More than Zachariah Packard’s property: the story of America, Peter, and Ann

Back in May, I wrote about how my great-great-great-great-great-great-great grand uncle, Zachariah Packard was a slaveowner in Massachusetts in the 1770s. In this article, I aim to tell the story of the three enslaved people, Ann, America, and Peter listed in his last will and testament building upon what I have written on this post in the past. While it is hard to trace enslaved people before 1870, I do my best to tell their stories to the best extent possible.

In 1771, Zachariah (whose name was also spelled Zechariah) had one dwelling house, 5 acres of pasture for 6 cows, “6 tilled acres, 4 acres of upland mowed land, 3.8. acres of fresh meadow, while producing 71 bushels of grain, 2 tons of hay from his upland mowed land, and 8 tons of hay from his fresh meadow land.” He also had “1 horse, 4 oxen, 6 goats & sheep, and 3 swine, along with one servant “for life”” (an enslaved person), “with his real estate worth 14 pounds, and owned “18.8. acres compared to Barnabas’s 18.” While the record does not outline who this enslaved person was, his inventory, outlined the same year gives more detail: it notes that he bequeathed a “servant boy” named Peter to his sons Nathaniel and Nathan, a “servant boy” named America to his daughter Abigail, and a “servant maid” named Ann to his wife Abigail, only to be set free after she died. [1] Here is what he says, exactly in his will about them, just to be clear:

I give and bequeath to my wife Abigail the improvement of my servant maid Ann (who is a servant for life) during the life of my said wife…I give and bequeath to my sons…Nathaniel and Nathan my servant boy named Peter (who is a servant for life)…I give and bequeath to my said daughter Abigail my servant boy named America, who is a servant for life…my will is that my said servant maid Ann (after the decease of my said wife) should be set at liberty with regard to service, and that my heirs, executors & administrators should not exercise any authority over her or control her in any way whatsoever, she having proved herself a very faithful servant & merited her freedom

This executed on November 2, 1772 with his death.

His inventory, on December 17, 1772, we find is how his son, Nathan, valued Peter as the highest (over 33 pounds), America as second-highest (33 pounds), and Ann as the lowest (9 pounds). [2] You could say that this “proves” that Ann was the oldest, Peter was second oldest, and America was the youngest.

One record on April 23, 1774 puts that all into question, outlining payments from Zachariah’s estate. [3] It lists an amount of 25 pounds, 5 shillings given to “America Peirce,” saying he was “hired”? owned? by the “said Zachariah Packard.”

This raises a number of questions. Who was “Peirce” (or Pierce)? And, what happened after 1774? What was the fate of America, Peter, and Ann?

We know that on March 4, 1774, Nathaniel Packard, Nathan Packard, Edward Poivers?, James Howard, Nathaniel Perkins, Benjamin Cantril?,  and Josiah Williams petitioned the court to appoint a guardian for Zachariah’s wife, Abigail. [4] They argued she was “insane or superannuated,” saying it made her incapable of improving the small estate bequeathed to her by Zachariah. The judge, Daniel Cushing, and several selectmen of Bridgewater (Shepard Frisk, Ephraim Carey, and Simeon Cary) agreed with this sentiment, and a guardian was appointed. It seems that Nathaniel became her guardian, although his 1794 will does not mention any enslaved people, as I noted in my previous post because slavery was phased out in Massachusetts after 1781, resulting in Peter, Ann, and America vanishing from the records, from what I could tell at the time. As the Museum of African American History puts it on their online timeline, slavery was abolished in Massachusetts in 1783.

We know, also, as I noted there, that there is an “America Pierce” and “Peter Pierce” living in Bridgewater, Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1790, who could be the same as as those mentioned in this article. [5]

But, looking at the entries for America Peirce and Ann Freeman, this is thrown into question, as is this record which seems to prove the marriage. I was unable to find any records here, although we know that those whom were freed after 1783, like America, Peter, and Ann had a tough time, as they paid taxes and were treated equally by the legal system, but they couldn’t serve on juries, attend public schools (by tradition and custom), and had a harder time finding work than they did as enslaved people. As such, domestic service was often seen as viable, along with “common labor” and those professions associated with the sea, although fear of being kidnapped or forced to return to slavery elsewhere in the U.S. was a bar “to working on the waterfront or at sea.” As the Massachusetts Historical Society added, “freed slaves in Massachusetts continued in an inferior social position, legally free but with fewer civil rights than whites.” Even so, finding records for them is hard to do.

So, I throw it out to all of you. What places should I look next for records to complete this story? Because the list of records by FamilySearch is clearly inadequate.


Matthew Stowell has made some great comments on here, inspiring me to do some more research onto this going forward! A wonderful series to say the least!


[1] Will of Zachariah Packard, Apr. 17, 1771, Probate Records 1771-1778 vol. 21-23, Massachusetts, Plymouth County, Probate Records, 1663-1967, p. 200-201, images 130-131 of 627. Courtesy of FamilySearch.

[2] Inventory of Zachariah Packard, December 17, 1772, Probate Records 1771-1778 vol. 21-23, Massachusetts, Plymouth County, Probate Records, p. 622, image 298 of 697. Courtesy of FamilySearch.

[3] Payments from Zachariah Packard’s estate to subscribers, Probate Records 1771-1778 vol. 21-23, Massachusetts, Plymouth County, Probate Records, p. 623, image 299 of 627. Courtesy of FamilySearch.

