Enslaved persons of record on Cape Ann
Records pertaining to enslaved individuals are sparse and often hidden from view for a variety of reasons. Even the basic information of birth, marriage, and death can be difficult to find. Between 1712 and 1783 (when owning slaves became illegal in Massachusetts),1 In 1783 slavery became illegal in Massachusetts, based on the claim that slavery contradicted the state’s constitution, enacted in 1780, which stated that all men were equal Massachusetts Constitution and the Abolition of Slavery. www.mass.gov
98 “Negroes” and one “Indian” were recorded as baptized on Cape Ann.2All births, marriages and deaths, unless otherwise stated, reference the Vital Records of Gloucester, Massachusetts, to the End of the Year 1849, Vol. I (Births) Vol. II (Marriages) Vol. III (Deaths) (Topsfield, Mass.: The Topsfield Historical Society, 1917). Less than half were associated with the name of an owner but nevertheless it seems that most slave-owning households had no more than one or two “servants for life” (as they were euphemistically called), although there were a few exceptions. For instance, Francis Norwood in Squam Parish, who had land and a grist mill in the vicinity of Goose Cove, had five slaves baptized in 1745, and Nathaniel Ellery, who was a merchant and maritime trader in the Harbor area of town, had six baptized between 1748 and 1764.
Based on the Parish in which these baptismal records are found, it is clear that half belonged to residents of First Parish, which before 1742 was centered in the area where Grant Circle now stands and was home to the richest citizens. After 1742 when, with the rise in ocean trading, the new merchant class moved to the Harbor, First Parish was split in two with the Harbor claiming the title of First Parish and the old church near Grant Circle becoming Fourth Parish. Conversely, among the very few recorded marriages and deaths of “Negroes”, the majority were from Second Parish, West Gloucester.3There are 70 ‘Negro’ marriages recorded, most of them unidentified as to parish, 27 of which were before 1790, and 30 ‘Negro’ deaths recorded with only 7 before 1790.
By the census of 1790 all people of color in Massachusetts were considered free, even those still residing in white-dominated households.41790 Census: Heads of Families at the First Census of the United States Taken in the Year 1790, Massachusetts County Tables: Bristol-Essex. www.census.gov.
Cape Ann had a population count of 5,317 with 41 African Americans. Seventeen were living in 16 white households as servants, while the remaining 24 were in five independent households headed by free African-Americans. Among the 16 white households were well known Cape Ann names: Coffin, Foster, Haskell, Norwood, Rogers, Saunders, and Whittemore. The five independent African American households were those of Robin Biles, Robin Coffin, Gloster Dalton, (sometimes spelled Glocester or Gloucester), Dick Norwood and Dil Perkins.5A Century of Population Growth from the First Census of the United States to the Twelfth, 1790-1900, Vol. 900, p. 192, U.S. Census Office, 1909.
1st Parish before 1742
the Harbor to Riverdale
1st Parish after 1742
Central Gloucester (the Harbor)
Riverdale after 1742
Sandy Bay (Rockport)
|No Parish given||1||7||0|
The Freeman Family
The Robin Biles named in the 1790 census was almost certainly the Robin Byles who purchased his freedom from Captain Charles Byles in 1768.6Account Book of Capt. Charles Byles, 1751-1778. Cape Ann Museum Archives There is evidence that Captain Byles had treated Robin and his family with some consideration during their years of slavery, occasionally paying for their medical care and leaving Robin a small bequest in his will.7Capt. Byles bequeathed Robin 40 shillings. Probate record: Byles, Charles (Capt.), Case #4417, April 1, 1782. Essex County, MA, Probate File Papers, 1638-1881. www.americanancestors.org,
This Robin is also most likely to have taken the name Robin (sometimes Robert) Freeman at some point after his release from bondage. He rented a house from Captain Byles8Robin was to pay Capt. Byles rent at the rate of £24 a year. Account Book of Capt. Charles Byles, 1751-1778. Cape Ann Museum Archives. and probably worked the adjacent farmland belonging to John Gorham Rogers, because his son, Robin Freeman Jr., purchased the property known as Robin’s Farm in 1803 at an estate auction after Rogers’ death.9David Low, administrator of the estate of John Gorham Rogers, deceased, sold ‘Robin’s Farm’ at auction to Robin Freeman Jr. for $850.00. Southern Essex District Registry of Deeds Book 171, p.277. www.salemdeeds.com
In 1854 Robert Freeman died at age 90, leaving his house, barn and land divided between his daughter Harriet and his son Robert. Son Robert died six years later (1860) leaving all he had inherited to the children of his “housekeeper” Joanna Cox. His will was dated 25 Jan. 1859, nine months before he and Joanna married.10Essex County Probates # 39625, 1855 & #39626, 1861.
