American Anti-Slavery Committee

Slavery and the International Slave Trade in the United States of America

Citation Information:

Executive Committee of the American Anti-Slavery Committee,Slavery and the International Slave Trade in the United States of America, London: Thomas Ward And Co. 1841. Anti-Slavery collection.

TWENTY-SIXTH QUESTION. What provision is made for the education of the slaves, and what obstacles exist to the advancement of education among them?

So far from any provision being made for the education of the slaves, it is either entirely prohibited or universally discouraged. In some of the states the education of the slave is expressly forbidden by law, and any attempt made to educate them, whether by whites or black, is severely punished. In some of the less important slaveholding states, instruction in letters is not prohibited by law; but it is effectually prevented by public opinion. Such is the case in Kentucky.

The following are a few specimens of the laws which forbid the education of slaves. Jay’s Inquiry-p. 136.

“A law of South Carolina passed in 1800, authorizes the infliction of twenty lashes on every slave found in an assembly convened for the purpose of ‘mental instruction,’ held in a confined or secret place, although in the presence of a white. Another law imposes a fine of L100 on any person who may teach a slave to write. An act of Virginia, of 1829, declares every meeting of slaves at any school by day or night, for instruction in reading or writing, an unlawful assembly; and any justice may inflict twenty lashes on each slave found in such school.

In North Caroline, to teach a slave to read or write, or to sell or give him any book (bible not excepted) or pamphlet, is punished with thirty-nine lashes, or imprisonment if the offender be a free negro, but if a white, then with a fine of 200 dollars. The reason for this law assigned in its preamble is, that ‘teaching slaves to read and write, tends to excite dissatisfaction in their minds, and to produce insurrection and rebellion.’

“In Georgia, if a white teach a free negro or slave to read or write, he is fined 500 dollars, and imprisoned at the discretion of the court; if the offender be a colored man, bond or free, he is to be fined or whipped at the discretion of the court. Of course a father may be flogged for teaching his own child. This barbarous law was enacted in 1829.

“In Louisiana, the penalty for teaching slaves to read or write, is one year’s imprisonment.

“These are specimens of the efforts made by slave legislatures, to enslave the minds of their victims; and we have surely no reason to hope that their souls are regarded with more compassion.”

The reason honestly assigned in the preamble to the North Carolina law, i. e. that “teaching slaves to read or write tends to excite dissatisfaction in their minds, and to produce insurrection and rebellion,” is doubtless the ground of all these prohibitory enactments. The law of South Carolina in 1740 says, “The allowing of slaves to read would be attended with many inconveniences.” In plain English, education is regarded as positively inconsistent with slavery, and its prohibition as indispensable to the continuance of the system.

But let us see what is the extent of instruction in those states which do not expressly interdict it by statute. We have specified Kentucky as an example of this nature, and she is perhaps the fairest specimen among all the slaveholding states. The following testimony is quoted from the address of the Kentucky Synod already referred to.

“Slavery dooms thousands of human beings to hopeless ignorance. Throughout our whole land,* so far as we can learn, there is but one school in which, during the week, slaves can be taught. Here and there a family is found, where humanity and religion impel the master, mistress, or children, to the laborious task of private instruction. But after all, what is the utmost amount of instruction give to slaves? Those of the Word, that they may make corn and cotton, and buy and sell, and get gain, meet this cry at the bar of God? and what shall the hundreds of money-making and money-loving masters, who have grown rich by the toil and sweat of their slaves, and left their souls to perish, say when they go with them to the judgment of the great day?”

The following testimony with regard to the slaves in Alabama, is from a letter published in the Southern Religious Telegraph, and is dated June 20, 1836:

“ ‘Yesterday afternoon, I attended divine service in this place. The afternoon sermon is always intended especially for the blacks. The number present yesterday was probably over 400. Rev. Mr. Houp informed me that preaching was not kept up regularly in any other Methodist church in Middle Alabama except Montgomery. I have myself visited all the Presbyterian churches belonging to Tuscaloosa and South Alabama Presbyteries, except Mobile and three others, and have found the blacks almost entirely neglected in all but two.’

