A website from the Massachusetts Historical Society; founded 1791.

Robert Treat Paine Papers, Volume 2

From Sylvanus Conant
Conant, Sylvanus RTP
Middleboro Jany. 18 —64. My dear Friend!

I have transcribed what you Sent as an Appendix.1 If I Shoud. Say, as I really think, that tis well done, I dont know but you woud reply as the famous Mr. Lee did to Col Byfield when the Col. praised one of his Sermons meaning that he woud have Mr. Lee think it a Credit282&c. fine Encomium—"Col Byfield of Popy Squash says mine is a learned ingenious sermon" &c.

Your friendly Letter,2 fraught with a Variety of Tho't, and adorn'd with the beauties of Rhetoric, the Smoothness of Harmony, and the most kind, generous, & benevolent Wishes I recd. and read with high Taste. Among the multiplicity of agreable Ideas that it Suggested to my mind I was Struck in a most Pleasing Manner with that of Charity especialy when you call me to excercise it toward the charming, well proportioned, nervous, & rosey Filius Nullius,3 O unnatural Parent to cast off such a fine Boy! What! not own the offspring of your own Bowels! If such a case Shoud. come into Court O how you woud. bawl at the Bar about it, however, I wont say to you about the Filius as Bartas says one of the two Harlots (That come before Solomon) said to the other Here old bold Strumpet take thy Bastard Brat—no, quite the reverse, you thrust him into the Kitchen, I invite him into the Parlour, & if it wa'nt for his Youth & some other circumstances, I shoud. give him the great Chair, & fix him at the Head of the Entertainment* for I highly approve his aspect & genius, & so must any body that sees & converses with him, for his understanding & deportment, & everything in him & about him (except his age & bulk) are as Mature & Perfect as his Parent tho the Child is but just born. O wonderfull Child! He come into the World ripe in Knowledge, & well acquainted with History, Navigation, War, Peace, Law & Gospel. I good mind to tell whose it is. But no, you Say I mustn't tell, and indeed if I cou'd make folks believe that twas my own Productn., I shoud be very content to let the matter rest as it is, But what shall I Say when folks ask me, who is the natural Sire of that fair offspring in my your house? How like a Silly heap I shall look & act, for I acknowledge I have such a weak & quawmish Conscience that I cannot for the Heart of me tell a Lye about it.

But if we ha'nt a care, between us both we Shall overlay the poor Filius, & that I wou'd not do for anything, for being a lively Boy I make no Small dependance upon him to give Spirit & a Spread to my dull Labour, & so we will let him live & wish him and his old decriped Step-father (with whom he is going to be connected) a prosperous travile in their meanders about the Country, & they need our good wishes for no doubt they will be handled pretty ruffly by some: we must expect they will be tarnish'd, Smok'd, Scolded at by Some, wept over by others, & by & by thrown up upon old dusty Shelf, there to lay till thansgiving or some holly Day 283when the pye-maker calls out give me a waste Paper then alas! down come Pater et Filious & witht. respect to grey hairs or ruddy Youth in they go into oven, & indeed if they must perish, better perish in the oven, then a worse place which for modesty sake I forbare to Name.

Forgive my nonsense & let no Eye but your friendly one see this paper.

So far as you have any Direction of the affair what is going to the press, pray be so kind as to order it done with a good Type, & the Lines not crouded too near for the Sake of Saving a little Strip of Paper.

Mrs. Conant went to Plymo. yesterday, being sent for by Mrs. Robbins, else She wd. joyn in Compliments. I am yr. loving friend & Humbe. Servt.,



RC ; addressed: "To R:T: Pain Esqr. In Taunton"; endorsed.


Sylvanus Conant (1720–1777), minister of the First Church of Middleborough, Mass. A friend of RTP, he delivered a sermon in Taunton at the execution of Bristol on Dec. 1, 1763, entitled The Blood of Abel, and the Blood of Jesus considered, and improved, in A Sermon Delivered at Taunton, December First 1763. Upon the Day of the Execution of Bristol, a Negro Boy of about Sixteen Years old, for the Murder of Miss Elizabeth McKinstry (Boston, 1764). RTP wrote the appendix to the published sermon (Sibley's Harvard Graduates, 10:471–478), printed below.


Not located.


Son of no one.

The Bloody Murder of Miss Elizabeth McKinstry

The bloody Murder of Miss Elizabeth McKinstry, on June the 4th, 1763, which gave Occasion for the preaching of the foregoing Discourse, may truly be placed among the astonishing Events of Providence, and the alarming Frailties of human Nature: One cannot call to Mind the particular Circumstances of this tragic Scene, without the deepest Emotions of Horror, Pity and Indignation.

