by John Woolman

As some in most religious societies amongst the English are concerned in importing or purchasing the inhabitants of Africa as slaves; and as the professors of Christianity of several other nations do the like; these circumstances tend to make people less apt to examine the practice so closely as they would, if such a thing had not been, but was now proposed to be entered upon. It is however our duty, and what concerns us individually, as creatures accountable to our Creator, to employ rightly the understanding which he hath given us, in humbly endeavouring to be acquainted with his will concerning us, and with the nature and tendency of those things which we practice: for as justice remains to be justice, o many people, of reputation in the world world, joining with wrong things, do not excuse others in joining with them, nor make the consequence of their proceedings less dreadful in the final issue, than it would be otherwise.

Where unrighteousness is justified from one age to another, it is like dark matter gathering into clouds over us. We may know that this gloom will remain till; the cause be removed by a reformation, or change of times; and may feel a desire, from a love of equity, to speak on the occasion; yet where error is so strong, that it may not be spoken against, without some prospect of inconvenience to the speaker, this difficulty is likely to operate on our weakness, and quench the good desires in us except we dwell so steadily under the weight of it, as to be made willing to “endure hardness” on that account.

Where men exert their talents against vices generally accounted such, the ill effects whereof are perfectly perceived in a government, all men who regard their own temporal good, are likely to approve the work. But when that which is inconsistent with perfect equity, hath the law, or countenance of the great in its favour, though the tendency thereof be quite contrary to the true happiness of mankind in an equal, if not greater, degree, than many things accounted reproachful to Christians; yet, as these ill effects are not generally perceived, they who Iabour to dissuade from such things, which people believe accord with their interest, have many difficulties to encounter.

The repeated charges, which God gave to his prophets, imply the danger they were in of erring on this Hand. “Be not afraid of their faces; for I am with thee, to deliver thee, saith the Lord.” (Jer. 1:8) “Speak all the words that I command thee to speak to them; diminish not a word.” (Jer. 26:2).  “And thou, son of man, be not afraid of them, nor dismayed at their looks. Speak my words to them, whether they will hear or forbear.” (Ezek. 2:6-7

Under an apprehension of duty, I offer some further considerations on this subject, having endeavoured some years to consider it candidly. I have observed people of our own colour, whose abilities have been inferior to the affairs which relate to their convenient subsistence, who have been taken care of by others, and the profit of such work as they could do, applied toward their support. I believe there are such amongst Negroes; and that some people, in whose hands they are, keep them with no view of outward profit, do not consider them as black men, who, as such, ought to serve white men; but account them persons who have need of guardians, and as such take care of them: yet where equal care is taken in all parts of education, I do not apprehend cases of this sort are likely to occur more frequently amongst one sort of people than another.

It looks to me that the slave trade was founded, and hath generally been carried on, in a wrong spirit; that the effects of it are detrimental to die real prosperity of our country; and will be more ao, except we cease from the common motives of keeping them, and treat them in future agreeable to truth and pure justice.

Negroes may be imported, who, for their cruelty to their countrymen, and the evil disposition of their minds, may be unfit to be at liberty; and if we, as lovers of righteousness, undertake the management of them, we should have a full and clear knowledge of their crimes, and of those circumstances which might operate in their favour; but the difficulty of obtaining this is so great, that we have great reason to be cautious therein. But, should it plainly appear that absolute subjection was a condition the most proper for the person who is purchased, yet the innocent children ought not to be made slaves, because their parents sinned.

We have account in holy scripture of some families suffering, where mention is only made of the heads of the family committing wickedness; and it is likely that the degenerate (sic) Jews, misunderstanding some occurrences of this kind, took occasion to charge God with being unequal; so that a saying became common, “The Fathers have eaten four grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” (Jer. 31:29)  Jeremiah and Ezekiel, two of the inspired prophets, who lived near the same time, were concerned to correct this error. Ezekiel is large on the subject. First, he reproves them for their error. ”What mean ye, that ye do so,” (Ezek. 18:2-3)  “As I live saith the Lord God, ye shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel.” The words, “any more,” have reference to time past; intimating, that tho’ they had not rightly understood some things, they had heard or seen, and thence supposed the proverb to be well grounded; yet henceforth they might know of a certainty, that the ways of God are all equal; that as sure as the Most High liveth, so sure men are only answerable for their own sins. He thus, sums up the matter, in [Ezekiel 18]  verse 20, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear “he iniquity of the father; neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him; and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.”

