Slavery in Massachusetts by Henry D. Thoreau The Liberator and the Commonwealth were the only papers in Boston, as far as I know, which made themselves heard in condemnation of the cowardice and meanness of the authorities of that city, as exhibited in '51. 8. In 1763, Caldwell died and his widow married Nathaniel Jennison. See Emily Blanck, Seventeen Eighty-Three: The Turning Point in the Law of Slavery and Freedom in Massachusetts, 65 The New England Quarterly 24, 27-28 (2002) (listing all documented freedom suits). His name is Caleb Sharp, born 1729 died 1799. In 1754, Governor William Shirley had ordered that an enumeration of all slaves, both male and female, over the age of sixteen be completed by each town. In 1850, the Fugitive Slave Act was signed under President Fillmore, which required the return of escaped slaves residing in free states to their masters. In 1641 Massachusetts Bay Colony was the first of Britain's mainland colonies to make slavery legal. Mass.gov® is a registered service mark of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Since New England’s climate was not suitable for large-scale farming, most slaves in Massachusetts were laborers for merchants and tradesman or domestic servants for wealthy families, although some did work as farm hands. A few years later, in December of 1638, a slave ship named Desire brought Boston’s first shipment of slaves from Barbados, whom had been exchanged for enslaved Pequot Indians from New England. I have heard repeatedly that it is really difficult to trace Native American Negroes. Theodore Sedgwick had an illustrious legal career, and served an Associate Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court from 1802 - 1813. Conceived and ratified by a unique and democratic process, the Constitution "justified and indeed compelled" judges to act so as to enforce its provisions over laws and customs that otherwise conflicted with it. I am passionate about finding out. Your feedback will not receive a response. There is not one slave in Nebraska; there are perhaps a million slaves in Massachusetts. Slavery, often recast as indentured servitude (see online display of bill of indenture for Dick Morey), was not unheard of in Massachusetts through the end of the eighteenth century. Six years before ratification of the United States Constitution in 1789, and 20 years beforeÂ Marbury v. MadisonÂ firmly established the principle of judicial review on a national level in 1803, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recognized the supremacy of the Massachusetts Constitution. Slaves too were active in seeking the end of slavery in Massachusetts. Sources The jury found "that the said Quork is a Freeman and not the proper Negro slave of [Jennison]," and awarded Walker damages of 50 pounds. Meanwhile, a 1783 court case ended slavery in Massachusetts. The summary of court proceedings presented here relies primarily on court papers and John Cushing's article on the Quock Walker cases. “Slavery was a very contentious issue in Massachusetts and he felt it was it causing political problems—it was a divisive force and he wanted … Because Massachusetts slaves were considered both as property and as persons before the law, slaves could institute and prosecute lawsuits in the courts against their master (the defendant) who would be obliged to demonstrate their lawful title to ownership of their slave. 13. ", According to later stories often told about Mum Bett, her freedom suit was prompted by her overhearing dinner table conversations in the Ashley home about the new promises of liberty made in the Sheffield Declaration (1773), the Declaration of Independence (1776), and the Massachusetts Constitution (1780). Massachusetts. A dynamic table of contents enables to jump directly to the chapter selected. Â In doing so, the Court held that laws and customs that sanctioned slavery were incompatible with the new state constitution. The jury determined that Brom and Bett were not Ashley's property. . . Proceedings of the Supreme Judicial Court were not transcribed at this time. Like “The free men of New England have only to refrain from purchasing and reading these sheets, have only to withhold their cents, to kill a score of them at once.” The case was not widely reported, and changing economic conditions and public opinion increasingly hostile to slavery doubtless played an important role in slavery's demise. Lothrop, Lee and Shephard Books, 1999 According to the book Bound for America: The Forced Migration of Africans to the New World, the first slaves imported directly from Africa to Massachusetts arrived in 1634. This is done through the passage of the Body of Liberties. “New England’s Hidden History.” Boston.com,Â Boston Globe Media Partners, LLC, 26 Sept. 2010, www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2010/09/26/new_englands_hidden_history/?page=4 Many famous buildings and structures in New England were built with money from Massachusetts’ slave trade, such as Faneuil Hall in Boston, which was constructed by wealthy slave trader and merchant Peter Faneuil, whose family regularly sold slaves in public auctions on nearby Merchants Row. She could neither read nor write, yet in her own sphere she had no superior or equal." This set … Sedgwick's daughter, Catharine, wrote a biographical essay about Mum Bett. Bjorklund, Ruth and Stephanie Fitzgerald. Mum Bett worked for many years as a beloved domestic servant in the household of Theodore Sedgwick. As noted, many historians and legal scholars have studied the Quock Walker cases. 