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The Braintree Edition
A barbarous murder, the Rev. Samuel Niles enslaved 20 people, and Edmund Quincy's bankruptcy
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“A Barbarous Murder Committed at Brantrey”
The following report is found in a 1732 edition of The Boston News-Letter. Note that the freedom-seeking Indian in question was once held in captivity by Abigail Adams’ grandfather, John Quincy. I transcribed the article using modern spelling and have edited it slightly to comport with modern grammatical conventions.
Here’s the gist of what happened. John Quincy’s former captive Indian man escapes his current captor. A Mr. Rogers decides to play bounty hunter and finds this unnamed Indian “fellow.” After the Indian escaped Rogers a a second time, Rogers messed around, found out, and paid the ultimate price. An unnamed man described only as “a Negro” recaptured the Indian man who was taken to jail in Boston.
We have the following melancholy account of a barbarous murder commited at Braintree on Tuesday last, about noon, as related by some that were of the jury of inquests, viz. [continued below]
An Indian fellow belonging to one Mr. Howard of Bridgewater (formerly to Maj. Quincy of Braintree) having run-away, advertisements were issued out after him, and a reward to take him up, and bring him home. One Mr. Rogers of Pembroke, being at Weymouth on his way home happened to see one of the advertisements, took it, and returned back to look for the said Indian, and on Monday evening last, after some enquiry found him. And lodging that night at Braintree, the Indian got away again.
On Tuesday morning, Mr. Rogers, finding the Indian was gone, he offered ten shillings to a man to find him again, who accordingly went and soon brought him back. Mr Rogers, having the Indian with him, set on his journey homewards and when they got about five miles, Mr. Rogers stopped and went into the house of one Mr. Scot with the Indian, and called for a dram, but they had none. And while they were talking together in the house, the Indian went and stood outside by the door. And Mr. Scot, seeing him pass by the window, told Mr. Rogers the Indian would get away, upon which he went out, and, seeing him at a little distance from the house, going towards the cornfield, he ran after him.
The Indian looking back and seeing coming, took a jack-knife and opened it as Mr. Scot thought by the motion of his arms, and when Mr. Rogers had got near, the Indian suddenly turned about, and made up to him, and stabbed the knife into his left breast, as it’s thought, up to the [heart?], the wound being very deep and open.
Mr. Scot and a negro in the house seeing Mr. Roger assaulted, ran up to assist him, and finding the Indian with the knife in his hand, which Mr. Rogers had then hold of and let go, they with much difficulty, after bending the knife double, got it from him. Mr. Scot, seeing them both bloody, asked Mr. Rogers whether it was his or the Indian’s blood three times before he made any answer, and only then said, “I am either stabbed or wounded,” and fell down and died immediately.
The Indian got away again while they were looking after Mr. Rogers, but the negro pursued him and soon caught him and held him until Mr. Scot went and brought others and then secured him. Mr. Rogers was a widower of about 43 years of age and has left three children. The coroner’s inquest charges the said Indian with murder, and he was yesterday towards evening brought to town and committed to jail.
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Enslaving Minister of the Week: Samuel Niles
The Rev. Samuel Niles (1674 - 1762), a longtime minister in Braintree, enslaved at least 20 people. Niles was minister to John Adams’ father and, for those that follow the theological currents of the time, he was of the old light and not a fan of revivalists like George Whitefield.
It’s disturbing enough that anyone, let alone a minister of the gospel, enslaved 20 people over his lifetime. But the Niles household was exceedingly awful when it came to keeping children alive. From 1731 to 1742, nine people died while in captivity at the Niles home; seven of the deaths were children, and one of the adults was the mother of five of those children.
Probate File of the Week: Rev. Samuel Niles
Samuel Niles was resolute in his slaveholding. The first record of Niles’ slaveholding appears in 1731, but he was likely an established slaveholder before that. At his death 31 years later, we find Niles’ instructions on how to dispose of his human property.
I also give to my dear wife one half the value of my negro woman Esther whom I order sold not far distant from her husband.
I give to my son Samuel. . .my negro man John now married to his negro woman.
I give to my son Elisha. . .my negro man Mingo.
Notes on Slavery in Braintree/Quincy
Braintree, John and Abigail Adams’ famously beloved hometown, is the epicenter of slavery in modern Norfolk County. This is because colonial Braintree, then in Suffolk County, was initially settled in Quincy and included the towns of Randolph and Holbrook. The 1754 Massachusetts slavery census enumerates 36 enslaved individuals over the age of 16, 20 males and 16 females, in Braintree. Through my work for a grant from the Northeast Slavery Records Index, I’ve identified 175 records of Black, Native, and multiracial people in Braintree from 1698-1783. I hope to see these records indexed and published in early 2023.
The selectmen signed each town’s slavery census response, and in Braintree, one of those selectmen was the Rev. Samuel Niles’ son, Samuel Niles, Esq., who we see above inheriting John, who was married to a woman Niles’s son enslaved. Esquire Niles was appointed to the committee to write Braintree’s response to the Stamp Act. Although the Braintree Instructions were written solely by John Adams, Adams brought his draft to the committee meeting at Niles’ home where the Instructions were unanimously approved.
In 1758, Edmund Quincy liquidated his estate to satisfy a bankruptcy case. To be sold alongside his household furniture were “one negro man, one negro woman, and three negro girls.” It’s unclear if this was a single-family unit and the fate of these people is unknown. There’s a good chance that this liquidation broke up a family.
Illuminating the Unseen from the Old North Church & Historic Site
In this episode of Illuminating the Unseen, Jaimie examines the efforts of missionaries in the late 1700s and early 1800s to urge Indigenous people in Massachusetts to convert to Christianity. She focuses on Rev. John Eliot, a Congregational minister in Boston's North End, and his work with a prominent missionary group, the Society for Propagating the Gospel Among the Indians and Others in North America. Jaimie also considers the relationship between Congregational missionaries and Anglican missionaries as they both set out to impose their faith and cultural norms on Indigenous people.
This is episode 7. The whole series is well done and covers several topics on race, slavery, gender, colonization, and faith in the early history of Old North. Here’s a link to the entire playlist; they’re about ten minutes and are good to watch at lunchtime or on the train if you are a commuter.
Flagging the “Object of History” Podcast, J. L. Bell at Boston 1775
Trinity Church RISHM Medallion Installation Ceremony - Oct. 30, 2022, Rhode Island Slave History Medallions on YouTube