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Robert Voorhis, b. 1769 or 70 and Henry Trumbull, 1781-1843
Life and Adventures of Robert, the Hermit of Massachusetts: Who Has Lived 14 Years in a Cave, Secluded from Human Society: Comprising, an Account of his Birth, Parentage, Sufferings, and Providential Escape from Unjust and Cruel Bondage in Early Life, and His Reasons for Becoming a Recluse
Providence: Printed for H. Trumbull, 1829.


Robert Voorhis was born in Princeton, New Jersey in 1769 or 1770 to a slave mother and prominent white father. When he was approximately four years old, he was separated from his mother and sister and given as part of a dowry to his master's daughter, who took him to Georgetown in the District of Columbia. As a young man, he proposed to Alley Pennington, who agreed to marry him only if he became a free man. . To satisfy this condition, Voorhis worked out an arrangement with a trusted white friend who agreed to purchase him and allow him to work off his debt. Three years later, Voorhis had paid off much of the debt, and he and his wife had two children. The friend then betrayed Voorhis by selling him to a slave trader, who then sold Voorhis at auction in Charleston, South Carolina. Before leaving with his new owner, Voorhis snuck onto a boat bound for Philadelphia in an unsuccessful attempt to escape. He was then sold to a plantation owner and worked for him for several months. Voorhis's next attempt to escape succeeded. After sneaking on a boat destined for Massachusetts, he arrived safely in New England, where he was hired to work on a ship destined for India. For nearly twenty years, Voorhis worked on similar journeys to India and Europe. He remarried in the meantime. Several years after separating from his second wife, he discovered that his first wife and both of their children had died. Upon hearing this news, he decided to become a recluse.

Henry Trumbull interviewed Robert Voorhis about his past and published Life and Adventures of Robert, the Hermit of Massachusetts (1829) for the purpose of satisfying widespread curiosity about him. At the time, Voorhis, who had been living in Massachusetts near the Rhode Island border for many years, was well known to local residents. However, they did not know his history. Trumbull describes Voorhis's personality, dwelling, and typical activities in detail before and after the narrative, which he claims is essentially in Voorhis's own words. Trumbull hoped this account of Voorhis's life would provide funds to help him live in a more comfortable dwelling.

Monique Prince

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