John, branded with a B for burglary

John, branded with a B for Burglary

September 1686

“John Negro, Slave of Capt John Williams” of Scituate confessed to the burglary of “money, writings, and divers goods”. John was sentenced to stand on the gallows for 1 hour and be burnt in the hand with the letter B, as well as being required to pay for prosecution, imprisonment, and court fees.


SOURCE: Plymouth County, MA: Plymouth Court Records, 1686-1859. CD-ROM. Boston, MA.: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2002. Copyright, 2002, Pilgrim Society. (Online database. New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2008.)

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Jo, whipped for fornication with Sarah Curtice

Jo, whipped for fornication with Sarah Curtice

December 1698

“Jo, an negro servant to William Holbrooke of Scituate was sentenced to be publicly whipped ten stripes for committing fornication with Sarah Curtice of Scituate as upon oath she affirmed. Sentence executed.”

“Sarah Curtice was convicted by her own confession for fornication. Defendant was ordered to pay fine of 50s. or be publically whipped ten stripes. Fine paid.”

“Sarah Curtice…made oath in court…that Jo Negro and no other person is the real father of the bastard child lately born of her body and that he begot the same upon her. And she also confessed that she hat received fifty shilling of him since the birth of said child.”


SOURCE: Plymouth County, MA: Plymouth Court Records, 1686-1859. CD-ROM. Boston, MA.: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2002. Copyright, 2002, Pilgrim Society. (Online database. New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2008.)

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Charles, the stowaway from Barbados

Charles, the stowaway form Barbados

January 1742

John Coshat/Corhatt, a minor of Plymouth (mariner), and Scipio, a negro slave belonging to Capt John Pickard, while visiting Carlisle Bay, Barbados, “did take and conceal on board the sloop Molly…a…negro man called Charles”, held in slavery by Benjamin Bissett. Scipio and Coshat hid Charles on Commander Elkanah Cushman’s ship until they reached Plymouth, and then further concealed Charles for fourteen more days.

The jurors found that Scipeo and Coshat were “guilty of feloniously stealing away, harboring, and concealing…Charles, the servant and property” of Bissett. The court ordered the defendants to pay £5 fins and £15.17s.6d costs of prosecution and to “stand committed until paid”.


SOURCE: Plymouth County, MA: Plymouth Court Records, 1686-1859. CD-ROM. Boston, MA.: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2002. Copyright, 2002, Pilgrim Society. (Online database. New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2008.)

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Tony & Mariah sue for their daughter’s freedom in Scituate

Tony and Mariah 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?

Scituate Vilal Records
Church records, 1704-1759, in the Norwell, Mass. First Parish Church records, 1642-1908, James Library & Center for the Arts. img #6

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

SOURCE: Plymouth County, MA: Plymouth Court Records, 1686-1859. CD-ROM. Boston, MA.: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2002. Copyright, 2002, Pilgrim Society. (Online database. New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2008.)


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Surre, “possessed of the divel”

Surre, “possessed of the divel”

December 1730

Nicholas Litchfield sued Isreal Cowing for fraud. Cowing sold Litchfield a Negro man named Jack and a woman named Surre for £160, but Surre was never delivered. Cowing had promised to “deliver said Negroes well and in good order”, but Surre was “mad distracted or possessed of the divel of…which [Litchfield] was wholly ignorant”. Subsequently, Surre was “hanged and dead”.

The question arises why are we learning this as a fraud case and not a murder case? It seems that Surre may have been suffering from mental illness and it is not impossible that she seized one of the few methods of resistance available and died by suicide, but the record does not read as a suicide. And it would also be fair to wonder if the account of the “possession” was Surre practicing African rituals or traditions. Why doesn’t the judge follow up on who “hanged” Surre?


SOURCE: Plymouth County, MA: Plymouth Court Records, 1686-1859. CD-ROM. Boston, MA.: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2002. Copyright, 2002, Pilgrim Society. (Online database. New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2008.)

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Scipea’s clandestine lodging

Scipea’s clandestine lodging

May 1753

Ruben Harlow “did entice and seduce Scipea a Negro man servant…to supply…Ruben with meat, drink, washing, and lodging in a secret and clandestine way at the house of…[Isaac] Thomas” of Plymouth. And because Harlow “did entice and seduce” Scipea to commit “several thefts” of “goods and money”, Scipea was in jail and Thomas was “deprived of the benefit of his servant and greatly impoverished in his estate”.

