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SLAVES IN MIDDLEBORO
RIOR to the Revolution, a few slaves were held in many of the towns in this commonwealth.1 There is the record of the sale of but one in Middleboro, and those that were held, upon the death of their owner either passed to some member of the family by will or were given their freedom, and in some cases received a little tract of land with a house in which to live. Upon obtaining their freedom they rarely left their masters, but remained with them, serving in the same capacity as before. Very amusing incidents have come down by way of tradition of the bright sayings of some of them and the innocent pranks they played upon different members of the family.
In 1755 there were at least twelve slaves owned in Middleboro. Rev. Peter Thatcher owned a slave by the name of Sambo, who was imported from Africa, and, not speaking a word of English when he came to live with the good minister,
1 Slaves were never as numerous in Massachusetts as in Rhode Island and Connecticut, and were always treated with great consideration. As early as the "Body of Liberties, printed in 1641, the General Court declared, there shall never be any bond of slaverie, villenage or captivitie unless it be lawful captives taken in just wars and such strangers as willingly sell themselves or are sold to us; " and it seems that all slaves always had the right to come into any public court either by speech or motion for the redress of any wrongs that they may have had.
The slaves of Massachusetts were not held under a rigorous servitude. They were generally instructed in the teachings of the Bible, and were often members of the church and subject to the same rules as their owners. They had their legal rights, which, however, were never enforced against those of their owners.
Among the laws passed by the General Court in 1703, "It was enacted that slaves shall not be absent from the families to which they belong or found abroad in the night after nine o'clock." The early newspapers frequently had advertisements for the sale of slaves.
could be communicated with only by means of signs. It is said that one day, soon after his arrival, Mrs. Thatcher asked him to bring in some wood with which to kindle the fire. Sambo brought it in, but when he saw the flames going up from the mouth of the oven, looked aghast, and darting through the door, was not seen for several days. After a long search by the neighbors, he was found in a swamp and brought home nearly dead from cold and hunger. When he could speak a little English he said, "In my own country, away dar in Af'ica, we hab slaves, we hungry, we kill 'em, we roast 'em, de meat bery good. When I see de fire roarin' in de oben I tink, 'Sambo, you days all ober wid you now, dem white foks roast you in de oben and eat you.' De sweat run down my angles; I lib wid de coons; I cold; I hungry — I go home dey roast me in de oben, which best? I dunno, all de same I tink." One day he came to his mistress bringing a loaf of bread in his hands, his eyes aglare, and his lips extended in a most peculiar manner. "Look, Missy, look haar, de crus' lef bread and gone up trough de oben; I believe de debil's been here and is tryin' to run away wid de bread." She told him his oven was not hot enough, and therefore his bread fell. "Oben not hot enuf, de bread fall? How could de bread fall, was it not on de bottom ob de oben? Dis nigger no understand," said he, scratching his head. Afterward, his mistress, going into the kitchen, saw loaves of bread around the floor, and Sambo running from one to the other sitting on each one of them. "Look, Missy, is not dis a charmin' way to keep de crus' from risin'?" he said. Sambo became a christian, and joined the First Church in 1742. While Whitefield was in this vicinity, it is said that Sambo walked to Plymouth hoping to hear him preach, but Whitefield did not come, and the people were disappointed, an itinerant minister supplying. During the service Sambo was very much affected, and cried aloud so that one of the deacons went to him and asked him to be still. He said, "I cannot be still; Massa Whitefield preach so, he nearly break my heart." "But," said the deacon, "it is not Whitefield." "Not Massa Whitefield? den I hab made all dis hubbubboo for nothing." Another of Mr. Thatcher's slaves, Callininco, burned the mansion house by his carelessness in placing a wooden vessel filled with coals in an adjoining outhouse. Mr. Thatcher owned two others, named Anna Kolton and Nannie.
