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“A People not insensible of the sweets of rational freedom”

On 13 Jan 1777, the Massachusetts legislature considered a petition from eight black men on behalf of “a great number of Negroes who are detained in a state of Slavery in the Bowels of a free and Christian Country.”

That petition drew on the natural-rights philosophy that underlay the Declaration of Independence and similar documents in the preceding years. The authors wrote:

That your Petitioners apprehend that they have, in common with all other Men, a natural and unalienable right to that freedom, which the great Parent of the Universe hath bestowed equally on all Mankind, and which they have never forfeited by any compact or agreement whatever—But they were unjustly dragged, by the cruel hand of Power, from their dearest friends, and some of them even torn from the embraces of their tender Parents, from a populous, pleasant and plentiful Country—and in Violation of the Laws of Nature and of Nation and in defiance of all the tender feelings of humanity, brought hither to be sold like Beasts of Burden, and like them condemned to slavery for Life—Among a People professing the mild Religion of Jesus—A People not insensible of the sweets of rational freedom—Nor without spirit to resent the unjust endeavors of others to reduce them to a State of Bondage and Subjection.

Your Honors need not to be informed that a Life of Slavery, like that of your petitioners, deprived of every social privilege, of every thing requisite to render Life even tolerable, is far worse than Non-Existence—In imitation of the laudable example of the good People of these States, your Petitioners have long and patiently waited the event of Petition after Petition by them presented to the legislative Body of this State, and can not but with grief reflect that their success has been but too similar.

They can not but express their astonishment, that it has never been considered, that every principle from which America has acted in the course of her unhappy difficulties with Great-Britain, pleads stronger than a thousand arguments in favor of your Petitioners.

The ask was for a law to free all adults enslaved in Massachusetts, and to ensure the liberty of all enslaved children when they reached the age of twenty-one (essentially treating them as apprentices).

The legislature didn’t enact such a law. The Massachusetts courts eventually made the first big step to making slavery unenforceable in the state.

Here are the signatures and marks of the eight men who submitted the petition, as shown in its digital form, courtesy of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery and Anti-Segregation Petitions project.

The most famous of those men was Prince Hall. Others joined with Hall in the first African-American Freemasons lodge.

Today I’m focusing on the sixth man, whose given name was Nero. I’ve seen his surname transcribed as Funelo, Funilo, and even Suneto. I posit that that surname was Funels, a phonetic spelling of Faneuils, and that this man had been enslaved by one of the Faneuil family.

TOMORROW: Nero Faneuil in court.

The Hunt for Birth Parents

One of the most difficult and emotional processes when studying and researching your genealogy is the hunt for birth parents if you have been adopted. Because of privacy laws, which vary from state to state and time period to time period, your may or may not be able to locate exact names and locations from the adoption agency or even from your adoptive parents. Also, many times birth parents do not want to be found. The process can be long, so be prepared for quite a search.

The best starting point when trying to locate your birth family is your adoptive parents. Be sensitive when approaching them for information-make it very clear that you wish to know your genealogy has nothing to do with them or the love they showed you as parents. By finding your birth parents, you are in no way replacing your real family. Your mother and father may not to be able to give you any more than a first name for your birth mother or even any more than the name of the agency or adoption center that handled the paperwork. It will be especially tricky to find information from them if you were from an agency overseas. However, some adoptions are more open then others and your parents may have had some contact with the birth mother, even if they do not know her name. Even providing you with her age or some physical features may help you on your search.

Next, research the laws surrounding adoption in your state and country. You may want to invest in a professional to help you understand these laws, but be careful to always abide by them. There are many agencies, which you can find on the Internet or in your phone book, that can help you in this area, and their legal advice can be invaluable. On the Internet, you can also sign up for services such as adoption reunions. Perhaps your birth mother is looking for you too.

Finally, approach the agency that handled your adoption. They may or may not be able to help you, but it can’t hurt to ask. You might be able to send a letter, through them, to your birth mother, asking for her to contact you to help you research your birth family tree. The adoption agency may also be able to tell you about your mother’s medical records, if nothing else, so that you can be aware of your family’s health history.

Don’t give up. You may never locate your birth mother, but even finding out her name and age can help your draw up a family tree. Your birth father will probably be even harder to find. If you’re stumped, consider researching your adoptive family instead, because it is their name you carry and their love that raised you.