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Pomp, d. 1795 and Jonathan Plummer, 1761-1819
Dying Confession of Pomp, A Negro Man, Who Was Executed at Ipswich, on the 6th August, 1795, for Murdering Capt. Charles Furbush, of Andover, Taken from the Mouth of the Prisoner, and Penned by Jonathan Plummer, Jun.
[Newburyport, MA: Jonathan Plummer; Blunt and March, 1795].

Summary

Little is known about the life and death of Pomp (ca. 1767-1795) other than the information recorded in the Dying Confession of Pomp, a Negro Man (1795). Pomp was a Massachusetts slave who murdered his master, Captain Charles Furbush (1736-1795), with the "idea that Mrs. Furbush and the farm would be mine, after the death of my master." Before his execution, Jonathan Plummer (1761-1819) conversed with Pomp in his jail cell and recorded his Dying Confession.

Plummer was one of the first authors to try to earn a living with his pen in the years following the American Revolution. In his own autobiography, Plummer provides an account of his part in American victories at the First and Second Battles of Saratoga under Horatio Gates and Benedict Arnold. Plummer claimed to receive divine inspiration through dreams that directed him even in relatively mundane matters, and he used this ability to provide medical advice as an itinerant physician. In addition to his medical career, Plummer taught school, bought and sold rags for paper, and wrote commemorative broadsides such as the one detailing Pomp's life and death.

The Dying Confession of Pomp, a Negro Man (1795)—of which only one known copy exists—is divided into two sections. In the first section, Plummer transcribes Pomp's admission that he murdered Furbush, and the second section provides Plummer's commentary on the murder. Plummer sold copies of the broadside for sixpence and seems to have been more concerned with making money than with affirming "the truth of Pomp's dying speech." He claims "to preserve the ideas of poor Pomp," but admits that he has "taken the liberty to arrange the matter in my own way . . . to word his thoughts more elegantly . . . than he was able to express them." Beneath the text of Pomp's confession and his own remarks, Plummer also advertises his services in "various branches of trifling business" and offers to write "Love-letters in prose and verse." While it is impossible to know how widely Plummer's account circulated, at least one contemporary newspaper used his broadside as the basis of an article on Pomp's execution.

Because the only copy of Plummer's Dying Confession is frayed, portions of the text are illegible, but it appears that Pomp was born in Guinea before being brought to Boston by his parents "when I was about three months old" (para. 1). While most Africans who traveled to the North American continent in the eighteenth century came as slaves, the legal status of Pomp's family is unclear. He states that "[m]y mother soon after our arrival in this Country gave me away to Mr. Abbot of Andover," an action not expected from a slave or a free mother.

Around 1783, shortly after turning sixteen, Pomp grows dissatisfied with his place in the Abbot household and meets with "the Select men of Andover to know whether I had not a right to leave it." Although slavery was legally abolished by the Massachusetts Supreme Court's 1783 interpretation of the state constitution in Commonwealth v. Jennison, the practice remained relatively common for a number of years afterwards. At sixteen, Pomp is clearly confused about his legal status and the extent of his rights. The selectmen advise Pomp to remain with Abbot, but "after a while it came to pass that Capt. Furbush took a notion to have a black man; and applying to the Select men, obtained their consent that I should be his servant." Furbush allows Pomp considerable autonomy in some arenas, leaving "the whole management of the farm to me" and apparently paying Pomp for his labor. But he also places restrictions on Pomp's non-work activities, "never letting me go to meeting on Sundays, and forcing me to clear out the cattle on those sacred days." Unhappy with these arrangements, Pomp runs away several times over "ten or a dozen years," and Furbush flogs him after each escape attempt. These escape attempts suggest that Pomp still believes he is a slave in 1795, even though the 1790 census listing of one "other free person" in Furbush's household probably refers to Pomp.

Because Furbush frequently tells Pomp that "I might stay as long as I please at his house" and that "he should not stay in this world forever," Pomp develops the conviction that "Mrs. Furbush and the farm would be mine, after the death of my master." Even as he admits his anticipation of Furbush's death, however, Pomp insists that he did not intend to kill the man. When he wakes at midnight on February 6, 1795, "impressed with an idea that I must get up and kill Capt. Furbush," he is "struck with horror" at the idea, but "something still kept whispering in my ear, that now is your time! kill him now! now or never! now! now!"

After crushing his skull with an axe, Pomp calmly returns "up to my chamber," where he is arrested. In jail, Pomp is converted by visiting ministers and prays "to God, and to the blood of Christ, for a new heart" as many as "ten or twenty times in a day." While visiting with the ministers, Pomp comes to believe that he would "make an extraordinary priest" and even that he is "turning very fast into one." But the most remarkable effect of his conversion is a physiological change which Pomp attributes to spiritual causes. When he arrives in jail, he is "as black as any negro in the country, but now I have scarcely a drop of negro blood left in me, my blood having so far [turned] into the blood of a Minister, that I am . . . nearly as white as a Mulatto." For Pomp, the changes in his skin color reflect the changing state of his soul.

Plummer's account ends with Pomp in jail, but contemporary newspaper reports confirm that Pomp was "carried in a cart, seated on his coffin, to the place of execution" at three in the afternoon on August 6, 1795 (Political Gazette, p. 63). Reflecting on the underlying forces that shaped Pomp's life, Plummer, a former school teacher, suggests that educational failures led directly to Pomp's downfall. Pomp was well educated in the "domestic business" of farming, but "knew not the names of the Seven Sciences, nor even that there were such things." He also "knew nothing of the Laws of the United States or of this Commonwealth" and had not been taught that "murder was a sin." In some sense, of course, a lack of education really did doom Pomp; if he had known the law, he might have contacted a lawyer or abolitionist group rather than attempt, repeatedly and futilely, to escape. Instead of beginning a new life free from Furbush's influence, Pomp entered the hangman's noose, where "he prayed with great solemnity" until he could pray no longer (Salem Gazette, p. 3).

Works Consulted: Deane, Charles, ed., Letters and Documents Relating to Slavery in Massachusetts, Cambridge, MA: J. Wilson & Son, 1877; Impartial Herald 8 Aug. 1795: 3; Ingals, Henry, "Andover, Feb. 12," Salem Gazette 17 Feb. 1795: 3; Plummer, Jonathan Jr., Sketch of the History of the Life and Adventures of Jonathan Plummer, Jun, Newburyport, MA: Blunt & March, 1795; Political Gazette 13 Aug. 1795: 63; Salem Gazette 11 Aug. 1795: 3; United States Census Office, Population Schedules of the Eighth Census of the United States, Washington: National Archives, National Archives and Records Service, General Services Administration, 196-, Series M637, Roll 4, p. 19-20.

Zachary Hutchins

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