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Slavery & the slave trade : from Judge Story's charge to the Grand Jury of the U.S. Circuit Court, in Portsmouth, N.H.--May term 1820 online

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Online LibraryUnited States. Circuit Court (1st Circuit)Slavery & the slave trade : from Judge Story's charge to the Grand Jury of the U.S. Circuit Court, in Portsmouth, N.H.--May term 1820 → online text (page 1 of 1)
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Portsmouth, N. H.— May Term 1820.

The existence of Slavery under any shape is so repugnant to
the natural rights of man and the dictates of justice, that it seems
difficult to find for it any adequate justification. It undoubtedly
nad its origin in times of barbarism, and was the ordinary lot of
those conquered in war. It was supposed that the conqueror had a
right to take the life of his captive, and by consequence might well
bind him to perpetual servitude. But the position itself on which
this supposed right is founded, is not true. No man has a right to
kil' his enemy except in cases of absolute necessity ' "-^^ tms abso-
lute necessity ceases to exist even in the estimation of the con-
queror himself, when he has spared the life of his prisoner. And
even, if in such a caso it were possible to contend for the right of
slavery, as to the prisoner himself, it is impossible that it can justly
extend, to his innocent offspring through the whole line of descent.
I forbear however, to touch on this delicate topic, not because it is
not worthy of the most deliberate attention of all of us ; but it
tloes not properly fall within my province on the preseat occasion.
It is to be lamented indeed, that slavery exists in any part of our
country ; but, it should be considered that it is not an evil intro-
duced in the present age. It has been entailed upon a part of
Dur country by their ancestors ; and to provide a safe and just
remedy for its gradual abolition, is undoubtedly as much the
design of many of the present owners of slaves, as of those phi-
lanthropists vv-io have laboitd with so much zcaJ t. -.3 ueueiu'.encc
to effect their emancipation. It is indeed one of the many bles-
sings, which we have derived from Christianity, that it prepared the
way for a gradual abolition of slavery, so that at the close of the
twelfth century it was greatly diminished in the west of Europe ;
and it is one of the stains on the human character, that the revival
of letters and of commerce brought with it an unnatural lust of
gain, and with it the plunder and slavery of the wretched

To our country belongs tlie honor as a nation, ol' having set the
first example of prohibiting the further progress of this inhuman
traffic. The constitution of ihe United States, having granted to
Congress the power to regulate foreign commerce, imposed a
restriction for a limited period, upon its right of prohibiting the
migration or importation of slaves. Notwithstanding this, Con-
gress with a promptitude, which does honor to their humanity and
wisdom, proceeded in 1794 to pass a law to prohibit the traffic of
slaves by our citizens in all cases not within the reach of the con-
stitutional restriction ; and thus cut oft' the whole traffic between
foreign ports. In the year 1800 an additional law was passed to
enforce the former enactments ; and in the year 1807, (the epoch,
when the constitutional restriction was to cease, beginning with
the ensuing year) a general ])rohibition of the traffic as well in
our domestic as foreign trade, was proudly incorporated into our
statute book. About the same period the British Government,
after tlie most severe opposition from slave dealers and their West
Indian friends, achieved a similar measure and enacted general
prohibition of the trade as well to foreign ports as to their colonies.
This act was indeed the triumph of virtue, of reason and of
humanity over the hard-heartedness of avarice; and while it was
adorned by the brilliant talents of Pitt, Fox, Romilly and Wilbcr-
force, let us never forget that its success was principally owing to
the modest but persevering labors of the Quakers, and above all to
the resolute patipnce and noble philanthropy of a man immortalized
by his virtues, the intrepid Thomas Clarkson.

It is a most cheering circunjstance that the examples of the
United States and Great Britain in thus abolishing the Slave trade,
have, through the strenuous exertions of the latter, been generally
approved throughout the continent of Europe. The Government
of Great Britain has indeed employed the most indefatigable and
persevering diligence to accomplish this desiiable object; and
treaties have been made by her with all the principal foreign pow-
ers, providing for a total abolition of the trade within a very short
period. May America not be behind her in this glorious work ;
but by a generous competition in various deeds restore the degrad-
ed African to his natural rights, and strike his manacles from the
bloody hands of his oppressors.

By our laws it is made an offi?nce for any person to import or
bring, in any manner whatsoever, into the United States, or its
territories from any foreign country, any negro, mulatto, or person
of color with intent to hold, sell or dispose of him as a slave, or to
be held to service or labor. It is also made an offence ibr any
citizen or other person as master, owner or factor, to build, fit,
equip, load or otherwise prepare any vessel in any of our ports, or
to cause any vessel to sail from any port whatsoever for the pur-
pose of procuring any negro, mulatto, or person of color from any
foreign country to be transported to any port or place whatsoever.

