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Professor of History in the University of Michigan











Professor of History in the University of Michigan






THERE were negroes in the region around the Dela
ware river before Pennsylvania was founded, in the
days of the Dutch and the Swedes. As early as 1639
mention is made of a convict sentenced to be taken to
South River to serve among the blacks there. 1 In 1644
Anthony, a negro, is spoken of in the service of Gov
ernor Printz at Tinicum, making hay for the cattle, and
accompanying the governor on his pleasure yacht. 3 In
1657 Vice-director Alricks was accused of using the
Company s oxen and negroes. Five years later Vice-
director Beekman desired Governor Stuyvesant to send
him a company of blacks. In 1664 negroes were wanted
to work on the lowlands along the Delaware. A con
tract was to be made for fifty, which the West India
Company would furnish. 8 In the same year, when the

1 Breviate. Dutch Records, no. 2, fol. 5. In 2 Pennsylvania Archives,
XVI, 234. Cf. Hazard, Annals of Pennsylvania, 49. The " Proposed
Freedoms and Exemptions for New Netherland," 1640, say, " The Com
pany shall exert itself to provide the Patroons and Colonists, on their
order with as many Blacks as possible "... 2 Pa. Arch., V, 74.

2 C. T. Odhner. "The Founding of New Sweden, 1637-1642", trans
lated by G. B. Keen in Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography,
III, 277.

8 Hazard, Annals of Pennsylvania, 331; O Callaghan, Documents rela
tive to the Colonial History of the State of New York, II, 213, 214. The
Report of the Board of Accounts on New Netherland, Dec. 15, 1644, had
spoken of the need of negroes, the economy of their labor, and had rec
ommended the importation of large numbers. 2 Pa. Arch., V, 88. See
also Davis, History of Bucks County, 793.



English captured New Amstel, afterward New Castle,
the place was plundered, and a number of negroes were
confiscated and sold. From Peter Alricks several were
taken ; of these eleven were restored to him. 4 At least a
few were living on the shores of the Delaware River in
1 677." A year later an emissary was sent by the jus
tices of New Castle to request most urgently permission
to import negroes from Maryland. 8

Thus negroes had been brought into the country be
fore Pennsylvania was founded. Immediately after
Penn s coming there is record of them in his first
counties. They were certainly present in Philadelphia
County in 1684, and in Chester in 1687. Penn himself
noticed them in his charter to the Free Society of
Traders. In 1702 they were spoken of as numerous."
By that time merchants of Philadelphia made the im-

* 2 Pa. Arch., XVI, 255, 256; Hazard, Annals of Pennsylvania, 372. Sir
Robert Carr, writing to Colonel Nicholls, Oct. 13, 1664, says, " I have
already sent into Merryland some Neegars w c h did belong to the late
Governor att his plantation above "... 2 Pa. Arch., V, 578.

5 The Records of the Court of New Castle give a list of the " Names of
the Tijdable prsons Living in this Courts Jurisdiction " in which occur
" three negros": " i negro woman of Mr. Moll ", " i neger of Mr. Al-
richs ", " Sam Hedge and neger ". Book A, 197-201. Quoted in Pa. Mag.,
Ill, 352-354. For the active trade in negroes at this time cf. MS. Board
of Trade Journals, II, 307.

6 " Wth out wch wee cannot subsist "... MS. New Castle Court
Records, Liber A, 406. Hazard, Annals, 456.

7 " Ik hebbe geen vaste Dienstbode, als een Neger die ik gekocht heb."
Missive van Cornells Bom, Geschreven uit de Stadt Philadelphia, etc., 3.
(Oct. 12, 1684). " Man hat hier auch Zwartzen oder Mohren zu Schlaven
in der Arbeit." Letter, probably of Hermans Op den Graeff, German-
town, Feb. 12, 1684, in Sachse, Letters relating to the Settlement of
Germantown, 25. Cf. also MS. in American Philosophical Society s col
lection, quoted in Pa. Mag., VII, 106: " Lacey Cocke hath A negroe "
. . . , " Pattrick Robbinson-Robert neverbeegood his negor sarvant "...
" The Defendts negros " are mentioned in a suit for damages in 1687.
See MS. Court Records of Penna. and Chester Co., 1681-1688, p. 72.

8 MS. Ancient Records of Philadelphia, 28 7th mo., 1702.


portation of negroes a regular part of their business.
Thenceforth they are a noticeable factor in the life of
the colony.

While there was an active demand for negroes, there
was, nevertheless, almost from the first, strong opposi
tion to importing them. This is evident from the fact
that during the colonial period the Assembly of Pennsyl
vania passed a long series of acts imposing restrictions
upon the traffic. In 1700 a maximum duty of twenty
shillings was imposed on each negro imported. Five years
later this duty was doubled. 10 By that time there had
arisen a strong adverse sentiment, due partly to economic
causes, since the white workmen complained that their
wages were lowered by negro competition, and partly
to fear aroused by an insurrection of slaves in New
York." Accordingly in 1712 the Assembly very boldly
passed an act to prevent importation, seeking to accom
plish this purpose by making the duty twenty pounds
a head. The law was immediately repealed in England,
the Crown not being disposed to tolerate such independ
ent action, nor willing to allow interference with the
African Company s trade. 12 Either the local feeling was
too strong, or the requirements were less, since in spite
of this failure there was for a while a falling off in the

8 MS. William Trent s Ledger, 156. For numerous references to ne
groes brought from Barbadoes, see MS. Booke of acc tts Relating to the
Barquentine Constant Ailse And w : Dykes mast r : from Marfth 2jth 1700
( 1702). (Pa. State Lib.)

10 Statutes at Large of Pennsylvania (edited by J. T. Mitchell and
Henry Flanders), II, 107. Ibid., II, 285. The act of 1705-1706 was re
peated in 1710-1711. Ibid., II, 383. Cf. Colonial Records of Pennsylvania,
II. 529, 530.

11 Votes and Proceedings of the House of Representatives of the Prov
ince of Pennsylvania, I, pt. II, 132. Stat. at L., II, 433.

13 MS. Board of Trade Papers, Proprieties, IX, Q, 39, 42. Stat. at L.,
II, 543, 544-


number imported. 13 A more moderate duty of five
pounds was imposed in 1715, but again the English
authorities interposed, repealing it in 1719. Meanwhile
an act to continue this duty had been passed in 1717-
1718, but apparently it was not submitted to the Crown.
In 1720-1721 the five pound duty was again imposed,
this act also not being submitted. In 1722 the duty was
repeated, and once more the law expired by limitation
before it was sent up for approval."

Up to this time restrictive legislation had been largely
frustrated. It had encountered not only the disapproval
of certain classes in Pennsylvania, but the powerful
opposition of the African Company, which could count
on the decisive interposition of the Lords of Trade. 18
The Assembly accordingly submitted the acts long after
they had been passed, and made new laws before the
old ones had been disallowed. 16 Nevertheless the number

13 Jonathan Dickinson, a merchant of Philadelphia, writing to a cor
respondent in Jamaica, 4th month, 1715, says, " I must entreat you to
send me no more negroes for sale, for our people don t care to buy. They
are generally against any coming into the country." I have been unable
to find this letter. Watson, who quotes it (Annals of Philadelphia, II,
264), says, " Vide the Logan MSS." Cf. also a letter of George Tiller
of Kingston, Jamaica, to Dickinson, 1712. MS. Logan Papers, VIII, 47.

u Stat. at L., Ill, 117, 118; MS. Board of Trade Papers, Prop., X, 2,
Q, 159; Stat. at L., Ill, 465; Col. Rec., Ill, 38, 144, 171- During this
period negroes were being imported through the custom-house at the
rate of about one hundred and fifty a year. Cf. Votes and Proceedings,
II, 251.

