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CHAPTER XVI

FREE-NEGRO COLONIES AND THE SLAVE-TRADE

England Led the Way by Establishing a Colony at Sierra Leone to Provide a Home for Negroes Carried from the United States during the Revolutionary War - The Enterprise Saved by the Sturdy Maroons-Origin of the American Society for Colonizing Free People of Color-Life of the Colonists at Cape Mesurado-The Nation of Liberia Organized-An Ape of Philanthropy.

WHEN Lord Mansfield declared on June 22, 1772, that the negro Somerset must be set free a new question arose for the consideration of the ruling race. It was a question of growing importance, as time went on, and it was eventually transferred to America, where it became, at last, for a time, the most serious subject of discussion before the people of the United States: What shall be done with the freed man?

It was easy to provide for Somerset and all those who were liberated, one at a time, under Lord Mansfield's order, but after our Revolutionary war the English had a larger share in the problem, because of the number of American slaves they had carried away during that war.

Most of the slaves thus taken had been landed in Nova Scotia, where there were no slaves. The negroes would have been more comfortable in the

West India islands, but thither they could not be taken because the slave-owners were beginning to see that free negroes were a serious disturbing element among the plantations. It rarely occurred to a negro slave that he was born to any rights equal with those of his master, until he saw free negroes work or not at pleasure, and receive wages when they did work. Then he began to think. It was a serious matter for the owner when the slave began to think. It became most serious in Jamiaca when the slaves fled to the mountains for freedom and there organized communities that were naturally predatory-so serious, indeed, that troops were sent into the mountains to hunt out with bloodhounds these maroons, as they were called. The troops settled the question there temporarily by killing many of them and capturing

more.

Meantime the British people found the ports of England swarming with negroes discharged from the navy at the end of the war. So three classes of free negroes were to be considered at the end of the eighteenth century-the slaves from America, the sailors from the navy, and the Jamaica maroons.

As a first step in solving the problem an Englishman named Smeatham, of London, who had lived for a time at the foot of the Sierra Leone Mountains, conceived the idea of forming an African colony with these freedmen. The subject appears to have been broached first in 1783; it is mentioned in Sharp's "Memoranda" on August 1st of that year, and Sharp adopted the idea. Eventually the Government granted an allowance of £12 per head for the expense of transportation; a ship was chartered; a sloop-of

war-the Nautilus, Captain Thompson-was sent as convoy, and on April 8, 1787, away they sailed for Sierra Leone. There were more than four hundred ex-slaves gathered in English ports, and sixty Europeans in the party. Reaching the coast they purchased of a native chief, known as King Tom, the Sierra Leone colony site, and the African colonization scheme was inaugurated.

How the first colonists died by the score from malarial fever; how the Nova Scotia negroes were brought there to die in like fashion; how drunkenness and indolence helped on the anarchy; how a war with the natives nearly wiped out the remnants of the settlement, and how, at last, in 1800, a band of maroons from Jamaica, five hundred and fifty strong, came and saved the adventure from utter failure-all that is too long a story to be told here. We need only remember that the men who saved the colony were those who had been too proud to remain slaves, and had found liberty in the wilds of the Jamaica mountains until hunted down by bloodhounds set on by the Christian hosts of the king.

When the colony of Sierra Leone had been established as a refuge for freed negroes the story was told in the United States, where the slave-owners were ever in fear of a servile insurrection led by free negroes.

Here, then, was the solution of the most troublesome question known to slave communities! It appealed to the humanitarian who was willing to sacrifice his property in slaves whenever he could do so without violating the laws of his State, as well as to the slaveowner whose brutal tyranny was the result of innate cowardice. The one was glad of a chance to give free

dom to his slaves; the other was glad to get rid of the free negroes, whom he hated because he feared them.

Still another class heard of the plan with joy-the indolent philanthropists, who would do something for unfortunate people if it did not involve too much trouble.

Looking the matter squarely in the face, a century after the plan was inaugurated, we can see unmistakably that the African freedmen colony scheme was founded chiefly on indolence and cowardice. If we speak of Liberia alone we must say it was founded on cowardice and indolence. At the same time many upright, sincere, self-sacrificing people were connected with both colonies. The tales of what some people suffered to promote the interests of the unfortunate blacks are heart-rending.

It is true that the idea of forming a free-negro colony was considered in the American colonies before our Revolutionary war, but it was not until Sierra Leone was established that anything practical was done here. On December 31, 1800, the Virginia House of Delegates requested the Governor to correspond with the President " on the subject of purchasing lands without the limits of this State whither persons obnoxious to the laws or dangerous to the peace of society may be removed." (Italics not in original.) Other State Legislatures considered the matter in similar fashion. There was talk of sending the free negroes to Hayti. A part of the Louisiana Territory was considered as a possible location. Finally, on December 21, 1816, a meeting was called in Washington "for the purpose of forming a colonization society." Henry Clay presided, and

on the 28th the organization of the society was completed. The constitution adopted began as follows:

ART. 1. This society shall be called "The American Society for Colonizing the Free People of Color of the United States." ART. 2. The object to which its attention is to be exclusively directed is to promote and execute a plan for colonizing (with their consent) the free people of color, residing in our country, in Africa, or such other place as Congress shall deem most expedient. And the society shall act, to effect this object, in co-operation with the general Government, and such of the States as may adopt regulations upon the subject.

The constitution was written by Robert Wright, of Maryland. Elias B. Caldwell, Clerk of the United States Supreme Court, was the chief orator of the occasion, but John Randolph also spoke. Mr. Justice Bushrod Washington was elected President. Henry Clay and Andrew Jackson were among the seventeen Vice-Presidents, of whom, by the way, only five were from the free States. It is asserted that all of the twelve managers were slave-owners, and certainly nearly all were so, while Bushrod Washington was engaged in the domestic slave-trade when not hearing cases on the bench.

J. H. B. Latrobe, in an address delivered before the society on January 20, 1880, describes the organization and the motives of the original members accurately. He said that some "regarded it as a missionary enterprise only." Others "hoped that it would lead to a separation of the negroes from what the masters said was an injurious contact with their slaves." Others believed that it would tend to raise the negroes of the United States to civil and religious liberty in the land of their forefathers. Others

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