"Compelled to Servitude": The Story of Belinda

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Renowned storyteller Tammy Denease will interpret the story of Belinda -- whose eloquent 1783 petition to the Massachusetts legislature for a pension from the estate of Isaac Royall Jr. is among the earliest narratives by an African American woman -- on the site where this strong woman lived and worked.

Performances at 12noon and 3pm.  The Royall mansion and adjacent slave quarters will be open for tours following each 45-minute performance.

The first known documentation of Belinda, a woman enslaved by the Royall family, occurs in 1768, when her son and daughter were baptized in Medford, Massachusetts. In February 1783, in the wake of the American Revolution, Belinda successfully petitioned the Massachusetts General Court for a pension for herself and her infirm daughter from the proceeds of Isaac Royall’s estate. She would go on to petition the legislature five more times over the next ten years in her effort to secure payment of what she was owed for a lifetime of servitude. Belinda’s petition has inspired poets and fascinated historians. It has been seen by some commentators as the first call for reparations for American slavery. And it opens a rare window onto the life of an enslaved woman in colonial North America.

Tammy Denease is uniquely qualified to explore and interpret what we know of Belinda and the turbulent times in which she lived. As a storyteller, teaching artist, and living historian, Ms. Denease gives voice to African-American women whose contributions to the American past are all too often obscured in the traditional historical record. Ms. Denease brought her interpretation of the life of Elizabeth “Mum Bett” Freeman to the Royall House and Slave Quarters for two exciting performances in 2014, and premiered her interpretation of Belinda at the museum's annual Giving Voice benefit event in June.

Co-sponsored by Historic New England.

Suitable for children age 10 and older. 

This program is funded in part by the New England States Touring program of the New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA), made possible with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts Regional Touring Program and the six New England state arts agencies. This event is part of Arts Across Medford, a month-long festival curated by CACHE. Photo by GildartPhoto.com.