Black History Month: Did You Know . . .

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.

440px-Mumbett701781    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 34687605614_5abbd89128_mthe 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.

17463952823_a80d5f6137_m1806    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 lucretia leonardsegregation” 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.

Motto_frederick_douglass_21841    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 Portrait-Sydney-Howard-Gay-205x300the 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!

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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), john-albion-andrewmarried Eliza Hersey of Hingham and considered the town his true home. Four of his five children were born in Hingham.

robert-gould-shaw-memorial1863    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.

Free Christian Mission

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.

Selected Sources/Resources

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.

A Book for Governor Andrew

george_livermore_1904_portraitOn August 14, 1862, George Livermore, an historian, rare book collector and abolitionist from Cambridge, gave a lecture at the Massachusetts Historical Society titled “An Historical Research Regarding the Opinions of the Founders of the Republic on Negroes as Slaves, as Citizens and as Soldiers.”  In his lecture, also published that year, Mr. Livermore argued that the Founding Fathers considered black men capable of bearing arms and fighting for independence and therefore they should also be allowed to fight for the Union cause in the Civil War then underway. img_2433

Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner gave President Lincoln a copy of Livermore’s lecture, and it is said that Livermore’s arguments influenced Lincoln when he was drafting the Emancipation Proclamation in the fall of 1862.  A few month’s later, through Sumner’s offices, the pen with which President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation was given to George Livermore.  (It is currently on display at the Massachusetts Historical Society).

john-albion-andrewAlthough Lincoln disappointed Sumner by moving deliberately toward introducing uniformed black soldiers into the Union Army, his administration responded positively when, in January 1863, Massachusetts’ abolitionist war Governor, Hingham’s own John Albion Andrew, lobbied for leave to raise a black regiment.  The Massachusetts 54th Infantry Regiment was the first to be comprised of black volunteers, from Massachusetts and other states.

Was Governor Andrew at the Massachusetts Historical Society when Mr. Livermore gave his lecture?  Did Sumner or Livermore send Andrew a copy? Either way, it is fitting that one of the books in our collection from Governor Andrews’ library is his copy of “An Historical Research,” making the case for black soldiers and citizens, inscribed for him by the author.



In December 1941, the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Company started to build a shipyard on 150 acres of land at Hewitts Cove in Hingham. By June 1942, the first ship, a destroyer escort, was completed and launched from the Bethlehem-Hingham Shipyard. The Shipyard built 132 destroyer escorts before turning to the construction of tank landing ships in 1944.

Tugboat “Venus” Escorting Tank Landing Ship LST-1077

This photo shows LST-1077, one of the last of the 165 tank landing ships launched from Hingham in 1944 and 1945. It is making its way out to sea–perhaps near Hull Gut–guided by the tug “Venus,” on April 19, 1945.

LST-1077 only arrived in time for the tail end of World War II, entering Pearl Harbor on July 19, 1945 and remaining there until August 29, 1945, when she ferried U.S. troops to Japan for the post-war occupation. In the Korean War, she served the Pacific Fleet from 1950 through 1955. In that year, she was finally given a name—the U.S.S. Park County.

After a substantial refit in 1965, the U.S.S. Park County supported the United States forces in Vietnam from 1966-1971. The Navy sold her to the Mexican government in 1978. Rechristened the A.R.M. Rio Panuco, she served the Mexican Navy as a landing ship.

At the end of her useful days, the Mexican Navy used LST-1077 as a target ship during military exercises. Her final service, then, is as an artificial reef off Mexico, where she provides a habitat for marine life.

Quite a journey, which all started at the Hingham Shipyard.

Glimpses of Huit’s Cove

Courtesy of George and Linda Luther Watt, the Society recently acquired a pair of watercolor drawings of Huit’s (or Hewitt’s) Cove—the site of the Hingham Shipyard—in early 1942.

Huit's Cove, in watercolor and pencil, by Beatrice Ruyl, January 23, 1942.  Hingham Historical Society

Huit’s Cove, in watercolor and pencil, by Beatrice Ruyl, January 23, 1942. (Hingham Historical Society)

The earlier drawing, dating from January 1942, shows part of the area prior to construction of the Bethlehem Shipyard. Hingham artist Beatrice Ruyl slipped into the area only weeks before construction began and captured a weedy winter landscape where only a few months later would stand an enormous industrial complex on almost all of the site’s 150 acres.

“Slipways” Watercolor and pencil picture by Beatrice Ruyl of the start of construction of the Bethlehem-Hingham Shipyard. May 2, 1942.

The second picture dates from May 1942, when construction of the shipyard was well underway. The artist titled it “Slipways.” There are cranes, tugboats, and, In the distance across the Cove, the Bradley Fertilizer Works.  Within a very short period, the shipyard was up and running.

Launch of a destroyer Escort, Bethlehem-Hingham Shiphard, 1944 or 1945.  (Hingham Historical Society)

Launch of a destroyer escort from Bethlehem Hingham Shipyard, 1944 or 1945. (Hingham Historical Society)

Fewer than 10 years earlier, Huit’s Cove had been the site of an enormous costume pageant to celebrate Hingham’s 300th anniversary. Nearly 1,000 residents participated.


The cast of one scene in the Tercentenary Pageant–the “Ordination Ball”-in colonial costumes. June 1935. (Hingham Historical Society)


Spectators in bleachers built at Huit’s Cove for the Hingham Tercentenary Pageant, June 27-29, 1935 (Hingham Historical Society)

Prior to to that, a short-lived airfield called Bayside Airport occupied the site.

Biplane in a hangar at Bayside Airport, Huit's Cove, Hingham.  (John Richardson Collection, Hingham Historical Society)

Biplane in a hangar at Bayside Airport, Huit’s Cove, Hingham. (John Richardson Collection, Hingham Historical Society)

Going further back, into the 18th century, Patience Pomatuck was said to have gathered native and naturalized plants from Huit’s Cove, which she used for medicinal, herbs, dyes and other household uses. Patience made a living selling these plants to her English neighbors in Hingham. We have no record of which plants grew in the Cove’s many acres, but among them would probably have been rushes, which could be formed into baskets and rush lamps; wild gentian, for use as an emetic; and mullein, used as cough medicine.


Common Mullein

Fringed Gentian

Wild Gentian