Person

Caesar Ferrit

Revolutionary War soldier in black hat and black coat carrying his musket over his shoulder
Caesar Ferrit was a Revolutionary War soldier from Natick MA who saw service from 1775-1781

Nick Johnson

Quick Facts

The communities and nations that have inhabited North America across history have always relied on the work and sacrifices of immigrants. Caesar Ferrit was one of these immigrants. Like many before and after, Caesar lived in an era defined by the intersections of race, class, and citizenship. Despite his contributions to his community, he was often denied the privileges of his peers. Caesar Ferrit was born on a Caribbean island in 1720, and often proclaimed that he had the “blood of four nations in his veins”: Dutch and French from his grandfathers, and Indigenous Caribbean and African from his Grandmothers. i

Unfortunately, little is known about Caesar Ferrit’s early life, or when he immigrated to Massachusetts. Early documentation indicates he lived with a family in Milton and learned husbandry, which at the time referred to all the skills necessary to run a farm. ii He then lived in Boston for a period, where he met his wife, Naomi Isaac. According to local legend, Naomi was the white ward of a wealthy gentleman who employed Caesar as a coachman. Naomi was already engaged to a man that had chosen for her, but she fell in love with Caesar. When her family discovered the relationship, she was presented with a choice: she could marry her fiancé and maintain access to the family’s wealth, or she could marry Caesar. She chose to marry Caesar, a remarkably radical choice for the time. iii By marrying Caesar, Naomi did more than reject financial help; she ensured that her children would never been seen white. Views on race at the time followed the “one drop” rule, whereby individuals with African or Native ancestry were barred from the privileges of being white, even if their skin was fair. iv They were married by a justice of the peace instead of a minister, a rare occurrence at the time. v

The Ferrits settled in Natick, Massachusetts in 1751, supposedly due to a desire to live among others with Native ancestry. Natick was established as a praying town in 1651. Praying towns were settlements for Native people who had converted to Christianity. In these towns, Native people were able to elect local leaders from their communities, but they were also subject to Massachusetts laws and Puritan cultural values. vi Caesar and Naomi had at least seven children: Lydia (b. 1739), Patience (b. 1741), David (b. 1743), Sarah (b. 1745), Thomas (b. 1751), John (b. 1752), and Elizabeth (b. 1756). As Caesar would have said, their children also had the blood of five nations: French, English, Dutch, African, and Indigenous. vii

At this time, Massachusetts was populated by many people of color, including free and enslaved Black people as well as assimilated and independent Native groups. Caesar was listed in military service records as a Mulatto. This word came from the Spanish colonies, which were obsessed with defining race and racial mixing. In Spain, terms like Mulatto and others were strictly defined categories, but in English, they were used more generally to describe anyone with mixed-race ancestry, regardless of that person’s heritage. viii These terms, created and enforced by Europeans, were often rejected by the people they were meant to classify. Many mixed-race individuals did not feel that these labels described their complex cultural identities. ix

Perhaps this was why Caesar was so vocal about his diverse heritage, and why he chose to live in a praying town. He described his choice to move to Natick as “a desire to dwell among his own Nation the aboriginal Natives.” x Historian Julius H. Rubin wrote that the inhabitants of praying towns “embraced a multifaceted and not infrequently conflicting series of roles and identities.” xi Praying towns were places where intergenerational trauma could be collectively processed by those outside the tribal apparatus, usually through the narratives of Reformed Protestant Christianity. They were places where those whose communities had been dispersed, destroyed, or left behind could come together and recognize their common colonial experience. xii Caesar’s Indigenous ancestors were most likely not from the Massachusetts area, but the trauma of colonialism was felt by Native people across the New World, and it is possible that this shared experience and sense of hybrid culture were what Caesar sought in Natick. As historian JL Bell wrote, “The Native part of Natick was a refuge for families that crossed the society’s ‘color lines.’” xiii

