Barbary Bailey

Barbary Bailey

Birth & Death Dates Unknown — Appears in Records from 1810 – 1812

I give and bequeth unto my Negro girl, named Barbary one good feather Bed, one bolster, two Pillows, two bolster cases, four Pillow cases and four sheets, three blankets and one coverlet one Bedstead and Cord, one Case of Drawers called also the high low drawers, one oval table and one Reale & my smallest Looking Glass all to be delivered her by my Executor at my decease….(rest and residue to grandchildren)…Excepting my Brass warming pan which I give to my Negro Girl called Barbary.

Will of Deborah Carr Bailey [1]

This bequest in the will of a long-time slave owner is unusually generous and provided evidence that people of color were sometimes valued members of Little Compton’s white families. When Deborah Carr Bailey, the third wife of Thomas Bailey, Junior, of Warren’s Point passed away in 1810 she left her “Negro girl Barbary” this impressive amount of furniture, enough to ensure Barbary’s comfort, much like someone would leave a daughter.

Barbary’s freedom status is unclear. In her earlier days she may have been one of the three or four slaves who appear consistently in census records for this Bailey family. In 1810 she is most likely free.[2] Deborah had six step-children and four daughters of her own. When those children left their wealthy parents’ home, the boys received gifts of land or money, and the girls were given household goods to help ensure a comfortable life. At her death, Deborah did the same for Barbary, out of duty, gratitude or perhaps even love.

Deborah’s daughter Rhoda died shortly after the birth of her third child in 1810 leaving her husband Owen Grinnell and three children behind. In her own will in 1812, Barbary made Owen’s children her heirs, leaving $12 for twelve-year-old Thomas when he came of age and $5 for Susannah who was already twenty-three. Two-year old Rhoda received a set of sheets, undoubtedly some of the linens Deborah had given to Barbary just two years before.[3] Barbary’s bequest to the children she cared for is another sign of the depth and longevity of relationships between some of Little Compton’s white families and their black servants.

Barbary’s family-like connections extended not just to the white members of the Bailey-Grinnell family but to their other black servants as well. Barbary may have been related by blood to the African-American people she mentioned in her will, or she may have considered them kin by choice after years of living and working side by side. She gave a bed, bedstead, linens, clothing and two spinning wheels to Rebeckah Bailey the wife of Quako Bailey, and similar valuable items, except the wheels, to Sary Bailey the wife of Levy Bailey. Both Quako and Levy were former slaves of the Bailey-Grinnell family who had been freed by their masters. Rebeckah and Quako’s daughter Mariah received Barbary’s six silver teaspoons. Barbary gave her best gown and her earrings to a young black woman she called Ginny Burgess. Town records show that six months earlier Ginny, then called Genny Gray, had given birth to a daughter she named Barbary Bailey in honor of the elder Barbary.[4] Incomplete records and unnamed fathers make the elder Barbary Bailey’s genealogy impossible to discern, but it is clear she was deeply connected to family and friends both white and black. Not many formerly enslaved women in Little Compton died surrounded by loving friends and family with an estate of valuable property, but it is important to know that Barbary Bailey did. [5]

Marjory Gomez O’Toole, Executive Director, LCHS

First published in “If Jane Should Want to Be Sold: Stories of Enslavement, Indenture and Freedom in Little Compton, Rhode Island,” by the Little Compton Historical Society, 2016.

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[1] Will of Deborah Carr Bailey, Little Compton Town Council and Probate Records, Book 4, p. 327.

[2] Barbary does not appear in Deborah’s will as property, making it likely that she is free in 1810.

[3] Will of Barbary Bailey, Little Compton Town Council and Probate Records, Book 4, p. 403.

[4] Barbary Bailey, Little Compton Vital Records, Vol. 2, p. 72.

[5] Previous Little Compton Historical Society publications are mistaken in the way they represent Barbary Bailey. Little Compton Families p. 29 states that she is a slave inherited by Deborah Bailey’s granddaughter Susannah.  This is a serious error.   Little Compton Wills transcribes both Deborah Bailey’s and Barbary Bailey’s wills incorrectly or incompletely. Some of Barbary’s heirs are omitted and they are all incorrectly assumed to be “colored people.”

See Index of Enslaved and Indentured People: Little Compton for the probate records of other people of color at

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