Browsing "New England’s Slave Trade"

New World African Slavery

One of the first slave owners in the Virginia colony was African, Anthony Johnson, an Angolan indentured servant who became free in 1621 and later a successful tobacco farmer in Maryland. Massachusetts was the first colony in British America to legislate regarding slave status, captured and enslaved Pequot men, women and children, and was an active participant in the transatlantic slave trade which populated the American South, especially, with Africans. This source book is available online at www.Amazon.com, and via free download from www.southernhistorians.org.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

New World African Slavery

“In 1619 a ship arrived in Jamestown, Virginia colony with 20 indentured servants of African ancestry. Purchased by tobacco farmers, thus began the history of people of African ancestry living in what would become the United States of America.

But before long African laborers were purchased as bonded persons, slaves for life, and laws soon permitted owners to also own the children of their female slaves. Puritan Separatists began the northeastern colonies at Plymouth in 1620 and soon afterward joined the British and others in the trans-Atlantic slave trade business.

They sailed to African seaports, purchased Africans captured by rival tribes, brought them back across the Atlantic and sold them at New World seaports, including the 13 British colonies. Descendants of African ancestry living today are in the US are here, not Africa, because of this slave trade.

The 1810 census reported 1,304,151 people of noticeable African ancestry. Not all were slaves, for 97,284 were living in the Southern States as independent persons and 76,086 were living independently in the Northern States. Over the next 200 years, to 2010, the African American population grew 6,173 percent to 37,035,333. With few exceptions, these people are descended from the original 600,000.”

(Understanding the War Between the States, A Supplemental Booklet, Clyde N. Wilson, Howard White, et al, 2015, excerpts editor’s introduction, Chapter 10)

A Tradition of Anti-Southern Hatred

In a fit of anti-South hatred, the radical Parson Brownlow of Tennessee told his pro-Lincoln audience that “we will crowd the rebels into the Gulf of Mexico and drown the entire race, as the devil did the hogs in the Sea of Galilee.” Abolitionist Wendell Phillips received cheers from his audience when he called for the near-extermination of American Southerners “and no peace until 347,000 men of the South are either hanged or exiled.” The blue clad soldiers of Sherman and Sheridan practiced wanton destruction of towns, cities and farms where they marched, slaughtering livestock indiscriminately, and leaving little of nothing for women and children – black or white — to eat.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

A Tradition of Anti-Southern Hatred

“Hatred of the South is not new, and examples of it are legion. Ralph Waldo Emerson declared, “If it costs ten years, and ten to twenty to recover the general prosperity, the destruction of the South is worth so much.” Prior to the War for Southern Independence, and Englishman stated that there was nothing Northerners “hate with so deep a hatred” as Southerners.

In 1862, Gen. Benjamin “Beast” Butler of Massachusetts added the lynch rope to the arsenal of weapons used against the South. A Southern youth made the mistake of removing the invaders flag from a building in occupied New Orleans. He paid dearly for his patriotic enthusiasm [as Butler] ordered the young Southerner hung by the neck until dead!

Such is the tradition of anti-Southern hatred, a tradition inherited and perpetuated by the liberal establishment. To perpetuate [the] liberal myth of history, the liberal establishment, like any other empire, requires a monopoly in the marketplace of ideas . . . [and] controls access to the media. The liberal propagandist rings the bell “slavery” and the masses respond with an outpouring of anti-Southern venom.

Imagine how embarrassing it would be for the liberal establishment if there were general knowledge that Massachusetts was the first colony to engage in the slave trade, that much of the capital used to build the industrial Northeast was amassed from profits of the New England slave trade, that it was primarily the Northern colonies which refused to allow a section in the US Constitution outlawing the slave trade, or that the thirteen stripes on the US flag represent thirteen slave-holding colonies, the majority of which were Northern colonies!”

