Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER III. - The History of the Abolition of the African Slave-Trade, vol. 1
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CHAPTER III. - Thomas Clarkson, The History of the Abolition of the African Slave-Trade, vol. 1 
The History of the Rise, Progress, and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave-Trade by the British Parliament, 2 vols. (London: L. Taylor, 1808). Vol. 1.
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Forerunners continued to 1787—divided from this time into four classes—First class consists principally of persons in Great Britain of various descriptions—Godwyn—Baxter—Tryon—Southern—Primatt—Montesquieu—Hutcheson—Sharp—Ramsay—and a multitude of others, whose names and services follow.
I have hitherto traced the history of the forerunners in this great cause only up to about the year 1640. If I am to pursue my plan, I am to trace it to the year 1787. But in order to show what I intend in a clearer point of view, I shall divide those who have lived within this period, and who will now consist of persons in a less elevated station, into four classes: and I shall give to each class a distinct consideration by itself.
Several of our old English writers, though they have not mentioned the African Slave-trade, or the slavery consequent upon it, in their respective works, have yet given their testimony of condemnation against both. Thus our great Milton:—
I might mention bishop Saunderson and others, who bore a testimony equally strong against the lawfulness of trading in the persons of men, and of holding them in bondage, but as I mean to confine myself to those, who have favoured the cause of the Africans specifically, I cannot admit their names into any of the classes which have been announced.
Of those who compose the first class, defined as it has now been, I cannot name any individual who took a part in this cause till between the years 1670 and 1680. For in the year 1640, and for a few years afterwards, the nature of the trade and of the slavery was but little known, except to a few individuals, who were concerned in them; and it is obvious that these would neither endanger their own interest nor proclaim their own guilt by exposing it. The first, whom I shall mention, is Morgan Godwyn, a clergyman of the established church. This pious divine wrote a Treatise upon the subject, which he dedicated to the then archbishop of Canterbury. He gave it to the world, at the time mentioned, under the title of “The Negros and Indians Advocate.” In this treatise he lays open the situation of these oppressed people, of whose sufferings he had been an eye-witness in the island of Barbadoes. He calls forth the pity of the reader in an affecting manner, and exposes with a nervous eloquence the brutal sentiments and conduct of their oppressors. This seems to have been the first work undertaken in England expressly in favour of the cause.
The next person, whom I shall mention, is Richard Baxter, the celebrated divine among the Nonconformists. In his Christian Directory, published about the same time as the Negros and Indians Advocate, he gives advice to those masters in foreign plantations, who have Negros and other slaves. In this he protests loudly against this trade. He says expressly that they, who go out as pirates, and take away poor Africans, or people of another land, who never forfeited life or liberty, and make them slaves and sell them, are the worst of robbers, and ought to be considered as the common enemies of mankind; and that they, who buy them, and use them as mere beasts for their own convenience, regardless of their spiritual welfare, are fitter to be called demons than christians. He then proposes several queries, which he answers in a clear and forcible manner, showing the great inconsistency of this traffic, and the necessity of treating those then in bondage with tenderness and a due regard to their spiritual concerns.
The Directory of Baxter was succeeded by a publication called “Friendly Advice to the Planters: in three parts.” The first of these was, “A brief Treatise of the principal Fruits and Herbs that grow in Barbadoes, Jamaica, and other Plantations in the West Indies.” The second was, “The Negros Complaint, or their hard Servitude, and the Cruelties practised upon them by divers of their Masters professing Christianity.” And the third was, “A Dialogue between an Ethiopian and a Christian, his Master, in America.” In the last of these, Thomas Tryon, who was the author, inveighs both against the commerce and the slavery of the Africans, and in a striking manner examines each by the touchstone of reason, humanity, justice, and religion.
In the year 1696, Southern brought forward his celebrated tragedy of Oronooko, by means of which many became enlightened upon the subject, and interested in it. For this tragedy was not a representation of fictitious circumstances, but of such as had occurred in the colonies, and as had been communicated in a publication by Mrs. Behn.
The person, who seems to have noticed the subject next was Dr. Primatt. In his “Dissertation on the Duty of Mercy, and on the Sin of Cruelty to Brute-animals,” he takes occasion to advert to the subject of the African Slave-trade. “It has pleased God,” says he, “to cover some men with white skins and others with black; but as there is neither merit nor demerit in complexion, the white man, notwithstanding the barbarity of custom and prejudice, can have no right by virtue of his colour to enslave and tyrannize over the black man. For whether a man be white or black, such he is by God’s appointment, and, abstractedly considered, is neither a subject for pride, nor an object of contempt.”
After Dr. Primatt, we come to baron Montesquieu. “Slavery,” says he, “is not good in itself. It is neither useful to the master nor to the slave. Not to the slave, because he can do nothing from virtuous motives. Not to the master, because he contracts among his slaves all sorts of bad habits, and accustoms himself to the neglect of all the moral virtues. He becomes haughty, passionate, obdurate, vindictive, voluptuous, and cruel.” And with respect to this particular species of slavery he proceeds to say, “it is impossible to allow the Negros are men, because, if we allow them to be men, it will begin to be believed that we ourselves are not Christians.”
Hutcheson, in his System of Moral Philosophy, endeavours to show that he, who detains another by force in slavery, can make no good title to him, and adds, “Strange that in any nation where a sense of liberty prevails, and where the Christian religion is professed, custom and high prospect of gain can so stupefy the consciences of men and all sense of natural justice, that they can hear such computations made about the value of their fellow-men and their liberty without abhorrence and indignation!”
Foster, in his Discourses on Natural Religion and Social Virtue, calls the slavery under our consideration “a criminal and outregeous violation of the natural rights of mankind.” I am sorry that I have not room to say all that he says on this subject. Perhaps the following beautiful extracts may suffice:
“But notwithstanding this, we ourselves, who profess to be Christians, and boast of the peculiar advantages we enjoy by means of an express revelation of our duty from heaven, are in effect these very untaught and rude heathen countries. With all our superior light we instil into those, whom we call savage and barbarous, the most despicable opinion of human nature. We, to the utmost of our power, weaken and dissolve the universal tie, that binds and unites mankind. We practise what we should exclaim against as the utmost excess of cruelty and tyranny, if nations of the world, differing in colour and form of government from ourselves, were so possessed of empire, as to be able to reduce us to a state of unmerited and brutish servitude. Of consequence we sacrifice our reason, our humanity, our christianity, to an unnatural sordid gain. We teach other nations to despise and trample under foot all the obligations of social virtue. We take the most effectual method to prevent the propagation of the gospel, by representing it as a scheme of power and barbarous oppression, and an enemy to the natural privileges and rights of man.”
