Over the past 100 years the staff at Fraunces Tavern® Museum have conducted a great deal of research on Samuel Fraunces. Thanks to their efforts much is known about Fraunces post 1755, but what of Sam’s early life?
Past curators have tried to uncover the facts about young Samuel Fraunces without much success. Early tradition (mid19th century-1980s) speculates that Fraunces emigrated from the French West Indies. A concerted search in the 1980s of genealogical sources and ship’s passenger lists failed to uncover anything. Research in the 1970s conducted in the West Indies of the surname Fraunces/Francis provided no primary sources either.
Without known facts derived from primary sources about Samuel Fraunces origins there has been speculation about his ethnicity. Between 1765 and 1786 nine known sources refer to Fraunces by the nickname “Black Sam.” These colloquial references to the color black in association with Samuel Fraunces are the only known ones. The usage of “black” as a prefix to a nickname was known in the 18th century, but did not necessarily denote ethnic origins. From the available writings of Fraunces he never refers to himself as Black Sam or of African descent.
Samuel Fraunces was a participant in the institution of slavery. In the August 9, 1789 New-York Gazzette Fraunces advertised for the sale of “a Negro Boy, about 14 […] used to household work.” In the 1790 census notes Fraunces as owning “1 slave.”
The Museum’s staff and Board are committed to the success of the Museum’s mission and presenting the most accurate account of history as possible. The search for primary source documents about the early life of Samuel Fraunces will carry on. Until more is discovered the Museum will continue to celebrate Fraunces as a successful tavern keeper, ceaseless entrepreneur and risk-taking patriot.
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