Boston Black History

Boston Black history began as early as the 15th century when a Black explorer led a band of European conquerors into the territory. They hit it quick and left.

But most contemporary historians cite the year 1638 when a small group of enslaved Africans arrived in Boston as cargo on a ship named “Desire,” eighteen years after the Pilgrim landing. There is sufficient documentation about the period. Brought over on a merchant ship, the captain was promised an African for doing work of bringing them here for sale and use in the colony. The rest were kept by the financier of the voyage and sold to Puritans in Boston who could afford their cost. They put them to work in their homes and businesses.

Boston had an enslaved class of people comprised of white indentured servants, Indians captured at war, and now the Africans. Enslaved whites could work for their freedom. Africans could not. Indians were treated as prisoners of war.

John Winthrop was governor of Massachusetts at the time. He made an executive order governing the treatment of these Africans. This official document (in photo) did nothing to offer freedom to them. Instead, it treated them as a transactional commodity.

a recording of a slave transaction from the archives of Gov John Winthrop

The word “slave” was not used in Early Boston. They used the word “enslaved.” Enslaved Blacks had to live by different rules and take names from their owners who listed them on their property records. Their African identity and culture were stripped and replaced with Puritan ways of life and religion. They were given modified Bible passages that told them that their God was their White master-owners.

Africans were important in Early Boston. The governor gave the 3,000 white residents who lived here at the time the legal means to handle them as if they were their own private properties. And they were assets of the state.

The African presence was vital to the survival of the townspeople. Orders by the Governor explained why Boston must import and deploy more Africans for use in community development, soldiers in wars, workers in the fields and harbors and as servants to family and heads of households. The governor’s order gave the Blacks no rights.

Boston’s Black history is connected to white aristocrats in England who had the money to fund the voyage of the Pilgrims, the purchase of islands in the West Indies and the procurement of more slaves from Africa from traders who could deliver them here.

From 1638 forward, the Early Africans who initiated Boston Black History made tremendous strides. They became the most valuable assets held by their owner. Before the end of the 1600s, some Africans were free.

Zipporah Potter Atkins (July 4, 1645 – January 8, 1705) was a free African American woman who owned land in colonial Boston, during a time when few women or African Americans owned land in the American Colonies. The purchase of her home, dated 1670.

Black Boston History and illustrations.
Boston Globe photo of the landmark
where Zipporah Atkins owned her house

this article is developing ….