Which makes it surprising that the town has a history of slave-owning.
Westport Historical Society records show African-American slaves named Zip and Violet were property on the Cadman farm in 1762. George Cadman freed his slave, James, in 1722, and his son freed both Zip and Violet in 1766.
Like many coastal New England towns, Westport had a "significant presence (of people of color) during the colonial period. Most of these people would have been slaves, and some are specifically identified as such in the records." (www.wpthistory.org/elizabeth-cadman-white/blacks-slavery)
The black population in the areas including Westport, Dartmouth, and Little Compton, R.I., grew after 1720 with the expansion of the trans-Atlantic slave trade out of nearby Newport. The number of blacks in Bristol County, concentrated in Dartmouth and Taunton, between 1754 and 1776 rose from 61 to 585 (Greene, 82, 342 and Piersen, 164). They comprised 2.1% of the population in the County by 1776 (Greene, 337). The slave trade was abolished in 1808.
|Paul Cuffee montage|
In 1711 in Dartmouth, Mass., there is record of a complaint at the Monthly Friends Meeting against a Quaker woman, Abigail Allen, for "cruel and unmerciful beating or whipping (of) her negro manservant. The servant died from the abuse. Abigail Allen was disowned by the meeting but readmitted three years later (Dartmouth Monthly Meeting Minutes index, Worrall, 156).
The Quakers as a group did not begin to officially question the practice of slavery locally until 1715 (Lowry, 21). In that year, the Dartmouth Monthly Meeting of Quakers "pressed the R.I. Monthly Quarterly Meeting to decide whether Friends should own slaves or participate in the trade." (Dartmouth Monthly Meeting Minutes index, Worrall, 156). Influential Quakers in R.I. buried the issue temporarily, waiting to see what Friends elsewhere would do. The local Baptist churches, likewise, didn't actively oppose slavery until after the Revolution (McLoughlin, Soul Liberty, 146).
In the 1750's, American Quakers began to push for abolition. The last black slave was freed in Dartmouth by Isaac Howland in 1777. The following month the last Indian held in bondage was freed (Grover, 43).
The Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 did not exclude blacks from voting, but custom and tradition "apparently still barred them from exercising the franchise" (Lorenzo Greene, 302-303). In 1778, Dartmouth records showed no Negro, Indian, or mulatto among its voters. In 1780, Paul Cuffee and his brother John, after refusing to pay their income taxes without representation, petitioned the Bristol County council for the right to vote. In 1783 the Massachusetts legislature granted voting rights to all free male citizens of the state.
How ironic that the area in which Roger Williams championed religious freedom still sanctioned the institution of slavery for one hundred years after Williams' death!