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

. (page 31 of 57)
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 31 of 57)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

silence on slavery. The conservatism of the colonists produced the
opposite in the Negro population. They began to think and talk about
their "rights." The Act of 1652 had begun to bear fruit. At the
expiration of ten years' service, slaves began to demand their
freedom-papers. This set the entire Negro class in a state of
expectancy. Their eagerness for liberty was interpreted by the more
timid among the whites as the signal for disorder. A demand was made
for legislation that would curtail the personal liberties of the
Negroes in the evenings. It is well to produce the Act of Jan. 4,
1703, that the reader may see the similarity of the laws passed in the
New-England colonies against Negroes: -

"An Act to restrict negroes and Indians for walking in
unseasonable times in the night, and at other times not

"Voted, Be it enacted by this Assembly and the authority
thereof, and it is hereby enacted, If any negroes or
Indians, either freemen, servants, or slaves, do walk in the
streets of the town of Newport, of any other town in this
Collony, after nine of the clock of the night, without a
certificate from their masters, or some English person of
said family with them, or some lawfull excuse for the same,
that it shall be lawfull for any person to take them up and
deliver them to a Constable, to be secured, or see them
secured, till the next morning, and then to be brought
before some Justice of the Peace in said town, to be dealt
withall, according to the recited Act, which said Justice
shall cause said person or persons so offending, to be
whipped at the publick whipping post in said town, not
exceeding fifteen stripes upon their naked backs, except
their incorrigible behavior require more. And all free
negroes and free Indians to be under the same penalty,
without a lawful excuse for their so being found walking in
the streets after such unseasonable time of night.

"And be it further enacted, All and every house keeper,
within said town or towns or Collony, that shall entertain
men's servants, either negroes or Indians, without leave of
their masters or to whom they do belong, after said set time
of the night before mentioned, and being convicted of the
same before any one Justice of the Peace, he or they shall
pay for each his defect five shillings in money, to be for
the use of the poor in the town where the person lives; and
if refused to be paid down, to be taken by distraint by a
warrant to any one Constable, in said town; any Act to the
contrary notwithstanding."[452]

It is rather remarkable that this Act should prohibit free Negroes and
free Indians from walking the streets after nine o'clock. In this
particular this bill had no equal in any of the other colonies. This
act seemed to be aimed with remarkable precision at the Negroes as a
class, both bond and free. The influence of free Negroes upon the
slaves had not been in harmony with the condition of the latter; and
the above Act was intended as a reminder, in part, to free Negroes
and Indians. It went to show that there was but little meaning in the
word "free," when placed before a Negro's name. No such restriction
could have been placed upon the personal rights of a white colonist;
for, under the democratical government of the colony, a subject was
greater than the government. No law could stand that was inimical to
his rights as a freeman. But the free Negro had no remedy at law. He
was literally between two conditions, bondage and freedom.

Attention has been called to the fact, that the Act of 1652 was never
enforced. In April, 1708, an Act, laying an impost-tax upon slaves
imported into the colony, was passed which really gave legal sanction
to the slave-trade.[453] The following is the Act referred to: -

"And it is further enacted by the authority aforesaid, that
whereas, by an act of Assembly, in February last past,
concerning the importing negroes, one article of said act,
expressing that three pounds money shall be paid into the
treasury for each negro imported into this colony; but upon
exporting such negro in time limited in said act, said three
pounds were to be drawn out of the treasury again by the

"It is hereby enacted, that said sum for the future, shall
not be drawn out, but there continued for the use in said
act expressed; any act to the contrary,

The Act referred to as having passed "in February last past," cannot
be found.[455] But, from the one quoted above, it is to be inferred
that two objects were aimed at, viz.: First, under the codes of
Massachusetts and Virginia, a drawback was allowed to an importer of a
Negro who exported him within a stated time: the Rhode-Island Act of
"February" had allowed importers this privilege. Second,
notwithstanding the loud-sounding Act of 1652, this colony was not
only willing to levy an impost-tax upon all slaves imported, but, in
her greed for "blood money," even denied the importer the mean
privilege, in exporting his slave, of drawing his rebate! The
consistency of Rhode Island must have been a jewel that the other
colonies did not covet.

The last section of the Act of 1703 was directed against "house
keepers," who were to be fined for entertaining Negro or Indian
slaves after nine o'clock. In 1708 another Act was passed,
supplemental to the one of 1703, and added stripes as a penalty for
non-payment of fines. Many white persons in the larger towns had grown
rather friendly towards the slaves; and, even where they did not speak
out in public against the enslavement of human beings, their hearts
led them to the performance of many little deeds of kindness. They
discovered many noble attributes in the Negro character, and were not
backward in expressing their admiration. When summoned before a
justice, and fined for entertaining Negroes after nine o'clock, they
paid the penalty with a willingness and alacrity that alarmed the
slave-holding caste. This was regarded as treason. Some could not pay
the fine, and, hence, went free. The new Act intended to remedy this.
It was as follows: -

"An Act to prevent the entertainment of Negroes, &c.

