Black History is Salem History

I’m wrapping up February, a month in which educators have focused on African-American history since at least 1970, with a summary of some of the research in which I’ve been engaged and some links to some other initiatives and events in the Salem area. I really learned a lot this month, about Salem’s African-American history, and about Salem’s history: essentially I learned that they are one and the same. I got drawn into the experiences of African-Americans in Salem in the eighteenth century by my efforts to learn digital mapping through a project on enslavement, while the Remonds of Hamilton Hall have always been my point-of-entry for the world of nineteenth-century free blacks in Salem. I’ve been supervising an internship for Hamilton Hall in which the intern has been digging deep into the activities of the extended Remond family, and I have benefitted from directing (and following!) her path. My map is in the very preliminary stages primarily because I haven’t really mastered the process yet, but also because I have yet to establish the full scale of enslavement in colonial Salem. Every discovery leads me down a path in which I struggle to establish context: the Honorable justices William Browne, Benjamin Lynde Sr., and Benjamin Lynde Jr., the Loyalist Captain Poynton of the “Pineapple House”: all slave owners.

Black Past Brown


Poyton Collage

Lynde collage

Black Past Otis Map Advertisements from the Boston EveningPost; 1731 portrait of Benjamin Lynde Sr. by John Smibert; Diary entry and will excerpt from The Diaries of Benjamin Lynde and of Benjamin Lynde, Jr. (1880). I’m using the “Otis Map” or the “Map of Salem about 1780,” based on the Researches of Sidney Perley and the (contemporary) accounts of Col. Benjamin Pickman & Benjamin J.F. Browne with Additional Information Assembled by James Duncan Phillips and Henry Noyes Otis and drawn by Henry Noyes as my old-school working map and adding Xs as I uncover information from newspaper ads, censuses, and diaries–but there are still a lot of family papers to go through.

It’s so odd to think of Benjamin Lynde Sr. (1666-1749) and Benjamin Lynde Jr. (1700-1781), Salem natives, residents, and chief justices of the Massachusetts Superior Court of Judicature, conducting their legal responsibilities while simultaneously managing their private estates, which included the purchase of new slaves, and the recovery of those who had run away. The elder Lynde mentions purchasing sheep and a young boy named Scipio in the same breath. Benjamin Lynde Jr. presided over the trial of the British soldiers indicted for the Boston Massacre of 1770, and freed one of his slaves in his will six years later. And then everything changes: just one of many remarkable things I’ve learned about Charles Lenox Remond (1810-1873), also a Salem native and son of a free black emigre, is his intense advocacy for the erection of a memorial to Crispus Attucks, the African-American martyr of the Boston Massacre. He would not see that statue erected in his lifetime, but he would be the first African-American to testify before the Massachusetts legislature in 1842: on the timely topic of the the desegregation of the relatively-new railways. Just this past week, an excerpt of the new book Separate: the Story of Plessy v. Ferguson, and America’s Journey From Slavery to Segregation by Steve Luxenberg was published in the Washington Post Magazine as ” The Jim Crow Car”: who knew that that phrase had northern origins? Mr. Luxenberg tweeted me a quote from his book referencing Remond’s testimony on February 10, 1842 when the chamber was filled with curious spectators as “Word had gotten out: a man of color would be testifying.”

Remond Train Collage

Before this month, I had a healthy respect for Charles and his equally famous sister Sarah Parker Remond, both very public abolitionist advocates and speakers, but I was a bit more interested in their parents, John and Nancy, a very entrepreneurial couple who kept the home fires burning while supporting their efforts back in Salem. I remain impressed with the entire Remond family, but I got to know Charles a bit more and I really think he was a man ahead of his time. He was not just advocating for abolition, he was going for complete equality: of race and gender. I read in his letters to his fellow abolitionist Ellen Sands in the Phillips Library in Rowley very carefully, and his earnest identification of his enemies as “his majesty Mr. Slavery and her majesty Mistress Prejudice” rings true in all his advocacy work: for desegregation of travel and education, for women’s suffrage, for the end of the Massachusetts anti-miscegenation laws, for the end of slavery and equal opportunities for African-Americans. All of the Remonds petitioned their local and state authorities on a range of social justice issues in the 1840s and 1850s, calling for the the abolition of capital punishment, the desegregation of the Boston schools (having been successful in Salem), and the refutation of the Fugitive Slave Act.

Black History Remond Petition 1

Black History Remond Petitition 1A

Black History Remond Petition 1BJust one petition with Remond signatures from Harvard University’s Anti-Slavery Petitions of Massachusetts Dataverse.

Because of the presence of the Remonds (and perhaps other African-American families whom I haven’t learned about yet), Salem served as a refuge of sorts for free blacks from eastern cities in search of educational opportunity, particularly young women: two very prominent educators, Charlotte Forten (1837-1914) and Maritcha Remond Lyons (1848-1929), left Philadelphia and New York for Salem in the 1850s and 1860s, and Forten graduated from Salem Normal School (now Salem State University) and became the first African-American teacher in the Salem public schools in 1856. Salem was definitely formative in Forten’s intellectual and personal development, and Salem State is justly proud of its graduate: a permanent exhibition space was opened up on campus last year, and a special tribute to her pioneering roles will be held next week.

Teachers Collage

Forten Talk 2Charlotte Forten and Maritcha Remond Lyons, who was named after her mother’s best friend, Maritcha Remond. You can register for Race, Gender and Education: a Dialogue Linking Past and Presenta complimentary event, here.

