“A Negro Man”: Prince Estabrook of Lexington
As the British under Lt. Col. Francis Smith marched out of Lexington on the morning of April 19th, they left behind them 18 American casualties. One of these men who suffered wounds that morning was Prince Estabrook. Estabrook was unlike the others who lined up that morning on the Lexington Green, Estabrook was an enslaved African American.
Born in the 1740’s and owned by Benjamin Estabrook there is little information on Prince’s life and family. Benjamin Estabrook operated a grist mill near Lexington and maintained a decent sized farm. Benjamin served in various positions in Lexington including coroner, justice of the peace and Selectman. He inherited Prince from his father and both men were near the same age. Prince enlisted in the Lexington militia in 1773 and his owner had to grant him the ability to do so.
Prince was there when the Lexington militia was called out on the evening of April 18th and remained at Buckman’s Tavern when the majority of the men returned to their homes when the British did not show that night. Early on the morning of April 19th, Prince was one of the 70 men who came back to the Lexington Green when Captain Jonathan Parker called for them to reform. As the men from Lexington faced the most formidable army in the world, color of skin no longer mattered. Once the firing began, bullets also did not recognize skin color or reasons for being there. Legend says Estabrook was struck in his left shoulder and was taken back to the Estabrook home near Lexington where he recovered.
What compelled this 30 year old to volunteer, swear an oath to a government and system
that kept him in bondage? Of course, there are no clear or singular reasons why any individual volunteers to go to war. But the case of Prince and hundreds of other African American volunteers is worth noting and studying. We know that his owner’s son, Joseph Estabrook was also on the Lexington Green that morning. Was there a sense of protecting home and family? Was he forced to serve? Was a hope of freedom by serving his motivation?
In the Salem Gazette after the fighting in Lexington and Concord, Prince was listed as being wounded at Lexington as “a Negro Man.” After recovering from his wounds Estabrook joined the growing American army in Cambridge in July 1775. He served as a member of the militia off and on for several years. In 1780 Estabrook joined the Continental service and served in the 3rd Massachusetts Regiment. After he gained his emancipation, Estabrook moved a few miles west to Ashby and lived with Nathan Estabrook, the son of his former owner. Dying around the age of 90, Prince’s personal life is a mystery. He is buried at the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church cemetery. His headstone, placed in 1930 reads “Prince Estabrook, Negro Greaton’s Co. 3rd Mass. Regt, Rev. War”
Estabrook was memorialized with the other Minutemen in 1949 on a memorial in Lexington. There was no mention of him being enslaved or his extraordinary circumstances. Finally in 2008, Estabrook was officially honored for being the first African American soldier to fight in the American Revolution. A small plaque on a stone was placed in Lexington on a small stone in front of Buckman Tavern. Facing the Lexington Green, the “Negro Man” was given the recognition that was long overdue.
In Honor of Prince Estabrook
Prince Estabrook was a slave who lived in Lexington. At dawn on April, 19, 1775, he was one of the Lexington Minute Men awaiting the arrival of the British Regulars at the Buckman Tavern. In the battle which followed, Prince Estabrook was wounded on Lexington Green. Through circumstances and destiny, he thus became the first black soldier to fight in the American Revolution. This monument is dedicated to the memory of Prince Estabrook and the thousands of other courageous black patriots long denied the recognition they deserve.
Donated by the Alice Hinkle Memorial Fund April 21, 2008
9 Responses to “A Negro Man”: Prince Estabrook of Lexington
Why did it take so long to get Prince to be recognized?
You have to consider record keeping was not the best back then. Accounts from family etc must be verified before being placed on the registry of those who fought that day. It took us several years to prove Prince wasn’t the only Estabrook present on that day. A lot of research and gathering of family accounts and other papers had to be done. In essence it took 242 years for that recognition.
It is worthy to note that while a slave which wasn’t written about in those days, we have found accounts specifically mentioning Prince and his bravery and valor in combat. He did not gain freedom from serving in the revolution, but was freed by his master at the start of the war. Prince continued to fight on and off throughout the war.
Thank you for your comments re Prince. I am an Estabrook descendant and have recently become an SAR member. I am eager to learn as much as possible re Prince and would welcome any sources you could provide. Thank you.
Bob, great to learn you are researching your family history. There is not a lot known about Prince Estabrook (so often is the case in researching African Americans in the 18th century). Have you contacted the Lexington Historical Society? I would recommend reaching out to them, ask for Stacy Fraser.
I am also a descendant of Benjamin Estabrook’s family. I find it interesting that Prince stayed with the family after the war instead of striking out on his own. There had to be an active freedmen community in Boston area he could have gone too. The only thing I can think of is that he’d been with the family his entire life and maybe despite his past enslavement he found himself well treated and paid. I don’t know. From what I’ve read the Estabrook’s were well thought of in the community and had many children – all of whom Prince had known very well.
I too descend from the Estabrook Family of Lexington. Benjamin Estabrook was my 6th Great Grandfather.