Understanding history through story,
building community through conversation.


Coming soon: The Diseased Ship Podcast

Gold dust, they’d said they were after. But when the surviving crew of the Ten Brothers docked this majestic ship in Boston Harbor back in 1819, one year after setting sail for West Africa, customs officials found no gold in the hold, just clouds of mosquitoes playing host to a deadly yellow fever virus. The rest, we usually say, is history… only in this case, it’s not. Host Meadow Hilley had to stumble upon the bare bones of this long-forgotten episode in New England’s maritime past at the bottom of a 200-year-old grave. The Diseased Ship is a gripping first-person account of her struggle to reconstruct this ill-fated voyage in the face of her own illness. Inviting scholars, cultural critics, and community members to consider the ways in which this hidden history relates to our current national conversations about race, privilege, identity, and access to the “American dream,” Meadow asks listeners to reflect on what we might make of a malignancy that has taken root so close to our heart, exploring the possibility for individual and collective recovery.

 

About the Black Box

cape cod black box sqThe Cape Cod Black Box Project is a community-based historical research initiative that relies on an “enlightened crowdsourcing” model. Its aim is to empower interested community members—whether high school students or retired senior citizens or anyone in between—to conduct research into the maritime history of Cape Cod and the Islands and to share their findings with others thanks to an online database, a well-resourced website, and a dynamic social media presence.

Supporting this community effort is a coalition of scholars, archivists, reference librarians, academic institutions, and other community organizations from around New England. Their input and guidance will be invaluable to us along the way.

Help us to unearth Cape Cod’s forgotten history. There are so many stories buried right here under a thin layer of sand that uncovering them all will truly take a village—or a whole bunch of them.

This page will serve as our initial repository, a place where we can all share what we’re learning.

Blog

what have you found? what did it take to find it? what did it feel like uncovering this history? what do you make of it?

telling stories in black and white

A couple summers back, I fell into an empty grave. That’s what it felt like, anyway, when a chance encounter with a headstone in my hometown of Brewster, Massachusetts forced me to ask a question that had never once in forty-three years occurred to me. Could the Cape Cod sea captains have been involved in the slave trade?

Contact

We want to hear from you. Leave us your questions or comments and let us know how we can stay in touch.

Resources

Local & Regional History Digitization Projects & Collections

The Provincetown History Preservation Project
Assessing and digitizing documents in the town’s care to create greater access to valuable and significant historical information and to ensure that important documents related to Provincetown’s history will be preserved for informational and research purposes today and in the future.

Building Provincetown
The history of Provincetown told through its built environment.

African Americans and the End of Slavery in Massachusetts
Massachusetts Historical Society brings together historical manuscripts and rare published works that serve as a window upon the lives of African Americans in Massachusetts from the late seventeenth century through the abolition of slavery under the Massachusetts Constitution in the 1780s.

Local & Regional Archival Collections

Sturgis Library Town and Local History Collection
Sturgis Library’s special collections include materials in the Kittredge Maritime Collections, the Lothrop Genealogy & Local History Collections, and archival collections of maritime, genealogical, and historical importance. The Walter E. Babbitt Research Collection (1745-1977) contains Babbitt’s research materials relating to Brewster Sea Captains.

Massachusetts Historical Society
The motherlode.

In the Media

How Profits from Opium Shaped 19th-Century Boston (Part I)
WBUR By Martha Bebinger  

As the Opium Trade Boomed in the 1800s, Boston Doctors Raised Addiction Concerns (Part II)
WBUR By Martha Bebinger  

‘It was not expected’ that MIT Founder Owned Slaves in 1850
Living Lab Radio, Feb 19, 2018

MassMoments
Mass Moments is a daily almanac of Massachusetts history. Subscribe to receive an email of the moment of the day.

First Slaves Arrive in Massachusetts
Angelina Grimke Addresses Legislature
Indians in Mashpee Demand Self-Government
Black History @ MassMoments
Maritime History @ MassMoments
Native Americans @ MassMoments

Online Databases on Shipping & Trade

Voyages: The Transatlantic Slave Trade Database
The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database has information on almost 36,000 slaving voyages that forcibly embarked over 10 million Africans for transport to the Americas between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Shipindex.org
ShipIndex.org tells you which books, magazines, and online resources mention the vessels you’re researching. 153,649 entries in the free database, 3,159,372 entries available with premium access.

Boston Marine Insurance Company Records
1797-1839. This collection consists of records of the Boston Marine Insurance Company, including correspondence, accounts, and 65 volumes of financial, legal, investment, and policy records, as well as letters by company presidents. Massachusetts Historical Society, 1154 Boylston StreetBoston, MA 02215.

Regional Archives

Massachusetts Historical Society Antislavery Resources
Antislavery images, the case for ending slavery, Massachusetts in the Civil War 1861-62, Boston Abolitionists 1831-65, African Americans and the end of slavery in Massachusetts, the long road to freedom.