(Driving Dixie Down – the Destruction of Southern Culture; Why Not Freedom! America’s Revolt Against Big Government, James & Ronald Kennedy, Pelican Publishing, 1995, excerpts pp. 367-369)

Yankee Slave Trader Gordon

In late February 1862, Yankee slaver trader Nathaniel Gordon of Portland, Maine, was hung in the stone courtyard of the Tombs, in New York City, convicted of “piratically confining and detaining Negroes with the intent of making them slaves.” Ironically, New York’s own Declaration of Independence signer, Phillip Livingston, made his own vast fortune in the slave trade, as did many other New Englanders. A further irony is that soon Lincoln would be formulating a plan to foment race war in the American South, replicating the emancipation edicts of Royal Governor Lord Dunmore in 1775, and Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane in 1814. It was England and New England that brought shiploads of enslaved Africans to work Southern and South American plantations, and both would later demand liberty and the rights of man for those they had placed in bondage. See: Hanging Captain Gordon, Ron Soodalter, 2006 for deeper reading.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Yankee Slave Trader Gordon

“In November 1861 a Yankee slave trader was captured on the high seas with a boat load of slaves bound for the West Indies. Trading in slaves had been illegal for years, although the New England slave ships had been carrying on clandestine slave trading with considerable success for Cuba and Brazil but not the South, which was not interested.

It is commonly but erroneously assumed that slave trading was a Southern occupation, but in fact almost all slave trading, when it was legal and later illegal, was from ships of New England registry with Northern crews.

The Yankee slave trader Nathaniel Gordon, who was originally from Maine, was tried before a federal judge in New York and sentenced to be hanged on 7 February 1862. It was the first and only time such a sentence was handed down and carried out.

Realizing the undue harshness of the sentence, 25,000 New Yorkers petitioned Lincoln to commute Gordon’ sentence to one of life imprisonment. There was nothing to be lost by Lincoln doing this, but Lincoln refused to commute the sentence. (Later, when another slave trader was caught, Lincoln went to the other extreme and granted a pardon).

There were many vociferous abolitionists who called for the hanging to be carried out, and Lincoln yielded to their demands. He did, however, grant a cruel delay of thirteen days so that the execution would not take place until 20 February. Lincoln explained his course of action in these words: “In granting this respite [thirteen days] it becomes my painful duty to admonish the prisoner that relinquishing all expectation of pardon by human authority, he refer himself alone to the mercy of the common God and Father of all men.”

It would seem that mercy from God, to be realistic, would have to come through men, and in this case, Lincoln. Where was the “mercy of the common God” when Lincoln had him hanging from a rope until dead? What is the logic of this cruelty?”

(When in the Course of Human Events, Arguing the Case for Secession, Charles Adams, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2000, excerpts pp. 209-210)

New England’s Perpetuation of Slavery

There is little question that the origins of the American Revolution, and the later War Between the States, are rooted in New England’s illicit trade in slaves and molasses, and England’s efforts to stop the maritime competition with the mother country. By 1750, Rhode Island had become the center of the transatlantic slave trade, surpassing Liverpool for the dubious honor.

The author below writes: “nine-tenths of the colonial merchants and skippers had become smugglers as the break with England neared. Such men as John Hancock, a prince of contraband traders, on the eve of Paul Revere’s ride had for counsel before the Admiralty Court in Boston none other than John Adams, answering for him a half-million dollar suit in penalties as a smuggler.” He went on that “One-quarter of all the signers of the Declaration of Independence were bred to commerce, to the command of ships and to contraband trade.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

New England’s Perpetuation of Slavery

“In accord with the spirit of the times the British Parliament passed a series of statutes in 1633 providing, among other things, that nothing could be brought into the colonies that wasn’t carried there in British ships, “whereof the master and three-fourths of the crew are English.”

[Concerned about the rise of illicit maritime trade of New England] the shipbuilders of the Thames district met in London in the winter of 1724-1725 and formally complained to the Lords of Trade:

“In the eight years ending in 1720 we are informed that seven hundred sail of ships were built in New England, and that in years since, as may if not more; and that the New England trade, by the tender of extraordinary inducements, has drawn over so many working shipwrights that there are not enough left to carry on the work [in England].”

Linked inseparably with the venture south to the [West] Indies the colonists’ brisk trade in rum and what they were in the habit of calling “Black Ivory.” For the Indies trade was a three-cornered affair hinging on rum, slaves and molasses. Together they comprised the foundation for more ships and hence more trouble than all the politicians ashore put together.

The New Englanders had Indian slaves as early as 1637 . . . and more or less formal business developed, with traders nabbing Indians along the banks of the Kennebec River in Maine and selling them into slavery up and down the coast. It was the black ivory from Africa, however, that turned the trick in the West Indies trade and established Southern slavery on a solid and enduring footing.

The mechanics of this all-important trade worked like this: molasses was brought to New England and made into rum; the rum, highly prized among Negroes on the west coast of Africa, brought its own price among the drinkers, a price that included any of their relatives or friends who might have the bad judgment to be lying about, and the resultant human cargoes were disposed of profitably in Boston, Newport [Rhode Island] and on south.

Not all the West Indies rum was drunk by Negroes. A flourishing local trade in fur was conducted with the Indians by the extremely profitable exchange of a few bottles of cheap rum or whiskey for the entire season’s catch of its drunken owner. The tribal chiefs . . . in 1726, begged without avail to have the sale of firewater to the young braves stopped.

It is hardly surprising, then, that among the first real troublemakers of all the British efforts to raise money [to support the colonies] was a new Molasses Act, for it was molasses brought in from the French West Indies from which New England rum was made. To put teeth into the effort Parliament authorized the use of writs of assistance, a sort of search warrant covering an entire community that gave British customs officials the right to search any ship, warehouse or even private home for smuggled goods.

When the harried Board of Trade and Plantations finally decided to act, its attempt to enforce the Navigation Acts [to restrict New England’s rum and slave triangle] was the spark in the touchhole that set the guns to booming.”

(Yankee Ships, an Informal History of the American Merchant Marine, Reese Wolfe, Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1953, excerpts pp. 39; 43-44; 49-51)

Ben McCulloch’s Visit to New England

Ben McCulloch (1811-1862) of Tennessee was a soldier in the Texas Revolution, a Texas Ranger, major-general in the Texas Militia, a major in the US Army during the Mexican War, a US marshal, and lastly a brigadier-general in the Confederate States Army. He was killed in action by an Illinois sniper at the battle of Pea Ridge in March of 1862. McCulloch’s prewar visit to New England in mid-1856 allowed him to view that region’s notable historic and transatlantic slave trade sites. His younger brother Henry served in both Houses of the Texas Legislature and was also a Confederate brigadier; their father Alexander was a Yale graduate, ancestor of George Washington, and veteran of the Creek War of 1813.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Ben McCulloch’s Visit to New England

“Increasingly contemptuous of the North and its institutions, and set in his belief that an abolitionist conspiracy was in place not only to end slavery but to destroy the South’s political liberties, Ben recommended to Henry, then a member of the Texas legislature, that he introduce a joint resolution appointing commissioners to negotiate with the owners of Mount Vernon for its purchase by the State of Texas. “It would be a proud day for our State when it was proclaimed that she owned the Tomb of Washington. Besides,” he wrote, we may want a campaign ground near the city in the event of the election of a Black Republican candidate.”

During the final weeks of June 1856, with [Franklin] Pierce’s term of office drawing to a close and the great regional controversy over the expansion and perpetuation of slavery reaching a crisis, McCulloch took his first trip into New England. After spending no longer in Boston than required to visit “the monument on Breed’s Hill, Faneuil Hall, the Commons, etc.,” Ben reported to Henry that “the whole population looked as though they were just returning from a funeral. Too puritanical in appearance to be good neighbors or patriotic citizens.”

[In Albany, New York, Whig presidential candidate Millard Fillmore] told the North that the South “would not permit a sectional president of the north to govern them.” McCulloch shared this opinion most earnestly, and he vowed to be “the first to volunteer my services as a soldier to prevent it, and would rather see the streets of this city knee deep in blood than to see a black republican take possession of that chair.”

(Ben McCulloch and the Frontier Military Tradition, Thomas W. Cutrer, UNC Press, 1993, excerpts pp. 140-141)

The Cornerstone of New England Prosperity

The primary reason for the large number of slaves in the Southern colonies, despite their repeated complaints to the Crown, was the British colonial labor system supporting large plantations in the South – all to the benefit of England. Although Massachusetts and Rhode Island abolished slavery, their slave trading on the coast of Africa continued unabated. Jefferson castigated George III for waging a “cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people [Africans] who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

The Cornerstone of New England’s Prosperity

“The relation between master and slave had practically continued in every one of the American provinces, until the close of the Revolution in 1783. Immediately after that event, it was decided by the Supreme Court of Massachusetts that slavery had been, in fact, abolished in that State by the operation of the State Constitution, adopted in the year 1790.

