Pomp slave hung in Ipswich

“Dying Confession of Pomp, a Negro Man Who Was Executed at Ipswich on the 6th August, 1795”

Long before the corner of Mile Lane and High Street in Ipswich became famous for the Clam Box, it was known as Pingrey’s Plain and was where the wicked were hung at “Gallowes Field.”

On Aug 6th 1795, Pomp, an African-American slave was hung for chopping off the head of his master, Captain Charles Furbush while he slept beside his wife. He was confined in Ipswich jail Feb. 12 of that year, and after sentence of death had been passed, was held there until the day of his execution.

Thomas Franklin Waters wrote that A great multitude, filled with morbid curiosity crowded into the meeting-house when Pomp, the negro murderer, was brought there in his chains on the day of execution to hear Mr. Frisbie preach his funeral sermon, after which he was taken to his hanging.

The story of Pomp’s execution is found in Felt’s History of Ipswich, Essex and Hamilton:

“Before his execution he was carried into the meeting-house at 11 o clock. Mr. Frisbie prayed and Mr. Dana preached from the words, ‘He that sheddeth man’s blood by man shall his blood be shed.’ Mr Bradford of Rowley prayed at the gallows. Pomp remained unaffected through the whole of so awful a scene. He was directed to call on God for mercy and he formally complied. His mind had been so little instructed and his heart so left to moral darkness that he appeared to have no realizing perception of his guilt or of his danger in being suddenly sent into eternity. The little while he was under the care of the Ipswich ministers they faithfully did what they could to correct the gross errors of his long-neglected education.”

Alice Keenan wrote, “One of the neighbors, then a young girl, used to tell in her very old age that Mr. Bradford prayed so loud that they could hear him in Rowley and the day, with the thousands who gathered to witness the hanging, haunted her still. Happily, this was the last scene of horror in Ipswich and “the cheering crowds of thousands” had to look elsewhere for their peculiar form of entertainment. The area was still known as the Gallow’s Lot well into the 20th Century.”

dying confession of Pomp

There is an old Ipswich tradition that Pomp had once been employed by Timothy Wade of Ipswich, who in his 1763 will, left his wife Ruth a third of the real estate during her life, “and my negro man Pomp, except she finds best to sell him,” A room in the garret is known as Pomp’s room. It appears that this was a different Pomp.

The Dying Confession of Pomp

The manuscript below suggests that Pomp was born in the 1760s, perhaps in Guinea, and was brought here by his parents, who soon sold him to Mr. Abbot in Andover. Before Pump’s Execution, a Yankee peddler from Newburyport named Jonathan Plummer (1761-1819), conversed with Pomp in his jail cell and recorded the “Dying Confession of Pomp,” which Plummer then printed as a broadsheet for sale. Only one copy of the manuscript is believed to be still in existence. The extent to which the confession is true is unknown. Where possible, I have made logical corrections where the words are illegible in the original manuscript:

“I POMP now under sentence of death in Ipswich Jail, was born in [illegible], and brought from that place, so soon after I began my existence, that together with my Parents, I arrived at Boston when I was about three months old. My Father died soon after and my Mother has since had two husbands, and is now a widow. I have three sisters and three brothers now living in Boston, for whom a well as for my Mother I have a great regard.

“My Mother soon after our arrival in this Country gave me away to Mr. Abbot of Andover. With this Gentleman I lived till I was sixteen years of age, but he being then on the point of moving back into the country some distance, told me if I chose it, that I might then live with one of his sons, who was still to reside in Andover. I took up with his offer, choosing rather to continue in Andover, than to accompany my old master to his new abode.

“With young Mr. Abbot I lived not long, before I grew uneasy with the place. I told him that I meant to leave him soon, but he informed me that I was not free. About this time I was seized with convulsion fits which continued to oppress me at times ever after, to the fatal night that I murdered Capt. Furbush. Continuing still unreconciled to the new place, I went to the Selectmen of Andover to know whether I had not a right to leave it, and by their advice continued there a considerable time longer. But after a while it came to pass that Capt. Furbush took a notion to have a black man; and applying to the Selectmen, obtained their consent that I should be his servant.

“In compliance with the wishes I went to him; but soon found that I did not like him any better than the man with whom I had last lived. Furbush had a considerable farm and when I first began to live with him did some work himself, but I did not like the way he carried on his business, and after a while he left off work entirely, and by my desire left the whole management of the farm to me. I performed nearly all the work that was done on the place, cut all the hay, and with a trifle of help from the boy, whom my master desired to assist me a few days in a season, raised a hundred and seventy bushels of corn in a year.

“But my master still continued unkind to me, never letting me go to meeting on Sundays, and forcing me to clear out the cattle on those sacred days. When I asked him for money, he commonly gave me no more than four pence half penny at a time: and even on Election day he gave me no more, nor would he suffer me on those days to go to frolicking till after one o’clock in the afternoon.

