This issue of CAM Connects combines emerging scholarship, examples from art history, and archival photographs to tell the story of Black History on Cape Ann.

February 1, 2021

Allan Freelon (1895-1960), Moonlight Scene, c. mid 20th century. Oil on board. Bequest of Roger O. Davis, 2009 [Acc. #2009.54.37].

Dear Friends,

During this past month, the Cape Ann Museum has energetically forged ahead with exciting new plans, including the launch of our new Virtual Lecture Series—we hope that you can join us for the next lecture on February 26. Having welcomed three new team members, including seasoned professionals to lead our education and philanthropy efforts and an executive assistant, I am happy to share that the Museum has entered 2021 with great momentum! January also saw the Museum welcome our first school group of the year. We encourage all teachers to bring your students for safe socially distant visits to our galleries in the months ahead! To inquire about School Group visits please email our Education Department

Today, we are proud to share this issue of CAM Connects focusing on Black History on Cape Ann. In pursuit of our mission to foster an appreciation of the quality and diversity of life on Cape Ann, the Museum is making strategic efforts to offer programming, support research, and tell the stories of Black people who have lived and worked in our area.

These efforts include digging deeper into the families and the histories that have to date been either omitted or forgotten in the social and economic story of Cape Ann. The slave trade was far more integral to the complex web of the maritime trade, and thus Gloucester's growth, during this period than has been previously understood. This important research will also include an investigation of CAM's three historic properties: the White-Ellery House, built in 1710, the Babson-Alling House, built around 1740, and the Captain Elias Davis House, built around 1804. During the time that those houses were built, much of the maritime trade from Gloucester was directly or indirectly profiting from the institution of slavery, as did some of the inhabitants of those houses at various periods. As we prepare to highlight these structures through exciting new programming at the CAM Green and 27 Pleasant Street, the Museum is also committed to researching and acknowledging their full histories. 

We encourage our readers to share their own stories and photographs with us as we explore the layered story of this region and its many historic properties.

Oliver Barker, Director

Black History on Cape Ann

This issue of CAM Connects combines emerging scholarship, examples from art history, and archival photographs to help tell the story of Black History on Cape Ann. Since the arrival of white European settlers in 1623, the majority of written documentation from the area has focused on their experiences while omitting those of others. However, verified records of Black people in this area date to as early as 1685. These pieces of history, so often left untold, are key to understanding the full narrative of the region. The Museum looks forward to deepening our role in collecting and preserving the important history of Black people on Cape Ann. 

African Americans in Essex County Project

Across the country, communities are engaging in the necessary work to better relate our nation's rich, complicated, and multi-layered past. In Essex County, Dr. Kabria Baumgartner from the University of New Hampshire and Dr. Elizabeth Duclos-Orsello from Salem State University have spent the last two years visiting historic repositories, including the Cape Ann Museum, to collect, compile, and catalog the rich history of African Americans in this area. Their report, African Americans in Essex County, was funded by the National Park Service and will be released later this spring.

In a Virtual Lecture on Friday, February 26, Dr. Baumgarter and Dr. Duclos-Orsello will discuss the impetus behind the project, what they have learned, and their ten recommendations for how local individuals and institutions can celebrate and support African American History in Essex County.

Dr. Kabria Baumgartner
University of New Hampshire

Dr. Elizabeth Duclos-Orsello
Salem State University

African Americans in Essex County: Friday February 26 at 1:00 pm.
Free for CAM Members; $10 for non-members. Register for tickets here.

"Exploring the deep and complex history of African Americans in Essex County is incredibly enriching. What becomes apparent is that African Americans have contributed to the economic development as well as the cultural and intellectual wealth of Essex County, which is a federally recognized national heritage area.

"The African Americans in Essex County Project is the first study to provide a thorough accounting of the archival collections and materials at area repositories related to the African American experience, dating back to the seventeenth century. By compiling these materials, we have opened some new possibilities to share fascinating "hidden" stories, to identify and connect complex themes, and to collaborate with cultural institutions and community members in order to understand the dynamic history of African Americans in this region."

- Dr. Kabria Baumgartner

Dr. Baumgartner spoke at CAM for the first time on February 29, 2020 in Promises and Limits of the New RepublicHer segment can be viewed here. 

Dr. Kabria Baumgartner video lecture
Video still from CAM Video Vault, VL62 Promises and Limits of the New Republic: A Closer Look at African Americans on Cape Ann, 2/29/2020. View the full lecture here.

Allan Freelon’s Time on Cape Ann

Allan Freelon (1895-1960), Moonlight Scene, c. mid 20th century. Oil on board. Bequest of Roger O. Davis, 2009 [Acc. #2009.54.37].

Allan Freelon (second from the right) and fellow students with Hugh Breckenridge, c. 1920s. Collection of the Cape Ann Museum Library & Archives, Gloucester, MA.

On the one hand, painter and printmaker Allan Randall Freelon, Sr. (1895-1960) was no different than many American artists working in the first half of the 20th century who strove to move beyond European influences by pursuing modernist themes within a uniquely American vernacular. On the other hand, he was distinctive in that he was a Black American who, at the same time that he was trying to explore his own artistic vision, had to navigate ever-present tensions due to his race in an era that saw the country, more than 60 years after the Civil War, still struggling at even a basic level to fulfill the promise of liberty and justice for all. That he was able to persevere and carve his own path while overcoming these obstacles not only tells us something about his personal character but also perhaps explains in part the enduring appeal of his art.

