African Presence in Massachusetts

This is the 8th of our Wednesday series that highlights historic Middle Passage/UNESCO Site of Memory markers that have been installed and those locations where a remembrance ceremony was held since MPCPMP incorporated 9 years ago. MPCPMP is/was involved in the planning for the installation of most of these markers (indicated by an * next to the state name), and other organizations are/were responsible for some.

Massachusetts*

Described as the “Cradle of Liberty,” Massachusetts frequently promotes its colonial, Revolutionary War against England, and early U.S. history with only slight acknowledgement of the long-term presence or contributions of Africans and their descendants. Preferring to emphasize the state’s role in the Abolitionist movement, little is mentioned of enslaved Africans’ continuous arrival beginning in 1638 until the mid-18th century or the fact that it was the first colony to legalize slavery (1641) on the North American mainland.

It is generally accepted that John Winthrop (the founder of Boston) made the first documented reference to the trade of Africans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in his journal. He writes that on February 26,1638, the ship Desire returned from the West Indies carrying “some cotton, and tobacco, and negroes, etc., from thence…” They had been exchanged for enslaved Pequot Indians brought from New England. The importation of people in bondage directly from Africa began in 1644, with Boston merchants “selling them in the West Indies, and bringing home sugar to make rum, initiating the so-called triangular trade.” Massachusetts was one of the principal trading colonies in New England, and Boston’s port was a primary point of departure for ships participating in the trade of Africans.

In 2015, Boston held a remembrance ceremony at Faneuil Hall, a building funded in part by profits from the trade in human beings, to honor those African ancestors brought in chains to the colony and their descendants (video – https://bit.ly/3ebr8Hq). Plans to install a historic marker in Boston are nearly complete. Please follow these links to read more about Massachusetts and slavery and to find resources for additional information: https://historyofmassachusetts.org/slavery-in-massachusetts/
https://www.masshist.org/endofslavery/index.php?id=60

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