Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XIX. - The History of the Abolition of the African Slave-Trade, vol. 1
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CHAPTER XIX. - 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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Author procecds to Manchester—finds a spirit rising among the people there for the abolition of the Slave-trade—is requested to deliver a discourse on the subject of the Slave-trade—heads of it—and extracts—proceeds to Keddleston—and Birmingham—finds a similar spirit at the latter place—revisits Bristol—new and difficult situation there—Author crosses the Severn at night—unsuccessful termination of his journey—returns to London.
I now took my departure from Liverpool, and proceeded to Manchester, where I arrived on the Friday evening. On the Saturday morning Mr. Thomas Walker, attended by Mr. Cooper and Mr. Bayley of Hope, called upon me. They were then strangers to me. They came, they said, having heard of my arrival, to congratulate me on the spirit which was then beginning to show itself, among the people of Manchester and of other places, on the subject of the Slave-trade, and which would unquestionably manifest itself further by breaking out into petitions to parliament for its abolition. I was much surprised at this information. I had devoted myself so entirely to my object, that I had never had time to read a newspaper since I left London. I never knew therefore, till now, that the attention of the public had been drawn to the subject in such a manner. And as to petitions, though I myself had suggested the idea at Bridgewater, Bristol, Gloucester, and two or three other places, I had only done it provisionally, and this without either the knowledge or the consent of the committee. The news, however, as it astonished, so it almost overpowered me with joy. I rejoiced in it because it was a proof of the general good disposition of my countrymen; because it showed me that the cause was such as needed only to be known, to be patronised; and because the manifestation of this spirit seemed to me to be an earnest, that success would ultimately follow.
The gentlemen now mentioned took me away with them, and introduced me to Mr. Thomas Phillips. We conversed at first upon the discoveries made in my journey; but in a little time, understanding that I had been educated as a clergyman, they came upon me with one voice, as if it had been before agreed upon, to deliver a discourse the next day, which was Sunday, on the subject of the Slave-trade. I was always aware that it was my duty to do all that I could with propriety to serve the cause I had undertaken, and yet I found myself embarrassed at their request. Foreseeing, as I have before related, that this cause might demand my attention to it for the greatest part of my life, I had given up all thoughts of my profession. I had hitherto but seldom exercised it, and then only to oblige some friend. I doubted too, at the first view of the thing, whether the pulpit ought to be made an engine for political purposes, though I could not but consider the Slave-trade as a mass of crimes, and therefore the effort to get rid of it as a Christian duty. I had an idea too, that sacred matters should not be entered upon without due consideration, nor prosecuted in a hasty but in a decorous and solemn manner. I saw besides, that as it was then two o’clock in the afternoon, and this sermon was to be forthcoming the next day, there was not sufficient time to compose it properly. All these difficulties I suggested to my new friends without any reserve. But nothing that I could urge would satisfy them. They would not hear of a refusal, and I was obliged to give my consent, though I was not reconciled to the measure.
When I went into the church it was so full that I could scarcely get to my place; for notice had been publicly given, though I knew nothing of it, that such a discourse would be delivered. I was surprised also to find a great crowd of black people standing round the pulpit. There might be forty or fifty of them. The text that I took, as the best to be found in such a hurry, was the following: “Thou shalt not oppress a stranger, for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
I took an opportunity of showing from these words, that Moses, in endeavouring to promote among the Children of Israel a tender disposition towards those unfortunate strangers who had come under their dominion, reminded them of their own state when strangers in Egypt, as one of the most forcible arguments which could be used on such an eccasion. For they could not have forgotten that the Egyptians “had made them serve with rigour; that they had made their lives bitter with hard bondage, in mortar, and in brick, and in all manner of service in the field; and that all the service, wherein they made them serve, was with rigour.” The argument therefore of Moses was simply this; “Ye knew well, when ye were strangers in Egypt, the nature of your own feelings. Were you not made miserable by your debased situation there? But if so, you must be sensible that the stranger, who has the same heart, or the same feelings with yourselves, must experience similar suffering, if treated in a similar manner. I charge you then, knowing this, to stand clear of the crime of his oppression.”
The law, then, by which Moses commanded the Children of Israel to regulate their conduct with respect to the usage of the stranger, I showed to be a law of universal and eternal obligation, and for this, among other reasons, that it was neither more nor less than the Christian law, which appeared afterwards, that we should not do that to others, which we should be unwilling to have done unto ourselves.
