Article

Primus Hall: A Revolutionary Life of Service

Born in Boston to enslaved parents of African descent, Primus Hall would also be considered enslaved himself. However, when sent away to live with the Trask family in the countryside town of Danvers, Massachusetts, Primus grew up as an indentured apprentice and personally rejected the enslaved status given to him upon birth. As he came of age, nearing 20 years old, Primus Hall first enlisted to serve in the Revolutionary War in January 1776. This decision led to a lengthy military career that took him to various states along the east coast, including New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Virginia.

Upon his return to Boston, Hall earned enough money through his soap-boiling business to accumulate land in Beacon Hill and firmly established himself and his family in the neighborhood. His veteran’s status and leadership skills gained him a respectable reputation and he channeled these skills and influence into community activism. He dedicated his later years to advocating for equal educational opportunities for Black children and became known as a “patriarch” of the Black community in Boston. Additionally, stories of his presumed personal relationships with prominent war figures, including George Washington and Timothy Pickering, elevated his credibility and became powerful tools in the community’s fight against slavery and racism.

Hall’s story serves as an inspiring and unique bridge between the brave Revolutionary War service of Black soldiers and the post-war abolition movement in Boston.

Explore the story map below to learn about Primus Hall’s life story. Click "Get Started" to enter the map. To read more about each point, click "More" or scroll to view the map, historical images, and accompanying text. To navigate between the points, please use the "Next Stop" button at the bottom of the slides or the arrows on either side of the main image. To view a larger version of the main image depicted below the map, click on the image.

Contributed by Danielle Rose and Anjelica Oswald, Digital Public History Interns

Primus Hall

February 29, 1756 – March 22, 1842

Follow Primus Hall's journey from Revolutionary War soldier to respected community leader.

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Primus Hall

February 29, 1756 – March 22, 1842

Follow Primus Hall's journey from Revolutionary War soldier to respected community leader.

Drawing of a busy street with people walking, horse and carriage, buildings and trees in the background.David Walker's home on Beacon Street is the birthplace of Primus Hall. (Credit: Digital Commonwealth)

February 29, 1756: Beacon Street, Boston, Massachusetts

On February 29, 1756, an enslaved woman named Delia gave birth to a son, Primus. Delia worked as a servant in the household of her enslaver, a man named David Walker.[1] Like many enslaved Bostonians, Delia lived in her enslaver’s house, on Beacon Street, where she gave birth to Primus. Also enslaved at the time, Primus’ father Prince Hall later gained manumission in April 1770.[2] Therefore, Primus’ early life and status depended upon the decisions of his mother’s enslaver. Indeed, David Walker sent one-month old Primus to live with Ezra Trask, a White shoemaker residing in Danvers, Massachusetts.

During this time, enslavers often gave enslaved Black children away so that they would not have to provide for them. According to historian Jeremy Belknap, Black children “were reckoned an incumbrance in families & when weaned were given away like puppies. Sometimes they were publicly advertised ‘to be given away.’”[3]

In some cases, arrangements would be made so that the children would learn a trade or work as servants in their new household.[4] Fortunately for Primus, such an arrangement appears to have been reached. Rather than a lifetime of permanent enslavement, Primus recalled a term of indenture as an apprentice shoemaker with the Trask family. In his pension record, Primus Hall stated:

I was given to a Mr. Ezra Trask of Danvers, with the express understanding that he the said Trask was to bring me up and learn me the trade of shoemaker as soon as I was old enough, and that at the age of twenty one years I was to be free—the same as any white person.[5]
Drawing of a shoemaker at work in front of a house next to a tree.Trained in the shoemaking trade, Hall eventually developed a disdain for the profession. (Credit: New York Public Library)

March 1756–January 1776: Danvers, Essex County, Massachusetts

Primus Hall grew up in the town of Danvers within Ezra Trask’s household. Though born to enslaved parents and subsequently given to Trask, Primus did not consider himself enslaved. In fact, he referred to himself as the adopted son and apprentice of Trask. He even used Trask’s surname when he enlisted in the war, so his military records refer to him as Primus Trask. As later described in Hall’s Revolutionary War pension application:

