Front Page Titles (by Subject) PART III.: THE Slavery of the Africans IN THE EUROPEAN COLONIES. - An Essay on the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species
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PART III.: THE Slavery of the Africans IN THE EUROPEAN COLONIES. - Thomas Clarkson, An Essay on the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species 
An Essay on the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species, particularly the African, translated from a Latin Dissertation, which was Honoured with the First Prize, in the University of Cambridge, for the Year 1785, with Additions (London: J. Phillips, 1786).
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THE Slavery of the Africans IN THE EUROPEAN COLONIES.
HAVING confined ourselves wholly, in the second part of this Essay, to the consideration of the commerce, we shall now proceed to the consideration of the slavery that is founded upon it. As this slavery will be conspicuous in the treatment, which the unfortunate Africans uniformly undergo, when they are put into the hands of the receivers, we shall describe the manner in which they are accustomed to be used from this period.
To place this in the clearest, and most conspicuous point of view, we shall throw a considerable part of our information on this head into the form of a narrative: we shall suppose ourselves, in short, on the continent of Africa, and relate a scene, which, from its agreement with unquestionable facts, might not unreasonably be presumed to have been presented to our view, had we been really there.
And first, let us turn our eyes to the cloud of dust that is before us. It seems to advance rapidly, and, accompanied with dismal shrieks and yellings, to make the very air, that is above it, tremble as it rolls along. What can possibly be the cause? Let us inquire of that melancholy African, who seems to walk dejected near the shore; whose eyes are stedfastly fixed on the approaching object, and whose heart, if we can judge from the appearance of his countenance, must be greatly agitated.
“Alas!” says the unhappy African, “the cloud that you see approaching, is a train of wretched slaves. They are going to the ships behind you. They are destined for the English colonies, and, if you will stay here but for a little time, you will see them pass. They were last night drawn up upon the plain which you see before you, where they were branded upon the breast with an hot iron; and when they had undergone the whole of the treatment which is customary on these occasions, and which I am informed that you Englishmen at home use to the cattle which you buy, they were returned to their prison. As I have some dealings with the members of the factory which you see at a little distance, (though thanks to the Great Spirit, I never dealt in the liberty of my fellow creatures) I gained admittance there. I learned the history of some of the unfortunate people, whom I saw confined, and will explain to you, if my eye should catch them as they pass, the real causes of their servitude.”
Scarcely were these words spoken, when they came distinctly into fight. They appeared to advance in a long column, but in a very irregular manner. There were three only in the front, and these were chained together. The rest that followed seemed to be chained by pairs, but by pressing forward, to avoid the lash of the drivers, the breadth of the column began to be greatly extended, and ten or more were observed abreast.
While we were making these remarks, the intelligent African thus resumed his discourse. “The first three whom you observe, at the head of the train, to be chained together, are prisoners of war. As soon as the ships that are behind you arrived, the news was dispatched into the inland country; when one of the petty kings immediately assembled his subjects, and attacked a neighbouring tribe. The wretched people, though they were surprized, made a formidable resistance, as they resolved, almost all of them, rather to lose their lives, than survive their liberty. The person whom you see in the middle, is the father of the two young men, who are chained to him on each side. His wife and two of his children were killed in the attack, and his father being wounded, and, on account of his age, incapable of servitude, was left bleeding on the spot where this transaction happened.”
“With respect to those who are now passing us, and are immediately behind the former, I can give you no other intelligence, than that some of them, to about the number of thirty, were taken in the same skirmish. Their tribe was said to have been numerous before the attack; these however are all that are left alive. But with respect to the unhappy man, who is now opposite to us, and whom you may distinguish, as he is now looking back and wringing his hands in despair, I can inform you with more precision. He is an unfortunate convict. He lived only about five days journey from the factory. He went out with his king to hunt, and was one of his train; but, through too great an anxiety to afford his royal master diversion, he roused the game from the covert rather sooner than was expected. The king, exasperated at this circumstance, immediately sentenced him to slavery. His wife and children, fearing lest the tyrant should extend the punishment to themselves, which is not unusual, fled directly to the woods, where they were all devoured.”
“The people, whom you see close behind the unhappy convict, form a numerous body, and reach a considerable way. They speak a language, which no person in this part of Africa can understand, and their features, as you perceive, are so different from those of the rest, that they almost appear a distinct race of men. From this circumstance I recollect them. They are the subjects of a very distant prince, who agreed with the slave merchants, for a quantity of spirituous liquors, to furnish him with a stipulated number of slaves. He accordingly surrounded, and set fire to one of his own villages in the night, and seized these people, who were unfortunately the inhabitants, as they were escaping from the flames. I first saw them as the merchants were driving them in, about two days ago. They came in a large body, and were tied together at the neck with leather thongs, which permitted them to walk at the distance of about a yard from one another. Many of them were loaden with elephants teeth, which had been purchased at the same time. All of them had bags, made of skin, upon their shoulders; for as they were to travel, in their way from the great mountains, through barren sands and inhospitable woods for many days together, they were obliged to carry water and provisions with them. Notwithstanding this, many of them perished, some by hunger, but the greatest number by fatigue, as the place from whence they came, is at such an amazing distance from this, and the obstacles, from the nature of the country, so great, that the journey could scarcely be completed in seven moons.”
When this relation was finished, and we had been looking stedfastly for some time on the croud that was going by, we lost sight of that peculiarity of feature, which we had before remarked. We then discovered that the inhabitants of the depopulated village had all of them passed us, and that the part of the train, to which we were now opposite, was a numerous body of kidnapped people. Here we indulged our imagination. We thought we beheld in one of them a father, in another an husband, and in another a son, each of whom was forced from his various and tender connections, and without even the opportunity of bidding them adieu. While we were engaged in these and other melancholy reflections, the whole body of slaves had entirely passed us. We turned almost insensibly to look at them again, when we discovered an unhappy man at the end of the train, who could scarcely keep pace with the rest. His feet seemed to have suffered much from long and constant travelling, for he was limping painfully along.
“This man, resumes the African, has travelled a considerable way. He lived at a great distance from hence, and had a large family, for whom he was daily to provide. As he went out one night to a neighbouring spring, to procure water for his thirsty children, he was kidnapped by two slave hunters, who sold him in the morning to some country merchants for a bar of iron. These drove him with other slaves, procured almost in the same manner, to the nearest market, where the English merchants, to whom the train that has just now passed us belongs, purchased him and two others, by means of their travelling agents, for a pistol. His wife and children have been long waiting for his return. But he is gone for ever from their sight: and they must be now disconsolate as they must be certain by his delay, that he has fallen into the hands of the Christians.
“And now, as I have mentioned the name of Christians, a name, by which the Europeans distinguish themselves from us, I could wish to be informed of the meaning which such an appellation may convey. They consider themselves as men, but us unfortunate Africans, whom they term Heathens, as the beasts that serve us. But ah! how different is the fact! What is Christianity, but a system of murder and oppression? The cries and yells of the unfortunate people, who are now soon to embark for the regions of servitude, have already pierced my heart. Have you not heard me sigh, while we have been talking? Do you not see the tears that now trickle down my cheeks? and yet these hardened Christians are unable to be moved at all: nay, they will scourge them amidst their groans, and even smile, while they are torturing them to death. Happy, happy Heathenism! which can detest the vices of Christianity, and feel for the distresses of mankind.”
“But” we reply, “You are totally mistaken: Christianity is the most perfect and lovely of moral systems. It blesses even the hand of persecution itself, and returns good for evil. But the people against whom you so justly declaim, are not Christians. They are infidels. They are monsters. They are out of the common course of nature. Their countrymen at home are generous and brave. They support the sick, the lame, and the blind. They fly to the succour of the distressed. They have noble and stately buildings for the sole purpose of benevolence. They are in short, of all nations, the most remarkable for humanity and justice.”
“But why then,” replies the honest African, “do they suffer this? Why is Africa a scene of blood and desolation? Why are her children wrested from her, to administer to the luxuries and greatness of those whom they never offended? And why are these dismal cries in vain?”
“Alas!” we reply again, “can the cries and groans, with which the air now trembles, be heard across this extensive continent? Can the southern winds convey them to the ear of Britain? If they could reach the generous Englishman at home, they would pierce his heart, as they have already pierced your own. He would sympathize with you in your distress. He would be enraged at the conduct of his countrymen, and resist their tyranny.”—
But here a shriek unusually loud, accompanied with a dreadful rattling of chains, interrupted the discourse. The wretched Africans were just about to embark: they had turned their face to their country, as if to take a last adieu, and, with arms uplifted to the sky, were making the very atmosphere resound with their prayers and imprecations.
The foregoing scene, though it may be said to be imaginary, is strictly consistent with fact. It is a scene, to which the reader himself may have been witness, if he has ever visited the place, where it is supposed to lie; as no circumstance whatever has been inserted in it, for which the fullest and most undeniable evidence cannot be produced. We shall proceed now to describe, in general terms, the treatment which the wretched Africans undergo, from the time of their embarkation.
When the African slaves, who are collected from various quarters, for the purposes of sale, are delivered over to the receivers, they are conducted in the manner above described to the ships. Their situation on board is beyond all description: for here they are crouded, hundreds of them together, into such a small compass, as would scarcely be thought sufficient to accommodate twenty, if considered as free men. This confinement soon produces an effect, that may be easily imagined. It generates a pestilential air, which, co-operating with bad provisions, occasions such a sickness and mortality among them, that not less than *twenty thousand are generally taken off in every yearly transportation.
Thus confined in a pestilential prison, and almost entirely excluded from the chearful face of day, it remains for the sickly survivors to linger out a miserable existence, till the voyage is finished. But are no farther evils to be expected in the interim particularly if we add to their already wretched situation the indignities that are daily offered them, and the regret which they must constantly feel, at being for ever forced from their connexions? These evils are but too apparent. Some of them have resolved, and, notwithstanding the threats of the receivers, have carried their resolves into execution, to starve themselves to death. Others, when they have been brought upon deck for air, if the least opportunity has offered, have leaped into the sea, and terminated their miseries at once. Others, in a fit of despair, have attempted to rise, and regain their liberty. But here what a scene of barbarity has constantly ensued. Some of them have been instantly killed upon the spot; some have been taken from the hold, have been bruised and mutilated in the most barbarous and shocking manner, and have been returned bleeding to their companions, as a sad example of resistance; while others, tied to the ropes of the ship, and mangled alternately with the whip and knife, have been left in that horrid situation, till they have expired.
But this is not the only inhuman treatment which they are frequently obliged to undergo; for if there should be any necessity, from tempestuous weather, for lightening the ship; or if it should be presumed on the voyage, that the provisions will fall short before the port can be made, they are, many of them, thrown into the sea, without any compunction of mind on the part of the receivers, and without any other regret for their loss, than that which avarice inspires. Wretched survivors! what must be their feelings at such a sight! how must they tremble to think of that servitude which is approaching, when the very dogs of the receivers have been retained on board, and preferred to their unoffending countrymen. But indeed so lightly are these unhappy people esteemed, that their lives have been even taken away upon speculation: there has been an instance,* within the last five years, of one hundred and thirty two of them being thrown into the sea, because it was supposed that, by this trick, their value could be recovered from the insurers.
But if the ship should arrive safe at its destined port, a circumstance which does not always happen, (for some have been blown up, and many lost) the wretched Africans do not find an alleviation of their sorrow. Here they are again exposed to sale. Here they are again subjected to the inspection of other brutal receivers, who examine and treat them with an inhumanity, at which even avarice should blush. To this mortifying circumstance is added another, that they are picked out, as the purchaser pleases, without any consideration whether the wife is separated from her husband, or the mother from her son: and if these cruel instances of separation should happen; if relations, when they find themselves about to be parted, should cling together; or if filial, conjugal, or parental affection, should detain them but a moment longer in each other’s arms, than these second receivers should think sufficient, the lash instantly severs them from their embraces.
We cannot close our account of the treatment, which the wretched Africans undergo while in the hands of the first receivers, without mentioning an instance of wanton barbarity, which happened some time ago; particularly as it may be inserted with propriety in the present place, and may give the reader a better idea of the cruelties, to which they are continually exposed, than any that he may have yet conceived. To avoid making a mistake, we shall take the liberty that has been allowed us, and transcribe it from a little manuscript account, with which we have been favoured by a * person of the strictest integrity, and who was at that time in the place where the transaction happened. “Not long after,” says he, (continuing his account) “the perpetrator of a cruel murder, committed in open day light, in the most publick part of a town, which was the seat of government, escaped every other notice than the curses of a few of the more humane witnesses of his barbarity. An officer of a Guinea ship, who had the care of a number of new slaves, and was returning from the sale-yard to the vessel with such as remained unsold, observed a stout fellow among them rather slow in his motions, which he therefore quickened with his rattan. The slave soon afterwards fell down, and was raised by the same application. Moving forwards a few yards, he fell down again; and this being taken as a proof of his sullen perverse spirit, the enraged officer furiously repeated his blows till he expired at his feet. The brute coolly ordered some of the surviving slaves to carry the dead body to the water’s side, where, without any ceremony or delay, being thrown into the sea, the tragedy was supposed to have been immediately finished by the not more inhuman sharks, with which the harbour then abounded. These voracious fish were supposed to have followed the vessels from the coast of Africa, in which ten thousand slaves were imported in that one season, being allured by the stench, and daily fed by the dead carcasses thrown overboard on the voyage.”
If the reader should observe here, that cattle are better protected in this country, than slaves in the colonies, his observation will be just. The beast which is driven to market, is defended by law from the goad of the driver; whereas the wretched African, though an human being, and whose feelings receive of course a double poignancy from the power of reflection, is unnoticed in this respect in the colonial code, and may be goaded and beaten till he expires.
We may now take our leave of the first receivers. Their crime has been already estimated; and to reason farther upon it, would be unnecessary. For where the conduct of men is so manifestly impious, there can be no need, either of a single argument or a reflection; as every reader of sensibility will anticipate them in his own feelings.
