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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) by Thomas Clarkson

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my stomach, which leaves me no enjoyment of myself, but such as I can
collect from my own reflections, and the comforts of religion. I am glad
the bill for the abolition is in such forwardness. Whether it goes through
the House or not, the discussion attending it will have a most beneficial
effect. The whole of this business I think now to be in such a train, as to
enable me to bid farewell to the present scene with the satisfaction of not
having lived in vain, and of having done something towards the improvement
of our common nature; and this at no little expense of time and reputation.
The little I have now written is my utmost effort; yet yesterday I thought
it necessary to write an answer to a scurrilous libel in The Diary by one
Scipio. On my own account he should have remained unnoticed, but our great
cause must be kept unsullied."

Mr. Ramsay was a man of active habit, of diligence and perseverance in his
undertakings, and of extraordinary application. He was of mild and humble
manners. He possessed a strong understanding, with great coolness and
courage. Patriotism and public spirit were striking traits in his
character. In domestic life he was amiable: in the ministry, exemplary and
useful; and he died to the great regret of his parishioners, but most of
all to that of those, who moved with him in his attempts to bring about the
important event of the abolition of the Slave-trade.


_Continuation from July 1789 to July 1790--Author travels to Paris to
promote the abolition in France--attends the committees of the Friends of
the Negros--Counter attempts of the committee of White Colonists--An
account of the deputies of Colour--Meeting at the Duke de la
Rochefoucauld's--Mirabeau espouses the cause--canvasses the National
Assembly--Distribution of the section of the slave-ship there--Character of
Brissot--Author leaves Paris and returns to England--Examination of
merchants' and planters' evidence resumed in the House of Commons--Author
travels in search of evidence in favour of the abolition--Opposition to the
hearing of it--This evidence is at length introduced--Renewal of Sir
William Dolben's bill--Distribution of the section of the slave-ship in
England--and of Cowper's Negro's Complaint--and of Wedgewood's Cameos._

We usually find, as we give ourselves up to reflection, some little
mitigation of the afflictions we experience; and yet of the evils which
come upon us, some are often so heavy as to overpower the sources of
consolation for a time, and to leave us wretched. This was nearly our
situation at the close of the last session of parliament. It would be idle
not to confess that circumstances had occurred, which wounded us deeply.
Though we had foiled our opponents at their own weapons, and had
experienced the uninterrupted good wishes and support of the public, we had
the great mortification to see the enthusiasm of members of parliament
beginning to cool; to see a question of humanity and justice (for such it
was, when it was delivered into their hands) verging towards that of
commercial calculation; and finally to see regulation, as it related to it
in the way of being substituted for abolition. But most of all were we
affected, knowing as we did the nature and the extent of the sufferings
belonging to Slave-trade, that these should be continued to another year.
This last consideration almost overpowered me. It had fallen to my lot,
more than to that of any other person, to know these evils, and I seemed
almost inconsolable at the postponement of the question. I wondered how
members of parliament, and these Englishmen, could talk as they did on this
subject; how they could bear for a moment to consider their fellow-man as
an article of trade; and how they should not count even the delay of an
hour, which occasioned so much misery to continue, as one of the most
criminal actions of their lives.

It was in vain, however, to sink under our burthens. Grief could do no
good; and if our affairs had taken an unfavourable turn, the question was,
how to restore them. It was sufficiently obvious that, if our opponents
were left to themselves, or, without any counteracting evidence, they would
considerably soften down the propositions, if not invalidate them in the
minds of many. They had such a power of selection of witnesses, that they
could bring men forward, who might say with truth, that they had seen but
very few of the evils complained of, and these in an inferior degree. We
knew also from the example of the Liverpool delegates, how interest and
prejudice could blind the eyes, and how others might be called upon to give
their testimony, who would dwell upon the comforts of the Africans, when
they came into our power; on the sprinkling of their apartments with
frankincense; on the promotion of music and the dance among them; and on
the health and festivity of their voyages. It seemed therefore necessary,
that we should again be looking out for evidence on the part of the
abolition. Nor did it seem to me to be unreasonable, if our opponents were
allowed to come forward in a new way, because it was more constitutional,
that we should be allowed the same privilege. By these means the evidence,
of which we had now lost the use, might be restored; indifference might be
fanned into warmth; commercial calculation might be overpowered by justice;
and abolition, rising above the reach of the cry of regulation, might
eventually triumph.

I communicated my ideas to the committee, and offered to go round the
kingdom to accomplish this object. The committee had themselves been
considering what measures to take, and as each in his own mind had come to
conclusions similar with my own, my proposal was no sooner made, than

I had not been long upon this journey, when I was called back. Mr.
Wilberforce, always solicitous for the good of this great cause, was of
opinion, that, as commotions had taken place in France, which then aimed at
political reforms, it was possible that the leading persons concerned in
them might, if an application were made to them judiciously, be induced to
take the Slave-trade into their consideration, and incorporate it among the
abuses to be done away. Such a measure, if realized, would not only lessen
the quantity of human suffering, but annihilate a powerful political
argument against us. He had a conference therefore with the committee on
this subject; and, as they accorded with his opinion, they united with him
in writing a letter to me, to know if I would change my journey, and
proceed to France.

As I had no object in view but the good of the cause, it was immaterial to
me where I went, if I could but serve it; and therefore, without any
further delay, I returned to London.

As accounts had arrived in England of the excesses which had taken place in
the city of Paris, and of the agitated state of the provinces through which
I was to pass, I was desired by several of my friends to change my name. To
this I could not consent; and, on consulting the committee, they were
decidedly against it.

I was introduced as quickly as possible, on my arrival at Paris, to the
friends of the cause there, to the Duke de la Rochefoucald, the Marquis de
Condorcet, Messieurs Petion de Villeneuve, Claviere, and Brissot, and to
the Marquis de la Fayette. The latter received me with peculiar marks of
attention. He had long felt for the wrongs of Africa, and had done much to
prevent them. He had a plantation in Cayenne, and had devised a plan, by
which the labourers upon it should pass by degrees from slavery to freedom.
With this view he had there laid it down as a principle, that all crimes
were equal, whether they were committed by Blacks or Whites, and ought
equally to be punished. As the human mind is of such a nature, as to be
acted upon by rewards as well as punishments, he thought it unreasonable,
that the slaves should have no advantage from a stimulus from the former.
He laid it down therefore as another principle, that temporal profits
should follow virtuous action. To this he subjoined a reasonable education
to be gradually given. By introducing such principles, and by making
various regulations for the protection and comforts of the slaves, he
thought he could prove to the planters, that there was no necessity for the
Slave-trade; that the slaves upon all their estates would increase
sufficiently by population; that they might be introduced gradually, and
without detriment, to a state of freedom; and that then the real interests
of all would be most promoted. This system he had begun to act upon two
years before I saw him. He had also, when the society was established in
Paris, which took the name of The Friends of the Negros, enrolled himself a
member of it.

The first public steps taken after my arrival in Paris were at a committee
of the Friends of the Negros, which was but thinly attended. None of those
mentioned, except Brissot, were present. It was resolved there, that the
committee should solicit an audience of Mr. Necker; and that I should wait
upon him, accompanied by a deputation consisting of the Marquis de
Condorcet, Monsieur de Bourge, and Brissot de Warwille; Secondly, that the
committee should write to the president of the National Assembly, and
request the favour of him to appoint a day for hearing the cause of the
Negros; and, Thirdly, that it should be recommended to the committee in
London to draw up a petition to the National Assembly of France, praying
for the abolition of the Slave-trade by that country. This petition, it was
observed, was to be signed by as great a number of the friends to the cause
in England, as could be procured. It was then to be sent to the committee
at Paris, who would take it in a body to the place of its destination.

I found great delicacy as a stranger in making my observations upon these
resolutions, and yet I thought I ought not to pass them over wholly in
silence, but particularly the last. I therefore rose up, and stated that
there was one resolution, of which I did not quite see the propriety. But
this might arise from my ignorance of the customs, as well as of the genius
and spirit of the French people. It struck me that an application from a
little committee in England to the National Assembly of France was not a
dignified measure, nor was it likely to have weight with such a body. It
was, besides, contrary to all the habits of propriety, in which I had been
educated. The British Parliament did not usually receive petitions from the
subjects of other nations. It was this feeling, which had induced me thus
to speak.

To these observations it was replied, that the National Assembly of France
would glory in going contrary to the example of other nations in a case of
generosity and justice, and that the petition in question, if it could be
obtained, would have an influence there, which the people of England,
unacquainted with the sentiments of the French nation, would hardly credit.

To this I had only to reply, that I would communicate the measure to the
committee in London, but that I could not be answerable for the part they
would take in it.

By an answer received from Mr. Necker, relative to the first of these
resolutions, it appeared that the desired interview had been obtained: but
he granted it only for a few minutes, and this principally to show his good
will to the cause. For he was then so oppressed with business in his own
department, that he had but little time for any other. He wrote to me
however the next day, and desired my company to dinner. He then expressed a
wish to me, that any business relative to the Slave-trade might be managed
by ourselves as individuals, and that I would take the opportunity of
dining with him occasionally for this purpose. By this plan, he said, both
of us would save time. Madame Necker also promised to represent her
husband, if I should call in his absence, and to receive me, and converse
with me on all occasions, in which this great cause of humanity and
religion might be concerned.

With respect to the other resolutions nothing ever came of them; for we
waited daily for an answer from the president during the whole of his
presidency, but we never received any; and the committee in London, when
they had read my letter, desired me unequivocally to say, that they did not
see the propriety of the petition, which it had been recommended to them to

At the next meeting it was resolved, that a letter should be written to the
new president for the same purpose as the former. This, it was said, was
now rendered essentially necessary. For the merchants, planters, and others
interested in the continuance of the Slave-trade, were so alarmed at the
enthusiasm of the French people, in favour of the new order of things, and
of any change recommended to them, which had the appearance of promoting
the cause of liberty, that they held daily committees to watch and to
thwart the motions of the Friends of the Negros. It was therefore thought
proper, that the appeal to the Assembly should be immediate on this
subject, before the feelings of the people should cool, or, before they,
who were thus interested, should poison their minds by calculations of loss
and gain. The silence of the former president was already attributed to the
intrigues of the planters' committee. No time therefore was to be lost. The
letter was accordingly written, but as no answer was ever returned to it,
they attributed this second omission to the same cause.

I do not really know whether interested persons ever did, as was suspected,
intercept the letters of the committee to the two presidents as now
surmised; or whether they ever dissuaded them from introducing so important
a question for discussion when the nation was in such a heated state; but
certain it is that we had many, and I believe barbarous, enemies to
encounter. At the very next meeting of the committee, Claviere produced
anonymous letters, which he had received, and in which it was stated that,
if the society of the Friends of the Negros did not dissolve itself, he and
the rest of them would be stabbed. It was said that no less than three
hundred persons had associated themselves for this purpose. I had received
similar letters myself; and on producing mine, and comparing the
hand-writing in both, it appeared that the same persons had written them.

In a few days after this the public prints were filled with the most
malicious representations of the views of the committee. One of them was,
that they were going to send twelve thousand muskets to the Negros in St.
Domingo, in order to promote an insurrection there. This declaration was so
industriously circulated, that a guard of soldiers was sent to search the
committee-room; but these were soon satisfied, when they found only two or
three books and some waste paper. Reports equally unfounded and wicked were
spread also in the same papers relative to myself. My name was mentioned at
full length, and the place of my abode hinted at. It was stated at one
time, that I had proposed such wild and mischievous plans to the committee
in London relative to the abolition of the Slave-trade, that they had cast
me out of their own body, and that I had taken refuge in Paris, where I now
tried to impose equally on the French nation. It was stated at another,
that I was employed by the British government as a spy, and that it was my
object to try to undermine the noble constitution, which was then forming
for France. This latter report at this particular time, when the passions
of men were so inflamed, and when the stones of Paris had not been long
purified from the blood of Foulon and Berthier, might have cost me my life;
and I mentioned it to General la Fayette, and solicited his advice. He
desired me to make a public reply to it: which I did. He desired me also to
change my lodging to the Hotel de York, that I might be nearer to him; and
to send to him if there should be any appearance of a collection of people
about the hotel, and I should have aid from the military in his quarter. He
said also, that he would immediately give in my name to the Municipality;
and that he would pledge himself to them, that my views were strictly

On dining one day at the house of the Marquis de la Fayette, I met the
deputies of Colour. They had arrived only the preceding day from St.
Domingo. I was desired to take my seat at dinner in the midst of them. They
were six in number; of a sallow or swarthy complexion, but yet it was not
darker than that of some of the natives of the south of France. They were
already in the uniform of the Parisian National Guards; and one of them
wore the cross of St. Louis. They were men of genteel appearance and modest
behaviour. They seemed to be well informed, and of a more solid cast than
those, whom I was in the habit of seeing daily in this city. The account
which they gave of themselves was this. The White People of St. Domingo,
consisting of less than ten thousand persons, had deputies then sitting in
the National Assembly. The People of Colour in the same island greatly
exceeded the Whites in number. They amounted to thirty thousand, and were
generally proprietors of lands. They were equally free by law with the
former, and paid their taxes to the mother-country in an equal proportion.
But in consequence of having sprung from slaves they had no legislative
power, and moreover were treated with great contempt. Believing that the
mother-country was going to make a change in its political constitution,
they had called a meeting on the island, and this meeting had deputed them
to repair to France, and to desire the full rights of citizens, or that the
free People of Colour might be put upon an equality with the Whites. They
(the deputies) had come in consequence. They had brought with them a
present of six millions of livres to the National Assembly, and an
appointment to General la Fayette to be commander in chief over their
constituents, as a distinct body. This command, they said, the General had
accepted, though he had declined similar honours from every town in France,
except Paris, in order to show that he patronised their cause.

I was now very anxious to know the sentiments which these gentlemen
entertained on the subject of the Slave-trade. If they were with us, they
might be very useful to us; not only by their votes in the Assembly, but by
the knowledge of facts, which they would be able to adduce there in our
favour. If they were against us, it became me to be upon my guard against
them, and to take measures accordingly. I therefore stated to them at once
the nature of my errand to France, and desired their opinion upon it. This
they gave me without reserve. They broke out into lavish commendations of
my conduct, and called me their friend. The Slave-trade, they said, was the
parent of all the miseries in St. Domingo, not only on account of the cruel
treatment it occasioned to the slaves, but on account of the discord which
it constantly kept up between the Whites and People of Colour, in
consequence of the hateful distinctions it introduced. These distinctions
could never be obliterated while it lasted. Indeed both the trade and the
slavery must fall before the infamy, now fixed upon a skin of colour, could
be so done away, that Whites and Blacks could meet cordially, and look with
respect upon one another. They had it in their instructions, in case they
should obtain a seat in the Assembly, to propose an immediate abolition of
the Slave-trade, and an immediate amelioration of the state of slavery
also, with a view to its final abolition in fifteen years.

But time was flying apace, I had now been nearly seven weeks in Paris; and
had done nothing. The thought of this made me uneasy, and I saw no
consoling prospect before me. I found it even difficult to obtain a meeting
of the Friends of the Negros. The Marquis de la Fayette had no time to
attend. Those of the committee, who were members of the National Assembly,
were almost constantly engaged at Versailles. Such of them as belonged to
the Municipality, had enough to do at the Hotel de Ville. Others were
employed either in learning the use of arms, or in keeping their daily and
nightly guards. These circumstances made me almost despair of doing any
thing for the cause at Paris, at least in any reasonable time. But a new
circumstance occurred, which distressed me greatly; for I discovered, in
the most satisfactory manner, that two out of the six at the last committee
were spies. They had come into the society for no other reason, than to
watch and report its motions, and they were in direct correspondence with
the slave-merchants at Havre de Grace. This matter I brought home to them
afterwards, and I had the pleasure of seeing them excluded from all our
future meetings.

From this time I thought it expedient to depend less upon the committee and
more upon my own exertions, and I formed the resolution of going among the
members of the National Assembly myself, and of learning from their own
mouths the hope I ought to entertain relative to the decision of our
question. In the course of my endeavours I obtained a promise from the Duke
de la Rochefoucauld, the Comte de Mirabeau, the Abbe Syeyes, Monsieur
Bergasse, and Monsieur Petion de Villeneuve, five of the most approved
members of the National Assembly, that they would meet me, if I would fix a
day. I obtained a similar promise from the Marquis de Condorcet, and
Claviere and Brissot, as members selected from the committee of the Friends
of the Negros. And Messieurs de Roveray and Du Monde, two Genevese
gentlemen at Versailles, men of considerable knowledge and interest, and
who had heard of our intended meeting, were to join us at their own
request. The place chosen was the house of the Bishop of Chartres at

I was now in hope that I should soon bring the question to some issue; and
on the fourth of October I went to dine with the Bishop of Chartres to fix
the day. We appointed the seventh. But how soon, frequently, do our
prospects fade! From the conversation which took place at dinner, I began
to fear that our meeting would not be realized. About three days before,
the officers of the Guard du Corps had given the memorable banquet,
recorded in the annals of the revolution, to the officers of the regiment
of Flanders which then lay at Versailles. This was a topic, on which the
company present dwelt. They condemned it as a most fatal measure in these
heated times; and were apprehensive, that something would grow immediately
out of it, which might endanger the King's safety. In passing afterwards
through the streets of Versailles my fears increased. I met several of that
regiment in groups. Some were brandishing their swords. Others were walking
arm in arm and singing tumultuously. Others were standing and conversing
earnestly together. Among the latter I heard one declare with great
vehemence, "that it should not be; that the revolution must go on." On my
arrival at Paris in the evening the Palais Royale was full of people, and
there were movements and buzzings among them, as if something was expected
to happen. The next day, when I went into the streets it was obvious what
was going to take place. Suffice it to say, that the next evening the King
and Queen were brought prisoners into Paris. After this, things were in
such an unsettled state for a few days, and the members of the National
Assembly were so occupied in the consideration of the event itself, and of
the consequences which might attend it, that my little meeting, of which it
had cost me so much time and trouble to procure the appointment, was
entirely prevented.

I had now to wait patiently till a new opportunity should occur. The Comte
de Mirabeau, before the departure of the King, had moved and carried the
resolution that "the Assembly was inseparable from his majesty's person."
It was expected, therefore, that the National Assembly would immediately
transfer its sittings to Paris. This took place on the nineteenth. It was
now more easy for me to bring persons together, than when I had to travel
backward and forward to Versailles. Accordingly, by watching my
opportunities, I obtained the promise of another meeting. This was held
afterward at the Duke de la Rochefoucauld's. The persons before mentioned
were present; except the Comte de Mirabeau, whose occupations at that
moment made it utterly impossible for him to attend.

The Duke opened the business in an appropriate manner; and concluded, by
desiring each person to give his opinion frankly and unequivocally as to
what might be expected of the National Assembly relative to the great
measure of the abolition of the Slave-trade.

The Abbe Syeyes rose up, and said, it would probably bring the business
within a shorter compass, if, instead of discussing this proposition at
large, I were to put to the meeting my own questions. I accordingly
accepted this offer; and began by asking those present, "how long it was
likely that the present National Assembly would sit." After some
conversation it was replied, that, "it would sit till it had completed the
constitution, and interwoven such fixed principles into it, that the
legislature, which should succeed it, might have nothing more to do, than
to proceed on the ordinary business of the state. Its dissolution would
probably not take place till the month of March."

I then asked them, "whether it was their opinion, that the National
Assembly would feel itself authorized to take up such a foreign question
(if I might be allowed the expression) as that of the abolition of the
Slave-trade." The answer to this was, "that the object of the National
Assembly was undoubtedly the formation of a constitution for the French
people. With respect to foreign possessions, it was very doubtful, whether
it were the real interest of France to have any colonies at all. But while
it kept such colonies under its dominion, the Assembly would feel, that it
had the right to take up this question; and that the question itself would
naturally spring out of the bill of rights, which had already been adopted
as the basis of the constitution."

The next question I proposed was, "whether they were of opinion, that the
National Assembly would do more wisely, in the present situation of things,
to determine upon the abolition of the Slave-trade now, or to transfer it
to the legislature, which was to succeed it in the month of March."

This question gave birth to a long discussion; during which much eloquence
was displayed. But the unanimous answer, with the reasons for it, may be
conveyed in substance as follows. "It would be most wise, it was said, in
the present Assembly to introduce the question to the notice of the nation,
and this as essentially connected with the bill of rights, but to transfer
the determination of it, in a way the best calculated to ensure success, to
the succeeding legislature. The revolution was of more importance to
Frenchmen, than the abolition of the Slave-trade. To secure this was their
first object, and more particularly, because the other would naturally flow
from it. But the revolution might be injured by the immediate determination
of the question. Many persons in the large towns of Bourdeaux, Marseilles,
Rouen, Nantes, and Havre, who were now friends to it, might be converted
into enemies. It would also be held up by those, who wished to produce a
counter-revolution, (and the ignorant and prejudiced might believe it,)
that the Assembly had made a great sacrifice to England, by thus giving her
an opportunity of enlarging her trade. The English House of Commons had
taken up the subject, but had done nothing. And though they, who were then
present, were convinced of the sincerity of the English minister, who had
introduced it; and that the trade must ultimately fall in England, yet it
would not be easy to persuade many bigoted persons in France of these
truths. It would therefore be most wise in the Assembly only to introduce
the subject as mentioned; but if extraordinary circumstances should arise,
such as a decree, that the deputies of Colour should take their seats in
the Assembly, or that England should have begun this great work, advantage
might be taken of them, and the abolition of the Slave-trade might be
resolved upon in the present session."

The last question I proposed was this. "If the determination of this great
question should be proposed to the next legislature, would it be more
difficult to carry it then than now."

This question also produced much conversation. But the answer was
unanimous, "that there would be no greater difficulty in the one than in
the other case; for that the people would daily, more and more admire their
constitution; that this constitution would go down to the next legislature,
from whence would issue solid and fixed principles, which would be resorted
to as a standard for decision on all occasions. Hence the Slave-trade,
which would be adjudged by it also, could not possibly stand. Add to which,
that the most virtuous members in the present would be chosen into the new
legislature, which, if the constitution were but once fairly established,
would not regard the murmurs of any town or province." After this, a
desultory conversation took place, in which some were of opinion that it
would be proper, on the introduction of the subject into the Assembly, to
move for a committee of inquiry, which should collect facts and documents
against the time, when it should be taken up with a view to its final

As it now appeared to me, that nothing material would be done with respect
to our cause till after the election of the new legislature, I had thoughts
of returning to England to resume my journey in quest of evidence; but I
judged it right to communicate first with the Comte de Mirabeau and the
Marquis de la Fayette, both of whom would have attended the meeting just
mentioned, if unforeseen circumstances had not prevented them.

On conversing with the first, I found that he differed from those, whom I
had consulted. He thought that the question, on account of the nature and
urgency of it, ought to be decided in the present legislature. This was so
much his opinion, that he had made a determination to introduce it there
himself; and had been preparing for his motion. He had already drawn up the
outlines of a speech for the purpose; but was in want of circumstantial
knowledge to complete it. With this knowledge he desired me to furnish him.
He then put his speech into my hand; and wished me to take it home and
peruse it. He wrote down also some questions, and he gave them to me
directly afterwards, and begged I would answer them at my leisure.

On conversing with the latter, he said, that he believed with those at the
meeting, that there would be no greater difficulty in carrying the question
in the succeeding than in the present legislature. But this consideration
afforded an argument for the immediate discussion of it: for it would make
a considerable difference to suffering humanity, whether it were to be
decided now or then. This was the moment to be taken to introduce it; nor
did he think that they ought to be deterred from doing it, by any supposed
clamours from some of the towns in France. The great body of the people
admired the constitution; and would support any decisions, which were made
in strict conformity to its principles. With respect to any committee of
inquiry, he deprecated it. The Slave-trade, he said, was not a trade. It
dishonoured the name of commerce. It was piracy. But if so, the question,
which it involved, was a question of justice only; and it could not be
decided with propriety by any other standard. I then informed him, that the
Comte de Mirabeau had undertaken to introduce it into the Assembly. At this
he expressed his uneasiness. "Mirabeau," says he, "is a host in himself;
and I should not be surprised if by his own eloquence and popularity only
he were to carry it; and yet I regret that he has taken the lead in it. The
cause is so lovely, that even ambition, abstractedly considered, is too
impure to take it under its protection, and not to sully it. It should have
been placed in the hands of the most virtuous man in France. This man is
the Duc de la Rochefoucauld. But you cannot alter things now. You cannot
take it out of his hands. I am sure he will be second to no one on this

On my return to my hotel, I perused the outlines of the speech, which the
Comte de Mirabeau had lent me. It afforded a masterly knowledge of the
evils of the trade, as drawn from reason only. It was put together in the
most striking and affecting manner. It contained an almost irresistible
appeal to his auditors by frequent references to the ancient system of
things in France, and to their situation and prospects under the new. It
flowed at first gently like a river in a level country; but it grew
afterwards into a mountain torrent, and carried every thing before it. On
looking at the questions, which he had written down for me, I found them
consist of three. 1. What are the different ways of reducing to slavery the
inhabitants of that part of Africa, which is under the dominion of France?
2. What is the state of society there with respect to government, industry,
and the arts? 3. What are the various evils belonging to the transportation
of the Africans from their own country?

It was peculiarly agreeable to me to find, on reading the first two
questions, that I had formed an acquaintance with Monsieur Geoffroy de
Villeneuve, who had been aide du camp to the Chevalier de Boufflers at
Goree; but who was then at his father's house in Paris. This gentleman had
entertained Dr. Spaarman and Mr. Wadstrom; and had accompanied them up the
Senegal, when under the protection of the French government in Africa. He
had confirmed to me the testimony, which they had given before the privy
council. But he had a fund of information on this subject, which went far
beyond what these possessed, or I had ever yet collected from books or men.
He had travelled all over the kingdom of Cayor on foot; and had made a map
of it. His information was so important, that I had been with him for
almost days together to take it down. I determined therefore to arrange the
facts, which I had obtained from him, of which I had now a volume, that I
might answer the two first questions, which had been proposed to me; for it
was of great importance to the Comte de Mirabeau, that he should be able to
appeal, in behalf of the statements in his speech to the Assembly, to an
evidence on the spot.

In the course of my correspondence with the Comte, which continued with but
little intermission for six weeks, many circumstances took place, which
were connected with the cause, and which I shall now detail in their order.

On waiting upon Mr. Necker, at his own request, he gave me the pleasing
intelligence, that the committee of finances, which was then composed of
members of the National Assembly, had resolved, though they had not yet
promulgated their resolution, upon a total abolition of all the bounties
then in existence in favour of the Slave-trade.

The Deputies of Colour now began to visit me at my own hotel. They informed
me, that they had been admitted, since they had seen me, into the National
Assembly. On stating their claims, the president assured them, that they
might take courage; for that the Assembly knew no distinction between
Blacks and Whites, but considered all men as having equal rights. This
speech of the president, they said, had roused all the White Colonists in
Paris. Some of these had openly insulted them. They had held also a meeting
on the subject of this speech; at which they had worked themselves up so as
to become quite furious. Nothing but intrigue was now going forward among
them to put off the consideration of the claims of the free People of
Colour. They, the deputies, had been flattered by the prospect of a hearing
no less than six times; and, when the day arrived, something had constantly
occurred to prevent it.

At a subsequent interview, they appeared to be quite disheartened; and to
be grievously disappointed as to the object of their mission. They were now
sure, that they should never be able to make head against the intrigues and
plots of the White Colonists. Day after day had been fixed as before for
the hearing of their cause. Day after day it had been deferred in like
manner. They were now weary with waiting. One of them, Oge, could not
contain himself, but broke out with great warmth--"I begin," says he, "not
to care, whether the National Assembly will admit us or not. But let it
beware of the consequences. We will no longer continue to be beheld in a
degraded light. Dispatches shall go directly to St. Domingo; and we will
soon follow them. We can produce as good soldiers on our estates, as those
in France. Our own arms shall make us independent and respectable. If we
are once forced to desperate measures, it will be in vain that thousands
will be sent across the Atlantic to bring us back to our former state." On
hearing this, I entreated the deputies to wait with patience. I observed to
them, that in a great revolution, like that of France, things, but more
particularly such as might be thought external, could not be discussed
either so soon or so rapidly as men full of enthusiasm would wish. France
would first take care of herself. She would then, I had no doubt, extend
her care to her Colonies. Was not this a reasonable conclusion, when they,
the deputies, had almost all the first men in the Assembly in their favour?
I entreated them therefore to wait patiently; as well as upon another
consideration, which was, that by an imprudent conduct they might not only
ruin their own cause in France, but bring indescribable misery upon their
native land.

By this time a large packet, for which I had sent from England, arrived. It
consisted of above a thousand of the plan and section of a slave-ship, with
an explanation in French. It contained also about five hundred coloured
engravings, made from two views, which Mr. Wadstrom had taken in Africa.
The first of these represented the town of Joal, and the King's military on
horseback returning to it, after having executed the great pillage, with
their slaves. The other represented the village of Bain; from whence
ruffians were forcing a poor woman and her children to sell them to a ship,
which was then lying in the Roads. Both these scenes Mr. Wadstrom had
witnessed. I had collected also by this time, one thousand of my Essays on
the Impolicy of the Slave-trade, which had been translated into the French
language. These I now wished to distribute, as preparatory to the motion of
Mirabeau, among the National Assembly. This distribution was afterwards
undertaken and effected by the Archbishop of Aix, the Bishop of Chartres,
the Marquis de la Fayette, the Duc de la Rochefoucauld, the Comte de
Mirabeau, Monsieur Necker, the Marquis de Condorcet, Messieurs Petion de
Villeneuve, Bergasse, Claviere and Brissot, and by the Marchioness de la
Fayette, Madame Necker, and Madame de Poivre, the latter of whom was the
widow of the late Intendant of the Isle of France.

This distribution had not been long begun, before I witnessed its effects.
The virtuous Abbe Gregoire, and several members of the National Assembly,
called upon me. The section of the slave-ship, it appeared, had been the
means of drawing them towards me. They wished for more accurate information
concerning it. Indeed it made its impression upon all who saw it. The
Bishop of Chartres once told me, that, when he first espoused our cause, he
did it at once; for it seemed obvious to him that no one could, under the
Christian dispensation, hold another as his slave; and it was no less
obvious where such an unnatural state existed, that there would be great
abuses; but that, nevertheless, he had not given credit to all the tales
which had been related of the Slave-trade, till he had seen this plate;
after which there was nothing so barbarous which might not readily be
believed. The Archbishop of Aix, when I first showed him the same plate,
was so struck with horror, that he could scarcely speak: and when Mirabeau
first saw it, he was so impressed by it, that he ordered a mechanic to make
a model of it in wood, at a considerable expense. This model he kept
afterwards in his dining-room. It was a ship in miniature, about a yard
long, and little wooden men and women, which were painted black to
represent the slaves, were seen stowed in their proper places.

But while the distribution of these different articles thus contributed to
make us many friends, it called forth the extraordinary exertions of our
enemies. The merchants and others interested in the continuance of the
Slave-trade wrote letters to the Archbishop of Aix, beseeching him not to
ruin France; which he would inevitably do, if, as then president, he were
to grant a day for hearing the question of the abolition. Offers of money
were made to Mirabeau from the same quarter, if he would totally abandon
his motion. An attempt was made to establish a colonial committee,
consisting of such planters as were members of the National Assembly; upon
whom it should devolve to consider and report upon all matters relating to
the Colonies, before they could be determined there. Books were circulated
in abundance in opposition to mine. Resort was again had to the public
papers, as the means of raising a hue and cry against the principles of the
Friends of the Negros. I was again denounced as a spy; and as one sent by
the English minister to bribe members in the Assembly to do that in a time
of public agitation, which in the settled state of France they could never
have been prevailed upon to accomplish. And as a proof that this was my
errand, it was requested of every Frenchman to put to himself the following
question, "How it happened that England, which had considered the subject
coolly and deliberately for eighteen months, and this in a state of
internal peace and quietness, had not abolished the Slave-trade?"

The clamour which was now made against the abolition, pervaded all Paris,
and reached the ears of the King. Mr. Necker had a long conversation with
him upon it. The latter sent for me immediately. He informed me, that His
Majesty was desirous of making himself master of the question, and had
expressed a wish to see my Essay on the Impolicy of the Slave-trade. He
desired to have two copies of it; one in French, and the other in English;
and he would then take his choice as to which of them he would read. He
(Mr. Necker) was to present them. He would take with him also at the same
time the beautiful specimens of the manufactures of the Africans, which I
had lent to Madame Necker out of the cabinet of Monsieur Geoffrey de
Villeneuve and others. As to the section of the slave-ship, he thought it
would affect His Majesty too much, as he was then indisposed. All these
articles, except the latter, were at length presented. The King bestowed a
good deal of time upon the specimens. He admired them; but particularly
those in gold. He expressed his surprise at the state of some of the arts
in Africa. He sent them back on the same day on which he had examined them,
and commissioned Mr. Necker to return me his thanks; and to say that he had
been highly gratified with what he had seen; and, with respect to the Essay
on the Impolicy of the Slave-trade, that he would read it with all the
seriousness, which such a subject deserved.

My correspondence with the Comte de Mirabeau was now drawing near to its
close. I had sent him a letter every other day for a whole month, which
contained from sixteen to twenty pages. He usually acknowledged the receipt
of each. Hence many of his letters came into my possession. These were
always interesting, on account of the richness of the expressions they
contained. Mirabeau even in his ordinary discourse was eloquent. It was his
peculiar talent to use such words, that they who heard them, were almost
led to believe, that he had taken great pains to cull them for the
occasion. But this his ordinary language was the language also of his
letters; and as they show a power of expression, by which the reader may
judge of the character of the eloquence of one, who was then undoubtedly
the greatest orator in France, I have thought it not improper to submit one
of them to his perusal in the annexed note[A]. I could have wished, as far
as it relates to myself, that it had been less complimentary. It must be
observed, however, that I had already written to him more than two hundred
pages with my own hand; and as this was done at no small expense, time and
trouble, and solely to qualify him for the office of doing good, he could
not but set some value upon my labours.

[Footnote A: "Je fais toujours mille remercimens plus empresses et plus
affectueux a Monsieur Clarkson pour la vertueuse profusion de ses lumieres,
de ses reserches, et de ses travaux. Comme ma motion et tous ses
developpemens sont entierement prets, j'attends avec une vive impatience
ses nouvelles lettres, afin d'achever de classer les faits et les
raisonnemens de Monsieur Clarkson, et, cette deduction entierement finie,
de commencer a manoeuvrer en tactique le succes douteux de cette perilleuse
proposition. J'aurai l'honneur de le recevoir Dimanche depuis onze heures,
et meme dix du matin jusqu'a midi, non seulement avec un vif plaisir, mais
avec une sensible reconnoissance.

_25 Decembre, 1789_.


When our correspondence was over, I had some conversation with him relative
to fixing a day for the motion. But he judged it prudent, previously to
this, to sound some of the members of the Assembly on the subject of it.
This he did; but he was greatly disappointed at the result. There was not
one member, out of all those, with whom he conversed, who had not been
canvassed by the planters' committee. And though most of them had been
proof against all its intrigues and artifices, yet many of them hesitated
respecting the abolition at that moment. There was a fear in some that they
should injure the revolution by adopting it; others, who had no such fears,
wished for the concurrence of England in the measure, and suggested the
propriety of a deputation there for that purpose previously to the
discussion of the question in France. While others maintained, that as
England had done nothing, after having had it so long under consideration,
it was fair to presume, that she judged it impolitic to abandon the
Slave-trade; but if France were to give it up, and England to continue it,
how would humanity be the gainer?

While the Comte de Mirabeau was continuing his canvass among the members of
the National Assembly, relative to his motion, attempts were again made in
the public papers to mislead them. Emancipation was now stated to be the
object of the Friends of the Negros. This charge I repelled, by addressing
myself to Monsieur Beauvet. I explained to him the views of the different
societies, which had taken up the cause of the Africans; and I desired him
to show my letter to the planters. I was obliged also to answer publicly a
letter by Monsieur Mosneron de Laung. This writer professed to detail the
substance of the privy council report. He had the injustice to assert, that
three things had been distinctly proved there: First, that slavery had
always existed in Africa; Secondly, that the natives were a bloody people,
addicted to human sacrifice, and other barbarous customs; and, Thirdly,
that their soil was incapable of producing any proper articles for
commerce. From these premises he argued, as if they had been established by
the unanimous and uncontradicted testimony of the witnesses; and he drew
the conclusion, that not only had England done nothing in consequence, but
that she never would do anything, which should affect the existence of this

But these letters had only just made their appearance in the public papers,
when I was summoned to England. Parliament, it appeared, had met; and I was
immediately to leave Paris. Among those, of whom I had but just time to
take leave, were the Deputies of Colour. At this, my last conference with
them, I recommended moderation and forbearance, as the best gifts I could
leave them; and I entreated them rather to give up their seats in the
Assembly, than on that account to bring misery on their country; for that
with patience their cause would ultimately triumph. They replied, that I
had prescribed to them a most difficult task. They were afraid that neither
the conduct of the White Colonists nor of the National Assembly could be
much longer borne. They thanked me, however, for my advice. One of them
gave me a trinket, by which I might remember him; and as for himself, he
said, he should never forget one, who had taken such a deep interest in
the welfare of his mother[A]. I found, however, notwithstanding all I
said, that there was a spirit of dissatisfaction in them, which nothing
but a redress of their grievances could subdue; and that, if the planters
should persevere in their intrigues, and the National Assembly in delay,
a fire would be lighted up in St. Domingo, which could not easily be
extinguished. This was afterward realized: for Oge, in about three months
from this time, left his companions to report to his constituents in St.
Domingo the state of their mission; when hearing, on his arrival in that
island, of the outrageous conduct of the Whites of the committee of Aquin,
who had begun a persecution of the People of Colour for no other reason
than that they had dared to seek the common privileges of citizens; and
of the murder of Ferrand and Labadie, he imprudently armed his slaves.
With a small but faithful band he rushed upon superior numbers; and was
defeated. Taking refuge at length in the Spanish part of St. Domingo,
he was given up; and his enemies, to strike terror into the People of
Colour, broke him upon the wheel. From this time reconciliation between
the parties became impossible. A bloody war commenced, and with it all
those horrors which it has been our lot so frequently to deplore. It must
be remembered, however, that the Slave-trade, by means of the cruel
distinctions it occasioned, was the original cause; and though the
revolution of France afforded the occasion; it was an occasion which
would have been prevented, if it had not been for the intrigues and
injustice of the Whites.

[Footnote A: Africa.]

Another, upon whom I had time to call, was the amiable Bishop of Chartres.
When I left him, the Abbe Syeyes, who was with him, desired to walk with me
to my hotel. He there presented me with a set of his works, which he sent
for, while he staid with me; and on parting, he made use of this
complimentary expression, in allusion, I suppose, to the cause I had
undertaken,--"I am pleased to have been acquainted with the friend of man."

It was necessary that I should see the Comte de Mirabeau and the Marquis de
la Fayette, before I left Paris. I had written to each of them to
communicate the intelligence of my departure, as soon as I received it. The
Comte, it appeared, had nearly canvassed the Assembly. He could count upon
three hundred members, who, for the sake of justice, and without any
consideration of policy or of consequences, would support his motion.
But alas! what proportion did this number bear to twelve hundred? About
five hundred more would support him; but only on one condition; which
was, if England would give an unequivocal proof of her intention to
abolish the trade. The knowledge of these circumstances, he said, had
induced him to write a letter to Mr. Pitt. In this he had explained,
how far he could proceed without his assistance, and how far with it.
He had frankly developed to him the mind and temper of the Assembly on
this subject; but his answer must be immediate: for the White Colonists
were daily gaining such an influence there, that he foresaw it would be
impossible to carry the measure, if it were long delayed. On taking leave
of him he desired me to be the bearer of the letter, and to present it
to Mr. Pitt.

On conversing with the Marquis de la Fayette, he lamented deeply the
unexpected turn, which the cause of the Negros had lately taken in the
Assembly. It was entirely owing to the daily intrigues of the White
Colonists. He feared they would ruin every thing. If the Deputies of Colour
had been heard on their arrival, their rights would have been acknowledged.
But now there was little probability that they would obtain them. He
foresaw nothing but desolation in St. Domingo. With respect to the
abolition of the Slave-trade, it might be yet carried; but not unless
England would concur in the measure. On this topic he enlarged with much
feeling. He hoped the day was near at hand, when two great nations, which
had been hitherto distinguished only for their hostility, one toward the
other, would unite in so sublime a measure; and that they would follow up
their union by another, still more lovely, for the preservation of eternal
and universal peace. Thus their future rivalships might have the
extraordinary merit of being rivalships in good. Thus the revolution of
France, through the mighty aid of England, might become the source of
civilization, of freedom, and of happiness to the whole world. No other
nations were sufficiently enlightened for such an union, but all other
nations might be benefited by it.

The last person whom I saw, was Brissot. He accompanied me to my carriage.
With him therefore I shall end my French account; and I shall end it in no
way so satisfactory to myself, as in a very concise vindication of his
character, from actual knowledge, against the attacks of those who have
endeavoured to disparage it; but who never knew him. Justice and truth, I
am convinced, demand some little declaration on this subject at my hands.
Brissot then was a man of plain and modest appearance. His habits, contrary
to those of his countrymen in general, were domestic. In his own family he
set an amiable example, both as a husband and as a father. On all occasions
he was a faithful friend. He was particularly watchful over his private
conduct. From the simplicity of his appearance, and the severity of his
morals, he was called The Quaker; at least in all the circles which I
frequented. He was a man of deep feeling. He was charitable to the poor as
far as a slender income permitted him. But his benevolence went beyond the
usual bounds. He was no patriot in the ordinary acceptation of the word;
for he took the habitable globe as his country, and wished to consider
every foreigner as his brother.

I left France, as it maybe easily imagined, much disappointed, that my
labours, which had been of nearly six months continuance, should have had
no better success; nor did I see, in looking forward, any circumstances
that were consoling with respect to the issue of them there; for it was
impossible that Mr. Pitt, even if he had been inclined to write to
Mirabeau, circumstanced as matters then were with respect to the hearing of
evidence, could have given him a promise, at least of a speedy abolition;
and, unless his answer had been immediate, it would have arrived, seeing
that the French planters were daily profiting by their intrigues, too late
to be effectual.

I had but just arrived in England, when Mr. Wilberforce made a new motion
in the House of Commons on the subject of the, Slave-trade. In referring to
the transactions of the last sessions, he found that twenty-eight days had
been allotted to the hearing of witnesses against the abolition, and that
eleven persons only had been examined in that time. If the examinations
were to go on in the same manner, they might be made to last for years. He
resolved therefore to move, that, instead of hearing evidence in future in
the house at large, members should hear it in an open committee above
stairs; which committee should sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the
house itself. This motion he made; and in doing it he took an opportunity
of correcting an erroneous report; which was, that he had changed his mind
on this great subject. This was, he said, so far from being the case, that
the more he contemplated the trade, the more enormous he found it, and the
more he felt himself compelled to persevere in endeavours for its

One would have thought that a motion, so reasonable and so constitutional,
would have met with the approbation of all; but it was vehemently opposed
by Mr. Gascoyne, Alderman Newnham, and others. The plea set up was, that
there was no precedent for referring a question of such importance to a
committee. It was now obvious, that the real object of our opponents in
abandoning decision by the privy council evidence was delay. Unable to meet
us there, they were glad to fly to any measure, which should enable them to
put off the evil day. This charge was fixed upon them in unequivocal
language by Mr. Fox; who observed besides, that if the members of the house
should then resolve to hear evidence in a committee of the whole house as
before, it would amount to a resolution, that the question of the abolition
of the Slave-trade should be put by, or at least that it should never be
decided by them. After a long debate, the motion of Mr. Wilberforce was
voted without a division; and the examination of witnesses proceeded in
behalf of those who were interested in the continuance of the trade.

This measure having been resolved upon, by which dispatch in the
examinations was promoted, I was alarmed lest we should be called upon for
our own evidence, before we were fully prepared. The time which I had
originally allotted for the discovery of new witnesses, had been taken up,
if not wasted, in France. In looking over the names of the sixteen, who
were to have been examined by the committee of privy council, if there
had been time, one had died, and eight, who were sea-faring people,
were out of the kingdom. It was time therefore to stir immediately
in this business. Happily, on looking over my letters, which I found
on my arrival in England, the names of several had been handed to me,
with the places of their abode, who could give me information on the
subject of our question. All these I visited with the utmost dispatch.
I was absent only three weeks. I had travelled a thousand miles in
this time, had conversed with seventeen persons, and had prevailed
upon three to be examined.

I had scarcely returned with the addition of these witnesses to my list,
when I found it necessary to go out again upon the same errand. This second
journey arose in part from the following circumstances. There was a matter
in dispute relative to the mode of obtaining slaves in the rivers of
Calabar and Bonny. It was usual, when the slave-ships lay there, for a
number of canoes to go into the inland country. These went in a fleet.
There might be from thirty to forty armed natives in each of them. Every
canoe also had a four- or a six-pounder (cannon) fastened to her bow.
Equipped in this manner they departed; and they were usually absent from
eight to fourteen days. It was said that they went to fairs, which were
held on the banks of these rivers, and at which there was a regular show of
slaves. On their return they usually brought down from eight hundred to a
thousand of these for the ships. These lay at the bottom of the canoes;
their arms and legs having been first bound by the ropes of the country.
Now the question was, how the people, thus going up these rivers, obtained
their slaves?

It was certainly a very suspicious circumstance, that such a number of
persons should go out upon these occasions; and that they should be armed
in such a manner. We presumed therefore, that, though they might buy many
of the slaves, whom they brought down, at the fairs, which have been
mentioned, they obtained others by violence, as opportunity offered. This
inference we pressed upon our opponents; and called upon them to show what
circumstances made such warlike preparations necessary on these excursions.
To this they replied readily. The people in the canoes, said they, pass
through the territories of different petty princes; to each of whom, on
entering his territory, they pay a tribute or toll. This tribute has been
long fixed; but attempts frequently have been made to raise it. They who
follow the trade cannot afford to submit to these unreasonable demands; and
therefore they arm themselves in case of any determination on the part of
these petty princes to enforce them.

This answer we never judged to be satisfactory. We tried therefore to throw
light upon the subject, by inquiring if the natives, who went up on these
expeditions, usually took with them as many goods, as would amount to the
number of the slaves they were accustomed to bring back with them. But we
could get no direct answer, from any actual knowledge, to this question.
All had seen the canoes go out and return; but no one had seen them loaded,
or had been on board them. It appeared, however, from circumstantial
evidence, that, though the natives on these occasions might take some
articles of trade with them, it was impossible from appearances, that they
could take them in the proportion mentioned. We maintained then our
inference as before; but it was still uniformly denied.

