Sunday, September 2, 2012

A Merciless Planter and Two Generous Negroes

From the American Magazine and Historical Chronicle (1743-1746); Feb 1746

Originally published in the London Magazine, October 1745:

SIR, A gentleman newly come from Virginia, where he has liv'd there ten Years past, and whose Veracity may be depended upon, entertain'd me with an Accident of so extraordinary a Nature which happen'd not long since there, that I thought it might deserve a place in your Magazine.

A Planter of that Country, who was Owner of a considerable Number of slaves, instead of regarding them as human Creatures, and of the same species as himself, used them with the utmost Cruelty, whipping and torturing them for the slightest Faults.  One of these thinking any Change preferable to Slavery under such a Barbarian, attempted to make his Escape among the Mountain Indians, but, unfortunately, was taken and brought back to his Master.  Poor Arthur (so he was call'd) was immediately order'd to receive 300 Lashes stark naked, which were to be given by his Fellow-Slaves, among whom happen'd to be a few new Negro (so they call those Slaves just brought from Africa), purchas'd by the Planter the Day before.  This Slave, the Moment he saw the unhappy Wretch destin'd to the Lashes, flew to his Arms, and embrac'd him with the greatest tenderness: The other return'd his Transports, and nothing could be more moving than their mutual bemoaning each other's Misfortunes.  Their Master was soon given to understand that they were Countrymen and intimate Friends, and that Arthur had formerly, in a Battle with a neighboring Nation, sav'd his Friend's Life at the extreme Hazard of his own.  The new Negro, at the same Time, threw himself at the Planter's Feet with Tears, beseeching him, in the most moving Manner, to spare his Friend, or at least to suffer him to undergo the Punishment in his Room, protesting, he would sooner die ten thousand Deaths than lift his Hand against him.  But the Wretch looking on this as an Affront to the absolute Power he pretended over him, ordered Arthur to be immediately tied to a Tree, and his Friend to give him the Lashes; telling him too, that for every Lash not well laid on, he should himself receive a Score.  The new Negro amaz'd at the Barbarity so unbecoming a human Creature, with a generous Disdain refus'd to obey him, at the same Time upbraiding him with his Cruelty; upon which, the Planter turning all his Rage on him, order'd him to be immediately stripp'd and commanded Arthur (to whom he promis'd Forgiveness) to give his Countryman the Lashes himself had been destin'd to receive.  This Proposal too was receiv'd with Scorn, each protesting that he would rather suffer the most dreadful Torture than injure his Friend. This generous Conflict, which must have rais'd the strongest Feelings in a Breast susceptible of Pity, did but the more enflame the Master, who now determin'd they should both be made Examples of, and to satiate his Revenge, was resolv'd to whip them himself.  He was just preparing to begin with Arthur, when the new Negro drew a Knife from his Pocket, stabb'd the Planter to the Heart, and at the same Time struck it to his own, rejoicing with his last Breath, that he had reveng'd his Friend, and rid the World of such a Monster.

What a glaring Instance is here of Barbarity in one bred among Christians; and of a noble, disinterested Friendship, and true Greatness of Soul in these two unhappy Wretches!  Had they the Happiness of a proper Education, and been bless'd with the Lights of Christianity, such Genius's, in all Probability, would have exerted themselves in a glorious Manner for the Service of their Country, or all Mankind.  Then what Manner of Excuse can we make for treating this Part of our Species with such Contempt and Partiality?  What in an European would be called a glorious Struggling for Liberty, we call in them Rebellion, Treachery, and Perseverance we term Obstinacy, and Melancholy (the constant Attendant of Slavery in the thinking Soul) Sulkiness, and a savage Gloominess; nay, we put them so little on the Footing of common Humanity, that there is only an insignificant Fine set on a white Man that murders any of them.

In a Breast sensible of the least Touches of Humanity, Compassion must arise to see our Fellow Creatures (for they are not the less for being of a different Climate and Complexion) reduced to the most abject State in the whole Creation; and how base is it to add to the Weight of their Misery by the barbarous Usage they generally meet with!  To take those unhappy People, without the least Provocation, from their own Country, from every Thing that is dear to them, a tender, loving Wife and Children, perhaps, and plunge them into irredeemable Slavery, is shocking to think of!  Nay, the Misfortunes does not end here, for their Posterity in general are to undergo the same Fate, and Life, which Heaven design'd the first and greatest Blessing, is to them a continued Scene of Misery.  Hope, the great Comforter of Mankind, is forever excluded; nor have their Masters any more Regard to their immortal Part, never instructing them in the Lights of Christianity, themselves forgetting the chief Precept of it in their Usage of them, viz. Doing as they would be done by.

The only Arguments that can be urg'd in Defence of this barbarous Trade, are, That the Slaves they purchase are such beforehand, and that it is but an Exchange of Savage for Christian Masters; nay, that it is saving the Lives of thousands of them, who would, otherwise be sacrificed to their Idols; but, in Reality, tis the Europeans who are the Idols, to whose Cruelty and Avarice these poor Wretches are sacrificed.  Tis they who are the Authors of all the Wars, Bloodshed, Treachery, and we so condemn in them.  Tis to get them Slaves they do this, and practice Crimes unknown among them before the Arrival of the white People; and when an European Ship appears on the Coast, 'tis a future Forerunner of the Rapine, Murder, and the greatest Calamity.  Then how unworthy human Nature, and how opposite the Rules laid down in the Gospel by our great Master, is that kidnapping Sort of Traffick!  But in a free People, as the English are, who on all Occasions show the greatest abhorrence of Slavery, 'tis doubly criminal.

Nature is not so partial as to confine her Favours to any Nation or Climate; Virtues as well as Vices are the Produce of all Countries, and a Nobleness of Soul among these Savages, as we call them, often breaks forth in spite of that Cloud of Ignorance that hangs over them; nor indeed, it is possible, when one reflects on the surprising Revolutions, Arts and Sciences has made, but that some Centuries hence, they may be transfer'd to Africa or America, and the Natives of these Countries have it in their Power to revenge the Injuries done to their Forefathers on the Europeans, who may, at that Time, make as despicable a Figure in the World as the Natives of those Places now do.


  1. I, too, am a lover of old newspapers. This article is heart-wrenching, stomach turning, but enlightening in the perspective of the reporter, that even in 1745, there were some who saw the truth in barbarity.

  2. I just found your blog through Geneabloggers. Welcome to Geneabloggers.

    I just love using old newspapers for genealogy.

    Regards, Jim
    Newspaper Genealogy at Hidden Genealogy Nuggets

  3. Thanks for posting that letter and providing another perspective on the centuries-old debate over the condition of slavery. It is indeed eye-opening to go back and see what people of these previous times had to say about their own "current events."

    Katie, I had to laugh when I stumbled upon your blog today, thanks to GeneaBloggers. I have that same susceptibility to being sidetracked by interesting reading material. Well...that is not entirely true...I can get sidetracked looking up a word in a dictionary :)

    Looking forward to following your blog!

  4. Hello. Thomas at Geneabloggers tweeted about your site. I retweeted it to help get the word out.

    Good luck!

  5. Thanks everyone for checking out my blog, and thanks Tim for helping get the word out! :)