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The Unmasking Of Negro Election Day and Its Recreation
Evolution of Negro Election Day’s History - The First Black Voting System In Our Country.

Negro Election Day’s relevance to the date of the Declaration of Independence

The Declaration of Independence is the founding document of the United States, adopted July 4, 1776.

 

There were thirteen colonies, also known as the Thirteen British Colonies or the Thirteen American Colonies; constructed by a group of British colonies on the Atlantic coast of North America founded in the 17th and 18th centuries. The Thirteen Colonies in their traditional groupings were: the New England Colonies (New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut); the Middle Colonies (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware); and the Southern Colonies (Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia).

 

Between 1625 and 1775, the colonial population grew from about 2,000 to 2.4 million, displacing Native Americans with a population of African people subject to a system of enslavement, legal in all of the colonies. 

 

The declaration of independence was a formal explanation of why the Continental Congress voted to declare American independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain, a year after the American Revolutionary War of 1775.  The Declaration of Independence tied the 13 rebel colonies together as a unit, fighting for their independence from the English monarchy.  The Lee Resolution for independence was passed unanimously by the Congress on July 2, 1776. After ratifying the text on July 4, Congress issued the Declaration of Independence in several forms. It did not give voting rights to black Americans, so they maintained their own self-governance, with a voting rights system, still limited to specific sections of the United States.

Negro Election Day is a celebration of the first black self-governance practiced beginning May 1741, astonishingly, 35 years before America's independence was declared and the Constitution was adopted.  The New England Colonies, which included New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut formed and embraced this democratic system of black self-government called Negro Election Day.

The first recorded account of Negro Election Day’s creation was 1740, however, the first practice election day was, May 1741 on the Saugus River in Massachusetts.  It would expand throughout the rest of the New England Colonies.

Today this State Holiday serves as a poignant celebration of that legacy of black self-governance, emphasizing the power of collective action, unity, and the fight for rights.

Negro Election Day and its creation

Prince Pompey was a man from Ghana, West African, known to be of royal blood.  Taken captive in Ghana, he was sold into slavery to Daniel Mansfield of Saugus MA, during the Atlantic slave trade. 

During his time enslaved, Prince Pompey united with other royal blood Africans to establish the first black self-governance system.  This system was called Negro Election Day!   The term Negro Election Day comes from a place in Africa called, Negroland.  These men, including Pompey, took the "Negro" part of Negroland to name this system.  The word "Negro" in Negro Election Day's significance is not a PEOPLE but a reference to their HERITAGE.  (*Please see image of the map)

Now, 1741, these enslaved men held a 2-week election process beginning with debating.  Many of these Negro Elections were held on the same day as the white Election. 

Negro Day Election Procedures

Although these enslaved men were skill talented, many in 1740 were unable to count.  In order to vote they had to come up with a system for voting.  They lined up the candidates running for the position of Black King or Black Governor.  They put the candidates’ side by side.  After the candidates were lined up, the enslaved African would stand behind the candidate they wanted to vote for.  Example:  Each man voting for Pompey would stand behind Pompey

After all the enslaved men voting were in their place in line, the man with the most people in line would be announced the winner.  This person would become the representative of the black community. 

The representative who won Negro Election Day, earned the title Black King or Black Governor, depending on the British rule.  In Massachusetts Black King Pompey won the election earning him the title of Black King Pompey.  

Once elected, Election Day followed with a 1-day celebration called a Coronation.  Some places, such as Rhode Island, held a Negro Election Day Ball.  Others, such as Massachusetts held a coronation festival, honoring the traditions combining African and American culture.  At the festival’s, the winner paraded through town on a horse, with aides on each side.  Others marched while playing fifes, fiddles, drums, and horns. Community members put on the colors of their homeland and danced in the parade. 

The coronation was held on 2 acres of land, purchased in 1758 by Black King Pompey, hosting political activities, outdoor feast, socializing and competed in athletic contests.  Later in the evening hosting dancing, gambling, and drinking.  

Once Negro Election Day and the coronation celebration ended, Black King Pompey used his Black King status to serve as mediator and liaison between the slave, elected colonial leaders and white slave owners.  Pompey and his court held court trials where they deliberated punishment for non-law-abiding slaves in their communities.  

