Excerpt from "The Loyal Blacks", copyright 1976 by Ellen Gibson Wilson, published by Capricorn Books, New York; G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 75-45762
Offered to help viewers better interpret data extracted from the Farm Book, Garden Book and other papers of Thomas Jefferson as the most thorough record available on the lives of enslaved human beings, their offspring and other relationships in Virginia during the three generations spanned by Jefferson's life.
Work by Historian Ellen Gibson Wilson offers insight necessary as a prerequisite to understanding the background, events, attitudes and behavior recorded by TJ.
"The American Revolution was the work of a slave-owning society. it had the unintended effect of liberating several thousand slaves. For some 1,500 of these, the war years were the start of an adventure which was to guarantee them a place in the annals of the British empire as the "turbulent" black settlers of Sierra Leone. In the America they rejected, they are only shadowy figures.
As the first blacks to return to Africa from North America and, moreover, as men and women inoculated with the revolutionary virus, they were the natural agents of another revolt involving typically American notions of free land, political rights and religious liberty. This attempt to reconstruct their lives and times begins in the "great debate" over freedom which agitated sections of colonial society on the ever of the Revolution.
The prewar social climate kindled hopes among the half million blacks -- one-fifth of the population and overwhelmingly slave in status -- as well as within the white majority (a good number of whom were bonded servants) for an improvement in their condition. The cry was for "liberty." With ideas of individual rights, social justice and democratic government being everywhere explored, it was a liberating atmosphere in which unthinkable things could happen.
It is unlikely that the black population was simple enough to believer that the slavery of which white colonists complained subsumed their own. But the effect of a language of protest which had such an obsessive preoccupation with slavery as a metaphor for a political condition must nevertheless have been profound on black bondsmen. That slavery was an eighteenth-century world for "absolute political evil" was an unconscious admission of guilt for the traffic in African men and women and the institutionalization of slave labor in Southern agriculture. Antislavery voices were not numerous, but they also were not new, and the fruitless prewar attempts of colonial legislatures and the Continental Congress to prohibit imports of slaves reflected not only irritation with British commercial domination but uneasiness about the business itself. The central contradiction was that almost everyone now believed in liberty and everyone knew that slavery was its denial, but almost everyone also thought that abolition would be ruinous, economically or socially.
Before 1750 there had been at least fifteen published attacks in America on black slavery. Nearly all came from Quakers and appeared in the North. But they were known and discussed in southern circles and were part of a transatlantic dialogue among Americans, British and French. The argument quickened in the later eighteenth century, as the freedom of white colonists was associated in some minds wit the emancipation of blacks. The Massachusetts attorney James Otis predicted in 1763 that "those who every day barter away other men's liberty, will soon care little for their own." Samuel Cooke in 1770 asserted that in tolerating Negro slavery, "we the patrons of liberty, have dishonored the Christian name."
Richard Well in 1774 demanded to know how Americans could "reconcile the exercise of SLAVERY with our professions of freedom." And the Baptist preacher John Allen cried: "Blush ye pretended votaries for freedom! who are .... making a mockery of your profession by trampling on the sacred natural rights and privileges of Africans." Dr. Benjamin Rush was convinced: "The plant of liberty is of so tender a nature that it cannot thrive long in the neighborhood of slavery."
"Honesty" addressed the Sons of Liberty through a Connecticut newspaper in 1774: "We declare, and that with much warmth and zeal, it is unjust, cruel, barbarous, unconstitutional, and without law to enslave, do we enslave? Yes, verily we do! ... Can we expect to be free, so long as we are determined to enslave?" The irony was not lost on the British "oppressors." Granville Sharp, a friendly critic, recognized that "toleration of domestic Slavery in the Colonies greatly weakens the claim or natural Right of our American Brethren to Liberty. Let them put away the accursed thing ... before they presume to implore the interposition of divine Justice." Less kindly, Samuel Johnson wondered, "How is it that we hear the loudest yelps from liberty among the drivers of negros?" Thomas Day was unsparing in his condemnation of American hypocrisy:
If there be an object truly ridiculous in nature, it is an American patriot, signing resolutions of independency with the one hand, and with the other brandishing a whip over his affrighted slaves .... If there be certain natural and universal rights, as the declarations of your Congress so repeatedly affirm, I wonder how the unfortunate Africans have incurred their forfeiture. --- Is it the antiquity, or the virtues, or the great qualities of the English Americans, which .... entitle them to rights from which they totally exclude more than a fourth part of the species? Or do you choose to make use of that argument, which the great Montesquieu has thrown out as the severest ridicule, that they are black, and you white: that you have lank long hair, while their's is short and woolly?
