Home > Fiction > An Outtake from the Ideological Origins of The American Revolution
Published: Fri Oct 15 1999
Diego Isaias Hernández Méndez, Destruccion por un remolino del aire Xocomeel del Lago Atitlán / Destruction from a Vortex of the Xocomil Winds around Lake Atitlán (detail), 2014, oil on canvas. Arte Maya Tz’utujil Collection.
An Outtake from the Ideological Origins of The American Revolution


In January 1754, Mary, a young Negro servant to Isaac Wantone, wealthy farmer and patriot of the town of Roxbury, Massachusetts, gave birth in her master’s stables to a male child. An older Negro servant, named Lacy, also belonging to Wantone’s retinue, attended Mary in her prolonged and exacting labor, during which the slave girl developed an intense fever. For a half-hour after Mary delivered the child, a tempest raged within her as she lay screaming in a strange tongue, which was in part her native Akan. Then her eyes rolled back in her head and she expired. Lacy uttered a benediction in that same language, and thereafter presented the infant to her master, Mr. Wantone, as was the custom in those parts. When he saw the copper-skinned, ember-eyed newborn, upon whom the darkness of Africa had not completely left its indelible stamp, the master, adequately versed in the Scriptures, promptly named him Zion, which in Hebrew means “sun.”

Knowing his servant to have been unmarried at the time of the child’s birth, Wantone rightly feared the sanctions laid down by Puritan and colonial law, which in the case of illegitimate paternity included whippings, fines rendered against the mother of the child, its father, and quite probably the master, be he same or otherwise. Wantone also might have to put in an appearance before the General Court. Though not a gentleman by birth (he was of yeoman stock and self-read in the classics), Wantone had fought admirably among his fellows in King George’s War and had by dint of many years’ toil built up an excellent estate. Moreover, he subscribed unwaveringly to the Congregational Church, and on all these accounts declined to have his reputation or standing in the slightest besmirched by such a scandal. He had therefore conspired to conceal Mary’s condition for the full length of her term by keeping her indoors as much as possible and forbidding her to venture out near the local roads, where she might be spied by neighbors or passersby. He also forbade his servants and children to speak of the matter, lest their gossip betray him. Toward neither plan did he meet with rebellion; so it is said that one’s sense of the law, like one’s concept of morality, originates in the home. The child’s father, whose name the taciturn girl had refused to speak, Wantone identified as Zephyr, a sly horsebreaking black-Abenaki horsebreaker in the service of his neighbor, Josiah Shapely. Among the members of his own household, however, he himself was not entirely above suspicion, especially given the child’s complexion. In any case, Zion would, according to plan, officially be deemed a foundling.

Wantone’s wife, née Comfort and descended from an unbroken line of Berkshire Puritans who had arrived in the Bay Colony not long after the Mayflower, had for several years been growing ever more austere in her faith, toward the achievement of a glacial purity of relations. As a result she abhorred all spiritual and fleshly transgressions, especially bastardy, in which the two were so visibly commingled. Upon learning of the infant’s imminent entry into the sphere of her family’s existence, she ordered that it be kept out of her sight altogether.


When Lacy had first passed the infant Zion to her master for inspection, the child began to cry uncontrollably. Wantone ordered him to be placed in a small wooden crib on the second floor of the house above the buttery: thereby he might learn peace. This weeping, which soon became a kind of keening, persisted for several weeks without relent. Meanwhile Wantone ordered his slaves Jubal, a native-born Negro who tended his livestock, and Axum, a young mulatto of New Hampshire origin who served as his handyman, to bury the deceased slave girl Mary near the edge of his south grazing fields. At her interment, the master recited over the grave a few lines from the Old Testament, and wept.

