Bidwell Lore – Introducing Agrippa Hull

Welcome to Bidwell Lore number 132! We are beginning a fairly long Bidwell Lore journey this week to share the story of Agrippa Hull.

For the next couple of months, we will be devoting our Bidwell Lore stories to the life of Agrippa Hull (1759-1848). He was the son of formerly enslaved Black parents, fought in the Revolutionary War, and was a well-known land owner in Stockbridge who lived to the ripe old age of 89. Before getting into the first installment, I do want to note that this series would not have been possible without the incredible help of Josh Hall and India Spartz at the Stockbridge Library Museum and Archives. Most of the information we will be sharing was obtained from the Museum and Archives and their help was invaluable in putting together this story. -Rick Wilcox

Portrait of Agrippa Hull, unknown artist, unknown date. Acc# 47.002. Courtesy of the Stockbridge Library Museum & Archives.
Painted from an 1845 daguerreotype taken by Anson Clark in West Stockbridge, also in the collection of the Stockbridge Library Museum & Archives.

Agrippa Hull (March 7, 1759-May 1, 1848) [1]
Rick Wilcox, 2022

“When speaking of distinction on account of color, though Agrippa was far from intruding himself uncalled, he would argue, ‘It is not the cover of the book, but what the book contains is the question. Many a good book has dark covers. Which is the worst, the white black man, or the black white man? To be black outside or to be black inside?'” [2]

On March 7, 1759, in Northampton, Massachusetts, Agrippa Hull was born the 4th child of a free Black couple, Amos and Bathsheba Hull, likely at their home on Mill River near the South Street Bridge. [3] Amos and Bathsheba were members of the Rev. Jonathan Edwards’ former church, and all five children were baptized there: Amos on September 15, 1754; Asaph on November 23, 1755; Margaret on August 14, 1757; Agrippa on May 13, 1759; and Margaret on February 8, 1761. We can assume the first Margaret died young, and we know that Amos the eldest son died on December 11, 1757. Asaph does not show up in later records suggesting he may have died at a young age as well. Child mortality rates were quite high in the 18th century. Agrippa’s father died on June 12, 1761, leaving Agrippa to face a very uncertain world not long after he reached the age of two.

At left is Agrippa Hull’s baptism record, Northampton, May 13, 1759. His name is 2nd from the bottom. At right is the Northampton record of the death of Amos [Hull] Negro on June 10, 1761, the father of Agrippa Hull. 

At left is the Northampton baptism record for Asaph Hull on November 23. At right is the 1757 baptism record for the first Margaret born into the Hull household. Her name is near the bottom.

At left is a 1757 Northampton record recording the death of a child of Amos Hull in December. This was likely Margaret. At right is the 1761 Northampton baptism record for another Margaret in the Hull household. Her name is near the bottom.

Bathsheba, Agrippa’s mother, appears to have been freed in the 1750s and sometime after that became a landowner. However, not long after her husband Amos died in 1761, she was brought into court during the three-year period between 1765 and 1768. She had purchased the land from someone the town considered to be a squatter. The town was able to produce an earlier deed, which they claimed made her deed void. Faced with those losses, Bathsheba needed to find a way to care for her surviving children. “On March 17, 1765 Bathsheba a free negro woman having sometime before convicted before the church of stealing and contempt of the privileges of Christ church and having been admonished but continuing impertinent, was excommunicated.” [4]

Times were obviously very tough for her and her children. Bathsheba eventually remarried in 1767, which we will come back to a little later in the series.

Next week we will rewind a bit and provide some background on Jonathan Edwards and his attitude toward slavery.

1. Town Book 2, Page 473, of the Stockbridge Town Records indicates that Agrippa died May 21, 1848, at age 89.
2. Jones, Electa. Stockbridge Past and Present: Or Records of an Old Mission Station (Springfield: Samuel Bowles & Company, 1854)
3. Electa Jones, in her book Stockbridge Past and Present, Records of an Old Mission Station, refers to the location of Agrippa’s birth as Licking Water Bridge.
4. Corbin Collection, Reel II, Northampton Church Records 1661-1924.