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 26 of 57)
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he was eligible to the political franchise, and, if he should be
actually invested with it, he would have a part in making laws to
govern his master, - laws with which his master, if a non-communicant,
would have had no concern except to obey them. But it is improbable
that the Court would have made a slave - while a slave - a member of the
Company, though he were a communicant. - PALFREY, vol. ii. p.
30. Note.

[328] Butts _vs_. Penny, 2 Lev., p. 201; 3 Kib., p. 785.

[329] Hildreth, vol. ii. p. 426.

[330] Ancient Charters and Laws of Mass., p. 748.

[331] Palfrey, vol. ii. p. 30. Note.

[332] Hist. Mag., vol. v., 2d Series, by Dr. G.H. Moore.

[333] Slavery in Mass., p. 57, note.

[334] I use the term freeman, because the colony being under the
English crown, there were no citizens. All were British subjects.

[335] Ancient Charters and Laws of Mass., p. 746.

[336] Ibid., p. 386.

[337] Mr. Palfrey is disposed to hang a very weighty matter on a very
slender thread of authority. He says, "In the list of men capable of
bearing arms, at Plymouth, in 1643, occurs the name of 'Abraham
Pearse, the Black-moore,' from which we infer ... that Negroes were
not dispensed from military service in that colony" (History of New
England, vol. ii. p. 30, note). This single case is borne down by the
laws and usages of the colonists on this subject. Negroes as a class
were absolutely excluded from the military service, from the
commencement of the colony down to the war with Great Britain.

[338] Slavery in Mass., Appendix, p. 243.

[339] Mass. Hist. Soc. Coll., vol. viii. 3d Series, p. 336.

[340] Lyman's Report, 1822.

[341] Mather's Magnalia, Book III., p. 207. Compare also p. 209.

[342] Elliott's New-England Hist., vol. ii. p. 165.

[343] Mr. Palfrey comes again with his single and exceptional case,
asking us to infer a rule therefrom. See History of New England, note,
p. 30.

[344] Chief-Justice Parker, in Andover vs. Canton, 13 Mass. p. 550.

[345] Slavery in Mass., p. 62.

[346] Mott's Sketches, p. 17.

[347] At the early age of sixteen, in the year 1770, Phillis was
baptized into the membership of the society worshipping in the "Old
South Meeting-House." The gifted, eloquent, and noble Dr. Sewall was
the pastor. This was an exception to the rule, that slaves were not
baptized into the Church.

[348] All writers I have seen on this subject - and I think I have seen
all - leave the impression that Miss Wheatley's poems were first
published in London. This is not true. The first published poems from
her pen were issued in Boston in 1770. But it was a mere pamphlet
edition, and has long since perished.

[349] All the historians but Sparks omit the given name of Peters. It
was John.

[350] The date usually given for her death is 1780, while her age is
fixed at twenty-six. The best authority gives the dates above, and I
think they are correct.

[351] "Her correspondence was sought, and it extended to persons of
distinction even in England, among whom may be named the Countess of
Huntingdon, Whitefield, and the Earl of Dartmouth." - SPARKS'S
_Washington_, vol. iii. p. 298, note.

[352] Sparks's Washington, vol iii. p. 299, note.

[353] This destroys the last hope I have nursed for nearly six years
that the poem might yet come to light. Somehow I had overlooked this

[354] Sparks's Washington, vol iii. p. 288.

[355] Ibid., vol. iii. pp. 297, 298.

[356] Armistead's A Tribute to the Negro, pp. 460, 461.

[357] Douglass, vol. ii. p. 345, note.

[358] Hildreth, vol. ii. p. 426.

[359] Pearce _vs._ Lisle, Ambler, 76.

[360] It may sound strangely in the ears of some friends and admirers
of the gifted John Adams to hear now, after the lapse of many years,
what he had to say of the position Otis took. His mild views on
slavery were as deserving of scrutiny as those of the elder Quincy.
Mr. Adams says: "Nor were the poor negroes forgotten. Not a Quaker in
Philadelphia, or Mr. Jefferson, of Virginia, ever asserted the rights
of negroes in stronger terms. Young as I was, and ignorant as I was, I
shuddered at the doctrine he taught; and I have all my lifetime
shuddered, and still shudder, at the consequences that may be drawn
from such premises. Shall we say, that the rights of masters and
servants clash, and can be decided only by force? I adore the idea of
gradual abolitions! But who shall decide how fast or how slowly these
abolitions shall be made?"

