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Dudleian Slavery in Roslindale

1747 Inventory of the Estate of William Dudley (History of the Dudley Family .pdf pg 622)

A negro man named Quam…..£130
A negro man named Peter……£170
A negro boy named Caesar…..£160
An old negro woman, Flora…..£40

So reads the 1747 “Inventory of the Estate of Hon. William Dudley, Esq., Late of Roxbury in the County of Suffolk” reprinted in Dean Dudley’s 1884 tome History of the Dudley Family (.pdf pp 621-622). William is the grandson of Massachusetts Bay Colony founding father and frequent Governor Thomas Dudley and son of slave-owning Governor Joseph Dudley, who bequeathed to William the 150-acre farm on which these people labored. We also learned that William inherited “Jimmy Negro” from his mother Rebecca who died in 1722, two years after her husband; these means that five enslaved people can be attributed to William.

Col. William Dudley died without leaving a will, triggering a full inventory of his estate. This gem of a probate record resembles the familiar plantation inventories and slave schedules of the Antebellum South and is more instructive than vague wills such as William’s father’s, which begins “I give to Rebeckah, my dear wife, my servants, household goods, my plate, and 200 pounds…”(History .pdf pg 402). William’s inventory not only enumerates the enslaved Africans, but, spectacularly, we also learn their names.

To add texture to this record, note where William Dudley, his wife, and the people he enslaved lived.  Above the inventory, Dean Dudley provides a biographical sketch of William and this paragraph jumps out; the location should be familiar to many locals:

Col. Wm Dudley excelled in his particular knowledge of landed property.  In a retired spot, which is now between South and Centre Streets, west of Walter St., Roxbury, about 1721, he built an elegant house and cultivated his farm.  Col. Wm’s house was long ago torn down.  The spot is still marked by an old farm house and called the Dudley place.

Col. Dudley was cut off at the age of 57, dying intestate, at his house in Roxbury, Aug 10, 1747.

From Dean Dudley’s History of the Dudley Family .pdf pg 621

For those unaware, this is present-day Roslindale, which has only been named “Roslindale” for 150 years. It was originally a part of the Town of Roxbury alongside Jamaica Plain and West Roxbury.

What I find enticing is that Dudley appears to have followed the Second Parish Church of Roxbury, which gave birth to more than one present-day spiritual community including the Roslindale Congregational Church and Theodore Parker Church of West Roxbury. The original church was built in 1712 on the back side of the Arnold Arboretum’s Peters Hill. (If you know that section of the Arboretum, you no doubt are aware of the colonial graves that exist there, indicating the church once stood nearby.)  Knowing that Dudley and his named enslaved Africans lived in proximity to this church raises the possibility that, if we can examine church records from the 1720s-1740s, then we might glean more about Quam, Peter, Caesar, Jimmy and Flora given that early Boston-area churches have records of both free and enslaved Africans becoming church members–as we see with Paul Dudley’s enslaved maid Guinea.

It’s worth noting that Col. William Dudley was a skilled military officer and a career legislator, which included a stint as House Speaker; farming was not his sole career focus.  So what can we know about Dudley’s farm in the woods? First, we can confirm that the Dudley farm was a working farm based on additional items in his post-death inventory. Here, the amount of livestock indicates Dudley owned a significant and productive farm1:

1747 Inventory of the Estate of William Dudley (History of the Dudley Family .pdf pg 623)

A cheese press, churn, milk bottles, 9 cows, £110, and 2 heifers £20, 2 horses, 2 yoke of oxen £106, 4 swine £15…..£251
A two-wheel chaise [carriage] and harness…..£80
A cider mill, and appurtenances…..£10
3 plows and a barrow…..£8

