Elizabeth Key

First African Woman to Win Her Freedom in Court Elizabeth Key was the first woman of African ancestry in the American colonies to sue for her freedom from slavery and win. Elizabeth Key won her freedom and that of her infant son on July 21, 1656 in the colony of Virginia, in one of the earliest freedom suits in the colonies. She sued based on the fact that her father was an Englishman and that she was a baptized Christian. Born in Warwick County, Virginia in 1630, Elizabeth Key was the illegitimate daughter of an enslaved black mother and a white English planter father, Thomas Key, who was also a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses. She spent the…

Read Article

Slavery in Rhode Island

Rhode Island Slaves Image: Narragansett Planters Painting by Ernest Hamlin Baker, 1939 A grist mill and sacks of corn being towed by oxen – most of the harvested grain was likely kept in the Colony for consumption by the planters and their livestock. Rhode Island established the first law regulating slavery on May 18, 1652, as part of the Acts and Orders of the General Court of Warwick. It stated that the blacks or whites forced to serve another must be freed after 10 years after arrival in Rhode Island. The fine for noncompliance was 40 pounds. The law was evidently never enforced, because African slaves were in the Colony that same year. The demand for cheap labor had prevailed.

Slavery in Connecticut

The Year: 1639 Image: Buying Enslaved Africans Connecticut had black slaves as early as 1639. In 1650, Connecticut became the second colony after Massachusetts to recognize slavery as a legal institution. The slavery of Africans became a fact of everyday life, and became an accepted system of labor by 1680. Connecticut grew crops, raised cattle, and felled logs to sell in the West Indies, because many Caribbean islands were busy growing the more profitable sugar cane. That sugar cane, produced by captive Africans, was brought north to the Connecticut Colony as molasses and sugar products, which were distilled into rum in such quantities that Connecticut became the New World’s leading distiller.

Slavery in New Hampshire

The Year: 1645 Image: Slave Prayer Meeting New Hampshire’s African heritage dates back to 1645 and centers on the state’s only port at Portsmouth. The first known black person in Portsmouth came from the west coast of Africa. He was captured one Sunday when slave merchants attacked his village in Guinea, killing about a hundred persons and wounding others. Upon arrival in Boston, the slave was bought by a Mr. Williams of Piscataqua. When the General Court of the colony learned of the raid and kidnapping, it ordered the merchants to return the African to his home. Slavery was not the issue of concern—human bondage was legal. The court was indignant that the raiders had violated the Sabbath.

Slavery in Massachusetts

Slavery in the Massachusetts Bay Colony Image: Slave Ship in Salem Harbor Massachusetts Bay Colony was the first slave-holding colony in New England, though the exact beginning of black slavery cannot be dated exactly. The first certain reference to African slavery was in connection with the bloody Pequot War in 1637. Native Americans of the Pequot Tribe were being pushed off their land by the European settlements. In an effort to dislodge the English, the Pequot attacked the town of Wetherfield.