Petition of Prince Hall and Other African Americans to the Massachusetts General Court

(1777)

On January 13, 1777, Prince Hall and seven other African American men—most of them probably free—submitted a petition to the Massachusetts General Court, which at that time consisted of the Massachusetts Revolutionary Council and the House of Representatives. This petition sought freedom for “a great number of Negroes who are detained … in the Bowels of a free & Christian Country.” The petition was one of several that African Americans in New England submitted during the late eighteenth century. This one was particularly noteworthy because it challenged the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’s government to live up to the human rights principles that had been set forth less than a year earlier in the Declaration of Independence. Little is known of Prince Hall before 1780, and there are conflicting stories of his origins, but what we do know of Hall’s life points to him as the leader of this effort.

The Massachusetts legislature failed to pass any laws in response to this...

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Portrait of Thomas Gage by John Singleton Copley (Yale Center for British Art)

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