Review: C.S. Manegold's 'Ten Hills Farm' depicts how New England depended on slavery

Early on in Ten Hills Farm: The Forgotten History of Slavery in the North, C.S. Manegold's intimate, sobering account of slavery's hold on New England, we encounter Samuel Maverick, master of Noddles Island in Boston Harbor.

In 1638, while visiting Maverick, Englishman John Josselyn was startled to find a black woman at his bedroom window. She entreated him in her native language and so impressed Josselyn with her urgency that he asked Maverick about her.

Oh, the master said, there were plans for the woman, formerly an African queen. Maverick was "desirous to have a breed of Negroes," Josselyn wrote, and had ordered another of his slaves to rape her — hence her distress. Boston had, only a few months before, received its first batch of African captives for sale on the docks, brought in the hold of the ship Desire. Already the rapes were plotted and designed for profit.

Manegold, a former Philadelphia Inquirer reporter, takes on a persistent American myth: that slavery was a negligible institution north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Manegold focuses on 600 fertile acres along the Mystic River claimed by John Winthrop, first governor of Massachusetts, who envisioned the colony and the Puritan destiny as a "city upon a hill." Winthrop began the descent into slavery's corruptions with a few Indians seized in war. His descendants continued that tradition and began to acquire Africans traded legally in Boston. Slave money founded the Harvard Law School and endowed a professorship of law. In fact, Barack Obama lived on the edge of Ten Hills Farm when he attended Harvard Law.

Though the percentage of slaves in New England never rose much beyond 3 percent in the 17th and 18th centuries, the institution of slavery was essential to economic development. Manegold, who has delved resourcefully into historical records in this country and Antigua, makes vivid what has not so much been forgotten as suppressed. No easy task.

Ten Hills Farm

By C.S.

Manegold

Princeton University Press, 317 pages, $29.95

Meet the author

C.S. Manegold will speak and sign her book at 1:30 p.m. Thursday at Glenridge Performing Arts Center at Palmer Ranch, 7333 Scotland Way, Sarasota.

Review: C.S. Manegold's 'Ten Hills Farm' depicts how New England depended on slavery 04/10/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 6, 2010 4:47pm]

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