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 35 of 57)
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direction of some white person. Any gathering of Negroes could be
broken up at the discretion of a justice living in the district where
the meeting was in session.

Poor clothing and insufficient food bred wide-spread discontent among
the slaves, and attracted public attention.[494] Many masters
endeavored to get on as cheaply as possible in providing for their
slaves. In 1732 the Legislature passed an Act empowering two justices
of the peace to inquire as to the treatment of slaves on the several
plantations; and if any master neglected his slaves in food and
raiment, he was liable to a fine of not more than fifty shillings. In
May, 1740, an Act was passed requiring masters to see to it that their
slaves were not overworked. The time set for them to work, was "from
the 25th day of March to the 25th day of September," not "more than
fifteen hours in four-and-twenty;" and "from the 25th day of September
to the 25th day of March," not "more than fourteen hours in

The history of the impost-tax on slaves imported into the Province of
South Carolina is the history of organized greed, ambition, and
extortion. Many were the gold sovereigns that were turned into the
official coffers at Charleston! With a magnificent harbor, and a
genial climate, no city in the South could rival it as a slave-market.
With an abundant supply from without, and a steady demand from within,
the officials at Charleston felt assured that high impost-duties could
not interfere with the slave-trade; while the city would be a great
gainer by the traffic, both mediately and immediately.

Sudden and destructive insurrections were the safety-valves to the
institution of slavery. A race long and cruelly enslaved may endure
the yoke patiently for a season: but like the sudden gathering of the
summer clouds, the pelting rain, the vivid, blinding lightning, the
deep, hoarse thundering, it will assert itself some day; and then it
is indeed a day of judgment to the task-masters! The Negroes in South
Carolina endured a most cruel treatment for a long time; and, when
"the day of their wrath" came, they scarcely knew it themselves, much
less the whites. Florida was in the possession of the Spaniards. Its
governor had sent out spies into Georgia and South Carolina, who held
out very flattering inducements to the Negroes to desert their masters
and go to Florida. Moreover, there was a Negro regiment in the Spanish
service, whose officers were from their own race. Many slaves had made
good their escape, and joined this regiment. It was allowed the same
uniform and pay as the Spanish soldiers had. The colony of South
Carolina was fearing an enemy from without, while behold their worst
enemy was at their doors! In 1740 some Negroes assembled themselves
together at a town called Stone, and made an attack upon two young
men, who were guarding a warehouse, and killed them. They seized the
arms and ammunition, effected an organization by electing one of their
number captain; and, with boisterous drums and flying banners, they
marched off "like a disciplined company." They entered the house of
one Mr. Godfrey, slew him, his wife, and child, and then fired his
dwelling. They next took up their march towards Jacksonburgh, and
plundered and burnt the houses of Sacheveral, Nash, Spry, and others.
They killed all the white people they found, and recruited their ranks
from the Negroes they met. Gov. Bull was "returning to Charleston from
the southward, met them, and, observing them armed, quickly rode out
of their way."[495] In a march of twelve miles, they had wrought a
work of great destruction. News reached Wiltown, and the militia were
called out. The Negro insurrectionists were intoxicated with their
triumph, and drunk from rum they had taken from the houses they had
plundered. They halted in an open field to sing and dance; and, during
their hilarity, Capt. Bee, at the head of the troops of the district,
fell upon them, and, having killed several, captured all who did not
make their escape in the woods.

The Province was thrown into intense excitement. The Legislature
called attention to the insurrection,[496] and declared legal some
very questionable and summary acts. In 1743 the people had not
recovered from the fright they received from the insurrection. On the
7th of May, 1743, an Act was passed requiring every white male
inhabitant, who resorted "to any church or any other public place of
divine worship, within" the Province to "carry with him a gun or a
pair of horse pistols, in good order and fit for service, with at
least six charges of gun-powder and ball," upon pain of paying "twenty

As there was a law against teaching slaves to read and write, there
were no educated preachers. If a Negro desired to preach to his
fellow-slaves, he had to secure written permission from his master.
While Negroes were sometimes baptized into the communion of the
Church, - usually the Episcopal Church, - they were allowed only in the
gallery, or organ-loft, of white congregations, in small numbers. No
clergyman ventured to break unto this benighted people the bread of
life. They were abandoned to the superstitions and religious
fanaticisms incident to their condition.

