Mitigation of Slavery, In Two Parts

Citation Information:  William Dickson, LL.D., Mitigation of Slavery, In Two Parts. Part I: Letters and Papers of The Late Hon. Josua Steele, p. 1-7, 132-136, 177-183. Part II: Letters to Thomas Clarkson, Esql M.A., p. 193, 338-353. (London, 1814).


Describing the Steps by which, to his own great Profit, he raised The oppressed Slaves, on his Sugar Plantations, nearly to the Condition Of hired Servants; his Observations on the Slave-Laws, &c.


Proving that bought Slaves, who keep not up their Numbers by the Births, do not nearlyrefund their Purchase-Money, and that the Planter’s true Resource is to rear his Slaves; the great Success Of the Plough, in raising the Sugar cane; &c.






In Testimony of the Respect due to a Prince who has so nobly distinguished himself, by his benevolent and patriotic Endeavours to effect The Abolition of the African Slave-trade, THE FOLLOWING PAPERS of a late respectable Planter who, by a truly wise and humaneMitigation of the West Indian Slavery, has shown how, in a case confessedly difficult, to alleviate the Sufferings, and improve the whole Condition of an oppressed People; on the Principles of the ancient Laws of England; with perfect Safety to the Public; and, as he experienced, with very great Advantage to private Property, are (with Permission) most humbly inscribed, by His Royal Highness’s Faithful and Obedient Servant,




Mr. Steele impartially answers Queries of Government about Slavery — has made the subject his constant study. — Barbadoes Laws repugnant to Laws of England, and hurtful to Proprietors and Slaves. — Nullity of Negro Evidence, fosters Crimes in Whites — by which Mr. S. himself suffers. — Forms Barbadoes Society of Arts, &c. to favour reform of Slave-Laws — Attempt quashed, how and why. — Thus disappointed, Philo-Xylon takes up the pen — Tries Reform on his own Estates — Takes Whips from his Negro-drivers — Appoints Rewards — Negro Courts — and Rulers. — Dismisses his chief Overseer — Appoints another — who proves unfaithful : — Finds Rewards operate powerfully on his Slaves — At last gives them Lands and regular Wages, making them Copy-hold Bond Slaves — Simplifies his Plantation Accounts — Establishes Store, or Shop — His Corn not now stolen off the ground, and why.- -Slaves become much honester — Divides them into six Gangs — Answers Editor’s Queries — Legally, Slaves have no Protection. — Abolition of African Slave-trade would rather help than hurt Barbadoes. — His Copy-holders succeed beyond expectation. — No one helps his Reforms — But some say, if he succeeds, he will deserve a statue. — Prodigious Dominion of Overseers — Parliamentary agitation of Abolition has produced no Lenity to Slaves.- Negroes and Mulattoes can prove nothing but to hang one another. — -Abolition can do no good, unless Slave Laws are reformed — No respectable Proprietor would oppose such Reform, if done in England. — Only necessary to enforce Charters. — Slaves under good Laws, ifAdscripti Gleboe, would be happy. — Plantations should be made Manors. — Pamphlets in favour of Slavery not worth answering. — Philo-Xylon’s Letters do not sell — though but ninety printed. — Mr. S. made Member of Council, and will endeavour to counteract Prejudices.

Kendal’s on the Cliff, Barbadoes,
Sept. 30th, 1790.



Your letter of July l0th (after a long passage in the Quaker) came to my hands about the 19th instant, in which, as you inform me, that “having the honour to be known to some of the first and best friends of the Negroes in England,” and that “they approving of your writing to me on the subject,” it encouraged you, &c. But the respectable character in which I knew you here, eight or ten years past, added to the importance of the subject, concerning which your letter calls upon me for some local information, and for my opinion on some particular points, — required no apology in so good a cause, to a man who hopes never to forget his duty in the cause of humanity.

When I was called upon, about two years ago, by our governor, Mr. Parry, to answer certain queries sent out to him by the ministers at home, (and, as I supposed, to all the other West India governors) in order to collect various and authentic opinions of West India proprietary and resident planters ( and not of their servants) concerning the customary private treatment, as well as the public and legal protection, of Negro slaves in these colonies, I thought it my duty to give the fullest and most impartial answers to every question, as far as my knowledge and experience enabled me; though I suspected my opinions would differ in some points from the opinions of those who take them from their servants, or from those who have been born and bred up under the local prejudices of the colony; I having made that subject, in all its extent (that is, What should be the treatment and government of Slaves in this chartered colony?) my constant study ever since my arrival, in March 1780.

