Black History (and Archaeology): "New Guinea - Parting Ways" and Blacks Who Freed America
Once-Forgotten Revolutionary Fighters Were Also Slaves and Later Free, But Marginal
Parting Ways community was the home of four African-American Revolutionary War veterans: Prince Goodwin, Cato Howe, Quamony Quash, and Plato Turner, who were most or all slaves during that war. Quamony Quash served in the war from 1780-1783, but was not emancipated by Theophilus Cotton until 1781. Quash’s patterns and more of Turner’s family also lived there. at Parting Ways is named for the fork in the road leading from Plymouth to either Plympton or Carver. In 1792 the Town of Plymouth granted approximately 94 acres those four former slaves and veterans of our independence – in return for clearing the land. The early community apparently grew to 106 acres. The place was, in fact called New Guinea at that time, which James Deetz notes is a common racial tag applied to African-American freeperson communities. According to Hutchins-Keim, the location was earlier occupied by Euro-Americans in the Fuller family.
Cato Howe enlisted as a private in Colonel John Bailey’s regiment and fought under Colonel Prescott at the iconic Battle of Bunker Hill, but there is little record of him even so. African-Americans in Massachusetts lived as “chattel and property” of Euro-American owners, without rights of any kind. Slavery was the status of 572 African-American soldiers and veterans, leaving one to wonder at the depth of their patriotism.
From 1783 to 1792, there are no records yet found about Howe, but on March 12 of that year, Plymouth
council granted land “about 20 rods wide and about a mile and a half long on the easterly side of the sheep pasture, to such persons as will clear the same in the term of three years.” Howe, Goodwin, Turner and Quamany took up that task.
Here, the question of Quamony’s origins must be called forth. Quamany Quash is a name that escapes documentation on origin so far. Quamany/Quamony/Quameny/ Quaman is a surname that attaches to mostly African-American individuals as far as my searches have found; people in Tennessee, Pennsylvania, New York, (Cherokee) Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota, Wisconsin, and Massachusetts from Revolutionary times until the late 1800s. More than one person first or last name of Quamony served in the Revolutionary War. Quaman may be a separate name as opposed to a cognate of Quamony, but it is grouped by genealogists. The Quaman surname clearly clusters around Indigenous communities.
Another person named Quash and noted as a slave appears in records in the North Quabbin area of Western Massachusetts. Quamany fits a form applied historically to some Indigenous Lenape names, where the ending “-manend” is changed to “many” as in Tamanend = Tamany. This person may or may not be of mixed Indigenous and African origin, a question that has also been raised in regard to Crispus Attucks, another Revolutionary hero of possibly mixed origin.
At The Turner-Burr house, the footprint of Yoruba legacy appears to manifest. The cellar was designed according to the African custom of 12-foot-square modules, Deetz said. The above-ground areas of the home, meanwhile, displayed quintessential New England features, including a 16-foot-square dimension.
Compare the floor plans of the houses appearing at the head of this article:
The first, at right, is the floor plan of a contemporaneous Yoruba house of present-day Nigeria; middle is a Shotgun house in Haiti; left is the Turner-Burr house foundation. By contrast, typical contemporaneous Anglo-American house has a central hall-and-parlor floor plan.
We could perhaps learn a great deal more if we preserved and studied more historically black communities of this period. Detailed studies of diet and social life can tell us more about legacy connections. Preservation of these spaces are needed to provide a physical archive and experience.
The lives of veteran former slave freepersons at New Guinea-come-Parting Ways was not easy. There were few options available to non-Whites, a situation that has persisted until recently.
From the Deetz investigation come details of Howe’s material life:
[Howe’s] life at Parting Ways seems to have been a difficult one. In 1818 he applied to the government for a pension, based on reduced circumstances. The pension was granted, and in 1820 he apparently was asked to prove that he had not purposely reduced his circumstances to qualify for the support. His personal property at that time was listed as follows:
Real Estate: None.
Personal Property: 1 cow, 1 pig, 5 chairs, 1 table, 2 kettles, 3 knives and forks, 3 plates, 2 bowls, ax, hoe.
Total Value: 27 dollars.
He stated his occupation as farmer in his deposition. If so, wresting a living from the land where he lived was a taxing job. Today, over a century later, the soil on this tract of land is gravelly and singularly unfertile. To complicate matters even further, he was troubled with rheumatism, and his bedridden wife, Althea, was seventy years old and unable to feed herself. Both had been given assistance by the town before he received his federal pension. Although it is not recorded, Althea Howe must have died shortly thereafter, since Cato married Lucy Prettison of Plymouth in 1821. Three years later, he died, and his estate was probated. His inventory has survived, and attests to his most modest circumstances, as follows:
1 Fire Shovel 8¢ 1 Table 20¢ 1 Table 100 3 Chests $2.12 1/2 2.50 1/2
4 Chairs $1 Bed, Bedstead and bedding $5.80 6.80
1 Spinning Wheel 25¢ 1 pr. Handirons 50¢ 1 Iron Kettle 50¢ 1.25
1 Iron Pot $1 1 Dish Kettle 20¢ 1 Tea Kettle 30¢ 1 Spider 20¢ 1.70
2 Lamps 12 1/2¢ Tin Ware 25¢ Wooden Ware 25¢ 6 Junk Bottles 30¢ .92 1/2
1 Coffee Mill 12 1/2¢ 1 Mortar 12 1/2¢ Knives, forks, spoons 17¢ .42
1 Flat Iron 20¢ 1 Skillet 15¢ Family pictures 12 1/2¢ .47 1/2
1 Ax 50¢ Crockery and Glass Ware in cupboard $4 Wash Tub 25¢ 4.75
1 Rooster Cock 20¢ 4 Hens 80¢ 1.00
1 Dwelling House $15 1 Barn $15 1 Cow $12 42.00
Like many freeperson communities, New Guinea, aka Parting Ways, was slowly abandoned. Some sources say this took place in the 1940s, while others say that the last resident was named James Burr, who is believed to have returned to the property in 1861 to be closer to the burial site of his grandfather, Plato Turner. One source claims the last house on the property burned down in 1905. “Burned down” is the oft-reported fate of last houses in African-American communities or the whole community itself. That fact is important to highlight.
Partly, the attrition of the community may reflect movement of African-Americans toward manufacturing centers in that time and after after World War II. Parting Ways was largely ignored until 1974, when Plymouth Bicentennial Commission member Marjorie Anderson brought attention to the site not only to preserve a significant moment in the nation’s history, but to prevent the acreage from being turned into a town cemetery.
The Plymouth Bicentennial Advisory Committee on Black History and Culture emerged as a subcommittee, and the site soon attracted donations, academic support, and interest from celebrities such as “Roots’’ author Alex Haley, boxer Marvin Hagler, and activist-comedian Dick Gregory. In 1975 and 1976, excavations were led by Deetz, a Brown University archaeologist and Plimoth Plantation’s assistant director.
Movements to create a museum and full intrepretative site have a history of being shelved.
James Deetz investigation and report at University of Illinois -
Parting Ways Revisited: Archaeology at a Nineteenth-Century African-American Community in Plymouth, Massachusetts Karen Hutchins-Keim -
Cultural Relations and Independent Development at Parting Ways, also Hutchins- Keim-
Efforts to build a museum at Parting Ways to remember the community and African-American soldiers from the community who served in the Revolutionary War: