Archive for the ‘slave’ Category

1688 Germantown Quaker Petition Against Slavery

This was the first protest against Slavery made by a religious body in North America.  And, yet another lesser known aspect of US History.  According to John Greenleaf Whittier, the original document was discovered in 1844 by the Philadelphia antiquarian Nathan Kite and published in The Friend (Vol. XVIII. No. 16). This document is referred to as “The Germantown Protest,” or “1688 Germantown Quaker Petition Against Slavery.” It articulated themes of justice and equality that would be echoed throughout the long, painful period of slavery in America.

Before slavery truly became institutionalized in the colonies, some Africans were sometimes treated more like indentured servants who were freed once their service ended or debt had been paid, a practice employed at times by various early Dutch and Spanish explorers and settlers. However, this changed dramatically in 1641 when Massachusetts became the first British mainland colony to legalize slavery. From that time forward, colonial slave laws became more restrictive, further codifying the institution.

Not everyone was blind to slavery’s immorality. Although slavery played a major role in the economy of colonial Rhode Island, there were some who tried to temper the practice with a 1652 law that placed restrictions on slave owning and prohibited enslavement of any person for more than 10 years. However, the effect was limited. Slave holders simply sold anyone nearing the deadline and took ownership of new slaves, thus continuing the cycle.

Some of the early English settlers of Philadelphia and its surrounding towns were wealthy and purchased slaves to work on their farms. Although many such slaveowners also had immigrated to escape religious persecution, they saw no contradiction in owning slaves, because serfdom, slavery and servitude had existed in Europe since the Middle Ages. Although serfdom was abolished in northwestern Europe by 1500, servitude was ubiquitous in Europe, sometimes under harsh conditions. Many immigrants to the new colony were indentured servants, working for several years in exchange for being carried on a boat to the new colony.

Pennsylvania’s German-Dutch settlers were unaccustomed to slaves, although from the shortage of labor they understood why their British neighbors relied on slaves for prosperity. Slaves and indentured servants were a valuable asset for a farmer because they were not paid. Yet the German-Dutch settlers refused to buy slaves themselves and quickly saw the contradiction in the slave trade and in farmers who forced people to work. Although in their native Germany and Holland the Krefelders had been persecuted because of their beliefs, only people who had been convicted of a crime could be forced to work in servitude. In what turned out to be a revolutionary leap of insight, the Germantowners saw a fundamental similarity between the right to be free from persecution on account of their beliefs and the right to be free from being forced to work against their will.

In 1688, five years after Germantown was founded, Pastorius and three other men petitioned the Dublin Quaker Meeting. The men gathered at Thones Kunders’s house and wrote a petition based upon the Bible’s Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” urging the Meeting to abolish slavery. It is an unconventional text in that it avoids the expected salutation to fellow Quakers and does not contain references to Jesus and God. It argues that every human, regardless of belief, color, or ethnicity, has rights that should not be violated.

Throughout the petition the reference to the Golden Rule is used to argue against slavery and for universal human rights. On first reading, the argument presented in the petition seems indirect. Nowhere is the Meeting specifically asked to condemn the practice of slavery. Instead, in reference to the Golden Rule, the four men ask why Christians are allowed to buy and own slaves, almost in mock sarcasm, to get the slaveowners to see their point. In doing so, it arguably was very successful, but it would be easy to miss the sophistication of their argument. They emphatically argue that in their society the capture and sale of ordinary people as slaves, where husband, wife and children are separated, would not be tolerated, again referring to the Golden Rule.

The four men also assert that according to the Golden Rule, the slaves would have the right to revolt, and that inviting more people to the new land would be difficult if prospective settlers saw the contradiction inherent in slavery. In mentioning the possibility of a slave revolt, they clearly were suggesting to the English colonists that slavery would discourage potential settlers from emigrating. In the Caribbean colonies there had been many slave revolts over several decades, so the possibility was real. However, the power of the argument for potential settlers from Europe was more than the fear of a revolt—it was that any such revolt would be justifiable according to the Golden Rule. This logic strengthened the newly defined universal rights, which applied to all humans, not just the “civilized”. The petition has several examples of such counter-intuitive but forceful arguments to push the slave-owning reader off his balance.