“Perhaps all that I have now offered may be of very little weight to restrain this enormity, this aggravated iniquity. However, I shall still have the satisfaction of having entered my private protest against a practice, which, in my opinion, bios that God, who is the God and Father of the Gentiles unconverted to christianity, most daring and bold defiance, and spurns at all the principles both of natural and revealed religion.”
The next author is sir Richard Steele, who, by means of the affecting story of Inkle and Yarico, holds up this trade again to our abhorrence.
In the year 1735, Atkins, who was a surgeon in the navy, published his Voyage to Guinea, Brazil, and the West-Indies, in his Majesty’s ships Swallow and Weymouth. In this work he describes openly the manner of making the natives slaves, such as by kidnapping, by unjust accusations and trials, and by other nefarious means. He states also the cruelties practised upon them by the white people, and the iniquitous ways and dealings of the latter, and answers their argument, by which they insinuated that the condition of the Africans was improved by their transportation to other countries.
From this time the trade beginning to be better known, a multitude of persons of various stations and characters sprung up, who by exposing it are to be mentioned among the forerunners and coadjutors in the cause.
Pope, in his Essay on Man, where he endeavours to show that happiness in the present depends, among other things, upon the hope of a future state, takes an opportunity of exciting compassion in behalf of the poor African, while he censures the avarice and cruelty of his master:
Thomson also, in his Seasons, marks this traffic as destructive and cruel, introducing the well-known fact of sharks following the vessels employed in it:
Neither was Richard Savage forgetful in his poems of the Injured Africans: he warns their oppressors of a day of retribution for their barbarous conduct. Having personified Public Spirit, he makes her speak on the subject in the following manner:—
Wallis, in his System of the Laws of Scotland, maintains, that “neither men nor governments have a right to sell those of their own species. Men and their liberty are neither purchaseable nor saleable.” And, after arguing the case, he says, “This is the law of nature, which is obligatory on all men, at all times, and in all places.—Would not any of us, who should be snatched by pirates from his native land, think himself cruelly abused, and at all times entitled to be free? Have not these unfortunate Africans, who meet with the same cruel fate, the same right? Are they not men as well as we? And have they not the same sensibility? Let us not therefore defend or support an usage, which is contrary to all the laws of humanity.”
In the year 1750 the reverend Griffith Hughes, rector of St. Lucy, in Barbadoes, published his Natural History of that island. He took an opportunity, in the course of it, of laying open to the world the miserable situation of the poor Africans, and the waste of them by hard labour and other cruel means, and he had the generosity to vindicate their capacities from the charge, which they who held them in bondage brought against them, as a justification of their own wickedness in continuing to deprive them of the rights of men.
Edmund Burke, in his account of the European settlements, (for this work is usually attributed to him,) complains “that the Negroes in our colonies endure a slavery more complete, and attended with far worse circumstances, than what any people in their condition suffer in any other part of the world, or have suffered in any other period of time. Proofs of this are not wanting. The prodigious waste, which we experience in this unhappy part of our species, is a full and melancholy evidence of this truth.” And he goes on to advise the planters for the sake of their own interest to behave like good men, good masters, and good Christians, and to impose less labour upon their slaves, and to give them recreation on some of the grand festivals, and to instruct them in religion, as certain preventives of their decrease.
An anonymous author of a pamphlet, entitled, An Essay in Vindication of the Continental Colonies of America, seems to have come forward next. Speaking of slavery there, he says, “It is shocking to humanity, violative of every generous sentiment, abhorrent utterly from the Christian religion—There cannot be a more dangerous maxim than that necessity is a plea for injustice, for who shall fix the degree of this necessity? What villain so atrocious, who may not urge this excuse, or, as Milton has happily expressed it,
“That our colonies,” he continues, “want people, is a very weak argument for so inhuman a violation of justice—Shall a civilized, a Christian nation encourage slavery, because the barbarous, savage, lawless African hath done it? To what end do we profess a religion whose dictates we so flagrantly violate? Wherefore have we that pattern of goodness and humanity, if we refuse to follow it? How long shall we continue a practice which policy rejects, justice condemns, and piety revolts at?”
The poet Shenstone, who comes next in order, seems to have written an Elegy on purpose to stigmatize this trade. Of this elegy I shall copy only the following parts:
In the year 1755, Dr. Hayter, bishop of Norwich, preached a sermon before the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, in which he bore his testimony against the continuance of this trade.
Dyer, in his poem called The Fleece, expresses his sorrow on account of this barbarous trade, and looks forward to a day of retributive justice on account of the introduction of such an evil.
In the year 1760, a pamphlet appeared, entitled, “Two Dialogues on the Mantrade, by John Philmore.” This name is supposed to be an assumed one. The author, however, discovers himself to have been both an able and a zealous advocate in favour of the African race.
Malachi Postlethwaite, in his Universal Dictionary of Trade and Commerce, proposes a number of queries on the subject of the Slave-trade. I have not room to insert them at full length. But I shall give the following as the substance of some of them to the reader: “Whether this commerce be not the cause of incessant wars among the Africans—Whether the Africans, if it were abolished, might not become as ingenious, as humane, as industrious, and as capable of arts, manufactures, and trades, as even the bulk of Europeans—Whether, if it were abolished, a much more profitable trade might not be substituted, and this to the very centre of their extended country, instead of the trifling portion which now subsists upon their coasts—And whether the great hindrance to such a new and advantageous commerce has not wholly proceeded from that unjust, inhuman, unchristian-like traffic, called the Slave-trade, which is carried on by the Europeans.” The public proposal of these and other queries by a man of so great commercial knowledge as Postlethwaite, and by one who was himself a member of the African Committee, was of great service in exposing the impolicy as well as immorality of the Slave-trade.
In the year 1761, Thomas Jeffery published an account of a part of North America, in which he lays open the miserable state of the slaves in the West Indies, both as to their clothing, their food, their labour, and their punishments. But, without going into particulars, the general account he gives of them is affecting: “It is impossible,” he says, “for a human heart to reflect upon the slavery of these dregs of mankind, without in some measure feeling for their misery, which ends but with their lives—Nothing can be more wretched than the condition of this people.”
Sterne, in his account of the Negro girl in his Life of Tristram Shandy, took decidedly the part of the oppressed Africans. The pathetic, witty, and sentimental manner, in which he handled this subject, occasioned many to remember it, and procured a certain portion of feeling in their favour.
Rousseau contributed not a little in his day to the same end.
Bishop Warburton preached a sermon in the year 1766, before the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, in which he took up the cause of the miserable Africans, and in which he severely reprobated their oppressors. The language in this sermon is so striking, that I shall make an extract from it. “From the free savages,” says he, “I now come to the savages in bonds. By these I mean the vast multitudes yearly stolen from the opposite continent, and sacrificed by the colonists to their great idol the god of gain. But what then, say these sincere worshippers of mammon? They are our own property which we offer up.—Gracious God! to talk, as of herds of cattle, of property in rational creatures, creatures endued with all our faculties, possessing all our qualities but that of colour, our brethren both by nature and grace, shocks all the feelings of humanity, and the dictates of common sense! But, alas! what is there, in the infinite abuses of society, which does not shock them? Yet nothing is more certain in itself and apparent to all, than that the infamous traffic for slaves directly infringes both divine and human law. Nature created man free, and grace invites him to assert his freedom.”
“In excuse of this violation it hath been pretended, that though indeed these miserable outcasts of humanity be torn from their homes and native country by fraud and violence, yet they thereby become the happier, and their condition the more eligible. 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 deserts? 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; a return so passionately longed for, that, despairing of happiness here, that is, of escaping the chains of their cruel task-masters, they console themselves with feigning it to be the gracious reward of heaven in their future state”—
About this time certain cruel and wicked practices, which must now be mentioned, had arrived at such a height, and had become so frequent in the metropolis, as to produce of themselves other coadjutors to the cause.
Before the year 1700, planters, merchants, and others, resident in the West Indies, but coming to England, were accustomed to bring with them certain slaves to act as servants with them during their stay. The latter, seeing the freedom and the happiness of servants in this country, and considering what would be their own hard fate on their return to the islands, frequently absconded. Their masters of course made search after them, and often had them seized and carried away by force. It was, however, thrown out by many on these occasions, that the English laws did not sanction such proceedings, for that all persons who were baptized became free. The consequence of this was, that most of the slaves, who came over with their masters, prevailed upon some pious clergyman to baptize them. They took of course godfathers of such citizens as had the generosity to espouse their cause. When they were seized they usually sent to these, if they had an opportunity, for their protection. And in the result, their godfathers, maintaining that they had been baptized, and that they were free on this account as well as by the general tenour of the laws of England, dared those, who had taken possession of them, to send them out of the kingdom.
The planters, merchants, and others, being thus circumstanced, knew not what to do. They were afraid of taking their slaves away by force, and they were equally afraid of bringing any of the cases before a public court. In this dilemma, in 1729 they applied to York and Talbot, the attorney and solicitor-general for the time being, and obtained the following strange opinion from them:—“We are of opinion, that a slave by coming from the West Indies into Great Britain or Ireland, either with or without his master, does not become free, and that his master’s right and property in him is not thereby determined or varied, and that baptism doth not bestow freedom on him, nor make any alteration in his temporal condition in these kingdoms. We are also of opinion, that the master may legally compel him to return again to the plantations.”
This cruel and illegal opinion was delivered in the year 1729. The planters, merchants, and others, gave it of course all the publicity in their power. And the consequences were as might easily have been apprehended. In a little time slaves absconding were advertised in the London papers as runaways, and rewards offered for the apprehension of them, in the same brutal manner as we find them advertised in the land of slavery. They were advertised also, in the same papers, to be sold by auction, sometimes by themselves, and at others with horses, chaises, and harness. They were seized also by their masters, or by persons employed by them, in the very streets, and dragged from thence to the ships; and so unprotected now were these poor slaves, that persons in nowise concerned with them began to institute a trade in their persons, making agreements with captains of ships going to the West Indies to put them on board at a certain price. This last instance shows how far human nature is capable of going, and is an answer to those persons, who have denied that kidnapping in Africa was a source of supplying the Slave-trade. It shows, as all history does from the time of Joseph, that, where there is a market for the persons of human beings, all kinds of enormities will be practised to obtain them.
These circumstances then, as I observed before, did not fail of producing new coadjutors in the cause. And first they produced that able and indefatigable advocate Mr. Granville Sharp. This gentleman is to be distinguished from those who preceded him by this particular, that, whereas these were only writers, he was both a writer and an actor in the cause. In fact, he was the first labourer in it in England. By the words “actor” and “labourer,” I mean that he determined upon a plan of action in behalf of the oppressed Africans, to the accomplishment of which he devoted a considerable portion of his time, talents, and substance. What Mr. Sharp has done to merit the title of coadjutor in this high sense, I shall now explain. The following is a short history of the beginning and of the course of his labours.
In the year 1765, Mr. David Lisle had brought over from Barbadoes Jonathan Strong, an African slave, as his servant. He used the latter in a barbarous manner at his lodgings in Wapping, but particularly by beating him over the head with a pistol, which occasioned his head to swell. When the swelling went down, a disorder fell into his eyes, which threatened the loss of them. To this an ague and fever succeeded, and a lameness in both his legs.
Jonathan Strong, having been brought into this deplorable situation, and being therefore wholly useless, was left by his master to go whither he pleased. He applied accordingly to Mr. William Sharp the surgeon for his advice, as to one who gave up a portion of his time to the healing of the diseases of the poor. It was here that Mr. Granville Sharp, the brother of the former, saw him. Suffice it to say, that in process of time he was cured. During this time Mr. Granville Sharp, pitying his hard case, supplied him with money, and he afterwards got him a situation in the family of Mr. Brown, an apothecary, to carry out medicines.
In this new situation, when Strong had become healthy and robust in his appearance, his master happened to see him. The latter immediately formed the design of possessing him again. Accordingly, when he had found out his residence, he procured John Ross keeper of the Poultry-compter, and William Miller an officer under the lord-mayor, to kidnap him. This was done by sending for him to a public-house in Fenchurch-street, and then seizing him. By these he was conveyed, without any warrant, to the Poultry-compter, where he was sold by his master, to John Kerr, for thirty pounds.
Strong, in this situation, sent, as was usual, to his godfathers, John London and Stephen Nail, for their protection. They went, but were refused admittance to him. At length he sent for Mr. Granville Sharp. The latter went, but they still refused access to the prisoner. He insisted, however, upon seeing him, and charged the keeper of the prison at his peril to deliver him up till he had been carried before a magistrate.