As a new immigrant Thomas Paine begged Americans to consider "with what consistency, or decency they complain so loudly of attempts to enslave them, while they hold so many hundred thousands in slavery: and annually enslave many thousands more." The famous test case in England in 1772 of James Somerset (sometimes Somersett) had important repercussions among the American slaves. Brought by Granville Sharp, it resulted in a decision of Lord Mansfield that Somerset's master could not forcibly return him to the West Indies. The judgment was reported in colonial newspapers and widely and erroneously taken to have emancipated the slaves then in England and to assure that any slave who set foot on English soil would become free. It tempted some in America to try to reach Britain, "where they imagine they will be free (a Notion now too prevalent among the Negroes)," according to an advertisement in the Virginia Gazette.
Running away was the most common form of black protest, but there wee many other expressions of it: thieving, resistance to work ("laziness," pretended sickness, self-mutilation, sabotage), suicide, or, more rarely, assault on owners or overseers. Slave conspiracies were a continual source of alarm to owners of laborers fresh from Africa. In the North, slaves tried legal methods such as petitions and lawsuits. Despite pitifully small resources, slaves, often encouraged by sympathetic whites, had initiated twelve legal actions before 1750 in Massachusetts alone. The trend was disturbing enough to inspire the Reverend Cotton Mather, on the occasion of the hanging of a freed slave for the murder of his wife, to caution the slaves in his audience, "There is a Fondness for Freedom in many of you, who live Comfortably in a very easy Servitude: wherein you are not so Well-advised as you should be."
One of the most celebrated as well as earliest suits was brought by Adam, a slave rented in 1694 by John Saffin to another man with the promise that after seven years Adam would be freed. Adam proved unsatisfactory and was returned a year early. But when the seven years were up, he successfully sued his now reluctant master for the promised manumission. The episode prompted Samuel Sewall to write The Selling of Joseph in 1700, one of the earliest American denunciations of slavery.
The tempo of black as well as white protest picked up on the eve of the Revolution, and in a series of cases in the 1760s and 1770s, slaves sued in New England courts for freedom and won. In an echo of the reputed Mansfield decision, they claimed that under the royal charter, those residing in Massachusetts were as free as subjects in Britain. Their individual victories did not abolish slavery itself until the Quok Walker decision in 1783. Waslker had cited the new Massachusetts Constitution which copied the assertion in the Declaration of Independence that "all mean are born free and equal."
According to Dr. Jeremy Belknap, a contemporary observer, this clause was inserted "with a particular view to establish the liberation of the negroes ... and so it was understood by the people at large." Although it is still argued whether the Massachusetts Supreme Court did in fact abolish slavery at that time, there can be no quarrel with Dr. Belknap's verdict that the Walker case dealt Slavery a "mortal wound" in Massachusetts. Indeed Dr. Belknap saw a public acceptance of "the inconsistency of pleading for our own rights and liberties whilst we encouraged the subjugation of others ... the success of the negroes in these suits operated to the liberation of all."
The petitions handed in by blacks were couched in courteous, Christian but outraged terms. They make clear that the seething political climate was understood in the slave sector of the population. Peter Bestes, Sambo Freeman, Felix Holbrook and Chester Joie, Representing slaves in the town of Thompson, appealed in 1773 to the Massachusetts legislature, making pointed reference to the current propaganda war: "We expect great things fro men who have made such a noble stand against the designs of their fellow-men to enslave them .... The divine spirit of freedom, seems to fire every humane breast." In the same year James Swan published a revised edition of A Dissuasion to Great-Britain and the Colonies from the Slave-Trade to Africa under the sponsorship of Boston blacks. Swan commented on their anguish, living as they did among "people who boast of their liberties yet keep blacks in slavery."
