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“Jethro, Who Saved Taunton”: An African Man's Captivity Narrative during King Philip's War

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 November 2020

ROBERTO FLORES DE APODACA
Affiliation:
History Department, University of South Carolina. Email: rof@email.sc.edu.
Corresponding
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Abstract

This article examines the experiences of Jethro, an enslaved African man who was captured by the Narragansetts during King Philip's War. While captive, Jethro used his bilingualism to gather information about the Narragansett's war plans and then escaped and relayed them to the English. Jethro was granted freedom for this wartime service and went on to purchase property in the North End of Boston. He was representative of the charter generation of enslaved persons who showed that attitudes about race in seventeenth-century Massachusetts were still being formed. This essay further demonstrates how Jethro's story was appropriated by colonial writers at the time for their own unique purposes. Analyzing Jethro's story provides an opportunity to foreground Africanness in American captivity narratives.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2020

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References

1 The title “Jethro, who saved Taunton” was taken from a nineteenth-century historian of Taunton who gave that title to Jethro after reproducing the Plymouth Colony Official's decision to free him. See Emery, Samuel Hopkins, History of Taunton, Massachusetts, from Its Settlement to the Present Time (Syracuse, NY: D. Mason & Co., 1893), 405Google Scholar; Records of the Colony of New Plymouth in New England, Volume V (Boston: Press of W. White, 1855), 216Google Scholar, at http://archive.org/details/recordsofcolonyo05newp (hereafter PCR). For the characterization of New England as a slave society, in which most of the slaves lived elsewhere, see Peterson, Mark, The City-State of Boston: The Rise and Fall of an Atlantic Power, 1630–1865 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2019), 634Google Scholar. For militia laws in Massachusetts see Shurtleff, Nathaniel B., ed., Records of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England (Boston, MA: Press of William White, 1854), 268, 397Google Scholar. Massachusetts passed a law in 1652 requiring “Scotsmen, Negers, & Indians” to train with the militia. By 1656, for the “better ordering & settleing [sic]” of the militia, “no negroes or Indians” were permitted to serve.

2 The two studies on race in seventeenth-century New England that mention Jethro only as he appears in Samuel Sewall's diary and the Plymouth Colony Records are Von Frank, Albert J., “John Saffin: Slavery and Racism in Colonial Massachusetts,” Early American Literature, 29, 3 (1994), 256–60Google Scholar; and Warren, Wendy, New England Bound: Slavery and Colonization in Early America (New York: Liveright, 2016), 226, 235Google Scholar. The majority of modern studies on Africans and slavery in seventeenth-century New England do not mention Jethro. They include Towner, Lawrence W., “The Sewall–Saffin Dialogue on Slavery,” William and Mary Quarterly, third series, 21, 1 (1964), 4052CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Twombley, Robert C. and Moore, Robert H., “Black Puritan: The Negro in Seventeenth Century Massachusetts,” in Vaughan, Alden T. and Bremer, Francis J., eds., Puritan New England (New York: St. Martin's, 1977), 187200Google Scholar; Manegold, C. S., Ten Hills Farm: The Forgotten History of Slavery in the North (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010)Google Scholar; Bailey, Richard A., Race and Redemption in Puritan New England (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Kopelson, Heather Miyano, Faithful Bodies: Performing Religion and Race in the Puritan Atlantic (New York: NYU Press, 2014)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Bly, Antonio T.A Prince among Pretending Free Men: Runaway Slaves in Colonial New England Revisited,” Massachusetts Historical Review, 14 (2012), 87118Google Scholar; Bonaventura, Allegra di, For Adam's Sake: A Family Saga in Colonial New England (New York: Liveright, 2013)Google Scholar; Clark-Pujara, Christy, Dark Work: The Business of Slavery in Rhode Island (New York: New York University Press, 2016); 255–56CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

