Slavery
Colonial America
Massachusetts

Did slavery exist in the Massachusetts colony?

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10/20/2015

Yes. Although it may seem strange in modern times, Massachusetts was the first slave holding colony in New England, although slavery did not take the same form as it was in the Southern plantation colonies. Individual slave owners in colonial Massachusetts did not own slaves in great numbers. The story of slavery in Massachusetts is a complicated and varied one. The following is only a brief description.


Wealthy men in Puritan-era Massachusetts bought, sold, and held African slaves from the 1630s onward. In 1641 Massachusetts Bay Colony was the first of Britain's mainland colonies to make slavery legal. The Puritans who founded the first settlements owned African slaves and they justified it with Biblical authority. Those slaves had more freedom of movement than slaves in other circumstances and many could read and write. In fact, it was a sign of status for a minister to own one or two slaves. Those slaves could be "rented out" to perform labor for farmers and mill owners thus earning an income for the minister-owner.


The Puritans who settled the Massachusetts colony embraced slavery and justified it with Biblical authority. Individual slave owners did not own large numbers of slaves and they did not hesitate to turn their slaves out when they became unable to work. They also sold the children of slave women without hesitation.


The legal status of slavery in the Bay Colony was codified two years later when Massachusetts adopted the "Body of Liberties." While this document guaranteed civil rights to British colonists, paradoxically it also specified that slavery was allowed in cases where slaves were "taken in just wars, [or] as willingly sell themselves or are sold to us." A 1670 law made it legal for the children of slaves to be sold into bondage; beginning in 1680, the colony had laws restricting the movement of blacks.


The slaves who came to Massachusetts tended to be those "left over" after West Indian plantation owners had purchased the strongest or "likeliest" men and women for field work. The younger or weaker Africans were sent on to New England and sold individually or in small groups. In 1717 one New England trader advised his brother that, if he could not get a good price for all his slaves in the West Indies, to "bring some home; I believe they will sell well." Indeed, the institution of slavery played a role in the economy of colonial New England.


By the mid-1700s African slavery was well established in Massachusetts. Newspapers in coastal towns regularly carried advertisements for "likely" young Africans, just arrived or, better yet, "seasoned" for several months or a year in the West Indies. Tax collectors recorded the value of slaves owned, and wills show that slaves were distributed along with other property.


Massachusetts was the first state in the new nation to abolish the institution of slavery. As a result of lawsuits brought by African Americans, in 1783 Massachusetts courts declared that "the idea of slavery is inconsistent with our own conduct and [the Commonwealth's] Constitution."


User Avatar
Wiki User
10/20/2015

Yes. Although it may seem strange in modern times, Massachusetts was the first slave holding colony in New England, although slavery did not take the same form as it was in the Southern plantation colonies. The story of slavery in Massachusetts is a complicated and varied one. The following is only a brief description.


After the Pequot wars in the 1600s some native women and children were enslaved while the men were transported to the West Indies to be exchanged for African slaves. Those exchanges became common during the Indian wars since the captured warriors were deemed to be too dangerous to remain in the colonies and Massachusetts was the center of that slave trade.


The Puritans who settled the Massachusetts colony in the early 1600s on embraced slavery and justified it with Biblical authority. Individual slave owners did not own large numbers of slaves and they did not hesitate to turn their slaves out when they became unable to work. They also sold the children of slave women without hesitation. Many if not most Puritan clergy came to the New Wold with a slave or two in their possession. There were slaves living in Deerfield, Massachusetts by the late 1600s. Their labor would be rented out on a per diem basis when it was not needed by their master.


Slaves could learn to read and write and could move more freely throughout the town than the slaves in the Southern colonies. In the smaller towns like Deerfield, they lived closer to their owners families and often became part of the community. They could eventually buy their freedom.