As Negro Election Day spread, these Black Kings and Governors wanted to use their power to protect the enslaved northerners form the brutality of beatings, lynchings and the harsh reality southern slave owners brought to the northern colonies.  Historically, we believe that the North did not practice brutality, but later, newspaper articles from the 1800’s would show whites in the north could be as brutal as the southern slave owners.  Many even married their enslaved wives only later to sell his own family to southern slave owners in Virginia.   Negro Election Day and the Black Kings and Governors worked hard to fight these and other infractions in the black communities.

In the late 1800’s Negro Election Day was becoming too large to hold on the 2-acres of land, and King Pompey had sold the Saugus land, so the loyalty of location was no longer a factor   Negro Election Day was moved to Salem Willows Park in Salem MA.   In the late 1800’s Negro Election Day was attracting as many as 10,00 people.  People would arrive in barges off the water just to be a part of this event.  In 1869 several residents of Salem wanted to put a halt to Negro Election Day even using the police and the towns politics to stop the Celebration.

Negro Election Day Other Locations

In the mid 1760’s Negro Election Day moved to Salem Willows Park in Salem MA.  The move came because the Saugus River location became too small to host Negro Election Day elections.  


In 1768, nine slaveholders petitioned to regulate or to prevent Negro Election Day for the future appearance of such disorder in the town of Salem.  

A man named Joseph Brown, married to Lucretia owned a tavern in Marblehead MA.  He would run for Black King and win, calling himself Black Joe.  He put his name on the sign outside his tavern and held Negro Election Day celebrations. 

Before Marblehead and during Salem, the city of Boston also had a Negro Election Day celebration.  It was held on the Boston Common annually.  But the white citizens of Boston became afraid and moved Negro Election Day from May to January, hoping the winter cold would keep blacks from meeting.  But it did not, and legislation was enacted to ban Black residents from gathering in public. This explains why Black Boston has a legacy of going to Negro Election Day in Salem MA.    Negro Election Day was hosted in Danvers, Massachusetts in a small community celebration. 

Massachusetts was not the only place, whether because slave owners were moving their enslaved Africans around the Northern Colonies, or by word of mouth, Negro Election Day began to take on legs and began moving to other locations.  As is the case of Black King Nero, who was moved to New Hampshire, ran for an election and became the first elected official.  He used his King status to fight to free enslaved men.  In January. 13, 1777, filed petitions along with 18 slaves, for the New Hampshire legislature for freedom, which has granted in 1779. That same year, black men in the Connecticut towns of Stratford and Fairfield signed a petition. It asked the General Assembly in Hartford if slavery wasn’t inconsistent with “the present claims of the United States.” Some Connecticut slaves petitioned for freedom because they became the property of the state after their Loyalist masters fled.

Negro Election Day also grew celebrations and Balls to locations in Rhode Island and Connecticut using their powers to change laws and even play a part in the ending of slavery.

Negro Day Election Practices During Wars

A freed black man named Richard Crafus, became Black King Dick, by practicing Negro Election Day Celebration during the War of 1812

More than a thousand African American prisoners in Dartmoor Prison toed the line set by a tall, powerful young privateer named Richard Crafus.

They called him Black King Dick, and he was the most famous man in the prison.

He arrived on Oct. 9, 1814, forced to march 17 miles to the gloomy stone prison high upon a rocky, windy moor.

Twenty percent of the sailors aboard privateers and U.S. Navy vessels during the War of 1812 were black.

By 1814, 1,000 African American sailors and 5,000 of their shipmates were incarcerated in Dartmoor Prison. Some 271 died there.

Conditions at Dartmoor Prison were brutal. It was perched 1700 feet above sea level on a windswept moor. The prisoners were exposed to winter blasts of rain and snow, given starvation rations of beef tea and black bread once a day and abused by cruel guards. They slept in hammocks stacked high in crowded, lice-infested barracks.

The prisoners weren’t confined to cells and so were able to govern themselves. They had courts that punished miscreants, a gambling room, a market, sporting events and a theater. Prisoners could volunteer to work in stone quarries or build the prison chapel.

The jailers segregated the African American prisoners in their own barracks, Prison Number Four. There they created their own culture, which whites could join if they wanted.

And unlike the white prisons, the African American prison held Sunday worship services.

Black King Dick earned fame throughout Dartmoor Prison for ruling with an iron hand.

 

Twenty-eight percent of the African American prisoners were born in New England.  Many of the rest sailed from New England ports.  Most would have known the tradition of electing or appointing black kings and governors on Election Day.