Truro Historical Society

Cape Cod Maritime History

The History of Cape Cod: Annals of the Thirteen Towns of Barnstable County, Volumes 1 & 2
By Frederick Freeman

The Ships and Sailors of Old Salem
By Ralph D. Paine – 1909

Digitized Logbooks and Diaries

Diary of Minerva Sears’ 1852 Voyage from India to Boston
In her early thirties at the time of writing, Minerva was accompanying her husband, Captain Joshua Sears, on a voyage from Boston to the Isle de France, then to Calcutta, and back to Boston on board the ship Orissa.

Early Local & Regional Newspapers 

Barnstable Patriot Digital Newspaper Archive
The Barnstable Patriot began publication with its first weekly issue on June 26, 1830. The Patriot is the oldest continuous, uninterrupted publication in Barnstable County, Massachusetts, and is the seventh oldest newspaper in the United States.

Cemetery Records

Find A Grave
Search for a particular name, view cemetery records by county, browse Barnstable County cemetery records.

Cape Cod Cemeteries: Gravestones dated up to 1880
Part 1 of 3 – Upper Cape: Bourne, Sandwich, Mashpee, Falmouth, Barnstable
Part 2 of 3 – Mid Cape: Yarmouth, Dennis, Brewster, Harwich, Chatham
Part 3 of 3 – Lower Cape: Orleans, Eastham, Wellfleet, Truro, Provincetown

Cape Cod Gravestones: 18th & 19th Century Epitaphs

Suggested Reading

Slavery’s Capitalism: A New History of American Economic Development. Sven Beckert and Seth Rockman, Editors, 2016

United States and the Transatlantic Slave Trade to the Americas, 1776-1867. Leonardo Marques, 2016.

Sons of Providence: The Brown Brothers, the Slave Trade, and the American Revolution. Charles Rappleye, 2007.

New England Bound: Slavery and Colonization in Early America.
Wendy Warren, 2016.

The Politics of the Second Slavery. Dale W. Tomich Editor, 2016.

The Slave Ship: A Human History. Marcus Rediker, 2007.

The Amistad Rebellion: An Atlantic Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom.
Marcus Rediker, 2012.

The Voyage of the Slave Ship Hare: A Journey into Captivity from Sierra Leone to South Carolina. Sean M. Kelley, 2016.

Dark Places of the Earth: The Voyage of the Slave Ship Antelope.
Jonathan M. Bryant, 2015.

The Notorious Triangle: Rhode Island and the African Slave Trade, 1700-1807. Jay Coughtry, 1981.

Black Walden: Slavery and Its Aftermath in Concord, Massachusetts.
Elise Lemire, 2009.

Complicity: How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery.
Anne Farrow, Joel Lang, Jenifer Frank, 2005.

Ten Hills Farm: The Forgotten History of Slavery in the North.
C. S. Manegold, 2011.

Disowning Slavery: Gradual Emancipation and “Race” in New England, 1780–1860.
Joanne Pope Melish, 1998.

Ship of Death: A Voyage that Changed the Atlantic World. Billy G. Smith, 2013.

The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism.
Edward E. Baptist, 2014.

The Selling of Joseph: A Memorial
“Samuel Sewall’s The Selling of Joseph was the first anti-slavery tract published in New England. In the pamphlet, Sewall condemns African slavery and the slave trade in North America and refutes many of the typical justifications using Biblical and practical arguments. The MHS holds the only surviving copy of this important work.” -MHS


Teaching Resources

How Do You Teach Slavery?
From NPR’s 1A. Slavery played a major role in America’s development, but a new study shows students don’t know much about it. One recent textbook referred to enslaved people as ‘workers’ … which suggests some schools still struggle to teach this topic. It’s hard history, but is there an easy fix? And what’s at stake if it’s not figured out?

MassMoments Teacher Resources
Mass Moments resources consist of three units for high school, two for the upper elementary and middle-school level, and suggestions for third-grade classrooms, where Massachusetts history appears in the state frameworks for history and social science.

The Case for Ending Slavery
This website features more than fifty primary sources from the collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society and the Library of Congress that reveal how slavery, and debates about slavery, contributed to the formation of the United States. Lesson plans for teachers; Teaching with Primary Sources Grant Program; Slavery in Massachusetts and New England; The End of Slavery in Massachusetts; Massachusetts and the Debate over Slavery…

Articles and General Resources

Boston and the Middle Passage / New England colonists and slavery
By Liz Loveland – August 31, 2014

What Kids Are Really Learning About Slavery
In a recent article (in The Atlantic, Melinda D. Anderson finds that the topic is mistaught and often sentimentalized—and students are alarmingly misinformed as a result.

Places to Visit

The Amistad Center for Art & Culture, 600 Main Street, Hartford, CT 06103