It happened here, too.
Updated: Jun 14
On Saturday we will commemorate Juneteenth, the 19th of June. On this day in 1865 General Gordon Granger of the Union Army, who had landed at Galveston, Texas, the previous day, issued General Order No. 3, which stated: ‘The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.’
To the 250,000 slaves in Texas, it was news indeed. On the outskirts of the Confederacy, most Texans were unaware that the War of the Rebellion, which we call the Civil War, was over, or of the Proclamation of Emancipation, signed two-and-a-half years earlier by President Abraham Lincoln.
Since then, June 19, or Juneteenth, has been celebrated widely among African-Americans, and recently by others.
As we become more aware of the scope and impact of slavery in American history, we recall that slavery was not confined to the South. Not only did the North depend on and profit from human bondage, but slavery existed here, too. In 1754 in Massachusetts, 2,720 enslaved persons were recorded, not counting children. By the Revolutionary War, there were over five thousand.
Slavery came to an end here after the Supreme Judicial Court ruled in 1781 and 1783 that slavery violated the Massachusetts Constitution, authored by John Adams and ratified in 1780.
In Stoneham, settled in the 17th and 18th century by farmers, shoemakers and tradesmen, several families established themselves as prominent in the town. Their land holdings increased, and their businesses prospered.
We know, however, that at least eight of these families owned slaves, Africans brought to Massachusetts as early as 1638 and sold in Boston.
As we commemorate Juneteenth, it’s a good time to honor the black men, women and children who were brought to our town against their will, who toiled without pay or expectation of freedom? Who, in some cases, married, had children and attended church, but were prescribed by race and circumstance to the lowest rung of society?
Often listed as “servants” in vital records, they hauled the stones from our fields, plowed, tended animals, built, cooked, washed, cleaned, sewed, and waited at table. Eight of them fought for our Independence at Battle Road and Bunker Hill.
These are ones I know about:
Cato, Simon, Dinah, Mingo, Moll, Lucy, Sambo, Mercer, Phoebe, Quecoo, Pomfrey, Amos, Obadiah, Chloe, Phillis, Peter, Catherine, Moses, Priscilla, Obadiah How, Cato Freeman, Sharper Freeman, Cato Green, John Noyes, Pomp Green, Jack Thare and Daniel Kingstone.
I will close with a quote from Elizabeth ‘Mumbet’ Freeman, the first to gain her freedom by a court decision in Massachusetts. She later wrote: “Any time while I was a slave, if one minute's freedom had been offered to me, and I had been told I must die at the end of that minute, I would have taken it—just to stand one minute on god's earth a free woman—I would.”
-- Ben Jacques