Sadly, “The Germantown Protest” did not spark a significant change in the Americas against slavery. Even within Quaker communities the declaration was ignored, at least initially. But a seed had been planted. A belief shared silently by many was given voice. Gradually over the next century, due to the efforts of many dedicated Quakers such as Benjamin Lay, John Woolman, and Anthony Benezet, Quakers became convinced of the essential wrongness of the institution of slavery. Many of the Quaker abolitionists published their articles anonymously in Benjamin Franklin’s newspaper. In 1776 a proclamation was written by Philadelphia Yearly Meeting banning the owning of slaves. By that time, many Quaker monthly meetings in the Delaware Valley were attempting to help freed slaves by providing funds for them to start businesses and encouraging them to attend Quaker meetings and educate their children.

While not really addressed, Slavery was beginning to see it’s existence Challenged. The initial opposition of the courts of England to the status of slavery began to change with the rising importance of the African slave trade. An extensive traffic in negro slaves from Africa began in the 17th century, primarily to supply labour for the sugar and cotton plantations in British colonies abroad. English merchants were prominent in the slave trade at this time, and in commercial disputes slavery soon presented the English courts with novel legal questions. Under the lex mercatoria slaves were treated as chattels, with few if any rights, but the English courts did not always recognise mercantile custom as law. The question arose in English courts because personal actions could be laid in England even if the cause of action arose abroad.

Gradually, the British courts began to see the institution of slavery as being abhorrent, culminating in Somersett’s case and Joseph Knight’s case with Sommersett’s case happening on the eve of the War for American Independence. Despite this trend to want to eliminate slavery, the institution held on. If anything, the War for Independence left it unresolved to cause further discord in the infant United States.

Did Slavery Cause the War for American Independence?

Another interesting topic for Black History Month–Was the War for American Independence caused by the possibility of the abolition of slavery? I mean wouldn’t it be seriously ironic if the people who said things like “give me liberty or give me death” and “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal blahblahblah” were slaveowners?

Sommersett’s Case (aka R v Knowles, ex parte Somersett [1772] 20 State Tr 1) was a famous judgment of the English Court of King’s Bench in 1772 which held that slavery was unsupported by existing law in England and Wales:

“The state of slavery is of such a nature that it is incapable of being introduced on any reasons, moral or political, but only by positive law, which preserves its force long after the reasons, occasions, and time itself from whence it was created, is erased from memory. It is so odious, that nothing can be suffered to support it, but positive law. Whatever inconveniences, therefore, may follow from the decision, I cannot say this case is allowed or approved by the law of England; and therefore the black must be discharged.”

News of this case had reached the New World and the Southern Slaveowners were well aware of it. This comes from the attached essay:

Edwards (2002) suggests that when our southern colonials heard about Somersett’s Case (1772) they lost much of their ardor for their pursuit of the full rights and obligations of Englishmen: If Parliament saw fit to impose Somersett law on the colonies, the imposition would end the blessings enjoyed by slaveholders. Thus, if the northern colonials were motivated toward independence by the mercantile threat of the British East India Company, the southern colonials were motivated by Somersett’s threat to slavery.

Of course, one has to remember that the Declaration of Independence was written as a justification for rebellion to a domestic audience (it was refuted by Thomas Hutchinson, Samuel Johnson, and John Lind).  Thus, high sounding reasons would serve as justification for the rebellion. It is a bot of a letdown to find out that Samuel Johnson may have hit the nail on the head when he said that:

We are told, that the subjection of Americans may tend to the diminution of our own liberties; an event, which none but very perspicacious politicians are able to foresee. If slavery be thus fatally contagious, how is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?

Anyway, I think that more investigation needs to be given to the role of the Loyalists and slaves in what was the first of many American Civil Wars.

http://www.bloomingtonwilpf.org/localagenda/jamessomersett.pdf

Landers, Jane, Atlantic Creoles in the Age of Revolutions(Boston, 2010) Harvard University Press.

