Roco and Sue lived in Springfield, which was in Massachusetts Bay Colony and then in Massachusetts Colony, where they were slaves of John Pynchon, the magistrate who made an appearance in my 52 Ancestors post on Sarah (Lyman) Bridgman. John Pynchon died with the largest estate of its time in Western Massachusetts, and like many wealthy European colonists of his day, he owned slaves. Like later work on the enslaved in Southern states, most of what can be gleaned about slaves in early Massachusetts has to be pieced together from the records of whites. Roco was owned by John Pynchon by 1672, when Roco and fellow Pynchon slave Harry were two of the people working on building the first sawmill in Suffield, a town a short distance downriver from Springfield. According to Black Families in Hampden County, Massachusetts, 1650-1865, 2nd edition (p. 2), Roco was a very unusual slave in owning at least 60 acres of land by 1685 though still a slave; there is no citation listed, so I am not sure yet what the source was. So far I haven’t found a reference in the deeds, but many deeds in what was then Hampshire County were recorded belatedly in this time period, so that doesn’t necessarily mean there isn’t one.
On 1 December 1687 John Pynchon noted in the Record of the County Court of Hampshire, “Roco and Sue my Negroes, Joined in Marriage.” Roco and Sue subsequently bought their freedom from John Pynchon on 20 October 1695:
Agreed with Roco Negroe . . . That for his & his wifes freedoms which is to be absolute upon his paying to me as followeth which is to say He is to pvide & allow or pay me Twenty five Barrels of good cleane pure Turpentine of 40 gallons to a Barrel & Twenty one barrels of Good merchantable Tarr: where of he is to pay wt he can next yeare by this time 12 Mo & I give him for the Rest the yeare after so that within Two yeares he is to pay the whole & he is Intirely discharged from me upon the reading of this . . .
Richard Blackleech, a free man of color who was a former slave of John Pynchon, witnessed the document.
Sue died in Springfield, recorded as “Su the negro,” on 24 January 1710/11. So far I have not been able to determine when or where Roco died and as far as I have reviewed, no one else seems to have located a death record for him either.
A “Negro” named Roco had been examined by John Pynchon in private and then at the County Court in 1680 regarding a charge of fornication with a white woman, Margarite Riley of Springfield, and Roco is recorded as having said “that he had (upon the said Riley’s tempting him) the carnal knowledge of her body,” and the court sentenced him to pay a fine of three pounds or receive fifteen lashes. Margarite was sentenced to receive fifteen lashes herself, apparently at least partly as a deterrent to herself and others regarding “this Growing and provoking sin of whoredom and to restrain the like abhorend practices.” I am unclear whether this is the same Roco who subsequently married Sue, and as far as I have been able to find, no one else seems to know for sure either. Margarite had had a daughter “born out of wedlocke” shortly before her court appearance, on 6 July 1680; Margarite had been born in Springfield in February 1661/62, making her 18 when her daughter was born. Was the Roco who was brought before the court the child’s father? Nothing I’ve reviewed, from either then or now, even speculates as to this, so I don’t know. But regardless of whether Roco was the father, perhaps this event was part of why the court seemed to have so little patience with Margarite’s behavior.
Everyone I have featured till now in my 52 Ancestors posts was a relative of mine; however, here my relative is the slave-owner, John Pynchon. Given the typical practices of New England slavery, Roco and Sue would have regularly interacted with whites in the Pynchon household while they were slaves. I think it is important for researchers to remember that many people in the North had slaves too. I also want to stress here that though this may seem like a short post for my 52 Ancestors posts, I chose Roco and Sue primarily because there is a lot more known about them than many other slaves in this time and place. As an example, as far as I have been able to determine, no one seems to even be sure of the given name of one of the slaves that John Pynchon owned when he died.
All the books listed below include at least one mention of both Roco and Sue.
The most invaluable book for understanding slavery in this area is Slavery in the Connecticut Valley of Massachusetts by Robert H. Romer (Florence, Massachusetts: Levellers Press, 2009).
For those researching families of color in Hampden County, Massachusetts, a fantastic resource is Black Families in Hampden County, Massachusetts, 1650-1865 by Joseph Carvalho III, who published a second edition of the book in 2011 through the New England Historic Genealogical Society. This book includes families in colonial Springfield. I do want to stress checking the compiled information in this book against original records whenever possible.
As I mentioned in my post on Sarah (Lyman) Bridgman, an important work for anyone researching early western Massachusetts is Colonial Justice in Western Massachusetts (1639-1703): The Pynchon Court Record, edited with a legal and historical introduction by Joseph H. Smith (USA: The William Nelson Cromwell Foundation at Harvard University Press, 1961). The book is a mix of transcriptions, analysis, and information about the various legal procedures used at the time, and includes cases regarding both slaves and free people of color.
A second book on the voluminous records left by John Pynchon is The Pynchon Papers, Volume 2: Selections from the Account Books of John Pynchon, 1651-1697, edited by Carl Bridenbaugh and Juliette Tomlinson (Boston: Colonial Society of Massachusetts in association with the University of Virginia Press, 1985). The account books of John Pynchon and his father William Pynchon were microfilmed and a few repositories in western Massachusetts have copies, but they are not available for inter-library loan, making this book a more realistic way for most people to access the information in John Pynchon’s account books.