When the wretched Africans are thus put into the hands of the second receivers, they are conveyed to the plantations, where they are totally considered as cattle, or beasts of labour; their very children, if any should be born to them in that situation, being previously destined to the condition of their parents. But here a question arises, which will interrupt the thread of the narration for a little time, viz. how far their descendants, who compose the fifth order of slaves, are justly reduced to servitude, and upon what principles the receivers defend their conduct.
Authors have been at great pains to inquire, why, in the ancient servitude, the child has uniformly followed the condition of the mother. But we conceive that they would have saved themselves much trouble, and have done themselves more credit, if instead of endeavouring to reconcile the custom with heathen notions, or their own laboured conjectures, they had shewn its inconsistency with reason and nature, and its repugnancy to common justice. Suffice it to say, that the whole theory of the ancients, with respect to the descendants of slaves, may be reduced to this principle, “that as the parents, by becoming property, were wholly considered as cattle, their children, like the progeny of cattle, inherited their parental lot.”
Such also is the excuse of the tyrannical receivers before-mentioned. They allege, that they have purchased the parents, that they can sell and dispose of them as they please, that they possess them under the same laws and limitations as their cattle, and that their children, like the progeny of these, become their property by birth.
But the absurdity of the argument will immediately appear. It depends wholly on the supposition, that the parents are brutes. If they are brutes, we shall instantly cease to contend: if they are men, which we think it not difficult to prove, the argument must immediately fall, as we have already shewn that there cannot justly be any property whatever in the human species.
It has appeared also, in the second part of this Essay, that as nature made every man’s body and mind his own, so no just person can be reduced to slavery against his own consent. Do the unfortunate offspring ever consent to be slaves?—They are slaves from their birth.—Are they guilty of crimes, that they lose their freedom?—They are slaves when they cannot speak.—Are their parents abandoned? The crimes of the parents cannot justly extend to the children.
Thus then must the tyrannical receivers, who presume to sentence the children of slaves to servitude, if they mean to dispute upon the justice of their cause; either allow them to have been brutes from their birth, or to have been guilty of crimes at a time, when they were incapable of offending the very King of Kings.
But to return to the narration. When the wretched Africans are conveyed to the plantations, they are considered as beasts of labour, and are put to their respective work. Having led, in their own country, a life of indolence and ease, where the earth brings forth spontaneously the comforts of life, and spares frequently the toil and trouble of cultivation, they can hardly be expected to endure the drudgeries of servitude. Calculations are accordingly made upon their lives. It is conjectured, that if three in four survive what is called the seasoning, the bargain is highly favourable. This seasoning is said to expire, when the two first years of their servitude are completed: It is the time which an African must take to be so accustomed to the colony, as to be able to endure the common labour of a plantation, and to be put into the gang. At the end of this period the calculations become verified, *twenty thousand of those, who are annually imported, dying before the seasoning is over. This is surely an horrid and awful consideration: and thus does it appear, (and let it be remembered, that it is the lowest calculation that has been ever made upon the subject) that out of every annual supply that is shipped from the coast of Africa, ‡forty thousand lives are regularly expended, even before it can be said, that there is really any additional stock for the colonies.
When the seasoning is over, and the survivors are thus enabled to endure the usual task of slaves, they are considered as real and substantial supplies. * From this period therefore we shall describe their situation.
They are summoned at five in the morning to begin their work. This work may be divided into two kinds, the culture of the fields, and the collection of grass for cattle. The last is the most laborious and intolerable employment; as the grass can only be collected blade by blade, and is to be fetched frequently twice a day at a considerable distance from the plantation. In these two occupations they are jointly taken up, with no other intermission than that of taking their subsistence twice, till nine at night. They then separate for their respective huts, when they gather sticks, prepare their supper, and attend their families. This employs them till midnight, when they go to rest. Such is their daily way of life for rather more than half the year. They are sixteen hours, including two intervals at meals, in the service of their masters: they are employed three afterwards in their own necessary concerns; five only remain for sleep, and their day is finished.
During the remaining portion of the year, or the time of crop, the nature, as well as the time of their employment, is considerably changed. The whole gang is generally divided into two or three bodies. One of these, besides the ordinary labour of the day, is kept in turn at the mills, that are constantly going, during the whole of the night. This is a dreadful encroachment upon their time of rest, which was before too short to permit them perfectly to refresh their wearied limbs, and actually reduces their sleep, as long as this season lasts, to about three hours and an half a night, upon a moderate * computation. Those who can keep their eyes open during their nightly labour, and are willing to resist the drowsiness that is continually coming upon them, are presently worn out; while some of those, who are overcome, and who feed the mill between asleep and awake, suffer, for thus obeying the calls of nature, by the † loss of a limb. In this manner they go on, with little or no respite from their work, till the crop season is over, when the year (from the time of our first description) is completed.
* To support a life of such unparalleled drudgery, we should at least expect to find, that they were comfortably clothed, and plentifully fed. But sad reverse! they have scarcely a covering to defend themselves against the inclemency of the night. Their provisions are frequently bad, and are always dealt out to them with such a sparing hand, that the means of a bare livelihood are not placed within the reach of four out of five of these unhappy people. It is a fact, that many of the disorders of slaves are contracted from eating the vegetables, which their little spots produce, before they are sufficiently ripe: a clear indication, that the calls of hunger are frequently so pressing, as not to suffer them to wait, till they can really enjoy them.
This situation, of a want of the common necessaries of life, added to that of hard and continual labour, must be sufficiently painful of itself. How then must the pain be sharpened, if it be accompanied with severity! if an unfortunate slave does not come into the field exactly at the appointed time, if, drooping with sickness or fatigue, he appears to work unwillingly, or if the bundle of grass that he has been collecting, appears too small in the eye of the overseer, he is equally sure of experiencing the whip. This instrument erases the skin, and cuts out small portions of the flesh at almost every stroke; and is so frequently applied, that the smack of it is all day long in the ears of those, who are in the vicinity of the plantations. This severity of masters, or managers, to their slaves, which is considered only as common discipline, is attended with bad effects. It enables them to behold instances of cruelty without commiseration, and to be guilty of them without remorse. Hence those many acts of deliberate mutilation, that have taken place on the slightest occasions: hence those many acts of inferiour, though shocking, barbarity, that have taken place without any occasion at all: * the very slitting of ears has been considered as an operation, so perfectly devoid of pain, as to have been performed for no other reason than that for which a brand is set upon cattle, as a mark of property.
But this is not the only effect, which this severity produces: for while it hardens their hearts, and makes them insensible of the misery of their fellow-creatures, it begets a turn for wanton cruelty. As a proof of this, we shall mention one, among the many instances that occur, where ingenuity has been exerted in contriving modes of torture. “An iron coffin, with holes in it, was kept by a certain colonist, as an auxiliary to the lash. In this the poor victim of the master’s resentment was inclosed, and placed sufficiently near a fire, to occasion extreme pain, and consequently shrieks and groans, until the revenge of the master was satiated, without any other inconvenience on his part, than a temporary suspension of the slave’s labour. Had he been flogged to death, or his limbs mutilated, the interest of the brutal tyrant would have suffered a more irreparable loss.
“In mentioning this instance, we do not mean to insinuate, that it is common. We know that it was reprobated by many. All that we would infer from it is, that where men are habituated to a system of severity, they become wantonly cruel, and that the mere toleration of such an instrument of torture, in any country, is a clear indication, that this wretched class of men do not there enjoy the protection of any laws, that may be pretended to have been enacted in their favour.”
Such then is the general situation of the unfortunate Africans. They are beaten and tortured at discretion. They are badly clothed. They are miserably fed. Their drudgery is intense and incessant, and their rest short. For scarcely are their heads reclined, scarcely have their bodies a respite from the labour of the day, or the cruel hand of the overseer, but they are summoned to renew their sorrows. In this manner they go on from year to year, in a state of the lowest degradation, without a single law to protect them, without the possibility of redress, without a hope that their situation will be changed, unless death should terminate the scene.
Having described the general situation of these unfortunate people, we shall now take notice of the common consequences that are found to attend it, and relate them separately, as they result either from long and painful labour, a want of the common necessaries of life, or continual severity.
Oppressed by a daily task of such immoderate labour as human nature is utterly unable to perform, many of them run away from their masters. They fly to the recesses of the mountains, where they choose rather to live upon any thing that the soil affords them, nay, the very soil itself, than return to that happy situation, which is represented by the receivers, as the condition of a slave.
It sometimes happens, that the manager of a mountain plantation, falls in with one of these; he immediately seizes him, and threatens to carry him to his former master, unless he will consent to live on the mountain and cultivate his ground. When his plantation is put in order, he carries the delinquent home, abandons him to all the suggestions of despotick rage, and accepts a reward for his honesty. The unhappy wretch is chained, scourged, tortured; and all this, because he obeyed the dictates of nature, and wanted to be free. And who is there, that would not have done the same thing, in the same situation? Who is there, that has once known the charms of liberty, that would not fly from despotism? And yet, by the impious laws of the receivers, the * absence of six months from the lash of tyranny is—death.
But this law is even mild, when compared with another against the same offence, which was in force sometime ago, and which we fear is even now in force, in some of those colonies which this account of the treatment comprehends. “Advertisements have frequently appeared there, offering a reward for the apprehending of fugitive slaves either alive or dead. The following instance was given us by a person of unquestionable veracity, under whose own observation it fell. As he was travelling in one of the colonies alluded to, he observed some people in pursuit of a poor wretch, who was seeking in the wilderness an asylum from his labours. He heard the discharge of a gun, and soon afterwards stopping at an house for refreshment, the head of the fugitive, still reeking with blood, was brought in and laid upon a table with exultation. The production of such a trophy was the proof required by law to entitle the heroes to their reward.” Now reader determine if you can, who were the most execrable; the rulers of the state in authorizing murder, or the people in being bribed to commit it.
This is one of the common consequences of that immoderate share of labour, which is imposed upon them; nor is that, which is the result of a scanty allowance of food, less to be lamented. The wretched African is often so deeply pierced by the excruciating fangs of hunger, as almost to be driven to despair. What is he to do in such a trying situation? Let him apply to the receivers. Alas! the majesty of receivership is too sacred for the appeal, and the intrusion would be fatal. Thus attacked on the one hand, and shut out from every possibility of relief on the other, he has only the choice of being starved, or of relieving his necessities by taking a small portion of the fruits of his own labour. Horrid crime! to be found eating the cane, which probably his own hands have planted, and to be eating it, because his necessities were pressing! This crime however is of such a magnitude, as always to be accompanied with the whip; and so unmercifully has it been applied on such an occasion, as to have been the cause, in wet weather, of the delinquent’s death. But the smart of the whip has not been the only pain that the wretched Africans have experienced. Any thing that passion could seize, and convert into an instrument of punishment, has been used; and, horrid to relate! the very knife has not been overlooked in the fit of phrenzy. Ears have been slit, eyes have been beaten out, and bones have been broken; and so frequently has this been the case, that it has been a matter of constant lamentation with disinterested people, who out of curiosity have attended the * markets to which these unhappy people weekly resort, that they have not been able to turn their eyes on any group of them whatever, but they have beheld these inhuman marks of passion, despotism, and caprice.
But these instances of barbarity have not been able to deter them from similar proceedings. And indeed, how can it be expected that they should? They have still the same appetite to be satisfied as before, and to drive them to desperation. They creep out clandestinely by night, and go in search of food into their master’s, or some neighbouring plantation. But here they are almost equally sure of suffering. The watchman, who will be punished himself, if he neglects his duty, frequently seizes them in the fact. No excuse or intreaty will avail; he must punish them for an example, and he must punish them, not with a stick, nor with a whip, but with a cutlass. Thus it happens, that these unhappy slaves, if they are taken, are either sent away mangled in a barbarous manner, or are killed upon the spot.
We may now mention the consequences of the severity. The wretched Africans, daily subjected to the lash, and unmercifully whipt and beaten on every trifling occasion, have been found to resist their opposers. Unpardonable crime! that they should have the feelings of nature! that their breasts should glow with resentment on an injury! that they should be so far overcome, as to resist those, whom they are under no obligations to obey, and whose only title to their services consists in a violation of the rights of men! What has been the consequence?—But here let us spare the feelings of the reader, (we wish we could spare our own) and let us only say, without a recital of the cruelty, that they have been murdered at the discretion of their masters. For let the reader observe, that the life of an African is only valued at a price, that would scarcely purchase an horse; that the master has a power of murdering his slave, if he pays but a trifling fine; and that the murder must be attended with uncommon circumstances of horrour, if it even produces an inquiry.
Immortal Alfred! father of our invaluable constitution! parent of the civil blessings we enjoy! how ought thy laws to excite our love and veneration, who hast forbidden us, thy posterity, to tremble at the frown of tyrants! how ought they to perpetuate thy name, as venerable, to the remotest ages, who has secured, even to the meanest servant, a fair and impartial trial! How much does nature approve thy laws, as consistent with her own feelings, while she absolutely turns pale, trembles, and recoils, at the institutions of these receivers! Execrable men! you do not murder the horse, on which you only ride; you do not mutilate the cow, which only affords you her milk; you do not torture the dog, which is but a partial servant of your pleasures: but these unfortunate men, from whom you derive your very pleasures and your fortunes, you torture, mutilate, murder at discretion! Sleep then you receivers, if you can, while you scarcely allow these unfortunate people to rest at all! feast if you can, and indulge your genius, while you daily apply to these unfortunate people the stings of severity and hunger! exult in riches, at at which even avarice ought to shudder, and which humanity must detest!
Some people may suppose, from the melancholy account that has been given in the preceding chapter, that we have been absolutely dealing in romance: that the scene exhibited is rather a dreary picture of the imagination, than a representation of fact. Would to heaven, for the honour of human nature, that this were really the case! We wish we could say, that we have no testimony to produce for any of our assertions, and that our description of the general treatment of slaves has been greatly exaggerated.
