Rachel of Kittery, Maine (died 1695) was an African-American enslaved woman in the New England state of Maine, who was murdered by her enslaver, Nathaniel Keen, who was subsequently put on trial on for murder.[1] The trial established court precedent in the New England colonies for how juries ruled on murder cases that involved the slave owner murdering an enslaved individual.[2] The only documentation that she existed is several paragraphs in the Province and Court Records of Maine.[3] She was called Rachel and lived in the town of Kittery in York County, Maine. Rachel was a slave, who was owned and beaten to death by Nathaniel Keen in late 1694 or early 1695.

Trial

Nathaniel Keen was arrested and charged with the murder of Rachel on or about May 1, 1695 with the trial being held on May 16, 1695.[4] "Superior Court held at Kittery for York County, present Thomas Danforth, Elisha Cook, and Samuel Sewall, justices."[5] Sewall was a strong advocate for the rights of slaves. "Sewall, who was probably a slaveholder himself, had first felt misgivings about the practice one day in June 1700…"[6] Sewall went as far as to argue in his book The Selling of Joseph, published in 1700, that New England should do away with the practice of slavery.[7] "But this view could not have been very widespread, for the anti-slavery ranks in Massachusetts at that time were represented wholly by Samuel Sewall."[8] Rachel's murder and the subsequent trial of Nathaniel Keen had a direct impact on Sewall embracing an abolitionist position with regards to slavery. "The case was committed to the jury, who bring in their verdict; they find Nathaniel Keen guilty of cruelty to his negro woman (Rachel) by cruel beating and hard usage."[9] The case of the murder of Rachel was according to Lorenzo Greene "a test case",[10] which in more modern legal terminology, the case of Rachel's murder was precedent setting. Unfortunately, the precedent was to find the defendant guilty of cruelty rather than the original charge of murder and to the value of the life of a slave was five pounds and additional court costs.[11]

Defendant

Nathaniel Keen acquired one hundred acres of land near Kittery, Maine in 1687 and an additional one hundred acres in 1691.[12] Keen married Sarah Greene in 1688[13] and was survived by seven children based on the number of listed inheritors in Keen's will.[14] Keen's sentence as a result of being found guilty of cruelty was a fine, 10 pounds and 10 shillings (ten "guineas"), but was suspended until a later date. At the time of the trial, Keen owned at least two hundred acres of land, and in 1712 his estate was valued at an annual worth of 7 pounds.[15] All of the farms in York County were assessed by the government for tax purposes. Keen would not have been one of the wealthiest members of the community, but he was slightly above average in terms of estimated annual income.[16] A fine of 10 pounds and 10 shillings would probably have exceeded the annual value of Keen's estate in 1695, which was likely the contributing factor to Keen's fine being suspended. However, the probate office in 1725, three years after Keen's death in 1722, appraised the total value of Keen's holdings at 705 pounds, which would have been a substantial amount of money.[17] Keen's will details the distribution of lands and other household goods, but does not explicitly refer to any slaves. "Enslaved persons left to sons were often a bequest in entail...Daughters were far more likely to inherit enslaved persons in fee simple, unencumbered by entail."[18] Consequently, if Keen had owned slaves at the time of writing his will, the distribution of the slaves amongst his inheritors would have been detailed rather than including enslaved peoples into the general category of "stock of creatures."[19] Nathaniel Keen wrote his will on October 25, 1722, not long before his death, and at the time did not own any slaves.[20]

Rights of slaves in New England

Slaves were generally considered property and the laws that governed the property rights over the owners. However, slaves did have some crucial legal rights that differentiated slaves from livestock. "Though in general regarded as property, slaves in some instances were recognized as persons. As a person, the New England slave had a right to life. Although a master might reasonably and moderately correct and chastise his servant or slave, the deliberate murder of his bondsman was a capital crime."[21] There are very few instances in which a slave owner was charged with the murder of a slave. Greene argues that the economics of slavery disincentivizes slave owners from murdering their slaves as the primary cause for the rarity of a slave owner murdering a slave.[22]

References

  1. ^ Allen, Neal (1958). Province and Court Records of Maine. Portland: Maine Historical Record. pp. 34–35.
  2. ^ Greene, Lorenzo (1947). The Negro in Colonial New England. Port Washington: Kennikat Press. p. 234.
  3. ^ Allen, Neal (1958). Province and Court Records of Maine. Portland: Maine Historical Society. pp. 34–35.
  4. ^ Allen, Neal (1958). Province and Court Records of maine. Portland: Maine Historical Society. pp. 34–35.
  5. ^ Allen, Neal (1958). Province and Court Records of Maine. Portland: Maine Historical Society. p. 35.
  6. ^ Sweet, John Wodd (2003). Bodies Politic: Negotiating Race in the American North 1700-1830. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 59.
  7. ^ Sweet, John Wood (2003). Bodies Politic: Negotiating Race in the American North 1700-1830. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 59.
  8. ^ Greene, Lorenzo (1947). The Negro in Colonial New England. Port Washington: Kennikat Press. p. 51.
  9. ^ Allen, Neal (1958). Province and Court Records of Maine. Portland: Maine Historical Society. p. 35.
  10. ^ Greene, Lorenzo (1947). The Negro in Colonial New England. Port Washington: Kennikat Press. p. 234.
  11. ^ Allen, Neal (1958). Province and Court Records of Maine. Portland: Maine Historical Society. p. 35.
  12. ^ Stackpole, E.S. (1903). Old Kittery and Her Families. Lewiston: Press of Lewiston Journal. p. 72.
  13. ^ Stackpole, E.S. (1903). Old Kittery and Her Families. Lewiston: Press of Lewiston Journal. p. 474.
  14. ^ "Maine Wills". York County Probate Records.
  15. ^ Stackpole, E.S. (1903). Old Kittery and Her Families. Lewiston: Press of Lewiston Journal. p. 149.
  16. ^ Stackpole, E.S. (1903). Old Kittery and Her Families. Lewiston: Press of Lewiston Journal. p. 149.
  17. ^ "Maine Wills". York County Probate Records.
  18. ^ Morgan, Jennifer (2004). Laboring Women: Reproduction and Gender in New World Slavery. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 71.
  19. ^ "Maine Wills". York County Probate Records.
  20. ^ "Maine Wills". York County Probate Records.
  21. ^ Greene, Lorenzo (1947). The Negro in Colonial New England. Kennikat Press. p. 177.
  22. ^ Greene, Lorenzo (1947). The Negro in Colonial New England. Port Washington: Kennikat Press. p. 231.
  • Greene, Lorenzo (1947). The Negro in Colonial New England. Port Washingont: Kennikat Press. pp. 234–235.
  • Little, Ann M. (2016). The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright. Yale University Press. pp. 28–29.

Rachel of Kittery, Maine (died 1695) was an African-American enslaved woman in the New England state of Maine, who was murdered by her enslaver, Nathaniel Keen, who was subsequently put on trial on for murder. The trial established court precedent in the New England colonies for how juries ruled on murder cases that involved the slave owner murdering an enslaved individual.

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