Below you’ll see several documents from King’s Chapel’s records. Looking at each, what is the source of each page? Although they are from different volumes and years, look closely for any commonalities between these pages. Do any names or details appear across documents?
Each of these documents provides a small glimpse into the lives of Lancaster and Margaret Hill, a Black couple who worshipped at King’s Chapel between the 1750s and 1770s. Lancaster and Margaret were married at King’s Chapel on April 9, 1755.
Lancaster Hill came to Boston from Charlestown in 1751. A free man, he married Margaret, a woman enslaved by Dr. Sylvester Gardiner, at King’s Chapel in 1755. Despite his free status, slavery defined much of Lancaster’s life. The lives of his wife and children were at the whim of Dr. Gardiner. The Hills were married at the Chapel because Dr. Gardiner was a member, and when he began attending Trinity Church, so did Lancaster and Margaret. They appear in the Trinity vital register burying one of their infant children, and their son was later married there in 1793. Lancaster operated a grocery on Marlborough Street, modern Washington Street, across from Dr. Gardiner’s home, a spot probably chosen to maintain a close proximity to his wife and children. In 1777, Lancaster put his name to Prince Hall’s petition calling on the recently independent Massachusetts government to put an end to slavery due to the “natural and unalienable right...to freedom.” The petition, purposefully mirroring the language of the American Revolution, unfortunately failed. Lancaster would however live to see his children and all those enslaved in Massachusetts freed after the court cases of Elizabeth Freeman and Quock Walker abolished slavery in the Commonwealth in 1783. Unfortunately, Margaret died in 1782, and though her exact status is unclear, it is believed she remained enslaved all her life.
The appearance of Lancaster and Margaret in the King’s Chapel vital register offers a concrete record of their life and marriage, but it also can reveal much about the enslaved and free Black experience in colonial Boston. Lancaster and Margaret did not choose to attend King’s Chapel; they attended because Dr. Gardiner did. Even though Lancaster was free he still had to sit upstairs in the uncomfortable gallery pews to which all Blacks were relegated, by vote of the King’s Chapel Vestry, its governing board. Lancaster’s life was very much defined by slavery in spite of his free status, and his name on Prince Hall’s 1777 petition is a powerful reminder of the effects of slavery in Boston.