Slavery Above the Mason-Dixon Line

Slavery and its Legacy.
The Five Colleges Learning in Retirement (5CLIR) 2005 Memorial Series
Session #2 – 
February 26, Hampshire College


Three Learning in Retirement members:
Chuck Gillies,
Frank Heston,
Bob Romer
share their learning in retirement and other research.

The North:  Massachusetts and the Pioneer Valley

(Ellipses . . .  indicate omissions )

HANKE: I’m Jonathan Hanke. I’m President of Five College Learning in Retirement and on behalf of 5CLIR, I welcome you all to this our second in a series of six symposia on Slavery and its Legacy, …

 A few words about 5CLIR, although I see a lot of friendly faces here in the audience. It’s a self-sustaining group of about two hundred and fifty persons with a median age in the seventies who have been conducting classes for the last sixteen, years under the auspices of Five Colleges, Inc., with support from each of the five colleges.

Members in earlier LIR seminars about slavery conceived the idea of a series of public meetings about slavery in cooperation with the Five Colleges and others in the local communities. This was due in part to our gradually realizing that much of the history that they had learned about slavery in our country was either false, distorted or plain wrong. Furthermore, that slavery was not just a southern issue and that slavery’s legacies persist to this day. And that’s why we come to today’s topic, “Slavery, Above the Mason-Dixon Line. The North, Massachusetts and the Pioneer Valley.”

Now, our three speakers today are all members of 5CLIR. Chuck Gilles taught in independent schools in Europe, Africa and the US. He is a lawyer and a former President of 5CLIR. Bob Romer taught physics for many years at Amherst College. He received his Ph.D. in physics at Princeton, and if you push him really hard, he’ll tell you about the half hour that he had with Mr. Einstein, while he was at Princeton. Frank Heston is a relatively new member of LIR who taught history locally at Frontier Regional High School. He has received several grants to study African American history in Massachusetts and is now engaged in a grant study of the first attempt to integrate schools in Boston, involving Sarah Roberts, a nine year old girl in the 1850s.

I’ll now turn the meeting over to Dean Flavio Risech of Hampshire College, and let me just give you a little bit of background about him. Flavio is an Associate Professor of Law and Ethnic Studies and Associate Dean for Multicultural Education at Hampshire College. Formerly an attorney serving undocumented migrants and refugees in the Boston area, he currently teaches courses in Latino politics, transnational migration and human rights law. Dean Flavio Risech-Ozeguera.

RISECH: Thank you, Jonathan. I’d like to welcome everybody this morning on behalf of Hampshire College and on behalf of our President, Gregory Prince.

 Hampshire-as some of you may know – has a kind of reputation for not having requirements. We don’t have grades. We don’t have required courses. Students design their own concentrations of studies. There are no required majors, but that doesn’t mean that Hampshire doesn’t require anything and one of the things that isn’t very widely known outside of the college is that Hampshire does in fact have a requirement that students engage in the study of multicultural perspectives in the course of what we call the Division Two Concentration, which is roughly equivalent to a major in other colleges. So students are required in every field, not just in social sciences or in the arts, to engage in some kind of study of multicultural perspectives, which could be questions about the developing world. More frequently they involve questions about race in the United States. So students have to present evidence at the conclusion of their two years of Division Two Studies, that they have substantially engaged some of these questions, and they have to convince their faculty committee that the way that they’ve engaged these questions is relevant to their Division Two concentration.

 Now, I think that for students here at Hampshire the opportunity to participate in the activities of this particular series is a really important one. … As I said, I don’t have any particular substantive knowledge about slavery in this area. Of course, the legacy of slavery is something that I do teach about and it’s obviously relevant to the local area, as well as for the nation. But I first came across-a number of years ago I began teaching a course on race and how race is treated in the law, the legal history of race, and of course the classic case to begin with is often Plessey v. Ferguson from 1896. This is the famous ‘separate but equal’ case, and that case involved railroad cars in the state of Louisiana and racial segregation being mandated by the legislature of Louisiana. As I read through the case, I found a case that’s referred to in Plessey that I hadn’t known much about, and that’s the Roberts case. Roberts against the City of Boston.

It’s an interesting case. It talks about racial segregation. It upholds racial segregation in public education in the city of Boston, right? This is what really kind of made me realize that all too often we talk about slavery as if it’s somebody else’s problem. It’s down in the South that this terrible stuff happened. I also teach about human rights and I find a similar attitude often among students, that human rights is something that happens in the Third World, or human rights is something that happens elsewhere and that human rights is not something that we need to think about how it operates or how human rights might be violated in our own area.

So the Roberts case has helped me to think about ways in which to engage students in thinking about slavery and its legacy, not as a problem of some other era or of some other region, but as something that we need to be concerned about right here in our own local area. So I’m very excited to be part of this symposium today and I’m looking forward to the talks that are going to be presented, and I’ll turn it over now to our speakers.

Chuck Gillies, Five College Learning in Retirement: Slavery in Massachusetts

GILLES:  Thank you Jono and thank you all for being here and thanks to the weather and all of that. Our purpose today I think has pretty well been outlined by Flavio and by Jono, so I will not repeat it. My task today is to focus on one aspect of this non-Southern slavery. We’re calling this generally, “History above the Mason-Dixon Line.” There are going to be three of us talking. Each has been assigned twenty minutes to talk and then ten minutes for questions for us individually and if we keep to that schedule, and I think we probably will because Bob Romer has his stopwatch running already, we’ll have that fifteen minutes or so at the end of the time for general discussion and general comments.

As you’ve already heard, our contention is that slavery was not just a Southern problem, that the North was involved – and not always in the kinds of positive ways that we usually hear about during Black History Month. Our role in the North was not always pure, noble or in many ways even neutral. You’re going to hear about slavery in Massachusetts. I’ll tell you now, if you didn’t know it, that some people say that Jim Crow was actually invented in the North, and my focus today is we were part of a slave holding Republic – all of us – northern states as well as southern.

This program has been organized by 5C LIR, as you’ve heard. Let me just give a little personal story, how I got involved in this issue. I trace it back probably fifty years or so when I was in the peace time army and stationed in northern Virginia, not too far from Richmond. Many of my friends were unreconstructed Confederates and I was a little appalled at some of the history that they had learned, and I guess it made me think a little bit about the history that I had learned and I began to discover that, well, maybe the history I had learned wasn’t all that different-and I grew up in Wisconsin. Then I retired, moved to the Valley, joined an LIR seminar on Survey of American History and I found here in the Valley – the liberal progressive people that we all are – even many of those people had not learned their history much different from my Confederate friends fifty years before.

I guess this set me to thinking that all of us of our generation learned our history before the Civil Rights Revolution, and what a profound effect that Civil Rights Revolution has had on the writing and the teaching of history and we have to hope that the younger generation is maybe being exposed to some different ideas. So anyhow, I began my study in LIR as kind of a lapsed lawyer. I began it with the Dred Scott decision, coming a little earlier than Plessey v. Ferguson. I’ll just point out now some of the-here’s the actual language from a terribly lengthy, exhaustive opinion by Roger Brook Taney.

