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 30 of 57)
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"It is ordered and enacted by this Court and the authority
thereof: That every person in this Colonie that now is or
hereafter shall be owner of a negro or mulatta servant or
slave, and after some time of his or her being taken into
imployment in his or her service, shall sett such servant or
slave at liberty to provide for him or herselfe, if
afterwards such servant or slave shall come to want, every
such servant shall be relieved at the onely cost and charge
of the person in whose service he or she was last reteined
or taken, and by whome sett at liberty, or at the onely cost
and charge of his or her heirs, executors or administrators,
any law, usage or custome to the contrary
notwithstanding."[439]

Massachusetts had acted and did act very cowardly about this matter.
But Connecticut showed great wisdom and humanity in making a just and
equitable provision for such poor and decrepit slaves as might find
themselves turned out to charity after a long life of unrequited
toil. Slavery was in itself "the sum of all villanies," - the blackest
curse that ever scourged the earth. To buy and sell human beings; to
tear from the famishing breast of the mother her speechless child; to
separate the husband from the wife of his heart; to wring riches from
the unpaid toil of human beings; to tear down the family altar, and
let lecherous beasts, who claim the name of "Christian," run over
defenceless womanhood as swine over God's altar! - is there any thing
worse, do you ask? Yes! To work a human being from youth to old age,
to appropriate the labor of that being exclusively, to rob it of the
blessings of this life, to poison every domestic charity, to fetter
the intellect by the power of fatal ignorance, to withhold the
privileges of the gospel of love; and then, when the hollow cough
comes under an inclement sky, when the shadows slant, when the hand
trembles, when the gait is shuffling, when the ear is deaf, the eye
dim, when desire faileth, - then to turn that human being out to die is
by far the profoundest crime man can be guilty of in his dealings with
mankind! And slavery had so hardened men's hearts, that the above act
was found to be necessary to teach the alphabet of human kindness. No
wonder human forbearance was strained to its greatest tension when
masters, thus liberating their slaves, assumed the lofty air of
humanitarians who had actually done a noble act in manumitting a
slave!

In 1708 the General Court was called upon to legislate against the
commercial communion that had gone on between the slaves and free
persons in an unrestricted manner for a long time. Slaves would often
steal articles of household furniture, wares, clothing, etc., and sell
them to white persons. And, in order to destroy the ready market this
wide-spread kleptomania found, an Act was passed making it a
misdemeanor for a free person to purchase any article from slaves. It
is rather an interesting law, and is quoted in full.

"Whereas divers rude and evil minded persons for the sake of
filthie lucre do frequently receive from Indians, malattoes
and negro servants, money and goods stolen or obteined by
other indirect and unlawful means, thereby incouraging such
servants to steal from their masters and others: for redress
whereof,

[35] _Be it enacted by the Governour, Council and
Representatives, in General Court assembled, and by the
authoritie of the same_, That every free person whomsoever,
which shall presume either openly or privately to buy or
receive of or from any Indian, molato or negro servant or
slave, any goods, money, merchandize, wares, or provisions,
without order from the master or mistress of such servant
or slave, every person so offending and being thereof
convicted, shall be sentenced to restore all such money,
goods, wares, merchandizes, or provisions, unto the partie
injured, in specie, (if not altered,) and also forfeit to
the partie double the value thereof over and above, or
treble the value where the same are disposed of or made
away. And if the person so offending be unable, or shall not
make restitution as awarded, then to be openly whipt with so
many stripes (not exceeding twentie,) as the court or
justices that have cognizance of such offence shall order,
or make satisfaction by service. And the Indian, negro, or
molatto servant or slave, of or from whom such goods, money,
wares, merchandizes or provisions shall be received or
bought, if it appear to be stolen, or that shall steal any
money, goods, or chattells, and be thereof convicted,
although the buyer or receiver be not found, shall be
punished by whipping not exceeding thirtie stripes, and the
money, goods or chattels shall be restored to the partie
injured, if it be found. And every assistant and justice of
peace in the countie where such offence is committed, is
hereby authorized to hear and determine all offences against
this law, provided the damage exceed not the sum of fortie
shillings."[440]

On the same day another act was passed, charging that as Mulatto and
Negro slaves had become numerous in parts of the colony, destined to
become insubordinate, abusive of white people, etc., and is as
follows: -

