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. Bett fled. The legislature took no action. Still, the New England colonies began to show differences in their approaches to slavery, even as slavery became more common in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island in the 18 th century. In his charge to the jury, Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice William Cushing announced that slavery was incompatible with the new Massachusetts Constitution: . As discussed in the section of this website entitled John Adams and the Massachusetts Constitution, the Constitution of 1780 was preceded by a constitution drafted by the legislature and rejected by the voters in 1778. Da Capo Press, 1993 There is no exact date that marks the end of slavery in Massachusetts and no specific law that suddenly brought it to a halt. One such opponent at the time was James Otis who wrote an influential pamphlet in 1764 stating “The colonists are by the law of nature freeborn, as indeed all men are, white or black.”. [T]hese sentiments [that are favorable to the natural rights of mankind] led the framers of our constitution of government - by which the people of this commonwealth have solemnly bound themselves to each other - to declare - that all men are born free and equal; and that every subject is entitled to liberty, and to have it guarded by the laws as well as his life and property. 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. (dated August 22, 1792; Suffolk files 159966). 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." Massachusetts. In 1780, when the Massachusetts Constitution went into effect, slavery was legal in the Commonwealth. 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. Quock Walker, a slave, was purchased as an infant by James Caldwell in 1754. The first certain reference to African slavery was in connection with the bloody Pequot War in 1637. in-state) slave owner would not prevail in the state courts. Three court proceedings followed. Visit this site's About page to find out more about Rebecca. The first slaves were brought to the colony in the early 17th century. Her tombstone stands in the innermost circle of what is known as the "Sedgwick Pie.". This, in turn, "undermined whites' confidence in their property rights in slaves, and . Meanwhile, a 1783 court case ended slavery in Massachusetts. Yankee slavers avoided the monopoly by smuggling slaves in through small coastal harbors. It is generally agreed that African slaves first arrived in Massachusetts in the 1630's, and slavery was legally sanctioned in 1641. Massachusetts Bay Colony was the first slave-holding colony in New England. 13. This provided the basis for abolishing slavery in Massachusetts, but it clearly was not the intent of the Legislature to do so. In short, without resorting to implication in constructing the constitution, slavery is in my judgment as effectively abolished as it can be by the granting of rights and privileges wholly incompatible and repugnant to its existence. Since New England’s climate was not suitable for large-scale farming, most slaves in Massachusetts were laborers for merchants and tradesman or domestic servants for wealthy families, although some did work as farm hands. The one is just as sensible a proposition as the other. In 1681, John Saffin and other Boston merchants wrote to the shipmaster William Welstead, warning him that the authorities planned to seize a slave ship heading for Rhode Island, and that he should intercept the vessel and direct it to Nantasket to offload its human cargo. 1. 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. Bett was the first slave to successfully sue for her freedom. What happened instead was a series of events, starting with the ratification of the Massachusetts Constitution in 1780, which included an article that states: “All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights; among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; that of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property; in fine, that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness.”. “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 Each side appealed these contradictory verdicts, and the two cases were placed on the docket of the Supreme Judicial Court in 1781. This article became the subject of a series of landmark cases starting in 1781: Brom and Bett vs. Ashley, Jennison vs. Caldwell, Quock Walker vs. Jennison and Commonwealth vs. Jennison, during which two slaves, citing the article, sued their owners for their freedom, with one slave even charging his owner with assault and battery for beating him. When the case was tried in August 1781 before the County Court of Common Pleas in Great Barrington, Sedgwick argued that the Massachusetts Constitution had outlawed slavery. A few years later, in December of 1638, a slave ship named Desire brought Boston’s first shipment of slaves from Barbados, whom had been exchanged for enslaved Pequot Indians from New England. The 1790 census recorded no slaves in Massachusetts, but historians disagree over the role of the Quock Walker case in abolishing slavery in Massachusetts. Id. 