Mr. Sharp, immediately upon this, waited upon Sir Robert Kite, the then lord-mayor, and entreated him to send for Strong, and to hear his case. A day was accordingly appointed. Mr. Sharp attended, and also William McBean, a notary-public, and David Laird, captain of the ship Thames, which was to have conveyed Strong to Jamaica, in behalf of the purchaser, John Kerr. A long conversation ensued, in which the opinion of York and Talbot was quoted. Mr. Sharp made his observations. Certain lawyers, who were present, seemed to be staggered at the case, but inclined rather to recommit the prisoner. The lord-mayor, however, discharged Strong, as he had been taken up without a warrant.
As soon as this determination was made known, the parties began to move off. Captain Laird, however, who kept close to Strong, laid hold of him before he had quitted the room, and said aloud, “Then I now seize him as my slave.” Upon this, Mr. Sharp put his hand upon Laird’s shoulder, and pronounced these words: “I charge you, in the name of the king, with an assault upon the person of Jonathan Strong, and all these are my witnesses.” Laird was greatly intimidated by this charge, made in the presence of the lord-mayor and others, and, fearing a prosecution, let his prisoner go, leaving him to be conveyed away by Mr. Sharp.
Mr. Sharp, having been greatly affected by this case, and foreseeing how much he might be engaged in others of a similar nature, thought it time that the law of the land should be known upon this subject. He applied therefore to Doctor Blackstone, afterwards Judge Blackstone, for his opinion upon it. He was, however, not satisfied with it, when he received it; nor could he obtain any satisfactory answer from several other lawyers, to whom he afterwards applied. The truth is, that the opinion of York and Talbot, which had been made public and acted upon by the planters, merchants, and others, was considered of high authority, and scarcely any one dared to question the legality of it. In this situation, Mr. Sharp saw no means of help but in his own industry, and he determined immediately to give up two or three years to the study of the English law, that he might the better advocate the cause of these miserable people. The result of these studies was the publication of a book in the year 1769, which he called “A Representation of the Injustice and dangerous Tendency of tolerating Slavery in England.” In this work he refuted, in the clearest manner, the opinion of York and Talbot. He produced against it the opinion of the Lord Chief Justice Holt, who many years before had determined, that every slave coming into England became free. He attacked and refuted it again by a learned and laborious inquiry into all the principles of Villenage. He refuted it again, by showing it to be an axiom in the British constitution, “That every man in England was free to sue for and defend his rights, and that force could not be used without a legal process,” leaving it to the judges to determine, whether an African was a man. He attacked, also, the opinion of Judge Blackstone, and showed where his error lay. This valuable book, containing these and other kinds of arguments on the subject, he distributed, but particularly among the lawyers, giving them an opportunity of refuting or acknowledging the doctrines it contained.
While Mr. Sharp was engaged in this work, another case offered, in which he took a part. This was in the year 1768. Hylas, an African slave, prosecuted a person of the name of Newton for having kidnapped his wife, and sent her to the West Indies. The result of the trial was, that damages to the amount of a shilling were given, and the defendant was bound to bring back the woman, either by the first ship, or in six months from this decision of the court.
But soon after the work just mentioned was out, and when Mr. Sharp was better prepared, a third case occurred. This happened in the year 1770. Robert Stapylton, who lived at Chelsea, in conjunction with John Malony and Edward Armstrong, two watermen, seized the person of Thomas Lewis, an African slave, in a dark night, and dragged him to a boat lying in the Thames; they then gagged him, and tied him with a cord, and rowed him down to a ship, and put him on board to be sold as a slave in Jamaica. This base action took place near the garden of Mrs. Banks, the mother of the present Sir Joseph Banks. Lewis, it appears, on being seized, screamed violently. The servants of Mrs. Banks, who heard his cries, ran to his assistance, but the boat was gone. On informing their mistress of what had happened, she sent for Mr. Sharp, who began now to be known as the friend of the helpless Africans, and professed her willingness to incur the expense of bringing the delinquents to justice. Mr. Sharp, with some difficulty, procured a habeas corpus, in consequence of which Lewis was brought from Gravesend just as the vessel was on the point of sailing. An action was then commenced against Stapylton, who defended himself, on the plea, “That Lewis belonged to him as his slave.” In the course of the trial, Mr. Dunning, who was counsel for Lewis, paid Mr. Sharp a handsome compliment, for he held in his hand Mr. Sharp’s book on the injustice and dangerous tendency of tolerating slavery in England, while he was pleading; and in his address to the jury he spoke and acted thus: “I shall submit to you,” says Mr. Dunning, “what my ideas are upon such evidence, reserving to myself an opportunity of discussing it more particularly, and reserving to myself a right to insist upon a position, which I will maintain (and here he held up the book to the notice of those present) in any place and in any court of the kingdom, that our laws admit of no such property* .” The result of the trial was, that the jury pronounced the plaintiff not to have been the property of the defendant, several of them crying out “No property, no property.”
After this, one or two other trials came on, in which the oppressor was defeated, and several cases occurred, in which poor slaves were liberated from the holds of vessels, and other places of confinement, by the exertions of Mr. Sharp. One of these cases was singular. The vessel on board which a poor African had been dragged and confined had reached the Downs, and had actually got under weigh for the West Indies. In two or three hours she would have been out of sight; but just at this critical moment the writ of habeas corpus was carried on board. The officer, who served it on the captain, saw the miserable African chained to the mainmast, bathed in tears, and casting a last mournful look on the land of freedom, which was fast receding from his sight. The captain, on receiving the writ, became outrageous; but, knowing the serious consequences of resisting the law of the land, he gave up his prisoner, whom the officer carried safe, but now crying for joy, to the shore.
But though the injured Africans, whose causes had been tried, escaped slavery, and though many, who had been forcibly carried into dungeons, ready to be transported into the Colonies, had been delivered out of them. Mr. Sharp was not easy in his mind. Not one of the cases had yet been pleaded on the broad ground, “Whether an African slave coming into England became free?” This great question had been hitherto studiously avoided. It was still, therefore, left in doubt. Mr. Sharp was almost daily acting as if it had been determined, and as if he had been following the known law of the land. He wished therefore that the next cause might be argued upon this principle. Lord Mansfield too, who had been biassed by the opinion of York and Talbot, began to waver in consequence of the different pleadings he had heard on this subject. He saw also no end of trials like these, till the law should be ascertained, and he was anxious for a decision on the same basis as Mr. Sharp. In this situation the following case offered, which was agreed upon for the determination of this important question.