"And whereas negro and molatto servants or slaves are become
numerous in some parts of this Colonie, and are very apt to
be turbulent, and often quarrelling with white people to the
great disturbance of the peace:

"_It is therefore ordered and enacted by the Governour,
Council and Representatives, in General Court assembled, and
by the authoritie of the same_, That if any negro or malatto
servant or slave disturb the peace, or shall offer to strike
any white person, and be thereof convicted, such negro or
malatto servant or slave shall be punished by whipping, at
the discretion of the court, assistant or justice of the
peace that shall have cognizance thereof, not exceeding
thirtie stripes for one offence."[441]

In 1711 the General Court of Connecticut Colony signally distinguished
itself by the passage of an act in harmony with that of 1702. It was
found that indentured servants as well as slaves had been made the
victims of the cruel policy of turning slaves and servants out into
the world without means of support after they had become helpless, or
had served out their time. This class of human beings had been cast
aside, like a squeezed lemon, to be trodden under the foot of men. The
humane and thoughtful men of the colony demanded a remedy at law, and
it came in the following admirable bill: -

"An Act relating to Slaves, and such in particular as shall
happen to become Servants for Time.

"_It is ordered and enacted by the Governour, Council and
Representatives, in General Court assembled, and by the
authority of the same_, That all slaves set at liberty by
their owners, and all negro, malatto, or Spanish Indians,
who are servants to masters for time, in case they come to
want, after they shall be so set at liberty, or the time of
their said service be expired, shall be relieved by such
owners or masters respectively, their heirs, executors, or
administrators; and upon their, or either of their refusal
so to do, the said slaves and servants shall be relieved by
the selectmen of the towns to which they belong, and the
said selectmen shall recover of the said owners or masters,
their heirs, executors, or administrators, all the charge
and cost they were at for such relief, in the usual manner
as in the case of any other debts."[442]

In 1723 an Act was passed regulating the social conduct, and
restricting the personal rights, of slaves. The slaves were quite
numerous at this time, and hence the colonists deemed it proper to
secure repressive legislation. It is strange how anticipatory the
colonies were during the zenith of the slavery institution! They were
always expecting something of the slaves. No doubt they thought that
it would be but the normal action of goaded humanity if the slaves
should rise and cut their masters' throats. The colonists lived in
mortal dread of their slaves, and the character of the legislation was
but the thermometer of their fear. This Act was a slight indication of
the unrest of the people of this colony on the slavery question: -

"[376] AN ACT TO PREVENT THE DISORDER OF NEGRO AND INDIAN
SERVANTS AND SLAVES IN THE NIGHT SEASON.

"_Be it enacted by the Governour, Council and
Representatives, in General Court assembled, and by the
authority of the same_, That from and after the publication
of this act, if any negro or Indian servant or slave shall
be found abroad from home in the night season, after nine of
the clock, without special order from his or their master or
mistress, it shall be lawful for any person or persons to
apprehend and secure such negro or Indian servant or slave
so offending, and him or them bring before the next
assistant or justice of peace; which assistant or justice of
peace shall have full power to pass sentence upon such negro
or Indian servant or slave so offending, and order him or
them to be publickly whipt on his or their naked body, not
exceeding ten stripes, and pay cost of court, except his or
their master or mistress shall redeem them by paying a fine
not exceeding twenty shillings.

"_And it is hereby enacted by the authority aforesaid_, That
if any such negro or Indian servant or slave as abovesaid
shall have entertainment in any house after nine of the
clock as aforesaid, except to do any business they may be
sent upon, the head of the family that entertaineth or
tolerates them in his or their house, or any the
dependencies thereof, and being convicted thereof before any
one assistant or justice of the peace, who shall have power
to hear and determine the same, shall forfeit the sum of
twenty shillings, one-half to the complainer and the other
half to the treasury of the town where the offence is
committed; any law or usage to the contrary notwithstanding.
And that it shall be the duty of the several grand-jurors
and constables and tything-men, to make diligent enquiry
into and present of all breaches of this act."[443]

