Indian and African slavery was a primary factor in the development of New England commercial economic prosperity, “the key dynamic force,” as colonial historian Bernard Bailyn wrote. He added that “Only a few New England merchants actually engaged in the [transatlantic] slave trade, but all of them profited by it, lived off it.” With the influx of African slaves into Puritan society, laws and codes had to be developed to cope with the “strangers.”
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
Jim Crow’s New England Origins
“The rapid rise in the number of slaves at the dawn of the eighteenth century caused Massachusetts leaders to take action. Spiritually, slavery proved an obstacle for the local ministers, as some congregants began to question whether a Christian should own another Christian.
In 1693, Cotton Mather took on the challenge of Christianizing the heathen population without ending enslavement. In his 1701 pamphlet, The Negro Christianized, Mather assured nervous masters that conversion did not free the slave. Mather’s vision of slavery . . . idealized the relationship between master and enslaved . . . [and] promised that if owners mistreated their slaves “the Sword of Justice” would sweep through the colony.
In 1701, Boston, which had the largest slave population in the colony, began passing municipal laws aimed at setting standard limits on slave behavior . . . They could not drink alcohol, start fires, or assemble. So as to not hamper slave owners’ profits of property rights, slaves were whipped rather than imprisoned, a punishment that few whites suffered in the early eighteenth century.
As slaves became more numerous . . . the colony of Massachusetts responded in similar fashion to Boston by passing legislation to control the behavior of African slaves. The legislature feared that a “turbulent temper in spirit” would grow into “an opposition to all government and order.” The law targeted assemblies at night, begging, and starting fires. In the eyes of the legislators, blacks, free and enslaved, posed the greatest threat to the good order of society.
Having children was also difficult for enslaved women from New England. Masters found childbirth inconvenient and actively discouraged it, which contributed to the low birth rate among African Americans in Massachusetts.”
(Tyrannicide, Forging an American Law of Slavery in Revolutionary South Carolina and Massachusetts, Emily Blanck, UGA Press, 2014, excerpts, pp. 15-16)