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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Newport, a fair manifest under his hand, which shall specify
the full number of negroes and Indian slaves he hath
imported in his said vessel, of what sex, with their names,
the names of their owners, or of those they are consigned
to; to the truth of which manifest so given in, the said
master shall give his corporal oath, or solemn engagement
unto the said naval officer, who is hereby empowered to
administer the same unto him, which said manifest being duly
sworn unto, the said naval officer shall make a fair entry
thereof in a book, which shall be prepared for that use,
whereunto the said mister shall set his hand....

"And when the said master hath delivered his said manifest
and sworn to it, as abovesaid, and before he hath landed on
shore, or suffer to be landed, any negroes or Indian slaves
as aforesaid, he, the said master, shall pay to the naval
officer the sum of £3 current money, of New England, for
each negro; and the sum of forty shillings of the like money
for each Indian that shall be by him imported into this
colony, or that shall be brought into this colony in the
vessel whereof he is master.

"But if he hath not ready money to pay down, as aforesaid,
he shall then give unto the said naval officer a bill, as
the law directs, to pay unto him the full sum above
mentioned, for each and every negro and Indian imported as
above said, which bill shall run payable in ten days from
the entering the manifest as above said; and if at the end
of the ten days, the said master shall refuse to pay the
full contents of his bill, that then the said naval officer
shall deliver the said bill unto the Governor, or in his
absence, to the next officer of the peace, as aforesaid who
shall immediately proceed with the said master in the manner
above said, by committing of him to Her Majesty's jail,
where he shall remain without bail or mainprize, until he
hath paid unto the naval officer, for the use of this
colony, double the sum specified in his said bill, and all
charges that shall accrue thereby; which money shall be paid
out by the said naval officer, as the General Assembly of
this colony shall order the same.

"And it is further enacted, that the naval officer who now
is, and who ever shall be for the future put into said
office, shall at his entering into the said office, take his
engagement to the faithful performance of the above said
acts. And for his encouragement, shall have such fees as are
hereafter mentioned at the end of this act.

"And for the more effectual putting in execution those acts,
and that none may plead ignorance:

"It is enacted by the authority aforesaid, that all masters
of vessels trading to this government, shall give bond, with
sufficient surety in the naval office, for the sum of £50,
current money of New England."[462]

We have omitted a large portion of the bill, because of its length;
but have quoted sufficient to give an excellent idea of the marvellous
caution taken by the good Christians of Rhode Island to get every cent
due them on account of the slave trade, which their prohibition did
not prohibit. It was a carefully drawn bill for those days.

The diligence of the public officers in the seaport town of Newport
was richly rewarded. The slave-trade now had the sanction and
regulation of colonial law. The demand for Negro laborers was not
affected in the least, while traders did not turn aside on account of
three pounds per head tax upon every slave sold into Rhode Island. On
the 5th of July, 1715, the General Assembly appropriated a portion of
the fund derived from the impost-tax on imported Negroes to repairing
the streets; and then strengthened and amplified the original law on
impost-duties, etc. The following is the Act: -

"This Assembly, taking into consideration that Newport is
the metropolitan town in this colony, and that all the
courts of judicature within this colony are held there; and
also, that it is the chief market town in the government;
and that it hath very miry streets, especially that leading
from the ferry, or landing place, up to the colony house, so
that the members of the courts are very much discommoded
therewith, and is a great hindrance to the transporting of
provisions, &c., in and out of the said towns, to the great
loss of the inhabitants thereof: -

"Therefore, be it enacted by this present Assembly, and by
the authority thereof it is enacted, that the sum of £289
17s. 3d., now lying in the naval officer's hand, (being
duties paid to this colony for importing of slaves), shall
be, and is hereby granted to the town of Newport, towards
paving the streets of Newport, from the ferry place, up to
the colony house, in said Newport; to be improved by their
directors, such as they shall, at their quarter meetings
appoint for the same.

"And whereas, there was an act of Assembly, made at Newport
in the year 1701-2, for the better preventing of fraud, and
cozen, in paying the duties for importing of negro and
Indian slaves into this colony, and the same being found in
some clauses deficient, for the effecting of the full intent
and purpose thereof: -

"Therefore, it is hereby enacted by the authority aforesaid,
that every master of ship, or vessel, merchant or other
person or persons, importing or bringing into this colony
any negro slave or slaves of what age soever, shall enter
their number, names, and sex in the naval office; and the
master shall insert the same in the manifest of his lading,
and shall pay to the naval officer in Newport, £3 per head,
for the use of this colony, for every negro, male or female,
so imported, or brought in. And every such master, merchant,
or other person, refusing or neglecting to pay the said duty
within ten days after they are brought ashore in said
colony, then the said naval officer, on knowledge thereof,
shall enter an action and sue [for] the recovery of the
same, against him or them, in an action of debt, in any of
His Majesty's courts of record, within this colony.

