Within this web presentation, the Massachusetts Historical Society brings together historical manuscripts and rare published works that serve as a window upon the lives of African Americans in Massachusetts from the late seventeenth century through the abolition of slavery under the Massachusetts Constitution in the 1780s.
Although the complex role of African Americans, both enslaved and free, in colonial Massachusetts is an important part of our state and local history, the struggle for personal liberty in Massachusetts is central to a full understanding of our national history.
This website features 117 items from the collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society. This group of unique manuscripts and rare published materials includes handwritten documents and letters by African Americans (Phillis Wheatley and members of the Hartford family), the earliest antislavery pamphlet published in Massachusetts (The Selling of Joseph, printed in 1700), petitions of African Americans requesting freedom, documents certifying the freedom of specific individuals, materials relating to two African Americans involved in landmark legal cases that brought an end to slavery in Massachusetts (Elizabeth Freeman and Quock Walker), warrants and depositions for runaway slaves, bills of sale and account books documenting slave transactions, and a series of letters written in 1795 in which some notable men share their perspective on the history and end of slavery in Massachusetts.
Funding for this website and digitization project was provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act grant as administered by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners.