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The History of the Rise, Progress and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave Trade by the British Parliament (1808), Vol. I by Thomas Clarkson

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_No subject more pleasing than that of the removal of evils--Evils have
existed almost from the beginning of the world--but there is a power in our
nature to counteract them--this power increased by Christianity--of the
evils removed by Christianity one of the greatest is the Slave-trade--The
joy we ought to feel on its abolition from a contemplation of the nature of
it--and of the extent of it--and of the difficulty of subduing
it--Usefulness also of the contemplation of this subject_.

I scarcely know of any subject, the contemplation of which, is more
pleasing than that of the correction or of the removal of any of the
acknowledged evils of life; for while we rejoice to think that the
sufferings of our fellow-creatures have been thus, in any instance,
relieved, we must rejoice equally to think that our own moral condition
must have been necessarily improved by the change.

That evils, both physical and moral, have existed long upon earth there can
be no doubt. One of the sacred writers, to whom we more immediately appeal
for the early history of mankind, informs us that the state of our first
parents was a state of innocence and happiness; but that, soon after their
creation, sin and misery entered into the world. The Poets in their fables,
most of which, however extravagant they may seem, had their origin in
truth, speak the same language. Some of these represent the first condition
of man by the figure of the golden, and his subsequent degeneracy and
subjection to suffering by that of the silver, and afterwards of the iron,
age. Others tell us that the first female was made of clay; that she was
called Pandora, because every necessary gift, qualification, or endowment,
was given to her by the Gods, but that she received from Jupiter at the
same time, a box, from which, when opened, a multitude of disorders sprung,
and that these spread themselves immediately afterwards among all of the
human race. Thus it appears, whatever authorities we consult, that those
which may be termed the evils of life existed in the earliest times. And
what does subsequent history, combined with our own experience, tell us,
but that these have been continued, or that they have come down, in
different degrees, through successive generations of men, in all the known
countries of the universe, to the present day?

But though the inequality visible in the different conditions of life, and
the passions interwoven into our nature, (both which have been allotted to
us for wise purposes, and without which we could not easily afford a proof
of the existence of that which is denominated virtue,) have a tendency to
produce vice and wretchedness among us, yet we see in this our constitution
what may operate partially as preventives and correctives of them. If there
be a radical propensity in our nature to do that which is wrong, there is
on the other hand a counteracting power within it, or an impulse, by means
of the action of the Divine Spirit upon our minds, which urges us to do
that which is right. If the voice of temptation, clothed in musical and
seducing accents, charms us one way, the voice of holiness, speaking to us
from within in a solemn and powerful manner, commands us another. Does one
man obtain a victory over his corrupt affections? an immediate perception
of pleasure, like the feeling of a reward divinely conferred upon him, is
noticed.--Does another fall prostrate beneath their power? a painful
feeling, and such as pronounces to him the sentence of reproof and
punishment, is found to follow.--If one, by suffering his heart to become
hardened, oppresses a fellow-creature, the tear of sympathy starts up in
the eye of another, and the latter instantly feels a desire, involuntarily
generated, of flying to his relief. Thus impulses, feelings, and
dispositions have been implanted in our nature for the purpose of
preventing and rectifying the evils of life. And as these have operated so
as to stimulate some men to lessen them by the exercise of an amiable
charity, so they have operated to stimulate others, in various other ways,
to the same end. Hence the philosopher has left moral precepts behind him
in favour of benevolence, and the legislator has endeavoured to prevent
barbarous practices by the introduction of laws.

In consequence then of these impulses and feelings, by which the pure power
in our nature is thus made to act as a check upon the evil part of it, and
in consequence of the influence which philosophy and legislative wisdom
have had in their respective provinces, there has been always, in all times
and countries, a counteracting energy, which has opposed itself more or
less to the crimes and miseries of mankind. But it seems to have been
reserved for Christianity to increase this energy, and to give it the
widest possible domain. It was reserved for her, under the same Divine
Influence, to give the best views of the nature, and of the present and
future condition of man; to afford the best moral precepts, to communicate
the most benign stimulus to the heart, to produce the most blameless
conduct, and thus to cut off many of the causes of wretchedness, and to
heal it wherever it was found. At her command, wherever she has been duly
acknowledged, many of the evils of life have already fled. The prisoner of
war is no longer led into the amphitheatre to become a gladiator, and to
imbrue his hands in the blood of his fellow-captive for the sport of a
thoughtless multitude. The stern priest, cruel through fanaticism and
custom, no longer leads his fellow-creature to the altar, to sacrifice him
to fictitious Gods. The venerable martyr, courageous through faith and the
sanctity of his life, is no longer hurried to the flames. The haggard
witch, poring over her incantations by moon-light, no longer scatters her
superstitious poison among her miserable neighbours, nor suffers for her

But in whatever way Christianity may have operated towards the increase of
this energy, or towards a diminution of human misery, it has operated in
none more powerfully than by the new views, and consequent duties, which it
introduced on the subject of charity, or practical benevolence and love.
Men in ancient times looked upon their talents, of whatever description, as
their own, which they might use or cease to use at their discretion. But
the author of our religion was the first who taught that, however in a
legal point of view the talent of individuals might belong exclusively to
themselves, so that no other person had a right to demand the use of it by
force, yet in the Christian dispensation they were but the stewards of it
for good; that so much was expected from this stewardship, that it was
difficult for those who were entrusted with it to enter into his spiritual
kingdom; that these had no right to conceal their talent in a napkin; but
that they were bound to dispense a portion of it to the relief of their
fellow-creatures; and that in proportion to the magnitude of it they were
accountable for the extensiveness of its use. He was the first, who
pronounced the misapplication of it to be a crime, and to be a crime of no
ordinary dimension. He was the first who broke down the boundary between
Jew and Gentile, and therefore the first, who pointed out to men the
inhabitants of other countries for the exercise of their philanthropy and
love. Hence a distinction is to be made both in the principle and practice
of charity, as existing in ancient or in modern times. Though the old
philosophers, historians, and poets, frequently inculcated benevolence, we
have no reason to conclude from any facts they have left us, that persons
in their days did any thing more than occasionally relieve an unfortunate
object, who might present himself before them, or that, however they might
deplore the existence of public evils among them, they joined in
associations for their suppression, or that they carried their charity, as
bodies of men, into other kingdoms. To Christianity alone we are indebted
for the new and sublime spectacle of seeing men going beyond the bounds of
individual usefulness to each other--of seeing them associate for the
extirpation of private and public misery--and of seeing them carry their
charity, as a united brotherhood, into distant lands. And in this wider
field of benevolence it would be unjust not to confess, that no country has
shone with more true lustre than our own, there being scarcely any case of
acknowledged affliction for which some of her Christian children have not
united in an attempt to provide relief.

Among the evils, corrected or subdued, either by the general influence of
Christianity on the minds of men, or by particular associations of
Christians, the African[A] Slave-trade appears to me to have occupied the
foremost place. The abolition of it, therefore, of which it has devolved
upon me to write the history, should be accounted as one of the greatest
blessings, and, as such, should be one of the most copious sources of our
joy. Indeed I know of no evil, the removal of which should excite in us a
higher degree of pleasure. For in considerations of this kind, are we not
usually influenced by circumstances? Are not our feelings usually affected
according to the situation, or the magnitude, or the importance of these?
Are they not more or less elevated as the evil under our contemplation has
been more or less productive of misery, or more or less productive of
guilt? Are they not more or less elevated, again, as we have found it more
or less considerable in extent? Our sensations will undoubtedly be in
proportion to such circumstances, or our joy to the appretiation or
mensuration of the evil which has been removed.

[Footnote A: Slavery had been before annihilated by Christianity, I mean in
the West of Europe, at the close of the twelfth century.]

To value the blessing of the abolition as we ought, or to appretiate the
joy and gratitude which we ought to feel concerning it, we must enter a
little into the circumstances of the trade. Our statement, however, of
these needs not be long. A few pages will do all that is necessary! A
glance only into such a subject as this will be sufficient to affect the
heart--to arouse our indignation and our pity,--and to teach us the
importance of the victory obtained.

The first subject for consideration, towards enabling us to make the
estimate in question, will be that of the nature of the evil belonging to
the Slave-trade. This may be seen by examining it in three points of
view:--First, As it has been proved to arise on the continent of Africa in
the course of reducing the inhabitants of it to slavery;--Secondly, in the
course of conveying them from thence to the lands or colonies of other
nations;--And Thirdly, In continuing them there as slaves.

To see it as it has been shown to arise in the first case, let us suppose
ourselves on the Continent just mentioned. Well then--We are landed--We are
already upon our travels--We have just passed through one forest--We are
now come to a more open place, which indicates an approach to habitation.
And what object is that, which first obtrudes itself upon our sight? Who is
that wretched woman, whom we discover under that noble tree, wringing her
hands, and beating her breast, as if in the agonies of despair? Three days
has she been there at intervals to look and to watch, and this is the
fourth morning, and no tidings of her children yet. Beneath its spreading
boughs they were accustomed to play--But alas! the savage man-stealer
interrupted their playful mirth, and has taken them for ever from her

But let us leave the cries of this unfortunate woman, and hasten into
another district:--And what do we first see here? Who is he, that just now
started across the narrow pathway, as if afraid of a human face? What is
that sudden rustling among the leaves? Why are those persons flying from
our approach, and hiding themselves in yon darkest thicket? Behold, as we
get into the plain, a deserted village! The rice-field has been just
trodden down around it. An aged man, venerable by his silver beard, lies
wounded and dying near the threshold of his hut. War, suddenly instigated
by avarice, has just visited the dwellings which we see. The old have been
butchered, because unfit for slavery, and the young have been carried off,
except such as have fallen in the conflict, or have escaped among the woods
behind us.

But let us hasten from this cruel scene, which gives rise to so many
melancholy reflections. Let us cross yon distant river, and enter into some
new domain. But are we relieved even here from afflicting spectacles? Look
at that immense crowd, which appears to be gathered in a ring. See the
accused innocent in the middle. The ordeal of poisonous water has been
administered to him, as a test of his innocence or his guilt. He begins to
be sick, and pale. Alas! yon mournful shriek of his relatives confirms that
the loss of his freedom is now sealed.