[361] Hildreth, vol. ii. pp. 564, 565.

[362] Coffin says, "In October of 1773, an action was brought against
Richard Greenleaf, of Newburyport, by C├Žsar [Hendrick], a colored man,
whom he claimed as his slave, for holding him in bondage. He laid the
damages at fifty pounds. The council for the plaintiff, in whose favor
the jury brought in their verdict and awarded him eighteen pounds'
damages and costs, was John Lowell, Esq., afterward Judge Lowell. This
case excited much interest, as it was the first, if not the only one
of the kind, that ever occurred in the county."

[363] Hildreth, vol. ii, pp. 550, 551.

[364] Drake, p. 729, note.

[365] I use the English spelling, - Sommersett.

[366] Hildreth, vol. ii. p. 567.

[367] Bancroft, 12th ed. vol. iii. p. 412.

[368] Ancient Charters and Laws of Mass., pp. 745, 746.

[369] The following is from Felt's Salem, vol. ii. pp. 415, 416, and
illustrates the manner in which the law was complied with: "1713. Ann,
relict of Governor Bradstreet, frees Hannah, a negro servant. 1717,
Dec. 21. William and Samuel Upton, of this town, liberate Thomas, who
has faithfully served their father, John Upton, of Reading. They give
security to the treasurer, that they will meet all charges, which may
accrue against the said black man. 1721, May 27. Elizur Keyser does
the same for his servant, Cato, after four years more, and then the
latter was to receive two suits of clothes.... 1758, June 5. The heirs
of John Turner, having freed two servants, Titus and Rebeckah, give
bonds to the selectmen, that they shall be no public charge."

[370] John Adams's Works, vol. i. p. 51.

[371] Adams's Works, vol. i. p. 55.

[372] Drake, p. 525.

[373] The late Senator Sumner, in a speech delivered on the 28th of
June, 1854, refers to this as "the earliest testimony from any
official body against negro slavery." Even the weight of the senator's
assertion cannot resist the facts of history. The "resolve"
instructing the "representatives" was never carried; but, on the
contrary, the next Act was the law of 1703 restricting manumission!

[374] Journal H. of R., 15, 16. General Court Records, x. 282.

[375] Slavery in Mass., p. 106.

[376] It was thought to be lost for some years, until Dr. George H.
Moore secured a copy from George Brinley, Esq., of Hartford, Conn.,
and reproduced it in his Notes.

[377] History of Nantucket, p. 281.

[378] Coffin, p. 338; also History of Nantucket, pp. 279, 280.

[379] Coffin, p. 338.





The time to urge legislation on the slavery question had come.
Cultivated at the first as a private enterprise, then fostered as a
patriarchal institution, slavery had grown to such gigantic
proportions as to be regarded as an unwieldy evil, and subversive of
the political stability of the colony. Men winked at the "day of its
small things," and it grew. Little legislation was required to
regulate it, and it began to take root in the social and political
life of the people. The necessities for legislation in favor of
slavery increased. Every year witnessed the enactment of laws more
severe, until they appeared as scars upon the body of the laws of the
colony. To erase these scars was the duty of the hour.

It was now 1755. More than a half-century of agitation and discussion
had prepared the people for definite action. Manumission and petition
were the first methods against slavery. On the 10th of March, 1755,
the town of Salem instructed their representative, Timothy Pickering,
to petition the General Court against the importation of slaves.[380]
The town of Worcester, in June, 1765, instructed their representative
to "use his influence to obtain a law to put an end to that
unchristian and impolitic practice of making slaves of the human
species, and that he give his vote for none to serve in His Majesty's
Council, who will use their influence against such a law."[381] The
people of Boston, in the month of May, 1766, instructed their
representatives as follows: -

"And for the total abolishing of slavery among us, that you
move for a law to prohibit the importation and the
purchasing of slaves for the future."[382]