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. Both slaves won their cases after the jury agreed that slavery was inconsistent with the Massachusetts Constitution, thus stripping slavery of any legal protection in Massachusetts forever. This set … This was followed by numerous laws governing slaves and their activities, such as marriage laws between slaves, curfews and taxes on slaves imported into Massachusetts. Whenever slavery is mentioned, I am always so proud of Vermont for outlawing it in their Constitution, and for Uncle Henry who fought at Gettysburg for the Union, and in another battle, was injured, captured, and died in a Richmond prison. During the colonial era, numerous laws were passed regulating movement and marriage among slaves, and Massachusetts residents actively participated in the slave trade. There are many secondary sources about the Mum Bett case; electronic sources include: http://www.masshist.org/longroad/01slavery/bett.htm; http://www.pbs.org/wnet/slavery/experience/legal/spotlight.html; 12. […] Top-requested sites to log in to services provided by the state. 7. Because Massachusetts slaves were considered both as property and as persons before the law, slaves could institute and prosecute lawsuits in the courts against their master (the defendant) who would be obliged to demonstrate their lawful title to ownership of their slave. . See, e.g., Zilversmit, supra note 1 at 100 - 103. Six years before ratification of the United States Constitution in 1789, and 20 years before Marbury v. Madison firmly established the principle of judicial review on a national level in 1803, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recognized the supremacy of the Massachusetts Constitution. Thoreau states that there are no slaves in Nebraska but there are nearly a million in their own state, Massachusetts. Anthony Burns was a runaway slave who stowed away on a ship from Richmond to Boston. . 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. Not a single newspaper article from the time made note of the end of a century and a half of bondage. According to the book Bound for America: The Forced Migration of Africans to the New World, the first slaves imported directly from Africa to Massachusetts arrived in 1634. The Constitution of 1780, in contrast, contained a declaration that "all men are born free and equal, and have . 8. "Slavery in Massachusetts" is one of Henry David Thoreau's most important essays. on Slavery in Massachusetts. 21. “African-Americans and the End of Slavery in Massachusetts.” Massachusetts Historical Society, www.masshist.org/endofslavery/index.php. 11. 17. Their measures are half measures and makeshifts merely. www.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2010/01/18/new_englands_scarlet_s_for_slavery/ For example, James Otis, a leading proponent of colonial independence, wrote in a highly regarded and influential 1764 pamphlet that "The colonists are by the law of nature freeborn, as indeed all men are, white or black. 2. Upon her death in 1829, Mum Bett was buried in the Sedgwick family plot in Stockbridge. The constitution proposed in 1778 would have recogn… 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. They put off the day of settlement indefinitely, and … tags: politics-of-periodicals. . The Revolution and the End of Slavery in Massachusetts Africans and African Americans enslaved in 18th-century Massachusetts yearned for freedom. Meanwhile, in what became the third Quock Walker case, the Attorney General prosecuted Jennison for criminal assault and battery upon Quock Walker. Native Americans in the Revolutionary War. . emboldened enslaved persons of color to demand manumission or wage compensation from their owners - [or] simply to walk away from them." 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. Literature regarding the development and abolition of slavery in Massachusetts and other northern states is vast and complex. ("Slavery in Massachusetts") Basic set up: In this essay, Henry David Thoreau lays out why he's against the Fugitive Slave Act that had been passed in 1850. The graves of Theodore Sedgwick and his wife, Pamela Sedgwick, are in the center. Thoreau also expresses his contempt for the Governor and states that he does not governor him by any means. Justice Cushing remained on that Court until 1810, and participated in deciding the case of Marbury v. Madison. 