“The Rev. Mr. Converse, who was at one period an agent of the Colonization Society, and resided for some time in Virginia, states in a discourse before the Vermont Colonization Society, that ‘almost nothing is done to instruct the slaves in the principles and duties of the Christian religion. The laws of the south strictly forbid their being taught to read; and they make no provision for their being orally instructed. Ministers sometimes preach to them under peculiar and severe restrictions of the law. But with all that has yet been done, the majority are emphatically heathens, and what is very strange, heathens in the midst of a land of sabbaths and of churches, of bibles and of Christians… Pious masters (with honorable exceptions) are criminally negligent of giving religious instruction to their slaves… They can and do instruct their own children, and perhaps their house servants; while those called ‘field hands’ live, and labor, and die, without being told by their pious masters (?) that Jesus Christ died to save sinners.

The following is the testimony of Dr. Nelson, late President of Marion College, Missouri, a Presbyterian Clergyman of high respectability, who was born and educated in Tennessee, and till forty years old, a slaveholder.

“ ‘I have been asked concerning the religious instruction of slaves; and I feel safe in answering that in general it amounts to little or nothing. Hundreds and thousand never hear of a Saviour; and of those who are familiar with his name, few have any comprehension of its meaning. I remember one grey headed negro, with whom I tried to talk concerning his immortal soul. I pointed to the hills and told him God made them. He said he did not believe any body made the hills. I asked another slave about Jesus Christ. I found he had heard his name, but thought he was the son of the Governor of Kentucky.’”

To show how masters, even professedly religious ones, often discourage attention to the subject of religion among their slaves, we give the following extract from the “Report on the Condition of the People of Colour in the State of Ohio.”

“Said a coloured woman to us the other day, ‘When I was little I used to long to read. After prayers, master would often leave the bible and hymn book on the stand, and I would sometimes open them to see if the letters would not tell me something. When he came and catched me looking in them, he would always strike me and sometimes knock me down.’”

*The state of Kentucky

TWENTY-NINTH QUESTION. What number of slaves are members of the Christian churches?

The number of nominal professors among the slaves is not far from 200,000. Of these many are habitually and openly living in adultery, polygamy, drunkenness, lying, theft, and profaneness; although they rarely incur thereby church censure. The great mass of these being entirely ignorant of letters, and receiving their instruction chiefly from ministers whose style of preaching is above their capacity, must be without the knowledge of that truth which maketh wise unto salvation. The religion of slaves must, therefore, for the most part, be merely nominal. The testimony of Dr. Nelson, from whom we have already quoted, is melancholy enough on this point. He says,

“I have heard hundreds make such professions of love to God and trust in a Saviour, that the church did not feel at liberty to refuse them membership. I have reason to believe they were poor deluded mistaken creatures. The concentrated recollection of thirty years furnishes me with three instances only where I could say I had reason, from the known walk of that slave, to believe him or her to be a sincere Christian.”

THIRTY-THIRD QUESTION. Is this district a slave mart, if so to what extent, and what is the nature of the traffic?

“ ‘The slave trade in the Capital.-Let it be known to the citizens of America, that at the very time when the procession which contained the President of the United States and his cabinet was marching in triumph to the Capitol, another kind of procession was marching another way; and that consisted of coloured human beings, handcuffed in pairs, and driven along by what had the appearance of a man on horseback! A similar scene was repeated on Saturday last; a drove, consisting of males and females, chained in couples, starting from Roly’s tavern on foot for Alexandria, where with others they are to embark on board a slave ship in waiting to convey them to the south. Where is the O’Connell in this republic that will plead for the emancipation of the district of Columbia?’

“The advertisements of the dealers indicate the extent of the traffic. The National Intelligence of the 28th March, 1836, printed at Washington, contained the following advertisements.

