|Unheard Voices~ Slavery in Westford by Linda Greene
At the dawn of the American Revolution, 20 percent of the population in the thirteen colonies were of African descent. The legalized practice of enslaving blacks occurred in every colony and was first legalized in Massachusetts in 1641. During the Revolutionary era, more than half of all African Americans lived in Virginia and Maryland. In fact, the first official United States Census taken in 1790 showed that only eight percent of the black population was free.
Urban and domestic slaves such as Peggy, a slave owned by the Hildreth family of Westford, were usually dressed better, ate better, and had greater opportunity to move about in relative freedom. They lived in loft areas over the kitchens, laundries, and stables. They often worked seven days a week, even though Sunday’s chores were reduced. Their work days were not ruled by the sun, instead, they were set by tasks. However, there was considerable fear and angst caused by an environment of constant uncertainty and threats of violence and abuse.
Unheard Voices, Slavery in Colonial Westford was a one-person play about Peggy, a of Westford. The play was written and performed by Gwendolyn Quezaire-Presutti. Gwendolyn is an award-winning living history performer who, for the past twenty years, has engaged audiences with performances giving voice to real-life accounts, struggles, self-determination, and triumphs of women. Her work is deeply researched and was based on Westford archival materials.
I’d like to thank Westford Family FunFest, the New England Foundation for the Arts, and Freedom’s Way for their support, Westford Historical Society’s historians, Bob Oliphant, Marilyn Day, and Penny Lacroix for their research on slavery in Westford and their commitment to preserving our town’s history