1801 – 1893
Excerpt from “If Jane Should Want to Be Sold”
Sabina Gray Lawton probably never expected to return to Little Compton when she sold her property on Long Highway, but she did come home again many years later as a widow. By 1860 she had joined her niece Lucy, the daughter of her step-sister Elizabeth Thomas Collins. Sabina was only thirteen years older than Lucy, and for twenty years the two women lived together in the small house on Meeting House Lane that Lucy and Amey inherited from their parents. Just as Mahala and Sabina moved to Newport for opportunities they could not find in Little Compton, Amey and her husband Charles Simmons had moved to New Bedford.
In 1858, a month after their father’s death, Amey and Lucy divided their parents’ property between them.Little Compton Land Evidence Records, Book 12, p. 256 -257. Lucy kept the 30 acres and house on the south side of Meeting House Lane and farmed the land in order to support herself and Sabina. Sabina earned a small income by knitting.Federal and State Censuses for the period for Little Compton, including 1865 RI State Census. When Sabina died in 1876, she was ninety years old. Her two sons most likely predeceased her, and Lucy became her heir inheriting the only item of value in Sabina’s estate inventory, a note for $100.Probate Records for Sabina Lawton, Little Compton Probate Records, Book 12, p. 210-214.
Lucy saw to it that Sabina was buried in the last row of the Old Burying Ground on the Commons. Lucy’s parents were already buried there, along with several other free people of color. They have white marble stones inscribed with their names and dates. That section of the cemetery is known as “Slave Row,” but everyone in it with an inscribed stone was in fact free when they passed away. Lucy saved a place for herself in between her mother Elizabeth and her Aunt Sabina.
Money was often tight for Lucy. In her old age she signed an agreement with Catherine Cook Nicholson a woman of color from Dartmouth to sell 30 acres of land and the house on Meeting House Lane for $2,700.Little Compton Land Evidence Records, Book 15, p. 141. The sale was never finalized. Lucy stayed on the property, and Catherine died four years later. At that time Lucy signed a new agreement with Catherine’s four children promising that in exchange for the house and the land, they would care for Lucy in her old age, provide her with money when she needed it, and make sure that she was buried in the Old Burying Ground next to her parents with a proper headstone.Little Compton Land Evidence Records, Book 16, p. 220. The Nicholson children kept their promises.
During Sabina and Lucy’s last few decades in Little Compton the town was almost exclusively white. In 1860 there were only two non-white households in Little Compton, Lucy and Sabina on Meeting House Lane on the far western side of town and the DeWolfs in Adamsville on the far eastern side of town. The DeWolfs had recently moved to town, and did not stay long. Their family included Charles a “mulatto” man born in Rhode Island, Anne a white Canadian woman, and their three “mulatto” children.1860 Federal Census for Little Compton, RI. They were very likely connected to the Bristol slave trading family of the same last name.
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.
Exhibit Text from 2020 Special Exhibition
Lucy Collins lived her entire life as a free Black woman in Little Compton. Sarah Soule Wilbour wrote that Lucy was “the only native colored person remaining” in town in 1888. Lucy and her sister Amy were the daughters of Primus and Elizabeth Collins. Primus was enslaved by RI Governor John Collins until he was four. Elizabeth’s family had been enslaved by Little Compton’s Gray family.
Lucy inherited 30 acres of her parents’ farm south of Meeting House Lane in 1857. Amy married and moved to New Bedford. Census records list Lucy as one of the very few female farmers in town. Lucy’s step-aunt Sabina Gray Lawton joined Lucy in her small Cape-styled home in 1860 and remained until her death in 1876. Money was often tight. Neighbors hosted an exhibit of Lucy’s family heirlooms in 1860 for her benefit.
Late in life, Lucy contracted with the Nicholsons, a multiracial family from Dartmouth, to move in and care for her in her old age. The contract ensured that Lucy was buried with a fine headstone next to her parents and aunt in the Old Burying Ground on the Commons.
|↑1||Little Compton Land Evidence Records, Book 12, p. 256 -257.|
|↑2||Federal and State Censuses for the period for Little Compton, including 1865 RI State Census.|
|↑3||Probate Records for Sabina Lawton, Little Compton Probate Records, Book 12, p. 210-214.|
|↑4||Little Compton Land Evidence Records, Book 15, p. 141.|
|↑5||Little Compton Land Evidence Records, Book 16, p. 220.|
|↑6||1860 Federal Census for Little Compton, RI.|