Romanticism and Slave Narratives: Transatlantic Testimonies

by Helen Thomas

Chapter One: The English Slave Trade and Abolitionism


1 1 Charles MacInnes, England and Slavery (Bristol: Arrowsmith, 1934) 18; Peter Fryer, Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain (London: Pluto, 1984) 8. For further discussion see James Walvin, Black Ivory: A History of British Slavery (London: Harper Collins, 1992); Eric Williams, Capitalism and Slavery (1945; London: Andre Deutsch, 1964); Anthony Tibbles, ed., Transatlantic Slavery: Against Human Dignity (Liverpool: National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside, 1994).

2 Jamaica was seized from Spain in 1655. See David Richardson, `The Rise of the Atlantic Empires', Transatlantic Slavery: Against Human Dignity, ed. Anthony Tibbles, 22.

3 See Philip Curtin, The Atlantic Slave Trade: A Census (Madison: Wisconsin University Press, 1969) 122-3, 128-30.

4 Robin Blackburn, The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery, 1776-1848 (London:Verso, 1990) 5. In his book Blackburn argues that slavery was not overthrown purely for economic reasons but because it became politically untenable. Blackburn also suggests that the progress of abolition depended upon black intervention, upon slave resistance and upon the black `Jacobin' breakthrough in the 1790s - that is, that without the black contribution to antislavery feeling, the challenge to colonial slavery could not possibly have triumphed. See also Williams, Capitalism and Slavery.274.

5 Blackburn, Overthrow, 12-13.

6 Norman McCullough, The Negro in English Literature: A Critical Introduction(Ilfracombe: Arthur H. Stockwell, 1962) 55.

7 B.W. Higman, Slave Populations of the British Caribbean, 1807-1834 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984) 72; idem, Slave Population and Economy in Jamaica, 1807-1834 (Kingston: The University of the West Indies Press, 1995) 15.

8 Elsa Goveia, Slave Society in the British Leeward Islands at the End of the Eighteenth Century (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1965) 152.

9 William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England in Four Books, 8th edn., 4 vols.(Oxford,1779)vol. i, 424. See also David Brion Davis, The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution, 1770-1823 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1975).

10 For an excellent discussion of British antislavery and emancipation see Howard Temperley, British Antislavery, 1833-1870 (London: Longman, 1972).

11 Michael Craton, James Walvin and David Wright, eds, Slavery, Abolition and Emancipation: Black Slaves and the British Empire (London: Longman, 1972) 170; cited in Moira Ferguson, Subject to Others: British Women Writers and Colonial Slavery, 1670-1834 (London: Routledge, 1992) 116-17.

12 Edward Long, Candid Reflections upon the Judgement Lately Awarded by the Court of the King's Bench in Westminster-Hall, on What is Commonly Called `the Negroe Cause' by a Planter (London, 1772) iii.

13 Ibid., 24, 4, 39.

14 The London Chronicle, 13-16 March 1773; cited in Nigel File and Chris Power, eds, Black Settlers in Britain, 1555-1958 (1981; repr. Hampshire: Heinemann Educational Press, 1990) 23.

15 Aristotle, Aristotle's Ethics and Politics Comprising His Practical Philosophy, ed. John Gillies, 2 vols. (London, 1797) vol. ii, 27. See Sandiford, Measuring the Moment: Strategies of Protest in Eighteenth-Century Afro-English Writing (Selinsgrove: Susquehanna Press, 1988) for an excellent discussion of the intellectual milieu surrounding the abolitionist debate.

16 Aristotle, Ethics, vol. ii, 29.

17 John Locke, `Essay Concerning the True Original, Extent, and End of Civil Government', Two Treatises of Government: In the Former, the False Principles, and Foundation of Sir Robert Filmer, and His Followers, Are Detected and Overthrown. The Latter is an Essay Concerning the True Original, Extent, and End of Civil Government (London, 1690) 220.

18 Ibid., 220.

19 Ibid., 1.

20 Ibid., 242.

21 Ibid., 242.

22 David Brion Davis, The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1966) 118.

23 Charles Louis Montesquieu, De l'espirit des lois, ed. Anne Cohler, Basia Miller and Harold Stone (Cambridge University Press, 1989). See also Montesquieu, The Spirit of Laws, trans. T. Nugent,2 vols. (London, 1750); The Spirit of Laws, ed. David Wallace Carrithers (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977) 18-23. Carrithers notes the irony of the fact that it took a Frenchman to explain the British constitution to the British. So authorative was Montesquieu's account, that it was amplified by Blackstone in his Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765-1769).

