I'm sharing here four columns I am writing on slavery in Stoneham in the 18th century and the abolitionist movement in the 19th century. It's part of a six-part series that has started in the Stoneham Independent (appears biweekly). Two of the columns have already been published. The third and fourth are still in draft form. So I would appreciate any feedback. I am looking for more documentation of the Anti-Slavery Society, both men's and women's chapters, formed in Stoneham in 1838. The fifth column will tell the story of a brawl that commenced after an anti-slavery meeting, resulting in the murder of Timothy Wheeler. The sixth column will center on the fiery sermon delivered by Rev. William Whitcomb of the Congregational Church in 1850, opposing the Fugitive Slave Law.
Here are the first four columns:
HERE LIE BURIED, Feb. 8, 2017
In the winter the bare trees are black against the snow and sky in the Old Burying Ground on Pleasant Street. Like frosting, snow decorates the copper-capped gravestones of our town’s early families. The Goulds, the Greens, the Hays, the Stevens, the Wrights. Our founders.
But beyond the cluster of 18th and 19th century stones, there are bare spots where no markers disturb the gentle slope of the earth. Here those with no status in colonial Stoneham lie in unmarked graves. Here are buried the town’s slaves.
February being National Black History month, it is a good time to ask, Who were these people? These enslaved men and women who, along with our white ancestors, built Stoneham? Who worked, married, had children, attended church?
According to Judge William Stevens (1890), no slaves resided in Stoneham in the 17th century. Stoneham was settled by yeoman farmers and their families, disinclined towards slavery even if they could afford it.
But in the 18th century, as several families gained the means, the names of slaves start to appear in public records.
Deacon Silas Dean, who wrote an early history of Stoneham, notes that the tavern owner David Hay, descendant of the Scotsman Peter Hay, kept a slave named Daniel Kingstone.
And that an Irishman named Toler “kept a slave named Dinah, who waited upon him to the end of his days.”
Dean also mentions “a negro named Cato, the son of Simon, a negro servant of Deacon Green.” “Servant” at this time, historians agree, meant “slave.”
The presence of slaves in Stoneham led to the question of whether to admit them to the Meeting House, which after its erection in 1729, served as both church and town hall.
Dean records the outcome of a 1754 town meeting: “Voted, that the negro men . . . shall set in the hind seat in the side gallery, in the west end of Stoneham meeting-house, and the negro wives and other negro women shall set in the side gallery of the east end . . . and nowhere else if it be convenient . . . except it be on special occasions.”
Stevens writes: “The colored people, though in a state of slavery, were admitted as brethren and sisters to the church.”
In old church and town records, we find baptisms and marriages of “negroes” in Stoneham. Between 1744 and 1790, 17 Negro babies were registered.
Not all of the Negroes in Stoneham were slaves. We know of at least one family, Simon Barjona and his wife, Hannah, who were free Africans. Simon was a shoemaker. Simon and Hannah were married in the Meeting House, and their three children, Abigail, Hannah and Isaiah, were baptized there by the second minister of Stoneham, Rev. Carnes.
The first minister in Stoneham was the Rev. James Osgood. He conducted over 44 weddings in Stoneham, including the marriage of several slaves. Dean mentions “Sambo, of Stoneham, married to Mercar, of Malden,” and “Mingo, married to Moll, negro servants of Peter Hay, Jr.”
There are fewer deaths of Negroes recorded than births and marriages. After Massachusetts abolished slavery in 1783, it’s likely that a number of former slaves left Stoneham.
Between the years of 1803 and 1838 are listed the deaths of five Negroes and one Native American. The latter is identified only as “an Indian man who was barbarously shot by some murderous person, November, 1813.”
From other sources we know this man was Nicholas John Crevay, a Penobscot, who with his wife was murdered near Spot Pond.
Of the Negroes listed, one was Hannah Barjona, who died in 1803, daughter of the free Africans, Simon and Hannah. Another is Chloe Freeman, 1838. Another is Daniel Kingston, 1808.
Two others are listed only by their first names: Moses, 1805; and Peter, “who froze in the snow” the death record states. He was 71.
Their remains, it is believed, lie under the grass in the Old Burying Ground.
In my next two columns I will revisit the 1783 abolition of slavery in Massachusetts. I’ll also revisit the abolitionist movement in Stoneham, the uproar it created, and the murder of a man named Timothy Wheeler.
In the meantime, I welcome reader feedback, and any additional information about the lives of African Americans in early Stoneham. You may reach me at email@example.com. Finally, let me thank Joan Quigley, Stoneham Historical Commission, for her assistance.
OF HUMAN BONDAGE, Feb. 22, 2017
We remember those who came before us. We find their names in town and church records, old newspaper clippings, and on gravestones. We do so out of respect for those who built our town.
So it is that we say the names, not only of the prominent and distinguished, but of the common folk. And we remember those marginalized in our history—men, women and children—the poor, the indentured, the Native Americans, and the slaves.
As New Englanders viewing American history, we are tempted to see slavery as a curse existing only in the South. But, of course, that’s not true.
