The Suppression of the African Slave Trade to the United States of America Part 3

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[37] Bacon, _Laws_, 1754, ch. 9, 14.

[38] _Ibid._, 1763, ch. 28.

[39] _Laws of Maryland since 1763_: 1771, ch. 7. Cf. _Ibid._: 1777, sess. Feb.-Apr., ch. 18.

[40] _Ibid._: 1783, sess. Apr.-June, ch. 23.

[41] “The last importation of slaves into Maryland was, as I am credibly informed, in the year 1769”: William Eddis, _Letters from America_ (London, 1792), p. 65, note.

The number of slaves in Maryland has been estimated as follows:–

In 1704, 4,475. _Doc. rel. Col. Hist. New York_, V. 605.

” 1710, 7,935. _Ibid._ ” 1712, 8,330. Scharf, _History of Maryland_, I. 377.

” 1719, 25,000. _Doc. rel. Col. Hist. New York_, V. 605.

” 1748, 36,000. McMahon, _History of Maryland_, I. 313.

” 1755, 46,356. _Gentleman’s Magazine_, x.x.xIV. 261.

” 1756, 46,225. McMahon, _History of Maryland_, I. 313.

” 1761, 49,675. Dexter, _Colonial Population_, p. 21, note.

” 1782, 83,362. _Encyclopaedia Britannica_ (9th ed.), XV. 603.

” 1787, 80,000. Dexter, _Colonial Population_, p. 21, note.

_Chapter III_


10. Character of these Colonies.

11. The Dutch Slave-Trade.

12. Restrictions in New York.

13. Restrictions in Pennsylvania and Delaware.

14. Restrictions in New Jersey.

15. General Character of these Restrictions.

10. ~Character of these Colonies.~ The colonies of this group, occupying the central portion of the English possessions, comprise those communities where, on account of climate, physical characteristics, and circ.u.mstances of settlement, slavery as an inst.i.tution found but a narrow field for development. The climate was generally rather cool for the newly imported slaves, the soil was best suited to crops to which slave labor was poorly adapted, and the training and habits of the great body of settlers offered little chance for the growth of a slave system.

These conditions varied, of course, in different colonies; but the general statement applies to all. These communities of small farmers and traders derived whatever opposition they had to the slave-trade from three sorts of motives,–economic, political, and moral. First, the importation of slaves did not pay, except to supply a moderate demand for household servants. Secondly, these colonies, as well as those in the South, had a wholesome political fear of a large servile population.

Thirdly, the settlers of many of these colonies were of sterner moral fibre than the Southern cavaliers and adventurers, and, in the absence of great counteracting motives, were more easily led to oppose the inst.i.tution and the trade. Finally, it must be noted that these colonies did not so generally regard themselves as temporary commercial investments as did Virginia and Carolina. Intending to found permanent States, these settlers from the first more carefully studied the ultimate interests of those States.

11. ~The Dutch Slave-Trade.~ The Dutch seem to have commenced the slave-trade to the American continent, the Middle colonies and some of the Southern receiving supplies from them. John Rolfe relates that the last of August, 1619, there came to Virginia “a dutch man of warre that sold us twenty Negars.”[1] This was probably one of the ships of the numerous private Dutch trading-companies which early entered into and developed the lucrative African slave-trade. Ships sailed from Holland to Africa, got slaves in exchange for their goods, carried the slaves to the West Indies or Brazil, and returned home laden with sugar.[2]

Through the enterprise of one of these trading-companies the settlement of New Amsterdam was begun, in 1614. In 1621 the private companies trading in the West were all merged into the Dutch West India Company, and given a monopoly of American trade. This company was very active, sending in four years 15,430 Negroes to Brazil,[3] carrying on war with Spain, supplying even the English plantations,[4] and gradually becoming the great slave carrier of the day.

The commercial supremacy of the Dutch early excited the envy and emulation of the English. The Navigation Ordinance of 1651 was aimed at them, and two wars were necessary to wrest the slave-trade from them and place it in the hands of the English. The final terms of peace among other things surrendered New Netherland to England, and opened the way for England to become henceforth the world’s greatest slave-trader.

Although the Dutch had thus commenced the continental slave-trade, they had not actually furnished a very large number of slaves to the English colonies outside the West Indies. A small trade had, by 1698, brought a few thousand to New York, and still fewer to New Jersey.[5] It was left to the English, with their strong policy in its favor, to develop this trade.

12. ~Restrictions in New York.~[6] The early ordinances of the Dutch, laying duties, generally of ten per cent, on slaves, probably proved burdensome to the trade, although this was not intentional.[7] The Biblical prohibition of slavery and the slave-trade, copied from New England codes into the Duke of York’s Laws, had no practical application,[8] and the trade continued to be encouraged in the governors’ instructions. In 1709 a duty of 3 was laid on Negroes from elsewhere than Africa.[9] This was aimed at West India slaves, and was prohibitive. By 1716 the duty on all slaves was 1 12_s._, which was probably a mere revenue figure.[10] In 1728 a duty of 40_s._ was laid, to be continued until 1737.[11] It proved restrictive, however, and on the “humble pet.i.tion of the Merchants and Traders of the City of Bristol” was disallowed in 1735, as “greatly prejudicial to the Trade and Navigation of this Kingdom.”[12] Governor Cosby was also reminded that no duties on slaves payable by the importer were to be laid. Later, in 1753, the 40_s._ duty was restored, but under the increased trade of those days was not felt.[13] No further restrictions seem to have been attempted until 1785, when the sale of slaves in the State was forbidden.[14]

The chief element of restriction in this colony appears to have been the shrewd business sense of the traders, who never flooded the slave market, but kept a supply sufficient for the slowly growing demand.

Between 1701 and 1726 only about 2,375 slaves were imported, and in 1774 the total slave population amounted to 21,149.[15] No restriction was ever put by New York on partic.i.p.ation in the trade outside the colony, and in spite of national laws New York merchants continued to be engaged in this traffic even down to the Civil War.[16]

Vermont, who withdrew from New York in 1777, in her first Const.i.tution[17] declared slavery illegal, and in 1786 stopped by law the sale and transportation of slaves within her boundaries.[18]

13. ~Restrictions in Pennsylvania and Delaware.~[19] One of the first American protests against the slave-trade came from certain German Friends, in 1688, at a Weekly Meeting held in Germantown, Pennsylvania.

“These are the reasons,” wrote “Garret henderich, derick up de graeff, Francis daniell Pastorius, and Abraham up Den graef,” “why we are against the traffick of men-body, as followeth: Is there any that would be done or handled at this manner?… Now, tho they are black, we cannot conceive there is more liberty to have them slaves, as it is to have other white ones. There is a saying, that we shall doe to all men like as we will be done ourselves; making no difference of what generation, descent or colour they are. And those who steal or robb men, and those who buy or purchase them, are they not all alike?”[20] This little leaven helped slowly to work a revolution in the att.i.tude of this great sect toward slavery and the slave-trade. The Yearly Meeting at first postponed the matter, “It having so General a Relation to many other Parts.”[21] Eventually, however, in 1696, the Yearly Meeting advised “That Friends be careful not to encourage the bringing in of any more Negroes.”[22] This advice was repeated in stronger terms for a quarter-century,[23] and by that time Sandiford, Benezet, Lay, and Woolman had begun their crusade. In 1754 the Friends took a step farther and made the purchase of slaves a matter of discipline.[24] Four years later the Yearly Meeting expressed itself clearly as “against every branch of this practice,” and declared that if “any professing with us should persist to vindicate it, and be concerned in importing, selling or purchasing slaves, the respective Monthly Meetings to which they belong should manifest their disunion with such persons.”[25] Further, manumission was recommended, and in 1776 made compulsory.[26] The effect of this att.i.tude of the Friends was early manifested in the legislation of all the colonies where the sect was influential, and particularly in Pennsylvania.

One of the first duty acts (1710) laid a restrictive duty of 40_s._ on slaves, and was eventually disallowed.[27] In 1712 William Southeby pet.i.tioned the a.s.sembly totally to abolish slavery. This the a.s.sembly naturally refused to attempt; but the same year, in response to another pet.i.tion “signed by many hands,” they pa.s.sed an “Act to prevent the Importation of Negroes and Indians,”[28]–the first enactment of its kind in America. This act was inspired largely by the general fear of insurrection which succeeded the “Negro-plot” of 1712 in New York. It declared: “Whereas, divers Plots and Insurrections have frequently happened, not only in the Islands but on the Main Land of _America_, by Negroes, which have been carried on so far that several of the inhabitants have been barbarously Murthered, an Instance whereof we have lately had in our Neighboring Colony of _New York_,”[29] etc. It then proceeded to lay a prohibitive duty of 20 on all slaves imported. These acts were quickly disposed of in England. Three duty acts affecting Negroes, including the prohibitory act, were in 1713 disallowed, and it was directed that “the Dep^{ty} Gov^{r} Council and a.s.sembly of Pensilvania, be & they are hereby Strictly Enjoyned & required not to permit the said Laws … to be from henceforward put in Execution.”[30]

The a.s.sembly repealed these laws, but in 1715 pa.s.sed another laying a duty of 5, which was also eventually disallowed.[31] Other acts, the provisions of which are not clear, were pa.s.sed in 1720 and 1722,[32] and in 1725-1726 the duty on Negroes was raised to the restrictive figure of 10.[33] This duty, for some reason not apparent, was lowered to 2 in 1729,[34] but restored again in 1761.[35] A struggle occurred over this last measure, the Friends pet.i.tioning for it, and the Philadelphia merchants against it, declaring that “We, the subscribers, ever desirous to extend the Trade of this Province, have seen, for some time past, the many inconveniencys the Inhabitants have suffer’d for want of Labourers and artificers, … have for some time encouraged the importation of Negroes;” they prayed therefore at least for a delay in pa.s.sing the measure.[36] The law, nevertheless, after much debate and altercation with the governor, finally pa.s.sed.

