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Indian History and Genealogy


Slavery in Groton


Source: An Historical Sketch of Groton, MA
by Dr. Samuel A. Green: Groton, 1894

During a long period before the Revolution, Groton had one element in her population which does not now exist and which today has disappeared from almost the whole civilized world.

At the beginning of the year 1755 there were fourteen negro slaves in town, seven men and seven women who were sixteen years old or upwards. At that time Town- send had three slaves, two men and one woman; Shirley had one, a man; and Pepperell made no return of having any. Westford had five, but the sex is not given. These facts are gathered from a census of negro slaves in Massachusetts, ordered by the Province, which is published in the 3rd volume second series of the Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society (pages 95-97).

William Banks, a negro or mulatto was married at Groton on December 21, 1719 by Francis Fullam a justice of the peace, to Hannah Wansamug. William appears to have been a slave belonging to Eleazer Robbins of Groton and Hannah was an Indian, who is called in the records "late of Lancaster"; but unfortunately the marriage was not a happy one. With all confidence in her husband, the wife bought his freedom, when he proved false to his plight and promise and deserted her. The story, told in her own words, is found in the Journal of the Massachusetts House of Representatives June 13, 1724 p. 39. "A Petition of Hannah Banks, Indian, shewing that she bought of Eleazer Robbins of Groton, his Servant Man's Time, and gave a Bond of 1.15 for Payment of Same, that afterwards she married the said Servant Man, who is since absconded and the said Robbins hath put the said Bond in Suit, and cast the Petitioner into prison in Boston, that the Principal Debt with the Charges hath arisen to 1.25 which Mr. Edward Ruggles of Roxbury hath paid for her praying this Court would please to enable the said Edward Ruggles to Sell such a part of her Land in Natick as will satisfy him for his advance of said twenty-five pounds. "Read and committed to the Committee for Petitions."

The following advertisement, not an unusual one for that period, appears in The Boston Evening Post, July 30, 1789: "Ran away from his Master, Mr. John Woods of Groton, on Thursday the 12th of this Instant July, a Negro Man named Caesar about 22 years of Age, a pretty short well sett Fellow. He carried with him a Blue Coat and Jacket, a pair of Tow Breeches a Oaster Hat, Stockings and Shoes of his own, and a Blue Cloth coat with flower'd metal buttons, a white flower'd jacket, a good bever hat, a gray wigg, and a pair of new shoes of his Master's with some other things. It is suspected there is some white person that may be with him, or design to make Use of his Master's Apparel above described. Whoever shall take up the said Servant and bring him to his above-said Master in Groton, or be a means of convicting any person or confederate with said Servant as above suspected, shall have Five Pounds Reward for each of them, and all necessary Charges paid."

Another advertisement appears in the Boston Gazette and Country Journal, June 13, 1774, as follows:

"Ten Dollars Reward

Ran away from the Subscriber, Joseph Moors of Groton, in the County of Middlesex and Province of Massachusetts-Bay, a Molatto Man Servant named Titus about 20 years of age, of a middling Stature, wears short curl'd hair, has one of his Fore-Teeth broke out, took with him a blue Surdan, a Snuff colored Coat, and a Pair of white wash'd Leather Breeches, a Pair of new Cow-Hide Pumps and a Furr'd Hat with large Brims and sundry other articles of Wearing apparel....Whoever will take up said Servant and confine him in any of his Majesty's Gaols, so that the Owner may have him again, shall have Ten Dollars Reward and all necessary Charges paid by: Joseph Moors."

All Masters of Vessels and others, are hereby Caution'd agains Harbouring , Concealing, or carrying off said Servant, as they would thereby avoid the Penalty of the Law."

The following marriage is entered in the church records under the date of December 28, 1742: "Priamus (Capt. Boydens Negro Man Servant) to Margr't, molatto, formerly servant to S. S., both of Groton," It is also recorded that Margaret, the servant of Samuel Scripture, Jr., was baptized on January 30, 1733-34, and that she (Margaret) owned the church covenant at the same time. The initials, "S.S." stand for Samuel Scripture. This negro couple was after blessed with a family of children and they lived on the west side of the Nashua River, a short distance north of the county road to Townsend. His surname was Lew or Lue, and his given name became contracted into Primus; and to this day the rise of ground near the place where Pepperell road leaves the main road, is known as Primus Hill, so called after him. Mr. Butler thinks that perhaps Margaret's name was Lew. See Butler's History p.454. Their oldest child, Zelah, a corruption of Barzillai, born at Groton on Nov. 5, 1743, was a famous musician who lived at Dracut and the father of numerous children who were also musicians. He was a fifer in Capt. John Ford's company of the 27th MA Regiment in service at the siege of Boston and was present at the Battle of Bunker Hill.

About the year 1740 there was a negro salve in Groton by the name of Boad, who used to look after the cattle sent up to Groton Gore in the spring to be pastured during the summer. See "The Boundary Lines of Old Groton" p.37. The church records contains the entry of the baptism of Hagar, a servant of William Green, on August 1, 1765. Akin to the subject of slavery in Groton is this item from "The Groton Landmark": Nov. 14, 1885:

"Governor Boutwell has in an old scrap book the following interesting Memorandum:
"August 1856
"Noah Shattuck, esq. informs me that there were eleven slaves in Groton when slavery was abolished, and he mentioned the following names: Chloe Williams, Phillis Cutler, Phillis Sartell, Ichabod Davis, Fanny Borden and William Case. Phineas Wait also owned one slave." Noah Shattuck, a son of Job and Sarah (Hartwell) Shattuck was born on August 30, 1772 and died on September 1858.

The following entry is found in the town records, and refers to the last survivor of negro slavery within the limits of the town. The institution was abolished by the adoption of the State Constitution in the year 1780, the courts holding that the Bill of rights swept away the remants of involuntary servitude:
"Phillis Walby, servant to Josiah Sawtell, Jun., deceased, died at Groton, aged 70, February 1821."

The following extract from the town records refers to Titus, who is advertised as a runaway in The Boston-Gazette, and Country Journal, June 13, 1774, as mentioned above. The advertiser was a son of Abraham Moors, the owner of Zebina, the slave-mother:
"Titus, a molato boy born of Zebinah, a negro slave to Mr. Abraham Moors - March 1751."


Submitted by Janice Farnsworth


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