Sir William Pepperrell of Kittery, was a merchant, a British officer and served as a colonial governor of Massachusetts. He was Maine's most prolific and infamous slave owner.
This is a lithograph from Graham's Magazine, 1846.
Mary Hirst Pepperrell and William Pepperrell moved into this garrison-type house with stone and wood fences, and a gambrel roof with four chimneys, after the 1734 death of William Pepperrell Senior. Pepperrell Senior built this house in 1682; as a merchant, he also owned and traded in slaves, and was noted as one of the wealthiest men in New England.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, owning enslaved people was a mark of wealth and success in Maine, as was owning a four-chimney mansion. The enslaved people who worked as house servants and laborers greatly benefitted their owners and Maine's economy, supporting grand homes such as the Pepperrell mansion at Kittery Point, which still stands in 2021.
The document records a "Negro woman" who was being transported to be sold as an enslaved person to William Pepperrell for 50 shillings. The document noted the woman was, "markd with a Y on ye right sholder." Captain John Morris of the ship Sarah created the bill of lading, dated April 1719, from Barbados.
Some sources suggest that this person died shortly after arriving and others Bullard attempted to import from Barbados did not survive the passage, either.
William Pepperrell (1696–1759) of Kittery was a merchant, military officer, Governor of Massachusetts, and the most prolific slave owner in Maine. He bought and sold slaves throughout his life and left four slaves to his wife in his will. In 1705 William Pepperrell advertised in the Boston News-Letter about a runaway slave,
…named Peter, aged about 20, speaks good English, of pretty brown Complexion, middle Stature, has'on a mixt gray home-spun Coat, white home spun Jacket and Breeches, French fall Shoes, fad coloured Stockings, or a mixt worsted pair, and a Black Hat. Whosoever shall take up said Negro, and bring or convey him safe to his said master, or secure him and send notice of him either to his Master, or to Andrew Belcher Esqr. at Boston, shall be well rewarded for his pains, and all reasonable charges paid besides.
William Pepperrell receipt for purchase of enslaved man, 1718
Item 22513 info
Maine Historical Society
Although most of William Pepperell's maritime cargo was merchant goods, his ownership of slaves and slave trade activities are well documented. This receipt noted the sale of "one negro man" named Seaser, about thirty five years old, sold by Sareth Mendum of Kittery to William Pepperell, "To have & to Hold Said Negro man on with all yd cloths to him belonging…to said Wm Pepperrell his heirs; & Assigns forever to his & there (their) only Proper Use Benefit & behalfe for Ever."
Slave owners commonly stripped enslaved people of their identities and dignity, renaming them after people in the Bible, figures in Greek and Roman mythology, or notables in history. In this case, Seasor was likely named after Roman statesman, Julius Caesar.
This snuff box belonged to Mary Hirst Pepperrell, wife of William Pepperrell. Snuff is smokeless tobacco made from ground tobacco leaves.
The lid is carved ivory and the bowl is made from a tiger cowrie seashell. The tiger cowrie lives on the ocean floor in the Indo-Pacific region, from the eastern coast of Africa to the waters of Micronesia and Polynesia. Once common, the cowrie is less abundant in the 21st century, due to shell collecting and the destruction of its habitat. The tiger shell, and possibly the entire snuff box, likely came to Maine on the same boats that participated in the Atlantic slave trade.
When William Pepperrell died in 1759, he willed "any four" of his slaves to his wife. After her death in 1779, Mary Pepperrell's will freed her slaves.
Benjamin Bullard to Sir William Pepperell on slave trading, Barbados, 1720
Item 103126 info
Maine Historical Society
This letter from Benjamin Bullard of Barbados, to Sir William Pepperell of Kittery, detailed Bullard's daily slave trade activities. It also forecasts the economic future of trading on the island of Barbados.
Benjamin Bullard (1695-1730) the son of a Caribbean planter, engaged in the slave trade to Antigua and Barbados for the Royal African Company. He is credited with identifying unsanitary water conditions as a major contributor to disease amongst slaves along with the Atlantic triangular slave trade. However, Bullard is largely remembered for his cruel treatment of prospective slaves, often leading to their early deaths. Bullard once provided Pepperell five slaves, all of whom died within three weeks of their arrival.
Sir William Pepperell (1696- 1759) a Baronet, landowner, and merchant, is remembered for his role in the capture of Louisbourg during King George's War. Although Pepperell's maritime cargo typically consisted of merchant goods, his ownership of slaves and slave trade activities are well documented and served as the basis for the relationship between Bullard and Pepperell.
Thomas Westbrook letter to William Pepperrell about ship masts, York, 1734
Item 25387 info
Maine Historical Society
Thomas Westbrook of York, the King's mast agent charged with growing the colonial logging industry, wrote to William Pepperell mentioning the possibility of war with the Wabanaki Confederacy, and asking whether Pepperell wanted him to charter a vessel and ship a load of small masts.
Despite attempts at diplomacy and petitions by Wabanaki leaders to cease new settlements and forts in their Homelands, the English continued to colonize Maine, leading to a nearly continuous series of wars involving English, French, and Wabanaki Nations from 1675 to 1763. Wabanaki leader Polin led a 17 year-long dispute over the great dam that Thomas Westbrook was building, which blocked the vital fish runs on the Presumpscot River and compromised planting grounds.
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