The crucial language is, they – that is the Blacks or the Negroes or the enslaved – “had no rights which the White man was bound to respect and that the Negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his [the White man’s] benefit.” That’s the actual language of the Chief Justice of the United States in 1857, really towards the end of the period that we’re going to be talking about here, and was the law of the land for a brief time. I thought that maybe was a good little capsule summary of what we’re talking about. Another seminar that I did not too long after focused on the impeachment of Andrew Johnson and I learned that people who distort or misuse history aren’t always on the conservative side of the spectrum.
Slide #1
Dred Scott                                Roger Taney

“… They [Blacks] had … been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race … and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit.”    – Roger Brook Taney, Chief Justice, U.S. Supreme Court, Scott v. Sandford, 1857

There was a little impeachment problem going on in 1999, and if you opened up the paper and read back about the impeachment of Andrew Johnson, all you heard were the terrible things that those radical Republicans in the Congress were doing to poor President Andrew Johnson. Well, the fact of the matter is it was those radical Republicans who probably had the right idea of what had happened in history up to that point, and in some ways the right solution and if they had emerged from the whole process of Reconstruction victorious, some of the legacies of slavery would be significantly different.

So that’s my LIR introduction. As we were planning this series, we got interested in images that we might use in our brochure or in our newsletter. So we were looking for what images might be appropriate to use and I came across this, which you will probably recognize as two different views of the Boston Massacre, and your high school history will remind you that was in 1770. It has in it a suggestion of the persistent racism that I think is a problem that we’re sort of focusing on in this series,
although we’ve called it slavery. If you listened to President Marx last week, in many ways this may be more of the problem of the legacy than the slavery issue itself.

Slide #2

                                           Boston Massacre — Print by Paul Revere

Both of these were done very close to the time of the Boston Massacre. The one on the left was done by Paul Revere and was used as a propaganda piece by the more radical Colonists to stimulate interest in what became eventually the Revolution. You’ll look in vain, however, in that left picture, which otherwise is considered accurate, for a Black person. One of the people who was the first, if not the first, person killed in the Boston Massacre was Crispus Attucks, a Black man. Why didn’t they want to use that for a propaganda piece? Well, it would send the wrong message, I guess, to the rest of the colonies.

You should know, if you don’t already, that at the time of the Boston Massacre, in every northern state in the union slavery was legal, and that remained true into the Revolutionary War. In fact, it was Pennsylvania that was the first state in the Union in 1780 to move to abolish slavery by what was called gradual emancipation, and in fact, on the good side of the ledger, they were the first elective legislature in the world that took any kind of action against slavery. New Jersey was the last state in the Union to take such a step. That was in 1804, but in fact there were still slaves in New Jersey into the Civil War. The census of 1860 shows some slaves still in New Jersey, probably freed by the 13th Amendment at the end of the Civil War.

But this is not the end of northern involvement. My topic today is entitled, “The Slave Holding Republic,” and much of my information was taken from the book, “The Slave Holding Republic,” by a California historian and lawyer, Don Fehrenbacher, who does an amazing job of summarizing the variety of ways and aspects that the federal government – not the state governments – were involved in this matter of slavery, which meant it did not come to an end for us northerners, when the various state legislatures abolished slavery at some point.

Slide #3

The Slaveholding Republic:
An Account of the United States Government’s Relations to Slavery

by Don E. Fehrenbacher, Oxford University Press, 2001

Slavery and the Founding of the Republic
Slavery in the National Capital
Slavery in American Foreign Relations
The African Slave Trade, 1789 to 1862
The Fugitive Slave Problem
Slavery in the Federal Territories

This is just from his chapter headings, the different aspects of the slave issue that the federal government was involved in. Obviously, at the founding of the Republic, I think you all know that the Constitution had to have several issues be compromised over the slavery issue. Many other issues in the founding of the Republic were compromised and there are some historians now who say there would have been no Revolution, if the North hadn’t been willing to compromise on the issue of slavery.

Did you know that slavery existed in the nation’s capitol into the Civil War? Even though it was well agreed that Congress did have the authority to deal with it, they never could get around to doing it until the Lincoln administration. In fact, there were slave markets very close to the White House up until shortly before the Civil War.

Foreign relations: the federal government in the Constitution is assigned the job of foreign relations, and so the federal government became in many ways the defender of slavery, as we put our face outside of the United States. Interestingly, too, northerners who are generally seen as anti-slavery figures got themselves implicated on the pro-slavery side. John Quincy Adams, (remember the Amistad affair?) He was one of the heroes, and Daniel Webster. Both of these people had been Ambassador to England and Secretary of State, and Adams, of course, was President, and they became involved in our foreign relations on the pro slavery side.

Now, today I’m going to focus on the slave trade. Let’s see, before I do that, I just want to take a minute to look at what are considered three of our founding documents and how they treated slavery (slide #4). We are familiar with the language in the Declaration of Independence, which clearly does not acknowledge slavery in any way. In fact, the language would seem to imply the contrary, and Jefferson did write a clause in an early draft of the Declaration that was specifically anti slavery, but Congress made him take it out. The Declaration is pretty free of slavery language. On the other hand, just a few years later, the Paris Peace Treaty with the British quite specifically referred to slavery with this language, “Any Negroes or other property of the American inhabitants.”


Slide #4

Three founding documents of the Slaveholding Republic

1. 1776 – The Declaration of Independence:   

2. 1783 – The Paris Peace Treaty:

3. 1789 – The U.S. Constitution:
                           “…THREE FIFTHS OF ALL OTHER PERSONS”

The British supposedly agreed not to carry away any slaves. In fact, they carried away some four thousand or more from New York, some from other places and there was a long argument about that. We never expected to get them back, but we did make great efforts to get compensation for those slaves, and that’s where John Quincy Adams got dragged into the issue.

You probably all know that there are references to slavery in the Constitution, but never using the specific words, but some kind of euphemism. So in the three-fifths clause, it’s “other persons,” but anybody reading it knows what they’re talking about. In the slave trade clause, which I’m going to talk about a little more, it’s “other persons,” again. Then there’s the fugitive slave provision in the Constitution, “persons held to service or labor in one state,” that meant to everyone, the enslaved.

Slide #5

So I want to focus on the slave trade. For those of you who might think that my talk gets too technical, too much data, I just offer this image for you to think about a little bit. We read in the paper quite recently that one of our modern financial institutions discovered that they had some roots in the insurance of slaves. This image shows the fact that the insurance companies would not pay for slaves that had arrived dead across the Atlantic. They would pay for slaves lost at sea, so you can imagine what they might have done with the enslaved that were sick or proved to be too obstreperous.