Abigail Adams was in Boston in 1774 when what she described as "a conspiracy of the negroes" took place. "They ... got an Irishman to draw up a petition to the Governor, telling him they would fight for him, provided he would arm them and engage to liberate them if he conquered." She added, "I wish most sincerely there was not a slave in the province. It always appeared a most iniquitous scheme to me --- to fight ourselves for what we are daily robbing and plundering from those who have as good a right to freedom as we have."
The eloquent appeal of "a Grate Number of Blackes of the Province who by divine permission are held in a state of Slavery within the bowels of a free and christian Country" contended that blacks in common with all men had a natural right to freedom, for they were a "freeborn Pepel and have never forfeited this Blessing by aney compact or agreement whatever." Massachusetts law, furthermore, did not authorize slavery of themselves or, even more particularly, of their American-born children. In 1777 Boston slaves followed the laudable example of the Declaration of Independence to point out "that Every Principle from which America has Acted in the Cours of their unhappy Difficultes with Great Briton Pleads Stronger than A thousand arguments in favours of your petioners."
Slaves in Fairfield County in 1779 requested the state assemblymen, who were so "nobly contending in the Cause of Liberty," to spare some thought for creatures of another color who were unjustly bound. Boldly they said, "we perceive by our own Reflection, that we are endowed with the same Faculties with our masters, and there is nothing that leads us to a Belief of Suspicion, that we are any more obliged to serve them, than they us, and the more we Consider of this matter, the more we are Convinced of our Right ... to be free." The cry of taxation without representation was raised during the war by blacks. In 1780 John and Paul Cuffe, free African-Indian brothers of Westport, Massachusetts, joined a petition against taxes on their land because they were denied the vote. With so much evidence of opposition to slavery, it not surprising that the first antislavery society in any country was formed at Philadelphia by a mainly Quaker group just five days before the Battle of Lexington. it was called the Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage.
One must not, however, understate the absolute helplessness of nearly all the 500,000 blacks. Most white Americans actively believed in slavery, or condoned it, or rarely thought about it, being "long accustomed to the practice and convenience of having slaves." Many blamed Great Britain for the system and felt no more responsible than they would have done for a hereditary disease. The powerful Henry Laurens of South Carolina, who made a fortune importing slaves as a merchant and working them on his plantations, told his son in 1776 that he looked forward to abolition but happened to have been born in a country where slavery was established by British law. Speaking of his own slaves, valued at 20,000 pounds sterling, Laurens insisted, "I am not the man who enslaved them: they are indebted to Englishmen for that favour."
No man prominent in Virginia politics publicly advocated an end to slavery. Jefferson disliked it but was so convinced of the inherent inferiority of blacks that he could not envisage a multiracial society. In his first draft of the Declaration of Independence he harshly indicted George III for the cruel slave trade and for vetoing colonial efforts to restrain it, but the adopted document, although it speaks of tyranny, says nothing at all about slavery in deference to the feelings of Georgia, Rhode Island and South Carolina. A clause in the Virginia Bill of Rights declaring men by nature free was allowed through on the understanding that slaves were not members of society and could not benefit from it.
There seemed truly little danger to the status quo in uttering calls for liberty or natural rights. "The master passion of the age was not with extending liberty to blacks but with erecting republics for whites." Private property was a keystone of the new, as of the old, society, and if property in slaves were questioned, the whole structure might be at risk. The challenges in the courts to slavery had been confined to the North, where fewer than 60,000 slaves were kept. Such actions were useful as tokens of a relatively open society which many well-meaning people could applaud, while not striking at the vitals of a system endorsed in the populous, planter-ruled South.
Yet the potentially dangerous doctrine of individual worth was being spread more widely than contemporary observers realized. The carrier was the new Protestant evangelist who delivered the word of God in towns and hamlets, on farms, plantations or in clearings in the wilderness, from pulpits, kitchen tables or tree stumps. Several future Sierra Leone settlers experienced this religious revival, their first step to freedom. For example, David George, destined to begin Baptist churches in Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone, found his faith in slave prayer meetings in South Carolina. Boston King, a Methodist missionary-to-be, also from South Carolina, and Mary Perth from Virginia were introduced to lifelong Christianity at this time. For each one such case that can be documented, there must have been thousands un-remarked.
