History resource

Our congregation — as is true, I suspect, of many older congregations — is in the process of researching our past relationship with non-White people. Some of the questions we’re currently wondering about:

  • Was slave labor used to build our 1747 meetinghouse? (Almost assuredly yes, but we can’t document it yet.)
  • What was the social status of non-White people? (People of African and Native descent could not sit on the main floor in the 18th C.; we believe this was also true of indentured White servants, but we can’t yet document that.)
  • Did the congregation have non-White members in the 18th or 19th centuries? (A couple in the first half of the 18th century, both Native, then apparently none until the 20th century.)

These questions are difficult to research. So I was grateful to learn about the Atlantic Black Box website. The subtitle of the website sums up their efforts: “Researching and Reckoning with New England’s Role in Colonization and Enslavement.” I’ve been finding lots of resources for doing local history research on non-White people. Their short essay on “Researching Slavery and Black Life in Early New England” alone has already proved to be quite helpful to me.

If you’re part of an older congregation in New England — definitely worth checking this out.

Update, 23 April: Of related interest: Congregational Library’s “Black and Indigenous Research Guide” for New England Congregational churches, whichincludes a number of digitized 18th C. documents.