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Rebecca Warren Brown
Memoir of Mrs. Chloe Spear, a Native of Africa, Who was Enslaved in Childhood, and Died in Boston, January 3, 1815...Aged 65 Years. By a Lady of Boston
Boston: Published by James Loring, 1832.


Chloe Spear (c. 1767-1815) was an enslaved African woman who became the subject of two posthumous biographies. She was approximately twelve years old when she was captured and brought to America, and although no outside records confirm the circumstances or date of her transatlantic journey, her biographies suggest that she arrived in Philadelphia in 1779. Captain Gamaliel Bradford, a member of a prominent Boston family, purchased her and brought her to Boston as a family servant. Before the end of the Revolutionary War, the Bradford family took Spear with them to reside in Andover, Massachusetts, approximately twenty miles north of Boston. The Bradfords eventually returned to Boston, bringing Spear with them. She was later baptized in the Second Baptist Church in Boston; church membership records indicate that she married a man named Cesar Spear. Together, they had seven children, all of whom she outlived. After slavery was abolished by the state of Massachusetts in 1783, Spear and her husband established and managed a boarding house in Boston for seamen and laborers. She opened her home to religious meetings and social gatherings for people of all races following her husband's death, becoming a beloved figure in both white and black religious and working communities. After her death from severe arthritis and "rheumatic affections" in 1815, Spear was buried in the white Bradford family vault in Boston's Granary Burial-Place (p. 85). The first biographical account of her life was published by Dr. Thomas Baldwin, minister of the Second Baptist Church, in March 1815, two months after her death. The Memoir of Mrs. Chloe Spear, summarized here, appeared seventeen years later, in 1832.

The author of the Memoir does not identify herself by name and refers to herself only as "A Lady of Boston" and "A Member of the Second Baptist Church in Boston" (p. 7). While historians and critics have not conclusively identified this author, archivists suggest two likely candidates. Scholar Lois Brown identifies a white Bostonian named Mary Webb as one possible author. However, Brown indicates that the most likely author is the person to whom the text is most commonly attributed: Rebecca Warren Brown, a prolific Boston writer who published several books for children as well as an 1835 historical work aimed at adult readers and titled Stories about General Warren: In relation to the fifth of March Massacre and the Battle of Bunker Hill.

The Memoir is written as a Christian testimony, chronicling Spear's spiritual evolution by framing her life story with her religious development. While telling the story, the anonymous "Lady of Boston" offers editorial remarks on the issue of slavery as well as substantial commentary on the Christian lessons learned by Spear throughout her life.

Specific details about Spear's abduction from Africa and her transatlantic journey to America are sparse in the Memoir. Spear's biographer must therefore imaginate the plight of the separated family and child. She uses highly emotional language to condemn the "barbarous hunters of human prey": "The bitter wailings of a bereft mother, the deep anxiety of an afflicted father . . . were utterly disregarded by those inhuman wretches, who had plundered them of what they held so dear" (pp. 11, 13). Upon her arrival in Philadelphia, Spear is bought by a man referred to as "Mr. B," who brings her to Boston and names her "Chloe" (pp. 17, 20). Mr. B and his wife consider Spear "property" and thus, the author notes, she "was taught nothing, comparatively, of her duty to God" (pp. 20-21). Yet Spear, who conducts the family's children to school, desires to learn to read. She therefore purchases a book of psalms and secretly hires the school-mistress to tutor her until the master discovers the lessons and forbids them. However, Spear "hid her book under her pillow, and when not likely to be detected, she used to labour over it," believing that it is God's providence that enables her first reading lessons to occur by studying a book of psalms (p. 26).

As "Chloe could give no correct account of dates," the next significant moments described in the biography occur when "she must have become a woman grown" (p. 32). Mr. B moves Spear and his family to Andover to avoid the battles of the ongoing Revolutionary War, and they take up residence in the home of Mr. Adams, "a truly pious and devoted Christian" (p. 35). Adams mentors and instructs Spear in Christian theology and allows her to read Scripture in his personal library after her work is finished for the day. Spear "deprived herself of sleep" in order to spend nights studying and praying, and it "became evident that the Spirit of God was operating upon her heart" (p. 37). One evening, Spear's master overhears her praying aloud in the kitchen, "pour[ing] out her soul to God," which convinces him to allow her to be baptized (p. 38). She submits to his urging and is "sprinkled after the mode of infant baptism;" she later makes "an open profession" of her feelings and joins the New-North Congregational Church after the family's return to Boston (pp. 40-42).

"As a reward of her integrity," Mr. B gives Spear manumission papers set to "take effect at a specified period not very distant," but Spear is actually freed only a short time later by a "law of the Commonwealth" that outlaws slavery in the state (pp. 47-48). Because of mutual affection between Spear and her former master, she continues to work for Mr. B and "he thenceforward paid her for her services" (p. 48). Spear's interest in Christianity intensifies, and she begins attending additional services at the Second Baptist Church. "In process of time," the biographer notes, "she, with her husband, commenced house-keeping" (p. 52). The Spears prosper by running a successful boarding-house, and Spear's frugal habits enable her not only to provide for her family but also to save enough money to purchase property. The author of the text is openly critical of Spear's husband and marriage, attributing all of the couple's successes to Spear's moral fortitude and spiritual merit. Spear eventually loses her husband to illness, and the author notes that she responds to his death not by making "a display of grief" but instead expressing concern about his salvation and "preparation for heaven" (p. 70).

After her husband's death, Spear holds Christian fellowship meetings at her house and invites worshippers of all races. The narrative also describes her acts of charity and her interest in mission work—evidence, the author asserts, of "her desires for usefulness in the cause of Christ" (p. 76). The author draws the biography to a close by recounting the physical ailments and "rheumatic affections" that periodically plagued Spear (p. 85). The final biographical pages memorialize Spear, excerpting a passage from the memoir published by Dr. Baldwin in the Massachusetts Baptist Missionary Magazine, describing her funeral and the community mourning that took place after her death, and closing with a final meditation on her Christian character.

In the "Conclusion" of the text, the author argues against the practice of slavery, which "affords a melancholy evidence of the wickedness of man" (p. 103). Though the author argues that the Christian salvation offered to the enslaved and evidenced in the life of Chloe Spear is a way even slavery may be viewed as "an indirect means of great Good," ultimately she promotes an abolitionist message, connecting the liberation of the enslaved with both moral and spiritual philanthropy (pp. 103-104). "Africa," the author concludes, "was born to be free. The time will come, when she will stand forward, an independent and enterprising nation" (p. 104).

Works Consulted: Baldwin, Thomas, "Biography of Mrs. Chloe Spear," Massachusetts Baptist Missionary Magazine 4:5 (1815): 157-158; Brown, Lois, "Memorial Narratives of African Women in Antebellum New England," Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers 20:1-2 (2003): 38-61.

Jenn Williamson

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