A website from the Massachusetts Historical Society; founded 1791.
African Americans and the End of Slavery in Massachusetts
"...I am the sole & proper owner of ye abovegranted Negro, & have in myself Good right full power & lawfull Authority to dispose of him..."
~Isaac Powers, 22 April 1728
The Domestic Sale of Slaves

Bill of Sale from Isaac Powers to John HancockMany families of means in colonial Boston owned slaves, and even ordinary tradesmen kept slaves as well as indentured servants to help with their businesses. Slave transactions were completed with regular bills of sale, and were witnessed, signed, and recorded like the sale of other property, such as real estate. The average price for a slave in the seventeenth century was between £20 and £30 sterling; in the eighteenth century it was higher, and varied, but averaged about £40 to £50 sterling (Greene, 318). Typical bills of sale for slaves are Andrew Boyd to John Chandler for the slave Dinah (1769), Malachy Salter, Jr. to Capt. James Dalton for a slave (1749), General John Fellows to Theodore Sedgwick for the slave Ton (1777), Isaac Powers to John Hancock for the slave Jack (1728), Nathaniel Brown to Elizabeth Cabot for the slave Phillis (1768), William Waitt to James Dalton for the slave Peter (1747), and William Richardson to James Dolbeare for the slave Loran (1732).

In some cases, sales agreements of African Americans contained special clauses or variations. Patience Hatch sold her "half-ownership" of a slave boy named Salathiel to Silvanus Hatch in 1760. James Dalton paid Ezekiel Lewis Jr. $40 plus a slave named Prince in 1750, for Lewis's slave named Pompey. Dr. Joseph Warren purchased a slave from Joshua Green in 1770, paying £30 and promising £10 worth of "potters ware" within three months if the slave proved satisfactory.

Disputes and problems occasionally arose regarding the sale and ownership of slaves. Anna Bill gave written testimony in 1761 concerning the sale of two slaves by Capt. John Sale to Nathaniel Brown. Capt. Sale was sued the following year for illegally selling free African Americans Detail of Bill of Sale from James Dalton to Ezekiel Lewisas slaves to John Oliver (Desrochers, 636), so there may have been some question as to his ownership of these two. In 1740, Mary Mountire testified as to her sole ownership of two slaves, Kent and Sambo, so that they would not be sold as part of her deceased husband's estate. A buyer could "try out" a slave with an eye to later purchase; Samuel Bowman wrote to Samuel P. Savage in 1752 to explain why he could not keep the slave Pompe, whose behavior made Bowman's wife uneasy.

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