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Archaeology Program Updates Publicly-accessible List Of Known Enslaved People In Boston

The City Archaeology program and Eleven Names Project added nearly 1,000 additional names.

As part of the Slavery in Boston exhibit in Faneuil Hall that opened in June 2023, the City Archaeology Program released a publicly available list of known enslaved people in Boston. This includes 18th century probate data compiled by Dr. Jared R. Hardesty and 17th century probate data compiled by City Archaeology Program staff, creating new opportunities for ancestry research and insights into the lives of enslaved Bostonians. 

“Preserving records of what slavery looked like in Boston is crucial to telling the stories of residents who were enslaved, and making this data publicly available will help all Bostonians reflect on our city’s history,” said Mayor Michelle Wu. “I’m grateful to Wayne Tucker for his extensive support in this critical work that will help inform and educate our communities.”

This probate data included enslaved people inventoried as property when their enslavers died. The Archaeology team added the data compiled by Aabid Allibhai in Race and Slavery at the First Church in Roxbury, the Colonial Period (1631-1775) in June 2023. This first list included 1,365 enslaved Bostonians, of whom 723 were recorded by name. 773 people were recorded as male with 484 recorded as female. 1,276 of the enslaved people were Black, and 60 were recorded as Native American. In a ceremony before the opening of the exhibit, Boston community members read the names of these individuals out loud.

Researcher Wayne Tucker of the Eleven Names Project supported the City Archaeology Program and shared his extensive research with the City for addition to the list. The Eleven Names Project is an independent research project begun in August 2021 to document recorded enslaved people across multiple towns in Massachusetts. These include birth, death, marriage, baptism, and other official records compiled by the towns of Boston, Dorchester, Charlestown, and Roxbury, as well as multiple churches throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. Church records that contribute to this data include Arlington Street Church, Brattle Street Church, Christ Church (Old North), West Church, First Church, Hollis Street Church, New Brick Church, New North Church, New South Church, Old South Church, Second Church, and Trinity Church.

“Wayne did a remarkable amount of work, going line-by-line through thousands of pages of records recording individual enslaved and free people of color one at a time. He really saved us years of work, and we are so lucky and grateful for his generous sharing of information,” said City Archaeologist, Joe Bagley.

City Archaeology Program archaeologists E. Nadia Kline and Lauryn Sharp compiled Tucker’s data into a single spreadsheet totaling 2,552 individual records on people of color in Boston before 1783, including records related to 174 free Black and Native American Bostonians. From this list, Sharp compared Tucker’s vital record data to the existing probate record data to determine if the new data represented previously unknown enslaved individuals, or if it represented additional data on already known enslaved people. From this work, an additional 994 named enslaved people have been added to the overall list of known enslaved people in Boston, bringing the total to 2,355 documented enslaved people, of whom we know the names of 1,717.

“We were really surprised by Wayne’s data because it had so much more information than we expected. There are many enslaved people who turn up more than once in this data, as we see them be born, baptized, married, and die. It’s an incredible snapshot of their lives.” Bagley said.

Like the probate data, much of the information on enslaved individuals in Tucker’s data includes the names of their enslavers, in some cases adding previously unknown individuals to the recorded enslavers of Boston, and also adding previously unknown enslaved people to the households of known enslavers.

Of particular interest to those researching their enslaved ancestors, there are 296 entries that include the last name of the person recorded. 111 of these individuals are free people of color recorded in vital records including both Black and Native American Bostonians. Only three enslaved individuals appear with the same last name as their enslaver. It was relatively common for people enslaved in the south in the 19th century to appear in records with the last names of their former enslavers. The origins of last names are unclear in the Boston records, and some individuals appear in the records with multiple last names over time. 

“Researching free and enslaved ancestors of color in Boston will always be challenging, but we’re hoping that this data will open new doors for people to be able to trace families back into the 18th and 17th centuries in Boston. This data may also reveal to others that their ancestors were enslavers,” said Bagley.

The compiled data can be found in the online database List of Known Enslaved People in Boston. This is now organized into three sheets. The first includes a list of unique named and described individuals compiled from all the available data, the second is the complete vital records data provided by Wayne Tucker, and third is the probate data gathered by Jared R. Hardesty and the City Archaeology Program staff.

If anyone has additional data on enslaved people in Boston, please email All data is credited to the researcher.The City Archaeology Program is part of the Office of Historic Preservation. Follow the City Archaeology Program on Facebook, Instagram, X (formerly Twitter), and Threads using the handle @bostonarchaeo and sign up for the Archaeology Update newsletter.

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