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Unfortunately, nothing is known of Amos Fortune’s early life. The first historical record is an unsigned "freedom paper," dated December 30, 1763, in which Ichabod Richardson, "tanner of Woburn, in the province of Massachusetts-bay in New England 'agreed' to and with my Negroe man, Amos, that at the end of four years next insuing this date the said Amos shall be Discharged, Freed, and Set at Liberty from my service power & Command for ever…." Richardson died unexpectedly in 1768, and his will contained no provisions for the slave’s promised freedom. Amos Fortune negotiated with the heirs to “pay off his bond” and made the last payment in 1770, becoming a free man at age 60.
During the next few years Amos Fortune lived and worked in Woburn, buying land and building a house. His first wife, Lydia Somerset – whom he had purchased for fifty pounds from Josiah Bowers of Billerica – died shortly after their marriage in 1778. On November 9, 1779, Fortune purchased the freedom of Violate from James Baldwin: "This Day Received of Amos Fortune Fifty pounds in full for a Negro woman named Vilot being now my property which I do Sell and Convay to the aforesaid Amos." They were married the next day in Woburn.
The Fortunes Come to Jaffrey
Little is known about those first years in Jaffrey, except that by 1785 the Fortunes had adopted a daughter, Celyndia. The tannery prospered; Fortune took on at least two apprentices and served clients in Massachusetts, as well as nearby New Hampshire towns. Amos Fortune was a full member of the First Church in Jaffrey, regularly attending the Sunday services led by Reverend Ainsworth. He also helped found the Jaffrey Social Library, whose members met Saturday evenings to collect and discuss books dealing with history and travel.
"Lived Reputably and Died Hopefully"
Violate Fortune died in 1802, one year after her husband, and was buried next to him. Their moving epitaphs were written by the Reverend Laban Ainsworth.
For more information, see Amos Fortune, The Man
and His Legacy, written by Peter
Lambert, published by the Amos Fortune
Forum in 2000, and distributed by the Jaffrey Public Library. Written
with teachers in mind this book compares the historical record with fictional
accounts of Fortune's life, notably Elizabeth Yates' well-known children's
book, Amos Fortune, Free Man (available from the Toadstool Book
Store (603) 924-3543 or buy
from Amazon.com). Another source is the American National Biography
published in 1999 by the Oxford University Press.
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