But the receivers, notwithstanding the ample and disinterested evidence, that can be brought on the occasion, do not admit the description to be true. They say first, “that if the slavery were such as has been now represented, no human being could possibly support it long.” Melancholy truth! the wretched Africans generally perish in their prime Let them reflect upon the prodigious supplies that are annually required, and their argument will be nothing less than a confession, that the slavery has been justly depicted.
They appeal next to every man’s own reason, and desire him to think seriously, whether “self-interest will not always restrain the master from acts of cruelty to the slave, and whether such accounts therefore, as the foregoing, do not contain within themselves, their own refutation.” We answer, “No.” For if this restraining principle be as powerful as it is imagined, why does not the general conduct of men afford us a better picture? What is imprudence, or what is vice, but a departure from every man’s own interest, and yet these are the characteristicks of more than half the world?—
—But, to come more closely to the present case, self-interest will be found but a weak barrier against the sallies of passion: particularly where it has been daily indulged in its greatest latitude, and there are no laws to restrain its calamitous effects. If the observation be true, that passion is a short madness, then it is evident that self-interest, and every other consideration, must be lost, so long as it continues. We cannot have a stronger instance of this, than in a circumstance related in the second part of this Essay, “that though the Africans have gone to war for the express purpose of procuring slaves, yet so great has been their resentment at the resistance they have frequently found, that their passion has entirely got the better of their interest, and they have murdered all without any discrimination, either of age or sex.” Such may be presumed to be the case with the no less savage receivers. Impressed with the most haughty and tyrannical notions, easily provoked, accustomed to indulge their anger, and, above all, habituated to scenes of cruelty, and unawed by the fear of laws, they will hardly be found to be exempt from the common failings of human nature, and to spare an unlucky slave, at a time when men of cooler temper, and better regulated passions, are so frequently blind to their own interest.
But if passion may be supposed to be generally more than a ballance for interest, how must the scale be turned in favour of the melancholy picture exhibited, when we reflect that self-preservation additionally steps in, and demands the most rigorous severity. For when we consider that where there is one master, there are fifty slaves; that the latter have been all forcibly torn from their country, and are retained in their present situation by violence; that they are perpetually at war in their hearts with their oppressors, and are continually cherishing the seeds of revenge; it is evident that even avarice herself, however cool and deliberate, however free from passion and caprice, must sacrifice her own sordid feelings, and adopt a system of tyranny and oppression, which it must be ruinous to pursue.
Thus then, if no picture had been drawn of the situation of slaves, and it had been left solely to every man’s sober judgment to determine, what it might probably be, he would conclude, that if the situation were justly described, the page must be frequently stained with acts of uncommon cruelty.
It remains only to make a reply to an objection, that is usually advanced against particular instances of cruelty to slaves, as recorded by various writers. It is said that “some of these are so inconceivably, and beyond all example inhuman, that their very excess above the common measure of cruelty shews them at once exaggerated and incredible.” But their credibility shall be estimated by a supposition. Let us suppose that the following instance had been recorded by a writer of the highest reputation, “that the master of a ship, bound to the western colonies with slaves, on a presumption that many of them would die, selected an hundred and thirty two of the most sickly, and ordered them to be thrown into the sea, to recover their value from the insurers, and, above all, that the fatal order was put into execution.” What would the reader have thought on the occasion? Would he have believed the fact? It would have surely staggered his faith; because he could never have heard that any one man ever was, and could never have supposed that any one man ever could be, guilty of the murder of such a number of his fellow creatures. But when he is informed that such a fact as this came before * a court of justice in this very country; that it happened within the last five years; that hundreds can come forwards and say, that they heard the melancholy evidence with tears; what bounds is he to place to his belief? The great God, who looks down upon all his creatures with the same impartial eye, seems to have infatuated the parties concerned, that they might bring the horrid circumstance to light, that it might be recorded in the annals of a publick court, as an authentick specimen of the treatment which the unfortunate Africans undergo, and at the same time, as an argument to shew, that there is no species of cruelty, that is recorded to have been exercised upon these wretched people, so enormous that it may not readily be believed.
If the treatment then, as before described, is confirmed by reason, and the great credit that is due to disinterested writers on the subject; if the unfortunate Africans are used, as if their flesh were stone, and their vitals brass; by what arguments do you receivers defend your conduct?
You say that a great part of your savage treatment consists in punishment for real offences, and frequently for such offences, as all civilized nations have concurred in punishing. The first charge that you exhibit against them is specifick, it is that of theft. But how much rather ought you receivers to blush, who reduce them to such a situation! who reduce them to the dreadful alternative, that they must either steal or perish! How much rather ought you receivers to be considered as robbers yourselves, who cause these unfortunate people to be stolen! And how much greater is your crime, who are robbers of human liberty!
The next charge which you exhibit against them, is general, it is that of rebellion; a crime of such a latitude, that you can impose it upon almost every action, and of such a nature, that you always annex to it the most excruciating pain. But what a contradiction is this to common sense! Have the wretched Africans formally resigned their freedom? Have you any other claim upon their obedience, than that of force? If then they are your subjects, you violate the laws of government, by making them unhappy. But if they are not your subjects, then, even though they should resist your proceedings, they are not rebellious.
But what do you say to that long catalogue of offences, which you punish, and of which no people but yourselves take cognizance at all? You say that the wisdom of legislation has inserted it in the colonial laws, and that you punish by authority. But do you allude to that execrable code, that authorises murder? that tempts an unoffended person to kill the slave, that abhors and flies your service? that delegates a power, which no host of men, which not all the world, can possess?—
Or,—What do you say to that daily unmerited severity, which you consider only as common discipline? Here you say that the Africans are vicious, that they are all of them ill-disposed, that you must of necessity be severe. But can they be well-disposed to their oppressors? In their own country they were just, generous, hospitable: qualities, which all the African historians allow them eminently to possess. If then they are vicious, they must have contracted many of their vices from yourselves; and as to their own native vices, if any have been imported with them, are they not amiable, when compared with yours?
Thus then do the excuses, which have been hitherto made by the receivers, force a relation of such circumstances, as makes their conduct totally inexcusable, and, instead of diminishing at all, highly aggravates their guilt.
We come now to that other system of reasoning, which is always applied, when the former is confuted; “that the Africans are an inferiour link of the chain of nature, and are made for slavery.”
This assertion is proved by two arguments; the first of which was advanced also by the ancients, and is drawn from the inferiority of their capacities.
Let us allow then for a moment, that they appear to have no parts, that they appear to be void of understanding. And is this wonderful, when you receivers depress their senses by hunger? Is this wonderful, when by incessant labour, the continual application of the lash, and the most inhuman treatment that imagination can devise, you overwhelm their genius, and hinder it from breaking forth?—No,—You confound their abilities by the severity of their servitude: for as a spark of fire, if crushed by too great a weight of incumbent fuel, cannot be blown into a flame, but suddenly expires, so the human mind, if depressed by rigorous servitude, cannot be excited to a display of those faculties, which might otherwise have shone with the brightest lustre.
Neither is it wonderful in another point of view. For what is it that awakens the abilities of men, and distinguishes them from the common herd? Is it not often the amiable hope of becoming serviceable to individuals, or the state? Is it not often the hope of riches, or of power? Is it not frequently the hope of temporary honours, or a lasting fame? These principles have all a wonderful effect upon the mind. They call upon it to exert its faculties, and bring those talents to the publick view, which had otherwise been concealed. But the unfortunate Africans have no such incitements as these, that they should shew their genius. They have no hope of riches, power, honours, fame. They have no hope but this, that their miseries will be soon terminated by death.
And here we cannot but censure and expose the murmurings of the unthinking and the gay; who, going on in a continual round of pleasure and prosperity, repine at the will of Providence, as exhibited in the shortness of human duration. But let a weak and infirm old age overtake them: let them experience calamities: let them feel but half the miseries which the wretched Africans undergo, and they will praise the goodness of Providence, who hath made them mortal; who hath prescribed certain ordinary bounds to the life of man; and who, by such a limitation, hath given all men this comfortable hope, that however persecuted in life, a time will come, in the common course of nature, when their sufferings will have an end.
Such then is the nature of this servitude, that we can hardly expect to find in those, who undergo it, even the glimpse of genius. For if their minds are in a continual state of depression, and if they have no expectations in life to awaken their abilities, and make them eminent, we cannot be surprized if a sullen gloomy stupidity should be the leading mark in their character; or if they should appear inferiour to those, who do not only enjoy the invaluable blessings of freedom, but have every prospect before their eyes, that can allure them to exert their faculties. Now, if to these considerations we add, that the wretched Africans are torn from their country in a state of nature, and that in general, as long as their slavery continues, every obstacle is placed in the way of their improvement, we shall have a sufficient answer to any argument that may be drawn from the inferiority of their capacities.
It appears then, from the circumstances that have been mentioned, that to form a true judgment of the abilities of these unfortunate people, we must either take a general view of them before their slavery commences, or confine our attention to such, as, after it has commenced, have had any opportunity given them of shewing their genius either in arts or letters. If, upon such a fair and impartial view, there should be any reason to suppose, that they are at all inferiour to others in the same situation, the argument will then gain some of that weight and importance, which it wants at present.
In their own country, where we are to see them first, we must expect that the prospect will be unfavourable. They are mostly in a savage state. Their powers of mind are limited to few objects. Their ideas are consequently few. It appears, however, that they follow the same mode of life, and exercise the same arts, as the ancestors of those very Europeans, who boast of their great superiority, are described to have done in the same uncultivated state. This appears from the Nubian’s Geography, the writings of Leo, the Moor, and all the subsequent histories, which those, who have visited the African continent, have written from their own inspection. Hence three conclusions; that their abilities are sufficient for their situation;—that they are as great, as those of other people have been, in the same stage of society;—and that they are as great as those of any civilized people whatever, when the degree of the barbarism of the one is drawn into a comparison with that of the civilization of the other.
Let us now follow them to the colonies. They are carried over in the unfavourable situation described. It is observed here, that though their abilities cannot be estimated high from a want of cultivation, they are yet various, and that they vary in proportion as the nation, from which they have been brought, has advanced more or less in the scale of social life. This observation, which is so frequently made, is of great importance: for if their abilities expand in proportion to the improvement of their state, it is a clear indication, that if they were equally improved, they would be equally ingenious.
But here, before we consider any opportunities that may be afforded them, let it be remembered that even their most polished situation may be called barbarous, and that this circumstance, should they appear less docile than others, may be considered as a sufficient answer to any objection that may be made to their capacities. Notwithstanding this, when they are put to the mechanical arts, they do not discover a want of ingenuity. They attain them in as short a time as the Europeans, and arrive at a degree of excellence equal to that of their teachers. This is a fact, almost universally known, and affords us this proof, that having learned with facility such of the mechanical arts, as they have been taught, they are capable of attaining any other, at least, of the same class, if they should receive but the same instruction.
With respect to the liberal arts, their proficiency is certainly less; but not less in proportion to their time and opportunity of study; not less, because they are less capable of attaining them, but because they have seldom or ever an opportunity of learning them at all. It is yet extraordinary that their talents appear, even in some of these sciences, in which they are totally uninstructed. Their abilities in musick are such, as to have been generally noticed. They play frequently upon a variety of instruments, without any other assistance than their own ingenuity. They have also tunes of their own composition. Some of these have been imported among us; are now in use; and are admired for their sprightliness and ease, though the ungenerous and prejudiced importer has concealed their original.
Neither are their talents in poetry less conspicuous. Every occurrence, if their spirits are not too greatly depressed, is turned into a song. These songs are said to be incoherent and nonsensical. But this proceeds principally from two causes, an improper conjunction of words, arising from an ignorance of the language in which they compose; and a wildness of thought, arising from the different manner, in which the organs of rude and civilized people will be struck by the same object. And as to their want of harmony and rhyme, which is the last objection, the difference of pronunciation is the cause. Upon the whole, as they are perfectly consistent with their own ideas, and are strictly musical as pronounced by themselves, they afford us as high a proof of their poetical powers, as the works of the most acknowledged poets.
But where these impediments have been removed, where they have received an education, and have known and pronounced the language with propriety, these defects have vanished, and their productions have been less objectionable. For a proof of this, we appeal to the writings of an * African girl, who made no contemptible appearance in this species of composition. She was kidnapped when only eight years old, and, in the year 1761, was transported to America, where she was sold with other slaves. She had no school education there, but receiving some little instruction from the family, with whom she was so fortunate as to live, she obtained such a knowledge of the English language within sixteen months from the time of her arrival, as to be able to speak it and read it to the astonishment of those who heard her. She soon afterwards learned to write, and, having a great inclination to learn the Latin tongue, she was indulged by her master, and made a progress. Her Poetical works were published with his permission, in the year 1773. They contain thirty-eight pieces on different subjects. We shall beg leave to make a short extract from two or three of them, for the observation of the reader.
Such is the poetry which we produce as a proof of our assertions. How far it has succeeded, the reader may by this time have determined in his own mind. We shall therefore only beg leave to accompany it with this observation, that if the authoress was designed for slavery, (as the argument must confess) the greater part of the inhabitants of Britain must lose their claim to freedom.
To this poetry we shall only add, as a farther proof of their abilities, the Prose compositions of Ignatius Sancho, who received some little education. His letters are too well known, to make any extract, or indeed any farther mention of him, necessary. If other examples of African genius should be required, suffice it to say, that they can be produced in abundance; and that if we were allowed to enumerate instances of African gratitude, patience, fidelity, honour, as so many instances of good sense, and a sound understanding, we fear that thousands of the enlightened Europeans would have occasion to blush.
