Tony & Meriah sue for their daughter’s freedom in Scituate.

June 1717

Tony and Mariah, Negroes, v. Cornelius Briggs…”In an action to prove the liberty of the plaintiff’s daughter Molly, alias Mary, detained by…Briggs as a slave contrary to law”. Briggs argued “that Mariah is not a free Negro woman”. And because the status of the child followed the status of the mother, i.e. if the mother is enslaved, then the child is enslaved and is property of the mother’s slaveholder.

The jury verdict was returned for the plaintiffs who won “the freedom of their daughter Molly sued for and court costs” taxed at £5.10s.

Perhaps Tony and Mariah may show up in Scituate marriage records in 1714? “Meriah” is labeled a “free negro woman” and Anthony as “my negro man”, and the C.R.2 notation indicates enslavement by Rev Nathaniel Eels of today’s First Parish Unitarian Universalist of Norwell. But then how did Briggs get their daughter?

L. Vernon Briggs gives us extensive background on Mariah/Maria in both a family genealogy and a historical account of shipbuilding on the North River. Meriah can be traced back to shipbuilder Walter Briggs purchasing her from Margaret Cock/Cox of Boston. Vernon then tells us that Walter’s 1694 will granted Meriah her freedom 13 years after he deceased; she was then and sold to Stephen Otis. The Cornelius Briggs in the suit is Cornelius Briggs, Jr. who seems to feel that the child Molly was part of Cornelius Sr.’s estate (of which Jr. was executor), perhaps due to the freedom status of Meriah at the time of Molly’s birth.

A man named Anthony Sisco is found marrying a negro woman Febe/Phebie in 1719, indicating Meriah may have died shortly after winning her daughter’s freedom suit. Beyond that, it is so far unclear what happened to the family after the suit. Briggs speculates in his shipbuilding history that the daughter was not freed until the 1730 death of Sarah Barker.

Briggs, L. Vernon (Lloyd Vernon). (1975). History of shipbuilding on North River. Bicentennial ed. 1975-1976. Norwell, Mass.: Norwell Historical Society.

Briggs, L. Vernon (Lloyd Vernon). (1938). History and genealogy of the Briggs family, 1254-1937… Boston: Priv. print., C. E. Goodspeed & co

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

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