NorthShore Slavery

Contact us at:


In the 18th century, Essex County was the second largest county, in population, in the colony of Massachusetts, after Suffolk County which consisted mostly of Boston. It also contained the second highest number of enslaved people, after Suffolk County.

Until the last decade, most histories of eighteenth-century Massachusetts focused on the white community and its famous inhabitants such as John and Abigail Adams, Samuel Adams and John Hancock as well as Massachusetts' role in the beginnings of the American revolution.

In the 21st century, historians have turned to the significant role slavery, and enslaved people, had in supporting the Massachusetts economy in the 1700s. Historians have now begun to focus on the people who were enslaved during that time and their efforts to deepen the meaning of liberty and freedom to encompass personal liberty. These studies have focused, however, on Boston which was largely urban and cosmopolitan and where half of the enslaved people in Massachusetts lived. Essex County had several urban cosmopolitan areas - Salem, Newburyport and Gloucester as well as large areas of small towns and rural agriculture.

My work, and those of my research colleagues, intends to uncover the names and stories of enslaved people who lived in Essex County, their efforts to become free and to make freedom enjoyed by all. Evidence for these efforts is not so easily discovered. Often it is buried in archives built to preserve the efforts of the majority white population. Many of these archives are not available or searchable online.

This website's purpose is to change that. It is the result of many hours of searching court records, probate records, church records as well as private papers, letters from numerous archival depositories, some online, some not. It makes documents in which people of color and their actions are mentioned. Sometimes these documents include the transcribed voices of enslaved people, their births, marriages or deaths, their names and descriptions and sometimes only their existence and value.

This website is a work in progress, currently in two areas:

Please do not cite these without consulting me, so that I can give you the permanent web citations.

Freedom Cases 1765-1783

People of African Descent in
Eighteenth-Century Essex County Massachusetts

Jeanne Pickering,