In 1780, when the Massachusetts Constitution went into effect, slavery was legal in the Commonwealth. The legislature took no action. The constitution proposed in 1778 would have recognized slavery as a legal institution, and excluded free African Americans from voting. As historian Zilmersmit notes "[i]t is also possible that a group of prominent residents of Berkshire County selected Elizabeth and a Negro man, Brom, who was associated with her in the suit, in order to determine whether or not slavery was constitutional in Massachusetts after the adoption of the new constitution.". Jennison was indicted in September 1781, though the case did not come before the Supreme Judicial Court until April 1783. Would you like to provide additional feedback to help improve Mass.gov? Bett was the first slave to successfully sue for her freedom. In this time of national introspection about prejudice against people of color, perhaps this is a time to revisit the history of slavery in colonial New England, and its aftermath. New England was not ultimately dependent on slave labor, and the war disrupted patterns of production and trade in the very areas in which slave labor was most heavily engaged; the coastal trade, the provisioning trade with the West Indies, fishing, and shipping in general.". . The Sheffield Declaration has been posted online by The Trustees of Reservations, the organization that owns the John Ashley House.Â http://www.thetrustees.org/places-to-visit/berkshires/ashley-house.html, 15. The full text of Chief Justice Cushing's remarks is printed in John Cushing, The Cushing Court and the Abolition of Slavery in Massachusetts: More Notes on the "Quock Walker Case," 5 The American Journal of Legal History 118 (1961). I have heard repeatedly that it is really difficult to trace Native American Negroes. Walker became the property of Jennison, who resided in the central Massachusetts town of Barre. (dated August 22, 1792; Suffolk files 159966). Rebecca Beatrice Brooks is the author and publisher of the History of Massachusetts Blog. The Sheffield Declaration requested its local representative to the General Court in Boston to consider the Declaration and to use "every constitutional means in his power that the grievances complained of may be redressed. But not before some of those enslaved had been sold back to the Caribbean so an owner could avoid a difficult financial loss.â, Sources: Latour, Francie. 5. Slavery in Massachusetts by Henry D. Thoreau The Liberator and the Commonwealth were the only papers in Boston, as far as I know, which made themselves heard in condemnation of the cowardice and meanness of the authorities of that city, as exhibited in '51. Ashley refused. 13. Electronic information about the Quock Walker cases is available at The Long Road to Justice, http://www.longroadtojustice.org/topics/slavery/quock-walker.php. In the words of then-Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice William Cushing: "[S]lavery is in my judgment as effectively abolished as it can be by the granting of rights and privileges [in the constitution] wholly incompatible and repugnant to its existence." “Slavery was a very contentious issue in Massachusetts and he felt it was it causing political problems—it was a divisive force and he wanted … 21. emboldened enslaved persons of color to demand manumission or wage compensation from their owners - [or] simply to walk away from them." on Slavery in Massachusetts. Harvard Law School was built with money made off the sale of land donated by a wealthy plantation owner, Isaac Royall Jr., and the House of Seven Gables in Salem was built with money from Captain John Turner’s small role in the Triangle Trade of selling fish to Caribbean plantation owners to feed their slaves while importing the sugar they harvested on the plantations (although he didn’t actually ship or sell slaves himself). Native Americans of the Pequot Tribe were being pushed off their land by the European settlements. The case was not widely reported, and changing economic conditions and public opinion increasingly hostile to slavery doubtless played an important role in slavery's demise. An essay based on a speech Thoreau gave at an anti-slavery rally at on July 4, 1854, after the reenslavement in Boston, Massachusetts of fugitive slave Anthony Burns. The jury found "that the said Quork is a Freeman and not the proper Negro slave of [Jennison]," and awarded Walker damages of 50 pounds. Following England's lead, Lawyer Benjamin Kent represented slaves in … The jury determined that Brom and Bett were not Ashley's property. See Zilmersmit, supra note 1 at 616-617. Meanwhile, in what became the third Quock Walker case, the Attorney General prosecuted Jennison for criminal assault and battery upon Quock Walker. In 1641, Governor John Winthrop, a slave owner himself, helped write the first law legalizing slavery in North America, the Massachusetts Bodies of Liberty, which the General Court passed on December 10, 1641. If you would like to continue helping us improve Mass.gov, join our user panel to test new features for the site. Rebecca is a freelance journalist and history