A black family in early Granby: London and Irana Wallace

Print More

There have been black families living in Granby since pre-Revolutionary times. Since even the free blacks could not vote or hold public office, were not leaders in the church or government and rarely owned businesses, they are practically invisible in the history of a town.

However, the black residents of Simsbury, which before 1786 included Granby and East Granby, did leave a “paper trail” to follow. Their lives can be traced in the census and the various town records—probate, land and vital records. Church records are another source of information, as are the surviving account books from stores and individuals.

Some of the handwritten documents in the early deed books reveal the human feelings behind the formal words. In 1760, Andrew Robe of Simsbury, gave his slave, Peter Cezer, his freedom. Robe had the clerk record that “on 4 June 1739 he bought from Aaron Pinney of Windsor, a Negro boy about 8 or 9, named Cezer Negro.” The boy was later baptized Peter and “having kept in my service until this day, I now do give unto him his freedom to act in his own name and to receive the profits of his own labour.” Robe also gave to his former slave 31 ½ acres of land and added, “all persons having dealing with him are desired to treat him as an Honest man.”

Another former slave, who became a Simsbury and Granby land owner, was named London Negro or London Wallis (Wallace). London was the slave of Stephen Griffin of East Granby. He served in the French and Indian War and was given his freedom in the late 1750s. He was probably born around 1725 or 1730.

London Wallis seemed to have more privileges and free time than most slaves. He married Irana around 1753. She was described in all records as “a free woman.” He built a home for his wife and family, although he was still in servitude. The couple registered the births of five children in the Simsbury Vital Records:  Irana 1754, Zebulon 1756, Reuben 1758, Joseph 1760 and London Jr. in 1762.

In 1757, Samuel Griswold sold, for 40 pounds, just under two acres to “Lunnon Negro, man servant to Mrs. Mary Griffin, with the approval of his Mistress,” and also to “Irana, Mulatto Woman, wife of Lunnon,” land at the Falls in Tariffville. The lot included “the dwelling house which Lunnon has built and the apple trees which Lunnon hath planted.”

Mary Griffin must have freed her servant soon after that, because two years later, London Negro paid 66 pounds for 35 acres in “Griffin’s Lordship.” The dwelling house of the late Caleb Holcomb was included in the sale. 

London Wallis mortgaged his property in 1762, in a pattern that was followed by too many poor farmers. With land as their only asset, they used it to get needed cash. If bad weather, bad crops or bad luck intervened, quite often the property was lost to creditors.

Joseph Griswold gave 60 pounds to London with the stipulation that “if London brings down the river from Hartland 300 white pine logs that ly on the bank in Hartland, belonging to sd Griswold, and deliver sd Loggs to Joshua Holcomb Jr. at a place called Pickeral Cove in Simsbury by 1 Dec 1763 and also pay 30 pounds plus interest,” then London could keep his land.

The conditions of the mortgage were not fulfilled, and in 1766 a deed stated, “I London Negro alias London Wallis of Simsbury,” release the property to Joseph Griswold. Griswold may have allowed him to stay on the farm as a tenant, because the family stayed in the East Granby/Tariffville area for the next ten years.

London and Irana had their youngest son, London Jr., and their new daughter, Hannah, baptized in 1765 by Rev. Roger Viets in St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Simsbury (now part of Bloomfield). Three more daughters were baptized privately by Rev. Viets in 1774, Susannah, Esther and Rebekah.

Two of the Wallis sons were indentured to work for Joseph Griswold, and in return, in 1770, Griswold promised to give 40 acres to Joseph, age ten and London Jr., age eight, “for consideration of certain labour.” The land was on “a brook from Saxton’s Marsh” near a place called the “Plumb Yard.” A few years later, London Wallis Sr. also acquired land in this area between Salmon Brook (Granby) and Westover’s Plain—the area north of the ice skating center.

