A page from North Quabbin history: Former slave Anson Taylor 

  • CARLA CHARTER

For the Athol Daily News
Published: 1/12/2020 4:29:33 PM
Modified: 1/12/2020 4:28:49 PM

Life is complicated and hard sometimes. Stories don’t always end as we hope. History is no different. It too is complicated, hard and multi-layered. I was reminded of this when I ran across the story of Anson Taylor of Arkansas. Like many of us, he had a life before the part of his story happened which brought him to my attention. He was born and raised in Arkansas — a slave of James F. Taylor.

The Massachusetts part of his story begins in a Worcester Courthouse when he was 8 years old. He had accompanied his slave owner’s wife, Mary Taylor, to visit friends in Massachusetts, serving as her personal attendant.

In Commonwealth vs. Taylor, the question before the court was, now that Anson was in Massachusetts, is he free or should he be sent back into slavery? The court record of the case stated that Mary Taylor did not claim custody of the boy as a slave and did not intend to carry him back to Arkansas against his will. The court in their decision on Oct. 9, 1841, decided differently. Anson was to stay in Massachusetts. Whether the correct decision was made can be debated. What cannot be debated was what I saw in my mind’s eye — a scene which was deeper than what I read. I saw an 8-year-old child standing in the courtroom of a state he had never been to before, having others decide his fate, much the same that had happened his whole life.

Dr. George Hoyt was appointed by the court as Anson’s guardian. Eventually, Anson became the ward of the Rev. Richard Chipman, with both of these men living in Athol. Anson lived in Athol for several years and attended the Athol schools.

Hoyt also had a difficult time for the position he had taken in the case. “For his position in this affair, he was almost mobbed, and was threatened, so that he did not dare to ride about the town with his gig without carrying stones in it as weapons for his protection,” according to “Athol Past and Present,” by Lilley Brewer Caswell.

Anson appears next in an article in William Lloyd Garrison’s Liberator Newspaper reporting on a Freedom’s Jubilee in Hubbardston. The event was a rather large gathering attracting several local towns. Speaking at the event was William Lloyd Garrison. After a speech by Otis Greenwood of Hubbardston, Anson was awarded a banner which said “I am free,” to which he responded, “I thank you, my brother, for this love token; It can be mine now, for my chains are broken. I once was a poor little Arkansas slave. But the flag of the free all over me wave.”

Despite the good the abolitionist movement did overall, I was appalled at the use of a child of no more than 9 or 10 used as a prop to advance a political agenda. However, this is what history tells us happened.

Being the eternal optimist, though, I hoped for a happier ending for Anson, given that he was being educated and would have more opportunities in the North than he did in Arkansas. However, in a letter dated June 8, 1846 from Richard Manning Chipman of Athol to Amos Augustus Phelps, Anson appeared again. The letter states Chipman is writing on a private matter to Phelps. At the time of the letter, Taylor was 14 years. It stated Anson had lived with Dr. Hoyt until April 1844. After then living with Chipman, he went on to live with the Rev. G.S. Browne, who moved to Hinsdale, N.H., then to New York.

Chipman received letters more than twice a year from Browne describing Anson Taylor as the most virtuous boy he ever knew,” However, in April of 1846, Chipman received another letter stating “that by degree Taylor had become vicious stole and lied … and made various efforts with partial success to burn down Mr. B’s dwelling.” This letter as well as many other fascinating historical Massachusetts documents which have been digitized, can be viewed at www.digitalcommonwealth.org.

So what happened between the beginning of this story and the end? We may never know. Although I continue to research, I have yet to find out how Anson Taylor’s life turned out. His story, however, saddens me, when I wonder how the first Anson Taylor evolved into the last Anson Taylor and how we all change for better and worse from what has impacted us from without and from within. It also reminded me of how complicated and multi-layered history can be.

Carla Charter is a local historian and author. She has written several books on Abolition in the Quabbin area.

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