Caesar’s daughter, Patience, married Thomas Nichols, a free Black man (or possibly a Mulatto as well). In February 1775, Thomas was accused of “enticing divers Servants [slaves] to desert the Service of their Masters.” Although the threat of war with Government troops loomed on the horizon, it did little to diminish deep-seated colonial fears of uprisings from the enslaved. Thomas Nichols was in jail at Concord, Massachusetts on April 19th, when British troops stormed the jail yard looking for hidden cannon. In May, he was freed and acquitted because of lack of evidence. xiv

On April 19th, 1775, Caesar Ferrit and his son John marched to Lexington in Captain Joseph Morse’s Company of Militia. A history written in 1830 recorded their contributions:

Caesar Ferrit and his son John arrived at a house near Lexington meeting house, but a short time before the British soldiers reached that place, on their retreat from Concord. These two discharged their muskets upon the regulars from the entry, and secreted themselves under the cellar stairs, till the enemy had passed by, though a considerable number of them entered the house and made a diligent search for their annoyers. xv

Another Ferrit son, Thomas, also fought on April 19th. Two years later, in May 1777, Thomas married Lydia Faggins of Natick, a Native American woman. xvi Later in his life Thomas had a second marriage to Susannah Pattern of Boston in 1788. xvii

Following that bloody April morning, Caesar and John enlisted for eight months service in Colonel Paterson’s regiment on April 24th 1775. The following year they were drafted on December 20th 1776 to serve in the Medfield militia, which was sent to assist the Continental Army in operations near New York. Under Massachusetts law, freemen and Native men were forbidden from training with the militia, but were required to own arms and participate when the alarm was raised. The Ferrit men most likely abided by these rules, and although they had not trained with the militia, they answered the call from Lexington on that fateful morning. xviii As militiamen, the father and son were paid £15 each for their service. They participated in further service in Rhode Island in 1777 and 1781.

Caesar Ferrit died in Natick on May 23, 1799. xix His family’s story is a reminder that the British colonies were surprisingly diverse places. Massachusetts was populated by many free and enslaved Black people and a variety of Native cultures and groups. Praying towns like Natick were a haven for families like the Ferrits who lived between cultures; Christian, Indigenous, Freeman, Mulatto, and more. The United States has long been called a melting pot, formed and influenced by a great variety of cultures and experiences. The Ferrit’s story illustrates that this cultural diversity predates the Unites States, and the contributions of mixed-race and multicultural people were an important part of the struggle for independence from its beginning.

Notes:

George Quintal, Patriots of Color: African Americans and Native Americans at Battle Road and Bunker Hill (National Park Service, Division of Cultural Resources: Boston, 2004), 102

ii A Society of Gentlemen, The Complete Farmer: Or, a General Dictionary of Husbandry (London: printed for J. F. and C. Rivington [etc.], 1777)

iii Quintal, Patriots of Color, 102-3

iv Tyrone Nagai, Race Policy and Multiracial Americans (Bristol: Bristol University Press, 2016), 15

v JL Bell, “Thomas Nichols of Natick,” Boston 1775 (April 28, 2016), http://boston1775.blogspot.com/2016/04/thomas-nichols-of-natick.html

vi William Biglow, History of the Town of Natick, Mass.: from the days of the apostolic Eliot, MDCL, to the present time, MDCCCXXX (Marsh, Capen, and Lyon: Boston: 1830)

vii Ibid, 102-3

viii Jake Frederick, “Without Impediment: Crossing Racial Boundaries in Colonial Mexico,” The Americans 67 no. 4 (2011), pp. 495-515 "mulatto, n. and adj.". OED Online. June 2020. Oxford University Press. https://www.oed.com/view/Entry/123402?redirectedFrom=mulatto (accessed July 10, 2020). Nagai, Race Policy, 21

ix See: Voss, “‘Poor people in silk shirts’”

x Quintal, Patriots of Color, 102

xi Rubin, Tears of Repentance, 29

xii Julius H. Rubin, Tears of Repentance: Christian Indian Identity and Community in Colonial Southern New England (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2013), 23-25 See also: Heather Miyano Kopelson, Faithful Bodies: Performing Religion and Race in the Puritan Atlantic (New York: NYU Press, 2014), ch. 7