The American experience determined both the sects and the style of worship which were carried to African, so it is worth a look at the denominations of the revolutionary era as the blacks knew them. Their oldest friends were the Quakers, who individually and in meetings condemned slaveholding, freed their own slaves, admitted blacks to their services and sponsored schools. One of the first great abolitionists, Anthony Benezet, the Philadelphia teacher, was almost alone in his time in believing in the equal ability of blacks, possibly because he was one of the few who actually knew any in something other than a master-slave relationship.
In both North Carolina and Virginia, Quakers contested for the right to manumit slaves and to protect their free status afterward. But as a small minority the Quakers were more a nuisance than a menace and in contact with comparatively few blacks. Of the two officially connected churches, the Congregational in New England also had small direct effect, but the Anglican was well known to Southern blacks. it was served by missionaries form the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in in Foreign Parts, an appellation that greatly annoyed many Tory colonials. The Church of England was weakened by the rising anti-British sentiment and the demand for religious freedom. More important to blacks, it was the planters' church. The SPG, nonetheless, was the earliest body to seek out blacks and Indians, and "great multitudes" underwent a conversion which was "sold" to slave owners on the grounds that Christianity helped create obedient workers.
Southern legislatures made sure that baptism was no ticket to freedom. Some slaves were required to take an oath that they were not asking for baptism in an effort to emancipate themselves. The fact that local vestries, dominated by slave-owning men of property, virtually ran the Southern church accounts as much for the lack of zeal in teaching blacks as any institutional intention to slight them. Anglicans believed in an orderly society where people were born to certain stations. The Reverend Jonathan Boucher found "the negroes in general in Virginia and Maryland in my time were not ... worse off nor less happy than the labouring poor in Great Britain .... Slavery is not one of the most intolerable evils incident to humanity, even to slaves." The clergy themselves, of course, including Boucher, owned slaves. He also, in the 1760s, busily taught and baptized slaves, a duty shirked by his predecessors in Virginia, and trained a few black men to teach others to read.
The first serious penetration of the Southern slave population came from the Great Awakening. The revivalist preachers fid not attack slavery, but they believed salvation must be offered to everyone. The dynamic younger sects were socially democratic and racially mixed at this time. A discriminatory tendency set in at the turn of the century. Black preachers were heard as early as 1743. The itinerant white Methodists and Baptists were often common men themselves, frequently gifted with fiery eloquence and well grounded in Scripture. Ordinary men and women responded to religion as they expounded it in a fashion that no formal rituals had evoked. By the end of the war such sects had incorporated the natural rights doctrine and were coming out for the abolition of slavery. Slaves had a limited freedom to observe or share in religious exercises. They could hear the Gospel preached, sing the hymns and see men of their race listened to by whites as well as blacks saw the Anglican faith as too pallid. During the Revolution the influential Virginia planter Robert Carter joined the Baptists and encouraged his slaves to attend meetings. Many were converted.
The Reverend Francis Asbury, probably the greatest circuit rider of them all, who arrived in the colonies in 1771, was deeply impressed by the religious response of blacks. "To see the poor Negroes so affected is pleasing, to see their sable countenances in our solemn assemblies, and to hear them sing with cheerful melody their dear Redeemer's praise, affected me much." Once, preaching to a crowd that overflowed the meetinghouse, "I was obliged to stop again and again, and beg of the people to compose themselves. But they could not: some on their knees, and some on their faces, were crying mightily to God .... Hundreds of Negroes were among them, with the tears streaming down their faces." Asbury sometimes traveled with Harry Hosier, a superb black preacher.
