This Day in History

Feb. 14, 1783: Belinda Sutton Petitions for a Pension as Reparations

Time Periods: 1765
Themes: Reparations, African American, Racism & Racial Identity, Slavery and Resistance

Belinda Sutton’s 1788 petition. Source: Massachusetts Archives

Belinda Sutton was born in West Africa and, according to her own petition, she was captured and sold into slavery before she was 12 years old. She was enslaved by the Royall family who settled in Massachusetts.

Because of their strong ties to the Loyalists, the state of Massachusetts seized the Royall family’s property, manumitting several enslaved people, including Belinda.

Two years later, Sutton petitioned the legislature for a pension paid out of the Royall family estate.

The face of your Petitioner, is now marked with the furrows of time, and her frame feebly bending under the oppression of years, while she, by the Laws of the Land, is denied the enjoyment of one morsel of that immense wealth, apart whereof hath been accumulated by her own industry, and the whole augmented by her servitude. Read full text.

The legislature agreed to pay her £15 12s per year. Though Sutton had to renew her petition multiple times to actually receive payment, it is the first known case of a freedperson obtaining financial reparations for slavery.

Rita Dove wrote a poem called “Belinda’s Petition.” Learn more from BlackPast and the Missed in History podcast. See the petition and ruling: Massachusetts Archives Collection. v.239: p.12-14, petition of Belinda, February 14, 1783. SC1/series 45X and read full text.

Find two lessons for grades 7+ on reparations below and a lesson on resistance to slavery.