Archive 2008 - 2019

Slavery in New England

by Christian Buday

Would it surprise you if I told you that there was slavery up here in New England and during the 17th century before the Revolutionary war? I was surprised to hear of it too. Pre-Revolutionary war slavery seemed more common in the south with all of the cotton fields to work in. However, it seems that slavery was common in New England, even in towns such as Holliston and Medford. Tom Lincoln, the Executive Director of the Royall House and Slave Quarters in Medford, visited the Holliston Historical Society on March 26th to tell us a bit of history with slavery in New England.

Slavery in New England first started in 1638 of the 17th century. The bill was known as the “Bodies of Liberies” and was formed in 1641. In 1649 a law was created to prohibit slavery of Native Americans. Slavery was seen as normal, legal and encouraged during the early to mid 1700s.

By the 18th century, owning a slave was common to everyone. Not just with Royalls, but with farmers, merchants, preachers and so on. Two to three percent of Massachusetts was African slaves with Boston being the largest slave trading post in New England. In 1780s though, the new constitution prohibited slavery as the State Constitution contained a Bill of Rights that declared "all men are born free and equal, and have ... the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberty."

If you want to learn more, you can visit the Royall House Slave Quarters on 13 George Street, Medford, Massachusetts or visit their website at Their website has more information about slavery in New England and some history about Isaac Royall, a slaver, as well as what the Medford Historical Society is planning for the Royall house.