Freelon was born and educated in Philadelphia and was drawn to Cape Ann to study with Emile Gruppe and Hugh Breckenridge. The summers he spent there early in his career between 1924 and 1936 would prove to be a period of significant exploration and central to his stylistic development as an artist. Continue reading here.

Frederick Douglass on the North Shore

During the 1840s, rumblings of the anti-slavery movement were being heard along the North Shore and across Cape Ann as the Essex County Anti-Slavery Society and other groups held meetings and rallies throughout the region. In Gloucester, where the economic well-being of the community had long been tied to the institution of slavery, the movement was often met with indifference or even hostility.

Despite this resistance, the great American Abolitionist Frederick Douglass successfully visited the greater Cape Ann area a few times starting in the 1840s and continuing for the next 25 years. His speeches, along with those of Black abolitionist Charles Lenox Redmond, were often viewed as radical by audiences that for generations had based their good fortunes, in part, on the backs of enslaved peoples. And yet, some local institutions did choose to open their doors to the abolitionists.

In coming months, CAM looks forward to digging into the history of the anti-slavery movement on Cape Ann and to Frederick Douglass’ part in it. The effort will be punctuated by a community-wide reading of Douglass’ searing speech "What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July" to be held the first week of July. For more information on the Mass Humanities initiative, click here.

Upcoming event: Reading of What to the Slave is the Fourth of July? Speech by Frederick Douglass

African American Seamen in the Age of Sail

Crew list for the ship William and Henry, May 20, 1833. Collection of the Cape Ann Museum Library & Archives, Gloucester, MA.

Black Jacks: African American Seamen in the Age of Sail by W. Jeffrey Bolster, 1997. Copy held in the Collection of the Cape Ann Museum Library & Archives, Gloucester MA.

In the 19th century, many African Americans probably passed through Gloucester as itinerant seamen. According to some estimates, as many as 40 percent of African Americans living in Boston in the 1830s worked in maritime industries. African American men typically worked as cooks or stewards aboard vessels; a crew list in the Museum’s archives for the William and Henry described the cook as John Henderson of “Black” complexion and “wooly” hair. Pay for cooks was on the rise; prior to 1820, their pay averaged about five dollars per month (33 percent less than sailors earned), but in the next decade, cooks’ wages rose, and by 1850, they equaled what sailors earned.

The sea has long offered freedom and purpose to those who otherwise felt trapped and suppressed. Although ships also hold a tragic history of slavery and imprisonment, Black seafarers often found a level of independence and achievement on ships where they could not on land. Still, certain laws and the threat of kidnapping at Southern Ports made the work especially dangerous. If Black mariners set foot on land, they could be imprisoned and sold into slavery. Historian, and past featured lecturer at CAM, W. Jeffrey Bolster sheds light on part of this story in his book Black Jacks: African American Seamen in the Age of Sail. Find a free rentable version of the book here.

To learn how the spirit of the sea and Bolster’s account of these historic Black seamen inspired Gregory White, an African American sailor and previously convicted felon, watch this video entitled “The Scholar and the Sailor” produced for the National Endowment for the Humanities.

CAM Photo Archives

Left to right: 2-4 Middle St., Home of Edward K. Burnham, fish dealer on Benjamin Low’s Wharf. 1882. Photograph by Corliss & Ryan; Deck of J.L. Ralston, Canadian Salt Transport at Pew's Wharf, 1920; Blynman Canal Tunnel Project. Works Foreman Charles B. Lewis, center rear, behind him Project Engineer and Photographer Herman W. Spooner; Charles Freeman, c.1885; Charles B. Lewis, Foreman, Gloucester Tunnel, 1905. Photograph by H.W. Spooner. Collection of the Cape Ann Museum Library & Archives, Gloucester, MA.

As more stories are told of Black history on Cape Ann, we look forward to the role the CAM Photo Archives can play. Our expansive archives serve as a window into an undocumented past where if one searches in the right places, stories can be found and finally told. Recently, CAM researcher Jude Seminara did just that when he found the far-left image from the above collage in the Library’s collection. Captivated by the two small girls in the photograph, Jude began putting together a story about the Green family that was shared, here, on Good Morning Gloucester.

Further Resources on Black History in New England

The research and discussion of the history and current reality of Black people on Cape Ann and in New England is ongoing. In order to continue the conversation, we recommend the following resources:

Websites and Publications:

Cape Ann Slavery & Abolition - A History of Slavery in the Cape Ann area by The Cape Ann Slavery and Abolition Trust, a collaboration of the Gloucester Universalist Church and the Unitarian Universalist Society of Rockport

- Unfolding Histories: Cape Ann Before 1900 - CAM Library & Archives online exhibit

Upcoming Virtual Programs:

Past Programs at CAM:

Promises and Limits of the New Republic : A Closer Look at African Americans on Cape Ann
Speakers: Joanne Pope Melish; Kabria Baumgartner; Lise Breen; Bethany Jay. This program was made possible through a partnership with the Terra Foundation and the Sargent House Museum. Additional funding was received from Mass Humanities under their special initiative, The Vote.