Lacy was nearing middle age, yet this chain of events soon bound her into assuming the role of the child’s mother. Otherwise she was engaged in her innumerable chores about the house, or attending to her mistress, Mrs. Wantone, who did not like ever to be kept waiting. Lacy had not seen her own child since shortly after his sixth birthday nearly fifteen years before, because her previous master, then ill with cancer and disposing of his Boston estate, had sold the boy north to a merchant in Newbury, and her south to Wantone. During her frequent breaks, she nursed the infant Zion from a suckling bottle, on warm goat’s milk sweetened with honey and dashes of rum, of which there was no shortage in the cellar. She also sang to him the lively songs she remembered from her childhood along the lower Volta, in the Gold Coast, as well as Christian hymns when any member of the family, especially her mistress, was in earshot. Eventually the child calmed down appreciably, and Wantone allowed him to be carried about the entire house and grounds when the mistress was away.

Though these were years of increasing privation for many in the Colony as the noose of the mother country tightened, Wantone prospered. Not long after this time he purchased a likely young Negro woman, named Mary, for _£_11 from the Boston trader Nicholas Marshall, to replace the deceased Mary, who had attended primarily to the four Wantone children, Nathanael, Sarah, Elizabeth, and Hepzibah. New Mary was also expected to afford Lacy more time for Mrs. Wantone by watching Zion. This became the only task to which she took with even a passing enthusiasm. She had been born in the region of the Gambia, where all were free, and quickly chafed under the weight of her new status. She ignored orders; she talked back. Moreover she was given to spreading rumors and painting her face and fingers gaily with Roxbury clay and indigo on the Sabbath, while declining to recite the Lord’s prayers, as well as to other acts of idleness, gossip, lewdness, and truculence. For these offenses, to which the boy was a constant witness, she was routinely whipped by her mistress, who took a firm and iron hand at all times. Naturally, New Mary ran away, to Brookline, where she was captured by the local constabulary, and returned bound to the Wantones. She received ten lashes for her impertinence, another ten for her flight, still a third ten for cursing her mistress before the other slaves, and an interdiction not to leave the near grounds of the estate under any circumstances. One can only temporarily keep a wild horse penned. For several years, as the child Zion was nearing the age of his autonomy (seven), New Mary endured these constraints, peaceably rearing the child with Lacy and the several Negro male servants, Jubal, Axum, and Quabina. And then she ran away again, this time getting as far south as Stoughton, on the Neponsit River. Again she was returned, duly punished, ordered to comport herself with the dignity befitting the Wantone household. Repeated incidents of insolence and misbehavior followed, however, including acts of a lascivious nature with a local Indian, the destruction of several volumes of books, and an attempted fire. The Wantones sold New Mary to a Plymouth candlemaker for _£_4. Zion was, for nearly a year, inconsolable.

Even during New Mary’s tenure Zion had often shown signs of melancholy or unprovoked anger. Frequently sullen, he would often sequester himself in the buttery, or at the edge of the manor house’s Chinese porch, singing to himself lyrics improvised out of the air or songs he had learned from Lacy and the other slaves. Or he would declaim passages from the local gazette which Axum or the Wantone children had taught him. At other times he would devise elaborate counting games, to the amazement of the other slaves. When caught in such idle pursuits on numerous occasions by Mrs. Wantone, who spared no rod, he did not shed a tear. Her punishments instead appeared only to inure him to discipline altogether. He began singing more frequently, and would occasionally accompany his songs with taps and foot-stamps. His master took a different tack, and hedgingly encouraged the boy in his musical pursuits, so long as they did not disturb the household or occur on the Sabbath. As a result the idling musical sessions abated—temporarily. Even so, Mrs. Wantone relinquished Zion’s correction to her husband and eldest son.