James Somerset, an African slave, had been brought to England by his master, Charles Stewart, in November 1769. Somerset, in process of time, left him. Stewart took an opportunity of seizing him, and had him conveyed on board the Ann and Mary, captain Knowles, to be carried out of the kingdom and sold as a slave in Jamaica. The question was—“Whether a slave, by coming into England, became free?”
In order that time might be given for ascertaining the law fully on this head, the case was argued at three different sittings. First, in January, 1772; secondly, in February, 1772; and thirdly, in May, 1772. And that no decision otherwise than what the law warranted might be given, the opinion of the Judges was taken upon the pleadings. The great and glorious result of the trial was, That as soon as ever any slave set his foot upon English territory, he became free.
Thus ended the great case of Somerset, which, having been determined after so deliberate an investigation of the law, can never be reversed while the British Constitution remains. The eloquence displayed in it by those who were engaged on the side of liberty, was perhaps never exceeded on any occasion; and the names of the counsellors Davy, Glynn, Hargrave, Mansfield, and Alleyne, ought always to be remembered with gratitude by the friends of this great cause. For when we consider in how many crowded courts they pleaded, and the number of individuals in these, whose minds they enlightened, and whose hearts they interested in the subject, they are certainly to be put down as no small instruments in the promotion of it: but chiefly to him, under Divine Providence, are we to give the praise, who became the first great actor in it, who devoted his time, his talents, and his substance to this Christian undertaking, and by whose laborious researches the very pleaders themselves were instructed and benefited. By means of his almost incessant vigilance and attention, and unwearied efforts, the poor African ceased to be hunted in our streets as a beast of prey. Miserable as the roof might be, under which he slept, he slept in security. He walked by the side of the stately ship, and he feared no dungeon in her hold. Nor ought we, as Englishmen, to be less grateful to this distinguished individual than the African ought to be upon this occasion. To him we owe it, that we no longer see our public papers polluted by hateful advertisements of the sale of the human species, or that we are no longer distressed by the perusal of impious rewards for bringing back the poor and the helpless into slavery, or that we are prohibited the disgusting spectacle of seeing man bought by his fellow-man.—To him, in short, we owe this restoration of the beauty of our constitution—this prevention of the continuance of our national disgrace.
I shall say but little more of Mr. Sharp at present, than that he felt it his duty, immediately after the trial, to write to Lord North, then principal minister of state, warning him, in the most earnest manner, to abolish immediately both the trade and the slavery of the human species in all the British dominions, as utterly irreconcileable with the principles of the British constitution, and the established religion of the land.
Among other coadjutors, whom the cruel and wicked practices which have now been so amply detailed brought forward, was a worthy clergyman, whose name I have not yet been able to learn. He endeavoured to interest the public feeling in behalf of the injured Africans, by writing an epilogue to the Padlock, in which Mungo appeared as a black servant. This epilogue is so appropriate to the case, that I cannot but give it to the reader. Mungo enters, and thus addresses the audience:—
I may now add, that few theatrical pieces had a greater run than the Padlock; and that this epilogue, which was attached to it soon after it came out, procured a good deal of feeling for the unfortunate sufferers, whose cause it was intended to serve.
Another coadjutor, to whom these cruel and wicked practices gave birth, was Thomas Day, the celebrated author of Sandford and Merton, and whose virtues were well known among those who had the happiness of his friendship. In the year 1773 he published a poem, which he wrote expressly in behalf of the oppressed Africans. He gave it the name of The Dying Negro. The preface to it was written in an able manner by his friend counsellor Bicknell, who is therefore to be ranked among the coadjutors in this great cause. The poem was founded on a simple fact, which had taken place a year or two before. A poor Negro had been seized in London, and forcibly put on board a ship, where he destroyed himself, rather than return to the land of slavery. To the poem is affixed a frontispiece, in which the Negro is represented. He is made to stand in an attitude of the most earnest address to Heaven, in the course of which, with the fatal dagger in his hand, he breaks forth in the following words:
This poem, which was the first ever written expressly on the subject, was read extensively; and it added to the sympathy in favour of suffering humanity, which was now beginning to show itself in the kingdom.
About this time the first edition of the Essay on Truth made its appearance in the world. Dr. Beattie took an opportunity, in this work, of vindicating the intellectual powers of the Africans from the aspersions of Hume, and of condemning their slavery as a barbarous piece of policy, and as inconsistent with the free and generous spirit of the British nation.
In the year 1774, John Wesley, the celebrated divine, to whose pious labours the religious world will be long indebted, undertook the cause of the poor Africans. He had been in America, and had seen and pitied their hard condition. The work which he gave to the world in consequence, was entitled Thoughts on Slavery. Mr. Wesley had this great cause much at heart, and frequently recommended it to the support of those who attended his useful ministry.
In the year 1776, the abbé Proyart brought out, at Paris, his History of Loango, and other kingdoms in Africa, in which he did ample justice to the moral and intellectual character of the natives there.
The same year produced two new friends in England, in the same cause, but in a line in which no one had yet moved. David Hartley, then a member of parliament for Hull, and the son of Dr. Hartley who wrote the Essay on Man, found it impossible any longer to pass over without notice the case of the oppressed Africans. He had long felt for their wretched condition, and, availing himself of his legislative situation, he made a motion in the house of commons, “That the Slave-trade was contrary to the laws of God, and the rights of men.” In order that he might interest the members as much as possible in his motion, he had previously obtained some of the chains in use in this cruel traffic, and had laid them upon the table of the house of commons. His motion was seconded by that great patriot and philanthropist, sir George Saville. But though I am now to state that it failed, I cannot but consider it as a matter of pleasing reflection, that this great subject was first introduced into parliament by those who were worthy of it; by those who had clean hands and irreproachable characters, and to whom no motive of party or faction could be imputed, but only such as must have arisen from a love of justice, a true feeling of humanity, and a proper sense of religion.
About this time two others, men of great talents and learning, promoted the cause of the injured Africans, by the manner in which they introduced them to notice in their respective works.
Dr. Adam Smith, in his Theory of Moral Sentiments, had, so early as the year 1759, held them up in an honourable, and their tyrants in a degrading light. “There is not a Negro from the coast of Africa, who does not, in this respect, possess a degree of magnanimity, which the soul of his sordid master is too often scarce capable of conceiving. Fortune never exerted more cruelly her empire over mankind, than when she subjected those nations of heroes to the refuse of the gaols of Europe, to wretches who possess the virtue neither of the countries they came from, nor of those they go to, and whose levity, brutality, and baseness so justly expose them to the contempt of the vanquished.” And now, in 1776, in his Wealth of Nations, he showed in a forcible manner (for he appealed to the interest of those concerned) the dearness of African labour, or the impolicy of employing slaves.
