Bidwell Lore – Agrippa in the News

Welcome to Bidwell Lore number 164! This week we will share some articles in various newspapers and publications in the 19th century that spoke about Agrippa Hull.

If you love history as much as we do and have not yet visited the Bidwell House Museum, there is still time to book your tour! We offer guided tours by appointment until October 30. It is a beautiful time to visit the house: click HERE for details about scheduling your visit.

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 in the News
Rick Wilcox, 2022

This week we are going to move in a different direction with the Agrippa story and share some short articles about Agrippa that appeared in various publications in the 19th and 20th centuries. These will give you an idea of how Agrippa was perceived at the time and also show how well-liked he was by his neighbors in the Berkshires. Keep in mind that these were all published a long time ago and the language used is very different from how we would talk about Agrippa today.

First, we share a July 26, 1837, advertisement in The Berkshire Courier which indicates that Agrippa enjoyed a certain level of comfort based on his hard work and entrepreneurial spirit:

“Stop Thief. Strayed or Stolen from the subscriber on the 18th of June last, a BAY HORSE, about ten years old; said horse has a long switch tail, turns the left hind foot in a little, a star in the forehead, the hair worn off the breast by the collar and the mane lies on each side of the neck. Any person giving information of said horse or returning him to the undersigned shall be liberally rewarded. AGRIPPA HULL. Stockbridge July 26, 1837.” 

Next is a letter from 1841 sent to The Weekly Visitor, a newspaper published by J.E. Field [1] in Stockbridge, extolling Agrippa’s teetotaling habits.

A Good Example. – Mr. Agrippa Hull, a colored man, of this town is now 80 years old; was a soldier in the revolutionary war, has enjoyed good health; is now smart and active; is free from debt – does not owe a penny; strictly honest in all his dealing with his fellow men; a devoted servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. And, what is remarkable, he never tasted a drop of  ardent spirits. Reader, if thou art young, imitate this man’s example, and you will live many years upon the earth and rejoice in them all. If thou art addicted to the use of strong drink, will you not ‘cease to do evil, and learn, from this man’s example, to do well. M. Stockbridge March 25, 1841. [2]

From 1907 comes the following passage from a book titled “Old Paths and Legends of the New England Border” 

“Konkapot or Konk’s brook crosses the Crowninshield place, in Stockbridge; in Great Barrington it is Muddy Brook. Tradition says that Captain Konkapot lived not far from Agrippa’s little weather-beaten cottage on the old County Road. Agrippa the colored body-servant of Kosciusko, and his wife were ‘characters’ in Stockbridge. No one could make such gingerbread and root beer as Black Peggy. Grippy was sexton; it is said that one evening when church members were dilatory in arriving, Grippy opened the prayer meeting himself: ‘O Lord Thou knowest how I comes here and rings the bell and rings the bell, and Thy disciples halt by the way, paying no attention to its solemn warning sound.” [3]

We end this week with an article written by a Mrs. Follen which appeared in the New York Tribune, 7 November 1845:

AGRIPPA HULL – In the village of Stockbridge, Mass. lives a black man by the name of Agrippa Hull, who served in the Revolutionary War. At the close of it he was honorably discharged in testimony of which he shows a certificate signed by General Washington. He was for some years the servant of General Kosciusko, of whose generous and humane character he speaks with love and admiration.

            Agrippa has an uncommonly fine head and is remarkable for his excellent understanding and good character. By his industry he has become possessed of a valuable farm, which, at the age of 76, he cultivates himself. He is eminent for his piety, and those who have heard him speak at conference meeting, which he is in the habit of attending with his white neighbors, say that in prayer he is distinguished for fervor and eloquence, and particular originality and richness of language.

            The acuteness and wisdom of his views upon most subjects, and the wit and force of his illustrations, make his conversation so impressive that you remember what he has said long after you have parted from him. During an interview of perhaps half an hour, I was so struck with his remarks, that as soon as he left me I wrote down his very words without any alteration or embellishment.

            When I expressed to Agrippa my opinion upon the subject of prejudice against color, he said, ‘When there is a flock of sheep, and some black ones among them, I always think that if they behave well, they have a good right to be fed as the white ones. God will not ask what is our color, but what has been our conduct. The Almighty made all colors. If we find fault with the work we find fault with the Workman. His works are all good. 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?’
            ‘When a white man says any hard thing to me about my color, I tell him, I pity him; and I ask him which is the worst, to be black outside or in. When a black man is treated ill by a white man, and he bears it patiently, and only pities him, I think that he has a chance to take a very high place over the white man.’

            Upon the assertion that the slaveholders cannot abolish slavery, Agrippa said, ‘No one can say he is obliged to do wrong. When the drunkard says he cannot live without spirits, I tell him to take temperance things for a while and see if he is not better. It is his will that is in fault. There is no necessity to do wrong. God never makes us do wrong.’

            He put his hand upon a little boy’s head and said, ‘I love children; I love to see them well brought up. It is a good thing to feed the minds of children.’

            When speaking of abolitionists, he said, It may be a great while before the Abolitionists can succeed in their purpose; but they will do a great good to the black men, by inducing them to keep down their bad feelings, knowing that help will come at last. The Abolitionists have the great happiness of working for a cause in which they know they have God on their side.’

            In a cause, the merit of which depends upon a question whether the black man is a man, no further testimony is needed than the remarks of Agrippa and what greater encouragement can the Abolitionists desire than that contained in his words, ‘God is on their side.’ Mrs. Follen.” [4]

Next week we will take a look at what happened to Agrippa’s property in Stockbridge after he died.

1. Jonathan Edwards Field was the brother of Emilia Ann Field who married the Rev. Josiah Brewer, the son of Eliab Brewer and Theodosia Bidwell Brewer. Theodosia was the daughter of the Rev. Adonijah Bidwell. Jonathan Edwards Field was a lawyer and president of the Massachusetts Senate. Brother Stephen Field was a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. David Dudley Field, Jr. was a lawyer who codified the NY laws. Cyrus West Field laid the Atlantic cable.
2. Stockbridge Library Museum & Archives, m73-2.4.
3. Old Paths and Legends of the New England Border, Catharine Abbott, 1907, pp 222-223.
4. Article reprinted in the Arkansas State Gazette, 1 Dec 1845; Vermont Religious Observer 12 Nov 1845 and Green Mountain Freeman, 27 Nov 1845. Stockbridge Library Museum & Archives, Agrippa Hull collection.