Slavery in Massachusetts

When you think of the shameful history of slavery in the United States, Massachusetts doesn’t normally spring to mind.   By a bit of serendipity the Maynard Historical Society is pleased to host two events this year on this interesting topic, made especially poignant by this year’s observance of the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act.  When it comes to understanding one’s history, different points of view and interpretation of the records provides a more complete picture of what happened and we are pleased to be able to do that for this particular topic.

At 7pm on February 27th, in the Maynard Public Library, David Mark, a frequent contributor to the Historical Society program series will speak on this topic.  Here is David’s synopsis:

Massachusetts was the first colony to legalize slavery (1641) and the first to end it (1783). Slavery began with the question of what to do with Indians captured in war. The answer? Sell them to the Caribbean colonies, and while there might as well bring back African-born slaves.

Slavery never took hold in the northern colonies as it did in the south mostly because there were no labor intensive cash crops. Instead, northern slaves were primarily prestige property for the upper class. The end of slavery in Massachusetts was hastened by the Revolutionary War. Wealthy Loyalists fled to British-controlled territory, often abandoning their slaves. The Continental Army initially opposed enrolling any Negro men, but soon allowed Free Negros to enroll, and also for slave owners to receive cash compensation for any slave freed to serve in the Army. With the Revolutionary War still raging on, Massachusetts passed a state constitution in 1780 with key wording: “All men are born free and equal…” Court cases soon confirmed this, and also made illegal selling Negros to states that had not abolished slavery.

 On June 12th, 7pm at the Maynard Public Library, the Historical Society is pleased to host Thoreau on Slavery in America

Historical interpreter Richard Smith will reprise Thoreau’s lecture “Slavery In Massachusetts.” This re-enactment in 2014 will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the passing of the Civil Rights Act enacted on July 2nd 1964 . Designed for all ages, this program will bring to life Thoreau’s singular observations and concerns about social justice in a new nation. This presentation will conclude with a lively Q&A with Richard Smith about how and why Thoreau ideas and actions remains relevant today.

In the decades before the Civil War began, New England men and women participated in the abolitionist movement by joining the American Anti-Slavery Society, subscribing to a weekly newspaper, The Liberator, attending rallies, defying authorities and helping escaped slaves on their courageous journeys toward Canada. Henry David Thoreau supported the anti-slavery cause in both word and action. He and his family gave temporary sanctuary in their home to fugitives heading north. Thoreau wrote essays and delivered several anti-slavery public lectures. His most famous one was “Slavery in Massachusetts,” which he delivered at a famous rally in Framingham on July 4, 1854. Thoreau was also the first American to publicly support radical abolitionist John Brown with another renowned lecture, “Plea For Captain John Brown”.

 This timely Thoreau program series has been presented state-wide by Freedom’s Way and the Maynard program is made possible by a generous grant by the Maynard Cultural Council.  And to put the icing on the cake, Richard Smith is a Maynard resident!

We hope you avail yourself of these two unique programs.

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