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I know of one instance of a young negro, who I think was under 21 in 1777, and of age in '80. His master was solicitous to retain him, but gave up the point after the suits I mentioned in my first letter were finished. I never heard him hint that he lost his slave but from the operation of the article in the Bill of Rights above referred to.
DR. HOLYOKE TO DR. BELKNAP.
SALEM, March 19, 1795.
REV. SIR, My numerous avocations must be my excuse for suffering yours of the 17th ult. to remain unanswered. The subject of your queries is a matter I have never much attended to, am therefore but indifferently qualified to return any satisfactory answer.
I have endeavoured, however, to recollect every thing material that my memory can furnish. But several of the queries I can scarcely answer at all, and several others but with hesitation. If, however, any thing I have offered shall give you or your friend the querist any satisfaction, or assist in emancipating so large a number of our species as the negroes in Virginia from the state of degradation to which they are reduced, I shall be very happy. But I confess the difficulties in the way appear to me, if not absolutely insuperable, yet certainly do very nearly approximate to it. I am, with much respect,
Rev. sir, your very humble servant,
E. A. HOLYOKE.*
* Dr. E. A. Holyoke, a physician of Salem, was born in 1728. He died March 31, 1828, aged one hundred years and between seven and eight months. He was an acute and learned physician, was one of the founders of the Massachusetts Medical Society, and its first President. - EDS.
DR. HOLYOKE'S OBSERVATIONS.
Answer to Queries respecting the Introduction, Progress, and Abolition of Slavery in Massachusetts.
1st. Though I believe the period uncertain, yet slaves must have been introduced very early. And as the inhabitants of Massachusetts were much connected with Barbadoes, which was settled but three or four years before us, and several families went from hence to establish themselves there, it is probable negroes might be first introduced from that quarter. I believe instances of Indian slaves were, at every period, very rare in this State, and those few we had were brought from the West Indies. I never knew of more than five or six Indian slaves.
2d. Yes. But never, I believe, to any great extent. When it commenced I know not, nor when it began to decline. But few cargoes, I believe, have been brought in here within this 35 or 40 years. The elder merchants in Boston can best answer this question.
3d. The slaves which were brought here directly from Afric came, for the most part, I believe, in American vessels. But the trade was not generally agreeable to the people, and several openly expressed their disapprobation of it. Judge Sewall, about the latter end of the last century, published a small tract against it, intitled "Joseph sold: A Memorial." I do not recollect any regulations made by the legislature to discourage the business before slavery was suppressed among us (about the beginning of the American war), as it were, by common con
It was no uncommon thing for our West India merchants to import a few, from time to time, from the West India Islands. Perhaps nearly half which were imported came in this channel.
4th. The state of slavery among us was always, I believe, as easy and as tolerable as can well be imagined, and in very many instances scarcely deserved the name, especially in the country towns, where the negroes were nearly upon an equal footing with the rest of the families in which they lived. As to their
numbers and proportions to the whites, 'tis probable a pretty exact account may be obtained by consulting the old valuations in the Secretary's office, in which, if I do not mistake, servants for life (or negroes) always made a distinct article, as they were always an article of taxation.
5th. I do not know of any legislative acts abolishing slavery before the people at large had given up the idea. But I am not able to give this query a full answer.
6th. About the beginning of the American war, or soon after, the people in general abandoned the idea of holding their fellow creatures in slavery, feeling, perhaps, the inconsistency of doing this at a time when they were strenuously asserting the cause of liberty for themselves. Numbers, however, were loth to lose their property, and in several instances it was not till a legal process was commenced by the negroes against their masters (which always issued in favor of the former *) that they were allowed their freedom. As to the proportion they bore to the whites, at that or any other period, consult the old valuations.
7th. Their condition is, in general, pretty miserable. They have generally, as I am informed, left the country towns and resorted to the seaports, where, though they might all of them be constantly employed, and most of them are, yet many are not industrious, and frugality many of them seem to be utterly unacquainted with; and, having been educated in families where they had contracted habits of a more luxurious mode of living than they can support in their present situation, they are much more uncomfortable (as they confess) than in their former state of slavery. As to the public provision for them, 't is, I believe, the same as for other poor persons.
