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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of uneasiness and expectancy. Something had to be done to stay the
panic so imminent among both classes of the colonists, bond and free.
The Bureau of Accounts made certain propositions to the company
calculated to act as a tonic upon the languishing hopes of the people.
After reciting many methods by which the Province was to be
rejuvenated, it was suggested "that it would be wise to permit the
patroons, colonists, and other farmers to import as many Negroes from
the Brazils as they could purchase for cash, to assist them on their
farms; as (it was maintained) these slaves could do more work for
their masters, and were less expensive, than the hired laborers
engaged in Holland, and conveyed to New Netherlands, "_by means of
much money and large promises_."[224]

Nor was the substitution of slave labor for white a temporary
expedient. Again in 1661 a loud call for more slaves was heard.[225]
In the October treaty of the same year, the Dutch yielded to the
seductive offer of the English, "to deliver two or three thousand
hogsheads of tobacco annually ... in return for negroes and
merchandise." At the first the Negro slave was regarded as a cheap
laborer, - a blessing to the Province; but after a while the cupidity
of the English induced the Hollanders to regard the Negro as a
coveted, marketable chattel.

"In its scheme of political administration, the West-India
Company exhibited too often a mercantile and selfish spirit;
and in encouraging commerce in Negro slaves, it established
an institution which subsisted many generations after its
authority had ceased."[226]

The Dutch colony was governed by the Dutch and Roman law. The
government was tripartite, - executive, legislative, and judicial, - all
vested in, and exercised by, the governor and council. There seemed to
be but little or no necessity for legislation on the slavery question.
The Negro seemed to be a felt need in the Province, and was regarded
with some consideration by the kind-hearted Hollanders. Benevolent and
social, they desired to see all around them happy. The enfranchised
African might and did obtain a freehold; while the Negro who remained
under an institution of patriarchal simplicity, scarcely knowing he
was in bondage, danced merrily at the best, in "kermis," at Christmas
and Pinckster.[227] There were, doubtless, a few cases where the
slaves received harsh treatment from their masters; but, as a rule,
the jolly Dutch fed and clothed their slaves as well as their white
servants. There were no severe rules to strip the Negroes of their
personal rights, - such as social amusements or public feasts when
their labors had been completed. During this entire period, they went
and came among their class without let or hinderance. They were
married, and given in marriage;[228] they sowed, and, in many
instances, gathered an equitable share of the fruits of their labors.
If there were no schools for them, there were no laws against an
honest attempt to acquire knowledge at seasonable times. The
Hollanders built their government upon the hearthstone, believing it
to be the earthly rock of ages to a nation that would build wisely for
the future. And while it is true that they regarded commerce as the
life-blood of the material existence of a people, they nevertheless
found their inspiration for multifarious duties in the genial sunshine
of the family circle. A nation thus constituted could not habilitate
slavery with all the hideous features it wore in Virginia and
Massachusetts. The slaves could not escape the good influences of the
mild government of the New Netherlands, nor could the Hollanders
withhold the brightness and goodness of their hearts from their
domestic slaves.

On the 27th of August, 1664, New Netherlands fell into the hands of
the English; and the city received a new name, - New York, after the
famous Duke of York. When the English colors were run up over Fort
Amsterdam, it received a new name, "Fort James." In the twenty-four
articles in which the Hollanders surrendered their Province, there is
no direct mention of slaves or slavery. The only clause that might be
construed into a reference to the slaves is as follows: "IV. If any
inhabitant have a mind to remove himself, he shall have a year and six
weeks from this day to remove himself, wife, children, _servants_,
goods, and to dispose of his lands here." There was nothing in the
articles of capitulation hostile to slavery in the colony.