The Reverend George Whitfield's impact on the black John Marrant, later a missionary in Nova Scotia, illustrates the appeal of such men. Whitefield, at twenty-four, was the first traveling preacher in the colonies. His strong, musical voice and electrifying style set a fashion. "it was usually with tears and even sobs that his hearers would part company with him .... Sometimes his feelings seemed almost to overcome him, as with broken voice and streaming eyes he pleaded with the souls of men." Sometimes he stamped his feet while his throngs exulted, wept and trembled with him. "I love those who thunder out the word," Whitefield said. A black witness saw the revivalist "sweating, as much as I ever did while in slavery. On his seventh and final American tour, beginning in late 1769, Whitefield visited Charleston, where John Marrant was living. Marrant was born in New York in 1755 and taken as a child to Georgia, where he attended school until he was eleven. The family then moved to Charleston, where the boy learned to play the violin and French horn and was in flattering demand for balls and assemblies. At thirteen he was "a slave to every vice suited to my nature and to my years." The roster of vices is not specified beyond fishing and hunting on the Sabbath.
One day this frivolus boy heard "hallooing" and stepped into a meetinghouse with some mischief in mind. The great Whitefield pointed a finger and intoned his text: "Prepare to meet thy God, O Israel." Marrant, convinced that the finger was aimed at him, fell to the ground and remained senseless for twenty-four minutes. Afterward Whitefield told him, "Jesus Christ has got thee at last." Marrant became so obsessed with the Bible that people thought him mad. Saint-like, he went off into the woods for long trials of strength. Once, threatened with death in a Cherokee town, he converted his potential executioner, the chief's daughter and finally the chief himself. he began a career of preaching in the backwoods settlements.
Marrant appears to have been born free. The impact of religion on the colonial slave population is more vividly seen in the lives of David George, Boston King and Mary Perth. George was one of the founders of the African-Americans church, and it was he who introduced the Baptist faith to African. His memoir, a valuable slave narrative, was related to fellow Baptists on a visit to England in 1793, when George was about fifty. Not the least of its importance lies in his view "from the bottom up" of life on a Virginia plantation. Since all other parts of his story stand up to scrutiny and comparison with contemporary documents, his description of the barbaric treatment of slaves at his birthplace may also be taken as true.
He was born about 1743 on a Nottoway River plantation in Essex County, Virginia, owned by a Mr. Chapel. His parents, John and Judith, both transported from Africa, had nine children. As a boy David fetched water, carded cotton and labored in the corn and tobacco fields. His owner was a "very bad man to the Negroes." His sister, Patty, was whipped until her back was "all corruption, as though it would rot." His brother, Dick, ran away, was captured and escaped again. This time Dick was hunted with dogs and horses. Found and brought back, he was dangled from cherry tree with his legs tied tightly together. A pole was thrust between his legs, and Chapel's two sons sat on either end of it "to keep him down." After "500 lashes, or more, they washed his back with salt water, and whipped it in." Then Dick was sent back to work in the field.
David George himself was flogged "sometimes till the blood has run down over my waistband; but the greatest grief I then had was to see them whip my mother, and to hear her, on her knees, begging for mercy. She was master's cook, and if they only thought she might do anything better than seh did, instead of speaking to her as to a servant, they would strip her directly, and cut away." The horror of watching, helplessly, a parent or a child punished "without delicacy or mercy" was a great trauma of slavery. Occasionally, the young David George had attended "the English church" eight miles away, but he was not a Christian. "I used to drink," he admitted, "but not steal; did not fear hell, and was without knowledge."
Despite the exemplary punishment of his brother, David ran away one midnight. He was about nineteen and his mother was dying. For almost five years he was a fugitive, relentlessly pursued by his former master. He crossed the Roanoke River into North Carolina and made his way to the Pee Deee. There he found, but in three weeks came the hue and cry, with an offer of 30 guineas' reward. His new master advised George to make for the Savannah River. Slowly George crossed South Carolina, working about two years for a John Green before "they came after me again." This time he escaped deep into Creek Indian territory in central Georgia. One day his tracks were spotted near the Ocmulgee River. He was trailed to the spot where he was building a raft and captured . Black feet, the Indians later told him, were flatter than their own.