…he never was literally considered a slave, especially after he was given to said Trask, and that said Trask always repelled that appellation, when applied to said Primus, with indignation, but considered him merely as an apprentice to the shoemaking business, and in no respect different from a white person under like circumstances.[6]

According to historian Jared Ross Hardesty:

colonial-era slavery should be understood as part of a continuum of unfreedom. In Boston, African slavery existed alongside many other forms of oppression, including indentured servitude, apprenticeship, pauper apprenticeship, and Indian slavery.[7]

Within this framework, as an apprentice, Primus Hall would still be considered Trask’s dependent and therefore not entirely free.

However, it does seem as though Trask allowed Primus a few liberties that many other dependents might not have enjoyed. Although bound out to learn shoemaking, Hall later said that the trade did not suit him. Trask allegedly encouraged Hall to explore other career opportunities, so he worked as a farmer and wagon driver in nearby Salem for some time before he ultimately decided to enlist in the Continental Army at the age of 19.

Black and white map of Boston and Charleston, with circle highlighted area around Winter Hill Fort.The Winter Hill area had an extensive fort system. (Credit: Digital Commonwealth)

January–March 1776: Winter Hill, Massachusetts

With no serious prospects for a permanent trade, Primus Hall likely considered serving in the Revolutionary War as an opportunity to make more money and potentially develop a military career. In January 1776, about eight months into the Siege of Boston, Primus Hall enlisted as a private in the Continental Army for a one-year term. He served in Captain Joseph Butler’s company in Colonel John Nixon’s Massachusetts regiment and spent the first few months stationed in Winter Hill.[8] Though we do not know the details of Hall’s responsibilities while stationed there, he likely helped guard Winter Hill Fort. According to historian Richard Frothingham, the fort “appears to have been the most extensive, and the intrenchments more numerous than any of the other positions of the American army.”[9] Hall remained in Winter Hill until the British troops evacuated after the fortification of Dorchester Heights in March.

Drawing of aerial view of buildings, trees, and ships on the nearby water.Hall spent some time on Governors Island before marching to Manhattan. (Credit: New York Public Library)

Summer 1776: Governors Island, New York

After the Continental Army’s successful fortification of Dorchester Heights and the evacuation of the British from Boston, General Washington sent troops to New York, including Hall’s regiment. They continuously moved around, hoping to thwart the British Army’s plans to seize control of New York and isolate New England.

Hall’s regiment first found themselves in the Bowery, but soon moved to Bayard’s Hill to help build fortifications. During this time, Col. John Nixon received a promotion to Brigadier General, so his brother Thomas assumed command of the Massachusetts regiment. They then stationed themselves on Governors Island in New York Harbor but had to quickly evacuate once the British took possession of the island. After evacuating, Hall’s regiment moved to Manhattan.

Across the East River in Brooklyn, Washington’s main army clashed with the British expeditionary forces. Increasingly surrounded, Washington narrowly escaped total defeat by retreating to Manhattan.

Black and white drawing of men engaged in battle with muskets. A man on a horse is in the lower right corner. Hills and smoke, with smaller figures, are featured in the background.The victory at Harlem Heights boosted the soldiers' morale after a string of previous losses throughout New York. (Credit: New York Public Library)

September 16, 1776: Harlem Heights, Manhattan, New York

By the fall, Washington’s troops began to experience low morale from the continuous losses throughout the New York Campaign. Men deserted in large numbers, and those who stayed lived in camps with unsanitary conditions.[10] Washington eventually decided to withdraw some of his troops from Manhattan. As units began to evacuate, including Primus Hall’s, the British launched a surprise attack near Harlem Heights. Washington quickly ordered a counterattack and sent units to repulse the British advance. The British retreated, shocked by the colonists’ successful retaliation efforts. Although Washington did not consider the win a major victory, referring to it only as “a pretty sharp skirmish,” his soldiers deemed it a major triumph that lifted their spirits.[11]

Map of the terrain of White Plains, New York with red and blue markings.A depiction of the Battle of White Plains between the American and British forces, represented by blue and red markings, respectively. (Credit: New York Public Library)

October 28, 1776: White Plains, New York

Despite the minor victory at Harlem Heights, the Continental Army remained at risk of being trapped if they stayed in Manhattan. Washington decided to move his troops northward to White Plains, New York. He believed the low hills in the area could be strategically advantageous if they had to defend themselves against another British attack. By mid-October, Primus Hall’s unit and several others began their journey to White Plains. The British, however, slowly followed.

