The Colonial Period


Lucy Terry Prince
Painting of Lucy Terry Prince
by Louise Minks, accession #M.25,
Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association,
Deerfield MA.

The Colonial Period from 1607-1763, witnessed the establishment of the 13 American colonies. The colonies were commercial, cultural, and political outposts of Britain. During this period, the transatlantic slave trade provided a labor force and commercial expansion for European nations.  As early as 1662, African American women became valued for their gender because they were both producer and reproducer; their ability to have children allowed the labor force to expand with less cash spent up-front. The desire to import women for the dual purpose of production and reproduction led the colony of Virginia to establish a law in 1662 that rendered the legal status of a child similar to that of their mother, meaning an enslaved woman could only produce enslaved children.

A particular event in Massachusetts contributes to the understanding of the peculiar position black women occupied during the colonial era. The story of Lucy Terry provides witness to the experiences of black female life in colonial New England.

Lucy Terry Prince was born in West Africa in 1724 or 1732 and was stolen during her infancy and taken to Rhode Island, where she was sold into slavery. At age five, she was sold to Captain Ebenezer Wells of Deerfield, Massachusetts.  She was raised in a Christian home and admitted to the church at the age of 20. During her young adult life she witnessed an Indian raid where residents of Deerfield were attacked and murdered on August 25, 1746. To commemorate the event, Terry Prince composed the first known poem by an African American woman, Bars Fight, which was first published in 1855 although it was written over 100 years earlier. She remained a slave until 1756, when she married Abijah Prince, a free black man. Although she was a poet, Bars Fight is her only surviving poem. (Click here to read the poem.)

 

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