Sisters Vilana, Rosanna, and Salome Quacum were born at the turn of the 19th century on the south shore of Massachusetts, the daughters of a multiracial family with African, Mattakeeset (Massachuset) Indian, and Herring Pond (Wampanoag) Indian heritage. Although they had lived as free New England women, they each married husbands in the 1820s who were fugitive slaves. After spending several years in their hometown of Marshfield, Plymouth County, Massachusetts and Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, each of the married sisters made the decision to leave their extended family behind and become founding members of the Wilberforce Colony in Ontario, on land which was owned and governed by African Americans, and thus offered security to the Quacum sisters’ husbands from American slave catchers, as well as the possibility of living in a more welcoming community with black governance.
The Origins of the Quacum Sisters
Their father Thomas Quacum was a resident of Marshfield, Massachusetts in 1782. He was likely a grandson or great-grandson of Wampanoag Indian Quacom/Quakom who was a member of Rev. Thomas Tupper’s congregation of Christian Indians at Herring Pond in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1693. His English neighbors had a difficult time mastering the Wampanoag roots of his surname, and over the course of his lifetime and his children’s lifetimes, their surname would be spelled in numerous variations by American officials – Quacum, Quaqum, Quagum, Quawko, Quackow, Quocko, Quokum, Quoker, Quarker, Quicco, Quiccow, Quaker.
Thomas “Quagum” and Phillis Dolphin, both residents of Marshfield, published their marriage intentions in Marshfield on 21 December 1782. Rev. Daniel Shute performed their marriage on 23 December 1782 in the Second Parish Church in Hingham. Phillis Dolphin’s origins are uncertain, but she was likely the daughter of a local enslaved or free black family. Together they had a daughter, Phillis Quacum, born about 1783. Little is known about her childhood, but at an early age she may have been indentured with a local white family. Phillis Quacum married at the age of 15 in 1798, and at the time of her marriage her name was listed as “Phillis Quacum alias Sarah Rodes”. The surname Rodes was rare in Plymouth County at that time, perhaps she had lived with the family of Samuel Rodes and Peggy Darling of Duxbury. Phillis published marriage intentions with John Mevas “a black man” in Plymouth on 3 November 1798. Phillis (Quacom) Mevas died in Plymouth 3 February 1803. Mevas was likely a black Portuguese mariner, and he remarried in New Bedford the year after Phillis’ death.
Shortly after their marriage in 1782, Thomas and Phillis Quacom found employment in Bridgewater, Massachusetts. Perhaps things quickly turned sour in their marriage, however, because in 1784 Phillis became pregnant with a married black Revolutionary War soldier and former slave Jupiter Richards.
While still enslaved, Jupiter Richards had two illegitimate children: Jane Richards (b. 11 Dec. 1772) and Judas Richards (b. 3 Nov. 1775) with free “mulatto” woman Lettice Stewart of Bridgewater, who was the daughter of Amos Stewart/Steward (who likely had African heritage) and Mattakeeset Indian Hannah Moses. Once the Revolutionary War began, however, Jupiter Richards served in the military and used his bounty money to purchase his freedom. As a free man, he published marriage banns with Lettice in Bridgewater on 24 Feb. 1776, then served another stint in the military, then returned home to marry Lettice in Abington on 27 September 1777. Following their marriage, they had two additional sons born in Bridgewater: Elisha (b. 20 Feb. 1778) and Amos (b. 28 June 1781), with Jupiter serving additional military service between and after the births of his sons.
Sometime in September 1784, Jupiter Richards and Phillis (Dolphin) Quacum had an affair and Phillis became pregnant. They apparently chose to leave both of their families behind in Bridgewater, and together moved to West Springfield, Hampden County, Massachusetts. There, on 24 May 1785, Phillis gave birth to a daughter Renah Richards.
Back in Bridgewater in the spring of 1785, Lettice (Stewart) Richards was left to care for her four children – 12 year old Jane, 9 year old Judas, 7 year old Elisha, and 3 year old Amos. The oldest children may have been sent to live with white families as indentured servants. Lettice (Stewart) Richards and Thomas Quacum commiserated together over over their respective spouses running off with each other. And in the summer of 1785, Thomas and Lettice published marriage intentions in Bridgewater. Thomas’s daughter Vilana was possibly born from this relationship.
