By Carla Charter
While walking by the Old Burial Ground in Cambridge, Jon Hill, a 19-year-old Lesley College student and historian noticed a plaque commemorating two African American Revolutionary War Soldiers, Cato Stedman and Neptune Frost, who were buried in the cemetery.
Hill became curious as to exactly where these two soldiers were buried and began doing research to locate their gravesites. ”I decided to do some research to figure out where they were actually buried.” Hill has found information on their burial which dates from the 1800’s and early 1900’s. “They are secondary sources and not from the time period, we need to find original sources.”
This much is known. Cato Stedman fought at the Battle of Bunker Hill and won his freedom from his owner, Ebenezer Stedman a local businessman, after that battle. Stedman served a total of six years in the militia. At some point he changed his name from Stedman to Freeman. After the war he went back and forth from Cambridge to Providence and Cranston Rhode Island.
“There is a record of him being warned out of Providence and being sent to Cambridge,” according to Charles Sullivan of the Cambridge Historical Commission Warning out was a colonial system where if an outsider was in a city, indigent and at risk of having to be supported by that city, the person would be warned out and sent back to their home city. Cambridge selectmen sent a letter to Providence R.I. saying they would support the cost of Freeman’s care in Rhode Island.
“At some point in the 1790’s he was sent back to Cambridge with his wife and child. Freeman died in 1799 and was listed as a negro stranger meaning Cambridge did not consider him a Cambridge resident. We found a public record in Providence at the state archives saying he was sent back. We are trying to locate the corresponding record in Cambridge.” Sullivan continued.
Neptune Frost was considered to be free from his owner, Gideon Frost, a blacksmith and farmer, by the time slavery ended in Massachusetts in 1783. Neptune Frost also served in the militia.
“The idea was suggested that they were buried next to their former owners and that might be an appropriate place to put the headstones,” Sullivan said. “Folklore says Freeman is buried next to his master. But he hadn’t been a slave for 25 years and he was endorsed as a stranger in the town. It’s possible but not likely. We are trying to figure that out. Where to put the new marker is the question.”
Hill said his quest for information on the gravesites also led him to do research with Cambridge Veteran Services Department. Neil MacInnes-Barker Director of Veteran Services said “John came in and presented me with the information he had. The timing was really great. I have been trying to bring more recognition to marginalized and minority veterans of all the wars. Jon came in it aligned well with what I wanted to do.”
In August 2016, Barker continued, Cambridge welcomed home the remains of POW Korean War Corporal Ronald Sparks killed in North Korea. “We should work equally hard to identify and honor Cato Freeman and Neptune Frost, especially where they served in a war that founded this country.”
Hill Sullivan and MacInnes-Barker are looking to speak with anyone, including descendants of Stedman and Frost, who may have information on where these two veterans are buried. Anyone with information can e-mail Jon Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org, Charles Sullivan at email@example.com, and Neil McInnes -Barker at firstname.lastname@example.org,