Two Wayside families clearly show the important changes in the views of slavery in New England over the seventy years following the American Revolution.
Slavery in New England Pre-Revolution
In 1641 the Massachusetts colony sanctioned the enslavement of African workers.In the North, most Africans labored on small farms. Those who lived in cities worked as personal servants or were hired out as domestics and skilled workers. Although northern colonists had little use for slave labor, they accumulated substantial profits from the lucrative slave trading industry for several centuries.
Slave Owners and Patriots
Colonial patriots voiced their commitment to the fight for freedom.Colonists made the first organized stand against British tyranny in April 1775.As British soldiers marched on their way to and from Concord, they passed by the house, owned at the time by Samuel Whitney, merchant, delegate to the Provincial Congress, muster master of the Concord Minute Men –and owner of two slaves.Samuel Whitney's family was one of twelve slave-owning families in Concord when the American Revolution began.
This contradiction was not lost on everyone.In 1783 Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court declared slavery was incompatible with the 1780 Massachusetts Constitution.By the 1830s, organized groups in Concord and the northern states began to promote slavery's abolition.Because the enforcement of the 1793 Fugitive Slave Law was relatively lax, many fugitives were able to live in freedom for years in the North.Their lives, however, were never totally free from the fear of being captured.A community of free African Americans and African Americans who had escaped from the South was formed in Boston by the early 1800s. They were soon threatened by the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850.