Having gone into these statements at some length, I made an application of them in the following words:—
“This being the case, and this law of Moses being afterwards established into a fundamental precept of Christianity, I must apply it to facts of the present day, and I am sorry that I must apply it to—ourselves.
“And first, Are there no strangers, whom we oppress? I fear the wretched African will say, that he drinks the cup of sorrow, and that he drinks it at our hands. Torn from his native soil, and from his family and friends, he is immediately forced into a situation, of all others the most degrading, where he and his progeny are considered as cattle, as possessions, and as the possessions of a man to whom he never gave offence.
“It is a melancholy fact, but it can be abundantly proved, that great numbers of the unfortunate strangers, who are carried from Africa to our colonies, are fraudulently and forcibly taken from their native soil. To descant but upon a single instance of the kind must be productive of pain to the ear of sensibility and freedom. Consider the sensations of the person, who is thus carried off by the ruffians, who have been lurking to intercept him. Separated from every thing which he esteems in life, without the possibility even of bidding his friends adieu, behold him overwhelmed in tears—wringing his hands in despair—looking backwards upon the spot where all his hopes and wishes lay,—while his family at home are waiting for him with anxiety and suspense—are waiting, perhaps, for sustenance—are agitated between hope and fear—till length of absence confirms the latter, and they are immediately plunged into inconceivable misery and distress.
“If this instance, then, is sufficiently melancholy of itself, and is at all an act of oppression, how complicated will our guilt appear, who are the means of snatching away thousands annually in the same manner, and who force them and their families into the same unhappy situation, without either remorse or shame!”
Having proceeded to show, in a more particular manner than I can detail here, how, by means of the Slave-trade, we oppressed the stranger, I made an inquiry into the other branch of the subject, or how far we had a knowledge of his heart.
To elucidate this point, I mentioned several specific instances, out of those which I had collected in my journey, and which I could depend upon as authentic, of honour—gratitude—fidelity—filial, fraternal, and conjugal affection—and of the finest sensibility, on the part of those, who had been brought into our colonies from Africa, in the character of slaves, and then I proceeded for a while in the following words:—
“If, then, we oppress the stranger, as I have shown, and if, by a knowledge of his heart, we find that he is a person of the same passions and feelings as ourselves, we are certainly breaking, by means of the prosecution of the Slave-trade, that fundamental principle of Christianity, which says, that we shall not do that unto another, which we wish should not be done unto ourselves, and, I fear, cutting ourselves off from all expectation of the Divine blessing. For how inconsistent is our conduct! We come into the temple of God; we fall prostrate before him; we pray to him, that he will have mercy upon us. But how shall he have mercy upon us, who have had no mercy upon others! We pray to him, again, that he will deliver us from evil. But how shall he deliver us from evil, who are daily invading the rights of the injured African, and heaping misery on his head!”
I attempted, lastly, to show, that, though the sin of the Slave-trade had been hitherto a sin of ignorance, and might therefore have so far been winked at, yet as the crimes and miseries belonging to it became known, it would attach even to those who had no concern in it, if they suffered it to continue either without notice or reproach, or if they did not exert themselves in a reasonable manner for its suppression. I noticed particularly, the case of Tyre and Sidon, which were the Bristol and the Liverpool of those times. A direct judgment had been pronounced by the prophet Joel against these cities, and, what is remarkable, for the prosecution of this same barbarous traffic. Thus, “And what have ye to do with me O Tyre and Sidon, and all the coasts of Palestine? Ye have cast lots for my people. Ye have sold a girl for wine. The children of Judah, and the children of Jerusalem have ye sold unto the Greciaus, that ye might remove them far from their own border. Behold! I will raise them out of the place whither ye have sold them, and will recompense your wickedness on your own heads.” Such was the language of the prophet; and Tyre and Sidon fell, as he had pointed out, when the inhabitants were either cut off, or carried into slavery.
Having thrown out these ideas to the notice of the audience, I concluded in the following words:—
“If, then, we wish to avert the heavy national judgment which is hanging over our heads (for must we not believe that our crimes towards the innocent Africans lie recorded against us in heaven) let us endeavour to assert their cause. Let us nobly withstand the torrent of the evil, however inveterately it may be fixed among the customs of the times; not, however, using our liberty as a cloak of maliciousness against those, who perhaps without due consideration, have the misfortune to be concerned in it, but upon proper motives, and in a proper spirit, as the servants of God; so that if the sun should be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, and the very heaven should fall upon us, we may fall in the general convulsion without dismay, conscious that we have done our duty in endeavouring to succour the distressed, and that the stain of the blood of Africa is not upon us.”
From Manchester I proceeded to Keddleston in Derbyshire, to spend a day with Lord Scarsdale, and to show him my little collection of African productions, and to inform him of my progress since I last saw him. Here a letter was forwarded to me from the reverend John Toogood, of Keinton Magna in Dorsetshire, though I was then unknown to him. He informed me that he had addressed several letters to the inhabitants of his own county, through their provincial paper, on the subject of the Slave-trade, which letters had produced a considerable effect. It appeared, however, that, when he began them, he did not know of the formation of our committee, or that he had a single coadjutor in the cause.
From Keddleston I turned off to Birmingham, being desirous of visiting Bristol in my way to London, to see if any thing new had occurred since I was there. I was introduced by letter, at Birmingham, to Sampson and Charles Lloyd, the brothers of John Lloyd, belonging to our committee, and members of the religious society of the Quakers. I was highly gratified in finding that these, in conjunction with Mr. Russell, had been attempting to awaken the attention of the inhabitants to this great subject, and that in consequence of their laudable efforts, a spirit was beginning to show itself there, as at Manchester, in favour of the abolition of the Slave-trade. The kind manner in which these received me, and the deep interest which they appeared to take in our cause, led me to an esteem for them, which, by means of subsequent visits, grew into a solid friendship.
At length I arrived at Bristol at about ten o’clock on Friday morning. But what was my surprise, when almost the first thing I heard from my friend Harry Gandy was, that a letter had been dispatched to me to Liverpool, nearly a week ago, requesting me immediately to repair to this place; for that in consequence of notice from the Lords of the Admiralty, advertised in the public papers, the trial of the chief mate, whom I had occasioned to be taken up at Bristol, for the murder of William Lines, was coming on at the Old Bailey, and that not an evidence was to be found. This intelligence almost paralysed me. I cannot describe my feelings on receiving it. I reproached myself with my own obstinacy for having resisted the advice of Mr. Burges, as has been before explained. All his words now came fresh into my mind. I was terrified, too, with the apprehension that my own reputation was now at stake. I foresaw all the calumnies which would be spread, if the evidences were not forthcoming on this occasion. I anticipated, also, the injury which the cause itself might sustain, if, at our outset, as it were, I should not be able to substantiate what I had publicly advanced; and yet the mayor of Bristol had heard and determined the case,—he had not only examined, but re-examined, the evidences,—he had not only committed, but re-committed, the accused: this was the only consolation I had. I was sensible, however, amidst all these workings of my mind, that not a moment was to be lost, and I began, therefore, to set on foot an inquiry as to the absent persons.
On waiting upon the mother of William Lines, I learnt from her, that two out of four of the witnesses had been bribed by the slave-merchants, and sent to sea, that they might not be forthcoming at the time of the trial; that the two others had been tempted also, but that they had been enabled to resist the temptation; that, desirous of giving their testimony in this cause, they had gone into some coal-mine between Neath and Swansea, where they might support themselves till they should be called for; and that she had addressed a letter to them, at the request of Mr. Gandy, above a week ago, in which she had desired them to come to Bristol immediately, but that she had received no answer from them. She then concluded, either that her letter had miscarried, or that they had left the place.
I determined to lose no time, after the receipt of this intelligence; and I prevailed upon a young man, whom my friend Harry Gandy had recommended to me, to set off directly, and to go in search of them. He was to travel all night, and to bring them, or, if weary himself with his journey, to send them up, without ever sleeping on the road. It was now between twelve and one in the afternoon. I saw him depart. In the interim I went to Thompson’s, and other places, to inquire if any other of the seamen, belonging to the Thomas, were to be found; but, though I hunted diligently till four o’clock, I could learn nothing satisfactory. I then went to dinner, but I grew uneasy. I was fearful that my messenger might be at a loss, or that he might want assistance on some occasion or other. I now judged that it would have been more prudent if two persons had been sent, who might have conferred with each other, and who might have divided, when they had reached Neath, and gone to different mines, to inquire for the witnesses. These thoughts disturbed me. Those, also, which had occurred when I first heard of the vexatious way in which things were situated, renewed themselves painfully to my mind. My own obstinacy in resisting the advice of Mr. Burges, and the fear of injury to my own reputation, and to that of the cause I had undertaken, were again before my eyes. I became still more uneasy; and I had no way of relieving my feelings, but by resolving to follow the young man, and to give him all the aid in my power.
