News & Events

USCTI Launches Cato Freedom Project

June 22, 2009

Hartwick College’s United States Colored Troops Institute for Local History and Family Research has launched a new effort to expand its research into the identification of the burial sites of black Revolutionary War soldiers and their white officers.

The Cato Freedom Project, named after the center’s first identified Revolutionary War soldier, will expand on the center’s continuing research and identification of Civil War soldiers.

“During the past decade, the USCTI has gained national attention for efforts to research, preserve, and commemorate the 200,000 black soldiers and their 7,000 white officers of the USCT during the Civil War,” Associate Dean of U.S. Pluralism Programs Harry Bradshaw Matthews said. “Students have been a part of that success. Today, the students have a curriculum syllabus with experiential components that requires them to engage in primary research on and off campus. The search for Freedom was one such experience.”

In support of the Cato Freedom Project, a digital image of the painting 3rd Connecticut Regiment has been provided to the USCTI. Freedom, a resident of Burlington in Otsego County, also is the subject of the center’s June issue of U.S. Civil War Digest, and serves as an example of the degree of research that can be undertaken by members of the USCTI. Matthews has asked members of the national organization to devote time to researching black Revolutionary War soldiers in their communities.

“Identifying such burial grounds and tombstones of the patriots can be viewed as lasting memorials,” he said. “The sites can be used as common-ground reference points for the discussion of race relations in America.”

To ensure the accuracy of those sites, the USCTI encourages cross-referencing information acquired from tombstones with other sources—a process undertaken by Matthews and Hartwick students earlier this year in identifying Freedom. Khadian Thomas ’09 and Brittanie Kemp ’11, members of the Harriet Tubman Mentoring Project, joined Matthews in researching the contradictions between information provided on Freedom’s tombstone with details in his pension file. As a result, the soldier’s last name was confirmed as Freedom, although his tombstone in Butternut Valley Cemetery identifies him as Freeman.

The center also detailed Freedom’s history as a private of the Connecticut Line from 1778, with his enlistment lasting beyond the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown in 1781. Freedom received an honorable discharge on September 2, 1783, and although he indicated in pension documents that he served in the Third Connecticut Regiment, he also was enlisted in the Fifth Company, Seventh Regiment, commanded by Colonel H. Swift. His enlistment lasted until the peace treaty between the U.S. and Great Britain, and by 1818, he had relocated to Burlington, where he lived on a 33-acre homestead with his wife, Parmelia, and daughters, Charlotte and Aurabia. He died in February 1830, another fact uncovered by the USCTI despite contradicting information on his tombstone.

Beginning in September, the research conducted will be included in the Freedom Journey exhibit in Hartwick’s U.S. Pluralism Center in Bresee Hall. Information and materials related to the Cato Freedom Project also will be available online at that time.

The identification of Freedom and details about his life serve as an example of what the center hopes to promote through the Cato Freedom Project. Matthews hopes the soldiers identified through the project will help teachers, historians, and preservationists locate black Revolutionary War soldiers and verify the accuracy of their findings.

“For most of the men, no tombstones mark their burial sites,” Matthews said. “Even for those who survived the war, few records remain that personalize their respective stories. Few descendants cite their names. For the fortunate, however, the Congressional Act of 1818 made it possible for patriots in dire need to seek governmental assistance through pension applications. These Revolutionary War Pension Records provide important information about a very limited number of black patriots, which can be embellished upon by modern-day researchers. Cato Freedom is one such personality.”

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Hartwick College is a private liberal arts and sciences college of 1,480 students, located in Oneonta, NY, in the northern foothills of the Catskill Mountains. Hartwick’s expansive Liberal Arts in Practice curriculum merges traditional liberal arts study, personalized teaching, and experiential learning approaches to emphasize Connecting the Classroom to the World. Add to that a wide range of off-campus internships, collaborative research, study-abroad opportunities, and a unique January Term, and Hartwick prepares students for the world ahead. Strong financial aid and scholarship programs keep a Hartwick education affordable.

Contact: Jennifer Moritz
Phone: 607-431-4038