George W. Williams.

History of the Negro Race in America From 1619 to 1880. Vol 1 Negroes as Slaves, as Soldiers, and as Citizens online

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Online LibraryGeorge W. WilliamsHistory of the Negro Race in America From 1619 to 1880. Vol 1 Negroes as Slaves, as Soldiers, and as Citizens → online text (page 15 of 57)
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governor. It was certainly before this that the ship "Treasurer,"
manned "with the ablest men in the colony," sailed for "the Spanish
dominions in the Western hemisphere." Under date of June 15, 1618,
John Rolfe, speaking of the death of the Indian Powhatan, which took
place in April, says, "Some private differences happened betwixt Capt.
Bruster and Capt. Argall," etc.[128] Capt. John Smith's information,
as secured from Master Rolfe, would lead to the conclusion that the
difficulty which took place between Capt. Edward Brewster and Capt.
Argall occurred in the spring instead of the autumn, as Neill says. If
it be true that "The Treasurer" sailed in the early spring of 1618,
Rolfe's statement as to the time of the strife between Brewster and
Argall would harmonize with the facts in reference to the length of
time the vessel was absent as recorded in Burk's history. But if Neill
is correct as to the time of the quarrel, - for we maintain that it was
about this time that Argall left the colony, - then his statement would
tally with Burk's account of the time the vessel was on the cruise.
If, therefore, she sailed in October, 1618, being absent ten months,
she was due at Jamestown in August, 1619.

But, nevertheless, we are strangely moved to believe that 1618 was the
memorable year of the landing of the first slaves in Virginia. And we
have one strong and reliable authority on our side. Stith, in his
history of Virginia, fixes the date in 1618.[129] On the same page
there is an account of the trial and sentence of Capt. Brewster. The
ship "Treasurer" had evidently left England in the winter of 1618.
When she reached the Virginia colony, she was furnished with a new
crew and abundant supplies for her cruise. Neill says she returned
with booty and "a certain number of negroes." Campbell agrees that it
was some time before the landing of the Dutch man-of-war that "The
Treasurer" returned to Virginia. He says, "She returned to Virginia
after some ten months with her booty, which consisted of captured
negroes, who were not left in Virginia, because Capt. Argall had gone
back to England, but were put on the Earl of Warwick's plantation in
the Somer Islands."[130]

During the last two and one-half centuries the readers of the history
of Virginia have been mislead as to these two vessels, the Dutch
man-of-war and "The Treasurer." The Dutch man-of-war did land the
first slaves; but the ship "Treasurer" was the first to bring them to
this country, in 1618.

When in 1619 the Dutch man-of-war brought the first slaves to
Virginia, Capt. Miles Kendall was deputy-governor. The man-of-war
claimed to sail under commission of the Prince of Orange. Capt.
Kendall gave orders that the vessel should not land in any of his
harbors: but the vessel was without provisions; and the Negroes,
_fourteen_ in number, were tendered for supplies. Capt. Kendall
accepted the slaves, and, in return, furnished the man-of-war with the
coveted provisions. In the mean while Capt. Butler came and assumed
charge of the affairs of the Virginia Company, and dispossessed
Kendall of his slaves, alleging that they were the property of the
Earl of Warwick. He insisted that they were taken from the ship
"Treasurer,"[131] "with which the said Holland man-of-war had
consorted." Chagrined, and wronged by Gov. Butler, Capt. Kendall
hastened back to England to lay his case before the London Company,
and to seek equity. The Earl of Warwick appeared in court, and claimed
the Negroes as his property, as having belonged to his ship, "The
Treasurer." Every thing that would embarrass Kendall was introduced by
the earl. At length, as a final resort, charges were formally
preferred against him, and the matter referred to Butler for decision.
Capt. Kendall did not fail to appreciate the gravity of his case, when
charges were preferred against him in London, and the trial ordered
before the man of whom he asked restitution! The case remained in
_statu quo_ until July, 1622, when the court made a disposition of the
case. Nine of the slaves were to be delivered to Capt. Kendall, "and
the rest to be consigned to the company's use." This decision was
reached by the court after the Earl of Warwick had submitted the case
to the discretion and judicial impartiality of the judges. The court
gave instructions to Capt. Bernard, who was then the governor, to see
that its order was enforced. But while the order of the court was _in
transitu_, Bernard died. The earl, learning of the event, immediately
wrote a letter, representing that the slaves should _not_ be delivered
to Kendall; and an advantage being taken - purely technical - of the
omission of the name of the captain of the Holland man-of-war, Capt.
Kendall never secured his nine slaves.

It should be noted, that while Rolfe, in Capt. Smith's history, fixes
the number of slaves in the Dutch vessel at _twenty_, - as also does
Beverley, - it is rather strange that the Council of Virginia, in 1623,
should state that the commanding officer of the Dutch man-of-war told
Capt. Kendall that "he had fourteen Negroes on board!"[132] Moreover,
it is charged that the slaves taken by "The Treasurer" were divided up
among the sailors; and that they, having been cheated out of their
dues, asked judicial interference.[133] Now, these slaves from "The
Treasurer" "were placed on the Earl of Warwick's lands in Bermudas,
and there kept and detained to his Lordship's use." There are several
things apparent; viz., that there is a mistake between the statement
of the Virginia Council in their declaration of May 7, 1623, about the
number of slaves landed by the man-of-war, and the statements of
Beverley and Smith. And if Stith is to be relied upon as to the slaves
of "The Treasurer" having been taken to the "Earl of Warwick's lands
in Bermudas, and there kept," his lordship's claim to the slaves Capt.
Kendall got from the Dutch man-of-war was not founded in truth or

Whether the number was fourteen or twenty, it is a fact, beyond
historical doubt, that the Colony of Virginia purchased the first
Negroes, and thus opened up the nefarious traffic in human flesh. It
is due to the Virginia Colony to say, that these slaves were forced
upon them; that they were taken in exchange for food given to relieve
the hunger of famishing sailors; that white servitude[134] was common,
and many whites were convicts[135] from England; and the extraordinary
demand for laborers may have deadened the moral sensibilities of the
colonists as to the enormity of the great crime to which they were
parties. Women were sold for wives,[136] and sometimes were
kidnapped[137] in England and sent into the colony. There was nothing
in the moral atmosphere of the colony inimical to the spirit of
bondage that was manifest so early in the history of this people.
England had always held her sceptre over slaves of some character:
villeins in the feudal era, stolen Africans under Elizabeth and under
the house of the Tudors; Caucasian children - whose German blood could
be traced beyond the battle of Hastings - in her mines, factories, and
mills; and vanquished Brahmans in her Eastern possessions. How, then,
could we expect less of these "knights" and "adventurers" who
"degraded the human race by an exclusive respect for the privileged

The institution of slavery once founded, it is rather remarkable that
its growth was so slow. According to the census of Feb. 16, 1624,
there were but twenty-two in the entire colony.[139] There were eleven
at Flourdieu Hundred, three in James City, one on James Island, one on
the plantation opposite James City, four at Warisquoyak, and two at
Elizabeth City. In 1648 the population of Virginia was about fifteen
thousand, with a slave population of three hundred.[140] The cause of
the slow increase of slaves was not due to any colonial prohibition.
The men who were engaged in tearing unoffending Africans from their
native home were some time learning that this colony was at this time
a ready market for their helpless victims. Whatever feeling or
scruple, if such ever existed, the colonists had in reference to the
subject of dealing in the slave-trade, was destroyed at conception by
the golden hopes of large gains. The latitude, the products of the
soil, the demand for labor, the custom of the indenture of white
servants, were abundant reasons why the Negro should be doomed to
bondage for life.

The subjects of slavery were the poor unfortunates that the strong
push to the outer edge of organized African society, where, through
neglect or abuse, they are consigned to the mercy of avarice and
malice. We have already stated that the weaker tribes of Africa are
pushed into the alluvial flats of that continent; where they have
perished in large numbers, or have become the prey of the more
powerful tribes, who consort with slave-hunters. Disease, tribal wars
in Africa, and the merciless greed of slave-hunters, peopled the
colony of Virginia with a class that was expected to till the soil.
African criminals, by an immemorial usage, were sold into slavery as
the highest penalty, save death; and often this was preferred to
bondage. Many such criminals found their way into the colony. To be
bondmen among neighboring tribes at home was dreaded beyond
expression; but to wear chains in a foreign land, to submit to the
dehumanizing treatment of cruel taskmasters, was an ordeal that fanned
into life the last dying ember of manhood and resentment.

