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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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Talk on Belinda at Royall House in Medford, 19 Nov.

On Wednesday, 19 November, the Royall House and Slave Quarters in Medford will host an illustrated talk by Richard Douglass-Chin titled “‘And she will ever pray’: Finding Belinda Royall.”

Belinda was a woman born in the 1710s in Africa and held enslaved on Isaac Royall’s estate. The younger man of that name left Massachusetts as a Loyalist in 1776. In his May 1778 will, Royall left Belinda to one of his daughters “in case she does not choose her freedom,” and he also told his executor to pay Belinda a certain amount.

That same year, the Massachusetts legislature confiscated Royall’s property since he was an “absentee” supporting the Crown. In 1783, Belinda—then living in Boston, and caring for an ill daughter—petitioned the state that “such allowance may be made her out of the estate of Colonel Royall.”

Belinda’s petition is not just a legal document but a literary one. Belinda, who could not sign her name to it, might well have had help crafting the written language from Boston’s civil-rights activists, such as Prince Hall. The document succeeded in catching the attention of readers on both sides of the Atlantic. Some doubted that there even was a real Belinda, but the woman is documented in Massachusetts.

This talk appears to be a historical and literary recreation of Belinda’s life:
Belinda’s voice echoes down the ages through her petition to the Massachusetts legislature in 1783 for a pension, for her self and her invalid daughter, from the proceeds of Isaac Royall Jr.’s estate. Her petition demonstrates a boldness not seen in other African American petitions and autobiographies of the period. Where, in her forced journey from Ghana as a child enslaved, to the Royall sugar cane plantation in Antigua, to the Royalls’ estate in Medford, to an impoverished freedom in Boston, did Belinda acquire the audacity we read so clearly in her petition?

Piecing together the fragments of information we have—her petition, a Royall will, baptismal documents, treasury resolutions—writer and literary critic Richard Douglass-Chin will recreate the story of the remarkable Belinda Royall—an epic journey spanning nearly sixty years.
Douglass-Chin is a professor in the English Department at the University of Windsor in Ontario. He specializes in pre-twentieth-century American literature, and has also published his own short stories and poems.

This program begins at 7:30 P.M. Admission is free to Royall House members, $5 for others. Parking is available on the nearby streets.

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