The Suppression of the African Slave Trade to the United States of America Part 6

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18. ~Restrictions in New Hampshire.~ The statistics of slavery in New Hampshire show how weak an inst.i.tution it always was in that colony.[13]

Consequently, when the usual instructions were sent to Governor Wentworth as to the encouragement he must give to the slave-trade, the House replied: “We have considered his Maj^{ties} Instruction relating to an Impost on Negroes & Felons, to which this House answers, that there never was any duties laid on either, by this Goverm^{t}, and so few bro’t in that it would not be worth the Publick notice, so as to make an act concerning them.”[14] This remained true for the whole history of the colony. Importation was never stopped by actual enactment, but was eventually declared contrary to the Const.i.tution of 1784.[15] The partic.i.p.ation of citizens in the trade appears never to have been forbidden.

19. ~Restrictions in Ma.s.sachusetts.~ The early Biblical codes of Ma.s.sachusetts confined slavery to “lawfull Captives taken in iust warres, & such strangers as willingly selle themselves or are sold to us.”[16] The stern Puritanism of early days endeavored to carry this out literally, and consequently when a certain Captain Smith, about 1640, attacked an African village and brought some of the unoffending natives home, he was promptly arrested. Eventually, the General Court ordered the Negroes sent home at the colony’s expense, “conceiving themselues bound by y^e first oportunity to bear witnes against y^e haynos & crying sinn of manstealing, as also to P’scribe such timely redresse for what is past, & such a law for y^e future as may sufficiently deterr all oth^{r}s belonging to us to have to do in such vile & most odious courses, iustly abh.o.r.ed of all good & iust men.”[17]

The temptation of trade slowly forced the colony from this high moral ground. New England ships were early found in the West Indian slave-trade, and the more the carrying trade developed, the more did the profits of this branch of it attract Puritan captains. By the beginning of the eighteenth century the slave-trade was openly recognized as legitimate commerce; cargoes came regularly to Boston, and “The merchants of Boston quoted negroes, like any other merchandise demanded by their correspondents.”[18] At the same time, the Puritan conscience began to rebel against the growth of actual slavery on New England soil.

It was a much less violent wrenching of moral ideas of right and wrong to allow Ma.s.sachusetts men to carry slaves to South Carolina than to allow cargoes to come into Boston, and become slaves in Ma.s.sachusetts.

Early in the eighteenth century, therefore, opposition arose to the further importation of Negroes, and in 1705 an act “for the Better Preventing of a Spurious and Mixt Issue,” laid a restrictive duty of 4 on all slaves imported.[19] One provision of this act plainly ill.u.s.trates the att.i.tude of Ma.s.sachusetts: like the acts of many of the New England colonies, it allowed a rebate of the whole duty on re-exportation. The harbors of New England were thus offered as a free exchange-mart for slavers. All the duty acts of the Southern and Middle colonies allowed a rebate of one-half or three-fourths of the duty on the re-exportation of the slave, thus laying a small tax on even temporary importation.

The Act of 1705 was evaded, but it was not amended until 1728, when the penalty for evasion was raised to 100.[20] The act remained in force, except possibly for one period of four years, until 1749. Meantime the movement against importation grew. A bill “for preventing the Importation of Slaves into this Province” was introduced in the Legislature in 1767, but after strong opposition and disagreement between House and Council it was dropped.[21] In 1771 the struggle was renewed. A similar bill pa.s.sed, but was vetoed by Governor Hutchinson.[22] The imminent war and the discussions incident to it had now more and more aroused public opinion, and there were repeated attempts to gain executive consent to a prohibitory law. In 1774 such a bill was twice pa.s.sed, but never received a.s.sent.[23]

The new Revolutionary government first met the subject in the case of two Negroes captured on the high seas, who were advertised for sale at Salem. A resolution was introduced into the Legislature, directing the release of the Negroes, and declaring “That the selling and enslaving the human species is a direct violation of the natural rights alike vested in all men by their Creator, and utterly inconsistent with the avowed principles on which this, and the other United States, have carried their struggle for liberty even to the last appeal.” To this the Council would not consent; and the resolution, as finally pa.s.sed, merely forbade the sale or ill-treatment of the Negroes.[24] Committees on the slavery question were appointed in 1776 and 1777,[25] and although a letter to Congress on the matter, and a bill for the abolition of slavery were reported, no decisive action was taken.