15 In 1727 the iron-masters of Pennsylvania petitioned for the entire
removal of the duty, labor being so scarce. Votes and Proceedings, 1726-
1742, p. 31. The attitude of the English authorities is explained in a
report of Richard Jackson, March 2, 1774. on one of the Pennsylvania
impost acts. " The Increase of Duty on Negroes in this Law is Mani
festly inconsistent with the Policy adopted by your Lordships and your
Predecessors for the sake of encouraging the African Trade "... Board
of Trade Papers, Prop., XXIII, Z, 54-

18 Votes and Proceedings, II, 152; Col. Rec., II, 572, 573 J i Pa- Arch.,
I, 160-162; Votes and Proceedings, 1766, pp. 45, 46. For a complaint
against this practice cf. " Copy of a Representat* of the Board of Trade
upon some Pennsylvania Laws " (1713-1714). MS. Board of Trade Papers,
Plantations General, IX, K, 35.


of blacks in the colony had steadily increased, and in
1721 was estimated to be somewhere between twenty-
five hundred and five thousand." The wrath of the
white laborers was correspondingly increased, and in
this year they presented to the Assembly a petition
asking for a law to prevent the hiring of blacks. The
Assembly resolved that such a law would be injurious
to the public and unjust to those who owned negroes
and hired them out, but the restrictions on importing
them were maintained. 18 In 1725-1726 the five pound
duty was imposed again, and in the same year five
pounds extra was placed upon every convict negro
brought into the colony. This became law by lapse of
time. 19

In 1729 the duty was reduced to two pounds. This
duty continued in force for a generation, satisfactory
partly because the opposition to importing negroes
seems to have been less strong, partly because white
servants proved to be cheaper and more adapted to in
dustrial demands. 20 The newspaper advertisements an
nounce the arrival of many more cargoes of servants
than of negroes ; this notwithstanding the fact that white
servants frequently ran away, often to enlist in the wars.
Referring to this fact a message from the Assembly to
the governor says that while the King has seemed to de
sire the importation of servants rather than of negroes,

17 O Callaghan, N. Y. Col. Docs., V, 604.

18 Votes and Proceedings, II, 347.

19 Stat. at L. f IV, 52-56, 60; Col. Rec., Ill, 247, 248, 250.

20 Stat. at L., IV, 123-128; Col. Rec., Ill, 359; Smith, History of Dela
ware County, 261. For a while, no doubt, there was a considerable influx.
Ralph Sandiford says (1730), " We have negroes flocking in upon us
since the duty on them is reduced to 40 shillings per head." Mystery of
Iniquity, (2d ed.), 5. Many of these were smuggled in from New
Jersey, where there was no duty from 1721 to 1767. Cooley, A Study of
Slavery in New Jersey, 15, 16.


yet the enlistment acts make such property so pre
carious, that it seems to depend on the will of the servant
and the pleasure of the officer. 21 Nevertheless the num
ber of negroes brought in steadily dwindled. By 1750
importation had nearly ceased. 22

A few years later the great efforts made in the last
French and Indian War caused loud complaints again
about enlisting servants. It was feared that people
would be driven to the necessity of providing themselves
with negro slaves, as property in them seemed more
secure. This is probably just what occurred, for the
increase of negroes is said to have been alarming. 23 As
a result restrictive legislation was tried again in 1761,
when the duty was made ten pounds. The law was
carried only after considerable effort. While the bill
was in the hands of the governor a petition was sent to
him, signed by twenty-four merchants of Philadelphia,
who set forth the scarcity and high price of labor, and
their need of slaves. After two months contest the bill
was passed. One provision of the act was that a new
settler need not pay the duty if he did not sell his slave
within eighteen months. 24 In 1768 this act was renewed.

21 Cargoes of servants are advertised in the American Weekly Mercury,
the Pennsylvania Packet, and the Pennsylvania Gazette, passim. As to
enlistment of servants cf. Mercury, Gazette, Aug. 7, 1740; Col. Rec., IV,
437. Complaint about this had been made as early as 1711. Votes and
Proceedings, II, 101, 103.