I want to look at the actual language in the Constitution about the slave trade, and the reason for this is that my sense is there’s great misunderstanding about this issue, sometimes actually in the history books. It’s interesting, of course, that the misunderstanding tends to get slanted. to the more positive, prettier side. It’s not too surprising to read or to hear from someone as, “Oh, we abolished the slave trade in 1808.” That would be a reference to this provision in the Constitution, which was one of the compromises that was done at the Constitutional Convention over slavery. It was that the states would be allowed to import additional slaves after 1789, but Congress could forbid that after 1808. In fact, when 1808 came around, Congress did pass various laws, and as we’ll see in just a minute, in part they were somewhat effective, but you have to concentrate on the word ‘importation,’ which I’ll explain in a moment.
Slide #6

From the Constitution… (The “Slave Trade” provision) Article 1, Section 9, Paragraph 1

The migration or importation of such persons as any of the states now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the year 1808, but a tax or duty may be imposed on such importations, not exceeding 10 dollars for each person.

Slide #7a 

 Fogel and Engerman, Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery

Here are the facts: the first graph – which reads “Imports of slaves per decade into the US.” There’s a lot of historical argument about the numbers, but this at least shows the general idea of what was going on, beginning here in 1630, though it’s generally known there were some Blacks that came to Virginia, probably slaves but maybe indentured servants, in 1619 before the Pilgrims came here. The imports rose to a peak of maybe as much as a hundred and fifty thousand in the decade of eighteen hundred to eighteen ten, and then dropped to virtually nothing. So at first glance, it looks like, gee, we really did stop it.

Slide 7b


Fogel and Engerman, Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery

A little diversion: The second graph shows that by 1860 the Black population in the United States was virtually one hundred percent native born, and if you heard Dr. Marx’s speech last week, there’s a quite a different story in Brazil, where slaves would die off so quickly and they would be replaced so easily. So if you looked at a similar graph of Brazilian slavery, it would be much more level and actually extended another number of years that way and a hundred years or more forward. So the Brazilian graph would be quite different.

Now, why do I say that this is misunderstood? Well, here’s the first reason. 1808 came along, we did indeed pass laws abolishing the importation of slaves. That generally came to a stop. Relatively few slaves came into the United States after 1808. However, the laws that were passed in 1808 and in fact some even before 1808 and a little bit later, did nothing about the interstate slave trade, trade from Virginia to New Orleans. This is often referred to as the second middle passage and, in fact, apparently more slaves were transferred within the United States than actually were brought in from Africa in the period before 1808. So the laws that were passed about the slave trade in 1808 or before or after, did absolutely nothing and in fact were intended to do absolutely nothing about the internal slave trade.

Now here’s a map (slide #8) that shows the slave population in 1790 and then the size and the location of the slave population in 1860 and shows the big transfer from the Chesapeake region to further south and into the southwest. Virtually all of this came from growth of the American slave population and not from importation. Now, why do I-why am I offering this in a talk that’s supposed to be about the north? Well, traders who were buying slaves in Baltimore or Richmond for whatever, a hundred dollars, selling them in New Orleans for a thousand dollars, may just as well have been Northerners. In fact, it’s quite likely that maybe they were. People that built the ships that carried some of these slaves from Chesapeake to the south were Northerners.
Slide #8
The whole economy boomed with the invention of the cotton gin, which is the thing that lead to the need for slaves in the South, and that enriched the whole country, and especially the North, as the Industrial Revolution was beginning. And the physical, legal and diplomatic protection of the federal government always existed for this slave trade.

But this not all. So we have one way that this notion that the slave trade was abolished in 1808 was false. Here’s a second way. The second reason why 1808 can’t be held up in the continuing involvement of the US in the Atlantic trade is it didn’t stop and American involvement did not stop. This is a terribly complicated and detailed story covering a fifty year period from 1808 to 1860 or more. It is laid out in detail by Fehrenbacher – but just a few items:

(1) there was widespread political agreement after the Constitutional convention that the slave trade should stop. In fact this was the only slavery issue in Nineteenth century America that didn’t crash into a major sectional split;

(2) some laws had been passed before 1808 attempting to limit American involvement in the trade;

(3) all the laws passed in 1794, 1808, 1820 and U.S. enforcement actions were ineffective in halting the trans-Atlantic slave trade which clearly peaked after 1808 (probably in the 1850’s) and never halted American involvement (New York City by 1850 had more slave trade voyages organized, financed and outfitted than anywhere else in the world, until the Civil War began).

Now, you heard Marx say the other day that Rio was the big slave capital of the world, but New York City was in any ways the capital of the slave trade. How could this be, given the Constitutional provision we saw and what we often read? Well, the words were good. They said the right thing and in fact North and South tended to agree that the slave trade was a bad thing and it’s the one issue in American legal history over slavery that there was some kind of political consensus, but the agreement was over let’s write a law that abolishes it. An agreement did not exist for ‘how do you enforce that?’ or ‘how do you take the next step to make sure that it happens in some way?’

Now, why? Well, the intentions, the ability and the determination to enforce those laws were very much limited. How were they limited or why were they limited? Well, there really were two reasons. First, the political situation in the US. They could get agreement to pass the laws; they couldn’t get the agreement to do anything about it, and second, our involvement with the British Empire. You’ll recall that the War of 1812 was fought over freedom of the seas, and we didn’t like the fact that the British would board our ships, and that was one of the big issues. All right, but Britain had the only navy substantial enough to enforce the anti-slave trade actions, but in peace time, which we generally had after 1815 for a period, it was an act of war to board another ship, a ship flying a flag of another country, and we were very strong about that. The British eventually got every other power in the world, the French, the Spanish, the Portuguese, the Dutch, whoever might be involved in some way in the slave trade, to sign on to agreements. Sometimes they coerced them. Sometimes they negotiated them, but every other power in the world agreed to allow the British navy to board their ships, search them. If they found slaves, to confiscate the ship and that was the end.

The US would never agree. Not until Lincoln was elected. I think there was an agreement in 1862. We would never agree, so naturally what happens is the US flag became the primary or one of the primary protectors of the slave trade and many, many Americans continued to be involved in that trade. So Jefferson’s Empire of Liberty became in many ways the defender of the slave process against the empire that we had supposedly fought for our freedom.

Now, that pretty much wraps up what I wanted to say, but . I’m going to leave one final image. For those of you think that history is bunk or that there are no connections from past to present-now, I don’t exactly what-[laughter] I don’t know exactly what the significance of this is, but there it is.  Thanks for your attention.

Slide #9


Questions to and Answers from Chuck Gillies (CG):

Q1 You used the term “slave trade” in the abolition of the importation of slaves. The implication is that the trade was with the Caribbean, Brazil with non domestic markets…

CG: The trade very much was from Africa primarily to Brazil in the early part of this period. Then when the British got a little bit tougher with the Portuguese and the Brazilians and the Brazilian traffic started to decline the shift was more to Cuba and slavery into Cuba was the last big place that the trade was going on prior to whenever they abolished it.  The thing we were successful at was preventing the importing of the enslaved into the U.S, but what we were not successful at was preventing the transfer of them in the U.S. What is generally considered as the slave trade is the traffic from Africa to Brazil to the Caribbean.