Professor Millar, in his Origin of Ranks, followed Dr. Smith on the same ground. He explained the impolicy of slavery in general, by its bad effects upon industry, population, and morals. These effects he attached to the system of agriculture as followed in our islands. He showed, besides, how little pains were taken, or how few contrivances were thought of, to ease the labourers there. He contended, that the Africans ought to be better treated, and to be raised to a better condition; and he ridiculed the inconsistency of those who held them in bondage. “It affords,” says he, “a curious spectacle to observe that the same people, who talk in a high strain of political liberty, and who consider the privilege of imposing their own taxes as one of the unalienable rights of mankind, should make no scruple of reducing a great proportion of their fellow-creatures into circumstances, by which they are not only deprived of property, but almost of every species of right. Fortune perhaps never produced a situation more calculated to ridicule a liberal hypothesis, or to show how little the conduct of men is at the bottom directed by any philosophical principles.” It is a great honour to the university of Glasgow, that it should have produced, before any public agitation of this question, three professors* , all of whom bore their public testimony against the continuance of the cruel trade.
From this time, or from about the year 1776, to about the year 1782, I am to put down three other coadjutors, whose labours seem to have come in a right season for the promotion of the cause.
The first of these was Dr. Robertson. In his History of America, he laid open many facts relative to this subject. He showed himself a warm friend both of the Indians and Africans. He lost no opportunity of condemning that trade which brought the latter into bondage: “a trade,” says he, “which is no less repugnant to the feelings of humanity than to the principles of religion.” And in his Charles the Fifth, he showed in a manner that was clear, and never to be controverted, that Christianity was the great cause in the twelfth century of extirpating slavery from the West of Europe. By the establishment of this fact, he rendered important services to the oppressed Africans. For if Christianity, when it began to be felt in the heart, dictated the abolition of slavery, it certainly became those who lived in a Christian country, and who professed the Christian religion, to put an end to this cruel trade.
The second was the abbé Raynal. This author gave an account of the laws, government, and religion of Africa, of the produce of it, of the manners of its inhabitants, of the trade in slaves, of the manner of procuring these, with several other particulars relating to the subject. And at the end of his account, fearing lest the good advice he had given for making the condition of the slaves more comfortable should be construed into an approbation of such a traffic, he employed several pages in showing its utter inconsistency with sound policy, justice, reason, humanity, and religion.
“I will not here,” says he, “so far debase myself as to enlarge the ignominious list of those writers, who devote their abilities to justify by policy what morality condemns. In an age where so many errors are boldly laid open, it would be unpardonable to conceal any truth that is interesting to humanity. If whatever I have hitherto advanced hath seemingly tended only to alleviate the burthen of slavery, the reason is, that it was first necessary to give some comfort to those unhappy beings, whom we cannot set free, and convince their oppressors, that they were cruel, to the prejudice of their real interests. But, in the mean time, till some considerable revolution shall make the evidence of this great truth felt, it may not be improper to pursue this subject further. I shall then first prove that there is no reason of state, which can authorize slavery. I shall not be afraid to cite to the tribunal of reason and justice those governments, which tolerate this cruelty, or which even are not ashamed to make it the basis of their power.”
And a little further on he observes—“Will it be said that he, who wants to make me a slave, does me no injury, but that he only makes use of his rights? Where are those rights? Who hath stamped upon them so sacred a character as to silence mine?”—
In the beginning of the next paragraph he speaks thus: “He, who supports the system of slavery, is the enemy of the whole human race. He divides it into two societies of legal assassins; the oppressors, and the oppressed. It is the same thing as proclaiming to the world, If you would preserve your life, instantly take away mine, for I want to have yours.”
Going on two pages further, we find these words: “But the Negros, they say, are a race born for slavery; their dispositions are narrow, treacherous, and wicked; they themselves allow the superiority of our understandings, and almost acknowledge the justice of our authority.—Yes—The minds of the Negros are contracted, because slavery destroys all the springs of the soul. They are wicked, but not equally so with you. They are treacherous, because they are under no obligation to speak truth to their tyrants. They acknowledge the superiority of our understanding, because we have abused their ignorance. They allow the justice of our authority, because we have abused their weakness.”
“But these Negros, it is further urged, were born slaves. Barbarians! will you persuade me, that a man can be the property of a sovereign, a son the property of a father, a wife the property of a husband, a domestic the property of a master, a Negro the property of a planter?”
But I have no time to follow this animated author, even by short extracts, through the varied strains of eloquence which he displays upon this occasion. I can only say, that his labours entitle him to a high station among the benefactors to the African race.
The third was Dr. Paley, whose genius, talents, and learning have been so eminently displayed in his writings in the cause of natural and revealed religion. Dr. Paley did not write any essay expressly in favour of the Africans. But in his Moral Philosophy, where he treated on slavery, he took an opportunity of condemning, in very severe terms, the continuance of it. In this work he defined what slavery was, and how it might arise consistently with the law of nature; but he made an exception against that which arose from the African trade.
“The Slave-trade,” says he, “upon the coast of Africa, is not excused by these principles. When slaves in that country are brought to market, no questions, I believe, are asked about the origin or justice of the vendor’s title. It may be presumed, therefore, that this title is not always, if it be ever, founded in any of the causes above assigned.”
“But defect of right in the first purchase is the least crime with which this traffic is chargeable. The natives are excited to war and mutual depredation, for the sake of supplying their contracts, or furnishing the markets with slaves. With this the wickedness begins. The slaves, torn away from their parents, wives and children, from their friends and companions, from their fields and flocks, from their home and country, are transported to the European settlements in America, with no other accommodation on ship-board than what is provided for brutes. This is the second stage of the cruelty, from which the miserable exiles are delivered, only to be placed, and that for life, in subjection to a dominion and system of laws, the most merciless and tyrannical that ever were tolerated upon the face of the earth: and from all that can be learned by the accounts of people upon the spot, the inordinate authority, which the Plantation-laws confer upon the slave-holder, is exercised by the English slave-holder, especially, with rigour and brutality.”
