Academic journal article The Journal of Negro History

Jehiel C. Beman: A Leader of the Northern Free Black Community

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro History

Jehiel C. Beman: A Leader of the Northern Free Black Community

Article excerpt

Americans of all races have been denied access to many pieces of history which are crucial to understanding their past and therefore necessary for determining how to proceed into the future. Jehiel C. Beman was a member of the Northern, urban, free black community during the early 1800s and, as such, he represents a piece of history seldom recorded. Beman and his contemporaries are a virtually forgotten generation of leaders who served as a bridge between their enslaved fathers and their educated and prominent sons. These African-Americans laid down a foundation that paved the way for the generation of leaders that followed, such familiar names as Amos Gerry Beman, Charles B. Ray, and Henry Highland Garnet.

To my knowledge, there is no biography and very little published material on Jehiel Beman. Through extensive research in primary materials - vital and land records, church documents, newspaper articles, and personal interviews - I have located enough material to create a biographical sketch of Jehiel Beman. Although there is no record of his formal education, Beman demonstrated extensive written and verbal communication skills and was a prominent member of the small, urban, New England free black elite. Researching his life and work provided me the opportunity to investigate dimensions of Northern free black life not often discussed in most accounts of American history. Also, by tracing Beman's life, I was able to gather information about the place of the Black Church in the African-American community, the role of blacks in abolitionism, and the interests and priorities of these free black communities from 1830 to the mid 1850s.

Jehiel C. Beman is a neglected figure despite his importance in American history. Through discussions on the Beman family, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, abolitionism, the moral reform movement, and Colored Conventions, I intend to demonstrate his contribution to history.

History Of The Beman Family

On February 18, 1781 John Isham of Colchester, Connecticut signed a document as follows:

Know all men by these presents that I, John Isham, for faithful services born me by the Negro man Cesar Beman emancipates and sets free from any further control: . . . this 18th day of February 1781(1)

At his manumission Cesar chose the surname Beman, because he claimed his fight to "be a man." It is believed that Cesar Beman earned his freedom by serving in the Revolutionary War, relieving John Isham of his military duty. Whether or not that was the case, Cesar did fight in the Revolutionary War from 1781-1783 as a free man. In the Continental Army, Beman served in the 5th Regiment under Captain Paul Dorrance, stationed along the Hudson River.(2)

On March 8, 1781, before he entered the military, Cesar married Sarah Gerry at Middle Haddam Church in Chatham, Connecticut. The couple's only child, Jehiel C. Beman, was born sometime in 1789. Between 1805 and 1809 Jehiel Beman left Chatham and moved to Colchester. His parents followed in 1815. On March 31, 1818 Cesar applied for an army pension. According to government pension records, Cesar was sixty-nine years old and Sarah was fifty-nine in 1820.(3) Their place of residence was listed as Colchester. Later that year Sarah died, followed by Cesar the next year.(4)

Around 1809 Jehiel Beman married his first wife, Fanny Condol, in Colchester. Fanny was one of five children born to Cuff and Catherine Condol. Her father, Cuff Condol was originally the slave of Captain Stephen Smith of Lyme. In 1787 Condol was purchased by Danile Wright, Sarah Cyrus, and Joseph Pumham, all from Lyme. By October 1790, Cuff had completed paying his purchasers and was a free man. Four years later he began buying land in Lyme, and in 1810 he posted for the freedom of his wife Catherine. Cuff and Catherine's four other children were Daniel, William, Melinda, and Polly.(5)

Jehiel and Fanny had at least seven children: Leverett Caster (1810-1883), Amos Gerry (1812-1874), Sarah (? …

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