HistoryCampBoston 2016

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I’m giving my second talk about my Topsfield research. This one will be more “behind-the-scenes.”

The Jigsaw Puzzle of Reconstructing Enslaved Family Stories in Rural Colonial Massachusetts

Jeanne Pickering (j_pickering@salemstate.edu), Graduate student, History, Salem State University

In the eighteenth century, Topsfield was a small inland rural town 25 miles north of Salem. Although few in number, enslaved individuals and families lived there throughout much of the eighteenth century. Documentation of their lives lies in fragmented pieces spread across church records, probated wills and inventory, genealogical records and a few sparse archival documents. Reconstructing their stories means assembling these pieces much like assembling a jigsaw puzzle using only a few broken pieces from other puzzles and no guide to follow.

I’ll show the reconstruction of the stories of three enslaved families, each struggling through the death of a household patriarch to keep the family together, only one of whom managed to survive through the waning days of legalized slavery in Massachusetts.

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