Tuesday, September 21, 2021
5:15pm – 7:15pm
Online Event Registration
Phillis Wheatley was an African-born poet who, from the age of seven, was enslaved in late eighteenth-century Boston. The genius of her poetry led to acclaim both in northern British colonies and in England. She published her first book of poetry in London on a tour there to meet leading British abolitionists. Following her Boston return, she obtained her freedom and, in 1778, married John Peters, a free African-descended Boston trader. Her whereabouts and life following her marriage have been unknown to scholars since her 1784 death was reported in the Boston newspapers.
Now, from unexpected Essex County Massachusetts archives, Professor Cornelia Dayton of the University of Connecticut has uncovered the young couple’s attempt to settle on land in the rural town of Middleton, local hostilities towards them, the legal battles they eventually lost and their return to Boston.
Professor Dayton has published her findings in the Fall 2021 issue of the New England Quarterly. In a Massachusetts Historical Society free event, she and a panel of Wheatley scholars will discuss the implications of these new findings, the future research pathways they suggest, and investigative methods that expand our awareness of Black lives in the late eighteenth-century northeast. Researchers of local slavery and enslaved people will find this story of searching through local archives of particular interest. This is an online event and registration is available here.
Published by Probing The Archives
We are independent researchers of slavery in Essex County Massachusetts.
Beth Bower, an archivist and historian, who has studied Boston’s 19th century African American community and relevant archival resources for many years. Her current focus is the mid 18th-early 19th century Essex County African American community in Salem Massachusetts as well as actively supporting Salem State University’s Charlotte Forten research and programming.
Lise Breen has been researching the widespread practice of slavery, the illegal slave trade, and the mixed response to the abolition movement with a special focus on Cape Ann for close to a decade. She has given many public talks on these topics. She was awarded a Paul Cuffe Memorial Munson Institute fellowship and a Peabody Essex Museum Phillips fellowship, and attended the Gilder Lehrman Institute week on interpreting slavery led by David Blight.
Jeanne Pickering holds a MA in History from Salem State University. Her thesis research was on freedom suits filed by enslaved people in Essex County during the revolutionary period. She researches eighteenth century slavery and enslaved people in Essex County and has presented her research at academic conferences and public history venues. She also holds a Master's degree in Information and Computer Science from the University of California, Irvine and has developed two online databases of her research which are available at NorthShoreSlavery.org.
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