A website from the Massachusetts Historical Society; founded 1791.

Queries Respecting Slavery


These two documents are written just a year apart - one by a judge in Virginia to the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1795; one by an abolitionist group to free blacks in Philadelphia in 1796. They shed much light on the way that well-meaning whites view the lives of African Americans in the early years of the new nation, and how abolitionists in three states address issues relating to their understanding of the black community in this time period. Read more background information on St. George Tucker's queries.


Queries respecting slavery in Massachusetts with answers by Jeremy Belknap Selection from the Massachusetts Historical Society: "Queries respecting slavery in Massachusetts with answers" (manuscript draft) by Jeremy Belknap, [April 1795] (Response to St. George Tucker in Virginia)
To the free Africans and other free people of color in the United States Selection from the Library of Congress: "To the free Africans and other free people of color in the United States..." Philadelphia, 1796

Questions to Consider


  1. Restate the nine pieces of advice in the Philadeplhia document in your own words in a bulleted list.
  2. Restate Belknap's eleven queries in your own words in a bulleted list.


  1. What does it mean to be a person of color and free in the US in the early years of this country? How is it different in the North and the South? What are the challenges faced by free blacks and other non-whites? What groups are considered people of color in addition to Africans?
  2. Who is St. George Tucker and who is Jeremy Belknap and what does each have to do with the subject of ending slavery?


  1. What is the purpose of printing this letter of advice in Philadelphia? Why are the abolitionists attending this convention in Philadelphia so concerned about these free people when most abolitionists are concerned about the slaves?
  2. What is Tucker asking Belknap to do and why does he feel that Belknap is the person to do it?


  1. How do the Deputies of the Abolition Societies define their relationship to the recipients of their advice? Do we know how the advice was received? How would you define the relationship between the advisors and those they hope to advise?
  2. How does Belknap follow up on Tucker's request? Check the other documents in this section and explain what Belknap did: http://www.masshist.org/endofslavery/?queryID=52


  1. Read "between the lines" in the advice document from Philadelphia and look at the responses that Belknap collects and compiles to send from Massachusetts to Virginia. Cite specific pieces of evidence from these documents which demonstrate attitudes that we might find disagreeable or perhaps even offensive in today's world. What accounts for them? What are some of the things that these "helpful" people don't understand about the black community?