The Dudley Family and their Enslaved People
Three of the four Dudley men venerated on this plaque were enslavers. Pictured, familiar to many, is the entrance of the Eliot Burying Ground in what was Dudley Square. The eponymous Roxbury junction is now Nubian Square, a shift that re-centers focus away from a colonial legacy of slavery in favor of the Black community who has lived there for decades.
While I have yet to find evidence that patriarch Thomas Dudley owned slaves, Thomas did bequeath the balance of time of his imprisoned servant, Scottish POW John Rankin, to his wife (History of the Dudley Family .pdf pg 104). And I can offer clear evidence that Thomas Dudley’s son, grandsons, great-grandsons, and son-in-law were enslavers. Additionally, my research compiles eleven* names of people enslaved by the Dudley family on the same page for the first time.
• Thomas Dudley’s son, Governor Joseph Dudley, enslaved Brill, an African man, as a coachman and a messenger, as well as at least two indigenous people.
• Joseph’s son Paul, famous as Attorney General and Chief Justice of the Massachusetts colonial government, enslaved at least two Africans over a forty-year period. One was a “negro boy” who came from the notorious pirate ship of John Quelch; the other, Guinea, a maid, was baptized and became a member at Dudley’s church.
• Colonel William Dudley brought his enslaved African people to Roslindale.
• Moreover, we learn the names of 4 enslaved people by examining William Dudley’s son Joseph, Thomas Dudley’s son-in-law Governor Simon Bradstreet, and Thomas’s great-grandson Nicholas Dudley of Exeter, New Hampshire.
Thomas Dudley may never have enslaved Africans or Native Americans, but he brought with him from England a legacy of inter-generational bondage. These documents demonstrate that the Dudleys eschewed European indentured servitude and adopted race-based slavery within one generation of arrival on the continent.
Every single one of us who traverse Boston, old Roxbury and its constituent villages, and Dorchester absorb the names of slaveholders by osmosis: Warren, Stoughton, Codman, Seaver, Weld, Mather, Ruggles, Winthrop, Dudley, and many others. These family names appear on street signs of well-worn thoroughfares now familiar for centuries. In this century, however, I have re-surfaced eleven names—hidden in plain sight–that deserve to be remembered next to our Protestant forbearers.
The enslaved denizens of Roxbury deserve commemoration; it is impossible to decouple their unpaid slave labor from the emergence of Boston and the colonial prosperity of Massachusetts. I have put to rest the notion that we can’t know if the Dudley family owned slaves; let’s ensure that these eleven names are as venerable for the next 400 years as those memorialized on our street signs and burying grounds.
Their names are Quam, Flora, Peter, Caesar, Guinea, Kate, Billah, Hannah, Cato, Peter, Brill, and Jimmy.
(*Now twelve names with the addition of Jimmy.)
[Note: If you are unfamiliar with the controversy surrounding the transition of Dudley Square to Nubian Square or if you are not from Boston, Yawu Miller lays the groundwork nicely in Re-writing Boston’s history of slavery (2017) for The Bay State Banner.
If you’re curious as to how long Nubian Square was called Dudley Square, read my story here.]
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Copyright Wayne Tucker 2023. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License