These repeated acts nearly stopped the trade, and the manumission or sale of Negroes by the Friends decreased the number of slaves in the province. The rising spirit of independence enabled the colony, in 1773, to restore the prohibitive duty of 20 and make it perpetual.[37] After the Revolution unpaid duties on slaves were collected and the slaves registered,[38] and in 1780 an “Act for the gradual Abolition of Slavery” was pa.s.sed.[39] As there were probably at no time before the war more than 11,000 slaves in Pennsylvania,[40] the task thus accomplished was not so formidable as in many other States. As it was, partic.i.p.ation in the slave-trade outside the colony was not prohibited until 1788.[41]

It seems probable that in the original Swedish settlements along the Delaware slavery was prohibited.[42] This measure had, however, little practical effect; for as soon as the Dutch got control the slave-trade was opened, although, as it appears, to no large extent. After the fall of the Dutch Delaware came into English hands. Not until 1775 do we find any legislation on the slave-trade. In that year the colony attempted to prohibit the importation of slaves, but the governor vetoed the bill.[43] Finally, in 1776 by the Const.i.tution, and in 1787 by law, importation and exportation were both prohibited.[44]

14. ~Restrictions in New Jersey.~[45] Although the freeholders of West New Jersey declared, in 1676, that “all and every Person and Persons Inhabiting the said Province, shall, as far as in us lies, be free from Oppression and Slavery,”[46] yet Negro slaves are early found in the colony.[47] The first restrictive measure was pa.s.sed, after considerable friction between the Council and the House, in 1713; it laid a duty of 10, currency.[48] Governor Hunter explained to the Board of Trade that the bill was “calculated to Encourage the Importation of white Servants for the better Peopeling that Country.”[49] How long this act continued does not appear; probably, not long. No further legislation was enacted until 1762 or 1763, when a prohibitive duty was laid on account of “the inconvenience the Province is exposed to in lying open to the free importation of Negros, when the Provinces on each side have laid duties on them.”[50] The Board of Trade declared that while they did not object to “the Policy of imposing a reasonable duty,” they could not a.s.sent to this, and the act was disallowed.[51] The Act of 1769 evaded the technical objection of the Board of Trade, and laid a duty of 15 on the first purchasers of Negroes, because, as the act declared, “Duties on the Importation of Negroes in several of the neighbouring Colonies hath, on Experience, been found beneficial in the Introduction of sober, industrious Foreigners.”[52] In 1774 a bill which, according to the report of the Council to Governor Morris, “plainly intended an entire Prohibition of all Slaves being imported from foreign Parts,” was thrown out by the Council.[53] Importation was finally prohibited in 1786.[54]

15. ~General Character of these Restrictions.~ The main difference in motive between the restrictions which the planting and the farming colonies put on the African slave-trade, lay in the fact that the former limited it mainly from fear of insurrection, the latter mainly because it did not pay. Naturally, the latter motive worked itself out with much less legislation than the former; for this reason, and because they held a smaller number of slaves, most of these colonies have fewer actual statutes than the Southern colonies. In Pennsylvania alone did this general economic revolt against the trade acquire a distinct moral tinge. Although even here the inst.i.tution was naturally doomed, yet the clear moral insight of the Quakers checked the trade much earlier than would otherwise have happened. We may say, then, that the farming colonies checked the slave-trade primarily from economic motives.


[1] Smith, _Generall Historie of Virginia_ (1626 and 1632), p. 126.

[2] Cf. Southey, _History of Brazil_.

[3] De Laet, in O’Callaghan, _Voyages of the Slavers_, etc., p. viii.

[4] See, e.g., Sainsbury, _Cal. State Papers; Col. Ser., America and W. Indies, 1574-1660_, p. 279.

[5] Cf. below, pp. 27, 32, notes; also _Freedoms_, x.x.x., in O’Callaghan, _Laws of New Netherland, 1638-74_ (ed. 1868), p.

10; Brodhead, _History of New York_, I. 312.

[6] The following is a summary of the legislation of the colony of New York; details will be found in Appendix A:–

1709, Duty Act: 3 on Negroes not direct from Africa (Continued by the Acts of 1710, 1711).

1711, Bill to lay further duty, lost in Council.

1716, Duty Act: 5 oz. plate on Africans in colony ships.

10 oz. plate on Africans in other ships.

1728, ” ” 40_s._ on Africans, 4 on colonial Negroes.

1732, ” ” 40_s._ on Africans, 4 on colonial Negroes.

1734, ” ” (?) 1753, ” ” 40_s._ on Africans, 4 on colonial Negroes.

(This act was annually continued.) [1777, Vermont Const.i.tution does not recognize slavery.]

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