Friday, January 27, 2012


A few weeks back was the anniversary of my 7x great grandparents Samuel
Upton and Abigail Frost of Salem Massachusetts. I sometimes use family
events as inspirations for blogposts, so I checked my digital edition of John
Adams Vinton's The Upton Memorial and found this:

"The father of William and Samuel Upton by will gave them his negro. This negro,
whose name was Thomas. was in 1699, the date of the inventory, about thirteen
years old, and was valued at thirty pounds or one hundred dollars. This sum may
have been equivalent to ten times its amount now. if we may judge from the
valuation of the oxen and other live stock in the same inventory. This negro slave
faithfully served William and Samuel Upton eighteen years; and they then gave
him his liberty. The deed of manumission is dated Dec. 21, 1717. At the same time,
they gave security to the town treasurer of Salem. that they would meet all charges
 which might arise against the said black man."

-The Upton Memorial by John Adams
Vinton  (E. Upton & Son, Bath Me. 1874)p32

As a historian I was already aware of the fact that there had been slavery in
Massachusetts in the colonial period, but this was the first time I'd seen details
about one of my ancestors having a slave. Ironically, John Upton had been an
indentured servant himself, having been one of many Scottish prisoners sent to
Massachusetts by Oilver Cromwell. I wondered what the "security" was that
Samuel and William had to give to the town for Thomas' freedom was all about,
and whether there was any record of what became of him.  A Google search turned
up the following:

"1717, Dec. 21. William and Samuel Upton, of this town, liberate Thomas, 
who had faithfully served their father, John Upton, of Reading. They give 
security to the treasurer, that they will meet all charges, which may accrue 
against the said black man." -Annals of Salem Vol 2  by Joseph Barlow Felt
(W.& S. B. Ives, Salem, Ma 1849) p415

I found further explanation of the security in a third book:

"Humane masters who desired to emancipate their slaves were embarrassed by a
statute unfriendly to manumission. The Act of 1703 deterred many persons from
emancipating their slaves on account of its unjust and hard requirements. And under
it quite a deal of litigation arose. It required every master who desired to liberate
his slave, before doing so, to furnish a bond to the treasurer of the town or place in
which he resided, in a sum not less than fifty pounds. This was to indemnify the town
or place in case the Negro slave thus emancipated should, through lameness or 

sickness, become a charge. In case a master failed to furnish such security, his 
emancipated slaves were still contemplated by the law as in bondage 
notwithstanding any manumission or instrument of freedom to them made or 
given."-History of the Negro race in America from 1619 to 1880: Vol2  George
Washington Williams  (G.P Putnam & Sons 1882) pp206-207

I culdn't find any mention of the fate of Thomas the slave, so I went back to the Annals
of Salem to see what else I could find and got more, but not on the Uptons. Instead, it
was on another of my ancestral lines, the Mavericks:

"The first notice that we have of this disfranchised class, is in 1637, when Capt. 
Wm.Peirce was employed to carry out, to the West Indies, some Pequods, lately 
captured, and sell them there for slaves. On his return from Tortugas, Feb. 26, 
1638, he had, as part of his cargo, a number of negroes. These appear to have 
been purchased by Samuel Maverick,  of Noddle's Island, and others. Whether 
any of them were bought by inhabitants of Salem is not known."-Annals of 
Salem Vol2 p414

Elias and Moses Maverick are my 9x great grandfathers and Samuel was their older
brother.  Samuel was actually already livng on Nottle Island in Boston Harbor before
John Winthrop and the Puritans arrived to establish the Massachusetts Bay Colony in
1630. Some accounts have him living there as early as 1624. So not only had some of
my ancestors been slave owners, one of them had actually been the first to own slaves
in Massachusetts.

That wasn't the only information I found on Samuel Maverick and his slaves.
George Washington Williams cites an incident recorded by John Josselyn in his book
Two Voyages To New England which was first printed in 1674:

"The Second of October,(1639) about 9 of the clock in the morning, Mr. Mavericks Negro woman came to my chamber window, and in her own Countrey language and tune sang very loud and shril, going out to her, she used a great deal of respect towards me, and willingly would have expressed her grief in English ; but I apprehended it by her countenance and deportment, whereupon I repaired to my host, to learn of him the cause, and resolved to intreat him in her behalf, for that I understood before, that she had been a Queen in her own Countrey, and observed a very humble and dutiful garb used towards her by another Negro who was her maid. Mr. Maverick was desirous to have a breed of Negroes, and therefore seeing she would not yield by perswasions to company with a Negro young man he had in his house; he commanded him will'd she nill'd she to go to bed to her, which was no sooner done but she kickt him out again, this she took in high disdain beyond her slavery, and this was the cause of her grief".
History of the Negro race in America from 1619 to 1880: Vol2 pp174-175
In other words, in the interests of breeding her Samuel Maverick had ordered his male
slave to force himself on the female slave.

 We often remind each other that when researching our family tree, we have to
expect to find the bad along with the good. The Maverick story is one of the bad.

I still haven't found any more mention of Thomas who had been the slave of John Upton.
I've no way of knowing how old he was when he first came into the Upton household.
I do know that John Upton was 77 years old when he died so perhaps serving an
elderly man wasn't too harsh a life for young Thomas.  Slavery in Massachusetts wasn't
abolished until 1783 so the Upton brothers didn't have to free him and pay the
equivalent of about $150 to the town to support him if he couldn't care for himself.
I hope they did so out of the conviction that slavery was wrong.


Heather Wilkinson Rojo said...

Thanks for posting this story, Bill. It's important to know all the historical facts about our ancestors, even the sad and horrible facts. I'm a Maverick descendant, too, from Samuel's brother, Moses. As the sons of a Reverend, you would think they should have known better.

Susan Clark said...

Wonderful post, Bill. Our families' involvement in slavery and various wars have been the most challenging topics for me to research. But it is important to acknowledge the realities of their lives and choices.

a3genealogy said...

This post will require no less than 3 subsequent posts on my blog. You bring out so much history that is not known that it must be shared.

My father used to say "we mustn't judge past actions with today's morality. Through an open lens we can learn so much more" Know that I will be referencing this post in the near future. Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Thank you Bill,

It's posts and stories like this that will go a long way in informing and healing this nation with respect to its past.

Thanks also for the references to African Ancestored historian George Washington Williams.

Peace & Blessings,
"Guided by the Ancestors"

Kate Foote said...

Had to check this out after Geneablogger's Radio tonight. Excellent blog, Bill! I confess that earlier, during the show, my thoughts were on my very few 'Southern' ancestors, and who might have been a slaveholder? You have nudged my brain to recall colonial history - and the fact that 90% of my ancestors were early immigrants to the colonies, especially The Bay Company and all the other 'usual' settlements. Time to rethink, and recheck who actually comprised the old households! Thank you...

Renate Yarborough Sanders said...

Thank you, Bill, for your hard work and willingness to share this information. The "ugly truth" is sometimes hard to accept, but it's a crucial part of history which needs, and deserves to be told.