Rhoda came to Waterbury from Woodbury in 1748 as the
indentured servant of Mary Wheeler. Wheeler was newly
married to Waterbury farmer Stephen Judd, but died the
following year, possibly from complications due to childbirth.
Judd had two children from a previous marriage, and Rhoda
probably helped care for them. Judd married for the third
time in 1751. Three weeks after the wedding, on April
6, 1751, Judd sold Rhoda to Joseph Hall of Cheshire.
When Judd sold Rhoda, her sold her as a slave for life,
which she was not. Rhoda had been born a free person.
Her mother was a free Native American; her father may
have been African American. In 1741, Rhoda had become
the indentured servant of Woodburys Adam Hurd. In
1747, Hurd sold Rhoda to Mary Wheeler. Somewhere in these
transfers, or perhaps when Mary Wheeler died, Rhodas
status as a free person was ignored and lost. Decades
later, her son Hampton sued for his family's freedom on
the grounds that Stephen Judd had illegally sold his mother
Rhoda lived in Joseph Halls household for twenty-eight
years. During this time, she married an African American
man named Dick Bristol. Dick may have once been enslaved
by Cheshires Bristol family, but by the 1780s was
a free man. Rhoda and Dick had four children: Hampton,
Peter, Lilly and George. Because Joseph Hall believed
Rhoda to be legally enslaved, her children were also considered
to be slaves.
According to the state records, Joseph Hall educated
and brought up Rhoda, and he was at great
Expence in taking Care of nursing & bringing ... up
her children, who were born in his house.
The Bristol family was broken up in 1779, when Lilly,
Rhoda and Peter were sold by Joseph Hall. George was also
sold, at an unknown date. Joseph Hall kept Hampton in
his household. Rhoda was eventually purchased by her husband
in 1784, thirty-three years after she had been forced
In the late 1780s, the Bristols son Hampton, still
a minor, sued Jonathan Hall, Joseph Halls son and
executor, stating that Rhoda was born free, the daughter
of a Spanish squaw, and that he, Hampton,
was therefore also born free. The State Superior Court
ruled in favor of Hall and against Hamptons freedom.
Hampton by now had been sold to a man named Robert Martin;
when Martin died, Hampton sued Robert Martins executors
for assault, describing that he had been beaten and then
imprisoned for several months, and again stated that he
was born free. This second suit resulted in the jury declaring
Following Hamptons success, Dick Bristol sued Jonathan
Hall for illegally selling Rhodas children into
slavery. The parties involved, Jonathan Hall, Elam and
Abigail Cook, and Samuel and Phebe Talmadge, all living
in Cheshire, and David Hall, living in Essex, Vermont,
petitioned the Connecticut General Assembly to intervene.
The Assembly agreed to determine whether or not Rhoda
and her children had been born free, thereby saving the
plaintiffs from endless litigation and financial ruin.
The State General Assembly appointed a Committee of three
men, Stephen Mix Mitchell, Jonathan Ingersol and Asher
Miller, to determine if Rhoda had indeed been born free.
In 1791, the Committee attempted to appoint legal guardians
for the children who were still minors, but the appointees
refused to accept the responsibility, which delayed the
investigation for a year.
Finally, in the spring of 1793, the Committee reported
to the General Assembly that Rhoda and all her children
were born free. The last and intermediate
purchasers were awarded financial compensation from each
person or estate from which they purchased Rhoda and her
children. The petitioners were awarded £25 and all
related court costs from Thomas Fenn, the administrator
for the estate of Stephen Judd.
The committee did not recommend any financial compensation
for the Bristols. The committee specifically stated that
Dick Bristol was not to be awarded any damages, because
the man he purchased Rhoda from was not involved in the
petition. There was no discussion of any financial compensation
to be given to Rhoda and her children for the decades
of labor they had performed.
Seven years later, the 1800 census reported that Dick
Bristol lived alone in Cheshire. He died sometime after