"And if any master of ship or vessel, merchant or others,
shall refuse or neglect to make entry, as aforesaid, of all
negroes imported in such ship or vessel, or be convicted of
not entering the full number, such master, merchant, or
other person, shall forfeit and pay the sum of £6, for every
one that he shall refuse or neglect to make entry, of one
moiety thereof to His Majesty, for and towards the support
of the government of this colony; and the other moiety to
him or them that shall inform or sue for the same; to be
recovered by the naval officer in manner as above said.

"And also, all persons that shall bring any negro or negroes
into this colony, from any of His Majesty's provinces
adjoining, shall in like manner enter the number, names and
sex, of all such negroes, in the above said office, under
the penalty of the like forfeiture, as above said, and to be
recovered in like manner by the naval officer, and shall pay
into the said office within the time above limited, the like
sum of £3 per head; and for default of payment, the same to
be recovered by the naval officer in like manner as

"Provided always, that if any gentleman, who is not a
resident in this colony, and shall pass through any part
thereof, with a waiting man or men with him, and doth not
reside in this colony six months, then such waiting men
shall be free from the above said duty; the said gentleman
giving his solemn engagement, that they are not for sale;
any act or acts, clause or clauses of acts, to the contrary
hereof, in any ways, notwithstanding.

"Provided, that none of the clauses in the aforesaid act,
shall extend to any masters or vessels, who import negroes
into this colony, directly from the coast of Africa.

"And it is further enacted by the authority aforesaid, that
the money raised by the impost of negroes, as aforesaid,
shall be disposed of as followeth, viz.:

"The one moiety of the said impost money to be for the use
of the town of Newport, to be disposed of by the said town
towards paving the streets of said town, and for no other
use whatsoever, for and during the full time of seven years
from the publication of this act, and that £60 of said
impost money be for, and towards the erecting of a
substantial bridge over Potowomut river, at or near the
house of Ezekiel Hunt, in East Greenwich, and to no other
use whatsoever.

"And that Major Thomas Frye and Capt. John Eldredge be the
persons appointed to order and oversee the building of said
bridge, and to render an account thereof, to the Assembly,
and the said Major Frye and Capt. Eldredge to be paid for
their trouble and pains, out of the remaining part of said
impost money, and the remainder of said impost money to be
disposed of as the Assembly shall from time to time see

And in October, 1717, the following order passed the assembly: -

"It is ordered by this Assembly, that the naval officer pay
out of the impost money on slaves, £100, to the overseer
that oversees the paving of the streets of Newport, to be
improved for paying the charges of paving said

The fund accruing from the impost-duty on slaves was regarded with
great favor everywhere, especially in Newport. It had cleaned her
streets and lightened the burdens of taxation which rested so
grievously upon the freeholders. There was no voice lifted against the
iniquitous traffic, and the conscience of the colony was at rest. In
June, 1729, the following Act was passed: -

"An Act disposing of the money raised in this colony on
importing negro slaves into this colony.

"Forasmuch as there is an act of Assembly made in this
colony the 27th day of February, A.D. 1711, laying a duty of
£3 per head on all slaves imported into this colony, as is
in said act is expressed; and several things of a public
nature requiring a fund to be set apart for carrying them
on: -

"Be it therefore enacted by the General Assembly, and by the
authority of the same it is enacted and declared, that
henceforward all monies that shall be raised in this colony
by the aforesaid account, on any slaves imported into this
colony, shall be employed, the one moiety thereof for the
use of the town of Newport, towards paving and amending the
streets thereof, and the other moiety, for, and towards the
support, repairing and mending the great bridges on the
main, in the country roads, and for no other use whatsoever;
any thing in the aforesaid act to the contrary, in anywise

It is wonderful how potential the influence of money is upon mankind.
The sentiments of the good people had been scattered to the winds; and
they had found a panacea for the violated convictions of the wrong of
slavery in the reduction of their taxes, new bridges, and cleansed
streets. Conscience had been bribed into acquiescence, and the
iniquity thrived. There were those who still endeavored to escape the
vigilance of the naval officers, and save the three pounds on each
slave. But the diligence and liberality of the authorities were not to
be outdone by the skulking stinginess of Negro-smugglers. On the 18th
of June, 1723, the General Assembly passed the following order: -