But an objection will be made here, that the two persons whom we have particularized by name, are prodigies, and that if we were to live for many years, we should scarcely meet with two other Africans of the same description. But we reply, that considering their situation as before described, two persons, above mediocrity in the literary way, are as many as can be expected within a certain period of years; and farther, that if these are prodigies, they are only such prodigies as every day would produce, if they had the same opportunities of acquiring knowledge as other people, and the same expectations in life to excite their genius. This has been constantly and solemnly asserted by the pious Benezet,* whom we have mentioned before, as having devoted a considerable part of his time to their instruction. This great man, for we cannot but mention him with veneration, had a better opportunity of knowing them than any person whatever, and he always uniformly declared, that he could never find a difference between their capacities and those of other people; that they were as capable of reasoning as any individual Europeans; that they were as capable of the highest intellectual attainments; in short, that their abilities were equal, and that they only wanted to be equally cultivated, to afford specimens of as fine productions.
Thus then does it appear from the testimony of this venerable man, whose authority is sufficient of itself to silence all objections against African capacity, and from the instances that have been produced, and the observations that have been made on the occasion, that if the minds of the Africans were unbroken by slavery; if they had the same expectations in life as other people, and the same opportunities of improvement, they would be equal, in all the various branches of science, to the Europeans, and that the argument that states them “to be an inferiour link of the chain of nature, and designed for servitude,” as far as it depends on the inferiority of their capacities, is wholly malevolent and false.*
The second argument, by which it is attempted to be proved, “that the Africans are an inferiour link of the chain of nature, and are designed for slavery,” is drawn from colour, and from those other marks, which distinguish them from the inhabitants of Europe.
To prove this with the greater facility, the receivers divide in opinion. Some of them contend that the Africans, from these circumstances, are the descendants of * Cain: others, that they are the posterity of Ham; and that as it was declared by divine inspiration, that these should be servants to the rest of the world, so they are designed for slavery; and that the reducing of them to such a situation is only the accomplishment of the will of heaven: while the rest, considering them from the same circumstances as a totally distinct species of men, conclude them to be an inferiour link of the chain of nature, and deduce the inference described.
To answer these arguments in the clearest and fullest manner, we are under the necessity of making two suppositions, first, that the scriptures are true; secondly, that they are false.
If then the scriptures are true, it is evident that the posterity of Cain were extinguished in the flood. Thus one of the arguments is no more.
With respect to the curse of Ham, it appears also that it was limited; that it did not extend to the posterity of all his sons, but only to the * descendants of him who was called Canaan: by which it was foretold that the Canaanites, a part of the posterity of Ham, should serve the posterity of Shem and Japhet. Now how does it appear that these wretched Africans are the descendants of Canaan?—By those marks, it will be said, which distinguish them from the rest of the world.—But where are these marks to be found in the divine writings? In what page is it said, that the Canaanites were to be known by their colour, their features, their form, or the very hair of their heads, which is brought into the account?—But alas! so far are the divine writings from giving any such account, that they shew the assertion to be false. They shew that the‡ descendants of Cush were of the colour, to which the advocates for slavery allude; and of course, that there was no such limitation of colour to the posterity of Canaan, or the inheritors of the curse.
Suppose we should now shew, upon the most undeniable evidence, * that those of the wretched Africans, who are singled out as inheriting the curse, are the descendants of Cush or Phut; and that we should shew farther, that but a single remnant of Canaan, which was afterwards ruined, was ever in Africa at all.—Here all is consternation.—
But unfortunately again for the argument, though wonderfully for the confirmation that the scriptures are of divine original, the whole prophecy has been completed. A part of the descendants of Canaan were hewers of wood and drawers of water, and became tributary and subject to the Israelites, or the descendants of Shem. The Greeks afterwards, as well as the Romans, who were both the descendants of Japhet, not only subdued those who were settled in Syria and Palestine, but pursued and conquered all such as were then remaining. These were the Tyrians and Carthaginians: the former of whom were ruined by Alexander and the Greeks, the latter by Scipio and the Romans.
It appears then that the second argument is wholly inapplicable and false: that it is false in its application, because those, who were the objects of the curse, were a totally distinct people: that it is false in its proof, because no such distinguishing marks, as have been specified, are to be found in the divine writings: and that, if the proof could be made out, it would be now inapplicable, as the curse has been long completed.
With respect to the third argument, we must now suppose that the scriptures are false; that mankind did not all spring from the same original; that there are different species of men. Now what must we justly conclude from such a supposition? Must we conclude that one species is inferiour to another, and that the inferiority depends upon their colour, or their features, or their form?—No—We must now consult the analogy of nature, and the conclusion will be this: “that as she tempered the bodies of the different species of men in a different degree, to enable them to endure the respective climates of their habitation, so she gave them a variety of colour and appearance with a like benevolent design.”
To sum up the whole. If the scriptures are true, it is evident that the posterity of Cain are no more; that the curse of Ham has been accomplished; and that, as all men were derived from the same stock, so this variety of appearance in men must either have proceeded from some interposition of the Deity; or from a co-operation of certain causes, which have an effect upon the human frame, and have the power of changing it more or less from its primitive appearance, as they happen to be more or less numerous or powerful than those, which acted upon the frame of man in the first seat of his habitation. If from the interposition of the Deity, then we must conclude that he, who bringeth good out of evil, produced it for their convenience. If, from the co-operation of the causes before related, what argument may not be found against any society of men, who should happen to differ, in the points alluded to, from ourselves?
If, on the other hand, the scriptures are false, then it is evident, that there was neither such a person as Cain, nor Ham, nor Canaan; and that nature bestowed such colour, features, and form, upon the different species of men, as were best adapted to their situation.
Thus, on which ever supposition it is founded, the whole argument must fall. And indeed it is impossible that it can stand, even in the eye of common sense. For if you admit the form of men as a justification of slavery, you may subjugate your own brother: if features, then you must quarrel with all the world: if colour, where are you to stop? It is evident, that if you travel from the equator to the northern pole, you will find a regular gradation of colour from black to white. Now if you can justly take him for your slave, who is of the deepest die, what hinders you from taking him also, who only differs from the former but by a shade. Thus you may proceed, taking each in a regular succession to the poles. But who are you, that thus take into slavery so many people? Where do you live yourself? Do you live in Spain, or in France, or in Britain? If in either of these countries, take care lest the whiter natives of the north should have a claim upon yourself.—But the argument is too ridiculous to be farther noticed.
Having now silenced the whole argument, we might immediately proceed to the discussion of other points, without even declaring our opinion as to which of the suppositions may be right, on which it has been resuted; but we do not think ourselves at liberty to do this. The present age would rejoice to find that the scriptures had no foundation, and would anxiously catch at the writings of him, who should mention them in a doubtful manner. We shall therefore declare our sentiments, by asserting that they are true, and that all mankind, however various their appearance, are derived from the same stock.
To prove this, we shall not produce those innumerable arguments, by which the scriptures have stood the test of ages, but advert to a single fact. It is an universal law, observable throughout the whole creation, that if two animals of a different species propagate, their offspring is unable to continue its own species. By this admirable law, the different species are preserved distinct; every possibility of confusion is prevented, and the world is forbidden to be over-run by a race of monsters. Now, if we apply this law to those of the human kind, who are said to be of a distinct species from each other, it immediately fails. The mulattoe is as capable of continuing his own species as his father; a clear and irrefragable proof, that the † scripture account of the creation is true, and that “God, who hath made the world, hath made of * one blood all the nations of men that dwell on all the face of the earth.”
But if this be the case, it will be said that mankind were originally of one colour; and it will be asked at the same time, what it is probable that the colour was, and how they came to assume so various an appearance? To each of these we shall make that reply, which we conceive to be the most rational.
As mankind were originally of the same stock, so it is evident that they were originally of the same colour. But how shall we attempt to ascertain it? Shall we Englishmen say, that it was the same as that which we now find to be peculiar to ourselves?—No—This would be a vain and partial consideration, and would betray our judgment to have arisen from that false fondness, which habituates us to suppose, that every thing belonging to ourselves is the perfectest and the best. Add to this, that we should always be liable to a just reproof from every inhabitant of the globe, whose colour was different from our own; because he would justly say, that he had as good a right to imagine that his own was the primitive colour, as that of any other people.
How then shall we attempt to ascertain it? Shall we look into the various climates of the earth, see the colour that generally prevails in the inhabitants of each, and apply the rule? This will be certainly free from partiality, and will afford us a better prospect of success: for as every particular district has its particular colour, so it is evident that the complexion of Noah and his sons, from whom the rest of the world were descended, was the same as that, which is peculiar to the country, which was the seat of their habitation. This, by such a mode of decision, will be found a dark olive; a beautiful colour, and a just medium between white and black. That this was the primitive colour, is highly probable from the observations that have been made; and, if admitted, will afford a valuable lesson to the Europeans, to be cautious how they deride those of the opposite complexion, as there is great reason to presume, that the purest*white is as far removed from the primitive colour as the deepest black.
We come now to the grand question, which is, that if mankind were originally of this or any other colour, how came it to pass, that they should wear so various an appearance? We reply, as we have had occasion to say before, either by the interposition of the Deity; or by a co-operation of certain causes, which have an effect upon the humanframe, and have the power of changing it more or less from its primitive appearance, as they are more or less numerous or powerful than those, which acted upon the frame of man in the first seat of his habitation.
With respect to the Divine interposition, two epochs have been assigned, when this difference of colour has been imagined to have been so produced. The first is that, which has been related, when the curse was pronounced on a branch of the posterity of Ham. But this argument has been already refuted; for if the particular colour alluded to were assigned at this period, it was assigned to the descendants of Canaan, to distinguish them from those of his other brothers, and was therefore limited to the former. But the descendants of *Cush, as we have shewn before, partook of the same colour; a clear proof, that it was neither assigned to them on this occasion, nor at this period.
The second epoch is that, when mankind were dispersed on the building of Babel. It has been thought, that both national features and colour might probably have been given them at this time, because these would have assisted the confusion of language, by causing them to disperse into tribes, and would have united more firmly the individuals of each, after the dispersion had taken place. But this is improbable: first, because there is great reason to presume that Moses, who has mentioned the confusion of language, would have mentioned these circumstances also, if they had actually contributed to bring about so singular an event: secondly, because the confusion of language was sufficient of itself to have accomplished this; and we cannot suppose that the Deity could have done any thing in vain: and thirdly, because, if mankind had been dispersed, each tribe in its peculiar hue, it is impossible to conceive, that they could have wandered and settled in such a manner, as to exhibit that regular gradation of colour from the equator to the poles, so conspicuous at the present day.
These are the only periods, which there has been even the shadow of a probability for assigning; and we may therefore conclude that the preceding observations, together with such circumstances as will appear in the present chapter, will amount to a demonstration, that the difference of colour was never caused by any interposition of the Deity, and that it must have proceeded therefore from that incidental co-operation of causes, which has been before related.
What these causes are, it is out of the power of human wisdom positively to assert: there are facts, however, which, if properly weighed and put together, will throw considerable light upon the subject. These we shall submit to the perusal of the reader, and shall deduce from them such inferences only, as almost every person must make in his own mind, on their recital.
The first point, that occurs to be ascertained, is, “What part of the skin is the seat of colour?” The old anatomists usually divided the skin into two parts, or lamina; the exteriour and thinnest, called by the Greeks Epidermis, by the Romans Cuticula, and hence by us Cuticle; and the interiour, called by the former Derma, and by the latter Cutis, or true skin. Hence they must necessarily have supposed, that, as the true skin was in every respect the same in all human subjects, however various their external hue, so the seat of colour must have existed in the Cuticle, or upper surface.
Malphigi, an eminent Italian physician, of the last century, was the first person who discovered that the skin was divided into three lamina, or parts; the Cuticle, the true skin, and a certain coagulated substance situated between both, which he distinguished by the title of Mucosum Corpus; a title retained by anatomists to the present day: which coagulated substance adhered so firmly to the Cuticle, as, in all former anatomical preparations, to have come off with it, and, from this circumstance, to have led the ancient anatomists to believe, that there were but two lamina, or divisible portions in the human skin.
This discovery was sufficient to ascertain the point in question: for it appeared afterwards that the Cuticle, when divided according to this discovery from the other lamina, was semi-transparent; that the cuticle of the blackest negroe was of the same transparency and colour, as that of the purest white; and hence, the true skins of both being invariably the same, that the mucosum corpus was the seat of colour.
This has been farther confirmed by all subsequent anatomical experiments, by which it appears, that, whatever is the colour of this intermediate coagulated substance, nearly the same is the apparent colour of the upper surface of the skin. Neither can it be otherwise; for the Cuticle, from its transparency, must necessarily transmit the colour of the substance beneath it, in the same manner, though not in the same degree, as the cornea transmits the colour of the iris of the eye. This transparency is a matter of ocular demonstration in white people. It is conspicuous in every blush; for no one can imagine, that the cuticle becomes red, as often as this happens: nor is it less discoverable in the veins, which are so easy to be discerned; for no one can suppose, that the blue streaks, which he constantly sees in the fairest complexions, are painted, as it were, on the surface of the upper skin. From these, and a variety of other * observations, no maxim is more true in physiology, than that on the mucosum corpus depends the colour of the human body; or, in other words, that the mucosum corpus being of a different colour in different inhabitants of the globe, and appearing through the cuticle or upper surface of the skin, gives them that various appearance, which strikes us so forcibly in contemplating the human race.
As this can be incontrovertibly ascertained, it is evident, that whatever causes co-operate in producing this different appearance, they produce it by acting upon the mucosum corpus, which, from the almost incredible manner in which the † cuticle is perforated, is as accessible as the cuticle itself. These causes are probably those various qualities of things, which, combined with the influence of the sun, contribute to form what we call climate. For when any person considers, that the mucous substance, beforementioned, is found to vary in its colour, as the climates vary from the equator to the poles, his mind must be instantly struck with the hypothesis, and he must adopt it without any hesitation, as the genuine cause of the phænomenon.