Where men are wicked, they commonly are. a means of corrupting the succeeding age; and thereby haflen those outward calamities, which fall on nations, when their iniquities, are full.

Men may pursue means which are not agreeable to perfect purity, with a view to increase the wealth and happiness of their offspring, and thereby make the way of virtue more difficult to them. And though the ill example of a parent, or a multitude, does not excuse a man in doing evil, yet the mind being early impressed with vicious notions and practices, and nurtured up in ways of getting treasure, which are not the ways of truth; this wrong spirit getting first possession, and being thus strengthened, frequently prevents due attention to the true spirit of wisdom, so that they exceed in wickedness those before them. And in this channel, though parents labor, as they think, to forward the happiness of their children, it proves a means of forwarding their calamity. This being the case in the age next before the grievous calamity in the siege of Jerusalem, and carrying Judah captive to Babylon, they might say with propriety, This came upon us because our fathers forsook God, and because we did worse than our fathers. See Jer. 7:26.

As the generation next before them inwardly turned away from God, who yet waited to be gracious; and as they in that age continued in those things which necessarily separated from perfect: goodness, growing more stubborn, till the judgments of God were poured out upon them; they might properly say, “Our fathers have sinned, and we have borne their iniquities.” (Lam. 5:7)  And yet wicked as their fathers were, had they not succeeded them in their wickedness, they had not borne their iniquities.

To suppose it right, that an innocent man. shall at this day be excluded from the common rules of justice; be deprived of that liberty, “which is the natural right of human creatures and be a slave to others during life, on account of a sin committed by his immediate parents; or a sin committed by Ham, the son of Noah; is a supposition too gross to be admitted into the mind of any person, who sincerely desires to be governed by solid principles.

It is alledged, in favour of the practice, that Joshua made slaves of the Gibeonites.

What men do by the command of God, and what comes to pass as a consequence of their neglect, are different; such as the latter case now mentioned was.

It was the express command of the Almighty to Israel, concerning the inhabitants of the promised land, “Thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor with their Gods: They shall not dwell in thy land,” (Exod. 23:32)  Those Gibeonites came craftily, telling Joshua, that they were come from a far country; that their elders had sent them to make a league with the people of Israel; and as an evidence of their being foreigners showed their old clothes, etc. “And the men took of their victuals, and asked not, counsel at the mouth of the Lord; and Joshua made peace with them, and made a league with them, to let them live; and the princes swore to them.” {Joshua 9:14-6).  When the imposition was discovered, the congregation murmured against the princes: “But all the princes said to all the congregation, we have sworn to them by the Lord God of Israel; now therefore we may not touch them; we will even let them live, lest wrath be upon us; but let them be hewers of wood, and drawers of water unto the congregation.” (Jer. 9:19-21

Omitting to ask counsel, involved them in great difficulty. The Gibeonites were of those cities, of which the Lord said, “Thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth;” and of the flock of the Hisites, concerning whom he commanded by name, “Thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them: Thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them.” (Deut. 7:2)  Thus Joshua and the princes, not knowing them, had made a league with them, to let them live; and in this strait they resolve to make them servants. Joshua and the princes suspected them to be deceivers: “Peradventure you dwell amongst us: and how shall we make a league with you?” (Joshua 9:7) Which words show, that they remembered the command before mentioned; and yet did not enquire at the mouth of the Lord, as Moses directed Joshua, when he gave him a charge respecting his duty as chief man among that people. (Numbers 27:21)  By this omission things became so situated, that Joshua and the princes could not execute the judgments of God on them, without violating the oath which they had made.

Moses did amiss at the waters of Meribah; and doubtless he soon repented; for the Lord was with him. And it is likely that Joshua was deeply humbled, under a sense of his omission; for it appears that God continued him in his office, and spared the lives of those people, for the sake of the league and oath made in his name.

The wickedness of these people was great, and they worthy to die, or perfect justice had not passed sentence of death upon them and as their execution was prevented by this league and oath, they appear content to be servants: “As it seemeth good and right unto thee to do unto us, do.” (Joshua 9:25

These criminals, instead of death, had the sentenee of servitude pronounced on them, in these words, “Now therefore ye are cursed; and there shall none of you be freed from being bondmen, and hewers of wood, and drawers of water for the house of my God.” (Joshua 9:23

We find, in Deut. 20:10, that there were cities far distant from Canaan, against which Israel went to battle; unto whom they were to proclaim peace, and if the inhabitants made answer of peace, and opened their gates, they were not to destroy them, but make them tributaries.