24 Montesquieu, The Spirit of Laws (London, 1750) vol. i, 337, 336.

25 Ibid., vol. i, 348, 339.

27 Act 38, Clause 40, Acts of Assembly, Passed in the Island of Jamaica; from 1681, to 1754, Inclusive (London, 1756) 63: `No Slave shall be free by becoming a Christian'.

27 John Atkins, A Voyage to Guinea, Brasil, and the West Indies; in His Majesty's Ships, the Swallow and Weymouth. Describing the Several Islands and Settlements, the Colour, Diet, Languages, Habits, Manners, Customs and Religions of the Respective Natives, and Inhabitants. With Remarks on the Gold, Ivory, and Slave Trade; and on the Winds, Tides and Currents of the Several Coasts (London, 1735); Francis Hutcheson, A System of Moral Philosophy in Three Books, 2 vols. (Glasgow, 1755); Sir Hans Sloane, A Voyage to the Islands Madera, Barbados, Nieves, S. Christophers and Jamaica with the Natural History of the Herbs and Trees, Four-footed Beasts, Fishes, Birds, Insects, Reptiles &c. of those Islands: To Which is Prefix'd an Introduction, wherein Is an Account of the Inhabitants, Air, Waters, Diseases, Trade &c. of that Place, 2 vols. (London, 1707): `The Negros are usually thought to be haters of their own Children, and therefore `tis believed that they sell and dispose of them to Strangers for Money, but this is not true . . . The Punishments for Crimes of Slaves, are usually for Rebellions burning them, by nailing them down on the ground, and then applying the Fire by degrees from the Feet and Hands, burning them gradually up to the Head, whereby their pains are extravagant. For Crimes of a lesser nature Gelding, or chopping off half of the Foot with an Axe. These Punishments are suffered by them with great Constancy (vol. 1, lvi-lvii).'

28 Hutcheson, System, vol. i, xvi,1.

29 Ibid., vol. i, 299.

30 Ibid., vol. i, 293.

31 Ibid., vol. i, 300-1.

32 Ibid., vol. i, 300.

33 George Wallace, A System of the Principles of the Law of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1760) 89-90.

34 Ibid., 91.

35 Ibid., 96.

36 Antony Benezet, A Short Account of That Part of Africa Inhabited by Negroes (Philadelphia, 1762); Michel Adanson, A Voyage to Senegal, the Isle of Goree and the River Gambia, trans. Jean de Fouchy (London, 1759); William Bosman, A New and Accurate Description of the Coast of Guinea, Divided into the Gold, the Slave, and the Ivory Coasts. Containing a Geographical, Political and Natural History of the Kingdoms and Countries: With a Particular Account of the Rise, Progress and Present Condition of All the European Settlements upon that Coast; and the Just Measures for Improving the Several Branches of the Guinea Trade (London, 1705); William Smith, A New Voyage to Guinea (London, 1744).

37Antony Benezet, Some Historical Account of Guinea, its Situation, Produce and the General Disposition of its Inhabitants. With an Inquiry into the Rise and Progress of the Slave Trade, its Nature and Lamentable Effects. Also a Republication of the Sentiments of Several Authors of Note on This Interesting Subject; Particularly an Extract of a Treatise by G. Sharp (Philadelphia, 1771) i.

38 Benezet, Some Historical Account, 94-5.

39 Ibid., iii.

40 Antony Benezet, A Caution and Warning to Great Britain and Her Colonies, in a Short Representation of the Calamitous State of the Enslaved Negroes in the British Dominions (Philadelphia, 1766) 4-5, 23.

41 Benezet, A Caution and Warning, 4, 97.

42 Guillaume Thomas Raynal, A Philosophical and Political History of the Settlements and Trade of the Europeans in the East and West Indies, trans. J. Justamond, 5 vols. (London, 1776) vol. iii, 422.

43 Ibid., vol. iii, 510.

44 Ibid., vol. iii, 506.

45 Blackburn, Overthrow of Colonial Slavery, 55.

46 Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, 2 vols. (London, 1776) vol. ii, 587.

47 John Millar, The Origin of the Distinction of Ranks (1771; London, 1779) 347.

48 Ibid., 349.

49 James Beattie, An Essay on the Nature and Immutability of Truth, in Opposition to Sophistry and Scepticism, 2nd edn. (Edinburgh, 1771); see Sandiford 47-9. David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature: Being an Attempt to Introduce the Experimental Method of Reasoning into Moral Subjects, 3 vols. (London, 1739) and The Philosophical Works of David Hume, 4 vols. (Edinburgh: Adam and William Tait, 1826).