Cyrus Wood, a worthy and influential man, who resided at the Four Corners, kept a country store upon the site where stands the house formerly owned by Deacon Abiel Wood. He owned a slave by the name of Elsie, who was industrious, frugal, and neat. She was very fond of display, and wore a great red handkerchief for a headdress. She was a worshipper in the old church, but acquired a taste for strong drink. Her fault reaching the ears of some of the members of the church, she was summoned before them, and with much fear and trembling, she made this confession : "Bredren and sisters, all dat you hab heard about Elsie is true; it is all true. I did go to de store, I did buy me a bottle of whiskey to cure de rheumatics. A-comin' home trough de woods de bottle was in my hands. I could see de whiskey in de bottle, it looked bery gude. I tink I would take out de stopper and smell of him a little ; maybe, I says, maybe it will do my rheumatics gude, so I takes out de stopper and smell of him a little. It smelled very gude. I just tase him one drop, den de debil, he stan' right at my elbow. He says, 'Elsie,' tase him a little more;' den de debil he pleased, he did not speak to me any more. I did all de res' myself, de debil did not help me. I tase him and tase him and kep' a-tasin' him, till I tase him all up. Now bredren and sisters, if I hab done you any harm, I am much obliged to you." She afterward was restored into the church, and she used to say, when tempted, " Get you bind me, debil, you make one big fool ob me once, I will neber tase de whiskey agen, if de debils be as thick as de huckleberries in massa's pasture." After Elsie had been given her freedom, the family built her a little cottage in the pasture land in the rear of the Morton house, where she lived until her death.
Madam Morton had two slaves, Shurper and Aaron; both of whom lived to be very old, and remained in the family of their mistress until their death. Shurper in his old age used to spend much time in prayer, in which he was very gifted. One of the members of the family, listening at his chamber door, heard him mention his kind master and mistress and the children, and conclude his prayer by saying, "Lord, bless de white foks, ebery one of dem, but bless de poor nigger in partic'lar."
Aaron was also very devout; he had all of the superstition of the negro, and he used often to say, "Now, here is de ring wid old Aaron in de middle, de Lord is wid him here; de debil is on de outside, now keep your distance, Massa debil, and do not dare to come into dis ring," Then with a heavy blow with his cane he would say, "Go your way, Massa debil, and do not come hangin' 'bout here to eat old Aaron up." Some one would banter him by asking how the devil looked, and he would say that he "had a head like a nigger's, only with the horns, and eyes that kep' a-rollin' an' a-rollin' like dis [rolling his own], and a mouth dat would eat you up 1n a minute. He go about to ketch wicked niggers; he ketch white foks too, some o' dem," casting a significant eye on those who were taunting him. "Mistress read about him in de Bible, and Aaron has seen him hisself."
All of the negroes at this time seem to have been brought from Africa, and as a part of the old fetish worship the devil was prominent in the theology of the devout old negro. He used to say, "When I die, bury me near de house, dat I may hear de little chillun's voices when dey be playin'."
The Morton family had one other slave, by the name of Prince, of whom there is no record except that, like the others, he was pious, and united with the church in 1742.
Judge Oliver had a slave by the name of Quassia, full of fun and drollery, who always made sport for the guests at Oliver Hall. After Judge Oliver left the country, Quassia lived in the family of Colonel Watson of Plymouth, and not a few anecdotes have come down of his genial wit, Judge Oliver had one servant, Cato, who was probably a slave.
Governor Hutchinson, while he lived in Middleboro, had a slave by the name of Phyllis.
Dr. Stephen Powers had a young slave named Cato Boston, purchased in Middleboro for twenty pounds, before 1772. He was very mischievous, and was thought to have set one or two fires in the neighborhood.
Elkanah Leonard had a slave named Tom.
Captain Job Peirce owned two slaves, a man and woman.1 At the time slavery ceased in Massachusetts, one of these, though free, continued to live with him as his servant until his death.
Isaac Peirce, Jr., of Lakeville, in his will dated 1756, provided for the emancipation of his negro slave, Jack.2
John Montgomery, in January, 1769, freed his negro manservant, Prince, certain parties giving bonds that he should not become a charge to the town.
July 18, 1764, Ebedmelech, a negro servant to Madam Mary Thatcher, published an intention of marriage with Betty Conant, an Indian woman of Plymouth.3
In the house built by Judge Oliver for his son, Peter Oliver, Jr., now known as the old Sproat house at Muttock, apartments were fitted in the attic for the slaves of the family, traces of which are still noticeable.
John Alden, a grandson of the pilgrim, settled in Titicut, and brought with him the first slave ever owned in town. Her name was Margaret,4 and she united with the First Church January 22, 1710. In his will6 he bequeaths to his wife "my negro man to be at her own disposing."
Before the Revolutionary War, many of the well-to-do citizens of the town had slaves in their families, of whom no record has come down to us. After it, without any legislative act, but from a sense of moral wrong in the holding of human beings in bondage, slavery practically disappeared from the town.
1 The Peirce Family, p. 277. 1 Ibid. p. 43.
3 Davis's Landmarks of Plymouth, p. 109.
* History of the First Church of Middleboro, p. 82.
5 Alden Genealogy, p. 14.