Thomas Clarkson.

The History of the Rise, Progress and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave-Trade, by the British Parliament (1839) online

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Online LibraryThomas ClarksonThe History of the Rise, Progress and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave-Trade, by the British Parliament (1839) → online text (page 29 of 56)
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another, whom they could count upon for this purpose, in their view. The
proposal of sending persons to Africa, and the West Indies, who might
come back and report what they had witnessed, had already been
negatived. The question then was, what they were to do. Upon this they
deliberated, and the result was an application to me to undertake a
journey to different parts of the kingdom for this purpose.

When this determination was made, I was at Teston, writing a long letter
to the privy council on the ill usage and mortality of the seamen
employed in the Slave Trade, which it had been previously agreed should
be received as evidence there. I thought it proper, however, before I
took my departure, to form a system of questions upon the general
subject. These I divided into six tables. The first related to the
productions of Africa, and the dispositions and manners of the natives.
The second, to the methods of reducing them to slavery. The third, to
the manner of bringing them to the ships, their value, the medium of
exchange, and other circumstances. The fourth, to their transportation.
The fifth, to their treatment in the colonies. The sixth, to the seamen
employed in the trade. These tables contained together one hundred and
forty-five questions. My idea was that they should be printed on a small
sheet of paper, which should be folded up in seven or eight leaves, of
the length and breadth of a small almanac, and then be sent in franks to
our different correspondents. These, when they had them, might examine
persons capable of giving evidence, who might live in their
neighbourhoods, or fall in their way, and return us their examinations
by letter.

The committee having approved and printed the tables of questions, I
began my tour. I had selected the southern counties from Kent to
Cornwall for it. I had done this, because these included the great
stations of the ships of war in ordinary; and as these were all under
the superintendence of Sir Charles Middleton, as comptroller of the
navy, I could get an introduction to those on board them. Secondly,
because sea-faring people, when they retire from a marine life, usually
settle in some town or village upon the coast.

Of this tour I shall not give the reader any very particular account. I
shall mention only those things which are most worthy of his notice in
it. At Poole, in Dorsetshire, I laid the foundation of a committee, to
act in harmony with that of London for the promotion of the cause. Moses
Neave, of the respectable society of the Quakers, was the chairman;
Thomas Bell, the secretary; and Ellis B. Metford and the Reverend Mr.
Davis and others the committee. This was the third committee which had
been instituted in the country for this purpose. That at Bristol, under
Mr. Joseph Harford as chairman, and Mr. Lunell as secretary, had been
the first: and that at Manchester, under Mr. Thomas Walker as chairman,
and Mr. Samuel Jackson as secretary, had been the second.

As Poole was a great place for carrying on the trade to Newfoundland, I
determined to examine the assertion of the Earl of Sandwich in the House
of Lords, when he said, in the debate on Sir William Dolben's bill, that
the Slave Trade was not more fatal to seamen than the Newfoundland and
some others. This assertion I knew at the time to be erroneous, as far
as my own researches had been concerned: for out of twenty-four vessels,
which had sailed out of the port of Bristol in that employ, only two
sailors were upon the dead list. In sixty vessels from Poole, I found
but four lost. At Dartmouth, where I went afterwards on purpose, I found
almost a similar result. On conversing, however, with Governor
Holdsworth, I learnt that the year 1786 had been more fatal than any
other in this trade. I learnt that in consequence of extraordinary
storms and hurricanes, no less than five sailors had died and twenty-one
had been drowned in eighty-three vessels from that port. Upon this
statement I determined to look into the muster-rolls of the trade there
for two or three years together. I began by accident with the year 1769,
and I went on to the end of 1772. About eighty vessels on an average had
sailed thence in each of these years. Taking the loss in these years,
and compounding it with that in the fatal year, three sailors had been
lost; but taking it in these four years by themselves, only two had been
lost in twenty-four vessels so employed. On comparison with the Slave
Trade, the result would be, that two vessels to Africa would destroy
more seamen than eighty-three sailing to Newfoundland. There was this
difference also to be noted, that the loss in the one trade was
generally by the weather or by accident, but in the other by cruel
treatment or disease; and that they who went out in a declining state of
health in the one, came home generally recovered; whereas they, who went
out robust in the other, came home in a shattered condition.