During the reign of Elizabeth, the English government gave its royal
sanction to the slave-traffic. "In 1562 Sir John Hawkins, Sir Lionel
Duchet, Sir Thomas Lodge, and Sir William Winter" - all "honorable
men" - became the authors of the greatest curse that ever afflicted the
earth. Hawkins, assisted by the aforenamed gentlemen, secured a
ship-load of Africans from Sierra Leone, and sold them at Hispaniola.
Many were murdered on the voyage, and cast into the sea. The story of
this atrocity coming to the ears of the queen, she was horrified. She
summoned Hawkins into her presence, in order to rebuke him for his
crime against humanity. He defended his conduct with great skill and
eloquence. He persuaded her Royal Highness that it was an act of
humanity to remove the African from a bad to a better country, from
the influences of idolatry to the influences of Christianity.
Elizabeth afterwards encouraged the slave-trade.

So when New Netherlands became an English colony, slavery received
substantial official encouragement, and the slave became the subject
of colonial legislation.

The first laws under the English Government were issued under the
patent to the Duke of York, on the 1st of March, 1665, and were known
as "the Duke's Laws." It is rather remarkable that they were fashioned
after the famous "Massachusetts Fundamentals," adopted in 1641. These
laws have the following caption: "_Laws collected out of the several
laws now in force in his majesty's American colonies and
plantations._" The first mention of slavery is contained in a section
under the caption of "Bond Slavery."

"No Christian shall be kept in Bondslavery, villenage, or
Captivity, Except Such who shall be Judged thereunto by
Authority, or such as willing have sold or shall sell
themselves, In which Case a Record of Such servitude shall
be entered in the Court of Sessions held for that
Jurisdiction where Such Masters shall Inhabit, provided that
nothing in the Law Contained shall be to the prejudice of
Master or Dame who have or shall by any Indenture or
Covenant take Apprentices for Terme of Years, or other
Servants for Term of years or Life."[229]

By turning to the first chapter on Massachusetts, the reader will
observe that the above is the Massachusetts law of 1641 with but a
very slight alteration. We find no reference to slavery directly, and
the word slave does not occur in this code at all. Article 7, under
the head of "Capital Laws," reads as follows: "If any person forcibly
stealeth or carrieth away any mankind he shall be put to death."

On the 27th of January, 1683, Col. Thomas Dongan was sent to New York
as its governor, and charged with carrying out a long list of
instructions laid down by his Royal Highness the Duke of York. Gov.
Dongan arrived in New York during the latter part of August; and on
the 13th of September, 1683, the council sitting at Fort James
promulgated an order calling upon the people to elect representatives.
On the 17th October, 1683, the General Assembly met for the first time
at Fort James, in the city of New York. It is a great misfortune that
the journals of both houses are lost. The titles of the Acts passed
have been preserved, and so far we are enabled to fairly judge of the
character of the legislation of the new assembly. On the 1st November,
1683, the Assembly passed "_An Act for naturalizing all those of
foreign nations_ at present inhabiting within this province and
professing Christianity, and for encouragement for others to come and
settle within the same."[230] This law was re-enacted in 1715, and
provided, that "nothing contained in this Act is to be construed to
discharge or set at liberty any servant, bondman or slave, but only to
have relation to such persons as are free at the making hereof."[231]

So the mild system of domestic slavery introduced by the Dutch now
received the sanction of positive British law. Most of the slaves in
the Province of New York, from the time they were first introduced,
down to 1664, had been the property of the West-India Company. As such
they had small plots of land to work for their own benefit, and were
not without hope of emancipation some day. But under the English
government the condition of the slave was clearly defined by law and
one of great hardships. On the 24th of October, 1684, an Act was
passed in which slavery was for the first time regarded as a
legitimate institution in the Province of New York under the English

