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 5 of 57)
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[51] Prichard, pp. 188-219.

[52] Matt. xxiii. 4.

[53] Discours sur la cause physicale de la couleur des nègres.

[54] Earth and Man. Lecture x. pp. 254, 255.

[55] Blumenbach, p. 107.




It is fair to presume that God gave all the races of mankind
civilization to start with. We infer this from the known character of
the Creator. Before Romulus founded Rome, before Homer sang, when
Greece was in its infancy, and the world quite young, "hoary Meroe"
was the chief city of the Negroes along the Nile. Its private and
public buildings, its markets and public squares, its colossal walls
and stupendous gates, its gorgeous chariots and alert footmen, its
inventive genius and ripe scholarship, made it the cradle of
civilization, and the mother of art. It was the queenly city of
Ethiopia, - for it was founded by colonies of Negroes. Through its open
gates long and ceaseless caravans, laden with gold, silver, ivory,
frankincense, and palm-oil, poured the riches of Africa into the
capacious lap of the city. The learning of this people, embalmed in
the immortal hieroglyphic, flowed adown the Nile, and, like spray,
spread over the delta of that time-honored stream, on by the beautiful
and venerable city of Thebes, - the city of a hundred gates, another
monument to Negro genius and civilization, and more ancient than the
cities of the Delta, - until Greece and Rome stood transfixed before
the ancient glory of Ethiopia! Homeric mythology borrowed its very
essence from Negro hieroglyphics; Egypt borrowed her light from the
venerable Negroes up the Nile. Greece went to school to the Egyptians,
and Rome turned to Greece for law and the science of warfare. England
dug down into Rome twenty centuries to learn to build and plant, to
establish a government, and maintain it. Thus the flow of civilization
has been from the East - the place of light - to the West; from the
Oriental to the Occidental. (God fixed the mountains east and west in

"Tradition universally represents the earliest men
descending, it is true, from the high table-lands of this
continent; but it is in the low and fertile plains lying at
their feet, with which we are already acquainted, that they
unite themselves for the first time in natural bodies, in
tribes, with fixed habitations, devoting themselves to
husbandry, building cities, cultivating the arts, - in a
word, forming well-regulated societies. The traditions of
the Chinese place the first progenitors of that people on
the high table-land, whence the great rivers flow: they mike
them advance, station by station as far as the shores of the
ocean. The people of the Brahmins come down from the regions
of the Hindo-Khu, and from Cashmere, into the plains of the
Indus and the Ganges; Assyria and Bactriana receive their
inhabitants from the table-lands of Armenia and Persia.

"These alluvial plains, watered by their twin rivers, were
better formed than all other countries of the globe to
render the first steps of man, an infant still, easy in the
career of civilized life. A rich soil, on which overflowing
rivers spread every year a fruitful loam, as in Egypt, and
one where the plough is almost useless, so movable and so
easily tilled is it, a warm climate, finally, secure to the
inhabitants of these fortunate regions plentiful harvests in
return for light labor. Nevertheless, the conflict with the
river itself and with the desert, - which, on the banks of
the Euphrates, as on those of the Nile and the Indus, is
ever threatening to invade the cultivated lands, - the
necessity of irrigation, the inconstancy of the seasons,
keep forethought alive, and give birth to the useful arts
and to the sciences of observation. The abundance of
resources, the absence of every obstacle, of all separation
between the different parts of these vast plains, allow the
aggregation of a great number of men upon one and the same
space, and facilitate the formation of those mighty
primitive states which amaze us by the grandeur of their

"Each of them finds upon its own soil all that is necessary
for a brilliant exhibition of its resources. We see those
nations come rapidly forward, and reach in the remotest
antiquity a degree of culture of which the temples and the
monuments of Egypt and of India, and the recently discovered
palaces of Nineveh are living and glorious witnesses.

"Great nations, then, are separately formed in each of these
areas, circumscribed by nature within natural limits. Each
has its religion, its social principles, its civilization
severally. But nature, as we have seen, has separated them;
little intercourse is established between them; the social
principle on which they are founded is exhausted by the very
formation of the social state they enjoy, and is never
renewed. A common life is wanting to them: they do not
reciprocally share with each other their riches. With them
movement is stopped: every thing becomes stable and tends to
remain stationary.

