Penfield Family Genealogy
July 2015 Edition
Editor’s Notes about Pompey Penfield
Pompey Penfield’s parents and other ancestors are not known. He married Nancy Williams in 1834 in Claverack, NY, and then in 1836 their first daughter Mary was born in Sheffield, MA. He and Nancy had three children, all of whom grew up in Sheffield and two of whom (Edward and Nancy) had many descendants.

Pompey and Nancy appear in at least three user-submitted genealogies:
    edward penfield Family Tree,
    bryan penfield Family Tree,
    Stroman Jr. Family Tree.

Pompey and his descendants are usually described in census forms and other contemporary records as Black, Mulatto, Negro, or African. At this time Sheffield and neighboring towns in western Massachusetts had a small but influential black community. Among other things, in 1781 (well before Pompey was born) a Sheffield slave owner, Colonel John Ashley, was sued by two of his slaves for their freedom, on the basis that slavery was incompatible with the newly adopted Massachusetts Constitution. He lost, and then freed all his remaining slaves. This court decision greatly weakened legal support for slavery throughout Massachusetts. Two recent books have focused on the history of African Americans in this region, mentioning Pompey and his descendants several times. Another recent book describes slavery in colonial Massachusetts by focusing on Colonel Ashley’s cousin, Rev. Jonathan Ashley, who settled in Deerfield, some 50 miles to the north-east.
    Bernard A. Drew, “If They Close the Door on You, Go in the Window: Origins of the African American community in Sheffield, Great Barrington and Stockbridge,” Attic Revivals Press, Great Barrington, MA; 2004.
    David Levinson, Editor, “African American Heritage in the Upper Housatonic Valley,” Berkshire Publishing Group LLC, 314 Main Street, Great Barrington, MA 01230; 2006.
    Robert H. Romer, “Slavery in the Connecticut Valley of Massachusetts,” Levellers Press, Florence, MA; 2009.

It seems likely that Pompey’s and Colonel Ashley’s stories are intertwined, but we don’t know for sure. Colonel Ashley’s wife was from Claverack, at least some of his slaves are said to have come from Claverack, and his grand-daughter Mary Fellows wed Daniel Penfield in 1784 in Sheffield. Daniel was known to have owned slaves when he was a merchant in Claverack. Then he left, settling in (and giving his name to) what is now Penfield, NY, near Rochester. Daniel had at least one slave with him in Penfield tending to his wife, who died in 1828.

Pompey was a common given name for male slaves. Freed slaves needed a surname, and some adopted the names of their owners. In New York at that time, boys born into slavery because their mothers were slaves were by law granted their freedom at age 28 (girls at age 25). That law, if it applied to Pompey or Nancy, would have freed them about 1830.

Hmmm. There may be a good story here, just waiting to be researched and written.

Paul Penfield, Jr., editor. Created 21 May 2015, modified 5 Jun 2015.
Most African Americans in Sheffield during Pompey’s time did not own real estate. In 1860 Pompey reportedly owned
one half acre of meadowland, worth $0.50, on which he paid $0.03 in taxes.

Paul Penfield, Jr., editor. Created 4 Jun 2015.
Other pages for Pompey Penfield: Family page with spouse Nancy Williams
Timeline, Notes (this page)
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