In West Springfield during the year 1786, laborer Jupiter Richards was paid £1.19s. for working 13 days at the Springfield Arsenal, “piling shot & shells for the Public”. In 1787, Phillis again became pregnant, and they had a son Sylvester Richards born in West Springfield on 20 April 1788. In 1787, Jupiter purchased groceries such as tobacco, suet, and beef from the Dwight store in Springfield. On a cold winter day on 22 January 1789, Jupiter Richards “with Force & Arms did feloniously steal take & carry away One bushel of Rye” valued at 3 shillings from his neighbor John Warner. Jupiter was imprisoned and his case was brought to trial in February 1789, then postponed until September 1789.
Although the court case does not reveal the details of why Jupiter Richards stole a bushel of rye, it was most likely to feed his struggling family through a cold winter. But his imprisonment in January only made his family’s financial difficulties worse, and as days turned into weeks, and his trial was postponed in February, Phillis made the difficult decision to return back to Bridgewater, and it is unclear if she did so with or without her young children, of whom no additional records have been identified.
In Bridgewater, “Phillis Richards” reunited with Thomas Quacum, and they quickly remarried while Jupiter Richards was still in prison – their wedding was held in Bridgewater on 15 April 1789.
Lettice (Stewart) (Richards) Quacum then married Pito Snow in Bridgewater in December 1792, and they moved to Sutton, Worcester County, Massachusetts. Her children with Jupiter Richards remained in Plymouth County – daughter Jane Richards married in Bridgewater in 1794, son Elisha Richards married in Bridgewater in 1800, and son Amos Richards married in Hingham in 1806.
Jupiter Richards remained imprisoned in Hampden County, and his trial was held in September 1789. He pleaded guilty to stealing the bushel of rye valued at three shillings from John Warner. His punishment was to pay Warner “threefold damages” – nine shillings, as well as a fine of 20 shillings to the County Treasury, plus the costs of the court case which totaled four pounds, four shillings, and six pence. He was also sentenced to remain imprisoned until his debt could be paid, which totaled 5 pounds, 13 shillings and 6 pence. At the same court session, a white man, David Farmer, was also found guilty of theft and charged a fine and costs of court. Neither Jupiter Richards nor David Farmer could afford their penalties, so wealthy tavern owner Samuel Flower of Feeding Hills [now Agawam] paid both of their fines in exchange for their servitude. Farmer agreed to work for Flower “in his service long enough to indemnify him.” Jupiter’s contract with Flower, however, agreed to a service of twenty years to pay off the debt: “Richards agreed to enter servitude for twenty years and ‘faithfully serve’ Flower and Flower’s family and ‘their secrets will keep, their Commands lawfull & honest will gladly obey at all times…. will do no Damage to the sd. Samuel nor his Heirs nor Assigns nor suffer it to be done by others, without giving them seasonable notice thereof.” This is especially shocking considering that it would have taken Jupiter about a month and a half of labor at the Springfield Armory to pay off the 5 pound debt, considering that three years prior he made almost 2 pounds for half a months work. The Massachusetts courts had declared slavery unconstitutional in 1783, yet in 1789, 40 year old Jupiter Richards was forced through financial desperation and Samuel Flower’s blatant abuse of the debt peonage system to enter into servitude with Flower until the age of 60.
Jupiter Richards was one of the two “free persons” living in the household of Samuel Flower of West Springfield in the 1790 census, and the same year Jupiter Richards paid a poll tax in West Springfield. A decade previously the Cuffe brothers of Dartmouth (now Westport), Massachusetts – the sons of an enslaved African father and Wampanoag Indian mother – had protested paying a poll tax, arguing that it was unfair for black men to have to pay a poll tax while being denied the right to vote, especially after serving in the Revolutionary War. “We apprehend ourselves to be aggrieved, in that, while we are not allowed the privilege of freemen of the State, having no vote or influence in the election of those that tax us, yet many of our colour (as is well known) have cheerfully entered the field of battle in the defence of the common cause, and that (as we conceive) against a similar exertion of power (in regard to taxation), too well known to need a recital in this place.”