At Plymouth I laid the foundation of another committee. The late William
Cookworthy, the late John Prideaux, and James Fox, all of the society of
the Quakers, and Mr. George Leach, Samuel Northcote and John Saunders,
had a principal share in forming it. Sir William Ellford was chosen

From Plymouth I journeyed on to Falmouth, and from thence to Exeter,
where having meetings with the late Mr. Samuel Milford, the late Mr.
George Manning, the Reverend James Manning, Thomas Sparkes, and others,
a desire became manifest among them of establishing a committee there.
This was afterwards effected; and Mr. Milford, who at a general meeting
of the inhabitants of Exeter, on the 10th of June, on this great
subject, had been called by those present to the chair, was appointed
the chairman of it.

With respect to evidence, which was the great object of this tour, I
found myself often very unpleasantly situated in collecting it. I heard
of many persons capable of giving it to our advantage, to whom I could
get no introduction. I had to go after these many miles out of my
established route. Not knowing me, they received me coldly, and even
suspiciously; while I fell in with others, who, considering themselves,
on account of their concerns and connexions, as our opponents, treated
me in an uncivil manner.

But the difficulties and disappointments in other respects which I
experienced in this tour, - even where I had an introduction, and where
the parties were not interested in the continuance of the Slave
Trade, - were greater than people in general would have imagined. One
would have thought, considering the great enthusiasm of the nation on
this important subject, that they who could have given satisfactory
information upon it, would have rejoiced to do it. But I found it
otherwise; and this frequently to my sorrow. There was an aversion in
persons to appear before such a tribunal as they conceived the privy
council to be. With men of shy or timid character this operated as an
insuperable barrier in their way. But it operated more or less upon all.
It was surprising to see what little circumstances affected many. When I
took out my pen and ink to put down the information which a person was
giving me, he became evidently embarrassed and frightened. He began to
excuse himself from staying, by alleging that he had nothing more to
communicate, and he took himself away as quickly as he could with
decency. The sight of the pen and ink had lost me so many good
evidences, that I was obliged wholly to abandon the use of them, and to
betake myself to other means. I was obliged for the future to commit my
tables of questions to memory; and endeavour by practice to put down,
after the examination of a person, such answers as he had given me to
each of them.

Others went off, because it happened that immediately on my interview, I
acquainted them with the nature of my errand and solicited their
attendance in London. Conceiving that I had no right to ask them such a
favour, or terrified at the abruptness and apparent awfulness of my
request some of them gave me an immediate denial, which they would never
afterwards retract. I began to perceive in time that it was only by the
most delicate management that I could get forward on these occasions. I
resolved, therefore, for the future, except in particular cases, that
when I should be introduced to persons who had a competent knowledge of
this trade, I would talk with them upon it as upon any ordinary subject,
and then leave them without saying anything about their becoming
evidences. I would take care, however, to commit all their conversation
to writing when it was over; and I would then try to find out that
person among their relations or friends, who could apply to them for
this purpose, with the least hazard of a refusal.

There were others, also, who, though they were not so much impressed by
the considerations mentioned, yet objected to give their public
testimony. Those whose livelihood, or promotion, or expectations, were
dependent upon the government of the country, were generally backward on
these occasions. Though they thought they discovered in the
parliamentary conduct of Mr. Pitt, a bias in favour of the cause, they
knew to a certainty that the Lord Chancellor Thurlow was against it.
They conceived, therefore, that the administration was at least divided
upon the question, and they were fearful of being called upon, lest they
should give offence, and thus injure their prospects in life. This
objection was very prevalent in that part of the kingdom which I had
selected for my tour.