"Whereas, there is a law in this colony to suppress any
persons from entertaining of negro slaves or Indian servants
that are not their own, in their houses, or unlawfully
letting them have strong drink, whereby they were damnified,
such persons were to pay a fine of five shillings, and so by
that means go unpunished, there being no provision made [of]
what corporeal punishment they should have, if they have not
wherewith to pay:

"Therefore, it is now enacted, that any such delinquent that
shall so offend, if he or she shall not have or procure the
sum of ten shillings for each defect, to be paid down before
the authority before whom he or she hath been legally
convicted, he or she shall be by order of said authority,
publicly whipped upon their naked back, not exceeding ten
stripes; any act to the contrary, notwithstanding. "[456]

It is certain that what little anti-slavery sentiment there was in the
British colonies in North America during the first century of their
existence received no encouragement from Parliament. From the
beginning, the plantations in this new world in the West were regarded
as the hotbeds in which slavery would thrive, and bring forth abundant
fruit, to the great gain of the English government. All the
appointments made by the crown were expected to be in harmony with the
plans to be carried out in the colonies. From the settlement of
Jamestown down to the breaking out of the war, and the signing of the
Declaration of Independence, not a single one of the royal governors
ever suffered his sense of duty to the crowned heads to be warped by
local views on "the right of slavery." The Board of Trade was
untiring in its attention to the colonies. And no subject occupied
greater space in the correspondence of that colossal institution than
slavery. The following circular letter, addressed to the governors of
the colonies, is worthy of reproduction here, rather than in the
Appendix. It is a magnificent window, that lets the light in upon a
dark subject. It gives a very fair idea of the profound concern that
the home government had in foreign and domestic slavery.


"APRIL 17, 1708.

"Sir: Some time since, the Queen was pleased to refer to us
a petition relating to the trade of Africa, upon which we
have heard what the Royal African Company, and the separate
traders had to offer; and having otherwise informed
ourselves, in the best manner we could, of the present state
of that trade, we laid the same before Her Majesty. The
consideration of that trade came afterwards into the house
of commons, and a copy of our report was laid before the
house; but the session being then too far spent to enter
upon a matter of so great weight, and other business
intervening, no progress was made therein. However, it being
absolutely necessary that a trade so beneficial to the
kingdom should be carried on to the greatest advantage,
there is no doubt but the consideration thereof will come
early before the Parliament at their next meeting; and as
the well supplying of the plantations and colonies with
sufficient numbers of negroes at reasonable prices, is in
our opinion the chief point to be considered in regard to
that trade, and as hitherto we have not been able to know
how they have been supplied by the company, or by separate
traders, otherwise than according to the respective accounts
given by them, which for the most part are founded upon
calculations made from their exports on one side and the
other, and do differ so very much, that no certain judgment
can be made upon those accounts.

"Wherefore, that we may be able at the next meeting of the
Parliament to lay before both houses when required, an exact
and authentic state of that trade, particularly in regard to
the several plantations and colonies: we do hereby desire
and strictly require you, that upon the receipt hereof, you
do inform yourself from the proper officers or otherwise, in
the best manner you can, what number of negroes have been
yearly imported directly from Africa into Jamaica, since the
24th of June, 1698, to the 25th of December, 1707, and at
what rate per head they have been sold each year, one with
another, distinguishing the numbers that have been imported
on account of the Royal African Company, and those which
have been imported by separate traders; as likewise the
rates at which such negroes have been sold by the company
and by separate traders. We must recommend it to your care
to be as exact and diligent therein as possibly you can, and
with the first opportunity to transmit to us such accounts
as aforesaid, that they may arrive here in due time, as also
duplicates by the first conveyance.

"And that we may be the better able to make a true judgment
of the present settlement of that trade, we must further
recommend it to you to confer with some of the principal
planters and inhabitants within your government touching
that matter, and to let us know how the negro trade was
carried on, and the island of Jamaica supplied with negroes
till the year 1698, when that trade was laid open by act of
Parliament; how it has been carried on, and negroes supplied
since that time, or in what manner they think the said trade
may best be managed for the benefit of the plantations.