3 The minority of studies of King Philip's War that mention Jethro as he appears in Mather or Hubbard include Leach, Edward, Flintlock and Tomahawk: New England in King Philip's War (New York: Macmillan, 1959), 215Google Scholar; and Schultz, Eric B., Tougias, Michael J., and Philbrick, Nathaniel, King Philip's War: The History and Legacy of America's Forgotten Conflict (New York: Countryman Press, 1999), 66, 93Google Scholar. The most recent and definitive studies of King Philip's War do not mention Jethro at all. These include Drake, James D., King Philip's War: Civil War in New England 1675–1676 (Amherst: Massachusetts University Press, 2000)Google Scholar; Pulsipher, Jenny Hale, Subjects unto the Same King: Indians, English, and the Contest for Authority in Colonial New England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Mandell, Daniell R., King Philip's War: Colonial Expansion, Native Resistance, and the End of Indian Sovereignty (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010)Google Scholar; Stratton, Billy J., Buried in the Shades of Night: Contested Voices, Indian Captivity, and the Legacy of King Philip's War (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2013)Google Scholar; Brooks, Lisa, Our Beloved Kin: A New History of King Philip's War (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2018)Google Scholar.

4 Brooks has recently recovered the compelling and neglected contributions of Weetamo and James the Printer. Both figures, like Jethro, were well documented and acknowledged by contemporaries, but overlooked by later historians, see Brooks, 4–7. I also borrow methodological insights from Christine M. DeLucia's recent study of King Philip's War in which she urges historians to decolonize historical methodologies that privilege literacy. See her Memory Lands: King Philip's War and the Place of Violence in the Northeast (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2018), 21. Jethro's story allows us to link the literary tradition of the Indian captivity narrative to black Africans well before the publication Briton Hammon's captivity narrative in 1760. Hammon, Briton, A Narrative of Uncommon Sufferings (Boston: Green & Russell, 1760)Google Scholar.

5 In framing Jethro as an Atlantic Creole and a member of the “charter generation,” I draw on insights from Berlin's, Ira Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1998), 1728Google Scholar, in particular his insights that Atlantic Creoles were well versed in Atlantic commerce and trade via mediating for different peoples, patterns that are embodied in Jethro. For understanding Jethro's actions as being aimed at ameliorating his condition without necessarily critiquing the broader social order of the time, I draw on Hardesty's concept of a “continuum of unfreedom” within which enslaved persons like Jethro operated. Hardesty, Jared Ross, Unfreedom: Slavery and Dependence in Eighteenth-Century Boston (New York: New York University Press, 2016), 36CrossRefGoogle Scholar. This essay also draws on methodological insights from Cassander L. Smith and her call to examine early English works for the “mediated presences of those black Africans who reside at the narratives’ margins.” Smith, Cassander L., Black Africans in the British Imagination: English Narratives of the Early Atlantic World (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2016), 1415Google Scholar.

6 For further discussion of turning points toward the end of the war, see Mandell, 108–15; Leach, 221–32. For detailed analysis of English and Indian diplomatic strategies during the summer of 1676 to facilitate these surrenders see Drake, 140–62. Drake argued that the ending of the war had less to do with supplies or tactics and more to do with the fact that the English “had developed a more widespread, coherent, and ideologically based motive than their Indian enemies had.” For excellent descriptions of Iroquois practices of captivity and warfare see Ritcher, Daniel K., “War and Culture: The Iroquois Experience,” William and Mary Quarterly, 40, 4 (Oct. 1983), 528–59Google Scholar; Rushforth, Brett, Bonds of Alliance: Indigenous & Atlantic Slaveries in New France (Chapel Hill: Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture by University of North Carolina Press, 2012), chapters 1 and 2CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

7 Leach, 214, 219–20; Mandell, 118; Hubbard, William, A Narrative of the Indian Wars in New-England … To The Year 1677 (London: Forgotten Books 2015), 205Google Scholar; Samuel Sewall, Diary of Samuel Sewall 1674–1729, Volume I (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1878), 14, at http://archive.org/details/diaryofsamuelsew01sewaiala.

