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 38 of 57)
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at Williamsburg on the first day of August next, and present
these resolves, as the sense of the people of this county
upon the measures proper to be taken in the present alarming
and dangerous situation of America."

Mr. Sparks comments upon the resolutions as follows: -

"The draught, from which the resolves are printed, I find
among Washington's papers, in the handwriting of George
Mason, by whom they were probably drawn up; yet, as they
were adopted by the Committee of which Washington was
chairman, and reported by him as moderator of the meeting,
they may be presumed to express his opinions, formed on a
perfect knowledge of the subject, and after cool
deliberation. This may indeed be inferred from his letter to
Mr. Bryan Fairfax, in which he intimates a doubt only as to
the article favoring the idea of a further petition to the
king. He was opposed to such a step, believing enough had
been done in this way already; but he yielded the point in
tenderness to the more wavering resolution of his

"These resolves are framed with much care and ability, and
exhibit the question then at issue, and the state of public
feeling, in a manner so clear and forcible as to give them a
special claim to a place in the present work, in addition to
the circumstance of their being the matured views of
Washington at the outset of the great Revolutionary struggle
in which he was to act so conspicuous a part....

"Such were the opinions of Washington, and his associates in
Virginia, at the beginning of the Revolutionary contest. The
seventeenth resolve merits attention, from the pointed
manner in which it condemns the slave trade."[522]

Dr. Benjamin Franklin, in a letter to Dean Woodward, dated April 10,
1773, says, -

"I have since had the satisfaction to learn that a
disposition to abolish slavery prevails in North America,
that many of the Pennsylvanians have set their slaves at
liberty; and that even the Virginia Assembly have petitioned
the king for permission to make a law for preventing the
importation of more into that Colony. This request, however,
will probably not be granted as their former laws of that
kind have always been repealed, and as the interest of a few
merchants here has more weight with Government than that of
thousands at a distance."[523]

Virginia gave early and positive proof that she was in earnest on the
question of non-importation. One John Brown, a merchant of Norfolk,
broke the rules of the colony by purchasing imported slaves, and was
severely rebuked in the following article: -



"'Trusting to your sure resentment against the enemies of
your country, we, the committee, elected by ballot for the
Borough of Norfolk, hold up for your just indignation Mr.
John Brown, merchant of this place.

"'On Thursday, the 2d of March, this committee were informed
of the arrival of the brig Fanny, Capt. Watson, with a
number of slaves for Mr. Brown: and, upon inquiry, it
appeared they were shipped from Jamaica as his property, and
on his account; that he had taken great pains to conceal
their arrival from the knowledge of the committee; and that
the shipper of the slaves, Mr. Brown's correspondent, and
the captain of the vessel, were all fully apprised of the
Continental prohibition against that article.

"'From the whole of this transaction, therefore, we, the
committee for Norfolk Borough, do give it as our unanimous
opinion, that the said John Brown, has wilfully and
perversely violated the Continental Association to which he
had with his own hand subscribed obedience, and that,
agreeable to the eleventh article, we are bound forthwith to
publish the truth of the case, to the end that all such foes
to the rights of British America may be publicly known and
universally contemned as the enemies of American liberty,
and that every person may henceforth break off all dealings
with him.'"

And the first delegation from Virginia to Congress in August, 1774,
had instructions as follows, drawn by Thomas Jefferson: -

"For the most trifling reasons, and sometimes for no
conceivable reason at all, his Majesty has rejected laws of
the most salutary tendency. _The abolition of domestic
slavery is the great object of desire in those Colonies,
where it was, unhappily, introduced in their infant state.
But, previous to the enfranchisement of the slaves we have,
it is necessary to exclude all further importations from
Africa._ Yet our repeated attempts to effect this by
prohibitions, and by imposing duties which might amount to a
prohibition, have been hitherto defeated by his Majesty's
negative; thus preferring the immediate advantages of a few
British corsairs to the lasting interests of the American
States, and to the rights of human nature, deeply wounded by
this infamous practice."[524]

It is scarcely necessary to mention the fact, that there were several
very cogent passages in the first draught of the Declaration of
Independence that were finally omitted. The one most pertinent to this
history is here given: -

"He has waged cruel war against human nature itself,
violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the
persons of a distant people who never offended him;
captivating and carrying them into slavery in another
hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their
transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the
opprobrium of _Infidel_ powers, is the warfare of the
_Christian_ king of Great Britain. Determined to keep open a
market where _men_ should be bought and sold, he has
prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative
attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce.
And, that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of
distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to
rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which
he has deprived them, by murdering the people on whom he
also obtruded them; thus paying off former crimes committed
against the _liberties_ of one people with crimes which he
urges them to commit against the _lives_ of another.[525]

The solicitude concerning the slavery question was not so great in the
Northern colonies. The slaves were not so numerous as in the Carolinas
and other Southern colonies. The severe treatment of slaves had been
greatly modified, the spirit of masters toward them more gentle and
conciliatory, and the public sentiment concerning them more humane.
Public discussion of the Negro question, however, was cautiously
avoided. The failure of attempted legislation friendly to the slaves
had discouraged their friends, while the critical situation of public
affairs made the supporters of slavery less aggressive. On the 25th of
October, 1774, an effort was made in the Provincial Congress of
Massachusetts to re-open the discussion, but it failed. The record of
the attempt is as follows: -

"Mr. Wheeler brought into Congress a letter directed to
Doct. Appleton, purporting the propriety, that while we are
attempting to free ourselves from our present
embarrassments, and preserve ourselves from slavery, that we
also take into consideration the state and circumstances of
the negro slaves in this province. The same was read, and it
was moved that a committee be appointed to take the same
into consideration. After some debate thereon, the question
was put, whether the matter now subside, and it passed in
the affirmative."[526]

Thus ended the attempt to call the attention of the people's
representatives to the inconsistency of their doctrine and practice on
the question of the equality of human rights. Further agitation of the
question, followed by the defeat of just measures in the interest of
the slaves, was deemed by many as dangerous to the colony. The
discussions were watched by the Negroes with a lively interest; and
failure led them to regard the colonists as their enemies, and greatly
embittered them. Then it was difficult to determine just what would be
wisest to do for the enslaved in this colony. The situation was
critical: a bold, clear-headed, loyal-hearted man was needed.

On Tuesday, Oct. 2, 1750, "The Boston Gazette, or Weekly Journal,"
contained the following advertisement: -

"Ran-away from his master _William Brown_ of _Framingham_,
on the 30th of _Sept_. last, a Molatto Fellow, about 27
Years of Age, named _Crispas_, 5 Feet 2 Inches high, short
curl'd Hair, his Knees nearer together than common; had on a
light colour'd Bear-skin Coat, plain brown Fustian Jacket,
or brown all-Wool one, new Buckskin Breeches, blue Yarn
Stockings, and a checked woolen Shirt.

"Whoever shall take up said Run-away, and convey him to his
abovesaid Master, shall have _ten Pounds_, old Tenor Reward,
and all necessary Charges paid. And all Masters of Vessels
and others, are hereby cautioned against concealing or
carrying off said Servant on Penalty of the Law. _Boston,
October 2, 1750_."

During the month of November, - the 13th and 20th, - a similar
advertisement appeared in the same paper; showing that the "Molatto
Fellow" had not returned to his master.

Twenty years later "Crispas's" name once more appeared in the journals
of Boston. This time he was not advertised as a runaway slave, nor was
there reward offered for his apprehension. His soul and body were
beyond the cruel touch of master; the press had paused to announce his
apotheosis, and to write the name of the Negro patriot, soldier, and
martyr to the ripening cause of the American Revolution, in fadeless
letters of gold, - CRISPUS ATTUCKS!

On March 5, 1770, occurred the Boston Massacre; and, while it was not
the real commencement of the Revolutionary struggle, it was the bloody
drama that opened the most eventful and thrilling chapter in American
history. The colonists had endured, with obsequious humility, the
oppressive acts of Britain, the swaggering insolence of the
ministerial troops, and the sneers of her hired minions. The
aggressive and daring men had found themselves hampered by the
conservative views of a large class of colonists, who feared lest some
one should take a step not exactly according to the law. But while the
"wise and prudent" were deliberating upon a legal method of action,
there were those, who, "made of sterner stuff," reasoned right to the
conclusion, that they had rights as colonists that ought to be
respected. That there was cause for just indignation on the part of
the people towards the British soldiers, there is no doubt. But there
is reason to question the time and manner of the assault made by the
citizens. Doubtless they had "a zeal, but not according to knowledge."
There is no record to controvert the fact of the leadership of Crispus
Attucks. A manly-looking fellow, six feet two inches in height, he was
a commanding figure among the irate colonists. His enthusiasm for the
threatened interests of the Province, his loyalty to the teachings of
Otis, and his willingness to sacrifice for the cause of equal rights,
endowed him with a courage, which, if tempered with better judgment,
would have made him a military hero in his day. But consumed by the
sacred fires of patriotism, that lighted his path to glory, his career
of usefulness ended at the beginning. John Adams, as the counsel for
the soldiers, thought that the patriots Crispus Attucks led were a
"rabble of saucy boys, negroes, mulattoes, &c.," who could not
restrain their emotion. Attucks led the charge with the shout, "The
way to get rid of these soldiers is to attack the main-guard; strike
at the root: this is the nest." A shower of missiles was answered by
the discharge of the guns of Capt. Preston's company. The exposed and
commanding person of the intrepid Attucks went down before the
murderous fire. Samuel Gray and Jonas Caldwell were also killed, while
Patrick Carr and Samuel Maverick were mortally wounded.

The scene that followed beggared description. The people ran from
their homes and places of business into the streets, white with rage.
The bells rang out the alarm of danger. The bodies of Attucks and
Caldwell were carried into Faneuil Hall, where their strange faces
were viewed by the largest gathering of people ever before witnessed.
Maverick was buried from his mother's house in Union Street, and Gray
from his brother's residence in Royal Exchange Lane. But Attucks and
Caldwell, strangers in the city, without relatives, were buried from
Faneuil Hall, so justly called "_the Cradle of Liberty_." The four
hearses formed a junction in King Street; and from thence the
procession moved in columns six deep, with a long line of coaches
containing the first citizens of Boston. The obsequies were witnessed
by a very large and respectful concourse of people. The bodies were
deposited in one grave, over which a stone was placed bearing this
inscription: -

"Long as in Freedom's cause the wise contend,
Dear to your country shall your fame extend;
While to the world the lettered stone shall tell
Where Caldwell, Attucks, Gray and Maverick fell."

Who was Crispus Attucks? A Negro whose soul, galling under the
destroying influence of slavery, went forth a freeman, went forth not
only to fight for _his_ liberty, but to give his life as an offering
upon the altar of _American liberty_. He was not a madcap, as some
would have the world believe. He was not ignorant of the issues
between the American colonies and the English government, between the
freemen of the colony and the dictatorial governors. Where he was
during the twenty years from 1750 to 1770, is not known; but doubtless
in Boston, where he had heard the fiery eloquence of Otis, the
convincing arguments of Sewall, and the tender pleadings of Belknap.
He had learned to spell out the fundamental principles that should
govern well-regulated communities and states; and, having come to the
rapturous consciousness of his freedom in fee simple, the brightest
crown God places upon mortal man, he felt himself neighbor and friend.
His patriotism was not a mere spasm produced by sudden and exciting
circumstances. It was an education; and knowledge comes from
experience; and the experience of this black hero was not of a single
day. Some time before the memorable 5th of March, Crispus addressed
the following spirited letter to the Tory governor of the Province: -

"TO THOMAS HUTCHINSON: _Sir_, - You will hear from us with
astonishment. You ought to hear from us with horror. You are
chargeable before God and man, with our blood. The soldiers
were but passive instruments, mere machines; neither moral
nor voluntary agents in our destruction, more than the
leaden pellets with which we were wounded. You was a free
agent. You acted, coolly, deliberately, with all that
premeditated malice, not against us in particular, but
against the people in general, which, in the sight of the
law, is an ingredient in the composition of murder. You will
hear further from us hereafter. Crispus Attucks."[527]

This was the declaration of war. It was fulfilled. The world has heard
from him; and, more, the English-speaking world will never forget the
noble daring and excusable rashness of Attucks in the holy cause of
liberty! Eighteen centuries before he was saluted by death and kissed
by immortality, another Negro bore the cross of Christ to Calvary for
him. And when the colonists were staggering wearily under their cross
of woe, a Negro came to the front, and bore that cross to the victory
of glorious martyrdom!

And the people did not agree with John Adams that Attucks led "a
motley rabble," but a band of patriots. Their evidence of the belief
they entertained was to be found in the annual commemoration of the
"5th of March," when orators, in measured sentences and impassioned
eloquence, praised the hero-dead. In March, 1775, Dr. Joseph Warren,
who a few months later, as Gen. Warren, made Bunker Hill the shrine of
New-England patriotism, was the orator. On the question of human
liberty, he said, -

"That personal freedom is the natural right of every man,
and that property, or an exclusive right to dispose of what
he has honestly acquired by his own labor, necessarily
arises therefrom, are truths which common sense has placed
beyond the reach of contradiction. And no man, or body of
men, can, without being guilty of flagrant injustice, claim
a right to dispose of the persons or acquisitions of any
other man, or body of men, unless it can be proved that such
a right has arisen from some compact between the parties, in
which it has been explicitly and freely granted."

These noble sentiments were sealed by his blood at Bunker Hill, on the
17th of June, 1775, and are the amulet that will protect his fame from
the corroding touch of centuries of time

The free Negroes of the Northern colonies responded to the call "_to
arms_" that rang from the placid waters of Massachusetts Bay to the
verdant hills of Berkshire, and from Lake Champlain to the upper
waters of the Hudson. Every Northern colony had its Negro troops, not
as separate organizations, - save the black regiment of Rhode
Island, - but scattered throughout all of the white organizations of
the army. At the first none but free Negroes were received into the
army; but before peace came Negroes were not only admitted, they were
purchased, and sent into the war, with an offer of freedom and fifty
dollars bounty at the close of their service. On the 29th of May,
1775, the "_Committee of Safety_" for the Province of Massachusetts
passed the following resolve against the enlistment of Negro slaves
as soldiers: -

"Resolved, That it is the opinion of this committee, as the
contest now between Great Britain and the colonies respects
the liberties and privileges of the latter, which the
colonies are determined to maintain, that the admission of
any persons, as soldiers, into the army now raising, but
only such as are freemen, will be inconsistent with the
principles that are to be supported, and reflect dishonor on
this colony, and that no slaves be admitted into this army
upon any consideration whatever."[528]

On Tuesday, the 6th of June, 1775, "A resolve of the committee of
safety, relative to the [admission] of slaves into the army was read,
and ordered to lie on the table for further consideration."[529] But
this was but another evidence of the cold, conservative spirit of
Massachusetts on the question of other people's rights.

The Continental army was in bad shape. Its arms and clothing, its
discipline and efficiency, were at such a low state as to create the
gravest apprehensions and deepest solicitude. Gen. George Washington
took command of the army in and around Boston, on the 3d of July,
1775, and threw his energies into the work of organization. On the
10th of July he issued instructions to the recruiting-officers of
Massachusetts Bay, in which he forbade the enlistment of any "negro,"
or "any Person who is not an American born, unless such Person has a
Wife and Family and is a settled resident in this Country."[530] But,
nevertheless, it is a curious fact, as Mr. Bancroft says, "the roll of
the army at Cambridge had from its first formation borne the names of
men of color." "Free negroes stood in the ranks by the side of white
men. In the beginning of the war they had entered the provincial army;
the first general order which was issued by Ward, had required a
return, among other things, of the 'complexion' of the soldiers; and
black men like others were retained in the service after the troops
were adopted by the continent." There is no room to doubt. Negroes
were in the army from first to last, but were there in contravention
of law and positive prohibition.[531]

