Featured Exhibit

John Nelson (1654–1734), before 1824. Attributed to James Frothingham (1785–1865) after John Smibert (1688–1751); oil on wood panel. 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 politically connected Boston merchant, militia captain, spy, and enslaver. His marriage to Elizabeth Tailer, the daughter of a prominent business associate, further cemented his position in Boston society. Their daughter, Rebecca Nelson, later formed an equally advantageous union with Henry Lloyd, the son of James Lloyd, who was the absentee lord of the Manor of Queens Village (present-day Lloyd Neck). In his Boston household, James enslaved Obium, Jupiter Hammon’s father. On at least one occasion, Obium fled, possibly in an unsuccessful attempt to reunite with his parents, Tammero and Oyou, who were enslaved on Shelter Island by James’s in-laws. Following James’s death in 1693, Obium was bound out to various family members, including John Nelson. Nelson alluded to his uneasy relationship with Obium in a letter to Henry, saying "by praiseing or speaking well of him you may doe with him as you please Yett not trust him too much."

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