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conducted by Judge Lowell, who can give you an account of that business.
There is an act in Thomas's Law-book, page 355, against the slave-trade, passed in 1788; another, in the same year, and in the same book, p. 349, respecting foreign negroes. Perhaps you have seen these.
In the year 1781, an indictment was found in the county of Worcester against Nathaniel Jennison, of Barre, yeoman, for assaulting, beating, and imprisoning Quock Walker. He was tried at the Supreme Judicial Court, in April, 1783. The defence was that the said Quock was a slave brought from Africa, and sold to some person who, many years before, had sold him to the defendant, and that the assaulting, beating, and imprisonment was done by the defendant as the restraint and necessary correction of the master on the servant. was answered by the Declaration of rights, declaring all men free, equal, &c. The judges and jury were of opinion that Jennison has not right to beat or imprison the negro. He was found guilty, and fined 40s. This decision put an end to the idea of slavery in this State.*
Where negroes have taken their freedom against the consent of their masters, and have since become paupers, there is yet a question respecting their support. 'Some say that their former masters ought to be at the expence. Others say that, as the public opinion emancipated them, they ought to come within the description of state paupers. Others say that they are properly town charges. But to this it is said that they are within no description of town inhabitants, that towns could never warn them to depart, and that they could never gain a legal settlement. This dispute is not known in Boston, but it exists in many places in the country. Suits are pending on the question, but the judges do not seem to have formed any system of opinions on the subject; and, though a bill has been long before the legislature, nothing is yet agreed upon respecting it.
I am respectfully yours, &c.,
REV. DR. Belknap.
* See Levi Lincoln's "brief" at the trial in 1781, further on. - EDS.
† James Sullivan was a member of the Convention which framed the Constitution of Massachusetts. Soon after, he was one of the Justices of the Supreme
JUDGE TUCKER TO DR. BELKNAP.
WILLIAMSBURG, April 11, 1795.
SIR, -Be pleased to accept my best acknowledgments for your several favours of Feb. 15th and March 18th, and more especially for the very obliging attention you have paid to my request in transmitting copies of my queries to your friends, and the trouble you have taken in answering the first of them. I anticipate (from the manner in which you have answered the first) the answer to the second, that the African trade hath never obtained a place in your State. Happy would it have been for us, had that horrid traffic never found its way hither. Our historian, Mr. Stith, mentions the arrival of a Dutch ship here, with 20 slaves, in the year 1620.* This is the only notice of the subject in his book. Beverley's and Sir William Keith's histories are so scarce that I never saw but one copy of the former, and that many years ago, and not one of the latter. Our laws contain the only registers on the subject that are now to be met with. From these, however, it appears, as I mentioned in my former letter, that the Legislature of Virginia began to discountenance the importation of slaves so long ago as the year 1699. But the African Company had too much interest. with the government in England for the wishes of the Colonial Legislature to prevail.
The communication between Boston and Norfolk being perhaps more frequent than with either Richmond or Petersburg, your favours, addressed to the care of Mr. Moses Myers, merchant there, will meet a very ready conveyance to this place.
Permit me, sir, as a trifling acknowledgment of your favours,
Judicial Court, and took part in the decision of the civil action of Jennison v. Caldwell in 1781. He was afterwards Attorney-General and Governor of the Commonwealth. He was the first President of the Massachusetts Historical Society. EDS.
* Stith no doubt copied from Beverly, who names that year. But the true date is to be found in a letter of John Rolfe, written from Virginia, relating events which occurred in 1619. "About the last of August," he says, came in a dutch man of warre that sold vs twenty Negars." Smith's "Generall Historie," fol. p. 126.- EDS.
to request your acceptance of three small pamphlets, which have probably never before crossed the Hudson River. They are sent by the mail. I am, with much respect, sir,
Your obliged humble servant,
S. G. TUCKER.
JUDGE TUCKER TO DR. BELKNAP.
WILLIAMSBURG, June 29, 1795.