50 Beattie, An Essay on the Nature and Immutability of Truth, 507, 506,508. Two decades after this publication, Beattie, in his Elements of Moral Science (1790; Edinburgh, 1793) presented an argument against slavery on humanitarian rather than rationalistic grounds.

51 Beattie, An Essay on the Nature and Immutability of Truth, 509, 512.

52 David Bebbington, Evangelicism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s (London: Unwin Hyman, 1989).

53 Ibid., 20; Mark Noll, David Bebbington and George Rawlyk, Evangelicalism: Comparative Studies of Popular Protestantism in North America, the British Isles, and Beyond, 1700-1990 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994) 6.

54 Encyclopaedia of Religion, ed. Mircea Eliade, 20 vols. (London: Macmillan, 1987) vol. v, 32-6, 370.

55 Harry Richardson, Dark Salvation: The Story of Methodism as it Developed Among Blacks in America (New York: Anchor Press, 1976) 9.

56 56 Robert Southey, The Life of Wesley and the Rise and Progress of Methodism (London: Warne, 1889) 476.

57 John Wesley, The Works of John Wesley, ed. Albert Outler, 5 vols. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1984) vol. i, 5. John Wesley's `strange warming' of the heart on 24 May 1738 signalled the birth of Evangelical Methodism whilst the conversion of William Grimshaw in 1742 and the appointment of William Romaine as lecturer at St. Dunstan's, London, in 1748, marked the birth of Evangelical Anglicanism.

58 It was a style that was to strategically influence the Preface accompanying the second edition of Wordsworth's and Coleridge's collection of Lyrical Ballads, with a Few Other Poems, published in London 1800.

59 Wesley, Preface to `Sermons on Several Occasions' (1746), Works, vol. i,104-6.

60 George Fox, A Journal, or an Historical Account of the Life, Travels, Sufferings, Christian Experience and Labour of Love in the Ministry of George Fox (London, 1694); John Woolman, A Journal of the Life, Gospel Labours and Christian Experience of that Faithful Minister of Jesus Christ, John Woolman, to Which are Added his Works (Dublin, 1776); William Penn, No Cross, No Crown: Or Several Sober Reasons against Hat-Honour, Titular Respects, Yon to a Single Person, with the Apparel and Recreations of the Times (London, 1669); Robert Barclay, An Apology for the True Christian Divinity, As the Same Is Held Forth by the Quakers (Aberdeen, 1678).

61 John Woolman, Some Considerations on the Keeping of Negroes (1754; Northampton: Gehenna Press, 1970) 13, 84.

62 John Woolman, A Journal, 3.

63 Ibid., 19, 43.

64 Anthony Benezet, The Case of Our Fellow-Creatures, the Oppressed Africans,Respectfully Recommended to the Serious Consideration of the Legislature of Great Britain, by the People Call'd Quakers (London, 1784) 3.

65 Ibid., 7.

66 Blackburn, Overthrow of Colonial Slavery, 137.

67 Encyclopaedia of Religion, vol. xv, 200-1.

68 Logie Barrow, Independent Spirits: Spiritualism and English Plebians, 1850-1960 (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986) 4.

69 Joseph Wood, Thoughts on the Slavery of the Negroes (London, 1786); The London Meeting for Suffering, The Cause of Our Fellow Creatures the Oppressed Africans (London, 1784). See Temperley, British Antislavery, 2.

70 Granville Sharp, A Representation of the Injustice and Dangerous Tendency of Admitting the Least Claim of Private Property in the Persons of Man, in England (London, 1769); idem, The Just Limitation in the Laws of God, Compared with the Unbounded Claims of the African Traders and British American Slaveholders (London, 1776); idem, The Law of Retribution; Or, a Serious Warning to Great Britain and Her Colonies Founded on Unquestionable Examples of God's Temporal Vengeance against Tyrants, Slaveholders and Oppressors (London, 1776).

71 Sandiford, Measuring the Moment, 57; Davis 213-54.

72 Thomas Clarkson, An Essay on Slavery and the Commerce of the Human Species, Particularly the African. Translated from a Latin Dissertation, Which Was Honoured with the First Prize in the University of Cambridge for the Year 1785, with Additions (London, 1789); idem, An Essay on the Impolicy of the African Slave Trade in Two Parts, 2 vols. (London, 1788).

73 Clarkson, An Essay on the Impolicy, 3,81-2.

74 Blackburn, Overthrow of Colonial Slavery, 169-76.

75 Philip Doddridge, The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul: Illustrated in a Course of Serious and Practical Addresses (London, 1745) 1-2.

