NEWMore About Fred from Susan Cooper’s “Small Memories”

by Ned Benton

Susan Cooper’s essay (Small Family Memories), referred to a slave called “Fred.” She wrote, “There were still slaves in New York at that time, and a family of them belonged to my Grandfather De Lancey. They had an easy time of it, I imagine. Fred was given to my Mother when she removed to Cooperstown, but I think I have heard that my Father paid him wages.“ Later in the essay, she writes that Fred deserted the family. “Fred the black boy, who nominally belonged to my Mother, but received wages, deserted about that time.

According to Hugh MacDougall of the James Fenimore Cooper Society, Fred was sometimes known as “Frederic.” James Fenimore Cooper “rented” him from his older brother Richard. James Fenimore Cooper wrote in The Early Years (New Haven, Yale University Press, 2007, pp. 150-151),  Frederic “seems to have been one of the freed or indentured DeLancey blacks; his indenture had been purchased and he was taken to Cooperstown by Richard Fenimore Cooper, and in 1811 he returned with the Coopers to Westchester. While living with them, Fred was paid wages; eventually, around 1820 (before his indenture was up), he deserted them and they made no attempt to find him and bring him back.” Thus “Fred” may not have been a slave at the time he lived on Heathcote Hill in Mamaroneck. Rather he was an indentured servant, which meant that he had to continue to work for the Coopers until he satisfied the terms of his indenture, which arose because of his prior status as a slave.