by Anna Fossi
Aaron, Edward and Esaw Carter: Brothers in Arms, Fighting for Freedom
In July 1775, as General George Washington took control of the Continental Army and began to organize the patriot forces, his Adjutant General Horatio Gates gave the advice to recruiters that they should not allow “any deserter from the Ministerial army, nor any stroller, negro or vagabond.”1 Though exclusion from war may sound like a blessing, the war provided a rare opportunity for enslaved black men to pursue freedom. Given this direct exclusion at the beginning of the war, one path enslaved men could pursue was to take the British up on their offer to fight for the Crown in exchange for freedom. However, Washington soon had to accept that for any chance at success in the war the army must concede and accept almost any recruit they could get, including already free black men or some who could become free by joining as a substitute for the white men enslaving them.
By the Revolutionary War, Connecticut had more slaves than any state in New England.
Connecticut’s slave population by year:
1690: ~ 200 enslaved people
1774: ~ 5100 enslaved people2
Although both Connecticut and Rhode Island passed acts in 1774 prohibiting the importation of enslaved people into their borders, slavery itself was not banned. In 1784 the Connecticut state legislature passed an act of Gradual Abolition, which stated that children born into slavery after March 1, 1784, would only be free at age 25. Slavery officially endured in Connecticut until 1848, though the effects of its legacy were felt long after.
Edward, Aaron, and Esaw were the children of Edward (Ned) and Jenny Carter, along with Jacob, Asher Sally, and an unidentified child. Jenny, Ned, and Edward are documented as slaves of Jonathan Kellogg of Colchester, while the other children were likely divided among Kellogg’s sons. Ned Carter served as a soldier at Crown Point in 1755 during the French and Indian War, where he was able to gain freedom. Records also indicate that Edward Carter Sr. also served from 1777-1783 in the Revolutionary War, indicating that the pursuit of freedom was only one of multiple reasons for black men to enlist in the Continental forces during this period.
Edward Carter Jr. was born in Colchester, Connecticut likely in 1750, making him 27 years old when he enlisted into the Connecticut Line on May 7, 1777. Following the war, Edward and his wife Eunice Williams moved to Willington, Connecticut. According to Black Roots in Southeastern Connecticut, 1650-1900, Edward and his family, which grew to include 11 children, were ordered to leave Willington by the town selectmen who did not want black
residents in the town. Following this, he returned to Colchester with his family and finally purchased land in Ellington, Connecticut. Though the state-approved Carter’s pension application, Eunice is recorded as saying her and Edward were “poor and illiterate.” Edward died at 76 in February of 1826, and his wife continued to receive his pension.3
Aaron Carter served in the Third Connecticut Regiment, enlisting on May 29, 1777.4 Aaron Carter’s pension record, submitted by his wife Rachel Carter on behalf of her late husband, as well as a testimony from his daughter Abigail Caples, gives a rare account given by a black women from the 1800s, though the content is largely focused on her husband’s life. Carter’s enlistment records state he was “exchanged for Salmon Root,” and while there is no record indicating for certain that Salmon Root enslaved Aaron Carter prior to the Revolution, this is a likely scenario explaining Carter’s substitution for Root. In Rachel Carter’s recollection in the application, Aaron entered the army in 1777 and was honorably discharged in 1783. Notably, Rachel mentions that Aaron entered the army at the same time as his brother, Edward Carter. Following Aaron’s death, Rachel and her daughter Abigail both attest that she had lived in Middletown for twenty years, and had never remarried.5
Esaw Carter enlisted May 7, 1777 and served in the Connecticut Fourth Regiment alongside his brother Edward, both in Captain Andrew Fitch’s company. There are not currently any known probate or pension records for Esaw, though we do know that both he and his brother Edward served in the Fourth Connecticut Regiment together. As previously mentioned, records indicate that the Carter children were split up and enslaved by Jonathan Kellogg’s sons. Though, it is unclear whether one of Kellogg’s sons enslaved both Esaw and Edward, or if they were split up.6
Aaron, Edward, and Esaw Carter all served in the Connecticut Line and were present at the Redding Winter Encampment. Their pension applications, probate records and entries in the United States census all provide vital information about their service in the American Revolution, and the opportunities they were able to gain through their freedom.
Family separation was an all too common aspect of chattel slavery. Often, enslavers separated families at auctions, or in the case of the Carters, the breaking up of Kellogg’s estate, where the Carters were viewed simply as property, forced their separation. The Redding Encampment may have been one of the few places these brothers would be able to see each other again, and even then it is entirely possible some of them may not have been old enough at the time of separation to remember the others. Or simply the nature of war may have kept them apart, though like much of this forgotten history it is nearly impossible to know.
Edward and Esaw, both in the Fourth Regiment, and Aaron in the Third Regiment, would have all been stationed in the same section of the Redding Encampment. The encampment was split into three camps in the north half of Redding, and the 3 Carter brothers were all in the west camp along with the Sixth and Eighth Connecticut Regiments.7 Further research would need to be done to determine if there are records of the individual placements of soldiers in the makeshift huts across the camp. However, there is at least evidence showing that the 3 brothers served in close proximity to each other in the Revolutionary War, though after the war they went in different directions.
1 Captain Schuyler C. Webb and Master Sergeant William J. Herrmann, “Historical Overview of Racism in the Military”, Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute, 1.
2 Compiled by Peter Hinks, “Slave Population of Colonial Connecticut, 1690-1774″, Yale.
3 Timothy Nicholson, “Chappell, Edward Carter, Jr. (1750- 26 Feb. 1826),” Oxford African American Studies Center, 15 March 2013. https://doi-org.ccsu.idm.oclc.org/10.1093/acref/9780195301731.013.38926
4 Henry P. Johnston, ed.. The Record of Connecticut Men in the Military and Naval Service During the War of the Revolution 1775-1783, Vol. I-III. (Hartford, CT: Case, Lockwood & Brainard Co., 1889), 172.
5 U.S., Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, 1800-1900. Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Record Group 15. National Archives, Washington, D.C.
6 Johnston, 186.
7 Daniel Cruson, Putnam’s Revolutionary War Winter Encampment: The History and Archaeology of Putnam Memorial State Park, (Charleston, SC: The History Press 2011) 20.
“Revolutionary War Rolls, 1775-1783,” National Archives Microfilm Publication M246, 138 rolls; War Department Collection of Revolutionary War Records, Record Group 93; National Archives, Washington. D.C.
U.S., Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, 1800-1900. Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Record Group 15. National Archives, Washington, D.C.
Johnston, Henry P., ed.. The Record of Connecticut Men in the Military and Naval Service During the War of the Revolution 1775-1783. Vol. I-III. Hartford, CT: Case, Lockwood & Brainard Co., 1889.
Cruson, Daniel. Putnam’s Revolutionary War Winter Encampment: The History and Archaeology of Putnam Memorial State Park. Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2011.