Like many New England towns and cities, where slavery was integral to the colonial economy, Deerfield was once a slave-owning community. Sixteen out of the forty-two households along Deerfield's mile-long main street had enslaved Africans in the middle of the 18th century. In addition to the thirty-eight percent of households that owned slaves, many others bartered with their neighbors for use of slave labor. Little is known about the lives of the more than fifty-five slaves and forty-five emancipated slaves who lived and worked throughout all of Deerfield between 1695 and the 1780s. Who were they? What were their lives like? How can we find out more? How can we remember them?
Documenting Enslaved Africans
Researching the lives of New England's enslaved Africans is challenging. Considered property, slaves appear in bills of sale, wills, probate inventories, account books, and runaway slave ads. As dehumanizing as these documents are, they provide important clues for identifying enslaved Africans. But this scanty evidence comes from the perspective of those who owned and oppressed slaves, so it doesn't represent the whole picture.
Online Map of Deerfield
This interactive map identifies sites where enslaved and free African Americans lived and worked along the main street
in Deerfield, Massachusetts. Move your cursor over the site to reveal more information about them. This activity requires
the free Flash Player. If your browser does not have this, you can download it from Adobe; or you can view a non-flash version of the map which is also suitable for printing.
NOTE: If you plan to visit Deerfield, please note that many buildings or sites with African American histories have more recent buildings on the site. Original buildings are indicated on the map with house outlines at the sites. Additional information on enslaved and freed Africans in Deerfield can be found by visiting the Memorial Libraries, Memorial Hall Museum, or Historic Deerfield, Inc.
See Learn More for additional information on slavery in Deerfield.
Sketch for African American Memorial, Shamek Weddle, 2005. Memorial Hall Museum
Map by Allison Bell, 2006, modified for online presentation by Juliet Jacobson.