22 Smith, History of Delaware County, 261; Peter Kalm, Travels into
North America, etc., (1748), I, 391.

23 Col. Rec., VII, 37, 38.

24 Stat. at L., VI, 104-110; Votes and Proceedings, 1761, pp. 25, 29, 33,
38, 39, 40, 41, 52, 55, 63; Col. Rec., VIII, 575, 576. "The Petition of
Divers Merchants of the City of Philadelphia, To The Honble James
Hamilton Esqr. Lieut. Governor of the Province of Pennsylvania, Hum
bly Sheweth, That We the Subscribers . . . have seen for some time past,
the many inconveniencys the Inhabitants have suffer d, for want of La
bourers, and Artificers, by Numbers being Inlisted for His Majestys


In 1773 it was made perpetual, the former law having
been found to be of great public utility ; but the duty was
raised to twenty pounds. Once more the act became law
by lapse of time. 25

The act of 1773 was the last one which the Assembly
passed to limit the importation of negroes. Not only
was the duty sufficiently high, now, but its presence was
hardly needed. 26 A silent but powerful movement was
overthrowing slavery in Pennsylvania; and in a short
time the outbreak of the Revolutionary War brought
the traffic to an end. Shortly thereafter, in 1780, the
state did what England had never permitted while she
held authority: forbade the importation of slaves en
tirely. 27

The real reason for the passage of these laws is not
always clear. They may have been passed either to keep
negroes out, 28 or to raise revenue for the govern-

Service and near a total stop to the importation of German and other
white Servants, have for some time encouraged the importation of
Negros, . . . that an advantage may be gain d by the Introduction of
Slaves, w c h will likewise be a means of reduceing the exorbitant Price of
Labour, and in all Probability bring our staple Commoditys to their usual
Prices." MS. Provincial Papers, XXV, March i, 1761.

25 Stat. at L., VII, 158, 159; VIII, 330-332; Col. Rec., IX, 400, 401,
443, ff.; X, 72, 77. The Board of Trade Journals, LXXXII, 47, (May
5, 1774), say that their lordships had some discourse with Dr. Franklin
" upon the objections ... to ... imposing Duties amounting to a pro
hibition upon the Importation of Negroes."

26 Cf. MS. Provincial Papers, XXXII, January, 1775.

27 Stat. at L., X, 72, 73. It was forbidden by implication rather than
specific regulation. It had been foreseen that an act for gradual abolition
entailed stopping the importation of negroes. Pa. Packet, Nov. 28, 1778;
i Pa. Arch., VII, 79-

28 Professor E. P. Cheyney in an article written some years ago (" The
Condition of Labor in Early Pennsylvania, I. Slavery," in The Manufac-
urer, Feb. 2, 1891, p. 8) considers these laws to have been restrictive in
purpose, and gives three causes for their passage, in the following order
of importance: (a) dread of slave insurrections, (b) opposition of the
free laboring classes to slave competition, (c) conscientious objections. I


ment. 28 An analysis of the laws themselves seems to
show that both of these purposes were constantly in
mind. 30 When, however, they are taken in connection
with matters which they themselves do not mention,
namely, the predominance of the Quakers in the colonial
Assembly together with the abhorrence which they felt
for the slave-trade and later for slavery itself, 31 it be-

cannot think that this is correct, (a) seems to have been the impelling
motive only in connection with the law of 1712, and seems rarely to have
been thought of. It was urged in 1740, 1741, and 1742, when efforts were
being made to pass a militia law in Pennsylvania, but it attracted little
attention. Cf. MS. Board of Trade Papers, Prop., XV, T: 54, 57, 60.

