In 1638, a ship returned to Salem from the West Indies after a seven-month voyage. Its cargo included cotton, tobacco and, as far as we know, the first African slaves to be imported into Massachusetts. In 1641 the Massachusetts Bay Colony adopted a code of laws that made slavery legal. It would remain so for the next 140 years.
Indeed, slavery played a role in the Salem witchcraft trials. A group of impressionable pre-teen girls in Salem Village were under the care of a Barbados slave named Tituba working for Rev. Samuel Parris. They became fascinated by her stories about black magic, and Parris beat Tituba until she confessed herself a witch. In February 1692 the public accusations of witchcraft began, with the “afflicted” girls acting as accusers.
The following is adapted from Ipswich in the Massachusetts Bay Colony Volume II by Thomas Franklin Waters, Vol. II, pp. 210-217.
“Two citizens of Ipswich took so resolute a stand against human slavery, that the Colony of Massachusetts Bay would never have borne the reproach of permitting it, if their counsels had been heeded.
Nathaniel Ward, the author of the Body of Liberties adopted in 1641, thus dealt with it: “There shall never be any bond-slavery or captivity among us, unless it be lawful captives taken in just wars, and such strangers as willingly sell themselves or is sold to us. And these shall have all the liberties and Christian usages which the law of God established in Israel concerning such persons doth morally require.”
Richard Saltonstall denounced in General Court the act of Capt. James, master of the ship “Rainbow,” who kidnapped two negroes on the Guinea Coast and brought them into Boston in 1645, and demanded that they be returned at the public expense.
Indian slavery began at an early date. William Paine had an Indian servant, Mary, in 1656. The horrors of King Philip’s War kindled intense hatred against the Indians and at its close many were bought as slaves. Capt. John Whipple brought home an Indian boy, Lawrence. Major Samuel Appleton bought three captives, and Samuel Symonds, Esq., the Deputy Governor, paid £5 for an Indian boy and girl. Rev. John Rogers had an Indian servant, James Huntaway, in 1692.
Negro slavery was well established in the last quarter of the seventeenth century. In 1755, the slaves in this town above the age of sixteen numbered sixty-two.
In the Candlewood district, James Burnham, as his inventory revealed in 1737, owned a negro man and an old negro woman. The man was appraised at £100 but the poor old woman was valued only at £5, while the cows were appraised at £8, a yoke of oxen at £17 and a horse at £22.
James Brown on his farm had Kant, appraised in 1741 at £70 and Bett appraised at £80. William Brown had Flora, in 1743. John Brown devised by his will in 1759, his negro child, Louie and negro woman, Phillis. His son, John, had a servant, Scipio, who died in 1787.
At the Appleton Farm, George and Dinah, slaves of Major Isaac, were married in 1741, and three children were bom to them, Jacob, Bilhah and David. Tidey, another slave of Major Isaac, married Jupiter, servant of Samuel Adams in 1751. Jacob, the slave of Col. John Appleton died in 1733, and Dinah in 1750.
Benjamin Crocker, owner and occupant of the house now owned by the Historical Society had two slaves, Flora and Tim, who were married in 1726.
Col. Thos. Berry owned Scipio and Thyris. Scipio and Flora had two babies, Tamasin, baptized in 1746, and Andrew, baptized in 1750.
Quash, servant of John Wainwright, Esq., died in 1721. Thomas Lord’s slaves, Cuffee and Nanny married in 1732, and Peter took to wife, Jane, servant of Thomas Staniford. Violet, servant of widow Rebecca Dodge, married Jupiter, former slave of Mr. Jewett in 1779.
The original deed of sale of a slave by Nathaniel Kinsman: “One Mulatto Servant named Silas of the Age of Sixteen years To Have and to Hold the said Mulatto Servant to Jonathan Burley …. for and during the natural Life of the said Mulatto Servant.
Husbands were sold without their wives, wives without husbands and little children were torn from their mother’s arms to be sold or given away.
The Boston newspapers abounded in advertisements of the sale of slaves. The Boston Gazette rarely appeared without them. In the year 1761, on July 13 it announced, “Just imported from Africa. A number of prime young slaves from the Midward Coast and to be sold on board and also, a likely, hearty, male Negro child about a month old to be given away.”
