Indian Servant Maid Valued At at £10

Indian Servant Maid Valued At at £10

Birth & Death Dates Unknown — Appears in a 1713 Record

I give and bequeath to Deborah Hilliard my beloved wife the whole and improvement of all and every part of my estate both real and personal.

Last Will and Testament of William Hilliard, 1713, Little Compton, Massachusetts Bay Colony[1]

 

William Hilliard’s last will and testament does not mention any slaves, but in his estate inventory in between his linen napkins and his dishware, there is this line: “an Indian servant maid–10£.” Like every piece of Hilliard’s property, both real estate and personal property, she was assigned a monetary value and passed from William’s hands into those of his wife. No one remembers the name of this enslaved woman and no one knows her story, but together with over 250 other men, women and children she is part of the real and very personal story of slavery and indenture in Little Compton.

Though certainly not the most interesting story, this is by far the most frequent story in Little Compton’s history of unfreedom: an unnamed servant or slave, like the woman above, appears in the will or inventory of an owner as property to be inherited by an heir. There are forty-nine people in Little Compton’s wills and inventories (1680-1820) that were inherited without ever being named. They are most often identified with a phrase like “my Negro Man” or “a Negro woman and child.” These unfree people are often their owner’s most valuable possessions, and are frequently inventoried somewhere between the livestock and the cash on hand.[2] This story is not remarkable because of its details; it is remarkable because of its lack of details, and it is unforgettable because of its frequency. It shows the value, the desirability, and the portable nature of slaves alongside the complete absence of any need to identify them by name. Little Compton’s enslaved people, Indian and African, were valuable property.

Marjory Gomez O’Toole, Executive Director, LCHS

First published in “If Jane Should Want to Be Sold: Stories of Enslavement, Indenture and Freedom in Little Compton, Rhode Island,” by the Little Compton Historical Society, 2016.

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[1] William Hillard, Will & Inventory, Bristol County Probate Records, Book 3, 180.

The word following the word “whole” was difficult to read and may not be transcribed properly.

[2] Inventories were lists of a deceased person’s personal belongings that were compiled and certified by a committee of three town officials. The inventory takers were expected to be objective and their inventory was filed in the town records with a person’s will and used for tax and probate purposes. Because they were often done by the same officials, the inventories from certain time periods in Little Compton are written in similar ways and in a predictable pattern starting in the deceased’s bedroom and working out toward the barn: clothing, beds, linens, kitchen items, tools of their trade, farm items, livestock, slaves if any, cash and bonds. One can imagine a widow walking the officials through her home.

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