An illuminating new book on an ugly chapter of Massachusetts history.
Ten Hills Farm: The Forgotten History of Slavery
in the North
By C.S. Manegold
(Princeton University Press, 345 pages, $29.95)
For John Winthrop his appointment in 1630 as governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony was a financial, social, and political boon. He was out of a job as an attorney at the Court of Wards and was accruing debts rapidly. His young second son, the aggressive Henry, had been unable to make a success of his venture in Barbados, and was now back in England looking to his family for help.
The image of the family led by the patriarch has been well managed by later descendants who sought, as Robert C. Winthrop did in the late 1800s, to paint the family with the lofty aim to inhabit the new land, living there with a profound ambition of self-rule. In fact, the family’s purpose was initially and afterward strictly a matter of business, personal advancement, and the accrual of wealth and maintenance of status.
After arriving in the colony, the elder Winthrop quickly learned that in practical terms he had to increase his efforts to encourage his Puritan co-religionists to come along, as C.S Manegold writes in her excellent new book, “to build a refuge for the religiously oppressed, escape England’s corrupt and teeming population, and take and settle a new land.” All this was cloaked in a religious challenge of which Winthrop appointed himself spiritual leader to accompany his administrative appointment as governor.
These elements set the scene for all that followed: the introduction of slavery by the signing of the “Massachusetts Body of Liberties” in 1641 was a masterful exercise in legal hypocrisy. There never should be bond slavery (item 91), the document stated — unless:
It be a lawful captive taken in just wars.
And such strangers as willingly sell themselves.
Or are sold to us…
This exempts none…
It is calculated that 1,200 Indians were enslaved before the end of the 1600s as well as an estimated 200 to 400 Africans, depending on the source. The pre-Revolutionary War census of Massachusetts in 1765 listed the number of black slaves as 5,779. These figures apparently do not include the Africans and Indians transshipped as cargo to the West Indies, the commerce that continued after the post-war emancipation to satisfy the supposed “equality of all.” Approximately 5,000 slaves were quietly freed after the Revolution in Massachusetts in belated recognition of the state constitution’s claim: “All men are born free and equal…” which, according to Manegold, when written in 1780, had no “intention to liberate all slaves…”
In turn there eventually were, as Manegold writes, “enduring links to the rapidly growing slave economies of Antigua, St. Christopher, and Barbados” that would build the Winthrop family holdings and other of the successful merchant families of New England. In other words, there was an integration of African slavery with the entire upper echelon of Boston’s mercantile life.
As the factors of wealth, prestige, servitude grew symbiotically, so did the proliferation of a financially ambitious social class that would come to dominate the life of the Massachusetts colony. The Ten Hills Farm grew symbolically as well as a model for the others of this newly created haute monde of the region. They married each other, bought out each other, exploited each other, but always pretended to their supposed Puritan sense of piety. As the Farm changed hands new families assumed the sense of the “rights of the nobility” personified by the original owner, Governor John Winthrop.
As the generations of this privileged class succeeded each other, so did their reliance on the trade in slaves as an engine of their private economy. It never was of the size and scope of the Southern colonial plantations, but quite vigorous enough to stimulate the economic competition of colonial mercantilism. Pious justification was not really necessary. Slaves were considered a traditional form of property and treated accordingly — the essential point of this fascinating and evocative book. As Manegold writes, “Though slaves never made up more than three percent of the New England population, slave ownership was an integral part of the life for those who shaped and ran that culture.”
As has been shown, the use of slaves and the trade in slaves was an important part of the growth of colonial Massachusetts and environs. It must be remembered, however, slavery was not limited to Africans and their progeny, often of mixed race, in spite of laws against miscegenation. Indians from the earliest times became slave property when they were taken prisoner during the so-called Indian Wars. Their property was confiscated or as often as not obtained for very little payment.
None of this is a pretty picture, and the author in no way gilds it. The groundwork for reparations is historically drawn, though not argued one way or the other. It is clear that Manegold has worked unstintingly to provide evidence to support her objective of uncovering the hypocrisy of the Massachusetts Bay Colony as a righteous Christian environment that was non-exploitive and always rooted in truth and justice.
One is struck by the talents Manegold, an experienced journalist and penetrating writer, displays in Ten Hills Farm. The history that evolved from this manor house and an initial 600 acre plot of land not only reflects the experiences of its several generations of owners and their neighbors over nearly 140 years, but defines the conquest and settlement of the of Massachusetts Bay Colony as a whole.
This is a book that draws one into the world of pre-Revolutionary New England and beyond with a storyteller’s intensity and a historian’s integrity. Ten Hills Farm will win awards — and deserves them.
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