SIR,It is some weeks since I had the pleasure of receiving your last favor accompanying answers to the remaining queries which I took the liberty of transmitting you. Being at that time very much engaged, and obliged to leave home for several weeks, I deferred answering your letter till my return; and since that period I have been too much indisposed to write. Permit me now, sir, to render you my best acknowledgments, not only for the great trouble you have taken, and the obliging readiness you have manifested to comply with my request, but for the very full and satisfactory manner in which you have communicated the result of your researches. Happy has it been for your country that the progress of slavery, from a combination of natural causes, with political considerations, and even human weakness and prejudice, has been so inconsiderable therein as to render the extirpation of it neither difficult nor dangerous. With us, on the contrary, climate, a baneful policy, and a different operation of the same prejudice which prevented its growth in the Massachusetts, have combined to cherish an evil which is now so thoroughly incorporated in our constitution as to render ineffectual, I fear, every attempt to eradicate it, and to make it doubtful whether even palliatives may not operate to encrease our distemper. From your researches, it appears that the greatest proportion of slaves to free whites in Massachusetts was as 1 to 40; whereas, in Virginia, it appears by the late census of the United States there are 305,943 blacks, including 12,866 free blacks, and 442,117 whites, which is nearly as 2 to 3. But this is not all. If the State of Virginia be divided into 4 districts, the first comprehending all the counties from the ocean to the falls of the rivers, and some few of the
adjacent counties will be found to contain 196,542 slaves and 198,371 free persons, including a proportion of the 12,866 free blacks, probably not less than 8,000; so that, in a tract of country comprehending more than one-half the population of Virginia, there are more blacks, and even more slaves, than free white persons. In the second class, extending to the Blue Ridge of mountains, and including the counties of Frederick and Berkeley beyond it, there are 82,286 slaves, and 136,251 free persons, which is nearly 2 to 3. In the third district, extending to the Allegany Mountains, there are 11,218 slaves, and 76,281 free persons, nearly as 1 to 7 only. In the fourth district, reaching from the eastern side of the Alleganey to the Kentucky line, there are only 2,381 slaves, and 41,318 free persons, nearly as 1 to 20 only. From this view of the subject, it will appear that the most populous and cultivated parts of Virginia would not only bear an infinite disproportion in the diminution of property by a general emancipation, but that the dangers and inconveniences of any experiment to release the blacks from a state of bondage must fall exclusively almost upon these parts of the State. The calamities which have lately spread like a contagion through the West India Islands afford a solemn warning to us of the dangerous predicament in which we stand, whether we persist in the now perhaps unavoidable course entailed upon us. by our ancestors, or, copying after the liberal sentiments of the national convention of France, endeavour to do justice to the rights of human nature, and to banish deep-rooted, nay, almost. innate, prejudices. The latter is a task, perhaps, beyond the power of human nature to accomplish. If, in Massachusetts, where the numbers are comparatively very small, this prejudice be discernable, how much stronger may it be imagined in this country, where every white man felt himself born to tyrannize, where the blacks were regarded as of no more importance than the brute cattle, where the laws rendered even venial offences criminal in them, where every species of degradation towards them was exercised on all occasions, and where even their lives were exposed to the ferocity of their masters; for it is only within these few years that an act, passed above a century ago,* exempting the masters of slaves, or others punishing a slave by
* Anno 1669.
order of their masters, from any penalty or prosecution in consequence of any slave dying in consequence of excessive chastisement, for which this reason was assigned by the legislators of those days: "Since it cannot be presumed that prepensive malice, which alone makes murder felony, should induce any man to destroy his own estate." This abominable law continued to stain our code, and to corrupt the morals of the people of Virginia, until the year 1788. In that year, I, for the first time since my acquaintance with courts, saw a white man tried and convicted for the murder of a slave by excessive whipping, and he was hanged accordingly. Unfortunately, in the new edition of our laws, the legislature thought it sufficient to expunge the former act, without inserting the latter. I fear it may have an ill consequence; for there is nothing like holding up a warning in view of bad men. Whatever disposition the first settlers in Virginia or their immediate descendants might have had to encourage slavery, the present generation are, I am persuaded, more liberal; and a large majority of slave-holders among us would cheerfully concur in any feasible plan for the abolition of it. The objections to the measure are drawn from the deeprooted prejudices in the minds of the whites against the blacks, the general opinion of their mental inferiority, and an aversion to their corporeal distinctions from us, both which considerations militate against a general incorporation of them with us; the danger of granting them a practical admission to the rights of citizens; the possibility of their becoming idle, dissipated, and finally a numerous banditti, instead of turning their attention to industry and labour; the injury to agriculture in a large part of the State, where they are almost the only labourers, should they withdraw themselves from the culture of the earth; and the impracticability, and perhaps the dangerous policy, of an attempt to colonize them within the limits of the United States, or elsewhere. Mr. Jefferson seems to hint at this expedient; but surely he could not have weighed the difficulties and expence of an attempt to colonize 300,000 persons. If the attempt were made within the United States, it would probably include a provision for the slaves in the other States, amounting, on the whole, to 800,000. Could the funds of the United States support such a colony? If an army of 3 or 4 thousand men in the Western country is supported at such expence as that a bushel