Featured Exhibit

John Nelson (1654–1734) attributed to James Frothingham (1785–1865) after John Smibert (1688–1751), before 1824. Oil on wood panel, 43 x 36 in. (framed). Gift of Elsie Wilson Thompson and Orme Wilson III in memory of Alice Borland Wilson, 2020.5.3

John Nelson (1654–1734)

John Nelson was a prominent and politically connected Boston trader, militia captain, spy, and enslaver. His marriage to Elizabeth Tailer, the daughter of a close business associate, further cemented his position in Boston society. Their daughter, Rebecca Nelson, would form an equally advantageous union with Henry Lloyd, the son of James Lloyd, a local merchant and the absentee lord of the Manor of Queens Village (present-day Lloyd Neck). In his Boston household, James enslaved Obium, the son of Oyou and Tammero, an African-born couple enslaved by the Sylvesters, James's in-laws on Shelter Island. Following James’s death in 1693, Obium was temporarily bound out to John Nelson. Nelson later wrote to Henry Lloyd about Obium's “unwillingness to part with us.” For Obium, removal from Boston likely meant separation, once again, from family and kin. Nelson promised to send Obium "reasonably cloathed" and offered advice for controlling his behavior.

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