I had suffered so much by the evil and unfaithful conduct of my agents, attornies, and overseers, during thirty years absence, and before I had ever seen my property here, and particularly in the destruction of my Negroes, that, after considering the local laws and customs of the island, it appeared to me evident that the evil could never be effectually cured, till certain local laws of the colony should be repealed, disallowed, or superseded: viz. clause the 3d and 7th of the Barbadoes statute, No. 28 in Hall’s edition, and statute No. 82, clause 19, to be repealed, and some others to be amended. And, in statute No. 148, clause the 8th to be repealed, disallowed, or superseded; all which are directly repugnant to the laws of England, and contrary to the conditions enjoined by the charters. (the 5th of Chas. I. and the 15th of Chas. II. ) whereby the limited powers of legislation were granted to this colony: that of the 15th of Chas. II. having been granted after Lord Carlisle’s resignation of his proprietary grants to the Crown, in which the same restriction is expressly repeated, by granting the power of making laws, provided such laws are not repugnant, but as near as may be, to the laws of England. And, from and after this charter, the 15th of Ch s. II. the King’s writs have ever since run in this island ; whereby it became virtually, in legal consideration, an English county or corporation, with respect to such laws as were then current in England) according to the tenor of said charter.

The two obnoxious clauses in the Barbadoes statute No. 28, are impolitic respecting the common weal of the colony, and unjust respecting the individual proprietor; clause the 3d, because it is hurtful to the comfort and prosperity of the Negroes; and to the proprietor, by putting an immediate stop to the cultivation of the land, from whence the labouring Slaves are removed: and, taking the two clauses No. 3 and No. 7 together, if put in execution, they must effectually ruin any sugar plantation, for less than a fourth part of its real value; and at this time, several sugar plantations lie waste by the operation of this law, executed upon them within a few years past.

Clause the 19th of No. 82, gives so open an encouragement to irascible and illiterate men to commit murder with impunity, that there needs no other reason to account for the continual decrease, than by this unfeeling and unnoticed destruction of the Slaves.

And clause the 8th of No. 148, by disqualifying all Negro evidence, both free and slave, against white criminals, does most completely cover either murders, felonies, or frauds, if white men are so disposed, who may be entrusted with the indefinite property of their masters, without any probability of legal conviction; or even possibility, though three hundred Black or Mulatto informants might most exactly agree in their evidence of facts, and in all concurrent proofs of time and place, and actual commission of specific frauds or thefts against the White criminal.

I had not been three months on my estates, before 1 had proofs convincing to myself (and which, by the laws of England, would have been so to a court) of frauds, felonies, and murders, on my three plantations: but here, in this colony, I could only exercise my authority as proprietor, by dismissing the iniquitous and unfeeling overseers. And then considering with myself how difficult, if not impossible, it would be for a single proprietor to attempt so great a novelty as to bring about an alteration of manners and customs protected by iniquitous laws, and to which manners: customs, and laws, even the independent and educated gentlemen of the country seemed to be so thoroughly, though inconsiderately reconciled, as to imagine them the best possible, and without which, in their estimation, the indocile and intractable ignorance of Negro slaves could not be softened or amended by any human art or contrivance. — I say, as by several conversations, I found this to be thesensus communis of the colony, I endeavoured to invite the formation of “A Society of gentlemen of liberal education, for the encouragement of Arts, &c. in Barbadoes, to promote, as far as they could, whatever they should judge would contribute to the advancement of the arts, manufactures, and commerce of this island; and to correspond with the London an Dublin Societies of Arts, and with the Royal Society in London:” in hopes that by such a society, in conferences on patriotic subjects, new ideas and new opinions might, by degrees, soften the national bigotry, if I may so call it, so far as to admit of some discourses on the possibility of amendment in the mode of governing Slaves.

The formation of a society succeeded, and it was established in July 1781; our subjects under consideration became popular; we printed the first part of our minutes in May 1782, and sent several copies to the Lords of the Treasury and Lords of Trade, to the Royal Society, London and Dublin Societies, and to several of our absent members then in England, in page 17 of the printed minutes, there is a paper which was laid before the chair and read, entitled “Considerations on the present state and interest of Barbadoes,” &c. which paper was referred to a committee, to report facts on the state of this island, &c. See p. 2. in page 34, there is an address from the society to the House of Assembly, for a new law to encourage the employment of the poor in the several parishes, which act was accordingly passed by the Legislature, and has been lately adopted in the parish of St. John. In p. 47, a paper inscribed “For consideration of the society, ” &c. — in which the subject of the impolitic and iniquitous laws of the colony, with some proposed alterations in the Slaves-laws, agreeable to the laws of England and the charters, are generally introduced, to which there is a postscript in P. 77; — and in page 95 the report of the committee on legal errors, touching land and stock is made to the society and agreed to. The continuation of the printed minutes (in a second part) beginning at p. 45, and up to p. 98, was sent in like manner as the former part, to all the King’s ministers and the several correspondent societies of London and Dublin, and to all the members of the Barbadoes society in England. — Here I must ingenuously confess, that when some of our members, who were also distinguished and even popular members of the Legislature, began to perceive the advances of this society towards reforming the iniquitous and obnoxious laws concerning Negro government, and the laws which authorized the destruction of landed property, so contrary to the excellent laws of England, — I say, when misled by old habitudes, they began to dislike the further discussion of such topics in the Society of Arts, and some whispering murmurs were spread abroad, as if “gentlemen had been insidiously drawn in, by general expression in the plan of the institution of the society, which seemed to have had a view to the posterior introduction of these dangerous designs against their established laws and customs, which designs they did not then apprehend.” And after this time it seemed as if, under these impressions, parties were formed to throw cold water on such dangerous designs. — So far may national prejudices, contracted from childhood, operate on worthy minds…



