A Social History of the American Negro by Benjamin BrawleyBeing a History of the Negro Problem in the United States. Including A History and Study of the Republic of Liberia

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  • 1921
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American Negro






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_These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off_.

Norwood Penrose Hallowell was born in Philadelphia April 13, 1839. He inherited the tradition of the Quakers and grew to manhood in a strong anti-slavery atmosphere. The home of his father, Morris L. Hallowell–the “House called Beautiful,” in the phrase of Oliver Wendell Holmes–was a haven of rest and refreshment for wounded soldiers of the Union Army, and hither also, after the assault upon him in the Senate, Charles Sumner had come for succor and peace. Three brothers in one way or another served the cause of the Union, one of them, Edward N. Hallowell, succeeding Robert Gould Shaw in the Command of the Fifty-Fourth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteers. Norwood Penrose Hallowell himself, a natural leader of men, was Harvard class orator in 1861; twenty-five years later he was the marshal of his class; and in 1896 he delivered the Memorial Day address in Sanders Theater. Entering the Union Army with promptness in April, 1861, he served first in the New England Guards, then as First Lieutenant in the Twentieth Massachusetts, won a Captain’s commission in November, and within the next year took part in numerous engagements, being wounded at Glendale and even more severely at Antietam. On April 17, 1863, he became Lieutenant-Colonel of the Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts, and on May 30 Colonel of the newly organized Fifty-Fifth. Serving in the investment of Fort Wagner, he was one of the first to enter the fort after its evacuation. His wounds ultimately forced him to resign his commission, and in November, 1863, he retired from the service. He engaged in business in New York, but after a few years removed to Boston, where he became eminent for his public spirit. He was one of God’s noblemen, and to the last he preserved his faith in the Negro whom he had been among the first to lead toward the full heritage of American citizenship. He died April 11, 1914.



1. African Origins
2. The Negro in Spanish Exploration 3. Development of the Slave-Trade
4. Planting of Slavery in the Colonies 5. The Wake of the Slave-Ship


1. Servitude and Slavery
2. The Indian, the Mulatto, and the Free Negro 3. First Effort toward Social Betterment 4. Early Insurrections


1. Sentiment in England and America 2. The Negro in the War
3. The Northwest Territory and the Constitution 4. Early Steps toward Abolition
5. Beginning of Racial Consciousness


THE NEW WEST, THE SOUTH, AND THE WEST INDIES 1. The Cotton-Gin, the New Southwest, and the First Fugitive Slave Law 2. Toussaint L’Ouverture, Louisiana, and the Formal Closing of the Slave-Trade
3. Gabriel’s Insurrection and the Rise of the Negro Problem


1. Creek, Seminole, and Negro to 1817: The War of 1812 2. First Seminole War and the Treaties of Indian Spring and Fort Moultrie 3. From the Treaty of Fort Moultrie to the Treaty of Payne’s Landing 4. Osceola and the Second Seminole War


1. The Ultimate Problem and the Missouri Compromise 2. Colonization
3. Slavery


1. Denmark Vesey’s Insurrection
2. Nat Turner’s Insurrection
3. The _Amistad_ and _Creole_ Cases


2. The Convention Movement
3. Sojourner Truth and Woman Suffrage


1. The Place and the People
2. History
(a) Colonization and Settlement
(b) The Commonwealth of Liberia
(c) The Republic of Liberia
3. International Relations
4. Economic and Social Conditions


1. Current Tendencies
2. The Challenge of the Abolitionists 3. The Contest






1. The Problem
2. Meeting the Problem
3. Reaction: The Ku-Klux Klan
4. Counter-Reaction: The Negro Exodus 5. A Postscript on the War and Reconstruction


1. Political Life: Disfranchisement 2. Economic Life: Peonage
3. Social Life: Proscription, Lynching


“THE VALE OF TEARS,” 1890-1910
1. Current Opinion and Tendencies
2. Industrial Education: Booker T. Washington 3. Individual Achievement: The Spanish-American War 4. Mob Violence; Election Troubles; The Atlanta Massacre 5. The Question of Labor
6. Defamation; Brownsville
7. The Dawn of a To-morrow


1. Character of the Period
2. Migration; East St. Louis
3. The Great War
4. High Tension: Washington, Chicago, Elaine 5. The Widening Problem


1. World Aspect
2. The Negro in American Life
3. Face to Face


In the following pages an effort is made to give fresh treatment to the history of the Negro people in the United States, and to present this from a distinct point of view, the social. It is now forty years since George W. Williams completed his _History of the Negro Race in America_, and while there have been many brilliant studies of periods or episodes since that important work appeared, no one book has again attempted to treat the subject comprehensively, and meanwhile the race has passed through some of its most critical years in America. The more outstanding political phases of the subject, especially in the period before the Civil War, have been frequently considered; and in any account of the Negro people themselves the emphasis has almost always been upon political and military features. Williams emphasizes this point of view, and his study of legal aspects is not likely soon to be superseded. A noteworthy point about the history of the Negro, however, is that laws on the statute-books have not necessarily been regarded, public opinion and sentiment almost always insisting on being considered. It is necessary accordingly to study the actual life of the Negro people in itself and in connection with that of the nation, and something like this the present work endeavors to do. It thus becomes not only a Social History of the race, but also the first formal effort toward a History of the Negro Problem in America.

With this aim in mind, in view of the enormous amount of material, we have found it necessary to confine ourselves within very definite limits. A thorough study of all the questions relating to the Negro in the United States would fill volumes, for sooner or later it would touch upon all the great problems of American life. No attempt is made to perform such a task; rather is it intended to fix attention upon the race itself as definitely as possible. Even with this limitation there are some topics that might be treated at length, but that have already been studied so thoroughly that no very great modification is now likely to be made of the results obtained. Such are many of the questions revolving around the general subject of slavery. Wars are studied not so much to take note of the achievement of Negro soldiers, vital as that is, as to record the effect of these events on the life of the great body of people. Both wars and slavery thus become not more than incidents in the history of the ultimate problem.

In view of what has been said, it is natural that the method of treatment should vary with the different chapters. Sometimes it is general, as when we touch upon the highways of American history. Sometimes it is intensive, as in the consideration of insurrections and early effort for social progress; and Liberia, as a distinct and much criticized experiment in government by American Negroes, receives very special attention. For the first time also an effort is now made to treat consecutively the life of the Negro people in America for the last fifty years.

This work is the result of studies on which I have been engaged for a number of years and which have already seen some light in _A Short History of the American Negro_ and _The Negro in Literature and Art_; and acquaintance with the elementary facts contained in such books as these is in the present work very largely taken for granted. I feel under a special debt of gratitude to the New York State Colonization Society, which, cooeperating with the American Colonization Society and the Board of Trustees of Donations for Education in Liberia, in 1920 gave me opportunity for some study at first hand of educational and social conditions on the West Coast of Africa; and most of all do I remember the courtesy and helpfulness of Dr. E.C. Sage and Dr. J.H. Dillard in this connection. In general I have worked independently of Williams, but any student of the subject must be grateful to that pioneer, as well as to Dr. W.E.B. DuBois, who has made contributions in so many ways. My obligations to such scholarly dissertations as those by Turner and Russell are manifest, while to Mary Stoughton Locke’s _Anti-Slavery in America_–a model monograph–I feel indebted more than to any other thesis. Within the last few years, of course, the _Crisis_, the _Journal of Negro History_, and the _Negro Year-Book_ have in their special fields become indispensable, and to Dr. Carter G. Woodson and Professor M.N. Work much credit is due for the faith which has prompted their respective ventures. I take this occasion also to thank Professor W.E. Dodd, of the University of Chicago, who from the time of my entrance upon this field has generously placed at my disposal his unrivaled knowledge of the history of the South; and as always I must be grateful to my father, Rev. E.M. Brawley, for that stimulation and criticism which all my life have been most valuable to me. Finally, the work has been dedicated to the memory of a distinguished soldier, who, in his youth, in the nation’s darkest hour, helped to lead a struggling people to freedom and his country to victory. It is now submitted to the consideration of all who are interested in the nation’s problems, and indeed in any effort that tries to keep in mind the highest welfare of the country itself.

BENJAMIN BRAWLEY. Cambridge, January 1, 1921.




1. _African Origins_

An outstanding characteristic of recent years has been an increasing recognition of the cultural importance of Africa to the world. From all that has been written three facts are prominent: (1) That at some time early in the Middle Ages, perhaps about the seventh century, there was a considerable infiltration of Arabian culture into the tribes living below the Sahara, something of which may to-day most easily be seen among such people as the Haussas in the Soudan and the Mandingoes along the West Coast; (2) That, whatever influences came in from the outside, there developed in Africa an independent culture which must not be underestimated; and (3) That, perhaps vastly more than has been supposed, this African culture had to do with early exploration and colonization in America. The first of these three facts is very important, but is now generally accepted and need not here detain us. For the present purpose the second and third demand more attention.

The development of native African art is a theme of never-ending fascination for the ethnologist. Especially have striking resemblances between Negro and Oceanian culture been pointed out. In political organization as well as certain forms of artistic endeavor the Negro people have achieved creditable results, and especially have they been honored as the originators of the iron technique.[1] It has further been shown that fetichism, which is especially well developed along the West Coast and its hinterland, is at heart not very different from the manitou beliefs of the American Indians; and it is this connection that furnishes the key to some of the most striking results of the researches of the latest and most profound student of this and related problems.[2]

[Footnote 1: Note article “Africa” in _New International Encyclopedia_, referring especially to the studies of Von Luschan.]

[Footnote 2: Leo Wiener: _Africa and the Discovery of America_, Vol. I, Innes & Sons, Philadelphia, 1920.]

From the Soudan radiated a culture that was destined to affect Europe and in course of time to extend its influence even beyond the Atlantic Ocean. It is important to remember that throughout the early history of Europe and up to the close of the fifteenth century the approach to the home of the Negro was by land. The Soudan was thought to be the edge of the then known world; Homer speaks of the Ethiopians as “the farthest removed of men, and separated into two divisions.” Later Greek writers carry the description still further and speak of the two divisions as Eastern and Western–the Eastern occupying the countries eastward of the Nile, and the Western stretching from the western shores of that river to the Atlantic Coast. “One of these divisions,” says Lady Lugard, “we have to acknowledge, was perhaps itself the original source of the civilization which has through Egypt permeated the Western world…. When the history of Negroland comes to be written in detail, it may be found that the kingdoms lying toward the eastern end of the Soudan were the home of races who inspired, rather than of races who received, the traditions of civilization associated for us with the name of ancient Egypt.”[1]

[Footnote 1: _A Tropical Dependency_, James Nisbet & Co., Ltd., London, 1906, p. 17.]

If now we come to America, we find the Negro influence upon the Indian to be so strong as to call in question all current conceptions of American archaeology and so early as to suggest the coming of men from the Guinea Coast perhaps even before the coming of Columbus.[1] The first natives of Africa to come were Mandingoes; many of the words used by the Indians in their daily life appear to be not more than corruptions or adaptations of words used by the tribes of Africa; and the more we study the remains of those who lived in America before 1492, and the far-reaching influence of African products and habits, the more must we acknowledge the strength of the position of the latest thesis. This whole subject will doubtless receive much more attention from scholars, but in any case it is evident that the demands of Negro culture can no longer be lightly regarded or brushed aside, and that as a scholarly contribution to the subject Wiener’s work is of the very highest importance.

