James Caldwell

James Caldwell was born in 1711 to William and Sarah Caldwell. The family was Irish and joined the over two hundred thousand Irish immigrants that sailed for the colonies between 1714 and 1750[1]. Mostly from the northern regions, the Ulster Irish were seeking freedom from failing agriculture and religious discrimination. Massachusetts was a likely location to settle, the colony had agreed in 1718 to allow free land to Ulster Irish to create barriers between Boston and the Native American lands further west. William and Sarah likely arrived as a direct result of this 1718 land grant. As many as fifty Irish families moved from Boston to settle in Worcester before 1720.

            In 1737, when James was nearly thirty, he purchased a tract of land around five-hundred acres in Rutland’s “Northwest Quarter”[2]. In 1751, James married Isabel (Isabella) Oliver in the neighboring town of Athol [3]. Within a few years of their marriage, James purchased Mingo, Dinah and infant Quock as slaves to help work his land [4]. That same year, John Caldwell submitted an answer to the government’s slave census inquiry. He reported there to be only two slaves over the age of sixteen in the district, who likely belonged to his brother, James [5]. By then James was one of the largest land owners in the district. Along with his brothers Matthew, Seth, William, and John—the Caldwell’s dominated Rutland District’s geography and politics. 

            Both of James’ parents, William and Sarah lived to nearly one-hundred years of age. Unfortunately, the same was not true for James, who sheltering during a summer storm less than a mile away from his home was struck dead by a falling tree. With him, a “negro” suffered a broken leg. The location of the incident was later marked with an engraved stone by his wife Isabel. Today, the stone can still be located off Granger Road in Barre. A Boston newspaper describes the event, “At Rutland, Major Caldwell with two or three Men and a Negro, being in the Woods, observing a Gust coming on endeavoured to get home quick; but a Tree blew down, and a falling upon the Major and Negro, killed the former and broke the Thigh of the latter.”[6]           

James Caldwell Memorial Marker
Liza Rodriguez, _James Caldwell_, 2021_

       As was common of the time, James’ belongings were all inventoried along with their value. Part of those belongings were his slaves and included seven in total. One adult male, one adult female, two male children, two female children and one baby. The total value for this slave family was assessed at two-hundred pounds. James total estate was assessed at over three-thousand pounds. The value on the slaves was a significant part of that, for example the adult male slave assessed at forty pounds while a pair of five-year-old oxen only valued eight     pounds [7].

            James was buried at a new burial site, which would later be the final resting place of many other Caldwell’s and is now one of Barre’s town owned cemeteries. His marker has recently been updated and reads, “James Caldwell son of William and Sarah M. Caldwell. Built the first house in Barre 1711-1763 [8].


[1] Catherine Shannon, “Irish Immigration to America, 1630 to 1921”, https://www.nantucketatheneum.org/wp-content/uploads/Irish-Immigration-to-America.pdf, accessed December 30, 2020.

[2] Massachusetts: Worcester County Land Deeds, Book 8: Page 446, William Caldwell/ Andrew McFarland and James Caldwell, September 1737.

[3] Massachusetts: Vital Records, 1620-1850, Athol, Page 114, James and Isabella Oliver, Jan. 15, 1751.

[4] Legal notes by William Cushing about the Quock Walker case, [1753], page 4, Massachusetts Historical Society, http://www.masshist.org/database/viewer.php?item_id=630&mode=large&img_step=4#page4.

[5] Massachusetts: 1754 Slave Census, Rutland District, Massachusetts State Archives, https://primaryresearch.org/1754slavecensus/28.jpg.

[6] The Boston News-Letter, (Boston, Ma July 21, 1763 page 2)

[7] Massachusetts: Worcester County, MA: Probate File Papers, 1731-1881, case 9651-9730, Page 713, Family Search, https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QSQ-G967-Y266?i=712&wc=9BXN-2NP%3A1055512501%2C1055551501&cc=2102083, accessed January 2021.

[8] Headstone: James Caldwell, [1763], Caldwell Cemetery, Barre, Massachusetts.

The Boston News-Letter 1763

      Monday last we had a very violent Gust of Wind, with severe Thunder and Lightening; no Damage was sustained in the Town, but in the Country several Trees were struck, and at st Braintree the Spire of the Meeting House in the old Parish was struck and broke off: The Lightening ran down the Spindle into the Tower, and tore the Posts and Boards into Shivers.