In 1704 an Act was passed "_for raising and enlisting such slaves as
shalt be thought serviceable to this Province in time of Alarms_." It
required, within thirty days after the publication of the Act, that
the commanders of military organizations throughout the Province
should appoint "five freeholders," "sober and discreet men," who were
to make a complete list of all the able-bodied slaves in their
respective districts. Three of them were competent to decide upon the
qualifications of a slave. After the completion of the list, the
freeholders mentioned above notified the owners to appear before them
upon a certain day, and show cause why their slaves should not be
chosen for the service of the colony. The slaves were then enlisted,
and their masters charged with the duty of arming them "with a
serviceable lance, hatchet or gun, with sufficient amunition and
hatchets, according to the conveniency of the said owners, to appear
under the colours of the respective captains, in their several
divisions, throughout" the Province, for the performance of such
"public service" as required. If an owner refused to equip or permit
his slave to respond to alarms, he was fined five pounds for each
neglect, which was to be paid to the captain of the company to which
the slave belonged. If a slave were killed by the enemy "in the line
of duty," the owner of such slave was paid out of the public treasury
such sum of money as three freeholders, under oath, should award. The
Negroes did admirably; and four years later, on the 24th of April,
1708, the Legislature re-enacted the bill making them militia-men. The
last Act contained ten sections, and bears evidence of the pleasure
the whites took in the employment of Negroes as their defenders. If a
Negro were taken prisoner by the enemy, and effected his escape back
into the Province, he was emancipated. And if a Negro captured and
killed an enemy, he was emancipated, but if wounded himself, was set
free at the public expense. If he deserted to the enemy, his master
was paid for his loss.

Few slaves were manumitted. The law required that masters who
emancipated their slaves should make provisions for transporting them
out of the Province. If they were found in the Province twelve months
after they were set free, the manumission was considered void, except
approved by the Legislature.

From 1754 till 1776 there was little legislation on the subject of
slavery. The pressure from without made men conservative about
slavery, and radical on the question of the rights and liberties of
the colonies. The threatening war between England and her provincial
dependencies made men humane and patriotic; and during these years of
anxiety and excitement, the weary slaves breathed a better atmosphere,
and enjoyed the rare sensation of confidence and benevolence.


[482] An eminent lawyer, chief justice of the Supreme Court of the
State of - - , and a warm personal friend of mine, recently said to
me, during an afternoon stroll, that he never knew that slavery was
ever established by statute in any of the British colonies in North

[483] Statutes of S.C., vol. vii. p. 352.

[484] Virginia made slavery statutory as did other colonies, but we
have no statute so explicit as the above. But slavery was slavery in
all the colonies, cruel and hurtful.

[485] Statutes of S.C., vol. vii. p. 397.

[486] Statutes of S.C., vol. vii. pp. 397, 398.

[487] Ibid., vol. vii. pp. 343, 344.

[488] This Act, passed on the 16th of March, 1696, was made
"perpetual" on the 12th of December, 1712. It remained throughout the
entire period. See Statutes of S.C., vol. ii, p. 598.

[489] Statutes of S.C., vol. vii. p. 363.

[490] Statutes of S.C., vol. vii. pp. 359, 360.

[491] Statutes of S.C., vol. vii. 363.

[492] Ibid., vol vii. pp. 410. 411.

[493] The following is the Act of the 7th of June, 1690. "XXXIV Since
charity, and the christian religion, which we profess, obliges us to
wish well to the souls of all men, and that religion may not be made a
pretence to alter any man's property and right, and that no person may
neglect to baptize their negroes or slaves, or suffer them to be
baptized, for fear that thereby they should be manumitted and set
free, Be it therefore enacted by the authority aforesaid, that it
shall be, and is hereby declared, lawful for any negro or Indian
slave, or any other slave or slaves whatsoever, to receive and profess
the christian faith, and be thereinto baptized; but that
notwithstanding such slave or slaves shall receive and profess the
Christian religion, and be baptized, he or they shall not thereby be
manumitted or set free, or his or their owner, master or mistress lose
his or their civil right, property, and authority over such slave or
slaves, but that the slave or slaves, with respect to his servitude
shall remain and continue in the same state and condition that he or
they was in before the making of this act." - _Statutes of S.C._, vol.
vii. pp 364, 365.

[494] In 1740 an Act was passed requiring masters to provide
"sufficient clothing" for their slaves.

[495] Hist. S.C. and Georgia, vol. ii. p. 73.

[496] Statutes of S.C., vol. vii. p. 416.





The geographical situation of North Carolina was favorable to the

Through the genius of Shaftesbury, and the subtle cunning of John
Locke, Carolina received, and for a time adopted, the most remarkable
constitution ever submitted to any people in any age of the world. The
whole affair was an insult to humanity, and in its fundamental
elements bore the palpable evidences of the cruel conclusions of an
exclusive philosophy. "No elective franchise could be conferred upon a
freehold of less than fifty acres," while all executive power was
vested in the proprietors themselves. Seven courts were controlled by
forty-two counsellors, twenty-eight of whom held their places through
the gracious favor of the proprietary and "the nobility." Trial by
jury was concluded by the opinions of the majority.