"Voted, that Mr. Daniel Updike, the attorney general, be,
and he hereby is ordered, appointed and empowered to gather
in the money due to this colony, for the importation of
negroes, and to prosecute, sue and implead such person or
persons as shall refuse to pay the same; and that he be
allowed five shillings per head, for every slave that shall
be hereafter imported into this colony, out of the impost
money; and that he be also allowed ten per cent. more for
all such money as he shall recover of the outstanding debts;
and in all respects to have the like power as was given to
the naval officer by the former act."[466]

The above illustrates the spirit of the times. There was a mania for
this impost-tax upon stolen Negroes, and the law was to be enforced
against all who sought to evade its requirements. But the Assembly had
a delicate sense of equity, as well as an inexorable opinion of the
precise demands of the law in its letter and spirit. On the 19th of
June, 1716, the following was passed: -

"It is ordered by this Assembly, that the duty of two
sucking slaves imported into this colony by Col. James
Vaughan, of Barbadoes, be remitted to the said James

It was not below the dignity of the Legislature of the colony of Rhode
Island to pass a bill of relief for Col. Vaughan, and refund to him
the six pounds he had paid to land his two sucking Negro baby slaves!
In June, 1731, the naval officer, James Cranston, called the attention
of the Assembly to the case of one Mr. Royall, - who had imported
forty-five Negroes into the colony, and after a short time sold
sixteen of them into the Province of Massachusetts Bay, where there
was also an impost-tax, - and asked directions. The Assembly replied as
follows: -

"Upon consideration whereof, it is voted and ordered, that
the duty to this colony of the said sixteen negroes
transported into the Massachusetts Bay, as aforesaid, be
taken off and remitted; but that he collect the duty of the
other twenty-nine."[468]

But the zeal of the colony in seeking the enforcement of the
impost-law created a strong influence against it from without; and by
order of the king the entire law was repealed in May, 1732.[469]

The cruel practice of manumitting aged and helpless slaves became so
general in this plantation, that the General Assembly passed a law
regulating it, in February, 1728. It was borrowed very largely from a
similar law in Massachusetts, and reads as follows: -

"An Act relating to freeing mulatto and negro slaves.

"Forasmuch, as great charge, trouble and inconveniences have
arisen to the inhabitants of divers towns in this colony, by
the manumitting and setting free mulatto and negro slaves;
for remedying whereof, for the future, -

"Be it enacted by the General Assembly of this colony, and
by the authority of the same it is enacted, that no mulatto
or negro slave, shall be hereafter manumitted, discharged or
set free, or at liberty, until sufficient security be given
to the town treasurer of the town or place where such person
dwells, in a valuable sum of not less than £100, to secure
and indemnify the town or place from all charge for, or
about such mulatto or negro, to be manumitted and set at
liberty, in case he or she by sickness, lameness or
otherwise, be rendered incapable to support him or herself.

"And no mulatto or negro hereafter manumitted, shall be
deemed or accounted free, for whom security shall not be
given as aforesaid, but shall be the proper charge of their
respective masters or mistresses, in case they should stand
in need of relief and support; notwithstanding any
manumission or instrument of freedom to them made and given;
and shall be liable at all times to be put forth to service
by the justices of the peace, or wardens of the town."[470]

It is very remarkable that there were no lawyers to challenge the
legality of such laws as the above, which found their way into the
statute books of all the New-England colonies. There could he no
conditional emancipation. If a slave were set at liberty, why he was
free, and, if he afterwards became a pauper, was entitled to the same
care as a white freeman. But it is not difficult to see that the
status of a free Negro was difficult of definition. When the Negro
slave grew old and infirm, his master no longer cared for him, and the
public was protected against him by law. Death was his most beneficent

In October, 1743, a widow lady named Comfort Taylor, of Bristol
County, Massachusetts Bay, sued and obtained judgment against a Negro
named Cuff Borden for two hundred pounds, and cost of suit "for a
grievous trespass." Cuff was a slave. An ordinary execution would have
gone against his person: he would have been imprisoned, and nothing
more. In view of this condition of affairs, Mrs. Taylor petitioned the
General Assembly of Rhode Island, praying that authority be granted
the sheriff to sell Cuff, as other property, to satisfy the judgment.
The Assembly granted her prayer as follows: -

"Upon consideration whereof, it is voted and resolved, that
the sheriff of the said county of Newport, when he shall
receive the execution against the said negro Cuff, be, and
he is hereby fully empowered to sell said negro Cuff as
other personal estate: and after the fine of £20 be paid
into the general treasury, and all other charges deducted
out of the price of said negro, the remainder to be
appropriated in said satisfying said execution."[471]

This case goes to show that in Rhode Island Negro slaves were rated,
at law, as chattel property, and could be taken in execution to
satisfy debts as other personal property.