Mr. D. thinks better of proposed plan. — Mr. L. breaks silence by quoting Capt. Gulliver, &c. — Boundaries of Copy-hold lots of land still visible in England. — Economical reasons for proportioning wages of different gangs. — If plantations should be overstocked with Slaves, Proprietors might let them emigrate gratis. — Labourers will be wanted in neighbourhood for 200 years. — Refractory or criminal Copy-holders would forfeit tenements, become Villeins in Gross, liable to be whipped, sold, or shipped off, as now. — In every Manor, succession to Copy-holds to be settled by Laws confining it to Children by Wives within the Manor or Plantation — if no heirs, tenements to revert to Landlord. — Copy-holders to find their own tools.


MR. F. and myself went, the beginning of last week, to attend a meeting at the rev. Mr. — ‘s house, by particular desire; where we met several other gentlemen, among whom we were not displeased to find Mr. D. together with his friends L. and W.

In a short time after we entered, Mr. D. with unusual complaisance, addressing himself to Mr. F. said — Your friend C. having explained to me several parts of your humane plan, as copied from the old English Slave-laws which, however, from my total ignorance of the obsolete laws of England (as I never had been there, nor had heard any thing of such laws in North America, where I was educated) I could not bring myself immediately to believe, that such laws had ever really existed, except in the Utopian schemes of ingenious and fanciful fabulists, such as old PLATO, Sir THOMAS MORE, and the like.

Nor I neither, (said Mr. L. who was generally a silent member, at our former meetings) though I never actually read any of them, except Gulliver’s Travels, Jacques Massey, Robinson Crusoe, and Tristram Shandy; which last, in my opinion, is the best of them all.

But resumed Mr. D. your friend C. told me, that all those things which your society have set forth, about copy-hold Bond-slaves, are so true, that the dividing marks of their acre and half-acre shares, are still as plain to be seen on the ground, all over England, as if they were drawn in black lines upon paper; and that he himself has seven such little Bond-slave shares, annexed to a farm, which he inherits from his grandfather; and he also explained to me, that the allowance in your plan, of a bit [7 1/2 d. curr. or about 6d. sterl.] per week, to children in the meat picking gang, was intended as an encouragement to the mothers, to be more careful in raising their children, and to put them under early discipline, in this subordinate service, as soon as possible; and that in the next place, the established provision for the second gang, was to make it an invitation both to the parents and their children, to get them advanced into it, as soon as they should be judged fit for handling a hoe; and, in like manner) it was intended, that the superior emoluments of the first gang, should operate as an allurement to the second gang to enter it, as soon as they could show themselves capable of deserving it. And he observed, that considering the several operations in the plantation, would be reduced, as much as possible, to task-work, by the day, by the hour, and by measure; the fear of being degraded from the first gang, or of paying pecuniary penalties, for failing to acquit themselves in their tasks, would have, in all cases, the most desirable effects favour of the planter.

But two doubts, continued Mr. D. still hang upon my mind: first, supposing this system, ofcopy-hold-Bond Slaves, should prove so favourahle to the increase of the Negroes, as that we might be overstocked in a few years, beyond our power of furnishing lands to feed them, and of finding profitable employment for them; what are we then to do? Or secondly, supposing that after settling them on their copy-hold shares of land, and accustoming them besides to pecuniary payments for their labour, they should, some how or other, turn refractory, under such great indulgence! How should we then be able to bring the back again to our old mode?

