Some of what we know about Arthur Crumpler was reported in “Boston’s Oldest Pupil: And He’s 74 and Goes to the Evening School.” The Boston Sunday Globe, 3 April 1898, p.25. Noted at a later date; Arthur’s age would have been 64 at the time not, 74.
Arthur Crumpler parents were slaves from adjoining plantations in Courtland, Southampton County, Virginia. Benjamin Crumpler owned Arthur’s father and that’s the surname he was given. Arthur had mechanical talents which were recognized by his many masters who may have wanted to profit from his ideas. The last plantation he worked on was near Smithfield VA.
He ran away sometime in the winter of 1861 and took refuge on the gunboat Cumberland which transported him to Fort Monroe in the Union controlled part of Virginia. This was a symbolic site of freedom for fugitives. General Butler defied the Fugitive Slave Act that required slaves be returned to their owners. Instead, he hired them to work for the Union army in what he called his contraband policy. After about 6 months of work, Arthur took his army pay and headed North. The Army appeared to have deliberately cheated him by giving him $40 instead of the promised $160. He said this happened because he couldn’t read and just put an ‘X’ on the form. He left Virginia on July 6,1862 and arrived on July 9, 1862.
A Boston antislavery group found him a blacksmith’s job with Edward Kendall and sometime in 1863 Arthur found his way to the West Newton English and Classical School.
The following passages are from Nathaniel T. Allen – Teacher, Reformer, Philanthropist by Mary Green.
“A number of coloured people ‘contrabands’ came to West Newton and obtained employment much to the disgust of certain of the Irish laborer’s in the place.
Among them was a veritable ‘Uncle Tom’ in mind and spirit, Arthur Crumpler by name. Mr. Allen befriends him and taught him to read and great was the man’s delight when he was able to read His Bible. He slept in the barn and did chores.”
In June 1863, Arthur Crumpler registered for the draft and in Nov of 1863, Green writes that he cast his 1st vote that was heavily challenged.
In the same year, Rebecca Davis’s first husband, Wyatt Lee died. Boston’s death records for 1863 list him as: coloured, a laborer and cause of death was phthisis (pulmonary tuberculosis) of 6 months duration. He’s buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery, in the area containing the unmarked graves of the City’s indigent.
Rebecca and Wyatt were married on April 19, 1852 in a Methodist Church in Charlestown, MA, and by 1860 the Federal Census lists them as living in Boston.
To be continued with Rebecca’s work as a nurse, her entrance into the New England Female Medical College, her graduation as a Doctress of Medicine in 1864, and her early work to provide medical care to poor women and children in the Beacon Hill area populated by many Blacks.
We’ve passed the $1,700 mark of our $5,000 goal. Thank you!
Green, Mary A. Nathaniel T. Allen Teacher, Reformer, Philanthropist. Privately Printed:1906.