All such efforts were finally discontinued, as the system was already practically extinct in Ma.s.sachusetts and the custom of importation had nearly ceased. Slavery was eventually declared by judicial decision to have been abolished.[26] The first step toward stopping the partic.i.p.ation of Ma.s.sachusetts citizens in the slave-trade outside the State was taken in 1785, when a committee of inquiry was appointed by the Legislature.[27] No act was, however, pa.s.sed until 1788, when partic.i.p.ation in the trade was prohibited, on pain of 50 forfeit for every slave and 200 for every ship engaged.[28]

20. ~Restrictions in Rhode Island.~ In 1652 Rhode Island pa.s.sed a law designed to prohibit life slavery in the colony. It declared that “Whereas, there is a common course practised amongst English men to buy negers, to that end they may have them for service or slaves forever; for the preventinge of such practices among us, let it be ordered, that no blacke mankind or white being forced by covenant bond, or otherwise, to serve any man or his a.s.sighnes longer than ten yeares, or untill they come to bee twentie four yeares of age, if they bee taken in under fourteen, from the time of their cominge within the liberties of this Collonie. And at the end or terme of ten yeares to sett them free, as the manner is with the English servants. And that man that will not let them goe free, or shall sell them away elsewhere, to that end that they may bee enslaved to others for a long time, hee or they shall forfeit to the Collonie forty pounds.”[29]

This law was for a time enforced,[30] but by the beginning of the eighteenth century it had either been repealed or become a dead letter; for the Act of 1708 recognized perpetual slavery, and laid an impost of 3 on Negroes imported.[31] This duty was really a tax on the transport trade, and produced a steady income for twenty years.[32] From the year 1700 on, the citizens of this State engaged more and more in the carrying trade, until Rhode Island became the greatest slave-trader in America. Although she did not import many slaves for her own use, she became the clearing-house for the trade of other colonies. Governor Cranston, as early as 1708, reported that between 1698 and 1708 one hundred and three vessels were built in the State, all of which were trading to the West Indies and the Southern colonies.[33] They took out lumber and brought back, in most cases making a slave voyage in between. From this, the trade grew. Samuel Hopkins, about 1770, was shocked at the state of the trade: more than thirty distilleries were running in the colony, and one hundred and fifty vessels were in the slave-trade.[34] “Rhode Island,” said he, “has been more deeply interested in the slave-trade, and has enslaved more Africans than any other colony in New England.” Later, in 1787, he wrote: “The inhabitants of Rhode Island, especially those of Newport, have had by far the greater share in this traffic, of all these United States. This trade in human species has been the first wheel of commerce in Newport, on which every other movement in business has chiefly depended. That town has been built up, and flourished in times past, at the expense of the blood, the liberty, and happiness of the poor Africans; and the inhabitants have lived on this, and by it have gotten most of their wealth and riches.”[35]

The Act of 1708 was poorly enforced. The “good intentions” of its framers “were wholly frustrated” by the clandestine “hiding and conveying said negroes out of the town [Newport] into the country, where they lie concealed.”[36] The act was accordingly strengthened by the Acts of 1712 and 1715, and made to apply to importations by land as well as by sea.[37] The Act of 1715, however, favored the trade by admitting African Negroes free of duty. The chaotic state of Rhode Island did not allow England often to review her legislation; but as soon as the Act of 1712 came to notice it was disallowed, and accordingly repealed in 1732.[38] Whether the Act of 1715 remained, or whether any other duty act was pa.s.sed, is not clear.