And whither shall we go now? The night is approaching fast. Let us find
some friendly hut, where sleep may make us forget for a while the sorrows
of the day. Behold a hospitable native ready to receive us at his door! Let
us avail ourselves of his kindness. And now let us give ourselves to
repose. But why, when our eyelids are but just closed, do we find ourselves
thus suddenly awakened? What is the meaning of the noise around us, of the
trampling of people's feet, of the rustling of the bow, the quiver, and the
lance? Let us rise up and inquire. Behold! the inhabitants are all alarmed!
A wakeful woman has shown them yon distant column of smoke and blaze. The
neighbouring village is on fire. The prince, unfaithful to the sacred duty
of the protection of his subjects, has surrounded them. He is now burning
their habitations, and seizing, as saleable booty, the fugitives from the

Such then are some of the scenes that have been passing in Africa in
consequence of the existence of the Slave-trade; or such is the nature of
the evil, as it has shown itself in the first of the cases we have noticed.
Let us now estimate it as it has been proved to exist in the second; or let
us examine the state of the unhappy Africans, reduced to slavery in this
manner, while on board the vessels, which are to convey them across the
ocean to other lands. And here I must observe at once, that, as far as this
part of the evil is concerned, I am at a loss to describe it. Where shall I
find words to express properly their sorrow, as arising from the reflection
of being parted for ever from their friends, their relatives, and their
country? Where shall I find language to paint in appropriate colours the
horror of mind brought on by thoughts of their future unknown destination,
of which they can augur nothing but misery from all that they have yet
seen? How shall I make known their situation, while labouring under painful
disease, or while struggling in the suffocating holds of their prisons,
like animals inclosed in an exhausted receiver? How shall I describe their
feelings, as exposed to all the personal indignities, which lawless
appetite or brutal passion may suggest? How shall I exhibit their
sufferings as determining to refuse sustenance and die, or as resolving to
break their chains, and, disdaining to live as slaves, to punish their
oppressors? How shall I give an idea of their agony, when under various
punishments and tortures for their reputed crimes? Indeed every part of
this subject defies my powers, and I must therefore satisfy myself and the
reader with a general representation, or in the words of a celebrated
member of Parliament, that "Never was so much human suffering condensed in
so small a space."

I come now to the evil, as it has been proved to arise in the third case;
or to consider the situation of the unhappy victims of the trade, when
their painful voyages are over, or after they have been landed upon their
destined shores. And here we are to view them first under the degrading
light of cattle. We are to see them examined, handled, selected, separated,
and sold. Alas! relatives are separated from relatives, as if, like cattle,
they had no rational intellect, no power of feeling the nearness of
relationship, nor sense of the duties belonging to the ties of life! We are
next to see them labouring, and this for the benefit of those, to whom they
are under no obligation, by any law either natural or divine, to obey. We
are to see them, if refusing the commands of their purchasers, however
weary, or feeble, or indisposed, subject to corporal punishments, and, if
forcibly resisting them, to death. We are to see them in a state of general
degradation and misery. The knowledge, which their oppressors have of their
own crime in having violated the rights of nature, and of the disposition
of the injured to seek all opportunities of revenge, produces a fear, which
dictates to them the necessity of a system of treatment by which they shall
keep up a wide distinction between the two, and by which the noble feelings
of the latter shall be kept down, and their spirits broken. We are to see
them again subject to individual persecution, as anger, or malice, or any
bad passion may suggest. Hence the whip--the chain--the iron-collar. Hence
the various modes of private torture, of which so many accounts have been
truly given. Nor can such horrible cruelties be discovered so as to be made
punishable, while the testimony of any number of the oppressed is invalid
against the oppressors, however they may be offences against the laws. And,
lastly, we are to see their innocent offspring, against whose personal
liberty the shadow of an argument cannot be advanced, inheriting all the
miseries of their parents' lot.

The evil then, as far as it has been hitherto viewed, presents to us in its
three several departments a measure of human suffering not to be
equalled--not to be calculated--not to be described. But would that we
could consider this part of the subject as dismissed! Would that in each of
the departments now examined there was no counterpart left us to
contemplate! But this cannot be. For if there be persons, who suffer
unjustly, there must be others, who oppress. And if there be those who
oppress, there must be to the suffering, which has been occasioned, a
corresponding portion of immorality or guilt.

We are obliged then to view the counterpart of the evil in question, before
we can make a proper estimate of the nature of it. And, in examining this
part of it, we shall find that we have a no less frightful picture to
behold than in the former cases; or that, while the miseries endured by the
unfortunate Africans excite our pity on the one hand, the vices, which are
connected with them, provoke our indignation and abhorrence on the other.
The Slave-trade, in this point of view, must strike us as an immense mass
of evil on account of the criminality attached to it, as displayed in the
various branches of it, which have already been examined. For, to take the
counterpart of the evil in the first of these, can we say, that no moral
turpitude is to be placed to the account of those, who living on the
continent of Africa give birth to the enormities, which take place in
consequence of the prosecution of this trade? Is not that man made morally
worse, who is induced to become a tiger to his species, or who, instigated
by avarice, lies in wait in the thicket to get possession of his
fellow-man? Is no injustice manifest in the land, where the prince,
unfaithful to his duty, seizes his innocent subjects, and sells them for
slaves? Are no moral evils produced among those communities, which make war
upon other communities for the sake of plunder, and without any previous
provocation or offence? Does no crime attach to those, who accuse others
falsely, or who multiply and divide crimes for the sake of the profit of
the punishment, and who for the same reason, continue the use of barbarous
and absurd ordeals as a test of innocence or guilt?

In the second of these branches the counterpart of the evil is to be seen
in the conduct of those, who purchase the miserable natives in their own
country, and convey them to distant lands. And here questions, similar to
the former, may be asked. Do they experience no corruption of their nature,
or become chargeable with no violation of right, who, when they go with
their ships to this continent, know the enormities which their visits there
will occasion, who buy their fellow-creature man, and this, knowing the way
in which he comes into their hands, and who chain, and imprison, and
scourge him? Do the moral feelings of those persons escape without injury,
whose hearts are hardened? And can the hearts of those be otherwise than
hardened, who are familiar with the tears and groans of innocent strangers
forcibly torn away from every thing that is dear to them in life, who are
accustomed to see them on board their vessels in a state of suffocation and
in the agonies of despair, and who are themselves in the habits of the
cruel use of arbitrary power?