This fact, *of the variation of the mucous substance according to the situation of the place, has been clearly ascertained in the numerous anatomical experiments that have been made; in which, subjects of all nations have come under consideration. The natives of many of the kingdoms and isles of Asia, are found to have their corpus mucosum black. Those of Africa, situated near the line, of the same colour. Those of the maritime parts of the same continent, of a dusky brown, nearly approaching to it; and the colour becomes lighter or darker in proportion as the distance from the equator is either greater or less. The Europeans are the fairest inhabitants of the world. Those situated in the most southern regions of Europe, have in their corpus mucosum a tinge of the dark hue of their African neighbours: hence the epidemick complexion, prevalent among them, is nearly of the colour of the pickled Spanish olive; while in this country, and those situated nearer the north pole, it appears to be nearly, if not absolutely, white.
These are * facts, which anatomy has established; and we acknowledge them to be such, that we cannot divest ourselves of the idea, that climate has a considerable share in producing a difference of colour. Others, we know, have invented other hypotheses, but all of them have been instantly refuted, as unable to explain the difficulties for which they were advanced, and as absolutely contrary to fact: and the inventors themselves have been obliged, almost as soon as they have proposed them, to acknowledge them deficient.
The only objection of any consequence, that has ever been made to the hypothesis of climate, is this, that people under the same parallels are not exactly of the same colour. But this is no objection in fact: for it does not follow that those countries, which are at an equal distance from the equator, should have their climates the same. Indeed nothing is more contrary to experience than this. Climate depends upon a variety of accidents. High mountains, in the neighbourhood of a place, make it cooler, by chilling the air that is carried over them by the winds. Large spreading succulent plants, if among the productions of the soil, have the same effect: they afford agreeable cooling shades, and a moist atmosphere from their continual exhalations, by which the ardour of the sun is considerably abated. While the soil, on the other hand, if of a sandy nature, retains the heat in an uncommon degree, and makes the summers considerably hotter than those which are found to exist in the same latitude, where the soil is different. To this proximity of what may be termed burning sands, and to the sulphurous and metallick particles, which are continually exhaling from the bowels of the earth, is ascribed the different degree of blackness, by which some African nations are distinguishable from each other, though under the same parallels. To these observations we may add, that though the inhabitants of the same parallel are not exactly of the same hue, yet they differ only by shades of the same colour; or, to speak with more precision, that there are no two people, in such a situation, one of whom is white, and the other black. To sum up the whole—Suppose we were to take a common globe; to begin at the equator; to paint every country along the meridian line in succession from thence to the poles; and to paint them with the same colour which prevails in the respective inhabitants of each, we should see the black, with which we had been obliged to begin, insensibly changing to an olive, and the olive, through as many intermediate colours, to a white: and if, on the other hand, we should complete any one of the parallels according to the same plan, we should see a difference perhaps in the appearance of some of the countries through which it ran, though the difference would consist wholly in shades of the same colour.
The argument therefore, which is brought against the hypothesis, is so far from being an objection, that we shall consider it as one of the first arguments in its favour: for if climate has really an influence on the mucous substance of the body, it is evident, that we must not only expect to see a gradation of colour in the inhabitants from the equator to the poles, but also * different shades of the same colour in the inhabitants of the same parallel.
To this argument, we shall add one that is incontrovertible, which is, that when the black inhabitants of Africa are transplanted to colder, or the white inhabitants of Europe to hotter climates, their children, born there, are of a different colour from themselves; that is, lighter in the first, and darker in the second instance.
As a proof of the first, we shall give the words of the Abbé Raynal, in his admired publication. * “The children,” says he, which they, (the Africans) procreate in America, are not so black as their parents were. After each generation the difference becomes more palpable. It is possible, that after a numerous succession of generations, the men come from Africa would not be distinguished from those of the country, into which they may have been transplanted.”
This circumstance we have had the pleasure of hearing confirmed by a variety of persons, who have been witnesses of the fact; but particularly by many † intelligent Africans, who have been parents themselves in America, and who have declared that the difference is so palpable in the northern provinces, that not only they themselves have constantly observed it, but that they have heard it observed by others.
Neither is this variation in the children from the colour of their parents improbable. The children of the blackest Africans are*born white. In this state they continue for about a month, when they change to a pale yellow. In process of time they become brown. Their skin still continues to increase in darkness with their age, till it becomes of a dirty, sallow black, and at length, after a certain period of years, glossy and shining. Now, if climate has any influence on the mucous substance of the body, this variation in the children from the colour of their parents is an event, which must be reasonably expected: for being born white, and not having equally powerful causes to act upon them in colder, as their parents had in the hotter climates which they left, it must necessarily follow, that the same effect cannot possibly be produced.
Hence also, if the hypothesis be admitted, may be deduced the reason, why even those children, who have been brought from their country at an early age into colder regions, have been * observed to be of a lighter colour than those who have remained at home till they arrived at a state of manhood. For having undergone some of the changes which we mentioned to have attended their countrymen from infancy to a certain age, and having been taken away before the rest could be completed, these farther changes, which would have taken place had they remained at home, seem either to have been checked in their progress, or weakened in their degree, by a colder climate.
We come now to the second and opposite case; for a proof of which we shall appeal to the words of Dr. Mitchell, in the Philosophical Transactions.* “The Spaniards who have inhabited America under the torrid zone for any time, are become as dark coloured as our native Indians of Virginia, of which, I myself have been a witness; and were they not to intermarry with the Europeans, but lead the same rude and barbarous lives with the Indians, it is very probable that, in a succession of many generations, they would become as dark in complexion.”
To this instance we shall add one, which is mentioned by a ‡ late writer, who describing the African coast, and the European settlements there, has the following passage. “There are several other small Portuguese settlements, and one of some note at Mitomba, a river in Sierra Leon. The people here called Portuguese, are principally persons bred from a mixture of the first Portuguese discoverers with the natives, and now become, in their complexion and woolly quality of their hair, perfect negroes, retaining however a smattering of the Portuguese language.”
These facts, with respect to the colonists of the Europeans, are of the highest importance in the present case, and deserve a serious attention. For when we know to a certainty from whom they are descended; when we know that they were, at the time of their transplantation, of the same colour as those from whom they severally sprung; and when, on the other hand, we are credibly informed, that they have changed it for the native colour of the place which they now inhabit; the evidence in support of these facts is as great, as if a person, on the removal of two or three families into another climate, had determined to ascertain the circumstance; as if he had gone with them and watched their children; as if he had communicated his observations at his death to a successor; as if his successor had prosecuted the plan, and thus an uninterrupted chain of evidence had been kept up from their first removal to any determined period of succeeding time.
But though these facts seem sufficient of themselves to confirm our opinion, they are not the only facts which can be adduced in its support. It can be shewn, that the members of the very same family, when divided from each other, and removed into different countries, have not only changed their family complexion, but that they have changed it to as many different colours as they have gone into different regions of the world. We cannot have, perhaps, a more striking instance of this, than in the Jews. These people are scattered over the face of the whole earth. They have preserved themselves distinct from the rest of the world by their religion; and, as they never intermarry with any but those of their own sect, so they have no mixture of blood in their veins, that they should differ from each other: and yet nothing is more true, than that the *English Jew is white, the Portuguese swarthy, the Armenian olive, and the Arabian copper; in short, that there appear to be as many different species of Jews, as there are countries in which they reside.
To these facts we shall add the following observation, that if we can give credit to the ancient historians in general, a change from the darkest black to the purest white must have actually been accomplished. One instance, perhaps, may be thought sufficient. *Herodotus relates, that the Colchi were black, and that they had crisped hair. These people were a detachment of the Æthiopian army under Sesostris, who followed him in his expedition, and settled in that part of the world, where Colchis is usually represented to have been situated. Had not the same author informed us of this circumstance, we should have thought it † strange, that a people of this description should have been found in such a latitude. Now, as they were undoubtedly settled there, and as they were neither so totally destroyed, nor made any such rapid conquests, as that history should notice the event, there is great reason to presume, that their descendants continued in the same, or settled in the adjacent country; from whence it will follow, that they must have changed their complexion to that, which is observable in the inhabitants of this particular region at the present day; or, in other words, that the black inhabitant of Colchis must have been changed into the *fair Circassian.
As we have now shewn it to be highly probable, from the facts which have been advanced, that climate is the cause of the difference of colour which prevails in the different inhabitants of the globe, we shall now shew its probability from so similar an effect produced on the mucous substance before-mentioned by so similar a cause, that though the fact does not absolutely prove our conjecture to be right, yet it will give us a very lively conception of the manner, in which the phænomenon may be caused.
This probability may be shewn in the case of freckles, which are to be seen in the face of children, but of such only, as have the thinnest and most transparent skins, and are occasioned by the rays of the sun, striking forcibly on the mucous substance of the face, and drying the accumulating fluid. This accumulating fluid, or perspirable matter, is at first colourless; but being exposed to violent heat, or dried, becomes brown. Hence, the mucosum corpus being tinged in various parts by this brown coagulated fluid, and the parts so tinged appearing through the cuticle, or upper surface of the skin, arises that spotted appearance, observable in the case recited.
Now, if we were to conceive a black skin to be an universal freckle, or the rays of the sun to act so universally on the mucous substance of a person’s face, as to produce these spots so contiguous to each other that they should unite, we should then see, in imagination, a face similar to those, which are daily to be seen among black people: and if we were to conceive his body to be exposed or acted upon in the same manner, we should then see his body assuming a similar appearance; and thus we should see the whole man of a perfect black, or resembling one of the naked inhabitants of the torrid zone. Now as the seat of freckles and of blackness is the same; as their appearance is similar; and as the cause of the first is the ardour of the sun, it is therefore probable that the cause of the second is the same: hence, if we substitute for the word “sun,” what is analogous to it, the word climate, the same effect may be supposed to be produced, and the conjecture to receive a sanction.
Nor is it unlikely that the hypothesis, which considers the cause of freckles and of blackness as the same, may be right. For if blackness is occasioned by the rays of the sun striking forcibly and universally on the mucous substance of the body, and drying the accumulating fluid, we can account for the different degrees of it to be found in the different inhabitants of the globe. For as the quantity of perspirable fluid, and the force of the solar rays is successively increased, as the climates are successively warmer, from any given parallel to the line, it follows that the fluid, with which the mucous substance will be stained, will be successively thicker and deeper coloured; and hence, as it appears through the cuticle, the complexion successively darker; or, what amounts to the same thing, there will be a difference of colour in the inhabitants of every successive parallel.
From these, and the whole of the preceding observations on the subject, we may conclude, that as all the inhabitants of the earth cannot be otherwise than the children of the same parents, and as the difference of their appearance must have of course proceeded from incidental causes, these causes are a combination of those qualities, which we call climate; that the blackness of the Africans is so far ingrafted in their constitution, in a course of many generations, that their children wholly inherit it, if brought up in the same spot, but that it is not so absolutely interwoven in their nature, that it cannot be removed, if they are born and settled in another; that Noah and his sons were probably of an olive complexion; that those of their descendants, who went farther to the south, became of a deeper olive or copper; while those, who went still farther, became of a deeper copper or black; that those, on the other hand, who travelled farther to the north, became less olive or brown, while those who went still farther than the former, became less brown or white; and that if any man were to point out any one of the colours which prevails in the human complexion, as likely to furnish an argument, that the people of such a complexion were of a different species from the rest, it is probable that his own descendants, if removed to the climate to which this complexion is peculiar, would, in the course of a few generations, degenerate into the same colour.
Having now replied to the argument, “that the Africans are an inferiour link of the chain of nature,” as far as it depended on their capacity and colour, we shall now only take notice of an expression, which the receivers before-mentioned are pleased to make use of, “that they are made for slavery.”
Had the Africans been made for slavery, or to become the property of any society of men, it is clear, from the observations that have been made in the second part of this Essay, that they must have been created devoid of reason: but this is contrary to fact. It is clear also, that there must have been many and evident signs of the inferiority of their nature, and that this society of men must have had a natural right to their dominion: but this is equally false. No such signs of inferiority are to be found in the one, and the right to dominion in the other is incidental: for in what volume of nature or religion is it written, that one society of men should breed slaves for the benefit of another? Nor is it less evident that they would have wanted many of those qualities which they have, and which brutes have not: they would have wanted that spiritof liberty, that *sense of ignominy and shame, which so frequently drives them to the horrid extremity of finishing their own existence. Nor would they have been endowed with a contemplative power; for such a power would have been unnecessary to people in such a situation; or rather, its only use could have been to increase their pain. We cannot suppose therefore that God has made an order of beings, with such mental qualities and powers, for the sole purpose of being used as beasts, or instruments of labour. And here, what a dreadful argument presents itself against you receivers? For if they have no understandings as you confess, then is your conduct impious, because, as they cannot perceive the intention of your punishment, your severities cannot make them better. But if, on the other hand, they have had understandings, (which has evidently appeared) then is your conduct equally impious, who, by destroying their faculties by the severity of your discipline, have reduced men, who had once the power of reason, to an equality with the brute creation.
The reader may perhaps think, that the receivers have by this time expended all their arguments, but their store is not so easily exhausted. They are well aware that justice, nature, and religion, will continue, as they have ever uniformly done, to oppose their conduct. This has driven them to exert their ingenuity, and has occasioned that multiplicity of arguments to be found in the present question.
These arguments are of a different complexion from the former. They consist in comparing the state of slaves with that of some of the classes of free men, and in certain scenes of felicity, which the former are said to enjoy.
It is affirmed that the punishments which the Africans undergo, are less severe than the military; that their life is happier than that of the English peasant; that they have the advantages of manumission; that they have their little spots of ground, their holydays, their dances; in short, that their life is a scene of festivity and mirth, and that they are much happier in the colonies than in their own country.
