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  • Writer's pictureMaggie Meahl

Jenny, Zina, and Zilpah: Wealth-Makers for Eastern Connecticut Patriot Enslaver Families

Updated: Jan 21


There is one Black woman, in the mid-eighteenth century Huntington-family orbit, who had children and contributed greatly to Huntington and Lynde family wealth. Her name was Jenny (sometimes spelled Jenne or Ginny or even possibly Jane) and I want to write about her even though there is not much to go on. She was the property of enslavers: Joshua (1698-1745) and Hannah Perkins Huntington (1701-1788) of Norwich and Samuel Lynde (1689-1754) of Saybrook. Jenny returned back to Norwich, with Hannah, after Samuel's death.


I have already mentioned Jenny in a previous post about Joshua and Hannah--the first generation of Huntingtons (of my study) to build serious wealth.


Eighteenth-century outfit.
Phyllis Wheatley famous American poet (1753-1784). Jenny might have worn clothes like these but probably did not have time to write poems.

Unfortunately, there is no known record of Jenny's birth or death. She first appears in the records as baptized and admitted to the Norwich First Church on February 19, 1738, "Jenny, the adult negro girl, servant of Joshua Huntington...."This date coincides with The Great Awakening (1730-1740s) and a new Connecticut law (1738) requiring the baptism of enslaved infants.


Jenny is next documented in the 1746 probate inventory of Joshua Huntington, the first enslaver of the Huntington line I am studying. This time the probate clerk writes her name as "Ginny." She was listed "with her Child." They were worth £160. I think the child's name was Zina. There is also an unnamed "girl" listed as also being worth £160. Could she have been another older child of Jenny's? Possibly.


Sometime around 1746-47, Hannah remarried a wealthy widower: Judge Samuel Lynde (1689-1754) of Saybrook. Jenny, and her children, moved with Hannah down to Saybrook (about 30 miles away) to become part of the Lynde working estate. Shortly thereafter, another girl, Zilpah, was born to Jenny. She was baptized in the First Church in Saybrook in Jan or Feb of 1747.


What did Jenny and her daughters do at the Lynde estates? First, they would have been expected to do all the most physical daily chores of a colonial household: washing, cooking, cleaning, and hauling water.


But there was always more work in an ambitious colonial estate like the Huntingtons or the Lyndes had. And, with enslaved people helping them, they could produce surpluses bound for the West Indies or their own store. In the cases of enslavers Joshua Huntington and Samuel Lynde, at their deaths, they had many textiles listed in their inventories--all produced by Black and white female labor. Homespun textiles remained highly valuable commodities throughout the colonial era.


Thus, the Lynde estate was the site of a good-sized "cottage industry" in the mid-eighteenth century according to Dan Perreault, historian from Connecticut. He posits that Jenny (probably now in her 30s) and her young daughters, Zina and Zilpah (and Jane?), were working hard in the Lynde garret at spinning flax and wool skeins for weaving cloth.


Garret of the large Bradford-Huntington home in Norwichtown, CT.
The garret in the Bradford-Huntington house in Norwich, CT circa 2000s. In colonial times, garrets were used for spinning, weaving, storage, and bedrooms for enslaved Black people in New England. Jenny and her daughters spun flax and wool in garrets like this in Norwich and Saybrook, CT.

The Lynde inventory listed: 233 bundles of flax, 10+ spinning wheels (for both flax and wool), 41 lbs of chalk (to protect the flax), and four hetchels (for separating flax fibers). These tools and products were all located in the garret. Possibly they were also weaving cloth, however, no loom was listed in Lynde's inventory.


In any case, Perreault believes that this was a sizable operation for the time period and that Jenny, and her girls, were making the Lyndes even wealthier than they already were.


By the way, turning flax into cloth was a laborious process. Washing these textiles was also an onerous weekly task--both jobs required strength and stamina.



Nineteenth-century image of a woman carding wool.

A hetchel
One of many tools Jenny used to build wealth for the Huntingtons and the Lyndes. A hetchel is used for separating flax fibers. Flax was used to make linen cloth. Connecticut had the right environment to grow flax.