How then were we to decide this important question? for it was said, that
no white man was ever permitted by the natives to go up in these canoes. On
mentioning accidentally the circumstances of the case, as I have now stated
them, to a friend, immediately on my return from my last journey, he
informed me, that he himself had been in company, about a year before, with
a sailor, a very respectable-looking man, who had been up these rivers. He
had spent half an hour with him at an inn. He described his person to me.
But he knew nothing of his name, or of the place of his abode. All he knew
was, that he was either going, or that he belonged to, some ship of war in
ordinary; but he could not tell at what port. I might depend upon all these
circumstances, if the man had not deceived him; and he saw no reason why he

I felt myself set on fire, as it were, by this intelligence, deficient as
it was; and I seemed to determine instantly that I would, if it were
possible, find him out. For if our suspicions were true, that the natives
frequently were kidnapped in these expeditions, it would be of great
importance to the cause of the abolition to have them confirmed; for as
many slaves came annually from these two rivers, as from all the coast of
Africa besides. But how to proceed on so blind an errand was the question.
I first thought of trying to trace the man by letter. But this might be
tedious. The examinations were now going on rapidly. We should soon be
called upon for evidence ourselves. Besides, I knew nothing of his name. I
then thought it to be a more effectual way to apply to Sir Charles
Middleton, as comptroller of the navy, by whose permission I could board
every ship of war in ordinary in England, and judge for myself. But here
the undertaking seemed very arduous; and the time it would consume became
an objection in this respect, that I thought I could not easily forgive
myself, if I were to fail in it. My inclination, however, preponderated
this way. At length I determined to follow it; for, on deliberate
consideration, I found that I could not employ my time more advantageously
to the cause; for as other witnesses must be found out somewhere, it was
highly probable that, if I should fail in the discovery of this man, I
should, by moving among such a number of sea-faring people, find others,
who could give their testimony in our favour.

I must now inform the reader, that ships of war in ordinary, in one of
which this man was reported to be, are those, which are out of commission,
and which are laid up in the different rivers and waters in the
neighbourhood of the King's dock-yards. Every one of these has a boatswain,
gunner, carpenter, and assistants on board. They lie usually in divisions
of ten or twelve; and a master in the navy has a command over every

At length I began my journey. I boarded all the ships of war lying in
ordinary at Deptford, and examined the different persons in each. From
Deptford I proceeded to Woolwich, where I did the same. Thence I hastened
to Chatham, and then, down the Medway, to Sheerness. I had now boarded
above a hundred and sixty vessels of war. I had found out two good and
willing evidences among them. But I could gain no intelligence of him, who
was the object of my search.

From Chatham, I made the best of my way to Portsmouth-harbour. A very
formidable task presented itself here. But the masters' boats were ready
for me; and I continued my pursuit. On boarding the Pegase, on the second
day, I discovered a very respectable person in the gunner of that ship. His
name was George Millar. He had been on board the Canterbury slave-ship at
the dreadful massacre at Calabar. He was the only disinterested evidence
living, of whom I had yet heard. He expressed his willingness to give his
testimony, if his presence should be thought necessary in London. I then
continued my pursuit for the remainder of the day. On the next day, I
resumed and finished it for this quarter. I had now examined the different
persons in more than a hundred vessels in this harbour, but I had not
discovered the person I had gone to seek.

Matters now began to look rather disheartening, I mean, as far as my grand
object was concerned. There was but one other port left, and this was
between two and three hundred miles distant. I determined however to go to
Plymouth. I had already been more successful in this tour, with respect to
obtaining general evidence, than in any other of the same length; and the
probability was, that, as I should continue to move among the same kind of
people, my success would be in a similar proportion according to the number
visited. These were great encouragements to me to proceed. At length, I
arrived at the place of my last hope. On my first day's expedition I
boarded forty vessels, but found no one in these, who had been on the coast
of Africa in the Slave-trade. One or two had been there in King's ships;
but they had never been on shore. Things were now drawing near to a close;
and, notwithstanding my success as to general evidence in this journey, my
heart began to beat. I was restless and uneasy during the night. The next
morning, I felt agitated again between the alternate pressure of hope and
fear; and in this state I entered my boat. The fifty-seventh vessel, which
I boarded in this harbour, was the Melampus frigate. One person belonging
to it, on examining him in the captain's cabin, said he had been two
voyages to Africa; and I had not long discoursed with him, before I found,
to my inexpressible joy, that he was the man. I found too, that he
unravelled the question in dispute precisely as our inferences had
determined it. He had been two expeditions up the river Calabar in the
canoes of the natives. In the first of these, they came within a certain
distance of a village. They then concealed themselves under the bushes,
which hung over the water from the banks. In this position they remained
during day-light. But at night they went up to it armed; and seized all the
inhabitants, who had not time to make their escape. They obtained
forty-five persons in this manner. In the second they were out eight or
nine days; when they made a similar attempt, and with nearly similar
success. They seized men, women, and children, as they could find them in
the huts. They then bound their arms, and drove them before them to the
canoes. The name of the person, thus discovered on board the Melampus, was
Isaac Parker. On inquiring into his character from the master of the
division, I found it highly respectable. I found also afterwards, that he
had sailed with Captain Cook, with great credit to himself, round the
world. It was also remarkable that my brother, on seeing him in London,
when he went to deliver his evidence, recognised him as having served on
board the Monarch man-of-war, and as one of the most exemplary men in that

I returned now in triumph. I had been out only three weeks, and I had found
out this extraordinary person, and five respectable witnesses besides.
These, added to the three discovered in the last journey, and to those
provided before, made us more formidable than at any former period; so that
the delay of our opponents, which we had looked upon as so great an evil,
proved in the end truly serviceable to our cause.

On going into the committee-room of the House of Commons on my return, I
found that the examinations were still going on in the behalf of those, who
were interested in the continuance of the trade; and they went on beyond
the middle of April, when it was considered that they had closed. Mr.
Wilberforce moved accordingly on the twenty-third of the same month, that
Captain Thomas Wilson, of the royal navy, and that Charles Berns Wadstrom
and Henry Hew Dalrymple, esquires, do attend as witnesses on the behalf of
the abolition. There was nothing now but clamour from those on the opposite
side of the question. They knew well, that there were but few members of
the House of Commons, who had read the privy council report. They knew
therefore, that, if the question were to be decided by evidence, it must be
decided by that, which their own witnesses had given before parliament. But
this was the evidence only on one side. It was certain therefore, if the
decision were to be made upon this basis, that it must be entirely in their
favour. Will it then be believed that in an English House of Commons there
could be found persons, who could move to prevent the hearing of any other
witnesses on this subject; and, what is more remarkable, that they should
charge Mr. Wilberforce, because he proposed the hearing of them, with the
intention solely of delay? Yes. Such persons were found, but, happily, only
among the friends of the Slave-trade. Mr. Wilberforce, in replying to them,
could not help observing, that it was rather extraordinary that they, who
had occasioned the delay of a whole year, should charge him with that, of
which they themselves had been so conspicuously guilty. He then commented
for some time on the injustice of their motion. He stated too, that he
would undertake to remove from disinterested and unprejudiced persons many
of the impressions, which had been made by the witnesses against the
abolition; and he appealed to the justice and honour of the house in behalf
of an injured people; under the hope, that they would not allow a decision
to be made till they had heard the whole of the case. These observations,
however, did not satisfy all those, who belonged to the opposite party.
Lord Penrhyn contended for a decision without a moment's delay. Mr.
Gascoyne relented; and said, he would allow three weeks to the
abolitionists, during which their evidence, might be heard. At length the
debate ended; in the course of which, Mr. Pitt and Mr. Fox powerfully
supported Mr. Wilberforce; when the motion was negatived without any
attempt at a division.

The witnesses in behalf of the abolition of the Slave-trade now took
possession of the ground, which those in favour of it had left. But what
was our surprise, when only three of them had been heard, to find that Mr.
Norris should come forward as an evidence! This he did to confirm what he
had stated to the privy council as to the general question; but he did it
more particularly, as it appeared afterwards, in the justification of his
own conduct: for the part, which he had taken at Liverpool, as it related
to me, had become a subject of conversation with many. It was now well
known, what assistance he had given me there in my pursuit; how he had even
furnished me with clauses for a bill for the abolition of the trade; how I
had written to him, in consequence of his friendly cooperation, to come up
as an evidence in our favour; and how at that moment he had accepted the
office of a delegate on the contrary side. The noise, which the relation
and repetition of these and other circumstances had made, had given him, I
believe, considerable pain. His friends too had urged some explanation as
necessary. But how short-sighted are they who do wrong! By coming forward
in this imprudent manner, he fixed the stain only the more indelibly on
himself; for he thus imposed upon me the cruel necessity of being examined
against him; and this necessity was the more afflicting to me, because I
was to be called upon, not to state facts relative to the trade, but to
destroy his character as an evidence in its support. I was to be called
upon, in fact, to explain all those communications, which have been stated
to have taken place between us on this subject. Glad indeed should I have
been to have declined this painful interference. But no one would hear of a
refusal. The Bishop of London, Mr. Pitt, and Mr. Wilberforce, considered my
appearance on this occasion as an imperious duty to the cause of the
oppressed. It may be perhaps sufficient to say, that I was examined; that
Mr. Norris. was present all the time; that I was cross-examined by counsel;
and that after this time, Mr. Norris seemed to have no ordinary sense of
his own degradation; for he never afterwards held up his head, or looked
the abolitionists in the face, or acted with energy as a delegate, as on
former occasions.

The hearing of evidence continued to go on in behalf of the abolition of
the trade. No less than twenty-four witnesses, altogether, were heard in
this session. And here it may not be improper to remark, that, during the
examination of our own witnesses as well as the cross-examination of those
of our opponents, no counsel were ever employed. Mr. Wilberforce and Mr.
William Smith undertook this laborious department; and as they performed it
with great ability, so they did it with great liberality towards those, who
were obliged to come under their notice in the course of this fiery ordeal.

The bill of Sir William Dolben was now to be renewed. On this occasion the
enemies of the abolition became again conspicuous; for on the twenty-sixth
of May, they availed themselves of a thin house to propose an amendment, by
which they increased the number of the slaves to the tonnage of the vessel.
They increased it too, without taking into the account, as had hitherto
been done, the extent of the superficies of the vessels, which were to
carry them. This was the third indecorous attempt against what were only
reasonable and expected proceedings in the present session. But their
advantage was of no great duration; for, the very next day, the amendment
was rejected on the report by a majority of ninety-five to sixty-nine, in
consequence, principally, of the private exertions of Mr. Pitt. Of this
bill, though it was renewed in other years besides the present, I shall say
no more in this History; because it has nothing to do with the general
question. Horrible as it yet left the situation of the poor slaves in their
transportation, (which the plate has most abundantly shown) it was the best
bill, which could be then obtained; and it answered to a certain degree the
benevolent wishes of the worthy baronet, who introduced it: for if we could
conclude that these voyages were made more comfortable to the injured
Africans, in proportion as there was less mortality in them, he had
undoubtedly the pleasure of seeing the end, at least partially, obtained;
though he must always have felt a great drawback from it, by reflecting
that the survivors, however their sufferings might have been a little
diminished, were reserved for slavery.

The session was now near its close; and we had the sorrow to find, though
we had defeated our opponents in the three instances which have been
mentioned, that the tide ran decidedly against us, upon the general
question, in the House of Commons. The same statements, which had struck so
many members with panic in the former sessions, such as that of
emancipation, of the ruin and massacre of the planters, and of
indemnification to the amount of seventy millions, had been industriously
kept up, and this by a personal canvass among them. But this hostile
disposition was still unfortunately increased by considerations of another
sort. For the witnesses of our opponents had taken their ground first. No
less than eleven of them had been examined in the last sessions. In the
present, two-thirds of the time had been occupied by others on the same
side. Hence the impression upon this ground also was against us; and we had
yet had no adequate opportunity of doing it away. A clamour was also
raised, where we thought it least likely to have originated. They (the
planters) it was said, had produced persons in elevated life and of the
highest character as witnesses; whereas we had been obliged to take up with
those of the lowest condition. This idea was circulated directly after the
introduction of Isaac Parker, before mentioned; a simple mariner; and who
was now contrasted with the admirals on the other side of the question.
This outcry was not only ungenerous, but unconstitutional. It is the glory
of the English law, that it has no scale of veracity, which it adapts to
persons, according to the station, which they may be found to occupy in
life. In our courts of law the poor are heard as well as the rich; and if
their reputation be fair, and they stand proof against the
cross-examinations they undergo, both the judge and the jury must determine
the matter in dispute by their evidence. But the House of Commons were now
called upon by our opponents, to adopt the preposterous maxim of attaching
falsehood to poverty, or of weighing truth by the standard of rank and

But though we felt a considerable degree of pain, in finding this adverse
disposition among so many members of the Lower House, it was some
consolation to us to know, that our cause had not suffered with their
constituents, the people. These were still warmly with us. Indeed, their
hatred of the trade had greatly increased. Many circumstances had occurred
in this year to promote it. The committee, during my absence in France, had
circulated the plate of the slave-ship throughout all England. No one saw
it but he was impressed. It spoke to him in a language, which was at once
intelligible and irresistible. It brought forth the tear of sympathy in
behalf of the sufferers, and it fixed their sufferings in his heart. The
committee too had been particularly vigilant during the whole of the year,
with respect to the public papers. They had suffered no statement in behalf
of those interested in the continuance of the trade, to go unanswered. Dr.
Dickson, the author of the Letters on Slavery before mentioned, had come
forward again with his services on this occasion, and by his active
cooperation with a sub-committee appointed for the purpose, the coast was
so well cleared of our opponents, that, though they were seen the next year
again, through the medium of the same papers, they appeared only in sudden
incursions, as it were, during which they darted a few weapons at us; but
they never afterward ventured upon the plain to dispute the matter, inch by
inch, or point by point, in an open and manly manner.

But other circumstances occurred to keep up a hatred of the trade among the
people in this interval, which, trivial as they were, ought not to be
forgotten. The amiable poet Cowper had frequently made the Slave-trade the
subject of his contemplation. He had already severely condemned it in his
valuable poem The Task. But now he had written three little fugitive pieces
upon it. Of these the most impressive was that, which he called The Negro's
Complaint, and of which the following is a copy:

"Forced from home and all its pleasures,
Afric's coast I left forlorn,
To increase a stranger's treasures,
O'er the raging billows borne;
Men from England bought and sold me,
Paid my price in paltry gold;
But, though theirs they have inroll'd me,
Minds are never to be sold.

"Still in thought as free as ever,
What are England's rights, I ask.
Me from my delights to sever,
Me to torture, me to task?
Fleecy locks and black complexion
Cannot forfeit Nature's claim;
Skins may differ, but affection
Dwells in black and white the same.

"Why did all-creating Nature
Make the plant, for which we toil?
Sighs must fan it, tears must water,
Sweat of ours must dress the soil.
Think, ye masters, iron-hearted,
Lolling at your jovial boards,
Think, how many backs have smarted
For the sweets your cane affords.

"Is there, as you sometimes tell us,
Is there one, who rules on high;
Has he bid you buy and sell us,
Speaking from his throne, the sky?
Ask him, if your knotted scourges,
Fetters, blood-extorting screws,
Are the means, which duty urges
Agents of his will to use?

"Hark! he answers. Wild tornadoes,
Strewing yonder sea with wrecks,
Wasting towns, plantations, meadows,
Are the voice with which he speaks.
He, foreseeing what vexations
Afric's sons should undergo,
Fix'd their tyrants' habitations
Where his whirlwinds answer--No.

"By our blood in Afric wasted,
Ere our necks received the chain;
By the miseries, which we tasted
Crossing, in your barks, the main;
By our sufferings, since you brought us
To the man-degrading mart,
All sustain'd by patience, taught us
Only by a broken heart.

"Deem our nation brutes no longer,
Till some reason you shall find
Worthier of regard, and stronger,
Than the colour of our kind.
Slaves of gold! whose sordid dealings
Tarnish all your boasted powers,
Prove that you have human feelings,
Ere you proudly question ours."

This little piece, Cowper presented in manuscript to some of his friends in
London; and these, conceiving it to contain a powerful appeal in behalf of
the injured Africans, joined in printing it. Having ordered it on the
finest hot-pressed paper, and folded it up in a small and neat form, they
gave it the printed title of "A Subject for Conversation at the Tea-table."
After this, they sent many thousand copies of it in franks into the
country. From one it spread to another, till it travelled almost over the
whole island. Falling at length into the hands of the musician, it was set
to music; and it then found its way into the streets, both of the
metropolis and of the country, where it was sung as a ballad; and where it
gave a plain account of the subject, with an appropriate feeling, to those
who heard it.

Nor was the philanthropy of the late Mr. Wedgwood less instrumental in
turning the popular feeling in our favour. He made his own manufactory
contribute to this end. He took the seal of the committee, as exhibited in
the first volume, for his model; and he produced a beautiful cameo, of a
less size, of which the ground was a most delicate white, but the Negro,
who was seen imploring compassion in the middle of it, was in his own
native colour. Mr. Wedgwood made a liberal donation of these, when
finished, among his friends. I received from him no less than five hundred
of them myself. They, to whom they were sent, did not lay them up in their
cabinets, but gave them away likewise. They were soon, like The Negro's
Complaint, in different parts of the kingdom. Some had them inlaid in gold
on the lid of their snuff-boxes. Of the ladies, several wore them in
bracelets, and others had them fitted up in an ornamental manner as pins
for their hair. At length, the taste for wearing them became general; and
thus fashion, which usually confines itself to worthless things, was seen
for once in the honourable office of promoting the cause of justice,
humanity, and freedom.

I shall now only state that the committee took as members within its own
body, in the period of time which is included in this chapter, the Reverend
Mr. Ormerod, chaplain to the Bishop of London, and Captain James Bowen, of
the royal navy; that they elected the honourable Nathaniel Curzon (now Lord
Scarsdale), Dr. Frossard of Lyons, and Benjamin Garlike, esquire, then
secretary to the English embassy at the Hague, honorary and corresponding
members; and that they concluded their annual labours with a suitable
report; in which they noticed the extraordinary efforts of our opponents to
injure our cause, in the following manner: "In the progress of this
business a powerful combination of interest has been excited against us.
The African trader, the planter, and the West India merchant have united
their forces to defend the fortress, in which their supposed treasures lie.
Vague calculations and false alarms have been thrown out to the public, in
order to show, that the constitution and even the existence of this free
and opulent nation depend on its depriving the inhabitants of a foreign
country of those rights and of that liberty, which we ourselves so highly
and so justly prize. Surely in the nature of things and in the order of
Providence it cannot be so. England existed as a great nation, long before
the African commerce was known amongst us, and it is not to acts of
injustice and violence that she owes her present rank in the scale of


_Continuation from July 1790 to July 1791--Author travels again throughout
the kingdom--Object of his journey--Motion in the House of Commons to
resume the hearing of evidence in favour of the abolition--List of all
those examined on this side of the question--Machinations of interested
persons, and cruel circumstances of the times previously to the day of
decision--Motion at length made for stopping all further importation of
Slaves from Africa--debates upon it--motion lost--Resolutions of the
committee for the Abolition of the Slave-trade--Establishment of the Sierra
Leone Company._

It was a matter of deep affliction to us to think, that the crimes and
sufferings inseparable from the Slave-trade were to be continued to another
year. And yet it was our duty, in the present moment, to acquiesce in the
postponement of the question. This postponement was not now for the purpose
of delay, but of securing victory. The evidence, on the side of the
abolition, was, at the end of the last session, but half finished. It was
impossible, for the sake of Africa, that we could have then closed it. No
other opportunity might offer in parliament for establishing an indelible
record in her favour, if we were to neglect the present. It was our duty
therefore even to wait to complete it, and to procure such a body of
evidence, as should not only bear us out in the approaching contest, but
such as, if we were to fail, would bear out our successors also. It was
possible indeed, if the inhabitants of our islands were to improve in
civilization, that the poor slaves might experience gradually an improved
treatment with it; and so far testimony now might not be testimony for
ever: but it was utterly impossible, while the Slave-trade lasted, and the
human passions continued to be the same, that there should be any change
for the better in Africa; or that any modes, less barbarous, should come
into use for procuring slaves. Evidence therefore, if once collected on
this subject, would be evidence for posterity. In the midst of these
thoughts another journey occurred to me as necessary for this purpose; and
I prayed, that I might have strength to perform it in the most effectual
manner; and that I might be daily impressed, as I travelled along, with the
stimulating thought, that the last hope for millions might possibly rest
upon my own endeavours.

The committee highly approved of this journey. Mr. Wilberforce saw the
absolute necessity of it also; and had prepared a number of questions, with
great ingenuity, to be put to such persons, as might have information to
communicate. These I added to those in the tables, which have been already
mentioned; and they made together a valuable collection on the subject.

This tour was the most vexatious of any I had yet undertaken; many still
refused to come forward to be examined, and some on the most frivolous
pretences; so that I was disgusted, as I journeyed on, to find how little
men were disposed to make sacrifices for so great a cause. In one part of
it I went over nearly two thousand miles, receiving repeated refusals. I
had not secured one witness within this distance. This was truly
disheartening. I was subject to the whims and the caprice of those, whom I
solicited on these occasions[A]. To these I was obliged to accommodate
myself. When at Edinburgh, a person who could have given me material
information, declined seeing me, though he really wished well to the cause.
When I had returned southward as far as York, he changed his mind; and he
would then see me. I went back, that I might not lose him. When I arrived,
he would give me only private information. Thus I travelled, backwards and
forwards, four hundred miles to no purpose. At another place a circumstance
almost similar happened, though with a different issue. I had been for two
years writing about a person, whose testimony was important. I had passed
once through the town, in which he lived; but he would not then see me. I
passed through it now, but no entreaties of his friends could make him
alter his resolution. He was a man highly respectable as to situation in
life; but of considerable vanity. I said therefore to my friend, on leaving
the town, You may tell him that I expect to be at Nottingham in a few days;
and though it be a hundred and fifty miles distant, I will even come back
to see him, if he will dine with me on my return. A letter from my friend
announced to me, when at Nottingham, that his vanity had been so gratified
by the thought of a person coming expressly to visit him from such a
distance, that he would meet me according to my appointment. I went back.
We dined together. He yielded to my request. I was now repaid; and I
returned towards Nottingham in the night. These circumstances I mention,
and I feel it right to mention them, that the reader may be properly
impressed with the great difficulties we found in collecting a body of
evidence in comparison with our opponents. They ought never to be
forgotten; for if with the testimony, picked up as it were under all these
disadvantages, we carried our object against those, who had almost
numberless witnesses to command, what must have been the merits of our
cause! No person can indeed judge of the severe labour and trials in these
journeys. In the present, I was out four months. I was almost over the
whole island, I intersected it backwards and forwards both in the night and
in the day. I travelled nearly seven thousand miles in this time, and I was
able to count upon twenty new and willing evidences.

[Footnote A: Ten or twelve of those, who were examined, much to their
honour, came forward of their own accord.]

Having now accomplished my object, Mr. Wilberforce moved on the fourth of
February in the House of Commons, that a committee be appointed to examine
further witnesses in behalf of the abolition of the Slave-trade. This
motion was no sooner made, than Mr. Cawthorne rose, to our great surprise,
to oppose it. He took upon himself to decide, that the house had heard
evidence enough. This indecent motion was not without its advocates. Mr.
Wilberforce set forth the injustice of this attempt; and proved, that out
of eighty-one days, which had been given up to the hearing of evidence, the
witnesses against the abolition had occupied no less than fifty-seven. He
was strenuously supported by Mr. Burke, Mr. Martin, and other respectable
members. At length, the debate ended in favour of the original motion, and
a committee was appointed accordingly.

The examinations began again on February the seventh, and continued till
April the fifth, when they were finally closed. In this, as in the former
session, Mr. Wilberforce and Mr. William Smith principally conducted them;
and indeed it was necessary that they should have been present at these
times; for it is perhaps difficult to conceive the illiberal manner, in
which our witnesses were treated by those on the other side of the
question. Men, who had left the trade upon principle, and who had come
forward, against their apparent interest, to serve the cause of humanity
and justice, were looked upon as mercenaries and culprits, or as men of
doubtful and suspicious character. They were brow-beaten. Unhandsome
questions were put to them. Some were kept for four days under examination.
It was however highly to their honour, that they were found in no one
instance to prevaricate, nor to waver as to the certainty of their facts.

But this treatment, hard as it was for them to bear, was indeed good for
the cause; for, coming thus pure out of the fire, they occasioned their own
testimony, when read, to bear stronger marks of truth than that of the
generality of our opponents; nor was it less superior, when weighed by
other considerations. For the witnesses against the abolition were
principally interested. They who were not, had been hospitably received at
the planters' tables. The evidence too, which they delivered, was almost
wholly negative. They had not seen such and such evils. But this was no
proof that the evils did not exist. The witnesses, on the other hand, who
came up in favour of the abolition, had no advantage in making their
several assertions. In some instances they came up against their apparent
interest; and, to my knowledge, suffered persecution for so doing. The
evidence also, which they delivered, was of a positive nature. They gave an
account of specific evils, which had come under their own eyes. These evils
were never disproved. They stood therefore on a firm basis, as on a tablet
of brass. Engraved there in affirmative characters; a few of them were of
more value, than all the negative and airy testimony, which had been
advanced on the other side of the question.

That the public may judge, in some measure, of the respectability of the
witnesses in favour of the abolition, and that they may know also to whom
Africa is so much indebted for her deliverance, I shall subjoin their names
in the three following lists. The first will contain those, who were
examined by the privy council only; the second those, who were examined by
the privy council and the house of commons also; and the third those, who
were examined by the house of commons only.


Andrew Spaarman, physician, botanist, and successor to Linnaeus, traveller
on discovery in Africa for the King of Sweden.

Reverend Isham Baggs, chaplain for two voyages to Africa in H.M. ship,

Captain James Bowen, of the royal navy, one voyage to Africa.

Mr. William James, a master in the royal navy, three voyages, as mate of a

Mr. David Henderson, gunner of H.M. ship Centurion, three voyages to

Harry Gandy, two voyages to Africa, as captain of a slave-vessel.

Thomas Eldred, two voyages there, as mate.

James Arnold, three voyages there, as surgeon and surgeon's mate.

Thomas Deane, two voyages there, as captain of a wood and ivory ship.


Major-General Rooke, commander of Goree, in Africa.

Henry Hew Dalrymple, esquire, lieutenant of the 75th regiment at Goree, and
afterwards in all the West Indian islands.

Thomas Willson, esquire, naval commander at Goree.

John Hills, esquire, captain of H.M. ship Zephyr, on the African station.

Sir George Yonge, two voyages as lieutenant, and two as captain, of a ship
of war, on the African station.

Charles Berns Wadstrom, esquire, traveller on discovery in Africa for the
King of Sweden.

Reverend John Newton, five voyages to Africa in a slave-vessel, and
resident eighteen months there.

Captain John Ashley Hall, in the merchant service, two voyages in a
slave-vessel as a mate.

Alexander Falconbridge, four voyages in a slave-vessel as surgeon and
surgeon's mate.

Captain John Samuel Smith, of the royal navy, on the West India station.


Anthony Pantaleo How, esquire, employed by Government as a botanist in

Sir Thomas Bolton Thompson, two voyages as a lieutenant, and two as
commander of a ship of war on the African station.

Lieutenant John Simpson, of the marines, two voyages in a ship of war on
the African station.

Lieutenant Richard Storey, of the royal navy, four years on the
slave-employ all over the coast.

Mr. George Miller, gunner of H.M. ship Pegase, one voyage in a slave-ship.

Mr. James Morley, gunner of H.M. ship Medway, six voyages in a slave-ship.

Mr. Henry Ellison, gunner of H.M. ship Resistance, eleven years in the

Mr. James Towne, carpenter of H.M. ship Syren, two voyages in a slave-ship.

Mr. John Douglas, boatswain of H.M. ship Russel, one voyage in a

Mr. Isaac Parker, shipkeeper of H.M. ship Melampus, two voyages in a

Thomas Trotter, esquire, M.D. one voyage as surgeon of a slave-ship.

Mr. Isaac Wilson, one voyage as surgeon of a slave-ship.

Mr. Ecroyde Claxton, one voyage as surgeon of a slave-ship.

James Kiernan, esquire, resident four years on the banks of the Senegal.

Mr. John Bowman, eleven years in the slave-employ as mate, and as a factor
in the interior of Africa.

Mr. William Dove, one voyage for slaves, and afterwards resident in

Major-general Tottenham, two years resident in the West Indies.

Captain Giles, 19th regiment, seven years quartered in the West Indies.

Captain Cook, 89th regiment, two years quartered in the West Indies.

Lieutenant Baker Davison, 79th regiment, twelve years quartered in the West

Captain Hall, of the royal navy, five years on the West India station.

Captain Thomas Lloyd, of the royal navy, one year on the West India

Captain Alexander Scott, of the royal navy, one voyage to Africa and the
West Indies.

Mr. Ninian Jeffreys, a master in the royal navy, five years mate of a West
Indiaman, and for two years afterwards in the Islands in a ship of war.

Reverend Thomas Gwynn Rees, chaplain of H.M. ship Princess Amelia, in the
West Indies.

Reverend Robert Boucher Nicholls, dean of Middleham, many years resident in
the West Indies.

Hercules Ross, esquire, twenty-one years a merchant in the West Indies.

Mr. Thomas Clappeson, fifteen years in the West Indies as a wharfinger and

Mr. Mark Cook, sixteen years in the West Indies, first in the planting
business; and then as clerk and schoolmaster.

Mr. Henry Coor, a mill-wright for fifteen years in the West Indies.

Reverend Mr. Davies, resident fourteen years in the West Indies.

Mr. William Duncan, four years in the West Indies, first as a clerk and
then as an overseer.

Mr. William Fitzmaurice, fifteen years, first as a book-keeper, and then as
an overseer, in the West Indies.

Mr. Robert Forster, six years, first in a store, then as second master and
pilot of a ship of war in the West Indies.

Mr. Robert Ross, twenty-four years, first as a book-keeper, then as an
overseer, and afterwards as a planter, in the West Indies.

Mr. John Terry, fourteen years an overseer or manager in the West Indies.

Mr. Matthew Terry, twelve years resident, first as a book-keeper and
overseer, than as a land-surveyor in the King's service, and afterwards,
as a colony-surveyor, in the West Indies.

George Woodward, esquire, an owner and mortgagee of property, and
occasionally a resident in the West Indies.

Mr. Joseph Woodward, three years resident in the West Indies.

Henry Botham, esquire, a director of sugar-works both in the East and West

Mr. John Giles, resident twelve years in the West Indies and America.

J. Harrison, esquire, M.D. twenty-three years resident, in the medical
line, in the West Indies and America.

Robert Jackson, esquire, M.D. four years resident in the West Indies in the
medical line, after which he joined his regiment, in the same profession,
in America.

Thomas Woolrich, esquire, twenty years a merchant in the West Indies, but
in the interim was twice in America.

Reverend James Stuart, two years in the West Indies, and twenty in America.

George Baillie, esquire, one year in the West Indies, and twenty-five in

William Beverley, esquire, eighteen years in America.

John Clapham, esquire, twenty years in America.

Robert Crew, esquire, a native of America, and long resident there.

John Savage, esquire, forty-six years resident in America.

The evidence having been delivered on both sides, and then printed, it was
judged expedient by Mr. Wilberforce, seeing that it filled three folio
volumes, to abridge it. This abridgement was made by the different friends
of the cause. William Burgh, esquire, of York; Thomas Babington, esquire,
of Rothley Temple; the Reverend Thomas Gisborne, of Yoxall Lodge; Mr.
Campbell Haliburton, of Edinburgh; George Harrison, with one or two others
of the committee, and myself, were employed upon it. The greater share,
however, of the labour fell upon Dr. Dickson. That no misrepresentation of
any person's testimony might be made, Matthew Montagu, esquire, and the
honourable E.J. Eliott, members of parliament, undertook to compare the
abridged manuscripts with the original text, and to strike out or correct
whatever they thought to be erroneous, and to insert whatever they thought
to have been omitted. The committee, for the abolition, when the work was
finished, printed it at their own expense. Mr. Wilberforce then presented
it to the House of Commons, as a faithful abridgement of the whole
evidence. Having been received as such under the guarantee of Mr. Montagu
and Mr. Eliott, the committee sent it to every individual member of that

The book having been thus presented, and a day fixed for the final
determination of the question, our feelings became almost insupportable:
for we had the mortification to find, that our cause was going down in
estimation, where it was then most important that it should have increased
in favour. Our opponents had taken advantage of the long delay, which the
examination of evidence had occasioned, to prejudice the minds of many of
the members of the House of Commons against us. The old arguments of
emancipation, massacre, ruin, and indemnification, had been kept up; but,
as the day of final decision approached, they had been increased. Such was
our situation at this moment; when the current was turned still more
powerfully against us by the peculiar circumstances of the times. It was
indeed the misfortune of this great cause to be assailed by every weapon,
which could be turned against it. At this time Thomas Paine had published
his Rights of Man. This had been widely circulated. At this time also the
French revolution had existed nearly two years. The people of England had
seen, during this interval, a government as it were dissected. They had
seen an old constitution taken down, and a new one put up, piece by piece,
in its stead. The revolution, therefore, in conjunction with the book in
question, had had the effect of producing dissatisfaction among thousands;
and this dissatisfaction was growing, so as to alarm a great number of
persons of property in the kingdom, as well as the government itself. Now
will it be believed that our opponents had the injustice to lay hold of
these circumstances, at this critical moment, to give a death-blow to the
cause of the abolition? They represented the committee, though it had
existed before the French revolution or the Rights of Man were heard of, as
a nest of Jacobins; and they held up the cause, sacred as it was, and
though it had the support of the minister, as affording an opportunity of
meeting for the purpose of overthrowing the state. Their cry succeeded. The
very book of the abridgment of the evidence was considered by many members
as poisonous as that of the Rights of Man. It was too profane for many of
them to touch; and they who discarded it, discarded the cause also.

But these were not the only circumstances which were used as means, at this
critical moment, to defeat us. News of the revolution, which had commenced
in St. Domingo in consequence of the disputes between the Whites and the
People of Colour, had, long before this, arrived in England. The horrible
scenes which accompanied it, had been frequently published as so many
arguments against our cause. In January new insurrections were announced as
having happened in Martinique. The Negros there were described as armed,
and the planters as having abandoned their estates for fear of massacre.
Early in the month of March insurrections in the smaller French islands
were reported. Every effort was then made to represent these as the effects
of the new principles of liberty, and of the cry for abolition. But what
should happen, just at this moment, to increase the clamour against us?
Nothing less than an insurrection in Dominica.--Yes!--An insurrection in a
British island. This was the very event for our opponents. "All the
predictions of the planters had now become verified. The horrible massacres
were now realizing at home." To give this news still greater effect, a
meeting of our opponents was held at the London Tavern. By a letter read
there it appeared, that "the ruin of Dominica was now at hand." Resolutions
were voted, and a memorial presented to government, "immediately to
dispatch such a military force to the different islands, as might preserve
the Whites from destruction, and keep the Negros in subjection during the
present critical state of the slave-bill." This alarm was kept up till the
seventh of April, when another meeting took place to receive the answer of
government to the memorial. It was there resolved, that "as it was too late
to send troops to the islands, the best way of preserving them would be to
bring the question of the Slave-trade to an immediate issue; and that it
was the duty of the government, if they regarded the safety of the islands,
to oppose the abolition of it." Accounts of all these proceedings were
inserted in the public papers. It is needless to say that they were
injurious to our cause. Many looked upon the abolitionists as monsters.
They became also terrified themselves. The idea with these was, that unless
the discussion on this subject was terminated, all would be lost. Thus,
under a combination of effects arising from the publication of the Rights
of Man, the rise and progress of the French revolution, and the
insurrections of the Negros in the different islands, no one of which
events had any thing to do with the abolition of the Slave-trade, the
current was turned against us; and in this unfavourable frame of mind many
members of parliament went into the House, on the day fixed for the
discussion, to discharge their duty with respect to this great question.

On the eighteenth of April Mr. Wilberforce made his motion. He began by
expressing a hope, that the present debate, instead of exciting asperity
and confirming prejudice, would tend to produce a general conviction of the
truth of what in fact was incontrovertible; that the abolition of the
Slave-trade was indispensably required of them, not only by morality and
religion, but by sound policy. He stated that he should argue the matter
from evidence. He adverted to the character, situation, and means of
information of his own witnesses; and having divided his subject into
parts, the first of which related to the manner of reducing the natives of
Africa to a state of slavery, he handled it in the following manner.

He would begin, he said, with the first boundary of the trade. Captain
Wilson and Captain Hills, of His Majesty's navy, and Mr. Dalrymple of the
land service, had concurred in stating, that in the country contiguous to
the river Senegal, when slave-ships arrived there, armed parties were
regularly sent out in the evening, who scoured the country, and brought in
their prey. The wretched victims were to be seen in the morning bound back
to back in the huts on shore, whence they were conveyed, tied hand and
foot, to the slave-ships. The design of these ravages was obvious, because,
when the Slave-trade was stopped, they ceased. Mr. Kiernan spoke of the
constant depredations by the Moors to procure slaves. Mr. Wadstrom
confirmed them. The latter gentleman showed also that they were excited by
presents of brandy, gunpowder, and such other incentives; and that they
were not only carried on by one community against another; but that the
Kings were stimulated to practise them, in their own territories, and on
their own subjects: and in one instance a chieftain, who, when intoxicated,
could not resist the demands of the slave-merchants, had expressed, in a
moment of reason, a due sense of his own crime, and had reproached his
Christian seducers. Abundant also were the instances of private rapine.
Individuals were kidnapped, whilst in their fields and gardens. There was
an universal feeling of distrust and apprehension there. The natives never
went any distance from home without arms; and when Captain Wilson asked
them the reason of it, they pointed to a slave-ship then lying within

On the windward coast, it appeared from Lieutenant Story and Mr. Bowman,
that the evils just mentioned existed, if possible, in a still higher
degree. They had seen the remains of villages, which had been burnt, whilst
the fields of corn were still standing beside them, and every other trace
of recent desolation. Here an agent was sent to establish a settlement in
the country, and to send to the ships such slaves as he might obtain. The
orders he received from his captain were, that "he was to encourage the
chieftains by brandy and gunpowder to go to war, to make slaves." This he
did. The chieftains performed their part in return. The neighbouring
villages were surrounded and set on fire in the night. The inhabitants were
seized when making their escape; and, being brought to the agent, were by
him forwarded to his principal on the coast. Mr. How, a botanist in the
service of Government, stated, that on the arrival of an order for slaves,
from Cape Coast Castle, while he was there, a native chief immediately sent
forth armed parties, who brought in a supply of all descriptions in the

But he would now mention one or two instances of another sort, and these
merely on account of the conclusion, which was to be drawn from them. When
Captain Hills was in the river Gambia, he mentioned accidentally to a Black
pilot, who was in the boat with him, that he wanted a cabin-boy. It so
happened that some youths were then on the shore with vegetables to sell.
The pilot beckoned to them to come on board; at the same time giving
Captain Hills to understand, that he might take his choice of them; and
when Captain Hills rejected the proposal with indignation, the pilot seemed
perfectly at a loss to account for his warmth; and drily observed, that the
slave-captains would not have been so scrupulous. Again, when General Rooke
commanded at Goree, a number of the natives, men, women, and children, came
to pay him a friendly visit. All was gaiety and merriment. It was a scene
to gladden the saddest, and to soften the hardest heart. But a
slave-captain was not so soon thrown off his guard. Three English
barbarians of this description had the audacity jointly to request the
general, to seize the whole unsuspicious multitude and sell them. For this
they alleged the precedent of a former governor. Was not this request a
proof of the frequency of such acts of rapine? for how familiar must such
have been to slave-captains, when three of them dared to carry to a British
officer of rank such a flagitious proposal! This would stand in the place
of a thousand instances. It would give credibility to every other act of
violence stated in the evidence, however enormous it might appear.

But he would now have recourse for a moment to circumstantial evidence. An
adverse witness, who had lived on the Gold Coast, had said that the only
way, in which children could be enslaved, was by whole families being sold
when the principals had been condemned for witchcraft. But he said at the
same time, that few were convicted of this crime, and that the younger part
of a family in these cases was sometimes spared. But if this account were
true, it would follow that the children in the slave-vessels would be few
indeed. But it had been proved, that the usual proportion of these was
never less than a fourth of the whole cargo on that coast, and also, that
the kidnapping of children was very prevalent there.

All these atrocities, he said, were fully substantiated by the evidence;
and here he should do injustice to his cause, if he were not to make a
quotation from the speech of Mr. B. Edwards in the Assembly of Jamaica,
who, though he was hostile to his propositions, had yet the candour to
deliver himself in the following manner there. "I am persuaded," says he,
"that Mr. Wilberforce has been rightly informed as to the manner in which
slaves are generally procured. The intelligence I have collected from my
own Negros abundantly confirms his account; and I have not the smallest
doubt, that in Africa the effects of this trade are precisely such as he
has represented them. The whole, or the greatest part, of that immense
continent is a field of warfare and desolation; a wilderness, in which the
inhabitants are wolves towards each other. That this scene of oppression,
fraud, treachery, and bloodshed, if not originally occasioned, is in part
(I will not say wholly) upheld by the Slave-trade, I dare not dispute.
Every man in the Sugar Islands may be convinced that it is so, who will
inquire of any African Negros, on their first arrival, concerning the
circumstances of their captivity. The assertion that it is otherwise, is
mockery and insult."

But it was not only by acts of outrage that the Africans were brought into
bondage. The very administration of justice was turned into an engine for
that end. The smallest offence was punished by a fine equal to the value of
a slave. Crimes were also fabricated; false accusations were resorted to;
and persons were sometimes employed to seduce the unwary into practices
with a view to the conviction and the sale of them.

It was another effect of this trade, that it corrupted the morals of those,
who carried it on. Every fraud was used to deceive the ignorance of the
natives by false weights and measures, adulterated commodities, and other
impositions of a like sort. These frauds were even acknowledged by many,
who had themselves practised them in obedience to the orders of their
superiors. For the honour of the mercantile character of the country, such
a traffic ought immediately to be suppressed.

Yet these things, however clearly proved by positive testimony, by the
concession of opponents, by particular inference, by general reasoning, by
the most authentic histories of Africa, by the experience of all countries
and of all ages,--these things, and (what was still more extraordinary)
even the possibility of them, were denied by those, who had been brought
forward on the other side of the question. These, however, were chiefly
persons, who had been trading governors of forts in Africa; or who had long
commanded ships in the Slave-trade. As soon as he knew the sort of
witnesses which was to be called against him, he had been prepared to
expect much prejudice. But his expectations had been greatly surpassed by
the testimony they had given. He did not mean to impeach their private
characters, but they certainly showed themselves under the influence of
such gross prejudices, as to render them incompetent judges of the subject
they came to elucidate. They seemed (if he might so say) to be enveloped by
a certain atmosphere of their own; and to see, as it were, through a kind
of African medium. Every object, which met their eyes, came distorted and
turned from its true direction. Even the declarations, which they made on
other occasions, seemed wholly strange to them. They sometimes not only
forgot what they had seen, but what they had said; and when to one of them
his own testimony to the privy council was read, he mistook it for that of
another, whose evidence he declared to be "the merest burlesque in the

But the House must be aware that there was not only an African medium, but
an African logic. It seemed to be an acknowledged axiom in this; that every
person, who offered a slave for sale, had a right to sell him, however
fraudulently he might have obtained him. This had been proved by the
witnesses, who opposed him. "It would have stopped my trade," said one of
them, "to have asked the broker, how he came by the person he was offering
me for sale"--"We always suppose," said another, "the broker has a right to
sell the person he offers us"--"I never heard of such a question being
asked," said a third; "a man would be thought a fool, who should put such a
question."--He hoped the House would see the practical utility of this
logic. It was the key-stone, which held the building together. By means of
it, slave-captains might traverse the whole coast of Africa, and see
nothing but equitable practices. They could not, however, be wholly
absolved, even if they availed themselves of this principle to its fullest
extent; for they had often committed depredations themselves; especially
when they were passing by any part of the coast, where they did not mean to
continue or to go again. Hence it was (as several captains of the navy and
others had declared on their examination) that the natives, when at sea in
their canoes, would never come near the men of war, till they knew them to
be such. But finding this, and that they were not slave-vessels, they laid
aside their fears, and came and continued on board with unsuspecting

With respect to the miseries of the Middle Passage, he had said so much on
a former occasion, that he would spare the feelings of the committee as
much as he could. He would therefore simply state that the evidence, which
was before them, confirmed all those scenes of wretchedness, which he had
then described; the same suffering from a state of suffocation by being
crowded together; the same dancing in fetters; the same melancholy singing;
the same eating by compulsion; the same despair; the same insanity; and all
the other abominations which characterized the trade. New instances however
had occurred, where these wretched men had resolved on death to terminate
their woes. Some had destroyed themselves by refusing sustenance, in spite
of threats and punishments. Others had thrown themselves into the sea; and
more than one, when in the act of drowning, were seen to wave their hands
in triumph, "exulting" (to use the words of an eye-witness) "that they had
escaped." Yet these and similar things, when viewed through the African
medium he had mentioned, took a different shape and colour. Captain Knox,
an adverse witness, had maintained, that slaves lay during the night in
tolerable comfort. And yet he confessed, that in a vessel of one hundred
and twenty tons, in which he had carried two hundred and ninety slaves, the
latter had not all of them room to lie on their backs. How comfortably then
must they have lain in his subsequent voyages! for he carried afterwards in
a vessel of a hundred and eight tons four hundred and fifty and in a vessel
of one hundred and fifty tons, no less than six hundred slaves. Another
instance of African deception was to be found in the testimony of Captain
Frazer, one of the most humane captains in the trade. It had been said of
him, that he had held hot coals to the mouth of a slave, to compel him to
eat. He was questioned on this point; but not admitting, in the true spirit
of African logic, that he who makes another commit a crime, is guilty of it
himself, he denied the charge indignantly, and defied a proof. But it was
said to him, "Did you never order such a thing to be done?" His reply was,
"Being sick in my cabin, I was informed that a man-slave would neither eat,
drink, nor speak. I desired the mate and surgeon to try to persuade him to
speak. I desired that the slaves might try also. When I found he was still
obstinate, not knowing whether it was from sulkiness or insanity, I ordered
a person to present him with a piece of fire in one hand and a piece of yam
in the other, and to tell me what effect this had upon him. I learnt that
he took the yam and began to eat it, but he threw the fire overboard." Such
was his own account of the matter. This was eating by duresse, if any thing
could be called so. The captain, however, triumphed in his expedient, and
concluded by telling the committee, that he sold this very slave at Grenada
for forty pounds. Mark here the moral of the tale, and learn the nature and
the cure of sulkiness.

But upon whom did the cruelties, thus arising out of the prosecution of
this barbarous traffic, fall? Upon a people with feeling and intellect like
ourselves. One witness had spoken of the acuteness of their understandings;
another of the extent of their memories; a third of their genius for
commerce; a fourth of their proficiency in manufactures at home. Many had
admired their gentle and peaceable disposition; their cheerfulness; and
their hospitality. Even they, who were nominally slaves in Africa, lived a
happy life. A witness against the abolition had described them as sitting
and eating with their masters in the true style of patriarchal simplicity
and comfort. Were these then a people incapable of civilization? The
argument that they were an inferior species had been proved to be false.

He would now go to a new part of the subject. An opinion had gone forth
that the abolition of the trade would be the ruin of the West India
Islands. He trusted he should prove that the direct contrary was the truth;
though, had he been unable to do this, it would have made no difference as
to his own vote. In examining, however, this opinion, he should exclude the
subject of the cultivation of new lands by fresh importations of slaves.
The impolicy of this measure, apart from its inhumanity, was indisputably
clear. Let the committee consider the dreadful mortality, which attended
it. Let them look to the evidence of Mr. Woolrich, and there see a contrast
drawn between the slow, but sure progress of cultivation, carried on in the
natural way, and the attempt to force improvements, which, however

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