"We further desire you will inform us what number of ships,
if any, are employed from Jamaica to the coast of Africa in
the negro trade, and how many separate traders are concerned

"Lastly, whatever accounts you shall from time to time send
us touching these matters of the negro trade, we desire that
the same may be distinct, and not intermixed with other
matters; and that for the time to come, you do transmit to
us the like half yearly accounts of negroes, by whom
imported and at what rates sold; the first of such
subsequent accounts, to begin from Christmas, 1707, to which
time those now demanded, are to be given. So we bid you
heartily farewell,

"Your very loving friends,

"P.S. We expect the best account you can give us, with that
expedition which the shortness of the time requires.

"Memorandum. This letter, mutatis mutandis, was writ to the
Governors of Barbadoes, the Leeward Islands, Bermuda, New
York, New Jersey, Maryland, the President of the Council of
Virginia, the Governor of New Hampshire and the
Massachusetts Bay, the Deputy Governor of Pennsylvania, the
Lords proprietors of Carolina, the Governors and Companies
of Connecticut and Rhode Island."[457]

The good Queen of England was interested in the traffic in human
beings; and although the House of Commons was too busy to give
attention to "a matter of so great weight," the "Board of Trade" felt
that it was "absolutely necessary that a trade so beneficial to the
kingdom should be carried on to the greatest advantage." England never
gave out a more cruel document than the above circular letter. To read
it now, under the glaring light of the nineteenth century, will almost
cause the English-speaking people of the world to doubt even "the
truth of history." Slavery did not exist at sufferance. It was a crime
against the weak, ignorant, and degraded children of Africa,
systematically perpetrated by an organized Christian government,
backed by an army that grasped the farthest bounds of civilization,
and a navy that overshadowed the oceans.

The reply of the governor of Rhode Island was not as encouraging as
their lordships could have wished.


"May it please your Lordships: In obedience to your
Lordships' commands of the 15th of April last, to the trade
of Africa.

"We, having inspected into the books of Her Majesty's
custom, and informed ourselves from the proper officers
thereof, by strict inquiry, can lay before your Lordships no
other account of that trade than the following, viz:

"1. That from the 24th of June, 1698, to the 25th of
December, 1707, we have not had any negroes imported into
this colony from the coast of Africa, neither on the account
of the Royal African Company, or by any of the separate

"2. That on the 30th day of May, 1696, arrived at this port
from the coast of Africa, the brigantine Seaflower, Thomas
Windsor, master, having on board her forty-seven negroes,
fourteen of which he disposed of in this colony, for betwixt
£30 and £35 per head; the rest he transported by land for
Boston, where his owners lived.

"3. That on the 10th of August, the 19th and 28th of
October, in the year 1700, sailed from this port three
vessels, directly for the coast of Africa; the two former
were sloops, the one commanded by Nicho's Hillgroue, the
other by Jacob Bill; the last a ship, commanded by Edwin
Carter, who was part owner of the said three vessels, in
company with Thomas Bruster, and John Bates, merchants, of
Barbadoes, and separate traders from thence to the coast of
Africa; the said three vessels arriving safe to Barbadoes
from the coast of Africa, where they made the disposition of
their negroes.

"4. That we have never had any vessels from the coast of
Africa to this colony, nor any trade there, the brigantine
above mentioned, excepted.

"5. That the whole and only supply of negroes to this
colony, is from the island of Barbadoes; from whence is
imported one year with another, betwixt twenty and thirty;
and if those arrive well and sound, the general price is
from £30 to £40 per head.

"According to your Lordships' desire, we have advised with
the chiefest of our planters, and find but small
encouragement for that trade to this colony; since by the
best computation we can make, there would not be disposed in
this colony above twenty or thirty at the most, annually,
the reasons of which are chiefly to be attributed to the
general dislike our planters have for them, by reason of
then turbulent and unruly tempers.

"And that most of our planters that are able and willing to
purchase any of them, are supplied by the offspring of those
they have already, which increase daily; and that the
inclination of our people in general, is to employ white
servants before Negroes.

"Thus we have given our Lordships a true and faithful
account of what hath occurred, relating to the trade of
Africa from this colony; and if, for the future, our trade
should be extended to those parts, we shall not fail
transmitting accounts thereof according to your Lordships'
orders, and that at all times, be ready to show ourselves,

"Your Lordships' obedient servant,

"NEWPORT, ON RHODE ISLAND, December 5, 1708."[458]

So in nine years there had been no Negro slaves imported into the
colony; that in 1696 fourteen had been sold to the colonists for
between thirty pounds and thirty-five pounds apiece; that this was the
only time a vessel direct from the coast of Africa had touched in this
colony; that the supply of Negro slaves came from Barbadoes, and that
the colonists who would purchase slaves were supplied by the offspring
of those already in the plantation; and that the colonists preferred
white servants to black slaves. The best that can be said of Gov.
Cranston's letter is, it was very respectful in tone. The following
table was one of the enclosures of the letter. It is given in full on
account of its general interest: -

"A list of the number of freemen and militia, with the
servants, white and black, in the respective towns; as also
the number of inhabitants in Her Majesty's colony of Rhode
Island, &c., December the 5th, 1708.