Q2 Would you comment on what happened in Africa that made that process possible?

CG: That’s not my area of expertise, but I know there were some Africans involved with the trade. It was Europeans initially, the British weren’t the first, the Portuguese and the Dutch and eventually the English got involved in a very heavy way. They were often dealing with African leaders (or whatever the right word is). It started as warfare between groups in Africa and the victorious side would capture a bunch of people and it was considered legitimate not just in Africa, but in many ways it was considered legitimate for people that were captured in war to then be enslaved. This is not just an African thing.

Q3 Were there in fact U.S. laws which forbad U.S. ships to be involved in importation from Africa to Brazil or Cuba?

CG: There were. Absolutely there were. There were both federal laws and there were state laws. Many of the state laws preceded the federal laws. There were definitely laws that said if you were American citizens you could not do that [be involved in ships engaged in the slave trade]. And at one point it became a big issue over if they could declare it piracy and then the death penalty would go with it. One person was executed for piracy in the slave trade and I think that was in 1862.

Q4 We had ships cruising off the coast of Africa. What were they doing – who were they stopping?

CG: Well, occasionally they would stop people. There were some cases where they would stop a slaver of some kind and confiscate it. I don’t have the figures, but the Fehrenbacher book is excellent on this topic. We did occasionally send ships to the coast of Africa, but never very many and never enough. And the big reason why it continued is that we were very dependent on the British for enforcing it and they had the power but not the legal right.

Q5 …slavery still continues…?

CG: No that’s not at the moment my topic, so I won’t comment. It does still exist in certain places.

Q6 Do you have any thought about why the bottom configuration [on Slide #9]?

CG: Well its politics. Somehow the tension between the conservative side of the spectrum and the liberal side and that somehow the conservative side 150 years ago got pretty solid in the South and that still exists to a certain extent.

Q7 Just want to point out that the Connecticut Valley right up here through the 1830’s was very involved in supplying the West Indies and was part of the very same thing you are talking about.

Q8 When the British carried off these 4000 slaves after the Treaty of Paris what did they do with them – did they free them or keep them as slaves?

CG: I think a lot of them ended up in Sierra Leone. We’ve learned of course how Liberia was set up as a place to export former slaves. The British had done something similar to that in Sierra Leone before the Liberia business and I think that’s where most of them probably ended up. By the way they never got compensation. There was never any hope they would get the slaves back, but there was a hope that they would get compensation. If I’m not confused they never did get compensation for slaves taken away in the Revolution, however the same thing happened in the war of 1812 and in that case I believe they were successful in getting some compensation.

Q9 Despite Justice Taney was there really a denial of the slaves having the right to life?

CG: He said they had no rights that the White man was bound to respect. Now I think even in the worst of the slave societies there were laws that said you could not kill your slaves. However it is another case of enforcement and the words of the laws not necessarily coinciding. And Taney of course was speaking for the Supreme Court at that time. To Northern judicial opinion at that time that was very offensive. Of course, this was one of the straws that broke the back that led to the Civil War because the North got up in arms about the Dred Scott decision which basically said that Blacks could not be citizens of the United States.


Frank Heston, Five College Learning in Retirement: Slavery in Massachusetts

HESTON: Dean Risech brought up the Sarah Roberts case. She was a nine year old little Back girl in Boston who wanted to go to the neighborhood school rather than going to the all Black schools which were in Boston at that time. Her father brought suit and they were represented by Charles Sumner, later Senator from Massachusetts. Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw handed down the decision that the courts of Massachusetts could not rule on racial prejudice-on racial preferences. Therefore, schools that were “separate but equal” would be allowed in Boston.

But I hasten to say that three years later, in 1855, ninety-nine years before Brown versus Board of Education, the legislature of Massachusetts overturned the court and required all communities in Massachusetts to have integrated schools. Again, this was ninety-nine years before Brown versus the Board of Education and six years before the Civil War. That legislature, incidentally, was the Know-Nothing legislature of Massachusetts, which was very bitterly prejudiced against immigrants; but they were very solidly on the side of Blacks and even defied the government of the United States and made it illegal to uphold the Compromise of 1850 Fugitive Slave Law.

I’d also like to bring out that Massachusetts was the first state to pass a Civil Rights Law. In 1865 Massachusetts passed a law that there would be no racial segregation in public places. This again is ninety-nine years before the national Civil Rights Law of 1964. There’s a big debate over which state was the first to abolish slavery. It’s between Vermont, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. I would contend that Massachusetts was, in fact, the first. The Pennsylvania debate involved my ancestor as a matter of fact, Colonel Edward Heston, who was very much in favor of eliminating slavery, but it’s emancipation was not for slaves of all ages.

Going to my prepared text, I don’t have these wonderful pictures. I’m sorry about that. I do have handouts in the back or up on the table on the outside, some of the writings of Samuel Sewell and David Walker and Frederick Douglas and Phyllis Wheatley and the Bible pronouncements on slavery and some of the population statistics, and so forth.

I have mixed feelings when I hear people say they are surprised and shocked to learn that Massachusetts had slaves. On the one hand it shows a failure of our histories and our schools. On the other hand it points out that our state played a leadership role in the fight against slavery – that to learn that we ourselves had slaves seems unthinkable.

Today I would like to summarize the history of slavery in Massachusetts, the laws concerning the institution, and the effect slavery had on the people both Black and White of our commonwealth. Black slavery did exist in Massachusetts from 1638 in Puritan times until 1783, the last year of the American Revolution, a period of almost a hundred and fifty years. Bob is going to argue or argues that it lasted unofficially even later than 1783. Massachusetts’ ships did participate in bringing Africans to America and the West Indies, at least until the practice was banned by the state in 1788. For a time, we were behind only England and Rhode Island in the slave trade. There were slave markets in Boston and other communities, including Hadley.

So what was slavery like in Massachusetts? First of all, it was never a major part of our population or economy, I do have to say that. By 1676 there were approximately two hundred slaves in Massachusetts, mostly from Guinea on the West Coast and Madagascar to the east. The greatest increase came between 1754 and 1765, by which time 5,779 slaves were counted in Massachusetts. In 1776, the year of the Declaration of Independence, the census category shifted from slaves to Negroes, which included both free and slave, and they numbered 5,249, about one and a half percent of our population, which included 344,000 Whites. The first national census in 1790 counted 6,001 Negroes and Indians in Massachusetts, and we’ve always been proud that we were the only state that listed zero slaves in that census.

When pilgrims and puritans first arrived, they brought a large number of servants. These were Whites who were indentured to serve a number of years, usually four to ten years. Some voluntarily signed up as servants. Some were forced into temporary slavery for minor crimes or debts or even rebellions, Scotsmen in particular. A few became permanently bound to service. They were slaves in the sense that they had to do what they were told, they could not leave service or run away, and they did not receive wages. The same could be said of the large number of children who served as apprentices, a story in itself.

