Peter Faneuil And Slavery

Peter Faneuil
Peter Faneuil

By Shawn Quigley, Park Guide

Peter Faneuil and Slavery

“With the net proceeds of the same purchase for me, for the use of my house, as likely a strait negro lad as possibly you can, about the age from twelve to fifteen years.”[1] This letter, written in February of 1738, was not written by a wealthy Virginia planter, but by Peter Faneuil, one of the wealthiest merchants in 18th century Boston. The man responsible for gifting Faneuil Hall, the location of Boston’s town meeting and a building nicknamed “The Cradle of Liberty”, enslaved people.

Enslaving people in 17th/18th century Boston was not unusual, in fact as a French protestant visiting Boston stated in a 1678 report “You may own Negroes and Negresses; there is not a House in Boston, however small may be its means, that has not one or two.”[2] Peter Faneuil’s economic prosperity though, gave him the means to enslave a greater number of individuals. According to the appraisal inventory taken of Faneuil’s estate after his death, Faneuil enslaved five people, valued at £620 which is equivalent to $123,679.68 U.S dollars today.[3] The fortune of Peter Faneuil, which allowed him to enslave five people, was amassed through trade and a large inheritance from his uncle’s estate. Goods involved in his trade included fish, tobacco, produce, rum and molasses, but like many merchants of the time; Faneuil was also involved in the exchange of human cargo.

An example of Faneuil’s involvement in the slave trade is the voyage he planned to Guinea in 1742 with his ship the Jolly Batchelor. In 1743 the ship returned from the Guinea coast with “twenty negroes” amongst its cargo, but Faneuil, who died in 1742, did not live to see the completion of the journey.[4] [5] Though Peter Faneuil lived a short life, his keen eye for business made him a successful merchant, which in turn gave him the finances to donate Faneuil Hall to Boston. There is some irony to be found in its nickname however, because a portion of the money used to fund “The Cradle of Liberty” came directly from the profits of the slave trade.


[1] Desrochers Jr, Robert E. “Slave-for-Sale Advertisements and Slavery in Massachusetts, 1704-1781”
The William and Mary Quarterly P. 649
[2] “Report of a French Protestant Refugee in Boston 1687” P. 20. Translated by E.T. Fischer 1868.
[3] Brown, Abraham English. Faneuil Hall and Faneuil Hall Market or, Peter Faneuil and His Gift. P. 111
[4] Ibid. P. 45
[5] For more on the Jolly Batchelor see “Documents Illustrative of the History of the Slave Trade to America: Volume
III: New England and the Middle Colonies” P. 52-58

Last updated: August 22, 2017

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