[Footnote 1: See Wiener, I, 178.]

2. _The Negro in Spanish Exploration_

When we come to Columbus himself, the accuracy of whose accounts has so recently been questioned, we find a Negro, Pedro Alonso Nino, as the pilot of one of the famous three vessels. In 1496 Nino sailed to Santo Domingo and he was also with Columbus on his third voyage. With two men, Cristobal de la Guerra, who served as pilot, and Luis de la Guerra, a Spanish merchant, in 1499 he planned what proved to be the first successful commercial voyage to the New World.

The revival of slavery at the close of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the system of Negro slavery were due to the commercial expansion of Portugal in the fifteenth century. The very word _Negro_ is the modern Spanish and Portuguese form of the Latin _niger_. In 1441 Prince Henry sent out one Gonzales, who captured three Moors on the African coast. These men offered as ransom ten Negroes whom they had taken. The Negroes were taken to Lisbon in 1442, and in 1444 Prince Henry regularly began the European trade from the Guinea Coast. For fifty years his country enjoyed a monopoly of the traffic. By 1474 Negroes were numerous in Spain, and special interest attaches to Juan de Valladolid, probably the first of many Negroes who in time came to have influence and power over their people under the authority of a greater state. He was addressed as “judge of all the Negroes and mulattoes, free or slaves, which are in the very loyal and noble city of Seville, and throughout the whole archbishopric thereof.” After 1500 there are frequent references to Negroes, especially in the Spanish West Indies. Instructions to Ovando, governor of Hispaniola, in 1501, prohibited the passage to the Indies of Jews, Moors, or recent converts, but authorized him to take over Negro slaves who had been born in the power of Christians. These orders were actually put in force the next year. Even the restricted importation Ovando found inadvisable, and he very soon requested that Negroes be not sent, as they ran away to the Indians, with whom they soon made friends. Isabella accordingly withdrew her permission, but after her death Ferdinand reverted to the old plan and in 1505 sent to Ovando seventeen Negro slaves for work in the copper-mines, where the severity of the labor was rapidly destroying the Indians. In 1510 Ferdinand directed that fifty Negroes be sent immediately, and that more be sent later; and in April of this year over a hundred were bought in the Lisbon market. This, says Bourne,[1] was the real beginning of the African slave-trade to America. Already, however, as early as 1504, a considerable number of Negroes had been introduced from Guinea because, as we are informed, “the work of one Negro was worth more than that of four Indians.” In 1513 thirty Negroes assisted Balboa in building the first ships made on the Pacific Coast of America. In 1517 Spain formally entered upon the traffic, Charles V on his accession to the throne granting “license for the introduction of Negroes to the number of four hundred,” and thereafter importation to the West Indies became a thriving industry. Those who came in these early years were sometimes men of considerable intelligence, having been trained as Mohammedans or Catholics. By 1518 Negroes were at work in the sugar-mills in Hispaniola, where they seem to have suffered from indulgence in drinks made from sugarcane. In 1521 it was ordered that Negro slaves should not be employed on errands as in general these tended to cultivate too close acquaintance with the Indians. In 1522 there was a rebellion on the sugar plantations in Hispaniola, primarily because the services of certain Indians were discontinued. Twenty Negroes from the Admiral’s mill, uniting with twenty others who spoke the same language, killed a number of Christians. They fled and nine leagues away they killed another Spaniard and sacked a house. One Negro, assisted by twelve Indian slaves, also killed nine other Christians. After much trouble the Negroes were apprehended and several of them hanged. It was about 1526 that Negroes were first introduced within the present limits of the United States, being brought to a colony near what later became Jamestown, Va. Here the Negroes were harshly treated and in course of time they rose against their oppressors and fired their houses. The settlement was broken up, and the Negroes and their Spanish companions returned to Hispaniola, whence they had come. In 1540, in Quivira, in Mexico, there was a Negro who had taken holy orders; and in 1542 there were established at Guamanga three brotherhoods of the True Cross of Spaniards, one being for Indians and one for Negroes.

[Footnote 1: _Spain in America_, Vol. 3 in American Nation Series, p. 270.]

The outstanding instance of a Negro’s heading in exploration is that of Estevanico (or Estevanillo, or Estevan, that is, Stephen), one of the four survivors of the ill-fated expedition of De Narvaez, who sailed from Spain, June 17, 1527. Having returned to Spain after many years of service in the New World, Pamfilo de Narvaez petitioned for a grant, and accordingly the right to conquer and colonize the country between the Rio de las Palmas, in eastern Mexico, and Florida was accorded him.[1] His force originally consisted of six hundred soldiers and colonists. The whole conduct of the expedition–incompetent in the extreme–furnished one of the most appalling tragedies of early exploration in America. The original number of men was reduced by half by storms and hurricanes and desertions in Santo Domingo and Cuba, and those who were left landed in April, 1528, near the entrance to Tampa Bay, on the west coast of Florida. One disaster followed another in the vicinity of Pensacola Bay and the mouth of the Mississippi until at length only four men survived. These were Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca; Andres Dorantes de Carranza, a captain of infantry; Alonzo del Castillo Maldonado; and Estevanico, who had originally come from the west coast of Morocco and who was a slave of Dorantes. These men had most remarkable adventures in the years between 1528 and 1536, and as a narrative of suffering and privation Cabeza de Vaca’s _Journal_ has hardly an equal in the annals of the continent. Both Dorantes and Estevanico were captured, and indeed for a season or two all four men were forced to sojourn among the Indians. They treated the sick, and with such success did they work that their fame spread far and wide among the tribes. Crowds followed them from place to place, showering presents upon them. With Alonzo de Castillo, Estevanico sojourned for a while with the Yguazes, a very savage tribe that killed its own male children and bought those of strangers. He at length escaped from these people and spent several months with the Avavares. He afterwards went with De Vaca to the Maliacones, only a short distance from the Avavares, and still later he accompanied Alonzo de Castillo in exploring the country toward the Rio Grande. He was unexcelled as a guide who could make his way through new territory. In 1539 he went with Fray Marcos of Nice, the Father Provincial of the Franciscan order in New Spain, as a guide to the Seven Cities of Cibola, the villages of the ancestors of the present Zuni Indians in western New Mexico. Preceding Fray Marcos by a few days and accompanied by natives who joined him on the way, he reached Hawikuh, the southern-most of the seven towns. Here he and all but three of his Indian followers were killed.

[Footnote 1: Frederick W. Hodge, 3, in _Spanish Explorers in the Southern United States_, 1528-1543, in “Original Narratives of Early American History,” Scribner’s, New York, 1907. Both the Narrative of Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca and the Narrative of the Expedition of Coronado, by Pedro de Castenada, are edited by Hodge, with illuminating introductions.]

3. _Development of the Slave-Trade_

Portugal and Spain having demonstrated that the slave-trade was profitable, England also determined to engage in the traffic; and as early as 1530 William Hawkins, a merchant of Plymouth, visited the Guinea Coast and took away a few slaves. England really entered the field, however, with the voyage in 1562 of Captain John Hawkins, son of William, who in October of this year also went to the coast of Guinea. He had a fleet of three ships and one hundred men, and partly by the sword and partly by other means he took three hundred or more Negroes, whom he took to Santo Domingo and sold profitably.[1] He was richly laden going homeward and some of his stores were seized by Spanish vessels. Hawkins made two other voyages, one in 1564, and another, with Drake, in 1567. On his second voyage he had four armed ships, the largest being the _Jesus_, a vessel of seven hundred tons, and a force of one hundred and seventy men. December and January (1564-5) he spent in picking up freight, and by sickness and fights with the Negroes he lost many of his men. Then at the end of January he set out for the West Indies. He was becalmed for twenty-one days, but he arrived at the Island of Dominica March 9. He traded along the Spanish coasts and on his return to England he touched at various points in the West Indies and sailed along the coast of Florida. On his third voyage he had five ships. He himself was again in command of the _Jesus_, while Drake was in charge of the _Judith_, a little vessel of fifty tons. He got together between four and five hundred Negroes and again went to Dominica. He had various adventures and at last was thrown by a storm on the coast of Mexico. Here after three days he was attacked by a Spanish fleet of twelve vessels, and all of his ships were destroyed except the _Judith_ and another small vessel, the _Minion_, which was so crowded that one hundred men risked the dangers on land rather than go to sea with her. On this last voyage Hawkins and Drake had among their companions the Earls of Pembroke and Leicester, who were then, like other young Elizabethans, seeking fame and fortune. It is noteworthy that in all that he did Hawkins seems to have had no sense of cruelty or wrong. He held religious services morning and evening, and in the spirit of the later Cromwell he enjoined upon his men to “serve God daily, love one another, preserve their victuals, beware of fire, and keep good company.” Queen Elizabeth evidently regarded the opening of the slave-trade as a worthy achievement, for after his second voyage she made Hawkins a knight, giving him for a crest the device of a Negro’s head and bust with the arms securely bound.

[Footnote 1: Edward E. Hale in Justin Winsor’s _Narrative and Critical History of America_, III, 60.]

France joined in the traffic in 1624, and then Holland and Denmark, and the rivalry soon became intense. England, with her usual aggressiveness, assumed a commanding position, and, much more than has commonly been supposed, the Navigation Ordinance of 1651 and the two wars with the Dutch in the seventeenth century had as their basis the struggle for supremacy in the slave-trade. The English trade proper began with the granting of rights to special companies, to one in 1618, to another in 1631, and in 1662 to the “Company of Royal Adventurers,” rechartered in 1672 as the “Royal African Company,” to which in 1687 was given the exclusive right to trade between the Gold Coast and the British colonies in America. James, Duke of York, was interested in this last company, and it agreed to supply the West Indies with three thousand slaves annually. In 1698, on account of the incessant clamor of English merchants, the trade was opened generally, and any vessel carrying the British flag was by act of Parliament permitted to engage in it on payment of a duty of 10 per cent on English goods exported to Africa. New England immediately engaged in the traffic, and vessels from Boston and Newport went forth to the Gold Coast laden with hogsheads of rum. In course of time there developed a three-cornered trade by which molasses was brought from the West Indies to New England, made into rum to be taken to Africa and exchanged for slaves, the slaves in turn being brought to the West Indies or the Southern colonies.[1] A slave purchased for one hundred gallons of rum worth L10 brought from L20 to L50 when offered for sale in America.[2] Newport soon had twenty-two still houses, and even these could not satisfy the demand. England regarded the slave-trade as of such importance that when in 1713 she accepted the Peace of Utrecht she insisted on having awarded to her for thirty years the exclusive right to transport slaves to the Spanish colonies in America. When in the course of the eighteenth century the trade became fully developed, scores of vessels went forth each year to engage in it; but just how many slaves were brought to the present United States and how many were taken to the West Indies or South America, it is impossible to say. In 1726 the three cities of London, Bristol, and Liverpool alone had 171 ships engaged in the traffic, and the profits were said to warrant a thousand more, though such a number was probably never reached so far as England alone was concerned.[3]

[Footnote 1: Bogart: _Economic History_, 72.]