Described as bounded on one side by “the highway … leading from Little River to Kettle Cove,”11Because son Robert died before father Robert’s will was executed Harriet Johnson (nee Freeman) and her husband Hollis Johnson, and Joanna C. Freeman petitioned to clarify ownership of the property. Salem Registry of Deeds Bk. 639, p. 206. . www.salemdeeds.com
the house is now known as the Wellspring House on the corner of Essex and Magnolia Avenues.12The Massachusetts Historical Commission First Period Inventory No. glo.1055, Form #23, 3/9/1990, notes that the Robin Freeman who purchased the house “c.1860” had been a slave in South Carolina before escaping and coming to Cape Ann, but gives no direct reference for either statement.
Daughter Harriet married Hollis Johnson in 185413Massachusetts Vital Records, Marriages, Gloucester, MA, Vol. 78, p.154, 1854 www.americanancestors.org and they had a daughter, Hattie Johnson,14Massachusetts Vital Records, Births, Gloucester, MA, Vol. 90, p.167, 1855 www.americanancestors.org
who was the last of the Freeman family to live on Cape Ann. Hattie never married and continued to live in the house until her death in 1931.15Harriet F. Johnson sold the property to Henry L. & Margaret E. Oakes in 1929 reserving the right to continue to reside on the property. Southern Essex District Registry of Deeds Book 2805, p.575. www.salemdeeds.com
The Freeman property deeds and wills were all signed, indicating literacy, even for the girls. A member of the Freeman family, also called Robin, enrolled his children and possibly a servant or two in Master Moore’s school. Master Moore taught reading, writing and arithmetic to many of Cape Ann’s youth, receiving payment in the form of cash, firewood, and other goods. According to Master Moore’s Account Book, between 1807 and 1819 he charged Robin for teaching the 3 Rs to five youngsters: Zachariah, Cato, Charles, William Task, James Middleton and a girl named Hetty.16Account Book of Joseph Moore, 1805-1830, Box P23, Cape Ann Museum Archives.
Harriet P. Johnson with her mother, Harriet F. Johnson ca.1865
courtesy of Wellspring House
The Dalton Family
Gloster Dalton was born in captivity around 1723 and may have been the slave named Gloster who was given his freedom by John Ellery of Boston in 1748. Ellery’s will, written in 1741, included the words: “… unto my kinswoman Mary Ellery … Two Hundred pounds … also my negro girl Kate and … I hereby order that my Negro Man Servant named Cornwall have his freedom immediately … [and] that my Negro Man Servant named Gloster shall remain in the service of my Executor … the space of Seven Years after my decease and then to be Manumitted or have his freedom.”17The executor was his son John Ellery of Hartford, CT. Will of John Ellery, Dec. 11, 1741 Massachusetts Wills and Probate Records, Vol. 35-37, 1740-1745, pp.109-110, case #7781. www.ancestry.com.
John Ellery was the son of William and Mary Ellery of Cape Ann and older brother of Nathaniel Ellery, who was previously cited as having owned several slaves.18Ellery Family, New England Historical & Genealogical Register, Vol. 43, p.313
Gloster Dalton was a free man in 1780, when he first appeared in Cape Ann records, and was evidently not impoverished, as his name is found on a 1782 list of taxpayers being tapped for money to finance a soldier for the Continental Army during the War of Independence.19 Gloster Dalton’s first appearance in Gloucester records was in the Selectmen’s Records, 1698-1873, CCBV3, CC60. City of Gloucester, MA, Archives. Also: Procurement Order for the Continental Army, John Low Jr., April 10, 1782. CCBV3, CC87, Box 31, FF2, 1778-1782. City of Gloucester, MA, Archives
Also in 1782, when a cartel of exchange prisoners from Halifax, Nova Scotia, made an unscheduled stop in Gloucester because of sickness, he was among those billing the town for the care and comfort of the captives. His bill was the highest at £33, even more than the doctor’s, which came in at £22.20Gloucester Times, Antiquarian Papers, newspaper clipping Exchange Prisoners, Jan. 1907, Vertical File: Gloucester Dalton. Cape Ann Museum Archives. Dalton was literate and among the first to sign his name to the 1785 Charter of the Independent Christian Society of Gloucester,21Independent Christian Society of Gloucester Charter of Compact, September 6, 1785. Flat File, Cape Ann Museum Archives.
now known as the Gloucester Unitarian Universalist Church on Middle Street.
