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March 20, 2017

A Lost Village of Freed Slaves

In the late 1800s a small village of freed slaves began on the outskirts of Cambridge Massachusetts. Not much is known of this community which apparently was called Lewisville. The authors of a new book on the history and settlement of Cambridge discovered records of the village accidentally when studying an 1870 map.

Typical slave cabin
According to the authors, Lewisville was an "African-American settlement that dispersed before the Civil War, where many members went to Africa in the African immigration movement. But it really disappeared in the 1880s."

Read more at In tracing Cambridge history, researchers uncover lost village of freed slaves

Because I was curious about who had lived there, I searched the 1870 census and found 201 black individuals listed as living in Ward 2 of Cambridge. I cannot say with certainty that these were families in Lewisville but I plan on doing more research to see what I can find out.

The Summer 2013 Newsletter of the Cambridge Historical Society has this small excerpt which may provide some clues as to the origin of the community's name:

Just east of Observatory Hill was a free, self-sufficient African American community, known as Lewisville, from the beginning of the 19th century. This settlement was roughly between Concord Avenue, Garden Street, and Shepard Street. Some of the residents were the descendants of slaves of the Vassall family, and by the middle of the 19th century, some had become political. In the early 1850s, Adam Lewis joined the abolitionist colony at Dawn, Ontario, and in 1858 Enoch Lewis led a group of 23 members of the Cambridge Liberian Emigrant Association to settle in St. Paul’s River in Liberia.
In 1850 and 1855 he is found in Ward 1 with other black famiies.


The Dawn Settlement, founded in 1841, was a rural community where Blacks could pool their labour, resources and skills to help each other and incoming settlers. It contained farm land, a saw mill, gristmill, brick yard, rope manufactory and school.  Adam Lewis, age 31, is found in this settlement in the 1851 census of Upper Canada (present day Ontario) with his wife Mary and 6 year old daughter Frances.

Adam's death certificate of 1900 indicates his place of birth as Missouri and it is possible that more information could be found if anyone were interested.


1 comment:

Colleen G. Brown Pasquale said...

An interesting town. Great they could have their own place, a place to help each & to find peace.