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 Historic Profile: Nero Hawley

Pam Hawley Marlin   October 2019


The Discovery of an Old Kiln

A depiction of Nero Hawley by Holton Arms Elementary School student. Unrecognized Revolutionaries

In 1974, construction workers digging a path for Route 25 in Trumbull, Connecticut, discovered a large amount of old bricks about three feet below the surface. As the workers continued to dig, they encountered more bricks. It was soon realized that the bricks were part of a two century old site where bricks were molded and then burned in a nearby kiln for use in building construction. The discovery was explained further by E. Merrill Beach, Trumbull town historian and author of "From Valley to Freedom, A story of a Black Patriot," the story of Nero Hawley's life. According to Beach, the kiln was built in the 1770's by Nero Hawley, for his slave owner, Daniel Hawley. Beach went on to write that "Nero Hawley was a man of high character, a religious man, with a sense of humor. He was also a skillful fellow." Nero Hawley was also in the news, nearly two centuries after his death.

Hartford Courant. Hartford Connecticut. September 12, 1974.


Bricks from Nero's kiln on display at the Trumbull Historical Society in Trumbull, Connecticut.


Owner and Slave

In the pre-Revolutionary period, Nero was one of 25 slaves in North Stratford, Connecticut (known as Trumbull today). Little is known of Nero's life prior to the age of 16. Nero's owner, Peter Burr Mallet (1712-1760), was an early settler of North Stratford, Connecticut, as well as a large land owner. Mallet served as a commissary officer, purchasing cattle, horses, and provisions for the British forces in America during the French and Indian War. He also bought and sold slaves. In 1758, Mallet's daughter, Phebe, married a local man by the name of Daniel Hawley. Nero, Mallet's slave, was presented to his daughter and new son-in-law as a wedding gift. It was then that Nero took on the surname of his new owner, Hawley.

Peter Mallet died of smallpox in 1760, two years after giving Nero to his daughter Phebe, and son-in-law, Daniel Hawley. In an excerpt from Mallet's will, he states that "It is my will that all my negros shall be sold." Will of Peter Mallet 1760 Ancestry


Daniel Hawley, Owner

Upon the marriage of Daniel Hawley to Phebe Mallet, Daniel received a house (1756), a barn and 20 acres as a wedding gift from his parents, Oliver and Bethia Hawley. Located on Daniels Farm Road in Trumbull, the house is still standing in close proximity to the Pequonnock River where Daniel's businesses, a sawmill and cider mill, were located. Daniel's brother, Ebenezer Hawley, owned a gristmill and store which were located next to Daniel's sawmill on the river. Both the sawmill and gristmill were powered by the same water wheel. Daniel also owned a clay pit which was used for brick molding. Nero developed skills as a brick maker at the clay pits and how to handle timber at the sawmill. [1]

Today the stone path that runs from Daniel Hawley's house to the barn, and beyond that to the Pequonnock River, is still visible. Nero would have walked this path from the house to the river many during his slave years.

The Daniel Hawley house located on Daniels Farm Road in Trumbull. Nero Hawley would have lived in this house during his time as slave to David Hawley (1770s). Photo: P. Marlin 2019

The Daniel Hawley house located on Daniels Farm Road in Trumbull. Notice the original stone entrance gate. Photo: P. Marlin 2019

The barn and stone path located next to Daniel Hawley's house (upon the hill). Nero would have walked this path many times down to the Pequonnock River or up to Daniel's house. Photo: P. Marlin 2019

This millstone, located in the Pequonnock River near Daniel Hawley's house, was used in the Hawley's mills located on this site. Notice the rock wall which supported one of the mills. Photo: P. Marlin 2019

This millstone, located in the Pequonnock River near Daniel Hawley's house, was used in the Hawley's mills located on this site. Notice the rock wall which supported the mill. From this vantage point, you can look up and see Riverside Cemetery, Nero Hawley's final resting place, in the distance. Photo: P. Marlin 2019

The Hawley Gristmill was once used as the Trumbull Historical Society's logo.


North Stratford Map

The map below of North Stratford (today Trumbull Center), was taken from E. Merrill Beach's book, "From Valley to Freedom, A story of a Black Patriot.." The map defines the locations of the subjects of this story. Match the numbers in the map with the following:

"From Valley to Freedom, A story of a Black Patriot" E. Merrill Beach. March 1975

1. Nero's woodlot 7 1/4 acres (post Revolutionary War)

2. Nero's woodlot 7 acres (post Revolutionary War)

3. Nero's woodlot 3 acres (post Revolutionary War)

4. Nero's woodlot at Hendgehog 20 1/4 acres (post Revolutionary War)

5. Daniel Hawley's house. Located at 49 Daniels Farm Rd

6. The original Church of Christ of North Stratford (Trumbull)

7. Riverside Cemetery, Nero Hawley's burial site.

8. Alfred Beach house

9. Nero Hawley house

10. Reverend James Beebee's house

11. Hawley's mill

13. The Clay pits and Brick Kiln


Reverend James Beebee and Peg

On November 18, 1730, the "Church of Christ at Stratford," or, the "Church of Christ at Unity" was established in North Stratford. [2] After the first minister was dismissed in 1744, Reverend James Beebee became the new pastor in 1746. Reverend Beebee studied theology at Yale (graduate 1745) and was chaplain during the French and Indian War. Reverend Beebee was considered a man of "strong character, physical vitality, and mental vigor." [1] He was also an integral and influential part of Nero's life. Reverend Beebee remained pastor until his death in 1785.