“But necessity is pretended, the name under which every enormity is attempted to be justified; and after all, What is the necessity? It has never been proved that the land could not be cultivated there, as it is here, by hired servants. It is said that it could not be cultivated with quite the same conveniency and cheapness, as by the labour of slaves; by which means, a pound of sugar, which the planter now sells for sixpence, could not be afforded under sixpence-halfpenny—and this is the necessity!”
“The great revolution, which has taken place in the western world, may probably conduce (and who knows but that it was designed) to accelerate the fall of this abominable tyranny: and now that this contest and the passions which attend it are no more, there may succeed perhaps a season for reflecting, whether a legislature, which had so long lent its assistance to the support of an institution replete with human misery, was fit to be trusted with an empire, the most extensive that ever obtained in any age or quarter of the world.”
The publication of these sentiments may be supposed to have produced an extensive effect. For the Moral Philosophy was adopted early by some of the colleges in our universities into the system of their education. It soon found its way also into most of the private libraries of the kingdom; and it was, besides, generally read and approved. Dr. Paley, therefore, must be considered as having been a considerable coadjutor in interesting the mind of the public in favour of the oppressed Africans.
In the year 1783, we find Mr. Sharp coming again into notice. We find him at this time taking a part in a cause, the knowledge of which, in proportion as it was disseminated, produced an earnest desire among all disinterested persons for the abolition of the Slave-trade.
In this year, certain underwriters desired to be heard against Gregson and others of Liverpool, in the case of the ship Zong, captain Collingwood, alleging that the captain and officers of the said vessel threw overboard one hundred and thirty-two slaves alive into the sea, in order to defraud them, by claiming the value of the said slaves, as if they had been lost in a natural way. In the course of the trial, which afterwards came on, it appeared, that the slaves on board the Zong were very sickly; that sixty of them had already died; and several were ill and likely to die, when the captain proposed to James Kelsall, the mate, and others, to throw several of them overboard, stating “that if they died a natural death, the loss would fall upon the owners of the ship, but that, if they were thrown into the sea, it would fall upon the underwriters.” He selected accordingly one hundred and thirty-two of the most sickly of the slaves. Fifty-four of these were immediately thrown overboard, and forty-two were made to be partakers of their fate on the succeeding day. In the course of three days afterwards the remaining twenty-six were brought upon deck to complete the number of victims. The first sixteen submitted to be thrown into the sea; but the rest with a noble resolution would not suffer the officers to touch them, but leaped after their companions and shared their fate.
The plea, which was set up in behalf of this atrocious and unparalleled act of wickedness, was, that the captain discovered, when he made the proposal, that he had only two hundred gallons of water on board, and that he had missed his port. It was proved, however, in answer to this, that no one had been put upon short allowance; and that, as if Providence had determined to afford an unequivocal proof of the guilt, a shower of rain fell and continued for three days immediately after the second lot of slaves had been destroyed, by means of which they might have filled many of their vessels* with water, and thus have prevented all necessity for the destruction of the third.
Mr. Sharp was present at this trial, and procured the attendance of a short-hand-writer to take down the facts, which should come out in the course of it. These he gave to the public afterwards. He communicated them also, with a copy of the trial, to the Lords of the Admiralty, as the guardians of justice upon the seas, and to the Duke of Portland, as principal minister of state. No notice however was taken by any of these, of the information which had been thus sent them.
But though nothing was done by the persons then in power, in consequence of the murder of so many innocent individuals, yet the publication of an account of it by Mr. Sharp in the newspapers, made such an impression upon others, that new coadjutors rose up. For, soon after this, we find Thomas Day entering the lists again as the champion of the injured Africans. He had lived to see his poem of The Dying Negro, which had been published in 1773, make a considerable impression. In 1776, he had written a letter to a friend in America, who was the possessor of slaves, to dissuade him by a number of arguments from holding such property. And now, when the knowledge of the case of the ship Zong was spreading, he published that letter under the title of Fragment of an Original Letter on the Slavery of the Negroes.
In this same year, Dr. Porteus, bishop of Chester, but now bishop of London, came forward as a new advocate for the natives of Africa. The way in which he rendered them service, was by preaching a sermon in their behalf, before the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. Of the wide circulation of this sermon, I shall say something in another place, but much more of the enlightened and pious author of it, who from this time never failed to aid, at every opportunity, the cause, which he had so ably undertaken.
In the year 1784, Dr. Gregory produced his Essays Historical and Moral. He took an opportunity of disseminating in these a circumstantial knowledge of the Slave-trade, and an equal abhorrence of it at the same time. He explained the manner of procuring slaves in Africa; the treatment of them in the passage, (in which he mentioned the case of the ship Zong,) and the wicked and cruel treatment of them in the colonies. He recited and refuted also the various arguments adduced in defence of the trade. He showed that it was destructive to our seamen. He produced many weighty arguments also against the slavery itself. He proposed clauses for an act of parliament for the abolition of both; showing the good both to England and her colonies from such a measure, and that a trade might be substituted in Africa, in various articles, for that which he proposed to suppress. By means of the diffusion of light like this, both of a moral and political nature, Dr. Gregory is entitled to be ranked among the benefactors to the African race.
In the same year, Gilbert Wakefield preached a sermon at Richmond in Surry, where, speaking of the people of this nation, he says, “Have we been as renowned for a liberal communication of our religion and our laws as for the possession of them? Have we navigated and conquered to save, to civilize, and to instruct; or to oppress, to plunder, and to destroy? Let India and Africa give the answer to these questions. The one we have exhausted of her wealth and her inhabitants by violence, by famine, and by every species of tyranny and murder. The children of the other we daily carry from off the land of their nativity, like sheep to the slaughter, to return no more. We tear them from every object of their affection, or, sad alternative, drag them together to the horrors of a mutual servitude! We keep them in the profoundest ignorance. We gall them in a tenfold chain, with an unrelenting spirit of barbarity, inconceivable to all but the spectators of it, unexampled among former ages and other nations, and unrecorded even in the bloody registers of heathen persecution. Such is the conduct of us enlightened Englishmen, reformed Christian. Thus have we profited by our superior advantages, by the favour of God, by the doctrines and example of a meek and lowly Saviour. Will not the blessings which we have abused loudly testify against us? Will not the blood which we have shed cry from the ground for vengeance upon our sins?”