The Negro Boy who perpetrated this lamentable Crime, was born in Africa, and at the Age of about eight Years was brought into New-England, where he lived about five Years in the same Family with Miss McKinstry, at Windsor; his Master then dying, he was purchased by her Brother Doctor McKinstry of Taunton, where he had lived three Years when the Murder was committed, the deceased having been also about two Years in the same Family; so that from his Childhood (excepting one Year) he had284lived in the same Family with her; and during this Time he was treated with all the Tenderness and Instruction that could be desired. He always appeared happy in his Situation, and shewed an uncommon Readiness to do his Business, and Faithfulness to perform what he undertook, without the least Appearance of Sullenness or Malice. After he had done the Fact, he rode to Newport, never shewing the least concern 'till he was apprehended; he then made some artful Excuses 'till he had been committed about twelve Hours, when he confessed the whole Fact, the Substance of which was, "That early in the Morning Miss McKinstry, a little Girl, and himself, being the only Persons of the Family that were up; and the little Girl being gone up Stairs, as Miss McKinstry was stooping over the Fire, he catch'd up a Flat-Iron that stood on the Hearth, struck her on the Head, and knock'd her into the Fire, which burnt her Face; he then gave her another Blow, and immediately dragged her down the Cellar Stairs, where finding an old Ax, he struck her with it on the Head, and made off as fast as he could."

After his Commitment, he appeared very penitent, and expressed his Sorrow for the Crime: Particularly for the Grief he had brought on his Master's Family; in speaking of which, he always seem'd the most affected. He declared constantly, during the whole of his Imprisonment to his last Moment, that he never had any Anger against the deceased, nor any of the Family; and that he had never received any Treatment that deserved it: And tho' he always appeared free to answer any Questions that were asked him, yet he never gave any Reason for committing the Crime, but that he was prompted to it by a Negro Boy of his Acquaintance, who threatned to kill him if he did not do it; this he persisted in to his dying Moment.

At his Trial he pleaded Guilty; but shewed no Emotion at the pronouncing Sentence of Death, nor at the public Worship, where in his Hearing, several Sermons beside this were preached on the Occasion; nor even at the place of Execution: This would naturally be construed as Stupidity or Sullenness, had not his Discourse plainly shown that he had a true Sense of his Crime, and right Notions of a future State.

At the Gallows he made a long Speech to the Spectators, particularly to those of his own Colour, which for Substance was pertinent and important; he express'd great Concern for his Master's Family; was very particular in thanking every Body that had taken Notice of him while in Prison; he acknowledged his Condemnation just; he expressed his Sense of his 285Guilt, and the Hopes he had of Forgiveness and future Happiness, thro' the Mercy of God in Christ; and then, after repeating the Lord's Prayer distinctly, he was turn'd off.

The deceased, who was the unhappy Object of this unaccountable Malice, was a Daughter of the Rev'd. Mr. John McKinstry, late of Windsor; a young Lady of a chearful Disposition, an even generous Temper, and every Way of a worthy Character: After tarrying with her Brother, she was preparing to return to her Mother at Windsor, when in a Moment that she tho't not of, she was hurried in this cruel Manner to her long Home.

These Circumstances are more particularly mentioned, as they are such Peculiarities of this dark Affair, as naturally fill us with more Astonishment and Indignation, than if the same had happened after repeated Resentments, settled Malice, or sudden Provocation; for it seems difficult to conceive how one, who never shew'd ill-nature on any Occasion, and who always appeared chearful and contented, should on a sudden, without Provocation, commit the most barbarous Cruelty on one who never offended him, and whose Behaviour had gain'd the Esteem of all who knew her: Surely then it is a stricking Instance of th Weaness of human Nature, the horrid Effects of our ungovern'd Passions, and of the Baseness and Danger of meer silly good Nature, without natural Tenderness, or virtuous Principles. It naturally calls upon those who have the Care of Negroes to be very vigilant in removing the Prejudices of their barbarous Disposition by Instruction, and to instill into their Minds such Christian Principles as may influence their Actions when absent from the Eye of their Masters; and particularly to inspect their companying together, that grand Source of all the Evils that have arisen so frequently from this Nation, when in their Conspirings they cry out, Let us lay wait for Blood, let us lurk privily for the Innocent without a Cause.

The sudden Manner in which Miss McKinstry came to her End, is an alarming Lecture on the Uncertainty of human Life, and shows us the surprizing Attacks of the King of Terrors, whose Snares continually surround us, and whose Executioners walk in the dark: Surely in the Midst of Life we are in Death; and the Hand that we expected to administer to our Comfort, may deal the fatal Blow.

And now Lorenzo dost thou wrap thy Soul In soft Security, because unknown Which Moment is commission'd to destroy? 286 In Death's Uncertainty thy Danger lies. Is Death uncertain? therefore Thou be fixt; Fixt as a Dentinal, all Eye, all Ear, All Expectation of the coming Foe. Rouse stand in Arms, nor lean against thy Spear; Lest Slumber steal one Moment o'er thy Soul, And Fate surprize thee nodding. Watch, be strong; Thus give each Day the Merit and Renown Of dying well; tho' doom'd but once to die. Nor let Life's Period hidden (as from most) Hide too from Thee the precious Use of Life.

Night Thoughts.1

Printed as appendix to Sylvanus Conant, The Blood of Abel, and the Blood of Jesus considered and improved, in A Sermon Delivered at Taunton, December the First, 1763 . Upon the Day of the Execution of Bristol, A Negro Boy of about Sixteen Years old, For The Murder of Miss Elizabeth McKinstry (Boston, 1764).


Edward Young, The Complaint: or, Night-Thoughts on Life, Death, and Immortality (London, 1760), 103–103.