As soon as Zion was able he began performing small tasks about the house and estate, such as restuffing the mattress ticks, peeling vegetables, replacing the bedpans, polishing his master’s shoes, and feeding the geese. His intermittent disappearances and musical-lyrical spells soon reappeared. At the age of ten, he entered an apprenticeship to Jubal, and then at eleven to Ford, the Irishman who oversaw the extensive Wantone holdings, which included twenty acres of home lot, fifteen acres of mowing land, twelve and two quarter acres fifteen rods of pasture land, twenty acres ten rods undivided of salt marsh, ten acres of woodland and muddy pond woods to the south, and six acres of woodland to the west, all in Roxbury and Dorchester; as well as a plot of forty acres of woodland in Cambridge, recently bequeathed by his late brother-in-law, Nathanael Comfort, Esq., a graduate of Harvard College and a gentleman lawyer. From Ford Zion learned a number of Irish melodies, which he performed to the delight of all on Negro Election Day and other holidays. During the late summer evenings, he would accompany a nearby slave fiddler, and soon developed a name throughout the neighborhood as a warbler.

One afternoon around the time of Zion’s thirteenth year Jubal heard fiddling out near the cow barn. On investigation, he found the boy creditably playing his master’s violin and singing a sorrowful tune in accompaniment. The horses stood in their stables, unbrushed. Because he liked the saturnine child, Jubal waited until Zion had finished his performance. After reproaching him, Jubal seized the violin and returned it to the music room. When he returned to the barn, the boy was missing. Several weeks later Jubal again found Zion playing the violin in the afternoon, when he should have been at the chicken-coop feeding the hens; this time he threatened to tell on the boy if he took the violin again, to which Zion only laughed and dared Jubal to say anything. Jubal returned the violin without incident. The third time Jubal encountered the boy fiddling in the barn, he rebuked him vehemently, but before he could snatch away the violin, Zion smashed it to smithereens on a trough. For this, he eventually received stripes from both his master and his master’s son, and a ban on singing of any sort. The boy’s wild mood swings and moroseness waxed from this point, to the extent that the other slaves, particularly Jubal, took care not to offend him. Wantone himself remained unconcerned, as he was the master of his manor, and an oak does not quiver before ivy.

Around the time of his fourteenth birthday, Zion, now so strapping in build and mature in mien that he could almost pass for a man, ran away for the first time. Absconding in the dead of night by shimmying down a tree outside his window, he got as far as the town of Dedham, some nine miles away. There he remained in the surrounding woods undiscovered for a week, until his nightly ballads and lamentations betrayed him to a local Indian, who reported the melodiousness of the voice to the town sheriff. Returned to his master, Zion received the following punishment: he was placed in stocks for a night, and then confined to the near grounds of the estate, with the threat that any further misdeeds could result in his being temporarily remanded to the custody of the local authorities. Within a fortnight the boy had run away again, this time with one of Wantone’s personal effects, and a pillowbeer of food. A search of the surrounding towns turned up no clue of him. As a result, Wantone was forced to advertise in the local gazette for the return of his lawful property.


From the New England Weekly News Letter, June 18, 1768:

Ran away from his master Isaac Wantone gentleman of the country town of Roxbury in Suffolk County, in Massachusetts Bay Colony, a likely Negro boy aged fourteene years, named ZION, who wore on him [an] old grey shirt homespun and pair of breeches of the same cotton cloth, with shoes only, and a kerchief about his head, carrying a silver watch, clever, who sings like a nightingall: WHO shall take up said likely ZION and convey him to his MASTER above said, or advise him so that he may have him again shall be PAID for the SAME at the rate of _£_4 1s.

To Pennyman

Three months had advanced when the sheriff’s office of the town of Monatomy, in Middlesex County, returned to the Wantones the fugitive child, who had been arrested and detained on a series of charges. These included, but were not limited to, breaking the Negro curfew in Middlesex County, theft (of various small articles, including watches and food), disturbance of the peace, brawling, gambling and trickery at games of chance, dissembling about his identity and provenance, and masquerading as a free person. Most seriously the young slave had beaten up an Irish laborer outside a public house in Waltham, and threatened the man’s life if he reported the beating to the authorities, local or British. For this series of offenses, which broke the patience of the Wantones, the General Court of Middlesex County arraigned, tried and convicted the slave, to the penalty of thirty-five stripes, and a fine of _£_20, payable to the victims. After the boy received his public lashes, his master settled the fine and issued an apology for his slave’s behavior to the General Court, which was printed in all the local papers. He then promptly flogged Zion himself before restraining the boy in a stock behind the cow barn. During this time, the Wantones considered their options, and agreed it would be in their best interests to sell their intractable chattel, who, they supposed, still had arson and murder waiting in his arsenal. This they promptly did despite the rapidly deflating nature of the local currency, for the sum of _£_5, to a distant relative of Wantone’s, the merchant Jabez Pennyman, then living on a small estate in the Dorchester Neck.