“Though I did the best that I was able to do on the farm, my master was so far from seconding my endeavors, that he often brought whole droves of horses home with him in the night, and turned them in among the standing corn, that I had taken so much pains to plant, and hoe, and on the succeeding mornings he would charge me with the guilt of turning these horses into the corn field. In this way he often caused corn enough to be broken down in one night to fat a hog, and keep him fat a whole winter. I thought I found that he was a bad man, and a cheating horse jockey, and finally being unable to like him, I ran away from him, but was pursued, found, brought back, and severely flogged, by him for my pains. I afterwards ran off again but again met with the same fate.

“In this manner I went on, ten or a dozen years, not liking my place, and not able to get away from it. I was frequently troubled with convulsion fits and sometimes crazy in such a degree, that I was generally bolted in to a chamber every night, in order to hinder me from getting into the chamber where my master’s daughters slept. I worked very hard all the time. My master had one weakly son who was unable to work, and who often shed tears while he saw me labor and told me that he wished he was able to help me. I told him that perhaps I should contrive something after a while but did not explain myself.

“Continuing still uneasy, I thought I would try once more the benefit of my legs. I accordingly ran off, but after a week’s absence, I was again brought back by my master, stripped naked, tied up by both hands, and unmercifully flogged. This was in the evening, and though it was late in the fall, and cold, frosty, icy weather, my master left me thus naked, and tied up, till the morning. My sufferings during the tedious hours of this lengthy night, by reason of cold and nakedness, a sore back and wounded spirits, were extremely great, and while under this torture, I thought it likely that my master would sometime or other feel the effect of his cruelty. My conjectures were so far right that it was the last time, that Furbush ever struck me.

“My master used to tell me I might stay as long as I pleased at his house, adding that he should not stay in the world forever. From this I entertained an idea that Mrs. Furbush and the farm would be mine, after the death of my master. The hopes of being master, husband and owner, on one hand, and the cruel treatment I had received from Furbush on the other, prompted me to wish for his death and produced an idea of hastening his demise by killing him myself.

“In this state of mind the morning of the fatal day arrived. I arose considerably disordered having a great singing noise in the ears, and something whispering strange things to me, I however went about my work as usual, cut up bushes all the day, near where there was another man to work, but revealed nothing concerning my designs to him; at night went home, ate a beef steak for supper, and went to bed. Soon after I was seized with a fit, bit my tongue almost through, and after coming out of the fit, was delirious. I continued not long after this in bed, being impressed with an idea that I must get up and kill Capt. Furbush. ‘The Lord a massy!’ said I to myself, ‘what is going to take place now!’

“The door of my chamber not being bolted as usual, I left my apartment and went down to the fireplace. I was struck with horror by my reflections; but something still kept whispering in my ear, that now is your time! Kill him now! Now or never! Now! Now! I took an axe and went softly into the bed room of my master, and the moon shining bright, distinguished him from my mistress, I raised the ax before he awoke and at two blows, I so effectually did the job for him, that he never after even stretched himself.

“My mistress being roused from sleep by the sound of the blows, said, ‘are you dead you?’ But receiving no answer she immediately left the bed, and called in a near neighbor. I did not try to escape, not knowing that there was any necessity of it. I was told that I had but to go up to my chamber. I went there and perceived that somebody had bolted the door after me. Company soon began to crowd into the house, and I was soon told that I should certainly be hanged. I was now very much frightened, and expected to be hung immediately, but my grief wore off considerably when I found that I was not to be hung there. I was soon brought to this Jail, and here enjoy myself considerable well, though at Court time I shall be very unhappy, and now some times, the idea that I have no friends, makes me dull.

“The Ministers have been kind to me here, and I believe they are clever people. Mr. Staniford, too, the Jail keeper is kind and humane, and his wife and daughters clever people and pretty women. (He ought to have said that the whole family are clever folks.) The Ministers have told me to pray to God, and to the blood of Christ, for a new heart. I approve of their advice, and spend a great part of my time in prayer, even ten or twenty times in a day I pray. Though I find it hard work, I do not however find fault with the hardness of the task, for I believe it has been attended with great success. I have good hopes that I have got a new heart, better than the one that I used to have, which used to ache unended, but the one I now have feels easy. I never felt so well and hearty in my life as I now am, although fits and lunacy have left me entirely without hope to behave cleverly and graciously in this world.

“I have prayed so much, that I have got all the minister’s manners of praying and am not afraid to pray with any black-coated man on the Continent. I would make a very extraordinary priest, and indeed I am turning very fast into one. When I arrived here, I was as black as any negro in the country, but now I have scarcely a drop of negro blood left in me, my blood having so far changed into the blood of a Minister, that I am already nearly as white as a Mulatto.”

Some observations of the hapless Pomp

with some reflections on his fate by J. PLUMMER, Jun.

