“Fit for Town or Country”: Black Women and Work in Colonial Massachusetts

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Title

The Journal of African American History

Publication Date


Date Added



Slaveholders in colonial Massachusetts sold, traded, purchased, and employed black women on a regular basis throughout much of the eighteenth century, a fact that is evinced in scores of newspaper advertisements. Through exploring the experiences of enslaved women as workers in colonial Massachusetts, I highlight black women’s value as productive laborers, thereby complicating our understanding of enslaved women as so-called drudges and menials. While the experiences of enslaved women in Massachusetts diverged from those of enslaved women working in plantation colonies, enslaved women throughout the colonies shared the condition of unremunerated, lifelong servitude. Exploring these differences yields a deeper, more nuanced, and complex portrait of slavery in the North American colonies and complicates ideas of northern slavery as being gentler and more benign than its southern and Caribbean plantation counterparts.