Pennyman, a widower and veteran, ran general provision shops in Dorchester and Milton, the latter purchased at a sharp discount from a Loyalist recently emigrated to Canada. A native of the Narraganset Plantations, he had earned a reputation for probity in all matters financial, and rectitude in all matters moral, and had acquired Zion both because of the low cost and because he required the services of a slave of considerable strength who could read English and reckon figures. The menagerie of Pennyman’s home, the slave soon learned, was utterly different from that of the Wantones. Instead of sleeping in his master’s small house, his quarters now consisted of a windowless, zinc-roofed shack, which might once have been a toolshed, furnished only with a pallet bed and a rusted chamberpot, several hundred yards away from the main edifice. His daily routine also diverged markedly from that of his earlier life in Roxbury: for Pennyman expected him to ride out with an assistant to one of his shops six days a week, and spend the entire workday lifting, lading, packing, unpacking, registering and moving stock, such as apparel of all sorts, furniture, books, kitchenware, provisions, yard and garden tools, and farm and estate implements. There were no other Blacks, or even Indians, in Pennyman’s household; only his Irish maid, Nellie, a Welsh manservant, James, and his assistants in the shops, all boys of English or Yankee heritage, none of whom showed the least inclination towards socializing with a Negro. Unless the situation demanded it, in fact, none of them, including Pennyman, spoke to him at all.

Although Zion worked commendably at his new post for almost six months, without even the smallest infraction beyond the theft of several bottles’ worth of Malden rum, the long rides, the isolation and lack of companionship, his continued bondage, and the lure of the nearby ocean had begun to affect him perniciously. He especially bridled at Pennyman’s austerities: the provision of a minimum of food, and no spices at all, at meals; a moratorium on singing or celebrations of any kind, particularly during those hours that he set aside to recount his ledger books or read the Gospel; and the requirement of clothes of a plain nature especially on holy days, for Pennyman had not been awakened by the preaching’s of Edwards or any other deliverer great or small. One morning, after unloading cases of sugar, flour, molasses, pickles, vinegar, salt, suet, cranberry bread, sweet currants, and apples, and casks of rum, French brandy, Boston beer, and Madeira wine, Zion began singing aloud one of the songs he had learned from New Mary to pass the time, when he thought he overheard one of the shop assistants noting how strange it was that “songs should arise from a shadow.” Confronting the man, who peppered him with humiliating epithets, Zion could no longer restrain himself and flattened the man with one blow. A bullet, once fired, cannot be recalled: Fearing the repercussions of his action, he fled on horse northwards to Boston, tinderbox of liberty. After abandoning the horse in the marshlands near Boston Neck, he ran northwards till he had reached the famed Beacon Hill portion of the Tremountain. He concealed himself in a stand of box until he could proceed down under cover of darkness to the home of a cousin of Lacy who lived in Green Street, near the Mill Pond. Here and at another safe house run by free blacks he remained for several weeks, before shipping out without a permit from Hatch’s Wharf on a clipper bound for Nantucket.

The sea momentarily opened a new chapter in the book of Zion’s life. He set out on a Kittery-based sloop, the Hazard, which ventured as far south as the English Caribbean, and on which he experienced the freedoms and vicissitudes of the maritime life. Next came a whaling tour, during which he served in a variety of capacities for a year, enduring an ever-rising tide of depredations that culminated in his being chained belowdecks, without food or water for weeks, for theft, attempted mutiny, and insulting the honor of the whaler’s drunken captain. Only the intervention of a galley slave from the Barbados, who held the captain’s affections, and most importantly, brought him fresh water and salt cod at twilight, saved his life.


