The Drinking Gourd Project: Saving Caesar Robbins’ House
Last June, after the Drinking Gourd Project’s well-attended May event with author Elise Lemire (Black Walden) and a reenactment of an 1800s Concord Female Antislavery Society meeting, the DGP first heard about the Caesar Robbins/Peter Hutchinson house.
Since then, the DGP has spent most of its time and lost much of its sleep publicizing and fundraising to save this former slave’s house, built in 1780, from demolition. The house at 324 Bedford St. is currently for sale, and the DGP is looking for a buyer who will donate the house to be moved closer to its original site near Peter Spring Rd., so that it can be restored and preserved as an educational, interpretive site for Concord’s remarkable African American and Civil Liberties history. To date, they’ve raised about $45,000 from incredibly generous donors, including a matching donation offer from the Barber family, who is donating $1 for every $2 raised, up to $10,000.
Because this house survived and integrates so much of Concord’s history, the DGP is focused now on grant-writing and fundraising to protect this physical embodiment of the untold stories of Concord minorities. Six generations of Caesar Robbins’ descendants lived in this house from the time of the American Revolution until nearly a decade after the American Civil War.
Caesar Robbins served in the Revolutionary War while still enslaved, and was freed in 1780 under Massachusetts’ Declaration of Rights. He built his house and squatted on 13 acres of Humphrey Barrett’s less desirable land at the edge of the Great Meadow. His daughter married Jack Garrison, an emancipated slave from New Jersey whose picture hangs in the Concord Library. Their son John Garrison helped Thoreau put in the famous wedding garden at the Old Manse for the Hawthornes. His wife Susan hosted Concord Female Antislavery Society meeting(s) in this house.
Caesar’s stepson, Peter Hutchinson, was immortalized by Emerson in ‘Peter’s Field,’ by Thoreau in ‘Men of Concord,’ by the street name Peter Spring Rd, and in town records as the first African American to vote in Concord, in 1881.
The DGP recently presented Concord’s three elementary schools with framed archival copies of the 1864 petition to President Lincoln to end slavery, signed by 195 Concord schoolchildren — together with Lincoln’s handwritten response. They’re well worth a visit! The updated map of Concord’s African American and Abolitionist History is available at the Visitor’s Center for $2. To see the map and donate to save Caesar Robbins’ house as a heritage museum, please visit drinkinggourd.cchumanrights.org.