On Pope’s Day (November 5) 1766, John Adams sat in the courtroom during the proceedings of Jenny Slew’s civil suit for freedom against her owner, John Whipple Jr. of Ipswich. His notes and diary entry were to make Slew vs. Whipple one of the best-known Massachusetts freedom suits filed by enslaved individuals prior to the 1783 cases that marked the ending of slavery in Massachusetts. Who was Jenny Slew? I argue that Jenny Slew, a bi-racial enslaved woman who sued for her freedom in 1766, was a descendent of Dorcas Hoar, a notorious fortune-teller and accused witch in the Salem Witchcraft trials in 1692. Does it make a difference that I have to dismiss a piece of evidence left by John Adams?
Jeanne Pickering has recently earned her Master’s degree in history at Salem State University, based on her thesis on the lawsuits for freedom filed by enslaved individuals in Essex County prior to the Revolutionary War. Her research interests are the social and cultural aspects of colonial slavery in rural Massachusetts concentrating on the North Shore. She regularly speaks on slavery in Essex County to local history groups and runs a website on Essex County slavery at NorthShoreSlavery.org.