Zachariah Packard: the slaveowner

On this blog before, I’ve written about Zachariah Packard, my ancestor, whom married “Abigail, daughter of Richard Davenport, of South Bridgewater, in 1724,” and had “three sons and one daughter…Elijah, Abigail, Nathaniel, and Nathan, all of whom had families.” He was one of the few Packards whom was a slaveowner, unlike others.I noted exactly this last August when I wrote that “while the Packards did not own enslaved people…they participated in the system of slavery in British America through interconnected trade networks,” while others were stout abolitionists! Getting back to Zachariah, he did not, however, go as far as Captain Samuel Packard whom “sailed a ship to the coast of Africa looking for Black Africans to enslave in 1797 contrary to Rhode Island law”! It is worth quoting what I wrote about Zachariah exclusively this past July:

The following year, Nathaniel, one of Samuel [Packard Sr]’s sons, would marry a woman named Lydia Smith, if existing genealogical records are right. Nathaniel and Lydia would have two children before each of them died in the 18th century: Zachariah (1697-1771) and Mary (1695-1770)…As for Zachariah, he would marry a woman named Abigail Davenport, and have four children: Elijah (b. 1725), Nathan (1733-1798) who was a captain in the Revolutionary War, Abigail (1728-1768) and Nathaniel (1730-1814). When Zachariah died in 1771, he would have a will and inventory that were in keeping with the agricultural lifestyle of many of the Packards. Within his will, he would give his sons Nathan and Nathaniel a “servant” named Peter, his daughter Abigail a “servant boy” named America, and said that a “servant maid” named Ann would be given to his wife Abigail, only set free after her death. The reality of this will seems evident: he is a Christian with “sound and deposing mind” who divides his “quick stock” between his wife and two sons which are above mentioned, along with giving his son Nathaniel his “Smith’s shop” with related tools, cider mill, and his gun, and his wife Abigail his personal estate after debt with funeral charges and legacies subtracted. In his inventory, he is listed as owning 214 pounds, 17 shillings, 2 pence of property, which includes a bed & furniture, roundtable, a wooden box, six chairs, warming pan, 3 wash tubs, 12 tinning sheets, old casks, a cheese press, 13 barrels and two hogshead. He also owns an iron kettle, skillet, eight swine (pigs), nine sheep, three cows, tobacco, Indian corn, a gun, cart rope, old scythes, side saddle, and hand saw. This seems to be “normal” by the standards of the Packard family until you get to the last three items…Hence, he is clearly a slaveowner which was not explicitly stated in his will, except for calling the enslaved people listed above “servants” who are “worth” to him (as “quick stock”) a total of 69 pounds, 4 shillings, 9 pence. Using this measurement, it means that these people constitute almost 33% or one-third of his total property! Through his distribution of enslaved people to his sons Nathan and Nathaniel, daughter Abigail, and wife of the same name, it makes all of these individuals slaveowners as well. No other enslaved people are believed to be owned by other members of the Packard family noted in this book. It is worth discussing this issue at length since stands against the religious convictions which brought over the Packards to New England in the first place…The British government stood behind slaveowners, like Zachariah Packard, refusing to engage in any measures that would impede the slave trade, while courts slowly moved toward granting freedom to enslaved laborers…To sum up this information, with Zachariah as a slaveowner, he was part of a well-off White minority that owned human beings in Massachusetts.

Last year, Michael on Find A Grave noted, in Zachariah’s will, there is a word: Mistress (undoubtedly referring to his wife Abigail), which comes from the cursive writing style of the time, when lower-case “s” were written “almost the way we would today write “f” except in the final position or after another “s.” Hence “history” would look a bit like “hiftory” and “mistress” would look a bit like “miftrefs.” Compare the German letter “ß” (Eszett), which is a ligature double “s.” The line [then] reads, “The Service of the Negro woman Ann during her Mistress [sic, should be Mistress’s] Life.”” This brings us to an improved image from the Massachusetts probate showing Zachariah’s enslaved Blacks.

First is the whole two pages, showing Zachariah’s complete inventory:

Courtesy of Probate records, 1686-1903; with index and docket, 1685-1967, Probates v. 21-23 1771-1778

Next is the specific focus on enslaved Blacks:

Most interesting is what I discovered when I wrote about Abiel Packard: a page from original records showing the division of Zachariah’s probate:

Yellow underlining is my emphasis. This page shows that Deliverance, Abiel’s wife, gave him the estate on which he currently lives! It also names his son, Josiah.

Let’s focus on the page on the left, specifically a line relating to “America Pierce,” as he is called, an enslaved Black of Zachariah Packard:

Not sure why he is now described as a “man” instead of “boy” It is not known whom “Pierce” is.

Now, he is the only one of the three enslaved individuals (the others being Ann and Peter) whom is paid money. This may seem great, but consider that it does NOT say he was freed. Not at all. So we know that “America” was, after Zachariah’s death, enslaved to his daughter Abigail, “Peter” was enslaved to his sons Nathan (1733-1798) and Nathaniel (d. 1721), and “Ann” enslaved to his wife Abigail, only set free after her death, which was some time after 1771.