"Meantime, in spite of the peculiar seal impressed on each
of these Oriental nations by the natural conditions in the
midst of which they live, they have, nevertheless some grand
characteristics common to all, some family traits that
betray the nature of the continent and the period of human
progress to which they belong, making them known on the one
side as Asiatic, and on the other side as primitive."[56]

Is it asked what caused the decline of all this glory of the primitive
Negro? why this people lost their position in the world's history?
Idolatry! Sin![57]

Centuries have flown apace, tribes have perished, cities have risen
and fallen, and even empires, whose boast was their duration, have
crumbled, while Thebes and Meroe stood. And it is a remarkable fact,
that the people who built those cities are less mortal than their
handiwork. Notwithstanding their degradation, their woes and wrongs,
the perils of the forest and dangers of the desert, this remarkable
people have not been blotted out. They still live, and are multiplying
in the earth. Certainly they have been preserved for some wise
purpose, in the future to be unfolded.

But, again, what was the cause of the Negro's fall from his high state
of civilization? It was forgetfulness of God, idolatry! "Righteousness
exalteth a nation; but sin is a reproach to any people."

The Negro tribes of Africa are as widely separated by mental, moral,
physical, and social qualities as the Irish, Huns, Copts, and Druids
are. Their location on the Dark Continent, their surroundings, and the
amount of light that has come to them from the outside world, are the
thermometer of their civilization. It is as manifestly improper to
call all Africans Negroes as to call, Americans Indians.

"The Negro nations of Africa differ widely as to their
manner of life and their characters, both of mind and body,
in different parts of that continent, according as they have
existed under different moral and physical conditions.
Foreign culture, though not of a high degree, has been
introduced among the population of some regions; while from
others it has been shut out by almost impenetrable barriers,
beyond which the aboriginal people remain secluded amid
their mountains and forests, in a state of instinctive
existence, - a state from which, history informs us, that
human races have hardly emerged, until moved by some impulse
from without. Neither Phoenician nor Roman culture seems to
have penetrated into Africa beyond the Atlantic region and
the desert. The activity and enthusiasm of the propagators
of Islam have reached farther. In the fertile low countries
beyond the Sahara, watered by rivers which descend northward
from the central highlands, Africa has contained for
centuries several Negro empires, originally founded by
Mohammedans. The Negroes of this part of Africa are people
of a very different description from the black pagan
nations farther towards the South. They have adopted many of
the arts of civilized society, and have subjected themselves
to governments and political institutions. They practise
agriculture, and have learned the necessary, and even some
of the ornamental, arts of life, and dwell in towns of
considerable extent; many of which are said to contain ten
thousand, and even thirty thousand inhabitants, - a
circumstance which implies a considerable advancement in
industry and the resources of subsistence. All these
improvements were introduced into the interior of Africa
three or four centuries ago; and we have historical
testimony, that in the region where trade and agriculture
now prevail the population consisted, previous to the
introduction of Islam, of savages as wild and fierce as the
natives farther towards the south, whither the missionaries
of that religion have never penetrated. It hence appears
that human society has not been in all parts of Africa
stationary and unprogressive from age to age. The first
impulse to civilization was late in reaching the interior of
that continent, owing to local circumstances which are
easily understood; but, when it had once taken place, an
improvement has resulted which is, perhaps, proportional to
the early progress of human culture in other more favored
regions of the world."[58]

But in our examination of African tribes we shall not confine
ourselves to that class of people known as Negroes, but call attention
to other tribes as well. And while, in this country, all persons with
a visible admixture of Negro blood in them are considered Negroes, it
is technically incorrect. For the real Negro was not the sole subject
sold into slavery: very many of the noblest types of mankind in Africa
have, through the uncertainties of war, found their way to the horrors
of the middle passage, and finally to the rice and cotton fields of
the Carolinas and Virginias. So, in speaking of the race in this
country, in subsequent chapters, I shall refer to them as _colored
people_ or _Negroes_.


[56] Earth and Man, pp. 300-302.

[57] It is a remarkable fact, that the absence of salt in the food of
the Eastern nations, especially the dark nations or races, has been
very deleterious. An African child will eat salt by the handful, and,
once tasting it, will cry for it. The ocean is the womb of nature; and
the Creator has wisely designed salt as the savor of life, the
preservative element in human food.

[58] Physical History of Mankind, vol. ii. pp. 45, 46.







