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 man named Tony, who was enslaved by 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 while enslaved to 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, Massachusetts 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)

 


Prince Estabrook was born circa 1740.I He lived ‘in the family of Benjamin Estabrook’ of LexingtonII on the Estabrook farm which stood just south of the town center on land bounded by Vine Brook on the northwest, what is now Massachusetts Avenue on the south and what is now Woburn Street on the southeast.III

With upwards of 87 other men of Capt. John Parker’s Lexington militia, he stood on Lexington Green in the early dawn of 19 April 1775. There he was woundedIV and, as such, became the first African American to be wounded in the Revolutionary War. Joseph Estabrook, Benjamin’s oldest son who had also stood on the Green, helped some of the wounded including Prince to the Estabrook home where they were treated by Dr. Joseph Fiske.V Having sufficiently recovered, he was called to service on 17 June 1775 from Concord (MA) for two days at Cambridge ‘by order of the Committee of Safety.’VI There is no known record that he joined the eight months’ service.

As the American attack on Canada crumbled in early 1776, the call went out for reinforcement for the Northern Department. He responded by enlisting in Capt. Charles Miles’ company, in Col. Jonathan Reed’s regiment. This unit served at Ticonderoga during the time of the defeat of the American fleet on Lake Champlain under Gen. Benedict Arnold. In a 16 February 1777 pay abstract he was allowed mileage home from Ticonderoga.VII Two days later his name appeared on a ‘company receipt for mileage and travel allowance from Ticonderoga home, dated Lexington.’VIII

On 6 November 1777 he enlisted in Capt. Simon Hunt’s company in Col. Eleazer Brooks’ regiment of militia. He was discharged on 3 April 1778 after serving nearly five months, his company having been ‘detached from militia and stationed at Cambridge.’IX

He entered the six months’ service on 28 July 1780X in Col. John Greaton’s 3rd Massachusetts regiment, arriving at Springfield (MA) under the command of Ensign Boardman on 2 August 1780. A descriptive roll lists him as:XI

age: 39
stature 5 ft. 11 in.
complexion: negro
engaged for: Lexington

On 6 October 1780 he was ‘On Duty’ in the Colonel’s company at Camp Orangetown.XII On 25 October 1780 he had passed muster under Brig. Gen. John Paterson at Camp Totoway (NJ).XIII On 9 November 1780 he was ‘on duty.’XIV He was discharged from this service on 7 April 1781, after 8 months and 21 days of service.XV

On 11 June 1781 he received a bounty from Lexington for agreeing to serve in the Continental Army for a three-year term.XVI The next day he was officially engaged and was listed on a descriptive roll as a ‘negro’ and as:XVII

age: 40
stature 5 ft. 6 in.
complexion: black
hair: black
eyes: black
occupation: farmer
engaged for: Lexington

He was listed on a 20 May 1782 as being in Capt. Joseph Williams’ 1st company in Col. John Greaton’s regiment.XVIII His name was also on the July 1782 roll.XIX By August and September 1783 he was in the 1st company in Col. Michael Jackson’s regiment. The final muster roll is dated 14 October 1783.XX

He ‘returned to [Lexington] after his discharge … resumed his work with Benjamin and did odd jobs for residents around town.’XXI Prince’s ‘name also appears on several Lexington tax rolls’ in the 1790’s.XXII

‘Some time about the year 1800 Black Prince came to Ashby into [the home of Nathan Estabrook (son of Benjamin)], where he lived the remainder of his days.’XXIII

Prince died circa 1830, probably in Ashby, at the approximate age of 90.XXIV He was buried in ‘the common lot’XXV in the Old Burial Yard in Ashby. His gravesite is marked by a government stone.XXVI

Prince Estabrook was married but the name of his wife is unknown.XXVII

Footnotes:

  1. Birth date backwardly-computed, based on the age in military descriptive roll. NOTE: Alice Hinkle of Lexington (MA) has written the definitive story of his life in her book Prince Estabrook slave and soldier, published in 2001 by Pleasant Mountain Press and available at all Boston-area NHP bookstores. This book will be cited often in this biographical sketch, as Hinkle, Alice. Prince Estabrook slave and soldier (2001). Charlie Price of Lexington has, for more than twenty years, portrayed Prince Estabrook in Patriots’ Day reenactments and was a contributor to Alice’s book.
  2. Proceedings of the Lexington Historical Society, 4 vols. 2:195.
  3. Hinkle, Alice. Prince Estabrook slave and soldier (2001), 29.
  4. Clarke, Jonas, Rev. A sermon. The fate of blood thirsty oppressors and Gods care of distressed people A sermoen, preached at Lexington, April 19, 1776, to commemorate the murder, bloodshed and the commencement of hostilities between Great Britain and America (1776), 28 states ‘Prince, a Negro, of Lexington’ was wounded. Clarke was Pastor of the Church in Lexington and personally witnessed the events on Lexington Green.
  5. Hinkle, Alice. Prince Estabrook slave and soldier (2001), 29.
  6. Secretary of the Commonwealth. Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War (1896-1908) 5:389, listed as ‘Estabrooks.’ Also 2-CD Family Tree MakerTM set “Military Records: Revolutionary War.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid 5:392, listed as ‘Esterbrooks.’
  9. Ibid 5:157, listed as ‘Easterbrooks.’
  10. Ibid 5:389.
  11. Ibid 5:157.
  12. United States Revolutionary War Rolls and Compiled Indices, NARA, Record Group 15, M881, Roll 422, Frame 982.
  13. Ibid 5:392.
  14. United States Revolutionary War Rolls and Compiled Indices, NARA, Record Group 15, Frame 983.
  15. Ibid 5:389.
  16. Ibid 5:389.
  17. Ibid 5:155, listed as ‘Easterbrook.’
  18. United States Revolutionary War Rolls and Compiled Indices, NARA, Record Group 15, Frame 978.
  19. Ibid, Frame 979.
  20. Ibid, Frame 980.
  21. Hinkle, Alice. Prince Estabrook slave and soldier (2001), 36.
  22. Hinkle, Alice. Prince Estabrook slave and soldier (2001), 36.
  23. Sons of the American Revolution Bulletin, November 1930, 8; copy courtesy of Janet Umphress, Ashby Historical Society.
  24. The dedication of a gravestone at his gravesite was held on 12 September 1930 according to an article in the Fitchburg Sentinel, copy also courtesy of Janet Umphress. Rep. Henry A. Estabrook of Fitchburg, who gave the address that day, stated that Prince was laid to rest ‘a century ago.’
  25. Ibid, 7.
  26. This cemetery was personally visited on 31 March 2000.
  27. Proceedings of the Lexington Historical Society, 4 vols. 4(1912):54.

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