The 1770s: great changes were blowing through streets of the colonial capital. Britain had irrevocably stained Boston’s cobblestones with the blood of Attucks and others; the promise of freedom sweetened the air like incense. When Zion was freed by his captain upon return to Sherburne, in Nantucket Island, instead of a duel to restore his honor, the young man stowed away on a brigantine returning to the port of Boston. Penniless; carrying on his person only a pocket pistol and several cartouches he had stolen from the whaler captain’s wares; and finding that both Lacy’s cousin and the safe woman had moved or been moved from their residences, leaving no place to stay, for the town appeared to his eyes to have evacuated its entire black population, Zion grew restless and proceeded to rob a tanner’s store. He was captured within hours by the British authorities and confined, pending his arraignment, to the city prison on Queen Street. After a short period of time, the under-magistrate discovered that he was a fugitive slave, and returned him, pending his trial, to Mr. Pennyman, now thriving handsomely with five shops throughout Suffolk and Bristol Counties. Pennyman determined to get rid of him. His personal scruples, however, did not permit him to entertain simply manumitting the slave. He must first earn back his investment.

Thus Pennyman ordered the slave to be flogged for his effrontery, which to his preoccupied and rigid mind had assumed the character of outright treachery. After Zion’s conviction and brief imprisonment, he was returned to Pennyman, who sent him south to work in a shop in Attleborough, far from the negative influence of the sea or Boston, where the atmosphere fairly crackled with sedition. Zion—who yearned either to take up residence in Halifax, which he had learned about during his time at sea as a free man, and from there to ship out on a frigate bound for parts unknown, or conversely to return to the only settled home he had known, the Wantones, where he would be again among those who knew him best—did not take kindly to this turn of events, and revolted. After only a week, he fled towards Boston, following the coastal route and getting as far as Duxbury, where he stole two cakes of gingerbread, a package of biscuits, and a pint of milk out of a horse-cart heading north. He secreted himself in a nearby marsh. He was discovered a week later, arrested and housed in a local jail. He swiftly broke out by eluding his guard, commandeered a piebald, and headed south by southwest along the lesser roads and trails. The local authorities again captured, tried and imprisoned him, not only for his crimes but for his defiance of the social order; yet his realization of his own personal power had galvanized him, making life insufferable under any circumstances but his own liberation.

During Zion’s second incarceration, Pennyman had quick-deeded his ownership of the slave to a fellow merchant and reformed merchant, Simon Warren, of Boston, who in return promised to pay full, rather than wholesale, price for several cases of British liquor Pennyman was trying to unload. Zion left jail in May of 1772, and for a brief spell worked agreeably under Warren. Within the year, however, during which the enslaved man resumed a life of debauchery, including but not limited to periodic flights to Middlesex and lower Suffolk Counties, fathering several children by white, Indian and Negro women, drunkenness and brawling in the streets of Boston, celebrating on the Sabbath day, breaking curfews, threatening shopkeepers, openly praising the British government, and selling wine stolen from his master, Warren found the situation so unbearable that he gave him to another merchant, his second cousin, Job Hollis, of Boston.

