In the past, we have explored the lives of the extended family of a group of colonial era slaves from the George Rome estate (now known as Rome Point). For instance, we examined the life and tragic death of Cato Roome. This piece will focus on the story of Cato’s brother in slavery, Pero.
After obtaining freedom along with the rest of his clan toward the end of the 18th century, Pero apparently went wherever he could find work, drifting between North Kingstown and East Greenwich, according to census records. It appears that along the way Pero must have married, as he is recorded to have had a son, John, a deaf mute who eventually worked as a domestic in the Abby Updyke Hotel in East Greenwich; and a daughter, Elizabeth, who married a cook from Philadelphia named John Williams in 1851, during the second decade of the 1800s. It is not completely clear from the twice-burned records gathering dust in our town hall what Pero’s wife’s name was, but it appears to have been Sarah. At that time, they, along with most of the African-Americans residing in Wickford, lived in a small group of homes off of Fowler Street near Bush Hill Pond.
It was here that Pero’s existence was first chronicled by Mrs. F. Burge Griswold in her memoirs, entitled “Old Wickford – The Venice of America,” written toward the end of her life and published in 1900. She described him as “short, square, grizzly-haired, and thoroughly African in features” and noted that he worked for her grandfather, “Old Doc” Shaw, as a stable hand and general groundskeeper. She describes his wife as a large dowager-looking woman chronically ill from the effects of a tapeworm infestation and also mentions with fascination their deaf son. It is apparent by the general tone of this section of her book that African-Americans at that time were still thought of as inferior to the average Wickfordite of the 1830s.
Somewhere along the way between the 1830s and the late 1850s, Pero’s wife Sarah passed away and left him alone. Elizabeth, his daughter – who had a number of children with Henry Fairweather, a member of another local slave clan, but never married until she joined up with John Williams – also moved on, as did Pero’s son John. Pero had outlived all the other original Roome slaves and was now residing in a squatter’s shack along the edge of the Ten Rod Road on land owned by Robert Rodman. No one, including Rodman, seemed to mind though. The area, a piece of land described as “less than desirable,” eventually became known as “The Vale of Pero” and it was here that the old “grizzly-haired” gentleman lived his last days. His life was again chronicled, this time by Lafayette historian George Gardiner, who described him as that “old Negro slave who was a relic of the Colonial days.” As with most of the members of the Roome family, his death was not recorded and his final resting place is unknown. What is known, however, is that two of Pero’s grandsons grew up to fight in the ultimate war against slavery, the Civil War, and perhaps in some way avenged the injustices that Old Pero suffered. And the little undesirable plot of land along the Ten Rod Road, now largely filled in for an entrance road to an industrial facility, will always be known to some of us as the “Vale of Pero”.