Person

Prince Estabrook of Lexington

Quick Facts

Prince Estabrook was an enslaved man who stood with his white neighbors against the British Army on April 19, 1775. It is likely that Prince was the son of a slave named Tony, who was the property of the Estabrook family. When Prince was born, around 1740, he became the property of Benjamin Estabrook. Benjamin’s family lived just east of Lexington center, owning land on both sides of the road running between Cambridge and Concord. Little is known about Princes activities and responsibilities as a slave in the Estabrook family.

Though Provincial law prohibited “Indians and Negroes” from training as soldiers in the militia, they were still required to “turn out” armed during an emergency. During wartime the enlistment of black men was more common though still controversial.  In 1775 Prince was a member of the Lexington militia, and mustered with that militia under the command of Colonel John Parker during the early morning hours of April 19th. When the advance column of British troops decided to confront the militia gathered on Lexington Green, Prince was among the militiamen who had reassembled there. During the ensuing shooting, before the British officers regained control of their troops, Prince Estabrook was struck by a musket ball in his left shoulder. A document entitled ‘Appendix - Soldiers of Color on April 19, 1775’ states that a 35 year old black slave from Lexington named Prince Estabrook serving in Colonel Parker’s militia was actively engaged in fighting and was wounded that day. A separate document titled ‘LIST of the Names of the PROVINCIALS who were Killed and Wounded in the late Engagement with His Majesty’s Troops at Concord, &c.’, under a heading listed as ‘Wounded Of Lexington’, the name ‘Prince Easterbrooks (a Negro Man)’ appears.

Prince recovered from that wound and, over the course of the next eight years, he served several tours with the militia and with the Continental Army:

  • With Captain Parker’s company in Cambridge (1775)

  • With Colonel Jonathan Reed’s regiment at Fort Ticonderoga (1775 - 1776)

  • With Colonel Eleazer Brook’s regiment at Cambridge (1776 - 1777)

  • Part of a group of men raised to reinforce the Continental Army (1780 - 1781)

  • With Colonel John Greaton’s regiment (1782)

  • With Colonel Michael Jackson’s regiment (1783)

Following the dissolution of the Continental Army, Prince returned to Lexington. At that point he had earned his freedom. His exact status at that time is not known for certain. Benjamin Estabrook’s tax records from 1790 included ‘a non-white freeman’. The 1790 tax rolls include Prince Estabrook’s name, although he was not taxed as a property owner. The current assumption is that he had become an employee of Benjamin Estabrook. Following Benjamin’s death, Prince moved to Ashby, MA and became part of the household of Benjamin’s son Nathan.

Did Prince ever marry? Did he have children of his own? Historians have found no reliable evidence concerning this personal side of his life. Family records state that Prince Estabrook died in 1830 at around the age of 90. A 1930 edition of the Fitchburg Sentinel claimed that Prince Estabrook had been buried in the same cemetery as had Nathan and Sally Estabrook - the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Ashby burial ground. A grave marker was erected there in 1930 by the U.S. War Department to honor Prince Estabrook’s service during the Revolutionary War.

Park Volunteer Pete Seymour, May 2020

Sources:
‘Prince Estabrook - A Brief Biography’ by Bill Poole and Charles Price
‘Appendix - Soldiers of Color on April 19, 1775’ - nps.gov
(List of men known to have been enrolled in the various militias)
Photo ‘A List of the Names of Provincials ....’
(PBS.org)
‘A Negro Man”: Prince Estabrook of Lexington’
(Emerging civil war.com)
Photo of grave marker in Ashby First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church burial ground
(findagrave.com)

 

Last updated: June 10, 2020