And in the following year, 1767, on the 16th of March, the question
was put as to whether the town should adhere to its previous
instructions in favor of the suppression of the slave-trade, and
passed in the affirmative. Nearly all the towns, especially those
along the coast, those accessible by mails and newspapers, had
recorded their vote, in some shape or other, against slavery. The
pressure for legislation on the subject was great. The country members
of the Legislature were almost a unit in favor of the passage of a
bill prohibiting the further importation of slaves. The opposition
came from the larger towns, but the opposers were awed by the
determined bearing of the enemies of the slave-trade. The scholarship,
wealth, and piety of the colony were steadily ranging to the side of

On the 13th of March, 1767, a bill was introduced in the House of
Representatives "to prevent the _unwarrantable and unlawful_ Practice
or Custom of inslaving Mankind in this Province, and the importation
of slaves into the same."[383] It was read the first time, when a
dilatory motion was offered that the bill lie over to the next
session, which was decided in the negative. An amendment was offered
to the bill, limiting it "to a certain time," which was carried; and
the bill made a special order for a second reading on the following
day. It was accordingly read on the 14th, when a motion was made to
defer it for a third reading to the next "May session." The friends of
the bill voted down this dilatory motion, and had the bill made the
special order of the following Monday, - it now being Saturday. On
Sunday there must have been considerable lobbying done, as can be seen
by the vote taken on Monday. After it was read, and the debate was
concluded, it was "_Ordered that the Matter subside_, and that Capt.
Sheaffe, Col. Richmond, and Col. Bourne, be a Committee to bring in a
Bill for laying a Duty of Impost on slaves importing into this
Province."[384] This was a compromise, that, as will be seen
subsequently, impaired the chances of positive and wholesome
legislation against slavery. The original bill dealt a double blow:
it struck at the slave-trade in the Province, and levelled the
institution already in existence. But some secret influences were set
in operation, that are forever hidden from the searching eye of
history; and the friends of liberty were bullied or cheated. There was
no need of a bill imposing an impost tax on slaves imported, for such
a law had been in existence for more than a half-century. If the tax
were not heavy enough, it could have been increased by an amendment of
a dozen lines. On the 17th the substitute was brought in by the
special committee appointed by the Speaker the previous day. The rules
requiring bills to be read on three several days were suspended, the
bill ordered to a first and second reading, and then made the special
order for eleven o'clock on the next day, Wednesday, the 18th. The
motion to lie on the table until the "next May" was defeated. An
amendment was then offered to limit the life of the bill to one year,
which was carried, and the bill recommitted. On the afternoon of the
same day it was read a third time, and placed on its passage with the
amendment. It passed, was ordered engrossed, and was "sent up by Col.
Bowers, Col. Gerrish, Col. Leonard, Capt. Thayer, and Col. Richmond."
On the 19th of March it was read a first time in the council. On the
20th it was read a second time, and passed to be engrossed "as taken
into a new draft." When it reached the House for concurrence, in the
afternoon of the same day, it was "Read and unanimously non-concurred,
and the House adhere to their own vote, sent up for concurrence."[385]

Massachusetts has gloried much and long in this Act to prohibit "the
Custom of enslaving mankind;" but her silver-tongued orators and
profound statesmen have never possessed the courage to tell the plain
truth about its complete failure. From the first it was harassed by
dilatory motions and amendments directed to its life; and the
substitute, imposing an impost tax on imported slaves for one year,
showed plainly that the friends of the original bill had been driven
from their high ground. It was like applying for the position of a
major-general, and then accepting the place of a corporal. It was as
though they had asked for a fish, and accepted a serpent instead. It
seriously lamed the cause of emancipation. It filled the slaves with
gloom, and their friends with apprehension. On the other hand, those
who profited by barter in flesh and blood laughed secretly to
themselves at the abortive attempt of the anti-slavery friends to call
a halt on the trade. They took courage. For ten weary years the voices
lifted for the freedom of the slave were few, faint, and far between.
The bill itself has been lost. What its subject-matter was, is left to
uncertain and unsatisfactory conjecture. All we know is from the title
just quoted. But it was, nevertheless, the only direct measure offered
in the Provincial Legislature against slavery during the entire
colonial period, and came nearest to passage of any. But "a miss is as
good as a mile!"