In all of the other original thirteen provinces north of Mason and Dixon’s line, except Delaware . . . legislative measures were taken, shortly after the Revolution, for either the immediate or gradual extinction of slavery. The sum total of the slaves in all these Northern States in 1790, was 49,240. The rest of the slaves in the States, amounting to 648,657, were distributed between Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, except 8,887 in Delaware.

[Interestingly, the Northern States, when involved in establishing the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution] did not deem themselves authorized to meddle with [slavery] outside of their several State jurisdictions.

Mr. Jefferson, indeed, gave a reason for this reticence imputing it to the indirect interest of the Northern maritime States, in the transportation of African slaves to the Southern States. In his original draft of the Declaration of Independence he had inserted an article unqualifiedly reprobating the foreign slave trade, and urging the protection afforded to it by the King as one powerful motive for the rebellion.

He finally withdrew this clause from the document, and his reason, recorded by himself, appears in explanation of his conduct. After alluding to the disposition of some of the Southern States to keep up the slave trade, he continues:

“Our Northern brethren, also, I believe, felt a little tender under those censures, for though their people have very few slaves themselves, yet they had been pretty considerable carriers of them to others [Jefferson’s Works, I., p. 15].”

(Origin of the Late War: Traced from the Beginning of the Constitution to the Revolt of the Southern States; George Lunt, Crown Rights Book Company, 2001, (original D. Appleton, 1866), excerpt pp. 10-11)

Fixing Blame for African Slavery

By 1689, few African slaves had been introduced to Virginia and elsewhere by British, Dutch, French slavers, though this changed radically in the next seventy years – by 1760 the black race formed fully two-fifths of the entire Southern population. The increasing supply of Africans certainly fixed the plantation system on the South as part of the British colonial labor system.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Fixing Blame for African Slaves

“So far as the [colonial] Southern tidewater is concerned, the increase in population came largely through the involuntary immigration of African Negroes. During the seventeenth century . . . British merchants and their government were organizing as never before for the exploitation of the slave trade.

The prosperity of the Royal African Company stimulated competition, and before long “separate traders” from England and [New England] broke down the company’s monopoly. In 1713 the British slave-traders gained a great advantage over Dutch and French rivals by the Asiento agreement, giving them the privilege of supplying slaves to the Spanish colonial market.

There are no comprehensive statistics; but in 1734 it was estimated that about 70,000 slaves annually were exported from Africa to the New World.

The responsibility for slavery in the English colonies must be distributed widely. British merchants, the imperial government, which defeated efforts on the part of colonial assemblies to check the trade, [and] New England traders . . . each group must take its share.

Peter Fontaine, an Anglican clergyman of Huguenot stock, spoke of it as the “original sin and curse of the country,” but urged that when the colonists tried to restrict importation, their acts were commonly disapproved in England.

Besides, he argued, the Negroes had been first enslaved in Africa by men of their own color . . . Efforts were made to Christianize and educate the Negroes, and the Anglican missionaries were expected to make this part of their work.”

(The Foundations of American Nationality, Evarts Boutell Greene, American Book Company, 1922, excerpts pp. 316; 322)

Boston and Newport Slave Merchants

By the year 1750, Rhode Island had become the center of the transatlantic slave trade as it surpassed Liverpool — while also angering British shipbuilders as their workmen left for New England and better pay. Boston’s Peter Fanueil made his wealth through slaving, and the famous Redwood Library in Newport was built with land and money from Abraham Redwood, who grew rich in the slave trade. The Brown family of Newport, Nicholas, John, Joseph and Moses, who established Brown University, made their fortune in the slave trade.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Boston and Newport Slave Merchants

“British commercial relations with the northern colonies, though important, were less close than with the South and the West Indies. New England had no staple exports to England at all comparable with West Indian sugar or Virginia tobacco. Her fish and lumber were marketed largely elsewhere, chiefly in the West Indies but also in other colonies, in the Azores, and in southern Europe.