76 Ernest Marshall Howse, The Saints in Politics: The `Clapham Sect' and the Growth of Freedom (1953; London: Allen and Unwin, 1971) 35.

77 Dissenters included Congregationalists, Baptists and Presbyterians. See Brantley, Wordsworth's `Natural Methodism', 5; see also F. C. Gill, The Romantic Movement and Methodism (London: Epworth Press, 1937) and Thomas Boswell Shepherd, Methodism and the Literature of the Eighteenth Century (London: Epworth Press, 1940).

78 Encyclopaedia of Religion, vol. xv, 370-1.

79 William Hazlitt, `On the Causes of Methodism' (1817), The Complete Works of William Hazlitt, ed. P. P. Howe, 21 vols. (London: J. M. Dent, 1930-4) vol. iv, 57-61; 58, 60.

80 Ibid., 61, 58.

81 See Bernard Semmel, The Methodist Revolution (London: Heinemann, 1974); Eliade vol. ix, 493-5.

82 John Wesley, The New Birth: A Sermon on John 3.7 (London, 1784) 1.

83 Ibid., 5-6.

84 Davis 386-7; Harold Lindstrom, Wesley and Sanctification: A Study in the Doctrine of Salvation (London: Epworth Press, 1950); John Henry Overton, The Evangelical Revival in the Eighteenth Century, ed. M. Creighton (1886; London: Longmans, 1898).

85 Richard Brantley, Wordsworth's Natural Methodism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1975) 6.

86 John Wesley, Advice to the People Call'd Methodists (London, 1745) 3-4.

87 John Wesley, The Character of a Methodist (1743; London, 1745) 17-18.

88 Ibid., 4-5

89 Arnold Rattenbury, `Methodism and the Tatterdemalions', Popular Culture and Class Conflict, 1590-1914: Explorations in the History of Labour and Leisure, ed. Eileen and Stephen Yeo (Brighton: Harvester Press, 1981) 28-61.

90 Sandiford, Measuring the Moment, 53.

91 "91"> John Wesley, Thoughts Upon Slavery, 3rd edn. (London, 1774) 28.

92 Ibid., 17-18.

93 Ibid., 16.

94 Ibid., 20, 27.

95 William Wilberforce, A Letter on the Abolition of the Slave Trade to the Freeholders and Other Inhabitants of Yorkshire (London: Hansard, 1807) 345, 350-1.

96 Blackburn, Overthrow of Colonial Slavery, 101.

97 George Whitefield, A Short Account of God's Dealings with the Reverend Mr George Whitefield from His Infancy, to the Time of His Entring into Holy Orders.Written by Himself (London, 1740) 11, 49, 69.

98 George Whitefield, `Letter to the Inhabitants of Virginia, Maryland, North and South Carolina, Concerning Their Negroes', Three Letters from the Reverend George Whitefield (London, 1740) 5-11, 6.

99 Edmund Gibson, A Short Preservative Against the Doctrines Rev'd by Mr Whitefield and His Adherents (London, 1739); Tristam Land, A Letter to the Revd Mr Whitefield Designed to Correct His Mistaken Account of Regeneration, or the New Birth. Written Before His Departure from London and Now Published to Prevent His Doing Mischief Among the Common People, upon His Return from Georgia (London, 1739).

100 Whitefield, `Letter to the Inhabitants', 8, 10.

101 Temperley, British Antislavery, 7.

102 Thomas Clarkson, The History of the Rise, Progress, and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave Trade by the British Parliament, 2 vols. (London: Longman, Rees and Orme, 1808) vol. i, 286-7; my emphasis.

103 William Wilberforce, Appeal to the Religion, Justice and Humanity of the Inhabitants of the British Empire in Behalf of the Negro Slaves in the West Indies (London: J. Hatchard, 1823) 1.

104 Henry William Martin, Sir, A Counter-Appeal in Answer to `An Appeal' from William Wilberforce (London: J. Rivington, 1823) 2.

105 Mrs Maddocks, The Female Missionary Advocate, A Poem (London: J. Holdsworth, 1827) 23-4.

106 Matth. 28: 18-20.

107 Urs Bitterli, Cultures in Conflict: Encounters Between European and Non-European Cultures, 1492-1800 (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1989) 5, 7-8.

108 Paul Edwards and David Dabydeen, eds, Black Writers in Britain, 1760-1890 (1991; Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1994) 83.

109 Henry Smeathman, The Substance of a Plan of a Settlement to Be Made Near Sierra Leona, on the Grain Coast of Africa (London, 1786).