While the foreign trade was flourishing, the influence of the Friends and of other causes eventually led to a movement against slavery as a local inst.i.tution. Abolition societies multiplied, and in 1770 an abolition bill was ordered by the a.s.sembly, but it was never pa.s.sed.[39]

Four years later the city of Providence resolved that “as personal liberty is an essential part of the natural rights of mankind,” the importation of slaves and the system of slavery should cease in the colony.[40] This movement finally resulted, in 1774, in an act “prohibiting the importation of Negroes into this Colony,”–a law which curiously ill.u.s.trated the att.i.tude of Rhode Island toward the slave-trade. The preamble of the act declared: “Whereas, the inhabitants of America are generally engaged in the preservation of their own rights and liberties, among which, that of personal freedom must be considered as the greatest; as those who are desirous of enjoying all the advantages of liberty themselves, should be willing to extend personal liberty to others;–Therefore,” etc. The statute then proceeded to enact “that for the future, no negro or mulatto slave shall be brought into this colony; and in case any slave shall hereafter be brought in, he or she shall be, and are hereby, rendered immediately free….” The logical ending of such an act would have been a clause prohibiting the partic.i.p.ation of Rhode Island citizens in the slave-trade. Not only was such a clause omitted, but the following was inserted instead: “Provided, also, that nothing in this act shall extend, or be deemed to extend, to any negro or mulatto slave brought from the coast of Africa, into the West Indies, on board any vessel belonging to this colony, and which negro or mulatto slave could not be disposed of in the West Indies, but shall be brought into this colony. Provided, that the owner of such negro or mulatto slave give bond … that such negro or mulatto slave shall be exported out of the colony, within one year from the date of such bond; if such negro or mulatto be alive, and in a condition to be removed.”[41]

In 1779 an act to prevent the sale of slaves out of the State was pa.s.sed,[42] and in 1784, an act gradually to abolish slavery.[43] Not until 1787 did an act pa.s.s to forbid partic.i.p.ation in the slave-trade.

This law laid a penalty of 100 for every slave transported and 1000 for every vessel so engaged.[44]

21. ~Restrictions in Connecticut.~ Connecticut, in common with the other colonies of this section, had a trade for many years with the West Indian slave markets; and though this trade was much smaller than that of the neighboring colonies, yet many of her citizens were engaged in it. A map of Middletown at the time of the Revolution gives, among one hundred families, three slave captains and “three notables” designated as “slave-dealers.”[45]

The actual importation was small,[46] and almost entirely unrestricted before the Revolution, save by a few light, general duty acts. In 1774 the further importation of slaves was prohibited, because “the increase of slaves in this Colony is injurious to the poor and inconvenient.” The law prohibited importation under any pretext by a penalty of 100 per slave.[47] This was re-enacted in 1784, and provisions were made for the abolition of slavery.[48] In 1788 partic.i.p.ation in the trade was forbidden, and the penalty placed at 50 for each slave and 500 for each ship engaged.[49]

22. ~General Character of these Restrictions.~ Enough has already been said to show, in the main, the character of the opposition to the slave-trade in New England. The system of slavery had, on this soil and amid these surroundings, no economic justification, and the small number of Negroes here furnished no political arguments against them. The opposition to the importation was therefore from the first based solely on moral grounds, with some social arguments. As to the carrying trade, however, the case was different. Here, too, a feeble moral opposition was early aroused, but it was swept away by the immense economic advantages of the slave traffic to a thrifty seafaring community of traders. This trade no moral suasion, not even the strong “Liberty” cry of the Revolution, was able wholly to suppress, until the closing of the West Indian and Southern markets cut off the demand for slaves.


[1] Cf. Weeden, _Economic and Social History of New England_, II. 449-72; G.H. Moore, _Slavery in Ma.s.sachusetts_; Charles Deane, _Connection of Ma.s.sachusetts with Slavery_.

[2] Cf. _American Historical Record_, I. 311, 338.

[3] Cf. W.C. Fowler, _Local Law in Ma.s.sachusetts and Connecticut_, etc., pp. 122-6.

[4] _Ibid._, p. 124.

[5] Deane, _Letters and Doc.u.ments relating to Slavery in Ma.s.sachusetts_, in _Ma.s.s. Hist. Soc. Coll._, 5th Ser., III.


[6] _Ibid._, III. 382.

[7] Weeden, _Economic and Social History of New England_, II.


[8] A typical voyage is that of the brigantine “Sanderson” of Newport. She was fitted out in March, 1752, and carried, beside the captain, two mates and six men, and a cargo of 8,220 gallons of rum, together with “African” iron, flour, pots, tar, sugar, and provisions, shackles, shirts, and water.

