Slave Trade Letters

The Medford Slave Trade Letters — 1759-1765

Triangle Trade Mural, Medford Post Office Painted by Henry Billings

Triangle Trade Mural, Medford Post Office
Painted by Henry Billings. Learn more about the mural here.

The “Medford Slave Letters” as we have called them are a series of letters spanning between the January of 1759 and October of 1765. A six-year correspondence between Timothy Fitch, a Medford resident, and an employee of Fitch named Peter Gwinn. The letters are thus a direct and local link to the trafficking and sale of human beings from Africa. A gift from the Hall family of Medford, Massachusetts, the letters are housed at the Medford Historical Society and have been preserved and maintained.

The details of the letters bring to life the eerie middle passage and movement of enslaved individuals from their homeland in Africa to the United States and the Caribbean. In these documents the realities and horrors of the Atlantic Slave Trade come to life in their formal details including: types of slaves who were to be purchased, methods of enhancing marketability of individuals, marketing ploys, deadlines, desirable markets for the sale of slaves, methods of treating the captive slaves, instructions regarding the sale of slaves upon reaching the United States and Caribbean, and instructions for avoiding pirates and customs.

In the faded words that lie upon these yellow pieces of parchment the realities and truths of the Atlantic Slave trade come to life. It is here that our social conscience of things past can mix with out moral memories and can be applied to the true particulars and indisputable evidence of a horrific business.

Housed at the Medford Historical Society in Medford Massachusetts these letters are an essential historic link and somber reminder of a grave past and serve as witness to one of history’s darkest moments.

The Project Statement

The goal of this project has simply been to preserve an essential and valuable part of history.

By preserving history, creating a direct link between documents, moral memory, and conscious awareness of the past, and by maintaining education and learning it is possible to avoid repeating the same mistakes in the future. Eventually we can create a human body, a world community that transcends race, background and homeland. By focusing on the “human” elements, the items that appeal to everyone as a human being, in these letters we hope to bring out the atrocities of the slave trade. The goal is not to give blame or point fingers, but rather to reclaim and resurrect a part of history .and to increase or create a greater breadth of knowledge and a reservoir of memory.

Timothy Fitch

Timothy Fitch was born on October 23, 1725, the fourth child bom to Joseph and Margaret Fitch of Boston, Massachusetts. Throughout his lifetime Timothy’s family, residing in Medford, maintained close ties to their Boston roots. Today, the remains of Timothy’s father Joseph and brother Jeremiah are found at the Granary Burial Ground on Tremont Street in Boston.

Married twice, Timothy Fitch’s first marriage was to Abigail Hall Donaghue (the widow of Captain David Donaghue) on January 1, 1745. The couple lived in Medford, Mass. And had at least five children: Abigail, Timothy, Rebecca, Hannah and Elizabeth. It is believed that Abigail, Timothy’s wife, died near of prior to 1860, although the exact date is not known for sure.

Timothy’s second marriage was on October 16, 1760 and was to Eunice Brown Plaisted, the widow oflchabod Plaisted of Salem, Massachusetts. During this thirty-year marriage at least four children were bom: John Brown, Charles, Eunice and Hannah Brown. The family divided their time between the Boston, Medford, and Salem homes. It was during this time in his life that Timothy Fitch engaged in the slave trade and kept a correspondence with a captain of one of his ship’s named Peter Gwinn.

A merchant by profession, Timothy Fitch conducted business in several New England communities including, but not limited to, Medford, Boston, Salem and Nantucket. Mr. Fitch owned several ships including the Snow Caesar or the Caesar, and a schooner by the name of The Charming Phyllis, The Phyllis or the Schooner Phyllis. The trade and cargo of these chips included rum molasses, various other dry goods, but most importantly these ships were directly involved in the trade and trafficking of African Slaves. Termed the “triangular trade” these ships were a direct link between Medford and one of history’s most famous practices.

Timothy Fitch died on September 28, F790. The listed cause of death was “diarrhea.”

The letters that have been transcribed are courtesy of the Medford Historical Society and are a gift from the Hall family of Medford. Our thanks are extended to both parties for without them this preservation of history would not be possible. (John Brown Fitch, the son of Timothy and Eunice, was married to Hepzibeth Hall. They had five children and John Brown died on January 25, 1785. Thus the connection to the Hall family.)

The Letters

1759 January, 14
Voyage one by Capt. William Ellery on behalf of Timothy Fitch

1759 August, 21
Bridge Town Barbados list of slaves auctioned off

1760 January, 12
Peter Gwinn’s first voyage (on record) on behalf of Timothy Fitch

1760 November, 8
Voyage for Timothy Fitch made by Capt. Peter Gwinn

1760 November, 8
Invoice Sundry Merchandize Shipt

1761 September, 4
Voyage by Capt. Peter Gwinn to Senegal, on behalf of Timothy Fitch

1761 November, 1
Letter to Peter Gwinn mid-voyage

1762 October
Capt. Peter Gwinn makes another voyage on behalf of Timothy Fitch

1762 October, 30
Invoice Sundry Merchandize Shipped

1763 September, 23
Invoice and letters from Frans. Minot and William Sader to Timothy Fitch

1764 March, 5
Mid-voyage letter and contract for Capt. Peter Gwinn from Timothy Fitch

1765 June, 4
Correspondence mid-voyage from Timothy Fitch to Peter Gwinn

1765 October
Correspondence mid-voyage from Timothy Fitch to Peter Gwinn – 2

1765 November, 1
Correspondence mid-voyage from Timothy Fitch to Peter Gwinn (to Surinam)

1766
Account/Invoice for sale of slaves

1769 November, 27
Voyage by Peter Gwinn on behalf of Timothy Fitch on “Snow Fair Lady.”

 

Jay B. Griffin, Past-President of the Medford Historical Society, obtained grant funding from the Massachusetts Cultural Council to preserve this collection of slave trade correspondence. Mr. Griffin and Professor Rosalind Shaw of Tufts University worked with students from Tufts University in the spring of 2000.

Transcribed by: Tufts University students Andrea Johnson and Philip Keitel for Anthropology 185: “Memories of the Slave Trade” Professor Rosalind Shaw Spring, 2000

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