[Footnote 2: Coman: _Industrial History_, 78.]

[Footnote 3: Ballagh: _Slavery in Virginia, 12_.]

4. _Planting of Slavery in the Colonies_

It is only for Virginia that we can state with definiteness the year in which Negro slaves were first brought to an English colony on the mainland. When legislation on the subject of slavery first appears elsewhere, slaves are already present. “About the last of August (1619),” says John Rolfe in John Smith’s _Generall Historie_, “came in a Dutch man of warre, that sold us twenty Negars.” These Negroes were sold into servitude, and Virginia did not give statutory recognition to slavery as a system until 1661, the importations being too small to make the matter one of importance. In this year, however, an act of assembly stated that Negroes were “incapable of making satisfaction for the time lost in running away by addition of time”; [1] and thus slavery gained a firm place in the oldest of the colonies.

[Footnote 1: Hening: _Statutes_, II, _26_.]

Negroes were first imported into Massachusetts from Barbadoes a year or two before 1638, but in John Winthrop’s _Journal_, under date February 26 of this year, we have positive evidence on the subject as follows: “Mr. Pierce in the Salem ship, the _Desire_, returned from the West Indies after seven months. He had been at Providence, and brought some cotton, and tobacco, and Negroes, etc., from thence, and salt from Tertugos. Dry fish and strong liquors are the only commodities for those parts. He met there two men-of-war, sent forth by the lords, etc., of Providence with letters of mart, who had taken divers prizes from the Spaniard and many Negroes.” It was in 1641 that there was passed in Massachusetts the first act on the subject of slavery, and this was the first positive statement in any of the colonies with reference to the matter. Said this act: “There shall never be any bond slavery, villeinage, nor captivity among us, unless it be lawful captives, taken in just wars, and such strangers as willingly sell themselves or are sold to us, and these shall have all the liberties and Christian usages which the law of God established in Israel requires.” This article clearly sanctioned slavery. Of the three classes of persons referred to, the first was made up of Indians, the second of white people under the system of indenture, and the third of Negroes. In this whole matter, as in many others, Massachusetts moved in advance of the other colonies. The first definitely to legalize slavery, in course of time she became also the foremost representative of sentiment against the system. In 1646 one John Smith brought home two Negroes from the Guinea Coast, where we are told he “had been the means of killing near a hundred more.” The General Court, “conceiving themselves bound by the first opportunity to bear witness against the heinous and crying sin of man-stealing,” ordered that the Negroes be sent at public expense to their native country.[1] In later cases, however, Massachusetts did not find herself able to follow this precedent. In general in these early years New England was more concerned about Indians than about Negroes, as the presence of the former in large numbers was a constant menace, while Negro slavery had not yet assumed its most serious aspects.

[Footnote 1: Coffin: _Slave Insurrections_, 8.]

In New York slavery began under the Dutch rule and continued under the English. Before or about 1650 the Dutch West India Company brought some Negroes to New Netherland. Most of these continued to belong to the company, though after a period of labor (under the common system of indenture) some of the more trusty were permitted to have small farms, from the produce of which they made return to the company. Their children, however, continued to be slaves. In 1664 New Netherland became New York. The next year, in the code of English laws that was drawn up, it was enacted that “no Christian shall be kept in bond slavery, villeinage, or captivity, except who shall be judged thereunto by authority, or such as willingly have sold or shall sell themselves.” As at first there was some hesitancy about making Negroes Christians, this act, like the one in Massachusetts, by implication permitted slavery.

It was in 1632 that the grant including what is now the states of Maryland and Delaware was made to George Calvert, first Lord Baltimore. Though slaves are mentioned earlier, it was in 1663-4 that the Maryland Legislature passed its first enactment on the subject of slavery. It was declared that “all Negroes and other slaves within this province, and all Negroes and other slaves to be hereinafter imported into this province, shall serve during life; and all children born of any Negro or other slave, shall be slaves as their fathers were, for the term of their lives.”

In Delaware and New Jersey the real beginnings of slavery are unusually hazy. The Dutch introduced the system in both of these colonies. In the laws of New Jersey the word _slaves_ occurs as early as 1664, and acts for the regulation of the conduct of those in bondage began with the practical union of the colony with New York in 1702. The lot of the slave was somewhat better here than in most of the colonies. Although the system was in existence in Delaware almost from the beginning of the colony, it did not receive legal recognition until 1721, when there was passed an act providing for the trial of slaves in a special court with two justices and six freeholders.

As early as 1639 there are incidental reference to Negroes in Pennsylvania, and there are frequent references after this date.[1] In this colony there were strong objections to the importing of Negroes in spite of the demand for them. Penn in his charter to the Free Society of Traders in 1682 enjoined upon the members of this company that if they held black slaves these should be free at the end of fourteen years, the Negroes then to become the company’s tenants.[2] In 1688 there originated in Germantown a protest against Negro slavery that was “the first formal action ever taken against the barter in human flesh within the boundaries of the United States.” [3] Here a small company of Germans was assembled April 18, 1688, and there was drawn up a document signed by Garret Hendericks, Franz Daniel Pastorius, Dirck Op den Graeff, and Abraham Op den Graeff. The protest was addressed to the monthly meeting of the Quakers about to take place in Lower Dublin. The monthly meeting on April 30 felt that it could not pretend to take action on such an important matter and referred it to the quarterly meeting in June. This in turn passed it on to the yearly meeting, the highest tribunal of the Quakers. Here it was laid on the table, and for the next few years nothing resulted from it. About 1696, however, opposition to slavery on the part of the Quakers began to be active. In the colony at large before 1700 the lot of the Negro was regularly one of servitude. Laws were made for servants, white or black, and regulations and restrictions were largely identical. In 1700, however, legislation began more definitely to fix the status of the slave. In this year an act of the legislature forbade the selling of Negroes out of the province without their consent, but in other ways it denied the personality of the slave. This act met further formal approval in 1705, when special courts were ordained for the trial and punishment of slaves, and when importation from Carolina was forbidden on the ground that it made trouble with the Indians nearer home. In 1700 a maximum duty of 20s. was placed on each Negro imported, and in 1705 this was doubled, there being already some competition with white labor. In 1712 the Assembly sought to prevent importation altogether by a duty of L20 a head. This act was repealed in England, and a duty of L5 in 1715 was also repealed. In 1729, however, the duty was fixed at L2, at which figure it remained for a generation.

[Footnote 1: Turner: _The Negro in Pennsylvania_, 1.]

[Footnote 2: _Ibid_., 21.]

[Footnote 3: Faust: _The German Element in the United States_, Boston, 1909, I, 45.]

It was almost by accident that slavery was officially recognized in Connecticut in 1650. The code of laws compiled for the colony in this year was especially harsh on the Indians. It was enacted that certain of them who incurred the displeasure of the colony might be made to serve the person injured or “be shipped out and exchanged for Negroes.” In 1680 the governor of the colony informed the Board of Trade that “as for blacks there came sometimes three or four in a year from Barbadoes, and they are usually sold at the rate of L22 apiece.” These people were regarded rather as servants than as slaves, and early legislation was mainly in the line of police regulations designed to prevent their running away.

In 1652 it was enacted in Rhode Island that all slaves brought into the colony should be set free after ten years of service. This law was not designed, as might be supposed, to restrict slavery. It was really a step in the evolution of the system, and the limit of ten years was by no means observed. “The only legal recognition of the law was in the series of acts beginning January 4, 1703, to control the wandering of African slaves and servants, and another beginning in April, 1708, in which the slave-trade was indirectly legalized by being taxed.”[1] “In course of time Rhode Island became the greatest slave-trader in the country, becoming a sort of clearing-house for the other colonies.”[2]

[Footnote 1: William T. Alexander: History of the Colored Race in America, New Orleans, 1887, p. 136.]

[Footnote 2: DuBois: Suppression of the Slave-Trade, 34.]

New Hampshire, profiting by the experience of the neighboring colony of Massachusetts, deemed it best from the beginning to discourage slavery. There were so few Negroes in the colony as to form a quantity practically negligible. The system was recognized, however, an act being passed in 1714 to regulate the conduct of slaves, and another four years later to regulate that of masters.

In North Carolina, even more than in most of the colonies, the system of Negro slavery was long controlled by custom rather than by legal enactment. It was recognized by law in 1715, however, and police regulations to govern the slaves were enacted. In South Carolina the history of slavery is particularly noteworthy. The natural resources of this colony offered a ready home for the system, and the laws here formulated were as explicit as any ever enacted. Slaves were first imported from Barbadoes, and their status received official confirmation in 1682. By 1720 the number had increased to 12,000, the white people numbering only 9,000. By 1698 such was the fear from the preponderance of the Negro population that a special act was passed to encourage white immigration. Legislation “for the better ordering of slaves” was passed in 1690, and in 1712 the first regular slave law was enacted. Once before 1713, the year of the Assiento Contract of the Peace of Utrecht, and several times after this date, prohibitive duties were placed on Negroes to guard against their too rapid increase. By 1734, however, importation had again reached large proportions; and in 1740, in consequence of recent insurrectionary efforts, a prohibitive duty several times larger than the previous one was placed upon Negroes brought into the province.

The colony of Georgia was chartered in 1732 and actually founded the next year. Oglethorpe’s idea was that the colony should be a refuge for persecuted Christians and the debtor classes of England. Slavery was forbidden on the ground that Georgia was to defend the other English colonies from the Spaniards on the South, and that it would not be able to do this if like South Carolina it dissipated its energies in guarding Negro slaves. For years the development of Georgia was slow, and the prosperous condition of South Carolina constantly suggested to the planters that “the one thing needful” for their highest welfare was slavery. Again and again were petitions addressed to the trustees, George Whitefield being among those who most urgently advocated the innovation. Moreover, Negroes from South Carolina were sometimes hired for life, and purchases were openly made in Savannah. It was not until 1749, however, that the trustees yielded to the request. In 1755 the legislature passed an act that regulated the conduct of the slaves, and in 1765 a more regular code was adopted. Thus did slavery finally gain a foothold in what was destined to become one of the most important of the Southern states.

For the first fifty or sixty years of the life of the colonies the introduction of Negroes was slow; the system of white servitude furnished most of the labor needed, and England had not yet won supremacy in the slave-trade. It was in the last quarter of the seventeenth century that importations began to be large, and in the course of the eighteenth century the numbers grew by leaps and bounds. In 1625, six years after the first Negroes were brought to the colony, there were in Virginia only 23 Negroes, 12 male, 11 female. [1] In 1659 there were 300; but in 1683 there were 3,000 and in 1708, 12,000. In 1680 Governor Simon Bradstreet reported to England with reference to Massachusetts that “no company of blacks or slaves” had been brought into the province since its beginning, for the space of fifty years, with the exception of a small vessel that two years previously, after a twenty months’ voyage to Madagascar, had brought hither between forty and fifty Negroes, mainly women and children, who were sold for L10, L15, and L20 apiece; occasionally two or three Negroes were brought from Barbadoes or other islands, and altogether there were in Massachusetts at the time not more than 100 or 120.