lover who got her start in journalism working for small-town newspapers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire after she graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a B.A. As noted, many historians and legal scholars have studied the Quock Walker cases. Fiercely anti-slavery, Thoreau spoke out against the practice in lectures and print, famously refused to pay poll tax in part because he did not want to finance slavery, defended John Brown, and was an underground railroad stop. Mum Bett, aka Elizabeth Freeman, Watercolor on Ivory Painted by Susan Ridley Sedgwick circa 1812. Da Capo Press, 1993 Id. The jury convicted Jennison, and the court ordered him to pay a fine of 40 shillings. Slavery existed in Massachusetts from the earliest Colonial days. As historian John Cushing concluded, there is "ample evidence" that the Quock Walker cases were a significant step toward the end of slavery in Massachusetts. . Bound for America: Forced Migration of Africans to the New World. As an institution, it died out in the late 18th century through judicial actions litigated on behalf of slaves seeking manumission. The Revolution and the End of Slavery in Massachusetts Africans and African Americans enslaved in 18th-century Massachusetts yearned for freedom. As most slave owners did not have enough slaves to justify building separate living quarters for them, their slaves often lived with them in their homes. According to the Massachusetts Historical Society website, it wasn’t long before Massachusetts became engaged in what was called the Triangle Trade: âIn 1644 Boston merchants began importing slaves directly from Africa, selling them in the West Indies, and bringing home sugar to make rum, initiating the so-called triangular trade. This, in turn, "undermined whites' confidence in their property rights in slaves, and . Men in Puritan-era Massachusetts bought, sold, and held enslaved Africans from the 1630s until slavery in the colony slowly dissolved in the aftermath of the American Revolution. In the second case, tried during the same court session, Jennison sued Caldwell's brothers for interfering with his property; Jennison claimed the brothers had unlawfully enticed Walker away for their own benefit. Three court proceedings followed. Conceived and ratified by a unique and democratic process, the Constitution "justified and indeed compelled" judges to act so as to enforce its provisions over laws and customs that otherwise conflicted with it. Haskins, James and Kathleen Benson. See also William Nelson, Marbury v. Madison: The Origins and Legacy of Judicial Review 34-40 (2000) (arguing that several state courts, including Massachusetts, implicitly or explicitly applied the principle of judicial review during 1780-1800). Oil painting of Governor John Winthrop, by Charles Osgood circa 19th century. "Slavery in Massachusetts" is one of Henry David Thoreau's most important essays. This case - actually a series of three cases -- began as a freedom suit based on a promise of freedom or manumission, but resulted in a sweeping declaration by Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice William Cushing that the institution of slavery was incompatible with the principles of liberty and legal equality articulated in the new Massachusetts Constitution. When Ashley sought to reclaim his "property," Bett reportedly sought help from prominent local attorney Theodore Sedgwick, who had often visited the Ashley home and was clerk of the committee that had drafted the Sheffield Declaration. The exact date slaves first entered Massachusetts is unknown but many sources suggest Samuel Maverick was the first slaveholder in the colony after he arrived in early Boston in 1624 with two slaves. This page, Massachusetts Constitution and the Abolition of Slavery, is, in the scale of 1, Strongly Disagree, to 5, Strongly Agree, Professional Training & Career Development, http://www.masshist.org/longroad/01slavery/bett.htm, http://www.pbs.org/wnet/slavery/experience/legal/spotlight.html, http://www.thetrustees.org/places-to-visit/berkshires/ashley-house.html, John Adams & the Massachusetts Constitution, John Adams, Architect of American Government. 8. Slaves too were active in seeking the end of slavery in Massachusetts. Slavery there is said to have predated the settlement of Massachusetts Bay colony in 1629, and circumstantial evidence gives a date of 1624-1629 for the first slaves. They put off the day of settlement indefinitely, and … In 1773, slaves themselves also took a stance against their bondage when a group of Massachusetts slaves petitioned the General Court to end slavery, comparing their desire for freedom to the colonist’s struggle for independence from British government. In 1780, when the Massachusetts Constitution went into effect, slavery was legal in the Commonwealth. Mum Bett identified herself as Elizabeth Freeman in her will. Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 2011 This document, approved by the Committee on January 12, 1773, expressed anger at how Great Britain was treating her subjects in the colony of Massachusetts, and resolved "[t]hat mankind in a state of nature are equal, free, and independent of each other, and have a right to the undisturbed enjoyment of their lives, their liberty and property." This set … How much do you agree with the following statements in the scale of 1, Strongly Disagree, to 5, Strongly Agree? See Emily Blanck, Seventeen Eighty-Three: The Turning Point in the Law of Slavery and Freedom in Massachusetts, 65 The New England Quarterly 24, 27-28 (2002) (listing all documented freedom suits). The first certain reference to African slavery was in connection with the bloody Pequot War in 1637. “The Massachusetts Constitution and Abolition of Slavery.” Mass.gov, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, www.mass.gov/courts/court-info/sjc/edu-res-center/abolition/abolition1-gen.html In 1641 Massachusetts Bay Colony was the first of Britain's mainland colonies to make slavery legal. However, during the years 1781 to 1783, in three related cases known today as "the Quock Walker case," the Supreme Judicial Court applied the principle of judicial review to abolish slavery. Mass.gov® is a registered service mark of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Not a single newspaper article from the time made note of the end of a century and a half of bondage. I have a 5th Gr. Bjorklund, Ruth and Stephanie Fitzgerald. They who have been bred in the school of politics fail now and always to face the facts. The first slaves were brought to the colony in the early 17th century. ― Henry David Thoreau, Slavery in Massachusetts. Instead, the high court finally ruled, and then there were debates over semantics until, farm by farm, owner by owner, the practice sputtered, and then failed. Yankee slavers avoided the monopoly by smuggling slaves in through small coastal harbors. His name is Caleb Sharp, born 1729 died 1799. The Caldwell brothers prevailed in their appeal to the State's high court. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is commencing research on how technical institutions fit into this past. 1754 Massachusetts Slave Census. In early January, 1773, Ashley became moderator of a committee of eleven local citizens, including attorney Theodore Sedgwick, that wrote a document known as the Sheffield Declaration. In his charge to the jury, Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice William Cushing announced that slavery was incompatible with the new Massachusetts Constitution: . the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties."Â. 17. Their measures are half measures and makeshifts merely. The Salem Witch Trials Victims: Who Were They? As discussed in the section of this website entitled The Massachusetts Judicial System, the Supreme Judicial Court was both a trial court and an appellate court during its early history. The summary of court proceedings presented here relies primarily on court papers and John Cushing's article on the Quock Walker cases. Her tombstone stands in the innermost circle of what is known as the "Sedgwick Pie.". The court set Bett and Brom free and awarded them 30 shillings damages. Massachusetts was the first slave-holding colony in New England, though the exact beginning of black slavery in what became Massachusetts cannot be dated exactly. However, after the Quock Walker case, it was clear that a local (i.e. It turned on several factors: abandonment by owners (sometimes engineered by slaves themselves), military service, and the interpretation by the Massachusetts Superior Court of the 1780 Massachusetts Constitution. View all posts by Rebecca Beatrice Brooks, British & American Strategies in the Revolutionary War, Abigail Williams: The Mysterious Afflicted Girl. TABLE OF CONTENTS-01- ABOUT THIS BOOK-02- SLAVERY IN MASSACHUSETTS The timing of his decision suggests that Ashley may have determined that an appeal was futile following the first ruling of the Supreme Judicial Court in the Quock Walker case (see below). . Featured Items "Mumbett" (manuscript draft) by Catharine Maria Sedgwick, 1853 Despite opposition against it, slavery continued in Massachusetts until the 1780s and even then practice did not end quickly. Agnes, supra note 16 at 11. Slavery, often recast as indentured servitude (see online display of bill of indenture for Dick Morey), was not unheard of in Massachusetts through the end of the eighteenth century. “New England’s Hidden History.” Boston.com,Â Boston Globe Media Partners, LLC, 26 Sept. 2010, www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2010/09/26/new_englands_hidden_history/?page=4 Sedgwick "Pie" in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. . As the rhetoric supporting independence of the colonists from Great Britain intensified in the colony of Massachusetts, some noted the glaring inconsistency of arguing for the rights of Englishmen while owning slaves. In the first case, Walker, with the assistance of leading Worcester County attorneys Levi Lincoln and Caleb Strong, sued Jennison for assault and battery; Walker claimed he had been injured without right, as James Caldwell, his first master, had promised Walker freedom by age 25. 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