Kings and governors were often chosen for their physical prowess. Richard Crafus was 6’ 3” when the average height was 5’6,” physically powerful and a masterful bare-knuckle boxer. He wore a bearskin grenadiers’ cap as a symbol of his authority.

Richard Crafus negotiated with prison authorities and kept order among the prisoners. He made daily rounds, checking each berth for infractions.

 

The British shipped the prisoners back to the United States in 1815 after the war. Richard Crafus is returned to Boston, where he rose to leadership in the city’s African American community.

Boston’s King Dick taught boxing between 1826-35 in a tenement on St. Botolph Street, wearing a red vest, white shirt and carrying a cane. He also wore an old-style police cap because he served as an auxiliary police officer.

He led an annual procession around Boston Common on Negro Election Day, after which he gave a patriotic speech.

Richard Crafus has thought to have died around 1835.

 

The Start of Negro Election Day Evolution

Negro Election Day’s history is a powerful story of how enslaved Africans of Royal blood turned their tragedy into positive triumph.  But now, with its new location in Salem MA and the end of slavery allowing Blacks to obtain the right to Vote in mainstream elections, Negro Election Day began the start of masking its history. 

People traveled to Salem Willows and began hosting political conventions, continuing the Negro Election Day Coronation but changing its name to Emancipation Day.  

During the next century, women of the community organized the celebration and again diluted the name to Maids Picnic to honor workers.  With the name Picnic its legacy value diminished and lost what it represented.  

Now in the next century, over the years, AME Churches in Lynn, Chelsea, Cambridge and Boston, hosted the celebration.  They moved the celebration to Sunday and changed its name again, calling it Sunday Picnic.  Now as legacy has it, the connection between Negro Election Day was lost and it took on its own identify.  Newspaper articles were achieved, and all records of Negro Election Day were hidden in College Libraries and many other locations still hidden today.

During World War II, the churches gave up hosting the celebration and turned it over to the community.  Now as we identified ourselves as Colored instead of Negro, we changed the name of the festival to Colored People’s Picnic, moving it back to Saturday.   This was in honor of the factory workers and those working in the defense plants.  The community wanted the workers to be able to attend and attracted families and descendants into returning.  

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is a landmark piece of federal legislation in the United States that prohibited racial discrimination in voting.  It was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson during the height of the civil rights movement on August 6, 1965, and Congress later amended the Act five times to expand its protections.

Designed to enforce the voting rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, the Act sought to secure the right to vote for racial minorities throughout the country, especially in the South. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the Act is considered to be the most effective piece of federal civil rights legislation ever enacted in the country.

So, with the civil rights movement and black awareness of Black Power, the event day remined Saturday, but the title Colored became offensive and Black became our identify.  Now, we have moved from Negro Election Day to Black Picnic, merging pride, honor and Black achievement, while leaving out its origin, black voting.  The same thing we were fighting for, we forgot to honor.  Often because the voting history was hidden, and no one was able or willing to reveal it. 

The 21st Century introduced 3 women who initiated due to the City of Salem.  In 2014, these three women attended what was still being called Black Picnic.  After the City of Salem MA disrespected the attendees through a permit with a rap group that used the word Negro and other foul language, 2 of the 3 women, Doreen and Su, went to a meeting with the City of Salem Parks and Recreations who admitted giving the group a permit. 

The City of Salem Parks and Recreations requested a partnership with the 3 women if they would take over the hosting of the event.  The 3 women agreed and their first year as host was 2015 of which they developed an organization called Salem United.   The Mayor, Kim Driscoll, now the Lt Governor of Massachusetts, Police Chief, Mary Butler, now head of security at Peabody Essex Museum, Parks and Recreations Chair, Patricia O’Brien, Senator Joan Lovely and 2 city Councilors, 1 being Domingo Dominquez, served on the Board and developed an advisory board.  Later, the advisory board would combine with the Board and included a couple of Salem residents, now members of the board, and several board members.  Later, would come St. Rep Paul Tucker, and Congressman Seth Moulton, as well as now retired, Governor Charlie Baker, as it grew to a nonprofit called Salem United, Inc.

The rebirth through Salem United, Inc. unmasking the history of Negro Election Day and its relationship to the 3rd Saturday in July.  Due to the unmasking, Salem United, Inc. set a mission it Preserve, Protect and Build Black History.  