Jenny and her family's time in Saybrook lasted approximately eight years--Samuel Lynde died in 1754. His will, created right before his death, stipulated that Hannah would get back Jenny along with "all of her children." The probate list, drawn up in March 1755 listed her three Black children: Jason (£600), Zina (£500), and Zilpah (£450).


There was a stipulation, however, in Samuel's will. It required that Hannah's sons, in Norwich, provide an equally "valuable manservant," as Jason, for the use of Samuel's grandson and heir, Samuel Lynde III (if Hannah were to take Jason back to Norwich). I am not sure what happened here. I will try to update this section if I can figure it out.


Here's where it gets interesting.....Boston Trow Trow (1703-1772) had two infant "Jasons" baptized in the First Church in the mid-1740s before Jenny had to leave for Saybrook. Presumably, the first Jason (bap. November 1743) died because a second Jason was baptized on March 24, 1745.


As a young man, Boston was an enslaved man of Daniel Tracy, of Norwich, and baptized on November 22, 1741 at the First Church. Sometime between 1741 and 1763, he was sold or traded to Jabez Huntington.


If Jason's mother was Jenny, then that would make him around 10-years-old at Samuel Lynde's death. Thus, the connection between Jenny and Boston becomes possible but not proven.


By 1763, Boston had definitely been acquired by Jabez Huntington (Hannah's son) as a valuable "manservant." Boston was also a leader of the Norwich Black community and elected Black governor in the early 1770s. It is possible that Jason was trained by his father to be a "manservant." Interestingly, some manservants of this period wore periwigs. However, any Black enslaved man would have been required to do all kinds of jobs from farming to animal husbandry.


Boston Trow Trow (1706-1772) father, manservant, and Black Governor of Norwich.
Gravestone of Black Governor of Norwich, Boston Trow Trow (1706-1772).Was he the father of Jenny's children?

Meanwhile, Jenny was not mentioned in the records again although a more precise examination of the Norwich Town Records could reveal more.


Zina and Zilpah, however, are mentioned again. It appears that Zilpha eventually worked for the Lydia Huntington Bill family. On March 10, 1771, she gained "owner of the covenant" status at the First Church. Her sister Zina also worked for the Bills and was listed in the 1803 estate inventory of Ephraim Bill. Lydia Bill was Hannah Huntington Lynde's only daughter and Jabez' only sister.


In 1793 the Reverend Joseph Strong freed a woman named Zilpha. If it is the same Zilpha, as was baptized in Saybrook in 1747, then she would have been 46-years old. The Strongs were also part of the Huntington kin group. Strong baptized a child of Zilpha's named Jenny on December 19, 1792. Could Jenny have been named for her grandmother? We will never know for certain.




Rose Prentice (1771-1852)
Sarah Goodridge, Rose Prentice (1771–1852), ca. 1837–38. Watercolor on ivory. Yale University Art Gallery. A rare miniature of a New England Black woman.

What we will know for certain is that Black women, like Jenny and her girls, were a major part of the economic foundation of the United States. Their hard work and productivity for the Huntingtons and the Lyndes, enabled the Patriots to go up against the mighty British forces, and win independence by 1783. This is all part of American history.


This post will be updated, as needed, with corrections and more information on what Jenny's life was like.


Sources:


Brown, Barbara and James M. Rose, Black Roots in Southeastern Connecticut: 1650-1900, New London: The New London County Historical Society, 1976/2001 reprinted.


First Church Records, Norwich (Vol.84), page 395. Accessed on-line via Ancestry.com


"Fortune's Story," Mattatuck Historical Society website, http://www.fortunestory.org/religionandslavery/ 


Huntington, Joshua. will, Oct 14, 1743. Accessed via Ancestry.com

Huntington, Joshua. inventory, 1746. Accessed via Ancestry.com


Lynde, Samuel. Will, 1754. Accessed via Ancestry.com

Lynde, Samuel. Probate inventory, March 1755. Accessed via Ancestry.com


Old Saybrook Congregational Church Records, Vol. 1, 1736-1782, image 13 of 328, bottom left page. Accessed on-line via familysearch.org.


Perreault, Dan, "Forgotten Voices: A History of Slavery in Saybrook," Essex, CT Historical Society lecture on YouTube, April 2, 2021.




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