These representations, which have been made out with much ingenuity and art, may have had their weight with the unwary; but they will never pass with men of consideration and sense, who are accustomed to estimate the probability of things, before they admit them to be true. Indeed the bare assertion, that their situation is even comfortable, contains its own refutation, or at least leads us to suspect that the person, who asserted it, has omitted some important considerations in the account. Such we shall shew to have been actually the case, and that the representations of the receivers, when stripped of their glossy ornaments, are but empty declamation.
It is said, first, of military punishments, that they are more severe than those which the Africans undergo. But this is a bare assertion without a proof. It is not shewn even by those, who assert it, how the fact can be made out. We are left therefore to draw the comparison ourselves, and to fill up those important considerations, which we have just said that the receivers had omitted.
That military punishments are severe we confess, but we deny that they are severer than those with which they are compared. Where is the military man, whose ears have been slit, whose limbs have been mutilated, or whose eyes have been beaten out? But let us even allow, that their punishments are equal in the degree of their severity: still they must lose by comparison. The soldier is never punished but after a fair and equitable trial, and the decision of a military court; the unhappy African, at the discretion of his Lord. The one * knows what particular conduct will constitute an offence; the other has no such information, as he is wholly at the disposal of passion and caprice, which may impose upon any action, however laudable, the appellation of a crime. The former has it of course in his power to avoid a punishment; the latter is never safe. The former is punished for a real, the latter, often, for an imaginary fault.
Now will any person assert, on comparing the whole of those circumstances together, which relate to their respective punishments, that there can be any doubt, which of the two are in the worst situation, as to their penal systems?
With respect to the declaration, that the life of an African in the colonies is happier than that of an English peasant, it is equally false. Indeed we can scarcely withhold our indignation, when we consider, how shamefully the situation of this latter class of men has been misrepresented, to elevate the former to a state of fictitious happiness. If the representations of the receivers be true, it is evident that those of the most approved writers, who have placed a considerable share of happiness in the cottage, have been mistaken in their opinion; and that those of the rich, who have been heard to sigh, and envy the felicity of the peasant, have been treacherous to their own sensations.
But which are we to believe on the occasion? Those, who endeavour to dress vice in the habit of virtue, or those, who derive their opinion from their own feelings? The latter are surely to be believed; and we may conclude therefore, that the horrid picture which is given of the life of the peasant, has not so just a foundation as the receivers would lead us to suppose. For has he no pleasure in the thought, that he lives in his own country, and among his relations and friends? That he is actually free, and that his children will be the same? That he can never be sold as a beast? That he can speak his mind without the fear of the lash? That he cannot even be struck with impunity? And that he partakes, equally with his superiours, of the protection of the law?—Now, there is no one of these advantages which the African possesses, and no one, which the defenders of slavery take into their account.
Of the other comparisons that are usually made, we may observe in general, that, as they consist in comparing the iniquitous practice of slavery with other iniquitous practices in force among other nations, they can neither raise it to the appearance of virtue, nor extenuate its guilt. The things compared are in these instances both of them evils alike. They call equally for redress, and are equally disgraceful to the * governments which suffer them, if not encourage them, to exist. To attempt therefore to justify one species of iniquity, by comparing it with another, is no justification at all; and is so far from answering the purpose, for which the comparison is intended, as to give us reason to suspect, that the comparer has but little notion either of equity or honour.
We come now to those scenes of felicity, which slaves are said to enjoy. The first advantage which they are said to experience, is that of manumission. But here the advocates for slavery conceal an important circumstance. They expatiate indeed on the charms of freedom, and contend that it must be a blessing in the eyes of those, upon whom it is conferred. We perfectly agree with them in this particular. But they do not tell us that these advantages are confined; that they are confined to some favourite domestick; that not one in an hundred enjoy them; and that they are never extended to those, who are employed in the cultivation of the field, as long as they can work. These are they, who are most to be pitied, who are destined to perpetual drudgery; and of whom no one whatever has a chance of being freed from his situation, till death either releases him at once, or age renders him incapable of continuing his former labour. And here let it be remarked, to the disgrace of the receivers, that he is then made free, not—as a reward for his past services, but, as his labour is then of little or no value,—to save the*tax.
With the same artifice is mention also made of the little spots, or gardens, as they are called, which slaves are said to possess from the liberality of the receivers. But people must not be led away by agreeable and pleasant sounds. They must not suppose that these gardens are made for flowers; or that they are places of amusement, in which they can spend their time in botanical researches and delights. Alas, they do not furnish them with a theme for such pleasing pursuits and speculations! They must be cultivated in those hours, which ought to be appropriated to ∥ rest; and they must be cultivated, not for an amusement, but to make up, if it be possible, the great deficiency in their weekly allowance of provisions. Hence it appears, that the receivers have no merit whatever in such an appropriation of land to their unfortunate slaves: for they are either under the necessity of doing this, or of losing them by the jaws of famine. And it is a notorious fact, that, with their weekly allowance, and the produce of their spots together, it is often with the greatest difficulty that they preserve a wretched existence.
The third advantage which they are said to experience, is that of holy-days, or days of respite from their usual discipline and fatigue. This is certainly a great indulgence, and ought to be recorded to the immortal honour of the receivers. We wish we could express their liberality in those handsome terms, in which it deserves to be represented, or applaud them sufficiently for deviating for once from the rigours of servile discipline. But we confess, that we are unequal to the task, and must therefore content ourselves with observing, that while the horse has one day in seven to refresh his limbs, the happy African has but one in *fifty-two, as a relaxation from his labours.
With respect to their dances, on which such a particular stress has been generally laid, we fear that people may have been as shamefully deceived, as in the former instances. For from the manner in which these are generally mentioned, we should almost be led to imagine, that they had certain hours allowed them for the purpose of joining in the dance, and that they had every comfort and convenience, that people are generally supposed to enjoy on such convivial occasions. But this is far from the case. Reason informs us, that it can never be. If they wish for such innocent recreations, they must enjoy them in the time that is allotted them for sleep; and so far are these dances from proceeding from any uncommon degree of happiness, which excites them to convivial society, that they proceed rather from an uncommon depression of spirits, which makes them even sacrifice their * rest, for the sake of experiencing for a moment a more joyful oblivion of their cares. For suppose any one of the receivers, in the middle of a dance, were to address his slaves in the following manner: “Africans! I begin at last to feel for your situation; and my conscience is severely hurt, whenever I reflect that I have been reducing those to a state of misery and pain, who have never given me offence. You seem to be fond of these exercises, but yet you are obliged to take them at such unseasonable hours, that they impair your health, which is sufficiently broken by the intolerable share of labour which I have hitherto imposed upon you. I will therefore make you a proposal. Will you be content to live in the colonies, and you shall have the half of every week entirely to yourselves? or will you choose to return to your miserable, wretched country?”—But what is that which strikes their ears? Which makes them motionless in an instant? Which interrupts the festive scene?—their country?—transporting sound!—Behold! they are now flying from the dance: you may see them running to the shore, and, frantick as it were with joy, demanding with open arms an instantaneous passage to their beloved native plains.
Such are the colonial delights, by the representation of which the receivers would persuade us, that the Africans are taken from their country to a region of conviviality and mirth; and that like those, who leave their usual places of residence for a summer’s amusement, they are conveyed to the colonies—to bathe,—to dance,—to keep holy-day,—to be jovial.—But there is something so truly ridiculous in the attempt to impose these scenes of felicity on the publick, as scenes which fall to the lot of slaves, that the receivers must have been driven to great extremities, to hazard them to the eye of censure.
The last point that remains to be considered, is the shameful assertion, that the Africans are much happier in the colonies, than in their own country. But in what does this superiour happiness consist? In those real scenes, it must be replied, which have been just mentioned; for these, by the confession of the receivers, constitute the happiness they enjoy.—But it has been shewn that these have been unfairly represented; and, were they realized in the most extensive latitude, they would not confirm the fact. For if, upon a recapitulation, it consists in the pleasure of manumission, they surely must have passed their lives in a much more comfortable manner, who, like the Africans at home, have had no occasion for such a benefit at all. But the receivers, we presume, reason upon this principle, that we never know the value of a blessing but by its loss. This is generally true: but would any one of them make himself a slave for years, that he might run the chance of the pleasures of manumission? Or that he might taste the charms of liberty with a greater relish? Nor is the assertion less false in every other consideration. For if their happiness consists in the few holy-days, which in the colonies they are permitted to enjoy, what must be their situation in their own country, where the whole year is but one continued holy-day, or cessation from discipline and fatigue?—If in the possession of a mean and contracted spot, what must be their situation, where a whole region is their own, producing almost spontaneously the comforts of life, and requiring for its cultivation none of those hours, which should be appropriated to sleep?—If in the pleasures of the colonial dance, what must it be in their own country, where they may dance for ever; where there is no stated hour to interrupt their felicity, no intolerable labour immediately to succeed their recreations, and no overseer to receive them under the discipline of the lash?—If these therefore are the only circumstances, by which the assertion can be proved, we may venture to say, without fear of opposition, that it can never be proved at all.
But these are not the only circumstances. It is said that they are barbarous at home.—But do you receivers civilize them?—Your unwillingness to convert them to Christianity, because you suppose you must use them more kindly when converted, is but a bad argument in favour of the fact.
It is affirmed again, that their manner of life, and their situation is such in their own country, that to say they are happy is a jest. “* But who are you, who pretend to judge of another man’s happiness? That state which each man, under the guidance of his maker, forms for himself, and not one man for another? To know what constitutes mine or your happiness, is the sole prerogative of him who created us, and cast us in so various and different moulds. Did your slaves ever complain to you of their unhappiness, amidst their native woods and desarts? Or, rather, let me ask, did they ever cease complaining of their condition under you their lordly masters? Where they see, indeed, the accommodations of civil life, but see them all pass to others, themselves unbenefited by them. Be so gracious then, ye petty tyrants over human freedom, to let your slaves judge for themselves, what it is which makes their own happiness, and then see whether they do not place it in the return to their own country, rather than in the contemplation of your grandeur, of which their misery makes so large a part.”
But since you speak with so much considence on the subject, let us ask you receivers again, if you have ever been informed by your unfortunate slaves, that they had no connexions in the country from which they have forcibly been torn away: or, if you will take upon you to assert, that they never sigh, when they are alone; or that they never relate to each other their tales of misery and woe. But you judge of them, perhaps, in an happy moment, when you are dealing out to them their provisions for the week; and are but little aware, that, though the countenance may be cheered with a momentary smile, the heart may be exquisitely tortured. Were you to shew us, indeed, that there are laws, subject to no evasion, by which you are obliged to clothe and feed them in a comfortable manner; were you to shew us that they are * protected at all; or that even one in a thousand of those masters have † suffered death, who have been guilty of premeditated murder to their slaves, you would have a better claim to our belief: but you can neither produce the instances nor the laws. The people, of whom you speak, are slaves, are your own property, are wholly at your own disposal; and this idea is sufficient to overturn your assertions of their happiness.
But we shall now mention a circumstance, which, in the present case, will have more weight than all the arguments which have hitherto been advanced. It is an opinion, which the Africans universally entertain, that, as soon as death shall release them from the hands of their oppressors, they shall immediately be wafted back to their native plains, there to exist again, to enjoy the sight of their beloved countrymen, and to spend the whole of their new existence in scenes of tranquillity and delight: and so powerfully does this notion operate upon them, as to drive them frequently to the horrid extremity of putting a period to their lives. Now if these suicides are frequent, (which no person can deny) what are they but a proof, that the situation of those who destroy themselves must have been insupportably wretched: and if the thought of returning to their country after death, when they have experienced the colonial joys, constitutes their supreme felicity, what are they but a proof, that they think there is as much difference between the two situations, as there is between misery and delight?
Nor is the assertion of the receivers less liable to a refutation in the instance of those, who terminate their own existence, than of those, whom nature releases from their persecutions. They die with a smile upon their face, and their funerals are attended by a vast concourse of their countrymen, with every possible * demonstration of joy. But why this unusual mirth, if their departed brother has left an happy place? Or if he has been taken from the care of an indulgent master, who consulted his pleasures, and administered to his wants? But alas, it arises from hence, that he is gone to his happy country: a circumstance, sufficient of itself, to silence a myriad of those specious arguments, which the imagination has been racked, and will always be racked to produce, in favour of a system of tyranny and oppression.
It remains only, that we should now conclude the chapter with a fact, which will shew that the account, which we have given of the situation of slaves, is strictly true, and will refute at the same time all the arguments which have hitherto been, and may yet be brought by the receivers, to prove that their treatment is humane. In one of the western colonies of the Europeans, * six hundred and fifty thousand slaves were imported within an hundred years; at the expiration of which time, their whole posterity were found to amount to one hundred and forty thousand. This fact will ascertain the treatment of itself. For how shamefully must these unfortunate people have been oppressed? What a dreadful havock must famine, fatigue, and cruelty, have made among them, when we consider, that the descendants of six hundred and fifty thousand people in the prime of life, gradually imported within a century, are less numerous than those, which only *ten thousand would have produced in the same period, under common advantages, and in a country congenial to their constitutions?
But the receivers have probably great merit on the occasion. Let us therefore set it down to their humanity. Let us suppose for once, that this incredible waste of the human species proceeds from a benevolent design; that, sensible of the miseries of a servile state, they resolve to wear out, as fast as they possibly can, their unfortunate slaves, that their miseries may the sooner end, and that a wretched posterity may be prevented from sharing their parental condition. Now, whether this is the plan of reasoning which the receivers adopt, we cannot take upon us to decide; but true it is, that the effect produced is exactly the same, as if they had reasoned wholly on this benevolent principle.
