Finding Pamela Writing a New History

In 1818, a woman named Pamela Sparhawk petitioned the Massachusetts General Court to be recognized as heir to her brother’s estate. What makes this remarkable?

Pamela Sparhawk was a formerly enslaved Black woman, separated from her brother in childhood. After more than a decade of bondage in Boston and Newton, she was determined to build a life of her own in freedom. Through her petition, she was asking the state legislature to acknowledge who she was and what the institution of slavery had taken from them both.

Now, more than 200 years later, careful sleuthing has uncovered her life story.

In this exhibit, you will meet Pamela, her family, her enslavers, and her contemporaries. You can also explore the documents that preserve her story in history. At the end of the exhibit, check out our resource list and discussion questions to learn more about what life was like, in slavery and in freedom, for Black residents of Massachusetts.

Do You Recognize These People?

Do you recognize any of these stories from your own family history? What isn’t preserved in documents is sometimes preserved in stories passed down among families. If these stories sound familiar, and you believe you may have a connection with any of the individuals mentioned in this exhibit, please contact us at research@historicnewton.org.

Created By
Historic Newton