The Massachusetts Slave Trade.

From New England Magazine

The Massachusetts Slave Trade.

By Lilian Brandt.1

      In the first draft of the Declaration of Independence the prevailing antislavery sentiment found expression in a clause which denounced George III as the real promoter of slavery and the slave trade in America: "He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of INFIDEL powers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain. Determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought and sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce."2 This clause was struck out, Jefferson says,3 "in complaisance to South Carolina and Georgia, who had never attempted to restrain the importation of slaves, and who, on the contrary, still wished to continue it. Our northern brethren also," he adds, "felt a little tender under these censures; for though their people had very few slaves themselves, yet they had been pretty considerable carriers of them to others." This stigma on New England has been deepened rather than effaced by modern research. Rhode Island's slave trade has been thoroughly investigated, but the extent to which Massachusetts was implicated has never been made clear. The favorite theme for students of Massachusetts's relation to slavery has been the growth of the sentiment against slaveholding and the early abolition of it within the state. When her connection with the slave trade has been considered, the tendency has been to limit the inquiry to the number of negroes brought into Massachusetts and the successive efforts to prohibit their importation. This is only a small part of the subject; the negroes imported into the colony by no means measure the part played in the trade by Massachusetts citizens, capital and shipping.
      There were comparatively few slaves owned in Massachusetts. The prevailing system of small farms, the characteristic industries, and the climate, all operated to make free white labor the preferred form. In the Southern colonies and the West Indies, on the other hand, a great demand for slaves was created by the large tobacco and sugar plantations. As the people of Massachusetts were from an early date "the carriers for all the colonies of North America and the West Indies"4 it came in their way to supply an increasingly large part of this demand. It is possible that the slight attention usually accorded to this less obvious but more important part of the subject may be due in some small degree to the character of the facts, which are by no means gratifying to the New England historian; but the chief responsibility for the neglect rests with the difficulty of getting exact information, as few of the negroes were brought to New England ports. Thomas Pemberton, an antiquary of high repute, wrote in

1 This essay, by a student of Wellesley college, received the first prize from the Massachusetts Society of colonial Dames, in the last annual competition upon subjects in American history, open to the students of the various women's colleges in Massachusetts.
2 Jefferson, Writings. I, 34.
3 Ibid., I, 28.
4 Burke, Account of the European Settlements in America, p. 172

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