28 In a MS. entitled " William Penn s Memorial to the Lords of Trade
relating to several laws passed in Pensilvania," assigned to the year 1690
in the collection of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, but probably
belonging to a later period, is the following: " These . . . Acts ... to Raise
money ... to defray publick Exigences in such manner as after a Mature
deliberacon they thought would not be burthensom particularly in the Act
for laying a Duty on Negroes "... MS. Pa. Miscellaneous Papers, 1653-
1724, p. 24.

80 1700. 20 shillings for negroes over sixteen years of age, 6 for those
under sixteen. No cause given. Apparently (terms of the act) revenue.
1705-1706. 40 shillings a draw-back of one half if the negro be re-
exported within six months. Apparently revenue. 1710. 40 shillings
excepting those imported by immigrants for their own use, and not sold
within a year. Almost certainly (preamble) re-venue. 1712. 20 pounds.
The causes were a dread of insurrection because of the negro uprising
in New York, and the Indians dislike of the importation of Indian
slaves. Purpose undoubtedly restriction. 1715. 5 pounds. Apparently
(character of the provisions) restriction and revenue. 1717-1718. 5
pounds. To continue the preceding. Restriction and revenue. 1720-
1721. 5 pounds. To continue the preceding. Revenue (preamble) and
restriction. 1722. 5 pounds. To continue provisions of previous acts.
Revenue and restriction. 1725-1726. 5 pounds. Revenue and restric
tion. 1729. 2 pounds. Reduction made probably because since 1712 none
of the laws had been allowed to stand for any length of time, and because
there had been much smuggling. Revenue and restriction. 1761. 10
pounds. No cause given for the increase. Restriction and revenue.
1768. Preceding continued " of public utility." Restriction and reve
nue. 1773. Preceding made perpetual "of great public utility"
but duty raised to 20 pounds. Restriction. Cf. Stat. at L., II, 107, 285,
383, 433J HI, "7, 159, 238, 275; IV, 52, 123; VI, 104; VII, 158; VIII,

81 See below, chapters IV and V.


comes probable that the predominant motive was restric
tion. 82 It is also probable that while the obtaining of
revenue was the obvious motive in many of these acts,
yet revenue was so raised precisely because Pennsylva
nia desired to keep negroes out; that imported slaves
were taxed largely for reasons similar to those which
caused the Stuarts to tax colonial tobacco, and which
lead modern governments to tax spirituous liquors and
opium. It may be added that Pennsylvania always held,
both in colonial times and afterwards, that England
forced slavery upon her. That there was much justice
in this complaint the failure of the earlier legislation
goes far to sustain. 88

The negroes imported were brought sometimes in
cargoes, more often a few at a time. They came mostly
from the West Indies, many being purchased in Barba-
does, Jamaica, Antigua, and St. Christophers. 84 As a

32 " Man hat besonders in Pensylvanien den Grundsatz angenoramen ihre
Einfiihrung so viel moglich abzuhalten" . . . Achenivall s in Gottingen iiber
Nordamerika und iiber dasige Grosbritannische Colonien aus mundlichen
Nachrichten des Herrn Dr. Franklins . . . Anmerkungen, 24, 25. (About

^Stat. at L., X, 67, 68; i Pa. Arch., I, 306. Cf. Mr. Woodward s
speech, Jan. 19, 1838, Proceedings and Debates of the Convention of the
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, to Propose Amendments to the Consti
tution, etc., X, 1 6, 17.

84 " Aus Pennsylvanien . . . fahren gen Barbadoes, Jamaica und Antego.
Von dar bringen sie zuriick . . . Negros." Daniel Falkner, Curieuse Nach-
richt von Pennsylvania in Norden- America, etc., (1702), 192. For a ne
gro woman from Jamaica (1715), see MS. Court Papers, Philadelphia
County, 1619-1732. Also numerous advertisements in the newspapers.
Mercury, Apr. 17, 1729, (Barbadoes); July 31, 1729, (Bermuda); July
23. 1730, (St. Christophers); Jan. 21, 1739, (Antigua). Oldmixon, speak
ing of Pennsylvania, says, " Negroes sell here . . . very well; but not by the
Ship Loadings, as they have sometimes done at Maryland and Virginia."
(1741.) British Empire in America, etc., (2d ed.), I, 316. Cf. however the
following: "A PARCEL of likely Negro Boys and Girls just arrived in
the Sloop Charming Sally ... to be sold ... for ready Money, Flour or
Wheat "... Advt. in Pa. Gazette, Sept. 4, 1740. For a consignment of
seventy see MS. Provincial Papers, XXVII, Apr. 26, 1766.


