W.E. B. Du Bois.

The Suppression of the African Slave Trade to the United States of America 1638-1870 online

. (page 1 of 32)
Online LibraryW.E. B. Du BoisThe Suppression of the African Slave Trade to the United States of America 1638-1870 → online text (page 1 of 32)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Produced by Suzanne Shell, Victoria Woosley and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net


Volume I
Harvard Historical Studies


Longmans, Green, and Co.
New York

* * * * *


This monograph was begun during my residence as Rogers Memorial Fellow
at Harvard University, and is based mainly upon a study of the sources,
i.e., national, State, and colonial statutes, Congressional documents,
reports of societies, personal narratives, etc. The collection of laws
available for this research was, I think, nearly complete; on the other
hand, facts and statistics bearing on the economic side of the study
have been difficult to find, and my conclusions are consequently liable
to modification from this source.

The question of the suppression of the slave-trade is so intimately
connected with the questions as to its rise, the system of American
slavery, and the whole colonial policy of the eighteenth century, that
it is difficult to isolate it, and at the same time to avoid
superficiality on the one hand, and unscientific narrowness of view on
the other. While I could not hope entirely to overcome such a
difficulty, I nevertheless trust that I have succeeded in rendering this
monograph a small contribution to the scientific study of slavery and
the American Negro.

I desire to express my obligation to Dr. Albert Bushnell Hart, of
Harvard University, at whose suggestion I began this work and by whose
kind aid and encouragement I have brought it to a close; also I have to
thank the trustees of the John F. Slater Fund, whose appointment made it
possible to test the conclusions of this study by the general principles
laid down in German universities.


March, 1896.

* * * * *



1. _Plan of the Monograph_ 9
2. _The Rise of the English Slave-Trade_ 9


3. _Character of these Colonies_ 15
4. _Restrictions in Georgia_ 15
5. _Restrictions in South Carolina_ 16
6. _Restrictions in North Carolina_ 19
7. _Restrictions in Virginia_ 19
8. _Restrictions in Maryland_ 22
9. _General Character of these Restrictions_ 23


10. _Character of these Colonies_ 24
11. _The Dutch Slave-Trade_ 24
12. _Restrictions in New York_ 25
13. _Restrictions in Pennsylvania and Delaware_ 28
14. _Restrictions in New Jersey_ 32
15. _General Character of these Restrictions_ 33


16. _Character of these Colonies_ 34
17. _New England and the Slave-Trade_ 34
18. _Restrictions in New Hampshire_ 36
19. _Restrictions in Massachusetts_ 37
20. _Restrictions in Rhode Island_ 40
21. _Restrictions in Connecticut_ 43
22. _General Character of these Restrictions_ 44


23. _The Situation in 1774_ 45
24. _The Condition of the Slave-Trade_ 46
25. _The Slave-Trade and the "Association"_ 47
26. _The Action of the Colonies_ 48
27. _The Action of the Continental Congress_ 49
28. _Reception of the Slave-Trade Resolution_ 51
29. _Results of the Resolution_ 52
30. _The Slave-Trade and Public Opinion after the War_ 53
31. _The Action of the Confederation_ 56


32. _The First Proposition_ 58
33. _The General Debate_ 59
34. _The Special Committee and the "Bargain"_ 62
35. _The Appeal to the Convention_ 64
36. _Settlement by the Convention_ 66
37. _Reception of the Clause by the Nation_ 67
38. _Attitude of the State Conventions_ 70
39. _Acceptance of the Policy_ 72


40. _Influence of the Haytian Revolution_ 74
41. _Legislation of the Southern States_ 75
42. _Legislation of the Border States_ 76
43. _Legislation of the Eastern States_ 76
44. _First Debate in Congress, 1789_ 77
45. _Second Debate in Congress, 1790_ 79
46. _The Declaration of Powers, 1790_ 82
47. _The Act of 1794_ 83
48. _The Act of 1800_ 85
49. _The Act of 1803_ 87
50. _State of the Slave-Trade from 1789 to 1803_ 88
51. _The South Carolina Repeal of 1803_ 89
52. _The Louisiana Slave-Trade, 1803-1805_ 91
53. _Last Attempts at Taxation, 1805-1806_ 94
54. _Key-Note of the Period_ 96