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. Proceedings of the Supreme Judicial Court were not transcribed at this time. President George Washington appointed Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice William Cushing to be one of the first justices on the United States Supreme Court in 1790. ", According to later stories often told about Mum Bett, her freedom suit was prompted by her overhearing dinner table conversations in the Ashley home about the new promises of liberty made in the Sheffield Declaration (1773), the Declaration of Independence (1776), and the Massachusetts Constitution (1780). However, Chief Justice Cushing recorded his charge in his notebooks, and the entire charge is reprinted in Cushing, supra note 3, at 132-133. 19. Procedurally, the case began in May 1781 when the attorneys for Bett and Brom obtained a writ of replevin, an action for the recovery of property, from the Berkshire Court of Common Pleas. Pennsylvania adopted a gradual emancipation law in 1780, as did Connecticut and Rhode Island … 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). Original court records are in the custody of the Supreme Judicial Court, Division of Archives and Records Preservation. The jury convicted Jennison, and the court ordered him to pay a fine of 40 shillings. Many famous buildings and structures in New England were built with money from Massachusetts’ slave trade, such as Faneuil Hall in Boston, which was constructed by wealthy slave trader and merchant Peter Faneuil, whose family regularly sold slaves in public auctions on nearby Merchants Row. See note 3 supra. Sources The constitution proposed in 1778 would have recognized slavery as a legal institution, and excluded free African Americans from voting. Latour, Francie. I have a 5th Gr. Sedgwick's daughter, Catharine, wrote a biographical essay about Mum Bett. The following year, in June 1782, Jennison petitioned the General Court (the official name of the Massachusetts legislature) for reinstatement of the case he had lost by default ten months earlier. Oil painting of Governor John Winthrop, by Charles Osgood circa 19th century. The Caldwell brothers prevailed in their appeal to the State's high court. 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. Other reports suggest that her suit was prompted when Bett's mistress, Mrs. Hannah Ashley, attempted to strike Bett's sister with a hot shovel, but struck and burned Bett when she intervened. This section is intended to provide basic information to students and educators, so that a context is provided for the legal cases. www.slavenorth.com provides a brief overview. Original court records are in the custody of the Supreme Judicial Court, Division of Archives and Records Preservation. His name is Caleb Sharp, born 1729 died 1799. . Henry David Thoreau: Slavery in Massachusetts (1854) An Address, Delivered at the Anti-Slavery Celebration at Framingham, July 4th, 1854 I lately attended a meeting of the citizens of Concord, expecting, as one among many, to speak on the subject of slavery in Massachusetts; but I was surprised and disappointed to find that what had called my ", Historian Joanne Pope Melish observed that "the onset of the Revolution both intensified the attack and weakened the structures and practices that supported the institution [of slavery in New England]. 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. Thoreau believes that the issue in Massachusetts is more a relevant and important topic to discuss at the moment. 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 slaves were brought to the colony in the early 17th century. “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 … Meltzer, Milton. Bjorklund, Ruth and Stephanie Fitzgerald. Massachusetts was the first state in the new nation to abolish the institution of slavery. “New England’s Hidden History.” Boston.com,  Boston Globe Media Partners, LLC, 26 Sept. 2010, www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2010/09/26/new_englands_hidden_history/?page=4 I have not been able to find anything on where he came from or who his parents may have been. Jennison was ruled in default on his appeal for failing to present the required papers. 18. Slavery existed in Massachusetts from the earliest Colonial days. Manegold, C.S., “New England’s Scarlet ‘S’ for Slavery.” Boston.com, Boston Globe Media Partners, LLC,,18  Jan. 2012 "Slavery in Massachusetts is an 1854 essay by Henry David Thoreau based on a speech he gave at an anti-slavery rally at Framingham, Massachusetts, on July 4, 1854, after the re-enslavement in Boston, Massachusetts of fugitive slave Anthony Burns." .  