This Old Pew: The Humphries Family
John and Elizabeth Humphries were a free Black couple who first appear in the Old North records in March 1748 with the baptism of their daughter, Deborah. Over the next four years, they would baptize seven more children at Old North: Robert, Richard, James, Catherine, Elizabeth, Thomas, and Ruth. Five children were baptized on the same day which tells us they were not all infants.
There were probably many reasons that motivated the Humphries to join Old North congregation, one being to become a part of a community. In October 1765, Elizabeth Humphries married Robert Hunter, an enslaved man. This may be the daughter Elizabeth or the mother remarrying, but it shows that being a church member offered a way to meet people and make connections.
Life was not easy for the Humphries family. They fell in and out of financial struggles and appear periodically on lists of people receiving alms from the church. John Humphries died shortly after the baptism of their last child, making it even more difficult for Elizabeth Humphries to support her family. Three of her children were indentured to a church member, Alexander Chamberlain. Perhaps this was seen as an act of charity and a means to keep the children together. But Elizabeth Humphries was given no choice in the matter, and the youngest of the three children, Ruth, who was only 6 years old at the time, would serve an indenture of 12 years.
After this, the Humphries family largely disappear from the historical records. But this brief snapshot into the lives of this family helps to shed light on what the experience of other Black congregants may have been.