From the American point of view the British government ought to have encouraged the trade with the foreign West Indies instead of trying to check it with the Molasses Act. The English authorities were, however, less impressed by [New England arguments] than by the smuggled European goods which came in through this “back door.”

Before, as well as after, the passage of the Molasses Act, sugar and molasses from the foreign West Indies continued to supply the distilleries of New England, whence rum was sent out for use in the Indian trade and in the purchase of African slaves. In this latter trade, Boston and especially Newport merchants competed with those of the mother country.

In the first half of the eighteenth century, Newport became the chief base in North America for the African slave trade. The round of this trade began with the rum manufactured from West Indies molasses. What followed may be illustrated from the correspondence of some of these Newport merchants.

In 1755, for instance, the firm of Wilkinson and Ayrault sent Captain David Lindsay to the African coast, where he was to exchange his cargo for gold and slaves. With his human freight he was to sail to Barbados or St. Christopher, where the slaves were to be sold, provided he could get an average price of twenty-seven pounds for them all, “great and small.” The captain did this business on commission, getting among other things five slaves for his own share.

The profits of this trade, legal and illegal, were building up at Boston, Newport, Salem, and elsewhere a rich merchant class of decidedly cosmopolitan interests.

“[The] Narragansett planters” of Rhode Island had also a reputation for generous living.  Indentured servants came in from England and Ireland . . . Prosperous families, especially in the larger towns, often had one or more Negro slaves and there was no general feeling against the practice, though a few protests were heard. Rhode Island had the largest proportion of Negroes and the Narragansett planters used slave labor more than any other part of New England.

Generally speaking, the small farmers of New England could not use Negro slaves to much purpose.”

(The Foundations of American Nationality, Evarts Boutell Greene, American Book Company, 1922, excerpts pp. 246-247; 262-263; 266)

The Disappearance of Wealth from the South

Add to the sectional tariff issues below the irony of Northern abolitionist agitators, many of whom were the sons and grandsons of those who had grown wealthy through New England’s slave trade which populated the South with laborers, who fomented race war in the South. It was New England slave ships which brought slaves from Africa; New England mills were busy consuming slave-produced cotton; and Manhattan banks were eager to lend Southern plantation owners money at low interest to buy more land to produce more cotton.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Disappearance of Wealth from the South

“The South maintained that the Tariff Acts of 1828 and 1833 were unconstitutional, since Congress had the power to levy taxes only for revenue and the taxes have to be uniform. The act then passed was sectional, since by it, the South, while she had only one-third of the votes, paid two-thirds of the custom duties . . .

[And] as our government was a compact, the government could not be superior to the States – so Congress was overstepping its powers, and [the South] contended that a tax on one part of the country could not be laid to protect the industries of another part. (United States Constitution – Section VIII., Clause 1)

What had the North to say to this?

When Thomas Hart Benton, of Missouri, in referring to the Tariff Acts, said:

“Under Federal legislation the exports of the South have been the basis of the Federal revenues – everything goes out and nothing is returned to them in the shape of Federal expenditures. The expenditures flow North. This is the reason why wealth disappears from the South and rises up in the North. No tariff has yet included Georgia, Virginia or the two Carolinas [in its largesse], except to increase the burdens imposed upon them.

The political economists of the North, Carey, Elliott, Kettel and others who have studied the source of National wealth in America, said: “Mr. Benton is right in the explanation given of the sudden disappearance of wealth from the South.”

Then the editor of “Southern Wealth and Northern Profits,” a Northern man, said:

“It is a gross injustice, if not hypocrisy, to be always growing rich on the profits of slave labor; and at the same time to be eternally taunting and insulting the South on account of slavery. Though you bitterly denounce slavery as the “sum of all villainies,” it is nevertheless the principal factor (by high tariff) of your Northern wealth, and you know it.”

(Truths of History, Mildred Lewis Rutherford, Southern Lion Books, 1998 (originally published 1920), excerpts pp. 84-85)

New England’s Hidden History

New England’s Hidden History – More Than We Like to Think, the North Was Built on Slavery.