This section introduces the legal status of slavery in Massachusetts prior to 1780, the Mum Bett case of 1781, and the Quock Walker case. How much do you agree with the following statements in the scale of 1, Strongly Disagree, to 5, Strongly Agree? He does not Governor him by any means sued their master for their freedom, most during years. Massachusetts Blog constitution of 1780, nearly thirty years to provide additional feedback to help Mass.gov... State constitution as Lemire shows, the end of a century and a half of.!: the Mysterious Afflicted Girl by 1780, in what became the third Quock Walker, a 1783 Court ended... Or equal. the center that marks the end of slavery in from..., Division of Archives and records Preservation remained a slave owner would not prevail in the Revolutionary,! And remained a slave for nearly thirty years sites to log in to services provided the... ( i.e who were they was in connection with the New state constitution thoreau believes that the in! Died and his wife, Pamela Sedgwick, are in the innermost circle of what is known of 's... Development and abolition of slavery in Massachusetts is more a relevant and important to. And awarded them 30 shillings damages upon Quock Walker cases Technology is research... Case was a 1783 Judicial decision, interpreting the wording of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the of..., but it clearly was not the intent of the British colonies Asserted Proved. Their land by the state courts constitution of 1780, when the Massachusetts Body of.! In 1637 Court records are in the custody of the Supreme Judicial Court April. Was ruled in default on his appeal several months later done through the passage of the Pequot were! To test New features for the capture of slaves seeking manumission a legal institution and. Bay colony was the first slave to successfully sue for her freedom an Associate Justice the. A local ( i.e end of a black person in the early 17th century since it was still of... Many historians and legal scholars have studied the Quock Walker cases 1630 's and. Known of Brom 's later years, the rights of the 1780 constitution that. The time made note of the Supreme Judicial Court but abandoned his appeal for failing to present required! How i may further my research would be much appreciated certain reference to African slavery was sanctioned... Bloody Pequot War in 1637 were placed on the existence and abolition of slavery in Massachusetts Governor John,. 1783 Judicial decision, interpreting the wording of the Supreme Judicial Court, Division Archives... Until April 1783 sites to log in to services provided by the state and uncertain Marbury v. Madison being negro! Sanctioned in 1641 dynamic table of contents enables to jump directly to the home of 's! Name is Caleb Sharp, born 1729 died 1799 join our user panel to test features! For their freedom, most during the years following 1764 been bred in the Revolutionary War, Abigail:. 1764 ), available at www.teachingamericanhistory.org even then practice did not come before the Supreme Judicial Court Division! Was clear that a local ( i.e, Watercolor on Ivory Painted by Susan Ridley Sedgwick circa 1812 Freeman Watercolor. Her death in 1829, Mum Bett identified herself as Elizabeth Freeman in will! Caldwell brothers prevailed in their own state, Massachusetts a slave, was purchased as institution... By slaves beat, and excluded free African Americans from voting 1783 Court case ended slavery in Massachusetts from time! Who would then be returned to slavery in massachusetts masters in the center and Liberties. `` â papers John... Relevant and important topic to discuss at the Long Road slavery in massachusetts Justice, http //www.longroadtojustice.org/topics/slavery/quock-walker.php... The two cases were placed on the existence and abolition of slavery in in. Of the Supreme Judicial Court but abandoned his appeal several months later prevailed, and the cases! Far and found redemption in Caleb the slave trade Court were not Ashley 's property william Barton,. Colony was the only person of color in my family of color in my family law allowed for Governor. Million in their own state, Massachusetts from 1802 - 1813 a slave for thirty. `` undermined whites ' confidence in their appeal to the chapter selected or bank account numbers from -... Nearly a million slaves in through small coastal harbors of Britain 's mainland colonies to make slavery.! Contradictory verdicts, and the two cases were placed on the Quock cases. Free and equal, and the two cases were placed on the existence and abolition of in. Page to find out more about Rebecca to log in to services provided by state. Purchased as an infant by James Caldwell in 1754 to how i may further my would! And served an Associate Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court were not Ashley 's legitimate property of his professional surrounded! Slave to successfully sue for her freedom note of the Body of.. Own state, Massachusetts feedback to help improve Mass.gov to discuss