Ipswich, Slavery and the Civil War

In the Inferior Court of Common Pleas, in March, 1765, Jenny Slew, a slave in Ipswich, Massachusetts, brought suit against her master John Whipple Jr. on a plea of trespass. She lost her first attempt, 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.”

Jenny Slew gains her freedom
Image from the Ipswich Mural by Alan Pearsall

The General Court of Massachusetts passed an act on 26 March 1788to 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.” 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.

An 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.

Massachusetts 1788 law banning the residence of negroes and mulattoes

Thomas Franklin Waters wrote about slavery in volume II of his books, “Ipswich in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

“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.

In 1705 a law was passed in Massachusetts outlawing mixed marriage or sexual relations between the races “for the better preventing of a spurious and mixt issue.” Any black man or woman found guilty of sexual relations with a white person were to be flogged and sold out of the province, generally sent to plantations in the West Indies. [Massachusetts Acts and Resolves, I, 578]

From “Essex County in the Abolition of Slavery” by M.V.B. Perley:

“In 1773, an attempt was made to abolish the slave trade in the province. The town of Salem in­structed its representatives to use their exertions to prevent the impor­tation of negroes into the jurisdic­tion, as” repugnant to the natural rights of mankind, and highly preju­dicial to the Province.” When the legislature assembled, another bill to carry out the same purpose was sustained by the house only, and was therefore unsuccessful. The next year, a similar bill passed both houses, and although Governor Hutchinson was urgently desired to sign the bill, a committee of negroes themselves waiting upon him for that purpose, he refused to give it his assent, as, he said, he could not do so under his instructions as His Majesty’s governor. The next year, the bill again passed both houses, but Governor Gage followed the ex­ample of his predecessor. The people were undaunted by these failures. They but served to enhance their wishes for independence of the mother country. The pulpit and the press stirred up the people by sermons and essays in be­half of the slave.”


William Lloyd Garrison of Newburyport was one of the most articulate opponents of slavery. In the first edition of his anti-slavery newspaper The Liberator, 1831, he wrote:

“I am aware that many object to the severity of my language; but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation. No! No! Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen;—but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present.”

On July 4, 1854, Garrison publicly burned a copy of the Constitution, condemning it as “a Covenant with Death, an Agreement with Hell,” referring to the Three-Fifths Compromise that had written slavery into the Constitution, in which three out of every five slaves were counted as people.

In the mid-19th Century, the anti-slavery question became acute, and the line of division between the ardent abolitionists and the moderate anti-slavery people and those who deprecated any discussion, was sharply marked. Families and churches were divided by the anti-slavery issue. In the First Church there was a group of influential citizens whose antipathy to the unfortunate black man was so extreme that they refused him the privilege of worshiping in the Lord’s house.

Thomas Manning House, Ipswich MA
Thomas Manning House on North Main St. in Ipswich

Above is a 19th Century photo of the Thomas Manning house on North Main Street. To it’s right is the Ipswich Female Seminary. The cellar of the Manning house is very large and includes a number of brick storerooms. There is a local tradition that a small hidden brick chamber under a trap door led to a tunnel leading downhill to the Ipswich River. Slaves would be taken after dark to the river behind the house, where they would take small boats to the wharf and board freight ships to Nova Scotia. It is more likely that they left through a small window in that chamber, and walked down to the river, or were transported by wagons to Newbury, as has been reported.

The Underground Railroad in Massachusetts” by Wilbur H. Siebert identified three underground routes starting from Salem and diverging northward: one through Danvers, Andover and South Lawrence; another through Danvers, Georgetown and Haverhill; and a third through Beverly, Ipswich, Newburyport and Amesbury.
Ipswich Methodist Church, late 19th Century

The Methodist Church was constructed in the early 1860s. The Methodists purchased the present lot on the North Green from the County of Essex and proceeded to build their new meeting house without a dollar being pledged. The cost of the structure and the site was $12,000. The building is 62 feet by 84 feet with capacity for 700 people in the pews.

Thomas Franklin Waters continued:

“There was an Anti-Slavery Society which always held its meetings in the Methodist vestry. No doubt there was much disagreement on this burning topic in the other churches of the Town, but in the Methodist, sympathy with the slave found its fullest expression, and the most uncompromising attitude toward slavery was resolutely maintained. Mutterings of the coming storm were heard in July, 1839, when James Caldwell presented a series of Resolutions with a Preamble, regarding slavery which were amended, unanimously adopted, and then ordered printed in Zion’s Herald and Zion’s Watchman.

Events moved so rapidly during that period, and the dissatisfaction of a large minority became so pronounced that twenty-five members, led by Rev. Orrin Scott, seceded, declaring that they could no longer hold fellowship with slave holders or their defenders. They joined what was then called “The Methodist Wesleyan Church in the United States,” called Rev. Mr. Minor to be their minister and met for worship in the small hall owned by Mr. Hammatt, which then stood on the northeast comer of his lot. They maintained their independence for several years, despite the opposition of the old Church, but returned when, as they believed, the righteousness of their contention was recognized.”

