The histories of most New England states view blacks as a strange, foreign people enslaved in southern states, whom New Englanders rescued first by forming colonization and abolitionist societies and later by fighting a Civil War to free them. The existence of a black population in New England as early as the seventeenth century has been pretty much ignored. Indeed Anderson and Marten, of the Parting Ways Museum of Afro-American Ethnohistory, touched off a furor with their discovery that Abraham Pearse, one of the early residents of Plymouth Colony, was black.

The long neglect of New England’s black history has recently come to an end. Historical societies in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island have been formed to facilitate the study of black life in the colonial era as well as in later periods. A number of these organizations—notably the African Meeting House Museum, the Parting Ways Museum of Afro-American Ethnohistory, and the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society—have won national awards and acclaim. The scholarly literature now reflects this new interest in New England blacks. Carvalho’s Black Families in Hampden Country, 1650-1855, while not strictly speaking a history, provides much useful insight into black life. Randolph Domonic presented a paper reflecting his work on the Abyssinian Church of Portland, Maine, and Randolph Stakeman has two articles forthcoming on black life in New England’s largest state. Cottrol explores the history of blacks in Providence before the Civil War, while Horton examines Boston during the same period. Coughtry and Jones have each published articles on Rhode Island blacks. The present work is part of growing scholarly interest in New England’s colonial black past.


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