Mr. Bigelow, among other things, that a slave could obtain a settlement by length of residence, and not merely derivatively from his master. It was farther claimed, that by two decisions of the Supreme Judicial Court it had been decided that slavery could not exist in this Commonwealth. In the first action referred to, involving the right of the master, which came before the Supreme Judicial Court, after the establishment of the Constitution, the judges declared, that by virtue of the first article of the declaration of rights, slavery in this State was no more.
Afterwards in an action by the inhabitants of Littleton, brought to maintain the expenses supporting a negro, tried in Middlesex, October term 1796, the Chief Justice, in directing the jury, stated as the unanimous opinion of the court, that a negro born in the State before the present constitution, was born free, although born of a female slave. If this decision should stand, then London was legally a freeman, when he lived in Hatfield, and had settlement in his own right, which he had never forfeited, since he had been removed without any regard to his own wishes. But Judge Parsons and his Associates dismissed this matter with the curt remark: “It is however very certain that the general practice and common usage had been opposed to his opinion.“
The decision settled this point. that before the Revolution the settlement of a slave always followed that of his master.” Eden’s residence was here therefore, because his last three masters lived in this town. Again the decision affirmed that slaves when “manumitted, could acquire a settlement in their own right, and they had resided a year in the town where they‘ were manumitted, they could not then be warned out.” Whichever of these decisions of the Court was right; the more humane one of the Court in 1796, or the possibly more legal one of the court in 1808; the town was obliged to support Eden London in his old age, and as he did service in the war of independence, it is to be hoped that the maintenance was cheerfully rendered. It has come down to us that he was a “pretty smart man.”
He was probably an old man by this time, as it is fifty-one years from the time he began to ﬁgure, or rather be ﬁgured, in these sales, to the final decision. He was buried in the old graveyard in the Old Centre Cemetery in Winchendon MA , in the northeast corner.
This is from NPS study Patriots of Color. African and Native Americans at Battle Road and Bunker Hill.
Saratoga has been defined by the people who by choice or by chance participated in the Battles. It is the determination of our forefathers, including African American soldiers in surmounting overwhelming odds that help define the American spirit – the will and ability to shape a better future. It is the people it is that define this community by choice or by chance have changed this country and even the world political development. That is why studying the people of Saratoga is helpful in the understanding of the condition of being human.