The reader can hardly conceive how my mind was agitated and distressed
on these different accounts. To have travelled more than two months, - to
have seen many who could have materially served our cause, - and to have
lost most of them, - was very trying. And though it is true that I
applied a remedy, I was not driven to the adoption of it, till I had
performed more than half my tour. Suffice it to say, that after having
travelled upwards of sixteen hundred miles backwards and forwards, and
having conversed with forty-seven persons, who were capable of promoting
the cause by their evidence, I could only prevail upon nine, by all the
interest I could make, to be examined.

On my return to London, whither I had been called up by the committee,
to take upon me the superintendence of the evidence, which the privy
council was now ready again to hear, I found my brother: he was then a
young officer in the navy; and as I knew he felt as warmly as I did in
this great cause, I prevailed upon him to go to Havre de Grace, the
great slave-port in France, where he might make his observations for two
or three months, and then report what he had seen and heard; so that we
might have some one to counteract any false statement of things, which
might be made relative to the subject in that quarter.

At length the examinations were resumed, and with them the contest, in
which our own reputation and the fate of our cause were involved. The
committee for the abolition had discovered, one or two willing evidences
during my absence; and Mr. Wilberforce, who was now recovered from his
severe indisposition, had found one or two others. These, added to my
own, made a respectable body; but we had sent no more than four or five
of these to the council, when the king's illness unfortunately stopped
our career. For nearly five weeks between the middle of November and
January, the examinations were interrupted or put off, so that at the
latter period we began to fear, that there would be scarcely time to
hear the rest; for not only the privy council report was to be printed,
but the contest itself was to be decided by the evidence contained in
it, in the existing session.

The examinations, however, went on; but they went on only slowly, being
still subject to interruption from the same unfortunate cause. Among
others I offered my mite of information again. I wished the council to
see more of my African productions and manufactures, that they might
really know what Africa was capable of affording, instead of the Slave
Trade; and that they might make a proper estimate of the genius and
talents of the natives. The samples which I had collected, had been
obtained by great labour, and at no inconsiderable expense: for whenever
I had notice that a vessel had arrived immediately from that continent,
I never hesitated to go, unless under the most pressing engagements
elsewhere, even as far as Bristol, if I could pick up but a single new
article. The lords having consented, I selected several things for their
inspection out of my box, - of the contents of which the following
account may not be unacceptable to the reader: -

The first division of the box consisted of woods of about four inches
square, all polished. Among these were mahogany of five different sorts,
tulip-wood, satin-wood, cam-wood, bar-wood, fustic, black and yellow
ebony, palm-tree, mangrove, calabash, and date. There were seven woods,
of which the native names were remembered; three of these, Tumiah,
Samain, and Jimlake, were of a yellow colour; Acajoú was of a beautiful
deep crimson; Bork and Quellé were apparently fit for cabinet work; and
Benten was the wood of which the natives made their canoes. Of the,
various other woods the names had been forgotten, nor were they known in
England at all. One of them was of a fine purple; and from two others,
upon which the privy council had caused experiments to be made, a strong
yellow, a deep orange, and a flesh-colour were extracted.

The second, division included ivory and musk; four species of pepper,
the long, the black, the Cayenne, and the Malaguetta; three species of
gum, namely, Senegal, Copal, and ruber astringens; cinnamon, rice,
tobacco, indigo, white and Nankin cotton, Guinea corn, and millet; three
species of beans, of which two were used for food, and the other for
dyeing orange; two species of tamarinds, one for food, and the other to
give whiteness to the teeth; pulse, seeds, and fruits of various kinds,
some of the latter of which Dr. Spaarman had pronounced; from a trial
during his residence in Africa, to be peculiarly valuable as drugs.