In answer to your first question, said Mr. F. I believe no one disputes the advantages that would arise to us, if we were enabled by an increase of our Negroes, to cultivate our lands with twice the present quantity of labour, provided those labourers were attached to our interest, as well as their own; by finding that a faithful discharge of their duty, gave them a permanent and legal title to their proportioned shares of the soil. But if, in the course of fifty years, we should happily be overstocked; we could then well afford to let our supernumeraries emigrate gratis; and there are islands enough in the neighbourhood, where labourers will be wanted for two centuries to come. And to your second question; you will recollect that the proposition, in the Society’s minutes, was, “that in every MANOR, there should be a court emergent on all occasions, for trial of delinquencies of all sorts, and that the refractory and criminal copy-hold Bond-slaves would forfeit their tenements, and their privileged rank of villains regardent, and be reduced to villleins in gratis, to be subject to arbitrary corporal punishments, to be sold, and to be shipped off, at the pleasure of the owner, as our Negroes are now. So that it does not appear to me, that we run any risk whatever, in making the experiment, by giving such copy-hold tenements to all our well deserving Negroes; and to all in general, when they appear to be worthy of that favour. In every manor, likewise, the mode of succession of the children to the copy-holds of the parents, will be settled by laws; that is, the shares of the men must go to the children by their wives in the plantation, or to the next of kin by their female relations in the plantation; for no part of the succession must go out of the plantation, to the issue of any foreign wife; which restriction will induce the men to have wives in their own plantation. And no Bond-slave must have more than the share of half an acre, by the general laws (great merit may be rewarded by special indulgence) and in case of no such heirs within the plantation, then such tenements, for lack of heirs, fall in to the plantation landlord, or owner of the manor; to be regranted according to his discretion. So that with these and sundry other oeconomical laws, such as the copy-hold Bond-slaves being bound to find all their own tools, viz. hoes, bills, &c. every probable case to keep their government within just and reasonable bounds, may be provided for.

P. X.



Negroes, &c. both Free and S1aves in Barbadoes, about 72,500, Whites about 30.000. — Respondent’s former Overseers carried off or destroyed his stock-books. — Has now 338 Slaves. — His list reasoned upon. — Funeral procession of 2000 or 3000 Free Negroes, &c. when a Negro happens to be wantonly shot, in or near Bridgetown. — In the country, many wanton murders — scarcely noticed, more than the death of a cow or a horse. — Great error of Absent or careless Proprietors to let Overseers bring into their plantations Slaves on hire. — Another error is, to let Overseers buy all males for plantation, while for themselves they buy chiefly females; — placing them in house, and turning employer’s domestics into field, where hard labour, under the Whip, soon kills them. — Overseer on retiring, carries off children of his women, by plantation men, leaving employer almost destitute of rising generation.

QUERY 1. An account of the number of Negroes annually imported into the island of Barbadoes, as far as any such account can be made up; distinguishing the number imported in each year, the proportion of males and females, adults, and children, and the number and tonnage of the ships in which they have been conveyed? — A. 1. Some account of this may be had from the treasurer’s books; but whether to the extent desired, this respondent cannot say; nor, as an individual, can he say any thing farther to it.

Q. 2. An account of the number of Negro slaves, of free Negroes, indented servants, and of free white inhabitants, which are at present in the island of Barbadoes, with a like account for any former period, as far as the same can be ascertained, distinguishing, with respect to each of the foregoing classes of inhabitants, as far as possible, the number under one year of age, from one to 8, from 8 to 18, from 18 to 30; or forming them into such other classes as it may be more convenient to bring them under; and distinguishing the number of country-born Slaves from those which have been imported, and the number of each of the foregoing classes which are supposed to have been born and to have died annually? — A. 2. The number of Negroes in 1787 was near 63,000 (those for 1788 are not made up yet.) It is generally supposed there may be about four or five thousand Slaves more in the island (perhaps new-born infants not yet given in to the treasurer, some run-aways, and some old, diseased, or past labour, abandoned by their owners) so that the whole number of Slaves may probably amount to about 67,500; the number of free Negroes and Mulattoes cannot be less than about 5,000; though there is no certain account of them by any legal authority. This would bring up the whole number of the Negro race to about 72,500; the number of whites can be very little, if at all under 30,000; as the militia musters upwards of 3,000, from which duty all chief overseers of plantations, and several other orders of men, are exempted by law; and besides these exemptions, deducting women, children, superannuated, cripples, and sick persons, from the 30,000 Whites, and considering that no country can furnish more than a tenth of its numbers to a militia, we cannot put the whole number at less than one hundred thousand of all sexes, ages, and colours. — This respondent can give no account, from his own knowledge, of any indented servants being now in the island; that, is, of servants indented in Great Britain or Ireland, and brought hither under such indentures; nor has he any account of what number of such servants were here in any former period, since the short account given by Ligon, (141 years ago) when there were 28 such servants on the plantation which now makes part of the land in possession of this respondent.

He can only distinguish the proportions of his own Slaves in the following classes; for Negroes can seldom give any account of their own ages, and his attornies and former overseers either carried off or destroyed the stock-books of their times. The age of his oldest man, a Mulatto, about ninety-seven years, who was born in the beginning of Colonel Kendal’s government: — In the first class, called in the plantation first gang, are included head-men, officers, and tradesmen, such as drivers, rangers, carpenters, coopers, smiths, masons, distillers, boilers, clayers, herdsmen, and groom, and some domestic servants. The second class, called in plantations second gang. The third class, called in plantations third gang. The fourth class, called playing children; and fifth class, called sucking children.

