These andirons were named Maria and Jemmy after two women enslaved by the Briggs family (Briggs)

“Maria and Jemmy

Bound to the ‘family’ hearth,

Lift their enslavers” – S.E.

Will you be selling a family member any time soon? Will the inventory of your estate include a loved one, with a dollar value assigned? Of course not.

Putting a dollar value on the heads of the enslaved and then selling them was an everyday practice in New England. Couples and children were commonly torn apart as a result. Yet many still believe today that persons held as slaves in New England were treated like family. This is a myth ready to be busted.

Take Maria, for example. She was living with the Cocks in Boston when they sold her for 14 pounds and 10 shillings, forcing her to uproot and move to Scituate with the Briggs family.

‘‘Know all men by these presents that I, Margret Cock the wife of Edw. Cock of Boston in New England Marriner witnesseth that the said Margret Cock for and in consideration of the sum of fourteen pounds tenn shillings payed by Walter Briggs of Scituate in New England aforesaid unto me the said Margret Cock the receipt whereof is acknowledged by these presents … And alsoe doe covenant and promise to defend the said Walter Briggs his heires and assignes against any pson or psons lawfully or unlawfully claimeing or pretending to have any right, tytle or intrest in the said negro girle…. signed sealed & this bill of saile and negro girle above written delivered to the said Walter Briggs by the said Margt Cocke in the presence of us

the marke of

MARGRETT COCK    (seal)… (Briggs 87)”

Walter Briggs saw to it in his will that Mariah and Jemmy, also enslaved, were passed along to his widow. Interestingly, he specified that Jemmy was to catch horses for the missus to ride.

‘I will that my executor allow my said wife a gentle horse, or mare, to ride to meeting or any other occasion she may have, and that Jemmy, ye neger, shall catch it for her. Also I will my said wife Mariah, ye little neger girle, to be with her so long as my wife lives” (Briggs 70, 86).

When Frances Briggs died, Maria was passed along to their son, John, and upon his passing, to his widow, Deborah.  She passed Maria along to Cornelius Briggs. Once again, Maria was forced to move, this time traveling to Barnstable.

But we learn that Maria was now the mother of a boy, William, “borne of ye said Maria’s body…”

“I ye sayd Deborah … have given granted assigned & set … over unto Cornelius Briggs of Barnstable in ye County of Barnstable … all such right title, duty, term of servitude to come claime intrest service and demand whatsoever which I ye said Deborah Briggs have of, in or to, ye sayd within named Maria ye negro my sayd servant (together with a little boy named William borne of ye said Maria’s body since ye within written)” (Briggs 166-8).

Mother and son sold.

The new owner, Captain Cornelius Briggs, who died in 1693, provided in his will that “[my] negro servant woman named Mauria shall, thirteen years after date, be set free and at liberty, to be at her own disposing” (Briggs 88).

But in the mean time, Maria and her son, Will, were included, along with candlesticks, kettles, cows, and sundry other chattel property in the inventory of the captain’s estate.

“An inventory of ye Goods and Chattels of Capt. Cornelius Briggs late of Scituate Deceased taken ye 30th of October 1694 by us whose names are underneath expressed.

Item his purse and Apparrell     £24  14s.  1d.

2 cows   2 swine   31 sheep     11  15  0

2 Beds and Bedsteads coverlets & cords     9  0  0

One half of a sloope and rigging     30  0  0



Pewter platters Basons and other sorts     5  8  0

Brass kettles and other Brass     6  2  0

Iron Pots and kettle   other Iron worke     5  4  0

Sheets, Napkins table linnen pillow beers     12  4  0

his wives apparrell     3  14  0

one childs Blanket   other small linnen     1  8  0

his Plate     0  14  0

Coverlets and Blankets     5  8  0

his Books     1  0  0

Armes and Ammunition     3  4  0

12 chairs and 5 chests     1  18  0

3 beds  2 bedsteads & cords     5  2  0

Cotton wooll & flax and yarne     0  10  0

hay and stalks     0  10  0

fishing line and lead & staff     0  7  0

3 wheels and a pair of scales     0  15  0

one looking glass 3 bottles 2 juggs     0  9  0

2 tables & a Cubbert     0  9  0

3 trunks one mare     1  1  0

2 candlesticks & old barrells     0  9  0

Bils and Book debts     15  15  0

174  0  1

The Dwelling house and barn & lands in Scituate     30  0  0

and two shares of land lying in ye township of Swansey

         at a place called Showamet 120  0  0

                                             [TOTAL] 324  0  1…”

[EMPHASIS ADDED] (Briggs 180).

Maria was soon sold again, this time to Stephen Otis of Scituate for eleven pounds. With the clock still ticking for her release from slavery, the executor specified that “she to serve the said Otis from date until eleven years shall be fully ended, — at the end of which time the negro woman is to be free and at her own disposal” (Briggs 181-2).

With no similar promise for future freedom, her son, Will, was sold off to Jabez Wilder of Hingham for thirty-five pounds in 1702 (Briggs 181).

A score of years later, we find Will again in the records. It is he who likely married Pegg by the minister of the First Church of Boston. In the church recordings of marriages is found the following:

‘Will, negro servant of John Briggs, and Pegg, servant to Latle Gee” (Briggs 193).

And two centuries later, a Briggs descendant, L. Cabot Briggs, an anthropologist, was in possession of a pair of andirons brought over by the first Briggs to immigrate to America (Dr.) (Briggs 58/59). And what did he call the pair?

Jemmy and Maria.

As you may recall, Jemmy, enslaved along with Maria, was to catch Missus Briggs’ horse after her husband’s decease.

Just as andirons support logs in fireplaces so that air can feed the flames, so did Maria and Jemmy support the Briggs family and subsequent enslavers.

At least in part due to this support, the Briggs family flourished. L. Cabot Briggs, Harvard class of 1931, went on to donate a stately grandfather clock that can be seen to this day in the Harvard University Faculty Club (Harvard)

As for Maria and Jemmy, do they have descendants alive today? If yes, I hope they are flourishing too.

As to the myth of the enslaved of Massachusetts living like family members, I hope this puts an end to it for you.

Susan Elliott

Independent Researcher



Briggs, L. Vernon. History and genealogy of the Briggs family, 1254-1937. 1938.

“Dr. L. Cabot Briggs, Anthropologist, 65.” The New York Times. 19 May 1975.…/dr-l-cabot-briggs…

Harvard Museums.…/object/306257…



ANDIRONS. Briggs. p. 58/59.

CLOCK. Harvard. See link above.

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