The counterpart of the evil in its third branch is to be seen in the
conduct of those, who, when these miserable people have been landed,
purchase and carry them to their respective homes. And let us see whether a
mass of wickedness is not generated also in the present case. Can those
have nothing to answer for, who separate the faithful ties which nature and
religion have created? Can their feelings be otherwise than corrupted, who
consider their fellow-creatures as brutes, or treat those as cattle, who
may become the temples of the Holy Spirit, and in whom the Divinity
disdains not himself to dwell? Is there no injustice in forcing men to
labour without wages? Is there no breach of duty, when we are commanded to
clothe the naked, and feed the hungry, and visit the sick and in prison, in
exposing them to want, in torturing them by cruel punishment, and in
grinding them down, by hard labour, so as to shorten their days? Is there
no crime in adopting a system, which keeps down all the noble faculties of
their souls, and which positively debases and corrupts their nature? Is
there no crime in perpetuating these evils among their innocent offspring?
And finally, besides all these crimes, is there not naturally in the
familiar sight of the exercise, but more especially in the exercise itself,
of uncontrolled power, that which vitiates the internal man? In seeing
misery stalk daily over the land, do not all become insensibly hardened? By
giving birth to that misery themselves, do they not become abandoned? In
what state of society are the corrupt appetites so easily, so quickly, and
so frequently indulged, and where else, by means of frequent indulgence, do
these experience such a monstrous growth? Where else is the temper subject
to such frequent irritation, or passion to such little control? Yes--If the
unhappy slave is in an unfortunate situation, so is the tyrant who holds
him. Action and reaction are equal to each other, as well in the moral as
in the natural world. You cannot exercise an improper dominion over a
fellow-creature, but by a wise ordering of Providence you must necessarily
injure yourself.

Having now considered the nature of the evil of the Slave-trade in its
three separate departments of suffering, and in its corresponding
counterparts of guilt, I shall make a few observations on the extent of it.

On this subject it must strike us, that the misery and the crimes included
in the evil, as it has been found in Africa, were not like common maladies,
which make a short or periodical visit and then are gone, but that they
were continued daily. Nor were they like diseases, which from local causes
attack a village or a town, and by the skill of the physician, under the
blessing of Providence, are removed, but they affected a whole continent.
The trade with all its horrors began at the river Senegal, and continued,
winding with the coast, through its several geographical divisions to Cape
Negro; a distance of more than three thousand miles. In various lines or
paths formed at right angles from the shore, and passing into the heart of
the country, slaves were procured and brought down. The distance, which
many of them travelled, was immense. Those, who have been in Africa, have
assured us, that they came as far as from the sources of their largest
rivers, which we know to be many hundred miles in-land, and the natives
have told us, in their way of computation, that they came a journey of many

It must strike us again, that the misery and the crimes, included in the
evil, as it has been shown in the transportation, had no ordinary bounds.
They were not to be seen in the crossing of a river, but of an ocean. They
did not begin in the morning and end at night, but were continued for many
weeks, and sometimes by casualties for a quarter of the year. They were not
limited to the precincts of a solitary ship, but were spread among many
vessels; and these were so constantly passing, that the ocean itself never
ceased to be a witness of their existence.

And it must strike us finally, that the misery and crimes, included in the
evil as it has been found in foreign lands, were not confined within the
shores of a little island. Most of the islands of a continent, and many of
these of considerable population and extent, were filled with them. And the
continent itself, to which these geographically belong, was widely polluted
by their domain. Hence, if we were to take the vast extent of space
occupied by these crimes and sufferings from the heart of Africa to its
shores, and that which they filled on the continent of America and the
islands adjacent, and were to join the crimes and sufferings in one to
those in the other by the crimes and sufferings which took place in the
track of the vessels successively crossing the Atlantic, we should behold a
vast belt as it were of physical and moral evil, reaching through land and
ocean to the length of nearly half the circle of the globe.

The next view, which I shall take of this evil, will be as it relates to
the difficulty of subduing it.

This difficulty may be supposed to have been more than ordinarily great.
Many evils of a public nature, which existed in former times, were the
offspring of ignorance and superstition, and they were subdued of course by
the progress of light and knowledge. But the evil in question began in
avarice. It was nursed also by worldly interest. It did not therefore so
easily yield to the usual correctives of disorders in the world. We may
observe also, that the interest by which it was thus supported, was not
that of a few individuals, nor of one body, but of many bodies of men. It
was interwoven again into the system of the commerce and of the revenue of
nations. Hence the merchant--the planter--the mortgagee--the
manufacturer--the politician--the legislator--the cabinet-minister--lifted
up their voices against the annihilation of it. For these reasons the
Slave-trade may be considered, like the fabulous hydra, to have had a
hundred heads, every one of which it was necessary to cut off before it
could be subdued. And as none but Hercules was fitted to conquer the one,
so nothing less than extraordinary prudence, courage, labour, and patience,
could overcome the other. To protection in this manner by his hundred
interests it was owing, that the monster stalked in security for so long a
time. He stalked too in the open day, committing his mighty depredations.
And when good men, whose duty it was to mark him as the object of their
destruction, began to assail him, he did not fly, but gnashed his teeth at
them, growling savagely at the same time, and putting himself into a
posture of defiance.