+ - - - - - - -+ - - - -+ - - - - + - - - - -+ - - - - -+ - - - - - -+
| | | | | | TOTAL |
+ - - - - - - -+ - - - -+ - - - - + - - - - -+ - - - - -+ - - - - - -+
| Newport | 190 | 358 | 20 | 220 | 2,203 |
| Providence | 241 | 283 | 6 | 7 | 1,446 |
| Portsmouth | 98 | 104 | 8 | 40 | 628 |
| Warwick | 80 | 95 | 4 | 10 | 480 |
| Westerly | 95 | 100 | 5 | 20 | 570 |
| New Shoreham| 38 | 47 | - | 6 | 208 |
| Kingstown | 200 | 282 | - | 85 | 1,200 |
| Jamestown | 33 | 28 | 9 | 32 | 206 |
| Greenwich | 40 | 65 | 3 | 6 | 240 |
+ - - - - - - -+ - - - -+ - - - - + - - - - -+ - - - - -+ - - - - - -+
| Total | 1,015 | 1,362 | 56 | 426 | 7,181 |
+ - - - - - - -+ - - - -+ - - - - + - - - - -+ - - - - -+ - - - - - -+

"It is to be understood that all men within this colony,
from the age of sixteen to the age of sixty years, are of
the militia, so that all freemen above and under said ages
are inclusive in the abovesaid number of the militia.

"As to the increase or decrease of the inhabitants within
five years last past, we are not capable to give an exact
account, by reason there was no list ever taken before this
(the militia excepted), which hath increased since the 14th
of February, 1704-5 (at which time a list was returned to
your Lordships), the number of 287.


"NEWPORT, ON RHODE ISLAND, December the 5th, 1708."[459]

The Board of Trade replied to Gov. Cranston, under date of "Whitehall,
January 16th, 1709-10.," saying they should be glad to hear from him
"in regard to Negroes," etc.[460]

The letter of inquiry from the Board of Trade imparted to
slave-dealers an air of importance and respectability. The institution
was not near so bad as it had been thought to be; the royal family
were interested in its growth; it was a gainful enterprise; and, more
than all, as a matter touching the conscience, the Bible and universal
practice had sanctified the institution. To attempt to repeal the Act
of 1652 would have been an occasion unwisely furnished for
anti-slavery men to use to a good purpose. The bill was a dead letter,
and its enemies concluded to let it remain on the statute-book of the

The experiment of levying an impost-tax upon Negro slaves imported
into the colony had proved an enriching success. After 1709 the
slave-trade became rather brisk. As the population increased, public
improvements became necessary, - there were new public buildings in
demand, roads to be repaired, bridges to be built, and the poor and
afflicted to be provided for. To do all this, taxes had to be levied
upon the freeholders. A happy thought struck the leaders of the
government. If men _would_ import slaves, and the freemen of the
colony _would_ buy them, they should pay a tax as a penalty for their
sin.[461] And the people easily accommodated their views to the state
of the public treasury.

Attention has been called already to the impost Act of 1708. On the
27th of February, 1712, the General Assembly passed "_An Act for
preventing clandestine importations and exportations of passengers,
or negroes, or Indian slaves into or out of this colony_," etc. The
Act is quite lengthy. It required masters of vessels to report to the
governor the names and number of all passengers landed into the
colony, and not to carry away any person without a pass or permission
from the governor, upon pain of a fine of fifty pounds current money
of New England. Persons desiring to leave the colony had to give
public notice for ten days in the most public place in the colony; and
it specifies the duties of naval officers, and closes with the
following in reference to Negro slaves, calling attention to the
impost Act of 1708. -

"It was then and there enacted, that for all negroes
imported into this colony, there shall be £3 current money,
of New England, paid into the general treasury of this
colony for each negro, by the owner or importer of said
negro; reference being had unto the said act will more fully

"But were laid under no obligation by the said act, to give
an account to the Governor what negroes they did import,
whereby the good intentions of said act were wholly
frustrated and brought to no effect, and by the
clandestinely hiding and conveying said negroes out of the
town into the country, where they lie concealed:

"For the prevention of which for the future, it is hereby
enacted by the authority aforesaid, that from and after the
publication of this act, all masters of vessels that shall
come into the harbor of Newport, or into any port of this
government, that hath imported any negroes or Indian slaves,
shall, before he puts on shore in any port of this
government, or in the town of Newport, any negroes or Indian
slaves, or suffers any negroes or Indian slaves to be put on
shore by any person whatsoever, from on board his said
vessel, deliver unto the naval officer in the town of

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 31 of 57)