53 pages 1 hour read

Wendy Warren

New England Bound

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 2016

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Summary and Study Guide


New England Bound: Slavery and Colonization in Early America is a 2017 history book by American historian and Princeton University professor Wendy Warren. In her work, Warren explores how 17th-century colonists in New England participated in the transatlantic slave trade by purchasing enslaved Africans and selling Indigenous peoples into slavery. Warren shows how this process of enslavement was integral to the expansion of English settlements and wealth in New England and explains the different manifestations of this chattel slavery in the region. Relying on a variety primary sources, from wills and trading records to diary entries and court cases, Warren paints a picture of 17th-century New England that includes varied individual perspectives of African and Indigenous people who found themselves ensnared in this new colonial society. New England Bound: Slavery and Colonization in Early America was awarded the Organization of American Historians’ 2017 Merle Curti Social History Prize and was nominated as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in History in 2017.

This study guide refers to the Kindle edition of this work.

Content Warning: New England Bound: Slavery and Colonization in Early America contains descriptions of enslavement, violence and sexual violence, suicide, and racial slurs.


In her introduction, author Wendy Warren explains that historians have not thoroughly explored Indigenous and African experiences in early New England. While there is robust scholarship on the antebellum period of slavery and emancipation, slavery in early New England remains poorly understood. Warren explains that her work will show how 17th century New England colonists participated in the transatlantic slave trade to enslave Indigenous and African people and the way their lives and labor impacted the development of English colonies.

Warren explains that the English colonists who established New England had two main aims: to establish religiously pure communities and to thrive materially and financially. For the most part, these colonists did not have moral or religious qualms about enslaving Indigenous or African people, and by the 1630s and 1640s, some of the colonies established laws which formalized the legality of chattel slavery. Warren explains how the colonies’ financial difficulties prompted them to establish trading ties to the West Indies, trading food and animals to plantations in Barbados in exchange for its cash crops, tobacco and sugar, as well as enslaved Africans. This relationship further fueled the existing transatlantic slave trade, causing African people to be separated from their families through capture or sale, undergo painful and dangerous journeys to the Americas on slave ships, and then endure a life of enslavement. It also populated New England with enslaved people; slavery became normalized among English colonists, with many families owning at least one enslaved person, who were considered valuable property.

Warren then explores how English colonists intentionally “unplanted” local Indigenous communities through war, displacement, or enslavement and “replanted” the New England area with English settlers and the Africans they enslaved.

The author describes New England’s system of slavery, contrasting it with other emerging slavery systems. While the cash-crop plantations in the West Indies strictly separated enslaved people from their enslavers and therefore racialized labor, enslaved people in New England worked at the same tasks as enslavers, including farming, forestry, fishing, and household work. Some enslaved people lived in homes with English families and were intertwined in their daily domestic life. Warren considers how this cultural immersion impacted enslaved people and informed their attempts to advocate for themselves.

The author explores how colonists attempted to prevent enslaved people from forming sexual relationships by legally banning fornication and discouraging marriage amongst enslaved people. In spite of the threats of whipping and fines, enslaved people established forbidden relationships with each other and colonists, and had children as a result. Warren explains how colonial authorities drafted laws that specifically discriminated against Black and Indigenous people, limiting their mobility and forbidding them from using weapons or drinking alcohol. These laws racialized certain freedoms, formally legislating Black and Indigenous people as the lowest tier of colonial society, and turned New England into a “slave regime.”

Finally, Warren discusses differing views on slavery amongst colonists in 17th-century New England, focusing on Samuel Sewall’s anti-slavery pamphlet “The Selling of Joseph.” Warren explains how Sewall, like a few other anti-slavery advocates of the time, grounded his argument in biblical authority. His views, however, were very uncommon at the time, and most colonists agreed with men like Cotton Mather and John Saffin that slavery was a natural feature of society’s hierarchy and a Christian practice. In Warren’s Epilogue she ponders how the following generations of Anglo-Americans seem to have forgotten the violent displacement and enslavement of Africans and Indigenous people in New England’s early colonies. She reiterates that English colonization of the region worked in tandem with the enslavement of Black and Indigenous people in New England and elsewhere.