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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Wednesday, May 02, 2018

John Chandler’s Human Property

The Worcester Art Museum recently added a label to its John Singleton Copley portrait of Lucretia Murray noting that her father had two slaves named Sylvia and Worcester when he died.

According to the museum’s old webpage for this picture (which doesn’t mention slavery at all), Copley painted Lucretia Murray in 1763. Her father, John Chandler of Worcester, had died the previous year. His will had granted Murray £340 in two installments.

That same will assigned Sylvia and Worcester to other relatives. That means Lucretia Murray had almost certainly grown up with them as part of the family’s domestic staff but was no longer benefiting from their labor when her portrait was made. And to learn more about those two people as individuals, we have to follow another path.

John Chandler’s will was the topic of a 1905 study by Charles A. Chase. Chandler had married twice. By his first wife, born Hannah Gardiner, he had nine children who grew to adulthood. His second wife was Sarah (Clark) Paine, a widow with children of her own. In writing his will Chandler wanted to provide for his widow Sarah, but only as long as she didn’t become a third husband’s responsibility, while preserving as much property as possible for his own children.

Therefore, Chandler set up a bequest in which his wife could live in his house and receive $40 of silver every six months from his estate as long as she didn’t remarry. And part of living in his house was being served by the enslaved woman Sylvia:
I give to my said Wife in Lieu of her Right of Dower or Power of thirds in my Real Estate as follows namely that she be decently and honorably Supported by my Executors for one Year from my decease, and live in my present dwelling house and that my Negro Woman Sylvia serve my said Wife said Year, and be Also supported by my Executors. . . .

And in case my said Dear Wife shall dwell in Worcester my Will and pleasure is that my Negro Sylvia aforesaid serve her mistress during her continuing my Widow. . . .

And Whereas I have given to my Dear Wife the Service of my Negro Woman during her continuing my Widow and dwelling in Worcester, I also order my said Negro woman to have a proper bed and beding to ly on said time.
Thus, Sylvia remained property of Chandler’s estate but was assigned to work for his widow.

To add to the family complexity, John Chandler’s daughter Sarah had married Sarah (Clark Paine) Chandler’s son Timothy Paine. Chandler left a legacy to her, adding a special proviso about his other slave:
…if my son in Law Timothy Paine Esqr. and my Daughter Sarah Paine his Wife incline to have my Negro boy (Worcester) they may for fifty three pounds Lawfull money in part of her Legacy and towards the first third part thereof desiring whoever has him he may be Treated with humanity & Tenderness and at as little distance from his Mother as may well be, and I desire their Spiritual good may be promoted.
The clear implication is that Sylvia was the mother of the enslaved “Negro boy” Worcester. He was probably a grown man at the time, based on later reports of her age. The phrase about “their Spiritual good” strikes me as an afterthought, like the proviso for Sylvia’s “proper bed and beding” above—Chandler thinking first of how he wanted to bequeath his human property and then remembering he had some responsibility to those people as well.

When the widow Sarah Chandler died in 1778, Sylvia became part of Timothy and Sarah Paine’s household, possibly reuniting with her son Worcester at the house shown above.

TOMORROW: Further glimpses of Worcester and Sylvia.

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