Slaves and Masters

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Slaves and Masters

Ten Hills Farm opens in the early 1600s as young Henry Winthrop sails for Barbados, where he had hoped to run a tobacco plantation with slaves and indentured servants as his labor. The story moves to England, where his father, the famous Puritan, John Winthrop, is voted governor of the Massachusetts Bay Company. The older Winthrop sails for North America in 1630 and soon takes control of his favorite land, a 600-acre farm upriver from the village of Boston. Within a decade of that landing, Winthrop will help pass the first law in North America condoning slavery. He himself is “given leave to keep” several Narragansett Indians.

After Winthrop’s death, Ten Hills Farm goes to his eldest son, John Winthrop, Jr., who also owned slaves, as did his siblings and many among his political and business partners. Next came John Usher, a merchant and illegal slave trader; and finally, Isaac Royall, a native of Maine who would make a vast fortune trading in slaves and sugar during the 40 years he lived in the West Indies. Isaac Royall left Antigua at a time of drought and slave revolt to retire to Ten Hills Farm. There, he constructed a separate slave quarters to house some of the 27 enslaved men, women and children he shipped north to tend his needs and those of his small family. Some among these workers lived in the main house, ready to answer their owners’ wishes at any time of the day or night.

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