16. From 1672-1696 the British Parliament granted the Royal African Company a monopoly in the slave trade. Meltzer, Milton. 21. As a northern state, Massachusetts had its fair share of abolitionists who were uncomfortable with the state’s role in the slave trade. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is commencing research on how technical institutions fit into this past. The first certain reference to African slavery was in connection with the bloody Pequot War in 1637. Visit this site's About page to find out more about Rebecca. The practice of slavery in Massachusetts was ended gradually, through case law. Quock Walker, a slave, was purchased as an infant by James Caldwell in 1754. The 1781 Berkshire county case of Brom and Bett v. Ashley, often referred to as the Mum Bett or Elizabeth Freeman case , was unique because it occurred less than one year after the adoption of the Massachusetts Constitution and because, in contrast to prior freedom suits, there was no claim that John Ashley, the slave owner, had violated a specific law. The constitution proposed in 1778 would have recognized slavery as a legal institution, and excluded free African Americans from voting. According to the Massachusetts Historical Society website, it wasn’t long before Massachusetts became engaged in what was called the Triangle Trade: âIn 1644 Boston merchants began importing slaves directly from Africa, selling them in the West Indies, and bringing home sugar to make rum, initiating the so-called triangular trade. Thoreau states that there are no slaves in Nebraska but there are nearly a million in their own state, Massachusetts. Manegold, C.S., “New England’s Scarlet ‘S’ for Slavery.” Boston.com, Boston Globe Media Partners, LLC,,18Â Jan. 2012 Justice Cushing remained on that Court until 1810, and participated in deciding the case ofÂ Marbury v. Madison. Not a single newspaper article from the time made note of the end of a century and a half of bondage. in journalism. "Slavery in Massachusetts" is one of Henry David Thoreau's most important essays. Jennison was indicted in September 1781, though the case did not come before the Supreme Judicial Court until April 1783. 5. I have a 5th Gr. However, during the years 1781 to 1783, in three related cases known today as "the Quock Walker case," the Supreme Judicial Court applied the principle of judicial review to abolish slavery. Latour, Francie. Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 2011 They put off the day of settlement indefinitely, and … Jennison recaptured, beat, and re-enslaved Quock Walker. Original court records are in the custody of the Supreme Judicial Court, Division of Archives and Records Preservation. Mum Bett identified herself as Elizabeth Freeman in her will. However, after the Quock Walker case, it was clear that a local (i.e. Jennison was ruled in default on his appeal for failing to present the required papers. And it was a 1783 judicial decision, interpreting the wording of the 1780 constitution, that brought slavery to an end in Massachusetts. Bett was the first slave to successfully sue for her freedom. Still, the New England colonies began to show differences in their approaches to slavery, even as slavery became more common in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island in the 18 th century. As most slave owners did not have enough slaves to justify building separate living quarters for them, their slaves often lived with them in their homes. tags: politics-of-periodicals. An essay based on a speech Thoreau gave at an anti-slavery rally at on July 4, 1854, after the reenslavement in Boston, Massachusetts of fugitive slave Anthony Burns. Instead, the high court finally ruled, and then there were debates over semantics until, farm by farm, owner by owner, the practice sputtered, and then failed. This page, Massachusetts Constitution and the Abolition of Slavery, is, in the scale of 1, Strongly Disagree, to 5, Strongly Agree, Professional Training & Career Development, http://www.masshist.org/longroad/01slavery/bett.htm, http://www.pbs.org/wnet/slavery/experience/legal/spotlight.html, http://www.thetrustees.org/places-to-visit/berkshires/ashley-house.html, John Adams & the Massachusetts Constitution, John Adams, Architect of American Government. This case was tried before a jury in the Worcester