8 “The Examination of Thomas Warner, that had been a Prisoner with the Indians,” 25 Feb. 1675, in Franklin B. Hough, ed., A Narrative of the Causes Which Led to Philip's Indian War, of 1675 and 1676 (Albany, NY: J. Musnell, 1858), 144. Jill Lepore has documented at least five separate reports of English male captives being tortured by their Indian captors during this time. She noted that while the English tortured during the war to extract information, Indians did so as part of a cultural ritual surrounding warfare. Mary Rowlandson herself was not tortured but did report an Englishwoman being tortured after trying to escape. Lepore, Jill, The Name of War: King Philip's War and the Origin of American Identity (New York: Vintage, 1998), 131–36Google Scholar. Sewall seemed to record Jethro's condition nearest to his return and relates no indications of physical harm done to Jethro. See Sewall, 14. For a helpful survey of the scant evidence on the relationship between Africans and Indigenous peoples in New England see Warren, 215–17.

9 Increase Mather, A Brief History of the War with the Indians in New England, reprinted in Slotkin, Richard and Folsom, James K., eds., So Dreadfull a Judgement: Puritan Responses to King Philip's War, 1676–1677 (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1978), 132; Hubbard, 206, 218; Sewall, 14Google Scholar; PCR, 216.

10 Most of the personal information about the health of Philip's troops was recorded by Sewall. Sewall, 14; Hubbard, 206.

11 This description of the information relayed by Jethro is a summary of all three of the English writers. No one of them gave the full picture, though all acknowledge that he related detailed information about Metacom and his future plans. Sewall, 14; Hubbard, 206; Slotkin and Folsom, 132. James Drake described this point of the war as a game of “cat and mouse” in which Church and Bradford were attempting to catch the elusive Metacom. It was a time of tremendous victories, from the English perspective, in that they captured various Indian forces in Western Plymouth. Drake, 155–56.

12 Hubbard, 206; For more detailed description of the frequency of runaway slaves and the dangers faced by them see Warren, 212–17 and Bly, “A Prince among Pretending Free Men,” 89–91. Hardesty, 6. For analysis of Sally Hemings's bargaining with Thomas Jefferson see Gordon-Reed, Annette, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2008), 331Google Scholar.

13 Leach, 215; Mather, 132; Hubbard, 206. I take the most recent and comprehensive histories of the war to be those by James Drake and Daniel Mandell. Drake attributes Bradford's knowledge of the upcoming attack to vague “Intelligence reports,” and Mandell simply noted that Bradford “had received warning” that allowed him to defend Taunton. Drake, 156; Mandell, 123.

14 Mather, 132. Hubbard was apparently so impressed with this incident that he recorded it twice in his narrative. Both times mentioning Jethro's actions as a special turning point for the English. Hubbard, 206, 218; Schultz, Tougias, and Philbrick, King Philip's War, 66; Leach, 219. James Drake noted that after 11 July, Bradford and his men went on to “kill dozens of Indians hiding in the swamps” of western Plymouth. Daniel Mandell's estimation of the casualties inflicted by Bradford in this week was even greater, claiming that they killed “hundreds” of Indians in Swansea. Drake, 156; Mandell, 123.

15 Cotton, John Jr., The Correspondence of John Cotton Junior, ed. McIntyre, Sheila and Travers, Len (Boston: The Colonial Society of Massachusetts, 2009), 159, 166Google Scholar. For early English views on slavery in the early Atlantic world see Guasco, Michael, Slaves and Englishmen: Human Bondage in the Early Modern Atlantic World (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014), 56CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Geotz, Rebecca, “Rethinking the ‘Unthinking Decision’: Old Questions and New Problems in the History of Slavery and Race in the Colonial South,” Journal of Southern History, 75, 3 (2009), 599612Google Scholar.

16 Slotkin and Folsom, 132; Hubbard, 206, 218; Sewall, 14. While Sewall's diary does not contain any explicit reference to Jethro's ability to speak Wôpanâak, it was clearly implied. Sewall noted that Jethro related “that Mount Hope Indians that knew Mr. Willet, were sorry for his death.” This statement seems to imply verbal communication. For fuller discussion of the difficulty of translation between the English and Wampanoag and Narragansett people, and the rarity of knowing both languages, see Brooks, Our Beloved Kin, 63–64.

17 For early historical sketches of Thomas Willet see Bicknell, Thomas Williams, Sowams: With Ancient Records of Sowams and Parts Adjacent (New Haven, CT: Associated Publishers of American Records, 1908), 133–34Google Scholar, at http://archive.org/details/sowamswithancien00bic; Otis Olney Wright, History of Swansea, Massachusetts, 1667–1917 ([Swansea] The Town, 1917), 196–97, at http://archive.org/details/historyofswansea00wrig; Nathaniel Philbrick, Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War (New York: Penguin Books, 2006), 315–16. For analysis of Atlantic Creoles’ proclivity with new languages and familiarity with many of them see Berlin, Many Thousands Gone, 17.

18 Wright, 196–97; Slotkin and Folsom, 132. While at least bilingual, it was unlikely that Jethro maintained much of his native African dialect. For analysis of the survival patterns of African dialects in North America see Thornton, John K., A Cultural History of the Atlantic World, 1250–1820 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 333–41CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

19 Sanborn, Melinde Lutz, “Angola and Elizabeth: An African Family in the Massachusetts Bay Colony,” New England Quarterly, 72, 1 (1999), 119–29, 120CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Bernhard, Virginia, Slaves and Slaveholders in Bermuda 1616–1782 (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999), 25Google Scholar; Wheat, David, Atlantic Africa and the Spanish Caribbean, 1570–1640 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016), 1214Google Scholar; Metcalf, Alida C., Go-Betweens and the Colonization of Brazil 1500–1600 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2005), 2530Google Scholar.

20 Hardesty, 42.

21 For the biblical story of Jethro see Exodus 18:1–27. For a prominent English representation of Jethro see Ward, Samuel, Jethro's Justice of Peace (London 1627)Google Scholar. A fuller description of the religious culture that Jethro would have been enmeshed in can be found in Winiarski, Douglas L., Darkness Falls on the Land of Light: Experiencing Religious Awakenings in Eighteenth-Century New England (Chapel Hill: Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture by University of North Carolina Press, 2019)Google Scholar. The process of Atlantic Creoles often establishing cultural roots in northern cities was aptly described by Berlin, 47–57.

22 For more on Narragansett perspectives of Taunton and its original settlement by the English see Brooks, 61–64, 320–26. Sewall, 14; Lepore, The Name of War, 74; Colley, Linda, Captives: Britain, Empire, and the World, 1600–1850 (New York: Anchor Books, 2002), 145Google Scholar.

23 On the generational decline in English understanding of Indian dialects see Philbrick, Mayflower, 200–1. There is scant evidence from which to draw conclusions about the complex relationships between “coerced colonizers” and Indians. For a brief discussion of the issue see Warren, New England Bound, 215–17.

24 Leach, Flintlock and Tomahawk, 213; Slotkin and Folsom, 132; Saltonstall, Nathaniel, “A Continuation of the State of New England,” in Lincoln, Charles H., ed., Narratives of the Indian Wars 1675–1699 (New York: Forgotten Books, 2015), 66; Brooks, 63Google Scholar.

25 PCR, 216; Von Frank, “John Saffin,” 254–56; Towner, “The Sewall–Saffin Dialogue.” Saffin's agreement with the Plymouth court to free Jethro because of his military service is all the more surprising given Saffin's involvement in the African slave trade and later opposition to emancipation.