  Anno 1787 Males Fem. Males
and Fem.
Total of
both estates
First class,
including all ages
from 20 to 97
In plantation K. 1st gang
In plantation B. 1st gang
Second class,
ages from 13 to 19.
In plantation K. 2d gang
In plantation B. 2d gang
Third class,
ages from 6 to 12.
In plantation K. 3d gang
In plantation B. 3d gang
Fourth class,
ages from 2 to 5.
In plantation K. playing children
In plantation B. playing children
Fifth class,
ages under 2 years.
In plantation K. sucking and weaning children
In plantation B. sucking and weaning children
  Total 166 172 338 338

There is an increase since the year 1787, but the account is not made up till the delivery of the clothing, which will be in a few days; the stores being arrived, but not landed. In the first plantation, there are only 14 African-born, 9 males and 5 females, all 30 years old and upwards to above 60, except one about 22, bought 2 years ago. And in the second plantation, there are 14 African-born males, all of 20 years and upwards, and no females. The African-born females were the property of the former overseers. The number in the first gangs being 222, and those of all the four junior classes amounting to no more than 116, it is obvious that the disproportion must have been owing to a failure of births, or barrenness for a long interval, till within five or six years past. From 44 to 222 is a glaring disproportion between the first and second classes; for without such a defect in births, and such an increase in deaths, as is stated (in Ans. 17.) of 57 deaths, and only 15 births, in less than four years, the numbers in the 4 inferior classes should have exceeded, or at least equalled, those in the first class*.

Q. 3. An account of the number of Slaves annually exported from the said island in each year, as far as such account can be made up, distinguishing the number exported in each year, and the proportion of males and females, and of adults and children. — A. 3. Perhaps the treasurer may give some account in answer to these queries, this respondent cannot.

*The following observations, drawn from facts which, in the course of above forty years, have happened in the fore-mentioned plantations, will account for a great part of the deficiency in the three middle classes.

Among several erroneous practices and opinions which have been established here much to the disadvantage of Absent or careless Proprietors, one is, that of admitting Overseers to bring into their plantations gangs of their Negroes upon hire, under the plausible reason of alleviating the labour of the plantation Negroes. Another error is, that many such overseers recommend to their masters, in purchasing supplies of young Africans, to buy all males, as they will be more immediately profitable by their work; whereas females are above three parts of their time taken up in breeding and suckling a tedious and precarious offspring, from which no profit can be expected for many years to come. But, at the same time, these prudent advisers buy mostly females for themselves, keeping them in the house at the expence of the Absent Masters, and charging them in the books as working in the plantation, while the master’s house Negroes are turned into the field, under the specious pretence of increasing the working gangs; where that unaccustomed labour, under the weight of the Whip, generally puts an end to their troubles, and their lives, in a short space. And in the course of time, when this overseer, for some more alluring interest, retires from this plantation, where the novelty of his purchased females had attracted the desires of the plantation-men, he will of course carry off’ the offspring of his female Slaves, leaving the plantation almost destitute of any rising race in the second and third gangs, and in the fourth and fifth classes, which alone could have supported the old stock.




Showing that Slaves who keep not up their Numbers by the Births, do not nearly refund their Purchase-money; the great Success of the Plough in raising the Sugar-cane, both in the East and the West Indies; and other new and important Articles.

“Res lunt male administrari.” Sir J. Child on Trade: p. 26.

LETTER XI. Farther Considerations on the Confirmation of the Slave-laws, &c.

Mr, Long and Mr. Steele think colonial laws should be amended by Parliament — Royal Instruction in favour of Servants and Slave — White Servants in W. Indies formerly little better treated than Slaves. — Charles II. and James II. refuse to confirm Jamaica law authorizing Murder. — , This law passed in Jamaica, A. D. 1683, and in Barbadoes, in 1688. — To suppose it was ever confirmed, would be a gross calumny of the British Government. — People formerly kidnapped in England and Scotland, and sold in W. Indies. — White Underlings, now or lately, ill treated on too many sugar estates.-In W. Indies, much drudgery, little industry — Christianity favours liberty. — In Barbadoes many Proprietors reside — and hence Slaves better treated. — The writer offers no opinion of his own amendment of Slave-laws by Parliament.


Though our Colonists object, and apparently with good reason, against their ordinary local laws being fettered, in the first instance, and often frustrated in their effects, by a suspending clause; yet they find no fault with the constitutional exercise of the Royal assent; or even, in some cases, with the interference of Parliament. Mr. Steele expresses his conviction that “no Proprietor of character in Barbadoes could or would oppose the repeal of the unconstitutional laws of that island, if done in England.” And Mr. Long, writing on the affairs of Jamaica, says that “The system of colonial government, and the imperfection of their several laws, are subjects which never were, but which ought to be strictly canvassed, examined and amended by the British Parliament.” In another place, he observes that, “In the English colonies, no systematic order prevails; almost every thing with respect to their policy, their taxation, the administration of government and justice, their population and trade is wrong, or left to chance.”

