Enquiries and Enslavement

I’m in the process of teaching myself how to create digital maps with layers of history so I can visualize different times, places, events and environments. Such maps are a great teaching tool, and I also think it would be a great way to put all of the discoveries I’ve made while blogging into a more compact form. “Spatial history” is a very big trend in historical interpretation and the digital humanities, but it’s going to take me quite some time to reach this level of presentation. I thought I’d start small with a series of maps of Salem with one layer each: how many first period houses survived in say, 1890, houses of notable women of Salem from different periods, and houses (or locations) where enslaved people lived and worked before the abolition of slavery in Massachusetts in 1783. I decided to start with the latter topic because I thought it would be manageable, but it is not: there were far more enslaved people in colonial Salem than I thought—but this makes it all the more important that we place them.

Slave Adverts White Collage

I’m still working on my “data set”, having searched through newspapers (for both “for sale” and “runaway” advertisement, vital statistics, and the amazing 1754 census at the Phillips Library in ROWLEY (yes, I’ve been there; I will report later). The latter breaks down Salem’s residents into five categories: “rateable”, males under 16, females, widows, and negroes, and according to its survey, there were 3462 people in Salem in 1754, of which 123 were African-Americans. The word “slave” is never used; only servant. There are discrepancies between this survey, the advertisements, and the vital statistics, so I’m not sure how I’m going to be able to come up with an absolutely accurate number: this might have to evolve into a collective or crowd-sourced project. I’ve identified some of the larger slave-owning families though: an analysis of their papers (most are also in the Phillips) would undoubtedly reveal more information

Slave Adverts Punchard

Slave Adverts June 13 1769 Essex Gazette

Slavery 1 collage

Slave Adverts Oct 29 1771All Essex Gazette

Enquire of the PrinterRunaway slave advertisements are very detailed; for sale notices less so. It’s almost as if people don’t want to give their names out, with some notable exceptions, like Captain David Britton, who was definitely more than personally invested in this trade. The map will require me to place the enslavers and the enslaved, but I don’t have much information on Britton: all I’ve found so far is a reference in Phyllis Whitman Hunter’s Purchasing Identity in the Atlantic World. Massachusetts Merchants, 1670-1780 to his membership in a Salem club called “The Civil Society” which met at a local inn on Tuesdays and Fridays ” for friendship and conversation”. There were club rules against cursing and unrefined behavior, but apparently not against slave-trading.

Slave Adverts Boston Evening Post July 24 1738

Slave Adverts Pompey and Horse

Slavery Waite

Slave Adverts PhelpsBoston Evening Post and Essex Gazette

Once you start researching this topic, it shapes how you look at your environment. I’m sure people in the South are used to this, but not people in New England. There were enslaved people in the House of the Seven Gables, and the very wealthy merchant Aaron Waite, whose long partnership with Jerathmiel Pierce has inspired the naming of Salem Maritime’s gift shop, enslaved at least one person, named Pompey. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s great-grandfather Jonathan Phelps, let out both his blacksmith shop and his “excellent workman” in 1773. Several enslaved men were compelled to work for their master Samuel Barnard in the Ropes Mansion, and he also loaned them out to his nephew way out in Deerfield. Richard Derby owned at least one slave, as did William Browne, Jonathan Clarke, Daniel King, Edward Kitchen, Josiah Orne, William Pynchon, and Bezaleel Toppan, and many more residents of mid-eighteenth-century Salem, both wealthy merchants and less conspicuous craftsmen. The fabulously wealthy Samuel Gardner (1712-1769), whose house was located on the corner of Essex and Crombie Streets and whose many possessions are easy to find in auction archives and museum collections, listed several enslaved men among his possessions in his will: he left his “Negro boy Titus, as a servant for life” to his “beloved wife Elizabeth”, but freed a man named Isaac, adding the provision that if Isaac was “unable to support himself, that he be supported by my sons George, Weld, and Henry, in equal shares…..so as to free the Town of Salem from any charge”.

Slavery Ropes

Samuel Gardner's Sugar Box.Samuel Gardner’s sugar box, collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

24 responses to “Enquiries and Enslavement

  • Anne Sterling

    The enslavement survey is very important work, I hope to see a presentation. We New England Yanks need to awaken from self contented dream.

  • lise breen

    So great! I am trying to resurrect similar information on Cape Ann, and sometimes trace people to other towns. At least one Gloucester woman, who was probably related to the Gloucester-born abolitionist, Thomas Dalton, moved to Salem. Dalton purchased Remember Freeman Ranson’s property on Becket St. at the end of her life. Her lot was adjacent to one owned by John Remond, the brother of Charles L. Remond. (John Remond briefly owned a hairdressing business in Gloucester, while
    Charles Lenox Remond, the famous abolitionist, lectured on Cape Ann several times.) I would love to know if you know if their Becket house is still standing.