The laws regulating slavery in the colony of Connecticut, up to this
time, had stood, and been faithfully enforced. There had been a few
infractions of the law, but the guilty had been punished. And in
addition to statutory regulation of slaves, the refractory ones were
often summoned to the bar of public opinion and dealt with summarily.
Individual owners of slaves felt themselves at liberty to use the
utmost discretion in dealing with this species of their property. So
on every hand the slave found himself scrutinized, suspicioned,
feared, hated, and hounded by the entire community of whites who were
by law a perpetual _posse comitatus_. The result of too great
vigilance and severe censorship was positive and alarming. It made the
slave desperate. It intoxicated him with a malice that would brook no
restraint. It is said that the use of vigorous adjectives and strong
English is a relief to one in moments of trial. But even this was
denied the oppressed slaves in Connecticut; for in May, 1730, a bill
was passed punishing them for using strong language.

"AN ACT FOR THE PUNISHMENT OF NEGROES, INDIAN AND MULATTO
SLAVES, FOR SPEAKING DEFAMATORY WORDS.

"_Be it enacted by the Governour, Council and
Representatives, in General Court assembled, and by the
authority of the same_, That if any Negro, Indian or Molatto
slave shall utter, publish and speak such words of any
person that would by law be actionable if the same were
uttered, published or spoken by any free person of any
other, such Negro, Indian or Molatto slave, being thereof
convicted before any one assistant or justice of the peace,
(who are hereby impowred to hear and determine the same,)
shall be punished by whipping, at the discretion of the
assistant or justice before whom the tryal is, (respect
being had to the circumstances of the case,) not exceeding
forty stripes. And the said slave, so convict, shall be sold
to defray all charges arising thereby, unless the same be by
his or their master or mistress paid and answered, &c."[444]

The above act is the most remarkable document in this period of its
kind. And yet there are two noticeable features in it: viz., the
slave is to be proceeded against the same as if he were a free person;
and he was to be entitled to offer evidence, enter his plea, and
otherwise defend himself against the charge. This was more than was
allowed in any of the other colonies.

On the 9th of September, 1730, Gov. J. Talcott, in a letter to the
"Board of Trade," said that there were "about 700 Indian and Negro
slaves" in the colony. The most of these were Negro slaves. For on the
8th of July, 1715, a proclamation was issued by the governor against
the importation of Indians;[445] and on the 13th of October, 1715, a
bill was passed "_prohibiting the Importation or bringing into_" the
colony any Indian slaves. It was an exact copy of the Act of May,
1712, passed in the colony of Massachusetts.

The colony of Connecticut never established slavery by direct statute;
but in adopting a code which was ordered by the General Court of
Hartford to be "copied by the secretary into the book of public
records," it gave the institution legal sanction. This code was signed
on the 5th of September, 1646. It recognized the lawfulness of Indian
and Negro slavery. This was done under the confederacy of the "United
Colonies of New England."[446] For some reason the part of the code
recognizing slavery is omitted from the revised laws of 1715. In this
colony, as in Massachusetts, only members of the church, "and living
within the jurisdiction," could be admitted to the rights of freemen.
In 1715 an Act was passed requiring persons who desired to become
"freemen of this corporation," to secure a certificate from the
selectmen that they were "persons of quiet and peaceable behavior and
civil conversation, of the age of twenty-one years, and freeholders."
This provision excluded all free Negroes. It was impossible for one to
secure such a certificate. Public sentiment alone would have frowned
upon such an innovation upon the customs and manners of the Puritans.
On the 17th of May, 1660, the following Act was passed: "It is ordered
by this court, that neither Indian nor negar serv'ts shall be required
to traine, watch or ward in the Collo:"[447]

To determine the status of the Negro here, this Act was necessary. He
might be free, own his own labor; but if the law excluded him from the
periodical musters and trainings, from the church and civil duties,
his freedom was a mere _misnomer_. It is difficult to define the
rights of a free Negro in this colony. He was restricted in his
relations with the slaves, and in his intercourse with white people
was regarded with suspicion. If he had, in point of law, the right to
purchase property, the general prejudice that confronted him on every
hand made his warmest friends judiciously conservative. There were no
provisions made for his intellectual or spiritual growth. He was
regarded by both the religious and civil government, under which he
lived, as a heathen. Even his accidental conversion could not change
his condition, nor mollify the feelings of the white Christians (?)
about him. Like the wild animal, he was possessed with the barest
privilege of getting something to eat. Beyond this he had nothing.
Everywhere he turned, he felt the withering glance of a suspicious
people. Prejudice and prescriptive legislation cast their dark shadows
on his daily path; and the conscious superiority of the whites
consigned him to the severest drudgery for his daily bread. The
recollection of the past was distressing, the trials and burdens of
the present were almost unbearable, while the future was one shapeless
horror to him.

