Slaves and Masters

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Slavery in New England began with Native Americans. Captured in war, these prisoners were often sold or traded to whites or other tribes or shipped to hard labor in the Caribbean. After the Pequot War in the mid-1630s, Indian prisoners were exchanged for African slaves. The year was 1638. Slavery in the North was different than that of sprawling sugar plantations in the Caribbean. But it was not necessarily more benign. One early account tells of an owner who ordered one of his African slaves to rape another, that he might have a “breed of Negroes.” At Ten Hills Farm enslaved workers served as coach drivers, field hands, house servants and nannies. They likely performed many of the skilled tasks of farm life, too.

Few accounts of individuals survive. Here are some:

Black Tom: worked at Ten Hills Farm for John Winthrop, Jr. Displeased with the man’s temperament, Winthrop shipped that black slave to his brother Fitz in Connecticut with the advice that he sell the man back into slavery in the Caribbean if the his attitude did not improve.

Darby Vassall: the son of Henry Vassall's driver, Tony, lived at #94 Brattle Street until his family was sold to relatives next door. Darby was sold again, but eventually became free. Today he lies buried in the Vassall tomb in Cambridge. The doll shown here was made in Darby’s likeness toward the end of his life.

Cuba: an African slave purchased by Isaac Royall in Antigua. Cuba was shipped north when the family moved and willed to Penelope upon Isaac Royall’s death. She lived at #94 Brattle Street until Penne sold her to relatives at #105 Brattle Street. 

Belinda Royall: an African slave, served the Royalls’ estate in Antigua and was brought north to Ten Hills Farm. She spent much of her life in Medford. Set free upon her master’s death, Belinda filed a petition seeking a pension to support her in her old age. Some scholars identify this petition, perhaps written by the enslaved African American poet, Phillis Wheatley, as the first example of a reparations law suit in the United States. In fact, she was just suing for what was already granted in her master’s will. Belinda won her lawsuit, but was never paid in full.

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