[Footnote 1: _Virginia Magazine of History_, VII, 364.]

The colonists were at first largely opposed to the introduction of slavery, and numerous acts were passed prohibiting it in Virginia, Massachusetts, and elsewhere; and in Georgia, as we have seen, it had at first been expressly forbidden. English business men, however, had no scruples about the matter. About 1663 a British Committee on Foreign Plantations declared that “black slaves are the most useful appurtenances of a plantation,” [1] and twenty years later the Lords Commissioners of Trade stated that “the colonists could not possibly subsist” without an adequate supply of slaves. Laws passed in the colonies were regularly disallowed by the crown, and royal governors were warned that the colonists would not be permitted to “discourage a traffic so beneficial to the nation.” Before 1772 Virginia passed not less than thirty-three acts looking toward the prohibition of the importation of slaves, but in every instance the act was annulled by England. In the far South, especially in South Carolina, we have seen that there were increasingly heavy duties. In spite of all such efforts for restriction, however, the system of Negro slavery, once well started, developed apace.

[Footnote 1: Bogart: _Economic History_, 73.]

In two colonies not among the original thirteen but important in the later history of the United States, Negroes were present at a very early date, in the Spanish colony of Florida from the very first, and in the French colony of Louisiana as soon as New Orleans really began to grow. Negroes accompanied the Spaniards in their voyages along the South Atlantic coast early in the sixteenth century, and specially trained Spanish slaves assisted in the founding of St. Augustine in 1565. The ambitious schemes in France of the great adventurer, John Law, and especially the design of the Mississippi Company (chartered 1717) included an agreement for the importation into Louisiana of six thousand white persons and three thousand Negroes, the Company having secured among other privileges the exclusive right to trade with the colony for twenty-five years and the absolute ownership of all mines in it. The sufferings of some of the white emigrants from France–the kidnapping, the revenge, and the chicanery that played so large a part–all make a story complete in itself. As for the Negroes, it was definitely stipulated that these should not come from another French colony without the consent of the governor of that colony. The contract had only begun to be carried out when Law’s bubble burst. However, in June, 1721, there were 600 Negroes in Louisiana; in 1745 the number had increased to 2020. The stories connected with these people are as tragic and wildly romantic as are most of the stories in the history of Louisiana. In fact, this colony from the very first owed not a little of its abandon and its fascination to the mysticism that the Negroes themselves brought from Africa. In the midst of much that is apocryphal one or two events or episodes stand out with distinctness. In 1729, Perier, governor at the time, testified with reference to a small company of Negroes who had been sent against the Indians as follows: “Fifteen Negroes in whose hands we had put weapons, performed prodigies of valor. If the blacks did not cost so much, and if their labors were not so necessary to the colony, it would be better to turn them into soldiers, and to dismiss those we have, who are so bad and so cowardly that they seem to have been manufactured purposely for this colony[1].” Not always, however, did the Negroes fight against the Indians. In 1730 some representatives of the powerful Banbaras had an understanding with the Chickasaws by which the latter were to help them in exterminating all the white people and in setting up an independent republic[2]. They were led by a strong and desperate Negro named Samba. As a result of this effort for freedom Samba and seven of his companions were broken on the wheel and a woman was hanged. Already, however, there had been given the suggestion of the possible alliance in the future of the Indian and the Negro. From the very first also, because of the freedom from restraint of all the elements of population that entered into the life of the colony, there was the beginning of that mixture of the races which was later to tell so vitally on the social life of Louisiana and whose effects are so readily apparent even to-day.

[Footnote 1: Gayarre: _History of Louisiana_, I, 435.]

[Footnote 2: _Ibid_., I, 440.]

5. The Wake of the Slave-Ship

Thus it was that Negroes came to America. Thus it was also, we might say, that the Negro Problem came, though it was not for decades, not until the budding years of American nationality, that the ultimate reaches of the problem were realized. Those who came were by no means all of exactly the same race stock and language. Plantations frequently exhibited a variety of customs, and sometimes traditional enemies became brothers in servitude. The center of the colonial slave-trade was the African coast for about two hundred miles east of the great Niger River. From this comparatively small region came as many slaves as from all the rest of Africa together. A number of those who came were of entirely different race stock from the Negroes; some were Moors, and a very few were Malays from Madagascar.

The actual procuring of the slaves was by no means as easy a process as is sometimes supposed. In general the slave mart brought out the most vicious passions of all who were in any way connected with the traffic. The captain of a vessel had to resort to various expedients to get his cargo. His commonest method was to bring with him a variety of gay cloth, cheap ornaments, and whiskey, which he would give in exchange for slaves brought to him. His task was most simple when a chieftain of one tribe brought to him several hundred prisoners of war. Ordinarily, however, the work was more toilsome, and kidnapping a favorite method, though individuals were sometimes enticed on vessels. The work was always dangerous, for the natives along the slave-coast soon became suspicious. After they had seen some of their tribesmen taken away, they learned not to go unarmed while a slave-vessel was on the coast, and very often there were hand-to-hand encounters. It was not long before it began to be impressed upon those interested in the trade that it was not good business to place upon the captain of a vessel the responsibility of getting together three or four hundred slaves, and that it would be better if he could find his cargo waiting for him when he came. Thus arose the so-called factories, which were nothing more than warehouses. Along the coast were placed small settlements of Europeans, whose business it was to stimulate slave-hunting expeditions, negotiate for slaves brought in, and see that they were kept until the arrival of the ships. Practically every nation engaged in the traffic planted factories of this kind along the West Coast from Cape Verde to the equator; and thus it was that this part of Africa began to be the most flagrantly exploited region in the world; thus whiskey and all the other vices of civilization began to come to a simple and home-loving people.

Once on board the slaves were put in chains two by two. When the ship was ready to start, the hold of the vessel was crowded with moody and unhappy wretches who most often were made to crouch so that their knees touched their chins, but who also were frequently made to lie on their sides “spoon-fashion.” Sometimes the space between floor and ceiling was still further diminished by the water-barrels; on the top of these barrels boards were placed, on the boards the slaves had to lie, and in the little space that remained they had to subsist as well as they could. There was generally only one entrance to the hold, and provision for only the smallest amount of air through the gratings on the sides. The clothing of a captive, if there was any at all, consisted of only a rag about the loins. The food was half-rotten rice, yams, beans, or soup, and sometimes bread and meat; the cooking was not good, nor was any care taken to see that all were fed. Water was always limited, a pint a day being a generous allowance; frequently no more than a gill could be had. The rule was to bring the slaves from the hold twice a day for an airing, about eight o’clock in the morning and four in the afternoon; but this plan was not always followed. On deck they were made to dance by the lash, and they were also forced to sing. Thus were born the sorrow-songs, the last cry of those who saw their homeland vanish behind them–forever.

Sometimes there were stern fights on board. Sometimes food was refused in order that death might be hastened. When opportunity served, some leaped overboard in the hope of being taken back to Africa. Throughout the night the hold resounded with the moans of those who awoke from dreams of home to find themselves in bonds. Women became hysterical, and both men and women became insane. Fearful and contagious diseases broke out. Smallpox was one of these. More common was ophthalmia, a frightful inflammation of the eyes. A blind, and hence a worthless, slave was thrown to the sharks. The putrid atmosphere, the melancholy, and the sudden transition from heat to cold greatly increased the mortality, and frequently when morning came a dead and a living slave were found shackled together. A captain always counted on losing one-fourth of his cargo. Sometimes he lost a great deal more.

Back on the shore a gray figure with strained gaze watched the ship fade away–an old woman sadly typical of the great African mother. With her vision she better than any one else perceived the meaning of it all. The men with hard faces who came to buy and sell might deceive others, but not her. In a great vague way she felt that something wrong had attacked the very heart of her people. She saw men wild with the whiskey of the Christian nations commit crimes undreamed of before. She did not like the coast towns; the girl who went thither came not home again, and a young man was lost to all that Africa held dear. In course of time she saw every native craft despised, and instead of the fabric that her own fingers wove her children yearned for the tinsel and the gewgaws of the trader. She cursed this man, and she called upon all her spirits to banish the evil. But when at last all was of no avail–when the strongest youth or the dearest maiden had gone–she went back to her hut and ate her heart out in the darkness. She wept for her children and would not be comforted because they were not. Then slowly to the untutored mind somehow came the promise: “These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb…. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters; and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.”



The Negroes who were brought from Africa to America were brought hither to work, and to work under compulsion; hence any study of their social life in the colonial era must be primarily a study of their life under the system of slavery, and of the efforts of individuals to break away from the same.

1. _Servitude and Slavery_

For the antecedents of Negro slavery in America one must go back to the system of indentured labor known as servitude. This has been defined as “a legalized status of Indian, white, and Negro servants preceding slavery in most, if not all, of the English mainland colonies.”[1] A study of servitude will explain many of the acts with reference to Negroes, especially those about intermarriage with white people. For the origins of the system one must go back to social conditions in England in the seventeenth century. While villeinage had been formally abolished in England at the middle of the fourteenth century, it still lingered in remote places, and even if men were not technically villeins they might be subjected to long periods of service. By the middle of the fifteenth century the demand for wool had led to the enclosure of many farms for sheep-raising, and accordingly to distress on the part of many agricultural laborers. Conditions were not improved early in the sixteenth century, and they were in fact made more acute, the abolition of the monasteries doing away with many of the sources of relief. Men out of work were thrown upon the highways and thus became a menace to society. In 1564 the price of wheat was 19s. a quarter and wages were 7d. a day. The situation steadily grew worse, and in 1610, while wages were still the same, wheat was 35s. a quarter. Rents were constantly rising, moreover, and many persons died from starvation. In the course of the seventeenth century paupers and dissolute persons more and more filled the jails and workhouses.

[Footnote 1: _New International Encyclopaedia_, Article “Slavery.”]

Meanwhile in the young colonies across the sea labor was scarce, and it seemed to many an act of benevolence to bring from England persons who could not possibly make a living at home and give them some chance in the New World. From the very first, children, and especially young people between the ages of twelve and twenty, were the most desired. The London Company undertook to meet half of the cost of the transportation and maintenance of children sent out by parish authorities, the understanding being that it would have the service of the same until they were of age.[1] The Company was to teach each boy a trade and when his freedom year arrived was to give to each one fifty acres, a cow, some seed corn, tools, and firearms. He then became the Company’s tenant, for seven years more giving to it one-half of his produce, at the end of which time he came into full possession of twenty-five acres. After the Company collapsed individuals took up the idea. Children under twelve years of age might be bound for seven years, and persons over twenty-one for no more than four; but the common term was five years.

[Footnote 1: Coman: _Industrial History_, 42.]

