Beck, sometimes called Becky, was a 22-year-old woman living in London Town in 1770. She was enslaved by the Fergusons, along with her unnamed baby, a 20-year-old man named Abram, and a 3-year-old boy named Pomfry. It is likely that they were a family held in bondage. The Fergusons owned a tavern, ran a ferry, and operated a tailor’s shop and stay-maker’s shop. Beck was probably involved in garment-making in some fashion.
Image detail from "Slave Auction" by Charles T. Webber, Cincinnati Museum Center
The Fergusons owned the equipment used to make homespun: fabric created in the colonies that was coarser and lower in quality than imported fabrics. Homespun became popular in the years before the Revolution because it was viewed as patriotic by colonists who wanted to separate from Great Britain. Beck likely prepared flax, spun it into linen, and created homespun for the Fergusons’ tailor’s shop. If so, she would have been forced to make a product symbolic of “freedom” and “liberty” for those who supported the ideals of the Revolution, yet continued to enslave her.
Beck’s life changed dramatically in 1770 when her enslaver, Alexander Ferguson died. His wife, Elizabeth, inherited Beck. In yet another heartbreaking example of the cruelty of slavery, Beck’s children were divided among the Ferguson’s children as Elizabeth saw fit. Beck remained enslaved by Elizabeth Ferguson until Ferguson’s death in 1799. Beck was 50 years old. She was sold to an unknown person for 19 pounds 17 shillings and 6 pence.