Slavery and Abolition in the Longfellow Archives

The museum and archival collections at Longfellow House - Washington's Headquarters National Historic Site contain a number of objects related to slavery and the abolition movement in the United States. Documents, photographs, books, letters and other material dealing with slaves and abolition were acquired by various members of the Longfellow family. Featured below are some highlights of this collection.

You can also download a brief bulletin giving an overview of the Site's archival holdings that deal with the issues of slavery and abolition by clicking on the following link:
Anti-Slavery Archival Collections and Research Center (.pdf file, 760 KB)

1721 newspaper article about slave ships.

Newspaper article, 1721

A 1721 newspaper article from The London Journal, detailing activity of slave ships off the coast of Africa. The text reads:

To the Author of The London Journal.
Cape Coast Castle, June 3, 1721.
I Left Cape Three Points two Days ago, where I left Capt. Hunt ready to Sail, having about Two Hun-dred and Fifty Slaves on Board. Captain Malthus, in the Bahama Galley, having near One Hundred and Eighty Slaves, is almost ready to come to the Leeward. I found here only the Dispatch and the Guinea Sloop.
The Dutch are come hither, in order to bombard the Brandenburgers Factory; but tis believed they will not be able to take it. They have Four large Ships here, and make taking all English Ships that load Goods in Holland, as Prizes.
The Mayflower Brigantine was well May the 7th, and had then One Hundred or more very fine Slaves on Board, almost ready to Sail. People die here so fast at the Factories, that 'tis hardly worth while to settle any Correspondence with them.

I am SIR,
Your Humble Servant,

1854 pamphlet about the trial of fugitive slave Anthony Burns.

Anthony Burns Trial Pamphlet

A pamphlet or booklet detailing the events surrounding the 1854 arrest of escaped slave Anthony Burns in Boston by slave hunters. Burns escaped from slavery in Virginia and came to Massachusetts. As a result of the Fugitive Slave Act, passed in 1850, slave hunters were able to arrest him in Boston. A group of abolitonists attempted to storm the courthouse where Burns was held in order to rescue him, but they were unsuccessful. A trial was held, which Burns lost, and he was returned to Virginia where his previous owner imprisoned him until he was sold to another party.

Henry W. Longfellow's neighbor Richard Henry Dana, Jr., defended Burns during the trial. In a letter to his friend Charles Sumner dated 2 June, 1854, Longfellow wrote "To-day is decided the fate of Burns, the fugitive slave. You have read it all in the papers, -the arrest, the trial, etc. Dana has done nobly; acting throughout with the greatest nerve and intrepidity."

Ship's manifest listing slaves on board.
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Manifest of Negroes, Mulattoes and persons of Colour, taken on board the Ship Alexandria

This ship's manifest, dated 29 October, 1836, lists “Two Slaves”, Sally Johnson age 39, and Sophy Johnson age 17, and the name of their shipper, Henry Harding. The document indicates that the women are being taken from the “Port of Alexandria in the District of Alexandria for the purpose of being sold or disposed of as Slaves, or to be held to service or labour”.

Written on the other side of the document is a statement that Mr. Harding does "solemnly, sincerely and truly swear ... that the negroes herein setforth, have not been imported into the United States, since the first day of January one thousand eight hundred and eight". Importation of slaves into the United States was legally banned after 1807. The law did not forbid the sale of slaves already within the U.S. though, and illegal slave trading continued right up until the Civil War.

An 1839 contract for the hire of a slave girl.
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Slave Contract

An 1839 document detailing the arrangements “for the Hire of Negro Girl Maria” from a Mr. John Tabb, for the period of one year and the sum of $35.00. As part of the contract, the hiring party agreed to "furnish the said Negro with good and sufficient Summer and Winter clothing in proper season, and to return the said Negro with good Blanket, at the end of the year above specified. For the faithful performance of all which conditions we hereby bind ourselves, our heirs, executors and administrators."

1769 court document detailing a suit brought by an ex-slave against his former owner.
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1769 Court Document

A summons issued to Richard Lechmere of Cambridge to appear before the court and answer to charges that he unlawfully imprisoned and restrained "James a Negro man of Cambridge".

The suit was brought against Richard Lechmere by his slave, James. Francis Dana served as counsel to James in the case. The Inferior Court, to which this document refers, ruled in favor of Lechmere, but the case was advanced to the Superior Court. Before the case was resolved there, Lechmere settled with James, granting him his freedom as well as £2.

Lechmere built a house on Brattle Street, not far from the Vassall mansion built by John Vassall in 1759, now Longfellow House - Washington's Headquarters National Historic Site.

Last updated: March 14, 2018

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