The third division contained an African loom, and an African spindle
with spun cotton round it; cloths of cotton of various kinds made by the
natives, some white, but others dyed by them of different colours, and
others in which they had interwoven European silk; cloths and bags made
of grass, and fancifully coloured; ornaments made of the same materials;
ropes made from a species of aloes and others, remarkably strong, from
glass and straw; fine string made from the fibres of the roots of trees;
soap of two kinds; one of which was formed from an earthy substance;
pipe-bowls made of clay, and of a brown red; one of these, which came
from the village of Dakard, was beautifully ornamented by black devices
burnt in, and was besides highly glazed; another brought from Galam, was
made of earth, which was richly impregnated with little particles of
gold; trinkets made by the natives from their own gold; knives and
daggers made by them from our bar-iron; and various other articles, such
as bags, sandals, dagger-cases, quivers, grisgris, all made of leather
of their own manufacture, and dyed of various colours, and ingeniously
sewed together.

The fourth division consisted of the thumb-screw, speculum oris, and
chains and shackles of different kinds, collected at Liverpool. To these
were added, iron neck-collars, and other instruments of punishment and
confinement used in the West Indies, and collected at other places. The
instrument also, by which Charles Horseler was mentioned to have been
killed, in a former chapter, was to be seen among these.

We were now advanced far into February, when we were alarmed by the
intelligence that the lords of the council were going to prepare their
report: At this time we had sent but few persons to them to examine, in
comparison with our opponents, and we had yet eighteen to introduce: for
answers had come into my tables of questions from several places, and
persons had been pointed out to us by our correspondents, who had
increased our list of evidences to this number. I wrote therefore to
them, at the desire of the committee for the abolition, and gave them
the names of the eighteen, and requested also, that they would order,
for their own inspection; certain muster-rolls of vessels from Poole and
Dartmouth, that they might be convinced that the objection which the
Earl of Sandwich had made in the House of Lords, against the abolition
of the Slave Trade, had no solid foundation. In reply to my first
request they informed me, that it was impossible, in the advanced state
of the session, (it being then the middle of March,) that the
examinations of so many could be taken; but I was at liberty, in
conjunction with the Bishop of London, to select eight for this purpose.
This occasioned me to address them again; and I then found, to my
surprise and sorrow, that even this last number was to be diminished;
for I was informed in writing, "that the Bishop of London having laid my
last letter before their lordships, they had agreed to meet on the
Saturday next, and on the Tuesday following, for the purposes of
receiving the evidence of some of the gentlemen named in it. And it was
their lordships' desire that I would give notice to any three of them
(whose information I might consider the most material) of the above
determination, that they might attend the committee accordingly."

This answer, considering the difficulties we had found in collecting a
body of evidence, and the critical situation in which we were, was
peculiarly distressing; but we had no remedy left us, nor could we
reasonably complain. Three therefore were selected, and they were sent
to deliver their testimony on their arrival in town.

But before the last of these had left the council room, who should come
up to me but Dr. Arnold? He had but lately arrived at Bristol from
Africa; and having heard from our friends there that we had been daily
looking for him, he had come to us in London. He and Mr. Gardiner were
the two surgeons, as mentioned in the former chapter, who had promised
me, when I was in Bristol, in the year 1787, that they would keep a
journal of facts during the voyages they were then going to perform.
They had both kept this promise. Gardiner, I found, had died upon the
coast; and his journal, having been discovered at his death, had been
buried with him in great triumph. But Arnold had survived, and he came
now to offer us his services in the cause.

As it was a pity that such correct information as that taken down in
writing upon the spot should be lost (for all the other evidences,
except Dr. Spaarman and Mr. Wadstrom, had spoken from their memory
only), I made all the interest I could to procure a hearing for Mr.
Arnold. Pleading now for the examination of him only, and under these
particular circumstances, I was attended to. It was consented, in
consequence of the little time which was now left for preparing and
printing the report, that I should make out his evidence from his
journal under certain heads. This I did. Mr. Arnold swore to the truth
of it, when so drawn up, before Edward Montague, Esquire, a master in
Chancery. He then delivered the paper in which it was contained to the
lords of the council, who, on receiving it, read it throughout, and then
questioned him upon it.

