Ann Dier

Ann Dier

Birth & Death Dates Unknown — Appears in a 1702 Record

“Called Ann Dier” from Thomas Butt’s 1702 will.

Thomas Butt’s will, written in 1702, leaves his granddaughter the two Native servants listed in his inventory. In his will he describes “an Indian man called by the name of Pope” and “My maid servant called by the name of Ann Dier.” Here Thomas, or the person who wrote his will, identified one Indian servant with just one name and another with two. What is important is that in both cases he used the phrase “called by the name of.” This is not the same as “my man named Pope” or “my man Pope.” “Called by the name of” is a specific phrase that appears frequently in the early records. It serves to separate the person from his name as though he or she has not really been bestowed with the name but is simply called by it. In the same will Thomas refers to his “granddaughter Sarah Butt.” Sarah, a free, white woman has the privilege of being referred to by both a first and a last name and is truly named not just “called.”[1] Henry Head’s 1708 will uses the same terminology. “The Negro man called Jeffrey to be my loving wives and also the Negro woman called Rose.” In contrast, Head’s own daughter is “my aforesaid daughter Elizabeth Head.”[2]

The case of Ann Dier is especially interesting. Ann appears first in her grandfather Lawrence Springer’s 1701/02 will as “My daughter Mary’s eldest daughter called Ann Dier.” Lawrence is a free, white man. He does not refer to his other heirs in the same way. Their names are written simply as “my daughter Joannah,” or “my daughter Mary.” Why is Ann different? Ann does not appear in the town genealogy as the daughter or wife of any of the Diers (Dyers). Her mother’s married name is Weaver, a name with ties to the local Native community.

Ann is treated differently because even though she had a white grandfather, she was considered by the community to be a Native woman. Thomas Butt’s probate inventory refers to her as such. Ann could be the illegitimate daughter of Mary Springer and an Indian man, or perhaps Ann’s mother Mary was half Indian as the child of Lawrence Springer and an unknown Indian woman. In any case, Ann was bound out in service and, at her master’s death, was given a value of £4 (the same amount as the Indian man Pope). Thomas’ granddaughter inherited the English-Indian woman Ann Dier, or at least a few years of her labor.

Ann’s cousin Jeremiah, who also appears to be illegitimate, was bound out, too, but as a young white man, he is named in both his grandfather’s and master’s wills not just “called.”[3] His master, William Briggs wrote, “I also will that my servant lad Jeremy Springer live with my wife till he be twenty-one years of age & when his time is out he shall have two new suits of apparel from top to toe.”[4] Ann’s race, not her servitude nor her illegitimacy, is the key factor in determining the way people refer to her.

It is possible that Ann did have another name, a Native name, given to her by her Native relatives at birth, but as Ann lived and worked in the English world she was called “Ann Dier” instead. Ann Dier is one of only two people of color in Little Compton’s early records officially recognized by her white relatives as kin. Both Ann Dier and a “mulatto” woman named Mehitable Dye were acknowledged by their white grandfathers and received small inheritances in their wills.[5]

Marjory Gomez O’Toole, Executive Director, LCHS

First published in “If Jane Should Want to Be Sold: Stories of Enslavement, Indenture and Freedom in Little Compton, Rhode Island,” by the Little Compton Historical Society, 2016.

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[1] Thomas Butt, Will, Taunton Probate Book 2, 71.

[2] Henry Head, Will, Taunton Probate Book 3, 286.

[3] He has the same last name as both his mother and his maternal grandfather.

[4] William Briggs, Will, Taunton Probate Book 3, 278.

[5] Two Wills of William Dye, Bristol County Probate Records, Book 7, p. 20-21 and 345.

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