The suit was brought to recover “damages for corrupting” Scipea. And Thomas wanted compensation not only for the lost goods and money but for the lost access to Scipea’s labor and time.


SOURCE: Plymouth County, MA: Plymouth Court Records, 1686-1859. CD-ROM. Boston, MA.: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2002. Copyright, 2002, Pilgrim Society. (Online database. New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2008.)

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The Dudley Family and their Enslaved People

The Dudley Family and their Enslaved People

We know where the Dudleys are buried, but where are the people that they enslaved buried?
(September 2021.)
Listen to an AI-generated narration of “Eleven Names: An Introduction”.

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.]

Fence in Nubian Square area, September 2021.

(Updated 08/31/2021)


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Dudleian Slavery in Roslindale


The Dudley Family & Their Enslaved People

Dudleian Slavery in Roslindale

1747 Inventory of the Estate of William Dudley (History of the Dudley Family .pdf pg 623)
Listen to an AI-generated narration of “Dudlien Slavery in Roslindale”.

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 622-623). 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; this 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 403). 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 backside 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.

Click here for an excellent interactive Atlascope Boston overlay of an a1874 Hopkins Atlas showing Dudley descendants occupying part of the original farm. The 1904 overlay shows the area becoming more developed, but there is still a Dudley with a house lot.

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 624)

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.

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 Pierpont; 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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Joseph Dudley, Brill the Enslaved Coachman, and Enslaved Indians


The Dudley Family & Their Enslaved People

Joseph Dudley, Brill the Enslaved Coachman, and Enslaved Indians

The enslaver Joseph Dudley
Listen to an AI-generated narration of “Joseph Dudley, Brill the Enslaved Coachman, and Enslaved Indians”.


Rebecca Tyng Dudley died in 1722, two years after her husband, Governor Joseph Dudley, bequeathed (.pdf pg 402) to her his vaguely-defined and unquantified “servants”; Dudley noted neither the status–indentured, Negro, or Indian–nor number of servants. Fortunately, UW Madison historian Gloria McCahon Whiting notes in a 2020 journal article that Rebecca Dudley’s will specified that Brill, her “negro servant,” would be freed within a year of her death–that is unless her children required his services.

Through the miracle of digital collections, we can see an image of Rebecca’s original will above (see p. 2). In addition to Brill, the man Whiting leads us to, Rebecca further specifies, “I give Jimmy Negro to my eldest son…William” (William is the son who enslaved Flora, Quam, Caesar, and Peter on the Roslindale farm). I’m still searching for more details about Jimmy, but as luck would have it, the Massachusetts Historical Society’s Collections contain two credible witnesses to Brill’s life in bondage: Judge Samuel Sewall and Judge Waitstill Winthrop.

The first record I came across is when prolific diarist Samuel Sewall noted at least 2 encounters with Brill in 1713.  On February 16th, “Brill calls just at night, From the Govr enquires of my Son’s Wellfare,” and on February 25th, “Brill Comes to Town, and acquaints that the Govr was taken with a sore Fit of Gravel last night so can’t be at Council today.” (Sewell pp 371, 372). 

Joseph Dudley served as governor from 1705-1715, so we apparently have the same servant Brill in Rebecca Dudley’s 1722 will relaying messages to Samuel Sewall nine years earlier. In later diary entries, Sewall paints the picture of Brill as Governor Dudley’s coachman. On July 5, 1714, Sewall notes a time when the governor’s chariot failed at B. White’s and that “Brill could fetch the coach.”

In October 1719, Sewall records that his granddaughter Hannah Sewall, who is also the granddaughter of Governor Dudley, dies and Brill is the one to transport her body: “I go to Brooklin[e] in my Son’s Calash. I see my daughter and all the Gov’s family are for burying at Boston: Two Sons and a daughter are buried there already. I consented. By my persuasion Brill brings the Corps to Town in Gov Dudley’s Chariot.”