The slave-trade grew. New York began to feel the necessity of a larger
number of slaves. In 1702 her "most gracious majesty," Queen Anne,
among many instructions to the royal governor, directed that the
people "take especial care, that God Almighty be devoutly and duly
served," and that the "Royal African Company of England" "take
especial care that the said Province may have a constant and
sufficient supply of merchantable Negroes, at moderate rates."[233] It
was a marvellous zeal that led the good queen to build up the Church
of England alongside of the institution of human slavery. It was an
impartial zeal that sought their mutual growth, - the one intended by
our divine Lord to give mankind absolute liberty, the other intended
by man to rob mankind of the great boon of freedom! But with the
sanction of statutory legislation, and the silent acquiescence of the
Church, the foundations of the institution of slavery were firmly laid
in the approving conscience of a selfish public. Dazzled by
prospective riches, and unscrupulous in the methods of accumulations,
the people of the Province of New York clamored for more exacting laws
by which to govern the slaves.[234] Notwithstanding Lord Cornbury had
received the following instructions from the crown, "you shall
endeavor to get a law passed for the restraining of any inhuman
severity ... to find out the best means to facilitate and encourage
the conversion of Negroes and Indians to the Christian religion," the
Colonial Assembly (the same year, 1702) passed severe laws against the
slaves. It was "_An Act for regulating slaves_," but was quite lengthy
and specific. It was deemed "_not lawful to trade with negro slaves_,"
and the violation of this law was followed by fine and imprisonment.
"_Not above three slaves may meet together:_" if they did they were
liable to be whipped by a justice of the peace, or sent to jail. "_A
common whipper to be appointed_," showed that the justices had more
physical exercise than they cared for. "_A slave not to strike a
freeman_," indicated that the slaves in New York as in Virginia were
accounted as heathen. "_Penalty for concealing slaves_," and the
punishment of Negroes for stealing, etc., were rather severe, but only
indicated the temper of the people at that time.[235]

The recommendations to have Negro and Indian slaves baptized gave rise
to considerable discussion and no little alarm. As was shown in the
chapter on Virginia, the proposition to baptize slaves did not meet
with a hearty indorsement from the master-class. The doctrine had
obtained in most of the colonies, that a man was a freeman by virtue
of his membership in a Christian church, and hence eligible to office.
To escape the logic of this position, the dealer in human flesh sought
to bar the door of the Church against the slave. But in 1706 "_An Act
to encourage the baptizing of Negro, Indian, and mulatto slaves_," was
passed in the hope of quieting the public mind on this question.

"Whereas divers of her Majesty's good Subjects, Inhabitants
of this Colony, now are, and have been willing that such
Negroe, Indian, and Mulatto Slaves, who belong to them, and
desire the same, should be baptized, but are deterred and
hindered therefrom by reason of a groundless Opinion that
hath spread itself in this Colony, that by the baptizing of
such Negro, Indian, or Mulatto Slave, they would become
Free, and ought to be set at liberty. In order therefore to
put an end to all such Doubts and scruples as have, or
hereafter at any time may arise about the same -

"_Be it enacted, &c._, that the baptizing of a Negro,
Indian, or Mulatto Slave shall not be any cause or reason
for the setting them or any of them at liberty.

"_And be it, &c._, that all and every Negro, Indian, Mulatto
and Mestee bastard child and children, who is, are, and
shall be born of any Negro, Indian, or Mestee, shall follow
the state and condition of the mother and be esteemed,
reputed, taken and adjudged a slave and slaves to all
intents and purposes whatsoever.

"_Provided always, and be it_, &c., That no slave whatsoever
in this colony shall at any time be admitted as a witness
for or against any freeman in any case, matter or cause,
civil or criminal, whatsoever."[236]

So when the door of the Christian Church was opened to the Negro, he
was to appear at the sacred altar with his chains on. Though
emancipated from the bondage of Satan, he nevertheless remained the
abject slave of the Christian colonists. Claiming spiritual kinship
with Christ, the Negro could be sold at the pleasure of his master,
and his family hearthstone trodden down by the slave-dealer. The
humane feature of the system of slavery under the simple Dutch
government, of allowing slaves to acquire an interest in the soil, was
now at an end. The tendency to manumit faithful slaves called forth no
approbation. The colonists grew cold and hard-fisted. They saw not
God's image in the slave, - only so many dollars. There were no strong
men in the pulpits of the colony who dared brave the avaricious spirit
of the times. Not satisfied with colonial legislation, the municipal
government of the city of New York passed, in 1710,[237] an ordinance
forbidding Negroes, Indians, and Mulatto slaves from appearing "in the
streets after nightfall without a lantern with a lighted candle in
it."[238] The year before, a slave-market was erected at the foot of
Wall Street, where slaves of every description were for sale. Negroes,
Indians, and Mulattoes; men, women, and children; the old, the
middle-aged, and the young, - all, as sheep in shambles, were daily
declared the property of the highest cash-bidder. And what of the few
who secured their freedom? Why, the law of 1712 declared that no
Negro, Indian, or Mulatto that shall hereafter be set free "shall hold
any land or real estate, but the same shall escheat."[239] There was,
therefore, but little for the Negro in either state, - bondage or
freedom. There was little in this world to allure him, to encourage
him, to help him. The institution under which he suffered was one huge
sepulchre, and he was buried alive.