Gloster Dalton married Phillis Freeman in 1787 but, given the ages of his known children, this was probably not his first marriage. He had several children and grandchildren, one of which, Thomas Dalton (1794-1884), became a prominent Boston abolitionist and co-founder of the Massachusetts General Colored Association in 1826.22Massachusetts General Colored Association. www.wikipedia.org A son, Zachariah, born c.1756, was also on the taxpayers’ list for the Continental Army soldiers in Gloucester. He lived in Boston but owned property on Cape Ann and when he died in 1805 left this property, which was a house and land on the southerly side of what is now Prospect Street, to his father Gloster Dalton: “I give and devise all my Estate including my house & land in Gloucester … to my honorable Father Gloucester Dalton, to hold to him for and during his life and then to go to my nephew Thomas Dalton (son of Thomas).”23Probate Record: Dalton, Zach’h, Case #22271, will dated January 3, 1805. Suffolk County Probate Records, Vol. 103-104, 1805-1806. www.ancestry.com. Also: Sale of house and land in Gloucester, Thomas Dalton to Israel Trask, 1823. Southern Essex District Registry of Deeds Book 232, p. 45. www.salemdeeds.com
In the early 1800s several free African Americans, the sons and grandsons of slaves, owned land on Cape Ann, most notably in the area overlooking Rafe’s Chasm and Norman’s Woe.24Sale of land at Kettle Cove, Robert Freeman to Cato Freeman, 1808. Southern Essex District Registry of Deeds Book 207, p. 203. www.salemdeeds.com. Also: Sale of land on Western Ave., Gloucester, Hannah Honners to Scipio Dalton, 1806. Southern Essex District Registry of Deeds Book 178, p. 234. www.salemdeeds.com.
Among them were Cato Freeman, a seaman and probably a son or grandson of Robin Freeman, and Scipio Dalton, who was related to Thomas Dalton.25Thomas Dalton was a witness to Scipio’s indenture. www.masshist.org Scipio was briefly indentured to Isaac Smith, a wealthy Boston merchant and slave owner.26Indenture between Isaac Smith of Boston and Scipio Dalton, a Negro-Man (who now lives and for some years past has lived with the said Isaac, in the Capacity of a Servant in his Family), 20 June 1779. www.masshist.org It agrees that he will be freed two years later. Mr. Smith had a Cape Ann connection through his purchase of what is now called the Babson-Alling house from William Allen in 1765.27Purchase of Babson/Alling house by Isaac Smith, Aug. 2, 1765. Southern Essex District Registry of Deeds, Book 113, p. 150. www.salemdeeds.com
Both Cato and Scipio had purchased the land between 1806 and 1808 and were living in Boston when they sold it to members of the Knowlton family in 1819.28Scipio Dalton to Jonathan Knowlton, Southern Essex District Registry of Deeds Book 219, p. 251 & Robert Freeman to James Knowlton, Southern Essex District Registry of Deeds Book 221, p. 125. www.salemdeeds.com
Scipio was described as a laborer but was a member of the African Masonic Lodge and a founder of the African Society, the African Baptist Church and the African School in Boston.29Cameron, Christopher Alain. 2010. To Plead Our Own Cause: African Americans In Massachusetts and the Making of the Antislavery Movement, 1630-1835. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. https://doi.org/10.17615/psha-8p87
When Gloster Dalton died in 1813, Rev. Jones, then pastor of the Independent Christian Church, wrote in the record book that Gloster was “an honest, industrious man”.30Universalist Records Reg A9, Box 5, Bk 6. Cape Ann Museum Archives.
Slave Owning Families
There were few families of any wealth or social standing in the Cape Ann community that did not possess one or more slaves at some time. From the available vital records, we know that six members of the Davis family owned slaves, as did four members of the Sargent and Haskell families, three of the Norwood and Lane families and two of the Allen and Stevens families, along with single members of 15 other families. Among these slave-owners were two ministers and three church deacons. The ministers were Rev. John White, a Congregationalist and long-time pastor of the First Parish Church, who owned Prinn, a Native-American boy, baptized in 1712. The other was Rev. John Rogers who became pastor of the Fourth Parish in 1744. He was a follower of the New Light movement and a hell-fire preacher in the old Puritan tradition, who owned Cloe, baptized in 1766.31The Congregationalists (Old Lights) believed that man was capable of improving himself through reason and experience. Puritans, or Calvinists, (New Lights) believed in predestination: that your fate was determined by God and nothing you could do in this life would alter that.