Incidentally, as far as White servants are concerned – this has nothing to do with anything I guess – but in Virginia in the very early years, only one in six of the White indentured servants lived to the end of their service, an appalling catastrophe.

I should also say that the majority of early court cases and other social problems in Massachusetts involved indentured servants.

Now, the problem begins in 1637. The united New England colonies went to war with the Pequot Indian Nation. The Pequot survivors were mainly turned over to our Indian allies, but a hundred and eighty of them were sold into slavery in the West Indies to compensate our militias. These Indians are considered by some to be the first full slaves in Massachusetts history, and more Indian slaves would be sent off during King Philip’s War in 1676, including King Philip’s wife and son.

In 1638 a Massachusetts built a ship, the Desire-terrible name-that brought the first Black slaves to our state. The shortage of labor here and in the rest of the country played a key role in the development of slavery. Black slaves were considered better because they could not easily run away and the institution had been successful in other areas. Slavery in Massachusetts was better than slavery elsewhere in the thirteen colonies and certainly better than the horrors of the West Indies. Massachusetts did not deny that Africans were human beings. Owners were encouraged to Christianize and educate them. There were no great plantations here. Work tended to be easier. Relations between slaves and owning families were in many cases closer, and slaves were trained in the trades. Slaves had legal rights here that were enjoyed nowhere else – killing a slave at times carried the death penalty for the owner. Slaves could not be beaten injuriously (now, take that however you can take that). Slaves had the right to sue, testify and obtain counsel in our courts.

But the slave auction and the slave trade still existed. Families were broken up in Massachusetts. Unlike the South, there was little use for children of slaves who were sometimes simply given away. In 1705 Massachusetts became the first state-we can certainly be proud of this!-the first state to ban marriage between Whites and Blacks or Indians, a law which was not repealed until 1843. Let there be no question that use the word ‘servant’ as one will, Black slavery in Massachusetts definitely was slavery.

So how could the 17th century Puritans with their strong religious ideas or the revolutionaries of the 18th century with their enlightenment ideals, permit the existence of slavery? I’ve wrestled with this a lot and some of the answers I’m going to be giving this morning are a little facile, but it really is a deep question. The Puritans came from a society and believed in a Bible which permitted arrangements that we would consider slavery. Surprisingly, the Bible does not condemn slavery. Rules were set forth in the Old Testament on how slaves should be treated and those rules were obeyed in the early 1600s under the Massachusetts Body of Liberties. The New Testament actually admonishes slaves to serve their masters faithfully (I have the relevant Bible passages in the hand outs). It was also thought that slavery was a small price to pay for bringing pagans to the blessings of Christianity – what was thirty years of slave labor in exchange for an eternity in heaven?

I’d like to bring up here a man that I find fascinating. I have some of his writings in the handouts. Samuel Sewell was a judge in the infamous Salem Witch Trials of 1692, but in 1700 he wrote the first American anti-slavery tract, “The Selling of Joseph”. In that anti-slavery tract he brought up the obvious point of Christ’s teachings – that you do unto others as you would have them do unto you; and he said about bringing Blacks to America as slaves to Christianize them, that certainly a wrong of that sort does not create a right. He was a fascinating character.

The generation which would lead an American revolution against Britain in the 1700s could not, in fact, reconcile their beliefs in the rights of man and their grievances with Britain with the institution of slavery. Starting in the 1760s, slavery began to die in Massachusetts. The Massachusetts legislature, however, refused to grant a blanket emancipation. There were a series of memorials sent to the legislature by Black communities, particularly in Boston, and by the Quakers and others, but the Massachusetts legislature refused to grant emancipation on the grounds that it might split the northern and southern colonies in the middle of a war. In 1768 the first of a number of legal suits for freedom was entered by Black slaves. These suits culminated in the Quok Walker Case, which was finally settled in 1783. Chief Justice Cushing declared that under the three year old Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which included the declaration that “all men are created free and equal”, slavery could no longer exist here.

The Quork Walker case officially ended slavery in the sense that any suit for freedom would be successful thereafter. The case, however, was not well publicized and the legislature failed to act in support of the courts. Still, Massachusetts did become the first state to fully ban slavery. Later President John Adams put a decidedly different stamp on the ending of slavery in Massachusetts, however, that I would like to bring forward. He contended that more important than idealism, was the economic issue. He stated, and I quote, “But the real cause was the multiplication of laboring White people, who would no longer suffer the rich to employ these sable rivals. The common people would not suffer the labor by which they could obtain a subsistence to be done by slaves.” This interplay of idealism and economics would continue in the fight against slavery thereafter.

Now, the theme of this series is Slavery and its Legacy. What was the legacy of slavery in Massachusetts? Most importantly perhaps is that slavery fueled racial prejudice, and this prejudice made it very difficult for freed Blacks to advance. They faced hostility from White workers and from later immigrant groups who closed the best occupations to Blacks. Census figures indicate that most Blacks became laborers, barbers, or servants. Very many entered the one occupation that welcomed Blacks and Indians – the maritime and whaling industry; but pay was low and voyages often took years. Former slaves, particularly older ones, had lived in a dependent relationship all their lives and had trouble adjusting to individual independence. Many fell into poverty, some into crime. Towns battled each other over who would be held responsible for welfare for former slaves. One of the first cases was Shelbourne versus Greenfield as a matter of fact. Some people, in fact, wanted to keep slavery because they feared what would happen after the slaves were freed.

The legislature drafted laws to keep Blacks out of Massachusetts. In 1788, for instance, they passed a law that Blacks who were nonresidents of Massachusetts and not citizens of the United States-slaves-had two months to leave. In a vicious circle, racial discrimination was reinforced by the crime and poverty that it was creating, and Black families too often fell apart. Men especially became discouraged and without hope. The 1851 Earl Report and the writings of William Apis point out the collapse of Indian families in Massachusetts. About half of Indian men in our state went to sea for years at a time. Women were sometimes even reduced to prostitution to survive. Some of the same problems can be seen among Blacks. I do not wish to over emphasize the extent of this problem, but for African Americans the critical importance of family in instilling values and education was often lost.

I would like to give a quote. This comes from George Moore’s History of Slavery written in 1866. It’s filled with indignation but also with a wealth of information. He put down what a Massachusetts observer in 1846 wrote about the freed slaves. “A prejudice has”-and this is in Massachusetts, “existed in the community and still exists against them on account of their color and on account of their being descendants of slaves. They cannot obtain employment on equal terms with the Whites and wherever they go, a sneer is passed upon them, as if this sport of inhumanity were an act of merit. They have been and are mostly servants or doomed to accept such menial employment as the Whites decline. They have been and are scattered over the commonwealth, one or more in over two-thirds of all the towns. They continue poor with small means and opportunities for enjoying the social comforts and advantages which are so much at the command of the Whites. Thus, though their legal rights are the same as those of the Whites, their condition is one of degradation and dependence and renders existence less valuable and impairs the duration of life itself.”