After almost five years of service to Samuel Flower, Jupiter Richards had had enough.
Jupiter Richards left Samuel Flower’s home in July 1794, and no further records have been identified for him. Did he return to Bridgewater? Go to Boston? Change his name? See additional details about Jupiter Richards in “Freedom Stories of the Pioneer Valley.”
Back in Bridgewater, Thomas Quacum’s timeline is a bit challenging to piece together.
He had two daughters, Vilana and Rosanna, whose births went unrecorded in Bridgewater records, and whose ages are calculated from census records and their dates of death, making it unclear if they are precise or off by several years.
Vilana Quacum/Quarker was born circa 1786, and therefore possibly the daughter of Thomas Quacum and Lettice (Stewart) Richards, following their 1785 marriage.
Rosanna Quacum/Quawker was born circa 1789, and therefore possibly the daughter of the reunited Thomas Quacum and Phillis (Dolphin) Richards.
Thomas Quacum next had five younger children, all born after 1795. It is unclear if Phillis was the mother of these four younger children, or if Thomas Quacum had an additional wife whose first name is unknown.
Could Jupiter Richards have runaway from Samuel Flower in 1794, then returned to Bridgewater and reunited with Phillis, after which Thomas Quacum married another woman? Also of possible interest is the fact that the West Springfield First Congregational Church recorded the death of a Phillis Richards, who died of inflammatory fever on 26 February 1811, aged 52 [born circa 1758]. This is the only Richards death in the Vital Records of West Springfield, and no race is mentioned for this Phillis Richards. Additionally, the household of Samuel Flower had 1 person of color in the 1800 Census, and 3 people of color in the 1810 Census. It is unclear if Phillis returned to West Springfield.
In the late 1790s, Thomas Quacum briefly found work in the town of Pembroke and perhaps lived there in the Mattakeeset Indian community, where his son John Quacum/Quackow was born sometime between 1795-1800. By 1800 the family had returned to Bridgewater. In the 1800 Census, Thomas “Quawko” was the head of household in Bridgewater with 5 freepersons – likely Thomas and his wife, and his children Vilana, Rosanna, and John (in 1800 daughter Phillis (Quacum) Mevas was married and living in Plymouth). The census enumerator confused the “freeperson” households of Thomas Quawko and James Eason/Easton and swapped their names as “James Quawko” and “Thomas Eason”.
Shortly thereafter, Thomas Quacum found work and housing in Marshfield at the Chandler grist mill. Four additional Quacum children were born in Marshfield: Betsy (b. 1802), Salome (b. 1806), Phebe, (b. by 1809), and Thomas Jefferson (b. 1810).
In the 1810 Census, the family of Thomas Quacum resided in the household of Luther Sprague in Marshfield off of present-day Old Ocean St. in Marshfield on the north side of Chandler’s Millpond. There were 9 freepersons in Thomas Quacum’s household (Thomas, his wife, and children Vilana, Rosanna, John, Betsy, Salome, Phebe, and Thomas Jefferson).
In the 1820 Census, Thomas Quacum was the head of household in Marshfield, Massachusetts with 12 “free colored persons”, consisting of 5 males under 14, 2 males 26-44, 2 males 45 and over, 1 female under 14, 1 female 14-25, 1 female over 45. His household was located off of present-day Old Ocean St. in Marshfield on the north side of Chandler’s Millpond.
The 1820s were a momentous decade for the Quacum family (who by this time more consistently had their surname spelled Quarker or Quackow), with the majority of Quacum children marrying and starting their own families in both Marshfield and Boston.
The Thomas Quacum household on Chandler’s Millpond in Marshfield expanded with the marriages of several children. In 1820, son John married Margaret Calley alias Leonard, and they had three children born in the Quacum house: John Jr. b. 1820, Jane Mary b. 1823, and Phebe Ann b. 1829. When Margaret moved into the Quacum house she also brought her young daughter Lucretia Leonard (b. 1818). Daughter Vilana married fugitive slave Philip Harris in 1825 and had son Philip D. Harris in the Quacum house in 1826. Daughter Salome married fugitive slave Peter Butler in 1827 and had a son Peter Edward Butler in the Quacum house in 1828.
