New England Bound; Slavery & Colonization in Early America by Wendy Warren: A Book Review

I have a question for you about Squanto.

Yes, that Squanto of Pilgrim and Thanksgiving fame. Squanto helped the Mayflower settlers find food and game in 1621. He spoke to the in ENGLISH! How was that possible???

The answer to that question was just the first bit of eye-opening New England history that I learned reading Wendy Warren’s book, New England Bound, published in 2016 by Liveright Publishing Corporation, NY.

When one thinks about the history of slavery in the United States, images of Southern plantations churn through our minds. I was aware that there were limited numbers of slaves in New England, as one of my ancestors, Peter Hay, mentioned his “negro man” in his will. Given that land in Massachusetts was parceled out in small town plots in the 1600s, I never thought much about widespread slavery in the northern colonies.

New England Bound: Slavery & Early Colonization in America is organized into three parts:

Introduction: The Cause of Her Grief

Part I – A World That Does Wrong
Chapter 1 – Beginning
Chapter 2 – The Key of the Indies
Chapter 3 – Unplanting and Replanting

Part II – Likely that of New England
Chapter 4 – Visible Slaves
Chapter 5 – Intimate Slavery
Chapter 6 – The Law of the Land

Part III – Backing into Modernity
Chapter 7 – The Selling of Adam

Epilogue – A Thousand Such Fellows

The first words of Chapter 1 presented another eye opener for me – I don’t think I ever knew that Captain John Smith (Pocahontas’s John Smith) visited New England years before the Mayflower landed. It was April 1614 and English trading companies, along with the Dutch, were already transporting goods from one part of the world to the other.

With Captain Smith was the captain of another ship in his fleet, Captain Thomas Hunt. In that year of 1614, Thomas Hunt tricked some Native Americans into boarding his ship and, unbeknownst to Captain Smith, locked them below deck and transported them to Spain to be sold as slaves. Thus began the trafficking of human beings in New England. More about this later in the review!

The author goes on to carefully outline the growth of the European slave trade in general and then in particular between Europe, the Caribbean and the English colonies, INCLUDING New England in the 17th century.

Slave traders, slave owners and enslaved persons themselves are identified in case after case, portraying typical lives of those enslaved in early colonial New England. While most slave owners in New England only had one or two enslaved persons living in their homes (compared to large southern plantations with multiple enslaved people) didn’t mean their lives were any more bearable.

The epilogue covers the social and legal progress of the decline and abolition of slavery in New England, noting that its history was so successfully whitewashed that by the advent of the Civil War, little of the New England colonial slave trade was known to its citizens.

I have to admit that while I’ve read many books in my lifetime, I can’t think of one other title that I could describe as leaving me astounded. Wendy Warren’s book does just that.

It’s a scholarly work with 66 pages of citations and notes and was a 2017 Pulitzer Prize Finalist in history. Wendy Warren’s study has reshaped my thinking and understanding of the development and growth of early New England.

I highly recommend this book for anyone with an interest in American history. All genealogists with ties to colonial New England should have this book on their reference shelf.

Remember that question I asked about Squanto in the opening paragraph of this post? How was Squanto able to converse in English with the Mayflower Pilgrims? He was one of the Native Americans tricked by Thomas Hunt and shipped off to Spain.

You’ll have to read the book to find out how he learned learned English and was back living in Massachusetts when the Pilgrims arrived.

Amazon has New England Bound: Slavery and Colonization in Early America (ISBN-13: 978-0871406729 and ISBN-10: 0871406721) available in hardcover and paperback editions for under $10.00. This book is worth every penny!

 

 

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