I do have a deep respect for our state and its history. It was painful going through what happened to Black people in Massachusetts, but I would like to end on a more upbeat note. I would like to talk-I would have loved to have talked about our leadership, particularly our Black leadership of the anti-slavery movement in the 1800s. Massachusetts made it possible for six states in the Northwest Ordinances to ban slavery and to build public schools. William Lloyd Garrison was actually mobbed in Boston for his abolitionist sentiments, but that was in the 1830s. In the 1840s and 1850s, Massachusetts was on fire against slavery and conditions improved dramatically. There are so many people to point out. There’s Frederick Douglas, William Lloyd Garrison, Lydia Maria Child, Sojourner Truth, old John Quincy Adams, John Brown, Horace Mann, who left public education to fight against slavery, David Walker, and so many others.

I’d like to talk about those Black communities that did prosper, like those in Springfield and Worcester and my hometown of Florence. Perhaps I should close, as a former teacher by saying that following the Civil War, and during the Civil War from 1862 on, twenty thousand teachers rushed to the south to bring the gift of education to former slaves. Over half of those were from Massachusetts, and they faced some very difficult – very difficult times: the Ku Klux Klan; nobody would rent to them; nobody would sell to them. They had to teach outdoors sometimes.

So there is a mixed story here, some things to be very proud of; some things not at all to be proud of. Again, remember the handouts, the one on David Walker in particular, who again our histories don’t seem to address. He wrote the first great Anti Slavery tract by a former slave. He was originally from North Carolina and some of his words are very moving and should be used in the classroom.

Questions to and Answers from Frank Heston:

Q1 You mentioned that there was a law that provided the death penalty for anyone who killed a slave. Was anyone ever executed under that law?

FH: No, Massachusetts had a habit of passing death penalty laws which were never carried out. Mass had a death penalty law for Catholic priests, for instance, being in the state in the Puritan times. The death penalty was enforced during the 1600’s for homosexuality – was never carried out.

Q2 : Was there any punishment of any kind?

FH: they did execute Quakers, yes – that’s a different story I would love to get into sometime.

Q3: The previous speaker mentioned that the first civil rights law in Mass was passed by a nativist, know-nothing legislature.

FH: Actually, the civil rights law was passed by a Republican legislature in 1865. Q4 O.K. This brought to mind the whole question of conflict between immigrants, especially Irish people and Blacks in Massachusetts and other places. Could you comment on this?

FH: Be careful, I’m part Irish. Massachusetts never really got over the idea that we were God’s kingdom on earth. The Puritans departed, but the idea continued. I only say that half way facetiously. It’s true we had passed a lot of social legislation and we had built institutions which we thought were far superior – insane asylums, deaf, blind, whatever – and they were being overwhelmed by the immigration of the mid 1800’s. The Know-Nothing party really involved reformers who passed a great deal of legislation in favor of women – divorce rights and so forth; eliminating imprisonment for debt and things of that nature. They were just feeling overwhelmed. The English were dumping prisons and insane asylums on the shores of America at the time.

Q5. The question was the antipathy between immigrant populations – especially Irish and Black people in the competition for jobs.

FH: It was extreme. The New York draft riots were matched by the Boston draft riots. Yes, it was extreme.

Q6: How significant was the economic role of Blacks and slaves in this period?

FH Tremendous. When you say this period I am not sure… In the 1600’s we had a severe labor shortage as all of America did for quite some time and it created pressure to have slaves. On the other hand, the memorials sent to Congress and – the abolition memorials – mentioned that white workers, particularly immigrants, did not want to be going up against slave labor. It was just unfair. So we have two sides to the story.

Q7: Could you comment on the process by which history writing for high school students and college students continues to be distorted and what freedom teachers have to get around it?

FH: It is difficult to write textbooks and it’s difficult to cover all of history. I would like – certainly in this state – for teachers to point out that we had slaves, but also on the other side to point out the Sara Roberts case, school desegregation and civil rights. I don’t know how to answer your question except to say that history doesn’t deal with slavery in the North and doesn’t deal with some of the anti-slavery movement that should be dealt with.

Q8: What is the freedom of the teacher to get around the textbook?

FH: I always felt free to get around it. I didn’t have a textbook. I think there is a good deal of freedom, certainly in Massachusetts.

Q9: I was just going to ask you how much data is available. For example, I have never heard these facts before. Were they available to the general public?

FH: There is a very good work and the name of the publication escapes me at the moment, which goes through the legal cases involving Blacks in all of the states. Town histories give sometimes distorted, but often interesting departure points for research. I could give you a list of some of the better secondary sources. I love George H. Moore’s History of Slavery in Massachusetts written in 1866. Yes, it was written a long time ago, but it is so filled with indignation and wonderful little facts and his research was impeccable. And it should be something that is in school libraries – it isn’t.

Q10: I was going to say how struck I was by that book and was going to ask you how was it received and what effect it had because it sounds like it was contemporary for now…

FH: It wasn’t read by too many people and it didn’t go into much of a publishing run and it is dog-goned hard to find now. There is a copy in the Greenfield Community College I know that.

Q11: When we think of Texas we think of creationism and evolution and they say it is the state of Texas has control of what can be put into textbooks because of the fact that textbooks have a good demand. Is there any way that you feel that the publication in the same way regarding slavery?

FH: Massachusetts does not drive textbook publication I am afraid. It is driven by Texas and California. Some books are very good. Some books are very good, I’m not going to bash textbooks. Some high school books do involve primary sources. And we’re being a little prejudiced here in favor of Massachusetts. I don’t how to answer your question about how we can put pressure on.

Q12. Is there an analogy between slavery and world wide wage rates? Low world wide wage rates. For example the Chinese working almost at virtual slave rates and the South Americans? FH: Slavery was crucial to the American economy. I’m not answering your question – I’m dancing around it – trying to think of an answer. It was crucial to the American economy. George Washington for instance was very thought of this often and he could not just face financial ruin. There was that trap. Now what the effect on wages was – I don’t think it was very strong. In England wages were going to be low, slavery in America or not. England abolished slavery officially – they never really had it – but they abolished it in 1772 when Baron Mansfield handed down his statement that “the air of England is too pure for a slave to breath in” which freed a Massachusetts slave who had been brought to England. That statement, however, goes all the way back to 1569 and involved a Russian slave.

Q13 … labor markets open to Blacks and Indians – I was just wondering if the Industrial Revolution in Massachusetts was there any labor open to Blacks?

FH: Close to half the sailors on our ships – and we had the biggest merchant fleet and whaling fleet and at that time – close to half were minorities. As far as industry is concerned, not in the beginning – probably not until the 1850’s. There were very few minorities hired in the major factories in Massachusetts – as far as I know. I am not an expert in that area.

Handout #1 – Frank Heston

Handout #2a – Frank Heston

Handout #2b – Frank Heston

Handout #3a – Frank Heston

Handout #3b – Frank Heston


Robert Romer, Professor Emeritus (of physics), Amherst College (“Slavery in our Neighborhood”)

ROMER:  Before I begin, I want to say a word about how this series on “Slavery and Its Legacy” came into existence. A series of talks and panels like this isn’t really organized by a committee – There has to be a single driving force to start it up, to keep it on track, and to do most of the work, and in this case it’s very easy to identify that force – it’s my friend Chuck Gillies. He is the one who is really responsible for our being here.