Mark Haskell of the Comfort Hill farm on the Rowley road, had a vigorous young slave who made a bold burst for liberty in June, 1772, and his master proclaimed his loss, “Ran away from Mark Haskell of Ipswich last Saturday night, a Negro Man named Cato 22 years old, middling stature etc.” In 1802. Cato Haskell killed Charles Lewis from Virginia with a scythe. Haskell was sentenced for manslaughter, to be branded on the forehead with M, and imprisoned a year.
Deacon Matthew Whipple of the Hamlet made most generous provision for his slave, Plato. in his will, “in Consideration that my Servant Plato has been a faithful Servant that after my Death and my Wife’s Death he shall be free.” Plato married Phebe, another slave in the same household, in 1702, and for a second wife, Phillis, formerly servant of Col. Jonathan Cogswell, in 1785, the widow of Caesar Choate.” Plato died in 1799 at the age of 109 (*Felt’s History of Ipswich, Essex and Hamilton, page 289).
The most famous slave from Ipswich was Pomp, who was hung at Pingrey’s Plain in Ipswich for killing his new master, Captain Charles Furbush, of Andover.
There is a stone cooking hearth in the basement of Hale house on North Main Street, and an old story that an owner had two black “servants” living in the basement who cooked food for the family and sent it upstairs with a dumbwaiter that still exists, hidden in the walls.
We read in the book “Choates in America,” the following:
“Thomas Choate, while a member of the General Court, bought for his son, Francis Choate, a negro boy just arrived from Africa, by the name of “Ned.” He married the girl Sabina, a negress for whom one “Phillis” was exchanged with Robert Choate, of Ipswich. Ned and ‘Binah had seven children, all of whom were baptized, as Ned was a member of the church. Their names were Edward, Titus, Peter, Caezar, Jane, Violet, and Peggy. “Ned and ‘Binah” remained slaves until 1845, when Mr. Francis Choate gave them their freedom if they wished to take it, otherwise they were to be supported. They chose to remain with the family, and accordingly were
cared for as long as they lived.”
Thomas Franklin Waters continued with how slavery ended:
“As early as 1765, public opinion began to be strongly against slavery, and Deacon Whipple’s and Col. Choate’s freeing of their slaves by will illustrates a frequent method of terminating their bondage. The slaves themselves were already demanding their freedom before the Courts.
The Ipswich Riverwalk Mural portrays the slave Jenny Slew receiving compensation from John Whipple, scene from Ipswich Riverwalk
In the Inferior Court of Common Pleas, in March, 1765, Jenny Slew of Ipswich brought suit against John Whipple Jr. gentleman, on a plea of trespass. She lost her suit but appealed to the Superior Court of Judicature, and at the November term in 1766, the jury found for the appellant and awarded her £4, “money damage,” and £9. 9s. 6d. costs, and execution was issued accordingly.
The tide of public sentiment was now rising rapidly. Nathaniel Appleton and James Swan, merchants of Boston, distinguished themselves as writers on the side of Liberty. In 1773, the abolition of slavery was a subject of forensic discussion at the Harvard Commencement. Juries invariably gave verdicts in favor of slaves who sued for freedom and in 1780, the present Constitution of Massachusetts was adopted, its first article asserting that all men are born free and equal. The General Court passed an Act in March,1788, “to prevent the slave trade and for granting relief to the families of such unhappy persons as may be kidnapped or decoyed away from this Commonwealth.”
“Ipswich slaves married and their children seem to have grown up in the families of which they were members. They were assigned seats in the meeting house, were allowed to become communicants and enjoy all the privileges of church members. Their children were baptized. They were cared for in old age and were given Christian burial by those whom they had served. But they were only chattels. If the whim of the owner decreed, they were sold, and families were scattered. Eventually, they died or drifted away from the town, after they had received their freedom.”
In 1777, Reverend Isaac Story of Marblehead, Massachusetts, leased his 14-year-old slave Chance Bradstreet to Abraham Dodge, a ship captain and maritime trader living on Elm Street in Ipswich. That house is now at the Smithsonian Museum.
The following table from Felt’s History of Ipswich, Essex and Hamilton gives the population of Ipswich in the year 1830:
- Males, white: 676
- Males, black: 6
- Females, white: 643
- Females, black: 8
Leading up to the Civil War, Ipswich residents played an important role in the national abolition of slavery. The Thomas Manning house on North Main St. was a stop on the Underground Railroad. The House formerly at 16 Elm St., now at the Smithsonian, was a frequent meeting place for the abolition movement. Read more at Ipswich’s anti-slavery roots ran deep.