Hollis, who had once held positions of prominence in the shipbuilding trade in Marblehead, was now reduced to running a scrap metal-working and trading shop on Lynn Street near the Hunt and White Shipyards. Possessed of an increasingly liberal mindset, and realizing almost immediately that he could only loosely control Zion, he afforded his charge some berth by giving him traveling papers. With these the slave immediately took the widest latitude, for had not the Reverend Isaac Skillman preached in that very year that “the slave should rebel against his master?” One midday he took Hollis’s horse and a fiddle he had bought with some of his earnings, and rode out to a cornhusking at Medford. Here his singing and strumming, striking appearance, and lively manner at the husking hall attracted the attentions of a number of the local women. The one on whom he set his sights, however, was a married white lady in her late 20’s, Ruth Pine, of obvious gentility. She coldly rejected his serenades all afternoon. By the early evening, armed with rum, he demanded that she accompany him back to a local inn, a suggestion that visibly offended her, leading her to denounce him in the strongest terms possible. He responded by slapping her so hard that she passed out. This led to a great commotion in the hall, wherein there arose numerous calls for the Negro’s death. He promptly fled. Pine’s husband, a stout local farmer, was enraged that his wife might be so mistreated by any other man, let alone a black one, and even more incredibly a slave. He pursued Zion on horseback all the way to Boston, where he finally overtook the offender and engaged him in a battle of fisticuffs in Orange Street, the city’s main artery. A British officer of the courts walking by glanced at the boxers, then continued on his way. Within minutes Zion had reduced Pine to a heap of bloodied flesh and linen. To celebrate, he mounted Pine’s horse, his own having galloped off, and proceeded to Cambridge, committing a series of burglaries of homes and carriages along the way.


Items stolen: a bottle of rum, several pieces of jerky, a tricorner felt hat, nine pounds sterling four shillings, suttler’s markee, some chocolate, twenty pounds sterling, a flask of French brandy, a pair of moreen small clothes (which did not fit and were thus discarded into the Charles), a man’s white linen shirt, a leg of mutton, two weight of salt pork, eleven pounds sterling six shillings, five pence, a carbine and two pocket pouches, a mAGNIfying glass, a map of the easternmost British provinces in Canada.


A likely Negro Man aged about 18 or 19 years,
that speaks very good English
of great strength and brawn
sings and plays the violin
sold on reasonable terms by Mr.
Ebenezer Minott, trader over against
the Post Office in Cornhill, Boston.

(There were no takers.)


Upon settling this most recent plight with the Middlesex County magistrate, Job Hollis arranged to place Zion on board a vessel bound for Virginia where he would be sold at auction and his wildness might finally be whipped or worked out of him. Only under such conditions would this slave learn respect for the common and hardworking citizenry in whose colonies he had been fortunate enough to dwell, Hollis reasoned, and if Zion continued in his ways down there, the penalties would be swift, and ultimate. Hollis walked Zion, hands bound, the requisite papers pinned to the slave’s tattered coat, all the way to Hancock’s Wharf, where the South-going vessel was to dock. He wished the young bondman a safe passage to the southerly port. To drown out his master’s voice, Zion began singing. On this note of defiance, the exasperated Hollis departed. For an hour or so the slave stood there singing and whistling on the wharf as the bailor and a customs official sat lubricating in a nearby ale house. When the ship, a frigate, did not arrive at the stated time, Zion charmed a Dutch whore strolling by to untie his bindings, whereupon he set off to find the first loosely hitched horse. As he ran he proclaimed himself free. Under duress one’s actions assume a dream-like clarity. An unattended nag stood outside a tavern, and off Zion rode.

After a spree which stretched from the city of Boston west to the edges of Middlesex County, the slave played his worst hand when he committed lascivious acts just across the county line on the person of a sleeping widow, Mary Shaftesbone, near Shrewsbury. Having broken into her home and taken violent liberties with her, unaccountably Zion did not flee the town, but entered a nearby tavern and began a round of popular songs, to the delight of a crowd of locals and the horror of the violated woman. The sheriff arrested him without delay. When he realized the notoriety of the criminal he had in his hands, he suggested to the local magistrate that, although this most recent felony had occurred in Worcester County, the criminal ought to be returned to the General Court in Boston, which had the apparatus to deal with such evil. The magistrate responded that given the current worsening political situation in the capital, it appeared unlikely that the slave’s crimes would receive rapid adjudication. Mrs. Shaftesbone, demanding justice, or at least compensation, therefore had word sent to Job Hollis, who was negotiating the sale of his business in the anticipation of an assault against Boston’s northern waterfront. The violated widow suggested a cash settlement, with the proviso that Hollis sell the criminal out of the colonies, preferably to the French West Indies. Hollis, who still held title to Zion, agreed to this arrangement, and collected him, now restrained in wrist irons, from the town jail. They rode westward, where Hollis’s real plan was to sell the slave down at Albany to assure a good price and guarded transport down the Hudson, but on the way, in the town of Pittsfield, they encountered the Hampshire County sheriff, who claimed to possess warrants for the Negro from Worcester and Suffolk Counties. In the confusion arising over the validity, scope and authority of the documents, Zion seized his master’s musket, knocked both men out, mounted the sheriff’s horse, and road back eastward, aware of the tenuous state of justice for blacks in New York State.