The character of the slaves imported, and the pitiable condition of
the white servants, produced rather an anomalous result. "Male
servants, and slaves of both sex" were bound together by the
fellowship of toil. But the distinction "made between them in their
clothes and food"[141] drew a line, not between their social
condition, - for it was the same, - but between their nationality.
First, then, was social estrangement, next legal difference, and last
of all political disagreement and strife. In order to oppress the
weak, and justify the unchristian distinction between God's creatures,
the persons who would bolster themselves into respectability must have
the aid of law. Luther could march fearlessly to the Diet of Worms if
every tile on the houses were a devil; but Macbeth was conquered by
the remembrance of the wrong he had done the virtuous Duncan and the
unoffending Banquo, long before he was slain by Macduff. A guilty
conscience always needs a multitude of subterfuges to guard against
dreaded contingencies. So when the society in the Virginia Colony had
made up its mind that the Negroes in their midst were mere
heathen,[142] they stood ready to punish any member who had the
temerity to cross the line drawn between the races. It was not a
mitigating circumstance that the white servants of the colony who came
into natural contact with the Negroes were "disorderly persons," or
convicts sent to Virginia by an order of the king of England. It was
fixed by public sentiment and law that there should be no relation
between the races. The first prohibition was made "September 17th,
1630." Hugh Davis, a white servant, was publicly flogged "before an
assembly of Negroes and others," for defiling himself with a Negro. It
was also required that he should confess as much on the following

In the winter of 1639, on the 6th of January, during the incumbency of
Sir Francis Wyatt, the General Assembly passed the first prohibition
against Negroes. "All persons," doubtless including fraternizing
Indians, "except Negroes," were required to secure arms and
ammunition, or be subject to a fine, to be imposed by "the Governor
and Council."[144] The records are too scanty, and it is impossible to
judge, at this remote day, what was the real cause of this law. We
have already called attention to the fact that the slaves were but a
mere fraction of the _summa summarum_ of the population. It could not
be that the brave Virginians were afraid of an insurrection! Was it
another reminder that the "Negroes were heathen," and, therefore, not
entitled to the privileges of Christian freemen? It was not the act of
that government, which in its conscious rectitude "can put ten
thousand to flight," but was rather the inexcusable feebleness of a
diseased conscience, that staggers off for refuge "when no man

Mr. Bancroft thinks that the "special tax upon female slaves"[145] was
intended to discourage the traffic. It does not so seem to us. It
seems that the Virginia Assembly was endeavoring to establish friendly
relations with the Dutch and other nations in order to secure "trade."
Tobacco was the chief commodity of the colonists. They intended by the
act[146] of March, 1659, to guarantee the most perfect liberty "to
trade with" them. They required, however, that foreigners should "give
bond and pay the impost of tenn shillings per hogshead laid upon all
tobacco exported to any fforreigne dominions." The same act recites,
that whenever any slaves were sold for tobacco, the amount of imposts
would only be "two shillings per hogshead," which was only the nominal
sum paid by the colonists themselves. This act was passed several
years before the one became a law that is cited by Mr. Bancroft. It
seems that much trouble had been experienced in determining who were
taxable in the colony. It is very clear that the LIV. Act of March,
1662, which Mr. Bancroft thinks was intended to discourage the
importation of slaves by taxing female slaves, seeks only to determine
who shall be taxable. It is a general law, declaring "that _all_ male
persons, of what age soever imported into this country shall be
brought into lysts and be liable to the payment of all taxes, and all
negroes, male and female being imported shall be accompted tythable,
and all Indian servants male or female however procured being adjudged
sixteen years of age shall be likewise tythable from which none shall
be exempted."[147] Beverley says that "the male servants, and slaves
of both sexes," were employed together. It seems that white women were
so scarce as to be greatly respected. But female Negroes and Indians
were taxable; although Indian children, unlike those of Negroes, were
not held as slaves.[148] Under the LIV. Act there is but one class
exempted from tax, - white females, and, we might add, persons under
sixteen years of age.[149] So what Mr. Bancroft mistakes as repressive
legislation against the slave-trade is only an exemption of white
women, and intended to encourage their coming into the colony.