It was now near six o’clock. The night was cold and rainy, and almost dark. I got down, however, safe to the passage-house, and desired to be conveyed across the Severn. The people in the house tried to dissuade me from my design. They said no one would accompany me, for it was quite a tempest. I replied, that I would pay those handsomely who would go with me. A person present asked me if I would give him three guineas for a boat, I replied I would. He could not for shame retract. He went out, and in about half an hour brought a person with him. We were obliged to have a lanthorn as far as the boat. We got on board, and went off. But such a passage I had never before witnessed. The wind was furious. The waves ran high. I could see nothing but white foam. The boat, also, was tossed up and down in such a manner that it was with great difficulty I could keep my seat. The rain, too, poured down in such torrents, that we were all of us presently wet through. We had been, I apprehend, more than an hour in this situation, when the boatmen began to complain of cold and weariness. I saw, also, that they began to be uneasy, for they did not know where they were. They had no way of forming any judgment about their course, but by knowing the point from whence the wind blew, and by keeping the boat in a relative position towards it. I encouraged them as well as I could, though I was beginning to be uneasy myself, and also sick. In about a quarter of an hour they began to complain again. They said they could pull no longer. They acknowledged, however, that they were getting nearer to the shore, though on what part of it, they could not tell. I could do nothing but bid them hope. They then began to reproach themselves for having come out with me. I told them I had not forced them, but that it was a matter of their own choice. In the midst of this conversation I informed them that I thought I saw either a star or a light straight forward. They both looked at it, and pronounced it to be a light, and added with great joy that it must be a light in the Passage-house: and so we found it; for in about ten minutes afterwards we landed, and, on reaching the house, learnt that a servant maid had been accidentally talking to some other person on the stair-case, near a window, with a candle in her hand, and that the light had appeared to us from that circumstance.
It was now near eleven o’clock. My messenger, it appeared, had arrived safe at about five in the evening, and had proceeded on his route. I was very cold on my arrival, and sick also. There seemed to be a chilliness all over me, both within and without. Indeed I had not a dry thread about me. I took some hot brandy and water, and went to bed; but desired, as soon as my clothes were thoroughly dried, to be called up, that I might go forward. This happened at about two in the morning, when I got up. I took my breakfast by the fire side. I then desired the post-boy, if he should meet any persons on the road, to stop, and inform me, as I did not know whether the witnesses might not be coming up by themselves, and whether they might not have passed my messenger without knowing his errand. Having taken these precautions, I departed, I travelled on, but we met no one. I traced, however, my messenger through Newport, Cardiff, and Cowbridge. I was assured, also, that he had not passed me on his return; nor had any of those passed me, whom he was seeking. At length, when I was within about two miles of Neath, I met him. He had both the witnesses under his care. This was a matter of great joy to me. I determined to return with them. It was now nearly two in the afternoon. I accordingly went back, but we did not reach the Passage-house again till nearly two the next morning.
During our journey, neither the wind nor the rain had much abated. It was quite dark on our arrival. We found only one person, and he had been sitting up in expectation of us. It was in vain that I asked him for a boat to put us across the water. He said all the boatmen were in bed; and, if they were up, he was sure that none of them would venture out. It was thought a mercy by all of them, that we were not lost last night. Difficulties were also started about horses to take us another way. Unable therefore to proceed, we took refreshment and went to bed.
We arrived at Bristol between nine and ten the next morning; but I was so ill, that I could go no further; I had been cold and shivering ever since my first passage across the Severn, and I had now a violent sore throat, and a fever with it. All I could do was to see the witnesses off for London, and to assign them to the care of an attorney, who should conduct them to the trial. For this purpose I gave them a letter to a friend of the name of Langdale. I saw them depart. The mother of William Lines accompanied them. By a letter received on Tuesday, I learnt that they had not arrived in town till Monday morning at three o’clock; that at about nine or ten they found out the office of Mr. Langdale; that, on inquiring for him, they heard he was in the country, but that he would be home at noon; that, finding he had not then arrived, they acquainted his clerk with the nature of their business, and opened my letter to show him the contents of it; that the clerk went with them to consult some other person on the subject, when he conveyed them to the Old Bailey; but that, on inquiring at the proper place about the introduction of the witnesses, he learnt that the chief mate had been brought to the bar in the morning, and, no person then appearing against him, that he had been discharged by proclamation. Such was the end of all my anxiety and labour in this affair. I was very ill when I received the letter; but I saw the necessity of bearing up against the disappointment, and I endeavoured to discharge the subject from my mind with the following wish, that the narrow escape which the chief mate had experienced, and which was entirely owing to the accidental circumstances now explained, might have the effect, under Providence, of producing in him a deep contrition for his offence, and of awakening him to a serious attention to his future life* .
