Thomas Dugan: Yeoman of Concord

Yeoman of Concord

DIED.
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. 

 To view images or videos, please click on the images below.

Block 1Play clipMaria Madison, Board President and Co-founder, The Robbins House, on how Thomas Dugan and others like him went from being property to owning property; from being an object to owning objects.
Block 2A rye cradle is a tool for harvesting grain. In a sense it is a scythe and a rake combined. One stroke will cut and gather a bundle of grain stems. The rye cradle was first used in America in the 18th century, and Thomas Dugan is given credit for introducing its use to Concord in the 1790s. This rye cradle is from the collection of the Concord Museum.
Block 3Thomas Dugan hunted, as most Concordians did in the early 19th century. His inventory lists two steel traps and this gun. The gun was valued at $1.50 in 1827. Although Dugan knew how to use a gun, federal law prohibited him from serving in the militia because he was black.  Thomas Dugan’s gun was recently added to the collection of the Concord Museum.

To Learn More

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.