If colonial arrangements had not been “left to chance,” would such as that of Bermuda, quoted in my last letter, have been suffered to disgrace the reign of George II.? when in the reign of James II. the following Royal Instructions were given to the Duke of Albermarle, Governor of Jamaica, and probably to his predecessor Col. Molesworth, and which it is but right to put down to the credit of that unhappy monarch; because both he and his Royal Brother Charles II. are charged t with having been adventurers in the African Slave-trade, and the latter with being concerned in buccaneering. — The instructions are these:

“You shall endeavour to get a law passed, for restraining of any unhuman severity, by reason of ill masters and overseers, that may be used towards their Christian servants or other Slaves. And you are also, with the assistance of the Council and Assembly, to find out the best means to facilitate and encourage the conversion of the Negroes to the Christian religion.

“And whereas, amongst the laws passed in Jamaica, 5th of April, 1683” (during Sir Thomas Lynch’s second government) ” An Act for regulating Slaves was transmitted unto His late Majesty, (“King Charles II.) “who did not think fit to confirm the same, by reason of a clause therein contained, whereby such as wantonly and wilfully kill a Negro, are only liable to a fine, and three months imprisonment; which penalties not being equal to the guilt, might encourage the wilful shedding of blood; for which it is necessary some better provision be made, to deter all persons from such acts of cruelty; you are therefore to signify the same unto the next Assembly and farther propose to them the enacting a stricter clause in that behalf, which may be fit for our Royal Confirmation.”

From the last of these Royal Instructions, it appears that, contrary to what is commonly believed, that Jamaica preceded Barbadoes, in enacting the sanguinary law thus disallowed. For we see that the law marked by the Royal disapprobation, as it “might encourage wilful shedding of blood,” was passed, in Jamaica, on the 5th of April, 1683; in the reign of Charles II. and rejected by him and James II. in Barbadoes, on the 8th of Aug. 1688; so near the close of the reign of James II. that, if confirmed at all, it must have been confirmed by William III. and in Bermuda t, as we have seen, in the year 1730; in the reign of George II. to suppose that they sanctioned provincial statutes so iniquitous as to have been disallowed, with marks of dignified displeasure in the worst times of the Stuarts? If it should be alleged that William signed the commission for the massacre of Glencoe, then it is” to be hoped, that the lame apology usually offered for that infamous deed, will also be admitted; namely, that he signed it among a number of other papers, without knowing its contents, and this will place the colonial law, just where it ought to stand,-on the same footing with the Glencoe commission. That bloody document, however, never formed a part of Scotish law, as the statute in question did (not to say now does, in some islands) of West Indian law. It was, on the contrary, acknowledged to be a detestable violation of all law; which none of the parties concerned ever dared to defend; but all of them were anxious to disclaim. But if it could even be proved, as I believe it cannot, that the statute in question, as enacted in any one of the West Indian islands, had regularly received the Royal Confirmation, would it ‘not remain to be solemnly argued, Whether even that high authority could legalize a statute so utterly repugnant to the laws of England, and indeed to all laws human and divine? How far that statute is agreeable to the Colonial Charters, has been signified by Mr. Steele, in his judicial Charge to the Grand Jury of Barbadoes. — I believe, it is commonly held that, if the Royal Assent to any colonial statute, is not expressly given within three years after it has been enacted, and regularly transmitted to the Secretary of State, such statute derives a practical equivalent to the Royal Assent, from the principle of silence giving consent. This principle may perhaps be followed safely enough, in ordinary cases; but it can hardly be urged, that the silence, probably of hurry or forgetfulness, is a sufficient expression of the Royal Assent to statutes which involve the most important interests, and sport with the verylives of a large body of people in the allegiance of the British Crown, and entitled to its protection.

That protection, at least, could not be denied to “Christian servants,” many of whom used to be “actually kidnapped in England, especially about Bristol,” and also “in Scotland, in or near Glasgow;” and, whose case, as well as that of “other Slaves,” is humanely included in the above Royal Instructions; — the Government thereby plainly intimating its suspicions; of what was really the truth, that “inhuman severity” was exercised towards both kinds of Slaves, the white and the black. There are indeed, few or no indented servants now in the West. Indies; but the general treatment of the white apprentices and hired book keepers and Negro-drivers on sugar estates would, as I apprehend, still admit of very considerable improvement. In my time, the white underlings in general, used to be stinted in their diet, and otherwise ill treated; and their morals were often ruined by intercourse with black females, and by conniving at the thefts of the watchmen and other head Negroes, in order to get victuals.