Perhaps the lowly and submissive acquiescence of the Negroes, bond and
free, had a salutary effect upon the public mind. There is something
awfully grand in an heroic endurance of undeserved pain. The white
Christians married, and were given in marriage; they sowed and
gathered rich harvests; they bought and built happy homes; beautiful
children were born unto them; they built magnificent churches, and
worshipped the true God: the present was joyous, and the future
peopled with sublime anticipation. The contrast of these two peoples
in their wide-apart conditions must have made men reflective. And
added to this came the loud thunders of the Revolution. Connecticut
had her orators, and they touched the public heart with the glowing
coals of patriotic resolve. They felt the insecurity of their own
liberties, and were now willing to pronounce in favor of the liberty
of the Negroes. The inconsistency of asking for freedom, praying for
freedom, fighting for freedom, and dying for freedom, when they
themselves held thousands of human beings in bondage the most cruel
the world ever knew, helped the cause of the slave. In 1762 the Negro
population of this colony was four thousand five hundred and
ninety.[448] Public sentiment was aroused on the slavery question;
and in October, 1774, the following prohibition was directed at
slavery: -

"_Act against importation of slaves_ - "No Indian, negro, or
mulatto slave shall at any time hereafter be brought or
imported into this State, by sea or land, from any place or
places whatsoever, to be disposed of, left or sold, within
this State."[449]

The above bill was brief, but pointed; and showed that Connecticut was
the only one of the New-England colonies that had the honesty and
courage to legislate against slavery. And the patriotism and
incomparable valor of the Negro soldiers of Connecticut, who proudly
followed the Continental flag through the fires of the Revolutionary
War, proved that they were worthy of the humane sentiment that
demanded the Act of 1774.


FOOTNOTES:

[435] In the Capital Laws of Connecticut, passed on the 1st of
December, 1642, the tenth law reads as follows. "10. If any man
stealeth a man or mankind, he shall be put to death. Ex. 21 16." But
this was the law in Massachusetts, and yet slavery existed there for
one hundred and forty-three (143) years.

[436] Conn. Col. Recs., 1678-89, p. 293.

[437] Ibid., p. 298.

[438] Conn Col Recs., 1689-1706, p. 40

[439] Ibid. 1689-1706, pp. 375, 376.

[440] Conn. Col. Recs., 1706-16, p. 52.

[441] Ibid., pp 51, 53.

[442] Conn. Col. Recs., 1706-16, p. 233.

[443] Conn. Col. Recs., 1717-25, pp. 390, 391.

[444] Ibid., 1726-35, p. 290.

[445] Conn. Col. Recs., 1706-16, pp. 515, 516.

[446] Hazard, State Papers, vol. ii. pp. 1-6.

[447] Conn. Col. Recs., vol. i. p. 349.

[448] Pres. Stiles's MSS.

[449] Freedom and Bondage, vol. i. pp. 272, 273.




CHAPTER XIX.

THE COLONY OF RHODE ISLAND.

1647-1775.