The poor grovelling worm turns under the foot of the pedestrian. The
Negro winched under his galling yoke of British colonial oppression.

A misguided zeal and an inordinate desire of conquest had led the
Legislature to appropriate ten thousand pounds sterling toward an
expedition to effect the conquest of Canada. Acadia had just fallen
into the hands of Gov. Francis Nicholson without firing a gun, and the
news had carried the New Yorkers off their feet. "On to Canada!" was
the shibboleth of the adventurous colonists; and the expedition
started. Eight transports, with eight hundred and sixty men, perished
amid the treacherous rocks and angry waters of the St. Lawrence. The
troops that had gone overland returned in chagrin. The city was
wrapped in gloom: the Legislature refused to do any thing further; and
here the dreams of conquest vanished. The city of New York was thrown
on the defensive. The forts were repaired, and every thing put in
readiness for an emergency. Like a sick man the colonists started at
every rumor. On account of bad faith the Iroquois were disposed to

In the feeble condition of the colonial government, the Negro grew
restless. At the first, as previously shown, the slaves were very few,
but now, in 1712, were quite numerous. The Negro, the Quaker, and the
Papist were a trinity of evils that the colonists most dreaded. The
Negro had been badly treated; and an attempt on his part to cast off
the yoke was not improbable, in the mind of the master-class. The
fears of the colonists were at length realized. A Negro riot broke
out. A house was burned, and a number of white persons killed; and,
had it not been for the prompt and efficient aid of the troops, the
city of New York would have been reduced to ashes.

Now, what was the condition of the slaves in the Christian colony of
New York? They had no family relations: for a long time they lived
together by common consent. They had no property, no schools, and,
neglected in life, were abandoned to burial in a common ditch after
death. They dared not lift their hand to strike a Christian or a Jew.
Their testimony was excluded by the courts, and the power of their
masters over their bodies extended sometimes to life and limb. This
condition of affairs yielded its bitter fruit at length.

"Here we see the effects of that blind and wicked policy
which induced England to pamper her merchants and increase
her revenues, by positive instructions to the governours of
her colonies, strictly enjoining them (for the good of the
African company, and for the emoluments expected from the
assiento contract), to fix upon America a vast negro
population, torn from their homes and brought hither by
force. New York was at this time filled with negroes; every
householder who could afford to keep servants, was
surrounded by blacks, some pampered in indolence, all
carefully kept in ignorance, and considered, erroneously, as
creatures whom the white could not do without, yet lived in
dread of. They were feared, from their numbers, and from a
consciousness, however stifled, that they were injured and
might seek revenge or a better condition."[240]

The Negro plot of 1741 furnishes the most interesting and thrilling
chapter in the history of the colony of New York. Unfortunately for
the truth of history, there was but one historian[241] of the affair,
and he an interested judge; and what he has written should be taken
_cum grano salis_. His book was intended to defend the action of the
court that destroyed so many innocent lives, but no man can read it
without being thoroughly convinced that the decision of the court was
both illogical and cruel. There is nothing in this country to equal
it, except it be the burning of the witches at Salem. But in stalwart
old England the Popish Plot in 1679, started by Titus Oates, is the
only occurrence in human history that is so faithfully reproduced by
the Negro plot. Certainly history repeats itself. Sixty-two years of
history stretch between the events. One tragedy is enacted in the
metropolis of the Old World, the other in the metropolis of the New
World. One was instigated by a perjurer and a heretic, the other by an
indentured servant, in all probability from a convict ship. The one
was suggested by the hatred of the Catholics, and the other by hatred
of the Negro. And in both cases the evidence that convicted and
condemned innocent men and women was wrung from the lying lips of
doubtful characters by an overwrought zeal on the part of the legal

