A Slave Owner in the Family

My 8x great grandfather owned slaves. It is not something I am happy about, but it is a fact that I cannot change.

Some facts about him:

He arrived along the New England coast in the mid 1670’s, originally from England, coming by way of Newfoundland. As part of the fishing industry he ended up in Kittery (Maine) and there amassed a small fortune along with his son, Sir William Pepperrell, building a fishing and merchant fleet of 17 or 18 ships. His ships sailed all over the world carrying timber, fish, salt, sugar and rum.

Willam Pepperrell from Messrs. William Pepperrell cropped

He was Colonel William Pepperrell. He served as a Colonel in the militia during the Indian Wars. His home served as a Garrison House during those wars. It still stands today at the corner of Pepperrell Road and Bellamy Lane in Kittery. (The original house is on the right, the addition was added later.)

William Pepperrell House

When I found his will I was shocked and saddened to find three slaves. (He referred to them as “servants.”)

  • “I also give to my said Daughter Dorathy Watkins her Heirs & Assigns my Negro Man servant Named George . . .And I do hereby order that if the said negro Servant do faithfully & truly Serve untill he Shall come to the age of Forty years that then he shall have his Discharge Liberty & Freedom given him.”
  • “I give unto my Molatto man servant named Toby his Discharge Liberty & Freedom at one Years end next after my Decease on the Condition that he behave himselfe a true & Faithful Servant until that Time.”
  • “I give unto my Negro man servant Named Scipio his Discharge Liberty & Freedom when he shall be Forty years old Provided & on condition that he truly & faithfully serve until that Time.”

I had to wonder, given his profession, if William had participated in the slave trade. Much of the correspondence from the Pepperrell business still exists, including receipts and bills of lading. From the book Messrs. William Pepperrell : Merchants at Piscataqua by Byron Fairchild, I found the following information regarding their business in Barbados:

“In 1719, . . .[Benjamin] Bullard shipped the Pepperrells a consignment of rum and five Negro slaves. It may be that on other occasions also they engaged in the slave traffic, on a similar scale, for one item in the St. Domingue accounts of the younger William and his brother-in-law, Benjamin Clarke, seems to cover the sale of a Negro slave. But slave dealing was an insignificant feature of their business. They doubtless had no great scruples against the trade, for they themselves were slaveowners; that they refrained because of the perishable nature of the cargo is more likely, since four of the five slaves shipped by Bullard died at sea and the other did not long survive the voyage.”

“Perishable nature of the cargo” is the statement that stays with me from this excerpt – humans as cargo, but I’m glad it was an “insignificant feature of their business.”

To George, Toby and Scipio – I hope you were treated well.

William is buried in a tomb across Pepperrell Road not far from his home.

William Pepperrell Tomb

 

 

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About Deborah Lee Stewart

I try to get photos returned to family members at no charge. Please contact me if you are related to any of the people in the rescued photos that I post. I can be reached at: deborahleestewart@gmail.com

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