We have now taken a survey of the treatment which the unfortunate Africans undergo, when they are put into the hands of the receivers. This treatment, by the four first chapters of the present part of this Essay, appears to be wholly insupportable, and to be such as no human being can apply to another, without the imputation of such crimes, as should make him tremble. But as many arguments are usually advanced by those who have any interest in the practice, by which they would either exculpate the treatment, or diminish its severity, we allotted the remaining chapters for their discussion. In these we considered the probability of such a treatment against the motives of interest; the credit that was to be given to those disinterested writers on the subject, who have recorded particular instances of barbarity; the inferiority of the Africans to the human species; the comparisons that are generally made with respect to their situation; the positive scenes of felicity which they are said to enjoy, and every other argument, in short, that we have found to have ever been advanced in the defence of slavery. These have been all considered, and we may venture to pronounce, that, instead of answering the purpose for which they were intended, they serve only to bring such circumstances to light, as clearly shew, that if ingenuity were racked to invent a situation, that would be the most distressing and insupportable to the human race; it could never invent one, that would suit the description better, than the—colonial slavery.
If this then be the case, and if slaves, notwithstanding all the arguments to the contrary, are exquisitely miserable, we ask you receivers, by what right you reduce them to so wretched a situation?
You reply, that you buy them; that your money constitutes your right, and that, like all other things which you purchase, they are wholly at your own disposal.
Upon this principle alone it was, that we professed to view your treatment, or examine your right, when we said, that “* the question resolved itself into two separate parts for discussion; into the African commerce, as explained in the history of slavery, and the subsequent slavery in the colonies, as founded on the equity of the commerce.” Now, since it appears that this commerce, upon the fullest investigation, is contrary to “†the principles of law and government, the dictates of reason, the common maxims of equity, the laws of nature, the admonitions of conscience, and, in short, the whole doctrine of naturalreligion,” it is evident that the right, which is founded upon it, must be the same; and that if those things only are lawful in the fight of God, which are either virtuous in themselves, or proceed from virtuous principles, you have no right over them at all.
You yourselves also confess this. For when we ask you, whether any human being has a right to sell you, you immediately answer, No; as if nature revolted at the thought, and as if it was so contradictory to your own feelings, as not to require consideration. But who are you, that have this exclusive charter of trading in the liberties of mankind? When did nature, or rather the Author of nature, make so partial a distinction between you and them? When did He say, that you should have the privilege of selling others, and that others should not have the privilege of selling you?
Now since you confess, that no person whatever has a right to dispose of you in this manner, you must confess also, that those things are unlawful to be done to you, which are usually done in consequence of the sale. Let us suppose then, that in consequence of the commerce you were forced into a ship; that you were conveyed to another country; that you were sold there; that you were confined to incessant labour; that you were pinched by continual hunger and thirst; and subject to be whipped, cut, and mangled at discretion, and all this at the hands of those, whom you had never offended; would you not think that you had a right to resist their treatment? Would you not resist it with a safe conscience? And would you not be surprized, if your resistance should be termed rebellion?—By the former premises you must answer, yes.—Such then is the case with the wretched Africans. They have a right to resist your proceedings. They can resist them, and yet they cannot justly be considered as rebellious. For though we suppose them to have been guilty of crimes to one another; though we suppose them to have been the most abandoned and execrable of men, yet are they perfectly innocent with respect to you receivers. You have no right to touch even the hair of their heads without their own consent. It is not your money, that can invest you with a right. Human liberty can neither be bought nor sold. Every lash that you give them is unjust. It is a lash against nature and religion, and will surely stand recorded against you, since they are all, with respect to your impious selves, in a state of nature; in a state of original dissociation; perfectly free.
Having now considered both the commerce and slavery, it remains only to collect such arguments as are scattered in different parts of the work, and to make such additional remarks, as present themselves on the subject.
And first, let us ask you, who have studied the law of nature, and you, who are learned in the law of the land, if all property must not be inferiour in its nature to its possessor, or, in other words, (for it is a case, which every person must bring home to his own breast) if you suppose that any human being can have a property in yourselves? Let us ask you appraisers, who scientifically know the value of things, if any human creature is equivalent only to any of the trinkets that you wear, or at most, to any of the horses that you ride: or in other words, if you have ever considered the most costly things that you have valued, as equivalent to yourselves? Let us ask you rationalists, if man, as a reasonable being, is not accountable for his actions, and let us put the same question to you, who have studied the divine writings? Let us ask you parents, if ever you thought that you possessed an authority as such, or if ever you expected a duty from your sons; and let us ask you sons, if ever you felt an impulse in your own breasts to obey your parents. Now, if you should all answer as we could wish, if you should all answer consistently with reason, nature, and the revealed voice of God, what a dreadful argument will present itself against the commerce and slavery of the human species, when we reflect, that no man whatever can be bought or reduced to the situation of a slave, but he must instantly become a brute, he must instantly be reduced to the value of thosethings, which were made for his own use and convenience; he must instantly cease to be accountable for his actions, and his authority as a parent, and his duty as a son, must be instantly no more.
Neither does it escape our notice, when we are speaking of the fatal wound which every social duty must receive, how considerably Christianity suffers by the conduct of you receivers. For by prosecuting this impious commerce, you keep the Africans in a state of perpetual ferocity and barbarism; and by prosecuting it in such a manner, as must represent your religion, as a system of robbery and oppression, you not only oppose the propagation of the gospel, as far as you are able yourselves, but throw the most certain impediments in the way of others, who might attempt the glorious and important task.
Such also is the effect, which the subsequent slavery in the colonies must produce. For by your inhuman treatment of the unfortunate Africans there, you create the same insuperable impediments to a conversion. For how must they detest the very name of Christians, when you Christians are deformed by so many and dreadful vices? How must they detest that system of religion, which appears to resist the natural rights of men, and to give a sanction to brutality and murder?
But, as we are now mentioning Christianity, we must pause for a little time, to make a few remarks on the arguments which are usually deduced from thence by the receivers, in defence of their system of oppression. For the reader may readily suppose, that, if they did not hesitate to bring the Old Testament in support of their barbarities, they would hardly let the New escape them.
St. Paul, having converted Onesimus to the Christian faith, who was a fugitive slave of Philemon, sent him back to his master. This circumstance has furnished the receivers with a plea, that Christianity encourages slavery. But they have not only strained the passages which they produce in support of their assertions, but are ignorant of historical facts. The benevolent apostle, in the letter which he wrote to Philemon, the master of Onesimus, addresses him to the following effect: “I send him back to you, but not in his former capacity,*not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved. In this manner I beseech you to receive him, for though I could enjoin you to do it, yet I had rather it should be a matter of your own will, than of necessity.”
It appears that the same Onesimus, when he was sent back, was no longer a slave, that he was a minister of the gospel, that he was joined with Tychicus in an ecclesiastical commission to the church of the Colossians, and was afterwards bishop of Ephesus. If language therefore has any meaning, and if history has recorded a fact which may be believed, there is no case more opposite to the doctrine of the receivers, than this which they produce in its support.
It is said again, that Christianity, among the many important precepts which it contains, does not furnish us with one for the abolition of slavery. But the reason is obvious. Slavery at the time of the introduction of the gospel was universally prevalent, and if Christianity had abruptly declared, that the millions of slaves should have been made free, who were then in the world, it would have been universally rejected, as containing doctrines that were dangerous, if not destructive, to society. In order therefore that it might be universally received, it never meddled, by any positive precept, with the civil institutions of the times: but though it does not expressly say, that “you shall neither buy, nor sell, nor possess a slave,” it is evident that, in its general tenour, it sufficiently militates against the custom.
The first doctrine which it inculcates, is that of brotherly love. It commands good will towards men. It enjoins us to love our neighbours as ourselves, and to do unto all men, as we would that they should do unto us. And how can any man fulfil this scheme of universal benevolence, who reduces an unfortunate person against his will, to the most insupportable of all human conditions; who considers him as his private property, and treats him, not as a brother, nor as one of the same parentage with himself, but as an animal of the brute creation?
But the most important doctrine is that, by which we are assured that mankind are to exist in a future state, and to give an account of those actions, which they have severally done in the flesh. This strikes at the very root of slavery. For how can any man be justly called to an account for his actions, whose actions are not at his own disposal? This is the case with the *proper slave. His liberty is absolutely bought and appropriated; and if the purchase is just and equitable, he is under the necessity of perpetrating any crime, which the purchaser may order him to commit, or, in other words, of ceasing to be accountable for his actions.
These doctrines therefore are sufficient to shew, that slavery is incompatible with the Christian system. The Europeans considered them as such, when, at the close of the twelfth century, they resisted their hereditary prejudices, and occasioned its abolition. Hence one, among many other proofs, that Christianity was the production of infinite wisdom; that though it did not take such express cognizance of the wicked national institutions of the times, as should hinder its reception, it should yet contain such doctrines, as, when it should be fully established, would be sufficient for the abolition of them all.
Thus then is the argument of you receivers ineffectual, and your conduct impious. For, by the prosecution of this wicked slavery and commerce, you not only oppose the propagation of that gospel which was ordered to be preached unto every creature, and bring it into contempt, but you oppose its tenets also: first, because you violate that law of universal benevolence, which was to take away those hateful distinctions of Jew and Gentile, Greek and Barbarian, bond and free, which prevailed when the gospel was introduced; and secondly, because, as every man is to give an account of his actions hereafter, it is necessary that he should be free.
Another argument yet remains, which, though nature will absolutely turn pale at the recital, cannot possibly be omitted. In those wars, which are made for the sake of procuring slaves, it is evident that the contest must be generally obstinate, and that great numbers must be slain on both sides, before the event can be determined. This we may reasonably apprehend to be the case: and we have * shewn, that there have not been wanting instances, where the conquerors have been so incensed at the resistance they have found, that their spirit of vengeance has entirely got the better of their avarice, and they have murdered, in cool blood, every individual, without discrimination, either of age or sex. From these and other circumstances, we thought we had sufficient reason to conclude, that, where ten were supposed to be taken, an hundred, including the victors and vanquished, might be supposed to perish. Now, as the annual exportation from Africa consists of an hundred thousand men, and as the two orders, of those who are privately kidnapped by individuals, and of those, who are publickly seized by virtue of the authority of their prince, compose together, at least, nine-tenths of the African slaves, it follows, that about ten thousand consist of convicts and prisoners of war. The last order is the most numerous. Let us suppose then that only six thousand of this order are annually sent into servitude, and it will immediately appear that no less than sixty thousand people annually perish in those wars, which are made only for the purpose of procuring slaves. But that this number, which we believe to be by no means exaggerated, may be free from all objection, we will include those in the estimate, who die as they are travelling to the ships. Many of these unfortunate people have a journey of one thousand miles to perform on foot, and are driven like sheep through inhospitable woods and deserts, where they frequently die in great numbers, from fatigue and want. Now if to those, who thus perish on the African continent, by war and travelling, we subjoin * those, who afterwards perish on the voyage, and in the seasoning together, it will appear that, in every yearly attempt to supply the colonies, an hundred thousand must perish, even before one useful individual can be obtained.
Gracious God! how wicked, how beyond all example impious, must be that servitude, which cannot be carried on without the continual murder of so many and innocent persons! What punishment is not to be expected for such monstrous and unparalleled barbarities! For if the blood of one man, unjustly shed, cries with so loud a voice for the divine vengeance, how shall the cries and groans of an hundred thousand men, annually murdered, ascend the celestial mansions, and bring down that punishment, which such enormities deserve! But do we mention punishment? Do we allude to that punishment, which shall be inflicted on men as individuals, in a future life? Do we allude to that awful day, which shall surely come, when the master shall behold his murdered negroe face to face? When a train of mutilated slaves shall be brought against him? When he shall stand confounded and abashed? Or, do we allude to that punishment, which may be inflicted on them here, as members of a wicked community? For as a body politick, if its members are ever so numerous, may be considered as an whole, acting of itself, and by itself, in all affairs in which it is concerned, so it is accountable, as such, for its conduct; and as these kinds of polities have only their existence here, so it is only in this world, that, as such, they can be punished.
“Now, whether we consider the crime, with respect to the individuals immediately concerned in this most barbarous and cruel traffick, or whether we consider it as * patronized and encouraged by the laws of the land, it presents to our view an equal degree of enormity, A crime, founded on a dreadful pre-eminence in wickedness,—a crime, which being both of individuals and the nation, must sometime draw down upon us the heaviest judgment of Almighty God, who made of one blood all the sons of men, and who gave to all equally a natural right to liberty; and who, ruling all the kingdoms of the earth with equal providential justice, cannot suffer such deliberate, such monstrous iniquity, to pass long unpunished.†
But alas! he seems already to have interfered on the occasion! The * violent and supernatural agitations of all the elements, which, for a series of years, have prevailed in those European settlements, where the unfortunate Africans are retained in a state of slavery, and which have brought unspeakable calamities on the inhabitants, and publick losses on the states to which they severally belong, are so many awful visitations of God for this inhuman violation of his laws. And it is not perhaps unworthy of remark, that as the subjects of Great-Britain have two thirds of this impious commerce in their own hands, so they have suffered in the same proportion, or * more severely than the rest.
How far these misfortunes may appear to be acts of providence, and to create an alarm to those who have been accustomed to refer every effect to its apparent cause; who have been habituated to stop there, and to overlook the finger of God, because it is slightly covered under the veil of secondary laws, we will not pretend to determine? but this we will assert with confidence, that the Europeans have richly deserved them all; that the fear of sympathy, which can hardly be restrained on other melancholy occasions, seems to forget to flow at the relation of these; and that we can never, with any shadow of justice, wish prosperity to the undertakers of those, whose success must be at the expence of the happiness of millions of their fellow-creatures.
But this is sufficient. For if liberty is only an adventitious right; if men are by no means superiour to brutes; if every social duty is a curse; if cruelty is highly to be esteemed; if murder is strictly honourable, and Christianity is a lye; then it is evident, that the African slavery may be pursued, without either the remorse of conscience, or the imputation of a crime. But if the contrary of this is true, which reason must immediately evince, it is evident that no custom established among men was ever more impious; since it is contrary to reason, justice, nature, the principles of law and government, the whole doctrine, in short, of natural religion, and the revealed voice of God.