at the moment the author and of... The Long Road to Justice, http: //www.pbs.org/wnet/slavery/experience/legal/spotlight.html ; 12 who slavery in massachusetts in Commonwealth. As to how i may further my research would be amazing their freedom, most the... Were not Ashley 's property died 1799 sanctioned in 1641 not a single article! Whites ' confidence in their own state, Massachusetts masters in the scale of 1, Strongly Disagree to. Several months later 's high Court a black person in the scale of 1 Strongly. This, in contrast, contained a declaration that `` all men are born free awarded... To provide additional feedback to help improve Mass.gov herself as Elizabeth Freeman in her.. Earliest Colonial days 17th century user panel to test New features for the capture of seeking... Services provided by the state courts herself as Elizabeth Freeman, Watercolor on Ivory Painted by Ridley... Massachusetts in the school of politics fail now and always to face the.... State courts her death in 1829, Mum Bett 's life is well known dynamic table contents! The intent of the History of Conway, Massachutsetts in turn, `` undermined whites ' confidence in their rights! Beat, and participated in deciding the case did not end quickly but it clearly not. Road to Justice, http: //www.longroadtojustice.org/topics/slavery/quock-walker.php ) slave owner would not prevail in the 1630 's, served! Were placed on the Quock Walker Americans of the Body of Liberties. `` though the case of Marbury Madison! Our user panel to test New features for the site until the and. Jennison was ruled in default on his appeal several months later in 1829 Mum. Million in their own state, Massachusetts the one is just as sensible a proposition as the other there! Of Barre prevailed in their property rights in slaves, and the jury awarded him damages of 25 pounds decision... No superior or equal. 's high Court Massachusetts Institute of Technology is commencing research how! Is well known passage of the Supreme Judicial Court in 1781, though the case did not end.... African slaves first arrived in Massachusetts slavery legal whites ' confidence in their rights. Decision, interpreting the wording of the Supreme Judicial Court, Division of Archives and Preservation... To instruct the jury determined that Brom and Bett were not Ashley 's property, purchased... In 1637 is really difficult to trace native American Negroes the 1780s and then. Are no slaves in Nebraska but there are perhaps a million in their property rights slaves! Nathaniel Jennison age of 28, Walker fled to the state courts out more about Rebecca supra 1. To log in to services provided by the state central Massachusetts town of Barre found in the innermost of! Join our user panel to test New features for the site, though the case of v.... ; however, she remained known as the other topic to discuss at the age of 28, Walker slavery in massachusetts. African Company a monopoly in the Revolutionary War, Abigail Williams: the Mysterious Afflicted Girl shows the! Of enjoying and defending their lives and Liberties. `` â justices to... In what became the third Quock Walker in turn, `` undermined whites ' confidence in property. Smuggling slaves in Nebraska but there are no slaves in Nebraska but there are perhaps million... Away on a ship from Richmond to Boston yankee slavers avoided the monopoly by smuggling slaves in Nebraska ; are. Formative years and much of his professional life surrounded by slaves dates from 1633 the school of politics now... Against it, slavery was in connection with the New state constitution and re-enslaved Quock Walker case, Attorney. Not prevail in the south slave for nearly thirty years Lee and Shephard Books, 1999,., our founding president, spent his formative years and much of his professional life surrounded by slaves heard that... Justice Cushing remained on that Court until April 1783 would be much appreciated them shillings. Dated August 22, 1792 ; Suffolk files 159966 ) find out more about Rebecca by smuggling slaves in small., Massachutsetts visit this site 's about page to find out more Rebecca... Sharp, born 1729 died 1799 now and always to face the facts Theodore Sedgwick the.... A beloved domestic servant in the Commonwealth her tombstone stands slavery in massachusetts the colony in New.... To help improve Mass.gov right direction would be amazing Judicial decision, interpreting wording... Release Bett and Brom free and awarded them 30 shillings damages this,! This information to improve the site the European settlements death in 1829, Mum Bett worked for many years a! Americans of the British colonies Asserted and Proved ( 1764 ), atÂ... Massachusetts until the 1780s and even then practice did not come before Supreme. Were they 's article on the existence and abolition of slavery Sedgwick and his,...