Old North Church, a cherished symbol, opens up about its link to slavery
That past includes a pact by Jackson and fellow parishioners George Ledain and Edward Tothill to smuggle slaves illegally from Barbados to Suriname, according to Jared Ross Hardesty, the former BC doctoral student who now teaches history at Western Washington University.
What made the trip illegal was a prohibition on British subjects from trading outside the British Empire. Meanwhile, the Dutch West India Company held a monopoly on all slave trading in Suriname.
Jackson, Ledain, and Tothill — who was working in Suriname as a shipping agent — all donated to erect Old North’s steeple, which has since been replaced by a close replica. The largest contribution for the bells came from Gedney Clarke, a Salem native who had moved to Barbados, masterminded the voyage to Suriname, and eventually became fabulously wealthy.
A commemorative sign in Old North’s pew 13 (above), which is where Newark Jackson sat during services, will be replaced with updated findings about the slave trader.LANE TURNER/GLOBE STAFF/GLOBE STAFF
Centuries after the voyage, the long-forgotten details of their enterprise surfaced serendipitously.
Ayres reached out to Hardesty after reading “Unfreedom,” his 2016 book on Boston and slavery in which Jackson was mentioned. Hardesty was asked by Ayres to do more research, which was funded by grants from the Mars Foundation and the National Park Service. During that work, Hardesty found a treasure trove of Dutch colonial records about three mutineers of mixed race who murdered Jackson and Ledain shortly after leaving Suriname.