The vast territory stretching from the Volta River on the west to the
Niger in the Gulf of Benin on the east, the Atlantic Ocean on the
south, and the Kong Mountains on the north, embraces the three
powerful Negro kingdoms of Benin, Dahomey, and Yoruba. From this
country, more than from any other part of Africa, were the people sold
into American slavery. Two or three hundred years ago there were
several very powerful Negro empires in Western Africa. They had social
and political government, and were certainly a very orderly people.
But in 1485 Alfonso de Aviro, a Portuguese, discovered Benin, the most
easterly province; and as an almost immediate result the slave-trade
was begun. It is rather strange, too, in the face of the fact, that,
when De Aviro returned to the court of Portugal, an ambassador from
the Negro king of Benin accompanied him for the purpose of requesting
the presence of Christian missionaries among this people. Portugal
became interested, and despatched Fernando Po to the Gulf of Benin;
who, after discovering the island that bears his name, ascended the
Benin River to Gaton, where he located a Portuguese colony. The Romish
Church lifted her standard here. The brothers of the Society of Jesus,
if they did not convert the king, certainly had him in a humor to
bring all of his regal powers to bear upon his subjects to turn them
into the Catholic Church. He actually took the contract to turn his
subjects over to this Church! But this shrewd savage did not agree to
undertake this herculean task for nothing. He wanted a white wife. He
told the missionaries that he would deliver his subjects to
Christianity for a white wife, and they agreed to furnish her. Some
priests were sent to the Island of St. Thomas to hunt the wife. This
island had, even at that early day, a considerable white population. A
strong appeal was made to the sisters there to consider this matter as
a duty to the holy Church. It was set forth as a missionary
enterprise. After some contemplation, one of the sisters agreed to
accept the hand of the Negro king. It was a noble act, and one for
which she should have been canonized, but we believe never was.

The Portuguese continued to come. Gaton grew. The missionary worked
with a will. Attention was given to agriculture and commerce. But the
climate was wretched. Sickness and death swept the Portuguese as the
fiery breath of tropical lightning. They lost their influence over the
people. They established the slave-trade, but the Church and slave-pen
would not agree. The inhuman treatment they bestowed upon the people
gave rise to the gravest suspicions as to the sincerity of the
missionaries. History gives us the sum total of a religious effort
that was not of God. There isn't a trace of Roman Catholicism in that
country, and the last state of that people is worse than the former.

The slave-trade turned the heads of the natives. Their cruel and
hardened hearts assented to the crime of man-stealing. They turned
aside from agricultural pursuits. They left their fish-nets on the
seashore, their cattle uncared for, their villages neglected, and went
forth to battle against their weaker neighbors. They sold their
prisoners of war to slave-dealers on the coast, who gave them rum and
tobacco as an exceeding great reward. When war failed to give from its
bloody and remorseless jaws the victims for whom a ready market
awaited, they turned to duplicity, treachery, and cruelty. "And men's
worst enemies were those of their own household." The person
suspicioned of witchcraft was speedily found guilty, and adjudged to
slavery. The guilty and the innocent often shared the same fate. The
thief, the adulterer, and the aged were seized by the rapacity that
pervaded the people, and were hurled into the hell of slavery.

Now, as a result of this condition of affairs, the population was
depleted, the people grew indolent and vicious, and finally the empire
was rent with political feuds. Two provinces was the result. One still
bore the name of Benin, the other was called Waree. The capital of the
former contains about 38,000 inhabitants, and the chief town and
island of Waree only contain about 16,000 of a population.

Finally England was moved to a suppression of the slave-trade at this
point. The ocean is very calm along this coast, which enabled her
fleets to run down slave-vessels and make prizes of them. This had a
salutary influence upon the natives. Peace and quietness came as
angels. A spirit of thrift possessed the people. They turned to the
cultivation of the fields and to commercial pursuits. On the river
Bonny, and along other streams, large and flourishing palm-oil marts
sprang up; and a score or more of vessels are needed to export the
single article of palm-oil. The morals of the people are not what they
ought to be; but they have, on the whole, made wonderful improvement
during the last fifty years.


This nation is flanked by Ashantee on the west, and Yoruba on the
east; running from the seacoast on the south to the Kong mountains on
the north. It is one hundred and eighty miles in width, by two hundred
in breadth. Whydah is the principal town on the seacoast. The story
runs, that, about two hundred and seventy-five years ago, Tacudons,
chief of the Foys, carried a siege against the city of Abomey. He made
a solemn vow to the gods, that, if they aided him in pushing the city
to capitulate, he would build a palace in honor of the victory. He
succeeded. He laid the foundations of his palace, and then upon them
ripped open the bowels of Da. He called the building _Da-Omi_, which
meant Da's belly. He took the title of King of Dahomey, which has
remained until the present time. The neighboring tribes, proud and
ambitious, overran the country, and swept Whydah and adjacent places
with the torch and spear. Many whites fell into their hands as
prisoners; all of whom were treated with great consideration, save the
English governor of the above-named town. They put him to death,
because, as they charged, he had incited and excited the people of
Dahomey to resist their king.

