, Newburyport, MA

Local News

April 14, 2014

The economics of slavery

Newburyporters profited from the trade for many decades


Newburyport had 10 rum-making facilities in the late 18th century; Salem, which was a much larger community, had five. Boston had 36.

Historians see the “triangle trade” of ships-slaves-rum as a profit-making institution for almost two centuries (1665-1865).

“Newburyporters were not sailing to Africa to purchase slaves,” Harvey said yesterday to a riveted — if subdued — audience at the library, “and this made it easier to distance themselves from the stark realities of what was involved in purchasing human beings and transporting them over the Middle Passage across the Atlantic.”

Numerous historians have noted that the abolitionist Garrison was born here, and he started the now-famous Liberator newspaper to promulgate his then-radical views.

While in Newburyport, he was passionate about the evils of slavery.

But many of the community’s leading residents rejected his rhetoric because even in 1830, the economics of slavery trumped morality.

Local historian Joshua Currier, writing in 1845, said that on Sept. 28, 1830, Garrison “addressed a large audience in the meeting house on Titcomb Street (now the Central Congregational Church).”

This was the first of two speeches he was to give “but on account of the excitement created by his first address, the doors of the meeting house were closed against him” for his second appearance.

One of Garrison’s quotations on the granite of his statute in Brown Square reads, “I am in earnest — I will not equivocate — I will not excuse — I will not retract a single inch, and I will be heard.”

Another Garrison remark found in Brown Square is as follows: “I solicit no man’s praise. I fear no man’s censure. The liberty of a people is the gift of God and nature.”

Historians say that the Underground Railroad came through Newburyport in the mid-19th century. However, local residents who helped runaway blacks did it anonymously.

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