The legal distinction between slaves and servants was, "slaves for
life, and servants for a time."[150] Slavery existed from 1619 until
1662, without any sanction in law. On the 14th of December, 1662, the
foundations of the slave institution were laid in the old law maxim,
"_Partus sequitur ventrum_," - that the issue of slave mothers should
follow their condition.[151] Two things were accomplished by this act;
viz., slavery received the direct sanction of statutory law, and it
was also made hereditary. On the 6th of March, 1655, - seven years
before the time mentioned above, - an act was passed declaring that all
Indian children brought into the colony by friendly Indians should not
be treated as slaves,[152] but be instructed in the trades.[153] By
implication, then, slavery existed legally at this time; but the act
of 1662 was the first direct law on the subject. In 1670 a question
arose as to whether Indians taken in war were to be servants for a
term of years, or for life. The act passed on the subject is rather
remarkable for the language in which it is couched; showing, as it
does, that it was made to relieve the Indian, and fix the term of the
Negro's bondage beyond a reasonable doubt. "_It is resolved_ and
enacted that all servants not being Christians imported into this
colony by shipping shall be slaves for their lives; but what shall
come by land shall serve, if boyes or girles, until thirty yeares of
age, if men or women twelve yeares and no longer."[154] This
remarkable act was dictated by fear and policy. No doubt the Indian
was as thoroughly despised as the Negro; but the Indian was on his
native soil, and, therefore, was a more dangerous[155] subject.
Instructed by the past, and fearful of the future, the sagacious
colonists declared by this act, that those who "shall come by land"
should not be assigned to servitude for life. While this act was
passed to define the legal status of the Indian, at the same time,
and with equal force, it determines the fate of the Negro who is so
unfortunate as to find his way into the colony. "_All servants not
being Christians imported into this colony by shipping shall be slaves
for their lives_." Thus, in 1670, Virginia, not abhorring
the institution, solemnly declared that "all servants not
christians" - heathen Negroes - coming into her "colony by
shipping" - there was no other way for them to come! - should "_be
slaves for their lives_!"

In 1682 the colony was in a flourishing condition. Opulence generally
makes men tyrannical, and great success in business makes them
unmerciful. Although Indians, in special acts, had not been classed as
slaves, but only accounted "servants for a term of years," the growing
wealth and increasing number of the colonists seemed to justify them
in throwing off the mask. The act of the 3d of October, 1670, defining
who should be slaves, was repealed at the November session of the
General Assembly of 1682. Indians were now made slaves,[156] and
placed upon the same legal footing with the Negroes. The sacred rite
of baptism[157] did not alter the condition of children - Indian or
Negro - when born in slavery. And slavery, as a cruel and inhuman
institution, flourished and magnified with each returning year.

Encouraged by friendly legislation, the Dutch plied the slave-trade
with a zeal equalled only by the enormous gains they reaped from the
planters. It was not enough that faith had been broken with friendly
Indians, and their children doomed by statute to the hell of perpetual
slavery; it was not sufficient that the Indian and Negro were
compelled to serve, unrequited, for their lifetime. On the 4th of
October, 1705, "an act declaring the Negro, Mulatto, and Indian
slaves, within this dominion, to be real estate,"[158] was passed
without a dissenting voice. Before this time they had been denominated
by the courts as chattels: now they were to pass in law as real
estate. There were, however, several provisos to this act. Merchants
coming into the colony with slaves, not sold, were not to be affected
by the act until the slaves had actually passed in a _bonĂ¢-fide_ sale.
Until such time their slaves were contemplated by the law as chattels.
In case a master died without lawful heirs, his slaves did not
escheat, but were regarded as other personal estate or property. Slave
property was liable to be taken in execution for the payment of
debts, and was recoverable by a personal action.[159]

The only apology for enslaving the Negroes we can find in all the
records of this colony is, that they "were heathen." Every statute,
from the first to the last, during the period the colony was under the
control of England, carefully mentions that all persons - Indians and
Negroes - who "are not Christians" are to be slaves. And their
conversion to Christianity afterwards did not release them from their