The children of Israel were then the Lord’s host, and executioners of his judgments on people hardened in wickedness. They were not to go to battle, but by his appointment. The men who were chief in his army, had the instructions from the Almighty ; sometimes immediately, and sometimes by the ministry of angels. Of these, amongst others, were Moses, Joshua, Othniel, and Gideon, in Exod. 3:2, Exod. 18:19, and  Josh. 5:13, these people far off from Canaan, against whom Israel was sent to battle, were so corrupt, that the creator of the universe saw it good to change their situation; and in case of their opening their gates, and coming under tribute, this their subjection, though probably more mild than absolute slavery, was to lass little or no longer than while Israel remained in the true spirit of government.

It was pronounced by Mofes the prophet as a consequence of their wickedness, “The stranger that is within thee shall get above thee very high; and thou shalt come down very low: he shall be the head, and thou the tail.” Deut. 28:43-44 

This we find in some measure verified in their being made tributaries to the Moabites, Midianites, Amorites and Philistines.

It is alledged in favour of the practice of slave-keeping, that the Jews by their law made slaves of the Heathen, Levit. 25:45. “Moreover, of the children of the strangers that do sojourn amongst you, of them shall ye buy, and of their children, which are with you, which they begat in your land; and they shall be your possession; and you shall take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them as a possession, they shall be your bondmen forever.” — It is difficult for us to have any certain knowledge of the mind of Moses, in regard to keeping slaves, any other way than by looking upon him as a true servant of God, whose mind and conduct were regulated by inward principle of justice and equity. To admit a supposition that he in that case was drawn from perfect equity by the alliance of outward kindred, would be to disown his authority.

Abraham had servants born in his house, and bought with his money: “And the Almighty said of Abraham, I know him that he will order his house after him” (Gen. 18:10): Which implies, that he was as a father, an instructor, and a good governor over his people. — And Moses, considered as a man of God, must necessarily have had a prospect of some real advantage in the strangers and heathens being servants to the Israelites for a time.

As mankind had received and established many erroneous opinions; and hurtful customs, their living and conversing with the Jews, while the Jews stood faithful to their principles, might be helpful to remove those errors, and reform their manners. But for men, with private views, to assume an absolute power over the persons and properties of others; and continue it from age to age in the line of natural generation, without, regard to the virtues and vices of their successors, as it is manifestly contrary to true universal love, and attended with great evils, there requires the clearest evidence to beget a belief in us, that Moses intended that the strangers should as such be slaves to the Jews. He directed them to buy strangers and sojourners. — It appears that there were strangers in Israel who were free men; and considering with what tenderness and humanity the Jews, by their law, were obliged to use their servants, and what care was to be taken to instruct them in the true religion, it is not unlikely that some strangers in poverty and distress were willing to enter into bonds to serve the Jews as long as they lived; and in such case the Jews, by their law, had a right to their service during life.

When the awl was bored through the ear of the Hebrew servant, the text saith, “He shall serve for ever;” yet we do not suppose that by the word “for ever,” it was intended that none of his posterity should afterwards be free; when it is said in regard to the strangers which they bought, “They shall be your posession,” it may be well understood to mean only the persons ao purchased; all preceding relates to buying them; and what follows, to the continuance of their service, “You shall take them as an inheritance to your children after you; they “shall be your bondmen for ever.” It may be understood to stand limited to those they purchased.

Moses, directing Aaron and his sons to wash their hands and feet, when they went into the tabernacle of the congregation, saith, “It shall be a statute for ever to them, even to him and his seed throughout all generations.” And to express the continuance of the law, it was his common language, “It shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations.” So that had he intended the posterity of the strangers so purchased to continue in slavery to the Jews, it looks likely that he would have used some terms clearly to express it. The Jews undoubtedly had slaves, whom thev kept as such from one age to another; but that this was agreeable to the genuine design of their inspired lawgiver, is far from being a clear case.

Making contractions of the law contrary to the true meaning of it, was common amongst that people. — Samuel’s sons took bribes, and perverted judgment. — Isaiah complained that they justified the wicked for reward. — Zephaniah, contemporary with Jeremiah, on account of the injustice of the civil magistrates, declared that those judges were evening wolves; and that, the priests did violence to the law.