26 Newell, Margaret E., Brethren by Nature: New England Indians, Colonists, and the Origins of American Slavery (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2016), 144CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Fisher, Linford D., “‘Dangerous Designes’: The 1676 Barbados Act to Prohibit New England Indian Slave Importation,” William and Mary Quarterly, 71, 1 (Jan. 2014), 99124CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Peter Thacher, diary, Massachusetts Historical Society Collections microfilm; Warren, 216.

27 Slotkin and Folsom, 325. The scholarship on Mary Rowlandson's self-fashioning in her own narrative, which this paragraph aims to summarize, is quite large. For a brief sampling see Breitwieser, Mitchell Robert, American Puritanism and the Defense of Mourning: Religion, Grief, and Ethnology in Mary White Rowlandson's Captivity Narrative (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990)Google Scholar; Davis, Margaret H., “Mary White Rowlandson's Self-Fashioning as Puritan Goodwife,” Early American Literature, 27, 1 (1992), 4960Google Scholar; Burnham, Michelle, “The Journey Between: Liminality and Dialogism in Mary White Rowlandson's Captivity Narrative,” Early American Literature, 28, 1 (1993), 6075Google Scholar; Potter, Tiffany, “Writing Indigenous Femininity: Mary Rowlandson's Narrative of Captivity,” Eighteenth-Century Studies, 36, 2 (Winter 2003), 153–67CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Goodman, Nan, “‘Money Answers All Things’: Rethinking Economic and Cultural Exchange in the Captivity Narrative of Mary Rowlandson,” American Literary History, 22, 1 (Spring 2010), 125CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Bennett, Bridget, “The Crisis of Restoration: Mary Rowlandson's Lost Home,” Early American Literature, 49, 2 (2014), 327–56CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Toulouse, Teresa A., The Captive's Position: Female Narrative, Male Identity, and Royal Authority in Colonial New England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007), chapters 2 and 3CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Toulouse makes an important argument about the need to contextualize Rowlandson's narrative to show how ministerial support, particularly that of Increase Mather, served his own political and religious authority. However, while Mather had the opportunity to frame Rowlandson's narrative, he did not control its content. As a white Englishwoman, Rowlandson was still afforded that prerogative.

28 Hall, Michael G., The Last American Puritan: The Life of Increase Mather, 1639–1732 (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1988), 119–26Google Scholar. Michael Hall details how Mather set his narrative to combine theological with material causation. Indeed, Mather privileged divine explanations for worldly events. For Mather's overtly political use of wonders see Hall, World of Wonder, Days of Judgement: Popular Religious Belief in Early New England (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989), 104. David Hall claimed that when it came to the use of “wonders,” no “writer plunged into this politics more intensely than Increase Mather.” See also Toulouse, 29–33.

29 Mather, A Brief History of the War with the Indians, 132. For more sober estimations of the threat facing Taunton in July of 1676 see Leach, 214–15; Mandell, King Philip's War, 118; Hubbard, Narrative of the Indian Wars, 206.

30 Mather did not use the passive language found in Sewall and then in the Plymouth Colony Records. Sewall, 14.

31 Mather, 132.

32 Bremer, Francis J. and Webster, Tom, eds., Puritans and Puritanism in Europe and America: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia, 2 vols. (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2005), Volume I, 168Google Scholar. For analysis of Mather's push for moral reform during the war see Nelsen, Anne Kusener, “King Philip's War and the Hubbard–Mather Rivalry,” William and Mary Quarterly, 27, 4 (Oct. 1970), 616–18CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Toulouse, 33–44. Mather's letters to John Cotton indicate Mather's willingness to point out “more mistakes” in Hubbard's history than in his own. And he even suggested there may have been a “degree of Forgery” in Hubbard's history. The rivalry over interpretation of the war was quite bitter and their competing interpretations of Jethro's narrative demonstrate that divide. Increase Mather, Mather Family Papers, letter, 21 April 1677, Massachusetts Historical Society Collections microfilm.

33 Mather, A Brief History of the War with the Indians, 81. For helpful analysis of Wharton's critique of New England during the war see Lepore, The Name of War, 102–4.