A great many slaves availed themselves of frequent opportunities of
going away in privateers and other vessels. With but little before
them in this life, they were even willing to risk being sold into
slavery at some other place, that they might experience a change. They
made excellent seamen, and were greatly desired by masters of vessels.
This went on for a long time. The loss to the colony was great; and
the General Assembly passed the subjoined bill as a check to the
stampede that had become quite general: -


"Whereas, it frequently happens that the commanders of
privateers, and masters of other vessels, do carry off
slaves that are the property of inhabitants of this colony,
and that without the privity or consent of their masters or
mistresses; and whereas, there is no law of this colony for
remedying so great an evil, -

"Be it therefore enacted by this General Assembly, and by
the authority of the same, it is enacted, that from and
after the publication of this act, if any commander of a
private man of war, or master of a merchant ship or other
vessel, shall knowingly carry away from, or out of this
colony, a slave or slaves, the property of any inhabitant
thereof, the commander of such privateer, or the master of
the said merchant ship or vessel, shall pay, as a fine, the
sum of £500, to be recovered by the general treasurer of
this colony for the time being, by bill, plaint, or
information in any court of record within this colony.

"And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, that
the owner or owners of any slave or slaves that may be
carried away, as aforesaid, shall have a right of action
against the commander of the said privateer, or master of
the said merchant ship or vessel, or against the owner or
owners of the same, in which the said slave or slaves is, or
are carried away, and by the said action or suit, recover of
him or them, double damages.

"And whereas, disputes may arise respecting the knowledge
that the owner or owners, commanders or masters of the said
private men of war, merchant ships or vessels may have of
any slave or slaves being on board a privateer, or merchant
ship or vessel, -

"Be it therefore further enacted, and by the authority
aforesaid, it is enacted, that when any owner or owners of
any slave or slaves in this colony, shall suspect that a
slave or slaves, to him, her or them belonging, is, or are,
on board any private man of war, or merchant ship or vessel,
the owner or owners of such slave or slaves may make
application, either to the owner or owners, or to the
commander or master of the said ship or vessel, before its
sailing, and inform him or them thereof, which being done in
the presence of one or more substantial witness or
witnesses, the said information or application shall amount
to, and be construed, deemed and taken to be a full proof of
his or their knowledge thereof, provided, the said slave or
slaves shall go in any such ship or vessel.

"And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, that
if the owner or owners of any slave or slaves in this
colony, or any other person or persons, legally authorized
by the owner or owners of a slave or slaves, shall attempt
to go on board any privateer, or a merchant ship or vessel,
to search for his, her or their slave or slaves, and the
commander or master of such ship or vessel, or other officer
or officers on board the same, in the absence of the
commander or master, shall refuse to permit such owner or
owners of a slave or slaves, or other person or persons,
authorized, as aforesaid, to go on board and search for the
slave or slaves by him, her or them missed, or found absent,
such refusal shall be deemed, construed, and taken to be
full proof that the owner or owners, commander or master of
the said privateer or other ship or vessel, hath, or have a
real knowledge that such slave or slaves is, or are on

"And this act shall be forthwith published, and therefrom
have, and take force and effect, in and throughout this

"Accordingly the said act was published by the beat of drum,
on the 17th day of June, 1757, a few minutes before noon, by

"THO. WARD, Secretary."[472]

The education of the Negro slave in this colony was thought to be
inimical to the best interests of the master class. Ignorance was the
_sine qua non_ of slavery. The civil government and ecclesiastical
establishment ground him, body and spirit, as between "the upper and
nether millstones." But the Negro was a good listener, and was not
unconscious of what was going on around him. He was neither blind nor

The fires of the Revolutionary struggle began to melt the frozen
feelings of the colonists towards the slaves. When they began to feel
the British lion clutching at the throat of their own liberties, the
bondage of the Negro stared them in the face. They knew the Negro's
power of endurance, his personal courage, his admirable promptitude in
the performance of difficult tasks, and his desperate spirit when
pressed too sharply. The thought of such an ally for the English army,
such an element in their rear, was louder in their souls than the roar
of the enemy's guns. The act of June, 1774, shows how deeply the
people felt on the subject.


Whereas, the inhabitants of America are generally engaged in
the preservation of their own rights and liberties, among
which, that of personal freedom must be considered as the
greatest; as those who are desirous of enjoying all the
advantages of liberty themselves, should be willing to
extend personal liberty to others; -

"Therefore, be it enacted by this General Assembly, and by
the authority thereof it is enacted, that for the future, no
negro or mulatto slave shall be brought into this colony;
and in case any slave shall hereafter be brought in, he or
she shall be, and are hereby, rendered immediately free, so
far as respects personal freedom, and the enjoyment of
private property, in the same manner as the native Indians.

"Provided, nevertheless, that this law shall not extend to

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 32 of 57)