Barbarous Blot on New England's Escutcheon
African slavery in North America began with a Portuguese ship with slaves to sell, and a Virginia free black man who sued in court to retain a black man as a slave in 1654. Further north, New Englander’s were engaged in enslaving Indians who resisted their settlements, and developing a transatlantic slave trade that surpassed Liverpool’s dominance.
Bernhard Thuersam, Circ1865
Barbarous Blot on New England’s Escutcheon
“Negro slavery in New England was a peculiar admixture of servitude and bondage. There was the same horror of the [plantation-era] slave trade, the same spectacle of gangs of manacled blacks deposited on the wharves of Boston and Newport, and the same selling of human chattel at auction. Nor was the tearing the wife from husband, nor the separation of children from both, nor the existence of a slave code, peculiar only to the Middle and Southern Colonies. It was applicable in New England as well; and, in some instances, New England led the way.
The Puritan settlements of New England enjoyed, either contemporaneously or separately, the three forms of servitude common in that day, namely; indentured servants, Indian slaves, and Negro slaves. Indentured servants date from the founding of Massachusetts . . . [and a] new source of [servants] was soon found, however, for Indian warfare began about 1636, and the captives were promptly sold into slavery. The women and children were usually employed in the colonies; the warriors were carried to the West Indies and there sold as slaves.
The barbarous treatment of the Pequots by the New Englanders in their ruthless war of extermination against them, must ever remain a blot upon New England’s escutcheon. However, the pious Puritans easily dismissed any qualms of conscience which might have arisen, by the simple fact that “a gracious Providence had been pleased to deliver the heathen Indians into their hands.”
Thus the redskin, not the black man, was the first slave in New England. As such they were eagerly sought by the Puritans for their labor. Even the much-vaunted saintliness of Roger Williams, was not sufficient to deter him from writing John Winthrop, Governor of Massachusetts, asking that a small Indian boy be sent to him as a servant. He had just previously written Winthrop (1636), protesting against the cruel treatment of the Indians by the whites, and praying that “they be used kindly and have houses and fields given them.”
Indian slavery was, however, soon to be supplemented by Negro servitude, for the redskin was considered lazy, intractable, vindictive, and inclined to run away. [Most] authorities agree that the mention of Negro slaves by John Winthrop in his diary, in the year 1638 is the earliest authentic testimony of black slaves in New England. There were Negro slaves in New Haven [Connecticut] as early as 1644, six years after the founding of the colony. It is known that John Pantry of Hartford owned a slave in 1653. In New Hampshire [mention of black slaves mentioned in 1646].
The Eighteenth Century . . . saw the rise of the New England colonies as the greatest slave carriers of America. Quick to see the unprofitableness of the Negro slave as a laborer in such an environment, when the price of the slave was greater than the labor returned, the ingenious Yankee soon found a market in the West Indies for slaves, exchanged for rum, sugar and molasses on the Guinea Coast.
Massachusetts early assumed a commanding position in this trade. Peter Faneuil, whose “whole lineage is held in peculiar honor” in Boston, was typical of the many possessors of comfortable fortunes amassed from profits of this traffic.”
(Slave-Holding in New England and Its Awakening, Lorenzo J. Greene, Journal of Negro History, Carter G. Woodson, editor, Vol. XIII, No. 4, October, 1928, pp. 492-496)