July 6 2024 Quock Walker Lexington event

UPDATED July 6: Commemorating Juneteenth and Prince Hall Day with a free event from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday, June 23, behind Robbins Library, Arlington officials invited all to celebrate the end of slavery nationwide and learn of the Black patriots of Menotomy, as Arlington was called in the 18th century.

Black people in early American history are often overlooked, said Crystal Haynes, an event organizer. In her view, acknowledging shared history — that it wasn’t just white men who shaped this country in its early years — helps heal long-entrenched divisions. 

“It makes us feel a little less separate from each other, or less segregated from each other . . . . We are all citizens of the United States, and we recognize this history that exists here and the part we all play in it, and we can celebrate the parts that deserve to be celebrated, and we can learn from the parts that don’t,” said Haynes, a longtime local resident and Emmy Award-winning journalist.

Key historical figures honored June 23 included Revolutionary War soldiers David Lamson and Cuff Whittemore, who both lived in Menotomy, and Prince Hall, who delivered a 1797 address in the town and founded the first Black Masonic Lodge in 1775. 

What Juneteenth means

With a live DJ, food truck and kids’ activities, the event from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday on the Whittemore-Robbins House lawn offered an opportunity for both reflection and togetherness.

“Interaction and connection with one another’s culture is so important as well," Haynes said. “There are probably people in Arlington who had never heard of Juneteenth before it became a holiday, [and] they got work off. But now they can celebrate it with members of the Black community in Arlington, who understand the history behind it.”

In 2021, June 19 became a federal holiday. The day, already long celebrated in the Black community nationwide, marks the end of slavery on Galveston Island, Texas. Through the efforts of Union troops arriving to that part of southeast Texas on that date in 1865, it was the last place in the Confederacy to hear news of Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, which declared enslaved people free. Still, many enslavers in Texas fought ruthlessly to continue the practice, which in some cases lingered long after the end of the Civil War.

Also in 2021, the Arlington Select Board declared June 24 in Arlington as “Prince Hall Day” to be observed annually, that being the date of his speech in Menotomy. It had its own celebration Monday, June 24.

David Lamson's bold leadership

On the day of "the shot heard 'round the world," David Lamson was in town when a British supply wagon came rumbling down the road. Considered not quite young enough to accompany the local militia to fight in the Battle of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775, that day he instead rallied others similarly left behind. With Lamson as their leader, “the old men of Menotomy,” as the marker on Mass. Ave. calls them, quickly gained the upper hand. 

Present-day historian Joyce Lee Malcolm writes, “When the soldiers whipped their horses to escape, the Americans methodically shot the lead horses and killed the officer in charge and two sergeants.” Initially deemed unfit to serve, the group nevertheless successfully captured British supplies. 

At Sunday's event, poet, author and musician Charles Coe will recite a poem about Menotomy’s Black patriots, and at least one member of the Arlington Historical Society will give a lecture, according to Haynes.

“At a time when people of African descent, some enslaved, some free, here in Massachusetts, were basically second- class citizens, third-class citizens . . .  they [nevertheless] were playing a very pivotal role in the foundation of our country in fighting for our freedom from the British,” she said.

Back then, the area was quite rural. The three-mile road from old Cambridge—now Harvard—felt much longer, explained local historian Richard A. Duffy, who did not participate in the planning of this year’s event but is familiar with Revolutionary War history. Lamson, having previously served in the French and Indian Wars, “brought his prior experience to bear, and even if he didn’t hold a leadership position in the formal military, he certainly clearly understood what leadership was.” In the 1990s, Arlington renamed Railroad Avenue to David Lamson Way.

Lamson continued fighting until his discharge two years later. While Lamson, according to an essay by a local historian, was already free, Cuff Whittemore, Ishmael Cutler and Prince Cutler, all enslaved in Menotomy, sought their freedom through military service. Despite scant historical evidence from the period—significantly, no writing by any of these men remains—one colorful story about Whittemore has survived.

Cuff Whittemore’s daring escape 

At one point, Whittemore was taken captive by the British. According to a 1907 account of Arlington’s history, “While acting as waiter to a field officer, he was ordered to take two fine horses to water at a stream running between the camps of the two armies, and instead of returning to the British camp, forded the stream under a shower of bullets and reported himself and two horses in sound condition to the officer of the continental, by whom he was liberally rewarded.”

In her essay “Buried Secrets of Menotomy’s Slaves,” Beverly Douhan assumes Whittemore became free after his service. But the reality may have been more complicated. While documents show that he received a government pension, payments for Black soldiers were often delayed—or outright denied. Further, many enslavers did not release Revolutionary War veterans from bondage even though legally obligated to do so. 

'Quock Walker Day' set for Saturday

“It wasn’t one of those situations where, serve in the military, and it’s your ticket out, because, at the end of the day, these are human beings owned by other human beings, so you couldn’t take their quote-unquote ‘property,’ ” Duffy said.

Thanks to legal cases brought by Quock Walker and other people of color, Massachusetts outlawed slavery in 1783. Still, authorities often had little success enforcing the decision, with the practice of enslavement sometimes continuing, often under other names.

Quock Walker Day, also known as Massachusetts Emancipation Day, is scheduled to be observed with two events on Saturday, July 6, in Lexington, just northwest of Arlington. State Sen. Cindy Friedman of Arlington is scheduled to read a proclamation, according to the local sponsoring organization, the Association of Black Citizens of Lexington. 

The holiday was first observed in Lexington in 2021 and was recognized as a statewide holiday in 2023 by Governor Maura Healey.

Email admin at abclex.org for more information on the local event.

Dignity after death

As a monument erected last year for Juneteenth acknowledges, the town’s 18th-century Black population had access only to a segregated, unmarked area of the Old Burying Ground in Arlington-then-Menotomy.

Duffy, who chaired the committee in charge of the memorial, said, during its dedication a year ago, “Some people would come up to me and say, ‘I lived in this town for 55 years; I had no idea there was slavery in Arlington.’ It just never occurred to them that that could be the case, so, definitely, the time had come for a visible marker.”

Thanks to Prince Hall, Black people in the Boston area post-Civil War then did have a place to receive a proper burial. In use from 1864 to 1897, the Prince Hall Mystic Cemetery on Gardner Street in Arlington provided a dignified resting place for Black people in the region. It was funded by the Masonic Lodge that Hall established in 1775.

Duffy said of the connection between Hall, Lamson and Whittemore, “These people stand out for having stood up. They made their presence felt. They were people of action and thought.”

Feb. 28, 2020: Searching for our Black history: AHS intern seeks marker for slave graves

This news feature by YourArlington freelancer Jacob Posner, who holds a degree in history from Williams College, was published Saturday, June 22, 2024. It was updated July 2 to add an announcement of a celebration of Massachusetts Emancipation Day, also known as Quock Walker Day, the morning of Saturday, July 6, in nearby Lexington, with state Sen. Cindy Friedman an Arlington resident, expected to appear. It was updated Friday, July 5, to add a contact email address.