By Francie Latour 
(excerpts) September 26, 2010

In the year 1755, a black slave named Mark Codman plotted to kill his abusive master. A God-fearing man, Codman had resolved to use poison, reasoning that if he could kill without shedding blood, it would be no sin. Arsenic in hand, he and two female slaves poisoned the tea and porridge of John Codman repeatedly. The plan worked — but like so many stories of slave rebellion, this one ended in brutal death for the slaves as well. After a trial by jury, Mark Codman was hanged, tarred, and then suspended in a metal gibbet on the main road to town, where his body remained for more than 20 years.

It sounds like a classic account of Southern slavery. But Codman’s body didn’t hang in Savannah, Ga.; it hung in present-day Somerville, Mass. And the reason we know just how long Mark the slave was left on view is that Paul Revere passed it on his midnight ride. In a fleeting mention from Revere’s account, the horseman described galloping past “Charlestown Neck, and got nearly opposite where Mark was hung in chains.”

When it comes to slavery, the story that New England has long told itself goes like this:

Slavery happened in the South, and it ended thanks to the North. Maybe we had a little slavery, early on. But it wasn’t real slavery. We never had many slaves, and the ones we did have were practically family. We let them marry, we taught them to read, and soon enough, we freed them. New England is the home of abolitionists and underground railroads. In the story of slavery—and by extension, the story of race and racism in modern-day America—we’re the heroes. Aren’t we?

As the nation prepares to mark the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War in 2011, with commemorations that reinforce the North/South divide, researchers are offering uncomfortable answers to that question, unearthing more and more of the hidden stories of New England slavery—it’s brutality, its staying power, and its silent presence in the very places that have become synonymous with freedom.

With the markers of slavery forgotten even as they lurk beneath our feet—from graveyards to historic homes, from Lexington and Concord to the halls of Harvard University—historians say it is time to radically rewrite America’s slavery story to include its buried history in New England.

“The story of slavery in New England is like a landscape that you learn to see,” said Anne Farrow, who co-wrote “Complicity: How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited From Slavery” and who is researching a new book about slavery and memory. “Once you begin to see these great seaports and these great historic houses, everywhere you look, you can follow it back to the agricultural trade of the West Indies, to the trade of bodies in Africa, to the unpaid labor of black people.”

It was the 1991 discovery of an African burial ground in New York City that first revived the study of Northern slavery. Since then, fueled by educators, preservationists, and others, momentum has been building to recognize histories hidden in plain sight.

Last year, Connecticut became the first New England state to formally apologize for slavery. In classrooms across the country, popularity has soared for educational programs on New England slavery designed at Brown University. In February, Emory University will hold a major conference on the role slavery’s profits played in establishing American colleges and universities, including in New England. And in Brookline, Mass., a program called Hidden Brookline is designing a virtual walking tour to illuminate its little-known slavery history: At one time, nearly half the town’s land was held by slave owners.

“What people need to understand is that, here in the North, while there were not the large plantations of the South or the Caribbean islands, there were families who owned slaves,” said Stephen Bressler, director of Brookline’s Human Relations-Youth Resources Commission.

“There were businesses actively involved in the slave trade, either directly in the importation or selling of slaves on our shores, or in the shipbuilding, insurance, manufacturing of shackles, processing of sugar into rum, and so on. Slavery was a major stimulus to the Northern economy.” Turning over the stones to find those histories isn’t just a matter of correcting the record, he and others say. It’s crucial to our understanding of the New England we live in now.

“The absolute amnesia about slavery here on the one hand, and the gradualness of slavery ending on the other, work together to make race a very distinctive thing in New England,” said Joanne Pope Melish, who teaches history at the University of Kentucky and wrote the book “Disowning Slavery: Gradual Emancipation and ‘Race’ in New England, 1780-1860.”

“If you have obliterated the historical memory of actual slavery—because we’re the free states, right?—that makes it possible to turn around and look at a population that is disproportionately poor and say, it must be their own inferiority. That is where New England’s particular brand of racism comes from.”

But to focus on crusaders like [William Lloyd] Garrison is to ignore ugly truths about how unwillingly New England as a whole turned the page on slavery. Across the region, scholars have found, slavery here died a painfully gradual death, with emancipation laws and judicial rulings that either were unclear, poorly enforced, or written with provisions that kept slaves and the children born to them in bondage for years.

