During the panel discussion convened on March 29th at the Greenwich Historical Society, as part of Joseph McGill's Slave Dwelling Project, I listened to fellow panel member Dale Plummer of Norwich, CT talk about the beginnings of slavery in New England.
Dale spoke of how, following the Pequot War of 1634-1638, captured Pequot men and women were taken on ships to the West Indies and exchanged for, among other "commodities", African slaves, the first in Massachusetts. I knew that my Boston ancestors had held slaves as early as the 1670s. When my ancestor Margaret Willoughby, widow of Deputy Governor Francis Willoughby, married as her third husband a man named Lawrence Hammond, she joined herself to a trader who dealt expressly in the "triangular trade", in which sugar became rum and rum was traded for slaves in the West Indies. She had all the proof of this she needed, because there were three African servants in the Hammonds' Charlestown mansion house. Margaret came of Puritan family in London, the Lockes, and had been married to two Puritans before she agreed to become Mrs. Hammond, but being a Puritan didn't mean the London house of her first husband was not filled with velvets and silver, tapestries and carved furniture. Nor that the house she shared with Francis Willoughby was not much the same. Maybe this doesn't square with our expectations of Puritans, based on the one-sided and simplistic education many of us received about them in American schools. The Puritans, though, subscribed to the Calivinist belief wherein some are chosen and some are not; and if one lived surrounded by objects of luxury while others went hungry, one was not shirking one's duty since this prosperity demonstrated that one was indeed of the elect as believed. Living well, for Puritans, was not - as the adage goes - so much the best revenge as it was the best example to follow for the un-elect who would improve their station, in ways both "godlie" and material, if they chose the same upwardly mobile path to God.
Whether Margaret wondered about the decency of owning human beings and making them work for her without pay is to apply modern awareness to a past that could not conceive of slavery as the sin and crime it is to us. Yet it occurred to me that this worldly woman must have known about the Pequot War and how the vanquished had been punished. In fact it doesn't seem unreasonable to guess that the Africans in her house may have been descendants or relatives of those first slaves brought up from the West Indies in exchange for Pequot captives. In any event, Lawrence Hammond's connections to the West Indies slave trade could hardly have been a mystery to her. For me, listening to Dale tell us the sad story of the Pequots, Margaret Hammond's third marriage seemed the closest I would ever come to this first horrible chapter in the long tragedy of native Indian and African slaves in North America. Then I found something by accident that brought both very close to me indeed.
My connection to Margaret Hammond is her daughter and sole living child, Susanna Willoughby, who married Nathaniel Lynde, son of Simon Lynde (1624-1687). Lynde was a a prominent personage on the Boston business and real estate scene and heavily involved in local government. Simon Lynde was thought to have been less Puritan than royalist (his mother, Elizabeth Digby, had prevailed on her cousin the Earl of Bristol to present the young Simon to King Charles I, whose royal hand the boy kissed), and historians have mused that there may have been occasions when he and his son's father-in-law, Francis Willoughby, staunchly non-royalist, were at pains to cross Boston streets in order to avoid one another.
According to the "Genealogical Dictionary of Maine and New Hampshire", by Noyes, Libby and Davis, I found extracts from a legal document dealing with Indian slaves transported on a ship called "Endevor", chartered from Simon Lynde of Boston by Henry Lawton and John Loverdure in 1676. The master of the ship was John Horton. Someone had noticed that the ship had shackles on board. Word got out that Horton was transporting these slaves on the ship, "some from Machias and some from Cape Sables" in Maine and the commissioners from Devon county warned Horton that he was not "to take any Indian east side of the Kenibek river because we had made peace with them." But it was too late. Horton had taken them much farther than that. Nine Indians were transported to the Azores.
There is every reason to believe that this ship "Endevor" was the same one built in New London for Capt. Matthew Beckwith (1610-1680), who was in the Barbados trade. Beckwith had married Simon Lynde's sister, Elizabeth. In 1666, Beckwith exchanged the ship in Barbados for 2000 pounds of sugar. How does Simon Lynde connect with Barbados? In fact, it appears Barbados was his first stop on his way to Boston from London in 1650, because he witnessed a will there for a rich landowner (and possible relative) named Colonel Christopher Lynd, who was not so well off that he didn't still owe money to Simon Lynde when the latter died in 1687. It seems reasonable to assume that the "Endevor" that Simon Lynde purchased was the same ship his brother-in-law Beckwith had used to ply the Caribbean.
It gets worse. I found information establishing that Simon Lynde's ship was in fact licensed to take captive all Indians who "made trouble" and transport them to Faial in the Azores; this was the fate met by those taken captive in Maine. Obviously the men Lynde had hired to staff his ship and manage its trading practices felt free to take not only those Indians deemed to have been causing "trouble" to white settlers but also those who believed themselves immune through treaties with those same settlers - an early example of the white man breaking treaty after treaty throughout the history of Native Americans. Sugar being where the money was, and the Azores being one of the sources for sugar, slavery was the answer for Portugese planters and traders to lowering labor costs on the islands. Whether the Maine Indians were left on Faial or were kept there before being taken further (to Portugal or Spain or elsewhere) is unknown, but two of them managed to escape back to New England.
Digging into Simon Lynde's business interests more deeply, I found other evidence of how he built his fortune, mostly on the backs of native peoples: thanks to friends like Major Humphrey Atherton, he obtained large swathes of land throughout Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, the basis of his large fortune, for virtually nothing, which had to a great degree been swindled from the native peoples who claimed them by right. As an American of European descent, I'm almost inured to the fact that places where I grew up, and where all my American ancestors lived back to the earliest who stepped off the boat in 1620, originally were the lands of indigenous peoples. My family had friends in our small hometown in California who descended from chiefs who had once ruled the valley we know as Yosemite, who with their peoples were displaced in the mid-nineteenth century in as ugly a manner as that endured by earlier generations of native peoples. My ancestors in the Deep South "bought" many affordable acres (to be worked by slaves) which had been taken from their native inhabitants by the government and sold to get the land settled by industrious white planters.
Somehow, though, the activities of the "Endevor" and crew, and the complicity of the worthy Simon Lynde in what occurred in 1667 and, probably, years before and after, brings home to me with an especially painful awareness my ancestral participation in the double genocides visited on Native American and African peoples on or brought to this continent. The story of North America (including Canada) is not pretty, but respectability bought on the backs of helpless and disenfranchised and defrauded peoples is nothing to be proud of. When a certain Republican presidential candidate crows about building a company single-handed, ignoring the contributions of the many who actually did the work for which he takes credit, you have to wonder if the unpretty story will ever change. But the truth is the truth - we cannot deny it, let alone hide from it. It's all around us - indeed, it is us