It was now the spring season of 1771. Ten years had flown, and no one
in all the Province of Massachusetts had had the courage to attempt
legislation friendly to the slave. The scenes of the preceding year
were fresh in the minds of the inhabitants of Boston. The blood of the
martyrs to liberty was crying from the ground. The "red coats" of the
British exasperated the people. The mailed hand, the remorseless steel
finger, of English military power was at the throat of the rights of
the people. The colony was gasping for independent political life. A
terrible struggle for liberty was imminent. The colonists were about
to contend for all that men hold dear, - their wives, their children,
their homes, and their country. But while they were panting for an
untrammelled existence, to plant a free nation on the shores of North
America, they were robbing Africa every year of her sable children,
and condemning them to a bondage more cruel than political
subjugation. This glaring inconsistency imparted to reflecting persons
a new impulse toward anti-slavery legislation.

In the spring of 1771 the subject of suppressing the slave-trade was
again introduced into the Legislature. On the 12th of April a bill
"_To prevent the Importation of slaves from Africa_" was introduced,
and read the first time, and, upon the question "When shall the bill
be read again?" was ordered to a second reading on the day following
at ten o'clock. Accordingly, on the 13th, the bill was read a second
time, and postponed till the following Tuesday morning. On the 16th it
was recommitted. On the 19th of the same month a "Bill to prevent the
Importation of Negro slaves into this Province" was read a first time,
and ordered to a second reading "to-morrow at eleven o'clock." On the
following day it was read a second time, and made the special order
for three o'clock on the following Monday. On the 22d, Monday, it was
read a third time, and placed upon its passage and engrossed. On the
24th it passed the House. When it reached the Council James Otis
proposed an amendment, and a motion prevailed that the bill lie upon
the table. But it was taken from the table, and the amendment of Otis
was concurred in by the House. It passed the Council in the latter
part of April, but failed to receive the signature of the governor, on
the ground that he was "not authorized by Parliament."[386] The same
reason for refusing his signature was set up by Gen. Gage. Thus the
bill failed. Gov. Hutchinson gave his reasons to Lord Hillsborough,
secretary of state for the colonies. The governor thought himself
restrained by "instructions" to colonial governors "from assenting to
any laws of a new and unusual nature." In addition to the foregoing,
his Excellency doubted the lawfulness of the legislation to which the
"scruple upon the minds of the people in many parts of the province"
would lead them; and that he had suggested the propriety of
transmitting the bill to England to learn "his Majesty's pleasure"
thereabouts. Upon these reasons Dr. Moore comments as follows: -

"These are interesting and important suggestions. It is
apparent that at this time there was no special instruction
to the royal governor of Massachusetts, forbidding his
approval of acts against the slave-trade. Hutchinson
evidently doubted the genuineness of the 'chief motive'
which was alleged to be the inspiration of the bill, the
'meerly moral' scruple against slavery; but his reasonings
furnish a striking illustration of the changes which were
going on in public opinion, and the gradual softening of the
harsher features of slavery under their influence. The
non-importation agreement throughout the Colonies, by which
America was trying to thwart the commercial selfishness of
her rapacious Mother, had rendered the provincial viceroys
peculiarly sensitive to the slightest manifestation of a
disposition to approach the sacred precincts of those
prerogatives by which King and Parliament assumed to bind
their distant dependencies: and the 'spirit of
non-importation' which Massachusetts had imperfectly learned
from New York was equally offensive to them, whether it
interfered with their cherished 'trade with Africa,' or
their favorite monopolies elsewhere."

Discouraged by the failure of the House and General Court to pass
measures hostile to the slave-trade, the people in the outlying towns
began to instruct their representatives, in unmistakable language, to
urge the enactment of repressive legislation on this subject. At a
town meeting in Salem on the 18th of May, 1773,[387] the
representatives were instructed to prevent, by appropriate
legislation, the further importation of slaves into the colony, as
"repugnant to the natural rights of mankind, and highly prejudicial to
the Province." On the very next day, May 19, 1773, at a similar
meeting in the town of Leicester, the people gave among other
instructions to Thomas Denny, their representative, the following on
the question of slavery: -

"And, as we have the highest regard for (so as even to
revere the name of) liberty, we cannot behold but with the
greatest abhorrence any of our fellow-creatures in a state
of slavery.