Let’s start with America. On Find A Grave, the following dates of death of Zachariah and Abigail’s children is listed:

1.Elijah Packard-23 Mar 1726-Rev. War Veteran-Mary Rider
2.Abigail Packard-1728-1768-Daniel Snell Jr.
3.Nathaniel Packard-2 Aug 1730-1814-Sarah Snow/Anna Sloan
4.Nathan Packard-17 Jun 1733-17 Feb 1798-Rev War Veteran-Lydia Jackson

However, we know that the date of Abigail’s death is off based on Zachariah’s will.

Looking in the probate, there is one entry for Abigail:

It makes it clear that this Abigail, Zachariah’s wife, was born in at least 1694 (belaying her Find A Grave entry), is incapable of improving her estate, meaning that a guardian will be appointed, in 1774:

Courtesy of Probate records, 1686-1903; with index and docket, 1685-1967, Probates v. 21-23 1771-1778. The word “superannuated” used in this document means “retired because of age or infirmity,” “too old for use, work, service, or a position” or “antiquated or obsolete” as noted by

What does this mean for America, you may ask? Well, from volume 22 of the probate, it is clear that Nathaniel Packard is her guardian. This would seem to mean that all two of the three enslaved Blacks owned by Zachariah (“Peter” and “Ann”) are now under Nathaniel’s control. Nathan is mentioned in the document too, but he is not the guardian. This brings us to “America” again. Clearly, in Zachariah’s will, “America” was given to the daughter, Abigail, not to the wife, Abigail. But, interestingly, Nathaniel is the executor of Zachariah’s estate:

Courtesy of Probate records, 1686-1903; with index and docket, 1685-1967, Probates v. 21-23 1771-1778.

There is a Nathaniel, but only one in 1721, nine years before Nathaniel (son of Zachariah and Abigail) is born. However, I did find a entry for Nathan Packard in 1798 which aligns with the dates on Find A Grave:

Using this as a guide. I found Nathan’s four-page will, written on June 5, 1794, despite what the index says above. The will begins:

Courtesy of Probate records, 1686-1903; with index and docket, 1685-1967, Probates v. 36-37 1796-1802.

Then there’s the next two pages, he lists his wife Lydia, sons Nathan, Ransum, Perez, Sullivan, Elijah, and Oliver, along with daughters Olive and Roxey (a derivative of “Roxana”),  but no mention of enslaved peoples:

The next page mentions his sons Jonas, executor (his son Nathan), his daughter Sarah (who had then married the late Zepheniah Lathrop), his daughter Abigail (who had married Jonas Howard), and his daughter Lydia (who had married Bernard Clapp). Again, enslaved peoples are not mentioned:

Then, later on, is report of Nathan, whom was executor of his father’s estate:

Then we get to pages 376 and 377:

No enslaved people are mentioned. That means we don’t know what happened to “Peter”, “Ann” or “America,” whom vanished from the records.  It should by obvious why this happened: after 1781, slavery was phased out in the state. So by 1798, it was gone. Hence, all of these enslaved Blacks were set free! The Massachusetts Historical Society writes about this:

Freed slaves in Massachusetts continued in an inferior social position, legally free but with fewer civil rights than whites.  They were treated equally by the legal system, but they could not serve on juries.  They paid taxes, but could not vote, and, in most cases, their children did not attend public schools, prohibited at least by custom and tradition, if not by law.  It was sometimes more difficult to find work as freedmen than as slaves, since slaves were provided the means of employment by their masters.  Domestic service remained a viable employment, along with common labor and the professions associated with the sea.  However, fear of kidnapping (and a forced return to slavery elsewhere) was a bar to working on the waterfront or at sea.  Indentured servitude also remained in force after the abolition of slavery, and African American children such as Dick Morey were commonly indentured out until they reached the age of 21.  Free blacks in the north were continually organizing their communities in hopes of winning freedom for slaves elsewhere, and for bringing the benefits of full citizenship to all African Americans.  They built community associations that provided mutual support and a foundation for political action, such as the African Society  in Boston, and the African Lodge of Masons.

While the Massachusetts Historical Society’s collections cannot help us here, I did find entries for an “America Pierce” in Bridgewater, Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1790, who could be the same as the “America” [1] mentioned in this article:

Courtesy of “United States Census, 1790,” database with images, FamilySearch, America Pierce, Bridgewater, Plymouth, Massachusetts, United States; citing p. 75, NARA microfilm publication M637, (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.), roll 4; FHL microfilm 568,144. Note how they are NOT considered White here.

Peter is also mentioned above, who could be the “Peter” mentioned earlier in this article. There is an “Ann Freeman” I found as well, but I can’t find much for her, other than an entry of a woman also living in Massachusetts at the time, an “Anne Pierce.” So, her residence is a bit shaky, at best.

Even with this disappointing conclusion, we learned a good deal about the Packard family along the way!


[1] I also found an “America Pierce” in Bridgewater in 1800, Plymouth in 1820, 1830, and 1840.

2 thoughts on “Zachariah Packard: the slaveowner

  1. Pingback: From slaveowners to liberators: the Packard family and slavery | Packed with Packards!

  2. Pingback: More than Zachariah Packard’s property: the story of America, Peter, and Ann | Packed with Packards!

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