Abolitionists, Resistance, and the Nation’s First Candy – Part 2

Resisters Under the Seat

Salem Waterfront 1770-1780

Salem Waterfront 1770-1780
At the time Mrs. Spencer landed in Salem, slavery had been part of the New England landscape. The first slaves were brought to Boston in 1634 and by the mid-1700s, 2.2% of the population were enslaved. All told, the total population of African Americans was 10% yet even those who were “free” did not have the same rights as whites. While slavery was less common in the early 19th century, it still existed and remained legal until the ratification of the 13th amendment.
Some of the most impressive symbols of Boston were constructed from the “blood and sweat of slaves” as abolitionists called it. Faneuil Hall was built by wealthy slave trader Peter Faneuil and Harvard Law School, financed by a donation from slaveholder and plantation owner, Isaac Royall Jr. to name only two.

It’s hard to know where the enslaved people in Mrs. Spencer’s buggy started. Slaves labored at the ports of Salem and many other nearby places in the 18th and 19th centuries. Likely, they didn’t come from the South, as freedom was too far for escape. Regardless, they traveled on inconspicuous roads and paths, with little food, drink, or chance to rest.

The escaped slaves fled for many reasons, among them the harsh reprisals of slaveholders; starvation and brutality where they worked; and the need to seek out family members who were sold away from them. How they found Mrs. Spencer is also unknown: possibly through a formal network of abolitionists or through informal contacts. They waited out the hours as the buggy rocked on gutted roads, moving slowly forward then stopping when Mrs. Spencer sold her candy, keeping up the guise of normality.

Within the buggy, they were certainly cramped and hungry, whiffs of sea air filtering through the wooden buggy skin, penetrating the suffocating air. There they encountered icy loneliness: outside was a world of strangers where even the sympathetic ones could turn them in or silently let them be caught. Should the worst happen, they could be flogged, branded, imprisoned, returned to slavery, or killed.

Mrs. Spencer resisted enslavement by transporting slaves toward their freedom. The enslaved people resisted, too, by escaping. Some succeeded.

…Stay tuned for the Final Chapter

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