55. _The Act of 1807_ 97
56. _The First Question: How shall illegally imported Africans
be disposed of?_ 99
57. _The Second Question: How shall Violations be punished?_ 104
58. _The Third Question: How shall the Interstate Coastwise
Slave-Trade be protected?_ 106
59. _Legislative History of the Bill_ 107
60. _Enforcement of the Act_ 111
61. _Evidence of the Continuance of the Trade_ 112
62. _Apathy of the Federal Government_ 115
63. _Typical Cases_ 120
64. _The Supplementary Acts, 1818-1820_ 121
65. _Enforcement of the Supplementary Acts, 1818-1825_ 126


66. _The Rise of the Movement against the Slave-Trade,
1788-1807_ 133
67. _Concerted Action of the Powers, 1783-1814_ 134
68. _Action of the Powers from 1814 to 1820_ 136
69. _The Struggle for an International Right of Search,
1820-1840_ 137
70. _Negotiations of 1823-1825_ 140
71. _The Attitude of the United States and the State of the
Slave-Trade_ 142
72. _The Quintuple Treaty, 1839-1842_ 145
73. _Final Concerted Measures, 1842-1862_ 148


74. _The Economic Revolution_ 152
75. _The Attitude of the South_ 154
76. _The Attitude of the North and Congress_ 156
77. _Imperfect Application of the Laws_ 159
78. _Responsibility of the Government_ 161
79. _Activity of the Slave-Trade, 1820-1850_ 163


80. _The Movement against the Slave-Trade Laws_ 168
81. _Commercial Conventions of 1855-1856_ 169
82. _Commercial Conventions of 1857-1858_ 170
83. _Commercial Convention of 1859_ 172
84. _Public Opinion in the South_ 173
85. _The Question in Congress_ 174
86. _Southern Policy in 1860_ 176
87. _Increase of the Slave-Trade from 1850 to 1860_ 178
88. _Notorious Infractions of the Laws_ 179
89. _Apathy of the Federal Government_ 182
90. _Attitude of the Southern Confederacy_ 187
91. _Attitude of the United States_ 190


92. _How the Question Arose_ 193
93. _The Moral Movement_ 194
94. _The Political Movement_ 195
95. _The Economic Movement_ 195
96. _The Lesson for Americans_ 196


A. _A Chronological Conspectus of Colonial and State Legislation
restricting the African Slave-Trade, 1641-1787_ 199

B. _A Chronological Conspectus of State, National, and
International Legislation, 1788-1871_ 234

C. _Typical Cases of Vessels engaged in the American Slave-Trade,
1619-1864_ 306

D. _Bibliography_ 316


* * * * *

_Chapter I_


1. Plan of the Monograph.
2. The Rise of the English Slave-Trade.

1. ~Plan of the Monograph.~ This monograph proposes to set forth the
efforts made in the United States of America, from early colonial times
until the present, to limit and suppress the trade in slaves between
Africa and these shores.

The study begins with the colonial period, setting forth in brief the
attitude of England and, more in detail, the attitude of the planting,
farming, and trading groups of colonies toward the slave-trade. It deals
next with the first concerted effort against the trade and with the
further action of the individual States. The important work of the
Constitutional Convention follows, together with the history of the
trade in that critical period which preceded the Act of 1807. The
attempt to suppress the trade from 1807 to 1830 is next recounted. A
chapter then deals with the slave-trade as an international problem.
Finally the development of the crises up to the Civil War is studied,
together with the steps leading to the final suppression; and a
concluding chapter seeks to sum up the results of the investigation.
Throughout the monograph the institution of slavery and the interstate
slave-trade are considered only incidentally.

