Collect Day #7 JENNY and CATO

Almighty God, you have given us this good life as our heritage. However, we do not always act as people mindful of your favor and glad to do your will. We think of Jenny, who spent her years living a life that was fashioned by the whims and needs of others. She was brought to New England as a child, from a place with a different tongue. Her name was changed and her life marked only by the cause of her death. Her owners chose not once but twice to own another human being. We fail you, God, when we choose disrespect and privilege over equality and respect. We beg your pardon for the blindness of our ways, especially those of us who already call ourselves, “devout.” Amen

Cato Fisk and Jenny

Day #7, February 21, 2018
Hampton & Epping

Rev. Deborah Knowlton

One might wonder how or why Puritan clergymen of the 1700s came to own slaves. It seems counterintuitive for those who fled England and its repressive belief systems, to exult in a setting that gave them freer self-expression, while at the same moment make a choice to enslave another human being. One reason may have been buried in the scriptures that were so important to Puritans. There, slaves are spoken of as simply another segment of the population and there is no prohibition against owning a slave — only the caution to treat a slave well. Perhaps another impetus for clergy slave-owning was simply the need for labor. Clergy were often paid in land parcels, sometimes as large as 200 acres. They would have needed extra hands to clear stumps, sow oats, flax and hops, and it took years to grow a child who could handle such tasks. Many fervent Christian leaders also argued that to take a “heathen” from a foreign land and place him/her in a Christian home where the gospel was heard, would be good for their soul.

Although their reason is unknown, Ward and Joanna Cotton, owned Jenny. She was baptized at about 30 years old only to die ten years later of the “wind cholick”. Jenny is the first “Negro servant” who belonged to a pastor to be listed in the Hampton church records. Since only her baptism and death are noted, it is not possible to do more than conjecture as to what her role was in the family. But the year that Jenny died, 1751, was also the year that Elizabeth Cotton, daughter of Ward, married Ebenezer Fisk and moved to Epping.  There they owned Cato Fisk, a black man, whom they freed about the time of the Revolutionary War.  Cato enlisted in 1777 as a drummer but when he got home, picked up his fiddle.

Cato was discharged in 1783 with a Badge of Merit. He married Elsa Husow, a Black woman, in Brentwood with Rev. Nathaniel Trask officiating. They had three children and experienced the same impoverishment that many other Black veterans faced following military service. They moved often as a family and were “warned out” of Poplin, Exeter, Raymond, and Deerfield. So many moves must have left the family with little income and only infrequent, barely adequate shelter. Cato did receive some of his pension, declaring that his whole estate included little more than a small hut, 1 cow, 1 pig, chairs, 2 tables, a scythe, ax and some cooking utensils. At his death in 1824, a service in Epsom was held for both Cato and General Michael McClary who had died about the same time.  Offense was taken by some worshippers when the pastor, in his sermon, mentioned Cato’s name before that of the general. But, Cato and not the general had been owned and freed by one pastor’s child, married and buried by another.

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