How an Ex-Slave Successfully Won a Case for Reparations in 1783

In one of the earliest examples of reparations, an ex-slave named Belinda petitioned the government and was granted an annuity.

By: Matthew Wills

On February 14, 1783, an elderly ex-slave known only as Belinda submitted a petition to the Massachusetts legislature. She asked for an annual pension for herself and her invalid daughter, Prine, to be paid from the estate of their former owner, Isaac Royall. Royall had been one of the largest slave owners in the colony before he had fled to England in 1775. Because he turned out to be a royalist, his estate was confiscated and his two dozen slaves were manumitted (there’s some speculation as to whether some were sold, including Belinda’s son Joseph). Belinda was a slave under Royall for four decades and was old and penniless when she finally gained her freedom.

Former slave Belinda's petition for reparations.
Former slave Belinda’s petition for reparations
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Her petition is one of the earliest examples of reparations for the slave trade and slavery, Roy E. Finkenbine reported.  Read more HERE.

HOW AN EX-SLAVE SUCCESSFULLY WON A CASE FOR REPARATIONS IN 1783

HOW AN EX-SLAVE SUCCESSFULLY WON A CASE FOR REPARATIONS IN 1783

Grandchildren of slaves.

Grandchildren of slaves.
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Jean Blackwell Hutson Research and Reference Division, The New York Public Library.

Inspired in part by journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates, conversations about reparations for slavery and its aftermath have become mainstream. But they aren’t new: Reconstruction’s unfulfilled promise of “forty acres and a mule” had antecedents dating back to America’s founding.

Belinda was a slave under Royall for four decades and was old and penniless when she finally gained her freedom.

On February 14, 1783, an elderly ex-slave known only as Belinda submitted a petition to the Massachusetts legislature. She asked for an annual pension for herself and her invalid daughter, Prine, to be paid from the estate of their former owner, Isaac Royall. Royall had been one of the largest slave owners in the colony before he had fled to England in 1775. Because he turned out to be a royalist, his estate was confiscated and his two dozen slaves were manumitted (there’s some speculation as to whether some were sold, including Belinda’s son Joseph). Belinda was a slave under Royall for four decades and was old and penniless when she finally gained her freedom.

Former slave Belinda's petition for reparations.

Former slave Belinda’s petition for reparations.

Her petition is one the earliest examples of reparations for the slave trade and slavery, Roy E. Finkenbine reported. He puts her plea in the context of the many freedom lawsuits and legislative petitions for emancipation that were submitted by the African-American community in Massachusetts in the 1760s-1780s. In a 1783 case, for instance, the Massachusetts Supreme Court declared that the enslaved Quock Walker was free and that the equality clause in the state constitution outlawed slavery throughout its jurisdiction. Additionally, some slaves, after gaining their freedom, successfully sued their masters for compensation.

Read more here.