Elizabeth Humphries

Dawn. April 19, 1775. A bullet explodes from the barrel of a musket, breaking the heavy silence that hangs over Lexington, MA. The American Revolution has begun. As the alarm spreads throughout the New England countryside, men and women make a very important choice—to actively support the rebellion or remain loyal to England. For many, the choice is easy—the King has denied them their freedom and liberty and they must reclaim it. But for hundreds of free and enslaved Africans, freedom and liberty are just words with hazy definitions; their choice—and its consequences—are less clear. Which side supports freedom and liberty for all?

Elizabeth Humphries is the head of a free black family that has lived in Boston and worshipped at the Old North Church for over 30 years. Her children were baptized at the church and her husband buried there. On Sundays, sitting in the gallery with widows, apprentices, and other African-Americans, Elizabeth hears Rev. Byles speak of allegiance to the Crown. Yet the King’s policies, particularly the closing of the port of Boston, have made life difficult for her family.

With work in the maritime trades scarce, the price of goods skyrocketing, and talk of war growing, Elizabeth must consider her options. She could leave Boston and head for Nova Scotia where a community of free blacks has settled. But this would be expensive and finances are tight. After her husband’s death, Elizabeth received modest financial support from the Old North, but such help would be too little and she owns no land or anything of value to sell to raise the needed funds.

Staying in Boston presents Elizabeth with different troubles. Within Boston’s African-American community there is much unrest. Though Massachusetts banned the slave trade in 1774, slavery itself remains legal. For many years, enslaved blacks have been petitioning the legislature to outlaw slavery. But the struggle between the colonists and the King has become a distraction. The rebels claim equality, freedom, and liberty as inalienable rights; but do such rights extend to the African-American community?

And now, with the spilling of blood on Lexington Green, war appears inevitable. But what side should Elizabeth support? She is free, but members of her family have married slaves and many of her friends remain enslaved. Will the colonists extend their freedom and liberty to enslaved blacks? Will the King reward the African-American community for their loyalty with their freedom? What might happen if she chooses the losing side?