Slavery in Medford


Slave QUarters, Slavery in Medford

Royall House Slave Quarters

The Slave Census of 1754 notes that “there were in Medford twenty-seven male and seven female slaves and fifteen Free Blacks; total 49 blacks in Medford.”

The first slaves arrived on February 26, 1638 from Tourtugas, West Indies on a ship commanded by Captain William Pierce. On his return from Toutugas, he brought home a cargo of cotton, tobacco, salt and Negroes. –Brooks. History of Medford (1855).

Town Meeting resolution

Massachusetts was the first American colony to formally sanction human bondage in its ironically named Body of Liberties in 1641, making slavery in Massachusetts longer-lived than in Georgia, which legalized the institution only in the 1750s.

The conduct of Blacks in Medford was regulated by a resolution passed at a town meeting in Medford on February 11th, 1744/5:

To know the mind of the town whether they will pass any vote reflecting the Negro servants being out at unreasonable times of the night. The person that meets or finds him from home, the Negro’s name shall be returnt to the Justice the next morning and defier the Justice to send for ye said Negro’s Master and order ye Negro to be whipped in ye market place not exceeding ten stripes unless the said Master gives satisfaction voted in the affirmative.

Similar types of legislation appear in the laws of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, passed in the early 1700’s. — Walter H. Crushing. “Slavery in Medford”, Medford Historical Register Vol.111 (July 1900), p. 121-122

Isaac Royall and the Royall House Slaves

The Isaac Royall family lived in the Royall House from 1737-1775. Isaac Royall, Sr. was a prosperous merchant who amassed great wealth in Antigua in the early 1700s, running a sugar plantation and trading in slaves and rum. He moved to Medford with his family and 27 slaves in 1734. Learn more at the Royall House & Slave Quarters website.

Isaac Royall owned the largest number of slaves in the area.

Royall House Slaves
Joseph | Plato | Phebe
Abraham | Cooper | Stephy
George | Hagar | Mira
Mira | Nancy | Betsey

After Hours for the Royall House Slaves

The Royall House Slave Quarters is the only free-standing building of its kind north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Medford’s Slave Owners, Circa 1776
Reverend E. Burell | Dr. Simon Tufts | Captain Thomas Brooks
Captain Francis Whitmore | Simon Bradshaw | Deacon Benjamin Willis
Benjamin Hall | Widow Brooks | Stephen Hall
Hugh Floyd | Captain Kent | Mr. Brown
Mr. Pool | Squire Hall | Stephen Greenleaf
Joseph Tufts | Mr. Boylston | Dr. Brooks
Isaac Royall

There would have been quiet times too, though perhaps after dark, when old men and little boys play checkers with pieces made by hand from broken potsherds. Men and women sit down with a tobacco pipe to unwind from the day’s labor. A man tries to figure out how to make a functional arrow (like the Indians do) with which he might be able to hunt and bring back extra food for the family, but he grudgingly admits to himself that the one he has just made will never fly. Maybe he will just keep it as a good luck charm.

A little boy strikes up a game of marbles with an older brother or playmate. A young man curses himself for having lost a bright shiny pair of brass cufflinks, his nicest possession in the world, jealously guarded even dented until they fell off somewhere. A young girl continues the long task of hand-drilling another stone bead for a necklace that she will eventually wear with pride to signify her African womanhood.

We will of course, never know exactly what was done or said after hours in and around the Slave Quarters, but this brief description gives us an idea of how it could have been. — Alexandra Chan, “The Royall House’s Big Dig Continues”

An Act to prevent Disorders in the Night

WHEREAS great Disorders, Insolence and Burglaries arer oftimes raised and committed in the Night-Time by Indians, Negro and Molatto Servants and Slaves, to the Disquiet and Hurt of Her Majesty’s good subjects:

For Prevention thereof:

Be it enacted by His Excellency the Governour, Council and Representatives, in General Court assembled, and by the Authority of the same, That no Indian, Negro or Molatto Servant or Slave, may presume to be absent from the Families whereto they respectively belong, or be found Abroad in the Night- Time after nine a Clock; unless it be upon some Errand for their respective Masters or Owners.

Medford Slaves circa 1776
Worcester | Pompey | Rose
Pomp | Peter | London
Selby | Prince | Punch
Flora | Richard | Dinah
Caesar | Scipio | Peter
Nice | Cuffee | Isaac
Aaron | Chloe | Negro Girl
Negro Woman

“The Best Rum In The States” and The Slaves Who Made It Happen

Medford, founded in 1630, is one of the oldest English settlements in the United States. Medford is also home to one of the oldest Black communities in the nation. The first mention of Africans in Medford can be found in the early 1600s. There were also several Free Blacks in Medford during this early period. — Jay Griffen, Afro-Americans in Colonial Medford

Medford was known throughout the American states as producing the finest rum around. Many big families in the Medford area maintained their wealth by producing this spirit. Rum is made through a distilling process that relies on molasses. Molasses is a product of sugar cane, grown in the West Indies, and harvested by slaves. Rum was an important item of exchange in the African Slave Trade (or the “Triangle Trade”) but Medford’s part in the slave trade has often been written out of history.

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