2. ~The Rise of the English Slave-Trade.~ Any attempt to consider the
attitude of the English colonies toward the African slave-trade must be
prefaced by a word as to the attitude of England herself and the
development of the trade in her hands.[1]

Sir John Hawkins's celebrated voyage took place in 1562, but probably
not until 1631[2] did a regular chartered company undertake to carry on
the trade.[3] This company was unsuccessful,[4] and was eventually
succeeded by the "Company of Royal Adventurers trading to Africa,"
chartered by Charles II. in 1662, and including the Queen Dowager and
the Duke of York.[5] The company contracted to supply the West Indies
with three thousand slaves annually; but contraband trade, misconduct,
and war so reduced it that in 1672 it surrendered its charter to another
company for £34,000.[6] This new corporation, chartered by Charles II.
as the "Royal African Company," proved more successful than its
predecessors, and carried on a growing trade for a quarter of a century.

In 1698 Parliamentary interference with the trade began. By the Statute
9 and 10 William and Mary, chapter 26, private traders, on payment of a
duty of 10% on English goods exported to Africa, were allowed to
participate in the trade. This was brought about by the clamor of the
merchants, especially the "American Merchants," who "in their Petition
suggest, that it would be a great Benefit to the Kingdom to secure the
Trade by maintaining Forts and Castles there, with an equal Duty upon
all Goods exported."[7] This plan, being a compromise between
maintaining the monopoly intact and entirely abolishing it, was adopted,
and the statute declared the trade "highly Beneficial and Advantageous
to this Kingdom, and to the Plantations and Colonies thereunto

Having thus gained practically free admittance to the field, English
merchants sought to exclude other nations by securing a monopoly of the
lucrative Spanish colonial slave-trade. Their object was finally
accomplished by the signing of the Assiento in 1713.[8]

The Assiento was a treaty between England and Spain by which the latter
granted the former a monopoly of the Spanish colonial slave-trade for
thirty years, and England engaged to supply the colonies within that
time with at least 144,000 slaves, at the rate of 4,800 per year.
England was also to advance Spain 200,000 crowns, and to pay a duty of
33½ crowns for each slave imported. The kings of Spain and England were
each to receive one-fourth of the profits of the trade, and the Royal
African Company were authorized to import as many slaves as they wished
above the specified number in the first twenty-five years, and to sell
them, except in three ports, at any price they could get.

It is stated that, in the twenty years from 1713 to 1733, fifteen
thousand slaves were annually imported into America by the English, of
whom from one-third to one-half went to the Spanish colonies.[9] To the
company itself the venture proved a financial failure; for during the
years 1729-1750 Parliament assisted the Royal Company by annual grants
which amounted to £90,000,[10] and by 1739 Spain was a creditor to the
extent of £68,000, and threatened to suspend the treaty. The war
interrupted the carrying out of the contract, but the Peace of
Aix-la-Chapelle extended the limit by four years. Finally, October 5,
1750, this privilege was waived for a money consideration paid to
England; the Assiento was ended, and the Royal Company was bankrupt.

By the Statute 23 George II., chapter 31, the old company was dissolved
and a new "Company of Merchants trading to Africa" erected in its
stead.[11] Any merchant so desiring was allowed to engage in the trade
on payment of certain small duties, and such merchants formed a company
headed by nine directors. This marked the total abolition of monopoly in
the slave-trade, and was the form under which the trade was carried on
until after the American Revolution.