At this time, also, my brother returned with accounts and papers
relative to the Slave Trade from Havre de Grace; but as I had pledged
myself to offer no other person to be examined, his evidence was lost.
Thus, after all the pains we had taken, and in a contest, too, on the
success of which our own reputation and the fate of Africa depended, we
were obliged to fight the battle with sixteen less than we could have
brought into the field; while our opponents, on the other hand, on
account of their superior advantages, had mustered all their forces, not
having omitted a single man.

I do not know of any period of my life in which I suffered so much, both
in body and mind, as from the time of resuming these public inquiries by
the privy council, to the time when they were closed. For I had my
weekly duty to attend at the committee for the abolition during this
interval. I had to take down the examinations of all the evidences who
came to London, and to make certain copies of these. I had to summon
these to town, and to make provision against all accidents; and here I
was often troubled, by means of circumstances, which unexpectedly
occurred, lest, when committees of the council had been purposely
appointed to hear them, they should not be forthcoming at the time. I
had also a new and extensive correspondence to keep up; for the tables
of questions which had been sent down to our correspondents, brought
letters almost innumerable on this subject, and they were always
addressed to me. These not only required answers of themselves, but as
they usually related to persons capable of giving their testimony, and
contained the particulars of what they could state, they occasioned
fresh letters to be written to others. Hence the writing often of ten or
twelve daily became necessary.

But the contents of these letters afforded the circumstances, which gave
birth to so much suffering. They contained usually some affecting tale
of woe. At Bristol my feelings had been harassed by the cruel treatment
of the seamen, which had come to my knowledge there: but now I was
doomed to see this treatment over again in many other melancholy
instances; and, additionally, to take in the various sufferings of the
unhappy slaves. These accounts I could seldom get time to read till late
in the evening, and sometimes not till midnight, when the letters
containing them were to be answered. The effect of these accounts was in
some instances to overwhelm me for a time in tears, and in others to
produce a vivid indignation, which affected my whole frame. Recovering
from these, I walked up and down the room: I felt fresh vigour, and made
new determinations of perpetual warfare against this impious trade. I
implored strength that I might succeed. I then sat down, and continued
my work as long as my wearied eyes would permit me to see. Having been
agitated in this manner, I went to bed; but my rest was frequently
broken by the visions which floated before me. When I awoke, these
renewed themselves to me, and they flitted about with me for the
remainder of the day. Thus I was kept continually harassed: my mind was
confined to one gloomy and heart-breaking subject for months. It had no
respite, and my health began now materially to suffer.

But the contents of these letters were particularly grievous, on account
of the severe labours which they necessarily entailed upon me in other
ways than those which have been mentioned. It was my duty, while the
privy council examinations went on, not only to attend to all the
evidence which was presented to us by our correspondents, but to find
out and select the best. The happiness of millions depended upon it.
Hence I was often obliged to travel during these examinations, in order
to converse with those who had been pointed out to us as capable of
giving their testimony; and, that no time might be lost, to do this in
the night. More than two hundred miles in a week were sometimes passed
over on these occasions.

The disappointments too, which I frequently experienced in journeys,
increased the poignancy of the, suffering, which arose from a
contemplation of the melancholy cases which I had thus travelled to
bring forward to the public view. The reader at present can have no idea
of these. I have been sixty miles to visit a person, of whom I had
heard, not only as possessing important knowledge, but as espousing our
opinions on this subject. I have at length seen him. He has applauded my
pursuit at our first interview. He has told me, in the course of our
conversation, that neither my own pen, nor that of any other man, could
describe adequately the horrors, of the Slave Trade, horrors which he
himself had witnessed. He has exhorted me to perseverance in this noble
cause. Could I have wished for a more favourable reception! - But mark
the issue. He was the nearest relation of a rich person concerned in the
traffic; and if he were to come forward with his evidence publicly, he
should ruin all his expectations from that Quarter. In the same week I
have visited another at a still greater distance. I have met with
similar applause. I have heard him describe scenes of misery which he

Online LibraryThomas ClarksonThe History of the Rise, Progress and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave-Trade, by the British Parliament (1839) → online text (page 29 of 56)