Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Slavery Petitions for Freedom

I was talking with a group of friends last night about the early history of this country when somebody made the statement that, "the Founding Fathers protected slavery because they knew no better." I was not surprised by this comment. It seems that most Americans have embraced this delusional belief as American doctrine. We simply hate to admit that our country (like all the rest) have skeletons in the closet.

Being the loudmouth that I am, I was unable to remain silent, but instead tried to explain a few things I have learned over the years. I showed my friend my copy of Gary Nash's book Race and Revolution, which has a number of primary source documents from slaves. I explained that literally thousands of slave petitions were sent to the various colonial officials, all demanding immediate emancipation.

And there are literally thousands of documents from slaveholders, which prove the fact that these colonials had a perfect understanding of the evils of slavery. Thomas Jefferson even stated that, "If there is a just god in heaven we will pay dearly for what has been done to the Negroes."

To make the idiotic claim that the colonial generation knew no better is both foolish and irresponsible. I understand the need for Americans to cherish their history. I am in total agreement with that. But there is no excuse for attempting to obscure our misdeeds. When we learn the TRUE nature of our history, the more noble it becomes.

I have attached one of the thousands of slave pateitions for you all to read. It is one of my favorites, because it proves that the slaves were anything but ignorant of the sweeping winds of revolution:


Boston, April 20th, 1773.

Sir, The efforts made by the legislative of this province in their last sessions to free themselves from slavery, gave us, who are in that deplorable state, a high degree of satisfaction. We expect great things from men who have made such a noble stand against the designs of their fellow-men to enslave them. We cannot but wish and hope Sir, that you will have the same grand object, we mean civil and religious liberty, in view in your next session. The divine spirit of freedom, seems to fire every humane breast on this continent, except such as are bribed to assist in executing the execrable plan.

We are very sensible that it would be highly detrimental to our present masters, if we were allowed to demand all that of right belongs to us for past services; this we disclaim. Even the Spaniards, who have not those sublime ideas of freedom that English men have, are conscious that they have no right to all the services of their fellow-men, we mean the Africans, whom they have purchased with their money; therefore they allow them one day in a week to work for themselves, to enable them to earn money to purchase the residue of their time, which they have a right to demand in such portions as they are able to pay for (a due appraizement of their services being first made, which always stands at the purchase money.) We do not pretend to dictate to you Sir, or to the Honorable Assembly, of which you are a member. We acknowledge our obligations to you for what you have already done, but as the people of this province seem to be actuated by the principles of equity and justice, we cannot but expect your house will again take our deplorable case into serious consideration, and give us that ample relief which, as men, we have a natural right to.

But since the wise and righteous governor of the universe, has permitted our fellow men to make us slaves, we bow in submission to him, and determine to behave in such a manner as that we may have reason to expect the divine approbation of, and assistance in, our peaceable and lawful attempts to gain our freedom.

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, from our joynt labours, procure money to transport ourselves to some part of the Coast of Africa, where we propose a settlement. We are very desirous that you should have instructions relative to us, from your town, therefore we pray you to communicate this letter to them, and ask this favor for us.

In behalf of our fellow slaves in this province, and by order of their Committee.

Peter Bestes,
Sambo Freeman,
Felix Holbrook,
Chester Joie.

3 comments:

Brian Tubbs said...

Lindsey, good article. I know we've talked about Thomas West before, but I think it's worth mentioning that he AGREES with you - and would likewise disagree with your friend's "idiotic" statement. (I also agree it was idiotic, btw). The Founders DID "know better." We have their own words to prove that they saw slavery as immoral.

Brad Hart said...

I've read "Race and Revolution" several times, and every time I read it I am struck by just how passionatte the slaves were. We often think of the slaves (as Lindsey mentions) as ignorant or uneducated. At least, that is what we are taught in grade school. The fact of the matter is that they were very aware of what was going on, and they too wanted to cash in on the ideals of the American Revolution.

I think that consensus historians from the 20s to the 50s have obscured American history for too long. It is time that the TRUE stories of the slaves are told, because, contrary to popular belief, they did have a voice .

David Mabry said...

OK, now for a few more things. The first moves for th abolition of slavery came from the Quakers of Pennsylvania. The most effective move actually came from Virginia where at one time, so many slaves were being anticipated a solution to theis new "free blacks" problem had to be taken up by the Virginia state legislature. Of course, it is ironic that this same august institution, the House of Burgesses, that first started to codify slavery as a racial institution on the colonies, later the United States. Oh, where was I? Oh yes, at the Convention it was actually stated that since many states had already banned importation, slavery was illegal in the Nortwest Territory, and emancipation was being more widely discussed, that slavery need not be an issue since its end was assured. It is also interesting to note that Mason, of the Virginia delegation, condemned slavery as an immoral institution.
I tell my students at the beginning of my course that I will show them the truth in the history of our nation no matter how ugly. My personal approach to slavery is to display it in the law. Since laws are based inmorality and slavery is immoral, it is interesting to see how our forefathers tried to codify and justofy such an immoral practice.