The first two speakers have talked about the framework of slavery in the north – the numbers, the laws, and so on. I want to focus on slavery right here, in our neighborhood, to show you that slavery was widespread and socially acceptable out here in western Massachusetts, and especially I want to introduce you to a few of the enslaved African Americans of the Valley I have met through my research and to tell you what we know (and how much we don’t know) about what their lives were like.

A few years ago, I decided to learn how to be an occasional house guide at Old Deerfield. I’ve always been interested in local history, and I thought I knew something about the Connecticut Valley in colonial times. I did – but it turned out that I was almost totally ignorant of one very important part of the story. I decided to learn about the home of Jonathan Ashley, who was Deerfield’s minister from 1732-1780. As the minister, Ashley was almost by definition the most important man in town. He was a serious Calvinist, a farmer as well as a minister, father of nine children, and an outspoken Tory during the Revolution. And – as soon as I started seriously studying Ashley’s life, I was astonished to learn that he owned three black slaves. This was not at all an original discovery, but it was news to me, and I got interested and began digging out everything I could find about slavery in the Connecticut Valley.

David Parsons, minister here in Amherst, also owned black slaves. John Williams, Ashley’s predecessor in Deerfield was a slave owner. In the famous 1704 attack on Deerfield, Williams’ wife and several of his children were killed. So were his two slaves, and he and the rest of his family were marched off to captivity in Canada. When Williams was ransomed, he wrote a best-seller (“The Redeemed Captive Returning to Zion” – still in print), became minister at Deerfield again, and acquired both a new wife and new slaves. His son Stephen, also back from captivity in Canada, went to Harvard, and became minister at Longmeadow, where he too bought slaves. Jonathan Edwards, Northampton’s minister, also owned slaves. I began to “collect” slave-owning ministers from the Valley – at last count I had 20. Fig. 1 shows my list of ministers. It seems that almost every minister in the valley who could afford it owned a few slaves. You will notice, by the way, that they were all graduates of Yale or Harvard. A large number of the “important people” – judges, high military officers, successful businessmen, but especially the ministers – owned slaves. Slavery was just as acceptable here as it was down south.
Figure 1. Slave-owning ministers from the Connecticut Valley of Western Massachusetts.

But here is one serious misconception that I want to deal with. Sometimes people say: “Well, they weren’t really slaves, they were just servants, they were well treated, and they were just like members of the family.” Sometimes they do appear on property lists and tax lists as “servants”, sometimes as “servants for life”, sometimes as “Negroes”, and sometimes simply as “slaves”. They were not “just members of the family”. They did not choose to come here, for them there was no light of freedom at the end of the tunnel, they were listed as property along with the furniture and the cows and horses, they could be and were sold apart from their children, and their children automatically became slaves like their parents.

To dispel any doubts as to whether they were “really slaves”, I’d like to read a couple of items. First, a legal document from 1750 —

For and in consideration of the sum of two hundred and twenty-five pounds old tenor, to me Ephraim Williams Jr. well and truly paid by Israel Williams of Hatfield, I do hereby assign, sell and convey to him a certain negro boy named Prince aged about nine years, a servant for life, and do hold him and his heirs against the claims of any person whatsoever as witness my hand this 25th day of September anno Domini 1750.
[signed] Ephraim Williams, Jr.

If you weren’t listening carefully, you might have just heard a lot of standard legal jargon conveying a piece of property. And of course it was “just a piece of property” – it so happens that the property in question was “a nine-year old negro boy”.

And here are some advertisements from Boston newspapers. (There were no newspapers out here at the time.) Here’s one from 1759: “A Negro woman about 24 years of age, fit for town or country business, and a Negro girl about 7 years of age, both healthy and have had the smallpox – to be sold, together or apart. This is not from a South Carolina paper – this is Massachusetts!

Another one: “A Negro child, soon expected, of a good breed, may be owned by any person inclining to take it, and money with it.” Another one, from 1756: “To Be Given Away, two Negro Children, one a boy, the other a girl, neither of them a fortnight old.”

Any system in which human beings could be and were sold away from their spouses or their parents or their children – well, it’s not what we like to think of in the picturesque “Pioneer Valley” . It really was slavery, there’s no getting around that fact. We’re talking about slaves, captured in Africa and brought here against their will, or children of slaves captured in Africa.

For a couple of years, I just accumulated scraps of information about slavery in the Valley. Then I had what turned out, I think, to be an inspiration. I decided to focus on a particular time and a particular place and to make what I call a “snapshot” of slavery. I chose a date of 1752, 250 years ago. And the place I chose was the main street of old Deerfield. The result was the map I have passed out, which is shown in Fig. 2. As far as I know, no one has ever done this to a New England street before.

There is no one source for this information. My slavery snapshot is based on many sources – probate inventories, church records, tax lists, wills, store account books, an ad for a runaway, bills of sale, the extremely rare family letter that mentions a slave. My map shows twenty-one black slaves, belonging to twelve different owners, living on that street, at one time. (I also show Abijah Prince, Deerfield’s one free black.) Twenty-one slaves in a total population of about 300, some 7% of the population. That’s a lot.

Figure 2. Slavery on the main street of Deerfield, 1752.

Looking at this map, this 1752 snapshot, has completely changed what goes through my head when I drive up that street. When I see those handsome houses that have survived from colonial times, I realize that it is highly probable that some of them were built, in part, by slaves. And now I can’t help imagining myself back in 1752, and I find myself thinking: “This is where Titus lives, a few houses up is the home of ‘Negro wench and two children’, over there is where Humphrey and Phyllis and Cesar live.”

There were enough enslaved African Americans living on that street in the mid-1700s so that there must have been a real black community embedded in the majority white community. A Deerfield tourist these days may never hear a word about the enslaved black population, or may hear about just one, Lucy Terry (about whom much has been written), and that is in some ways even more misleading than no mention at all. There were no giant plantations here as there were in the South. To invoke a commonly used distinction, this was not a “slave society”, but it definitely was a “society with slaves”. I maintain that the enslaved blacks were an important part of many western Massachusetts towns, and that any discussion of colonial times that does not include the enslaved African Americans is misleading, incomplete, and therefore wrong – just as wrong as if there were no mention of women and Native Americans.

But what is not on my map? My map gives a pretty good idea of the data – numbers, names, owners, a few birth and death dates. But what is not here because neither I nor anyone else has practically any information at all is anything about their life. What did they do, did any of them have a chance to become literate, what was the nature of their interaction with their owners, with their owners’ families, with each other? What did they do for recreation? For sex?

