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.