Jeremiah acquaints us, that the priests cried peace, peace, when there was no peace; by which means the people grew bold in their wickedness; and having committed abominations, were not ashamed; but, through wrong constructions of the law, they justified themselves, and boastingly said “We are wise; and the law of the Lord is with us.” (Jer. 8:8)  These corruptions continued till the days of our Saviour, who told the Pharifees, “You have made the commandment of God of none effect through your tradition.” (Mark 7:13)

Thus it appears that they corrupted the law of Moses; nor is it unlikely that among many others this was one; for oppressing the strangers was a heavy charge against the Jews, and very often strongly represented by the Lord’s faithful prophets.

That the liberty of man was, by the inspired law-giver, esteemed precious, appears in this; that such who unjustly deprived men of it, were to be punished in like manner as if they had murdered them. ”He that stealeth a man, and selleth him; or if he be found in his hand, shall surely be put to death.” (Ezek. 21:15) This part of the law was so considerable, that Paul, the learned Jew, giving a brief account of the uses of the law, adds this, “It was made for men-stealer.” (1 Tim. 1:9-10

The great men amongst that people were exceeding oppressive; and, it is likely,, exerted their whole strength and influence to have the law construed to suit their turns. — The honest servants of the lord had heavy work with them in regard to their oppression; a few instances follow. “Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, amend your ways, and your doings; and I will cause you to dwell in this place. If you thoroughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbour; if you oppress not the stranger, the fatherless and the widow; and shed not innocent blood in this place; neither walk after other gods to your hurt, then will I cause you to dwell in this place.” (Jer. 7:3-7) Again a message was sent not only to the inferior ministers of justice, but also to the chief ruler. “Thus saith the Lord, go down to the house of the king of Judah, and speak there this word; execute ye judgment and righteousness, and deliver the spoiled out of the hand of the oppressor; and do no wrong, do no violence to the stranger, the fatherless and the widow; neither shed innocent blood in this place.” Then adds, “That in so doing they should prosper; but if ye will not hear these words, I swear by myself, saith the Lord, that this house shall become a desolation,” (Jer. 22:1-3, 5). 

The king, the princes and rulers were agreed in oppression before the Babylonian captivity; for whatever courts of justice were retained amongst them; or however they decided matters betwixt men of estates, it is plain that the cause of the poor was not judged in equity.

It appears that the great men amongst the Jews were fully resolved to have slaves, even of their own brethren. (Jer. 34:6-12)  Notwithstanding the promises and threatenings of the Lord, by the prophet, and their solemn covenant to set them free, confirmed by the imprecation of passing between the parts of a calf cut in twain; intimating, by that ceremony, that on breach of the covenant, it were just for their bodies to be so cut in pieces. — Yet after all, they held fast to their old custom,. and called home the servants whom they had set free. — “And ye were now turned, and had done right in my sight, in proclaiming liberty every man to his neighbour; and ye had made a covenant before me, in the house which is called by my name; but ye turned, and polluted my name, and caused every man his servant, whom he had set at liberty at their pleasure, to return, and brought them into subjection, to be unto you for servants, and for handmaids: therefore thus saith the Lord, ye have not hearkened unto me, in proclaiming liberty every one to his neighbour, and every one to his brother. Behold, I proclaim liberty to you, saith the Lord, to the sword, to the pestilence, and to the famine; and I will make you to be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth. — The men who transgressed my covenant which they made, and passed between the parts of the calf, I will give into the hands of their enemies, and their dead bodies shall be for meat unto the fowls of the heaven, and the beasts of the earth.” (Jer. 34:15-20

Soon after this their city was taken and burnt; the king’s sons and the princes slain; and the king, with the chief men of his kingdom, carried captive to Babylon. — Ezekiel, prophesying the return of that people to their own land, directs, “Ye shall divide the land by lot, for an inheritance unto you, and to the strangers that sojourn amongst you; in what tribe the stranger sojourns, there shall ye give him his inheritance, saith the Lord God.” (Ezel. 47:22-3) Nor is this particular direction, and the authority with which it is enforced, without a tacit implication, that their ancestors had erred in their conduct towards the stranger.

Some who keep slaves, have doubted as to the equity of the practice; but as they knew men, noted for their piety, who were in it, this, they say, has made their minds easy.

To lean on the example of men in doubtful cases, is difficult: For only admit, that those men were not faithful and upright to the highest degree, but that in some particular case they erred, and it may follow that this one case was the same, about which we are in doubt; and to quiet our minds by their example, may be dangerous to ourselves; and continuing in it, prove a stumbling-block to tender-minded people who succeed us, in like manner as their examples are to us.