Schama, Simon, Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution (New York, 2006) HarperCollins Publishers.

Robbie Burns–The Slave’s Lament

This poem came up during last night’s celebration. There was discussion about Scotland’s part in the slave trade and that Burns almost worked in a plantation. Burns probably have supported the occupation movement since he was for the underdog and downtrodden. Doggone mentioned the the Selkirk grace in her comment to the previous post, which was our opening grace:

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
And sae let the Lord be thankit.

Anyway, this poem came up and I thought I would add it to my commonplace book and put it out there for others to appreciate:

The Slave’s Lament

1792

It was in sweet Senegal that my foes did me enthral,
For the lands of Virginia,-ginia, O:
Torn from that lovely shore, and must never see it more;
And alas! I am weary, weary O:
Torn from that lovely shore, and must never see it more;
And alas! I am weary, weary O.

All on that charming coast is no bitter snow and frost,
Like the lands of Virginia,-ginia, O:
There streams for ever flow, and there flowers for ever blow,
And alas! I am weary, weary O:
There streams for ever flow, and there flowers for ever blow,
And alas! I am weary, weary O:

The burden I must bear, while the cruel scourge I fear,
In the lands of Virginia,-ginia, O;
And I think on friends most dear, with the bitter, bitter tear,
And alas! I am weary, weary O:
And I think on friends most dear, with the bitter, bitter tear,
And alas! I am weary, weary O:

Wild Dancer commented:

recommend christine Kydd’s version on youtube (on The Complete Songs of Robert Burns: Volume 1) and for the history see the scottish archives listing
http://www.friendsofscotland.gov.uk/scotlandnow/issue-06/history/burns-and-slavery.html

Meet Eric Lynch

Liverpool historian,  Eric Lynch is a former trade unionist who left school at the age of 14 and couldn’t read and write because in those days it was judged that blacks didn’t need such skills. He taught himself to read and write because he wanted to know how things came about and about Liverpool’s history: most importantly, Liverpool’s connection to the slave trade.  Mr. Lynch has learned quite a bit about Liverpool’s slaving history and enjoys sharing his knowledge through city tours.

From 1700 to 1800, the town of Liverpool in northwest England was transformed from what was “not much more than a fishing village” into one of the busiest slave-trading ports on the Atlantic. Liverpool’s first slaving vessel, ironically named Blessing, set sail in 1700. In 1710 two slave ships departed from Liverpool, 24 from London and 20 from Bristol. London then declined and Bristol rose to prominence mid-century, but by 1771 Liverpool was the pre-eminent slave ship port. That year no fewer than 107 left dock on the Mersey on slaving voyages compared with 58 from London and 20 from Bristol. By the end of the 18th century, Liverpool had over 60% of the entire British trade and 40% of the entire European slave trade.

The profits from slaving could be huge: the ship Lively made a profit of 300% in 1737, although this was exceptional. Most ships could guarantee a 10% profit.

At one time, there were ten large merchant houses engaged in the slave trade and 349 smaller firms in Liverpool. Shop windows displayed shining chains and manacles, devices to force open the mouths of slaves who refused to eat, neck rings, thumb screws and other implements of torment and oppression used in the slave trade.

Not all of Liverpool’s wealth came from the slave trade, but it contributed signigicantly to the city’s prosperity. Slaving and related trades may have occupied a third and possibly a half of Liverpool’s shipping activity in the period 1750 to 1807. The wealth gained was substantial from the slave trade and made a significant contribution to economic and industrial development throughout the north-west of England and the Midlands. Slavery provided significant capital for  Liverpool’s prosperity in later years making Liverpool a competitor with London for the most properous British city during the 19th Century.

Slavery was such a money spinner that merchants such as Foster Cunliffe made a fortune and served three terms as  mayor of the city as well as serving as President of the Liverpool Infirmary and a sponsor of the Bluecoat School. When he wasn’t exercising his philanthropic impulses, he sent three or four ships to collect African slaves each year in the 1730s. Before his death, Foster Cunliffe had ensured his son Ellis a seat in parliament. Other families such as the Leylands, Bolds and Kennions prospered in a similar way.

