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Involvement and Treatment of Slaves at First Church in Roxbury

At First Church in Roxbury, there were a total of 58 people of color, Indigenous and Black. Listed below are just a few names of their names, some slaves, and some free:




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Many members of First Church were enslavers. This included pastors and members alike: Joseph Dudley, member of First Church in Roxbury, and governor of Massachusetts Bay, an enslaver of two African slaves as well as two indigenous slaves. First Church allowed interracial services, along with many other churches in New England. However, there was a separation between White churchgoers and people of color in the seating arrangements. Members that were people of color were given seats “above & back of the singers' seats, to occupy part of the Tower.”

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The segregation between people of color and White members did not end there. Although a common practice with White Christians during that time, a slave being baptized did not guarantee their right to be free. Many Black people desired to be baptized according to their Christian faith. This was the case for Keturah, an enslaved African American woman by a First Church member. She faced opposition to her baptism because her enslaver, Thomas Seaver, hindered the marriage of her and her husband. Her living conditions with her forbidden husband caused complications with the church’s values and contested her ability to be baptized. Eventually baptized by First Church leaders, it is clear to see how easily slaves were hindered from practicing their faith.  In addition, Black people who committed crimes faced harsher punishments than their white counterparts. 

First Church Missionary John Eliot espoused a belief in assimilating Natives into English culture, advocating for the abandonment of their traditions. Employing methods such as education and religion, he aimed to civilize indigenous communities. Simultaneously, within the confines of the First Church, the harsh reality for slaves was one of familial 

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separation, with individuals often torn from their loved ones and traded as property upon their owners' deaths, further perpetuating the dehumanizing notion of slaves as mere commodities. While John Eliot is credited with translating the Bible into Algonquian, this monumental task was not solely his accomplishment; it was achieved through collaborative efforts with numerous Native Americans contributing to its translation.

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