Trent and Wells, eds. Colonial Prose and Poetry. 1901.Vol. III. The Growth of the National Spirit: 17101775
[From a Sermon “On the Peace in 1763” given in “A View of the Causes and Consequences of the American Revolution.” London, 1797.]
I own to you, I have not seldom blushed at their accounts of the treatment they have experienced from white men: but, I trust, the period is not far distant, when, for our own sakes, as well as for theirs, we shall endeavor to diffuse political security and happiness to the Indian nations with whom we have any intercourse; and to convert them into free men, useful subjects, and good Christians.
[From a Footnote to the Above Passage.]
“A party of white people from one of the frontier settlements of Virginia, once went out against a body of Indians, who were in arms to oppose a small colony of settlers, who had taken possession of some lands, which the Indians alleged they had never sold. Indians remonstrate with their tomahawks; and therefore now declared war by driving off those whom they adjudged to be encroachers. The whites were not of a temper to be intimidated: they resolved, and were soon prepared, to attack the Indians in their turns; who, being fallen upon when they were off their guard, and finding themselves likely to be overpowered, fairly took to their heels. Among them was a young squaw, with an infant in her arms. She was supposed to belong to a person of some note, from her dress being composed almost entirely of silk handkerchiefs. Checked in her speed by the burthen of her helpless charge, she hoped to escape by hiding herself and her child among the weeds of a marsh. The thought showed she possessed great presence of mind; but, alas! it was of no avail. The chieftain of the whites (whose name I forbear to mention) espied her, and took his aim. This she saw; and being sensible also that she must fall, (for, when riflemen have a fair shot, they are rarely known to miss their object,) her last and only care was, if possible, to preserve her babe. With this hope, she instantly turned it from her back to her breast; that she alone might receive the ball. And even when she fell, by a kind instinct of nature (of the true force of which in such a case mothers only are, perhaps, the proper judges), she was anxious and careful so to fall as that her child might not be hurt.” I am shocked to relate that both the mother and her babe were killed and scalped.
[From the Same. Footnotes are in the Main Omitted.]
Even those who are the sufferers can hardly be sorry when they see wrong measures carrying their punishment along with them. Were an impartial and competent observer of the state of society in these middle colonies asked whence it happens that Virginia and Maryland (which were the first planted, and which are superior to many colonies, and inferior to none, in point of natural advantage) are still so exceedingly behind most of the other British trans-Atlantic possessions in all those improvements which bring credit and consequence to a country?—he would answer—They are so, because they are cultivated by slaves. I believe it is capable of demonstration that, except the immediate interest which every man has in the property of his slaves, it would be for every man’s interest that there were no slaves: and for this plain reason, because the free labor of a free man, who is regularly hired and paid for the work which he does, and only for what he does, is, in the end, cheaper than the extorted eye-service of a slave. Some loss and inconvenience would, no doubt, arise from the general abolition of slavery in these colonies: but, were it done gradually, with judgment, and with good temper, I have never yet seen it satisfactorily proved that such inconvenience would either be great or lasting. North American or West Indian planters might, possibly, for a few years, make less tobacco, or less rice, or less sugar; the raising of which might also cost them more; but that disadvantage would probably soon be amply compensated to them, by an advanced price, or (what is the same thing) by the reduced expense of cultivation.
With all my abhorrence of slavery, I feel in myself no disposition to question either its lawfulness or its humanity. Its lawfulness has again and again been clearly proved: and if it is sometimes cruel, it is so only from being abused. But, if I am not much mistaken, more harm than good has been done by some late publications on the subject of slavery [In the Virginia newspapers, by Mr. Arthur Lee], a subject which, of all others, seems to be the least proper for a mere rhetorician. Thus much, however, I may be permitted to observe, that, in no other country was slavery so well regulated as it is in the British colonies. In some respects I hope it is on a better footing than it ever was, or is, anywhere else: but it is surely worse in this, that here, in one sense, it never can end. An African slave, even when made free, supposing him to be possessed even of talents and virtue, can never, in these colonies, be quite on terms of equality with a free white man. Nature has placed insuperable barriers in his way. This is a circumstance of great moment; though, I think, it has not often been adverted to by popular writers.
If ever these colonies now filled with slaves, be improved to their utmost capacity, an essential part of the improvement must be the abolition of slavery. Such a change would hardly be more to the advantage of the slaves, than it would be to their owners. An ingenious French writer [Montesquieu, Spirit of Laws, book xv. chap. 1] well observes, that “the state of slavery is, in its own nature, bad: it is neither useful to the master, nor to the slave. Not to the slave, because he can do nothing through a motive of virtue; not to the master, because, by having an unlimited authority over his slaves, he insensibly accustoms himself to the want of all moral virtues, and from thence grows fierce, hasty, severe, voluptuous, and cruel.”
I do you no more than justice in bearing witness, that in no part of the world were slaves ever better treated than, in general, they are in these colonies. That there are exceptions, needs not be concealed: in all countries there are bad men. And shame be to those men who, though themselves blessed with freedom, have minds less liberal than the poor creatures over whom they so meanly tyrannize! Even your humanity, however, falls short of their exigences. In one essential point, I fear, we are all deficient: they are nowhere sufficiently instructed. I am far from recommending it to you, at once to set them all free; because to do so would be an heavy loss to you, and probably no gain to them: but I do entreat you to make them some amends for the drudgery of their bodies by cultivating their minds. By such means only can we hope to fulfil the ends, which, we may be permitted to believe, Providence had in view in suffering them to be brought among us. You may unfetter them from the chains of ignorance; you may emancipate them from the bondage of sin, the worst slavery to which they can be subjected: and by thus setting at liberty those that are bruised, though they still continue to be your slaves, they shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.