Excerpt from The Diary of Samuel Sewall, April 1719
Excerpt from The Diary of Samuel Sewall, April 1719

Brill seems to be well-known in the town of Roxbury; he not only appears in Samuel Sewall’s diaries but is attested to earlier in 1711 letters from Waitstill Winthrop to his son John (husband to Ann Dudley and son-in-law to Governor Joseph Dudley).  Waitstill, writing from Connecticut, dispatches a series of letters to dissuade John and his family from visiting from Boston. In a July 24th letter, Winthrop warns, “If Brill drives the coach, he must see that the wheels and axeltre be well greased, least it heat and burn off. You must be sure that every thing be sound, and that the coachman be not in drink.” Winthrop confirms that this is our man Brill when Winthrop writes two days later by asking, “I know not how you will all com in the Governor’s coach and if a wheele or axltre brake in the woods, how will the children get to any shelter?”

Excerpt from Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society. (1892)

The last entry I’ve found mentioning Brill before Rebecca Dudley’s will is Judge Sewall noting that on March 30, 1720, Governor Dudley is on his deathbed and “Brill came to Town in the Morning; Put up a Note at [Rev. Benjamin] Colman’s [house].” Joseph Dudley died three days later.   

I can’t find any narrative of Brill’s life using Google, Google Books, or Google Scholar. It’s safe to say that Joseph and Rebecca Dudley enslaving a Black coachman for 11 years is not a well-discussed fact and it’s exciting to share this with readers of this site. 

Enslaving Indigenous People

Of further interest to the slaveholding Dudleys was keeping native people in bondage. In the ”Roxbury Deaths” section of the Vital Records of Roxbury, Massachusetts to the end of the year 1849, under the heading “INDIANS”, we find listed “Peter…servant to Joseph Dudley, Esq.” dying in 1687, and “a girl of Mr Dudly, neer well of a pox, fell a bleeding and bled to death” dying in 1679. Joseph Dudley, noted participant in the 1675-1678 King Philip’s War, seemed to have kept some of the war’s human bounty for himself.  

Indian deaths as recorded on pg 680 of Vital Records of Roxbury. “Dudly” is a common misspelling and Joseph is the only other adult male Dudley living in Roxbury in 1679. His two surviving brothers lived in Boston (near present-day Faneuil Hall) and Exeter, NH respectively.

To understand further how widespread the practice of enslaving the indigenous people of New England was, look at this informative item from Brown University: Colonial enslavement of Native Americans included those who surrendered, too.

While natives had been forced into slavery and servitude as early as 1636, it was not until King Philip’s War that natives were enslaved in large numbers, Fisher wrote in the study. The 1675 to 1676 war pitted Native American leader King Philip, also known as Metacom, and his allies against the English colonial settlers.

During the war, New England colonies routinely shipped Native Americans as slaves to Barbados, Bermuda, Jamaica, the Azores, Spain and Tangier in North Africa, Fisher said.

– Brown University

Not surprisingly, the enthusiasm for enslaving Native Americans and enslaving people to be chauffeurs was a Dudley family trait. In the Letter-Book of Samuel Sewall, also from the Massachusetts Historical Society’s Collections, we find Sewall writing a 1713 letter to Reverend Treat of Eastham, Massachusetts on behalf of Governor Dudley’s sister who “stands in great need of a Servant; and would fain have an Indian youth of 10 to 12 years of Age, to live in Service till he be 21 years old…They keep a Calash, and want a Lad to drive it, and look after the Horse.”

Excerpt from Letter-Book of Samuel Sewall (Aug 10, 1713)

It’s almost irrelevant if this request for the human trafficking of a child went fulfilled or not; this letter further illustrates how slavery–of both African and Indigenous people–was not only casual and mundane to the Dudley family, they embraced it.

(Updated 08/31/2021)


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Paul Dudley: Pirates, Grift, and a Baptism


The Dudley Family & Their Enslaved People

Paul Dudley: Pirates, Grift, and a Baptism

Listen to a computer-generated narration of “Paul Dudley: Pirates, Epic Grift, and a Baptism”.

