Just in time for Independence Day, Yonkers, New York-based auction house Cohasco is offering a piece of history dating from the early days of the founding of the United States. “According to the Library of Congress, about seventeen documents exist with dates of July 4, 1776, most relating to or signed by George Washington,” said Cohasco owner Bob Snyder. “We have what we believe is one of the earliest known documents of the modern United States [dated July 4, 1776] that names a specific African-American.” Perhaps of equal interest is that the item offers a glimpse of race relations in the United States over two hundred years ago.
In something of an ironic coincidence that this arrest warrant bears the same official date Americans celebrate independence, a man named Cuffee Dole is accused of stealing “one Eight Dollar Bill of the Continental Emission” on March 31, 1776, from a soldier near George Washington’s Cambridge headquarters. Ultimately, the paper trail runs cold as to what happened next in the case of Cuffee Dole, but historians believe the charges were dropped.
Who then, was Cuffee Dole? Here is where the story gets interesting. Born free in Boston in 1739, Dole was sold into slavery as a three-year-old by his nurse for $40 to Captain Dole of Gerogetown. Dole lived with the captain and his family until his early twenties. Then, according to local lore, Dole’s duplicitous nurse felt remorse and summoned Dole to her deathbed where she confessed to selling him into slavery as a child. Dole bought his freedom in 1772 and he lived thereafter as a free man, working on farms and performing other work in and around Boston. Dole even enlisted for two tours of duty with the Continental Army. After the war, Dole purchased twelve acres of land in Georgetown, MA, for $650, where he lived until his death in 1816. In his will, Dole requested that he be given a decent burial, but the local deacons were divided on whether he should be buried in the church graveyard next to white congregants. The deacons agreed that Dole’s remains could be interred at the church where he had prayed daily for years, but on the condition that his stone be set in the back of the graveyard. Today the stone bears an epitaph that reads, in part, “White man turn not away in disgust. Thou art my brother,
like me akin to earth and worms.”
The warrant, signed by Justice of the Peace Aaron Wood, is in good condition with some staining and edge chipping. Price estimates are available from Cohasco upon request.
Now through July 24, this and over 400 other items are up for auction. Cohasco doesn’t accept online budding, so interested parties must either call in their bids 1-914-476-8500 or email email@example.com.
Image courtesy of Cohasco. This story originally appeared on the Fine Books & Collections Blog on June 22, 2018.