The Duty of British Christians in Reference to Colonial Slavery:

A Discourse Delivered in the New Road, and Brunswick-Place Chapels, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, October 17th, 1830

Francis A. West

Citation Information:   Francis A. West, The Duty of British Christians in Reference to Colonial Slavery: A Discourse Delivered in the New Road, and Brunswick-Place Chapels, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, October 17th, 1830 (Newcastle: Printed by G. Atkinson, 1830), p. 1-10, passim.


THE following Discourse was preached and is now published, not for the instruction of those who have access to the numerous and elaborate publications of the present day on the subject of Colonial Slavery, but for the information of such as have fewer opportunities; and to rouse British Christians generally to a sense of their duty to 825,000 of their fellow-subjects.

The subject is most voluminous in its details, and may be opposed by many different kinds of argument; but the Writer has deemed it expedient to confine himself almost entirely to a sketch of Slavery as by Colonial Law established, and to the argument from Christianity alone. In doing this, he has sometimes availed himself of the labours of those, who, from their long familiarity with the subject, were able to give the most correct and spirited description of Slavery in its laws, facts, and influence.

The writer gratefully acknowledges the patient attention with which this lengthened discourse was heard by both the Congregations to which it was preached; and gladly accepts it as a pledge of their determination firmly to persevere in the use of all constitutional means of opposing and repressing this most flagrant enormity.

The profits of the sale will be devoted towards the expences of Petitions from the Wesleyan Methodist Congregations in the Newcastle Circuit.


Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it. Say not unto thy neighbour, Go, and come again, and to-morrow I will give; when thou hast it by thee. Prov. Iii. 27, 28.

As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith. Gal. vi. 10.

ON the subject of Colonial Slavery, the religious world has long been criminally supine. It seems to have been forgotten that it involves questions of natural right, and precepts and principles of Christianity. Inadequate information on the real question of Slavery, and the state of the argument, may be one cause. Familiarity with instances of the success of the Gospel among the Slaves of the West Indies may be another. Their being widely separated from us by the ocean, — the striking difference in their persons, — a certain taint of pride and of education insensibly affecting our views, — and the natural selfishness of our minds, making us indolent where we have no direct gain, — have all conspired to lull us to a forgetfulness of even moral and Christian duty.


…though we owe a debt of charity to all, we owe a debt of justice to the Negro. [1]

Slaves were first imported from Africa by the English, in 1562, during reign of Queen Elizabeth. There is no doubt of her being studiously kept ignorant of the nature and purposes of this traffic. She expressed her concern lest any of the Negroes should be brought off without their free consent, declaring that “it would be detestable, and call down the vengeance of Heaven upon the undertakers.” However, it was declared that they left Africa voluntarily, and that it was the most effectual way of converting them to Christianity.

“Pure and proper Slavery, says Blackstone, is that whereby an absolute and unlimited power is given to the Master, over the life and fortune of the Slave.” And according to Paley, “an obligation to labour for the benefit of the Master, without the contract or consent of the Servant.” Such Slavery is not derived from, nor indeed is it yet expressly sanctioned or defined by any laws. It stands for the most part on the authority of custom alone. It is true the Colonial Legislatures have often recognized Slavery as an existing institution; but the records, if traced upwards, would yield no evidence of legal right. Nor has our own Parliament ever created Slavery. That it permitted and even encouraged the bringing Negroes from Africa, is allowed; but it never enjoined or sanctioned that species of Slavery which has grown up into a mass of vile abuses and moral putrescence; much less did it ever enact that the labourers from Africa, while and when subjects of British law, and born under the allegiance of the King of Britain, should be sold into endless bondage.

Slavery, as it exists in the West Indies, is confined to Negroes and People of Colour, and is a constrained service during the life of a Slave. It is a service without wages. The Master is the sole arbiter of the kind, degree, and time of labour, to which the Slave shall be subjected; and of his subsistence. He may imprison, scourge, wound, or otherwise afflict or injure the person of his Slave with impunity. These harsh powers he may depute to any whom he pleases to invest with his authority. The Slave has no Power of self-determination. He is deprived of moral agency, yet loaded with responsibility. He is deprived of religious light and the constraining Power of moral motives; yet tremendously visited for any deviation from the path prescribed by his Master. The Slave has no legal rights of property, real or personal; all belongs to, and is under the coutroul of the Master. He may be sold, or otherwise disposed of, as absolutely in all respects, as cattle, or any other property. He is liable to be sold for his Master’s debts, or to meet the bequests of a deceased Master. He may thus, in a moment, be for ever exiled from his home, his family, or the colony where he was born, or may long have resided; exceeding in this respect, the rigour of all other codes of law. Upon him all the usual processes of law may pass, for mortgage, &c. The Slave has no civil rights, no civil character or personality. He has no share in the laws which protect his Master; but for him there is a penal code, more severe and sanguinary than any for Slaves of ancient Greece or Rome, during the reign of Paganism. [2] He cannot be a party in any civil action against a person of free condition. Testimony against him is received, without oath; whilst his testimony against a White Person is not received upon oath, with a few trivial and worthless exceptions. Almost every proposed amelioration is so partial and so encumbered with conditions and restrictions, as to nullify all the professed benefits. Should he fail satisfactorily to prove any complaint of cruel or illegal treatment laid before the authorities, he is liable to the severest punishment of the lash, in addition to his former injuries. When injured by a stranger, damages are awarded to his Master, and not to him. To rob him, is, in most of the Colonies, not even a misdemeanor. Legal and vexatious hinderances are thrown in the way of his manumission; but when from sickness, infirmity, or age, he is no longer able to work, he is often, in the “tender mercy” of his Master, set free. This mass of degradation, toil, and suffering, is the only heritage he can bequeath his unoffending offspring. This state is hereditary and perpetual. The children of a female Slave are the property of her Master, just as the young of cattle in this country belong to the owner of the dam. The “poor innocent,” whilst incapable of any offence, and therefore forfeiting no natural right or privilege whatever, — he, and his posterity for ever, become the absolute property of another, and are subject to his entire controul and tyranny, only because they were born of one who was a Slave!

1. And let us fairly ask our consciences, To whom is the first and highest compensation due? to the Negro, for ages of neglect, degradation, loss of liberty, and every species of indignity and suffering? or to the Master, who has reaped such immense benefit from his painful and unremunerated labours? How is it, that they who clamour most for compensation to those who have long reaped that benefit, never mention compensation to the Negro, for the loss of the invaluable blessings of liberty?

2. “To him what is good in these wretched laws, is, and must be a dead letter; and that which controuls, and grinds, and debases, alone is operative and efficient. There is no protection to the Negro, but what the lawmakers choose to carry into effect.” See Appendix, Note B.