The city of Salem is fortunate that institutions such as Salem State, the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, and Hamilton Hall are engaging in the interpretation of African-American history, but I think this topic—along with many others—deserves the coordination and amplification that a historical society/museum/center could bring to its presentation. A few tweets from the city’s tourism organization about the existence of an audio guide to African-American sites in Salem does not suffice. Despite the residency and advocacy of the Remonds, of Charlotte Forten, of Robert Morris and Jacob Stroyer, and the fact that the Salem Ship Desire delivered the first documented cargo of enslaved Africans to Massachusetts in 1638, Salem has only two sites on the map of the comprehensive African-American Trail project at Tufts University: Stroyer’s grave and Remond Park. While it’s lovely that Salem has paid tribute to the Remond family with a seaside park, this gesture should not suffice either–especially when the information conveyed in its signage is wrong: a large population of nineteenth-century African-Americans did not live on Bridge Street Neck, remote from the center of the city. And their presence and stories—like those of their predecessors and successors—should not be confined to the margins of Salem’s history.


Remond Park CollagePart of the AfricanAmerican Trail Project at Tufts including an evening last fall in which projections of the University’s first African-American students were photographed: here is Claude Randolph Taylor from 1924. Photograph by Erik Jacobs, Digital Collections and Archives, Tufts University. I’m sure that the Remond Park sign will be corrected soon, but why was this sweeping and incorrect assertion included in the first place?

15 responses to “Black History is Salem History

  • az1407t

    Donna, Thanks for helping to bring this neglected part of Salem’s history to light. Your blogs on this subject have been most interesting.

  • Wendy Reilly Harris

    Excellent, Donna
    Thank you!

  • Helen Breen

    Hi Donna,

    Kudos on your study of Salem’s slave owners’ past like the Brownes, Lyndes, and Poynton families. Those ads for the return of runaways are chilling. Kudos also to the young SSU intern working on the Remonds at Hamilton Hall. I am sure she is proud that her research is contributing to your digital mapping project.

    Also, I was interested to learn that Charlotte Forten graduated from what was then Salem Normal School and “became the first African-American teacher in the Salem public schools in 1856.” All good to know…

  • Eilene Lyon

    A fascinating and well-told piece of history. We all need to learn more stories like this. Good for you, pointing out the inaccuracy on the sign.

  • Laurie Lico Albanese

    Donna I am thrilled to find your blog and to learn about this research. I’m a novelist working on a book set in 1829-1830 Salem and would love to connect with you and with the HH intern!

  • az1407t

    Do you know if there are any Remond descendants living in the Salem area, or did the family move to another area?

    • daseger

      I think that there were until several years ago, as several people who grew up in Salem have told me so. A descendant from California came out for the dedication of the memorial park, and I know there are also some descendants in Maine.

  • Frederica H. Barrow, PhD

    I am preparing a biography on Forrester Blanchard Washington born in Salem in 1887. He graduated from South Boston High School and Tufts University. Would you have information about him and his family. His grandfather John was a private in the Massachusetts 54th army during the civil war after he and his wide escaped to Salem for refuge form Richmond Virginia. I will appreciate any and all information. It is possible that he has white relatives in the area and in New Hampshire: the Blanchards.

  • 11/29/2021 Sheila Cooke-Kayser

    I have been researching the life of an enslaved woman, Dill Page Rudloff Symonds who was enslaved as a child and purchased by Jeremiah Page in 1766 in Danvers. Danvers HIstorical Society owns the Page house and I volunteer there. I have been discovering Dill’s life as she became free in 1783 and moved to Salem by 1791. Through the help of friends who are scholars and historians, we have found that Dill was married twice to mariners, 1st- London Rudloff (4 sons with him- all mariners) and Andrew Symonds (2 daughters whose husbands were also mariners) and 2 grandson who were mariners. I am curious about finding if they knew the Remond family or were Dill and her daughters members of the Female Anti-Slavery Society. Wonder if you have ever come across them. London purchased 1/2 a dwelling in 1797 on North Street in the area near the Catholic Church today. Dill inherited the house when he died in 1805 and later it went to three of her children when she died in 1850.
    Sheila Cooke-Kayser, retired National Park Service Chief of Interpretation and Education, Salem Maritime NHS and Saugus Iron Works NHS and currently volunteer educator for Danvers Historical Society.

    • daseger

      Hello, Sheila! Sorry for my delay in responding: it’s the beginning of a semester for me. Your work sounds fascinating and I see you have an event coming up. Dill has not come up in any of the Remond records I have looked at, but the Female Anti-Slavery Society records have been digitized by the Congregational Library so we can check there. Let me look around in a few other places and I’ll get back to you.

  • Sheila Cooke-Kayser

    Great, thanks so much for checking. .I wondered if the Female Anti-Slavery Society had records. I will check them at the Congressional Library. I appreciate your checking on this. Later in life she used the name “Delia Symonds” instead of “Dill.” Her daughters might have joined, Anstis Symonds Ready or Hannah Fowler or her granddaughter, Salome Rudloff Fuller( Salome was her oldest son, London Rudloff Jr.’s only child and the only one who has living descendants today.) Delia had married London Rudloff Sr. in 1791 and had four sons and when he died in 1804, she married Andrew Symonds and had two daughters, Anstis and Hannah with him.

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