Many runaway slaves took refuge with the Creek and were encouraged to do so. Other slaves were captured in raids conducted to harass the white settlers. These captives were then slaves of the Indians, as George was, but the servitude usually was milder, and there were possibilities of assimilation through marriage. Some free blacks lived among the Indians as sharecroppers. it was a highly organized, mixed society which would have been instructive to young George. Chiefs were elected and functioned with an advisory council. William Bartram, roaming the South for botanical specimens to send Dr. John Fothergill in London, visited the Creek around this time and described them as contented and well-off people, whose principal worry was the gradual encroachment of the whites.
George may have been with the Lower Creek Oktchunalgi (Salt) clan, for he spoke of a king named Blue Salt: "I was his prize." At Blue Salt's winter camp in the woods George ate bear and deer meat, turkey and wild marsh potatoes. The quantity of meat impressed the slave from Virginia, where the staple of diet was corn. With the spring, Blue Salt moved into the Creek capital of Augusta, where George was kept busy making fences, plowing and planting corn. Though the people were kind to him, he was not safe. "S.C. my master's son, came there for me, from Virginia, I suppose 800 miles, and paid king Blue Salt for me in rum, linnen, and a gun; but before he could take me out of the Creek nation, I escaped." Luckily he fund a comfortable sanctuary with the Natchez chief, Jack, while young Chapel hung around Augusta, hoping to go home with the runaway after all.
George saw a solution to his predicament in John Miller, an agent of the Indian trader George Galphin of Silver Bluff, on the Savannah River south of Aufutsta. Through Miller, Galphin was persuaded to pay Chapel an agreed price for the slave, and George began to work for Miller, mending deerskins and taking care of the horses. Once a year he brought a load of skins to Silver Bluff from the Indian country. it was about 1766, according to his narrative, when George asked to remain with Galphin. "He told me I should: so he took me to wait upon him , and was very kind to me."
In Geoge Galphin, David George had made a brilliant choice of master. Galphin was an Ulsterman who had emigrated in the 1730s and built a lively frontier town on the ruins of an Indian village. Galphin was to become the American Indian agent during the Revolution and keep the Indians neutral, though they were pro-British. The frontier trading post had an open muti-racial society. Galphin was married and had two children but fathered others with both mulatto and Indian mistresses and remembered all his progeny generously in his will, distributing freedom to the slave offspring and land, livestock and slaves to all the children.
Bartram admired Galphin as "a gentleman of very distinguished talents and great liberality, who possessed the most extensive trade, connections and influence, amongst the South and South-West Indian tribes, particularly with the Creeks and Chactaws." As a house servant, David George's horizons widened. About 1770 he married Phillis, possibly half Indian. After the birth of his first child, he began to attend slave prayer meetings addressed by a black named Cyrus from Charleston. Cyrus predicted that unless George took his soul more seriously, he would "never see the face of God in glory." Anxiously George tied to save himself with endless repetition of hte Lord's Prayer but only felt the worse for it:
I saw myself as a mass of sin .... I did not think of Adam and Eve's sin, but I was sin. I felt my own plague; and I was so overcome that I could not wait upon my master. I told him I was ill .... I saw that I could not be saved by any of my own doings, but that it must be by God's mercy --- that my sins had crucified Christ; and now the Lord took away my distress. I was sure that the Lord took it away, because I had such pleasure and joy in my soul, that no man could give me.
The slaves at Galphin's trading post and farm were allowed the rare privilege of a meeting place, the mill. There one day George was reunited with a figure from boyhood, George Liele. he was now owned by Henry Sharp of Burke County, Georgia, a Baptist deacon. Liele had been converted and baptized by the local minister, and "called by grace," he had begun to preach to other slaves along the Savannah River. Tactfully, he addressed only those with permission to hear him and never dwelled on the wrongs the slaves suffered. he was regarded as a "wholesome influence." Like David George, Liele was to be evacuated with the British after the coming war, and as George carried the Southern Gospel to Canada a an Africa, Liele was to establish the first Baptist church in Kingston, Jamaica.
At Galphin's mill, Liele preached on " Come unto me all ye that labour, and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest," and George's conversion was complete. Eight slaves, including George's wife, had now been converted. The little band was baptized in the milltream by an exhorter, the Reverend Wait Palmer. This event, marking the birth of the Silver Bluff Baptist Church, the first black church in American, was sometime prior to December, 1777.