When the Revolutionary War began, three of Wallis’ sons were soldiers. Some sources suggest that London Sr. was also in the war, but the enlistment usually credited to him, actually belongs to his son, as proven by a pension record. Sixteen-year old London Wallis Jr. enlisted in 1778 for three years in the 3rd Regiment of the Connecticut Line, under the command of Col. Samuel Wyllys. Joseph enlisted in the 2nd Regiment of the Connecticut Line for the duration of the war. The third son, Zebulon, was with the Connecticut Militia at the battle of Peekskill in 1777 and later was in the Connecticut Line. Zebulon and London Jr. probably received bounty payments and some sources say that London Jr. was hired by Elnathan Strong to take his place in the army. Joseph received a pension for his service. 

Several of the children of London and Irana are in the marriage records. In 1789, Joseph Wallis married Antha Hale, a white woman from Hartland, daughter of Reuben Hale. Hannah, 18, married Hercules Fletcher and Susannah married James Baltimore, as his second wife. Zebulon and an unknown wife had a son named William in 1793, who was given to Justice of the Peace Roger Wilcox to train and raise. The records do not explain why this child was taken away from his parents.

There is more information about London Jr. and his wife Phebe, because she applied for a pension in 1842. Phebe was living in the home of Origin Griswold in Windsor at the time of her application. She said she was married to London Wallace (Jr.) on December 7, 1786 by Rev. Mr. Rowland in Granby. She had one son, Joseph, who died December 19, 1824, age 38. London died around 1791 and she then married John Freeman, who died December 26, 1835. (These dates do not agree with Granby vital records.) She had been a widow ever since and used the name Phebe Wallace.

Phebe also stated that she often heard London say he enlisted to serve during the Revolutionary War and that he served in Col. Samuel Wyllys Regiment. The pension record said that London Wallace had been a private in the Connecticut Line for two years and Phebe was granted a pension of $80 a year in 1843.

After the Revolution, London Sr. continued to buy and sell land around his home lot near the Granby-Simsbury border. The land records indicate that he lived between Route 10/202 and Wolcott Road, with his house on Wolcott. He sold some of his land to other blacks. Asher Frank bought six acres in 1780 for “12 ½ bushels of good merchantable wheat.” The following year he sold 25 acres for four pounds, to another former slave, also named London. This London, who had been the property of Isaac Owen of Windsor, chose the surname Freebody to symbolize his emancipation.

The two Londons had some shared business dealings, because they were in debt together for over nine pounds owed to George Willson in 1781. London Wallis paid ten bushels of wheat and London Freebody lost some of his land.

The pattern continued in both of their lives. The men would save up and buy a little land, but as soon as they fell into debt, the law took it away from them. They were uneducated, could not read or write and could only afford the poorest land. It was almost inevitable that they lived under the threat of foreclosure.

In 1788, London bought ten acres of land from William Adams, for seven pounds, and promptly mortgaged it to Adams for three pounds. It was partly in Simsbury and partly in Granby, on the Plains near London’s house. The deed also mentioned that the land bordered “east on the highway that leads from Shacktown (so called) to Salmon Brook.” Shacktown was a black settlement, possibly located across the brook from Granbrook Park in East Granby. The roads have changed considerably in 200 years. 

The slave who became a landowner saw his land whittled away bit by bit in 1797, as judgements for debt were rendered against him. Although the legal documents routinely threatened imprisonment in Hartford, it appears that land was appraised and confiscated in lieu of jail. London owed $15 and costs to Hezekiah Holcomb and $3.75 (with the same additional $3.42 costs) also to Holcomb. Then another $15 and costs to Roswell Case. There are no further mentions of London Wallace in any town record.

Irana Wallace had died in 1779, before debt impoverished her husband. It is not known what happened to London or when he died. He left no probate record. Joseph and Antha Wallace lived on an 80-acre farm in Granby until 1824.

There are other Wallace names in Granby records, but the relationship is not known. A child of Poll Wallace died in 1807. Ellen Wallas and her child were paupers in 1808 and an infant of Arabella Wallace died in 1812.

Joseph, the son of London Wallace Jr. and Phebe, is buried at the back of the old section in the Granby Center Cemetery, along with Armilla, the first wife of John Freeman and two young daughters of John and Phebe. It is very probable that Irana and London Wallace are also buried here—segregated in death as they were in life.