But supposing charity was their only motive, and they not foreseeing the tendency of paying robbers for their booty, were not justly under the imputation of being partners with a thief, Prov. 29:24, but were really innocent in what they did, are we assured that we keep them with the same views they kept them? If we keep them from no other motive than a real sense of duty, and true charity governs us in all our proceedings toward them, we are so far safe: But if another spirit, which inclines our minds to the ways of this world, prevail upon us, and we are concerned for our own outward gain more than for their real happiness, it will avail us nothing that some good men have had the care and management of Negroes.

Since mankind spread upon the earth, many have been the revolutions attending the several families, and their customs and ways of life different from each other. This diversity of manners, though some are preferable to others, operates not in favor of any, so far as to justify them to do violence to innocent men; to bring them from their own to another way of life. The mind, when moved by a principle of true love, may feel a warmth of gratitude to the universal Father, and a lively sympathy with those nations, where Divine Light has been less manifest.

This desire for their real good may beget a willingness to undergo hardships for their sakes, that the true knowledge of God may be spread amongst them: But to take them from their own land, with views of profit to ourselves, by means inconsistent with pure justice, is foreign to that principle which seeks the happiness of the whole Creation. Forced subjection, on innocent persons of full age, is inconsistent with right reason; on one side, the human mind is not naturally fortified with that firmness in wisdom and goodness, necessary to an independent ruler; on the other side, to be subject to the uncontrollable will of a man, liable to err, is most painful and afflicting to a conscientious creature.

It is our happiness faithfully to serve the Divine Being, who made us: His perfection makes our service reasonable; but so long as men are bluffed by narrow self-love, so long an absolute power over other men is unfit for them.

Men, taking on them the government of others, may intend to govern reasonably, and make their subjects more happy than they would be otherwise; but, as absolute command belongs only to him who is perfect, where frail men, in their own wills, assume such command, it hath a direct tendency to vitiate their minds, and make them more unfit for government.

Placing on men the ignominious title SLAVE, dressing them in uncomely garments, keeping them to servile labor, in which they are often dirty, tends gradually to fix a notion in the mind, that they are a sort of people below us in nature, and leads us to consider them as such in all our conclusions about them. And, moreover, a person which in our esteem is mean and contemptible, if their language or behavior toward us is unseemly or disrespectful, it excites wrath more powerfully than the like conduct in one we accounted our equal or superior; and where this happens to be the case, it disqualifies for candid judgment; for it is unfit for a person to sit as judge in a case where his own personal resentments are stirred up; and, as members of society in a well framed government, we are mutually dependent. Present interest incites to duty, and makes each man attentive to the convenience of others; but he whose will is a law to others, and can enforce obedience by punishment; he whose wants are supplied without feeling any obligation to make equal returns to his benefactor, his irregular appetites find an open field for motion, and he is in danger of growing hard, and inattentive to their convenience who labor for his support; and so loses that disposition, in which alone men are fit to govern.

The English government hath been commended by candid foreigners for the disuse of racks and tortures, so much practiced in some states; but this multiplying slaves now leads to it; for where people exact hard labour of others, without a suitable reward, and are resolved to continue in that way, severity to such who oppose them becomes the consequence; and several Negro criminals, among the English in America, have been executed in a lingering, painful way, very terrifying to others.

It is a happy case to set out right, and persevere in the same way: A wrong beginning leads into many difficulties; for to support one evil, another becomes customary; two produces more; and the further men proceed in this way, the greater their dangers, their doubts and fears and the more painful and perplexing are their circumstances; so that such who are true friends to the real and lasting interest of our country, and candidly consider the tendency of things, cannot but feel some concern on this account.

There is that superiority in men over the brute creatures, and some of them so manifestly dependent on men for a living, that for them to serve us in moderation, so far as relates to the right use of things, looks consonant to the design of our Creator.

There is nothing in their frame, nothing relative to the propagating their species, which argues the contrary; but in men there is. The frame of men’s bodies, and the disposition of their minds are different; some, who are tough and strong, and their minds active, choose ways of life requiring much labor to support them; others are soon weary; and though use makes labor more tolerable, yet some are less apt for toil than others, and their minds less sprightly. These latter laboring for their subsistence, commonly choose a life easy to support, being content with a little. When they are weary they may rest, take the most advantageous part of the day for labor; and in all cases proportion one thing to another, that their bodies be not oppressed.