We see then, in whatever light we consider the Slave-trade, whether we
examine into the nature of it, or whether we look into the extent of it, or
whether we estimate the difficulty of subduing it, we must conclude that no
evil more monstrous has ever existed upon earth. But if so, then we have
proved the truth of the position, that the abolition of it ought to be
accounted by us as one of the greatest blessings, and that it ought to be
one of the most copious sources of our joy. Indeed I do not know, how we
can sufficiently express what we ought to feel upon this occasion. It
becomes us as individuals to rejoice. It becomes us as a nation to rejoice.
It becomes us even to perpetuate our joy to our posterity. I do not mean
however by anniversaries, which are to be celebrated by the ringing of
bells and convivial meetings, but by handing down this great event so
impressively to our children, as to raise in them, if not continual, yet
frequently renewed thanksgivings, to the great Creator of the universe, for
the manifestation of this his favour, in having disposed our legislators to
take away such a portion of suffering from our fellow-creatures, and such a
load of guilt from our native land.

And as the contemplation of the removal of this monstrous evil should
excite in us the most pleasing and grateful sensations, so the perusal of
the history of it should afford us lessons, which it must be useful to us
to know or to be reminded of. For it cannot be otherwise than useful to us
to know the means which have been used, and the different persons who have
moved, in so great a cause. It cannot be otherwise than useful to us to be
impressively reminded of the simple axiom, which the perusal of this
history will particularly suggest to us, that "the greatest works must have
a beginning;" because the fostering of such an idea in our minds cannot but
encourage us to undertake the removal of evils, however vast they may
appear in their size, or however difficult to overcome. It cannot again be
otherwise than useful to us to be assured (and this history will assure us
of it) that in any work, which is a work of righteousness, however small
the beginning may be, or however small the progress may be that we may make
in it, we ought never to despair; for that, whatever checks and
discouragements we may meet with, "no virtuous effort is ever ultimately
lost." And finally, it cannot be otherwise than useful to us to form the
opinion, which the contemplation of this subject must always produce,
namely, that many of the evils, which are still left among us, may, by an
union of wise and virtuous individuals, be greatly alleviated, if not
entirely done away: for if the great evil of the Slave-trade, so deeply
entrenched by its hundred interests, has fallen prostrate before the
efforts of those who attacked it, what evil of a less magnitude shall not
be more easily subdued? O may reflections of this sort always enliven us,
always encourage us, always stimulate us to our duty! May we never cease to
believe, that many of the miseries of life are still to be remedied, or to
rejoice that we may be permitted, if we will only make ourselves worthy by
our endeavours, to heal them! May we encourage for this purpose every
generous sympathy that arises in our hearts, as the offspring of the Divine
influence for our good, convinced that we are not born for ourselves alone,
and that the Divinity never so fully dwells in us, as when we do his will;
and that we never do his will more agreeably, as far as it has been
revealed to us, than when we employ our time in works of charity towards
the rest of our fellow-creatures!


_As it is desirable to know the true sources of events in history, so this
will be realized in that of the abolition of the Slave-trade--Inquiry as to
those who favoured the cause of the Africans previously to the year
1787--All these to be considered as necessary forerunners in that
cause--First forerunners were Cardinal Ximenes--the Emperor Charles the
Fifth--Pope Leo the Tenth--Elizabeth queen of England--Louis the Thirteenth
of France._

It would be considered by many, who have stood at the mouth of a river, and
witnessed its torrent there, to be both an interesting and a pleasing
journey to go to the fountain-head, and then to travel on its banks
downwards, and to mark the different streams in each side, which should run
into it and feed it. So I presume the reader will not be a little
interested and entertained in viewing with me the course of the abolition
of the Slave-trade, in first finding its source, and then in tracing the
different springs which have contributed to its increase. And here I may
observe that, in doing this, we shall have advantages, which historians
have not always had in developing the causes of things. Many have handed
down to us events, for the production of which they have given us but their
own conjectures. There has been often indeed such a distance between the
events themselves and the lives of those who have recorded them, that the
different means and motives belonging to them have been lost through time.
On the present occasion, however, we shall have the peculiar satisfaction
of knowing that we communicate the truth, or that those, which we unfold,
are the true causes and means. For the most remote of all the human
springs, which can be traced as having any bearing upon the great event in
question, will fall within the period of three centuries, and the most
powerful of them within the last twenty years. These circumstances indeed
have had their share in inducing me to engage in the present history. Had I
measured it by the importance of the subject, I had been deterred: but
believing that most readers love the truth, and that it ought to be the
object of all writers to promote it, and believing moreover, that I was in
possession of more facts on this subject than any other person, I thought I
was peculiarly called upon to undertake it.

In tracing the different streams from whence the torrent arose, which has
now happily swept away the Slave-trade, I must begin with an inquiry as to
those who favoured the cause of the injured Africans from the year 1516 to
the year 1787, at which latter period a number of persons associated
themselves in England for its abolition. For though they, who belonged to
this association, may, in consequence of having pursued a regular system,
be called the principal actors, yet it must be acknowledged that their
efforts would never have been so effectual, if the minds of men had not
been prepared by others, who had moved before them. Great events have never
taken place without previously disposing causes. So it is in the case
before us. Hence they, who lived even in early times, and favoured this
great cause, may be said to have been necessary precursors in it. And here
it may be proper to observe, that it is by no means necessary that all
these should have been themselves actors in the production of this great
event. Persons have contributed towards it in different ways:--Some have
written expressly on the subject, who have had no opportunity of promoting
it by personal exertions. Others have only mentioned it incidentally in
their writings. Others, in an elevated rank and station, have cried out
publicly concerning it, whose sayings have been recorded. All these,
however, may be considered as necessary forerunners in their day. For all
of them have brought the subject more or less into notice. They have more
or less enlightened the mind upon it. They have more or less impressed it.
And therefore each may be said to have had his share in diffusing and
keeping up a certain portion of knowledge, and feeling concerning it, which
has been eminently useful in the promotion of the cause.