COLONIAL GOVERNMENT IN RHODE ISLAND, MAY, 1647. - AN ACT
PASSED TO ABOLISH SLAVERY IN 1652, BUT WAS NEVER
ENFORCED. - AN ACT SPECIFYING WHAT TIMES INDIAN AND NEGRO
SLAVES SHOULD NOT APPEAR IN THE STREETS. - AN IMPOST-TAX ON
SLAVES (1708). - PENALTIES IMPOSED ON DISOBEDIENT
SLAVES. - ANTI-SLAVERY SENTIMENT IN THE COLONIES RECEIVES
LITTLE ENCOURAGEMENT. - CIRCULAR LETTER FROM THE BOARD OF
TRADE TO THE GOVERNOR OF THE ENGLISH COLONIES RELATIVE TO
NEGRO SLAVES. - GOVERNOR CRANSTON'S REPLY. - LIST OF
MILITIA-MEN, INCLUDING WHITE AND BLACK SERVANTS. - ANOTHER
LETTER FROM THE BOARD OF TRADE. - AN ACT PREVENTING
CLANDESTINE IMPORTATIONS AND EXPORTATION OF PASSENGERS,
NEGROES, OR INDIAN SLAVES. - MASTERS OF VESSELS REQUIRED TO
REPORT THE NAMES AND NUMBER OF PASSENGERS TO THE
GOVERNOR. - VIOLATION OF THE IMPOST-TAX LAW ON SLAVES
PUNISHED BY SEVERE PENALTIES. - APPROPRIATION BY THE GENERAL
ASSEMBLY, JULY 5, 1715, FROM THE FUND DERIVED FROM THE
IMPOST-TAX, FOR THE PAVING OF THE STREETS OF NEWPORT. - AN
ACT PASSED DISPOSING OF THE MONEY RAISED BY
IMPOST-TAX. - IMPOST-LAW REPEALED, MAY, 1732. - AN ACT
RELATING TO FREEING MULATTO AND NEGRO SLAVES PASSED
1728. - AN ACT PASSED PREVENTING MASTERS OF VESSELS FROM
CARRYING SLAVES OUT OF THE COLONY, JUNE 17, 1757. - EVE OF
THE REVOLUTION. - AN ACT PROHIBITING IMPORTATION OF NEGROES
INTO THE COLONY IN 1774. - THE POPULATION OF RHODE ISLAND IN
1730 AND 1774.


Individual Negroes were held in bondage in Rhode Island from the time
of the formation of the colonial government there, in May, 1647, down
to the close of the eighteenth century. Like her sister colonies, she
early took the poison of the slave-traffic into her commercial life,
and found it a most difficult political task to rid herself of it. The
institution of slavery was never established by statute in this
colony; but it was so firmly rooted five years after the establishment
of the government, that it required the positive and explicit
prohibition of law to destroy it. On the 19th of May, 1652, the
General Court passed the following Act against slavery. It is the
earliest positive prohibition against slavery in the records of modern
nations.

"Whereas, there is a common course practiced amongst English
men to buy negers, to that end they may have them for
service or slaves forever; for the preventinge of such
practices among us, let it be ordered, that no blacke
mankind or white being forced by covenant bond, or
otherwise, to serve any man or his assighnes longer than ten
yeares, or until they come to bee twentie-four yeares of
age, if they bee taken in under fourteen, from the time of
their cominge within the liberties of this Collonie. And at
the end or terme of ten yeares to sett them free, as the
manner is with the English servants. And that man that will
not let them goe free, or shall sell them away elsewhere, to
that end that they may bee enslaved to others for a long
time, hee or they shall forfeit to the Collonie forty
pounds."[450]

The above law was admirable, but there was lacking the public
sentiment to give it practical force in the colony. It was never
repealed, and yet slavery flourished under it for a century and a
half. Mr. Bancroft says, "The law was not enforced, but the principle
lived among the people."[451] No doubt the principle lived among the
people; but, practically, they did but little towards emancipating
their slaves until the Revolutionary War cloud broke over their homes.
There is more in the statement Mr. Bancroft makes than the casual
reader is likely to discern.

The men who founded Rhode Island, or Providence Plantation as it was
called early, were of the highest type of Christian gentlemen. They
held advanced ideas on civil government and religious liberty. They
realized, to the full, the enormity of the sinfulness of slavery; but
while they hesitated to strike down what many men pronounced a
necessary social evil, it grew to be an institution that governed more
than it could be governed. The institution was established. Slaves
were upon the farms, in the towns, and in the families, of those who
could afford to buy them. The population of the colony was small; and
to manumit the slaves in whom much money was invested, or to suddenly
cut off the supply from without, was more than the colonists felt able
to perform. The spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak.

For a half-century there was nothing done by the General Court to
check or suppress the slave-trade, though the Act of 1652 remained the
law of the colony. The trade was not extensive. No vessels from Africa
touched at Newport or Providence. The source of supply was Barbadoes;
and, occasionally, some came by land from other colonies. Little was
said for or against slavery during this period. It was a question
difficult to handle. The sentiment against it was almost unanimous. It
was an evil; but how to get rid of it, was the most important thing to
be considered. During this period of perplexity, there was an ominous



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 30 of 57)