Bidwell Lore – Peggy Hull and Joab Kellis

Welcome to Bidwell Lore number 165! This week we will talk about the property Peggy  Hull inherited from Agrippa and her boarder, Joab Kellis.

November is a month of Candlelight Tours of the Bidwell House Museum! On these special guided tours you can learn about various aspects of the Museum collection from a series of local experts and then enjoy wine and cheese at the end with your guide. Our first tour is this Thursday, November 2, at 4pm,  with two additional tours on November 16 and November 30. Click HERE to get your tickets.

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.

Peggy Hull and Joab Kellis
Rick Wilcox, 2022

This week we want to talk a little about Peggy Hull’s life after Agrippa and also share a story about Joab Kellis, a man who boarded with her. The below photo is of Peggy.

From the Berkshire News, published in Great Barrington on May 14, 1892 we see the following advertisement:
Stockbridge – The so-called Agrippa (or Peggy) Hull place, a few rods below the depot, [1] is offered for sale by the present owner, Mrs. Meron Kinsella. Inquire at the house for particulars.

Peggy HullCourtesy of the Stockbridge Library Museum & Archives.

In an 1855 map of Stockbridge (below), you can see that Mrs. Hull’s house was on the south side of Konkapot Brook, just south of the railroad tracks near the center of the map. Also visible on the map is a house for Elisha Darby, directly across the street, and a house for Tim Darby, further south on the county road. [2]

“After Agrippa died, Margaret continued to live in their Stockbridge home. In the 1850 census, she is listed as age 67, mulatto, value of real estate – $1,000, place of birth – Great Barrington. Boarding with her was Joab Kellis, age 47, Black, physician, born in Stockbridge. He was with her at least ten years, but died in Lee, April 12, 1866, age 63, ‘a respectable colored physician,’ and was buried in Stockbridge. The family circle ‘comes round.’ Joab Kellis was the grandson of Joab Benny, who had taken Agrippa Hull to Stockbridge as I child.” [3]

Agrippa owned 24 acres at his death. It would appear that people were taxed based on their place of residence and $1,000 in value suggests she might have been living on the Goodrich Street property. The Goodrich Street house on the 1855 map is marked “Mrs. Hull.” The map also shows the name of one Dr. J(oab) Kellis near Evergreen Hill, on what is now Clark Road (near the bottom center of the map). It would have been very close to where his grandfather’s land was, sold to Oliver Partridge after Benney’s death.

1855 Map of Stockbridge, Courtesy Stockbridge Library Museum & Archives

Joab Kellis, M.D., Berkshire County’s first African American physician, was born and raised in Stockbridge and studied medicine under Dr. Erastus Sergeant. He served the communities of both Lee and Stockbridge and was well regarded for his medical, political, historical, and theological knowledge. When he died in 1866 at the age of 63 in abject poverty, he was so well regarded by the townspeople that the town of Stockbridge saw fit to pay for his funeral and eventually his tombstone. [4]

Lee, April 12th 1869. Joab Kellis, who recently died in this town, more familiarly known as ‘Dr. Joab,’ deserves something more than a mere passing notice. He was the last of his family, which came originally from the West Indies. His father was a slave; was pressed into the British Army, and brought here to assist in conquering the rebel Americans, in the war of the Revolution. After fighting against them in several battles and being convinced that he was battling on the wrong side, he determined to desert to the side of the colonies, and did so at the first opportunity that presented itself. The war being over he settled in Stockbridge. He was a man of ‘great fame,’ with an intellect corresponding to his physical proportions. Being destitute of any education (he could neither read nor write) he nevertheless possessed a mind of rare discrimination; and nothing pleased him more than to sue or be sued at the law, that he might have an opportunity of pleading his own cause; and we have heard it remarked that he was a match for any lawyer in the county. He died a few years since at a very advanced age. He had two sons, Charles and Joab. Charles was educated for a lawyer, – was a young man of great promise, but died of consumption, at an early age. Joab when young, lived with Dr. Erastus Sergeant of this town, quite a noted physician, as the older class of our readers will well remember. Possessed of an ardent desire for knowledge forever kind Joab availed himself of every opportunity to consult Dr. Sergeant’s library, and also the doctor himself; and so, acquired a very respectable amount of medical knowledge which he continued to use until near the close of his life.
            But medicine was not his only ‘forte.’  Blessed with the most retentive memory, whatever he heard or read he remembered. In politics or theology, he was more than a match for the majority of white men. With the history of his country, he was entirely familiar, and particularly with that of the various political parties, which have flourished from time to time. In polemic theology he had few equals, and certainly not many superiors in any class. His distinguishing characteristic, if he may be said have had any, was his love for his race, and the desire he manifested to see them elevated from a state of bondage to one of freedom. He never failed on any occasion to vindicate their claim to all rights of manhood; and was himself a most striking example of what many of them could become were they admitted to the most ordinary advantages of our white citizens.
            With all his faults, if he had any, we believe him to have been at heart a good man, and hat he is now where prejudice and neglect can no longer repress his ardent desire for knowledge, or ‘freeze the genial current of his soul.’ Peace to his ashes. W. [5]

That he died in poverty is not surprising, given that his patients would have been residents of color, who more likely than not would have paid for his services by bartering with produce or offering labor.

Next week we will look at the sale of land around Evergreen Hill, which we mentioned this week in relation to Joab Kellis.

1. The depot (train station) at that time was on the west side of Goodrich Street. It is not clear whether or not the original house was standing at that time. The 1855 map indicates Peggy Hull was living there at that time.
2. The county road is now Goodrich Street and the 1954 road creating South Street, Route 7 buried a portion of both Konkapot’s and Hull’s property. Deeds indicate Ashburner was an abutter. Ashburner owned 1 Ice Glen Road and some surrounding land.
3. The Family of Agrippa Hull, Emily S. Piper, Berkshire Genealogist Volume 22, Number 1, page 5.
4. 1855 Map of Stockbridge & West Stockbridge 2011.050.10, Stockbridge Library Museum & Archives.
5. Stockbridge Library Museum & Archives, Joab Kellis collection.