Smith, and William Smith, who on the 15th of November, 1779,
petitioned the Council for the "restitution" of slaves taken by a
British privateer, and retaken by two armed vessels of Massachusetts.
A committee was appointed to consider the petitions, and report what
action should be taken in the matter. Two days later another petition
was presented to the Council by one John Winthrop, "praying that
certain negroes, who were brought into this state by the Hazard and
Tyrannicide, may be delivered to him." It was referred to the
committee appointed on the 15th of November. On the 18th of November,
"Jabez Fisher, Esq., brought down a report of the Committee of both
Houses on the petition of Isaac Smith, being by way of resolve,
directing the Board of War to deliver so many of the negroes therein
mentioned, as are now alive. Passed in Council, and sent down for
concurrence." The order of the House is, "Read and concurred, as taken
into a new draught. Sent up for concurrence."
It is printed among the resolves of November, 1779.
"XXXI. Resolve relinquishing this state's claim to a number
of Negroes, passed November 18, 1779.
elseif (getClientWidth() > 430)
"Whereas a number of negroes were re-captured and brought
into this State by the armed vessels Hazard and Tyrannicide,
and have since been supported at the expense of this State,
and as the original owners of said Negroes now apply for
"Therefore _Resolved_, That this Court hereby relinquish and
give up any claim they may have upon the said owners for
re-capturing said negroes: Provided they pay to the Board of
War of this State the expence that has arisen for the
support and clothing of the Negroes aforesaid."
On the 12th of April, 1780, Massachusetts passed an Act providing more
effectually "for the security, support, and exchange of prisoners of
war brought into the State." It declares that
"All Prisoners of War, whether captured by the Army or Navy
of the United States, or armed Ships or Vessels of any of
the United States, or by the Subjects, Troops, Ships, or
Vessels of War of this State, and brought into the same, or
cast on shore by shipwreck on the coast thereof ... all such
prisoners, so brought in or cast on shore (including
Indians, Negroes, and Molatoes) be treated in all respects
as prisoners of war to the United States, any law or resolve
or this Court to the contrary notwithstanding."
The above Act was passed in compliance with a resolution of Congress,
Jan. 13, 1780; and it repealed an Act of 1777, that made no provisions
for the capture of Negroes.
On the 23d of January, 1784, Gov. Hancock sent a message to the
Legislature, transmitting correspondence received dining the
adjournment of the Legislature from Oct 28, 1783, to Jan. 21, 1784.
Calling the attention of the Legislature to this correspondence, he
referred to a letter from "His Excellency the Governor of South
Carolina, respecting the detention of some Negroes here, belonging to
the subjects of that state. I have communicated it to the Judges of
the Supreme Judicial Court - their observations upon it are with the
Papers. I have made no reply to the letter, judging it best to have
your decision upon it." The same papers on the same day were read
in the Senate, and a joint committee of both houses was appointed. The
committee reported to both branches of the Legislature on the 23d of
March, 1784, and the report was adopted. A request was made of the
governor to furnish copies of the opinions of the judges, etc.
"CLXXI. Order requesting the Governor to write to Governor
_Guerard_ of _South Carolina_, inclosing the letter of the
Judges of the Supreme Judicial Court, March, 23d, 1784.
"_Ordered_, that his Excellency the Governor be requested to
write to His Excellency _Benjamin Guerard_, Governor of
_South Carolina_, inclosing for the information of Governor
Guerard, the letter of the Judges of the Supreme Judicial
Court of this Commonwealth, with the copy in the said letter
referred to, upon the subject of Governor _Guerard's_
letter, dated the sixth October, 1783."
The papers referred to seem to have been lost, but extracts are here
"GOVERNOR GUERARD TO GOVERNOR HANCOCK, 6th October, 1783.
EXTRACT. "That such adoption is favoring rather of the
Tyranny of Great Britain which occasioned her the loss of
these States - that no act of British Tyranny could exceed
the encouraging the negroes from the State owning them to
desert their owners to be emancipated - that it seems
arbitrary and domination - assuming for the Judicial
Department of any one State, to prevent a restoration voted
by the Legislature and ordained by Congress. That the
liberation of our negroes disclosed a specimen of Puritanism
I should not have expected from gentlemen of my Profession."
MEMORANDUM. "He had demanded fugitives, carried off by the
British, captured by the North, and not given up by the
interference of the Judiciary.' Governor Hancock referred
the subject to the Judges."
"JUDGES CUSHING AND SARGENT TO GOVERNOR HANCOCK, Boston,
Dec. 20, 1783.
EXTRACT. "How this determination is an attack upon the
spirit, freedom, dignity, independence, and sovereignty of
South Carolina, we are unable to conceive. That this has any
connection with, or relation to Puritanism, we believe is
above y'r Excellency's comprehension as it is above ours. We
should be sincerely sorry to do any thing inconsistent with
the Union of the States, which is and must continue to be
the basis of our Liberties and Independence; on the contrary
we wish it may be strengthened, confirmed, and endure for
By the Treaty of Peace in 1783, Negroes were put in the same category
with horses and other articles of property.
"Negroes [says Mr. Hamilton], by the laws of the States, in
which slavery is allowed, are personal property. They,
therefore, on the principle of those laws, like horses,
cattle and other movables, were liable to become booty - and
belonged to the enemy, [captor] as soon as they came into
his hands. Belonging to him, he was free either to apply
them to his own use, or set them at liberty. If he did the
latter, the grant was irrevocable, restitution was
impossible. Nothing in the laws of nations or in those of
Great Britain, will authorize the resumption of liberty,
once granted to a human being."
On the 6th of May, 1783, Gen. Washington wrote Sir Guy Carleton: -
"In the course of our conversation on this point, I was
surprised to hear you mention, that an embarkation had
already taken place, in which a large number of negroes had
been carried away. Whether this conduct is consonant to, or
how far it may be deemed an infraction of the treaty, is not
for me to decide. I cannot, however, conceal from you, that
my private opinion is, that the measure is totally different
from the letter and spirit of the treaty. But waiving the
discussion of the point, and leaving its decision to our
respective sovereigns; I find it my duty to signify my
readiness, in conjunction with your Excellency, to enter
into any agreement, or take any measures, which may be
deemed expedient, to prevent the future carrying away of any
negroes, or other property of the American
In his reply, dated New York, May 12, 1783, Sir Guy Carleton says, -
"I enclose a copy of an order, which I have given out to
prevent the carrying away any negroes or other property of
the American inhabitants."
It is clear, that notwithstanding the Act of the Massachusetts
Legislature, and in the face of the law of Congress on the question of
recaptures, Gen. Washington, the Congress of the United Colonies, and
subsequently of the United States, regarded Negroes as _property_ from
the beginning to the end of the war. The following treaties furnish
abundant proof that Negroes were regarded as property during the war,
by the American government: -
"PROVISIONAL ARTICLES BETWEEN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
AND HIS BRITANNIC MAJESTY.
"Agreed upon by and between Richard Oswald, Esquire the
Commissioner of His Britannic Majesty, for treating of Peace
with the Commissioners of the United States of America, in
behalf of his said Majesty, on one part, and John Adams,
Benjamin Franklin, John Jay and Henry Laurens, four of the
Commissioners of the said States, etc., etc., etc.
"Article VII. * * * All prisoners on both sides shall be set
at liberty, and His Britannic Majesty shall with all
convenient speed, and without causing any destruction, or
carrying away any '_negroes or other property_' of the
American inhabitants, withdraw all his armies, garrisons and
fleets from the said United States, and from every port,
place and harbour within the same.* * *
"Done at Paris, Nov 30, 1782.
"RICHARD OSWALD, [L.S.]
"JOHN ADAMS, [L.S.]
"B. FRANKLIN, [L.S.]
"JOHN JAY, [L.S.]
"HENRY LAURENS, [L.S.]"
"DEFINITE TREATY OF PEACE, BETWEEN THE UNITED STATES OF
AMERICA AND HIS BRITANNIC MAJESTY.
"Article VII. * * * And His Britannic Majesty shall, with
all convenient speed, and without causing any destruction,
or carrying away any '_negroes or other property_' of the
American inhabitants, withdraw all his armies, etc., etc.,
etc.* * *
"Done at Paris, Sept. 3, 1783.
"D HARTLEY. [L.S.]
"JOHN ADAMS, [L.S.]
"B. FRANKLIN, [L.S.]
"JOHN JAY, [L.S.]"
"TREATY OF PEACE AND AMITY, BETWEEN HIS BRITANNIC MAJESTY
AND THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
"[Ratified and confirmed by and with the advice and consent
of the Senate, Feb. 11, 1815.]
"Article I. * * * Shall be restored without delay, and
without causing any destruction, or carrying away any of the
artillery or other public property originally captured in
the said forts or places, and which shall remain therein
upon the exchange of the ratifications of this treaty, or
any '_slaves or other private property_.' * * * *
"Done, in triplicate, at Ghent, Dec. 24, 1814.
"HENRY GOULBURN, [L.S.]
"WILLIAM ADAMS, [L.S.]
"JOHN OUINCY ADAMS, [L.S.]
"J.A. BAYARD, [L.S.]
"H. CLAY, [L.S.]
"JONA. RUSSELL, [L.S.]
"ALBERT GALLATIN. [L.S.]"
It was not a difficult matter to retake Negroes captured by the enemy,
and then treat them as prisoners of war. But no officer in the
American army, no member of Congress, had the moral courage to
proclaim that property ceased in a man the moment he donned the
uniform of a Revolutionary soldier, and that all Negro soldiers
captured by the enemy should be treated as prisoners of war. So, all
through the war with Britain, the Negro soldier was liable to be
claimed as property; and every bayonet in the army was at the command
of the master to secure his property, even though it had been
temporarily converted into an heroic soldier who had defended the
country against its foes. The unprecedented spectacle was to be
witnessed, of a master hunting his slaves under the flag of the
nation. And at the close of hostilities many Negro soldiers were
called upon to go back into the service of their masters; while few
secured their freedom as a reward for their valor. The following
letter of Gen. Washington, addressed to Brig.-Gen. Rufus Putnam,
afterwards printed at Marietta, O., from his papers, indicates the
regard the Father of his Country had for the rights of the master,
though those rights were pushed into the camp of the army where many
brave Negroes were found; and it also illustrates the legal strength
of such a claim: -
"HEAD QUARTERS, Feb. 2, 1783.
"SIR, - Mr. Hobby having claimed as his property a negro man
now serving in the Massachusetts Regiment, you will please
to order a court of inquiry, consisting of five as
respectable officers as can be found in your brigade, to
examine the validity of the claim, the manner in which the
person in question came into service, and the propriety of
his being discharged or retained in service. Having inquired
into the matter, with all the attending circumstances, they
will report to you their opinion thereon; which you will
report to me as soon as conveniently may be.
"I am, Sir, with great respect,
"Your most obedient servant,
"P.S. - All concerned should be notified to attend.
Enlistment in the army did not work a practical emancipation of the
slave, as some have thought. Negroes were rated as chattel property by
both armies and both governments during the entire war. This is the
cold fact of history, and it is not pleasing to contemplate. The Negro
occupied the anomalous position of an American slave and an American
soldier. He was a soldier in the hour of danger, but a chattel in time
 Felt says, in History of Salem, vol. ii. p. 278: "Sept. 17
. At this date two slaves, taken on board of a prize, were to
have been sold here; but the General Court forbid the sale, and
ordered such prisoners to be treated like all others."
 Resolves, p. 14. Quoted by Dr. Moore from the original
 Mr. Motley, "Rise of Dutch Republic," vol. i. p. 151, says that
in the sixteenth century, in wars between European states, the captor
had a property in his prisoner, which was assignable.
 Law of Fiefdom and Bondage, vol. i. p. 158.
 Mr. Hurd says, "In ascribing slavery to the law of nations it is
a very common error to use that term not in the sense of universal
jurisprudence - the Roman _jus gentium_-but in the modern sense of
public international law, and to give the custom of enslaving
prisoners of war, in illustration: as if the legal condition of other
slaves who had never been taken in war were not equally _jure gentium_
according to the Roman jurisprudence" See Mr. Webster's speech, 7th
March, 1830; Works, vol. v. p. 329.
 Dawson's Stony Point, pp. 111, 118.
 Dr. Moore thinks this the wrong name. The resolve proves it.
 House Journal, p. 60.
 Ibid, pp. 63, 64.
 Resolves, p. 51.
 Mass. Archives, vol. cli., pp. 202-294.
 The indefatigable Dr. George H. Moore copied the letter from the
original manuscript. The portions in Italics are in the handwriting of
Hancock. I have been placed under many obligations to my friend Dr.
 Resolves, p. 131.
 Laws, 1780, chap. v. pp. 283, 284.
 Journal, vol. iv. pp. 308, 309.
 From Mr. Bancroft's MSS., America, 1783, vol. ii. Quoted by Dr.
 Sparks's Washington, vol. viii. p. 428, note.
