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February 12, 2013

Historian unearths North Shore's African-American history

BEVERLY — Juno Larcom was a young girl when she was sold in the 1730s to Henry Herrick, a Beverly man. He gave Juno to his daughter’s family, and 46 years later, she was still working for the Larcom family, but as a free woman.

Sitting in the office of historian Terri McFadden, 62, at the Beverly Historical Society, surrounded by bookshelves filled with old documents and records, it’s easy to be charmed by the atmosphere of historical research. But listening to McFadden tell the history of African Americans like Juno is a sober reminder that slavery has a history not only in the American South, but also in New England.

McFadden spent this past year researching the lives of African-American families in Beverly during the 18th and 19th centuries, and recently shared some of her findings as part of the Monday Mornings lecture series at the Beverly Public Library. On Wednesday, Feb. 20, she will offer another lecture on Beverly’s black history, this time at the Beverly Historical Society. The event starts at 7 p.m. and is free for members, $5 for nonmembers.

Drawn to the history of women and people of color — “people who don’t have much of a voice in history” — McFadden said that what she is trying to discover in her research is what it was like to be an African American back then.

“It’s really a sad history, but at the same time this woman, Juno Larcom, her personality just comes through in various ways,” she said. “And (so do) her daughters, and maybe one granddaughter. These people made an impression.”

Robin Flynn, program director of the Monday Mornings series, said 70 people attended McFadden’s lecture. Some even followed up on the event, including Salem State English professor and poet January O’Neil, who was so inspired that she hopes to write a series of poems on Juno Larcom.

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