Kate Hilliard

Kate Hilliard

Birth & Death Dates Unknown — Appears in a 1816 Record

Colonel David Hilliard (Hillard) wrote his will in 1810, but Kate waited until his death in 1816 for her freedom.

I furthermore give my Black Woman Kate Her Freedom immediately after my descease but in case she should at any time afterward become chargeable to my Estate I order my Grandson William Hilliard to provide for her all things comfortable in sickness & in health she being obiedient unto him and labouring for him as far as she may be able.

Will of Colonel David Hillard [1]

During Kate’s lifetime she passed through three different owners in the Hilliard family. She married Prince Brownell on March 7, 1784 and had two children with him who lived with her in the Hilliard’s house while her husband lived with the Grinnells. David Hilliard was a tavern keeper and also ran one of Little Compton’s poor houses after the Revolution.  Kate’s labor was a vital part of his business operations. David’s will provides Kate with a promise of support in her old age with a particular choice of words “to provide for her all things comfortable in sickness & in health” indicating a genuine wish for her comfort in old age. David continues to offer hints about the relationship between himself and Kate. When he instructs Kate to be “obiedient unto” his grandson William, perhaps David is recalling his own years with Kate, a woman who may have been strong willed. His final words, “and laboring for him as far as she may be able” recognize Kate’s humanity and frailty in her final years. Kate Hilliard was the last person enslaved in Little Compton.[2] She gained her freedom on the day her master’s will was probated, August 5, 1816.

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] Colonel David Hillard, Will, Little Compton Town Council and Probate Book 5,  44-48.

[2] For a full listing of records see The Index of Enslaved and Indentured People. Some examples follow:

Captain David Hilliard, Will, Little Compton Town Council and Probate Book 1, 248 (2) See back of book. Book 2 p. 245.

Susannah Hilliard, Inventory, Little Compton Town Council and Probate Book 2, 395.

Poor House, Little Compton Town Council and Probate Book 3, 104,113,116.

Colonel David Hillard, Will, Little Compton Town Council and Probate Book 5, 44-48.

Marriage Record, Little Compton Vital Records Vol. 2, 12.


[1] Deborah Pearce, Will, Little Compton Town Council and Probate Book 2, 345-6.

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