Titus Oates, who claimed to have discovered the "_Popish Plot_," was a
man of the most execrable character. He was the son of an Anabaptist,
took orders in the Church, and had been settled in a small living by
the Duke of Norfolk. Indicted for perjury, he effected an escape in a
marvellous manner. While a chaplain in the English navy he was
convicted of practices not fit to be mentioned, and was dismissed from
the service. He next sought communion with the Church of Rome, and
made his way into the Jesuit College of St. Omers. After a brief
residence among the students, he was deputed to perform a confidential
mission to Spain, and, upon his return to St. Omers, was dismissed to
the world on account of his habits, which were very distasteful to
Catholics. He boasted that he had only joined them to get their
secrets. Such a man as this started the cry of the Popish Plot, and
threw all England into a state of consternation. A chemist by the name
of Tongue, on the 12th of August, 1678, had warned the king against a
plot that was directed at his life, etc. But the king did not attach
any importance to the statement until Tongue referred to Titus Oates
as his authority. The latter proved himself a most arrant liar while
on the stand: but the people were in a credulous state of mind, and
Oates became the hero of the hour;[242] and under his wicked influence
many souls were hurried into eternity. Read Hume's account of the
Popish Plot, and then follow the bloody narrative of the Negro plot of
New York, and see how the one resembles the other.

"Some mysterious design was still suspected in every
enterprise and profession: arbitrary power and Popery were
apprehended as the scope of all projects: each breath or
rumor made the people start with anxiety: their enemies,
they thought, were in their very bosom, and had gotten
possession of their sovereign's confidence. While in this
timorous, jealous disposition, the cry of a _plot_ all on a
sudden struck their ears: they were wakened from their
slumber, and like men affrightened and in the dark, took
every figure for a spectre. The terror of each man became
the source of terror to another. And a universal panic being
diffused, reason and argument, and common-sense and common
humanity, lost all influence over them. From this
disposition of men's minds we are to account for the
progress of the _Popish Plot_, and the credit given to it;
an event which would otherwise appear prodigious and
altogether inexplicable."[243]

On the 28th of February, 1741, the house of one Robert Hogg, Esq., of
New-York City, a merchant, was robbed of some fine linen, medals,
silver coin, etc. Mr. Hogg's house was situated on the corner of Broad
and Mill Streets, the latter sometimes being called Jew's Alley. The
case was given to the officers of the law to look up.

The population of New-York City was about ten thousand, about two
thousand of whom were slaves. On the 18th of March the chapel in the
fort took fire from some coals carelessly left by an artificer in a
gutter he had been soldering. The roof was of shingles; and a brisk
wind from the south-east started a fire, that was not observed until
it had made great headway. In those times the entire populace usually
turned out to assist in extinguishing fires; but this fire being in
the fort, the fear of an explosion of the magazine somewhat checked
their usual celerity on such occasions. The result was, that all the
government buildings in the fort were destroyed. A militia officer by
the name of Van Horne, carried away by the belief that the fire was
purposely set by the Negroes, caused the beating of the drums and the
posting of the "night watch." And for his vigilance he was nicknamed
"Major Drum." The "Major's" apprehensions, however, were contagious.
The fact that the governor reported the true cause of the fire to the
Legislature had but little influence in dispossessing the people of
their fears of a Negro plot. The next week the chimney of Capt.
Warren's house near the fort took fire, but was saved with but slight
damage. A few days after this the storehouse of a Mr. Van Zandt was
found to be on fire, and it was said at the time to have been
occasioned by the carelessness of a smoker. In about three days after,
two fire alarms were sounded. One was found to be a fire in some hay
in a cow-stable near a Mr. Quick's house. It was soon extinguished.
The other alarm was on account of a fire in the kitchen loft of the
dwelling of a Mr. Thompson. On the next day coals were discovered
under the stables of a Mr. John Murray on Broadway. On the next
morning an alarm called the people to the residence of Sergeant Burns,

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 17 of 57)