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ON the 24th of January, 1795, Judge St. George Tucker, of Williamsburg, Va., addressed a letter to Dr. Belknap, enclosing a number of queries respecting slavery in Massachusetts, to which he solicited answers. Dr. Belknap printed these several queries as a circular letter, and distributed about forty copies "among such gentlemen as it was supposed would assist in answering them." Appended to the queries was the following letter:
SIR, - The above queries are sent to me by a gentleman in Virginia, whose view appears to be to assist in removing the difficulties which attend the question of a general emancipation of slaves in that State.
Being desirous of collecting the best information for him, I beg leave to submit the queries to your consideration, asking the favour of you to furnish me, as soon as may be, with your sentiments on any of them which it is in your power to answer. Your most obedient servant,
BOSTON, February 17, 1795.
To what number of these circulars sent out Dr. Belknap received answers, we have no means certainly of knowing. "Some of them," he says, "gave answers from which, and from other sources of information," he drew up an interesting paper, which he sent to Judge Tucker, and which that same year was printed in the third serial of Volume IV. of the Collections of this Society, at pages
191-211: the communication as printed bore date "April 21, 1795."
Answers from seven prominent citizens of Massachusetts are preserved in the Society's archives, along with the original manuscript draft of Dr. Belknap's answer to Judge Tucker. It is quite probable that there were but few if any others. In the manuscript draft referred to, Dr. Belknap often cites his authorities in the margin, as "Winthrop's Journal, p. 19"; "Prince's Annals, p. 241"; "Josselyn's Voyage, p. 12"; "p. 28"; "Records of Genl. Court in Ms., 14d. 3mo. (May)"; Appendix to 2d Vol. of Neal's Hist'y N. E."; "Mass. Colony Laws, p. 15"; "Ibid., p. 105"; "Josselyn's Voyages, p. 182"; "See Hist'y of New Hampshire, Vol. I. p. 143, 245"; "Holyoke's Letter"; "Dexter's Letter"; "Winthrop's Letter."
He also makes a note of "Sullivan's Letter," from which he took several extracts, and incorporated them into a later transcript, or into his final revision for the press; Sullivan's letter not having been written till after Dr. Belknap's paper had been drawn up and submitted to him. There is also placed in the margin the name of "D". Mason" against the passage, under the second query, where he says, "I cannot find, by inquiring of our oldest merchants now living, that more than three ships in a year, from the port of Boston, were ever engaged in the African trade." (See the printed volume, p. 196.) And in the margin against the sentence under the fifth query, beginning with, "The pleas on the part of the masters were,' &c., the name of "Judge Lowell" is written; and near the close of this paragraph is written, "Judge Dana." (Ibid., pp. 202, 203.)
Whether Dr. Belknap had received letters from the three gentlemen last named, or had derived information from them simply by a personal interview, cannot now be ascertained. He does not cite "Judge Lowell's letter" nor
"Judge Dana's letter," as in the other instances where letters exist, but only gives the name. If letters had been received, they would naturally be preserved here.
But Dr. Belknap, in his reply to Judge Tucker, makes free use of other letters, here preserved, whose authors' names he does not place in the margin of his manuscript. As no one of these authorities is cited in the answer as printed in the Collections, Dr. Belknap may, as he proceeded in the work of drawing up this paper, have abandoned the idea originally formed of making such references. They are confined to the first part of his manuscript.
We now print for the first time the letters which are extant, received by Dr. Belknap, in reply to Judge Tucker's queries; feeling that they may throw some new light on opinions and feelings, not always harmonious, which were entertained in Massachusetts at that period, relating to a subject which gradually grew to be so absorbing throughout the nation. The reader will also be able to judge how faithfully Dr. Belknap has used the authorities before him in preparing his answer to Judge Tucker.
The original letter of Judge Tucker to Dr. Belknap, with the queries enclosed in it, is here reprinted from the autograph manuscript, as an introduction to the replies which follow.
We also print, in conclusion, several additional letters of Judge Tucker; a number of petitions of negroes, to the Massachusetts government, for the abolition of slavery in the Province; and the "brief" of Levi Lincoln, in the celebrated case of Jennison v. Caldwell. This last paper has been copied from the original manuscript in the Library of the American Antiquarian Society.