, Newburyport, MA

Local News

April 14, 2014

The economics of slavery

Newburyporters profited from the trade for many decades

Editor’s Note: As Newburyport celebrates its 250th anniversary this year, The Daily News is publishing a series of stories that looks back on the city’s history. Today we focus on slavery, maritime trade and the rise of William Lloyd Garrison and the abolitionist movement.

The statue of William Lloyd Garrison in Brown Square lionizes the locally born abolitionist and suggests that some in the community played a forceful role in the cessation of slavery.

That might be true, but a story not as often told is that Newburyport was a knowing beneficiary of the slave trade for many decades.

“For a period of time everyone in Newburyport profited in some way from the slave trade,” said Susan M. Harvey, a teacher, historian and descendant of one of the first families of Newbury.

“Mariners, merchants and ship owners benefited and so did carpenters, rum makers and guesthouse owners. The connection is strong, and lasted for many years.”

Harvey spoke yesterday as part of the Newburyport Public Library’s series to recognize the city’s 250th anniversary.

Her theme relating to “myths about slavery” in New England was sobering, but the Littleton teacher said she was only presenting the facts that she had unearthed at the Newburyport Library while doing research on one side of her family, the Morses.

No one in a capacity crowd who heard her speak disputed her thesis that the city benefited mightily from the slave trade in the 18th and 19th centuries.

She noted that the North held slaves for more than two centuries and, in fact, “the North built its economy around slavery.”

This area, on the ocean, was a robust community going back to its founding in 1635.

Ordinary Newburyporters built ships, produced trade goods and invested in shares of slave voyages.

And because slavery was legal in Massachusetts until 1783, numerous local families held slaves over the years.

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