xiii Bell, “Thomas Nichols”

xiv Bell, “Thomas Nichols”

xv Quintal, Patriots of Color, 102

xvi Massachusetts Vital Records Project, “Vital Records of Natick, MA,” Early Vital Records of Massachusetts from 1600-1850, https://ma-vitalrecords.org/MA/Middlesex/Natick/

xvii Quintal, Patriots of Color, 104

xviii John Hannigan, “Examine how changing Massachusetts laws concerning the enlistment of men of color in the military affected their opportunities to serve during the Revolution as well as their chances of being emancipated, if enslaved. Were those who were enslaved during their enlistment emancipated because of their military service? If so, was emancipation immediate or at the end of their enlistment? Conversely, did slave owners use their slaves as substitutes for their own military service? Did slave owners enlist their slaves in order to obtain the bounties? Were the recruitment bounties different for men of color than for white men?” Unpublished paper written for Minute Man National Historical Park (2014), https://www.nps.gov/mima/upload/PoC-Paper-3-Enslaved-Enlistment-FINAL-for-web.pdf, 1-3

xix Quintal, Patriots of Color, 102


Caesar Ferrit was born circa 1720.I ‘He was born on one of the West India islands, and was accustomed to boast, that the blood of four nations run in his veins; for one of his Grandfathers was a Dutchman, the other a Frenchman; and one of his grandmothers an Indian, and the other an African.’ A well-researched book on Eastern Massachusetts Indians states:

He was raised in an English family in Milton and “Taught Husbandry-business,” he moved to Boston, but, driven by high unemployment and the cost of living in the city, he had “a desire to dwell at Natick among his own Nation the aboriginal Natives” [and …] purchased land there in 1751 …III

He marched from Natick (MA) on the Lexington Alarm, in Capt. Joseph Morse’s company in Col. Samuel Bullard’s regiment.IV An 1830 town history describes the actions of Caesar and his son on that memorable day:

Caesar Ferrit and his son John arrived at a house near Lexington meeting house, but a short time before the British soldiers reached that place, on their retreat from Concord. These two discharged their muskets upon the regulars from the entry, and secreted themselves under the cellar stairs, till the enemy had passed by, though a considerable number of them entered the house and made diligent search for their annoyers.V

He enlisted from Natick into the eight months service on 24 April 1775, in Capt. Joseph Morse’s company in Col. John Patterson’s regiment, and is listed on the 1 August 1775 muster roll.VI An October 1775 return lists him as ‘Eleazar.’VII On 17 November 1775, his name is listed on an ‘order for bounty coat or its equivalent in money.’VIII

On 20 December 1776, he was drafted (along with his son John) into Capt. Sabin Mann’s company of Medfield militia ‘to reinforce Continental Army at or near New York.’ For this service he was paid £15 by the Selectmen.IX

He enlisted on 10 March 1781 into Capt. Staples Chamberlain’s company in Col. Dean’s regiment. The ‘company marched to Rhode Island by order of His Excellency John Hancock … on a 40 days expedition.’ He was discharged on 14 March 1781, for a service of eight days (travel included).X

Caesar Ferrit died in Natick on 23 May 1799.XI

‘He married a white New England woman, and they had several children, in whose veins, if Caesar’s account of himself be true, flowed the blood of five nations.’XII An old Natick newspaper gives the account in more detail:

[Caesar] had been a coachman for a wealthy gentleman in Boston. The ward of this gentleman had fallen in love with Caesar. Another choice had been made for the lady, and the wedding day appointed, when this affection of Caesar was discovered. The alternative was given — wealth, and a husband of her guardian’s choosing, or poverty, and a black husband. The girl chose Caesar, and himself and wife took up their lot in this home for the outcast — Natick.XIII

The Milton (MA) vital records show his wife’s name as Naomi.XIV Caesar and Naomi had at least seven children:

  • Lydia
    • b. 15 July 1739 in MiltonXV
  • Patience
    • b. 23 June 1741 in MiltonXVI
    • int. Thomas Nichols on 17 December 1766 in NatickXVII
  • David
    • b. 25 March 1743 in MiltonXVIII
  • Sarah
    • b. 2 December 1745 in MiltonXIX
  • Thomas
    • bca. 1751
    • m1. Lydia Fagins on 18 April 1777 in NatickXX
    • m2. Susannah Patten on 4 November 1788 in BostonXXI
  • John
    • bca. 1753
    • m. Mary Graves on 6 May 1779 in NatickXXII
  • Elizabeth
    • bca. 1756
    • m. Daniel Haynes on 8 April 1782 in NatickXXIII

Footnotes:

  1. An assumed marriage date of 1738 (see birth of daughter Lydia) would imply a 1712 birthdate, per birth date backwardly-computed, based on average age of marriage of 26 (per study of compiler). This, however, would have made him 63 and ineligible for the militia (maximum age 60). Therefore, his estimated birthdate has been set at 1720, a compromise which places his age of marriage as 18 and his approximate military age as 60 in early 1781 during his last tour of duty.
  2. Bigelow, William. History of the Town of Natick, Mass. from the Days of the Apostle Eliot … (1830), 44.
  3. Mandell, Daniel R. Indians in Eighteenth Century Eastern Massachusetts Behind the Frontier (1996), 159.
  4. Secretary of the Commonwealth. Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War (1896-1908) 5:632, listed as ‘Ferrit.’ Also 2-CD Family Tree MakerTM set “Military Records: Revolutionary War.” Coburn, Frank Warren. Muster Rolls of the Participating Companies of American Militia and Minute-Men in The Battle of April 19, 1775, … (1912) does not list this unit as serving at Battle Road and no primary source could be found to support the presence of the company on Battle Road that day.
  5. Bigelow, William. History of the Town of Natick, Mass. from the Days of the Apostle Eliot … (1830), 44; the author of Natick Bulletin. “Local Centennial Events,” 18 June 1875, page 1. See ‘People File’ at Natick (MA) Historical Society, South Natick, MA questions this service, having ‘been shown an old account where [Caesar] was paid for laying stonewall that day.’
  6. Secretary of the Commonwealth. Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War (1896-1908), 5:632. Also 2-CD Family Tree MakerTM set “Military Records: Revolutionary War.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid 5:617, listed as ‘Ferete.’
  9. Ibid 5:626, listed as ‘Ferret.’
  10. Ibid 5:632, under ‘Ferrit.’
  11. Vital Records to 1850. Births, Marriages and Deaths. Vols for most Massachusetts towns, Natick, Deaths, 216.
  12. Bigelow, William. History of the Town of Natick, Mass. from the Days of the Apostle Eliot … (1830), 44.
  13. Natick Bulletin. “Local Centennial Events,” 18 June 1875, page 1. See ‘People File’ at Natick (MA) Historical Society, South Natick, MA.
  14. Vital Records to 1850. Births, Marriages and Deaths. Vols for most Massachusetts towns, Milton (MA), Births, 25.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Vital Records to 1850. Births, Marriages and Deaths. Vols for most Massachusetts towns, Natick, Marriages, 141; he is described as ‘a transient person.’
  18. Vital Records to 1850. Births, Marriages and Deaths. Vols for most Massachusetts towns, Milton (MA), Births, 25.
  19. Ibid.
  20. Vital Records to 1850. Births, Marriages and Deaths. Vols for most Massachusetts towns, Dedham, Marriages, 262.
  21. McGlenen, Edward W. Boston Marriages from 1700 to 1809 (1977), 459; wife listed as ‘Elizabeth Patten (should be Susanah).’
  22. Vital Records to 1850. Births, Marriages and Deaths. Vols for most Massachusetts towns, Natick, Marriages, 141.
  23. Ibid.

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Last updated: September 11, 2021