The remaining Quacum children left Marshfield and joined the multiracial community in Boston. Daughter Rosanna had married John Carter and moved to Boston in the 1810s, and she married her second husband William Bell in 1824 and they had a son William born there in 1824. Daughter Phebe married Henry Carroll in Marshfield in 1825 and moved to Boston. Daughter Betsy married Charles Williams in 1829 and had daughter Betsy in 1830. Tragically Betsy died in childbirth and her infant daughter Betsy died three months later. Son Thomas Jefferson married twice in Boston in the 1830s and had children in Boston.
Thomas Quacum and his wife died in their home in Marshfield sometime between 1820-1830. Their deaths coincided with a life-changing decision among several of their daughters. Daughters Vilana, Rosanna, and Salome, along with their husbands and children, decided to leave Massachusetts and become founders of the Wilberforce Colony in Ontario, Canada, a community owned and governed by free blacks. All three of the Quacum sister’s husbands became officials of the Wilberforce colonial government. The decision to leave Massachusetts and their family behind must have been a difficult one for the Quacum sisters to make, but it was an essential one for the safety of their fugitive spouses and the protection of their children.
The Quacum Sisters of Wilberforce Colony (later Lucan, Ontario)
Vilana (Quacum) Harris (1786-1850) and Philip Harris (1775-1857). Philip Harris served as a manager for the Wilberforce Colony in the 1830s.
Rosanna (Quacum) Bell (1789-1878) and William Bell (1792-1877) and operated a tavern in the Sauble section of Lucan. William Bell served as a manager for the Wilberforce Colony in the 1830s. After moving to Wilberforce, the Bells briefly hosted Israel Lewis who had initially helped to raise money for the colony before fraudulently stealing it, leading to a contentious multi-year long series of legal battles. In 1848, an unknown party set fire to the barn and grain stores of William Bell and several other black residents, and a 50 pound reward was posted to help locate the perpetrators. The widowed Rosanna Bell was the subject of a tall tale (recorded or invented by The Black Donnellys author Thomas P. Kelley) regarding the infamous murder of the troublemaking Irish-Canadian Donnelly family, who were killed in their home in Biddulph in 1880 by a mob of townspeople. Kelley claimed that sometime prior to the murder, head of the family James Donnelly and several of his sons forced their way into “Grandma Bell’s” log cabin and asked for their fortunes to be told by reading tea leaves. She supposedly said “I see blood on the moon” and fortold the family’s impending deaths.
Salome (Quacum) Butler (1806-1873) and Peter Butler (1797-1873) became one of the largest landowners in the area. Peter Butler had been a mariner, and in Ontario worked as a caulker and doctor. He served as a treasurer for the Wilberforce Colony in the 1830s. His estate was valued at $22,000 at his death in 1872, and multiple generations continued to live on his estate in the town of Lucan. Peter Butler is recognized as a founder of the town of Lucan on a historical plaque “Founding of Lucan” located by the Lucan Area Heritage & Donnelly Museum. Their grandson Peter Butler III became the first black Canadian police officer.
Once the Quacum sisters left for Ontario and several Quacum siblings moved to Boston, Massachusetts, only brother John Quacum remained in Marshfield. However, he died unexpectedly in his early 30s, and his widow Margaret married James Tuttle in 1832 and left Marshfield with her children, and together James and Margaret (Calley/Leonard Quacum/Quackow) Tuttle founded the neighborhood of Tuttleville in Hingham. John Quacum’s step-daughter Lucretia Leonard ended segregation in Hingham, Massachusetts’ New North Church by sitting with her white employers in their family pew rather than at the back of the church in the “negro pew.”
Political and social activism ran strong through the Quacum family. Although the Quacum sisters husbands are better remembered as Wilberforce’s founding fathers, it is fascinating to consider that these three women, from the shores of Chandler’s Mill Pond in Marshfield, Massachusetts came together and made the decision to leave everything behind and move to Canada for the promise of a better future.