On October 28, the two armies engaged in the highly anticipated battle. As planned, the Americans anchored themselves near the hills, hoping to ward off the enemy. Despite their best efforts, they became overwhelmed after the arrival of the Hessian forces—German mercenaries hired by the British government. The Americans retreated, marking another stunning defeat for Washington.[12]

After the defeat at White Plains, Hall’s regiment crossed the Hudson River at King’s Ferry, New York to march into New Jersey. Soon after, they marched to Bristol, Pennsylvania to prepare for Washington’s next large undertaking.

Colored painting of several men on horseback, including George Washington, and others on foot carrying weapons. Boats on icy river are in the background.The first step in Washington's plans for New Jersey involved crossing the Delaware River in the middle of winter. (Credit: Library of Congress)

December 1776: Bristol, Pennsylvania

In late December 1776, George Washington implemented a plan to cross the Delaware River with his troops on Christmas night and launch a surprise attack against the Hessian forces stationed in Trenton. As a member of General Daniel Hitchcock’s brigade, Primus Hall joined the mission to cross the river at Bristol and land in Burlington, New Jersey—located several miles south of Trenton.[13] They received instructions to “create as great a diversion as possible” so that Washington would be able to maintain the element of surprise in Trenton.[14]

Unfortunately, a strong winter storm and thick ice on the river prevented all of Hitchcock’s men and cannon from crossing, so they reluctantly called off their attack.[15] Though delayed, Washington’s group successfully landed in Trenton and defeated the Hessians. Those who remained across the river in Bristol later recalled hearing the fighting.

Hitchcock’s troops eventually crossed the Delaware River a few days after the intended date, landing in Burlington. They soon joined Washington, who anticipated retaliation from the British and therefore began preparation for another battle in Trenton.

Scan of historical map of New Jersey operations during the Revolutionary WarWashington's troops fought off the British and Hessian forces before secretly marching towards Princeton during the night. (Credit: Library of Congress)

January 1777: Trenton, New Jersey

Most of the Continental soldiers, including Primus Hall, originally signed on to terms of service set to expire at the end of 1776. Yet Washington still needed these men for the impending fight at Trenton. He personally addressed the troops, proclaiming, “If you will consent to stay one month longer, you will render that service to the cause of liberty and to your country, which you probably can never do under any other circumstances.”[16] Likely moved by his request, Primus Hall, along with a few hundred other men, volunteered to remain in service for another six weeks.[17]

Just two days later, the British and Hessian forces attacked Washington’s troops near Assunpink Creek, as expected. Still, the Continentals held their own. As historian David Hackett Fischer described, it “was not an all-out assault by the British and Hessian forces, but a series of probing attacks, driven home with high courage by the Regulars.”[18] That night, the Americans abandoned their position near the creek and moved on toward Princeton to attack the remaining British troops guarding the area.

Historical drawing of men at war; some on horsebacks with weapons, others lying on the ground.The Continental Army took about 300 British soldiers as prisoners after the battle. (Credit: Library of Congress)

January–February 1777: Princeton, New Jersey

Capitalizing on the momentum from Trenton, Washington’s army of about 5,500 men quickly marched throughout the night to Princeton. Upon realizing Washington’s plans, the British rushed over in the freezing weather. The two armies finally clashed about two miles from town and engaged in a brief and bloody battle. Greatly outnumbered, the British put up a brave, yet unsuccessful fight. Later anecdotes claim that Washington described the event as a “fine fox chase.”[19]

After taking about 300 British prisoners, the Continental Army marched north to Morristown, New Jersey, where Primus Hall received an honorable discharge signed by George Washington, as he later claimed. He then returned home to Danvers for a short period before reenlisting later in the year.