It is rather remarkable, that the first forerunners and coadjutors should
have been men in power.

So early as in the year 1503 a few slaves had been sent from the Portuguese
settlements in Africa into the Spanish colonies in America. In 1511,
Ferdinand the Fifth, king of Spain, permitted them to be carried in greater
numbers. Ferdinand, however, must have been ignorant in these early times
of the piratical manner in which the Portuguese had procured them. He could
have known nothing of their treatment when in bondage, nor could he have
viewed the few uncertain adventurous transportations of them into his
dominions in the western world, in the light of a regular trade. After his
death, however, a proposal was made by Bartholomew de las Casas, the bishop
of Chiapa, to Cardinal Ximenes, who held the reins of the government of
Spain till Charles the Fifth came to the throne, for the establishment of a
regular system of commerce in the persons of the native Africans. The
object of Bartholomew de las Casas was undoubtedly to save the American
Indians, whose cruel treatment and almost extirpation he had witnessed
during his residence among them, and in whose behalf he had undertaken a
voyage to the court of Spain. It is difficult to reconcile this proposal
with the humane and charitable spirit of the bishop of Chiapa. But it is
probable he believed that a code of laws would soon be established in
favour both of Africans and of the natives in the Spanish settlements, and
that he flattered himself that, being about to return and to live in the
country of their slavery, he could look to the execution of it. The
cardinal, however, with a foresight, a benevolence, and a justice, which
will always do honour to his memory, refused the proposal, not only judging
it to be unlawful to consign innocent people to slavery at all, but to be
very inconsistent to deliver the inhabitants of one country from a state of
misery by consigning to it those of another. Ximenes therefore may be
considered as one of the first great friends of the Africans after the
partial beginning of the trade.

This answer of the cardinal, as it showed his virtue as an individual, so
it was peculiarly honourable to him as a public man, and ought to operate
as a lesson to other statesmen, how they admit any thing new among
political regulations and establishments, which is connected in the
smallest degree with injustice. For evil, when once sanctioned by
governments, spreads in a tenfold degree, and may, unless seasonably
checked, become so ramified, as to affect the reputation of a country, and
to render its own removal scarcely possible without detriment to the
political concerns of the state. In no instance has this been verified more
than in the case of the Slave-trade. Never was our national character more
tarnished, and our prosperity more clouded by guilt. Never was there a
monster more difficult to subdue. Even they, who heard as it were the
shrieks of oppression, and wished to assist the sufferers, were fearful of
joining in their behalf. While they acknowledged the necessity of removing
one evil, they were terrified by the prospect of introducing another; and
were therefore only able to relieve their feelings, by lamenting in the
bitterness of their hearts, that this traffic had ever been begun at all.

After the death of cardinal Ximenes, the emperor Charles the Fifth, who had
come into power, encouraged the Slave-trade. In 1517 he granted a patent to
one of his Flemish favourites, containing an exclusive right of importing
four thousand Africans into America. But he lived long enough to repent of
what he had thus inconsiderately done. For in the year 1542 he made a code
of laws for the better protection of the unfortunate Indians in his foreign
dominions; and he stopped the progress of African slavery by an order, that
all slaves in his American islands should be made free. This order was
executed by Pedro de la Gasca. Manumission took place as well in Hispaniola
as on the Continent. But on the return of Gasca to Spain, and the
retirement of Charles into a monastery, slavery was revived.

It is impossible to pass over this instance of the abolition of slavery by
Charles in all his foreign dominions, without some comments. It shows him,
first, to have been a friend both to the Indians and the Africans, as a
part of the human race. It shows he was ignorant of what he was doing when
he gave his sanction to this cruel trade. It shows when legislators give
one set of men an undue power over another, how quickly they abuse it,--or
he never would have found himself obliged in the short space of twenty-five
years to undo that which he had countenanced as a great state-measure. And
while it confirms the former lesson to statesmen, of watching the
beginnings or principles of things in their political movements, it should
teach them never to persist in the support of evils, through the false
shame of being obliged to confess that they had once given them their
sanction, nor to delay the cure of them because, politically speaking,
neither this nor that is the proper season; but to do them away instantly,
as there can only be one fit or proper time in the eye of religion, namely,
on the conviction of their existence.