Now, while each is at liberty, the latter may be as happy, and live as comfortably as the former; but where men of the first sort have the latter under absolute command, not considering the odds in strength and firmness, do, sometimes, in their eager pursuit, lay on burdens grievous to be borne; by degrees grow rigorous, and, aspiring to greatness, they increase oppression, and the true order of kind Providence is subverted.

There are weaknesses sometimes attending us, which make little or no alteration in our countenances, nor much lessen our appetite for food, and yet so affect us, as to make labor very uneasy. In such case masters, intent on putting forward business, and jealous of the sincerity of their slaves, may disbelieve what they say, and grievously afflict them.

Action is necessary for all men, and our exhausting frame requires a support, which is the fruit of action. The Earth must be labored to keep us alive: Labor is a proper part of our life; to make one answer the other in some useful motion, looks agreeable to the design of our Creator. Motion, rightly managed, tends to our satisfaction, health and support.

Those who quit all useful business, and live wholly on the labor of others, have their exercise to seek; some such use less than their health requires; others choose that which, by the circumstances attending it, proves utterly reverse to true happiness. Thus, while some are diverse ways distressed for want of an open channel of useful action, those who support them sigh, and are exhausted in a stream too powerful for nature, spending their days with too little cessation from labor.

Seed sown with the tears of a confined oppressed people, harvest cut down by an overborne discontented reaper, makes bread less sweet to the taste of an honest man, than that which is the produce, or just reward of such voluntary action, which is one proper part of the business of human creatures.

Again, the weak state of the human species, in bearing and bringing forth their young, and the helpless condition of their young beyond that of other creatures, clearly show that Perfect Goodness designs a tender care and regard should be exercised toward them; and that no imperfect, arbitrary power should prevent the cordial effects of that sympathy, which is, in the minds of well-met pairs, to each other, and toward their offspring.

In our species the mutual ties of affection are more rational and durable than in others below us; the care and labour of raising our offspring much greater. The satisfaction arising to us in their innocent company, and in their advances from one rational improvement to another, is considerable, when two are thus joined, and their affections sincere. It however happens among slaves, that they are often situate in different places; and their seeing each other depends on the will of men, liable to human passions, and a bias in judgment; who, with views of self-interest, may keep them apart more than is right. Being absent from each other, and often with other company, there is a danger of their affections being alienated, jealousies arising, the happiness otherwise resulting from their offspring frustrated, and the comforts of marriage destroyed. — Theae things being considered closely, as happening to a near friend, will appear to be hard and painful.

He who reverently observes that goodness manifested by our gracious Creator toward the various species of beings in this world, will see, that in our frame and constitution is clearly shown that innocent men, capable to manage for themselves, were not intended to be slaves.

A person lately travelling amongst the Negroes near Senegal, hath this remark; “Which way soever I turned my eyes on this pleasant spot, I beheld a perfect image of pure nature; an agreeable solitude, bounded on every side by charming landscapes, the rural situation of cottages in the midst of trees. The ease and indolence of the Negroes reclined under the shade of their spreading foliage; the simplicity of their dress and manners; the whole revived in my mind the idea of our first parents, and I seemed to contemplate the world in its primitive state.” Some Negroes in these parts, who have had an agreeable education, have manifested a brightness of understanding equal to many of us. A remark of this kind find in Bosman, page 328. “The Negroes of Fida, saith he, are so accurately quick in their merchandise accounts, that they easily reckon as justly and quickly in their heads only, as we with the assistance of pen and ink, though the sum amounts to several thousands.”

Through the force of long custom, it appears needful to speak in relation to colour. — Suppose a white child, born of parents of the meanest sort, who died and left him an infant, falls into the hands of a person, who endeavours to keep him a slave, some men would account him an unjust man in doing so, who yet appear easy while many black people, of honest lives, and good abilities, are enslaved, in a manner more shocking than the case here suppofed. This is owing chiefly to the idea of slavery being connected with the black colour, and liberty with the white: — and where false ideas are twisted into our minds, it is with difficulty we get fairly disentangled.

A traveller, in cloudy weather, misseth his way, makes many turns while he is lost; still forms in his mind, the bearing and situation of places, and though the ideas are wrong, they fix as fast as if they were right. Finding how things are, we see our mistake; yet the force of reason, with repeated observations on places and things, do not soon remove those false notions, so fastened upon us, but it will seem in the imagination as if the annual course of the sun was altered; and though, by recollection, we are assured it is not, yet those ideas do not suddenly leave us.