"Therefore we strictly enjoin you to use your utmost
influence that a stop maybe put to the slave-trade by the
inhabitants of this Province; which, we apprehend, may be
effected by one of these two ways: either by laying a heavy
duty on every negro imported or brought from Africa or
elsewhere into this Province; or by making a law, that every
negro brought or imported as aforesaid should be a free man
or woman as soon as they come within the jurisdiction of it;
and that every negro child that shall be born in said
government after the enacting such law should be free at the
same age that the children of white people are; and, from
the time of their birth till they are capable of earning
their living, to be maintained by the town in which they are
born, or at the expense of the Province, as shall appear
most reasonable.

"Thus, by enacting such a law, in process of time will the
blacks become free; or, if the Honorable House of
Representatives shall think of a more eligible method, we
shall be heartily glad of it. But whether you can justly
take away or free a negro from his master, who fairly
purchased him, and (although illegally; for such is the
purchase of any person against their consent unless it be
for a capital offence) which the custom of this country has
justified him in, we shall not determine; but hope that
unerring Wisdom will direct you in this and all your other
important undertakings."[388]

Medford instructed the representative to "use his utmost influence to
have a final period put to that most cruel, inhuman and unchristian
practice, the slave-trade." At a town meeting the people of Sandwich
voted, on the 18th of May, 1773, "that our representative is
instructed to endeavor to have an Act passed by the Court, to prevent
the importation of _slaves_ into this country, and that all children
that shall be born of such Africans as are now slaves among us, shall,
after such Act, be free at 21 yrs. of age."[389]

This completes the list of towns that gave instructions to their
representatives, as far as the record goes. But there doubtless were
others; as the towns were close together, and as the "spirit of
liberty was rife in the land."

The Negroes did not endure the yoke without complaint. Having waited
long and patiently for the dawn of freedom in the colony in vain, a
spirit of unrest seized them. They grew sullen and desperate. The
local government started, like a sick man, at every imaginary sound,
and charged all disorders to the Negroes. If a fire broke out, the
"Negroes did it," - in fact, the Negroes, who were not one-sixth of the
population, were continually committing depreciations against the
whites! On the 13th of April, 1723, Lieut.-Gov. Dummer issued a
proclamation against the Negroes, which contained the following
preamble: -

"Whereas, within some short time past, many fires have broke
out within the town of Boston, and divers buildings have
thereby been consumed: which fires have been designedly and
industriously kindled by some villanous and desperate
negroes, or other dissolute people, as appears by the
confession of some of them (who have been examined by the
authority), and many concurring circumstances; and it being
vehemently suspected that they have entered into a
combination to burn and destroy the town, I have therefore
thought fit, with the advice of his Majesty's council, to
issue forth this proclamation," etc.

On Sunday, the 18th of April, 1723, the Rev. Joseph Sewall preached a
sermon suggested "by the late fires y't have broke out in Boston,
supposed to be purposely set by y'e negroes." The town was greatly
exercised. Everybody regarded the Negroes with distrust. Special
measures were demanded to insure the safety of the town. The selectmen
of Boston passed "nineteen articles" for the regulation of the
Negroes. The watch of the town was increased, and the military called
out at the sound of every fire-alarm "to keep the slaves from breaking
out"! In August, 1730, a Negro was charged with burning a house in
Malden; which threw the entire community into a panic. In 1755 two
Negro slaves were put to death for poisoning their master, John Codman
of Charlestown. One was hanged, and the other burned to death. In 1766
all slaves who showed any disposition to be free were "transported and
exchanged for small negroes."[390] In 1768 Capt. John Willson, of the
Fifty-ninth Regiment, was accused of exciting the slaves against their
masters; assuring them that the soldiers had come to procure their
freedom, and that, "with their assistance, they should be able to
drive the Liberty Boys to the Devil." The following letter from Mrs.
John Adams to her husband, dated at the Boston Garrison, 22d
September, 1774, gives a fair idea of the condition of the public

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