The 16 Elm St. house from Ipswich in the Smithsonian Museum.
This house that stood at 16 Elm Street in Ipswich is on display at the Smithsonian Museum, along with the stories of its occupants.

The Ipswich Female Anti-slavery Society

John Phelps Cowles and Eunice Caldwell Cowles at the Ipswich Female Seminary were abolitionists and circulated antislavery pamphlets to the public. A teacher at the school, Mary Abigail Dodge who graduated from the school and became one of its teachers, published her poetry in the National Era, an anti-slavery magazine. In 1839, Lucy Caldwell and other women in Ipswich founded the Ipswich Female Anti-Slavery Society, which met in the homes of its members, including Jazeb Farley and Lucy Caldwell’s house at 16 Elm Street. Her husband Josiah was representative to the General Court, a selectman, a principal of the Grammar School, and the first president of the Ipswich Anti-Slavery Society. In the 1960’s their house was moved and is on display in the Smithsonian Museum.

Antislavery lecturers traveling across New England sometimes stayed with the Caldwells. Many of their neighbors resisted the notion of an immediate end to slavery, and their activism sometimes set neighbor against neighbor.

Recruits leaving for the war at the Ipswich train station
Recruits leaving for the war at the Ipswich train station

Timeline of the Civil War

from the Genealogy of the Willcomb family of New England (1655-1902)

  • 1861: War of the Rebellion begun. Ipswich sends soldiers. The Nineteenth Regiment was organized and recruited at “Camp Schouler” in Lynnfield, composed of Essex
    County men. This regiment left for Washington on the 28th of August, 1861.
  • 1863: Coins gone out of circulation, postage stamps used for change. Augustine Heard and nephews give $10,000 for the relief of soldiers. Ipswich has paid $13,200 bounty to volunteers for the Union. One hundred and fourteen families of volunteers receive town aid. The town paid $9768.00 for aid to volunteers’ families.
  • 1864: Ipswich pays twenty men $2,500 to enlist. The town has paid $12,092 for aid to volunteers’ families.
  • 1865. The population of Ipswich is 3,311. The number of men of Ipswich who died during the war was 52. The town has expended over $52,000 to aid in suppressing Rebellion. The town has paid $15,950 in bounties to soldiers. End of the Rebellion, and return home of the soldiers. News of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln causes great sorrow.Civil War memorial across from Meeting House Greet. Photo by George Dexter

Deaths of Ipswich soldiers in the Civil War,

as listed in Genealogy of the Willcomb family of New England (1655-1902)