“ ‘Cash for five hundred Negroes, including both sexes, from ten to twenty-five years of age. Persons having likely servants to dispose of, will find it their interest to give us a call, as we will give higher prices in cash than any other purchaser who is now or may hereafter come into the MARKET. ‘FRANKLIN & AMFIELD, Alexandria.’

“ ‘Cash for three hundred Negroes.-The highest cash price will be given by the subscriber, for negroes of both sexes, from the ages of twelve to twenty-eight. WILLIAM H. WILLIAMS. Washington.’

“ ‘Cash for four hundred Negroes, including both sexes, from twelve to twenty-five years of age. ‘JAMES H. BIRCH, Washington City.’

“ ‘Cash for Negroes.-We will at all times give the highest prices in cash for likely young negroes of both sexes, from ten to thirty years of age. ‘J. W. NEAL & Co., Washington.’

“Here we find three traders in the district, advertising in one day for twelve hundred negroes, and a fourth offering to buy an indefinite number.

“In a later number of the Intelligencer, we find the following.

“ ‘Cash for Negroes.-I will give the highest price for likely negroes from ten to twenty-five years of age.


“ ‘Cash for Negroes.-I will give cash and liberal prices for ANY NUMBER of young and likely negroes, from eight to forty years of age. Persons having negroes to dispose of will find it to their advantage to give me a call at my residence on the corner of Seventh-street and Maryland Avenue, and opposite Mr. William’s private jail.


“ ‘Cash for Negroes.-The subscriber wishes to purchase a number of negroes for the Louisiana and Mississippi market. Himself or an agent at all times can be found at his jail on Seventh-street. ‘WM. H. WILLIAMS.’

“The unhappy being purchased by these traders in human flesh, men and women, and children of eight years old, are sent to the south, either over land in coffles, or by sea, in crowded slavers. Fostered by congress, these traders lose all sense of shame; and we have in the National Intelligencer the following announcement of the regular departure of three slavers, belonging to a single factory.

“ ‘Alexandria and New Orleans Packets.-Brig Tribune, Samuel C. Bush, master, will sail as above on the 1st January-Brig Isaac Franklin, Wm. Smith, master, on the 15th January-Brig Uncas, Nath. Boush, master, on the 1st February. They will continue to leave this port on the 1st and 15th of each month, throughout the shipping season. Servants that are intended to be shipped, will at any time be received for safe-keeping at twenty-five cents a day. ‘JOHN AMFIELD, Alexandria’

“This infamous advertisement of the regular sailing of three slavers, and the offer of the use of the factory prison, appears in one of the principal journals of the United States. Its proprietor has several times been chosen printer to congress, and there is no reason for believing that he has ever lost the vote of a northern member for this prostitution of his columns.

“But the climax of infamy is still untold. This trade in blood; this buying, imprisoning, and exporting of boys and girls eight years old; this tearing asunder of husbands and wives, parents and children, is all legalized in virtue of authority delegated by congress!! The 249th page of the laws of the city of Washington, is polluted by the following enactment, bearing date 28th July, 1838:

“ ‘For a LICENSE to trade or traffic in slaves for profit, four hundred dollars.’”

The following is from the “Anti-Slavery Manual,” p. 114:

“One of the private prisons in Washington used for keeping slaves, is owned by W. Robey, who is also engaged in the trade. In May, 1834, a gentleman visited it, and fell into conversation with the overseer of the pen. He heard the clanking of chains within the pen. ‘O,’ said the overseer-himself a slave, ‘I have seen fifty or seventy slaves taken out of the pen, and the males chained together in pairs, and drove off to the south-and how they would cry, and groan, and take on, and wring their hands, but the driver would put on the whip, and tell them to shut up-so that they would go off, and bear it as well as they could.’

“ ‘Franklin and Armfield alone shipped to New Orleans during the year 1835, according to their own statement, not less than 1000 slaves. They own brigs of about 160 to 200 tons burthen, running regularly every thirty days, during the trading season, to New Orleans, and carrying about one slave to the ton.’”