rule they were imported by the merchants of Philadel
phia, and, being received in exchange for grain, flour,
lumber, and staves, helped to make up the balance of
trade between Philadelphia and the islands. 85 A few
seem to have been obtained directly from Africa. When
so brought, however, they were found to be unable to
endure the winter cold in Pennsylvania, so that it was
considered preferable to buy the second generation in
the West Indies, after they had become acclimated. 38
Some were brought from other colonies on the main
land, particularly those to the south. At times Penn
sylvania herself exported a few to other places. 31 The
prices paid in the colony naturally fluctuated from time
to time in accordance with supply and demand, and
varied within certain limits according to the age and
personal qualities of each negro. The usual price for
an adult seems to have been somewhere near forty
pounds. 38

35 Cf. MS. William Trent s Ledger, "Negroes" (1703-1708). Isaac
Norris, Letter Book, 75, 76 (1732). For a statement of profit and loss
on two imported negroes, see ibid., 77. In this case Isaac Norris acted as
a broker, charging five per cent. For the wheat and flour trade with
Barbadoes, see A Letter from Doctor More . . . Relating to the . . .
Province of Pennsylvania, 5. (1686).

38 Some were probably brought from Africa by pirates. Cf. MS. Board
of Trade Papers, Prop., Ill, 285, 286; IV, 369; V, 408. The hazard
involved in the purchase of negroes is revealed in the following: " Acco*
of Negroes D r to Tho. Willen 17: io for a New Negro Man ... 15 and
50 Sh. more if he live to the Spring "... MS. James Logan s Account
Book, 91, (1714). As to the effect of cold weather upon negroes, Isaac
Norris, writing to Jonathan Dickinson in 1703, says, . . . "they re So
Chilly they Can hardly Stir fro the fire and Wee have Early beginning
for a hard Wint r ." MS. Letter Book, 1702-1704, p. 109. In 1748 Kalm
says, ..." the toes and fingers of the former " (negroes) " are frequently
frozen." Travels, I, 392.

37 Mercury, Sept. 26, 1723. MS. Penn Papers, Accounts (unbound),
27 3d mo., 1741. Also Calendar of State Papery America and West
Indies, 1697-1698, p. 390; Col. Rec., IV, 515; Pa. Mag., XXVII, 320.

88 A Report of the Royal African Company, Nov. 2, 1680, purports to


As to the number of negroes in Pennsylvania at dif
ferent times during the colonial period almost any esti
mate is at best conjecture. Not only are there few
official reports, but these reports, in the absence of any
definite census, are of little value. 89 Apparently one of
the best estimates was that made in 1721, which stated
the number of blacks at anywhere between 2,500 and
5,000.* In 1751 it was at least widely believed that

show the first cost: " That the Negros cost them the first price 5li: and
4li: 153. the freight, besides 25!! p cent which they lose by the usual
mortality of the Negros." MS. Board of Trade Journals, III, 229. The
selling price had been considered immoderate four years previous. Ibid.,
I, 236. In 1723 Peter Baynton sold " a negroe man named Jemy ... 30
." Loose sheet in Peter Baynton s Ledger. In 1729 a negro twenty-five
years old brought 35 pounds in Chester County. MS. Chester County
Papers, 89. The Moravians of Bethlehem purchased a negress in 1748 for
70 pounds. Pa. Mag., XXII, 503. Peter Kalm (1748) says that a full

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