A page dedicated to promoting and exchanging knowledge of William Apess
Sometime after Dec. 3 1824 William Apess decided to record the births of his children in the clerk’s office for the Town of Leyden. Leyden was part of Colrain until about 1820 and Apess may have been sent there by the Methodist organization to minister to the “people of color” who lived in this part of town. Not content to simply record the birth of his newest son, Leonard, Apess implanted a complete record of his family. The importance of this region to Apess is suggested by the fact that three of his children were born here between 1822-1824.
“Indian” Trading Posts can still be found along MA Rt. 2, otherwise known as The Mohawk Trail–69 miles of “scenic highway” built along former indigenous trade routes that King Philip or Metacom used as he sought the aid of the Mohawk to defeat the English during King Philip’s War in the 1670’s. The Mohawk Trail, in its tourist heyday, capitalized off highly romanticized lore conflating memories of King Philip’s War with Last of the Mohicans motifs and Plains Indian regalia. In the background stands a part of Catamount Hill, possible site of William Apess’ birth.
An 1820 view of Colrain’s town center. When Apes was born in 1798 the surrounding hills were still covered in forest. By 1820, however, much of the forest had been cleared for farming and grazing. (Henry N. Flint Library, Special Collections, folder # 6, “Miscellaneous.” Historic Deerfield Library)
Record book in Colrain’s Town Clerk’s office containing reference to the death of Apess’ brother from dysentery.
Entry in Colrain records of Births, Marriages, Deaths, for son of William, an Indian. The Greenfield Gazette reported on Sept. 12, 1803 that dysentery had swept through the town that summer, taking some 26 lives. Most of those who died were children under four years of age.
Engraving made from 1830 John Paradise portrait of William Apess, which appears in the 1831 edition of Apess’s A Son of the Forest.
This is the site of David Ferman’s (Apess spells his name “Furman”) farm where Apess served as an indentured servant as a child from roughly 1804-1811. It is on The Old Colchester Rd. (today State Highway 354) very close to Gardner Lake. Based on textual and anecdotal evidence, I believe that Apess’s maternal grandmother lived somewhere near the lake shore, within a mile of the Ferman house, as this was known as an “Indian” neighborhood at the time.
Frontispiece of 1829 A Son of the Forest
William Apess’s full signature on an I.O.U. located in the Barnstable County courthouse. One of only two known full signatures by Apess in his own hand. The other is on the 1833 Mashpee Memorial written while he served out his prison time for “inciting a riot” in the 1833 attempt by the Mashpee to wrest control over their community from appointed white Overseers (known as the Mashpee Revolt).
Firman family graveyard in Salem, CT. In A Son of the Forest, Apess recalls being bonded out to the Firman family. He writes “They had become very fond of me, and as I could not be satisfied to leave them, as I loved them with the strength of filial love, he at last concluded to keep me until I was of age.”
Gravestone: “In Memorial of David Firmon, Who Died April 1, 1849, Aged 83 years.” Apess had a troubled relationship with Mr. Furman (as he spells it in A Son of the Forest) and recalls one time when Mr. Furman “came to the place where I was working and began to whip me severely. I could not tell for what. I told him I had done no harm, to which he replied, ‘I will learn you, you Indian dog,’” The Firman’s eventually sold Apess’s indenture to William Hillhouse and Apess was no longer connected in any way to the Firmon family.
“Sally Firman, Wife of David Firman, who died Jun 12 1830.” Apess recalled of Mrs. Furman (as he spells it in A Son of the Forest): “I well remember the conversation that took place between Mrs. Furman and myself when I was about six years of age . . . she spoke to me respecting a future state of existence, and told me that I might die, and enter upon it, to which I replied that I was too young- that old people only died. But she assured me that I was not too young, and in order to convince me of the truth of the observation, she referred me to the grave yard, where many younger and smaller persons than myself were laid to moulder in the earth.”
Firman child, initials G.W.F-no further inscription. Given that Apess describes the Firmon’s as having no other children, it is likely that the grave stones Sally Firman showed him were of her own children who had died in infancy.
Firman child, initials H. F. No further inscription..