Collect Day #3 BOAD
O God, who sent shepherds forth to care for all people: we remember today Boad who while enslaved cared for cattle in the midst of the abundant fields of Mason, New Hampshire; grant that we may become shepherds of truth and honor as we remember all those whose life and work built our communities though we easily forget them at our peril; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Day #3, February 16, 2018
A commonly accepted date for the end of slavery in New Hampshire is 1857, when an act was passed stating that “No person, because of decent, should be disqualified from becoming a citizen of the state.” The act is interpreted as prohibiting slavery. By a strict interpretation, however, slavery was outlawed only on Dec. 6, 1865, when the 13th amendment went into effect.
The existence of enslaved Africans is often seen in early town histories as footnotes. These minor or tangential comments marking the lives of Black men, women and children contrast sharply with the lengthy accounts of a wide array of White townsfolk in innumerable town histories dating into the 20th century.
In Ramsdell’s History of Milford what we know of an enslaved child appears as a footnote to the story of one of the town’s early resident. “Captain Josiah Crosby came to Milford in 1753, he brought with him two children one white and the other colored. They named the child Jeffrey and sold him at the age of five when they moved to Billerica.”
An earlier documentation for the year 1743 seen in Rothovius’ book, The Lodge, introduces Boad: “While the Groton residents never actually settled in the Gore, they drove cattle up each spring to pasture in the meadows of Spaulding Brook. A Negro Slave named Boad looked after these cattle and the site of his 225-year-old cabin is probably marked by a rude foundation on the Mason side of the Mile Slip’s western line.”
In 2008 on the Mason town green a statue of Bode was erected and dedicated to Elizabeth Orton “Twig” Jones (1910-2005), a renowned illustrator and author of children’s books and former Mason resident. Her description of Boad in the 1968 Mason Bicentennial History adds flesh to the bones of an annotation.
“Every year in late winter, several Groton families would send up their young cattle under the care of Boad (sometimes spelled Bode) a Negro slave. Boad, perhaps only a boy, would drive the cattle through the forest from Groton to Nose Meadow where he would camp for months all alone, hunting, fishing, gathering berries for his food, while the cattle grew fat on the plentiful vegetation of this wilderness. Sometimes he would burn over an area to promote succulent new growth for the cattle. Parties of Groton people would come up in midsummer to cut and stack hay. In the fall they would come again. But most of the time Boad was the sole inhabitant of what is now Mason, all summer long, under the stars at night, under the sun by day, in the midst of storms, thunder and lightning and pouring rain. Sometimes the hideous howls of wolves filled the air. Boad heard owls screeching, foxes barking, wild turkeys gobbling. What were his thoughts? We know very little about him. In the early church records of Groton, long after his duties of bringing the young cattle to Nose Meadow were over, we find under MARRIAGES – February 5, 1750: Bode to By (Negro servants of Groton). Still later, in a list of members of the Church of Christ in Groton, we find, down in the corner of the page, away from the other names: Bode Negro. There were fourteen Negro slaves in Groton, Boad being the only one listed as a church member. From 1734 through 1740, so far as we know, Boad brought up the cattle every year.”
The scant notation “Bode to By” was probably considered a sufficient record for the marriage of an enslaved couple. However, what we know from these short writings is that African Americans lived full lives — they worked, they married and they had families. We are thankful for these scant references for without them the lives of these early New Hampshire residents would have been forgotten, erased forever.