Archaeologists May Have Found Home Built by One of New England’s First Black Property Owners

Pompey Mansfield was an enslaved man who won his freedom, purchased land, constructed a house and became a prominent community leader

Kabria Baumgartner
Researchers Kabria Baumgartner and Meghan Howey at the dig site Matthew Modoono / Northeastern University

Researchers have unearthed the stone foundations of a house that may have belonged to Pompey Mansfield (known as “King Pompey”), an enslaved man from West Africa who won his freedom and became one of the first Black landowners in colonial New England.

At some point after his birth in the early 1700s, Mansfield was abducted and brought to Massachusetts. Historians don’t know how long he was enslaved or when he was freed. In 1762, he appears to have purchased two acres of land, where he eventually built a small house.

“King Pompey was an esteemed leader in the Black community, but his home and property have always been a mystery,” says Kabria Baumgartner, a historian at Northeastern University and member of the research team, in a statement.

The researchers wanted to solve that mystery. They started their search with a crucial piece of evidence: an 1829 map of northeastern Massachusetts featuring a tiny square marked with the words “Black King Pompey.” However, the map alone would not be enough.

“I have learned over the years of doing archaeology, looking for sites on early colonial and even historic maps, it’s hardly like you can enter them into your GPS,” Meghan Howey, an archaeologist at the University of New Hampshire and member of the research team, tells Beth Treffeisen of

The researchers spent months gathering historical sources such as maps, land deeds, newspapers and genealogical records. They then compared their research with modern topographic maps made using lidar.

Based on this analysis, they narrowed down the location of the Mansfield homestead to a site on the banks of the Saugus River, about ten miles north of Boston, where they began digging. At the excavation site, the researchers identified a foundation made using stones from the nearby river, chiseled by hand to fit together.

River rocks
At the dig site, archaeologists found river rocks that had been altered by hand to form a foundation. Matthew Modoono / Northeastern University

The handmade foundations suggest a builder who “didn’t have access to the same resources as their neighbors,” Howey tells Newsweek’s Aristos Georgiou. She adds that this individual appears to have been industrious, self-sufficient and “deeply committed to having their own home.” In the statement, Howey adds that the evidence suggesting the home was Mansfield’s is “very compelling.”

If the researchers are correct, Mansfield lived in the house more than 260 years ago with his wife, named either Phylis or Phebe, and hosted free and enslaved Black individuals from the region at an annual event called Black Election Day.

On this day, attendees elected a king to act as a leader for the local Black community. The event also featured dancing, singing and other traditions carried across the Atlantic from West Africa. “To imagine that kind of communal gathering amid slavery is, I think, kind of incredible, kind of remarkable,” Baumgartner tells

Mansfield earned the title of “King Pompey” multiple times on Black Election Day in recognition of his contributions—which included buying land along the Saugus River and constructing a home for himself and his community.

“We have somebody who’s enslaved, who then experiences a life of freedom,” Baumgartner adds, “and in doing so, builds a life for himself.”

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