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.

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Friday, May 28, 2021

Asians in Eighteenth-Century Massachusetts

South Indians were enslaved in North America well before the two Continental Army soldiers I discussed yesterday.

The 9 June 1757 Boston News-Letter included this advertisement:

Ran-away from his Master, Ebenezer Webster, of Bradford in the County of Essex, a black Slave, Native of the East-Indies, named James; speaks good English, about 21 Years of Age, wears long bushy Hair, of middling Stature, has a Scar on the left side of his Forehead which enters under his Hair: Had on a light Oznabrigs Coat, a brown homespun Jacket, with brass Buttons, black plush Breeches, a pair of new Pumps, a new Felt Hat, and a white Linnen Shirt.—He formerly belong’d to Mr. Elijah Collins of Boston.

Whoever has taken up the said Servant, or may take him up, and convey him to his said Master, or to Mr. Benjamin Harrod, of Boston, shall have THREE DOLLARS Reward, and all necessary Charges paid.—

All Masters of Vessels and others are hereby caution’d not to conceal or carry off the said Slave, as they would avoid the Penalty of the Law.

Dated, June 7th. 1757.
The same ad ran in both the News-Letter and the Boston Gazette for three more weeks. (I found a pointer to this ad at Ned Hector’s website.)

The China Trade brought another set of Asians to New England—people from China and surrounding countries. The New England Historical Society blog picked up on research by documentary filmmaker Qian Huang about a Chinese youth who died in Boston harbor in 1798.

John Boit (1774-1829) was part of America’s mercantile exploration of the Pacific starting in his own teens. In 1794 he took command of the sloop Union out of Newport, arriving in Canton in late 1795.

While in China, Boit took on a teen-aged boy whom he called “Chow” and his family remembered also as “Libei”—most likely named Zhou Libei. The young captain referred to Chow as “My faithful servant.”

Boit continued sailing the Union west, across the Indian Ocean and around the Cape of Good Hope into the Atlantic. The sloop arrived back in Boston in July 1796, the first single-masted ship known to have circumnavigated the globe.

Capt. Boit and his “faithful servant” continued to sail for another couple of years, visiting Mauritius before returning to North America. In late 1798 Boit agreed to take the schooner Mac to Cape Verde.

In September, while the Mac was still in Boston harbor and Boston was in the middle of a yellow fever epidemic, Chow fell from the ship’s mast and died. His death was listed in town records on 12 September under the name “Chow Mandarin.” The expensive, well preserved gravestone that Capt. Boit purchased for Chow stands in the Central Burying-Ground and reads:
Here lies Interr’d the Body
a Native of China
Aged 19 years whose death
was occasioned on the 11th Sepr.
1798 by a fall from the Mast head
of the Ship Mac of Boston
This Stone is erected to his Memory
by his affectionate Master

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