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Injustices and Impolicy of the Slave Trade and of the Slavery of Africans Sermon

Posted by creyes24 on December 29, 2009

MATTHEW VII. 12. THEREFORE ALL THINGS WHATSOEVER YOU WOULD, THAT MEN SHOULD DO TO YOU, DO YE EVEN SO TO THEM; FOR THIS IS THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS. This precept of our divine Lord hath always been admired as most excellent; and doubtless with the greatest reason. Yet it needs some explanation. It is not surely to be understood in the most unlimited sense, implying that because a prince expects and wishes for obedience from his subjects, he is obliged to obey them: that because parents wish their children to submit to their government, therefore they are to submit to the government of their children: or that because some men wish that others would concur and assist them to the gratification of their unlawful desires therefore they also are to gratify the unlawful desires of others. But whatever we are conscious, that we should, in an exchange of circumstances, wish, and are persuaded that we might reasonably wish, that others would do to us; that we are bound to do to them. This is the general rule given us in the text; and a very extensive rule it is, reaching to the whole of our conduct: and is particularly useful to direct our conduct toward inferiors, and those whom we have in our power. I have therefore thought it a proper foundation for the discourse, which by the Society for the promotion of Freedom, and for the Relief of Persons unlawfully holden in Bondage , I have the honour to be appointed to deliver, on the present occasion. This divine maxim is most properly applicable to the slave-trade, and to the slavery of the Africans. Let us then make the application. Should we be willing, that the Africans or any other nation should purchase us, our wives and children, transport us into Africa and there sell us into perpetual and absolute slavery? Should we be willing, that they by large bribes and offers of a gainful traffic should entice our neighbours to kidnap and sell us to them, and that they should hold in perpetual and cruel bondage, not only ourselves, but our posterity through all generations? Yet why is it not as right for them to treat us in this manner, as it is for us to treat them in the same manner? Their colour indeed is different from our’s. But does this give us a right to enslave them? The nations from Germany to Guinea have complexions of every shade from the fairest white, to a jetty black: and if a black complexion subject a nation or an individual to slavery; where shall slavery begin? or where shall it end? I propose to mention a few reasons against the right of the slave-trade–and then to consider the principal arguments, which I have ever heard urged in favour of it.–What will be said against the slave-trade will generally be equally applicable to slavery itself; and if conclusive against the former, will be equally conclusive against the latter. As to the slave-trade, I conceive it to be unjust in itself-abominable on account of the cruel manner in which it is conducted-and totally wrong on account of the impolicy of it, or its destructive tendency to the moral and political interests of any country. I. It is unjust in itself–.It is unjust in the same sense, and for the same reason, as it is, to steal, to rob, or to murder. It is a principle, the truth of which hath in this country been generally, if not universally acknowledged, ever since the commencement of the late war, that all men are born equally free . If this be true, the Africans are by nature equally entitled to freedom as we are; and therefore we have no more right to enslave, or to afford aid to enslave them, than they have to do the same to us. They have the same right to their freedom, which they have to their property or to their lives. Therefore to enslave them is as really and in the same sense wrong, as to steal from them, to rob or to murder them. There are indeed cases in which men may justly be deprived of their liberty and reduced to slavery; as there are cases in which they may be justly deprived of their lives. But they can justly be deprived of neither, unless they have by their own voluntary conduct forfeited it. Therefore still the right to liberty stands on the same basis with the right to life. And that the Africans have done something whereby they have forfeited their liberty must appear, before we can justly deprive them of it; as it must appear, that they have done something whereby they have forfeited their lives, before we may justly deprive them of these. II. The slave-trade is wicked and abominable on account of the cruel manner in which it is carried on. Beside the stealing or kidnapping of men, women and children, in the first instance, and the instigation of others to this abominable practice; the inhuman manner in which they are transported to America, and in which they are treated on their passage and in their subsequent slavery, in such as ought forever to deter every man from acting any part in this business, who has any regard to justice or humanity. They are crowed so closely into the holds and between the decks of vessels, that they have scarcely room to lie down, and sometimes not room to sit up in an erect posture; the men at the same time fastened together with irons by two and two; and all this in the most sultry climate. The consequence of the whole is, that the most dangerous and fatal diseases are soon bred among them, whereby vast numbers of those exported from Africa perish in the voyage: others in dread of that slavery which is before them and in distress and despair from the loss their parents, their children, their husbands, their wives, all their dear connections, and their dear native country itself, starve themselves to death or plunge themselves into the ocean. Those who attempt in the former of those ways to escape from their persecutors, are tortured by live coals applied to their mouths. Those who attempt an escape in the latter and fail, are equally tortured by the most cruel beating, or otherwise as their persecutors please. If any of them make an attempt, as they sometimes do, to recover their liberty, some, and as the circumstances may be, many, are put to immediate death. Others beaten, bruised, cut and mangled in a most inhuman and shocking manner, are in this situation exhibited to the rest, to terrify them from the like attempt in future: and some are delivered up to every species of torment, whether by the application of the whip, or of any other instrument, even of fire itself, as the ingenuity of the ship-master and of his crew is able to suggest or their situation will admit; and these torments are purposely continued for several days, before death is permitted to afford relief to these objects of vengeance. * By these means, according to the common computation, twenty-five thousand, which is a fourth part of those who are exported from Africa, and by the concession of all, twenty thousand, annually perish, before they arrived at the places of their destination in America. But this is by means the end of the suffering of this unhappy people. Bred up in a country spontaneously yielding the necessaries and conveniences of savage life, they have never been accustomed to labour: of course they are but ill prepared to go through the fatigue and drudgery to which they are doomed in their state of slavery. Therefore partly by this cause, partly by the scantiness and badness of their food, and partly from dejection of spirits, mortification and despair, another twenty-five thousand die in the seasoning, as it is called, i.e. within two years after their arrival in America. This I say is the common computation. Or if we will in particular be as favourable to the trade as in the estimate of the number which perishes on the passage, we may reckon the number which dies in the seasoning to be twenty thousand. So that of the hundred thousand annually exported from Africa to America, fifty thousand, as it is commonly computed, or on the most favourable estimate, forty thousand, die before they are seasoned to the country. Nor is this all. The cruel sufferings of these pitiable beings are not yet at an end. Thenceforward they have to drag out a miserable life in absolute slavery, entirely at the disposal of their masters, by whom not only every venial fault, every mere inadvertence or mistake, but even real virtues, are liable to be construed into the most atrocious crimes, and punished as such, according to their caprice or rage, while they are intoxicated sometimes with liquor, with passion. By these masters they are supplied with barely enough to keep them from starving, as the whole expence laid out on a slave for food, clothing and medicine is commonly computed on an average at thirty shillings sterling annually. At the same time they are kept at hard labour from five o’clock in the morning, till nine at night excepting time to eat twice during the day. And they are constantly under the watchful eye of overseers and Negro-driver more tyrannical and cruel than ever their masters themselves. From these drivers, for every imagined, as well as real neglect or want of exertion, they receive the lash, the smack of which is all day long in the ears of those who are on the plantation or in the vicinity; and it is used with such dexterity and severity, as not only to lacerate the skin, but to tear out small portions of the flesh at almost every stroke. This is the general treatment of the slaves. ** But many individuals suffer still more severely. Many, many are knocked down; some have their eyes beaten out; some have an arm or a leg broken, or chopt off; and many for a very small or for no crime at all, have been beaten to death merely to gratify the fury of an enraged master or overseer. Nor ought we on this occasion to overlook the wars among the nations of Africa excited by the trade, or the destruction attendant on those wars. Not to mention the destruction of property, the burning of towns and villages, &c. it hath been determined by reasonable computation, that are annually exported from Africa to the various parts of America, one hundred thousand slaves, as was before observed; that of these, six thousand are captives of war; that in the wars in which these are taken, ten persons of victors and vanquished are killed, to one taken; that therefore the taking of the six thousand captives is attend with the slaughter of sixty thousand of their countrymen. Now does not justice? does not humanity shrink from the idea, that in order to procure slave to gratify our avarice, we should put to death ten human beings? Or that in order to increase our property, and that only in some small degree, we should carry on a trade, or even connive at,it, to support which sixty thousand of our own species are slain in war? These sixty thousand, added to the forty thousand who perish on the passage and in the seasoning, give us an hundred thousand who are annually destroyed by the trade; and the whole advantage gained by this amazing destruction of human lives is sixty thousand slaves. For you will recollect, that the whole number exported from Africa is an hundred thousand; that of these forty thousand die on the passage and in the seasoning, and sixty thousand are destroyed in the wars. Therefore while one hundred and sixty thousand are killed in the wars and are exported from Africa, but sixty thousand are added to the stock of slaves. Now when we consider all this; when we consider the miseries which this unhappy people suffer in their wars, in their captivity, in their voyage to America, and during a wretched life of cruel slavery: and especially when we consider the annual destruction of an hundred thousand lives in the manner before mentioned; who can hesitate to declare this trade and the consequent slavery to be contrary to every principle of justice and humanity, of the law of nature and of the law of God? III. This trade and this slavery are utterly wrong on the ground of their impolicy. In a variety of respects they are exceedingly hurtful to the state which tolerates them. I. They are hurtful, as they deprave the morals of the people.–The incessant and inhuman cruelties practised in the trade and in the subsequent slavery, necessarily tend to harden human heart against the tender feelings of humanity in the masters of vessels, in the sailors, in the factors, in the proprietors of the slaves, in their children, in the overseers, in the slaves themselves, and in all who habitually see those cruelties. Now the eradication or even the diminution of compassion, tenderness and humanity, is certainly a great depravation of heart, and must be followed with correspondent depravity of manners. And measures which lead to such depravity of heart and manners, cannot be extremely hurtful to the state, and consequently are extremely impolitic. 2. The trade is impolitic as it is so destructive of the lives of seamen. The ingenious Mr. Clarkson hath in a very satisfactory manner made it appear, that in the slave-trade alone Great-Britain loses annually about nineteen hundred seamen; and that this loss is more than double to the loss annually sustained by Great-Britain in all her other trade taken together. And doubtless we lose as many as Great-Britain in proportion to the number of seamen whom we employ in this trade.–Now can it be politic to carry on a trade which is so destructive of that useful part of our citizens, our seamen? 3. African slavery is exceedingly impolitic, as it discourages industry. Nothing is more essential to the political prosperity of any state, than industry in the citizens. But in proportion as slaves are multiplied, every kind of labour becomes ignominious: and in fact, in those of the United States, in which slaves are the most numerous, gentlemen and ladies of any fashion disdain to employ themselves in business, which in other states is consistent with the dignity of the first families and first offices. In a country with Negro slaves, labour belongs to them only, and a white man is despised in proportion as he applies to it.–Now how destructive to industry in all the lowest and middle class of citizens, such a situation and the prevalence of such ideas will be, you can easily conceive. The consequence is, that some will nearly starve, others will betake themselves to the most dishonest practices, to obtain the means of living. As slavery produces indolence in the white people, so it produces all those vices which are naturally connected with it; such as intemperance lewdness and prodigality. These vices enfeeble both the body and the mind, and unfit men for any vigorous exertions and employments either external or mental. And those who are unfit for such exertions, are already a very degenerate race; degenerate, not only in a moral, but a natural sense. They are contemptible too, and will soon be despised even by their Negroes themselves. Slavery tends to lewdness not only as it produces indolence, but as it affords abundant opportunity for that wickedness without either the danger and difficulty of an attack on the virtue of a woman of chastity, or the danger of a connection with one of ill fame. And we learn the too frequent influence and effect of such a situation, not only from common fame, but from the multitude of mulattoes in countries where slaves are very numerous. Slavery has a most direct tendency to haughtiness also, and domineering spirit and conduct in the control of them. A man who has been bred up in domineering over Negroes, can scarcely avoid contracting such a habit of haughtiness and domination, as will express itself in his general treatment of mankind, whether in his private capacity, or in any office civil or military with which he may be vested. Despotism in economics naturally leads to despotism in politics, and domestic slavery in a free government is a perfect solecism in human affairs. How baneful all these tendencies and effects of slavery must be to the public good, and especially to the public good of such a free country as ours, I need not inform you. 4. In the same proportion as industry and labour are discouraged, is population discouraged and prevented. This is another respect in which slavery is exceedingly impolitic. That population is prevented in proportion as industry is discouraged, is, I conceive, so plain that nothing needs to be said to illustrate it. Mankind in general will enter into matrimony as soon as they possess the means of supporting a family. But the great body of any people have no other way of supporting themselves or a family, than by their own labour. Of course as labour is discouraged, matrimony is discouraged and population is prevented.–But the impolicy of whatever produeces these effects will be acknowledge by all. The wealth, strength and glory of a state depend on the number of its virtuous citizens: and a state without citizens is at least a great an absurdity, as a king without subjects. 5. The impolicy of slavery still further appears from this, that it weakens the state, and in proportion to the degree in which it exist, exposes it to become an easy conquest.–The increase of free citizens is an increase of the strength of the state. But not so with regard to the increase of slaves. They not only add nothing to the strength of the state, but actually diminish it in proportion to their number. Every slave is naturally an enemy to the state in which he is holden in slavery, and wants nothing but an opportunity to assist in its overthrow. And an enemy within a state, is much more dangerous than one without it. These observations concerning the prevention of population and weakening the state, are supported by facts which have fallen within our own observation. That the southern states, in which slaves are so numerous are in no measure so populous, according to the extent of territory, as the northern, is a fact of universal notoriety: and that during the late war, the southern states found themselves greatly weakened by their slaves, and therefore were so easily overrun by the British army, is equally notorious. From the view we have now taken of this subject, we scruple not to infer, that to carry on the slave-trade and to introduce slaves into our country, is not only to be guilty of injustice, robbery and cruelty toward our fellow-men; but it is to injure ourselves and our country; and therefore it is altogether unjustifiable, wicked and abominable. Having thus considered the injustice and ruinous tendency of the slave-trade, I proceed to attend to the principal arguments urged in favour of it. 1. It is said, that the Africans are the posterity of Ham, the son of Noah; that Canaan one of Ham’s sons, was cursed by Noah to be a servant of servants; that by Canaan we are to understand Ham’s posterity in general; that as his posterity are devoted by God to slavery, we have a right to enslave them.–This is the argument: to which I answer: It is indeed generally thought that Ham peopled Africa; but that the curse on Canaan extended to all the posterity of Ham is a mere imagination. The only reason given for it is, that Canaan was only one of Ham’s sons; and that it seems reasonable, that the curse of Ham’s conduct should fall on all his posterity, if on any. But this argument is insufficient. We might as clearly argue, that the judgments denounced on the house of David, on account of his sin in the matter of Uriah, must equally fall on all his posterity. Yet we know, that many of them lived and died in great posterity. So in every case in which judgments are predicted concerning any nation or family. It is allowed in this argument, that the curse was to fall on the posterity of Ham, and not immediately on Ham himself; If otherwise, it is nothing to the purpose of the slave-trade, or of any slaves now in existence. It being allowed then, that this curse was to fall on Ham’s posterity, he who had a right to curse the whole of that posterity, had the same right to curse a part of it only, and the posterity of Canaan equally as any other part; and a curse on Ham’s posterity in the line of Canaan was as real a curse on Ham himself, as a curse on all his posterity would have been. Therefore we have no ground to believe, that this curse respected any others, than the posterity of Canaan, who lived in the land of Canaan, which is well known to be remote from Africa. We have a particular account, that all the sons of Canaan settled in the land of Canaan; as may be seen in Gen. x. 15—-20. “And Canaan begat Sidon his “first born, and Heth, and the Jebusite, and the “Emorite, and the Girgasite, and the Hivite, and “the Arkite, and the Sinite, and the Arvadite, and “the Zemorite, and the Hamathite; and afterward “were the families of the Canaanites spread abroad. “And the border of the Canaanites was from Sidon, “as thou goest to Gerar, unto Gaza; as thou goest “unto Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboim, “even unto Lashah.”-Nor have we account that any of their posterity except the Carthaginians afterward removed to any part of Africa: and none will pretend that these peopled Africa in general; especially considering, that they were subdued, destroyed and so far extirpated by the Romans. This curse then of the posterity of Canaan, had no reference to the inhabitants of Guinea, or of Africa in general; but was fulfilled partly in Joshua’s time, in the reduction and servitude of the Canaanites, and especially of the Gibeonites; partly by what the Phenicians suffered from the Chaldeans, Persians and Greeks; and finally by what the Carthagenians suffered from the Romans. Therefore this curse gives us no right to enslave the Africans, as we do by the slave-trade, because it has no respect to the Africans whom we enslave. Nor if it had respected them, would it have given any such right; because it was not an institution of slavery, but a mere prophecy of it. And from this prophecy we have no more ground to infer the right of slavery, than we have from the prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, or by the Romans, to infer their right respectively to destroy it in the manner they did; or from other prophecies to infer the right of Judas to betray his master, or of the Jews to crucify him. 2. The right of slavery is inferred from the instance of Abraham, who had servants born in his house and bought with his money.–But it is by no means certain, that these were slaves, as our Negroes are. If they were, it is unaccountable, that he went out at the head of an army of them to fight his enemies. No West-India planter would easily be induced to venture himself in such a situation. It is far more probable, that similar to some of the vassals under the feudal constitution, the servants of Abraham were only in a good measure dependent on him, and protected by him. But if they were to all intents and purposes slaves, Abraham’s holding of them will no more prove the right of slavery, than his going in to Hagar, will prove it right for any man to indulge in criminal intercourse with his domestic. 3. From the divine permission given the Israelites to buy servants of the nations round about them, it is argued, that we have a right to buy the Africans and hold them in slavery. See Lev. xxv. 44-47. “Both thy bondmen and thy bondmaids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you; of them shall ye buy bondmen and bondmaids. Moreover, of the children of the strangers that do sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy, and of their families, that are with you, which they begat in your land; and they shall be your possession. And ye shall take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them for a possession; they shall be your bondmen for ever : but over your brethren the children of Israel ye shall not rule one over another with rigour.” But if this be at all to the purpose, it is a permission to every nation under heaven to buy slaves of the nations round about them; to us, to buy of our Indian neighbours; to them, to buy of us; to the French, to buy of the English, and to the English to buy of the French; and so through the world. If then this argument be valid, every man has an entire right to engage in this trade, and to buy and sell any other man of another nation, and any other man of another nation has an entire right to buy and sell him. Thus according to this construction, we have in Lev. xxv. 43, &c. an institution of an universal slave-trade, by which every man may not only become a merchant, but may rightfully become the merchandise itself of this trade, and may be bought and sold like a beast.–Now this consequence will be given up as absurd, and therefore also the construction of scripture from which it follows, must be given up. Yet it is presumed, that there is no avoiding that construction or the absurdity flowing from it, but by admitting, that this permission to the Israelites to buy slaves has no respect to us, but was in the same manner peculiar to them, as the permission and command to subdue, destroy and extirpate the whole Canaanitish nation; and therefore no more gives countenance to African slavery, than the command to extirpate the Canaanites, gives countenance to the extirpation of any nation in these days, by an universal slaughter of men and women, young men and maidens, infants and sucklings. 4. It is further pleaded, that there were slaves in the time of the apostles; that they did not forbid the holding of those slaves, but gave directions to servants, doubtless referring to the servants of that day, to obey their masters, and count them worthy of all honour To this the answer is, that the apostles teach the genteral duties of servants who are righteously in the state of servitude, as many are or may be, by hire, by indenture, and by judgment of a civil court. But they do not say, whether the servants in general of that day were justly holden in slavery or not. In like manner they lay down the general rules of obedience to civil magistrates, without deciding concerning the characters of the magistrates of the Roman empire in the reign of Nero. And as the apostle Paul requires masters to give their servants that which is just and equal , (Col. iv. i.) so if any were enslaved unjustly, of course he in this text requires of the masters of such, to give them their freedom.–Thus the apostles treat the slavery of that day in the same manner that they treat the civil government; and say nothing more in favour of the former, than they say in favour of the latter. Besides, this argument from the slavery prevailing in the days of the apostles, if it prove any thing, proves too much, and so confutes itself. It proves, that we may enslave all captives taken in war, of any nation, and in any the most unjust war, such as the wars of the Romans, which were generally undertaken from the motives of ambition or avarice. On the ground of this argument we had a right to enslave the prisoners, whom we, during the late war, took from the British army; and they had the same right to enslave those whom they took from us; and so with respect to all other nations. 5. It is strongly urged, that the Negroes brought from Africa are all captives of war, and therefore are justly bought and holden in slavery.–This is a principal argument always urged by the advocates for slavery; and in a solemn debate on this subject, it hath been strongly insisted on, very lately in the British parliament. Therefore it requires our particular attention. Captives in a war just on their part, cannot be justly enslaved; nor is this pretended. Therefore the captives who may be justly enslaved, must be taken in a war unjust on their part. But even on the supposition, that captives in such a war may be justly enslaved, it will not follow, that we can justly carry on the slave trade, as it is commonly carried on from the African coast. In this trade any slaves are purchased, who are offered for sale, whether justly or unjustly enslaved. No enquiry is made whether they were captives in any war; much less, whether they were captivated in a war unjust on their part. By the most authentic accounts, it appears, that the wars in general in Africa are excited by the prospect of gain from the sale of the captives of the war. Therefore those taken by the assailants in such wars, cannot be justly enslaved. Beside these, many are kidnapped by those of neighbouring nations; some by their own neighbours; and some by their kings or his agents; others for debt or some trifling crime are condemned to perpetual slavery-But none of these are justly enslaved. And the traders make no enquiry concerning the mode or occasion of their first enslavement. They buy all that are offerred, provided they like them and the price.–So that the plea, that the African slaves are captives in war, is entirely insufficient to justify the slave trade as now carried on. But this is not all; if it were ever so true, that all the Negroes exported from Africa were captives in war, and that they were taken in a war unjust on their part; still they could not be justly enslaved.–We have no right to enslave a private foe in a state of nature, after he is conquered. Suppose in a state of nature one man rises against another and endeavours to kill him; in this case the person assaulted has no right to kill the assailant, unless it be necessary to preserve his own life. But in wars between nations, one nation may no doubt secure itself against another, by other means than slavery of its captives. If a nation be victorious in the war, it may exact some towns or a district of country, by way of caution; or it may impose a fine to deter from future injuries. If the nation be not victorious, it will do no good to enslave the captives whom it has taken. It will provoke the victors, and foolishly excite vengeance which cannot be repelled. Or if neither nation be decidedly victorious, to enslave the captives on either side can answer no good purpose, but must at least occasion the enslaving of the citizens of the other nation, who are now, or in future may be in a state of captivity. Such a practice therefore necessarily tends to evil and not good. Besides; captives in war are generally common soldiers or common citizens; and they are generally ignorant of the true cause or causes of the war, and are by their superiours made to believe, that the war is entirely just on their part. Or if this be not the case, they may by force be compelled to serve in a war which they know to be unjust. In either of these cases they do not deserve to be condemned to perpetual slavery. To inflict perpetual slavery on these private soldiers and citizens is manifestly not to do, as we would wish that men should do to us. If we were taken in a war unjust on our part, we should not think it right to be condemned to perpetual slavery. No more right is it for us to condemn and hold in perpetual slavery others, who are in the same situation. 6. It is argued, that as the Africans in their own country, previously to the purchase of them by the African traders, are captives in war; if they were not bought up by those traders, they would be put to death: that therefore to purchase them and to subject them to slavery instead of death, is an act of mercy not only lawful, but meritorious. If the case were indeed so as is now represented, the purchase of the Negroes would be no more meritorious, than the act of a man, who, if we were taken by the Algerines, should purchase us out of that slavery. This would indeed be an act of benevolence, if the purchaser should set us at liberty. But it is no act of benevolence to buy a man out of one state into another no better. Nay, the act of ransoming a man from death gives no right to the ransomer to commit a crime or an act of injustice to the person ransomed. The person ransomed is doubtless obligated according to his ability to satisfy the ransomer for his expence and trouble. Yet the ransomer has no more right to enslave the other, than the man who saves the life of another who was about to be killed by a robber or an assassin, has a right to enslave him.–The liberty of a man for life is a far greater good, than the property paid for a Negro on the African coast. And to deprive a man of an immensely greater good, in order to recover one immensely, is an immense injury and crime. 7. As to the pretence, that to prohibit or lay aside this trade, would be hurtful to our commerce; it is sufficient to ask, whether on the supposition, that it were advantageous to the commerce of Great-Britain to send her ships to these states, and transport us into that perpetual slavery in the West Indies, it would be right that she should go into trade. 8. That to prohibit the slave trade would infringe on the property of those, who have expended large sums to carry on that trade, or of those who wish to purchase the slaves for their plantations, hath also been urged as an argument in favour of the trade.–But the same argument would prove, that if the skins and teeth of the Negroes were as valuable articles of commerce as furs and elephant’s teeth, and a merchant were to lay out his property in this commerce, he ought by no means to be obstructed therein. 9. But others will carry on the trade, if we do not.-So others will rob, steal and murder, if we do not. 10. It is said, that some men are intended by nature to be slaves.–If this mean, that the author of nature has given some men a licence, to enslave others; this is denied and proof is demanded. If it mean, that God hath made some of capacities inferior to others, and that the last have a right to enslave the first; this argument will prove, that some of the citizens of every country, have a right to enslave other citizens of the same country; nay, that some have a right to enslave their own brothers and sisters.–But if this argument mean, that God in his providence suffers some men to be enslaved, and that this proves, that from the beginning he intended they should be enslaved, and made them with this intention; the answer is, that in like manner he suffers some men to be murdered, and in this sense, he intended and made them to be murdered. Yet no man in his senses will hence argue the lawfulness of murder. 11. It is further pretended, that no other men, than Negroes, can endure labour in the hot climates of the West Indies and the southern states.–But does this appear to be fact? In all other climates, the labouring people are the most healthy. And I confess I have not yet seen evidence, but that those who have been accustomed to labour and are inured to those climates, can bear labour there also.–However, taking for granted the fact asserted in this objection, does it follow, that the inhabitants of those countries have a right to enslave the Africans to labour for them? No more surely than from the circumstance, that you are feeble and cannot labour, it follows, that you have a right to enslave your robust neighbour. As in all other cases, the feeble and those who choose not to labour, and yet wish to have their lands cultivated, are necessitated to hire the robust to labour for them; so no reason can be given, why the inhabitants of hot climates should not either perform their own labour, or hire those who can perform it, whether Negroes or others. If our traders went to the coast of Africa to murder the inhabitants, or to rob them of their property, all would own that such murderous or piratical practices are wicked and abominable. Now it is as really wicked to rob a man of his liberty, as to rob him of his life; and it is much more wicked, than to rob him of his property. All men agree to condemn highway robbery. And the slave-trade is as much a greater wickedness than highway robbery, as liberty is more valuable than property. How strange is it then, that in the same nation highway robbery should be punished with death, and the slave-trade be encourage by national authority. We all dread political slavery, or subjection to the arbitrary power of a king or of any man or men not deriving their authority from the people. Yet such a state is inconceivably preferable to the slavery of the Negroes. Suppose that in the late war we had been subdued by Great-Britain; we should have been taxed without our consent. But these taxes would have amounted to but a small part of our property. Whereas the Negroes are deprived of all their property; no part of their earnings is their own; the whole is their masters.-In a conquered state we should have been at liberty to dispose of ourselves and of our property in most cases, as we should choose. We should have been free to live in this or that town or place; in any part of the country, or to remove out of the country; to apply to this or that business; to labour or not; and excepting a sufficiency for the taxes, to dispose of the fruit of our labour to our own benefit, or that of our children, or of any other person. But the unhappy Negroes in slavery can do none of these things. They must do what they are commanded and as much as they are commanded, on pain of the lash. They must live where they are placed, and must confine themselves to that spot, on pain of death. So that Great-Britain in her late attempt to enslave America, committed a very small crime indeed in comparison with the crime of those who enslave the Africans. The arguments which have been urged against the slave-trade, are with little variation applicable to the holding of slaves. He who holds a slave, continues to deprive him of that liberty, which was taken from him on the coast of Africa. And if it were wrong to deprive him of it in the first instance, why not in the second? If this be true, no man hath a better right to retain his Negro in slavery, than he had to take him from from his native African shores. And every man who cannot show, that his Negro hath by his voluntary conduct forfeited his liberty, is obligated immediately to manumit him. Undoubtedly we should think so, were we holden in the same slavery in which the Negroes are: And our text required us to do to others, as we would that they should do to us. To hold a slave, who has a right to his liberty, is not only a real crime, but a very great one. Many good christians have wondered how Abraham, the father of the faithful, could take Hagar to his bed; and how Sarah, celebrated as an holy woman, could consent to this transaction: Also, how David and Solomon could have so many wives and concubines, and yet be real saints. Let such inquire how it is possible, that our fathers and men now alive, universally reputed pious, should hold Negro slaves, and yet be the subjects of real piety? And whether to reduce a man, who hath the same right to liberty as any other man, to a state of absolute slavery, or to hold him in that state, be not as great a crime as concubinage or fornication. I presume it will not be denied, that to commit theft or robbery every day of a man’s life, is as great a sin as to commit fornication in one instance. But to steal a man or to rob him of his liberty is a greater sin, than to steal his property, or to take it by violence. And to hold a man in a state of slavery, who has a right to his liberty, is to be every day guilty of robbing him of his liberty, or of manstealing. The consequence is inevitable, that other things being the same, to hold a Negro slave, unless he have forfeited his liberty, is a greater sin in the sight of God, than concubinage or fornication. Does this conclusion seem strange to any of you? Let me entreat you to weigh it candidly before you reject it. You will not deny, that liberty is more valuable than property; and that it is a greater sin to deprive a man of his whole liberty during life, than to deprive him of his whole property; or that manstealing is a greater crime than robbery. Nor will you deny, that to hold in slavery a man who was stolen, is substantially the same crime as to steal him. These principles being undeniable, I leave it to yourselves to draw the plain and necessary consequence. And if your consciences shall, in spite of all opposition, tell you, that while you hold your Negroes in slavery, you do wrong, exceedingly wrong; that you do not, as you would that men should do to you; that you commit sin in the sight of God; that you daily violate the plain rights of mankind, and that in a higher degree, than if you committed theft or robbery; let me beseech you not to stifle this conviction, but attend to it and act accordingly; lest you add to your former guilt, that of sinning against the light of truth, and of your own consciences. To convince yourselves, that your information being the same, to hold a Negro slave is a greater sin than fornication, theft or robbery, you need only bring the matter home to yourselves. I am willing to appeal to your own consciences, whether you would not judge it to be a greater sin for a man to hold you or your child during life in such slavery, as that of the Negroes, than for him to indulge in one instance of licentious conduct or in one instance to steal or rob. Let conscience speak, and I will submit to its decision. This question seems to be clearly decided by revelation. Exod. xxi. 16. “He that stealeth a man “and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, “he shall surely be put to death.” Thus death is, by the divine express declaration, the punishment due to the crime of man-stealing. But death is not the punishment declared by God to be due to fornication theft or robbery in common cases. Therefore we have the divine authority to assert, that manstealing is a greater crime than fornication, theft or robbery. Now to hold in slavery a man who has a right to liberty, is substantially the same crime as to deprive him of his liberty. And to deprive of liberty and reduce to slavery, a man who has a right to liberty, is man-stealing. For it is immaterial whether he be taken and reduced to slavery clandestinely or by open violence. Therefore if the Negroes have a right to liberty, to hold them in slavery is man-stealing, which we have seen is, by God himself, declared to be a greater crime than fornication, theft or robbery. Perhaps, though this truth be clearly demonstrable both from reason and revelation, you scarcely dare receive it, because it seems to bear hardly on the characters of our pious fathers, who held slaves. But they did it ignorantly and in unbelief of the truth; as Abraham, Jacob, David and Solomon were ignorant, that polygamy or concubinage was wrong. As to domestic slavery our fathers lived in a time of ignorance which God winked at; but now he commandeth all men every where to repent of this wickedness, and to break off this sin by righteousness, and this iniquity by shewing mercy to the poor, if it may be a lengthening out of their tranquillity . You therefore to whom the present blaze of light as to this subject has reached, cannot sin at so cheap a rate as our fathers. But methinks I hear some say, I have bought my Negro; I have paid a large sum for him; I cannot lose this sum, and therefore I cannot manumit him.–Alas! this is hitting the nail on the head . This brings into view the true cause which makes it so difficult to convince men of what is right in this case–You recollect the story of Amaziah’s hiring an hundred thousand men of Israel, for an hundred talents, to assist him against the Edomites; and that when by the word of the Lord, he was forbidden to take those hired men with him to the war, he cried out, “But what shall we do for the hundred talents, “which I have given to the army of Israel?” In this case, the answer of God was, “The Lord is “able to give thee much more than this.”–To apply this to the subject before us, God is able to give thee much more than thou shalt lose by manumitting thy slave. You may plead, that you use your slave well; you are not cruel to him, but feed and clothe him comfortably, &c. Still every day you rob him of a most valuable and important right. And a highway-man, who robs a man of his money in the most easy and complaisant manner, is still a robber; and murder may be effected in a manner the least cruel and tormenting; still it is murder. Having now taken that view of our subject, which was proposed, we may in reflection see abundant reason to acquiesce in the institution of this society. If the slave-trade be unjust, and as gross a violation of the rights of mankind, as would be, if the Africans should transport us into perpetual slavery in Africa; to unite our influence against it, is a duty which we owe to mankind, to ourselves and to God too. It is but doing as we would that men should do to us.–Nor is it enough that we have formed the society; we must do the duties of it. The first of these is to put an end to the slave-trade. The second is to relieve those who, contrary to the laws of the country, are holden in bondage. Another is to defend those in their remaining legal and natural rights, who are by law holden in bondage. Another and not the least important object of this society, I conceive to be, to increase and disperse the light of truth with respect to the subject of African slavery, and so prepare the way for its total abolition. For until men in general are convinced of the injustice of the trade and of the slavery itself, comparatively little can be done to effect the most important purposes of the institution. It is not to be doubted, that the trade is even now carried on from this state. Vessels are from time to time fitted out for the coast of Africa, to transport the Negroes to the West-Indies and other parts. Nor will an end be put to this trade, without vigilance and strenuous exertion on the part of this society, or other friends of humanity, nor without a patient enduring of the opposition and odium of all who are concerned in it, of their friends and of all who are of the opinion that it is justifiable. Among these we are doubtless to reckon some of large property and considerable influence. And if the laws and customs of the country equally allowed of it, many, and perhaps as many as now plead for the right of the African slave-trade, would plead for the right of kidnapping us, the citizens of the United States, and of selling us into perpetual slavery.–If then we dare not incur the displeasure of such men, we may as well dissolve the society, and leave the slave-trade to be carried on, and the Negroes to be kidnapped, and though free in this state, to be sold into perpetual slavery in distant parts, at the pleasure of any man, who wishes to make gain by such abominable practices. Though we must expect opposition, yet if we be steady and persevering, we need not fear, that we shall fail of success. The advantages, which the cause has already gained, are many and great. Thirty years ago scarcely a man in this country thought either the slave-trade or the slavery of Negroes to be wrong. But now how many and able advocates in private life, in our legislatures, in Congress, have appeared and have openly and irrefragably pleaded the rights of humanity in this as well as other instances? Nay the great body of the people from New-Hampshire to Virginia inclusively, have obtained such light, that in all those states the further importation of slaves is prohibited by law. And in Massachusetts and New-Hampshire, slavery is totally abolished. Nor is the light concerning this subject confined to America. It hath appeared with great clearness in France, and produced remarkable effects in the National Assembly. It hath also shone in bright beams in Great-Britain. It flashes with splendour in the writings of Clarkson and in the proceedings of several societies formed to abolish the slave-trade. Nor hath it been possible to shut it out of the British parliament. This light is still increasing, and in time will effect a total revolution. And if we judge of the future by the past, within fifty years from this time, it will be as shameful for a man to hold a Negro slave, as to be guilty of common robbery or theft. But it is our duty to remove the obstacles which intercept the rays of this light, that it may reach not only public bodies, but every individual. And when it shall have obtained a general spread, shall have dispelled all darkness, and slavery shall be no more; it will be an honour to be recorded in history, as a society which was formed, and which exerted itself with vigour and fidelity, to bring about an event so necessary and conducive to the interests of humanity and virtue, to the support of the rights and to the advancement of the happiness of mankind.

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Primary Documents

Posted by laurabrady91 on October 31, 2009

http://www.blackpast.org/?q=primary/louisianas-code-noir-1724 – Louisiana code noir. 44 laws regarding slavery.

http://www.historywiz.com/africanslavery.htm#slaveship – A diagram of the slave ship “Brooks”

http://odur.let.rug.nl/~usa/P/tj3/writings/slavery.htm – Thomas Jefferson on slavery.

http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/sl004.asp – An Act to Prohibit the Importation of Slaves into any Port or Place Within the Jurisdiction of the United States, From and After the First Day of January, in the Year of our Lord One Thousand Eight Hundred and Eight

http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/fugitive.asp – The fugitive slave act enacted 1850

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Primary Documents

Posted by laurabrady91 on October 30, 2009

http://www.blackpast.org/?q=primaryWEST/oregon-exclusion-law-1849 – Oregon Exclusion Law

http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/kanneb.asp – An Act to Organize the Territories of Nebraska and Kansas

http://www.yale.edu/glc/harriet/15.htm – an advertisement for the capture of Harriet Jacobs

A correspondence between John Carter and Richard Gildart in which he talks about the buying and selling of slaves.

http://www2.lib.virginia.edu/small/collections/tj/farm.html – two extracts listing slaves from Thomas Jefferson’s Farm Book

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Olaudah Equiano’s autobiography.

Posted by wrmahugu on October 18, 2009

Olaudah Equiano: A Critical Biography

Almost everything we know about the first ten years of Equiano’s life we find from Equiano’s own account in The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, published in 1789. In this, Equiano tells us that he was born around the year 1745 in an area called ‘Eboe’ in Guinea. Ibo (or Igbo) is one of the main languages of present day Nigeria. Equiano tells us that he was the son of a chief, and that at about the age of eleven he and his sister were kidnapped while out playing, and were marched to the coast and put on board a slave ship. Equiano then endured the middle passage on a slave ship bound for the New World. Equiano’s accounts of Africa and the middle passage have became famous. In recent years, however, it has been suggested by Vincent Carretta that Equiano may not have been born in Africa at all. According to Carretta, Equiano may have been born a slave in South Carolina – at that time one of the thirteen British colonies in North America. Indeed, if Carretta’s evidence – Equiano’s baptismal records, and a naval muster roll – is accurate, there is a possibility that Equiano never visited Africa. The early parts of his autobiography may reflect the oral history of other slaves, combined with information Equiano gleaned from books he had read about Africa.

While Carretta’s research opens up a very important debate, we do need to be cautious. Carretta’s research strongly suggests that the young Equiano told people that his birthplace was Carolina. However, as a slave and later a recently freed slave, Equiano might have had any number of reasons to disguise his true origins. Indeed, although we can be reasonably sure that Equiano sometimes told people he was from Carolina, there is no conclusive proof that his birthplace was actually there and, until such proof emerges (if it ever does), there is no real reason to doubt the essential truth of Equiano’s account of his childhood in Africa. Even if it is ever proved that Equiano was born in Carolina, it is important to stress that it is unlikely that Equiano would have invented an African origin merely to deceive the reading public. Instead, he may have included the real experience of many other slaves in his effort to make the strongest possible case against slavery and the slave trade. The truth may never be known, but click here for a summary of the main arguments on both sides of the debate.

In the summer of 1754, Equiano was sold to an officer in the Royal Navy called Michael Pascal. This can be verified independently, and we can be reasonably sure that the rest of Equiano’s autobiography is an accurate account of his life. Pascal gave the boy the name of Gustavus Vassa. This was a rather cruel joke on Pascal’s part. The original Gustavus Vassa was a sixteenth-century Swedish nobleman who had led the Swedish people into a war of independence from the Danes and as a result had become the first Swedish king of the Swedish people. He was thus seen as the man who had led the Swedes out of a sort of slavery. Pascal’s renaming of Equiano was a typical act of slaveowners. By taking away the identity of the slave the owner was able to demonstrate the total control he had over his ‘possession’.

As Pascal’s slave Equiano was introduced to the naval way of life which gave him opportunities that he would almost certainly have been denied had he been a plantation slave. For a start, he was brought to England and saw not only Europe but ultimately many parts of the world. But of greatest importance, he was able to learn to read and write which he did at a school in London where he was sent by Pascal. This was in the late 1750s when Britain was fighting the Seven Years War with France. This was essentially an imperial war, fought for control of North America and the Caribbean, and it ended in 1763 with Britain having captured Canada and a number of Caribbean islands from the French. Equiano’s schooling was thus interrupted by periods at sea. There, he would have spent much of his time as a personal servant to Pascal, but in battle his part was that of gunpowder carrier, or ‘powder-monkey’ as he would have been known on board ship. His job was to carry gunpowder from the magazine up to the gun decks. We can get an idea of the crowded and informal scenes on an eighteenth-century gun deck from Thomas Rowlandson’s cartoon. No naval officer would allow scenes like this on board a battleship today, but the relaxed appearance does not mean that warfare was not taken seriously. Once in battle, the crew would be expected to behave like an efficient and disciplined fighting force.

During this war Equiano saw action in Canada and in the Mediterranean and, by now having fought for the British and having been baptised, Equiano quite reasonably felt that he was entitled both to his share of the prize money that was handed out to sailors on naval vessels, and to his freedom. However, he was cheated of his money and then suddenly sold to another sea-captain who took him to the island of Montserrat in the Caribbean, where he was sold again to a Quaker by the name of Robert King. Equiano’s first fear was that he would be sent into the plantations, but by now he was a very well-educated slave and therefore much too valuable to be sent into the fields. King had him trained as a gauger – someone who gauges weights and measures – which was a very responsible position, something rather like a quality control manager today. While Equiano was in Montserrat he witnessed the worst tortures imaginable being inflicted on his fellow slaves and this experience, he tells us, gave him an added incentive to achieve his freedom. He was in the fortunate position that he could exploit his job to his own advantage and, after three years, in 1766, he saved up £40, the price of his own freedom. In his autobiography he writes movingly about his great joy at gaining his freedom. After a short while he went back to England.

On his arrival he was finally paid his wages from the navy. He had less luck with Captain Pascal who continued to refuse him his prize money. He worked for a while as a hairdresser, but this didn’t pay very well, so he went back to sea, on most voyages either as a hairdresser or a steward. He took what were seemingly a couple of very pleasant cruises around the Mediterranean, and then a voyage back to the Caribbean, before in 1773 joining a voyage of exploration. This voyage took place under the command of John Phipps and the idea was to find a passage to India across the North Pole. This wasn’t just a scientific project. The discovery of a north-west passage would save British ships a great deal of time and would thus considerably strengthen Britain’s imperial claims on India. Equiano shipped aboard the Racehorse, and the expedition was soon joined by another ship: the Carcass. One of the crew on this ship was a young midshipman named Horatio Nelson. Nelson was later to become the great hero of the battle of the Nile and the battle of Trafalgar. On this journey he was almost killed in an encounter with a polar bear, here imagined by Richard Westall in his painting of 1809. Equiano isn’t shown in the picture, but we get an idea of some of the dangers he faced on this voyage. Indeed, the Racehorse was almost lost, but the mission was a scientific success in that it was clearly proved that a north-west passage would not be found.

Equiano returned to London where two things of note occurred. First, he became involved in the political and legal efforts to outlaw slavery and the slave trade. This came about because a former slave and a friend of his, John Annis, was kidnapped by his former owner who wished to have him sent to the Caribbean. This was in 1773. In the preceding year this practice had been declared illegal by Lord Mansfield. Equiano went to Granville Sharp, the first prominent British abolitionist, for help and between them they tried to save Annis, but unfortunately their attempt was unsuccessful. However, Equiano was now in contact with the most important British campaigner against slavery. The other important thing which takes place at this time was Equiano’s conversion to Christianity. He had been exploring the scriptures and examining his own faith for some time, but it was on a voyage to Spain that he tells us that he saw ‘the bright beams of heavenly light’ and was ‘born again’. To many secular twentieth-century readers this has seemed like the least important part of his narrative, and in some editions of The Interesting Narrative the section describing Equiano’s conversion is cut out entirely. But to many readers in the eighteenth century – and, of course, to Equiano himself – this really was the key moment of his life.

Equiano then went out to the Caribbean again, in 1775, and this time he became involved in a project to set up a new plantation – or colony – on the Caribbean coast of Central America, probably in present day Nicaragua. This ‘adventure’ seems somewhat problematic to us today as Equiano was involved in two projects which are specifically associated with European colonisation. First of all he appoints himself as a Christian missionary, hoping that he can bring Christianity to the native Americans in the area. Secondly, he and his associates buy slaves to work on the plantation and Equiano is clearly involved in this at a high level, although he is at some pains to point out that he did ‘every thing I could to comfort the poor creatures, and render their condition easy’. We have to remember that in the mid 1770s there was as yet no organised anti-slavery movement and, indeed, there were very few individuals who thought that slavery should or even could be abolished outright. There were, however, a growing number of people who argued that just because people were slaves it didn’t mean that they should be treated cruelly. These people sought to ameliorate the conditions of the slaves by stopping corporal punishment, and by making sure the slaves had access to decent housing, food and medical care. Equiano can be placed with the ameliorationists at this point, although clearly he is not yet an abolitionist.

His experiences on leaving this colony might have helped him to change his mind about this. Once again he was cheated of money he was owed and – more dangerously – a slave-owner tried to re-enslave him. He was strung up for several hours and only managed to escape in canoe. Once again he decided to go back to London, where he worked for seven years as a servant (with a couple of cruises to America) before getting involved with the Sierra Leone resettlement project. This part of his narrative is dealt with in just a few pages, but historians of slavery view this project as being a very important one, not least because it took place at the same time as the very early period of the abolition campaign. Essentially, what happened was that in 1786 a number of people, particularly a rather eccentric amateur botanist by the name of Henry Smeathman, noticed that there were a great number of unemployed Africans begging on the streets of London. Smeathman reasoned that, since these people had been brought to England from Africa against their will in the first place, the kindest thing would be to round them all up and send them back again. The opinion of the Africans concerned was not asked for. While it is easy for us to be judgmental about this scheme now, we have to remember that, at the time, many of the most committed anti-slavery campaigners, such as Granville Sharp, were fully behind this because they genuinely believed it to be a work of charity. Sharp in particular was keen to make sure that the colony which was set up in Sierra Leone would be run along lines of equity and justice and that slavery would be outlawed there. Equiano believed in the project too, and he was given the job of Commissary of Provisions and Stores – it was his job to buy the food and equipment which the ships and the colony would need – a job which made him probably the first black civil servant in England. He soon found out, however, that corrupt officials were siphoning off the money to line their own pockets and that as a result there would not be enough provisions to keep the colony going until its first harvest. He drew attention to this in several places, but the enlightened attitude of the government in employing a black civil servant did not last and institutional racism quickly kicked in. The Navy Board stood up for him, but he was sacked nonetheless. And he was absolutely right about the Sierra Leone colony. Precisely because it was so badly provisioned only 60 of the 374 people shipped there survived the first four years.

Title page of the 1789 edition of the Interesting Narrative His next project was to write the book on which his fame rests. When The Interesting Narrative appeared, in the spring of 1789, it was at the height of the popular campaign to abolish the slave trade and his was one of over a hundred books to appear that year on the subject of slavery. In the main it was given good reviews, but the reviewers were in no doubt that this was a book of the moment. The Gentleman’s Magazine, for example, said that

Among other contrivances (and perhaps one of the most innocent) to interest the national humanity in favour of the Negro slaves, one of them here writes his own history, as formerly another of them published his own correspondence.

That other one was Ignatius Sancho. So these reviewers saw the book as political propaganda. Is this a fair assessment? In a way it is. Right at the end of the book, Equiano lays out a number of religious and economic arguments for the abolition of slavery, and the presence of these arguments has a strongly politicising effect on the book. Firstly, they make a straightforward political point – that the slave trade should be abolished – and back up that point of view with evidence. Secondly, their structural position in the narrative – last – ensures that these arguments are the ones which are uppermost in the mind of the reader when he or she lays down the book, and they also bring together many of the more local arguments against slavery which are made throughout the course of the book. We might remember, for example, the descriptions of the cruel treatment of slaves in Montserrat and Nicaragua. Yet one of the most important political aspects of the book is very similar to that of The Letters of Ignatius Sancho. Sancho’s editor claimed that one of her motives for publishing his letters was ‘the desire of shewing that an untutored African may possess abilities equal to an European’. We could argue that Equiano was doing the same when, right at the start of his book, he lays out his motives:

If it affords any satisfaction to my numerous friends, at whose request it has been written, or in the smallest degree promotes the interest of humanity, the ends for which it was undertaken will be fully attained, and every wish of my heart gratified.

When Equiano refers to ‘humanity’ he seems to have several things in mind. Firstly he of course means that slavery is inhumane in that it is a cruel business resulting in a great deal of human misery. He is calling for its abolition. But as well as the overt anti-slavery agenda there is a more subtle anti-racist project going on to dispel some of the racist myths current in eighteenth-century England. Amongst these was an increasingly widespread myth that Africans were either not fully human or were of a less developed branch of humanity. Part of Equiano’s project is to dispel this myth entirely by showing the world that he, in common with all human beings, is quite capable of writing a fine book describing a life which would be considered extraordinary and full of talent and seized opportunity regardless of the racial origins of the person who had lived it.

In this respect, we can say that the project of writing autobiography is, in Equiano’s case, a strongly political act. Indeed, the book is a rather special sort of autobiography: a black self-representation. In this period this is in itself somewhat unusual, but the work is also an account of the life of a former slave, a particular genre which is known as a ‘slave narrative’. By 1789 a very small number of these had already appeared, mostly oral accounts spoken by a slave or former slave and taken down and published by white amanuenses (although a famous exception to this is the Thoughts on Slavery published in 1788 by Equiano’s friend Quobna Ottobah Cugoano). But Equiano’s narrative was very different from most of those that had gone before. Not only had he written it himself, but he had also published it himself, by subscription, a method which involved getting people to put the money up front. He managed to convince many very important people to pay in advance for his book, a list which starts with the Prince of Wales and includes no less than eight dukes. Equiano’s book is different in another way too. Equiano did not just publish the book and leave it to fend for itself. Instead, he vigorously promoted it by going on lecture tours around England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, and by promoting his book he was also promoting the idea of abolition of slavery. Indeed, it was local abolition committees who arranged the lectures and readings at which he was present. During the early 1790s, then, Equiano had not just turned his life story into a document opposing slavery, but had transformed his entire life into a sort of anti-slavery document.

Equiano spent much of the 1790s campaigning against slavery, but he also managed to turn his book into a financial success as well. The 1790s brought personal changes too, and on 7 April 1792 he married an Englishwoman, Susanna Cullen, at Soham in Cambridgeshire. Olaudah and Susanna had two daughters, one of whom survived to inherit a substantial estate of £950 from her father (equivalent to about £100,000 or $160,000 today). Equiano died in March 1797, a full ten years before the slave trade was abolished in British ships, forty years before slavery was abolished in British colonies, and 68 years before slavery was ended in the United States. Although Equiano did not live to see these events, his narrative played an important part in bringing them about.

Text © Brycchan Carey 2000-2005

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Slavery Without Submission, Emancipation Without Freedom

Posted by wrmahugu on October 18, 2009

Ok, So this is not really a primary document but its a chapter from Howard Zinn’s book ” A People’s History of the United States”. He talks about Slavery and also there are journal excerpts by African slaves

if you have the book, its chapter 9, but here is the link if you dont.


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Virginia’s Militia Act 1777

Posted by wrmahugu on October 18, 2009

Wood mentions the Virginia’s Militia code 1723 (Woods 63), but i couldn’ t find it so I posted the 1777 Act instead.

Click to access 07-290.mer.ami.resp.va.pdf

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The Civil War and emancipation

Posted by wrmahugu on October 18, 2009

Resource Bank Contents
Black Union Soldiers

Emancipation Proclamation

Slaves of a South Carolina Plantation

On November 6, 1860 Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States — an event that outraged southern states. The Republican party had run on an anti-slavery platform, and many southerners felt that there was no longer a place for them in the Union. On December 20, 1860, South Carolina seceded. By Febrary 1, 1861, six more states — Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas — had split from the Union. The seceded states created the Confederate States of America and elected Jefferson Davis, a Mississippi Senator, as their provisional president.

In his inaugural address, delivered on March 4, 1861, Lincoln proclaimed that it was his duty to maintain the Union. He also declared that he had no intention of ending slavery where it existed, or of repealing the Fugitive Slave Law — a position that horrified African Americans and their white allies. Lincoln’s statement, however, did not satisfy the Confederacy, and on April 12 they attacked Fort Sumter, a federal stronghold in Charleston, South Carolina. Federal troops returned the fire. The Civil War had begun.

Immediately following the attack, four more states — Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee — severed their ties with the Union. To retain the loyalty of the remaining border states — Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri — President Lincoln insisted that the war was not about slavery or black rights; it was a war to preserve the Union. His words were not simply aimed at the loyal southern states, however — most white northerners were not interested in fighting to free slaves or in giving rights to black people. For this reason, the government turned away African American voluteers who rushed to enlist. Lincoln upheld the laws barring blacks from the army, proving to northern whites that their race privilege would not be threatened.

There was an exception, however. African Americans had been working aboard naval vessels for years, and there was no reason that they should continue. Black sailors were therefore accepted into the U.S. Navy from the beginning of the war. Still, many African Americans wanted to join the fighting and continued to put pressure on federal authorities. Even if Lincoln was not ready to admit it, blacks knew that this was a war against slavery. Some, however, rejected the idea of fighting to preserve a Union that had rejected them and which did not give them the rights of citizens.

The federal government had a harder time deciding what to do about escaping slaves. Because there was no consistent federal policy regarding fugitives, individual commanders made their own decisions. Some put them to work for the Union forces; others wanted to return them to their owners. Finally, on August 6, 1861, fugitive slaves were declared to be “contraband of war” if their labor had been used to aid the Confederacy in any way. And if found to be contraband, they were declared free.

As the northern army pushed southward, thousands of fugitives fled across Union lines. Neither the federal authorities nor the army were prepared for the flood of people, and many of the refugees suffered as a result. Though the government attempted to provide them with confiscated land, there was not enough to go around. Many fugitives were put into crowded camps, where starvation and disease led to a high death rate. Northern citizens, black and white alike, stepped in to fill the gap. They organized relief societies and provided aid. They also organized schools to teach the freedmen, women, and children to read and write, thus giving an education to thousands of African Americans throughout the war.

Though “contraband” slaves had been declared free, Lincoln continued to insist that this was a war to save the Union, not to free slaves. But by 1862, Lincoln was considering emancipation as a necessary step toward winning the war. The South was using enslaved people to aid the war effort. Black men and women were forced to build fortifications, work as blacksmiths, nurses, boatmen, and laundresses, and to work in factories, hospitals, and armories. In the meantime, the North was refusing to accept the services of black volunteers and freed slaves, the very people who most wanted to defeat the slaveholders. In addition, several governments in Europe were considering recognizing the Confederacy and intervening against the Union. If Lincoln declared this a war to free the slaves, European public opinion would overwhelmingly back the North.

On July 22, 1862, Lincoln showed a draft of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation to his cabinet. It proposed to emancipate the slaves in all rebel areas on January 1, 1863. Secretary of State William H. Seward agreed with the proposal, but cautioned Lincoln to wait until the Union had a major victory before formally issuing the proclamation. Lincoln’s chance came after the Union victory at the Battle of Antietam in September of 1862. He issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on September 22. The proclamation warned the Confederate states to surrender by January 1, 1863, or their slaves would be freed.

Some people were critical of the proclamation for only freeing some of the slaves. Others, including Frederick Douglass, were jubilant. Douglass felt that it was the beginning of the end of slavery, and that it would act as a “moral bombshell” to the Confederacy. Yet he and others feared that Lincoln would give in to pressure from northern conservatives, and would fail to keep his promise. Despite the opposition, however, the president remained firm. On January 1, 1863, he issued the final Emancipation Proclamation. With it he officially freed all slaves within the states or parts of states that were in rebellion and not in Union hands. This left one million slaves in Union territory still in bondage.

Throughout the North, African Americans and their white allies were exhuberant. They packed churches and meeting halls and celebrated the news. In the South, most slaves did not hear of the proclamation for months. But the purpose of the Civil War had now changed. The North was not only fighting to preserve the Union, it was fighting to end slavery.

Throughout this time, northern black men had continued to pressure the army to enlist them. A few individual commanders in the field had taken steps to recruit southern African Americans into their forces. But it was only after Lincoln issued the final Emancipation Proclamation that the federal army would officially accept black soldiers into its ranks.

African American men rushed to enlist. This time they were accepted into all-black units. The first of these was the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Colored Regiment, led by white officer Robert Gould Shaw. Their heroism in combat put to rest worries over the willingness of black soldiers to fight. Soon other regiments were being formed, and in May 1863 the War Department established the Bureau of Colored Troops.

Black recruiters, many of them abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass, Henry Highland Garnet, and Mary Ann Shadd Cary, brought in troops from throughout the North. Douglass proclaimed, “I urge you to fly to arms and smite with death the power that would bury the government and your liberty in the same hopeless grave.” Others, such as Harriet Tubman, recruited in the South. On March 6, 1863, the Secretary of War was informed that “seven hundred and fifty blacks who were waiting for an opportunity to join the Union Army had been rescued from slavery under the leadership of Harriet Ross Tubman….” By the end of the war more than 186,000 black soldiers had joined the Union army; 93,000 from the Confederate states, 40,000 from the border slave states, and 53,000 from the free states.

Black soldiers faced discrimination as well as segregation. The army was extremely reluctant to commission black officers — only one hundred gained commissions during the war. African American soldiers were also given substandard supplies and rations. Probably the worst form of discrimination was the pay differential. At the beginning of black enlistment, it was assumed that blacks would be kept out of direct combat, and the men were paid as laborers rather than as soldiers. Black soldiers therefore received $7 per month, plus a $3 clothing allowance, while white soldiers received $13 per month, plus $3.50 for clothes.

Black troops strongly resisted this treatment. The Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts Regiment served a year without pay rather than accept the unfair wages. Many blacks refused to enlist because of the discriminatory pay. Finally, in 1864, the War Department sanctioned equal wages for black soldiers.

In the South, most slaveholders were convinced that their slaves would remain loyal to them. Some did, but the vast majority crossed Union lines as soon as Northern troops entered their vicinity. A Confederate general stated in 1862 that North Carolina was losing approximately a million dollars every week because of the fleeing slaves.

Numbers of white southerners also refused to support the Confederacy. From the beginning, there were factions who vehemently disagreed with secession and remained loyal to the Union. Many poor southern whites became disillusioned during the course of the war. Wealthy planters had been granted exemptions from military service early on. This became especially inflammatory when the South instituted the draft in 1862 and the exemptions remained in place. It became clear to many poor southern whites that the war was being waged by the rich planters and the poor were fighting it. In addition, the common people were hit hard by wartime scarcity. By 1863, there was a food shortage. Riots and strikes occurred as inflation soared and people became desperate.

There were also northerners who resisted the war effort. Some were pacifists. Others were white men who resented the fact that the army was drafting them at the same time it excluded blacks. And there were whites who refused to fight once black soldiers were admitted. The North was also hit by economic depression, and enraged white people rioted against African Americans, who they accused of stealing their jobs.

Finally, on April 18, 1865, the Civil War ended with the surrender of the Confederate army. 617,000 Americans had died in the war, approximately the same number as in all of America’s other wars combined. Thousands had been injured. The southern landscape was devastated.

A new chapter in American history opened as the Thirteenth Amendment, passed in January of 1865, was implemented. It abolished slavery in the United States, and now, with the end of the war, four million African Americans were free. Thousands of former slaves travelled throughout the south, visiting or searching for loved ones from whom they had become separated. Harriet Jacobs was one who returned to her old home. Former slaveholders faced the bewildering fact of emancipation with everything from concern to rage to despair.

Men and women — black and white and in the North and South — now began the work of rebuilding the shattered union and of creating a new social order. This period would be called Reconstruction. It would hold many promises and many tragic disappointments. It was the beginning of a long, painful struggle, far longer and more difficult than anyone could realize. It was the beginning of a struggle that is not yet finished.

As part of Reconstruction, two new amendments were added to the Constitution. The Fourteenth Amendment, passed in June 1865, granted citizenship to all people born or naturalized in the United States. The Fifteenth Amendment, passed in February of 1869, guaranteed that no American would be denied the right to vote on the basis of race. For many African Americans, however, this right would be short-lived. Following Reconstruction, they would be denied their legal right to vote in many states until the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

But all of this was yet to come. The Americans of 1865 were standing at the point between one era and another. What they knew was that slavery was dead. With that 250 year legacy behind them, they faced the future.

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Posted by brttnyala on October 18, 2009


This is interesting.


Add posted for runaway slave


Docuemnt from the prospective of those who where on the Amistad


Bill of Sale from after the emancipation proclaimation


Page xxi has a an interesting excerpt about women sending slave women to be flogged and the dangers of sexual exploitation.

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new documents

Posted by jwilhelm21 on October 12, 2009


memoir of rebel pierre toussaint

memoir of slave captive


laws reguarding african slaves


code noir


deleted passsage of declaration of independance condemning slavery


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The Sin of Slaveholding

Posted by creyes24 on October 12, 2009

I couldn’t help but post this, beause i foudn it just so interesting of when it was written which was in the 1700s.  Its called the Sin of Slaveholding


The most important part i find to be compelling is three rebuttles at the bottom.  Here is a quick expert if you don’t not have the want to read it through:

Objection 1. These blackamoors are of the posterity of Ham, and therefore under the curse of slavery (Gen. 9:25-27).

Answer….If this ever was a commission, how do we know but that it is long since out of date?…But it is possible that by cursory reading this text may have been mistaken….

Objection 2. The Negroes are brought out of a pagan country into places where the Gospel is preached.

Answer. Evil must not be done that good may come of it….

Objection 3. The Africans have wars one with another. Our ships bring lawful captives taken in those wars.

Answer….If they be between town and town, provincial or national, every war is upon one side unjust. An unlawful war can’t make lawful captives. And by receiving, we are in danger to promote and partake in their barbarous cruelties.

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