Posted tagged ‘William B. Gould’

A Navy “Contraband”

May 20, 2023

On Sunday, May 28, a statue will be unveiled in East Dedham to honor the memory and service of William B. Gould. The ceremony will take place at Gould Park on Milton St., just down the street from where Gould, along with his wife Cornelia, raised his family. Red Sox announcer Joe Castiglione will emcee the event and the keynote speaker will be Princeton University’s Professor Tera Hunter. For more information on the ceremony, you can visit the Gould Park website: The following is an excerpt from my book Dedham: Historic and Heroic Tales from Shiretown which summarizes Gould’s extraordinary story.

An obituary appearing in the Boston Globe on May 24, 1923 describes the accomplishments of 86-year old William Gould of Dedham, including command of the local GAR post, and his service on the Union ships Cambridge, Ohio and Niagara. The notice states that Mr. Gould enlisted in the navy in 1863, which while is a true fact, does not tell the complete story.  What is not stated is that Mr. Gould was born enslaved in North Carolina and escaped to the Navy in a daring move with seven other slaves.

On the night of September 21, 1862, twenty-four-year-old Gould and his seven companions set their plan into action. After darkness had descended, the men boarded a small boat in Wilmington, North Carolina and began rowing south on the Cape Fear River, heading for the open sea.  If they could manage to maneuver their boat downriver twenty-eight miles, slip past the Confederate held Fort Caswell and get picked up by a Union ship, they would have their freedom.  Such escapees were considered “contraband” of war, property seized by the Union forces.

Gould and his mates reached the Atlantic Ocean in the morning hours of September 22, and hoisted their sail.  They were soon spotted by crew members of the U.S.S. Cambridge and taken aboard. A few days later they took an oath of service and were made crew members.

William Gould was an extraordinary man.  He was educated and literate as evidenced by the diary he began shortly after his escape and continued through most of his naval service.  Amidst the many passages describing the routine life of a sailor, Gould expressed his passionate insights against the southern way of life and the institution of slavery.  Gould served until the end of the war and eventually made his way to Dedham in 1871, where he and his wife Cornelia raised a large family on Milton Street.

Gould was a master plasterer, and in the 1880s was awarded a contract to do the interiors of St. Mary’s Church on High St. He was a respected and honored citizen of the town, serving as the commander of the Grand Army of the Republic post and writing for various publications. Gould was also a founding member of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Oakdale Square. In the late 1950s, his grandson William Gould III discovered a diary kept by the original Gould.  This diary was annotated and published by Gould’s great-grandson William Gould IV.  It is an important document of American and African American history, being one of only a few diaries written by black sailors.