An interesting article, The 1620 Project by Mark David Hall, gives a decent overview of the Pilgrims and the Puritans — with a decent regard for historical accuracy, and without the infinite contempt of Our Betters.
It’s worth the read, if just to get a decent overview of who the Pilgrims and Puritans were, and their preference for limited governments, tied to local concerns. Both the good and the bad – see “witchcraft trials” – are covered in this survey.
A nod to the 1619 project, carefully ignored in the Chronicles article, should be made. Not so much because I support the goals of the 1619 people, but because both the good and the bad of history should be brought to light.
“Basic justice, you know.”
“All the facts. Not just selected slices of the truth, which so happens to support your position.”
Sara Matthews, Teacher/Student American history, American literature and ELL
While there’s been some discussion on this, general opinion is that American Puritans did not object to slavery and there were certainly slaveowners among them – including prominent ministers of Puritanism. Massachusetts was early on a major site for importation of slaves.
Searching for those Puritans opposed to slavery, you could consider Phyllis Wheatley as certainly a voice raised against slavery in that she was a person of deep Calvinist faith but she herself had been taken as a child in Africa and brought to Massachusetts as a slave and thus had a very personal perspective on slavery.
Among European Puritans, Roger Williams’ name has traditionally been offered up as a more enlightened person and his life was a clearly a journey of changing thought and opinion on traditional matters. In recent years, however, historical perspective on Roger Williams has evidenced its own journey of changing thought and opinion and Rhode Island’s citizens have engaged a serious discussion as to how they want to present their founder to themselves and outsiders.
John Aronsson, Lawyer
The Puritans who governed the New England colonies recognized two kinds of slavery, English common law slavery and bond slavery.
Under the common law, the term slave described a person’s civil status and the only lawful slaves were those who voluntarily sold themselves into slavery or were persons captured in a just war.
It is interesting to note that English common law slavery appears to have been identical to the slavery practiced by the Algonquins. So, just as the English made slaves of their Algonquin captives so the Algonquins made slaves of their English captives.
Common law slaves could not own property and they could be rented out or sold. But they retained basic civil rights; they could petition the magistrates or the town meeting for redress of grievances, owners could not intentionally injure or mistreat their slaves and if they did, the magistrates or courts could order the slave be freed and damages paid. They enjoyed essentially the same rights as an indentured servant. A child born to a slave woman inherited its civil status from its father. The child was born a slave only if its father was a slave. If the father was unknown, the child was usually presumed to be free. In Virginia in 1661 a chid of an African slave sued for his freedom on these grounds and was freed by an English jury .
Bond or chattel slavery, a form of slavery where the slave had no civil rights, was forbidden in the Massachusetts Body of Liberties of 1641. In 1646, a Dutch ship landed six African slaves in Boston. The magistrates seized them and returned them to Guinea with a note of apology saying that the Bay Colony would not countenance “manstealing.” To discourage all kinds of slavery, the General Court required slave owners post a bond for each slave in the amount of £50.
It does appear that in practice, bond slaves in New England enjoyed the same rights as common law slaves and indentured servants. The cases of Elizabeth Freeman (Mum Bett) and Quock Walker, which ended all slavery in Massachusetts in 1781, were pleaded on common law grounds and decided with reference to the new Massachusetts constitution which proclaimed that all men are born free and equal.
However, other Puritan merchant adventures, and the were a lot of them, in Bermuda, Barbados and Caribbean sugar plantations readily adopted the colonial bond slavery laws allowed by the Board of Trade after 1662.