Black and white drawing of soldiers in uniform standing, with one on horseback. A cannon and a tent with American flag are on the right. Trees are in the background.Primus Hall witnessed the surrender of British General Burgoyne. (Credit: Library of Congress)

October 1777: Saratoga, New York

Primus Hall reenlisted in fall 1777, this time serving in a militia company commanded by Captain Samuel Flint of Danvers, Lieutenant Herrick of Beverly, and Colonel Johnson of Andover.[20] The company marched to Saratoga in upstate New York to join General Gates’ army for the second stage of the Battle of Saratoga. During this battle, Hall witnessed the death of Captain Flint. As he later recollected:

…he [Hall] was standing near his Captain when he received his mortal wound, and caught him in his arms to prevent his falling, but on observing that he bled profusely set him down against a tree when he expired immediately.[21]

Lieutenant Herrick also died during this battle. Despite the notable losses, the Battle of Saratoga ended as a victory for the Continental Army. British General Burgoyne’s surrender—which Primus Hall had been present for—is considered a major turning point in the war for the Americans. Not only did it boost their morale after so many previous losses, but it also led to an alliance with the French, who provided much needed financial and military support for the remainder of the war.[22]

After Burgoyne’s surrender, Hall’s regiment marched south to Eastchester, New York via the Hudson River, where Hall completed his second term of service. Discharged on November 30, 1777, Hall once again returned to Danvers.[23]

Scan of historical document stating Private Primus Trask's military service in Rhode Island.Hall served in Rhode Island for a short three-month term. (Credit: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

August 9, 1780–October 29, 1780: Rhode Island

In August 1780, almost three years after fighting at Saratoga, Primus Hall reenlisted for another three-month term, serving under Captain Andrew Woodberry and Colonel Enoch Hallet.[24] Records do not indicate why Hall remained out of service for those few years or what he did during the gap. However, this new enlistment took him to Rhode Island, specifically “the North part of said Island opposite Tiverton,” where he helped build forts and kept guard.[25]

The month prior, a French Army of more than 5,000 men, under the command of General Rochambeau, arrived in Newport to provide much needed manpower in support of the Continental Army. Primus Hall had been granted the opportunity to work directly with the French. He and “another coloured man by the name of Manual” received permission by their captain to assist the French sappers and miners—combatants who specialized in trench and tunnel warfare.[26] At the end of this short term, Hall returned home to Massachusetts.

Colored painting of various men in uniform, one on horseback. American flag is in the right corner, and a blue and white flag is in the left.Hall witnessed the British Army's surrender after the Battle of Yorktown, which secured American independence from the British government. (Credit: Library of Congress)

1781–1782: Yorktown, Virginia

In 1781, Hall reenlisted to serve as steward to Colonel Timothy Pickering, fellow Essex County native and Quarter Master for the Continental Army. Within this entrusted position, Hall likely gained newer skills and responsibilities different from when he previously served as a private. He remained in this role for 22 months and traveled to various cities along the Eastern Seaboard, including Philadelphia and Baltimore. More significantly, Hall witnessed the British Army’s surrender at Yorktown, which secured American independence from the British Crown. He then assisted Col. Pickering “in taking an account of the enemy’s specie deposited in their military chests” in the British forts in Yorktown.[27]

Afterwards, Hall marched back up north to Rattlesnake Hill in New York, where he received his final discharge from the Continental Army. He returned to Danvers in December 1782.

A 1788 tax record from Boston reading Prince Hall, freemason, and Primus Hall, Princes son.Tax records show Primus Hall briefly living in the same ward as his father, Prince Hall. (Credit: Boston Public Library)

Mid-1780s–1800: Milk Street, Boston, Massachusetts

At some point after returning to Massachusetts following the war, Hall resettled in Boston. Upon relocating, Hall needed to find work and a home. It is unknown when Hall first arrived in Boston, but it appears that he moved there by 1785.[28] Without money or a job, he likely moved in with or near his father, Prince Hall, the founder of the first Black Masonic Lodge, to acclimate himself to a new town. The two appear on tax records together in 1785.