On the 29th of September, 1775, a spirited debate occurred in the
Continental Congress, over the draught of a letter to Gen. Washington,
reported by Lynch, Lee, and Adams. Mr. Rutledge of South Carolina
moved that the commander-in-chief be instructed to discharge all
slaves and free Negroes in his army. The Southern delegates supported
him earnestly, but his motion was defeated. Public attention was
called to the question, and at length the officers of the army debated
it. The following minute of a meeting held at Cambridge preserves and
reveals the sentiment of the general officers of the army on the
subject: -

"At a council of war, held at head-quarters, October 8th,
1775, present: His Excellency, General Washington;
Major-Generals Ward, Lee, and Putnam Brigadier-Generals
Thomas, Spencer, Heath, Sullivan, Greene, and Gates - the
question was proposed:

"'Whether it will be advisable to enlist any negroes in the
new army? or whether there be a distinction between such as
are slaves and those who are free?'

"It was agreed unanimously to reject all slaves; and, by a
great majority, to reject negroes altogether."

Ten days later, Oct. 18, 1775, a committee of conference met at
Cambridge, consisting of Dr. Franklin, Benjamin Harrison, and Thomas
Lynch, who conferred with Gen. Washington, the deputy-governors of
Connecticut and Rhode Island, and the Committee of the Council of
Massachusetts Bay. The object of the conference was the renovation and
improvement of the army. On the 23d of October, the employment of
Negroes as soldiers came before the conference for action, as
follows: -

"Ought not negroes to be excluded from the new enlistment,
especially such as are slaves? all were thought improper by
the council of officers."

"_Agreed_ that they be rejected altogether"

In his General Orders, issued from headquarters on the 12th of
November, 1775, Washington said, -

"Neither negroes, boys unable to bear arms, nor old men
unfit to endure the fatigues of the campaign, are to be

But the general repaired this mistake the following month. Lord
Dunmore had issued a proclamation declaring "all indented servants,
negroes, or others (appertaining to rebels) free." Fearing lest many
Negroes should join the ministerial army, in General Orders, 30th
December, Washington wrote: -

"As the General is informed that numbers of free negroes are
desirous of enlisting he gives leave to the recruiting
officers to entertain them, and promises to lay the matter
before the Congress, who, he doubts not, will approve of

Lord Dunmore's proclamation is here given: -

"_By his Excellency the Right Honorable_ JOHN, _Earl of_
DUNMORE, _his Majesty's Lieutenant and Governor-General of
the Colony and Dominion of Virginia, and Vice-Admiral of the
same_, -


"As I have ever entertained hopes that an accommodation
might have taken place between _Great Britain_ and this
Colony, without being compelled by my duty to this most
disagreeable but now absolutely necessary step, rendered so
by a body of armed men, unlawfully assembled, firing on his
Majesty's tenders; and the formation of an army, and that
army now on their march to attack his Majesty's troops, and
destroy the well-disposed subject of this Colony: To defeat
such treasonable purposes, and that all such traitors and
their abettors may be brought to justice, and that the peace
and good order of this Colony may be again restored, which
the ordinary course of the civil law is unable to effect, I
have thought fit to issue this my Proclamation; hereby
declaring, that until the aforesaid good purposes can be
obtained, I do, in virtue of the power and authority to me
given by his Majesty, determine to execute martial law, and
cause the same to be executed, throughout this Colony. And,
to the end that peace and good order may the sooner be
restored, I do require every person capable of bearing arms
to resort to his Majesty's standard, or be looked upon as

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 38 of 57)