The North Stratford church, located on the west side of the Pequonnock River (see #6 on the map), was the only house of worship in the area. Local residents attended church on Sunday morning, and then gathered at the nearby "Sabba Day House" [1] where they would enjoy a good meal and discuss the previous week's labors at their farms and local businesses.

Nero attended the Church of Christ with his owner, Daniel Hawley. Slaves attended church regularly with their owners, sitting in what were called the "contrary pews, close under the pastor's eye, at the right or left of the pulpit." [2] Nero met his future wife, Peg, at one of these church services. Peg, known as Peg Beebee, was a slave to Reverend Beebee. A romance kindled, and in 1761, twenty-three year old Nero married eighteen year old Peg. They were married by Reverend Beebee.

According to Merrill Beech's book, "From Valley to Freedom, A story of a Black Patriot," Nero moved into Reverend Beebee's house (#10 on the map) with his new wife, Peg. Nero was still owned by Daniel Hawley and continued his duties at the mill and clay pit sites, however, he would assist Reverend Beebee with chores (like mending a fence), while his wife, Peg, worked inside the home with Mrs. Beebee.

In 1762, Nero and Peg had their first child, a girl they named Claret. The birth and baptisms (performed by Reverend Beebee) of Nero and Peg's children are recorded in the church records: Claret (1762), Linde (1767), Obediah (1771), Salome (1773), Dinah (1775), and Peter Tryon (1777) are listed as "negro servants of Reverend Beebee." [1]

Connecticut Church Record Abstract. North Stratford (Trumbull) Ancestry.

Although Nero was able to garner freedom for four of his children, Dinah and Salom, were evidently retained as the property of Reverend Beebee, as indicated in the inventory of Beebee's will. Dinah and Salom were not fully emanicipated until 1801.

Negro ten years old named Dinah $20.00, Negro named Salome $20.00

Reverend James Beebee will. 1785. Ancestry.


The Revolutionary War

During the first part of the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress, in desperate need of men to enlist for a longer duration in the War, made bonuses available for those who enlisted for a period of three years or longer. On April 20, 1777, two years after Revolutionary War began, Nero Hawley, possibly enticed by the bonus, the opportunity to gain his freedom, and encouragement from Reverend Beebe, joined the company of Samuel Granger in the 2nd Connecticut Regiment. Nero and the other men of Connecticut were ordered to assemble at Danbury, where he was placed in captain Granger's Company under Colonel Charles Webb. Before the soldiers left for the battlefield, Reverend Beebee delivered a sermon to the soldiers.

Nero Hawley Revolutionary War Record. Fold 3

On November 14, 1777, the 2nd Regiment was ordered to join General George Washington's army in Pennsylvania. On December 8, Nero's unit engaged with General Howe's troops at Whitemarsh, about 12 miles from Valley Forge. A number of officers were killed at Whitemarsh. The 2nd Regiment continued to Valley Forge where they spent the winter of 1777-1778. One of the 2nd Regiment's Company Commanders was Captain James Beebee, son of Reverend Beebee.

Revolutionary War Rolls 1775-1783. Ancestry (click on image)

Here is a tribute to the patriotism of the Parish (church) of North Stratford soldiers in a manuscript from March 11, 1778.

"The following is an exact account of the donations of the Parish of North Stratford (provisions from home) for Continental soldiers in the southern army. Valley Ford [Forge] belonging to this place sent down by Lieutenant Beebee, being fifteen in number to be dvided between them, viz. The following persons: John Downs, Jeames Downs, Abraham Hawley, Truman French, William Dascomb, Danil Evis, Nathan Hawley, Reuben Beach, Joel Mosher, John Craford, Samuel Henman, Daniel Sherwood, Toney Truney, Caesar Edwards and Nero Hawley." [1]

The last three in the list were slaves using their masters' surnames. They received their freedom at the conclusion of the war.

