“A Negro Boy named Titus; Horse; Yoke of Oxen”

Jonathan Edwards’s last will and testament can be seen here:  “Jonathan Edward’s Last Will, and the Inventory of His Estate”.

Here’s what he listed under the category “Quick Stock”:

  • A Negro Boy named Titus
  • Horse
  • Yoke of Oxen
  • Yoke of Steers
  • Two Cows
  • Four D [?]
  • Two Heifers
  • One Calf
  • Six Hogs

One of these things is dramatically not like the others, namely, a human being–a boy(!)–made in the image of God. The fact that Edwards could categorize a boy alongside his animals in his will is appalling, to say the least, and indicative of a deep category error in his view of reality.

Kenneth Minkema notes the following:

“There is some evidence that he was the young son of Joab and Rose Binney, though, through a confusion of names, he could have been Joseph and Sue’s child. In either case, Titus’s continued slavery illustrates how easily free or enslaved blacks in New England could be separated from their children, even by masters who saw themselves as more Christian than others.”

(“Jonathan Edwards’s Defense of Slavery,” The Massachusetts Historical Review (2002), 44).

Minkema cites William Allen, An Address Delivered at Northampton, Mass (Northampton, Mass, 1855), 52 (available here).

Edwards not only owned slaves as a general category, he owned children, and he separated them from their parents. No amount of “kind treatment” on the part of a “Christian master” can make up for the trauma this would produce. I have two boys, and I seethe to imagine someone doing this to them.

UPDATE (2021-08-16): in 2019 “Yale University received a donation of a major collection of manuscripts and ephemera centering on the Dwight family of New England fame. The collection also includes a significant number of documents by members of the Edwards family, and several by Jonathan Edwards himself.” This collection included the receipt for Edwards’s purchase of Titus, and the Jonathan Edwards Studies article includes brief biographical notes on Titus’s later life: “A New Edwards Document: Receipt for a Slave” Jonathan Edwards Studies Vol 9, No 2 (2019): 98–99. [NOTE: to access this article, you must register with the site, but registration is free].

(Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash)

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