That the slave-trade was the very life of the colonies had, by 1700,
become an almost unquestioned axiom in British practical economics. The
colonists themselves declared slaves "the strength and sinews of this
western world,"[12] and the lack of them "the grand obstruction"[13]
here, as the settlements "cannot subsist without supplies of them."[14]
Thus, with merchants clamoring at home and planters abroad, it easily
became the settled policy of England to encourage the slave-trade. Then,
too, she readily argued that what was an economic necessity in Jamaica
and the Barbadoes could scarcely be disadvantageous to Carolina,
Virginia, or even New York. Consequently, the colonial governors were
generally instructed to "give all due encouragement and invitation to
merchants and others, ... and in particular to the royal African company
of England."[15] Duties laid on the importer, and all acts in any way
restricting the trade, were frowned upon and very often disallowed.
"Whereas," ran Governor Dobbs's instructions, "Acts have been passed in
some of our Plantations in America for laying duties on the importation
and exportation of Negroes to the great discouragement of the Merchants
trading thither from the coast of Africa.... It is our Will and Pleasure
that you do not give your assent to or pass any Law imposing duties upon
Negroes imported into our Province of North Carolina."[16]

The exact proportions of the slave-trade to America can be but
approximately determined. From 1680 to 1688 the African Company sent 249
ships to Africa, shipped there 60,783 Negro slaves, and after losing
14,387 on the middle passage, delivered 46,396 in America. The trade
increased early in the eighteenth century, 104 ships clearing for Africa
in 1701; it then dwindled until the signing of the Assiento, standing at
74 clearances in 1724. The final dissolution of the monopoly in 1750
led - excepting in the years 1754-57, when the closing of Spanish marts
sensibly affected the trade - to an extraordinary development, 192
clearances being made in 1771. The Revolutionary War nearly stopped the
traffic; but by 1786 the clearances had risen again to 146.

To these figures must be added the unregistered trade of Americans and
foreigners. It is probable that about 25,000 slaves were brought to
America each year between 1698 and 1707. The importation then dwindled,
but rose after the Assiento to perhaps 30,000. The proportion, too, of
these slaves carried to the continent now began to increase. Of about
20,000 whom the English annually imported from 1733 to 1766, South
Carolina alone received some 3,000. Before the Revolution, the total
exportation to America is variously estimated as between 40,000 and
100,000 each year. Bancroft places the total slave population of the
continental colonies at 59,000 in 1714, 78,000 in 1727, and 293,000 in
1754. The census of 1790 showed 697,897 slaves in the United States.[17]

In colonies like those in the West Indies and in South Carolina and
Georgia, the rapid importation into America of a multitude of savages
gave rise to a system of slavery far different from that which the late
Civil War abolished. The strikingly harsh and even inhuman slave codes
in these colonies show this. Crucifixion, burning, and starvation were
legal modes of punishment.[18] The rough and brutal character of the
time and place was partly responsible for this, but a more decisive
reason lay in the fierce and turbulent character of the imported
Negroes. The docility to which long years of bondage and strict
discipline gave rise was absent, and insurrections and acts of violence
were of frequent occurrence.[19] Again and again the danger of planters
being "cut off by their own negroes"[20] is mentioned, both in the
islands and on the continent. This condition of vague dread and unrest
not only increased the severity of laws and strengthened the police
system, but was the prime motive back of all the earlier efforts to
check the further importation of slaves.

On the other hand, in New England and New York the Negroes were merely
house servants or farm hands, and were treated neither better nor worse
than servants in general in those days. Between these two extremes, the
system of slavery varied from a mild serfdom in Pennsylvania and New
Jersey to an aristocratic caste system in Maryland and Virginia.


[1] This account is based largely on the _Report of the Lords
of the Committee of Council_, etc. (London, 1789).

[2] African trading-companies had previously been erected
(e.g. by Elizabeth in 1585 and 1588, and by James I. in 1618);
but slaves are not specifically mentioned in their charters,
and they probably did not trade in slaves. Cf. Bandinel,
_Account of the Slave Trade_ (1842), pp. 38-44.

[3] Chartered by Charles I. Cf. Sainsbury, _Cal. State Papers,
Col. Ser., America and W. Indies, 1574-1660_, p. 135.

[4] In 1651, during the Protectorate, the privileges of the
African trade were granted anew to this same company for
fourteen years. Cf. Sainsbury, _Cal. State Papers, Col. Ser.,
America and W. Indies, 1574-1660_, pp. 342, 355.