"The instinct of aristocracy dreads the moral power of a
proprietary yeomanry; the perpetual degradation of the
cultivators of the soil was enacted. The leet-men, or
tenants, holding ten acres of land at a fixed rent, were not
only destitute of political franchises, but were adscripts
to the soil, 'under the jurisdiction of their lord, without
appeal;' and it was added, 'all the children of leet-men
shall be leet-men, and so to all generations.'"[497]

The men who formed the rank and file of the yeomanry of the colony of
North Carolina were ill prepared for a government launched upon the
immense scale of the Locke Constitution. The hopes and fears, the
feuds and debates, the vexatious and insoluble problems, of the
political science of government which had clouded the sky of the most
astute and ambitous statesmen of Europe, were dumped into this
remarkable instrument. The distance between the people and the
nobility was sought to be made illimitable, and the right to govern
was based upon permanent property conditions. Hereditary wealth was to
go arm in arm with political power.

The constitution was signed on the 21st of July, 1669, and William
Sayle was commissioned as governor. The legislative career of the
Province began in the fall of the same year; and history must record
that it was one of the most remarkable and startling North America
ever witnessed. The portions of the constitution which refer to the
institution of slavery are as follows: -

"97th. But since the natives of that place, who will be
concerned in our plantation, are utterly strangers to
Christianity, whose idolatry, ignorance or mistake, gives us
no right to expel or use them ill; and those who remove from
other parts to plant there, will unavoidably be of different
opinions, concerning matters of religion, the liberty
whereof they will expect to have allowed them, and it will
not be reasonable for us on this account to keep them out;
that civil peace may be obtained amidst diversity of
opinions, and our agreement and compact with all men, may be
duly and faithfully observed; the violation whereof, upon
what pretence soever, cannot be without great offence to
Almighty God, and great scandal to the true religion which
we profess; and also that Jews, Heathens and other
dissenters from the purity of the Christian religion, may
not be scared and kept at a distance from it, but by having
an opportunity of acquainting themselves with the truth and
reasonableness of its doctrines, and the peaceableness and
inoffensiveness of its professors, may by good usage and
persuasion, and all those convincing methods of gentleness
and meekness, suitable to the rules and design of the
gospel, be won over to embrace, and unfeignedly receive the
truth; therefore any seven or more persons agreeing in any
religion, shall constitute a church or profession, to which
they shall give some name, to distinguish it from others....

"101st. No person above seventeen years of age, shall have
any benefit or protection of the law, or be capable of any
place of profit or honor, who is not a member of some church
or profession, having his name recorded in some one, and but
one religious record, at once....

"107th. Since charity obliges us to wish well to the souls
of all men, and religion ought to alter nothing in any man's
civil estate or right, it shall be lawful for slaves as well
as others, to enter themselves and be of what church or
profession any of them shall think best, and thereof be as
fully members as any freemen. But yet no slave shall hereby
be exempted from that civil dominion his master hath over
him, but be in all things in the same state and condition he
was in before....

"110th. Every freeman of Carolina, shall have absolute
power and authority over his negro slaves, of what opinion
or religion soever."[498]

Though the Locke Constitution was adopted by the proprietaries, March
1, 1669, it may be doubted whether it ever had the force of law, as it
was never ratified by the local Legislature. Article one hundred and
ten, granting absolute power and authority to a master over his Negro
slave, is without a parallel in the legislation of the colonies. And
while the slave might enter the Christian Church, and his humanity
thereby be recognized, it was strangely inconsistent to place his life
at the disposal of brutal masters, who "neither feared God nor
regarded man."

The Negro slaves in North Carolina occupied the paradoxical position
of being eligible to membership in the Christian Church, and the
absolute property of their white brothers. In the second draught of
the constitution, signed in March, 1670, against the eloquent protest
of John Locke, the section on religion was amended so as, while
tolerating every religious creed, to declare "the Church Of England"
the only true Orthodox Church, and the national religion of the
Province. This, in the face of the fact that the great majority of all
the Christians who flocked to the New World were dissenters,
separatists, and nonconformists, can only be explained in the light of
the burning zeal of the Church of England to out-Herod Herod, - to
carry the Negroes into the communion of the State church for political
purposes. It was the most sordid motive that impelled the churchmen to
open the church to the slave. His membership did not change his
condition, nor secure him immunity from the barbarous treatment the
institution of slavery bestowed upon its helpless victims.