    At Rutland, major Caldwell with two or three men and a Negro, being in the Woods, observing a Gust coming on endeavoured to get home quick; but a Tree blew down, and falling upon the Major and Negro, killed the former and broke the Thigh of the latter. 

     And we hear from Bridgewater that last Wednesday four young Cattle were killed by Lightening as they were standing under a Tree in that Town. 

     We hear, that a Man driving a Cart loaded with Barrels from Concord, was accidently thrown down. and one of the Wheels going over him, instant'y put an End to his Life. 

     The same Morning, a Lad of about 10 years of Age in this Town, having been up the Shrouds of a Sloop which lay in a Warf at the South-End, in-tending to come down upon a Rope, fell upon the Deck, which killed him on the spot.  

James Caldwell's Death, Boston News-Lett

James Caldwell Death Notice

Isabel Caldwell

Isabel or Isabella Oliver was likely born between 1700 and 1720. She was married to James Caldwell of Barre in Athol in 1751. As a wife of James Caldwell, Isabel took on the heavy burden of aiding in the daily running of a farm of over a thousand acres. Though women were rarely seen working outside of the home and immediate vicinity of the farmhouse, the responsibilities there would have been great enough. Hard work was virtuous then, God had provided the opportunity to own land and the means to work it. Isabel would have been expected to raise and educate children, maintain a warm, clean home, sew, weave, and knit, cook meals, tend to the garden, preserve food, and carry water—each essential to the survival of the family. Isabel Caldwell also had at least one female slave to aid in the running of the home. Dinah and Isabel were close in age and both were rearing children together on the huge rural estate. Though they were separated by race and class they shared the experience of motherhood. No historical evidence can support a claim of friendship between the women. Though that Isabel was willing to support Quock’s manumission shows that the family did have a more liberal understanding of slavery.

            Isabel bore at least four children, none of which can be found in birth records from the town or church. However, these four children appear as inheritors in their father’s will after his death in 1763. Pregnancy and childbirth were a major health risk for colonial women, fifteen percent of births ended in infant death [1]. It was not uncommon for parents to lose most, if not all, of their children before they reached adulthood. Fortunately, rural communities such as Rutland District were less susceptible to disease because of their remoteness. This may explain why Isabell’s in-laws, William [2] and Sarah Caldwell [3], both lived to almost one hundred years of age.

            After her husband’s untimely accidental death caused by a falling tree in 1763, Isabel believed herself to be pregnant and asked for allowance out of James’ estate for “lying in with a posthumous child”[4], it is unknown if she bore or was even truly pregnant with this last child.  Either way she was now tasked with maintaining the Caldwell estate. This included, serving as mistress to the enslaved family of seven. Quock and family continued to work the land and maintain the household of Isabel and her children at the original homestead on Granger Road in Barre for the next six years. Though, during that time Quock’s father, Mingo ran away from the estate.

            In 1767, Isabel married Nathaniel Jennison, another wealthy landowner in the Rutland District. As part of her dowry the slaves, including Quock, went with Isabel to Jennison’s farm. There is no known death record or burial place for Isabel, however by the time Quock entered the court room Isabel was dead. During the trial, a witness said that, “She married Jennison abt. 1770 -- & died abt. 3 Years after” [5]. Clearly the witness had the marriage year wrong, but if she did die just a few years after the marriage it is reasonable to estimate her death between 1770 and 1773. It seems unlikely that the wife of one of the wealthiest land owners in Barre would have not had a proper burial and headstone, Isabel certainly put a high value on proper burials and spent a considerable amount of money on her first husband’s stone marker. The excellent condition of her Caldwell in laws stones two hundred and fifty years later shows that her interest in preserving a loved one’s memory was not isolated.


[1] Kunitz, Stephan J. "Mortality Change in America, 1620-1920." Human Biology 56, no. 3 (1984): 563. Accessed December 30, 2020. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41463598.

[2] Headstone: William Caldwell, [1783], Caldwell Cemetery, Barre, Massachusetts.

[3] Headstone: Sarah Caldwell, [1777], Caldwell Cemetery, Barre, Massachusetts.

[4] Massachusetts: Worcester County, MA: Probate File Papers, 1731-1881, case 9651-9730, Page 740, Family Search, https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QSQ-G967-Y266?i=712&wc=9BXN-2NP%3A1055512501%2C1055551501&cc=2102083, accessed January 2021.

[5] William Cushing, “Legal notes about the Quock Walker Case” 1783, Massachusetts Historical Society, https://www.masshist.org/database/630, accessed January 2021.