This is a remarkable people. They are as cruel as they are cunning.
The entire population is converted into an army: even women are
soldiers. Whole regiments of women are to be found in the army of the
king of Dahomey, and they are the best foot-regiments in the kingdom.
They are drilled at stated periods, are officered, and well
disciplined. The army is so large, and is so constantly employed in
predatory raids upon neighboring tribes, that the consuming element is
greater than the producing. The object of these raids was threefold:
to get slaves for human sacrifices, to pour the blood of the victims
on the graves of their ancestors yearly, and to secure human skulls to
pave the court of the king and to ornament the walls about the palace!
After a successful war, the captives are brought to the capital of the
kingdom. A large platform is erected in the great market space,
encircled by a parapet about three feet high. The platform blazes with
rich clothes, elaborate umbrellas, and all the evidences of kingly
wealth and splendor, as well as the spoils taken in battle. The king
occupies a seat in the centre of the platform, attended by his
imperturbable wives. The captives, rum, tobacco, and cowries are now
ready to be thrown to the surging mob below. They have fought
gallantly, and now clamor for their reward. "Feed us, king!" they cry,
"feed us, king! for we are hungry!" and as the poor captives are
tossed to the mob they are despatched without ceremony!

But let us turn from this bloody and barbarous scene. The king is the
most absolute despot in the world. He is heir-at-law to all his
subjects. He is regarded as a demigod. It is unlawful to indicate that
the king eats, sleeps, or drinks. No one is allowed to approach him,
except his nobles, who at a court levee disrobe themselves of all
their elegant garments, and, prostrate upon the ground, they crawl
into his royal presence. The whole people are the cringing
lickspittles of the nobles in turn. Every private in the army is
ambitious to please the king by valor. The king is literally monarch
of all he surveys. He is proprietor of the land, and has at his
disposal every thing animate or inanimate in his kingdom. He has about
three thousand wives.[59] Every man who would marry must buy his
spouse from the king; and, while the system of polygamy obtains
everywhere throughout the kingdom, the subject must have care not to
secure so many wives that it would appear that he is attempting to
rival the king. The robust women are consigned to the military
service. But the real condition of woman in this kingdom is slavery of
the vilest type. She owns nothing. She is always in the market, and
lives in a state of constant dread of being sold. When the king dies,
a large number of his wives are sacrificed upon his grave. This fact
inspires them to take good care of him! In case of death, the king's
brother, then his nephew, and so on, take the throne. An inauguration
generally lasts six days, during which time hundreds of human lives
are sacrificed in honor of the new monarch.

The code of Dahomey is very severe. Witchcraft is punished with death;
and in this regard stalwart old Massachusetts borrowed from the
barbarian. Adultery is punished by slavery or sudden death. Thieves
are also sold into slavery. Treason and cowardice and murder are
punished by death. The civil code is as complicated as the criminal is
severe. Over every village, is a Caboceer, equivalent to our mayor. He
can convene a court by prostrating himself and kissing the ground. The
court convenes, tries and condemns the criminal. If it be a death
sentence, he is delivered to a man called the Milgan, or equivalent to
our sheriff, who is the ranking officer in the state. If the criminal
is sentenced to slavery, he is delivered to the Mayo, who is second in
rank to the Milgan, or about like our turnkey or jailer. All sentences
must be referred to the king for his approval; and all executions take
place at the capital, where notice is given of the same by a public
crier in the market-places.

The revenue system of this kingdom is oppressive. The majority of
slaves taken in war are the property of the king. A tax is levied on
each person or slave exported from the kingdom. In relation to
domestic commerce, a tax is levied on every article of food and
clothing. A custom-service is organized, and the tax-collectors are
shrewd and exacting.

The religion of the people is idolatry and fetich, or superstition.
They have large houses where they worship snakes; and so great is
their reverence for the reptile, that, if any one kills one that has
escaped, he is punished with death. But, above their wild and
superstitious notions, there is an ever-present consciousness of a
Supreme Being. They seldom mention the name of God, and then with fear
and trembling.

"The worship of God in the absurd symbol of the lower
animals I do not wish to defend: but it is all that these
poor savages can do; and is not that less impious than to
speak of the Deity with blasphemous familiarity, as our
illiterate preachers often do?"[60]

But this people are not in a hopeless condition of degradation.

"The Wesleyan Missionary Society of England have had a
mission-station at Badagry for some years, and not without
some important and encouraging tokens of success.... The
king, it is thought, is more favorable to Christian missions
now than he formerly was."[61]

And we say Amen!


This kingdom extends from the seacoast to the river Niger, by which it
is separated from the kingdom of Nufi. It contains more territory than
either Benin or Dahomey. Its principal seaport is Lagos. For many
years it was a great slave-mart, and only gave up the traffic under
the deadly presence of English guns. Its facilities for the trade were
great. Portuguese and Spanish slave-traders took up their abode here,
and, teaching the natives the use of fire-arms, made a stubborn stand
for their lucrative enterprise; but in 1852 the slave-trade was
stopped, and the slavers driven from the seacoast. The place came
under the English flag; and, as a result, social order and business

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 5 of 57)