Belinda Sutton

Stone Number: MA01

Location: Royall House and Slave Quarters - Medford, MA

Belinda Silhouette

My Story:

Belinda Sutton’s life story is best told in her own words. This excerpt is from her successful 1783 petition to the Massachusetts legislature for a pension from the confiscated estate of Loyalist Isaac Royall Jr.:

“The Petition of Belinda, an African, humbly shows that seventy years have rolled away since she, on the banks of the Rio de Valta, received her existence. She was ravished from the bosom of her Country, from the arms of her friends – while the advanced age of her Parents, rendering them unfit for servitude, cruelly separated her from them forever! She learned to catch the Ideas marked by the sounds of language, only to know that her doom was Slavery, from which death alone was to emancipate her. And though she was a free moral agent, accountable for her actions, yet she never had a moment at her own disposal! Fifty years her faithful hands have been compelled to ignoble servitude for the benefit of an Isaac Royall, while she, by the Laws of the Land, is denied the enjoyment of one morsel of that immense wealth, a part whereof hath been accumulated by her own industry, and the whole augmented by her servitude. She prays that such allowance may be made her out of the estate of Colonel Royall, as will prevent her and her more infirm daughter from misery, and she will ever Pray.”

After her kidnapping in what is now Ghana, Belinda was enslaved first on the Royall family’s sugar plantation on the West Indies island of Antigua, and later in Medford, Massachusetts. Given the choice between the security of enslavement and the unknown of freedom upon Isaac Royall Jr’s death in 1781, and despite her advanced age, Belinda Sutton chose freedom.

At the time of her petition, Belinda was living in Boston. She signed with her X, indicating that she was illiterate; historians believe it was likely drafted by Prince Hall, a prominent leader of Boston’s free black community in the late eighteenth century. Belinda Sutton would petition the legislature five more times over the next ten years in her effort to secure payment of what she was owed after a lifetime of enslavement.

Belinda Sutton’s public assertion of her rights has given her a place in history and public memory. Her eloquent petition has inspired poets and fascinated historians. And it opens a rare window onto the life of an enslaved woman in colonial New England. Read more about this intrepid African woman at www.royallhouse.org/slavery/belinda-sutton-and-her-petitions.

Site:

Royall House and Slave Quarters

The Stopping Stone honoring Belinda Sutton is located at the entrance to the park, to remind passersby of the scope of this northern plantation – purchased with “immense wealth” from the brutal sugar industry and maintained by one of the largest groups of enslaved people in colonial Massachusetts – and of one woman’s determined pursuit of justice.

In the eighteenth century, the Royall House and Slave Quarters was home to the largest slaveholding family in Massachusetts and the enslaved Africans who made their lavish way of life possible. The 500-acre estate included all of present-day South Medford. Today, the museum’s architecture, household items, and archaeological artifacts bear witness to the intertwined stories of wealth and bondage, set against the backdrop of America’s quest for independence. The Slave Quarters is the only remaining such structure in the northern United States, and the Royall House is among the finest colonial-era buildings in New England.  Learn more at www.royallhouse.org.

Site Research:

In 1732 Isaac Royall Sr. purchased 504 acres of land in what was then Charlestown. This prominent estate — encompassing all of present-day South Medford — was visible from several points along the well-traveled Mystic River and straddled a major thoroughfare linking Boston with towns to the north.

After five years of construction and landscaping, the Royalls moved to their new home from their sugar plantation in Antigua. They brought with them twenty-seven enslaved Africans whose labor was essential to maintaining the estate, including a young woman who would later call herself Belinda Sutton.

An elm-lined drive – now Royall Street — led to the imposing neoclassical mansion at the heart of the transformed property. The estate featured ornamental plantings and well tended lawns in addition to orchards and pastures for sheep and cattle, with fields of salt hay extending to the river. In 1750 a traveler described “a fine country seat belonging to Mr. Isaac Royall, being one of the grandest in North America.”

The Royall House and Slave Quarters’ buildings and grounds now occupy less than an acre of that once-vast estate. The adjacent city-owned Royall Park marks the location of the Royalls’ extensive formal gardens along what is now Main Street.

The Stopping Stone honoring Belinda Sutton is located at the entrance to the park, to remind passersby of the scope of this northern plantation – purchased with “immense wealth” from the brutal sugar industry and maintained by one of the largest groups of enslaved people in colonial Massachusetts – and of one woman’s determined pursuit of justice.