Primus’ disdain for shoemaking forced him to find a new career after the war. Tax records from 1786 name a Primus Hall as a servant to an Isaac Smith, Esq. Primus could have become a servant before first engaging with soapmaking. This would have allowed him to save enough money to gain his own footing in Boston.

Hall eventually became a successful soap-boiler and “accumulated real and personal property worth over $6,000.”[29] With his financial stability, he also contributed “to the aid of his former much esteemed but indigent patron or nominal master,” Ezra Trask.[30]

A black iron gate with the words primus avenue sits at the entrance of an alley, a plaque reading Primus Avenue is on a brick wallPrimus Hall owned land on Wilberforce Place, which is now known as Primus Avenue. (Credit: NPS Photo/AOswald)

1794–1800: Southack Street, Beacon Hill, Boston, Massachusetts

Primus Hall purchased his first plot of undeveloped land in 1794, and by 1800, he began accumulating parcels along Southack Street—now Phillips Street—firmly establishing himself in the rapidly developing Beacon Hill neighborhood. It is likely that his soapworks existed on Wilberforce Place, a small alley known today as Primus Avenue, off of Phillips Street.

Hall married his first wife Phebe Robson on May 2, 1784, and they had a daughter named Flora who died in 1799.[31] Robson died at the age of 47 in 1808. Hall held her funeral at their home on Southack St.[32]

He remarried on January 17, 1810 to Martha Gardiner.[33] We have found no mention of any children. Martha died seven years later on January 20, 1817, aged 36.[34] Later that same year, on October 29, 1817, Hall married Ann Clark. The couple likely had five children, but records indicate that none of the children survived past 19 years of age.[35]

Prince Hall's 1788 petition to end the slave tradePrimus Hall joined his father Prince Hall in signing a petition to end the slave trade in 1788. (Credit: Harvard Library)

1788: Old State House, Boston, Massachusetts

Primus Hall’s financial success while living in Beacon Hill also coincided with the emergence of his community activism. Likely drawing inspiration from his father Prince Hall’s advocacy, Primus particularly focused on work regarding the end of the slave trade.

In 1788, several men kidnapped three free men of color and took them to the Caribbean with the intention of selling them. Enraged by this unjust and inhumane act, Prince Hall, Primus Hall, and about 20 other men wrote and signed a petition to the Massachusetts legislature meeting in the Old State House.[36] This petition, along with others presented by Quakers and Boston clergy, convinced the state to swiftly pass an act in March of the same year that ended the slave trade in Massachusetts and provided mechanisms to prevent kidnappings into slavery.

The United States officially ended the slave trade in 1808, and the African Society of Boston started to meet annually on July 14 in celebration.[37] Hall served as committee chairman for several of these celebrations. Despite the official end of the slave trade in 1808, unlawful trafficking, interstate slave trading, and slavery as a whole still persisted. As the years went on, abolitionists, including Hall, used these commemorations to continue to speak out against the persistence of slavery. For example, in 1832, when Hall served on the committee for the African Freehold Society, staunch abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison gave an address for the group’s celebration.[38]

An outdoor image take from the street. The African Meeting House is made of dark red bricks and is only partially shown. A sign post is in the center of the image as it extends out parallel to the street below. The sign hanging from it is rectangular, made of wood, and painted black. It shows an image of the building with the words Museum of African American History above and African Meeting House beside it. There is also a hand pointing to the left underneath those words. The hand is of an African American. An old fashion light is at the very end of the sign pole.Primus Hall and other activists established a school in Hall's basement, which later moved to the basement of the African Meeting House. (Credit: NPS Photo)

1798–Early 1800s: African Meeting House, Boston, Massachusetts

Primus Hall tirelessly continued his activism in other areas. Both Primus and his father supported efforts to educate Black children in Boston.

