In this town, on Monday last, Thomas Dugan,
alias Ward, a colored man, aged about 80.
He was formerly a slave to a Mr. Soloman Ward
in Virginia, whence he absconded about
40 years since; and has since resided in this town.
— Yeoman’s Gazette, May 12, 1827
Thomas Dugan (1747-1827) was born almost thirty years before the start of the American Revolution and was enslaved in Virginia. We do not know how he came to be free, but he arrived in Concord by about 1791 and lived as a free man for the rest of his life. While the beginning of his life is undocumented, by carefully studying his probate inventory, we can catch a glimpse into his life in Concord. Thomas Dugan’s probate inventory is a particularly rare survival because it is a primary source detailing the material possessions of a free black man in early 19th-century Concord.
Dugan is referred to as a yeoman on the inventory of his estate; a yeoman is a property-owning farmer. The value of his property indicates that Dugan was a good farmer; he was a land owner—fewer than half of his Concord contemporaries, white or black, could say the same—and he died without any debts, rare at the time when surviving on credit was normal. Long after he died he was recalled as an expert grafter of apple trees, one who “did much to advance the farming interests in Concord; he was industrious and a peace maker.”
This on-line exhibition brings together a selection of the material from a special exhibition on view at the Concord Museum from May 15, 2015 through May 1, 2016 and expands on the resources available to learn more about Thomas Dugan and his Concord contemporaries.
Visit The Robbins House in Concord, revealing the little known African American history of Concord and its regional and national importance.
Explore Boston’s Museum of African American History.
Discover the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D. C.
Background photo: Probate Inventory of Thomas Dugan, 1827
Photo/film credits: David Bohl; Six One Seven Studios. The video was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.