Furthermore, In 2017, Western Washington University scholar Jared Hardesty wrote about the farms that were popping up in Boston’s rural exurbs like Milton and Dedham at the same time as the Dudley farm emerged. In the 1720s and 1730s, with growing competition from the ports like New York and Philadelphia, Boston commerce was facing stagnation and its merchants needed to diversify their portfolios. These merchants used their capital to buy farms and exploited slavery to win a significant competitive edge. Hardesty notes that farms with enslaved labor out-produced neighboring farms, sometimes ten-fold, and writes further:

The creation of a slave economy developed from the merchants’ capital investment in Boston’s hinterland. At the forefront of this transformation were the enslaved, highly skilled farmers and husbandmen and husband-women, bound within a system that extracted wealth from their owners’ lands. They tilled the soil, milked the cows, picked the apples, pressed the cider, churned the butter, slaughtered the pigs, and took these and other such goods to market. In short, the slaves managed and maintained their owners farms; their unfree labor was the sine qua non that made rural estates profitable.  (p. 55)

Jared Hardesty (2017). Creating an Unfree Hinterland: Merchant Capital, Bound Labor, and Market Production in Eighteenth-century Massachusetts. Early American Studies, 15(1), 37-63. https://www.jstor.org/stable/90000335

Holding unfree African-descended people in slavery afforded William Dudley the freedom to simultaneously extract wealth from inherited colonized land and exert his influence in both military affairs and in colonial government. A rare luxury to be sure. Like so many “great men” in U.S. history, we have to wonder what level of “greatness” these men would have achieved if not for their exploitation and abuse of bondpeople and slave labor. 

I can’t pinpoint any other account of enslaved African-descended people in Roslindale. But we see further testimony of Peter and Flora when we examine William Dudley’s original will in the collection of the New England Historic Genealogical Society. Sadly, unlike other probate records reproduced in Dean Dudley’s History there are pages in William’s will that Dean attests to but do not appear in the digital record. A further (perhaps in-person) inquiry is needed. On the other hand, the digital copy of the original will does provide more clues. We see that Peter is sold around 1750 for £300. We further see that will executors needed to spend money to buy Flora necessities like shoes, a gown, and an apron.

Peter was sold for £300, but his life was distilled down further to “Two ninths of Two 3rd parts of £300”. William Dudley left his daughters Mary & Ann in the guardianship of Ebenezer Pierpon; below we see the document that inventories funds allowed for the sisters’ care. Also below we see Peter appear in Paul Dudley’s probate file with the line item “Pay deceased for his share of the produce of the sale of Peter Negro…£22”. It’s worth noting that William Dudley “inherited” an enslaved man Jimmy from his parents, and here we see him transfer money to his daughters via the sale of Peter. Probate documents show slavery was a vehicle used by the Dudleys to pass capital through generations.

I am left wondering how William Dudley acquired these enslaved people? Was he visiting slave auctions like his brother Paul? And what of Flora, the “old negro woman”? There was no market for old female slaves; how long had Flora been in bond to the Dudley family?


 1 We see that Dudley's farm was "significant and productive" because Dudley's inventory compares favorably with the farms of the four successful Boston merchant farmers discussed in Hardesty's journal article.  On pages 50-51, Hardesty discusses what local tax records reveal about other local farms and notes that the merchants' farms held a "larger number of draft animals" - two yolks of oxen being a one example of a "larger number".  Furthermore, farms with two yolks of oxen were the minority; only 31% of the farms examined owned two or more yolk. It follows that Dudley's farm must have been successful if it supported four enslaved people and an inventory of livestock that was larger than normal for the time and place. 

Further reading on the old Dudley estate….

From Francis S. Drake’s (1878). The town of Roxbury: its memorable persons and places, its history and antiquities, with numerous illustrations of its old landmarks and noted personages. Roxbury.

It looks like Dean Dudley read Drake’s account of William Dudley’s estate when researching History. Compare “between South and Centre street, west of Walter” and “retired spot”.

(Updated 09/10/2021)

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Copyright Wayne Tucker 2021. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Creative Commons License
Copyright Wayne Tucker 2021. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.