In fact, John Winthrop, the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and the author of the idea that America was “a city upon a hill, helped to write a 1641 law sanctioning the practice.
In today’s Boston Globe, C.S. Manegold reminds us that New England, the region known for being the nineteenth-century hub of abolitionism, had a slave-history of its own–a history that has been largely forgotten in commemorative celebrations of Winthrop and his “city on a hill.” Manegold is the author of a new book on slavery in the North, Ten Hills Farm: The Forgotten History of Slavery in the North
Did Barack Obama know, when he studied law at Harvard, that the basement apartment he rented in Somerville lay on ground that hosted slavery for 150 years? Did his dean welcome students with the information that the Law School was created out of money made partly from the work of and trade in men who never saw a day of freedom?
This void in general knowledge persists five years after the powerful exhibit in 2005 by the New York Historical Society, “Slavery in New York.’’ It persists as scholars strain and labor to uncover deeper aspects of this past. It persists though this is 150 years lost, not 10. And it persists despite the fact that statistics from the period of the American Revolution tell an abbreviated story of at least 10,000 souls enslaved across the North, not a handful of domestic “servants’’ afforded gentle treatment.
Perhaps Lincoln was right in his Second Inaugural Address when he wrote:
If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”