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Enslaved People at The House of the Seven Gables

By David Moffat

At least five enslaved people (Titus, Rebeckah, Lewis, Phillis, and Jane) labored for the Turners. Titus became a member of the Second Church in 1728, and three years later his intention to marry Phillis was published. In 1742, John Turner II’s probate listed Titus, Rebeckah, and Lewis. In 1743, Lewis married Elizabeth, a woman enslaved by Clifford Crowninshield. He was at that time enslaved by John II’s daughter, Eunice Browne. 

The expenses of John II’s widow, Mary, over the next 26 years record the “repairing [of] Titus and Beck’s shoes,” and at various times the purchase of textiles for Titus, such as cotton, linen, homespun, kersey, German serge, silk, and baize, as well as hair and buttons. Some clothing material (“stuff”) was also provided for Rebeckah. Titus was also paid for some agricultural products such as hay, corn, wheat, wood and a pig.  

Another enslaved woman, Jane, was first mentioned in the mid-1750s. In 1768, when Mary died, Titus, Rebeckah, and Jane were inherited by John Turner III. In 1773, Lewis and Titus contracted smallpox, to which Lewis succumbed. In 1778, Rebeckah was listed as a deceased member of the Second Church. 

Massachusetts nominally abolished slavery in 1783. John III and his sons died in the 1780s, leaving four “all other free persons,” as the only members of the Turner household when the first census was conducted in 1790. Titus was enslaved by the Turners for at least 60 years, and Lewis and Rebekah for at least 30. 

The violence of slavery, both within their family and in the larger context of the Atlantic trade, was a major contributor to the Turner’s wealth. We need to remember the forced labor and exploitation of these individuals if we are to have a full understanding of the house’s history. 

Date: October 3, 2021

Author: Holly Watson

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