 Works of Hamilton, vol. vii. p. 191.
 Sparks's Washington, vol. viii. pp. 431,432.
 Sparks's Washington, vol. viii, Appendix, p. 544.
 U.S. Statutes at large, vol. viii, pp. 54, 57.
 Ibid., pp. 80, 83.
 U.S. Statutes at large, vol. viii. p. 218.
THE NEGRO INTELLECT. - BANNEKER THE ASTRONOMER.. - FULLER THE
MATHEMATICIAN. - DERHAM THE PHYSICIAN.
STATUTORY PROHIBITION AGAINST THE EDUCATION OF
NEGROES. - BENJAMIN BANNEKER, THE NEGRO ASTRONOMER AND
PHILOSOPHER. - HIS ANTECEDENTS. - YOUNG BANNEKER AS A FARMER
AND INVENTOR. - THE MILLS OF ELLICOTT & Co. - BANNEKER
CULTIVATES HIS MECHANICAL GENIUS AND MATHEMATICAL
TASTES. - BANNEKER'S FIRST CALCULATION OF AN ECLIPSE
SUBMITTED FOR INSPECTION IN 1789. - HIS LETTER TO MR.
ELLICOTT. - THE TESTIMONY OF A PERSONAL ACQUAINTANCE OF
BANNEKER AS TO HIS UPRIGHT CHARACTER. - HIS HOME BECOMES A
PLACE OF INTEREST TO VISITORS. - RECORD OF HIS BUSINESS
TRANSACTIONS. - MRS MASON'S VISIT TO HIM. - SHE ADDRESSES HIM
IN VERSE. - BANNEKER REPLIES BY LETTER TO HER. - PREPARES HIS
FIRST ALMANAC FOR PUBLICATION IN 1792. - TITLE OF HIS
ALMANAC. - BANNEKER'S LETTER TO THOMAS JEFFERSON. - THOMAS
JEFFERSON'S REPLY. - BANNEKER INVITED TO ACCOMPANY THE
COMMISSIONERS TO RUN THE LINES OF THE DISTRICT OF
COLUMBIA. - BANNEKER'S HABITS OF STUDYING THE HEAVENLY
BODIES. - MINUTE DESCRIPTION GIVEN TO HIS SISTERS IN
REFERENCE TO THE DISPOSITION OF HIS PERSONAL PROPERTY AFTER
DEATH.. - HIS DEATH.. - REGARDED AS THE MOST DISTINGUISHED
NEGRO OF HIS TIME. - FULLER THE MATHEMATICIAN, OR "THE
VIRGINIA CALCULATOR". - FULLER OF AFRICAN BIRTH, BUT STOLEN
AND SOLD AS A SLAVE INTO VIRGINIA. - VISITED BY MEN OF
LEARNING. - HE WAS PRONOUNCED TO BE A PRODIGY IN THE
MANIPULATION OF FIGURES. - HIS DEATH. - DERHAM THE
PHYSICIAN. - SCIENCE OF MEDICINE REGARDED AS THE MOST
INTRICATE PURSUIT OF MAN. - DAILY LIFE OF JAMES DERHAM. - HIS
KNOWLEDGE OF MEDICINES, HOW ACQUIRED. - HE BECOMES A
PROMINENT PHYSICIAN IN NEW ORLEANS. - DR. RUSH GIVES AN
ACCOUNT OF AN INTERVIEW WITH HIM. - WHAT THE NEGRO RACE
PRODUCED BY THEIR GENIUS IN AMERICA.
From the moment slavery gained a foothold in North America until the
direful hour that witnessed its dissolution amid the shock of
embattled arms, learning was the forbidden fruit that no Negro dared
taste. Positive and explicit statutes everywhere, as fiery swords,
drove him away hungry from the tree of intellectual life; and all
persons were forbidden to pluck the fruit for him, upon pain of severe
penalties. Every yearning for intellectual food was answered by whips
But, notwithstanding the state of almost instinctive ignorance in
which slavery held the Negro, there were those who occasionally
astounded the world with the brightness of their intellectual genius.
There were some Negroes whose minds ran the gauntlet of public
proscription on one side and repressive laws on the other, and safely
gained eminence in _astronomy, mathematics_, and _medicine_.
BANNEKER THE ASTRONOMER.
BENJAMIN BANNEKER, the Negro _astronomer_ and _philosopher_, was born
in Maryland, on the 9th of November, 1731. His maternal grandmother
was a white woman, a native of England, named _Molly Welsh_. She came
to Maryland in a shipload of white emigrants, who, according to the
custom of those days, were sold to pay their passage. She served her
master faithfully for seven years, when, being free, she purchased a
small farm, at a nominal price. Soon after she bought two Negro slaves
from a ship that had come into the Chesapeake Bay, and began life
anew. Both of these Negroes proved to be men of more than ordinary
fidelity, industry, and intelligence. One of them, it was said, was
the son of an African king. She gave him his freedom, and then married
him. His name was Banneker. Four children were the fruit of this
union; but the chief interest centres in only one, - a girl, named
Mary. Following the example of her mother, she also married a native
of Africa: but both tradition and history preserve an unbroken silence
respecting his life, with the single exception that, embracing the
Christian religion, he was baptized "Robert Banneker;" and the record
of his death is thus preserved, in the family Bible: "_Robert Banneker
departed this life, July 'ye_ 10th 1759." Thus it is evident that he
took his wife's surname. Benjamin Banneker was the only child of
Robert and Mary Banneker.
Young Benjamin was a great favorite with his grandmother, who taught
him to read. She had a sincere love of the Sacred Scriptures, which
she did not neglect to inculcate into the youthful heart of her
grandson. In the neighborhood, - at that time an almost desolate
spot, - a school was conducted where the master admitted several
Colored children, with the whites, to the benefits of his
instructions. It was a "pay school," and thither young Banneker was
sent at a very tender age. His application to his studies was equalled
by none. When the other pupils were playing, he found great pleasure
in his books. How long he remained in school, is not known.
His father purchased a farm of one Richard Gist, and here he spent the
remnant of his days.
When young Banneker had obtained his majority, he gave attention to
the various interests of farm-life. He was industrious, intelligent in
his labors, scrupulously neat in the management of his grounds,
cultivated a valuable garden, was gentle in his treatment of
stock, - horses, cows, etc., - and was indeed comfortably situated.
During those seasons of leisure which come to agriculturists, he
stored his mind with useful knowledge. Starting with the Bible, he
read history, biography, travels, romance, and such works on general
literature as he was able to borrow. His mind seemed to turn with
especial satisfaction to mathematics, and he acquainted himself with
the most difficult problems.
He had a taste also for mechanics. He conceived the idea of making a
timepiece, a clock, and about the year 1770 constructed one. With his
imperfect tools, and with no other model than a borrowed watch, it had
cost him long and patient labor to perfect it, to make the variation
necessary to cause it to strike the hours, and produce a concert of
correct action between the hour, the minute, and the second machinery.
He confessed that its regularity in pointing out the progress of time
had amply rewarded all his pains in its construction.
In 1773 Ellicott & Co. built flour-mills in a valley near the banks of
the Patapsco River. Banneker watched the mills go up; and, when the
machinery was set in motion, looked on with interest, as he had a
splendid opportunity of observing new principles of mechanism. He made
many visits to the mills, and became acquainted with their
proprietors; and, till the day of his death, he found in the Ellicotts
kind and helpful friends.
After a short time the Ellicotts erected a store, where, a little
later, a post-office, was opened. To this point the farmers and
gentlemen, for miles around, used to congregate. Banneker often called
at the post-office, where, after overcoming his natural modesty and
diffidence, he was frequently called out in conversations covering a
variety of topics. His conversational powers, his inexhaustible fund
of information, and his broad learning (for those times and
considering his circumstances), made him the connoisseur of that
section. At times he related, in modest terms, the difficulties he was
constrained to encounter in order to acquire the knowledge of books he
had, and the unsatisfied longings he still had for further knowledge.
His fame as a mathematician was already established, and with the
increasing facilities of communication his accomplishments and
achievements were occupying the thought of many intelligent people.
"By this time he had become very expert in the solution of
difficult mathematical problems, which were then, more than
in this century, the amusement of persons of leisure, and
they were frequently sent to him from scholars residing in
different parts of our country who wished to test his
capacity. He is reported to have been successful in every
case, and, sometimes, he returned with his answers,
questions of his own composition conveyed in rhyme."
The following question was propounded to Mr. George Ellicott, and was
solved by Benjamin Hallowell of Alexandria.
"A Cooper and Vintner sat down for a talk,
Both being so groggy, that neither could walk,
Says Cooper to Vintner, 'I'm the first of my trade,
There's no kind of vessel, but what I have made,