1795: "We know that a large trade to Guinea was carried on for many years by the citizens of Massachusetts Colony, who were the proprietors of the vessels and their cargoes, out and home. Some of the slaves purchased in Guinea, and I suppose the greatest part of them, were sold in the West Indies."1
Massachusetts, which was the first state to abolish slavery within its limits, was also the first colony to engage in the slave trade. The history of the Massachusetts trade falls naturally into two periods. During the seventeenth century slaves were supplied to America chiefly by chartered companies. The colonial trade, however, notwithstanding the disadvantage at which it was placed, established itself firmly in this period and increased until it formed one of the arguments for revoking the charter of the Royal African Company. The opening of the trade to private competition, at the end of the seventeenth century, marks the beginning of a new epoch. Additional impulses were furnished by the growing demand for slaves in the South and the development of the distilling industry. The African trade "made a considerable branch of our commerce," wrote Dr. John Eliot to Dr. Belknap, "and declined very little till the Revolution."2 Participation in it was prohibited to citizens of Massachusetts by the law of 1788, but an illicit traffic was carried on well into the nineteenth century.
The first slaves imported into America were brought to Virginia by a Dutch vessel in 1619.3 Dutch merchants, and especially the Dutch West India Company, which had "large establishments on the coast of Guinea,"4 seem to have carried on most of the trade until the middle of the seventeenth century.5 In 1662, following hard on the Navigation Act, Charles II granted to the English "Company of Royal Adventurers Trading to Africa" the exclusive right of importing negroes into the English possessions, with the proviso that the number should not fall short of three thousand per annum.6 Though this company never received a parliamentary charter, it had strong support. The Duke of York was placed at its head, many other nobles were interested in it, and it received frequent subsidies from Parliament.7 Against adversaries so formidable as these companies it is surprising that individual merchants from the colonies ventured to compete. Records are scanty for the seventeenth century, but they are sufficient to show that Massachusetts traders were more and more concerned in this traffic.
The first colonial slave vessel was the Desire of Salem, whose arrival at Boston is noted in Governor Winthrop's journal under the date February 2, 16388 "Mr. Peirce, in the Salem ship, the Desire, returned from the West Indies after seven months. He had been at Providence (an island of the Bahamas) and brought some cotton and tobacco and negroes, etc., from thence, and salt from Tertugos." Mr. Peirce brought also the information that dry fish and strong liquors were "the only commodities for those parts." From this time on slave ventures were not uncommon. An agreement is preserved9 which was drawn up on the "13th of ffebruary," 1644, by three citizens of Boston bound on a voyage to Guinea. They were to start with three ships, the Blossome, the Seaflower, and the Rainbowe; they were to render assistance to one another in case of need, and at the end of the voyage the profits were to be distributed with absolute equality. The terms of "consortship" were thus expressed: "If either of these three said ships shall come to any casualty, that
1 5 Mass. Hist Coll., III, 392. This was in reply to questions from Dr. Belknap of Boston, who was making an inquiry into slavery in Massachusetts. His correspondence with seven prominent citizens is printed in the volume referred to, and the conclusions he reached may be found in 5 Mass. Hist. Coll., IV.
2 Mass. Hist. Coll., III, 382.
3 Bruce, Economic History of Virginia, I, 227.
4 Bancroft, United States, II, 303.
5 Ibid., II, 171, 303; Hildreth, United 5tates, I, 120.
6 Bruce, II, 76, 77.
7 Cunningham, Growth of English Industry and Commerce, II, 125, 126.
8 Winthrop, History of New England, I, 254.
9 Mass. Archives, LX, 290.
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