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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.

(c) Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Deerfield MA. All rights reserved.
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There is currently no available "Beginner" label. The following is the default level label: Deerfield historian George Sheldon traced the ownership of slaves living in Deerfield, Massachusetts, from as early as 1695 into the late 18th century. Quoting liberally from a 1749 sermon delivered "to the negroes in Deerfield" by the Reverend Jonathan Ashley (1712-1780), Sheldon is able to convey the minister's attitude on the subject of slavery. George Sheldon, himself, never approved of slavery. He was likely inspired to document the history of Deerfield's slaves due to his childhood memories of Cato, a former slave owned by the Reverend Jonathan Ashley. George Sheldon had little patience for those who preferred to minimize or forget the region's slave-owning past, seeing "no reason . . . why we should not face the facts relating to it [slavery], found in church and town records, and old family manuscripts." Throughout this document, a capital X is used as a substitute for "Christ."

 

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"Negro Slavery in Old Deerfield"

publisher   New England Magazine
author   George Sheldon (1818-1916)
date   1893
location   Boston, Massachusetts
height   9.5"
width   6.5"
process/materials   printed paper, ink
item type   Books/Booklet
accession #   #L98.018


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See Also...

Complaint against slave Caesar for stealing

Pages from Rev. Jonathan Ashley's account book

Pages from Elijah Williams (Old Soldier's) account book, Vol. 2


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