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Processing the truth about our forebears

littleny -

Ben Jacques is distressed to discover that clergy members in his town of Stoneham were slaveholders, as were his ancestors (“The truth about my ancestors,” Ideas, Sept. 10). A few years ago my daughter asked, “Do you think any of our ancestors owned slaves?” After some consideration, I responded, “Probably.”

I think that if one’s ancestors include Americans of European lineage in the 17th through the 19th century who were in the mercantile or aristocratic class or otherwise somewhat affluent, the answer is “probably.” We can be revulsed by this, and we should work to right the wrongs endured by enslaved people, but I hesitate to condemn these ancestors for behavior consistent with, and encouraged by, the accepted social practices of their day.


We believe ourselves to be enlightened, but so did our forebears a few hundred years ago. One wonders which of our current so-called enlightened practices and beliefs will be looked on in horror by our descendants.

My daughter’s question led to substantial research into her ancestors, which has been a revealing journey for her and her parents.

Samuel Chapin