The act making Indian, Mulatto, and Negro slaves real property, passed
in October, 1705, under the reign of Queen Anne, and by her approved,
was "explained" and "amended" in February, 1727, during the reign of
King George II. Whether the act received its being out of a desire to
prevent fraud, like the "Statutes of Frauds," is beyond finding out.
But it was an act that showed that slavery had grown to be so common
an institution as not to excite human sympathy. And the attempt to
"explain" and "amend" its cruel provisions was but a faint precursor
of the evils that followed. Innumerable lawsuits grew out of the act,
and the courts and barristers held to conflicting interpretations and
constructions. Whether complaints were made to his Majesty, the king,
the records do not relate; or whether he was moved by feelings of
humanity is quite as difficult to understand. But on the 31st of
October, 1751, he issued a proclamation repealing the act declaring
slaves real estate.[161] The proclamation abrogated nine other acts,
and quite threw the colony into confusion.[162] It is to be hoped that
the king was animated by the noblest impulses in repealing one of the
most dehumanizing laws that ever disgraced the government of any
civilized people. The General Assembly, on the 15th of April, 1752,
made an appeal to the king, "humbly" protesting against the
proclamation. The law-makers in the colony were inclined to doubt the
king's prerogative in this matter. They called the attention of his
Majesty to the fact that he had given the "Governor" "full power and
authority with the advice and consent of the council" to make needful
laws; but they failed to realize fully that his Majesty, in
accordance with the proviso contained in the grant of authority made
to the governor and council of the colony, was using his veto. They
recited the causes which induced them to enact the law, recounted the
benefits accruing to his Majesty's subjects from the conversion of
human beings into real property,[163] and closed with a touching
appeal for the retention of the act complained of, so that slaves
"_might not at the same time be real estate in some respects, personal
in others, and bothe in others_!" History does not record that the
brusque old king was at all moved by this earnest appeal and
convincing argument of the Virginia Assembly.

In 1699 the government buildings at James City were destroyed. The
General Assembly, in an attempt to devise means to build a new
Capitol, passed an act on the 11th of April of the aforesaid year,
fixing a "duty on servants and slaves imported"[164] into the colony.
Fifteen shillings was the impost tax levied upon every servant
imported, "not born in England or Wales, and twenty shillings for
every Negro or other slave" thus imported. The revenue arising from
this tax on servants and slaves was to go to the building of a new
Capitol. Every slave-vessel was inspected by a customs-officer. The
commanding officer of the vessel was required to furnish the names and
number of the servants and slaves imported, the place of their birth,
and pay the duty imposed upon each before they were permitted to be
landed. This act was to be in force for the space of "three years from
the publication thereof, and no longer."[165] But, in the summer of
1701, it was continued until the 25th day of December, 1703. The act
was passed as a temporary measure to secure revenue with which to
build the Capitol.[166] Evidently it was not intended to remain a part
of the code of the colony. In 1732 it was revived by an act, the
preamble of which leads us to infer that the home government was not
friendly to its passage. In short, the act is preceded by a prayer for
permission to pass it. Whatever may have been the feeling in England
in reference to levying imposts upon servants and slaves, it is
certain the colonists were in hearty accord with the spirit and letter
of the act. It must be clear to every honest student of history, that
there never was, up to this time, an attempt made to cure the growing
evils of slavery. When a tax was imposed upon slaves imported, the
object in view was the replenishing of the coffers of the colonial
government. In 1734 another act was passed taxing imported slaves,
because it had "been found very easy to the subjects of this colony,
and no ways burthensome to the traders in slaves." The additional
reason for continuing the law was, "that a competent revenue" might be
raised "for preventing or lessening a poll-tax."[167] And in 1738,
this law being "found, by experience, to be an easy expedient for
raising a revenue towards the lessening a pooll-tax, always grievous
to the people of this colony, and is in no way burthensom to the
traders in slaves," it was re-enacted. In every instance, through all
these years, the imposition of a tax on slaves imported into the
colony had but one end in view, - the raising of revenue. In 1699 the
end sought through the taxing of imported slaves was the building of
the Capitol; in 1734 it was to lighten the burden of taxes on the
subjects in the colony; but, in 1740, the object was to get funds to
raise and transport troops in his Majesty's service.[168] The original
duty remained; and an additional levy of five per centum was required

Online LibraryGeorge W. WilliamsHistory of the Negro Race in America From 1619 to 1880. Vol 1 Negroes as Slaves, as Soldiers, and as Citizens → online text (page 15 of 57)