County Court of Common Pleas. The first mention of a black person in the colony dates from 1633. . President George Washington appointed Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice William Cushing to be one of the first justices on the United States Supreme Court in 1790. Winthrop, a slave owner, helped write the first law legalizing slavery in North America. Slavery in Massachusetts is an 1854 essay by Henry David Thoreau based on a speech he gave at an anti-slavery rally at Framingham, Massachusetts, on July 4, 1854, after the re-enslavement in Boston, Massachusetts of fugitive slave Anthony Burns Anthony Burns was a runaway slave who stowed away on a ship from Richmond to Boston. However, these cases were not decided on the basis of any "natural right" to freedom; instead, the courts required a specific point of law to decide in favor of a slave, such as a master's broken promise to grant freedom, or the questionable slave status of the individual's mother. As discussed in the section of this website entitled John Adams and the Massachusetts Constitution, the Constitution of 1780 was preceded by a constitution drafted by the legislature and rejected by the voters in 1778. The year 1641 saw the passing of the Massachusetts Body of Liberties. Writ ofÂ ReplevinÂ ordering Ashley to release Brett and Brom. [since Massachusetts last deliberately sent back an innocent man, Anthony Burns, to slavery. ("Slavery in Massachusetts") Basic set up: In this essay, Henry David Thoreau lays out why he's against the Fugitive Slave Act that had been passed in 1850. In 1696 the British Parliament revoked the monopoly held by the Royal African Company, enabling Massachusetts merchants and shipmasters to engage freely in the slave trade.â. 10. emboldened enslaved persons of color to demand manumission or wage compensation from their owners - [or] simply to walk away from them." In 1641, Governor John Winthrop, a slave owner himself, helped write the first law legalizing slavery in North America, the Massachusetts Bodies of Liberty, which the General Court passed on December 10, 1641. TABLE OF CONTENTS-01- ABOUT THIS BOOK-02- SLAVERY IN MASSACHUSETTS As an institution, it died out in the late 18th century through judicial actions litigated on behalf of slaves seeking manumission. ― Henry David Thoreau, Slavery in Massachusetts. In the first case, Walker, with the assistance of leading Worcester County attorneys Levi Lincoln and Caleb Strong, sued Jennison for assault and battery; Walker claimed he had been injured without right, as James Caldwell, his first master, had promised Walker freedom by age 25. However, Chief Justice Cushing recorded his charge in his notebooks, and the entire charge is reprinted in Cushing, supra note 3, at 132-133. 1641 Massachusetts becomes the first colony to legalize slavery. The Sheffield Declaration requested its local representative to the General Court in Boston to consider the Declaration and to use "every constitutional means in his power that the grievances complained of may be redressed. Bound for America: Forced Migration of Africans to the New World. Under section 91 it states: There shall never be any bond slavery, villeinage, or captivity amongst us unless it be lawful captives taken in just wars, and such strangers as willingly sell themselves or are sold to us. Id. the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties."Â. in-state) slave owner would not prevail in the state courts. Sedgwick "Pie" in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Massachusetts Bay Colony was the first slave-holding colony in New England. In 1781, at the age of 28, Walker fled to the home of Caldwell's sons. As a result of lawsuits brought by African Americans, in 1783 Massachusetts courts declared that "the idea of slavery is inconsistent with our own conduct and [the Commonwealth's] Constitution." Any suggestions as to how I may further my research would be much appreciated. Massachusetts Bay Colony was the first slave-holding colony in New England, though the exact beginning of black slavery cannot be dated exactly. View all posts by Rebecca Beatrice Brooks, British & American Strategies in the Revolutionary War, Abigail Williams: The Mysterious Afflicted Girl. ", Historian Joanne Pope Melish observed that "the onset of the Revolution both intensified the attack and weakened the structures and practices that supported the institution [of slavery in New England]. The constitution proposed in 1778 would have recogn… In 1780, when the Massachusetts Constitution went into effect, slavery was legal in the Commonwealth. Massachusetts was the first state in the new nation to abolish the institution of slavery. Hardesty is an associate professor of history at Western Washington University, and the author of "Black Lives, Native Lands, White Worlds: A History of Slavery in … Haskins, James and Kathleen Benson. Their measures are half measures and makeshifts