Indeed it is not too much to say that, in the West Indies, as in every other land of Slavery, the whole animal and rational creation of God, “groans, being burdened.” Stripes, and chains, and dungeons, usurp, in a great measure, the place of wages and rewards, and of every natural and rational motive to exertion; so that there is a great deal of drudgery, but little industry. The cruelty of the Slave-laws (and the best of them are cruel) is but little mollified by the lenity of custom, and the liberality of opinion. The ancient and admirable principles of English jurisprudence, which were established in what we call the dark ages, were neglected by the “legislatures of the islands, who resorted to the English villeinage laws, from whence they undoubtedly transferred all” (read a part only) “of that severity which characterizes them.” Nor in our colonies, have the maxims of Christianity, of which the old English law maxims are such noble transcripts, been permitted as yet, “to heal the broken in heart, to proclaim liberty to the captive, and the opening of the prison-doors to them that are bound.” Much good, both to the laws and to the customs of the sugar colonies — much benefit to the poor Negroes, would no doubt result from the influence of the higher order of Proprietors, whose education has not been influenced by the prejudices fostered in the white vulgar by difference of complexion. But alas! the majority of these are Absentees, except in Barbadoes, (sometimes called, from its superior improvement, “Little England”) where accordingly, the Negroes, though very much exposed to the depredations and aggressions of the numerous poor whites, are, on the whole, better treated than in any other West Indian colony.

Bad, however, is the best treatment which the Negroes experience in those colonies. How that treatment may be safely and easily improved, is the grand question; and it has been, in a great measure, answered by the practice of Mr. Steele, described in his papers, already laid before you. As for the examination, amendment, or repeal of the exceptionable colonial laws, by the authority of Parliament, I have contented myself with stating, at the beginning of this letter, his opinion and that of Mr. Long, without offering any ideas of my own on that delicate and important subject.

I am, &c.

W. D.


LETTER XII. On the Religious Instruction of the Slaves.

Mr. Steele and Editor agree that Slaves cannot be instructed in Christianity, till bad laws repealed. — Colonial laws for instructing them, “dust for the eyes of the people of Britain.” — Savages “must be civilized before they can be christianized” — First Missionaries should be sober, religious husbandmen and mechanics — like those sent among N. American Indians, by Quakers. — W. Indian Negroes not savages — but sensible of their ignorance, and desirous of instruction. — “Christian no’ made for Neger” — “ ‘case Neger can’t proof not-n ‘gainst White ma.” — Moravians reclaim ten Negroes in Danish islands for one in British, and why. — Danish Government takes care of estates of cruel and thoughtless Planters — Dutch Government does the same. — Danish Planters encourage Negroes to attend Moravians. — Danish Government’s high estimation of Christian Slaves.


ON the “conversion of the Negroes to the Christian religion,” recommended in the Royal Instruction inserted in my last, it is still my firm belief, that “till the evidence of Negroes against Whites shall be allowed some degree of force, all the laws which the wisdom of man can devise, will be found incompetent to protect them; and that, till they shall be effectually protected, every plan calculated materially to improve their condition and their minds, will be found inadequate to its end.” Since this opinion was laid before the public, it has been corroborated by that of Mr. Steele, who says (p. 158, above) that “Before any kind of religious or moral education can be offered to the Negroes, to any effectual good end, those immoral and impolitic laws which give a legal cover and encouragement to the most atrocious crimes that white people may commit, must be abrogated.”

Well; some of the most obnoxious of those laws have been abrogated in several of the islands, above twenty years ago. They have been superseded by new laws enjoining the instruction of the Negroes in Christianity, and it must be owned that Colonial legislatures have done every thing (but one, which depended upon the making of laws to effect that great end. Nor has the late Bishop of London been wanting in his duty to this part of his pastoral charge. He has repeatedly enjoined the clergy, and intreated the colonial legislatures to realize the zeal they have professed for instructing the Slaves, and in one or two of the islands, with some little appearance of success. But, in a certain other island, his admonitions seem to have produced no effect, or worse than none. For some symptoms have appeared of indisposition, not to call it opposition, to the instruction of the Slaves. The fear of giving offence forbids me to say more. But something like this conduct was anticipated, in a good-natured way, by a planter residing in the island alluded to, when its famous converting and protecting law was enacted. “The clause,” he says, “respecting the conversion and baptism of Slaves, is dust for the Eyes of the people of Britain. It puts me in mind of what occurred on board of a coasting vessel which was blown off into the ocean. The master and mate, not knowing how to navigate a ship at a distance from land, the sailors became greatly alarmed. ‘I wish, said the master to his mate, our poor wives knew where we are.’ — I apprehend there is something requisite, previous to masters, mistresses, and overseers, instructing the Slaves in the Christian religion.”