Liele was preaching to a gethering of slaves in a cornfield one day when Geoge experienced his first compulsion to preach himself. Liele encouraged him to begin by praying with his friends, and from that George went on to exhort and sing. The first hymn he recalled mastering began "Thus saith the wisdom of the Lord" and was from Isaac Watts' Psalms and Hymns, which next to the Bible was the favorite book among Southern slaves. Under Palmer's instructions, Geore becasme an elder. When the war broke out and traveling preachers were denied access to the slaves, "lest they should furnish us with too much knowledge," George began to preach to the blacks. He was still shackled by illiteracy. Galphin employed a schoolmaster, however, and George obtained a spelling book. It was illegal to teach a slave to read, but the thirty-year old slave turned "to the little children to teach me a, b, c." They set him a lesson and he would go back to see if he had learned it right. Like Christian conversion, reading was liberation. "The reading so ran in my mind, that I think I learned in my sleep ... and I can now read the Bible, so that what I have in my heart, I can see again in the Scriptures."
Another future Sierra Leone settler, Mary Perth, was born about 1740. She belonged to John Willoughby of Norfolk, Virginia, and somehow learned to read the New Testament. She, too, was driven to help others. At night, after her master and mistress were in bed, she would tie her baby on her back and walk ten miles into the country where slaves would assemble to be taught. Then she would walk the ten miles home to be there when her owners awoke. She continued this until the group was large enough to have its own preacher, then carried on with her mission elsewhere.
English Methodists preserved a larger history of Boston King, who likewise returned to Africa. He was born about 1760 and found his religious vocation only in early manhood in Canada. Again his recollections help fill in the outline of colonial slavery. he was much better off than David George. His father, kidnapped in Africa when a boy, had become become a driver on Richard Waring's plantation, twenty-eight miles from Charleston, where Boston was born. His mother was seamstress and a nurse, who had learned herbal lore from the Indians. The father was loved by his master and the mother indulged over other slaves. The father was a Christian, no doubt a convert of the Anglican SPG missionaries who served St. George's Parish.
The Reverend Francis Varnod had between 20 and 50 black communications there and the Reverend Stephen Roe, who followed him in 1741, reported 100 slaves had been baptized and 15, along with 48 whites, had become communicants of the church. In the decade before Boston King was born this work came to a halt, however. There had been several cases of slaves poisoning their masters, and because the victims were said to be noted for leniency (perhaps intending to manumit slaves on their deaths), and outcry rose against further pampering. The incumbent was told to stop missionary work until "passion abated." Thus, Boston King refers to his Christian father resorting secretly to the woods on Sundays to pray:
He lived in the fear and love of GOD. he attended to that true Light which lighteth every man. He lost no opportunity of hearing the Gospel, and never omitted praying with his family every night. He likewise read to them, and to as many as were inclined to hear. On the Lord's Day he rose very early, and met his family: After which he worked in the field till about three in the afternoon, and then went into the woods and read till sun-set .... Those who knew him, say, that they never heard him swear an oath, but on the contrary, he reproved all who spoke improper words in his hearing. To the utmost of his power he endeavoured to make his family happy, and his death was a very great loss to us all.
The child began work at six as a house servant and at nine was tending cattle and learning form his comrades "the horrible sin of Swearing and Cursing" out of earshot of his father. he was twelve when he dreamed of the Last Judgment:
At mid-day, when the cattle went under the shade of the trees, I dreamt that the world was on fire, and that I saw the supreme Judge descend on his great white Throne! I saw millions of millions of souls: some of whom ascended up to heaven; while others were rejected, and fell into the greatest confusion and despair. This dream made such an impression upon my mind, that I refrained from swearing and bad company, and form that time acknowledged that there was GOD; but how to serve GOD I knew not.
At sixteen King was apprenticed to a carpenter in Charleston and put in charge of the master's tools. During one holiday when the carpenter's house was left in his care, a robbery occurred. Boston was whipped severely, and later, when some nails were taken, he was "beat and tortured most cruelly, and was laid up three weeks." Waring, however, reprimanded the carpenter, and the ragging ceased. King became a skilled craftsman, better prepared than many slaves for the opportunities that the unsettling war would bring.