Under this system fell servants voluntary and involuntary. Hundreds of people, too poor to pay for their transportation, sold themselves for a number of years to pay for the transfer. Some who were known as “freewillers” had some days in which to dispose of themselves to the best advantage in America; if they could not make satisfactory terms, they too were sold to pay for the passage. More important from the standpoint of the system itself, however, was the number of involuntary servants brought hither. Political offenders, vagrants, and other criminals were thus sent to the colonies, and many persons, especially boys and girls, were kidnapped in the streets of London and “spirited” away. Thus came Irishmen or Scotchmen who had incurred the ire of the crown, Cavaliers or Roundheads according as one party or the other was out of power, and farmers who had engaged in Monmouth’s rebellion; and in the year 1680 alone it was estimated that not less than ten thousand persons were “spirited” away from England. It is easy to see how such a system became a highly profitable one for shipmasters and those in connivance with them. Virginia objected to the criminals, and in 1671 the House of Burgesses passed a law against the importing of such persons, and the same was approved by the governor. Seven years later, however, it was set aside for the transportation of political offenders.

As having the status of an apprentice the servant could sue in court and he was regularly allowed “freedom dues” at the expiration of his term. He could not vote, however, could not bear weapons, and of course could not hold office. In some cases, especially where the system was voluntary, servants sustained kindly relations with their masters, a few even becoming secretaries or tutors. More commonly, however, the lot of the indentured laborer was a hard one, his food often being only coarse Indian meal, and water mixed with molasses. The moral effect of the system was bad in the fate to which it subjected woman and in the evils resulting from the sale of the labor of children. In this whole connection, however, it is to be remembered that the standards of the day were very different from those of our own. The modern humanitarian impulse had not yet moved the heart of England, and flogging was still common for soldiers and sailors, criminals and children alike.

The first Negroes brought to the colonies were technically servants, and generally as Negro slavery advanced white servitude declined. James II, in fact, did whatever he could to hasten the end of servitude in order that slavery might become more profitable. Economic forces were with him, for while a slave varied in price from L10 to L50, the mere cost of transporting a servant was from L6 to L10. “Servitude became slavery when to such incidents as alienation, disfranchisement, whipping, and limited marriage were added those of perpetual service and a denial of civil, juridical, marital and property rights as well as the denial of the possession of children.”[1] Even after slavery was well established, however, white men and women were frequently retained as domestic servants, and the system of servitude did not finally pass in all of its phases before the beginning of the Revolutionary War.

[Footnote 1: _New International Encyclopaedia_, Article “Slavery.”]

Negro slavery was thus distinctively an evolution. As the first Negroes were taken by pirates, the rights of ownership could not legally be given to those who purchased them; hence slavery by custom preceded slavery by statute. Little by little the colonies drifted into the sterner system. The transition was marked by such an act as that in Rhode Island, which in 1652 permitted a Negro to be bound for ten years. We have already referred to the Act of Assembly in Virginia in 1661 to the effect that Negroes were incapable of making satisfaction for time lost in running away by addition of time. Even before it had become generally enacted or understood in the colonies, however, that a child born of slave parents should serve for life, a new question had arisen, that of the issue of a free person and a slave. This led Virginia in 1662 to lead the way with an act declaring that the status of a child should be determined by that of the mother,[1] which act both gave to slavery the sanction of law and made it hereditary. From this time forth Virginia took a commanding lead in legislation; and it is to be remembered that when we refer to this province we by no means have reference to the comparatively small state of to-day, but to the richest and most populous of the colonies. This position Virginia maintained until after the Revolutionary War, and not only the present West Virginia but the great Northwest Territory were included in her domain.

[Footnote 1: Hening: _Statutes_, II, 170.]

The slave had none of the ordinary rights of citizenship; in a criminal case he could be arrested, tried, and condemned with but one witness against him, and he could be sentenced without a jury. In Virginia in 1630 one Hugh Davis was ordered to be “soundly whipped before an assembly of Negroes and others, for abusing himself to the dishonor of God and the shame of Christians, by defiling his body in lying with a Negro.”[1] Just ten years afterwards, in 1640, one Robert Sweet was ordered “to do penance in church, according to the laws of England, for getting a Negro woman with child, and the woman to be whipped.”[2] Thus from the very beginning the intermixture of the races was frowned upon and went on all the same. By the time, moreover, that the important acts of 1661 and 1662 had formally sanctioned slavery, doubt had arisen in the minds of some Virginians as to whether one Christian could legitimately hold another in bondage; and in 1667 it was definitely stated that the conferring of baptism did not alter the condition of a person as to his bondage or freedom, so that masters, freed from this doubt, could now “more carefully endeavor the propagation of Christianity.” In 1669 an “act about the casual killing of slaves” provided that if any slave resisted his master and under the extremity of punishment chanced to die, his death was not to be considered a felony and the master was to be acquitted. In 1670 it was made clear that none but freeholders and housekeepers should vote in the election of burgesses, and in the same year provision was taken against the possible ownership of a white servant by a free Negro, who nevertheless “was not debarred from buying any of his own nation.” In 1692 there was legislation “for the more speedy prosecution of slaves committing capital crimes”; and this was reenacted in 1705, when some provision was made for the compensation of owners and when it was further declared that Negro, mulatto, and Indian slaves within the dominion were “real estate” and “incapable in law to be witnesses in any cases whatsoever”; and in 1723 there was an elaborate and detailed act “directing the trial of slaves committing capital crimes, and for the more effectual punishing conspiracies and insurrections of them, and for the better government of Negroes, mulattoes, and Indians, bond or free.” This last act specifically stated that no slave should be set free upon any pretense whatsoever “except for some meritorious services, to be adjudged and allowed by the governor and council.” All this legislation was soon found to be too drastic and too difficult to enforce, and modification was inevitable. This came in 1732, when it was made possible for a slave to be a witness when another slave was on trial for a capital offense, and in 1744 this provision was extended to civil cases as well. In 1748 there was a general revision of all existing legislation, with special provision against attempted insurrections.

[Footnote 1: Hening: _Statutes_, I, 146.]

[Footnote 2: _Ibid_., I, 552.]

Thus did Virginia pave the way, and more and more slave codes took on some degree of definiteness and uniformity. Very important was the act of 1705, which provided that a slave might be inventoried as real estate. As property henceforth there was nothing to prevent his being separated from his family. Before the law he was no longer a person but a thing.

2. 737 _The Indian, the Mulatto, and the Free Negro_

All along, it is to be observed, the problem of the Negro was complicated by that of the Indian. At first there was a feeling that Indians were to be treated not as Negroes but as on the same basis as Englishmen. An act in Virginia of 1661-2 summed up this feeling in the provision that they were not to be sold as servants for any longer time than English people of the same age, and injuries done to them were to be duly remedied by the laws of England. About the same time a Powhatan Indian sold for life was ordered to be set free. An interesting enactment of 1670 attempted to give the Indian an intermediate status between that of the Englishman and the Negro slave, as “servants not being Christians, imported into the colony by shipping” (i.e., Negroes) were to be slaves for their lives, but those that came by land were to serve “if boys or girls until thirty years of age; if men or women, twelve years and no longer.” All such legislation, however, was radically changed as a result of Nathaniel Bacon’s rebellion of 1676, in which the aid of the natives was invoked against the English governor. Henceforth Indians taken in war became the slaves for life of their captors. An elaborate act of 1682 summed up the new status, and Indians sold by other Indians were to be “adjudged, deemed, and taken to be slaves, to all intents and purposes, any law, usage, or custom to the contrary notwithstanding.” Indian women were to be “tithables,”[1] and they were required to pay levies just as Negro women. From this time forth enactments generally included Indians along with Negroes, but of course the laws placed on the statute books did not always bear close relation to what was actually enforced, and in general the Indian was destined to be a vanishing rather than a growing problem. Very early in the eighteenth century, in connection with the wars between the English and the Spanish in Florida, hundreds of Indians were shipped to the West Indies and some to New England. Massachusetts in 1712 prohibited such importation, as the Indians were “malicious, surly, and very ungovernable,” and she was followed to similar effect by Pennsylvania in 1712, by New Hampshire in 1714, and by Connecticut and Rhode Island in 1715.

[Footnote 1: Hurd, commenting on an act of 1649 declaring all imported male servants to be tithables, speaks as follows (230): “_Tithables_ were persons assessed for a poll-tax, otherwise called the ‘county levies.’ At first, only free white persons were tithable. The law of 1645 provided for a tax on property and tithable persons. By 1648 property was released and taxes levied only on the tithables, at a specified poll-tax. Therefore by classing servants or slaves as tithables, the law attributes to them legal personality, or a membership in the social state inconsistent with the condition of a chattel or property.”]

If the Indian was destined to be a vanishing factor, the mulatto and the free Negro most certainly were not. In spite of all the laws to prevent it, the intermixture of the races increased, and manumission somehow also increased. Sometimes a master in his will provided that several of his slaves should be given their freedom. Occasionally a slave became free by reason of what was regarded as an act of service to the commonwealth, as in the case of one Will, slave belonging to Robert Ruffin, of the county of Surry in Virginia, who in 1710 divulged a conspiracy.[1] There is, moreover, on record a case of an indentured Negro servant, John Geaween, who by his unusual thrift in the matter of some hogs which he raised on the share system with his master, was able as early as 1641 to purchase his own son from another master, to the perfect satisfaction of all concerned.[2] Of special importance for some years were those persons who were descendants of Negro fathers and indentured white mothers, and who at first were of course legally free. By 1691 the problem had become acute in Virginia. In this year “for prevention of that abominable mixture and spurious issue, which hereafter may increase in this dominion, as well by Negroes, mulattoes and Indians intermarrying with English or other white women, as by their unlawful accompanying with one another,” it was enacted that “for the time to come whatsoever English or other white man or woman being free shall intermarry with a Negro, mulatto, or Indian man or woman, bond or free, shall within three months after such marriage be banished and removed from this dominion forever, and that the justices of each respective county within this dominion make it their particular care that this act be put in effectual execution.”[3] A white woman who became the mother of a child by a Negro or mulatto was to be fined L15 sterling, in default of payment was to be sold for five years, while the child was to be bound in servitude to the church wardens until thirty years of age. It was further provided that if any Negro or mulatto was set free, he was to be transported from the country within six months of his manumission (which enactment is typical of those that it was difficult to enforce and that after a while were only irregularly observed). In 1705 it was enacted that no “Negro, mulatto, or Indian shall from and after the publication of this act bear any office ecclesiastical, civil or military, or be in any place of public trust or power, within this her majesty’s colony and dominion of Virginia”; and to clear any doubt that might arise as to who should be accounted a mulatto, it was provided that “the child of an Indian, and the child, grandchild, or great-grandchild of a Negro shall be deemed, accounted, held, and taken to be a mulatto.” It will be observed that while the act of 1670 said that “none but freeholders and housekeepers” could vote, this act of 1705 did not specifically legislate against voting by a mulatto or a free Negro, and that some such privilege was exercised for a while appears from the definite provision in 1723 that “no free Negro, mulatto, or Indian, whatsoever, shall hereafter have any vote at the election of burgesses, or any other election whatsoever.” In the same year it was provided that free Negroes and mulattoes might be employed as drummers or trumpeters in servile labor, but that they were not to bear arms; and all free Negroes above sixteen years of age were declared tithable. In 1769, however, all free Negro and mulatto women were exempted from levies as tithables, such levies having proved to be burdensome and “derogatory to the rights of freeborn subjects.”