In the eyes of the law the Negro, being _absolute property_, had no
rights, except those temporarily delegated by the master; and he acted
in the relation of an agent. Negro slaves were not allowed "to raise
horses, cattle or hogs;" and if any stock were found in their
possession six months after the passage of the Act of 1741, they were
to be seized by the sheriff of the county, and sold by the
church-wardens of the parish. The profits arising from such sales
went, one half to the parish, the other half to the informer.[499] A
slave was not suffered to go off of the plantation where he was
appointed to live, without a pass signed by his master or the
overseer. There was an exception made in the case of Negroes wearing
liveries. Negro slaves were not allowed the use of fire-arms or other
weapons, except they were armed with a certificate from their master
granting the coveted permission. If they hunted with arms, not having
a certificate, any Christian could apprehend them, seize the weapons,
deliver the slave to the first justice of the peace; who was
authorized to administer, without ceremony, twenty lashes upon his or
her bare hack, and send him or her home. The master had to pay the
cost of arrest and punishment. The one exception to this law was, that
one Negro on each plantation or in each district could carry a gun to
shoot game for his master and protect stock, etc.; but his certificate
was to be in his possession all the time. If a Negro went from the
plantation on which he resided, to another plantation or place, he was
required by statute to travel in the most generally frequented road.
If caught in another road, not much travelled, except in the company
of a white man, it was lawful for the man who owned the land through
which he was passing to seize him, and administer not more than forty
lashes. If Negroes visited each other in the night season, - the only
time they could visit, - the ones who were found on another plantation
than their master's were punished with lashes on their naked back, not
exceeding forty; while the Negroes who had furnished the entertainment
received twenty lashes for their hospitality. In case any slave, who
had not been properly fed and clothed by his master, was convicted of
stealing cattle, hogs, or corn from another man, an action of trespass
could be maintained against the master in the general or county court,
and damages recovered.[500]

Here, as in the other colonies, the greatest enemy of the colonists
was an accusing conscience. The people started at every breath of
rumor, and always imagined their slaves conspiring to cut their
throats. There was nothing in the observed character of the slaves to
justify the wide-spread consternation that filled the public mind. Nor
was there any occasion to warrant the passage of the Act of 1741,
respecting conspiracies among slaves. It is a remarkable document, and
is produced here.

"XLVII. _And be it further enacted by the authority
aforesaid_, That if any number of negroes or other slaves,
that is to say, three, or more, shall, at any time
hereafter, consult, advise or conspire to rebel or make
insurrection, or shall plot or conspire the murder of any
person or persons whatsoever, every such consulting,
plotting or conspiring, shall be adjudged and deemed felony;
and the slave or slaves convicted thereof, in manner herein
after directed, shall suffer death.

"XLVIII. _And be it further enacted by the authority
aforesaid_,'That every slave committing such offence, or any
other crime or misdemeanor, shall forthwith be committed by
any justice of the peace, to the common jail of the county
within which the said offence shall be committed, there to
be safely kept; and that the sheriff of such county, upon
such commitment, shall forthwith certify the same to any
Justice in the commission for the said court for the time
being, resident in the county, who is thereupon required and
directed to issue a summons for two or more Justices of the
said court, and four freeholders, such as shall have slaves
in the said county, which said three Justices and four
freeholders, owners of slaves, are hereby impowered and
required upon oath, to try all manner of crimes and
offences, that shall be committed by any slave or slaves, at
the court house of the county, and to take for evidence, the
confession of the offender, the oath of one or more credible
witnesses, or such testimony of negroes, mulattoes or
Indians, bond or free, with pregnant circumstances, as to
them shall seem convincing, without the solemnity of a jury;
and the offender being then found guilty, to pass such
judgment upon such offender, according to their discretion,
as the nature of the crime or offence shall require; and on
such judgment, to award execution.

"XLIX. _Provided always, and be it enacted_, That it shall
and may be lawful for each and every Justice, being in the
commission of the peace for the county where any slave or
slaves shall be tried, by virtue of this act, (who is owner
of slaves) to sit upon such trial, and act as a member of
such court though he or they be not summoned thereto;
anything herein before contained to the contrary, in any
wise, notwithstanding.

"L. And to the end such negro, mulatto or Indian, bond or
free, not being christians, as shall hereafter be produced
as an evidence on the trial of any slave or slaves, for
capital or other crimes, may be under the greater obligation
to declare the truth; _Be it further enacted_, There where
any such negro, mulatto or Indian, bond or free, shall, upon
due proof made, or pregnant circumstances, appearing before
any county court within this government, be found to have
given a false testimony, every such offender shall, without
further trial, be ordered, by the said court, to have one
ear nailed to the pillory, and there stand for the space of
one hour, and the said ear to be cut off, and thereafter the
other ear nailed in like manner, and cut off, at the
expiration of one other hour: and moreover, to order every
such offender thirty-nine lashes, well laid on, on his or
her bare back, at the common whipping post.

"LI. _And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid_,
That at every such trial of slaves committing capital or
other offences, the first person in commission sitting on
such trial, shall, before the examination of every negro,
mulatto or Indian, not being a christian, charge such to
declare the truth.

"LII. _Provided always, and it is hereby intended_, That the
master, owner or overseer of any slave, to be arraigned and
tried by virtue of this act, may appear at the trial, and
make what just defence he can for such slave or slave; so

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 35 of 57)