The three church deacons were William Parsons, Philemon Warner and James Lane. William Parsons, a deacon of the First Parish Church in the Harbor area of town and a wealthy merchant, owned two slaves, Cornelius and Francesco. Philemon Warner, son of a blacksmith, was also a merchant in First Parish and owned a slave named Richard. James Lane, a fisherman in Third Parish, Annisquam, owned Cuff. Ownership of slaves was not confined to men. Three widowed women also owned slaves. Mary Denning, whose husband drowned off Cape Sable in 1729;32Babson, John J., History of the Town of Gloucester …, 1860, p.81 Mary Lane, widow of either John who was killed by Native Americans in Maine in 1724, or of Job, a fisherman whose death is not recorded, owned Cornwell; and Anne Baker, widow of Captain Jabez Baker, whose slave Philis married Dick, one of the Norwood’s slaves, in 1763.
The slave owning members of the Davis family, according to several deeds, were variously mariners, cordwainers (shoemakers), yeomen, and ‘gentlemen’. Three of them were merchants living in the Harbor, while the other three resided in Annisquam. Annisquam was also the home of mariner Andrew Haskell, who owned two slaves, Happy and Titus, and all three of the slave-owning Lanes. William and Nathaniel Allen were both wealthy maritime merchants living in the Harbor area of town, as were the Sargents, One of these, Winthrop Sargent (Judith Sargent Murray’s father), had been one of the first to become interested in the teachings of Rev. John Murray, the father of Universalism in America.
William Stevens owned several slaves: Cobinah, Dill, Spencer and old Abraham, as well as others unnamed who probably worked on his farm at Eastern Point.33At his death in 1767 his estate included a farm and pasture at Eastern Point worth £1,000 and 2 Negro girls (worth) £50.13.4, 2 Negro boys £60.0.0, 9 hogs £13.2.0, 8 milk cows £19.4.0 (etc.) Essex County Probate # 26449
Cobinah and Dill were married and had five children born into slavery.34Cobinah and Dill’s children were: Sip born in 1754, Celia in 1755, Scipio in 1757, Dill in 1759 and Broglio in 1761 William’s mother, Mary Stevens, let it be known that her slave was to be freed after her death: “Pompey Cummins a Negro to whom Mrs. Mary Stevens, late said negro servant’s mistress, willed his freedom.”35Southern Essex District Registry of Deeds Bk. 155, p.69. William Stevens to Samuel Tarbox, 1761. www.salemdeeds.com The Stevens were a wealthy merchant family living in a house on the corner of Short and Middle Streets. John Stevens was Judith Sargent Murray’s first husband, and the Stevens-Sargent Family of Gloucester had a complex history of slave ownership.
Sources other than vital records provide the names or existence of other slaves. Benjamin Ellery, who inherited the White-Ellery house after his father’s death in 1771, was a general merchant who also supplied fishing vessels. He occasionally notes in his account book that he hired out his “servant” Pomp as a farm hand or hauler, usually along with a team of oxen. A Pomp associated with the Ellery family was baptized in fourth Parish in 1764, but what became of him is unknown and his name is not among the marriages or deaths. Benjamin Ellery also indicates ownership of another slave, who was referred to merely as “ye niger.”36Account Book of Benjamin Ellery, 1768-1789. Cape Ann Museum Archives
According to Thomas Allen’s account book, he rented out his slaves Bristow and Morris in the early 1700s and noted inside the back cover the birth of Leah and the death of Dinah and Pomp.37 Account Book of Thomas Allen, 1725-1758. Cape Ann Museum Archives. Thomas Allen was a blacksmith and merchant and lived on the family estate in the vicinity of Grant Circle. His father Joseph Allen Sr. owned four slaves (Hagar, Member, Tom and Dinah) who were all baptized in the then still First Parish church in 1740. Joseph Allen Sr. was one of the wealthiest men in town and a strong opponent of the division of the First Parish in 1742. When he died in 1750 his estate included “eight Negro slaves” valued at £200.38Probate Record: Allen, Joseph, Case #465, May 17, 1750. Essex County, MA, Probate File Papers, 1638-1881. www.americanancestors.org,