  • Leonard Howe, soldier, died at Seneca Mills, Nov. 28, age 21.
  • Daniel J. Potter, soldier, died at Fort Albany, Nov. 27. 1862.
  • George W. Otis, a soldier, died November 19, aged 28.
  • John D. Bridges, a soldier, died at Newbern, N. C. April 14.
  • Henry A. Brown, a soldier, died at Newbern, N. C, April 21.
  • William Cash, soldier, died in Andersonville prison, Mar. 23.
  • James A. Clark, soldier, died at Hatteras Inlet, May 7.
  • Edward Harris, soldier, died in Bolivar hospital, Oct. 27.
  • William H. Jewett, soldier, died in service, Oct. 20.
  • George Morris, drowned by sinking of “Cumberland” by “Merrimac.”
  • John G. Schanks, soldier, died of wounds at Antietam, Sept. 20.
  • John J. Jewett, soldier, killed at Gettysburg, July 2.
  • Marcus Lindberg, soldier, died in service,, Nov. 15.
  • George W. Morley, soldier, died of wounds, July 19.
  • Joseph S. Peatfield, soldier, died at Newbern, July 31.
  • .Mfred Richardson, soldier, died at Baton Rouge, August 8.
  • Daniel B. Schanks, soldier, died of wounds at Baton Rouge, April 20.
  • John M. Tozer, soldier, died at Newport News, October 20.
  • Alvin T. Conant, soldier, died in service, October 26.
  • James W. Goss, taken prisoner June 22, was confined in Libby prison.
  • William Gray, a soldier, was killed at Petersburg, June 21, aged 41.
  • Joseph Wait died May 28 aged 23.
  • John H. Jewett died at Gettys’ Station, April 5, aged 22.
  • Capt. Nathaniel Johnson died May 17, aged 46
  • Luther B. Andrews, soldier, died in service, June 2.
  • John A. Barker, soldier, died in service, August 30.
  • Chas. P. Bachelder, soldier, died of wounds, Aug. 23, at Washington.
  • G. F. Bridges, soldier, died in Richmond Prison, May 16.
  • Henry A. Cowles, soldier, died at Fort Saratoga, July 14.
  • Peter Crowley, soldier, died of wounds at Petersburg, Va.
  • Charles H. Dow, soldier, was killed at Cold Harbor, June 3.
  • William Patterson, soldier, died of wounds at Petersburg, June 16.
  • W. P. Peatfield, killed at Whitehall, N. C, Dec. 16.
  • Cornelius Schofield, soldier, died of wounds, August 13.
  • W. W. Shattuck, soldier, was killed at Petersburg, Va.
  • Asa Smith, soldier, was killed in service, Oct. 28.
  • Charles D. Smith, soldier, was killed at Spotsylvania. May 8.
  • J. Albert Smith, soldier, died October 24.
  • T. J. Thurston, soldier, died at Alexandria, October 16.
  • Joshua Turner, soldier, died in service at Washington.
  • Samuel S. Wells, soldier, died in Andersonville prison, Nov. 4.
  • Daniel M. Whipple, soldier, died at Washington, Dec. 26.
  • William A. Estes, soldier, died in Andersonville prison, aged 19.
  • James Gordon, soldier, killed at Spotsylvania, May 18.
  • William Gray, soldier, killed June 21 at Petersburg, age 41.
  • Nathaniel Hayes, soldier, died at Petersburg, Va., July 2.
  • L. T. Jewett, soldier, died at Washington, of wounds. May 26.
  • Philip C. Lavalette, soldier, died at Washington. June 6, aged 21.
  • Pike N. Lavalette, soldier, died in Andersonville prison, Sept. 24.
  • Caleb H. Lord, soldier, killed by sharpshooters, June 29.
  • Alex. B. McGregor, killed at New Haven, Oct. 26.
  • Parker McGregor, soldier, was killed at Spottsylvania, June 16.
  • James W. Noyes, soldier, killed at Spottsylvania, May 18.
  • Pierce Butler, a soldier, died January 2, aged 21.
  • J. W. Brown, soldier, died in service, Oct. 14, aged 19.
  • Nathaniel Chamters, soldier, died at Patrick Station, Feb. 16.
  • Samuel P. Pickard died at Fort Williams, February 25.
  • John H. Smith, a soldier, died August 3, aged 24.
Reunion of Civil War veterans, at the Choate Bridge in Ipswich
Reunion of Civil War veterans, at the Choate Bridge in Ipswich

Further Reading:

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7 replies »

  1. I found your story about the Manning house having tunnels in the cellar interesting. I was told by my Aunt that her house also had a tunnel that led to the river near the Choat Bridge and that it had fallen apart in some areas where young boys would play, so it was blocked off to prevent any accidents of tunnel collapse. She showed me the area in the basement where the round hole entrance was covered up with bricks. I am referring to the home I inheirited from her at 6 and 8 N. Main St. I remember she said Nella Brown married Mr. Starkey and they moved into this house, where my Aunt (Helen Campbell) also lived with them for many years. I enjoyed visiting her as a child. I lived then on Brownville Ave. Over the years I have wonderful memories of Cranes Beach, boating out of Ipswich to dig clams and driving around Little Neck. I have a lovely 4 foot by 2 foot picture of Great Neck with only 4 homes built back then! The home I owned at 8 N. Main I sold to the developer who has added a larger addition to the rear. In his excavation of the back yard, I am sure he has unearthed a lot of bottles . My Aunt said they were buried back there from the old days when a drugstore was part of the front of the building. So many other interesting stories I have. I would love to write a book someday. Especially about the digging for buried treasure on Plum Island led by my Uncle Ralph.

  2. Thank you! We had similar sentiments on Cape Ann. Annisquam’s Captain Gideon Lane led a group that took over an abolitionist-run meeting in Feb. of 1840. They resolved that the mission of the abolitionists would “create divisions in society and between neighbor against neighbor.” They predicted that immediate abolition would fail “without the remotest prospect of ameliorating the condition of the slaves.”

  3. Hi Gordon,

    Thanks for reminding us of the acrimony about abolition in Ipswich and surrounds preceding the Civil War. Garrison’s analogy about putting out a fire is particularly apt.

    “1864: Ipswich pays twenty men $2,500 to enlist. The town has paid $12,092 for aid to volunteers’ families.” Who knew?

    Also listing the names of those 54 Ipswich men who died and the place where they fell is most chilling – Antietam, Cold Harbor, Newbern, Andersonville, Spotsylvania and so on.

  4. I graduated Ipswich High in 1955 and I remember our music teacher was named Tozer, an excellent teacher I noticed a Tozer on the list of KIAs. And Noyes possibly from Newbury. There were others as well. A most interesting read, thanks for sharing. My name is Carl Hudson, born in Salem and raised in Ipswich.. My dad Fred Hudson was from Nova Scotia and my mom was from Salem her name Natalie Leslie. I joined the USAF in1957 and served as a C-130 flight engineer until1979. Still kicking. Thanks Carl

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