|NEGRO SLAVERY IN OLD DEERFIELD.
By George Sheldon.
TO THOSE of us who have been in the habit of thinking of negro slavery as an
exclusively Southern institution, this title may have in it an element of surprise,
if not of offence. I know of no reason, however, why we should not face the
facts relating to it, found in the history of our colonies, in church and town
records, and old family manuscripts. There can be no dispute that for more than
a hundred years before the foot of a slave was allowed to pollute the soil of
Georgia, men, women and children were bought and sold, and held, and worked,
by the leading dignitaries of the Puritanic Colony of Massachusetts Bay; and
on the death of their owners were inventoried in their estates as property,
together with horses, hogs, cows and other animals.
The black keel of the slaver never cut water in the bays, sounds or rivers
of that Southern colony until generation after generation of man stealers had
grown rich selling negroes at the wharves of Newport and Boston. Negroes from
kidnapped cargoes were brought in the shipping of New England directly from
the coasts of Africa. But New England was not alone in this shameful business;
nor was it confined to traders and men of the world. The highest colonial officers
and the ministers, as a class, were buyers of slaves for their own convenience
and profit, with no troublesome questions as to their own rights or the wrongs
of the Africans.1
Whitefield, the most noted of revivalist preachers, seeking a situation in
America to found a colony of his persecuted brethren in England, turned away
from the fertile fields of Georgia, because slavery was prohibited there,
and bought land and settled them among the Quakers in Pennsylvania, where negroes
could be held in bondage. Rev. John Oxenbridge, pastor of the First Church in
Boston, in his will, made March 12, 1673-4, gives his daughter Theodora, born
in England, certain tenements in Coleman Street, London, — the income of certain
lands in Kent, — and also, "if my estate in Surrinam arise to anything yt
she has a young Negro or two." It does not appear what the reverend gentleman's
estate on the Guinea coast was, but not unlikely it was a consignment of New
England rum, to be exchanged there for live stock for the Boston market.
Neither does it appear how much Theodora realized on this bequest. She married,
soon after, Peter Thatcher, the first minister of Milton. She may have carried
the good man, as part of her legacy and dowry, the slave named Ebed, who ran
away from them June 18, 1683. The day after his escape Ebed was seen in Cambridge,
perhaps by our soon-to-be minister, John Williams, who was a Harvard graduate
of that year. I do not know the fugitive slave laws of that period, but three
days later, Ebed was captured in Concord — body and bones of Frank Sanborn !
was captured in Concord, — and by two men taken back to Milton. To reward
the faithful slave hunters the minister borrowed twenty shillings of the tavern
keeper. This outlay was soon made up, however, for Ebed was leased to a neighbor
for two shillings per day. Had Ebed been successful in his break for liberty,
his place could have been easily filled, for, "in Boston," says his master,
"I had the offer of a negro for £20."
It would seem that the Surrinam venture did not yield Theodora a negro girl,
for her husband bought of Mr. Chickley an Indian girl to look after their baby
Theodora. She had been baptized Mar-
1 There was at
least one notable exception. In the year 1700 Judge
Samuel Sewell published a tract in which he denounces slavery
as an atrocious crime and a political plague. But few or
none paid heed to his words of humanity and wise prophecy.