Robert Romer: Besides historic desk, Rev. Bull owned people

Published: 4/25/2016 8:54:08 AM
Besides historic desk, reverend owned people

An item in the April 15 Gazette described the acquisition by Historic Deerfield of a “desk/table” once owned by the Rev. Nehemiah Bull, minister at Westfield from 1726 to 1740.

There is another interesting connection between Deerfield and Bull that was not mentioned in the article. The probate inventory that was compiled after Bull’s death in 1740 is a fascinating document, listing all of his possessions including a “scutore” (a writing table), valued at 5 pounds, presumably the item that has recently come to Deerfield.

But another entry in the inventory reminds us that Bull, like most of the ministers in the Valley, was a slave owner — “A Negro maid named Tanner 90, ditto named Phillis 65, ditto named Dido 40.” Tanner, valued at 90 pounds, was probably the mother of the two girls, Phillis (65 pounds) and Dido (40 pounds).

Nothing is known about what happened to Tanner after Bull’s death. Dido was probably sold to a new owner in Springfield, where she died in 1741. And in 1742, Phillis was sold by Bull’s executors to Timothy Childs of Deerfield for 100 pounds — “A Certain Negro Girl named Phillis of about nine years of Age,” according to the bill of sale.

I have been unable to unearth any information about Phillis’s life in Deerfield after she was purchased by Timothy Childs. In all probability, Phillis never saw her mother after coming to Deerfield. Historic Deerfield now plans, appropriately, to exhibit the Rev. Bull’s writing desk in the Ashley House, home of Deerfield’s the Rev. Jonathan Ashley, (minister at Deerfield from 1732 to 1780) who, like Bull, also owned three black slaves — Jenny, Cato and Titus.

Robert H. Romer



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