The following day, British military authorities captured Zion in an alder wood outside Worcester and placed him in the town garrison under heavy local guard. But at nightfall he inexplicably slipped away. He then committed a series of robberies and violent acts throughout the entire span of the county until his capture on September 17, 1774, again by the military authorities, who pressed to try him under the statutory laws of Britain, though that country’s influence was now nearly at ebb tide. The colonial judiciary objected, and instead rushed this particular case along, despite a growing criminal and civil case backlog. Problems of jurisdiction always mirror much greater crises of authority. At Worcester, Zion was tried and found guilty of rape by a judge who considered the slave’s affinity for civil disobedience and social disruption to be intolerable in light of the present state of alarm throughout the region. He ordered a hanging. Mindful of his rights under the law, Zion implored the court for a “benefit of clergy.” This the General Court of Worcester County, after half a year’s consideration of his records, with documentation from the neighboring courts and his former owners, denied.


Just before he was led to the gallows, Zion sang a dirge that brought tears to the eyes of a townswoman standing nearby. He then gave a short testimony of his life and self-destruction, which ended with the following admonition to all bondmen and women of the colony and of New England: “To all fellow Brothers and Sisters of Africk and other wise in Bondage in this common Wealth of Massachusetts take heart that ye avoid Desertion from your Masters good Men and Ladies and Drunkenness and Lewdness of the Flesh for the only true Liberty lies in holding fast—do keep the Faith—”

This confession was duly witnessed and indited by an Anglican minister from Leominster, who included it among his personal effects when he returned a year later to his home parish outside London. He was the only one of those present who afterwards recalled it.


On April 1, 1775, Zion, at the age of 21, was hanged in the Worcester Town Square, surrounded by a sparse gallery of onlookers, among them the widow Shaftesbone; and the newly-married Sarah Wantone Fleet and her husband George, of Worcester, a gentleman, Lockean, and member of a local militia. Also present was Jubal, now calling himself Cuffee, a free laborer and leader of a Negro brigade in Boston. Of their response there is no record. The rest of the town, absent from the proceedings, was preparing, one must suppose, for the swiftly approaching conflagration.

Theory (Outtake)

“The prevalence of the doctrine of liberty may be accounted for, from another cause, viz., a false sensation or seeming experience which we have, or may have, of liberty or indifference, in many of our actions.” —David Hume


Eighteen days later fell the events that would lead to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, joined by its twelve sister colonies, formally declaring their freedom the following year from the Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Among those engaging in the ensuing battle on both sides were numerous Africans, free and chattel. From this rebellion were the United States of America born, Beacon of Freedom, Sentinel of Democracy, exemplary Republic of the New World.

At the conclusion of the war, nearly a decade later, in 1783, the new Commonwealth, no longer believing the utter possession of human property useful to its economic and social interests, abolished legal bondage forever.

See what's inside AGNI 50

John R. Keene Jr., a member of the Dark Room Collective, is the author of Annotations (1995). He was a Breadloaf Fiction Fellow in 1998, and a Cave Canem Poetry Workshop Fellow in 1998 and 1999. His stories and prose poems have appeared in journals, feuilletons, and anthologies, including In the Tradition: An Anthology of Young Black Writers, edited by Kevin Powell and Ras Baraka. (updated 1999)

Keene’s novel Annotations was reviewed in AGNI 44 by Alston Russell.

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