merely. Meanwhile, in what became the third Quock Walker case, the Attorney General prosecuted Jennison for criminal assault and battery upon Quock Walker. In the words of then-Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice William Cushing: "[S]lavery is in my judgment as effectively abolished as it can be by the granting of rights and privileges [in the constitution] wholly incompatible and repugnant to its existence." Other reports suggest that her suit was prompted when Bett's mistress, Mrs. Hannah Ashley, attempted to strike Bett's sister with a hot shovel, but struck and burned Bett when she intervened. . The exact date slaves first entered Massachusetts is unknown but many sources suggest Samuel Maverick was the first slaveholder in the colony after he arrived in early Boston in 1624 with two slaves. See note 3 supra. 7. It is generally agreed that African slaves first arrived in Massachusetts in the 1630's, and slavery was legally sanctioned in 1641. The full text of Chief Justice Cushing's remarks is printed in John Cushing, The Cushing Court and the Abolition of Slavery in Massachusetts: More Notes on the "Quock Walker Case," 5 The American Journal of Legal History 118 (1961). Thoreau also expresses his contempt for the Governor and states that he does not governor him by any means. Universities and colleges in the Americas and Europe are examining their historical ties to the Atlantic slave trade and slavery. . As discussed in the section of this website entitled The Massachusetts Judicial System, the Supreme Judicial Court was both a trial court and an appellate court during its early history. In this time of national introspection about prejudice against people of color, perhaps this is a time to revisit the history of slavery in colonial New England, and its aftermath. . The jury convicted Jennison, and the court ordered him to pay a fine of 40 shillings. www.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2010/01/18/new_englands_scarlet_s_for_slavery/ One such opponent at the time was James Otis who wrote an influential pamphlet in 1764 stating “The colonists are by the law of nature freeborn, as indeed all men are, white or black.”. Slavery existed in Massachusetts from the earliest Colonial days. We will use this information to improve the site. Yankee slavers avoided the monopoly by smuggling slaves in through small coastal harbors. However, she remained known as Mum Bett throughout her life. William Barton Rogers, our founding president, spent his formative years and much of his professional life surrounded by slaves. There is extensive literature on the existence and abolition of slavery in Massachusetts. Â This section introduces the legal status of slavery in Massachusetts prior to 1780, the Mum Bett case of 1781, and the Quock Walker case. See Elaine MacEachern, Emancipation of Slavery in Massachusetts: A Reexamination 1770 - 1790, 55 The Journal of Negro History 289 (1970); Zilversmit, supra note 1, at 103 - 105. Massachusetts was the first slave-holding colony in New England, though the exact beginning of black slavery in what became Massachusetts cannot be dated exactly. This case was a direct challenge to the very existence of slavery in Massachusetts. And it is therefore unnecessary to consider whether the promises of freedom to Quaco, on the part of his master and mistress, amounted to a manumission or not. Upon her death in 1829, Mum Bett was buried in the Sedgwick family plot in Stockbridge. As the rhetoric supporting independence of the colonists from Great Britain intensified in the colony of Massachusetts, some noted the glaring inconsistency of arguing for the rights of Englishmen while owning slaves. As discussed in the section of this website entitled John Adams and the Massachusetts Constitution, the Constitution of 1780 was preceded by a constitution drafted by the legislature and rejected by the voters in 1778. Thoreau believes that the issue in Massachusetts is more a relevant and important topic to discuss at the moment. Slavery in Massachusetts by Henry David Thoreau "Slavery in Massachusetts is an 1854 essay by Henry David Thoreau based on a speech he gave at an anti-slavery rally at Framingham, Massachusetts, on July 4, 1854, after the re-enslavement in Boston, Massachusetts of … The law allowed for the capture of slaves found in the north, who would then be returned to their masters in the south. Following England's lead, Lawyer Benjamin Kent represented slaves in … Â. I thought I was the only person of color in my family. According to an article in the Boston Globe, as a result, slavery was slowly phased out in the state: âThe end was neither swift nor definitive. The court are therefore fully of the opinion that perpetual servitude can no longer be tolerated in our government, and that liberty can only be forfeited by some criminal conduct or relinquished by personal consent or contract. 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