According to historian James Oliver Horton, Black children in Boston rarely attended public school before 1800. Those who did suffered from “discrimination, mistreatment, and public ridicule from white students and teachers.”[39] In 1781, Prince Hall, Primus Hall, and other prominent Black leaders unsuccessfully petitioned the city to establish a separate school for Black children.

Upon their rejection, the group decided to establish a school themselves. The privately funded African School finally started classes in 1798 in the basement of Primus Hall’s Beacon Hill home. Elisha Sylvester, a white schoolteacher, initially taught the students “until qualified Black instructors could be found.”[40] Unfortunately, the school only ran for a few months before shuttering because of a yellow fever outbreak. The closure did not deter Hall and the group from continuing their advocacy for Black children and education. The school later moved to a carpenter’s shop on Belknap—now Joy Street—in 1803, and then the basement of the African Meeting House a few years later.[41]

In 1812, Hall and other prominent men in the neighborhood petitioned the state of Massachusetts once again for permanent support for a school, but the state denied them.[42] Though the African School officially began as a privately funded school, it later received some public funding.

Hall additionally supported larger education opportunities for Black students outside of the Beacon Hill neighborhood. He and several other men gathered at the home of abolitionist George Putnam in 1831 to discuss an idea from the National Convention of Free People of Color that a college “for the descendants of Africa” be established in the United States.[43] Hall chaired the meeting where the group voted in favor of the institution.

An obituary for primus hall says he is "another pensioner gone"An obituary for Primus Hall remembered him for the “fervor” with which he spoke of General George Washington. (Credit: National Anti-Slavery Standard via GenealogyBank)

March 22, 1842: Mount Hope Cemetery, Boston, Massachusetts

Primus Hall’s active role in his community helped him attain a reputation as a trustworthy and reliable leader. Many members of his community even entrusted Primus as their will executors.

Hall died on March 22, 1842, and we believe he is buried at Mount Hope Cemetery.[44] In an obituary featured in The Liberator, William Lloyd Garrison’s abolitionist newspaper, a writer described Hall as “well known, particularly to the younger portion of our citizens, to whom he was in the habit of recounting scenes of the revolutionary war.”[45]

Following his death, abolitionists and other activists often cited Hall in their work. For example, in 1855, William Cooper Nell published The Colored Patriots of the American Revolution and included anecdotes about Primus Hall’s contributions to the war and his community. Some of these anecdotes depicted a personal relationship between General George Washington and Hall. Abolitionists often shared these stories as proof of Hall’s integrity and influence.

Nell used one of these stories about George Washington and Primus Hall sharing a bed during the war when criticizing the 1857 Dred Scott decision and the subsequent attacks on Black rights throughout the country. This infamous ruling by the Supreme Court declared that African Americans had no claim to citizenship and therefore possessed “no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”[46] Nell argued:

General Washington had none of this Democratic squeamishness about colored men and their patriotism. He not only slept under the same blanket with Primus Hall, but throughout the war, he specially rewarded the valor and integrity of many other colored soldiers...[47]

Though we do not know if this incident actually occurred, Nell used this often-repeated story of Primus’ relationship with Washington to fight against a racist Supreme Court decision.[48]

Unlike many Black revolutionary soldiers who died in poverty and obscurity, Hall accumulated a significant amount of wealth and property as well as a high degree of social standing and influence. Considered by some to be the “patriarch” of Black Beacon Hill, Hall became a trusted leader and a committed activist in his community.[49] Equally important, Hall became a powerful symbol as abolitionists and civil rights activists of the Civil War era used his story to highlight Black citizenship and patriotism in their fight against slavery and injustice. Born enslaved, Hall served his country and his community in the Revolution and beyond. He left behind a legacy of community service and advocacy that continued to inspire subsequent generations in the fight for freedom and equality.

Drawing of soldiers lined up in uniform.

Footnotes:

[1] This is not to be confused with the radical abolitionist David Walker who published his famous “Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World” in 1829.