Meanwhile, whites who had trained slaves to do skilled work refused to hire the same blacks who were now free, driving an emerging class of skilled workers back to the lowest rungs of unskilled labor. Many whites, driven by reward money and racial hatred, continued to capture and return runaway Southern slaves; some even sent free New England blacks south, knowing no questions about identity would be asked at the other end.

“Is Garrison important? Yes. Is it dangerous to be an abolitionist at that time? Absolutely,” said Melish. “What is conveniently forgotten is the number of people making a living snagging free black people in a dark alley and shipping them south.”

If Concord was a slave town, historians say, Connecticut was a slave state. It didn’t abolish slavery until 1848, a little more than a decade before the Civil War. (A judge’s ruling ended legal slavery in Massachusetts in 1783, though the date is still hotly debated by historians.) It’s a history Connecticut author and former Hartford Courant journalist Anne Farrow knew nothing about—until she got drawn into an assignment to find the untold story of one local slave. Once she started pulling the thread, Farrow said, countless histories unfurled: accounts of thousand-acre slave plantations and a livestock industry that bred the horses that turned the giant turnstiles of West Indian sugar mills.

Each discovery punctured another slavery myth. “A mentor of mine has said New England really democratized slavery,” said Farrow. “Where in the South a few people owned so many slaves, here in the North, many people owned a few. There was a widespread ownership of black people.”

Perhaps no New England colony or state profited more from the unpaid labor of blacks than Rhode Island: Following the Revolution, scholars estimate, slave traders in the tiny Ocean State controlled between two-thirds and 90 percent of America’s trade in enslaved Africans. On the rolling farms of Narragansett, nearly one-third of the population was black—a proportion not much different from Southern plantations. In 2003, the push to reckon with that legacy hit a turning point when Brown University, led by its first African-American president, launched a highly controversial effort to account for its ties to Rhode Island’s slave trade.

As Brown’s decision made national headlines, Katrina Browne, a Boston filmmaker, was on a more private journey through New England slavery, tracing her bloodlines back to her Rhode Island forebears, the DeWolf family. As it turned out, the DeWolfs were the biggest slave-trading family in the nation’s biggest slave-trading state. Browne’s journey, which she chronicled in the acclaimed documentary “Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North,” led her to a trove of records of the family’s business at every point in slavery’s triangle trade.

If New England’s amnesia has been pervasive, it has also been willful, argues C.S. Manegold, author of the new book “Ten Hills Farm: The Forgotten History of Slavery in the North.” That’s because many of slavery’s markers aren’t hidden or buried. In New England, one need look no further than a symbol that graces welcome mats, door knockers, bedposts, and all manner of household decor: the pineapple.

When New England ships came to port, captains would impale pineapples on a fence post, a sign to everyone that they were home and open for business, bearing the bounty of slave labor and sometimes slaves themselves.

“It’s a symbol everyone knows the benign version of—the happy story that pineapples signify hospitality and welcome,” said Manegold, whose book centers on five generations of slaveholders tied to one Colonial era estate, the Royall House and Slave Quarters in Medford, Mass., now a museum.

The house features two carved pineapples at its gateposts. By Manegold’s account, pineapples were just the beginning at this particular Massachusetts farm: Generation after generation, history at the Royall House collides with myths of freedom in New England—starting with one of the most mythical figures of all, John Winthrop. Author of the celebrated “City Upon a Hill” sermon and first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Winthrop not only owned slaves at Ten Hills Farm, but in 1641, he helped pass one of the first laws making chattel slavery legal in North America.

“In Concord,” Lemire said, “the Minutemen clashed with the British at the Old North Bridge within sight of a man enslaved in the local minister’s house. The fact that there was slavery in the town that helped birth American liberty doesn’t mean we shouldn’t celebrate the sacrifices made by the Minutemen. But it does mean New England has to catch up with the rest of the country, in much of which residents have already wrestled with their dual legacies of freedom and slavery.”

Francie Latour is an associate editor at Wellesley Magazine and a former Globe reporter.

 

Pages:1234567»