Paul was the son of Gov. Joseph, brother of William, and Chief Justice of the Massachusetts colonial government. Digging into archival records we find two stunning examples of Judge Paul Dudley enslaving Black people 40 years apart.

c. 1900 cigar box

The Dudleys, Pirates, and Clandestine Slave Trade

Looking in a “Calendar of State Papers” from a London archive published in 1916, we find a receipt showing in 1705 a “Negro boy taken from the pirate John Quelch* and sold to Paul Dudley for 20 [pounds, the highest bid at William Skinner’s Tavern Boston Oct 6.” This record is enclosed in Dudley’s response to John Colman’s complaint to the Council of Trade and Plantations in London. Colman was part owner of the vessel Charles, a privateering ship granted license by Governor Joseph Dudley. The crew of the Charles mutinied and attacked ships from Portugal, a British ally, and, upon return, the pirates were tried and executed. 

Excerpt from Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America and West Indies (1705)

What happened to the rest of the ship’s booty I am not sure of, but John Colman is quite upset that the “negro boy” he viewed as his property was funneled by Governor Joseph Dudley to his son Paul and sold to him for the very cheap price of 20 [pounds]. 

Colman writes to London requesting “[a] bond for the 50 [pounds] Governor Dudley squeezed out of us was given to his son, for the Governor. The sale of the negro boy was clandestine, for there had not been due notice there of, etc, etc.”  Dudley is dismissive, characterizing Colman’s complaint as a “foolish and groundless aspersion,” further responding “[t]he sale was public and there was another negro sold at the same time at the same price…The Judge never asked 5 p.c. for the condemnations of that prize…as Receiver [Colman was commissioned as Receiver General of Massachusetts] he has, for the most part, himself bought the prizes that have been imported to this place…”

John Colman appeals for additional compensation from Paul Dudley. From Calendar of State Papers

We don’t know if this “negro boy”–whose age is unknown–was originally enslaved by the British sailors or if he arrived in Boston “as plunder from piratical raids,” as Wesley Fiorentino puts it in the highly-recommended article about Quelch linked above. But we do know that Paul Dudley purchased an enslaved African from this ship and it’s likely his father the governor facilitated this, perhaps in a clandestine, extra-legal manner. 

But the dubiousness doesn’t stop there. The Massachusetts Attorney General at that time argued for an immediate admiralty trial, the first of its kind outside of England. The Attorney General, as it turns out, was also the prosecutor who won a conviction at the trial. His name? One Paul Dudley.

If that weren’t eyebrow-raising enough, legal scholar Stephen M. Sheppard notes:

Joseph Dudley appointed Paul to a three-man commission for seizing pirates and their treasure, along with future allies Nathaniel Byfield and Samuel Sewall. The commission took to its task with bravado, in some cases directing the attack force that rounded up the pirate bands. As attorney general, Dudley acted also as prosecutor and attracted quite a reputation from these trials, the most notorious of which was of Captain John Quelch, a strayed privateer. On the other hand, there was also the complaint that the trials (with the inevitable hangings to follow) were nothing more than judicial murder.

Stephen M. Sheppard, Paul Dudley: Heritage, Observation, and Conscience (2000. p. 8) St. Mary’s University School of Law

Pure shadiness. What could possibly go wrong when the official deciding who to prosecute for piracy is also on the commission in charge of seizing and divvying the ill-gotten “prizes” and, by the way, he is the governor’s son? This could be another hilarious iteration of entrenched Boston political corruption if there weren’t commodified humans on the auction block.

How many enslaved Africans did the Dudleys traffic through this pirate commission for their own—and other Dudley family members—gain? How many of them were children? And what could we learn about these enslaved people from the records? These are burning questions.

Guinea’s Baptism

Forty years later we have another record of a Black person enslaved by Paul Dudley. In the History of the First Church in Roxbury, Massachusetts, 1630-1904 under the heading “Church members admitted in brick school house“ – the brick school house was where the Roxbury congregation worshiped after the third meeting house burned—we find an entry “May 1745, Guinea, negro servant, maid to Judge Dudley.” Guinea’s baptism is recorded on the previous page and she is one of several examples of enslaved Africans being baptized church members in colonial Massachusetts. One of the first enslaved Africans to gain church membership was Dorcas the Blackmore, who joined the Dorchester church of her enslaver, Israel Stoughton. It’s worth noting that membership did not mean that an enslaved person was released from slavery.

List of new church members at Roxbury, including Guinea, an enslaved maid of Paul Dudley

(Updated 08/25/2021)


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