Livepool’s connection to slavery was so pervasive that it was discovered that Penny Lane was possibly named after James Penny, a wealthy 18th century slave ship owner and strong opponent of abolitionism in 2006 when one Liverpool Councillor proposed renaming certain streets because their names were linked to the slave trade. That discovery led to city officials deciding to forego the name change and re-evaluate the entire renaming process. On July 10, 2006, Liverpool officials said they would modify the proposal to exclude Penny Lane.

But don’t take my word for it, take Eric Lynch’s city tour.

See also:

More rights

I found this while doing my research on the rights post:

Samuel P. Huntington, an American political scientist, wrote that the “inalienable rights” argument from the Declaration of Independence was necessary because “The British were white, Anglo, and Protestant, just as we were. Advocates for the Declaration’s adoption had to have some other basis on which to justify independence”.

I have also mentioned the opinion in Somersett’s Case (1772) in a previous post. This opinion was widely taken to have held that slavery was illegal in England:

The state of slavery is of such a nature, that it is incapable of being introduced on any reasons, moral or political; but only positive law, which preserves its force long after the reasons, occasion, and time itself from whence it was created, is erased from memory: it’s so odious, that nothing can be suffered to support it, but positive law.

As I said in my preivious post:

Did the colonials see the handwriting on the wall that the institution of Slavery’s days were seriously numbered? The problem is that Slavery was an issue on both sides, Tory and Patriot, in the War for Independence from the above belief that “Britons never will be slaves”. Slavery went on to cause problems in the US. In Britain, William Wilberforce formed the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade in 1787. Wilberforce led the parliamentary campaign to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire with the Slave Trade Act 1807. He continued to campaign for the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, which he lived to see in the Slavery Abolition Act 1833.

If one considers that a fair amount of the founding fathers were slave owners, in particular the ones from the Southern States, and that their livelihood was based upon the enslavement of other human beings, wouldn’t it indeed be ironic if all the talk of freedom and rights was just a smokescreen for being able to keep slaves and otherwise exploit the poorer classes? After all, most of those who served in the Continental Army and militia were not the better off in society who could find others to take their place.

Despite the words of the propagandist Thomas Paine, the War for American Independence was hardly one that was fought for the common man. Most of the founding fathers were affluent. How well known is the rebellion at Morristown and how close the War for Independence came to being a failed cause?

I will add in that Patrick Henry’s “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, Give me Liberty, or give me Death!” speech was made in 1775. He knew about the abolition movement and was probably aware of Somersett’s Case, as a letter he wrote on 13 January 1773 points out. He acknowledges the receipt of Anthony Benezet’s book against the Slave trade and mentions the Quaker movement toward abolition. Despite a claimed abhorrence of the institution, he remained a slave owner until his death. Henry owned 75 slaves during the five-year period from 1779 to 1784. Obviously, slavery was not acceptable for Henry personally, yet he could countenance being a slave owner.

The problem is that we are again seeing the use of rights and liberty language being used as terms to oppress the lower classes. Republican Governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, has declared all-out war on workers. He’s slashing taxes for the richest residents of his state, and wants to eliminate the rights of teachers, health care workers and thousands of others to organize a union, bargain for fair wages or advocate for decent pay and benefits. The attacks on the middle class won’t stop with Wisconsin. In the U.S. Congress and across the country, we’re seeing similar attacks on working families and the middle-class. That’s why we must continue to stand together in every state until we’ve secured the rights of people, not corporations, to control our government.

Governor Walker’s election was partially financed by the infamous billionaire Koch brothers who donated millions last year to elect politicians who represent Wall Street CEOs and the wealthy over middle class working people. These politicians are not on our side. This is part of a larger strategy funded by corporations to take over our government and to roll back protections for middle class consumers by repealing the Affordable Care Act, privatizing our Medicare and Social Security, and allowing oil companies and drillers to destroy our environment so they can make more profits.