    • daseger

      Wow, Lise. Thanks for your comments! I am working on a project on the Remonds for Hamilton Hall (where the family started out) so this information about John Jr. is very interesting to me. I had no idea he had a business in Gloucester. I’ll check out the Becket Street house asap. There are several Gloucester runaway ads in the Essex Register.

  • FairytaleFeminista

    Still really hard to read and even fathom…

  • Almquist Nanny

    Donna, once more thanks for a very interesting blog post. I’ll look forward to the finished maps.

    When I began my genealogical research, I fully expected to find that my ancestors in Charleston, S. C., might be slave owners, and indeed they were; one even auctioned slaves as part of estate settlements. Then more than 10 years ago I was surprised to learn on a visit to the New York Historical Society that at the end of the 18th century, more than a quarter of that city’s inhabitant’s were slaves. My eyes were opened. I began to look for other instances of northern slave holdings.

    I read about the Royal family in Medford owning a number of slaves. Then as I searched further back in my family’s history I began to occasionally see men, women, boys, and girls, who were included in estate inventories and wills. These were slaves being handed on to other family members or sold during the settling of estates. My Massachusetts ancestors were slave owners! Not what one wanted to learn, but there it was.

    I could no longer hold my family apart and above Southern plantation owners with all of their slaves. I had to acknowledge that I need to take responsibility on behalf of my ancestors and work toward ending the racism that sadly still warps and diminishes our world.

    • daseger

      Oh my goodness, what a journey/process for you! Obviously it’s easier for me to dig around in the lives of people who are not related to me. My father’s family are too recently arrived in the US to have been slaveowners, but my mother’s family goes way back, so I’m sure there are some secrets there.

  • Louis Sirianni

    This is important work ……Donna
    Well done…..

  • lise breen

    So far, I have counted six individuals of African descent who fled from a life of servitude in Gloucester, and I have identified two others who had once been enslaved by Gloucester owners. I have more information on these last two.
    John L. Remond, hairdresser, ran his business under the Gloucester House in 1848. He had mail to pick up in 1850.
    I have more information about Charles L. Remond here.
    We should get together and compare notes!

  • Generations of Nomads

    So glad you’re doing this, Donna. I look forward to reading more as you continue. My maternal grandmother’s family was from Maryland and Virginia from the earliest settlement and were large landholders, so I’ve always known that there were slaveholders there. I’m still not sure how to process the information I’ve gathered. And having done DNA testing, I’m now finding matches to quite a few descendants of at least one woman who was enslaved by an ancestor of my grandmother’s. I’ve been in contact with one of these cousins as we try to sort out exactly how we’re related. The connection is distant–probably 5th cousins–but is so very unsettling.

    I recently also learned of a New Jersey ancestor who held several slaves, so yes, even in the north.

  • Helen Breen

    “I’m in the process of teaching myself how to create digital maps with layers of history so I can visualize different times, places, events and environments. Such maps are a great teaching tool … “Spatial history” is a very big trend in historical interpretation and the digital humanities, but it’s going to take me quite some time to reach this level of presentation.”

    Kudos, Donna, for keeping up with technological developments to help students (and the rest of us) gain a greater appreciation of the past in a visual form. You go, girl!

  • Ray Henry

    I’m curious by what was meant by the adjective “likely” as in “a likely boy.” Thanks to you if you can shed any light.

    • daseger

      I do not know, Ray–your guess is as good as mine! I put all three of those “likely” ads together because I found this use interesting as well, but I have no insights.

      • Ray Henry

        Thanks for getting back. I just checked the OED and a secondary meaning for likely is “suitable or promising.” Who knows, maybe in the 18th century this was common usage.

  • William Legault

    This subject in Salem is fascinating.

    25 years ago, if you asked a Salem “historian,” or even NPS staff about slavery in Salem the answer would invariably be that “there was no slavery in Salem. Some even denied that any of our merchants participated in the trade at all. The word servant was often used, but never ever slavery.

    Now it has has finally become acceptable to admit that yes, Salem does indeed have a real connection, and historic culpability in the trade of human flesh.

    This should not be denied or washed away. It needs to be acknowledged. Hello PEM. Are you listening?

    • daseger

      It is indeed a fascinating and important topic, Bill, but I don’t think we can make the PEM solely responsible for addressing it. Salem itself, apart from the PEM, has got to acknowledge its complete history. When historical interpretation is commodified around the exploitation of one event, everything else of significance is crowded out.

  • Brian Bixby

    I ran into discrepancies in numbers as well when examining the first Massachusetts colonial census, from 1765. Some of that no doubt is because we don’t have the source material, only second-hand reports of the results.

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