Cliff McCarthy, 2016
Last Updated, 17 November 2017
Thomas Shepard was born about 1660, the son of Thomas and Hannah (Ensign) Shepard. He married Hannah Blanchard, daughter of George Blanchard, at Charlestown, Massachusetts, on 7 December 1682. They lived in Charlestown until about 1694, and then relocated to Bristol, in Plymouth Colony, where he was received into the church 6 July 1696. His wife was also received by letter at Bristol 17 Oct. 1697. Bristol was a town of Massachusetts until the Crown transferred it to the Rhode Island Colony in 1747.
On 17 April 1700, Thomas Shepard of Bristol and Thomas Dean of Plymouth, husbandmen, sold to Abraham Blanchard their claim in the estate of George Blanchard late of Charlestown, “by virtue of the marriage of said Thomas Shepard with Hannah Blanchard daughter of said George Blanchard” [Middlesex Co., Mass., Deeds].
It was during this time at Bristol that Thomas Shepard was involved in a strange incident that illuminates certain aspects of his character. The gist of this story is related in the excellent book, New England Bound, by Wendy Warren.
In 1694, Thomas Shepard leased land known as Boundfield Farm from John Saffin, a wealthy merchant. Saffin had a slave named Adam whom he considered smart, but troublesome. He made an agreement encouraging Adam to serve him cheerfully and dutifully for seven years, after which time, he would grant Adam his freedom. Saffin immortalized this arrangement in a document legally entered into the probate records. Saffin then bound out Adam to his tenant Thomas Shepard for a period of seven years.
However, Adam proved to be an unsatisfactory servant, as Shepard later testified:
Bristol 12th of Jany 1699 —
Whereas I Thomas Shepherd of Bristol having hired a certain Farm of John Saffin Esq’ called boundfield partly in Bristol aforsd & partly in Swansey & having had with the Stock of cattle and Sheep a certain negro man named Adam to Serve me into the bargain during the Lease Doe hereby declare that he the said negro man having been a very disobedient Turbulent outragious and unruly Servant in all respects these
many years and hath earned himself so obstinately both to my Self Wife & children that I cannot keep him nor bear with his evil manners any Longer and therefore request Mr. Saffin his master to take him again into his custody and release me of him he the sd negro being such a Vile Refrictory fellow that I dare no longer keep him in my House,
and have therefore by his sd Masters consent & permiscon placed and hired him to Mr. John Wilkins of Bristol with him to Serve dwell & abide from the day of the date hereof till the Twenty fifth day of March next, In Wittnesse whereof I have hereunto Sett my hand and Seal this Twelfth day of January 1699 —
Signed Sealed & Delivered in the presence of us — THOMAS SHEPHERD (and a Seal)
Saffin believed that part of the blame for Adam’s unruly behavior lay with Thomas Shepard, claiming that Shepard was too lenient. Shepard apparently allowed Adam to have some land on which to grow tobacco which he sold at market for about three pounds annually. Shepard even allowed his servant to eat at the same table as his family. Lastly, Shepard was loathe to use physical punishments like whippings or beatings to “discipline” his servant. Shepard said it was out of fear of retaliation against his family, but he clearly had no stomach for this kind of enforcement.
After the seven year period was up, Saffin refused to manumit Adam, claiming that Adam had not fulfilled his part of the arrangement. Adam then ran away, finding his way to the home of Samuel Sewall.
Samuel Sewall was also a wealthy merchant, having made his fortune in Boston. He was approaching his fifties and had been recently appointed as a Justice of the Massachusetts Superior Court. He had previously served as one of the judges in the Salem witch trials and was the only one to publicly apologize for his actions, “an experience of humiliation and repentance that greatly affected him.” In 1700, Sewall had again upset the status quo by printing a broadside called “The Selling of Joseph: A Memorial,” now considered to be the first anti-slavery tract published in New England, calling for the reconsideration of slavery on moral grounds.
