the Dodges and Chance Bradstreet

one house, five families, 200 years of history

Debating Liberty

The Dodges and Chance Bradstreet had to decide what the Revolution’s ideals of liberty and rights meant for them.

In 1777, in the midst of the American Revolution, an enslaved fourteen-year-old named Chance came to this house to work for the house’s new owner, Abraham Dodge, and his family. Abraham bought the house after returning from the battlefield in a war for independence from Britain.

Seeking liberty during the turmoil of war and its aftermath involved risk for New Englanders—men and women, black and white—as they sought to broaden the promise of the Revolution in different ways. The outcomes were not at all certain.

The Seat of War in New England, 1775

The Seat of War in New England, 1775

Courtesy Library of Congress

It’s 1777 . . . in the midst of the American Revolution

An enslaved fourteen-year-old named Chance has been brought here to work for the house’s new owner, patriot Abraham Dodge, his wife, and teenaged daughter and son. Slavery is legal in Massachusetts, but everything is in flux and talk of liberty is in the air.

What will independence mean for Chance and for the Dodges?

Abraham Dodge, a ship captain and maritime trader, leased Chance from Rev. Isaac Story of Marblehead, the minister who owned him. The twelve-year term of Chance’s lease bound him to this house until he was twenty-seven years old.

What kind of work did Chance likely do?

In the house

  • Carry wood
  • Make fires
  • Empty chamber pots
  • Sweep floors and chimneys
  • Run errands

In Abraham’s fields

  • Plow and plant
  • Hoe garden rows
  • Harvest crops
  • Haul manure
  • Chop wood
  • Mend fences

On the waterfront

  • Push wheelbarrows of fish
  • Shovel salt (for preserving cod)
  • Tend to fish drying on fish flakes
Lease, 1777

Lease, 1777

Although a small percentage of the population, enslaved people were everywhere in New England. They worked as household servants, skilled craftsmen, farm laborers, and sailors—and they lived in close proximity to white colonists, often in the same house.

Wealthy New England family with enslaved youth, about 1740

Wealthy New England family with enslaved youth, about 1740

Courtesy Collection of the Newport Historical Society