J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

Follow by Email

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Another Detail of Robert v. Godfrey Wainwood

Among the documents displayed in the Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s “Preserving American Freedom” website is abolitionist Thomas Robinson’s 1788 record of oppressed African-Americans in Rhode Island. Robinson labeled his notes “9 mo,” suggesting he was a Quaker. He evidently had ties to both Rhode Island and Philadelphia.

The first case in Robinson’s notes is:
Robert, a negro man, held as a slave by Godfrey Wainwood, was captured in the late war at virginia by the French and brought here by them, the vessell he was taken in was burnt, and without his being libeled, was sold as a slave.—He denies that he was a slave in Virginia.
I discussed the dispute between Wainwood and Robert back here. Wainwood, or Wenwood, was an immigrant from Prussia who had played a crucial role in exposing the espionage of Dr. Benjamin Church in 1775. Brown University has a more detailed webpage on Robert’s case, including transcripts of the legal documents and minutes of the abolitionist society meetings.

One interesting detail from Robinson’s note is how it shows Robert complaining about his servitude to a sympathetic ear in the fall of 1788. That was months before he stole Wainwood’s copy of their contract and ran away in May 1789, setting off their court case.

Also, while the standard story says Robert had been enslaved in Port Royal, Virginia, where his parents remained, Robinson wrote that Robert “denies that he was a slave in Virginia.” Of course, Robert had freed himself practically, if not legally, when he escaped from his original master. And the laws of Rhode Island gave him an incentive to claim free status.

No comments: