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SLAVERY OF THE AFRICANS.
A. Sir, what do you think of the motion made by some among us to free all our African slaves? They say that our holding these blacks in slavery as we do is an open violation of the law of God, and is so great an instance of unrighteousness and cruelty that we cannot expect deliverance from present calamities, and success in our struggle for liberty in the American colonies, until we repent, and make all the restitution in our power. For my part, I think they carry things much too far on this head; and if any thing might be done for the freedom of our slaves, this is not a proper time to attend to it while we are in such a state of war and distress, and affairs of much greater importance demand all our attention, and the utmost exertion of the public.
B. Sir, I am glad you have introduced this subject, especially as you own a number of these slaves. I shall attend to it with pleasure, and offer my sentiments upon it freely, ex
ng you will as freely propose the objections you shall have against any thing I shall advance. And I take leave v here to observe, that, if the slavery in which we hold the blacks is wrong, it is a very great and public sin, and, therefore, a sin which God is now testifying against in the calamities he has brought upon us; consequently, must be reformed before we can reasonably expect deliverance, or even sincerely ask for it. It would be worse than madness
, then, to put off attention to this matter, under the notion of attending to more important affairs. This is acting like the mariner, who, when his ship is filling with water, neglects to stop the leak, or ply the pump, that he may mend bis sails. There are, at the lowest computation, 800,000 slaves in British America, including the West India islands, and a greater part of these
are in the colonies on the continent; and if this is, in every instance, wrong, unrighteousness, and oppression, it must be a very great and crying sin, there being nothing of the kind equal to it on the face of the earth. There are but few of these slaves, indeed, in New England, compared with the vast numbers in the islands and the southern colonies; and they are treated much better on the continent, and especially among us, than they are in the West Indies. But, if it be all wrong, and real oppression of the poor, helpless blacks, we, by refusing to break this yoke and let these injured captives go free, do practically justify and support this slavery in general, and make ourselves, in a measure at least, answerable for the whole; and we have no way to exculpate ourselves from the guilt of the whole, and bear proper testimony against this great evil, but by freeing all our slaves. Surely, then, this matter admits of no delay, but demands our first and most serious attention and speedy reformation.
A. I acknowledge the slave trade, as it has been carried on with the Africans, cannot be justified; but I am not yet convinced that it is wrong to keep those in perpetual bondage who by this trade have been transported from Africa to us, and are become our slaves. If I viewed this in the light you do, I should agree with you that it is of the highest importance that they should all be made free without delay; as we could not expect the favor of Heaven, or with any consistency ask it, so long as they are held in bondage.
B. I am glad you have attended to the affair so much as to be convinced of the unrighteousness of the slave trade. Indeed, this conviction has been so spread of late that it has reached almost all men on the continent, except some of those who are too deeply interested in it to adınit the light which condemns jt; and it has now but few advocates, I believe, being generally condemned and exploded. And the mem. bers of the continental congress have done themselves much honor in advising the American colonies to drop this trade entirely, and resolving not to buy another slave that shall be imported from Africa.
But I think it of importance that this trade should not only be condemned as wrong, but attentively considered in its real nature, and all its shocking attendants and circumstances, which will lead us to think of it with a detestation and horror which this scene of inhumanity, oppression, and crueltyexceeding every thing of the kind that has ever been perpetrated by the sous of men — is suited to excite; and awaken us to a proper indignation against the authors of this violence and outrage done to their fellow-men, and to feelings of humanity and pity towards our brethren who are the miserable sufferers. Therefore, though I am not able to paint this horrid scene of barbarity and complicated iniquity to the life, or even to tell the one half which may be told in the short time allotted for this conversation, yet I will suggest a few particulars, leaving you, if you please, to consult the authors who have given a more particular description.
Most of the Africans are in a state of heathenism, and sunk down into that ignorance and barbarity into which mankind naturally fall when destitute of divine revelation. Their lands are fertile, and produce all the necessaries of life. The inhabitants are divided into many distinct nations, or clans, and, of course, are frequently entering into quarrels and open war with each other. The Europeans, English, French, and Dutch have carried on a trade with them for above one hun. dred years, and have taken advantage of their ignorance and barbarity to persuade them to enter into the inhuman practice of selling one another to the Europeans for the commodities which they carry to them, most of which they stand in no real need of, but might live as well or better without them, particularly spirituous liquors, which have been carried to them in great quantities by the Americans. They, by this means, have tempted and excited the poor blacks to make war upon one another in order to get captives, spreading distress, devastation, and destruction over a vast country, by which many millions have perished, and millions of others have been captivated and sold to the Europeans and Americans into a state of slavery much worse than death. And the inhabitants of the towns near the sea are taught to exert all the art and power they have to entrap and decoy one another, that they may make slaves of them, and sell them to us for rum; by which they intoxicate themselves, and become more brutish and savage than otherwise they could be, so that there are but few instances of sobriety, honesty, or even humanity, in these towns on the sea to which the Europeans have access, and they who live the farthest from these places are the least vicious, and much more civil and humane.