[2] Arthur O. White, “The Black Leadership Class and Education in Antebellum Boston,” The Journal of Negro Education 42 no. 42 (Autumn 1973): 504. https://www.jstor.org/stable/2966563.

[3] Jeremy Belknap, “Queries respecting slavery in Massachusetts with answers (manuscript draft),” Massachusetts Historical Society Collections Online (April 1795): 14. https://www.masshist.org/database/viewer.php?item_id=684&mode=transcript&img_step=15#page15.

[4] “Binding Out,” Primary Research, https://primaryresearch.org/binding-out/.

[5] Primus Hall, Pension No. W. 751, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files. NARA M804, page 75, via Fold3.com.

[6] Primus Hall, Pension No. W. 751, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files. NARA M804, page 35, via Fold3.com.

[7] Jared Ross Hardesty, Unfreedom: Slavery and Dependence in Eighteenth Century Boston (New York: New York University Press, 2018), 2.

[8] Primus Hall, Pension No. W. 751, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files. NARA M804, page 5, via Fold3.com.

[9] Richard Frothingham, History of the Siege of Boston (Boston: Charles C. Little and J. Brown, 1851), 411. Archive.org.

[10] Harry Schenawolf, “Battle of Harlem Heights Sept. 16, 1776: Americans Gave the British a Good Drubbing,” Revolutionary War Journal, January 15, 2014. https://www.revolutionarywarjournal.com/battle-of-harlem-heights/.

[11] David G. McCullough, 1776 (New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2006), 219. Archive.org.

[12] McCullough, 1776, 232-234. Joseph C. Scott, “Battle of White Plains,” George Washington’s Mount Vernon, https://www.mountvernon.org/library/digitalhistory/digital-encyclopedia/article/battle-of-white-plains/.

[13] David Hackett Fischer, Washington’s Crossing (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 208-209.

[14] Colonel Hitchcock’s New England soldiers joined Colonel John Cadwalader’s Philadelphia troops for this mission. “From George Washington to Colonel John Cadwalader, 25 December 1776,” Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-07-02-0343.

[15] “To George Washington from Colonel John Cadwalader, 26 December 1776,” Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-07-02-0347.

[16] Fischer, Washington’s Crossing, 272-3.

[17] Primus Hall, Pension No. W. 751, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files. NARA M804, page 6, via Fold3.com.

[18] Fischer, Washington’s Crossing, 307.

[19] McCullough, 1776, 288-290.

[20] Pay Roll of Capt. Samuel Flint’s Company of Massachusetts Bay Militia, Muster/Payrolls and Various Papers (1763-1808) of the Revolutionary War, Vol. 19, Image 153, 1777, via FamilySearch.org.

[21] Primus Hall, Pension No. W. 751, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files. NARA M804, page 7, via Fold3.com.

[22] Troy Smith, “Battle of Saratoga,” George Washington’s Mount Vernon, https://www.mountvernon.org/library/digitalhistory/digital-encyclopedia/article/battle-of-saratoga/.

[23] Primas Trask, Massachusetts, Revolutionary War, Index Cards to Muster Rolls, 1775-1783, Tower, Peter-Trescott, John, Image 2139, via FamilySearch.org.

[24] In his pension application, Hall stated that he marched to Rhode Island in 1778, but muster rolls confirm that he had been there in the fall of 1780. Pay Roll of Capt. Andrew Woodberry’s Company of Militia, Muster/Payrolls and Various Papers (1763-1808) of the Revolutionary War, Vol. 3, Image 408, July 1780, via FamilySearch.org.

[25] Primus Hall, Pension No. W. 751, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files. NARA M804, page 7, via Fold3.com.

[26] Primus Hall, Pension No. W. 751, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files. NARA M804, page 7, via Fold3.com.

[27] A specie is a form of coined money. Primus Hall, Pension No. W. 751, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files. NARA M804, page 8, via Fold3.com.

[28] “1785 additional and abatement books,” City of Boston Tax Records, 1780-1821, reel 1 (1780-1786), p. 608, Boston Public Library. Archive.org.

