Bidwell Lore – Agrippa Hull and Jonathan Edwards

Welcome to Bidwell Lore number 132! We continue our story of Agrippa Hull this week with a look at the Reverend Jonathan Edwards.

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 and Jonathan Edwards
Rick Wilcox, 2022

This week we want to share a little background on Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) to put the previous post in context. The Rev. Jonathan Edwards had removed to Stockbridge in 1752, before any of the Hull children were born, after being dismissed by the Northampton congregation. Edwards’s relationship with his congregation had become strained: one reason was his changed views on the requirements for admission to the Lord’s Supper. In the Halfway Covenant, baptized but unconverted children of believers might have their own children baptized by “owning the covenant.” Edwards’ grandfather, the Rev. Solomon Stoddard (1643-1729), had instituted the subsequently widespread practice of admitting to the Eucharist all who were thus “in the covenant,” even if they knew themselves to be unconverted. Edwards gradually came to believe that the profession required for admission to full communion should be understood to imply genuine faith, not merely doctrinal knowledge and good moral behavior. Rev. Stoddard, who was sometimes referred to as the “Pope of the Connecticut River Valley,” along with the Williams and Partridge families, greatly influenced the religious and political lives of everyone in Western Massachusetts. That Edwards was his grandson did not rescue him, and unfortunately for him, he was not warmly welcomed by the Williams family in Stockbridge.

Looking at the historical record, we can see Rev. Jonathan Edwards’ relationship with men and women who were enslaved and that he did at one time own slaves himself. It is believed that Joab Benny was a bondsman [1] of Ebenezer Hunt, who was a deacon in Edwards’ church in Northampton. Hunt gave Benny to Rev. Edwards, who then freed him. Another version of the story suggests that Hunt is the one who freed Benny, giving him the ability to move to Stockbridge, where he would either set up a blacksmith shop or become a tanner. Northampton records do list Benny as a tanner and Hunt had a pottery business as well as a furs and hat business, so logic would suggest Benny had learned the tanning trade while enslaved by Hunt. There is also a story that Ebenezer Hunt was in chorus with other members of the congregation in their efforts to oust Rev. Edwards from the church.

Henry August Loop (1831-1895), after Joseph Badger (1708-1765) Rev. Jonathan Edwards. 1860. Oil on canvas. Collection of Princeton University. Wikipedia Images.

Although living in separate households, Joab Benny was married to Rose, who was enslaved by Rev. Edwards. The problem with that story is that Edwards ended up in Stockbridge in 1751 and Benny did not buy land there until 1754. Rev. Edwards’ will and death inventory, which was presented for probate in Northampton on May 13, 1758, under the title Quick Stock, included: horse, 2 cows, 6 hogs, yoke of oxen and yoke of steers, two Heifers, one calf, and one negro boy named Titus, valued at 30 pounds. It is possible that Benny was able to purchase Rose’s freedom from Edwards, as she did not appear among Edwards’ property. Emily Piper writes that Joab was a “servant” to Rev. Edwards, who released him from bondage when he came to Stockbridge in 1751. [2]

From Professor Sean McGever we have the following comment concerning Edwards’ life when he was voted out of the church.  

A timeline for Edwards: June 22nd he was voted out by the Northampton Church. He waited a year and a half before moving, evidently not aware of the tension it created at the church. October 18, 1752 Edwards moves to Stockbridge and we assume Rose was still with him. March 14, 1753 Edwards writes his Will, which does not include Rose. February 28, 1754 Edwards writes to Rev. Bellamy, “my wife desires to buy your Negro woman.” Sarah’s request suggests she is looking for a “replacement” for Rose. It seems that Rose may only have been with the Edwards family for a maximum of five months. 

There is a third version of the story: that Joab Benney moved west from Northampton in 1751 as part of the effort to drive Edwards from the pulpit and from the town. This was offered by Emily Piper and David Levinson in their book One Minute a Free Woman: Elizabeth Freeman and the Struggle for Freedom, 2010. On page 96, they state that Edwards performed the wedding ceremony for Rose and Joab. It is possible that between 1751 and 1756 Joab worked as a free Black at the Edwards house, at what is now 23 Main Street in Stockbridge.

In the winter of 1758, Rev. Edwards accepted the post of President of the College of New Jersey, replacing his son-in-law, Rev. Aaron Burr, Sr. Arriving in New Jersey during a smallpox epidemic, Edwards was inoculated, but still died of smallpox on March 22, 1758. Rev. Edwards’ daughter, Esther Edwards Burr, was inoculated at the same time as her father but also died of smallpox.  Rev. Edwards’ wife then traveled to Princeton to bring her grandchildren, Sarah and the young Aaron Burr, back to Stockbridge. Upon reaching Philadelphia during the return trip, she was taken ill and died. Young Aaron Burr, by age two, had lost his mother, father, and grandparents.

Aaron’s mother Esther wrote in her journal: “Aaron is a little dirty noisy boy…he begins to talk a little, is very sly and mischievous…he is more spirited then Sally, but not so good tempered. He is very resolute and will require a good Governor to bring him to terms.” [4]. In 1760, Aaron Burr was placed under the guardianship of his Uncle Timothy Edwards (son to Jonathan), who, in addition to his own children, took in Aaron’s five uncles and aunts (children of Rev. Jonathan Edwards) and his wife’s two younger brothers. Young Burr entered the College of New Jersey, now Princeton, at age 13. His guardian and uncle, Timothy Edwards, referred to as Squire Edwards, was said to operate the largest store in Berkshire County and was a major supplier to West Point during the Revolutionary War. We are left to wonder whether or not Edwards crossed paths with Agrippa, who spent considerable time at West Point.

“As beyond all question the dark cloud of slavery hung for a time over our beautiful valley, there is reason to suppose that the Africans were held in bondage by our early families, though we have no knowledge of the fact. The first historical or traditional mention of race in Stockbridge is in 1751, when the family of President Edwards [5] settled here. In his family was a married woman by the name of Rose, who was said to have been stolen from Africa when a child, as she was getting water at a spring. She had not received her freedom, and her husband Joab, was the slave of a Mr. Hunt of Northampton, but it is the traditional account of the matter, that in his zeal to remove Mr. Edwards from Northampton, Hunt readily released his bondman [6] to come with him.” [7]

Next week we will talk about life in 18th century Stockbridge for a free Black man

1. Enslaved man
2. Berkshire Athenaeum Historical Room, Emily Piper Collection, Box 3, Blacks
3. Email with Sean McGever, PHD, Faculty at Grand Canyon University, College of Theology
4. Karlsen, Carol F., and Crumpacker, Laurie, editors. The Journal of Esther Edwards Burr 1754-1757 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986)
5. Rev. Jonathan Edwards, second missionary minister for the Town of Stockbridge following the death of the Rev. John Sergeant (1710-1749), the first missionary to Stockbridge.
6. Enslaved man
7. Jones, Electa. Stockbridge Past and Present: Or Records of an Old Mission Station (Springfield: Samuel Bowles & Company, 1854)