On February 25, at 7:00 p.m., the Maynard Public Library
will present a Zoomed talk titled: “The Rise and Fall of Slavery in
Massachusetts.” Register at https://www.maynardpubliclibrary.org/may150.
This is the first in a monthly series of history lectures produced by the
Sesquicentennial Steering Committee as part of Maynard’s celebration of the 150th
anniversary of its creation on April 19, 1871. The March talk will be “Before
the Europeans Arrived…and After.” A new history book “MAYNARD MASSACHUSETTS: A
Brief History” is for sale at 6 Bridges Gallery, 63 Nason Street, THUR-SAT,
Massachusetts was the first British colony to legalize
slavery. The year 1641 saw the passing of the Massachusetts Body of Liberties.
This set of 98 rules established rules of law governing how men, women, children
and servants had essential rights. Rule 91 stated that there shall never be
slavery, serfdom or captivity "... unless it be lawful captives taken in
just wars, and such strangers as willingly sell themselves or are sold to us."
And there it was: strangers sold to us could be slaves.
|Lucy Chester (1774-1849), daughter of Cate and |
Prince Chester, is buried in Boxborough's North
Cemetery. The burial site of her parents is unknown.
The land that became Maynard in 1871 – prior to that part of
Sudbury and Stow – was too poor as farmland to support families with the
financial means to purchase and own slaves, but slave ownership did exist in other
parts of Sudbury, in Concord, in Lexington, and other well-to-do towns. Record
show one slave owned in Stow, on land that later became part of Boxborough. Her
name was Cate. She was declared free at age 30 by her owner in 1772. She married
Prince Chester, also a freed slave, from Lexington. Their descendants include
people with the surnames Chester and Hazard, in Massachusetts and elsewhere.
Prior to 1641 there had been small numbers of slaves owned
by British colonists, mostly in Virginia, but slavery was already common in the
Spanish-controlled Caribbean and Florida. In colonial Massachusetts the real
impetus for this part of the Body of Liberties document was wars with Native
Americans. The colonists did not want to free their prisoners of war, but could
not decide what to do with them. The decision was reached to sell them into
slavery in the Caribbean islands. Returning ships started bring back a few Black
slaves as cargo.
Slavery never took hold in the northern colonies as it did
in the southern colonies mostly because there were no labor-intensive cash
crops - no tobacco, indigo, rice or cotton. Instead, northern slaves were primarily
prestige property for the upper class, especially for wealthy men who did not
intend to have themselves or their wives do much physical labor about home and
These ministers, lawyers, doctors, judges and military
officers typically owned one to three slaves. Increase Mather, President of
Harvard College, owned slaves, as did his minister son, Cotton Mather, author of
“Rules for the Society of Negroes,” and “The Negro Christianized.”
By the numbers: 550 adult slaves in Massachusetts by 1708
grew to 2,720 in the town-by-town slave census conducted in 1754 (an
undercount, as children under 16 were not included). This was a bit more than one
percent of the total population, but heavily skewed toward higher percentages
in Boston and
coastal cities. For example, Boston was ten percent Black in 1754 (counting both
slaves and free). In that same census year Concord was recorded as having 15
adult slaves, Sudbury 14, Acton 1 and Stow none.
The end of slavery in Massachusetts
was hastened by the Revolutionary War. Many Loyalists fled to British-controlled
territory, often abandoning their slaves. The Continental Army under the
command of George Washington (slave owner), initially opposed enrolling any Black
men, but changed this edict in 1776. Slave owners received a cash compensation
for any slave freed to serve in the Army. Massachusetts was the first of the
newly forming states to end slavery. With the war still raging, Massachusetts passed
a state constitution in 1780. Key wording: "All
men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and
unalienable rights; among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and
defending their lives and liberties; that of acquiring, possessing, and
protecting property; in fine, that of seeking and obtaining their safety and
The State legislature may not have intended this to mean the
end of slavery; draft versions proposed in 1777 and 1778 had been clear that
slavery would continue. But the 1780 wording was what became law. The right to
vote in state elections was gained a year later, after Black businessmen
pointed out that “no taxation without representation” applied to them, too. The
first United States census, conducted in 1790, reported no slaves in Massachusetts
and a population of 5,463 people who were not white, out of a total of 378,787,
or 1.4 percent. Present-day, Black citizens make up seven to nine percent
(conflicting reports) for the state, under two percent for Maynard.
Free was not equal, neither legally nor economically. Freed slaves
often continued to work in the households where they had been owned, basically
accepting room and board in return for labor. Their children were unlikely to
attend school, and once reaching adolescence, were often indentured until they
were 21 years old. The book “Black Walden” describes the lives of former slaves
and their children in Concord. Marginalized to poor-quality land in Walden
Woods and elsewhere, succumbing to poor nutrition, disease and prejudice,
former slaves died, their children too, or else moved to cities where there were
larger populations of Black families. By 1880 there were no descendants remaining
in Concord from the several score who had lived there as slaves and descendants
of slaves. Concord’s “whitewashed” official history had become descriptions of white
revolutionaries, authors and abolitionists.
|John Adams (second from right) was chauffer for |
Dr. Frank U. Rich (Maynard Historical Society photo)
The first documented mention of an Black man living in Maynard
is a photo caption in the Maynard Historical Society archive identifying John
Adams as a chauffeur for Dr. Frank Rich, circa 1910. There is no mention of
whether he lived on the Rich family property or elsewhere, or if he had a
Not in the newspaper column: There is no mention in the Maynard Historical Society archives of Black men, women or children being hired to work in the woolen mill, or elsewhere in Maynard, nor living in Maynard, nor of Black children attending school in Maynard during the woolen mill era (1847-1950). The Ku Klux Klan was active in Maynard and surrounding towns during the 1920s (matching a national prominence), but locally the intent was primarily anti-Catholic. Local amateur and traveling professional minstrel shows - with white actors in blackface - were popular in Maynard in the 1930s and 1940s (long after the national popularity of this type of show had been superseded by vaudeville). It can be inferred that there was not a resident Black population in Maynard at the time, else minstrel shows might have been more obviously perceived as racially offensive. The 2019 U.S. Census reported Black population in Maynard at 1.3%. See other post for bibliography.
One Maynard resident mentioned that Andy Boy Farms, in Concord, brought in workers from Puerto Rico, some with Black heritage, and that many of them were living in Maynard, especially in apartments around Florida Road. Circa 1950, she does not remember any Black children in the school system.