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Pages from Rev. Jonathan Ashley's account book
(c) Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Deerfield MA. All rights reserved.
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Slavery was well established throughout Britain's North American colonies by the 1700's. Enslaved African Americans made up about four percent of the total population of New England. The society, economy, and landscape of the northern colonies could not support the plantation system of the South and the sugar islands of the West Indies. New England's slaves were most concentrated in the coastal cities but many lived in inland towns and rural areas as well. When the Reverend Jonathan Ashley (1712-1780) was keeping his account book, the rural town of Deerfield, Massachusetts, had a population of over two dozen enslaved residents. Jonathan Ashley owned three slaves- Jenny, Titus, and Cato. These pages from his account book record the amount and sort of work Titus and Cato performed for Ashley's various trading partners in the 1750's. It might seem surprising that a minister would own slaves but this was an accepted and common practice in the 18th century among clergy, lawyers and other professional men. Samuel Sewall, who served as a member of Governor's Council in Massachusetts from 1691-1725, wrote that African Americans were "poor silly wretches" who could "seldom use their freedom well". Many whites viewed them as being eternal children in need of care and guidance from European Americans. What better owners than ministers who could also ensure the salvation of their slaves' souls by Christianizing them?
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