Rainsford Island is named after Edward Rainsford, the earliest known European settler who was granted rights to the island in 1636 to use as a farm. Prior to Rainsford’s arrival, the island was occupied by Native Americans who grazed animals and farmed.
Edward Rainsford enslaved two people at the time of his death in 1680. Edward, and at least two sons, conducted business in Barbados, as well as has an interest in several ships that traveled there.
Barbados was key to transatlantic slavery. The island, England’s first tropical experiment agricultural exports, was perfect for growing sugar. Many English colonists in Boston and Cambridge profited greatly from the forced labor of Africans who worked the sugar plantations. The sugar industry, which depended the free labor of enslaved Africans, became an economic powerhouse for England. In 1664, the Council for Foreign Plantations recognized that slaves were “perpetual servants and the most useful appurtenances of a Plantation.”
Edward’s brother, Sir Richard Raynsford, the Chief Justice to King Charles II, holds a place of infamy for his ruling that affirmed the continuation of slavery in the English colonies. In 1677, the case of Butts v Penny gave him the opportunity to inform King Charles II that slavery violated English common law. However, Raynsford, a confirmed royalist and former MP in the Convention and Cavalier Parliaments, handed down a decision that must have pleased Charles II – no small matter as Raynsford held his seat as Chief Justice in bene placio, at the King’s pleasure.”
The ruling noted that since Africans were “bought and sold among Merchants, therefore are Merchandise and being Infidels, the slaves were goods the equivalent to any other chattels by English common law.”
The result of this ruling allowed for slavery in the English colonies to continue until 1807:Between 1662 and 1807 British and British colonial ships purchased an estimated 3,415,500 Africans. Of this number, around 2,964,800 survived the ‘middle passage’ and were sold into slavery in the Americas.
The transatlantic slave trade was the largest forced migration in human history and completely changed Africa, the Americas and Europe.
Until the 1730s, London dominated the British trade in enslaved people. It continued to send ships to West Africa until the end of the trade in 1807.
Between 1699 and 1807, British and British colonial ports mounted 12,103 slaving voyages – with 3,351 setting out from London. (See Key Facts about the Transatlantic Slave Trade.)
Massachusetts abolished slavery in 1783.
To learn more about the history of Rainsford Island, please join us for the lunchtime lecture, Rainsford Island : A Hidden History of Neglect and Activism in Boston Harbor.
Date & Time:
February 25, 2021
12:00pm – 1:00pm