[Footnote 1: Hening: _Statutes_, III, 537.]

[Footnote 2: _Virginia Magazine of History_, X, 281.]

[Footnote 3: The penalty was so ineffective that in 1705 it was changed simply to imprisonment for six months “without bail or mainprise.”]

More than other colonies Maryland seems to have been troubled about the intermixture of the races; certainly no other phase of slavery here received so much attention. This was due to the unusual emphasis on white servitude in the colony. In 1663 it was enacted that any freeborn woman intermarrying with a slave should serve the master of the slave during the life of her husband and that any children resulting from the union were also to be slaves. This act was evidently intended to frighten the indentured woman from such a marriage. It had a very different effect. Many masters, in order to prolong the indenture of their white female servants, encouraged them to marry Negro slaves. Accordingly a new law in 1681 threw the responsibility not on the indentured woman but on the master or mistress; in case a marriage took place between a white woman-servant and a slave, the woman was to be free at once, any possible issue was to be free, and the minister performing the ceremony and the master or mistress were to be fined ten thousand pounds of tobacco. This did not finally dispose of the problem, however, and in 1715, in response to a slightly different situation, it was enacted that a white woman who became the mother of a child by a free Negro father should become a servant for seven years, the father also a servant for seven years, and the child a servant until thirty-one years of age. Any white man who begot a Negro woman with child, whether a free woman or a slave, was to undergo the same penalty as a white woman–a provision that in course of time was notoriously disregarded. In 1717 the problem was still unsettled, and in this year it was enacted that Negroes or mulattoes of either sex intermarrying with white people were to be slaves for life, except mulattoes born of white women, who were to serve for seven years, and the white person so intermarrying also for seven years. It is needless to say that with all these changing and contradictory provisions many servants and Negroes did not even know what the law was. In 1728, however, free mulatto women having illegitimate children by Negroes and other slaves, and free Negro women having illegitimate children by white men, and their issue, were subjected to the same penalties as in the former act were provided against white women. Thus vainly did the colony of Maryland struggle with the problem of race intermixture. Generally throughout the South the rule in the matter of the child of the Negro father and the indentured white mother was that the child should be bound in servitude for thirty or thirty-one years.

In the North as well as in the South the intermingling of the blood of the races was discountenanced. In Pennsylvania as early as 1677 a white servant was indicted for cohabiting with a Negro. In 1698 the Chester County court laid it down as a principle that the mingling of the races was not to be allowed. In 1722 a woman was punished for promoting a secret marriage between a white woman and a Negro; a little later the Assembly received from the inhabitants of the province a petition inveighing against cohabiting; and in 1725-6 a law was passed positively forbidding the mixture of the races.[1] In Massachusetts as early as 1705 and 1708 restraining acts to prevent a “spurious and mixt issue” ordered the sale of offending Negroes and mulattoes out of the colony’s jurisdiction, and punished Christians who intermarried with them by a fine of L50. After the Revolutionary War such marriages were declared void and the penalty of L50 was still exacted, and not until 1843 was this act repealed. Thus was the color-line, with its social and legal distinctions, extended beyond the conditions of servitude and slavery, and thus early was an important phase of the ultimate Negro Problem foreshadowed.

[Footnote 1: Turner: _The Negro in Pennsylvania_, 29-30.]

Generally then, in the South, in the colonial period, the free Negro could not vote, could not hold civil office, could not give testimony in cases involving white men, and could be employed only for fatigue duty in the militia. He could not purchase white servants, could not intermarry with white people, and had to be very circumspect in his relations with slaves. No deprivation of privilege, however, relieved him of the obligation to pay taxes. Such advantages as he possessed were mainly economic. The money gained from his labor was his own; he might become skilled at a trade; he might buy land; he might buy slaves;[1] he might even buy his wife and child if, as most frequently happened, they were slaves; and he might have one gun with which to protect his home.[2] Once in a long while he might even find some opportunity for education, as when the church became the legal warden of Negro apprentices. Frequently he found a place in such a trade as that of the barber or in other personal service, and such work accounted very largely for the fact that he was generally permitted to remain in communities where technically he had no right to be. In the North his situation was little better than in the South, and along economic lines even harder. Everywhere his position was a difficult one. He was most frequently regarded as idle and shiftless, and as a breeder of mischief; but if he showed unusual thrift he might even be forced to leave his home and go elsewhere. Liberty, the boon of every citizen, the free Negro did not possess. For all the finer things of life–the things that make life worth living–the lot that was his was only less hard than that of the slave.

[Footnote 1: Russell: _The Free Negro in Virginia_, 32-33, cites from the court records of Northampton County, 1651-1654 and 1655-1658, the noteworthy case of a free negro, Anthony Johnson, who had come to Virginia not later than 1622 and who by 1650 owned a large tract of land on the Eastern Shore. To him belonged a Negro, John Casor. After several years of labor Casor demanded his freedom on the ground that from the first he had been an indentured servant and not a slave. When the case came up in court, however, not only did Johnson win the verdict that Casor was his slave, but he also won his suit against Robert Parker, a white man, who he asserted had illegally detained Casor.]

[Footnote 2: Hening: _Statutes_, IV, 131.]

3. _First Effort for Social Betterment_

If now we turn aside from laws and statutes and consider the ordinary life and social intercourse of the Negro, we shall find more than one contradiction, for in the colonial era codes affecting slaves and free Negroes had to grope their way to uniformity. Especially is it necessary to distinguish between the earlier and the later years of the period, for as early as 1760 the liberalism of the Revolutionary era began to be felt. If we consider what was strictly the colonial epoch, we may find it necessary to make a division about the year 1705. Before this date the status of the Negro was complicated by the incidents of the system of servitude; after it, however, in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts alike, special discrimination against him on account of race was given formal recognition.

By 1715 there were in Virginia 23,000 Negroes, and in all the colonies 58,850, or 14 per cent of the total population.[1] By 1756, however, the Negroes in Virginia numbered 120,156 and the white people but 173,316.[2] Thirty-eight of the forty-nine counties had more Negro than white tithables, and eleven of the counties had a Negro population varying from one-fourth to one-half more than the white. A great many of the Negroes had only recently been imported from Africa, and they were especially baffling to their masters of course when they conversed in their native tongues. At first only men were brought, but soon women came also, and the treatment accorded these people varied all the way from occasional indulgence to the utmost cruelty. The hours of work regularly extended from sunrise to sunset, though corn-husking and rice-beating were sometimes continued after dark, and overseers were almost invariably ruthless, often having a share in the crops. Those who were house-servants would go about only partially clad, and the slave might be marked or branded like one of the lower animals; he was not thought to have a soul, and the law sought to deprive him of all human attributes. Holiday amusement consisted largely of the dances that the Negroes had brought with them, these being accompanied by the beating of drums and the blowing of horns; and funeral ceremonies featured African mummeries. For those who were criminal offenders simple execution was not always considered severe enough; the right hand might first be amputated, the criminal then hanged and his head cut off, and his body quartered and the parts suspended in public places. Sometimes the hanging was in chains, and several instances of burning are on record. A master was regularly reimbursed by the government for a slave legally executed, and in 1714 there was a complaint in South Carolina that the treasury had become almost exhausted by such reimbursements. In Massachusetts hanging was the worst legal penalty, but the obsolete common-law punishment was revived in 1755 to burn alive a slave-woman who had killed her master in Cambridge.[3]

[Footnote 1: Blake: _History of Slavery and the Slave-Trade_, 378.]

[Footnote 2: Ballagh: _Slavery in Virginia_, 12.]

[Footnote 3: Edward Eggleston: “Social Conditions in the Colonies,” in _Century Magazine_, October, 1884, p. 863.]

The relations between the free Negro and the slave might well have given cause for concern. Above what was after all only an artificial barrier spoke the call of race and frequently of kindred. Sometimes at a later date jealousy arose when a master employed a free Negro to work with his slaves, the one receiving pay and the others laboring without compensation. In general, however, the two groups worked like brothers, each giving the other the benefit of any temporary advantage that it possessed. Sometimes the free Negro could serve by reason of the greater freedom of movement that he had, and if no one would employ him, or if, as frequently happened, he was browbeaten and cheated out of the reward of his labor, the slave might somehow see that he got something to eat. In a state of society in which the relation of master and slave was the rule, there was of course little place for either the free Negro or the poor white man. When the pressure became too great the white man moved away; the Negro, finding himself everywhere buffeted, in the colonial era at least had little choice but to work out his salvation at home as well as he could. More and more character told, and if a man had made himself known for his industry and usefulness, a legislative act might even be passed permitting him to remain in the face of a hostile law. Even before 1700 there were in Virginia families in which both parents were free colored persons and in which every effort was made to bring up the children in honesty and morality. When some prosperous Negroes found themselves able to do so, they occasionally purchased Negroes, who might be their own children or brothers, in order to give them that protection without which on account of recent manumission they might be required to leave the colony in which they were born. Thus, whatever the motive, the tie that bound the free Negro and the slave was a strong one; and in spite of the fact that Negroes who owned slaves were generally known as hard masters, as soon as any men of the race began to be really prominent their best endeavor was devoted to the advancement of their people. It was not until immediately after the Revolutionary War, however, that leaders of vision and statesmanship began to be developed.

It was only the materialism of the eighteenth century that accounted for the amazing development of the system of Negro slavery, and only this that defeated the benevolence of Oglethorpe’s scheme for the founding of Georgia. As yet there was no united protest–no general movement for freedom; and as Von Holst said long afterwards, “If the agitation had been wholly left to the churches, it would have been long before men could have rightly spoken of ‘a slavery question.'” The Puritans, however, were not wholly unmindful of the evil, and the Quakers were untiring in their opposition, though it was Roger Williams who in 1637 made the first protest that appears in the colonies.[1] Both John Eliot and Cotton Mather were somewhat generally concerned about the harsh treatment of the Negro and the neglect of his spiritual welfare. Somewhat more to the point was Richard Baxter, the eminent English nonconformist, who was a contemporary of both of these men. “Remember,” said he, in speaking of Negroes and other slaves, “that they are of as good a kind as you; that is, they are reasonable creatures as well as you, and born to as much natural liberty. If their sin have enslaved them to you, yet Nature made them your equals.” On the subject of man-stealing he is even stronger: “To go as pirates and catch up poor Negroes or people of another land, that never forfeited life or liberty, and to make them slaves, and sell them, is one of the worst kinds of thievery in the world.” Such statements, however, were not more than the voice of individual opinion. The principles of the Quakers carried them far beyond the Puritans, and their history shows what might have been accomplished if other denominations had been as sincere and as unselfish as the Society of Friends. The Germantown protest of 1688 has already been remarked. In 1693 George Keith, in speaking of fugitives, quoted with telling effect the text, “Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant which is escaped from his master unto thee” (Deut. 23.15). In 1696 the Yearly Meeting in Pennsylvania first took definite action in giving as its advice “that Friends be careful not to encourage the bringing in of any more Negroes; and that such that have Negroes, be careful of them, bring them to meetings, have meetings with them in their families, and restrain them from loose and lewd living as much as in them lies, and from rambling abroad on First-days or other times.”[2] As early as 1713 the Quakers had in mind a scheme for freeing the Negroes and returning them to Africa, and by 1715 their efforts against importation had seriously impaired the market for slaves in Philadelphia. Within a century after the Germantown protest the abolition of slavery among the Quakers was practically accomplished.

