During the 18th century, slaves in New England were allowed to elect their own governors or kings while their owners voted in colonial elections. Slaves held a day-long festival known as Negro Election Day, or in the case of an elected king, a coronation festival. The title of the elected office depended on whether the colony was self-governing or closely tied to Britain.
Some historians contend that slaves in the New England colonies had relatively more freedom than bonds people in the South.
Slave owners allowed various holidays for recreation, and one was election or coronation day in May or June, when masters and slaves alike gathered in the towns to vote. Slaves could not vote for the colony’s governor, but in separate outdoor activities sanctioned by slaveholders, slaves annually elected a Negro (the term used at the time) as their governor or king.
The person elected often either belonged to a wealthy master or came from a family of chiefs or kings in Africa. For example, in Connecticut, the grandson of an African prince was elected governor, and his son, said to be physically well built and a witty speaker, was elected after him.
The elected person was a leader in the local slave community and served as a judge, mediator, and liaison with slave owners. He was also an intermediary with ancestors, an important role in many African religions.
It is not clear how much power the governor had, but he could mete out punishment—sometimes flogging or even execution—and in general attempted to control morals and manners among slaves.
Negro Election Day festivities began as early as the 1740s and continued in New England for almost a century. The day-long ceremonies varied somewhat among different communities, but they were generally a blend of African and colonial practices.
Slaves were able to maintain some of their African traditions, take part in political activities of their own, and also enjoy socializing, recreation, and colorful processions.