Slaves began arriving in Boston in 1638, a scant 18 years after the Pilgrims landed in Plymouth. Human cargo, they came from the West Indies on ships that also carried cotton, sugar, molasses, tobacco and salt.
We must acknowledge that there were some who opposed slavery. In 1645 the General Court ruled against “the haynos and crying sinn of man stealing,” and ordered two slaves, who had been taken in a murderous assault on their village, returned to Guinea. Despite such opposition, however, slavery continued.
Twenty-five years after the first slaves arrived in Boston, there were around 200 slaves in Massachusetts. A hundred years later, there were over 5,000.
Because of New England’s diversified economy—small farms, sea trade and shop industries—northern slave owners never required the large numbers of slaves needed to run a Southern plantation. A wealthy merchant might keep a dozen slaves, but most owners kept only one.
Even in a small-scale business, however, slaves were a valuable source of free labor. They worked on farms and in the trades. They also worked as domestics, cooking, cleaning, gardening, sewing and waiting on their masters.
In the neighboring town of Medford lived one of the richest men in colonial Massachusetts, Isaac Royall. A prosperous rum trader from Antigua, he moved to Medford in 1734. With him came his family and 27 slaves.
Royall built a Georgian mansion, known today as the Royall House, and adjacent Slave Quarters, now a museum. The Slave Quarters is the only such structure still standing in the North.
The 1754 Census of Medford lists 34 slaves, seven of them female. A list of their owners includes the Reverend E. Burell, Dr. Simon Tufts, and Captain Thomas Brooks.
The conduct of slaves in Massachusetts was regulated by legislation and local ordinances. A 1703 law prohibited “blacks, Native Americans, and Mulattos from venturing out after 9 p.m. unless on a master’s errand.”
A 1745 resolution in Medford specified that any slave caught out past curfew was subject to a whipping in the market place, “not exceeding ten stripes unless the said Master gives satisfaction voted in the affirmative.”
Slaves could be punished in other ways as well. An unruly slave could be sold to a plantation in the South.
With the coming of the American Revolution, the legal, economic and social orders that benefited from slavery started to unravel. Some slaves were promised freedom if they joined the battle against the British.
In his History of Stoneham, William Stevens records 57 Stoneham men who fought in the Revolution. The last eight names are listed as Negroes, some of whom, Stevens writes, “obtained their liberty by enlisting.”
The driving force behind the abolition of slavery in Massachusetts was our Commonwealth’s new Constitution, ratified in 1780.
In my next column I’ll relate the legal cases that ended slavery in Massachusetts, eight decades before Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
Finally, as we mark Black History Month, let us remember the names of the slaves in our town. These are the ones I could find: Brome, Cato, Chloe, Dinah, Hannah, Kingstone, Mercar, Mingo, Moll, Moses, Obadiah, Peter, Sambo and Titus. May they rest in peace.
Note: my sources are Stevens’ and Dean’s histories of Stoneham, as well as the Massachusetts Historical Society, the Medford Historical Society, and Wendy Warren’s New England Bound: Slavery and Colonization in Early America. If you missed the first column in this series, “Here Lie Buried,” please email me for a copy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SLAVERY AND A NEW CONSTITUTION, March 8, 2017
This column continues to examine slavery in colonial Stoneham and the end of slavery in Massachusetts. If you missed the first two columns, please email me at email@example.com, and I will send you copies.
Slavery in Massachusetts ended not by proclamation but by the courts. The year was 1781, and the Revolutionary War was still raging when Elizabeth Freeman, known as Mumbet, and another slave named Brom sued their owner, John Ashley of Sheffield, for their freedom. A Stockbridge attorney, Theodore Sedgwick, pled their case in court and won. Ashley was forced to pay damages of 30 shillings and court costs.
That same year another slave named Quock Walker turned to the courts for his freedom, bringing one criminal and two civil suits against his owner, Nathaniel Jennison. Walker claimed he had been promised freedom three years earlier by his previous owner, but denied by Jennison. Walker also charged Jennison with assault andbattery. The court ruled that Walker was in fact a free man, and awarded him the substantial sum of 50 pounds.
These two cases set a precedent for how courts throughout the Commonwealth would rule on slavery. But the driving force behind these rulings was the new state Constitution, authored largely by John Adams in 1779 and approved by voters in 1780.
Because the courts upheld the Constitution in the above cases, slave owners knew no jury would rule in their favor. Here’s what the Constitution said:
All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights; among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; that of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property; in fine, that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness.
Last week I heard story-teller Tammy Denease present as Belinda of Medford at a Black History Month program in Winchester. As a girl, Belinda was kidnapped from her village in Ghana and sent downriver to a slave ship bound for Antigua. There she was purchased by Isaac Royall, a wealthy merchant trading in slaves and rum.
When Royall built a mansion and adjacent slave quarters in Medford, Belinda was one of several dozen slaves he brought with him. While there Belinda met Phillis, the slave of Boston merchant John Wheatley. We know Phillis Wheatley today, educated as one of the family, as the first published African-American poet. A collection of her poems was published in 1772 in London. She was freed by her master in 1773.
