1630 Slavery was present in Massachusetts almost from the the colony’s inception. As early as 1630 the Massachusetts Bay Colony instituted a fugitive law that allowed for runaways to be protected if they ran away to escape abuse by their masters. Enslaved people included both Africans and Native Americans.
1641 Massachusetts became the first American colony to legalize slavery.
1700 Judge Samuel Sewall (known for his involvement in the Salem witch trials) published “The Selling of Joseph,” the first anti-slavery pamphlet published in New England.
1722 During an epidemic, the first smallpox inoculations in America were administered in Boston. The idea of inoculation came from Cotton Mather’s slave, Onesimus, who described how African tribes had used inoculation. The procedure, administered by Zabdiel Boylston, helped save many lives.
1760 Briton Hammon, owned by General John Winslow of Marshfield, published a captivity narrative, “The Uncommon Sufferings, and Surprizing Deliverance, of Briton Hammon, a Negro Man,” considered to be the first autobiographical work by an African-American. General Winslow moved to Hingham in the 1770s; it is thought that Hammon fought in the Revolution as part of a Hingham-Cohasset regiment.
1764 The first colonial census showed that Hingham had 77 slaves, one for every thirty-two persons, a high ratio compared to the whole colony. The population of Hingham at the time was 2,506.
1773 Enslaved African-American artist Prince Demah solicited commissions for portrait work, advertising in the Boston News-Letter that he “takes Faces at the lowest Rates.” Prince was owned by Henry and Christian Barnes of Marlborough, who were Loyalists, and after they fled to England in 1775, Prince enlisted in the Massachusetts militia as a free man. He died in 1778. Prince’s portraits of Henry and Christian Barnes, the earliest documented paintings by an African-American, are at the Hingham Historical Society.
1781 Elizabeth “MumBet” Freeman became the first enslaved African American to file and win a freedom suit in Massachusetts in the case of Brom and Bett v Ashley.
1783 Massachusetts became the first state to effectively abolish slavery when Quock Walker sued his owner for his freedom. The Supreme Judicial Court ruled that slavery was inconsistent with the Declaration of Rights in the Commonwealth’s new Constitution of 1780. Prominent attorney Levi Lincoln, Sr., who argued the case for Walker, was born in Hingham. Chief Justice William Cushing, who decided the case, was from Scituate.
1801 James Tuttle (ca 1780-1847) married Rebecca Humphrey in Hingham. He founded the small neighborhood of Tuttleville at the intersection of High and Ward Streets, whose residents worked in Weymouth’s shoe factories and farmed. His son James King Tuttle (1834-1906) is credited with leading the effort to build a small church in Tuttleville in the 1870s.
1806 Hingham’s Third Congregational Society (New North Church) on North Street was constructed with segregated galleries for people of color, men in one section and women in another. This “architectural segregation” ended in the church in 1841 when the Thaxter sisters insisted that their long-time servant, Lucretia Leonard, join them in their pew.
1830 Free African-American emigres founded the Wilberforce Colony north of present-day London, Ontario, Canada, where they were allowed political autonomy. Sisters Vilana, Rosana, and Salome Quacum of Marshfield, Mass., whose family had ties to Hingham’s black and Native American community, moved north with their husbands and children to join the colony.
1835 The Hingham Female Anti-Slavery Society was founded. Some of the women from this original group joined the Hingham Anti-Slavery Society formed in January 1838. The Thaxter sisters were among the members.
1838 John Quincy Adams, who after his Presidency represented a Plymouth County Congressional district (including Hingham), introduced 350 antislavery petitions in the House of Representatives. This violated the “gag rule” in which no bills could be introduced to debate the issue of slavery.
1841 Frederick Douglass gave his first important public speech in Nantucket, Massachusetts. Douglass settled in New Bedford in 1838 after escaping slavery in Maryland. This speech at the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society’s annual convention in Nantucket launched his career as an abolitionist speaker and writer. Later that same year, Douglass spoke in Hingham at the quarterly meeting of the Plymouth Anti-Slavery Society; the editor of the Hingham Patriot likened him to Spartacus and noted, “A man of his shrewdness, and his power, both intellectually and physically, must be poor stuff . . . to make a slave of.”
1843 Jairus Lincoln of Hingham published his song book, “Anti-Slavery Melodies: For the Friends of Freedom” for the Hingham Anti Slavery Society. The book included some of his own original songs. It was a featured element at an 1844 anti-slavery picnic and subsequent anti-slavery events.
The same year, Sydney Howard Gay left Hingham for New York City to become editor of the National Anti-Slavery Standard. He was an active participant in the Underground Railroad. Records recently discovered at Columbia University suggest that, in the 1840s and 1850s, Gay and his colleagues, including black freedmen William H. Leonard and Louis Napoleon, helped over 3,000 slaves to escape north to Canada.
1844 Hingham hosted the largest anti-slavery picnic in the United States in Tranquility Grove, now known as Burns Memorial Park. Thousands paraded from Fountain Square through the town and along Main Street to the grove. Frederick Douglass spoke at the event, for which Jairus Lincoln was the Grand Marshall. Unfortunately, the massive crowds caused so much damage to the property that the Thaxters, who owned the grove, vowed never to have a public event there again!
1848 John Albion Andrew (1818-1867), a leader of the Massachusetts Free Soil Party in the 1840s and 50s and governor of Massachusetts during the Civil War (1861-1866), married Eliza Hersey of Hingham and considered the town his true home. Four of his five children were born in Hingham.
1863 After a long effort lobbying the Lincoln administration to allow free men of African descent to enlist in the Union Army, Governor Andrew was allowed to form the 54th and 55th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiments. Their impressive performance, particularly the 54th’s at Fort Wagner under the leadership of Robert Gould Shaw (1837-1863), garnered further Northern support for abolition. David Henry Champlin (1835-1886) was a Hingham resident who enlisted in the 54th as a substitute soldier and quickly rose to the rank of corporal. Following the war he convinced Hingham to provide his family the same level of town aid that was granted to white soldiers.
1873 A group of Tuttleville residents, led by James King Tuttle, petitioned the Town to build an evangelical chapel at the corner of Ward and High Streets. The chapel, which also functioned as a school, was called the Mt. Zion Chapel or Free Christian Mission and had an official membership of thirty, although at times up to 100 people worshiped there.
Hart, Lorena Laing and Francis Russell. Not All Is Changed: A Life History of Hingham. Hingham: The Hingham Historical Commission, 1993.
Hingham Public Library, Local History & Special Collections.
Emma Ryan, Tranquility Grove: Standing Up to Slavery. 2017.
Matthew Johnson, Timeline of Events Relating to the End of Slavery.