Usually, we think only in terms of enslaved people, molasses, and rum when referring to the Atlantic trade routes of yesteryear, the so-called Triangular Trade.
Hager knew this not to be true. She was a dairymaid at Captain Thomas Wheeler’s plantation in Stonington, Connecticut, a short half-hour walk from the Rhode Island & Providence Plantations colony.
Hager had overheard her owner bragging to his friends on multiple occasions about the wealth he was accumulating selling cheese and other goods to a buyer in Barbados. Her ears would perk up because, many years earlier, she had been separated from her little sister Adumadan (Stewart) after their African kidnapping, and her sister sold to a wealthy Barbadian planter.
Hager liked to imagine that the cheese she helped make on the plantation that she called home nourished her sister. Hager thought of her often in the darkened New England cabin before the first rooster’s crowing, the quiet time she would steal for herself to think. She would soon rise for the first milking of the day (Bird).
Her afternoon would be devoted to churning butter, and the cutting and breaking up of whey for cheese making, followed by the early evening’s second milking of the day. When an account was taken of Wheeler’s estate upon his death, over a ton of cheese was listed (Wheeler).
Hager was only one of many enslaved people on old man Wheeler’s New England plantation. We learn this from the same estate accounting. Listed with Hager was the elderly man Quash along with Juno, also old, as well as others in their prime work years, Cab, Ceazar, Cipeo, Flora, Sarah, Jane, and Coe. Two servant children, Harry and Elizabeth, were described as “mulatto.” The enslaved Phillis and Pharaoh were also youngsters. Mary was the only Native American among them (Wheeler) (Link to Wheeler’s transcribed will and probate inventory, https://wordpress.com/page/enslavednewengland.com/173).
As you can see, plantations were not exclusive to the South. The North and South supported each other, with farms like Wheeler’s supplying all kinds of food, farm products, and animals to the cotton fields of the South, and cane fields of the West Indies. The cheese was the least of it. It was shipped alongside apples, beef, butter, cattle, fish both pickled and dry, horses, onions, peas, pork, and tobacco leaves. Yankee mill owners also became rich turning slave picked cotton into cloth, and providing cheap clothes and shoes to outfit the enslaved farmhands. They also exported bar iron, bricks, candles, oak planks, spikes, tallow, turpentine, and whale oil (Hartford).
Many tropical islands were stripped clean of trees and other vegetation to make way for the exclusive growth of sugarcane for molasses production. Soon the sweet liquid would be transformed into strong rum in New England factories, and the rum traded for more souls, black and white alike.
As for Hager and her sister, they may be the construct of my imagination but their stories are true.
Bird, Darrell. Shout out to Darrell for his boyhood memories of dairying on his grandfather’s Broome County upstate New York farm.
Hartford Courant. “A Terrible Triangle. Hartford Courant. 29 Sept. 2002. https://www.courant.com/…/hc-xpm-2002-09-29-0210012447…
Stewart, Julia. 1,001 African Names. Citadel Press, 1996, New York, NY. p. 40. “Adumadan (ah-DOO-mahah-DUHN) Yoruba of Nigeria female name … for a girl who is dark-skinned and beautiful.”
ILLUSTRATION: Trifone, Nicole. “Half the History.” Trend and Tradition Magazine. Colonial Williamsburg. Winter 2019. 5 Feb. 2020. https://colonialwilliamsburg.org/…/trend…/half-history/
Wheeler, Albert Gallatin. The genealogical and encyclopedic history of the Wheeler family in America. American College of Genealogy,1914, Boston. https://archive.org/details/genealogicaland00genegoog