[Footnote 1: For this and the references immediately following note Locke: _Anti-Slavery in America_, 11-45.]

[Footnote 2: _Brief Statement of the Rise and Progress of the Testimony of the Religious Society of Friends against Slavery and the Slave-Trade_, 8.]

In the very early period there seems to have been little objection to giving a free Negro not only religious but also secular instruction; indeed he might be entitled to this, as in Virginia, where in 1691 the church became the agency through which the laws of Negro apprenticeship were carried out; thus in 1727 it was ordered that David James, a free Negro boy, be bound to Mr. James Isdel, who was to “teach him to read the Bible distinctly, also the trade of a gunsmith” and “carry him to the clerk’s office and take indenture to that purpose.”[1] In general the English church did a good deal to provide for the religious instruction of the free Negro; “the reports made in 1724 to the English bishop by the Virginia parish ministers are evidence that the few free Negroes in the parishes were permitted to be baptized, and were received into the church when they had been taught the catechism.”[2] Among Negroes, moreover, as well as others in the colonies the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts was active. As early as 1705, in Goose Creek Parish in South Carolina, among a population largely recently imported from Africa, a missionary had among his communicants twenty blacks who well understood the English tongue.[3] The most effective work of the Society, however, was in New York, where as early as 1704 a school was opened by Elias Neau, a Frenchman who after several years of imprisonment because of his Protestant faith had come to New York to try his fortune as a trader. In 1703 he had called the attention of the Society to the Negroes who were “without God in the world, and of whose souls there was no manner of care taken,” and had suggested the appointment of a catechist. He himself was prevailed upon to take up the work and he accordingly resigned his position as an elder in the French church and conformed to the Church of England. He worked with success for a number of years, but in 1712 was embarrassed by the charge that his school fomented the insurrection that was planned in that year. He finally showed, however, that only one of his students was in any way connected with the uprising.

[Footnote 1: Russell: _The Free Negro in Virginia_, 138-9.]

[Footnote 2: _Ibid_., 138.]

[Footnote 3: C.E. Pierre, in _Journal of Negro History_, October, 1916, p. 350.]

From slave advertisements of the eighteenth century[1] we may gain many sidelights not only on the education of Negroes in the colonial era, but on their environment and suffering as well. One slave “can write a pretty good hand; plays on the fife extremely well.” Another “can both read and write and is a good fiddler.” Still others speak “Dutch and good English,” “good English and High Dutch,” or “Swede and English well.” Charles Thomas of Delaware bore the following remarkable characterization: “Very black, has white teeth … has had his left leg broke … speaks both French and English, and is a very great rogue.” One man who came from the West Indies “was born in Dominica and speaks French, but very little English; he is a very ill-natured fellow and has been much cut in his back by often whipping.” A Negro named Simon who in 1740 ran away in Pennsylvania “could bleed and draw teeth pretending to be a great doctor.” Worst of all the incidents of slavery, however, was the lack of regard for home ties, and this situation of course obtained in the North as well as the South. In the early part of the eighteenth century marriages in New York were by mutual consent only, without the blessing of the church, and burial was in a common field without any Christian office. In Massachusetts in 1710 Rev. Samuel Phillips drew up a marriage formulary especially designed for slaves and concluding as follows: “For you must both of you bear in mind that you remain still, as really and truly as ever, your master’s property, and therefore it will be justly expected, both by God and man, that you behave and conduct yourselves as obedient and faithful servants.”[2] In Massachusetts, however, as in New York, marriage was most often by common consent simply, without the office of ministers.

[Footnote 1: See documents, “Eighteenth Century Slave Advertisements,” _Journal of Negro History_, April, 1916, 163-216.]

[Footnote 2: Quoted from Williams: Centennial Oration, “The American Negro from 1776 to 1876,” 10.]

As yet there was no racial consciousness, no church, no business organization, and the chief cooeperative effort was in insurrection. Until the great chain of slavery was thrown off, little independent effort could be put forth. Even in the state of servitude or slavery, however, the social spirit of the race yearned to assert itself, and such an event as a funeral was attractive primarily because of the social features that it developed. As early as 1693 there is record of the formation of a distinct society by Negroes. In one of his manuscript diaries, preserved in the library of the Massachusetts Historical Society,[1] Cotton Mather in October of this year wrote as follows: “Besides the other praying and pious meetings which I have been continually serving in our neighborhood, a little after this period a company of poor Negroes, of their own accord, addressed me, for my countenance to a design which they had, of erecting such a meeting for the welfare of their miserable nation, that were servants among us. I allowed their design and went one evening and prayed and preached (on Ps. 68.31) with them; and gave them the following orders, which I insert duly for the curiosity of the occasion.” The Rules to which Mather here refers are noteworthy as containing not one suggestion of anti-slavery sentiment, and as portraying the altogether abject situation of the Negro at the time he wrote; nevertheless the text used was an inspiring one, and in any case the document must have historical importance as the earliest thing that has come down to us in the nature of the constitution or by-laws for a distinctively Negro organization. It is herewith given entire:

Rules for the Society of Negroes. 1693.

We the Miserable Children of Adam, and of Noah, thankfully Admiring and Accepting the Free-Grace of GOD, that Offers to Save us from our Miseries, by the Lord Jesus Christ, freely Resolve, with His Help, to become the Servants of that Glorious LORD.

And that we may be Assisted in the Service of our Heavenly Master, we now join together in a SOCIETY, wherein the following RULES are to be observed.

I. It shall be our Endeavor, to Meet in the _Evening_ after the _Sabbath_; and Pray together by Turns, one to Begin, and another to Conclude the Meeting; And between the two _Prayers_, a _Psalm_ shall be sung, and a _Sermon_ Repeated.

II. Our coming to the Meeting, shall never be without the _Leave_ of such as have Power over us: And we will be Careful, that our Meeting may Begin and Conclude between the Hours of _Seven_ and _Nine_; and that we may not be _unseasonably Absent_ from the Families whereto we pertain.

III. As we will, with the help of God, at all Times avoid all _Wicked Company_, so we will Receive none into our Meeting, but such as have sensibly _Reformed_ their lives from all manner of Wickedness. And, therefore, None shall be Admitted, without the Knowledge and Consent of the _Minister_ of God in this place; unto whom we will also carry every Person, that seeks for _Admission_ among us; to be by Him Examined, Instructed and Exhorted.

IV. We will, as often as may be, Obtain some Wise and Good Man, of the English in the Neighborhood, and especially the Officers of the Church, to look in upon us, and by their Presence and Counsel, do what they think fitting for us.

V. If any of our Number fall into the Sin of _Drunkenness_, or _Swearing_, or _Cursing_, or _Lying_, or _Stealing_, or notorious _Disobedience_ or _Unfaithfulness_ unto their Masters, we will Admonish him of his Miscarriage, and Forbid his coming to the Meeting, for at least _one Fortnight_; And except he then come with great Signs and Hopes of his _Repentance_, we will utterly Exclude him, with Blotting his _Name_ out of our list.

VI. If any of our Society Defile himself with _Fornication_, we will give him our _Admonition_; and so, debar him from the Meeting, at least half a Year: Nor shall he Return to it, ever any more, without Exemplary Testimonies of his becoming a _New Creature_.

VII. We will, as we have Opportunity, set ourselves to do all the Good we can, to the other _Negro-Servants_ in the Town; And if any of them should, at unfit Hours, be _Abroad_, much more, if any of them should _Run away_ from their Masters, we will afford them _no Shelter_: But we will do what in us lies, that they may be discovered, and punished. And if any of _us_ are found Faulty in this matter, they shall be no longer of _us_.

VIII. None of our Society shall be _Absent_ from our Meeting, without giving a Reason of the Absence; and if it be found, that any have pretended unto their _Owners_, that they came unto the Meeting, when they were otherwise and elsewhere Employed, we will faithfully _Inform_ their Owners, and also do what we can to Reclaim such Person from all such Evil Courses for the Future:

IX. It shall be expected from every one in the Society, that he learn the Catechism; And therefore, it shall be one of our usual Exercises, for one of us, to ask the _Questions_, and for all the rest in their Order, to say the _Answers_ in the Catechism; Either, The _New English_ Catechism, or the _Assemblies_ Catechism, or the Catechism in the _Negro Christianised_.

[Footnote 1: See _Rules for the Society of Negroes_, 1693, by Cotton Mather, reprinted, New York, 1888, by George H. Moore.]

4. Early Insurrections

The Negroes who came to America directly from Africa in the eighteenth century were strikingly different from those whom generations of servitude later made comparatively docile. They were wild and turbulent in disposition and were likely at any moment to take revenge for the great wrong that had been inflicted upon them. The planters in the South knew this and lived in constant fear of uprisings. When the situation became too threatening, they placed prohibitive duties on importations, and they also sought to keep their slaves in subjection by barbarous and cruel modes of punishment, both crucifixion and burning being legalized in some early codes. On sea as well as on land Negroes frequently rose upon those who held them in bondage, and sometimes they actually won their freedom. More and more, however, in any study of Negro insurrections it becomes difficult to distinguish between a clearly organized revolt and what might be regarded as simply a personal crime, so that those uprisings considered in the following discussion can only be construed as the more representative of the many attempts for freedom made by Negro slaves in the colonial era.

In 1687 there was in Virginia a conspiracy among the Negroes in the Northern Neck that was detected just in time to prevent slaughter, and in Surry County in 1710 there was a similar plot, betrayed by one of the conspirators. In 1711, in South Carolina, several Negroes ran away from their masters and “kept out, armed, robbing and plundering houses and plantations, and putting the inhabitants of the province in great fear and terror”;[1] and Governor Gibbes more than once wrote to the legislature about amending the Negro Act, as the one already in force did “not reach up to some of the crimes” that were daily being committed. For one Sebastian, “a Spanish Negro,” alive or dead, a reward of L50 was offered, and he was at length brought in by the Indians and taken in triumph to Charleston. In 1712 in New York occurred an outbreak that occasioned greater excitement than any uprising that had preceded it in the colonies. Early in the morning of April 7 some slaves of the Carmantee and Pappa tribes who had suffered ill-usage, set on fire the house of Peter van Tilburgh, and, armed with guns and knives, killed and wounded several persons who came to extinguish the flames. They fled, however, when the Governor ordered the cannon to be fired to alarm the town, and they got away to the woods as well as they could, but not before they had killed several more of the citizens. Some shot themselves in the woods and others were captured. Altogether eight or ten white persons were killed, and, aside from those Negroes who had committed suicide, eighteen or more were executed, several others being transported. Of those executed one was hanged alive in chains, some were burned at the stake, and one was left to die a lingering death before the gaze of the town.

