January 1773…A Plea for Freedom  

By Joe Palumbo
In April of 2025, we will be celebrating the 250th anniversary of the events that took place in Lexington and Concord in 1775. As we approach that anniversary there are several milestone events that took place in the years leading up to 1775 that are certainly worth noting and reflecting on.
 
Just 250 years ago last month,  in January of 1773, a man named Felix sent a petition to “The Massachusetts Bay To His Excellency Thomas Hutchinson, Esq; Governor; To The Honorable, His Majesty s Council, and To the Honorable House of Representatives in General Court assembled at Boston.”
 
Felix was petitioning everybody. He wanted to inform the main political bodies of the colony of his protest against the enslavement of people here in the Massachusetts Bay Colony  
He writes for : 
 
The humble PETITION of many Slaves, living in the Town of Boston, and other Towns in the Province.
 
It is important to note that he is writing for all the enslaved in Boston and “other towns:”. This would, of course, include Concord where at this time the enslavement of people was a part of the fabric of the community.  Many of the most prosperous and well-known citizens such as Rev. William Emerson, Col.Jon Cuming, and Col James Barrett were enslavers and believed it was their right to own other humans. Enslaved people had been a part of the Concord community for well over 100 years at this point.
 
Felix continues his petition:
 
How many of that Number have there been, and now are in this Province, who have had every Day of their Lives embittered with this most intolerable Reflection, That, let their Behaviour be what it will, neither they, nor their Children to all Generations, shall ever be able to do, or to possess and enjoy any Thing, no, not even Life itself, but in a Manner as the Beasts that perish.
 
We have no Property. We have no Wives. No Children. We have no City. No Country. But we have a Father in Heaven, and we are determined, as far as his Grace shall enable us, and as far as our degraded contemptuous Life will admit, to keep all his Commandments.
 
Felix is describing the horror of chattel slavery. The fact that enslavers could rip apart marriages and families whenever they chose and that the children born to the enslaved were upon birth enslaved themselves and considered property of the enslaver.
 
Felix Closes with this:
We humbly beg Leave to add but this one Thing more: We pray for such Relief only, which by no Possibility can ever be productive of the least Wrong or Injury to our Masters; but to us will be as Life from the dead. Signed, FELIX 
 
To us will be as Life from the dead” His words are clear. This petition lay out in stark terms the pleas for freedom that were growing. As the historian, Hardesty explains” As white Bostonians began protesting what they saw as tyranny and desired  “freedom” from the “yoke of British slavery “…they did not recognize the irony in owning African and  Indigenous slaves. The irony however was not lost on the enslaved and a number of white observers”
 
Their call and petitions will grow in the years leading up to the American Revolution. But for this month, in this time let us reflect and appreciate the long struggle for freedom that these enslaved people of color were fighting for. Their petition may have gone unnoticed and ignored.  But they existed, and they spoke and they cried for freedom with no less passion than those we more typically read of. Perhaps they spoke with even more.
 
If you would like to learn more about Concord’s History and how people of color were a part of the story of our town from its very beginning you may wish to join us on one of three walking tours being offered this month:
SAT FEB 11 at 10am
SUN FEB 19 at 1pm
SUN FEB 26 at 1pm
Additionally, The Robbins House website has  excellent resources to learn more about this important part of Concord History
Joe Palumbo,  born and raised in Concord on a farm along Battle Road works as an interpreter and tour guide locally. He is focused on sharing both the well know and the lesser-known local narratives as we work to broaden the story of all the people in our town.

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