For my own part, I have always held, that it is vain to expect that any thing effectual can be done for the instruction of the Slaves, till something effectual shall be done for their protection. Their natural wants too must be supplied, before they can be well expected properly to feel their mental, or spiritual, wants. They must have some ease as animals, before their in-tellects can be cultivated; and their intellects must be, in some degree, cultivated before they can become Christians. Or to use, with suitable allowance, the words of the Rev. Cotton Mather, ” they must be civilized before they can be Christianized.” This is the order of nature and Providence. To invert it, is, to say the least of it, beginning at the wrong end. It was the order too, in which Christianity was first propagated: at least, I recollect no instance in which that best blessing of Heaven was offered to mere idle, vagabond savages. All the nations to whom the apostles preached were advanced in civilization — some of them so far advanced, that the greatest merit of the moderns is to emulate their achievements in the fine arts, and even in the abstract sciences, as far as they had then been carried. It is worthy of remark, that St. Paul remained not long with the hospitable, though barbarous people in the little southern island of Melita; but hastened, when the winter was over, to polished and imperial Rome. The same great apostle worked as well as preached; — worked hard at a humble, mechanical employment. This is not brought to prove that all preachers, or even all missionaries, ought to be mechanics. But this great example does appear to recommend, as the first missionaries to instruct mere savages, pious and industrious husbandmen and artisans, to introduce among them the arts essential to civilized life. Not a word, in my humble opinion, should be said to them about religion*; except in answer to their own inquiries, which would come of course. Thus, they would be instructed in the only way in which untutored tribes can receive instruction. The silent insinuation of good examples and useful arts, would gradually influence their conduct, and prepare their minds for the reception of moral and religious truth. In short, religion would follow, for it evidently cannot precede, civilization.

This plan has been actually reduced to practice, and with some prospect of success, by the Quakers, among certain tribes of Indians in North America; — I do not say in consequence of any hints of mine: but it is certain that I have been, for many years, recommending this plan to men of liberal minds; and such are the few Quakers with whom I have the pleasure to be acquainted. But there are men, and well meaning men, whose ideas are too contracted to admit of free discussion on the subject of religion. If one do not swallow implicitly every individual dogma of their Protestant Popery, their zeal takes fire, and the conversation ends with an insinuation, or perhaps a direct charge, of infidelity!!

But I am insensibly wandering from my subject, the instruction of the Field-negroes in the British Sugar islands; who are by no means idle, wandering savages. Their minds, no doubt, have been greatly depressed, and their character, In various respects, debased by Slavery. But, allowing for this circumstance, they are wonderfully acute, well disposed, and desirous of improvement. They already speak our language, practise our mechanical arts, highly prize our privileges, and want nothing but protection from oppression and arbitrary violence, to induce them to embrace our religion. But without something like validity of testimony, protection and conversion (or more properly instruction) will be found impossible. “I am old man,” says one who felt this to be true, “and being I am a driver, am not put to common labour; but Christian no’ made for Neger in this countery” — “For when I sell fowl or pig to white man, I can’t make him pay me; because Neger can’t proof not’n ‘gainst white man; and if white man goes and tells Justice, that I am a impudent, lying rogue, for say he owe me money, Justice will make constable whip me. Or white man may beat me, cut me, or kill me, before all so many black men, and no law for save black man, or punish white man for murder black man.”

The progress of the Moravian missionaries, so justly and liberally commended by the late Bishop Porteus*, seems too well to exemplify these statements. Notwithstanding the fondness of the Negroes for Baptism and Christian burial, which however their worthy teachers consider as something more than mere external badges of distinction, their Black and Mulatto hearers, in 1787, the fifty-fifth year of their labours, amounted only to 5,545, in all the British sugar islands. This trifling number is little more than one per cent. of the whole black population; and forms not, perhaps, ten per cent. even of the principal people, including the domestics, tradesmen, and free Negroes. As for the great body of the Slaves, the Field-negroes, “they cannot hearken unto Moses for anguish of spirit, and for cruel bondage” — a passage admirably descriptive of the soul-killing depression of Slavery, and which can be well understood by those only who, with a sympathizing eye, have “looked on their burthens.” — In the same year (1787) the Moravians had no fewer that 10,000 hearers in the Danish islands of St. Thomas and St. John; being, I believe, about ten percent. of the whole black population of those islands, or about ten times the proportion of their followers in the British islands. But then it must be observed, that the Danish Negroes derived considerable protection from the nature of their government. For, with all its faults, an arbitrary government, when well administered, is a powerful check on the abuse of authority in private individuals. It suffers them not to exceed the bounds of humanity and moderation, but, as Mr. Long observes, “controuls the masters of Slaves themselves, from the highest to the lowest.” The Danish Governors have authority even to divest cruel and unthinking planters of the management of their Own estates; and to commit them to the care of persons of prudence and humanity; and this effectual method of protecting the Slaves, has been actually enforced in several instances*. The Danish planters too, like a few worthy individuals in our own islands, encourage their Slaves to attend the meetings of the Moravians. The effects of this beneficent and politic conduct, have been so apparent, in the improved morals and behaviour of the Slaves, that the Danish colonial governments have more than once declared that “the baptized Negroes are a greater security to them than their forts.”

I am, &c.

W. D.