Sarah Baro Bolcher. An African Princess in Topsfield.

African, Princess, slave, slavery, opsfield Essex County, Massachusetts, USA
Sarah Baro Bolcher.


Buried in the family lot of Mr. Albert Austin Conant, in Pine Grove Cemetery, lies the body of an African princess. It was a strange mis-adventure that brought this girl from far away Africa to Topsfield where she lived for a number of years in the home of Major Nathaniel Conant, in the house now owned by Philip Palmer at the corner of Main and Haverhill streets. It happened that Mrs. Conant’s brother, Captain Austin Dodge, of Beverly, Mass., was owner of the bark Magdala, and made voyages to Africa. In 1844, while on one of these voyages, he was travelling inland near Sierra Leone, and came across a tribal war being fought there. In order to escape its cruelties many of the women and children were fleeing toward the coast, when some, from fatigue, dropped behind and became separated from the others.

A slave dealer, Don de Mer, just then came driving his slaves under the lash and, with a short raw-hide whip, forced some of these laggards to come along with his slaves. He was a passenger on Captain Dodge’s return trip and brought on board with him three of the last acquired negroes. The sailors made clothing for them, as they were quite nude, but one of these, a child about eight years of age had a certain string of beads about her waist which was thought to mark her as an African princess.

Don de Mer died on the passage and two of the africans were sent to a southern port, while the princess, who gave her name as Sarah Baro Colcher, was given to Captain Dodge who brought her home to his sister, Mrs. Elizabeth Dodge Conant, in Topsfield, who brought her up and gave her an excellent education. She proved trustworthy and grateful and developed into a fine woman. When she became of age she went into domestic service and was for many years cook in the home of Mrs. Gordon Dexter of Boston and Beverly Farms.

While she was living there she was taken ill and Mrs. Kilham of Beverly, the niece of Captain Kilham, had her brought to her home and cared for until she recovered. It was for a time the care of Miss Henrietta Kilham, now of Beverly and then a child, to read aloud to her every afternoon, and she remembers being told that in spite of all the intervening years she (Sarah) was never able to forget the lash. She was a very black negress but fine looking. She was born in the interior of Africa, some distance from the west coast at Sierra Leone, about 1836 and died in Boston at the home of a colored friend in 1882. Her body now lies in the family lot in Pine Grove Cemetery, Topsfield.

Historical Collections of the Topsfield Historical Society. The Topsfield Historical Society. 1923. Topsfield Essex County, Massachusetts, USA.