There was another idea stirring in minds troubled by slavery in the eighteenth century: African colonization. it occurred to blacks as well as whites. The earliest proposal for an African colony of freed blacks from American was published in 1713 by, it is thought, the Quaker antislavery spokesman William Southeby, who recommended that subscriptions be collected to carry the freed men and women to their "own country." Slavery would continue for those "as had rather serve their Master, than go home." The ones who chose Africa should be instructed in Christianity to enable them to convert their countrymen. "I know of no other way to make them Restitution for the wrong done them," the argument concluded.
As the quarrel with Britain became more heated and thought more concentrated on liberty, more emigration schemes were bruited, and 1773 was a bumper year for them. The first known proposal from blacks was contained in the petition to the Massachusetts legislature from Bestes, Freeman, Holbrook and Joie, who wanted slaves to be able to earn wages so that they could buy their freedom. The said:
We are willing to submit to such regulations and laws, as may be made relative to us, until we leave the province, which we determine to do as soon as we can, form our joynt labours procure money to transport ourselves to some part of the Coast of Africa, where we propose a settlement.
Dr. Fothergill, the English Quaker doctor, wrote Anthony Benezet in 1773 about an African colony scheme. He may have got the idea from the French Abbe Roubaud, who in 1762 had proposed to cultivate the tropical produce Europe required (especially sugar) on the African coast. Such a colony could employ free labor, and it would no longer be "necessary" to enslave Africans to grow these crops in the West Indies or Southern colonies of North American. Colonization to this end --- and as a means of making restitution to slaves --- was within the antislavery movement and not, as it seemed to some in the nineteenth century, a racist device to purge American society of its black members. Dr. Fothergill was willing to put 10,000 pounds sterling into an African colony, but Benezet had reservations. His concern was that Africa was too strange by now to most American slaves. It would take "a conductor from heaven, as in the case of the Israelites," to settle a million blacks peacefully overseas. They would confront even greater difficulties than they now faced in America. He favored their gradual emancipation and settlement among whites in the new communities which would spring up between the Alleghenies and the Mississippi River.
When, in 1773, the Reverend Samuel Hopkins produced the first concrete colonization plan, he had mixed motives. He believed slavery a sin, and therefore the slaves must be freed. He believed Americans had become deeply prejudiced against blacks, particularly freed slaves. Therefore, they must return to Africa for their own welfare and to persuade whites to accept emancipation. He furthermore wanted to spread Christianity (and very likely his own eccentric doctrines), so he would train black Christians to serve as missionaries. Their colony would strike a blow at the slave trade.
Hopkins was a brave man. he had once owned a slave (and is supposed to have contributed the proceeds of his sale to the plan for Africa), but after he moved to the slave trade center of Newport, Rhode Island, he became a fierce critic of both the trade and slavery. Newport then had thirty rum distilleries and 150 ships directly engaged in the traffic, and cargoes of slaves were landed at the wharf near his church and home. Thanks to Hopkins' crusade, his First Congregational Church became the first in the world to forbid members to own slaves. He welcomed blacks (in the gallery) at his church and at their invitation addressed them on Sunday evenings at services which whites also could attend. Seventeen faithful blacks even subscribed for this esoteric System of Divinity. Together with his black parishioners, Hopkins developed a scheme to educate blacks for African missions.
The plan was approved by the Reverend Ezra Stiles of the Second Congregational Church, and in 1773 they made a public appeal for funds. The first two candidates were Bristol Yamma and John Quamine, both of whom spoke African languages. Yamma, a domestic servant, was in the process of buying his freedom. Quamine, born at Anomabu, had been sent at ten by his father to be educated in the American colonies, but he was sold by the ship's captain. Later he bourght his freedom. A third prospect was Salmar Nubia, who wanted to be a schoolteacher. In 1774 Yamma and Qamine were sent to President John Witherspoon at Princeton for training, and by 1776 they were ready to go. The war, in which Quamine was killed on an American privateer, frustrated the plan. Hopkins and his black church members never gave it up, however, and were to become deeply interested spectators of the Sierra Leone experiment launched in Britain in the 1780s.
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