I’d like to illustrate how little we know about their lives with a few extreme examples. Take Cesar, for instance, the one who belonged to Samuel Childs, down near the lower right-hand corner of the map. He served in the French & Indian war in the late 1750s. That’s it. That is all I know about Cesar. I don’t know how old he was, though I can guess. I don’t know when he was bought, from whom, when he died, but Cesar was here.

On the other hand, as slaves about whom we know a bit more – but still not very much – let’s look at Reverend Ashley’s 3 slaves: Jenny, her son Cato, and Titus. As far as I know, there are just three contemporary pieces of paper that mention Jenny. One is Ashley’s 1780 will, in which there occurs the memorable sentence: “I give, devise, and bequeath to my beloved wife Dorothy Ashley my grey mare, two cows & ten sheep, also my easy chair and my Negro servant woman Jenny”. The second one is an account book showing that the reverend’s son once paid for fixing Jenny’s shoes. The third mention of Jenny is in the church death records. In the 1700s, slave deaths were not even recorded, but Jenny lived until 1808 – by which time slavery was really over in Massachusetts – and her death was recorded as: “Jenny, a black woman, age 90, killed by a fall”.

As for Jenny’s baby Cato, we know that Cato was baptized by Reverend Ashley in 1739 and died in 1825, with his death being recorded simply as “Cato, a man of colour, 87, died of old age.” But who was Cato’s father? And who was Jenny’s previous owner? Perhaps Jenny’s previous owner was Cato’s father? And then there was a third Ashley slave, Titus. Ashley bought Titus in 1750, from one Samuel Kendall of New Salem – the minister (no surprise there).

Fig. 3. A page from Jonathan Ashley’s account book.

Because an account book of Ashley’s has miraculously survived, we know something about how Cato and Titus spent their time. Fig. 3 shows one page from that account book. There are many pages such as this one in Ashley’s account book in which he recorded how he rented out Cato and Titus to various Deerfield farmers, showing how much they owe him for “Titus & Cato, ½ a day ‘houghing’ “, or “Titus, two days sugaring”, and so on. This page records amounts owed to Reverend Ashley by one of the local farmers to whom he rented Cato and Titus. That farmer was listed as “Abijah Negro”, as if “Negro” were his last name. That was actually Abijah Prince, Deerfield’s one free black, who was himself formerly the property of the Northfield minister.

But in spite of the fact that we know more about Jenny, Cato, and Titus than we do about many of the enslaved blacks of Deerfield, there is so much we don’t know. Deerfield tradition says that Jenny was born in Africa, but we really can’t be certain of that. What did Jenny do in the Ashley household? We can guess, but we don’t know. How was she treated by the good Reverend? What was her interaction with the Ashley family? With the other Deerfield slaves? Did Jenny have a love life during her long years in Deerfield? Did Cato? Did Cato have friends among the other slaves with whom, perhaps, he went fishing on an occasional day off? Cato was baptized as a baby – did he go to church? Was he required to go to church? Where did they all sleep and eat? We don’t even know that.

I keep hoping to find an Ashley family letter in which there is even the briefest mention of any of the slaves. In fact, the almost total absence of letters mentioning any of the Deerfield slaves is itself revealing of their place in this society. The lack of surnames and the frequent use of the same classical names – you’ll find five “Cesars” on my map – adds to the difficulty of finding out even who was who on the Deerfield street. Fig. 4 shows all the names of enslaved African Americans I know of, from the late 1600s until the end of the 1700s. There are even a number of cases where we have no names at all. Part of Samuel Dickinson’s estate inventory, for instance, reads: ” pair of Saddle Bags 12 shillings, Horse Collar 3 and 6, Negro Wench & 2 Children 30 pounds, 2 Bushels & 3 pecks Wheat 11 shillings”, and so on.

We really know very little about the lives of the enslaved African Americans. We don’t even know where they were buried. Very possibly in a corner of the old Deerfield cemetery, but we don’t know. Jenny died in 1808, still living with the Ashley family. Deerfield tradition says that Jenny collected buttons and shells to take back to Africa; she never made it, of course, at least not in this life. I wonder what happened to those buttons and shells.

Dorothy Ashley, Jonathan’s widow, outlived Jonathan by 28 years and died in 1808, in the same month as Jenny. I often say to visitors that knowing Jonathan Ashley as well as I do now, those must have been the twenty-eight happiest years of their lives. Dorothy has a nice big gravestone, but if there ever was a marker for Jenny, it was a wooden one, long since gone. I confess that I have become emotionally involved with Jenny, and – though I know it’s not rational – it still makes me angry that the Ashley family, with whom Jenny had lived for 70 years (most of that time as a slave) wouldn’t put up the money for even a small gravestone.

I have a dream that some day there might be a modest memorial somewhere in town – not just for Jenny, but in memory of all the enslaved African Americans of Deerfield. At tourist places like Monticello and Mount Vernon and Colonial Williamsburg, slavery is a subject that is now (unlike 30 years ago) talked about. It was so obviously important there that they can’t avoid it any more. Even at Phillipsburg Manor on the lower Hudson Valley.

Figure 4.

Now it’s quiz time. (I have, after all, been a professor all my life.) Has anyone here ever been to Deerfield? Yes, of course, most of us have been there. There are a vast number of markers and monuments and tablets and old gravestones in Deerfield. How many of them refer to the enslaved African Americans who lived there in the 1700s? Not one! To borrow Ralph Ellison’s famous phrase, they are the “invisible men (and women)” of colonial times.

But here’s a positive note to end on. When I’ve given talks on this subject, I have often mentioned this dream of mine. Last spring, Tim Neumann, the director of the PVMA museum in Deerfield picked up on this and got in touch with me. (I should explain that PVMA is the “Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association”, basically the Deerfield Historical Society, which runs the museum there.) So PVMA got interested in recognizing our enslaved African Americans, and over the past few months, we have had several meetings, a bunch of us (some black, some white), to talk about how to do this. We are really going to begin to rectify this omission, probably first with a wall plaque at the PVMA museum, later with an outdoor sculpture, a walking tour brochure, and other things. I am really excited about our belatedly recognizing in a public way this important part of the Deerfield community.

Now I did not come here to ask for money, but just in case any of you, like me, would like to be a participant, we are beginning to ask for donations, and I have with me copies of our “Vision Statement”, which includes full information on where to send your check if you feel moved. [For information on this and other material, visit my website: .]

One final comment. Why am I spending so much time looking into 18th century history? It is sort of fun looking, through old documents (usually in vain), just as physics is fun, but beyond that – As I’ve grown up, I’ve realized more and more how little I learned in school, how so much of what I learned was wrong, and how large a role the terrible institution of slavery has played in our country. Its after-effects didn’t miraculously go away in 1865 or in 1954. I think it’s important to know as much about it as we can, to realize how widespread it was, that it wasn’t just a regional phenomenon that we can blame on the southerners, but that it was just as much accepted out here in western Massachusetts as it was in South Carolina or Mississippi. Knowing about its history may give us a slightly better chance of dealing with its legacy.

Thank you for listening. And be sure to take my map with you if you go to Deerfield. It really will give you a different view of that street.

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