William Condo

William Condo (c. 1754-between 1810 and 1820) – Born enslaved, William Condo inherited the legal status of his mother.1 His surname may have derived from Kondo, a city in Congo and a name common to Benin and other countries in West Africa at the time. More likely, it came from the French name, Condeau. Many colonial “French neutrals” lived in Massachusetts after dispossession of their homes during the “Expulsion of Acadians” in Canada, between 1755 and 1764. The family of a contemporary Miꞌkmaq chief, François Condeau lived within this region of Acadia.2 Described as a “Mulatto,” William Condo’s father probably had white or American Indian ancestry.3 A contemporary account described Condo as standing 5-foot, 4-inches tall; with black hair; and a black complexion.4

Originally from Pelham, Massachusetts, William Condo became the legal property of Joseph McCracken in New Perth (present-day Salem), New York. While colonies within the Chesapeake and Lowland South each had a “slave society,” the northern colonies each had a “society with slaves.” Despite enduring slavery, northerners like Condo had greater opportunities for manumission or negotiation of service. McCracken promised he would free Condo in 1787—at about thirty-three-years old.

On March 2, 1777, McCracken enlisted Condo in the company he commanded within Colonel Goose Van Schaick’s 1st New York Regiment.5 During this first year, Condo served as McCracken’s personal servant or “waiter.” He would cook, polish steel, clean leather, and split firewood, among other responsibilities. But Condo also carried a musket, served in the ranks, and would fight beside any other soldier in the regiment.

In the summer of 1777, Condo got sick at Fort Edward, New York. He probably contracted smallpox—then raging through the army. A military muster on October 9 shows him still recovering from illness at the regimental hospital. But by November 14, Condo had healed enough to return to the ranks.

In March 1778, the 1st New York Regiment transferred to the main army under General George Washington.6 Private William Condo endured the disease conditions and hardship of the Valley Forge encampment. He also trained in the new system of military discipline introduced by Major General Steuben.

During the Battle of Monmouth Courthouse, a cannonball passed close to Captain McCracken, so that the concussive force of the surrounding air threw him down. He supported himself with one arm, when a cannon fired grapeshot in his direction, and shattered most of his arm. According to one oral history account, “when it was shot off, his negro servant Condo, carried him off from the field into some bushes.”7 Directly following the battle, Condo was listed as “Waiter to the Capt.” at Springfield, New Jersey.

In April 1780, Captain McCracken retired from the army with the rank of Major. He made a request to General George Washington, asking that the army discharge Condo at the same time. McCracken described him as “a Mulatto Man named William Condo, who belonged to him and who had then upwards of seven years to serve, and prayed that he might be permitted to have him again.” Washington conveyed through his secretary: “if the Facts with respect to the Man and the Major’s sufferings by the incursions of the enemy, are as he has represented them,” then he approved Condo’s discharge.8 This effectively returned Condo to the condition of slavery under McCracken.

Even though Condo had risked his own life to save McCracken, the slaveowner still held him in bondage, and no definitive evidence indicates that McCracken ever kept his promise to free Condo. Perhaps McCracken manumitted him in the end. In 1781, Condo traveled to Pelham, Massachusetts—the place of his childhood. In April, he re-enlisted in the Continental Army at the age of 27. He joined as a Private in Captain John Fuller’s Company, of Colonel William Shepard’s 4th Massachusetts Regiment. Condo served until the war’s end, including service at West Point. On December 26, 1783, he received his final discharge.9 However, an elderly woman recalled of him decades later: Condo “was prob. a slave. He continued in the family till his death.”10 His name does not appear on any census records independent of the McCracken family. For Joseph McCracken’s household, the census figures indicate the following: one slave in 1790, two slaves in 1800, one slave in 1810, and none listed by 1820.11 It would seem that William Condo died between 1810 and 1820 (in his mid-fifties to mid-sixties), his gravesite unrecorded.

1. Biography on William Condo authored by historian and park volunteer Justin B. Clement, based upon his original research.

2. Entry for “Francis Condo/François Condeau” in Francess G. Halpenny, ed. Dictionary of Canadian Biography, VII, 1836 to 1850 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988), 204.

3. Secretary Robert Hanson Harrison to Col. Goose Van Schaick, Head Quarters, Morristown, N.J., Apr. 11, 1780, transcription in footnote to: “General Orders, 11 April 1780,” Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-25-02-0249 [from: William M. Ferraro, ed., The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Ser., XXV, 10 March–12 May 1780 (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2017), 377–79.

4. Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War: A Compilation from the Archives, Prepared and Published by the Secretary of the Commonwealth, In Accordance with Chapter 100, Resolves of 1891, III (Boston: Wright & Potter Printing Co., 1897), 885.

5. Captain Joseph McCracken communicated, that he “was induced in January 1777 to inlist” Condo into the regiment. See: Harrison to Col. Van Schaick, Head Quarters, Morristown, N.J., Apr. 11, 1780. However, Condo’s service record gives the enlistment date of March 2, 1777. See Documentation relating to: Service record of Pvt. William Condo, Compiled Service Records of Soldiers Who Served in the American Army During the Revolutionary War, (NARA M881) [Electronic Record], Roll 651, No. 570910, U.S. National Archives, Washington D.C., https://www.fold3.com/image/19112666.

6. T. W. Egly, Jr., History of the First New York Regiment, 1775-1783 (Hampton, N.H.: Peter E. Randall, 1981), 58, 62, 74-75.

7. Oral history recorded by Asa Fitch, in Kenneth A. Perry, comp., The Fitch Gazetteer: An Annotated Index to Dr. Asa Fitch’s Manuscript History of Washington County, New York, Vol. IV (Bowie, Md.: Heritage Books, 1999), 327.

8. “From Robert Hanson Harrison to Colonel Goose van Schaik, 11 April 1780,” quoted in George Washington, The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799: 1780 [cont.] Volume 18 of The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799, United States George Washington Bicentennial Commission, ed. John Clement Fitzpatrick (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1780), 247-48.

9. Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War, III, 885.

10. Testimony of Widow Azubah Mathews in: Asa Fitch, “Notes for a history of Washington County, N.Y., “Vol. 4, no. 2100, New York Public Library, Manuscripts Division.

11. 1790, 1800, and 1810 United States Federal Censuses [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2010, from: Records of the Bureau of the Census, National Archives, Washington, D.C.

Last updated: December 30, 2020

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