Nero was paid Nero Hawley $6.67 monthly. Revolutionary War Record. Fold 3

Nero's 2nd Regiment participated in the battle of Monmouth in New Jersey in 1778. After the Battle at Monmouth, the regiment was assigned to the Second Brigade under General Huntington at White Plains, and later placed under the division commanded by General Putnam. The division operated along the Hudson River and then camped at Redding, Connecticut for the winter. During his time at Redding, Nero made use of his timber skills by building log huts as living quarters for the officers and soldiers. [1]

Nero's regiment was encamped in the Highlands opposite West Point at a place called Camp Robinson's Farm. At Stony Point, New York in July 1789, members of the regiment were selected to serve with General "Mad" Anthony Wayne, who mounted a victorious surprise attack on the British. According to Nero's Revolutionary War records, he spent most of 1779 ill or absent.

In 1781 Nero served in Captain Stephen Betts' company until he received his honorable discharge on April 12, 1781. Nero had enlisted for the the duration of the war, however, the comments on his muster rolls indicate that he spent most of 1779 "sick" or "sick absent" indicating he had suffered a "war-originated disability."

Nero Hawley Revolutionary War Record. Fold 3


A Great Jubilee Day

As the end of the Revolutionary War was assured, Reverend Beebe organized A Great Jubilee Day to be held on Monday May 26, 1783, in North Stratford. It was a day of public rejoicing. The townspeople gathered at the church and joined in singing, followed by a prayer by Reverend Beebee. The congregation then sang the anthem. Nero, as part of the two companies of militia, participated in many maneuvers for the crowd, including firing of platoons, and streeting firing. Afterwards, toasts were given to General George Washington, the Governor of Connecticut, faithful allies, and the Navy of the United States, among others. At the end of each toast, a canon was fired.



As documented in the emancipation record, on file at the office of the Town Clerk, Stratford, Connecticut, on November 4, 1782, Nero Hawley was granted full emancipation from his legal master, Daniel Hawley.

Nero's emancipation document, signed by own Daniel Hawley, is on file at the office of the Town Clerk, Stratford, Connecitcut.

After emancipation, Nero continued to work with Daniel Hawley at the sawmill and brick making company as well as with Reverend Beebee. It would not be long until he ventured out on his own.


Venturing Out on His Own

In addition to the salary Nero drew from mill work, Nero received $8 per month from the United States government as a pension for his military service. The money he saved eventually allowed him to purchase land in the Daniels Farm area and start his own bric k-making business.

In 1785 Nero purchased five acres of land known as the Clay Pit where he continued brick making. He continued his interests in handling timber by purchasing a woodland area called Hedgehog as part of an interest with others. He also purchased nearly seven acres near the Hawley sawmill on the Pequonnock River and a three acre wooded area west of Daniels Farm Road from David Beebee. Nero and Peg were unable to write their names on documents, but instead used an 'X' as their signature.[1]

"From Valley to Freedom, A story of a Black Patriot" E. Merrill Beach. March 1975

In August 1801, Nero was able to give his children full emancipation. The document is located in the Trumbull town records:

"To all people to whom it may Concern Know ye that I, Nero Hawley of Trumbull in the County of Fairfield and State of Connecticut grant and give to my Son Obadiah Hawley and my t hree daughter - Clary hawley, Slome Hawley and Dinah Hawley, to all of them their Freedom to take for themselves this 15 Day of August 1801.


Final Resting Place

The last piece of land acquired by Nero was in March 1807, when he joined with Trumbull residents to purchase a lot to be used as a burying ground. Known as the Riverside Burial Ground, the cemetery is located next to the Daniel Hawley mill property, where Nero had worked as a young man. .

In 1807, Nero began selling his real estate holdings indicating his health was in decline. He died on January 30, 1817 at 75 years of age, Peg would follow him 16 years late on July 26, 1833. They are both buried in the Riverside Cemetery (Burying Ground).

A document regarding Nero's health from 1815. Nero Hawley Revolutionary War Record. Fold 3

Nero Hawley's grave in today's Riverside Cemetery with bricks from his kiln. Photo P. Marlin 2019

An inventory listing of Nero Hawley's belongs in his will. Ancestry. 1817


Nero Hawley House?

There is some debate about the location of Nero Hawley's home. The house pictured below is located just down the stone path from Daniel Hawley's house. Could it have been Nero's at one time? According to E. Merrill Beach's book and map, Nero lived lived near Reverend Beebee on Daniels Farm Road.

Nero's Hawley house today? Photo P Marlin 2019


In Search of Nero Hawley

In Search of Nero Hawley, A Family Seeks a Tangible Link to a Black Patriot Ancestor is an article that appeared in American Legacy Magazine in 2008, written by Nero's direct descendant, Dr. Hugh Price. The article relays the story of Dr. Price's mother's search her great-great-great-grandfather, Nero Hawley, and her eventual induction into the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR).

In Search of Nero Hawley, A Family Seeks a Tangible Link to a Black Patriot Ancestor. Hugh Price.




[1] The Bridgeport Post Bridgeport, Connecticut. September 8, 1974.

[2] A Sketch of the Life of Rev. James Beebee

[3] Buckley, Gail. 2002. American Patriots: The Story of Blacks in the Military from the Revolution to Desert Storm.