[Footnote 1: Holland: _A Refutation of Calumnies_, 63.]

In May, 1720, some Negroes in South Carolina were fairly well organized and killed a man named Benjamin Cattle, one white woman, and a little Negro boy. They were pursued and twenty-three taken and six convicted. Three of the latter were executed, the other three escaping. In October, 1722, the Negroes near the mouth of the Rappahannock in Virginia undertook to kill the white people while the latter were assembled in church, but were discovered and put to flight. On this occasion, as on most others, Sunday was the day chosen for the outbreak, the Negroes then being best able to get together. In April, 1723, it was thought that some fires in Boston had been started by Negroes, and the selectmen recommended that if more than two Negroes were found “lurking together” on the streets they should be put in the house of correction. In 1728 there was a well organized attempt in Savannah, then a place of three thousand white people and two thousand seven hundred Negroes. The plan to kill all the white people failed because of disagreement as to the exact method; but the body of Negroes had to be, fired on more than once before it dispersed. In 1730 there was in Williamsburg, Va., an insurrection that grew out of a report that Colonel Spotswood had orders from the king to free all baptized persons on his arrival; men from all the surrounding counties had to be called in before it could be put down.

The first open rebellion in South Carolina in which Negroes were “actually armed and embodied”[1] took place in 1730. The plan was for each Negro to kill his master in the dead of night, then for all to assemble supposedly for a dancing-bout, rush upon the heart of the city, take possession of the arms, and kill any white man they saw. The plot was discovered and the leaders executed. In this same colony three formidable insurrections broke out within the one year 1739–one in St. Paul’s Parish, one in St. John’s, and one in Charleston. To some extent these seem to have been fomented by the Spaniards in the South, and in one of them six houses were burned and as many as twenty-five white people killed. The Negroes were pursued and fourteen killed. Within two days “twenty more were killed, and forty were taken, some of whom were shot, some hanged, and some gibbeted alive.”[2] This “examplary punishment,” as Governor Gibbes called it, was by no means effective, for in the very next year, 1740, there broke out what might be considered the most formidable insurrection in the South in the whole colonial period. A number of Negroes, having assembled at Stono, first surprised, and killed two young men in a warehouse, from which they then took guns and ammunition.[3] They then elected as captain one of their own number named Cato, whom they agreed to follow, and they marched towards the southwest, with drums beating and colors flying, like a disciplined company. They entered the home of a man named Godfrey, and having murdered him and his wife and children, they took all the arms he had, set fire to the house, and proceeded towards Jonesboro. On their way they plundered and burned every house to which they came, killing every white person they found and compelling the Negroes to join them. Governor Bull, who happened to be returning to Charleston from the southward, met them, and observing them armed, spread the alarm, which soon reached the Presbyterian Church at Wilton, where a number of planters was assembled. The women were left in the church trembling with fear, while the militia formed and marched in quest of the Negroes, who by this time had become formidable from the number that had joined them. They had marched twelve miles and spread desolation through all the plantations on their way. They had then halted in an open field and too soon had begun to sing and drink and dance by way of triumph. During these rejoicings the militia discovered them and stationed themselves in different places around them to prevent their escape. One party then advanced into the open field and attacked the Negroes. Some were killed and the others were forced to the woods. Many ran back to the plantations, hoping thus to avoid suspicion, but most of them were taken and tried. Such as had been forced to join the uprising against their will were pardoned, but all of the chosen leaders and the first insurgents were put to death. All Carolina, we are told, was struck with terror and consternation by this insurrection, in which more than twenty white persons were killed. It was followed immediately by the famous and severe Negro Act of 1740, which among other provisions imposed a duty of L100 on Africans and L150 on colonial Negroes. This remained technically in force until 1822, and yet as soon as security and confidence were restored, there was a relaxation in the execution of the provisions of the act and the Negroes little by little regained confidence in themselves and again began to plan and act in concert.

[Footnote 1: Holland: _A Refutation of Calumnies_, 68.]

[Footnote 2: Coffin.]

[Footnote 3: The following account follows mainly Holland, quoting Hewitt.]

About the time of Cato’s insurrection there were also several uprisings at sea. In 1731, on a ship returning to Rhode Island from Guinea with a cargo of slaves, the Negroes rose and killed three of the crew, all the members of which died soon afterwards with the exception of the captain and his boy. The next year Captain John Major of Portsmouth, N.H., was murdered with all his crew, his schooner and cargo being seized by the slaves. In 1735 the captives on the _Dolphin_ of London, while still on the coast of Africa, overpowered the crew, broke into the powder room, and finally in the course of their effort for freedom blew up both themselves and the crew.

A most remarkable design–as an insurrection perhaps not as formidable as that of Cato, but in some ways the most important single event in the history of the Negro in the colonial period–was the plot in the city of New York in 1741. New York was at the time a thriving town of twelve thousand inhabitants, and the calamity that now befell it was unfortunate in every way. It was not only a Negro insurrection, though the Negro finally suffered most bitterly. It was also a strange compound of the effects of whiskey and gambling, of the designs of abandoned white people, and of prejudice against the Catholics.

Prominent in the remarkable drama were John Hughson, a shoemaker and alehouse keeper; Sarah Hughson, his wife; John Romme, also a shoemaker and alehouse keeper; Margaret Kerry, alias Salinburgh, commonly known as Peggy; John Ury, a priest; and a number of Negroes, chief among whom were Caesar, Prince, Cuffee, and Quack.[1] Prominent among those who helped to work out the plot were Mary Burton, a white servant of Hughson’s, sixteen years of age; Arthur Price, a young white man who at the time of the proceedings happened to be in prison on a charge of stealing; a young seaman named Wilson; and two white women, Mrs. Earle and Mrs. Hogg, the latter of whom assisted in the store kept by her husband, Robert Hogg. Hughson’s house on the outskirts of the town was a resort for Negroes, and Hughson himself aided and abetted the Negro men in any crime that they might commit. Romme was of similar quality. Peggy was a prostitute, and it was Caesar who paid for her board with the Hughsons. In the previous summer she had found lodging with these people, a little later she had removed to Romme’s, and just before Christmas she had come back to Hughson’s, and a few weeks thereafter she became a mother. At both the public houses the Negroes would engage in drinking and gambling; and importance also attaches to an organization of theirs known as the Geneva Society, which had angered some of the white citizens by its imitation of the rites and forms of freemasonry.

[Footnote 1: The sole authority on the plot is “A Journal of the Proceedings in the Detection of the Conspiracy formed by Some White People, in Conjunction with Negro and other Slaves, for Burning the City of New York in America, and Murdering the Inhabitants (by Judge Daniel Horsemanden). New York, 1744.”]

Events really began on the night of Saturday, February 28, 1741, with a robbery in the house of Hogg, the merchant, from which were taken various pieces of linen and other goods, several silver coins, chiefly Spanish, and medals, to the value of about L60. On the day before, in the course of a simple purchase by Wilson, Mrs. Hogg had revealed to the young seaman her treasure. He soon spoke of the same to Caesar, Prince, and Cuffee, with whom he was acquainted; he gave them the plan of the house, and they in turn spoke of the matter to Hughson. Wilson, however, when later told of the robbery by Mrs. Hogg, at once turned suspicion upon the Negroes, especially Caesar; and Mary Burton testified that she saw some of the speckled linen in question in Peggy’s room after Caesar had gone thither.

On Wednesday, March 18, a fire broke out on the roof of His Majesty’s House at Fort George. One week later, on March 25, there was a fire at the home of Captain Warren in the southwest end of the city, and the circumstances pointed to incendiary origin. One week later, on April 1, there was a fire in the storehouse of a man named Van Zant; on the following Saturday evening there was another fire, and while the people were returning from this there was still another; and on the next day, Sunday, there was another alarm, and by this time the whole town had been worked up to the highest pitch of excitement. As yet there was nothing to point to any connection between the stealing and the fires. On the day of the last one, however, Mrs. Earle happened to overhear remarks by three Negroes that caused suspicion to light upon them; Mary Burton was insisting that stolen goods had been brought by Prince and Caesar to the house of her master; and although a search of the home of Hughson failed to produce a great deal, arrests were made right and left. The case was finally taken to the Supreme Court, and because of the white persons implicated, the summary methods ordinarily used in dealing with Negroes were waived for the time being.

Peggy at first withstood all questioning, denying any knowledge of the events that had taken place. One day in prison, however, she remarked to Arthur Price that she was afraid the Negroes would tell but that she would not forswear herself unless they brought her into the matter. “How forswear?” asked Price. “There are fourteen sworn,” she said. “What, is it about Mr. Hogg’s goods?” he asked. “No,” she replied, “about the fire.” “What, Peggy,” asked Price, “were you going to set the town on fire?” “No,” she replied, “but since I knew of it they made me swear.” She also remarked that she had faith in Prince, Cuff, and Caesar. All the while she used the vilest possible language, and at last, thinking suddenly that she had revealed too much, she turned upon Price and with an oath warned him that he had better keep his counsel. That afternoon she said further to him that she could not eat because Mary had brought her into the case.

A little later Peggy, much afraid, voluntarily confessed that early in May she was at the home of John Romme, where in the course of December the Negroes had had several meetings; among other things they had conspired to burn the fort first of all, then the city, then to get all the goods they could and kill anybody who had money. One evening just about Christmas, she said, Romme and his wife and ten or eleven Negroes had been together in a room. Romme had talked about how rich some people were, gradually working on the feelings of the Negroes and promising them that if they did not succeed in their designs he would take them to a strange country and set them free, meanwhile giving them the impression that he bore a charmed life. A little later, it appeared, Caesar gave to Hughson L12; Hughson was then absent for three days, and when he came again he brought with him seven or eight guns, some pistols, and some swords.

As a result of these and other disclosures it was seen that not only Hughson and Romme but also Ury, who was not so much a priest as an adventurer, had instigated the plots of the Negroes; and Quack testified that Hughson was the first contriver of the plot to burn the houses of the town and kill the people, though he himself, he confessed, did fire the fort with a lighted stick. The punishment was terrible. Quack and Cuffee, the first to be executed, were burned at the stake on May 30. All through the summer the trials and the executions continued, harassing New York and indeed the whole country. Altogether twenty white persons were arrested; four–Hughson, his wife, Peggy, and Ury–were executed, and some of their acquaintances were forced to leave the province. One hundred and fifty-four Negroes were arrested. Thirteen were burned, eighteen were hanged, and seventy-one transported.

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It is evident from these events and from the legislation of the era that, except for the earnest work of such a sect as the Quakers, there was little genuine effort for the improvement of the social condition of the Negro people in the colonies. They were not even regarded as potential citizens, and both in and out of the system of slavery were subjected to the harshest regulations. Towards amicable relations with the other racial elements that were coming to build up a new country only the slightest measure of progress was made. Instead, insurrection after insurrection revealed the sharpest antagonism, and any outbreak promptly called forth the severest and frequently the most cruel punishment.