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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

A Picture of Slave-dealing Days

By Joseph Story (1779–1845)

[Charge to the Grand Jury at Portland, 1820.—Miscellaneous Writings. 1835.]

AT length the ship arrives at her destined port, and the unhappy Africans, who have survived the voyage, are prepared for sale. Some are consigned to brokers, who sell them for the ships at private sale. With this view, they are examined by the planters, who want them for their farms; and in the selection of them, friends and relations are parted without any hesitation; and when they part with mutual embraces, they are severed by a lash. Others are sold at public auction, and become the property of the highest bidder. Others are sold by what is denominated a “scramble.” In this case the main and quarter decks of the ship are darkened by sails hung over them at a convenient height. The slaves are then brought out of the hold and made to stand in the darkened area. The purchasers, who are furnished with long ropes, rush at a given signal within the awning, and endeavor to encircle as many of them as they can. Nothing can exceed the terror which the wretched Africans exhibit on these occasions. A universal shriek is immediately heard—all is consternation and dismay—the men tremble—the women cling together in each other’s arms—some of them faint away, and others are known to expire.

About twenty thousand, or one-fifth part of those who are annually imported, die during the “seasoning,” which seasoning is said to expire, when the two first years of the servitude are completed; so that of the whole number about one-half perish within two years from their first captivity. I forbear to trace the subsequent scenes of their miserable lives,—worn out in toils, from which they can receive no profit, and oppressed with wrongs, from which they can hope for no relief….

Let it be considered, that this wretchedness does not arise from the awful visitations of Providence, in the shape of plagues, famines, or earthquakes, the natural scourges of mankind; but it is inflicted by man on man, from the accursed love of gold. May we not justly dread the displeasure of that Almighty Being, who is the common Father of us all, if we do not by all means within our power endeavor to suppress such infamous cruelties? If we cannot, like the good Samaritan, bind up the wounds and soothe the miseries of the friendless Africans, let us not, like the Levite, pass with sullen indifference on the other side. What sight can be more acceptable in the eyes of Heaven than that of good men struggling in the cause of oppressed humanity? What consolation can be more sweet in a dying hour, than the recollection, that at least one human being may have been saved from sacrifice by our vigilance in enforcing the laws?…

In vain shall we expend our wealth in missions abroad for the promotion of Christianity; in vain shall we rear at home magnificent temples to the service of the Most High. If we tolerate this traffic, our charity is but a name, and our religion little more than a faint and delusive shadow.