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PHOTO ESSAY

Africans in America

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Belinda

Petition of Belinda. Medford Historical Society, Royall House Association.

Very little is known of Belinda's (b. 1712?) early life in a small village in what is now Ghana. As an adolescent, Belinda was captured and sold to slave traders who brought her to North America. She began working for Isaac Royall, Jr. around 1732 and lived on his estate in Medford, Massachusetts. Royall, the largest slaveholder in the colony, would be Belinda's master for nearly fifty years, until he escaped to England at the start of the American Revolution. Having no master, Belinda became the property of Massachusetts and was manumitted in 1778. The province outlawed slavery in 1783.

In February of that same year, Belinda submitted a petition to the Massachusetts legislature in which she asked to be provided a portion of the profits of Isaac Royall's estate in the form of a pension. Likely with the help of abolitionist Prince Hall, she claimed that she had not been allowed to take part in the prosperity of the Royall estate in her fifty years of servitude and that, in her old age, she deserved a portion of the estate's wealth. The legislature heard her plea and established for her a £15 annual pension. In later years, the Royall estate twice stopped paying the pension, but Belinda petitioned the legislature on both occasions and saw her pension restored.

This early act of civil rights activism became more widely known once Belinda's first petition was published in the New Jersey Gazette in June 1783. Interpretation of the significance of Belinda's petition has varied over time, but many now consider it to be one of the first cases made for the payment of reparations for slavery.

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