History of Slavery in New England

Many people, when they think of slavery in the United States, think of the states of the Confederacy. But slavery existed throughout the land that came to be known as the United States, even before the states were united.

Phillis Wheatley, the first African-American woman poet to be published, came to fame in 1773 with the publication of her book Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. She was named Phillis after the slave ship, the Phillis, which brought to her Boston from West Africa, and Wheatley for the wealthy Bostonian family who purchased her when she was 7 or 8.

In recounting his fateful ride, Paul Revere referenced an apparently well-known landmark “Charlestown Neck, and got nearly opposite where Mark was hung in chains.”  Mark who was “hung in chains” was one Mark Codman, a slave who was hanged and then left suspended in a metal gibbet for more than 20 years after his execution.

Long before Henry David Thoreau immortalized Walden Pond in Walden: or A Life in the Woods, Walden Pond and its surrounding woods had been the home of a several generations of freed slaves, a history recounted in Elise Lemire’s book Black Walden: Slavery and Its Aftermath in Concord, Massachusetts.

John Winthrop, Massachusetts Bay Colony founder and first governor, a man who became famous for his “City Upon a Hill” sermon, also helped pass the first law in North America making slavery legal, according to Ten Hills Farm: The Forgotten History of Slavery in the North by C.S. Manegold.

The history of slavery in New England, a history that has been until recently largely ignored, suppressed, or glossed over, is an important one. It is a history that must be opened up, explored, and investigated by scholars, historians, journalists, and every citizen who cares about both the past and our future.


On Thursday, March 9, former Rhode Island State Representative Ray Rickman will lead us in an exploration of this topic. Please join us for How To Talk About Slavery and Racism in 2017 Thursday night at 7 p.m.



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