[4] Petition for guardian for Abigail Packard and Response, Probate Records 1771-1778 vol. 21-23, Massachusetts, Plymouth County, Probate Records, p. 603, image 289 of 627. Courtesy of FamilySearch.

[5] “United States Census, 1790,” database with images, FamilySearch, America Pierce, Bridgewater, Plymouth, Massachusetts, United States; citing p. 75, NARA microfilm publication M637, (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.), roll 4; FHL microfilm 568,144. Note how they are NOT considered White here.

This means she did not die in 1758 as her Find A Grave entry, cited in the previous footnote, asserts. He gives his grandchildren, the children of his son Elijah, named Abigail, Benjamin, Elijah, and Mary four shillings a piece. John Washburn, Josiah Edson, Jr., and William Hooper are witnesses. They note in a letter in Nov. 1772 that Nathaniel is executor of the estate, with further accounts. His estate is not settled until June 6, 1774 as noted by other documents.

Inventory of Zachariah Packard, Dec. 17, 1772, Probate Records 1771-1778 vol. 21-23, Massachusetts, Plymouth County, Probate Records, 1663-1967, p. 621-622, image 298 of 627. Courtesy of Family Search.

7 thoughts on “More than Zachariah Packard’s property: the story of America, Peter, and Ann

  1. Bravo! Keep going- this is a great story to follow and tell. Try the deed indexes in Plymouth County to see if they ever owned any land. Also, you might want to check court records that are probably held at the state archives to see if they are in the indexes there. Would you like me to check on ancestry to see if there is anything? Do you know where they are buried? Keep following the breadcrumbs as this could be a really interesting story.


  2. Found this on Ancestry:

    Common Pleas, Begun 19 Nov 1799, before Judges William Warson, Ephraim Spooner, and Daniel Howard

    John Wales (Bridgewater Yeoman) v. America Peirce, “a blackman,” (Bridgewater laborer). Case, on note dated 17 Dec 1796 for $30 with interest. Default by deft. Judgment for $23.88 and $8.48 costs. Satisfied in part, $23.74, 25 November.

    Looks like America Peirce married Ann Freeman. This record is for America Peirce, jr., their son. Ann and America were married on June 7, 1764 in Bridgewater. America was a free negro man and Ann was a negro servant to Zachariah Packard. Their son America, jr. was born c.1767 and would have been enslaved as the the condition of the child was based on the condition of the mother. Looks like America, jr. and his family lived in Plymouth and married 3 times. In 3rd marriage record he is noted as a former slave.


    • Oh, that sounds really great! I haven’t found much, as of yet. Where did you find this record? I looked at the Find A Grave page, but that person is America Peirce/Pierce Jr. There are derivative records on Billion Graves, with records of an America in Plymouth, MA in 1820, and in 1830 they are listed as “free colored persons” (compare pages 76 and 77). The same is the case in 1840, where America, Jr. is leading a family of “free colored” persons. For America, Jr., while there are no records for him at “Pierce” or “Peirce” for Bridgewater births, you can find these entries in the records of Bridgewater marriages:

      • FREEMAN…Ann, “Negro Servant to Zachariah Packard,” and America Peirce, “Negro man” [int. “Free negro- man”], June 7, 1764. page 139
      • PEIRCE (see Pearce, Pierce), America, “Negro man” [int. “Free negro man”], and Ann Freeman, “Negro Servant to Zachariah Packard,” June 7, 1764. page 286

      • DREW, Margret [int. Margrit] and America Pierce [int. Jr.], blacks, Aug. 31, 1793. [Margaret and America Pierce, Aug. 13, P.C.R.] page 298

      • DREW, Margret [int. Margrit] and America Pierce [int. Jr.], blacks, Aug. 31, 1793. [Margaret and America Pierce, Aug. 13, P.C.R.] page 112

      Margaret died in 1806, with supposed ties to a “Benjamin Drew” on her FamilySearch page.

      I also found America Jr.’s marriage on Jul 20, 1808 to Catherine
      Catherine Vilot Armer Or Saunden, both named as “people of colour”, but she died in 1815, with a whole set of other records. I also found a marriage of America, Jr. to Violet Saunders on April 7, 1816, calling them both “people of colour” who live in Plymouth. Other records show a marriage in December 1815, but clearly the same people, with more on her page, most of which are derivative records. Violet died in 1824. When America Jr. died on May 9, 1845, his skin color was not described, he was just said to be a married laborer, dying of lung fever, said to be age 78, and 3 months.

      There are also derivative records, like Adeline Nichols who died October 2, 1880 of heart disease, born in Bridgewater, her father listed as America Pierce, obviously America, Jr., while his FamilySearch page doesn’t say much more.

      There’s also records of America Jr’s children, from his marriage with Margaret Drew, like Parmenus, who married Rowena Terbert/Tarbet on November 4, 1819, who, themselves, had a child named Parmenus, who married a person named Diana Comsett Freeman. Another one of their children was Adeline, who married Israel Talbot on April 27, 1824, again marrying a man named Henry Talbot on September 26, 1850. Here’s his page, which I just updated. Interestingly, Adeline and her first husband had a child named “America,” which had a few children: Lucius, Henry, and Emma.

      Jeez, I went pretty far down this rabbit hole, but it was fun!


  3. Pingback: Packed with Packards and existing social hierarchies | Packed with Packards!

  4. I have been working on researching America Peirce for about the last 15 years, hoping to connect many small fragments into a cohesive story. I’ve found many intriguing bits over the years which I’d be glad to organize and share with you.


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