Janet Puistonen, a trustee of the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church in Portland, stated in a recent article that one of the early ministers of the First Parish owned a slave (“What’s a Jefferson Davis plaque in Joshua Chamberlain territory?” Aug 19). That minister was Rev. Dr. Thomas Smith who was also the first minister called to serve the people of the First Congregational Church in Falmouth. The first meeting house was erected on the corner of Middle and India streets in the 1720s. Rev. Smith arrived in 1725, and the first meeting was held on Jul 10, 1727. In 1740, a larger replacement with a steeple was completed on Back Street (now Congress). In later years it came to be known as The Old Jerusalem. The First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church in Portland now stands in the footprint of that church on Congress Street.

According to Calvin Montague Clark, D.D., Rev. Smith owned at least two slaves. One, named Jack, died in 1774. Another, called Romeo, Smith enlisted in George Washington’s Continental Army promising him his freedom on the condition that he should receive half of Romeo’s 20 shillings per month. In 1781 he made Romeo a free man.

In 1754, residents of York County, then the only county in Maine, owned 147 “Negro slaves,” age 16 or older, in 13 of its 15 towns: Kittery 35, York 24, Berwick 22, Falmouth (incl Portland) 21, Wells 16, Scarborough 11, and 18 in the remaining towns except for Biddeford and Newcastle unknown. The total might have exceeded 200 if all were counted:

By 1764, there were 30 towns and plantations and three counties including Cumberland and Lincoln. Of 24,020 residents, 334 were “Negroes, probably all slaves” – York County 215, Cumberland 95, and Lincoln 24.

Jerry Genesio