A website from the Massachusetts Historical Society; founded 1791.
African Americans and the End of Slavery in Massachusetts
"...Hartford Turner & Dinah Ned, free negroes, were married Jany. 4, the present year by me."
~Samuel Stillman, 8 April 1784
The Lives of African Americans in Massachusetts after the End of Slavery

Indenture between David Stoddard Greenough and Dick MoreyFreed slaves in Massachusetts continued in an inferior social position, legally free but with fewer civil rights than whites.  They were treated equally by the legal system, but they could not serve on juries.  They paid taxes, but could not vote, and, in most cases, their children did not attend public schools, prohibited at least by custom and tradition, if not by law.  It was sometimes more difficult to find work as freedmen than as slaves, since slaves were provided the means of employment by their masters.  Domestic service remained a viable employment, along with common labor and the professions associated with the sea.  However, fear of kidnapping (and a forced return to slavery elsewhere) was a bar to working on the waterfront or at sea.  Indentured servitude also remained in force after the abolition of slavery, and African American children such as Dick Morey were commonly indentured out until they reached the age of 21.  Free blacks in the north were continually organizing their communities in hopes of winning freedom for slaves elsewhere, and for bringing the benefits of full citizenship to all African Americans.  They built community associations that provided mutual support and a foundation for political action, such as the African Society  in Boston, and the African Lodge of Masons.

Prince Hall

The Laws of the African Society cover pagePrince Hall was one of the most prominent free black citizens of Boston during and after the Revolution.  Born around 1735, of uncertain origins, he was the slave of William Hall of Boston, who manumitted him in 1770 shortly after the Boston Massacre.  Prince Hall worked as a leatherdresser and caterer, and was the Grand Master of the African Lodge in Boston.  Another institution to promote social, political, and economic improvement for African Americans was the African Society formed in Boston in 1796.  Although Prince Hall apparently was not a founding member of the African Society, the group did share a number of members with the African Lodge.

Prince Hall worked tirelessly for the abolition of slavery, for a legal end to the slave trade in Massachusetts, and for free public education for the children of African American taxpayers in Boston.  A group of black Masons led by Prince Hall petitioned the General Court in February of 1788 to put an end to the slave trade, a petition prompted by the abduction of three free black men in Boston Harbor, who were lured aboard a vessel and subsequently taken to the West Indies to be sold as slaves.   As a result of this petition, along with one put forth by the Quakers and one by the Boston clergy, the Detail of Prince Hall's PetitionGeneral Court passed an act on 26 March 1788 "to prevent the Slave Trade, and for granting Relief to the Families of such unhappy Persons as may be Kidnapped or decoyed away from this Commonwealth" (Kaplan p. 210).  Prince Hall died in Boston in 1807.

Mary Hartford and Free African Americans

The remarkable collection of the papers of the ancestors of Mary Hartford, a servant to the Belknap family in Boston, documents the lives of ordinary free African Americans after the Revolution.   The manuscripts all relate in some way to ancestors of Mary Hartford, who may have been born in 1792, and died in 1872.  Mary Hartford, who saved the papers until her death, always maintained that they belonged to her father, whose christened name was Hartford, but whose surname may have changed frequently depending upon the name of his employer, as was common for African Americans, either slave or free.  Thus, the frequency of the name Hartford: Hartford Turner, Hartford Robbins, Hartford Roberts, and Hartford Broom; and a woman named Dinah: Dinah Keeth, Dinah Hewes, Dinah Roberts, and Dinah Hartford.  The collection highlights the difficulty of positively identifying individual members of early African American families, particularly due to the problem of names, and the paucity of surviving records.

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Mary Hartford Papers

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