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History of Slavery in Massachusetts

In an effort to build more historically inclusive tours, I've been busy researching much of the often intentionally-avoided history of slavery in the state. I want to share with you what I've found.

Click around (on the yellow text) to discover more.

I'll be continuing to update this as I learn more. 


July 13

First record of enslaved Natives in New England.

Capt. William Pierce, in the Salem ship Desire, set sail with 17 captured Native Americans to sell into slavery in the West Indies.



FEB 26

First record of enslaved Africans in New England.

Seven months later, Capt. Pierce returned from Providence to Boston with "cotton, tobacco and negroes etc". 


Start of the African Trade

"The year 1644 was a momentous date in the history of the New England slave trade. Before that time, Massachusetts merchants had occasionally brought in Negroes from the West Indies, but in that year Boston traders attempted to import slaves directly from Africa, when an association of businessmen sent three ships there for gold dust and Negroes."



The Royal African Company is granted a monopoly on the slave trade.

Read the original

Map of Madagascar in 1662, Koninklijke B
"A south east view of the great town of Boston in New England in America" c1730-1760 , Library of Congress



The Royal African Company loses their monopoly on the slave trade.


As the Century Turns

"Although New England's share in the slave trade was small in the seventeenth century, her merchants had by 1700 laid the foundations of a lucrative commerce. They had already begun the triangular slave voyages and had learned that the West Indies offered the best market for Negroes. As comparatively few Negroes were brought to New England in the seventeenth century, the traders in these colonies made their profits as carriers rather than as exploiters of Negro labor."


As the Century Turns

Britain orders its Colony of Massachusetts to not tax or discourage the importing or exporting of enslaved Africans.

1773 - 1777

Liberty and Freedom for All?

Revolutionary talk was heard by enslaved Africans who used the same language to legally petition for their own freedom multiple times:

The Petition of a Great Number of Blacks of detained in a state of slavery in the Bowels of a free and Christian Country apprehend they have in common with all other men...

"...a natural right to be free..." June 1773

All failed.


"drafted by the legislature" (without public comment)

The public rejected it.

Mass. Constitution v.1


For round 2, Massachusetts selects John Adams to write their Constitution. He finishes in 2 months:

Mass. Constitution v.2

Elizabeth Freeman

"Any time, any time while I was a slave, if one minute's freedom had been offered to me, and I had been told I must die at the end of that minute, I would have taken it - just to stand one minute on God's earth a free woman -I would."

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