Samson Adams papers  1767-1794
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Biographical/Historical Note

Samson Adams, an African-American resident of New Jersey, died in early August, 1792, leaving a legacy of hard labor and good works. His birthplace and parents are unknown, but the possibility that he had formerly been enslaved is suggested by the fact that his sister, Violet Adams, was enslaved as late as 1767, and by the presence of an invoice issued in 1775, in which he is referred to as "Mr. Hooper's Sampson" [sic]. By 1780, however, he was a free man, gainfully employed, having learned the trade of soap making, and by 1782, he had arranged to receive some schooling in the evenings.

An intelligent and resourceful man, Adams made a minor financial success out of himself through his "industry and attention to business," and through his flexibility in finding ways to make a living. Adams' economic pursuits were extremely varied, and included hiring out as a carpenter and laborer, and producing and trading in a variety of items, including soap, milk, corn, and construction materials. Through these activities, he was able to maintain financial and, to some degree, personal ties with some prominent members of the local white community, including the attorneys George Ely and Maskell Ewing. By 1788, Adams had purchased a plot of land in Trenton, where he kept some milch cows and hogs, and had even retained a housekeeper. In that year, Ely and Lamborn Cadwallader sponsored a subscription list to help finance the construction of a house for Adams, and they received contributions of money or labor from a number of the city's residents, all apparently favorably impressed with Adams' good standing in the community. Among other evidence of his character, Ely noted that Adams was a dutiful son, having for some time "maintained an aged and infirm mother" at considerable effort and expense.

Four years after Ely's subscription was taken, Adams suffered a lingering death from an unknown illness, and in his final days was bedridden and attended by a physician. He was survived by Violet, and a brother, Cato, who was married and the father of two children. In addition, three other Adamses received bequests in his will, Sarah, possibly Cato's wife, Adam, and Hester. Adams selected Ewing and Ely to act as executors, leaving an estate valued at over £84, the bulk of which went to Violet. In keeping with the resourcefulness and political tact he demonstrated during life, he bequeathed equal sums to the Episcopal, Presbyterian and Methodist churches in Trenton, as well as a small sum for the poor of the city. He was buried in the Black's Burying Ground in Trenton.