In the same year, James Ramsay, vicar of Teston in Kent, became also an able, zealous, and indefatigable patron of the African cause. This gentleman had resided nineteen years in the island of St. Christopher, where he had observed the treatment of the slaves, and had studied the laws relating to them. On his return to England, yielding to his own feelings of duty and the solicitations of some amiable friends, he published a work, which he called An Essay on the Treatment and Conversion of the African Slaves in the British Sugar Colonies. After having given an account of the relative situation of master and slave in various parts of the world, he explained the low and degrading situation which the Africans held in society in our own islands. He showed that their importance would be increased, and the temporal interest of their masters promoted, by giving them freedom, and by granting them other privileges. He showed the great difficulty of instructing them in the state in which they then were, and such as he himself had experienced both in his private and public attempts, and such as others had experienced also. He stated the way in which private attempts of this nature might probably be successful. He then answered all objections against their capacities, as drawn from philosophy, form, anatomy, and observation; and vindicated these from his own experience. And lastly, he threw out ideas for the improvement of their condition, by an establishment of a greater number of spiritual pastors among them; by giving them more privileges than they then possessed; and by extending towards them the benefits of a proper police. Mr. Ramsay had no other motive for giving this work to the public, than that of humanity, or a wish to serve this much-injured part of the human species. For he compiled it at the hazard of forfeiting that friendship, which he had contracted with many during his residence in the islands, and of suffering much in his private property, as well as subjecting himself to the ill-will and persecution of numerous individuals.
The publication of this book by one, who professed to have been so long resident in the islands, and to have been an eye-witness of facts, produced, as may easily be supposed, a good deal of conversation, and made a considerable impression, but particularly at this time, when a storm was visibly gathering over the heads of the oppressors of the African race. These circumstances occasioned one or two persons to attempt to answer it, and these answers brought Mr. Ramsay into the first controversy ever entered into on this subject, during which, as is the case in most controversies, the cause of truth was spread.
The works, which Mr. Ramsay wrote upon this subject, were, the Essay, just mentioned, in 1784. An Enquiry, also, into the Effects of the Abolition of the Slave-trade, in 1784. A Reply to personal Invectives and Objections, in 1785. A Letter to James Tobin, Esq., in 1787. Objections to the Abolition of the Slave-trade, with Answers: and an Examination of Harris’s Scriptural Researches on the Licitness of the Slave-trade, in 1788;—and An Address on the proposed Bill for the Abolition of the Slave-trade, in 1789. In short, from the time when he first took up the cause, he was engaged in it till his death, which was not a little accelerated by his exertions. He lived however to see this cause in a train for parliamentary inquiry, and he died satisfied, being convinced, as he often expressed, that the investigation must inevitably lead to the total abolition of the Slave-trade.
In the next year, that is, in the year 1785, another advocate was seen in monsieur Necker, in his celebrated work on the French Finances, which had just been translated into the English language from the original work, in 1784. This virtuous statesman, after having given his estimate of the population and revenue of the French West Indian colonies, proceeds thus: “The colonies of France contain, as we have seen, near five hundred thousand slaves, and it is from the number of these poor wretches that the inhabitants set a value on their plantations. What a dreadful prospect! and how profound a subject for reflection! Alas! how little are we both in our morality and our principles! We preach up humanity, and yet go every year to bind in chains twenty thousand natives of Africa! We call the Moors barbarians and ruffians, because they attack the liberty of Europeans at the risk of their own; yet these Europeans go, without danger, and as mere speculators, to purchase slaves by gratifying the avarice of their masters, and excite all those bloody scenes, which are the usual preliminaries of this traffic!” He goes on still further in the same strain. He then shows the kind of power, which has supported this execrable trade. He throws out the idea of a general compact, by which all the European nations should agree to abolish it. And he indulges the pleasing hope, that it may take place even in the present generation.
In the same year we find other coadjutors coming before our view, but these in a line different from that, in which any other belonging to this class had yet moved. Mr. George White, a clergyman of the established church, and Mr. John Chubb, suggested to Mr. William Tucket, the mayor of Bridgewater, where they resided, and to others of that town, the propriety of petitioning parliament for the abolition of the Slave-trade. This petition was agreed upon, and, when drawn up, was as follows:—
“The humble petition of the inhabitants of Bridgewater showeth,
“That your petitioners, reflecting with the deepest sensibility on the deplorable condition of that part of the human species, the African Negros, who by the most flagitious means are reduced to slavery and misery in the British colonies, beg leave to address this honourable house in their behalf, and to express a just abhorrence of a system of oppression, which no prospect of private gain, no consideration of public advantage, no plea of political expediency, can sufficiently justify or excuse.
“That, satisfied as your petitioners are that this inhuman system meets with the general execration of mankind, they flatter themselves the day is not far distant when it will be universally abolished. And they most ardently hope to see a British parliament, by the extinction of that sanguinary traffic, extend the blessings of liberty to millions beyond this realm, hold up to an enlightened world a glorious and merciful example, and stand foremost in the defence of the violated rights of human nature.”
This petition was presented by the honourable Ann Poulet, and Alexander Hood, esq., (now lord Bridport) who were the members for the town of Bridgewater. It was ordered to lie on the table. The answer, which these gentlemen gave to their constituents relative to the reception of it in the house of commons, is worthy of notice: “There did not appear,” say they in their common letter, “the least disposition to pay any further attention to it. Every one almost says, that the abolition of the Slave-trade must immediately throw the West Indian islands into convulsions, and soon complete their utter ruin. Thus they will not trust Providence for its protection for so pious an undertaking.”
In the year 1786, captain J. S. Smith of the royal navy offered himself to the notice of the public in behalf of the African cause. Mr. Ramsay, as I have observed before, had become involved in a controversy in consequence of his support of it. His opponents not only attacked his reputation, but had the effrontery to deny his facts. This circumstance occasioned captain Smith to come forward. He wrote a letter to his friend Mr. Hill, in which he stated that he had seen those things, while in the West Indies, which Mr. Ramsay had asserted to exist, but which had been so boldly denied. He gave also permission to Mr. Hill to publish this letter. Too much praise cannot be bestowed on captain Smith, for thus standing forth in a noble cause, and in behalf of an injured character.
The last of the necessary forerunners and coadjutors of this class, whom I am to mention, was our much-admired poet, Cowper; and a great coadjutor he was, when we consider what value was put upon his sentiments, and the extraordinary circulation of his works. There are few persons, who have not been properly impressed by the following lines:
[* ]It is lamentable to think, that the same Mr. Dunning, in a cause of this kind, which came on afterwards, took the opposite side of the question.
[* ]The other was professor Hutcheson, before mentioned in p. 49.
[* ]It appeared that they filled six.
[* ]Expressions used in the great trial, when Mr. Sharp obtained the verdict in favour of Somerset.