I was obliged to remain in Bristol a few days longer in consequence of my illness; but as soon as I was able I reached London, when I attended a sitting of the committee after an absence of more than five months. At this committee it was strongly recommended to me to publish a second edition of my Essay on the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species, and to insert such of the facts in it, in their proper places, out of those collected in my late travels, as I might judge to be productive of an interesting effect. There appeared also an earnest desire in the committee, that, directly after this, I should begin my Essay on the Impolicy of the Slave-trade.
In compliance with their wishes, I determined upon both these works. But I resolved to retire into the country, that, by being subject to less interruption there, I might the sooner finish them. It was proper, however, that I should settle many things in London, before I took my departure from it; and, among these, that I should find out George Ormond and Patric Murray, whom I had sent from Liverpool on account of the information they had given me relative to the murder of Peter Green. I saw no better way than to take them before Sir Sampson Wright, who was then at the head of the police of the metropolis. He examined, and cross-examined them several times, and apart from each other. He then desired their evidence to be drawn up in the form of depositions, copies of which he gave to me. He had no doubt that the murder would be proved. The circumstances of the deceased being in good health at nine o’clock in the evening, and of his severe sufferings till eleven, and of the nature of the wounds discovered to have been made on his person, and of his death by one in the morning, could never, he said, be done away, by any evidence, who should state that he had been subject to other disorders, which might have occasioned his decease. He found himself therefore compelled to apply to the magistrates of Liverpool, for the apprehension of three of the principal officers of the ship. But the answer was, that the ship had sailed, and that they, whose names had been specified, were then, none of them, to be found in Liverpool.
It was now for me to consider, whether I would keep the two witnesses, Ormond and Murray, for a year, or perhaps longer, at my own expense, and run the hazard of the death of the officers in the interim, and of other calculable events. I had felt so deeply for the usage of the seamen in this cruel traffic, which indeed had embittered all my journey, that I had no less than nine prosecutions at law upon my hands on their account, and nineteen witnesses detained at my own cost. The committee in London could give me no assistance in these cases. They were the managers of the public purse for the abolition of the Slave-trade, and any expenses of this kind were neither within the limits of their object, nor within the pale of their duty. From the individuals belonging to it, I picked up a few guineas by way of private subscription, and this was all. But a vast load still remained upon me, and such as had occasioned uneasiness to my mind. I thought it therefore imprudent to detain the evidences for this purpose for so long a time, and I sent them back to Liverpool. I commenced, however, a prosecution against the captain at common law for his barbarous usage of them, and desired that it might be pushed on as vigorously as possible; and the result was, that his attorney was so alarmed, particularly after knowing what had been done by Sir Sampson Wright, that he entered into a compromise to pay all the expenses of the suit hitherto incurred, and to give Ormond and Murray a sum of money as damages for the injury which they themselves had sustained. This compromise was acceded to. The men received the money, and signed the release, (of which I insisted upon a copy,) and went to sea again in another trade, thanking me for my interference in their behalf. But by this copy, which I have now in my possession, it appears that care was taken by the captain’s attorney to render their future evidence in the case of Peter Green, almost impracticable; for it was there wickedly stated, “that George Ormond and Patric Murray did then and there bind themselves in certain penalties, that they would neither encourage nor support any action at law against the said captain, by or at the suit or prosecution of any other of the seamen now or late on board the said ship, and that they released the said captain also from all manner of actions, suits, and cause and causes of action, informations, prosecutions, and other proceedings, which they then had, or ever had, or could or might have by reason of the said assaults upon their own persons, or other wrongs or injuries done by the said captain heretofore and to the date of this release* .”
[* ]He had undoubtedly a narrow escape, for Mr. Langdale’s clerk had learnt that he had no evidence to produce in his favour. The slave-merchants, it seems, had counted most upon bribing those, who were to come against him, to disappear.
[* ]None of the nine actions before mentioned ever came to a trial, but they were all compromised by paying sums to the injured parties.