[29] Primus Hall, Pension No. W. 751, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files. NARA M804, page 13, via Fold3.com.

[30] Primus Hall, Pension No. W. 751, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files. NARA M804, page 38, via Fold3.com.

[31] “Primus Trock Hall,” Massachusetts, U.S., Town and Vital Records, 1620-1988, via Ancestry.com. Births, marriages, deaths 1635-1844, Hingham, Plymouth, Massachusetts, Town Clerk, Vital and Town Records, 1626-2001, Image 301, via FamilySearch.org.

[32] “Deaths,” Columbian Centinal, December 21, 1808, via GenealogyBank.com.

[33] “Primus Hall,” Massachusetts, U.S., Town and Vital Records, 1620-1988, via Ancestry.com.

[34] “Deaths,” Boston Patriot, January 22, 1817, via GenealogyBank.com.

[35] Though we could not find any birth certificates for the children, we did find death notices connecting Primus Hall to at least three of the children. The children are believed to be as follows:

  1. Phebe Ann Clark, died June 1, 1821, age 3
  2. George P. Hall, died June 7, 1825, age 4
  3. Peter, died December 24, 1829, age 1
  4. Ezra T. Hall, died February 5, 1843, age 18
  5. Hannah Hall, died February 26, 1850, age 19

Births, Marriages and Death, Massachusetts, U.S., Town and Vital Records, 1620-1988, via Ancestry.com.

[36] “Documents Relating to Negro Masonry in America.” The Journal of Negro History 21 no. 4 (Oct. 1936): 428-9. https://www.jstor.org/stable/2714334.

[37] “Bobolition of Slavery!!!!” Broadside, Greenfield, Mass: unidentifed printer, 1818, https://www.masshist.org/database/viewer.php?item_id=3201&pid=3.

[38] The Liberator, July 14, 1832, via GenealogyBank.com.

[39] James Oliver Horton and Lois E. Horton, Black Bostonians: Family Life and Community Struggle in the Antebellum North (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1999), 76. Archive.org.

[40] Ibid, 77.

[41] George A. Levesque, “Before Integration: The Forgotten Years of Jim Crow Education in Boston,” The Journal of Negro Education, Vol. 48, no. 2 (Spring, 1979): 115. https://www.jstor.org/stable/2294758. Manisha Sinha, The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016), 127.

[42] "Though Dwelling in a Land of Freedom,” National Park Service, https://www.nps.gov/articles/though-dwelling-in-a-land-of-freedom.htm.

[43] Kathryn Grover and Janine V. da Silva, “Historic Resource Study: Boston African American National Historic Site,” National Park Service (Dec. 31, 2002).

[44] Records show Primus Hall buried at Saint Matthews Church Cemetery. The church and cemetery closed in the 1860s and the bodies moved to another cemetery. It appears that many of the bodies were re-interred at Mount Hope Cemetery. “Primus Hall,” Massachusetts, U.S., Town and Vital Records, 1620-1988, via Ancestry.com. “Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts Genealogy,” FamilySearch, via FamilySearch.org.

[45] The Boston Transcript via The Liberator, April 8, 1842, via Newspapers.com.

[46] Finkelman, Dred Scott v. Sandford. Bedford: St. Martin's Press, 1997, reproduced by PBS.org.

[47] William Cooper Nell, The Liberator, August 28, 1857. Cited in William Cooper Nell: Selected Writings 1832-1874, ed. Dorothy Porter Wesley and Constance Porter Uzelac (Baltimore: Black Classic Press, 2002), 493.

[48] Nell cited another source for this anecdote. We have yet to discover a primary source confirming that Primus Hall himself shared this story. William Cooper Nell, The Colored Patriots of the American Revolution: With Sketches of Several Distinguished Colored Soldiers (Boston: Robert F. Wallcut, 1855), 29. Archive.org.

[49] Commercial Bulletin, January 12, 1867, via Newspapers.com.

Boston National Historical Park, Boston African American National Historic Site

Last updated: May 18, 2022