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.
Last updated: December 30, 2020