In 1773 Joseph Eveleth, owner of a sawmill on Little River, advertised a “healthy Negro Man” for sale, as he didn’t have enough work to warrant keeping him.39To Be Sold, for Want of Employ Essex Gazette 6, no. 280, December 30, 1773 Other slave-owners are found in probate records. The estate of Samuel Sayward, who died in 1762, included a “Negro man Kit [worth] 6.13.4, 1 Garle [girl] 26£, 1 Do. [ditto] 24£.”40Probate Record: Sayward, Samuel, Case #24934, 1762, Essex County, MA, Probate File Papers, 1638-1881. www.americanancestors.org John Somes, whose estate was probated in 1700, owned slaves Hercules and Andrew. In 1716 Joseph Haraden died leaving his “young negro boy Caesar” to his widow, Hannah.41Babson, John J., Notes & Additions to the History of the Town of Gloucester …, Part 1, 1876, pp.74 & 33 When Capt. Thomas Saunders’ died in 1774 his estate was charged for boarding and clothing his slave Sambo, who was old and infirm.42Probate Record: Saunders, Thomas (Capt.), Case #24781, April 3, 1774. Essex County, MA, Probate File Papers, 1638-1881. www.americanancestors.org, Widow Mary Gibbs stated in her will, made in 1768, that £25 was to go to any of her relatives willing to take her “negro servant named Sam, where he is willing to go;” that her “negro maidservant Flora” was to be set free with her clothes, bed and bedding and 13 shillings and 4 pence; and her “negro girl Chloe” was to live with her nephew Thomas Saunders 3rd until she was twenty-five, when she was to be freed.43 Probate Record: Gibbs, Mary, Case #10812, Feb. 27, 1769. Essex County, MA, Probate File Papers, 1638-1881. www.americanancestors.org, We know of another slave who gained his freedom only through a manumission paper signed by Nathaniel Haskell in 1777 that reads: “I remised released and set free this negro whose name is Fortune.”44Release of slave Fortune, Nathaniel Haskell, October 25, 1777, Box P15A File 10. Cape Ann Museum Archives.
The Stevens-Sargent Slave owning family: A Case of Contradictions
Ambiguity about slave ownership happened within and between families. The Stevens and Sargent families, and their merger, is a case in point. Judith Sargent (1751-1820) married John Stevens (1741-1787) in the fall of 1769. She was eighteen, the first-born child of Winthrop and Judith (Saunders) Sargent. He was twenty-eight, the oldest surviving son of William and Elizabeth (Allen) Stevens.45All births, marriages and deaths, unless otherwise stated, reference the Vital Records of Gloucester, Massachusetts, to the End of the Year 1849, Vol. I (Births) Vol. II (Marriages) Vol. III (Deaths) (Topsfield, Mass.: The Topsfield Historical Society, 1917). Both Judith and John had been reared in households that included slaves, and held slaves themselves, yet both their actions and words were sometimes at odds.
Judith’s parents lived in a large house on the corner of Main and Duncan Streets and at one point owned all the land between there and Vinson’s Cove down to the wharves in the harbor. They also owned two, unnamed, “servants for life” in 1771, according to that year’s census,461771 Mass Tax Valuation Lists, Mass Early Records, SFL Vol 17. yet four years later when Judith’s mother was looking for a domestic servant they turned to the Gloucester Workhouse instead of obtaining another slave because “… it would be beneficial to the Community, were she to receive a female from the house which stands among us, a shelter for the indigent, and unfortunate people.”47Dunlop, Marianne, transcriber, Judith Sargent Murray: Her First 100 Letters, The Sargent House Museum, 1995. Letter #22 Oct.1, 1775.
In 1785 (two years after slavery was abolished in Massachusetts) Judith’s brother Winthrop Sargent Jr. asked her to assist in finding his “black boy”(presumably a former slave of his) a berth on a Gloucester vessel – a task she was unable to complete, she complained, due to lingering prejudice:
“No effort in my power hath been wanting. I have repeatedly solicited the masters of our fishing vessels to employ him … But these kind of people are very obstinate, and very ignorant, as well as very proud … A single objection was, in their opinion, sufficient – he was a Negro. Their crews unified together and they were determined never to make a companion of a black man. The same reason operates in regard to foreign voyages, and I am assured, that had the matter been insisted upon, by any of our owners, the ship’s company would immediately have left the vessel.”
48Harris, Sharon M., ed., Selected Writings of Judith Sargent Murray, Oxford Univ. Press, 1995, p.94-95. Letter #408. To my brother, May 18, 1785.