[5] Sainsbury, _Cal. State Papers, Col. Ser., America and W.
Indies, 1661-1668_, § 408.

[6] Sainsbury, _Cal. State Papers, Col. Ser., America and W.
Indies, 1669-1674_, §§ 934, 1095.

[7] Quoted in the above _Report_, under "Most Material
Proceedings in the House of Commons," Vol. I. Part I. An import
duty of 10% on all goods, except Negroes, imported from Africa
to England and the colonies was also laid. The proceeds of
these duties went to the Royal African Company.

[8] Cf. Appendix A.

[9] Bandinel, _Account of the Slave Trade_, p. 59. Cf. Bryan
Edwards, _History of the British Colonies in the W. Indies_
(London, 1798), Book VI.

[10] From 1729 to 1788, including compensation to the old
company, Parliament expended £705,255 on African companies. Cf.
_Report_, etc., as above.

[11] Various amendatory statutes were passed: e.g., 24 George
II. ch. 49, 25 George II. ch. 40, 4 George III. ch. 20, 5
George III. ch. 44, 23 George III. ch. 65.

[12] Renatus Enys from Surinam, in 1663: Sainsbury, _Cal.
State Papers, Col. Ser., America and W. Indies, 1661-68_, §

[13] Thomas Lynch from Jamaica, in 1665: Sainsbury, _Cal.
State Papers, Col. Ser., America and W. Indies, 1661-68_, §

[14] Lieutenant-Governor Willoughby of Barbadoes, in 1666:
Sainsbury, _Cal. State Papers, Col. Ser., America and W.
Indies, 1661-68_, § 1281.

[15] Smith, _History of New Jersey_ (1765), p. 254; Sainsbury,
_Cal. State Papers, Col. Ser., America and W. Indies,
1669-74_., §§ 367, 398, 812.

[16] _N.C. Col. Rec._, V. 1118. For similar instructions, cf.
_Penn. Archives_, I. 306; _Doc. rel. Col. Hist. New York_, VI.
34; Gordon, _History of the American Revolution_, I. letter 2;
_Mass. Hist. Soc. Coll._, 4th Ser. X. 642.

[17] These figures are from the above-mentioned _Report_, Vol.
II. Part IV. Nos. 1, 5. See also Bancroft, _History of the
United States_ (1883), II. 274 ff; Bandinel, _Account of the
Slave Trade_, p. 63; Benezet, _Caution to Great Britain_, etc.,
pp. 39-40, and _Historical Account of Guinea_, ch. xiii.

[18] Compare earlier slave codes in South Carolina, Georgia,
Jamaica, etc.; also cf. Benezet, _Historical Account of
Guinea_, p. 75; _Report_, etc., as above.

[19] Sainsbury, _Cal. State Papers, Col. Ser., America and W.
Indies, 1574-1660_, pp. 229, 271, 295; _1661-68_, §§ 61, 412,
826, 1270, 1274, 1788; _1669-74_., §§ 508, 1244; Bolzius and
Von Reck, _Journals_ (in Force, _Tracts_, Vol. IV. No. 5, pp.
9, 18); _Proceedings of Governor and Assembly of Jamaica in
regard to the Maroon Negroes_ (London, 1796).

[20] Sainsbury, _Cal. State Papers, Col. Ser., America and W.
Indies, 1661-68_, § 1679.

* * * * *

_Chapter II_


3. Character of these Colonies.
4. Restrictions in Georgia.
5. Restrictions in South Carolina.
6. Restrictions in North Carolina.
7. Restrictions in Virginia.
8. Restrictions in Maryland.
9. General Character of these Restrictions.

3. ~Character of these Colonies.~ The planting colonies are those
Southern settlements whose climate and character destined them to be the
chief theatre of North American slavery. The early attitude of these

Online LibraryW.E. B. Du BoisThe Suppression of the African Slave Trade to the United States of America 1638-1870 → online text (page 1 of 32)