110 Philip D. Curtin, The Image of Africa: British Ideas and Action, 1780-1890 (London: Macmillan, 1965) 15-17. In 1788, Banks founded the exploratory `Association for Promoting the Discovery of the Interior Parts of Africa' (known as the `African Association'), the ostensible purpose of which was to collect African geographical, ethnographical and botanical data.

111 Smeathman, Substance of a Plan, title page, 24. See also Johnson Asiegbu, Slavery and the Politics of Liberation (London: Longman, 1969) 1-34, 160-3.

112 Smeathman, Substance of a Plan, 160,162.

113 Clarkson, History of the Slave Trade, vol.ii,342

114 Asiegbu 5.

115 Clarkson, History of the Slave Trade, vol. ii, 585▒6; my emphasis.

116 Asiegbu, Slavery and the Politics, 11.

117 See Ferguson, Subject to Others, 199.

118 A. F. Walls, The Mission of the Church and the Propagation of the Faith (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970) 107▒29; Stiv Jakobsson, Am I Not a Man and a Brother? British Missionaries and the Abolition of the Slave Trade and Slavery in West Africa and the West Indies 1786-1838 (Lund: Gleerup, 1972) 68-9.

119 Anna Maria Falconbridge, Narrative of Two Voyages to the River Sierra Leone, During the Years 1791, 1792, 1793 (1794;London: L. I. Highman, 1802) 125, 134-5. Alexander Falconbridge, An Account of the Slave Trade on the Coast of Africa (London, 1788). For a further discussion of Maria Falconbridge's text, see Ferguson, Subject to Others, 200-8.

120 Ferguson, Subject to Others, 198.

121 Ibid., 199; Rana Kabbani, Europe's Myth of Orient, Devise and Rule (London: Macmillan, 1986) 6.

122 Ferguson, Subject to Others, 238-9; my emphasis.

123 Howse, Saints in Politics, 73-6.

124 Philip Curtin, The Image of Africa: British Ideas and Action, 1780-1890 (London: Macmillan, 1965) 262-3; Curtin notes there was an exception to this educational system: interest of a group of Quakers in ethnology and linguistics informed a plan of phased acculturation which began with elementary instruction in African languages alone and later advanced into education in English.

125 Parliamentary Debates, vol. xxvi, 827-73, 831-72; cited in Howse, Saints in Politics, 88.

126 William Fox, A Brief History of the Wesleyan Missions on the Western Coast of Africa: Including Biographical Sketches of All the Missionaries Who Have Died in that Important Field of Labour. With Some Account of the European Settlements and of the Slave Trade (London: Aylott and Jones, 1851) v.

127 Fox, A Brief History, 5.

128 William Fox, The Western Coast of Africa, Suggestions on the Best Means of Exterminating the Slave Trade and Some Accounts of the Success of the Gospel and of the Present State and Prospects of the Wesleyan Missions on that Coast (London: Aylott and Jones, 1851) 101, 87; my emphasis.

129 Thomas Coke, A History of the West Indies, Containing the Natural Civil and Ecclesiastical History of Each Islands; with an Account of the Missions Instituted in those Islands, from the Commencement of their Civilisation, 3 vols. (Liverpool: Nuttall, Fisher and Dixon, 1808-1811) vol. i, 20-1; my emphasis. In 1842, the best five texts submitted for an interdominational competition on missionary theory were published, including John Harris, ThConstituted and Charged to Convey the Gospel to the World (London: Thomas Ward, 1842) and Baptist Wriothesley Noel, Christian Missions to Heathen Nations (London: James Nisbet, 1842). In 1850, Robert Ramsden's text, Missions: Or, a Word for the Heathen, Being Facts and Anecdotes, Selected from the Journals and Letters of Missionaries (London: John Nisbet, 1850) concluded with a plea to its readers to assist in the dissemination of the gospel to those millions `whose spiritual necessities baf»e all description': `O turn not a deaf ear to the poor African and Hindoo, whose cry is, ``Come over and help us'' '. Ramsden, Missions, 464▒5. See Curtin, The Image of Africa, 267, 415.

130 Coke, A History of the West Indies,vol. i, 30.

131 Ibid., vol. i, 19.

132 Thomas Fowell Buxton, The African Slave Trade and Its Remedy, 2nd edn. (London: John Murray, 1839) 195-6.

133 Ibid., 305-6, 338-9; my emphasis. Indeed Buxton's conviction greatly influenced, and in a sense, culminated in Dr. Livingstone's belief in his own `missionary' role in Africa's social, economic and spiritual progress. See also Isaac Schapera, ed., Livingstone's Missionary Correspondence, 1841-1856, 2 vols. (London: Chatto and Windus, 1961).