34 Leach, 215. For the New England minister's primary role in defending the colony to the English parliament, and Increase Mather's primary role in doing so, see Webb, Stephen Saunders, 1676: The End of American Independence (New York: Syracuse University Press, 1995), 221–29Google Scholar.

35 Perry, Dennis R., “‘Novelties and Stile Which All Out-Do’: William Hubbard's Historiography Reconsidered,” Early American Literature, 29, 2 (1994) 166–82Google Scholar. Perry demonstrates how Hubbard wrote his history as a corrective to the excessive, in his view, providentialism of Mather's history. Instead, Hubbard sought to present examples of the “noble and prudent” conduct of those on the side of the English that won the war. This emphasis influenced how Hubbard framed the Jethro narrative. Edney, Matthew H. and Cimburek, Susan, “Telling the Traumatic Truth: William Hubbard's Narrative of King Philip's War and His ‘Map of New-England’,” William and Mary Quarterly, 61, 2 (April 2004), 317–48CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

36 Mather, Mather Family Papers, letter, 21 April 1677, Massachusetts Historical Society Collections microfilm. Mather claimed that many “modest & Humble Spirits can not but wish the style had bin otherwise … for to commend the dead is no flattery, but to applaud persons alive & to their faces, whether they desired it or no I know not what else to call it.” Although Mather was clearly searching for any critique of Hubbard's history he could level, the comment is commensurate with Hubbard's tendency to laud English figures, including Jethro, during the war in a culture that was much more comfortable with self-deprecation.

37 Hubbard, 206.

38 Hubbard, 205–6; Perry, 170. Dennis Perry argued that a primary goal of Hubbard's historiography was to highlight “a series of noble struggles of virtuous colonists.” Hubbard's writing about Jethro fits this larger pattern precisely. This interpretation of Hubbard's purpose is also consistent with much other literature produced at the time. See, for example, Samuel Nowell, Abraham in Arms, reprinted in Slotkin and Folsom, So Dreadfull a Judgement, 271–93.

39 Hubbard, 206; Nelsen, 628; Perry, 168. Hubbard's refashioning of the Jethro story should be seen as one example of Hubbard's larger purpose to undo what he saw as the excessive providentialism in Mather's history of the war.

40 For extended analysis of Sewall's diary see Hall, World of Wonder, chapter 5; Valeri, Mark, Heavenly Merchandize: How Religon Shaped Commerce in Puritan America (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010), chapter 4CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

41 Sewall, Diary of Samuel Sewall, 14.

42 Hubbard, 206; Slotkin and Folsom, 132.

43 Sewall, 14.

44 Hubbard, 206; Slotkin and Folsom, 132; Sewall, 14.

45 For extended analysis of Sewall's anti-slavery pamphlet see Towner, “The Sewall–Saffin Dialogue,” 40–52; Peterson, Mark A., “The Selling of Joseph: Bostonians, Antislavery, and the Protestant International, 1689–1733,” Massachusetts Historical Review, 4 (2002), 122Google Scholar; Kopelson, Faithful Bodies, 110–17; Warren, New England Bound, 225–30. For more detail on New England's racism at this time see Von Frank, “John Saffin,” 254–72. For critical analysis contextualizing Sewall and Saffin in developing Atlantic views of race see Kopelson, 107–25; and Warren, chapter 7.

46 Sewall, Samuel, Diary of Samuel Sewall 1674–1729, Volume II (Boston : Massachusetts Historical Society, 1878), 16Google Scholar, at https://archive.org/details/diarysamuelsewa02sewagoog.

47 Emery, History of Taunton, 405.

48 Hall, The Last American Puritan, 129; Suffolk Deeds, vol. X (Boston: Municipal Printing Office), nos. 278–79; Samuel Clough, Map of the Town of Boston, MHS Collections Online, at www.masshist.org/database/1736.

49 Hardesty, Unfreedom, 3; Emery, 405.

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