Id be held, sold or disposed of, as a slave, or to he held to service
or labor. It is also made an offence for any citizen or other person
resident icithin our jurisdiction to take on board, receive or trans-
port in any vessel from the Coast of Africa or any other foreign
country, or from sea, any negro, mulatto or person of color not an
inhabitant of, or held to service in the United States, tor the pur-
pose of holding, selling or disposing of such person as a slave, or
to be held to service or labor.

It is also made an offence for any person within our juris-
diction to hold, purchase, sell or otherwise dispose of any negro,
mulatto, or person of color for a slave, or to be held to service or
labor, who shall have been imported into the United States in vio-
lation of our laws — and in general the prohibitions in these cases
extend to all persons who shall abet or aid in these illegal designs.
These offences are visited as well with severe pecuniary and per-
sonal penalties, as with the forfeiture of the vessels and their
equipments, which have been employed in the furtherance of these
illegal projects; and in general a moiety of the pecuniary penal-
ties and forfeitures is given to any person who shall inform against
the offenders and prosecute them to conviction. The President of
the United States is also authorized to employ our armed vessels
and revenue cutters to cruise on the seas for the purpose of arrest-
ing all vessels and persons engaged in this traffic in violation of
our laws; and bounties as well as a moiety of the captured prop-
erty are given to the captors to stimulate them in the discharge of
their duty.

Under such circumstances it might well be supposed that the
Slave Trade would in practice be extinguished; — that virtuous
men would by their abhorrence stay its polluted march, and wick-
ed men would be overawed by its potent punishment. Bui unfor-
tunately- the case is far otherwise. We have but too many melan-
cholly proofs from unquestionable sources, that it is still carried
en with all the implacable ferocity and insatiable rapacity of former
times. Avarice has grown more subtle in its evasion ; and watches
and seizes its prey with an appetite quickened rather than suppres-
sed by its guilty vigils. American citizens are steeped up to their
very mouths (I scarcely use too bold a figure) in this stream of
iniquity. — They throng the coasts of Africa under the stained
flags of Spain and Portugal, sometimes selling abroad "their car-
goes of despair," and sometimes bringing them into some of our
southern ports, and there under the forms of the law defeating the
purposes of the law itself, and legalizing their inhuman but profi-
table adventures. I wish I could say that New England and New
Englandmen were free from this deep pollution. But there is
some reason to believe that they who drive a loathsome traffic,
" and buy the muscles and the bones of men," are to be found
here also. It is to be hoped the number is small ; but our cheeks
may well burn with shame while a solitary case is permitted to go


And, Gentleman, how can we jusdfy ourselves or apolo-
gize for an indifferance to this subject ? Our constitutions of
government have declared that all men are born Iree and equal,
and have certain unalienable rights, among which are the right of
enjoying their lives, liberties and property, and of seeking and
obtaining their own safety and happiness. May not the miserable
African ask " Am I not a man and a brother ?" We boast of our
noble struggle against the encroachments of tyranny, but do we'
forget that it assumed the mildest form in which authority ever
assailed the rights of its subjects, and yet that there are men
among us who think it no wrong to condemn the shivering negro
to perpetual slavery ?

We believe in the Christian religion. It commands us to have
good will to all men ; to love our neighbors as ourselves, and to
do unto all men as we would they should do unto us. It declares
our accountability to the Supreme God for all our actions, and
holds out to us a state of future rewards and punishments as the
sanction by which our conduct is to be regulated. And yet there
are men calling themselves Christians who degrade the negro by
ignorance to a level with the brutes, and deprive him of all the
consolations of religion. He alone of all the rational creation,
they seem to think, is to be at once accountable for his actions,
and yet his actions are not to be at his own disposal ; but his mind,
his body, and his feelings are to be sold to perpetual bondage. —
To me it appears perfectly clear that the slave trade is equally
repugnant to the dictates of roason and religion, and is an offence
equally against the laws of God and man. — Yet strange to tell, one
of the pretences upon which the modern slavery of the African*
was justified, was the " duty of converting the heathen."

I have called this an inhuman trafhc, and, gentlemen, with a
view to enlist your sympathies as well as your judgement in its
suppression, permit me to pass from these cold generalities to some
of those details, which are the ordinary attendants upon this trade.
Here indeed there is no romn for the play of imagination. The rec-
ords of the British Parliament present us a body of evidence on
this subject, taken with the most scrupulous care while the subject
of the abolition was before it; taken too from persons who had
been engaged in, or eye witnesses of the trade ; taken too, year
after year in the presence of those whose hiterests or passions were
most strenuously engaged to oppose it. That it was not contradict-
ed or disapproved, can only be accounted for upon the ground,
that it was the truth and nothing but the truth. What, therefore,
I shall briefly state to you on this subject, will be drawn principally
from those records ; and I am free to confess that great as was my
detestation of the trade, I had no conception until I recently read
an abstract of this evidence, of the vast extent of misery and cru-
elty occasioned by its ravages. And if, gentlemen, this detail
shall awaken your minds to the absolute necessity of constant

vigilance in the enforcement of the laws on this subject, we may
hope that public opinion following these laws, will very soon
extirpate the trade among our citizens.