From the opinions of cardinal Ximenes and of the emperor Charles the Fifth,
I hasten to that which was expressed much about the same time, in a public
capacity, by pope Leo the Tenth. The Dominicans in Spanish America,
witnessing the cruel treatment which the slaves underwent there, considered
slavery as utterly repugnant to the principles of the gospel, and
recommended the abolition of it. The Franciscans did not favour the former
in this their scheme of benevolence; and the consequence was, that a
controversy on this subject sprung up between them, which was carried to
this pope for his decision. Leo exerted himself, much to his honour, in
behalf of the poor sufferers, and declared "That not only the Christian
religion, but that Nature herself cried out against a state of slavery."
This answer was certainly worthy of one who was deemed the head of the
Christian church. It must, however, be confessed that it would have been
strange if Leo, in his situation as pontiff, had made a different reply. He
could never have denied that God was no respecter of persons. He must have
acknowledged that men were bound to love each other as brethren. And, if he
admitted the doctrine, that all men were accountable for their actions
hereafter, he could never have prevented the deduction, that it was
necessary they should be free. Nor could he, as a man of high attainments,
living early in the sixteenth century, have been ignorant of what had taken
place in the twelfth; or that, by the latter end of this latter century,
Christianity had obtained the undisputed honour of having extirpated
slavery from the western part of the European world.

From Spain and Italy I come to England. The first importation of slaves
from Africa by our countrymen was in the reign of Elizabeth, in the year
1562. This great princess seems on the very commencement of the trade to
have questioned its lawfulness. She seems to have entertained a religious
scruple concerning it, and, indeed, to have revolted at the very thought of
it. She seems to have been aware of the evils to which its continuance
might lead, or that, if it were sanctioned, the most unjustifiable means
might be made use of to procure the persons of the natives of Africa. And
in what light she would have viewed any acts of this kind, had they taken
place, we may conjecture from this fact,--that when captain (afterwards Sir
John) Hawkins returned from his first voyage to Africa and Hispaniola,
whither he had carried slaves, she sent for him, and, as we learn from
Hill's Naval History, expressed her concern lest any of the Africans should
be carried off without their free consent, declaring that "It would be
detestable, and call down the vengeance of Heaven upon the undertakers."
Captain Hawkins promised to comply with the injunctions of Elizabeth in
this respect. But he did not keep his word; for when he went to Africa
again, he seized many of the inhabitants and carried them off as slaves,
which occasioned Hill, in the account he gives of his second voyage, to use
these remarkable words:--"Here began the horrid practice of forcing the
Africans into slavery, an injustice and barbarity, which, so sure as there
is vengeance in heaven for the worst of crimes, will sometime be the
destruction of all who allow or encourage it." That the trade should have
been suffered to continue under such a princess, and after such solemn
expressions as those which she has been described to have uttered, can be
only attributed to the pains taken by those concerned in it to keep her
ignorant of the truth.

From England I now pass over to France. Labat, a Roman missionary, in his
account of the isles of America, mentions, that Louis the Thirteenth was
very uneasy when he was about to issue the edict, by which all Africans
coming into his colonies were to be made slaves, and that this uneasiness
continued, till he was assured, that the introduction of them in this
capacity into his foreign dominions was the readiest way of converting them
to the principles of the Christian religion.

These, then, were the first forerunners in the great cause of the abolition
of the Slave-trade. Nor have their services towards it been of small
moment. For, in the first place, they have enabled those, who came after
them, and who took an active interest in the same cause, to state the great
authority of their opinions and of their example. They have enabled them,
again, to detail the history connected with these, in consequence of which
circumstances have been laid open, which it is of great importance to know.
For have they not enabled them to state, that the African Slave-trade never
would have been permitted to exist but for the ignorance of those in
authority concerning it--That at its commencement there was a revolting of
nature against it--a suspicion--a caution--a fear--both as to its
unlawfulness and its effects? Have they not enabled them to state, that
falsehoods were advanced, and these concealed under the mask of religion,
to deceive those who had the power to suppress it? Have they not enabled
them to state that this trade began in piracy, and that it was continued
upon the principles of force? And, finally, have not they, who have been
enabled to make these statements, knowing all the circumstances connected
with them, found their own zeal increased and their own courage and
perseverance strengthened; and have they not, by the communication of them
to others, produced many friends and even labourers in the cause?


_Forerunners continued to 1787--divided from this time into four
classes--First class consists principally of persons in Great Britain of
various description--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:--

"O execrable son, so to aspire
Above his brethren, to himself assuming
Authority usurpt, from God not given;
He gave us only over beast, fish, fowl,
Dominion absolute; that right we hold
By his donation;--but man over men
He made not lord, such title to himself
Reserving, human left from human free."

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 outrageous 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

"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, bids 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:

"Lo, the poor Indian! whose untutor'd mind
Sees God in clouds, or hears him in the wind;
His soul proud Science never taught to stray
Far as the solar walk, or milky-way;
Yet simple Nature to his hope has giv'n
Behind the cloud-topt hill an humbler heav'n;
Some safer world in depth of woods embrac'd,
Some happier island in the watry waste,
Where slaves once more their native land behold,
No fiends torment, no Christians thirst for gold."

Thomson also, in his Seasons, marks this traffic as destructive and cruel,
introducing the well-known fact of sharks following the vessels employed in

"Increasing still the sorrows of those storms,
His jaws horrific arm'd with three-fold fate,
Here dwells the direful shark. Lur'd by the scent
Of steaming crowds, of rank disease, and death,
Behold! he rushing cuts the briny flood,
Swift as the gale can bear the ship along,
And from the partners of that cruel trade,
Which spoils unhappy Guinea of her sons,
Demands his share of prey, demands themselves.
The stormy fates descend: one death involves
Tyrants and slaves; when straight their mangled limbs
Crashing at once, he dyes the purple seas
With gore, and riots in the vengeful meal."