They stand in no need of the rum that is carried there in such quantities, by which so many thousands have been enslaved, and which has spread such infinite mischief among them; and I leave it with you to consider to what a dreadful degree the Americans have, by this abominable practice, brought the curse upon them pronounced by an inspired prophet, and bow very applicable it is to this case.
“ Woe unto him that giveth his neighbor drink, that puttest thy bottle to him, and makest him drunken also, that thou mayest VOL. II.
look on their nakedness!” (Hab. ii. 15.) And is not this curse evidently come upon us in a dreadful degree, in such a way as to paint itself out, so that he who runs may read it? We have put the bottle to our neighbors' mouths, by carrying immense quantities of rum to them, and enticed them to drink, that we might take advantage of their weakness, and thereby gratify our lusts. By this means multitudes of them have been enslaved and carried to the West India islands, there to be kept to hard labor, and treated, ten thousand times worse than dogs. In consequence of which, incredible quantities of rum, and molasses which has been distilled into rum among ourselves, have been imported, the most of which is consumed in intemperance and drunkenness, in such a dreadful degree as to exceed any thing of the kind in any part of the world ; by which thousands, yea, millions, have ruined themselves, body and soul, forever. Let any one consider this, and forbear to confess, if he can, that this woe has fallen heavily upon us, and that in such a way and connection as to point out the sinful cause.
But to return. This trade has been carried on for a century and more, and for many years past above a hundred thousand have been brought off the coast in a year, so that many, many millions have been torn from their native country, their acquaintance, relations and friends, and most of them put into a state of slavery, both themselves and their children forever, if they shall have any posterity, much worse than death. When numbers of these wretched creatures are collected by the savages, they are brought into the public market to be sold, all naked as they were born. The more than savage slave merchant views them, and sends his surgeon more particularly to examine them as to the soundness of their limbs, their age, &c. All that are passed as fit for sale are branded with a hot iron in some part of their body with the buyer's mark, and then confined, crowded together in some close hold, till a convenient time to put them on board a ship. When they are brought on board, all are immediately put in irons, except some of the women perhaps, and the small children, where they are so crowded together in that hot climate, that commonly a considerable number die on their passage to the West Indies, occasioned partly by their confinement, partly by the grief and vexation of their minds from the treatment they receive, and the situation in which they find themselves. And a number commonly die after they arrive at the West Indies in seasoning to the climate, so that, commonly, not above seventy in a hundred survive their transportation; by which means about thirty thousand are murdered every year by this slave trade, which amounts to three millions in a century. When they are brought to the West Indies, they are again exposed to market, as if they were so many beasts, and sold to the highest bidder; where again they are separated according to the humor of the traders, without any regard to their friendships or relations, of husbands and wives, parents and children, brothers and sisters, &c.; being torn from each other, without the least regard to any thing of this kind, and sent to different places, without any prospect of seeing each other again. They are then put under a taskmaster by the purchasing planter, who appoints them their work and rules over them with rigor and cruelty, following them with his cruel whip, or appointing one to do it, if possible more cruel than himself. The infirm and feeble, the females, and even those who are pregnant, or have infants to take care of, must do their task in the field equally with the rest; or if they fall behind, may be sure to feel the lash of their unmerciful driver. Their allowance of food at the same time is very coarse and scant, and must be cooked by themselves, if cooked at all, when they want to be asleep. And often they have no food but what they procure for themselves, by working on the Sabbath; for that is the only time they have to themselves. And to make any complaint or petition for relief will expose them to some severe punishment, if not a cruel death. The least real or supposable crimes in them are punished in the most cruel manner. And they have no relief, there being no appeal from their masters' sentence and will, who commonly are more like savage beasts than rational, human creatures. And to petition for liberty, though in the most humble and modest terms, is as much as their lives are worth, as few escape the most cruel death who presume to hint any thing of this kind to their masters; it being a maxim with those more than cruel tyrants, that the only way to keep them under, and prevent their thinking of the sweets of liberty, is to punish the least intimation of it in the severest manner, as the most intolerable affront and insult on their masters. Their labor is so hard, and their diet so scant and poor, and they are treated in all respects with such oppression and cruelty, that they do not increase by propagation in the islands, but constantly decrease, so that every planter must every year purchase five at least to every hundred he has on his plantation, in order to keep his number from diminishing.