• Trinity Voices

From the Historian: What is in a name?

Cynthia Staples
August 12, 2021

Dear Trinity Church and friends,


August greetings!


What is in a name?


Names establish individual identity.  Names connect us to family history. Names celebrate cultural heritage. Our building in Copley Square has many names associated with it, from the stained-glass windows’ dedications to the engraved tablets on its walls. All these names connect our congregation of today to our forebearers in faith, and offer contemporary – and future – generations continuity with the history of our storied parish.


When looking at the slave trade and any benefits derived from its practice, it is important to remember names, not only the names of those complicit with the trade but also the “names” of the enslaved. Consider Peter.


Peter ran away on May 26, 1761. By the custom of the day, he may have carried his enslaver’s surname. If so, as the “Negro servant” of Benjamin Faneuil, younger brother of the famed Peter Faneuil of Faneuil Hall, his full name too could have been Peter Faneuil. In his newspaper advertisement Benjamin Faneuil described Peter as about 25 years old, fine limbed, sprightly and active, born and bred in the country and used to all kinds of husbandry. He spoke good English and was light complexioned. He had something of a Roman nose. He took a blue jacket, leather breeches with brass buttons, shoes newly soled, as well as considerable sums of money and other articles. “Whoever will apprehend said Run-away, bring him to his Master at Cambridge or to Mr. Benjamin Faneuil, jun. Merchant at Boston.” The reward was fifteen dollars.


Three years later Benjamin’s son’s enslaved servant Harry ran away. The newspaper advertisement notes that he was a well-set fellow, about 24 years old, spoke broken English with a French accent having been purchased in Martinique. He wore a blue frieze jacket and underneath a white flannel waistcoat, a pair of yellow leather breeches, blue yarn stockings, yellow shoe and knee buckles and a striped worsted cap. He was last seen on Roxbury Street. Any person who secured said fellow and returned him to Faneuil would receive five dollars and all necessary charges paid.


Peter Faneuil of Faneuil Hall remains more famous than his brother Benjamin, three sisters, and various nieces and nephews, all of whom attended Trinity Church. The husbands of the sisters, like the Faneuil brothers, were merchants. They engaged in joint business ventures. Those ventures included the importation of goods from Europe and the West Indies. They also invested in ships sent to the “Guinea Coast” to purchase Africans as slaves. The enslaved who survived the Middle Passage were then sold in the West Indies, Brazil, Carolinas, and Cuba, as well as in New England. Between 1698 and 1762 at least sixteen ships sailed from Boston to Africa, returning with well over one thousand men, women and children to be sold at the various wharves, print houses, and other locations.


A man of devout faith, Peter Faneuil was an early financial supporter of Trinity Church. While he regularly attended King’s Chapel, he did purchase a Trinity pew before his death in 1743. His brother, Benjamin, was an active member of Trinity serving on the Vestry for a number of years, as would the spouses of his sisters. Benjamin died in 1785. His son, a Loyalist, left Boston during the Revolutionary War.  The Faneuil surname was lost at Trinity though the family bloodline continued through the sisters’ descendants.


As we at Trinity continue turning toward our racism-encumbered past, so, too, do we remember Peter, Harry, and their descendants, as well as all those who suffered with and like them.  While their fates remain unknown, their names and lives must not be forgotten to us – engraved now in our hearts, if not in the stone of our nave.

Until next month,








Boston News-Letter Advertisement, December 20, 1764

Boston Post-Boy Advertisement, June 15, 1761