Massachusetts 1788 law banning the residence of negroes and mulattoesHistory

1788 Massachusetts Act banning “any African or Negro”

Slavery was abolished in Massachusetts before the declaration of independence, officially made law on March 26, 1788. The law imposed a penalty of £50 upon every citizen or person residing in this Commonwealth for each slave bought or transported and £200 upon every vessel engaged in the Slave trade. Another objective was to prevent the State from being overrun with runaway slaves. The wording of the  Act prohibited the permanent residence of any person “African or Negro” other than existing subjects of Moracco or citizens of the United States, and was added to an act for the punishment of “Rogues, Vagabonds, common Beggars, and other idle, disorderly and lewd persons.

Prince Hall led black Masons to petition to the court in 1788 to put an end to the slave trade, a petition prompted by the abduction of three free black men in Boston Harbor.  As a result of this petition, the General Court passed an act on 26 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


Massachusetts 1788 law banning the residence of negroes and mulattoes


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  1. The actions of a Gloucester captain, Solomon Babson, initiated this legislation against manstealing. Celebrated as a privateer in JJ Babson’s History for bringing home a load of butter and bacon on the schooner Ruby, his name and that of his schooner, were publicized in notices as far away as New York and Philadelphia. Babson had “inveigled” three free black men with the promise of repair work, trapped them in the hold, and sailed off to the West Indies. An additional petition added the names of influential Boston merchants and politicians. Largely through the efforts of Prince Hall, Rev. Jeremy Belknap, John Hancock, and the French consul, the men were found and returned to Boston. Babson hid while his conspirators were put on trial. Never prosecuted, he left town for New Gloucester in what is now Maine. He died a few years afterwards on a West Indies voyage.

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