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Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Freedom began with Jenny Slew, A History of the beginning of the end of legal slavery in America: Part One

The U.S. National Archives. “John Whipple House - Ipswich, Massachusetts.” Image, January 1, 1935. Public Domain
In 1762, Ipswich, Massachusetts purchased a clock for the fourth First Church. Quoting from the following article,

Ipswich, Historic. “The First Church Clock.” Historic Ipswich (blog), August 18, 2017. Viewed 5 November 2019
The First Church (uppercase C: the institution) built its first church (lowercase c: the building) in 1634, the year that Ipswich was founded. The church stood on the highest point in town and was the town’s first public building – besides being a house of worship, it also served as a meeting house and even as a fortress guarding against French or Indian attacks. 
This first church lasted only a dozen years. In 1646, the Church decided it needed a better church, so it built the second church — which lasted all of 50 years. Then it, too, was torn down to make way for the third First Church that, in 1749, was replaced by the fourth First Church (all this seems weird to me: I grew up in England where churches were built of stone and were expected to last for eternity. In Ipswich, England, by way of contrast, the parish church was built in the 1350s and is still going strong.)
1762 was also the year that a free woman, Jenny Slew, the daughter of a white woman and an enslaved black man was kidnapped from her home in Ipswich and forced into servitude by a local farmer, John Whipple, Jr. In 1766, Jenny Slew brought a lawsuit in the Massachusetts courts for her freedom and for damages. Quoting from the following book:

Moore, George Henry. Notes on the History of Slavery in Massachusetts. New York, D. Appleton & co., 1866.
The earliest of these cases in Massachusetts, of which we have any knowledge, is noticed in the Diary of John Adams. It was in the Superior Court at Salem, in 1766. Under date of Wednesday, November 5th, he fays: "Attended Court; heard the trial of an action of trespass, brought by a mulatto woman, for damaged, for restraining her of her liberty. This is called suing for liberty ; the first action that ever I knew of the sort, though I have heard there have been many." Works, 11., 200. [spelling and orthography regularized]
Here is the complete citation to the John Adams quote:

Adams, John, and Charles Francis Adams. The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: Diary, with Passages from an Autobiography. Notes of Debates in the Continental Congress, in 1775 and 1776. Autobiography. Little, Brown, 1865, page 200.

We do not usually associate New England with slavery, but from some of the earliest settlements in America, there were enslaved people of African origin. This series will focus on the historical origins of slavery in America from a legal perspective. You may well ask, what does this have to do with genealogy? Actually everything. If we understand that prior to emancipation in the United States slaves were property, then we can see how understanding the legal status and legal history of the enslaved people will help us to push back the curtain of history and gain an insight into where we might find additional records about the enslaved African population. I am going to write this series from the legal perspective and at the same time point out how and where records may be located from the earliest times.

So, I will have to take a major step back in time before I return to the complete story of Jenny Slew and the court battles that have continued to the present time.

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