Proceeding to Africa, the captain after some difficulty sold his cargo for slaves, and in April, 1753, he is expected in Barbadoes, as the consignees write. They also state that slaves are selling at 33 to 56 per head in lots. After a stormy and dangerous voyage, Captain Lindsay arrived, June 17, 1753, with fifty-six slaves, “all in helth & fatt.” He also had 40 oz. of gold dust, and 8 or 9 cwt. of pepper. The net proceeds of the sale of all this was 1,324 3_d._ The captain then took on board 55 hhd. of and 3 hhd. 27 bbl. of sugar, amounting to 911 77_s._ 2_d._, received bills on Liverpool for the balance, and returned in safety to Rhode Island. He had done so well that he was immediately given a new ship and sent to Africa again. _American Historical Record_, I. 315-9, 338-42.

[9] _Ibid._, I. 316.

[10] _American Historical Record_, I. 317.

[11] _Ibid._, I. 344; cf. Weeden, _Economic and Social History of New England_, II. 459.

[12] Cf. _New England Register_, x.x.xI. 75-6, letter of John Saffin _et al._ to Welstead. Cf. also Sewall, _Protest_, etc.

[13] The number of slaves in New Hampshire has been estimated as follows:

In 1730, 200. _N.H. Hist. Soc. Coll._, I. 229.

” 1767, 633. _Granite Monthly_, IV. 108.

” 1773, 681. _Ibid._ ” 1773, 674. _N.H. Province Papers_, X. 636.

” 1775, 479. _Granite Monthly_, IV. 108.

” 1790, 158. _Ibid._

[14] _N.H. Province Papers_, IV. 617.

[15] _Granite Monthly_, VI. 377; Poore, _Federal and State Const.i.tutions_, pp. 1280-1.

[16] Cf. _The Body of Liberties_, — 91, in Whitmore, _Bibliographical Sketch of the Laws of the Ma.s.sachusetts Colony_, published at Boston in 1890.

[17] _Ma.s.s. Col. Rec._, II. 168, 176; III. 46, 49, 84.

[18] Weeden, _Economic and Social History of New England_, II.


[19] _Ma.s.s. Province Laws, 1705-6_, ch. 10.

[20] _Ibid._, _1728-9_, ch. 16; _1738-9_, ch. 27.

[21] For pet.i.tions of towns, cf. Felt, _Annals of Salem_ (1849), II. 416; _Boston Town Records, 1758-69_, p. 183. Cf.

also Otis’s anti-slavery speech in 1761; John Adams, _Works_, X. 315. For proceedings, see _House Journal_, 1767, pp. 353, 358, 387, 390, 393, 408, 409-10, 411, 420. Cf. Samuel Dexter’s answer to Dr. Belknap’s inquiry, Feb. 23, 1795, in Deane (_Ma.s.s. Hist. Soc. Coll._, 5th Ser., III. 385). A committee on slave importation was appointed in 1764. Cf. _House Journal_, 1763-64, p. 170.

[22] _House Journal_, 1771, pp. 211, 215, 219, 228, 234, 236, 240, 242-3; Moore, _Slavery in Ma.s.sachusetts_, pp. 131-2.

[23] Felt, _Annals of Salem_ (1849), II. 416-7; Swan, _Dissuasion to Great Britain_, etc. (1773), p. x; Washburn, _Historical Sketches of Leicester, Ma.s.s._, pp. 442-3; Freeman, _History of Cape Cod_, II. 114; Deane, in _Ma.s.s. Hist. Soc.

Coll._, 5th Ser., III. 432; Moore, _Slavery in Ma.s.sachusetts_, pp. 135-40; Williams, _History of the Negro Race in America_, I. 234-6; _House Journal_, March, 1774, pp. 224, 226, 237, etc.; June, 1774, pp. 27, 41, etc. For a copy of the bill, see Moore.

[24] _Ma.s.s. Hist. Soc. Proceedings, 1855-58_, p. 196; Force, _American Archives_, 5th Ser., II. 769; _House Journal_, 1776, pp. 105-9; _General Court Records_, March 13, 1776, etc., pp.

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