-Judith Sargent Murray
Yet, when Winthrop married the wealthy widow of a southern plantation owner and took charge of her large property in Natchez, Mississippi, Judith enthusiastically described his new wife as: “in possession of an immense fortune in the Mississippi Territory, upon one of her estates, in high cultivation, is a hundred slaves … [and] her family, education, fortune, and manners, combine to render her one of the first characters in the country.”49Winthrop became the Governor of the Mississippi Territory in 1798. The widow was Mrs. Mary Williams of Natchez, MS. Smith, Bonnie Hurd, The Letters I Left Behind Me, JSM Society, 2005, Letter #805 Jan 30, 1799.
Many years later, Judith, twice widowed,50John Stevens died in 1787 and Judith married Rev. John Murray, founder of Universalism in America. Judith and Murray had a daughter Julia Marie born in 1791. Murray died in 1815. also moved to Natchez, to her son-in-law Adam L. Bingaman’s plantation, Fatherland. Bingaman had his own struggle with the institution of slavery. He owned around 300 slaves who he frequently used as collateral for loans to support his rather extravagant lifestyle.51In 1821 he mortgaged his Poverty Hill plantation and 10 slaves; in 1842 he mortgaged Fatherland, his library, livestock and 65 slaves; in 1847, Oak Point plantation, race horses, furniture, livestock and 173 slaves. Davis, Ronald L.F., The Black Experience in Natchez, 1720-1880, p. 86. Yet, after the death of his wife Julia Marie (Murray) in 1822, he formed two long lasting relationships with African-American women, joining a small group of southern white planters who were unable to legally marry but “openly loved black women” and who not only acknowledged their mixed race children but ensured that they were educated “in skills appropriate to ‘free people of color’.”52Davis, Ronald L.F., The Black Experience in Natchez, 1720-1880, 1993, p. 121. Bingaman had 8 children with these two women: Amelia (possibly a slave), and after her death in 1841, Mary Ellen Williams (a free woman). Claiborne, J.F.H., Adam L. Bingaman, The Quachita Telegraph, Monroe, LA, 19 May, 1883.
Among the enslaved persons of the Stevens-Sargent family in Gloucester were Abraham, Will, Cobinah, Spencer, and Pompey. Abraham resided with John Stevens’ parents, William and Elizabeth, on the southeastern corner of Middle and Short Streets. His illness and death was noted in Rev. Samuel Chandler’s diary after he was “sent for to see Abraham, an aged negro of Capt. Stevens, dangerously ill.”5327 Dec. 1761. Babson, John J., Notes and Additions to the History of Gloucester: Part II, p. 52. Rev. Chandler also subsequently attended and prayed at Abraham’s funeral.54Prayed at funeral of Abraham. 24 Jan., 1762. Babson, John J., Notes and Additions to the History of Gloucester: Part II, p. 54 Slaves Dill and Cobinah and their children, as well as Spencer (who drowned, along with two companions, when a small boat tipped over)5512 June 1756. Babson, John J., Notes and Additions to the History of Gloucester: Part II, p. 40. probably labored on the Stevens’ farm on Eastern Point. Yet it was William Stevens, not his older, wealthier and more influential brother John, who facilitated his mother’s request that her slave “Pompey Cummins the within named Negro servant manumitted by Mrs. Mary Stevens, his mistress” be set free at her death by purchasing, and then selling to Pompey, a small homestead.56Samuel Tarbox to William Stevens, Sep. 12, 1761 and William Stevens to Pompey Cummins, Aug. 5, 1762, Southern Essex District Registry of Deeds Book 155, p. 69. www.salemdeeds.com.
At the time of his own death William’s estate included four slaves, listed in the inventory of his possessions between a fish house and livestock.57William Stevens died in 1767. The inventory included: the flakes & fish house 66.13.4; 2 Negro girls 50.13.4; 2 Negro boys 60.0.0; 9 hogs 13.2.0; 8 milk cows 19.4.0 (etc.) Essex County, MA; Probate File Papers, 1638-1881 Case# 26449.
John inherited the larger portion of his father’s estate, but by 1771 John and Judith had only one “servant for life” in their household, as did John’s mother, Elizabeth, and she owned no slaves when she died seven years later.581771 Mass Tax Valuation Lists, Mass Early Records, SFL Vol. 17. The Stevens and Sargent families exemplify ambiguities and contradictions in slave ownership as it was practiced in New England. They owned slaves while grasping their human condition, bought slaves and summarily freed others, prized slaves but devalued them, kept careful accounts of them without always giving them names, celebrated slave wealth while divesting themselves of it, loved them while using them as collateral for loans and payments for debts, and gave property to their property in the end.