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:--

"Let by my specious name no tyrants rise,
And cry, while they enslave, they civilize!
Know, Liberty and I are still the same
Congenial--ever mingling flame with flame!
Why must I Afric's sable children see
Vended for slaves, though born by nature free,
The nameless tortures cruel minds invent
Those to subject whom Nature equal meant?
If these you dare (although unjust success
Empow'rs you now unpunish'd to oppress),
Revolving empire you and yours may doom--
(Rome all subdu'd--yet Vandals vanquish'd Rome)
Yes--Empire may revolt--give them the day,
And yoke may yoke, and blood may blood repay."

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,

"And with necessity,
The tyrant's plea, excuse his dev'lish deed?"

"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:

"See the poor native quit the Libyan shores,
Ah! not in love's delightful fetters bound!
No radiant smile his dying peace restores,
No love, nor fame, nor friendship heals his wound.

"Let vacant bards display their boasted woes;
Shall I the mockery of grief display?
No; let the muse his piercing pangs disclose,
Who bleeds and weeps his sum of life away!

"On the wild heath in mournful guise he stood
Ere the shrill boatswain gave the hated sign;
He dropt a tear unseen into the flood,
He stole one secret moment to repine--

"Why am I ravish'd from my native strand?
What savage race protects this impious gain?
Shall foreign plagues infest this teeming land,
And more than sea-born monsters plough the main?

"Here the dire locusts' horrid swarms prevail;
Here the blue asps with livid poison swell;
Here the dry dipsa writhes his sinuous mail;
Can we not here secure from envy dwell?

"When the grim lion urg'd his cruel chase,
When the stern panther sought his midnight prey,
What fate reserv'd me for this Christian race?
O race more polish'd, more severe, than they--

"Yet shores there are, bless'd shores for us remain,
And favour'd isles, with golden fruitage crown'd,
Where tufted flow'rets paint the verdant plain,
And ev'ry breeze shall med'cine ev'ry wound."

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 commitee, 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 taskmasters, they console themselves
with feigning it to be the gracious reward of heaven, in their future

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 coadjators 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

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[A]." 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

[Footnote A: 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

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:--

"Thank you, my Massas! have you laugh your fill?
Then let me speak, nor take that freedom ill.
E'en from _my_ tongue some heart-felt truths may fall,
And outrag'd Nature claims the care of all.
My tale in _any_ place would force a tear,
But calls for stronger, deeper feelings here;
For whilst I tread the free-born British land,
Whilst now before me crowded Britons stand,--
Vain, vain that glorious privilege to me,
I am a slave, where all things else are free.

"Yet was I born, as you are, no man's slave,
An heir to all that lib'ral Nature gave;
My mind can reason, and my limbs can move
The same as yours; like yours my heart can love;
Alike my body food and sleep sustain;
And e'en like yours--feels pleasure, want, and pain.
One sun rolls o'er us, common skies surround;
One globe supports us, and one grave must bound.

"Why then am I devoid of all to live
That manly comforts to a man can give?
To live--untaught religion's soothing balm,
Or life's choice arts; to live--unknown the calm
Of soft domestic ease; those sweets of life,
The duteous offspring, and th' endearing wife?

"To live--to property and rights unknown,
Not e'en the common benefits my own!
No arm to guard me from Oppression's rod,
My will subservient to a tyrant's nod!
No gentle hand, when life is in decay,
To soothe my pains, and charm my cares away;
But helpless left to quit the horrid stage,
Harass'd in youth, and desolate in age!

"But I was born in Afric's tawny strand,
And you in fair Britannia's fairer land.
Comes freedom, then, from colour?--Blush with shame!
And let strong Nature's crimson mark your blame.
I speak to Britons.--Britons, then, behold
A man by Britons _snar'd_, and _seiz'd_, and _sold_!
And yet no British statute damns the deed,
Nor do the more than murd'rous villains bleed.

"O sons of freedom! equalize your laws,
Be all consistent, plead the Negro's cause;
That all the nations in your code may see
The British Negro, like the Briton, free.
But, should he supplicate your laws in vain,
To break, for ever, this disgraceful chain,
At least, let gentle usage so abate
The galling terrors of its passing state,
That he may share kind Heav'n's all social plan;
For, though no Briton, Mungo is--a man."

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:

"To you this unpolluted blood I poor,
To you that spirit, which ye gave, restore."

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 abbe 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 1770, 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

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[A], all of whom bore their public testimony against the
continuance of the cruel trade.

[Footnote A: The other was professor Hutcheson, before mentioned in p. 49.]

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 abbe 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

"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[A] with water, and thus have prevented all necessity for the
destruction of the third.

[Footnote A: It appeared that they filled six.]

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

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 farther 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:

"My ear is pain'd,
My soul is sick with every day's report
Of wrong and outrage with which earth is fill'd.
There is no flesh in man's obdurate heart,
It does not feel for man. The nat'ral bond
Of brotherhood is sever'd as the flax
That falls asunder at the touch of fire.
He finds his fellow guilty of a skin
Not colour'd like his own, and having pow'r
T'inforce the wrong, for such a worthy cause
Dooms and devotes him as his lawful prey.
Lands intersected by a narrow frith
Abhor each other. Mountains interpos'd,
Make enemies of nations, who had else,
Like kindred drops, been mingled into one.
Thus man devotes his brother, and destroys;
And, worse than all, and most to be deplor'd
As human Nature's broadest, foulest blot,--
Chains him, and tasks him, and exacts his sweat
With stripes, that mercy with a bleeding heart
Weeps, when she sees inflicted on a beast.
Then what is man? And what man, seeing this,
And having human feelings, does not blush
And hang his head to think himself a man?
I would not have a slave to till my ground,

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