The number of slaves taken from Africa in 1768 amounted to
104,000; and though the numbers somewhat fluctuated indifferent
years afterwards, yet it is in the highest degree probable that the
average, until the abolition, was not much below 100,000 a year.
England alone in the year 1786> employed 130 ships, and carried
off about 42,000 slaves.

The unhappy slaves have been divided into seven classes. The
most considerable and that which contains at least Aa//" of the whole
number transported, consists of kidnapped people. — This mode of
procuring them includes every species of treachery and knavery. —
Husbands are stolen from their wives, children from their parents,
and bosom friends from each other. So genet ally prevalent are
these robberies, that it is a first principle of the natives not to go
unarmed while a slave ship is on the coast, for fear of being stolen.
The second class of slaves, and that not inconsiderable, consists of
those whose villages have been depopulated for obtaining them. —
The parties employed in these predatory expeditions go out atniglit
and set fire to the villages which they find, and carry off the wretch-
ed inhabitants, thus suddenly thrown into their power as slaves. —
The practice is indeed so common, that the remains of deserted
and burnt villages are every where to be seen on the coast.

The third class of slaves consists of such persons as are said to
have been convicted of crimes, and are sold on this account for
the benefit of their kings ; and it is not uncommon to impute
crimes to them falsely, and to bring on mock trials for the purpose
of bringing them within the reach of the royal traders.

The fourth class includes prisoners of war captured sometimes
in ordinary wars, and sometimes in wars originated for the very
purposes of slavery.

The fifth class comprehends those who are slaves by birth; and
some traders on the coast make a practice of breeding from their
own slaves, for the purpose of selling them, like cattle, when they
are arrived at a suitable age. The sixth class comprehends such
as have sacrificed their liberty to the spirit of gaming ; and the
seventh and last class, are those who being in debt, are seized
according to the laws of the country, and sold to their creditors. —
The two last classes are very inconsiderable, and scarcely deserve

Having lost their liberty in one of the ways already mentioned,
the slaves are conveyed to the banks of the rivers or sea coast. —
Some belong to the neighborhood ; others have lived in distant
parts ; and others are brought a thousand miles from their homes.
Those who come from a distance march in droves or caufles, as
they are called. They are secured from rising or running away
by pieces of wood which attach the necks of two and two together


—or by other pieces whi ;h are I'astened by staples to tlieir arms.—*
Tliey are made to carry their own water and provisions; and are
watched and followed by drivers, who by force compel the weak
to keep up with the strong.

They are sold immediately upon their arrival on the rivers or
coast either to land-factors, at depots for the purpose, or directly to
the ships engaged in the trade. — They are then carried in boats
to the various ships whose Captains have purchased them. The
men are immediately confined two and two together either by the
neck, leg, orarm, v.ith fetters of solid iron. They are then put
into their apartments, the men occupying the forepart, the women
the after part, and tiie boys the middle of the vessel. The tops of
these apartments are grated for the admissionof light and air ; and
the slaves are stowed like any other lumber, occupying only an
allotted portion of room. Many of them, while the ships are wait-
ing for their full lading in sight of their native shore, manifest great
appearance of distress and oppression ; and some instances have
occurred where they have sought relief by suicide, and others
where they have been afflicted with delirium and madness. — In
the day time, if the weather be fine, they are brought upon deck
for air. They are placed in a long row of two and two together, on
each side of the siiip, a long chain is then made to pass through
the shackles of each pair, and by this means each row is secured
to the deck. In this state tliey eat their miserable meals, consisting
of horse beans, rice and yams, with a little pepper and palm oil. —
After their meals, it is a custom to make them jump for exercise as
high as tiieir fetters will allow them : and if they refuse they are
whipped until they comply. This the slave merchants call danc-
injT ; and it would seem literally to be the dance of death.