Selfishness being indulged, clouds the understanding; and where selfish men, for. a long time, proceed on their way, without opposition, the deceivableness of unrighteousness gets so rooted in their intellects, that a candid examination of things relating to self-interest is prevented; and in this circumstance, some who would not agree to make a slave of a person whose colour is like their own, appear easy in making slaves of others of a different colour, though their understandings and morals are equal to the generality of men of their own colour.

The color of a man avails nothing, in matters of right and equity. Consider color in relation to treaties; by such, disputes between nations are sometimes settled. And should the Father of us all so dispose things, that treaties with black men should sometimes be necessary, how then would it appear amongst the princes and ambassadors, to insist on the prerogative of the white color?

Whence is it that men, who believe in a righteous omnipotent Being, to whom all nations stand equally related, and are equally accountable, remain so easy in it; but for that the ideas of Negroes and slaves are so interwoven in the mind, that they do not discuss this matter with that candour and freedom of thought, which the case justly calls for?

To come at a right feeling of their condition, requires humble serious thinking; for, in their present situation, they have but little to engage our natural affection in their favour.

Had we a son or a daughter involved in the same case, in which many of them are, it would alarm us, and make us feel their condition without seeking for it. The adversity of an intimate friend will incite our compassion, while others, equally good, in the like trouble, will but little affect us.

Again, the man in worldly honour, whom we consider as our superior, treating us with kindness and generosity, begets a return of gratitude and friendship toward him. We may receive as great benefits from men a degree lower than ourselves, in the common way of reckoning, and feel ourselves less engaged in favour of them. Such is our condition by nature; and these things being narrowly watched and examined, will be found to center in self-love.

The blacks seem far from being our kinsfolks, and did we find an agreeable disposition and sound understanding in some of them, which appeared as a good foundation for a true friendship between us, the disgrace arising from an open friendship with a person of so vile a stock, in the common esteem, would naturally tend to hinder it. — They have neither honours, riches, outward magnificence nor power; their dress coarse, and often ragged; their employ drudgery, and much in the dirt: they have little or nothing at command; but must wait upon and work for others, to obtain the necessaries of life; so that, in their present situation, there is not much to engage the friendship, or move the affection of selfiish men: — but such who live in the spirit of true charity, to sympathize with the afflicted in the lowest stations of life, is a thing familiar to them.

Such is the kindness of our Creator, that people, applying their minds to sound wisdom, may, in general, with moderate exercise, live comfortably, where no misapplied power hinders it. — We in these parts have cause gratefully to acknowledge it. But men leaving the true use of things, their lives are less calm, and have less of real happiness in them.

Many are desirous of purchasing and keeping slaves, that they may live in some measure conformable to those customs of the times, which have in them a tincture of luxury; for when we, in the least degree, depart from that use of the creatures, for which the Creator of all things intended them, there luxury begins.

And if we confider this say of life seriously, we shall see there is nothing in it sufficient to induce a wise man to choose it, before a plain, simple way of living. If we examine stately buildings and equipage, delicious food, superfine clothes, silks and linens ; if we consider the splendor of choice metal fastened upon raiment, and the most showy inventions of men; it will yet appear that the humble-minded man, who is contented with the true use of houses, food and garments, and cheerfully exercises himself agreeable to his station in civil society, to earn them., acts more reasonably, and discovers more soundness of understanding in his conduct, than such who lay heavy burdens on others, to support themselves in a luxurious way of living.

George Buchanan in his history of Scotland, page 62, tells of some ancient inhabitants of Britain, who were derived from a people that “had a way of marking their bodies, as some said, with instruments of iron, with variety of pictures, and with animals of all shapes, and wear no garments, that they should not hide their pictures; and were therefore called Picts.”

Did we see those people shrink with pain, for a considerable time together, under the point or edge of this iron instrument, and their bodies all bloody with the operation; did we see them sometimes naked, suffering with sold, and refuse to put on garments, that those imaginary ensigns of grandeur might not be concealed, it is likely we should pity their folly, and fondness for those things: but if we candidly compare their conduct, in that case, with some conduct amongst ourselves, will it not appear that our folly is the greatest?

In true gospel simplicity, free from all wrong use of things, a spirit which breathes peace and good will is cherished; but when we aspire after imaginary grandeur, and apply to selfish means to attain our end, this desire, in its original, is the same with the Picts in cutting figures on their bodies; but the evil consequences attending our proceedings are the greatest.

