When the minutemen marched off to face the redcoats at Lexington in 1775, the wives, boys and old men they left behind in Framingham took up axes, clubs, and pitchforks and barred themselves in their homes because of a widespread, and widely credited, rumor that the local slaves planned to rise up and massacre the white inhabitants while the militia was away.
African bondage in the colonies north of the Mason-Dixon Line has left a legacy in the economics of modern America and in the racial attitudes of the U.S. working class. Yet comparatively little is written about the 200-year history of Northern slavery. Robert Steinfeld's deservedly praised "The Invention of Free Labor" (1991) states, "By 1804 slavery had been abolished throughout New England," ignoring the 1800 census, which shows 1,488 slaves in New England. Recent archaeological discoveries of slave quarters or cemeteries in Philadelphia and New York City sometimes are written up in newspaper headlines as though they were exhibits of evidence in a case not yet settled (cf. African Burial Ground Proves Northern Slavery, The City Sun, Feb. 24, 1993).
I had written one book on Pennsylvania history and was starting a second before I learned that William Penn had been a slaveowner. The historian Joanne Pope Melish, who has written a perceptive book on race relations in ante-bellum New England, recalls how it was possible to read American history textbooks at the high school level and never know that there was such a thing as a slave north of the Mason-Dixon Line:
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