8th. As to their political rights, I suppose they stand upon the same ground with their fairer-complexioned neighbours ; and, if otherwise qualified, may be chosen into the highest offices of the State. A strange oversight, surely, in the legislature! I never have heard, however, of any one chosen into any office at all.
*The courts before which these actions were brought, I understand, determined that there was no law or statute which permitted any person to hold any one in slavery; and, as it was contrary to common law, they always decided in favor of the plaintiff. — Dr. Holyoke's Note.
9th. Their conduct, both moral and social, is pretty much the same with that of the lowest order of poor in the community. 10th. No intermarriages; if any, extremely rare. I have not heard of any.
11th. The lowest of the people sometimes associate with them, but I believe they generally consider it as an act of condescension.
JOHN ADAMS TO DR. BELKNAP.
QUINCY, March 21, 1795.
DEAR SIR, -I received, last night, your favour of the 20th, and a day or two before had received that of the 2d, returned to me from Philadelphia. Thanks for Mr. Winthrop's prophecies.
I wrote to Charles Thompson, on the subject of Cook's voyage, long enough before I left Philadelphia to have had an answer, but none has yet arrived. Mr. Thompson is as deeply engaged in preparing an English translation of the Septuagint as Mr. Winthrop is in unriddling prophecies, and possibly cannot find time to write upon such trifles as Dr. Kippis's sacrifice of the honour of our country to his stupid adulation of Franklin. If I were to study prophecies, I doubt not I should find the worship of Latria, paid by the Presbyterian parsons in England to Franklin, among some of the traits or features of the Whore of Babylon. In their imaginations, he always appeared to me to have exalted himself above all that was worshipped; and this circumstance, among others, contributed somewhat to diminish my reverence for Presbyterian parsons.
I have read the queries concerning the rise and progress of slavery; but, as it is a subject to which I have never given any very particular attention, I may not be able to give you so much information as many others. I was concerned in several causes in which negroes sued for their freedom, before the Revolution. The arguments in favour of their liberty were much the same as have been urged since in pamphlets and newspapers, in debates in Parliament, &c., arising from the rights of mankind, which was the fashionable word at that time. Since that time, they have dropped the "kind."
Argument might have some weight in the abolition of slavery in the Massachusetts, but the real cause was the multiplication of labouring white people, who would no longer suffer the rich to employ these sable rivals so much to their injury. This principle has kept negro slavery out of France, England, and other parts of Europe. The common people would not suffer the labour, by which alone they could obtain a subsistence, to be done by slaves. If the gentlemen had been permitted by law to hold slaves, the common white people would have put the negroes to death, and their masters too, perhaps.
I never knew a jury, by a verdict, to determine a negro to be a slave. They always found them free. As I was not in the General Court in 1773, I have no particular remembrance of the petition for the liberation of all the blacks, and know not how it was supported or treated.
The common white people, or rather the labouring people, were the cause of rendering negroes unprofitable servants. Their scoffs and insults, their continual insinuations, filled the negroes with discontent, made them lazy, idle, proud, vicious, and at length wholly useless to their masters, to such a degree that the abolition of slavery became a measure of œconomy. I am, at present in haste,
Your friend and servant,
JAMES SULLIVAN TO DR. BELKNAP.
BOSTON, April 9, 1795.
SIR, I have had the pleasure of reading your dissertation on the origin and abolition of slavery in this State, and conceive that you have traced the history of those transactions with great accuracy. I have an idea, however, that in the 16th page your expression as to the education of negros is too strong.*
The first causes brought by negros against their masters were
* Dr. Belknap, it appears, had drawn up his reply to Judge Tucker, and submitted it to Judge Sullivan in manuscript, before the date of this letter. He subsequently made some modification of the language at this place, and added other passages from Sullivan's letter. — EDs.