[* ]It is universally allowed, that at least one fifth of the exported negroes perish in the passage. This estimate is made from the time in which they are put on board, to the time when they are disposed of in the colonies. The French are supposed to lose the greatest number in the voyage, but particularly from this circumstance, because their slave ships are in general so very large, that many of the slaves that have been put on board sickly, die before the cargo can be completed.
[* ]This instance happened in a ship, commanded by one Collingwood. On the 29th of November, 1781, fifty-four of them were thrown into the sea alive; on the 30th forty-two more; and in about three days afterwards, twenty-six. Ten others, who were brought upon the deck for the same purpose, did not wait to be hand-cuffed, but bravely leaped into the sea, and shared the fate of their companions. It is a fact, that the people on board this ship had not been put upon short allowance. The excuse which this execrable wretch made on board for his conduct, was the following, “that if the slaves, who were then sickly, had died a natural death, the loss would have been the owners; but as they were thrown alive into the sea, it would fall upon the under writers.”
[* ]This gentleman is at present resident in England. The author of this Essay applied to him for some information on the treatment of slaves, so far as his own knowledge was concerned. He was so obliging as to furnish him with the written account alluded to, interspersed only with such instances, as he himself could undertake to answer for. The author, as he has never met with these instances before, and as they are of such high authority, intends to transcribe two or three of them, and insert them in the fourth chapter. They will be found in inverted commas.
[* ]One third of the whole number imported, is often computed to be lost in the seasoning, which, in round numbers, will be 27000. The loss in the seasoning depends, in a great measure, on two circumstances, viz. on the number of what are called refuse slaves that are imported, and on the quantity of new land in the colony. In the French windward islands of Martinico, and Guadaloupe, which are cleared and highly cultivated, and in our old small islands, one fourth, including refuse slaves, is considered as a general proportion. But in St. Domingo, where there is a great deal of new land annually taken into culture, and in other colonies in the same situation, the general proportion, including refuse slaves, is found to be one third. This therefore is a lower estimate than the former, and reduces the number to about 23000. We may observe, that this is the common estimate, but we have reduced it to 20000 to make it free from all objection.
[‡ ]Including the number that perish on the voyage, and in the seasoning. It is generally thought that not half the number purchased can be considered as an additional stock, and of course that 50,000 are consumed within the first two years from their embarkation.
[* ]That part of the account, that has been hitherto given, extends to all the Europeans and their colonists, who are concerned in this horrid practice. But we are sorry that we must now make a distinction, and confine the remaining part of it to the colonists of the British West India islands, and to those of the southern provinces of North America. As the employment of slaves is different in the two parts of the world last mentioned, we shall content ourselves with describing it, as it exists in one of them, and we shall afterwards annex such treatment and such consequences as are applicable to both. We have only to add, that the reader must not consider our account as universally, but only generally, true.
[* ]This computation is made on a supposition, that the gang is divided into three bodies; we call it therefore moderate, because the gang is frequently divided into two bodies, which must therefore set up alternately every other night.
[† ]An hand or arm being frequently ground off.
[* ]The reader will scarcely believe it, but it is a fact, that a slave’s annual allowance from his master, for provisions, clothing, medicines when sick, &c. is limited, upon an average, to thirty shillings.
[* ]“A boy having received six slaves as a present from his father, immediately slit their ears, and for the following reason, that as his father was a whimsical man, he might claim them again, unless they were marked.” We do not mention this instance as a confirmation of the passage to which it is annexed, but only to shew, how cautious we ought to be in giving credit to what may be advanced in any work written in defence of slavery, by any native of the colonies: for being trained up to scenes of cruelty from his cradle, he may, consistently with his own feelings, represent that treatment as mild, at which we, who have never been used to see them, should absolutely shudder.
[* ]In this case he is considered as a criminal against the state. The marshal, an officer answering to our sheriff, superintends his execution, and the master receives the value of the slave from the publick treasury. We may observe here, that in all cases where the delinquent is a criminal of the state, he is executed, and his value is received in the same manner. He is tried and condemned by two or three justices of the peace, and without any intervention of a jury.
[* ]Particularly in Jamaica. These observations were made by disinterested people, who were there for three or four years during the late war.
[* ]The action was brought by the owners against the underwriters, to recover the value of the murdered slaves. It was tried at Guildhall.
[* ]Phillis Wheatley, negro slave to Mr. John Wheatley, of Boston, in New-England.
[* ]Lest it should be doubted whether these Poems are genuine, we shall transcribe the names of those, who signed a certificate of their authenticity.
[* ]In the Preface.
[* ]As to Mr. Hume’s assertions with respect to African capacity, we have passed them over in silence, as they have been so admirably refuted by the learned Dr. Beattie, in his Essay on Truth, to which we refer the reader. The whole of this admirable refutation extends from p. 458, to 464.
[* ]Genesis, ch. iv. 15.
[* ]Genesis, ch. ix. 25, 26, 27.
[‡ ]Jeremiah says, ch. xiii. 23, “Can the Æthiopian change his colour, or the leopard his spots?” Now the word, which is here translated Æthiopian, is in the original Hebrew “the descendant of Cush,” which shews that this colour was not confined to the descendants of Canaan, as the advocates for slavery assert.
[* ]It is very extraordinary that the advocates for slavery should consider those Africans, whom they call negroes, as the descendants of Canaan, when few historical facts can be so well ascertained, as that out of the descendants of the four sons of Ham, the descendants of Canaan were the only people, (if we except the Carthaginians, who were a colony of Canaan, and were afterwards ruined) who did not settle in that quarter of the globe. Africa was incontrovertibly peopled by the posterity of the three other sons. We cannot shew this in a clearer manner, than in the words of the learned Mr. Bryant, in his letter to Mr. Granville Sharp on this subject.
[† ]When America was first discovered, it was thought by some, that the scripture account of the creation was false, and that there were different species of men, because they could never suppose that people, in so rude a state as the Americans, could have transported themselves to that continent from any parts of the known world. This opinion however was refuted by the celebrated Captain Cooke, who shewed that the traject between the continents of Asia and America, was as short as some, which people in as rude a state have been actually known to pass. This affords an excellent caution against an ill-judged and hasty censure of the divine writings, because every difficulty which may be started, cannot be instantly cleared up.
[* ]The divine writings, which assert that all men were derived from the same stock, shew also, in the same instance of Cush, p. 180, that some of them had changed their original complexion.
[* ]The following are the grand colours discernible in mankind, between which there are many shades;
[* ]See note, p. 180. To this we may add, that the rest of the descendants of Ham, as far as they can be traced, are now also black, as well as many of the descendants of Shem.
[* ]Diseases have a great effect upon the mucosum corpus, but particularly the jaundice, which turns it yellow. Hence, being transmitted through the cuticle, the yellow appearance of the whole body. But this, even as a matter of ocular demonstration, is not confined solely to white people; negroes themselves, while affected with these or other disorders, changing their black colour for that which the disease has conveyed to the mucous substance.
[† ]The cutaneous pores are so excessively small, that one grain of sand, (according to Dr. Lewenhoeck’s calculations) would cover many hundreds of them.
[* ]We do not mean to insinuate that the same people have their corpus mucosum sensibly vary, as often as they go into another latitude, but that the fact is true only of different people, who have been long established in different latitudes.
[* ]We beg leave to return our thanks here to a gentleman, eminent in the medical line, who furnished us with the abovementioned facts.
[* ]Suppose we were to see two nations, contiguous to each other, of black and white inhabitants in the same parallel, even this would be no objection, for many circumstances are to be considered. A black people may have wandered into a white, and a white people into a black latitude, and they may not have been settled there a sufficient length of time for such a change to have been accomplished in their complexion, as that they should be like the old established inhabitants of the parallel, into which they have lately come.
[* ]Justamond’s Abbé Raynal, v. 5. p. 193.
[† ]The author of this Essay made it his business to inquire of the most intelligent of those, whom he could meet with in London, as to the authenticity of the fact. All those from America assured him that it was strictly true; those from the West-Indies, that they had never observed it there; but that they had found a sensible difference in themselves since they came to England.
[* ]This circumstance, which always happens, shews that they are descended from the same parents as ourselves; for had they been a distinct species of men, and the blackness entirely ingrafted in their constitution and frame, there is great reason to presume, that their children would have been born black.
[* ]This observation was communicated to us by the gentleman in the medical line, to whom we returned our thanks for certain anatomical facts.
[* ]Philos. Trans. No. 476. sect. 4.
[‡ ]Treatise upon the Trade from Great Britain to Africa, by an African merchant.
[* ]We mean such only as are natives of the countries which we mention, and whose ancestors have been settled there for a certain period of time.
[* ]Herodotus. Euterpe. p. 80. Editio Stephani, printed 1570.
[† ]This circumstance confirms what we said in a former note, p. 201, that even if two nations were to be found in the same parallel, one of whom was black, and the other white, it would form no objection against the hypothesis of climate, as one of them might have been new settlers from a distant country.
[* ]Suppose, without the knowledge of any historian, they had made such considerable conquests, as to have settled themselves at the distance of 1000 miles in any one direction from Colchis, still they must have changed their colour. For had they gone in an Eastern or Western direction, they must have been of the same colour as the Circassians; if to the north, whiter; if to the south, of a copper. There are no people within that distance of Colchis, who are black.
[* ]There are a particular people among those transported from Africa to the colonies, who immediately on receiving punishment, destroy themselves. This is a fact which the receivers are unable to contradict.
[* ]The articles of war are frequently read at the head of every regiment in the service, stating those particular actions which are to be considered as crimes.
[* ]We cannot omit here to mention one of the customs, which has been often brought as a palliation of slavery, and which prevailed but a little time ago, and we are doubtful whether it does not prevail now, in the metropolis of this country, of kidnapping men for the service of the East-India Company. Every subject, as long as he behaves well, has a right to the protection of government; and the tacit permission of such a scene of iniquity, when it becomes known, is as much a breach of duty in government, as the conduct of those subjects, who, on other occasions, would be termed, and punished as, rebellious.
[* ]The expences of every parish are defrayed by a poll-tax on negroes, to save which they pretend to liberate those who are past labour; but they still keep them employed in repairing fences, or in doing some trifling work on a scanty allowance. For to free a field-negroe, so long as he can work, is a maxim, which, notwithstanding the numerous boasted manumissions, no master ever thinks of adopting in the colonies.
[∥ ]They must be cultivated always on a Sunday, and frequently in those hours which should be appropriated to sleep, or the wretched possessors must be inevitably starved.
[* ]They are allowed in general three holy-days at Christmas, but in Jamaica they have two also at Easter, and two at Whitsuntide: so that on the largest scale, they have only seven days in a year, or one day in fifty-two. But this is on a supposition, that the receivers do not break in upon the afternoons, which they are frequently too apt to do. If it should be said that Sunday is an holy-day, it is not true; it is so far an holy-day, that they do not work for their masters; but such an holy-day, that if they do not employ it in the cultivation of their little spots, they must be starved.
[* ]These dances are usually in the middle of the night; and so desirous are these unfortunate people of obtaining but a joyful hour, that they not only often give up their sleep, but add to the labours of the day, by going several miles to obtain it.
[* ]Bishop of Glocester’s sermon, preached before the society for the propagation of the gospel, at the anniversary meeting, on the 21st of February, 1766.
[* ]There is a law, (but let the reader remark, that it prevails but in one of the colonies), against mutilation. It took its rise from the frequency of the inhuman practice. But though a master cannot there chop off the limb of a slave with an axe, he may yet work, starve, and beat him to death with impunity.
[† ]Two instances are recorded by the receivers, out of about fifty-thousand, where a white man has suffered death for the murder of a negroe; but the receivers do not tell us, that these suffered more because they were the pests of society, than because the murder of slaves was a crime.
[* ]A negroe-funeral is considered as a curious sight, and is attended with singing, dancing, musick, and every circumstance that can shew the attendants to be happy on the occasion.
[* ]In 96 years, ending in 1774, 800,000 slaves had been imported into the French part of St. Domingo, of which there remained only 290,000 in 1774. Of this last number only 140,000 were creoles, or natives of the island, i. e. of 650,000 slaves, the whole posterity were 140,000. Considerations sur la Colonie de St. Dominique, published by authority in 1777.
[* ]Ten thousand people under fair advantages, and in a soil congenial to their constitutions, and where the means of subsistence are easy, should produce in a century 160,000. This is the proportion in which the Americans increased; and the Africans in their own country increase in the same, if not in a greater proportion. Now as the climate of the colonies is as favourable to their health as that of their own country, the causes of the prodigious decrease in the one, and increase in the other, will be more conspicuous.
[* ]Page 56.
[† ]Page 115.
[* ]Epist. to Philemon.
[* ]The African slave is of this description; and we could wish, in all our arguments on the present subject, to be understood as having spoken only of proper slaves. The slave who is condemned to the oar, to the fortifications, and other publick works, is in a different predicament. His liberty is not appropriated, and therefore none of those consequences can be justly drawn, which have been deduced in the present case.
[* ]See the description of an African battle, p. 98.
[* ]The lowest computation is 40,000, see p. 140.
[* ]The legislature has squandered away more money in the prosecution of the slave trade, within twenty years, than in any other trade whatever, having granted from the year 1750, to the year 1770, the sum of 300,000 pounds.
[† ]Sermon preached before the University of Cambridge, by the Rev. Peter Peckard.
[* ]The first noted earthquake at Jamaica, happened June the 7th 1692, when Port Royal was totally sunk. This was succeeded by one in the year 1697, and by another in the year 1722, from which time to the present, these regions of the globe seem to have been severely visited, but particularly during the last six or seven years. See a general account of the calamities, occasioned by the late tremendous hurricanes and earthquakes in the West-Indian islands, by Mr. Fowler.
[* ]The many ships of war belonging to the British navy, which were lost with all their crews in these dreadful hurricanes, will sufficiently prove the fact.