This was a seminal moment — perhaps the birth of the anti-slavery movement in America. The incident has also been described in another recent book, Jim Crow North by Richard Archer. In it, Archer writes:
“Sewall avoided claims of African inferiority, but he argued that the differences of condition and physical appearance between blacks and whites were so great that they could not together form families, societies, or states. People of African descent were aliens in Massachusetts, strangers in a strange land. The dilemma for Sewall was determining what course of action should be taken. He genuinely believed that slavery was wrong, but also felt deeply that assimilation was impossible. He never quite called for slavery to end where it already existed. At the very least (and perhaps at the very most), he wanted “man stealing” — the slave trade — to end.”
Saffin, for his part, published a response to “The Selling of Joseph” in which he defended the practice of slavery and justified his refusal to manumit Adam. Sewall took up Adam’s cause and a protracted legal battle was underway. With Sewall’s help, Adam took the unusual step of suing in court for his freedom. The initial ruling went in Saffin’s favor, but due to certain irregularities (Saffin was a magistrate in the same court that heard the case and he hadn’t recused himself), the case was appealed. Then, Adam contracted smallpox, which further delayed the case. It finally was resolved in November 1703 when the Supreme Court of Judicature declared that Adam was a free man.
Our Thomas Shepard, for his part, left Bristol shortly thereafter. Both Thomas and Hannah were dismissed from the Bristol church on the 4th of March 1706. They settled by 1709 in Branford, Connecticut. On 21 November 1716, Thomas Sheppard bought from Robert Carter of East Guilford, Connecticut, about 6 acres in East Haven at Frog Pond; on 11 Mar. 1716/17 he bought six acres bounded on his own land, with mansion house and barn, from Matthew Moulthrop, and moved to East Haven that spring. He was living at East Haven on 24 July 1718 when he bought four acres of meadow from Matthew Moulthrop.
Thomas Shepard died at East Haven, Connecticut on 18 April 1726. His will, dated 16 April 1726 and proved 6 June 1726, bequeathed his estate to his wife Hannah for her life, then reverting to his two sons, Thomas and John, upon their payment of £12 to each daughter, who were not named. [New Haven Probate].
Children of Thomas & Hannah (Blanchard) SHEPARD
THOMAS SHEPARD died 18 April 1726 in East Haven, New Haven Co., CT. He married HANNAH BLANCHARD 7 December 1682 in Charlestown, MA, daughter of GEORGE BLANCHARD. The Children of THOMAS SHEPARD and HANNAH BLANCHARD are:
i. HANNAH SHEPARD, b. 11 August 1683, bapt. 12 Aug. 1683, Charlestown, MA; d. 19 Dec. 1683.
ii. SARAH SHEPARD, b. 16 May 1685, Charlestown, MA; m. RICHARD DARROW.
iii. MARY SHEPARD, b. 4 February 1686/87, bapt. 13 Feb. 1686/7, Charlestown, MA.
iv. ABIGAIL SHEPARD, b. 28 January 1688/89, bapt. 17 Feb. 1688/9, Charlestown, MA.
v. RUTH SHEPARD, b. 4 May 1690, bapt. 11 May 1690, Charlestown, MA.
vi. THOMAS SHEPARD, b. Abt. 1692, bapt. 27 Nov. 1692, Charlestown, MA; d. August 1755, East Haven, New Haven Co., CT; m. SARAH HOTCHKISS, 1729; b. 20 May 1712, East Haven, New Haven Co., CT; d. 17 September 1773, East Haven, New Haven Co., CT.
vii. JOHN SHEPARD, b. 9 August 1696, bapt. 13 Sept. 1696, Bristol, RI; m. (1) MARY; m. (2) SARAH RUSSEL.
viii. ELIZABETH SHEPARD, b. 27 July 1698, Bristol, RI.
- Archer, Richard, Jim Crow North, (Oxford University Press, New York, 2017).
- East Haven [CT] Vital Records, (as reproduced at http://www.newenglandancestors.org, NEHGS, Boston, MA, 16 September 2005), “Electronic.”
- Goodell, Abner C., “John Saffin and His Slave Adam,” Colonial Society of Massachusetts, Publication #1, March 1893, available at: https://www.colonialsociety.org/publications
- Shepard, Gerald Faulkner, compiler, Jacobus, Donald Lines, ed., Shepard Families of New England, Vol. 1, (New Haven Colony Historical Society, New Haven, CT, 1971).
- Warren, Wendy, New England Bound (Liveright Publishing Corporation, New York, 2016).