“POOR POMP was a well made, considerable large, likely-looking Negro. He was very capable of contriving business on a farm, and such was his strength and industry, that besides the payment which he received for his labor, Capt. Furbush could very well have afforded him 50 dollars per year. With such wages, or even with half that salary he might soon have acquired money enough to purchase 50 acres of excellent farmable land, and to have enabled him to clear and improve the same. In that situation some unfortunate white woman might possibly have sought asylum in his arms, or at least the likely Mulatto girls that fell within the line of his acquaintance would have sprung like nimble does to his marriage bed. The animating sweets of freedom, and of domestic life, would then have been all his own. He would neither have sullied his hands with innocent blood, nor have been forced with unutterable woe, to breathe his last in a hanging. But alas! instead of running this happy course, for want of understanding, and denied to him a wife and laudable pursuits, we have seen him experience the sad reverse.

“I have endeavored to preserve the ideas of poor Pomp in the above speech, though I have taken the liberty to arrange the matter in my own way, attempted to word his thoughts more elegantly and succinctly than he was able to express them. As to what he said of something telling him to kill his master, I believe it to be a falsehood of his own making contrived by him to excuse his conduct, but as to the rest of his speech, I fancy that he believed it himself; though in several particulars he was pretty much mistaken. His mental capacity was below the common pitch, and his understanding was undoubtedly considerably injured by convulsion fits, though his parts were vastly superior to those of an idiot. But for a rational being his mental improvements were extremely small; though when we consider the situation that he has lived in, this is not so very strange as we at first should think it.

“He lived either alone in the field, in bed, or in the kitchen of some people, who were too much above him to be his associates: and probably never learned to read. There were few Negroes in Andover or anywhere near him, and all there were unlearned people. From whom then or in what manner was it in his power to gain knowledge? ‘Tis true that he had some intercourse with his white neighbors, but very little that was profitable for instruction; the discourse generally turning on domestic business, the raising country produce, the age, and strength, of oxen, and horses, the bulling of cows, or the lambing of sheep. Of knowledge like this Pomp had a large stock. He knew all his master’s cattle, sheep, and hogs, and pretty exactly the age of each creature: and likewise the horses and oxen of many of his neighbors: could tell when such a particular cow of a certain neighbor had been bulled, and when his sow had pigged; but no man thought it worth his while to talk much upon other matters with him, nor would he have been much pleased with the discourse had it been otherwise. He knew not the names of the Seven Sciences, nor even that there were such things or names; knew nothing of ancient or modern history, nor even the late revolution in France, or the consequences of it so often rung through the universe. So little of philosophy, geography, good breeding, honor, politics, etc. he never heard, or heard with little attention, and less improvement. To crown his ignorance he lost his life by not knowing that murder was a sin: he expecting that he should immediately rise to a good estate and great felicity whenever he should be fortunate enough to kill his master.

“He knew nothing of the Laws of the United States or of this Commonwealth; and after the murder when he was told that he would be hung, he dreamed nothing of any previous imprisonment or trial: when he heard the sentence of death in Court, he expected to be hung the same hour but finding he was not to be executed that day, he conceived hopes that he never should be. He had seen others and been himself corrected in anger. He had observed that whenever his master was angry with him he either flogged immediately, or he for that time escaped correction, and that after the wrath of his master had subsided there was no danger. He thought the People of Andover and the Court at Ipswich would hang him in the same angry frame of mind, that his master used to flog him in, or that they would not hang him at all: he having no idea of the calm, but irrefutable ire, the deliberate, but vindictive, vengeance of the offended Justice, and of Heaven.

The reader will take notice that I do not attest to the truth of Pomp’s dying speech, but I affirm that he related to me as matters of fact the particulars related in this speech. Unfortunately for me, the Jail keeper was absent when I visited the prisoner, [illegible] on his name does not appear as a witness. His lady was present, but perceiving that she was rather timorous, I did not trouble her with a request to be a witness, though I believe she will readily, orally attest to the truth of it.”

Printed for and sold by JONATHAN PLUMMER, JR. price 6d, who still continues to conduct & various branches of trifling business


2 thoughts on ““Dying Confession of Pomp, a Negro Man Who Was Executed at Ipswich on the 6th August, 1795””

  1. Thank you so much for this!!! If you know anything else about this man that isn’t easily accessible by internet, you found surprising, or you would not like to post on your blog, feel free to email me.

  2. What a remarkable document.

    In 1783, 12 years before Pomp killed his enslaver, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court affirmed that slavery was against the state’s Constitution; in 1790, Massachusetts/Maine was the only state to report an enslaved population of “none” in the first US Census.

    Pomp’s story challenges the tradition that “slavery was abolished in Massachusetts in 1783”. I wonder if anyone has written about the distance between the traditional abolition date and Pomp 1795 enslavement?

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