The revolutionary discussions of freedom and liberty no-doubt inspired Belinda Royall to challenge the status quo. When Isaac Royall left for Nova Scotia, he abandoned his slaves, forcing them to find ways to survive on their own. Belinda Royall, who was 63 years of age at the time, asserted what she saw as her right to compensation for her years of service to her former master. She petitioned the General Court (legislature) of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on 1783. Her petition presented by her lawyer, contained few legal arguments and instead describes her childhood happiness in Ghana nurtured and supported by the love of her parents. It contrasted her childhood with her later legal status as an enslaved person. The argument persuaded the General Court to award her an annual pension of fifteen pounds and twelve shillings.
Belinda Royall's petition was a reminder that the "peculiar institution" of slavery existed in Northern colonies such as Massachusetts at the time of the American Revolution. It also challenged the then prevailing stereotype of the submissive slave, happy with his lot. Although Isaac Royall's abandonment of Belinda and the other slaves ironically granted them their freedom, Belinda Royall became one of the first former slaves to raise a reparations argument, suggesting that an enslaved person had the right to financial compensation for her work. This argument represented a new strategy in the campaign to destroy slavery. Very little is known of Royall's life after the action of the General Court.
Massachusetts Spy, May 29, 1873; Helene Ragovin, "The Untold Story of the Royall House Slaves," The Tufts Journal, http://tuftsjournal.tufts.edu/archive/2002/august/calendar/royall2.shtml."The Mark of Belinda Royall," Medford Historical Society, http://www.medfordhistorical.org/belinda.php.
BlackPast.org is an independent non-profit corporation 501(c)(3). It has no affiliation with the University of Washington. BlackPast.org is supported in part by a grant from Humanities Washington, a state-wide non-profit organization supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the state of Washington, and contributions from individuals and foundations.