Teaching the Lesson
The Reverends John Williams and Jonathan Ashley were both slave-owning ministers living in Deerfield, Massachusetts, in the 18th century. John Williams, who lived from 1664 to 1729, owned 5 slaves. He performed the marriage ceremony for 2 of them, Frank and Parthena, in 1703. Jonathan Ashley, who lived from 1712 to 1780, owned 3 slaves. He baptized one of them, Cato, in 1739.
- Today many of us are shocked to learn that northern ministers owned slaves. Why is this shocking?
Divide the class in half. One half will compose a letter to either John Williams or Jonathan Ashley criticizing them for owning slaves. The other half of the class will write a rebuttal using the voice of either reverend.
After sharing the letters, ask the whole class:
- Why are the views of these people, whether pro or con, different from our views today?
- What did you learn by doing this exercise?
For those taking the antislavery stance
Samuel Sewall was a merchant and member of the Governor's Council in Massachusetts from 1691 to 1725. In 1700, Sewall condemned slavery in a piece titled, The Selling of Joseph. A Memorial. In 1704, he wrote an antislavery article in a London newspaper. You will be reading excerpts from these two pieces. Consider the following when you compose your letter to one of Deerfield's ministers:
- According to Sewall, what rights do slaves have?
- What does Sewall think of slaves, regardless of whether they should be free or not?
- What are the main reasons why Sewall is against slavery?
For those taking the proslavery stance
Cotton Mather was a slave owner and Massachusetts minister from a famous family of ministers. His cousin, Eunice Mather, married Deerfield's first minister, John Williams, the same man mentioned earlier who owned 5 slaves. Cotton Mather wrote several pieces in support of slavery. A Good Master Well Served, was written in 1696, and The Negro Christianized, was written in 1706. You will be reading excerpts from these two pieces. Consider the following when you write your rebuttal:
- In what ways were slaves considered to be on a par with those of European descent?
- In what ways were they considered inferior to their masters?
- What is the best way to treat slaves?
- How is a minister doing good work in the eyes of the Lord by keeping slaves?
Possible answers to the discussion questions