When the number of slaves is completed, the ships begin what
is called the middle passage, to transport the slaves to the colonies. —
The height of the apartments in the ships is dilferent according to
the size of the vessel, and is from six feet to three feet, so that it is
impossible to stand erect in most of the vessels, and in some scarce-
ly to sit down in the same posture. If the vessel be full, their sit-
uation is truly deplorable. In the best regulated ships, a grown
person is allowed but 10 inches in width, 32 inches in height, and
five feet eleven in length, or to use the expressive language of a
witness, not to so much room as a man has in his cothn. — They
are indeed so crowded below that it is almost impossible to walk
throuo-h the groupes without treading on some of them ; and if they
are reluctant to get into their places they are compelled by the lash
of a whip. — And here their situation becomes wretched beyond
description. — The space between decks where they are confined
often becomes so hot that persons who have visited them there,
have found their shirts so wetted with perspiration that water might
be wrung from them ; and the steam from their confined bodies
comes up through the gratings like a furnace. — The bad effects of

such confinement and want of air are soon visible in tiic \veaknet>«
and faintness which overcomes the unhapp}' victims. Some go
down apparently well at night and are Ibuiid dead in the morning.
Some fivint below and die from suffocation before they can be
brought upon deck. As the slaves, whether well or ill, always lie
upon bare planks, the motion of the ship rubs the flesh from the
prominent parts of their body, and leaves their bones almost bare.
The pestilential breath of so many in so confined a state renders
them also very sickly and the vicissitudes of heat and cold generate
a flux — when this is the case (which happens frequently) the whole
place becomes covered with blood and mucus like a slaughter
house; and as the slaves are fettered and wedged close together,
the utmost disorder arises frem endeavors to relieve themselves in
the necessities of nature : and the disorder is still further increased
by the healthy being not unfrequently chained to the diseased, the
dying and the dead ! ! ! When the scuttles in the ship's sides are
shut in bad weather, the gratings are not sufficient for airing the
room ; and the slaves are then seen drawing their breath with
all that anxious and laborious eftort for life, which we observe in
animals subjected to experiments in foul air or in the exhausted
receiver of an air pump. Many of- them expire in this situation
crying out in their native tongue " We are dying" — During the
time that elapses from the slaves being put on board on the African
coast to their sale in the colonies about one fourth part, or twenty-
five thousand per annum are destroyed — a mortality which may be
easily credited after the preceding statement.

At length the ship arrives at her destined port, and the unhappy
Africans who have survived the voyage are prepared for sale.
Some are consigned to Brokers, who sell them for the ships at pri-
vate sale. With this view they are examined by the planters, who
want them for their fiirms, and in the selection of them, friends and
relations are parted v;ithout any hesitation ; and when they part with
mutual embraces they are separated by a lash. Others are sold at
public auction and become the property of the highest bidder. —
Others are sold by what is denominated a " scramble." In this
case the main and quarter decks of the ship are darkened by sails
hung over them at a convenient height. The slaves are then
brought out of the hold and made to stand in the darkened area".
The purcliasers who are furnished with long ropes, rush at a given
signal within the awning, and endeavor to encircle as many of
them as they can.

Nothing can exceed the terror which the wretched Africans ex-
hibit on these occasions. A universal shriek is immediately
heard — all is consternation and dismay — the men tremble — the
women cling together in each other's arms — some of them faint
away and others are known to expire.

About 20,000 or one fifth part of those who are annually import-
ed die during the " seasoning," which seasoning is said to expire

when Ihe two first years of servitude aie completed. So that of
the whole number about one half perish within two years from their
first captivity. I forbear to trace the subsequent scenes of their
miserable lives worn out in toils, from which they can receive no
profit, and oppressed with wrongs from which ihey can hope for
no relief.

The scenes which I have described are almost literally copied
from the most authentic and unquestionable narratives published
under the highest authority. They present a picture of human
wretchedness and human depravity, which the boldest imagination
would hardly have dared to portray, and from which (one should
think) the most abandoned profligate would shrink with horror. —
Let it be considered that this wretchedness does not arise from the
awful visitations of providence in the shape of plagues, famines or
earthquakes, the natural scourges of mai; kind ; but is inflicted by
man on man from the accursed love of gold. May we not justly
dread the displeasure of that Almighty Being who is the common
father of us all, if we do not by all means within our power en-
deavor to suppress such infamous cruelties. If we cannot like the
good Samaritan bind up the wounds and sooth the miseries of the
friendless Africans, let us not like the Levitepass with sullen indif-
ference on the otlier side. What sight can be more acceptable in
the eyes of heaven than that of good men struggling in the cause
of oppressed humanity? What consolation can be more sweet in
a dying hour, than the recullection that at least one human being
may have been saved from sacrifice by our vigilance in enforcing
the law ?

I make no apology, Gentlemen, for having detained you so long
upon this interesting subject. In vain shall we expend our wealth
in missions abroad for the promotion of Christianity; in vain shall
we rear at home magnificent temples to the service of the most
High ; if we tolerate this traflic, our charity is but a name, and
our religion little more than a faint and delusive shadow.


Online LibraryUnited States. Circuit Court (1st Circuit)Slavery & the slave trade : from Judge Story's charge to the Grand Jury of the U.S. Circuit Court, in Portsmouth, N.H.--May term 1820 → online text (page 1 of 1)