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, November 11, 2022

Dick Morey “in the Capacity of a Servant”

As I mentioned yesterday, David Stoddard Greenough, the lawyer and landowner who took control of what’s now the Loring Greenough House in Jamaica Plain, secured the labor of a small black boy in 1785.

The Massachusetts Historical Society shares the documents of that transaction on its website.

That happened a couple of years after Massachusetts’s highest court rendered chattel slavery unenforceable in the commonwealth. However, another widespread system of unpaid labor continued to be in force: indenturing apprentices.

Parents with teenagers, particularly boys, voluntarily entered into those agreements to provide the children with training they could use to establish themselves in professions and support themselves and their families as adults. The master didn’t pay the young worker but was responsible for feeding, clothing, sheltering, and medicining him.

In addition, local law provided for a town’s selectmen or Overseers of the Poor to indenture children born to unwed mothers or whose families couldn’t support them. Those indentured boys and girls might be separated from their relatives, treated as servants, taught lesser skills, and turned out with few resources to fend for themselves when they came of age. But, society felt, this was better than letting them starve.

In July 1785 Greenough paid £5 to John Morey of Roxbury for a little boy’s labor. The bill of sale leaves no doubt that this deal treated little Dick as property:
I do hereby acknowledge Do give, grant, & sell unto him the said David, his Heirs or assigns a Molatto Boy of Five years Old called and known by the Name of Dick who was Born in my House of my Negro servant Binah. to live with and serve him the said David, his Heirs, or assigns in the Capacity of a Servant untill he shall attain to the Age of Twenty one Years & I do hereby renounce and foreverquit claim to him the said David all right & title I now have or ever had to the said Molotto Boy
Unlike the sales records for enslaved people, however, that document put a sixteen-year limit on Greenough’s claim. It acknowledged that Dick would eventually be an adult and therefore free.

In September 1786 Greenough (who was, after all, a lawyer) put his relationship to “Dick Morey” on a different legal basis, more solid under the new Massachusetts law. Using a standard printed form, the selectmen of Roxbury indentured the boy to Greenough.

To do so, the men producing this contract had to cross out the parts of the form about how Dick “doth voluntarily and of his own free Will and Accord, and with the Consent of his” parents, bind himself to Greenough. The boy was too young to enter such an agreement. His mother, Binah, wasn’t mentioned at all; she may have been dead, absent, or shunted aside.

Greenough promised to teach Dick “the Art, Trade or Calling of a Farmer,” suggesting the boy was supposed to work around the Roxbury estate. That was basic, not specialized, training. But with an indenture Greenough did make a legal, handwritten promise to supply “good and sufficient meat, Drink, washing, Lodging & Clothing” for the next fifteen years. Again, that was more than slave owners ever had to promise.

These documents are thus evidence of Massachusetts’s transition away from legalized slavery. One possible interpretation is that Greenough found a way around the court’s decision to exploit a vulnerable child for sixteen years. Another is that he and the Roxbury selectmen used the legal tools of their society to secure a home for little Dick until he became an adult. And in fact both those readings could be true.

TOMORROW: The Morey household.


Wayne @ Eleven Names Project said...

I've found some speculative/hypothetical connections to Dick Morey, and one concrete record in 1798.

- Warrick Dick and Binah Spooner are married in Boston on June 5, 1785 by a JP. Dick, the "molotto" son of Binah is sold by John Morey to David Greenough. The Warrick surname when applied to people of color at this time, anecdotally, seems to apply to people with Indian heritage. in 1793, Warrick and Binah Dick baptize a daughter Nancy at King's Chapel. If Bino from John Morey 1's probate file, Binah mother of Dick, and Binah Spooner/Dick is the same person, she would have given birth around age 15 and married and lost Dick to indenture at around age 20.

- Another speculative/hypothetical connection is found in the Vital Records of Roxbury NEHGS book. 25-year-old Richard Roberts' death record appears in the segregated "Negroes" section in 1804. The age of Richard Roberts is within a year of Dick Morey.

- A solid connection to Dick Morey I found, and I've sent this to the LGH and Boston Archeology, is a 19-year-old indented "molotto" servant named "Dick Welsh" advertised on July 4, 1798, as "ran away" from David S. Greenough in Jamaica "Plains". (Columbian Centinel)

J. L. Bell said...

Excellent sleuthing!

“Dick Warrick” is listed among Boston’s free black heads of household in the U.S. Census of 1790. His household consisted of three people of color.

The shift of the boy’s surname from Morey to Welsh must have some significance. I can’t find anyone named Welsh (or Welch, or Walsh) in the Roxbury vital records for that time. But the Welds were an old Roxbury family.

J. L. Bell said...

In her dissertation, Jacqueline Carr noted a Richard or Dick Warwick working for distiller Francis Johonnot in 1784.

Wayne @ Eleven Names Project said...

Seeing Dick as Warrick's first name makes the speculation that he is Dick Morey/Welsh's dad less tenuous. Great find.

I did find a Nicholas and Abigail Welch who married in 1761 at New South Church but had children in Roxbury in 1765 (Abigail) and 1770 (Thomas dec.)

And I find two Welch marriages, dau. Abigail in 1780, and Mary in 1786.

If there is a connection between Nicholas Welch and Dick Welsh, it's not apparent. I wonder where the Welches live/work in relation to the LGH. Thomas is baptized at the First Parish in 1770; but this is the same time that Roxbury/JP's Third Parish was established, so that makes it difficult to draw a solid inference as to Welsh's location in Roxbury that year.

If Abigail is getting married at age 15, might that indicate that Nicholas Welsh was an unpropertied laborer or farmer and needed support for his daughter? I raise this question because I infer from Abigail's young marriage that Nicholas Welch is unlikely to be wealthy.

J. L. Bell said...

The Abigail Welch who married Thomas Boyden in 1780 was listed as “Mrs.,” which doesn’t point to a fifteen-year-old. It suggests that woman might be the same Abigail who married had Nicholas Welch in 1761, now widowed.

Wayne @ Eleven Names Project said...

Circling back for anyone reading. I found an enslaved woman named Binah in the 1777 will of Boston mariner Walter Spooner (probated in 1781). I found this via Thwings' "Inhabitants." Note that Warrick Dick is recorded as marrying Binah Spooner.

Of course, "anything is possible," but it appears more likely than not that Binah Spooner and the Bino/Binah enslaved by John Morey in Roxbury are two different people.

J. L. Bell said...

Binah could derive from the Akan day name Abena, meaning “female born on Tuesday.” In Jamaica it appears to have become “Benaba” or “Bena.” So that makes it more likely there were multiple women of African descent in eastern Massachusetts named Binah.

J. L. Bell said...

You can read the text of the advertisement that Wayne Tucker pointed to here. It shows that little Dick Morey grew up to be Dick Welsh, large for his age, and making his escape from the Loring-Greenough House.