Benito Mussolini, who didn’t like the term “fascist,” preferred to call himself a “corporate capitalist”, and would have loved to see his dream come true, as it has in the Land of the Free. Benito would likely be a Republican today, adored by the modern corporate media, who would describe him in their deceptive fashion as a “conservative,” which today stands for what we used to call “fascist,” having little relation to the traditional meaning of the word. Those called “conservative” today go against most of the traditional definition, as corporate media twist the language to justify corporate greed at any cost to the public interest. Most they call “liberal” were known as recently as the 1970’s as “conservative.” Pro-lifers are nearly all people who support war and capital punishment while disliking gun control– it is all Orwellian speak in corporate media.

Don’t let the language of rights and freedom be a smokescreen behind which people lose their real rights and freedom.

I would like to add this as a reference: www.bloomingtonwilpf.org/localagenda/jamessomersett.pdf

BBC Slave trade page

I was messing around at the BBC History site and came up with this link:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/abolition/

I thought I would pass it on.

The pages I was seraching for were on http://www.bbc.co.uk/scotland/history/

The “S” Word

The Official Medallion of the British Anti-Slavery Society

I’ve been wanting to do a post about Slavery for a long time.  Leave it to me to want to handle a topic as complex and controversial in Anglo-US history as Slavery in a blog post.  It’s not a topic I haven’t waded into before even if in questionable taste with my posts Using Dred Scott as precedent in Second Amendment cases!, On Blaming White Folk For Slavery, and Did Thomas Jefferson use the “N” Word???.  Let’s face it how can you deal with a topic that is as fucked up and ignored as the trade in and possession of human beings?  It will raise ire no matter how delicately one tries to handle the topic.

There are a bunch of things swirling around my head since I received a copy of my National Trust Magazine with the cover story on Slavery in Britain, but hearing the story of Monticello on Studio 360 was the final impetus to write something, anything, on this topic. I’ve already pointed out that Jefferson had a sick attitude toward this issue since I can’t see his relationship with Sally Hemmings as anything other than seriously perverted: even if it is a male sexual fantasy to have a woman as a slave.

“How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of Negroes?”–Samuel Johnson

One of the many forgotten aspects of the War for American Independence is slavery.  Quite a few of the “founding fathers” were slave owners and at least two of them were screaming about Liberty while holding human beings as property (Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson).   Unfortunately, people would prefer to forget about Slavery and how much of an influence it may have been on the North American Independence movement.  After all, Thomas Arne wrote Rule Brittania! in 1740 and the Colonists did consider themselves Britons demanding their rights as Britons:

Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves:
Britons never will be slaves.

The nations not so blest as thee,
Shall in their turns to tyrants fall;
While thou shalt flourish great and free,
The dread and envy of them all.

Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves:
Britons never will be slaves.

Likewise, Lord Mansfield issued the opinion in Somersett’s Case (1772) which was widely taken to have held that slavery was illegal in England:

The state of slavery is of such a nature, that it is incapable of being introduced on any reasons, moral or political; but only positive law, which preserves its force long after the reasons, occasion, and time itself from whence it was created, is erased from memory: it’s so odious, that nothing can be suffered to support it, but positive law.

Did the colonials see the handwriting on the wall that the institution of Slavery’s days were seriously numbered? The problem is that Slavery was an issue on both sides, Tory and Patriot, in the War for Independence from the above belief that “Britons never will be slaves”. Slavery went on to cause problems in the US. In Britain, William Wilberforce formed the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade in 1787. Wilberforce led the parliamentary campaign to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire with the Slave Trade Act 1807. He continued to campaign for the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, which he lived to see in the Slavery Abolition Act 1833.

Of course, that is an incredibly simplified version of events and slavery has caused all sorts of problems since its inception. Likewise, it is something which has been neglected the way someone’s insane or convict ancestor is forgotten even though it contributed a vast amount of money to the world economy. The problem is that this is a topic which needs to be acknowledged and addressed, but the topics of slavery and subsequent racial discrimination are serious problem children. There is too much emotion and anger here when what is needed is reasoned discourse.

Which is far more than one blog post of close to 700 words will allow.

See also: www.bloomingtonwilpf.org/localagenda/jamessomersett.pdf