Ten years later, Phyllis and the prominent free black, Prince Hall, helped Belinda, who could neither read nor write, draw up a petition for reparations for 50 years of slavery. It was submitted three times. The General Court of Massachusetts finally granted Belinda an annuity of 15 pounds and 12 shillings.
Meanwhile, in Stoneham, as across the Commonwealth, slaves were gaining their freedom. Daniel Kingstone, the slave of Captain David Hay was one of them.
Earlier, at the start of the American Revolution, Kingstone had been offered his freedom if he would serve in the war. Not a young man—he was then in his 40s—he had declined.
Now around 50, Kingstone “was set at liberty, with the rest,” Deacon Silas Dean writes, “but unlike some of his southern brethern, who take their liberty without permission, he chose to spend the remnant of his days with his old master.”
Why did Kingstone chose to stay with Hay, and why does Dean contrast his behavior with that of slaves in the South?
We should remember that Dean was writing his history of Stoneham in the 1840s, two decades before slavery was abolished in the South. And that increasing numbers were then “taking their liberty without permission” and fleeing north.
Why Kingstone stayed with his master, we can only surmise. We do know that after slavery ended in Massachusetts, freed slaves faced new hardships. It was not uncommon for an owner of an aging slave to set him or her free, thus avoiding responsibility for their care.
Kingstone’s new status as a free man may have little changed his relationship with Hay. Town records record Kingstone’s death in 1808 at age 75 and burial in the Old Burying Ground.
What we know about African-Americans in Stoneham during the Colonial period and the early decades of American independence is spotty. We find names. We look for dates, for connections. We do ourselves a favor, however, to learn all we can, and to remember.
Note: My sources were Stevens’ and Deans’ histories, town vital records, and the Massachusetts Historical Society, as well as information gained from Joan Quigley, Stoneham Historical Commission, the Medford Historical Society, and Tammy Denease, historical reenactor.
SIDETRACK ON THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD, March 22
They came from the Caribbean and the American South. Fugitives and stowaways, they arrived in New Bedford and Fall River, Plymouth and Portsmouth, Salem and Boston. Some settled in seaports, some went inland, and others pushed on to Canada.
Slavery had ended in Massachusetts in 1783, but it persisted in the South for another 80 years—not only persisted, but expanded into Missouri and Texas as a divided nation attempted to both extend and limit its scope.
Meanwhile, escaping slaves continued to arrive in Northern seaports. In one case, a Virginia slave named Henry Box Brown paid a friend $166 to nail him up in a box and ship him to Philadelphia. Unboxed and sheltered in Philadelphia, he was then sent on to Boston.
A Supreme Judicial Court ruling in Massachusetts, however, chilled the hopes of many slave refugees. In 1823 in New Bedford a former slave from Virginia named Randolph was seized by an agent and a deputy sheriff. Randolph had prospered in the Quaker seaport, and even bought a house. Now he faced extradition.
In 1793 Congress had passed the first Fugitive Slave Act. Although rarely enforced, this Act meant that former slaves were still subject to capture and return to their owners.
The case was brought before the Supreme Judicial Court. The Massachusetts attorney general argued eloquently for Randolph’s freedom, but the court upheld the slave owner’s rights to have him returned to Virginia.
An increasing number of fugitive slaves now sought safety away from the seaports. They passed along routes we call the Underground Railway. In Massachusetts it had many lines and sidetracks. It passed through Worcester and South Hampton. It ran through Newton and Concord, and it ran through Stoneham.
The hub of the abolitionist movement was Boston. Here, free blacks, former slaves and abolitionist whites, including William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass, inspired men and women to action.
In 1838, six years after the founding of the New England Anti-slavery Society at the African Meeting House, 27 women in Stoneham formed a female chapter. That same year, Marina Menno wrote, 60 Stoneham men formed a male chapter.
The Anti-Slavery Society in Stoneham centered in the Congregational Church. One of its deacons, Abijah Bryant, began hiding slaves in his home. The house at 309 Main Street is no longer there. But if you step into the Book Oasis, you will have found the site.
Historian Wilbert Siebert wrote that the Bryant home “harbored many fugitive slaves in the years preceding the Civil War.”
Another Stoneham stop on the Underground Railroad, Siebert noted, was “the Newhall place," on Green Street.
Although the abolitionist movement was active in Stoneham, the citizens were by no means in agreement. In political beliefs and sentiments, the populace was polarized, perhaps even more than today. Town meetings were often disrupted as abolitionists rose to speak, and their opponents shouted them down.
In 1837, four prominent citizens were appointed to take charge of the “town-house,” and not to allow any meeting to proceed which might become disruptive or “endanger the house.”
“The question of African slavery was cleaving asunder the community,” Judge William Stevens wrote. “Political fervor was red hot.”
In May the citizens of the town voted by a count of 62 to 33 “that the town will not allow anti-slavery lectures, and discussion” in Town Hall.
Still meetings were held, Stevens recorded, some broken up, others spilling out into mob violence, concluding, he writes, in the murder of Timothy A. Wheeler.
In my next column I’ll tell you more about Timothy Wheeler and the case brought before the Supreme Judicial Court in 1839: the Commonwealth vs. Samuel S. Maynard.
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