Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Arts

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Masters Thesis-Open Access


1. Introduction

The purpose of this paper is to trace the history of slavery in colonial Massachusetts. Massachusetts was by no means an originator of this institution, for the practice of slavery predates written history. Its origins probably stem from wars of conquest in which captives were used for sacrificial purposes, but as prehistoric man adopted a settled way of life, he found it practical to spare his captives' lives and enslave them. The conqueror's justification for enslavement of his captives was that he had spared their lives, and thus they were at his disposal. In a sense, one could identify the beginnings of this practice as one of the foundations for civilization, for slavery enabled certain classes to maintain themselves as leaders in the kind of society they wanted.

Slavery was present in the early civilizations of the Nile and Tigris M Euphrates valleys. When Abraham, according to Biblical tradition, came out of the "Ur of the Chaldees" there were members of his household who were servants that could be bought and sold. At the beginning of the Homeric period, slavery was well established in the Greek city states. It remained for the Romans, however, to systematically organize the enslavement of fellow humans. As the boundaries of the Empire advanced before the conquering legions of Rome, a steady stream of barbarian captives were returned to serve in the great mercantile centers. Indeed, the origin of the word "slave" is traditionally ascribed to the use of Slavic prisoners to do the manual and menial work of the Empire.

Throughout most of ancient history, the distinctive feature of the slave was that he was a war captive. It was left to the Muslims to develop the enslavement of a racial group. During the eighth and ninth centuries, when the Muslim Empire expanded southward into Africa, Negro women were seized for harems and Negro men for military and menial service. This practice of using Negroes as slaves was later introduced by Muslim conquerors into the Iberian Peninsula. Here, it was eventually adopted by the Portuguese and Spanish as they achieved national unification. The expectation of profit from the Negro slave trade along the African coast was one of the motives for Portuguese exploration and settlement of the areas stretching from Senegal to Angola -- that great coastal sweep which was to provide the primary base for the Atlantic slave trade.

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