 

As history repeated itself, like in 1768, 2017 brought another plan to stop Negro Election Day, now known as Black Picnic  As the historical significance of the day began to come to light and the value of the event came to light, the City of Salem, in conjunction with the Salem Police, set up a campaign to take back the annual event.  Although it failed, it was just a repeat of history trying to stop an event valuable to the education and the prosperity of the black community.

 

With all the information unmasked, members of the Board along with President, Doreen Wade, designed an exhibit to be called “The Unmasking of Negro Election Day.”  And with the continuous of finding documents and bringing its history to the relevance of today the name was changed to “The unmasking of Negro Election Day and the suppression of the Black Vote.”  The exhibit was introduced to the public after the beginning of the death of covid in 2021 at Hamilton Hall in Salem MA.  

July 15th, 2023, Salem United, Inc. celebrated its 1st year as a State Holiday, which was enacted into Law, July 22, 2022, by Governor Charlie Baker. 

Election Cake

“1½ lb. butter
5 lb. flour
2 lb. sugar
4 eggs
1 quart hop yeast
1 teaspoon soda (instead of soda, I use Royal Baking Powder and doubtless Grandma would if she’d had it), 
1-pint hot milk
½ oz. cinnamon
2 lb. stones raisins
rise overnight

make 4 loaves.

From these sources it would seem milk-based Election Cake was the most popular version. 

All of these recipes are from cookbooks outside the Hartford area. All of the recipes are called “Election Cake” with the exception of one called “Hartford Election Cake”. Does the milk version differ with how the ladies of Hartford made their Election Cakes?
1889 Hartford Election Cake and Other Receipts
“Chiefly From Manuscript Sources” (Sic)
Published For the Benefit of St. Peter’s-In-The-Mount, Holderness, NH
Recipes collected By Ellen Terry Johnson
Printed in Hartford, CT

The cookbook contains 30 cake and cookie recipes. Of these, eleven are Election Cake recipes, nine are other cake recipes and ten are cookie recipes. All the Election Cake recipes came from different sources or women. What is interesting is the consistency among these recipes. Every recipe called for flour, sugar, butter, eggs, raisins, spice, milk, wine and brandy, and homemade yeast. A comparison of the recipes showed that there were well defined ratios: equal quantities of sugar and butter, each being half the amount of flour used. Example: 8 pounds flour, 4 pounds sugar, 4 pounds butter. Eggs vary but generally were equal to about half the weight of the flour. All the recipes used milk. All used liquor. The liquor consisted of wine and brandy with the exception of one that called for rum. Without exception all the recipes called for homemade yeast and in some cases, had a recipe for it. The women all considered homemade yeast to be superior to Fleichman’s cake yeast specifically for making Election Cake. None called it Hartford Election Cake. Homemade yeast takes longer to rise so this bread-cake was made over two days.


The consistency of the recipes and the number of Election Cake recipes indicates it was a popular cake in the Hartford area and remained so well after it was considered “old-fashioned” by outsiders. Child’s cookbook published in Boston in 1833 called the recipe “Old-fashioned election cake” as did Aunt Mary’s New England Cookbook (Boston, 1881) “Old Fashioned Election Cake”.  The New England Cookbook (1912) by Helen Wright has “Old Hartford Election Cake (150 Years Old)” with the correct ingredients and amounts (ratios) to those in the Hartford Election Cake cookbook. This suggests there was an election cake specific to the Hartford area. If the date is correct, then it dates the cake back to the 1760’s.

5 lb. flour
2 lb. butter
2 lb. sugar
3 gills of distillery yeast, or twice the quantity of home-brewed [yeast]
4 eggs
1 gill wine
1 gill brandy
½ oz. nutmeg
2 lbs. fruit
1 quart milk
1 lb. citron, optional

Election Cake had two versions. Both were popular. The milk version conformed to temperance agenda. The wine and brandy version conformed to the gaiety and drinking associated with partying on election day.  As time went on and election day was no longer the grand event of the year, Election Day Cake did not disappear. Housewives adapted and served “this cake every fall and winter” as the Connecticut lady from Maine explained.

“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”

Marcus Garvey

“I have been told to whitewash my history, to delete the name "Negro" from Negro Election Day.  I will not do what others have done to our history. 

 

I have knowledge of this history.  I teach it to you.  But I preserve its culture.  I do not delete its significance.  I do not mask its origin. 

 

I believe in the words of Marcus Garvey and I live by those words."

Doreen Wade President, Salem United, Inc.

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781-502-5512

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― DaShanne Stokes

“Resistance isn’t enough. If we want change, we have to get out the vote.”

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