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Quock Walker

written record

Nathaniel Jennison was indicted for beating and holding the slave, Quock Walker, by force. Walker’s name, derived from the ancient name of Quaco, is variously spelled Quock, Quork and Qock.
Courtesy Judicial Archives, Massachusetts Archives, Boston, MA

“The Quock Walker cases…stand not only as a monument in the history of freedom because they signaled the end of slavery in Massachusetts, but also as a milestone in constitutional history.”
–Hon. Peter W. Agnes, Jr., Massachusetts Superior Court

In April 1781, Quock Walker,a 28-year-old Worcester County slave, ran away from his owner, Nathaniel Jennison, after a brutal beating. Represented by the prominent Worcester County attorneys Levi Lincoln and Caleb Strong, Walker brought suit against Jennison to win his freedom and obtain civil damages for assault and battery. After a jury trial, Walker won his freedom and £50 in damages.

In 1781, Nathaniel Jennison was also indicted on a criminal charge of assault and battery on Quock Walker. Jennison was tried in 1783 before a Worcester County jury sitting with the Supreme Judicial Court, and was found guilty. The trial judge, Chief Justice William Cushing instructed the jury that “perpetual servitude can no longer be tolerated in our government, and…liberty can only be forfeited by some criminal conduct or relinquished by personal consent or contract…” Because it was decided in the Supreme Judicial Court, this case was popularly believed to have abolished slavery in Massachusetts.

Caldwell Farm in Barre, Massachusetts, where Quock Walker took refuge. Courtesy Barre Historical Society