A covetous mind, which seeks opportunity to exalt itself, is a great “enemy to true harmony in a country: envy and grudging usually accompany this disposition, and it tends to stir up its likeness in others. And where this disposition ariseth so high, as to embolden us to look upon honest industrious men as our own property during life, and to keep them to hard labour, to support us in those customs which have not their foundation in right reason; or to use any means of oppression; a haughty spirit is cherished on one side, and the desire of revenge frequently on the other, till the inhabitants of the land are ripe for great commotion and trouble; and thus luxury and oppression have the seeds of war and desolation in them.

Negroes are our fellow creatures, and their present condition amongst us requires our serious consideration. We know not the time when those scales, in which mountains are weighed, may turn. The Parent of mankind is gracious: His care is over his smallest creatures; and a multitude of men escape not his notice: And though many of them are trodden down, and despised, yet he remembers them: He sees their affliction, and looks upon the spreading increasing exaltation of the oppressor. He turns the channels of power, humbles the most haughty people, and gives deliverance to the oppressed, at such periods as are consistent with his infinite justice and goodness. And wherever gain is preferred to equity, and wrong things publicly encouraged to that degree, that wickedness takes root, and spreads wide amongst the inhabitants of a country, there is real cause for sorrow to all such, whose love to mankind stands on a true principle, and wisely consider the end and event of things.

Some Account of the Slave-Trade

From the writings of persons who have been at the places where they are first purchased, viz,

Bosmon on Guinea, who was a factor for the Dutch about sixteen years in that country, (page 339) thus remarks:

But since I have so often mentioned that commerce, I shall describe how it is managed by our factors. The first business of one of our factors, when he comes to Fida, is to satisfy the customs of the king, and the great men, which amounts to about one hundred pounds, in Guinea value, as the goods must sell there. After which we have free licence to trade, which is published throughout the whole land by the crier. And yet before we can deal with any person, we are obliged to buy the king’s whole stock of slaves, at a set price; which is commonly one-third or fourth higher than ordinary. After which, we have free leave to deal with all his subjects, of what rank soever. But if there happen to be no stock of slaves, the factor must resolve to run the risk of trusting the inhabitants with goods, to the value of one or two hundred slaves; which commodities they send into the inland country, in order to buy with them slaves at all markets, and that sometimes two hundred miles deep in the country: for you ought to be informed, that markets of men are here kept in the same manner as they of beasts are with us.

Most of the slaves which are offered to us, are prisoners of war, which are sold by the victors as their booty. — When these slaves come to Fida, they are put in prisons all together; and when we treat concerning them, they are all brought out in a large plain, where, by our surgeons, whose province it is, they are thoroughly examined even to the smallest member, and that naked, both men and women, without the least distinction or modesty. those which are approved as good, are set on one side. The invalids and maimed being thrown out, the remainder are numbered, and it is entered who delivered them: in the meanwhile a burning iron, with the arms or name of the company, lies in the fire, with which ours are marked on the breast. This is done, that we may distinguish them from the slaves of the English, French, or others. When we have agreed with the owners of the slaves, they are returned to their prisons, where, from that time forward, they are kept at our charge, cost us two-pence a day a slave, which serves to fulfill them, like our criminals, on bread and water: so that, to save charges, we send them on board our ships the first opportunity; before which their masters strip them of all they have on their backs, so that they come aboard stark naked, as well women as men; in which condition they are obliged to continue, if the master of the ship is not so charitable (which he commonly is) as to bestow something on them, to cover their nakedness.

Same author, page 310.

The inhabitants of Popo, as well as those of Goto, depend on plunder, and the slave-trade, in both which they very much exceed the latter; for being endowed with more courage, they rob more succcesfully, and by that means increase their trade: notwithstanding which, to freight a vessel with slaves, requires some months attendance. In the year 1697, in three days’ time I could get but three slaves; but they assured me, that if I would have patience for other three days only, they should be able to deliver me one or two hundred.

Bosman, page 440. ‘

We cast anchor at Cape Mizurada, but not one Negro coming on board, I went on shore; and being desirous to be informed why they did not come on board, was answered. That about two months before, the English had been there with two vessels, and had ravaged the country, destroyed all their canoes, plundered their houses, and carried off some of their people for slaves; upon which the remainder fled to the inland country. They tell us, they live in peace with all their neighbours, and have no notion of any other enemy than the English; of which nation they had taken some then: and publicly declared, that they would endeavour to get as many of them, as the two mentioned ships had carried off of their natives. These unhappy English were in danger of being sacrificed to the the memory of their friends, which some of their nation carried off.

Found in The Works of John Woolman in Two Parts, Joseph Crukshank, 1774  pp. 279-311