Ten Hills Farm: The Forgotten History of Slavery in the North
By C.S. Manegold
(September 2010 Civil War News - Web Exclusive )
Maps, Illustrations, 317 pp., 2010, Princeton University Press, www.press.princeton.com, $29.95.
Deep in the text of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address is the following phrase: “If we shall suppose that American Slavery is one of those offences which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offence came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a Living God always ascribe to Him?” Lincoln’s bottom line – God was punishing both the North and South for the sin of slavery by the means of civil war.
For many years it had been easy for northerners to cast a blind eye toward that region’s role in slavery and to maintain a smug, righteously indignant attitude toward southerners. The last generation of social historians, however, has forced Americans to look at the entire range of culpability for the “peculiar institution.” The work of these scholars has unearthed stories that give credence to Lincoln’s accusations.
This new investigative contribution to the literature by C.S. Manegold exposes the roots of slavery in colonial New England by tracing it back to the venerable leader of the Puritans, Governor John Winthrop of Massachusetts Bay. In the 1630s Winthrop secured over 600 acres on the edge of Boston. To run his estate Winthrop relied on slave labor and legally condoned it in the colony.
Tracing the story of Ten Hills Farm through the subsequent heirs of Winthrop and others, Manegold demonstrates how imbedded the institution of slavery became in New England. She even presents evidence that Harvard Law School was started and endowed by money made in the New England slave trade. In 1765, the same year angry protests over the Stamp Act accused the king and parliament of enslaving American colonists, 5,779 people of African descent were held in bondage in Massachusetts.
Sweeping back and forth between Massachusetts and Barbados, the players over several generations seem almost indifferent to the cause of liberty which they openly espouse but deny others. The societal matrix seems schizophrenic at times as cash trumps moral scruples at every turn.
Woven into the historical narrative are the author’s encounters with places in New England and the Caribbean that mock the past. They include the Runaway Beach Club, where vacationers are unaware that the runaways to the adjacent cove were fleeing slavery. Other places are the political halls where Bostonians raised their angst over southern slavery without perhaps knowing the legacy their own Commonwealth had provided to the institution. The conceit works well and draws readers into a twisted moral tale that has been ignored, more so than simply forgotten over time.
At work here is a subtext as well: a smoldering kind of rage beneath the author’s pen. This rage is where one might find some shortcoming in the book. Describing Winthrop throughout the text as “the Puritan” or subsequent eighteenth century Massachusetts merchant and slave mogul Isaac Royal, Jr. as “the Benefactor” (his fortune helped start Harvard Law School), the author denies these men their sense of humanity by typecasting them with such labels. Using this understandable literary technique, Manegold unfortunately places a harsh judgment on them. That brings me back to Lincoln’s Second Inaugural and the line, “but let us judge not that we be not judged.” Separated by time and space from many generations of slavery, we still are a long way from reconciliation of all parties concerned.
Reviewer: James A. Percoco
James A. Percoco is the author of Summers with Lincoln: Looking for the Man in the Monuments and is History Educator-in-Residence at American University.