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SLAVERY IN MASSACHUSETTS.
JUDGE TUCKER TO DR. BELKNAP.
Williamsburg, Virginia, Jan. 24, 1795,
Sir,—Having never visited the Eastern States, it has been my misfortune never to have had the pleasure of a personal acquaintance with any of those eminent literary characters which that part of the United States has produced, and, if I may credit Fame, abounds with, more than any other part of our common country; a circumstance probably not more mortifying to myself than of real disadvantage to this part of the United States, since a more frequent intercourse and intimate acquaintance between the several parts of the Union would probably contribute more to remove local prejudices and cement the bond of union, than any other project, unsupported by such a foundation. To supply, as far as respects myself, this inconvenience in some measure, I have prevailed on my friend, the Rev. Mr. Hust, to favor me with a letter of introduction, which I take the liberty to enclose, and to request your pardon for thus intruding my correspondence upon you; a liberty which private considerations alone could scarcely justify on any account, and which, I fear, you will think fully commensurate to the occasion which prompts it.
The introduction of slavery into this country is at this day considered among its greatest misfortunes by a very great majority of those who are reproached for an evil which the present generation could no more have avoided than an hereditary gout or leprosy. The malady has proceeded so far as to render it doubtful whether any specific can be found to eradicate, or even to palliate, the disease. Having, in my official character as professor of law in the college at this place, had occasion to notice the several acts of the legislature on the subject, I find that, even before the commencement of the present century, an attempt was made to check the importation of slaves, by imposing a duty on them. The act was indeed only temporary, but was renewed as often as the influence of the African Company in England would permit. At length the duty was made payable by the buyers; but the acts imposing it were still temporary, though constantly renewed whenever an extraordinary supply of money was required, and was gradually increased from five to twenty per cent, ad valorem. As soon as the Eevolution took place, the legislature passed an act prohibiting the importation of slaves, under the severest penalties; and permitting, what had hitherto been prohibited, the voluntary emancipation of them by their masters. The question of a general emancipation has not, that I know, been brought on the carpet in the legislature; but I am fully persuaded that circumstance is altogether owing to the difficulties which present themselves to every reflecting mind. To assist in removing them is the object of this letter; for having observed, with much pleasure, that slavery has been wholly exterminated from the Massachusetts, and being impressed with an idea that it once had existence there, I have cherished a hope that we may, from the example of our sister State, learn what methods are most likely to succeed in removing the same evil from among ourselves. With this view, I have taken the liberty to enclose a few queries, which, if your leisure will permit you to answer, you will confer on me a favor which I shall always consider as an obligation; and if, in the pursuits in which you are engaged, any subject should occur in which you may be disposed to obtain information from this quarter, I will not promise to afford it you, but I assure you that I will most faithfully endeavour to do it. I am, very respectfully, sir,
Your most obedient and very humble servant,
St. G. Tucker.
Please to direct to St. George Tucker, Williamsburg, Virginia.
Queries respecting the Introduction, Progress, and Abolition of Slavery in Massachusetts.
1st. The first introduction of negroes or other slaves in Massachusetts? ,
2d. Whether the African trade was carried on thither? at what period it commenced? to what extent it was carried on? when it began to decline? and when it was wholly discontinued?
3d. Whether it was carried on by European or American adventurers? by what means its declension first began? whether from legislative discouragement or other causes? and to what causes its abolition is to be ascribed?
4th. The state of slavery in the Massachusetts when slaves were most numerous? their number when most numerous? their proportion to the number of white persons at that period?
5th. The mode by which slavery hath been abolished there? whether by a general and simultaneous emancipation? or at different periods? or whether by declaring all persons born after a particular period free?
6th. At what period slavery was wholly abolished? what were their numbers and proportion to the whites at that period?
7th. What is the condition of emancipated negroes? is any, and what, provision made for their education and maintenance during infancy, or in a state of decrepitude, age, or insanity?
8th. What are their political rights or disabilities? if there be any discrimination between them and white persons?
9th. Is there any perceptible difference between the general moral or social conduct of emancipated persons, or their descendants, and others?
10th. Are intermarriages frequent between blacks and whites? if so, are such alliances more frequent between black men and white women, or the contrary?
11th. Does harmony in general prevail between the blacks and white citizens? do they associate freely together? or is there a pre-eminence claimed by the one, and either avowedly or tacitly admitted by the other?
Williamsburg, Virginia, January 24, 1795.
DR. JOHN ELIOT TO DR. BELKNAP.
Sir, — I have looked over your queries with some attention, but am unable to say when the introduction of negroes to Massachusetts first took place.
2. The African trade was carried on; and commenced at an early period; to a small extent compared with Rhode Island, but it made a considerable branch of our commerce (to judge from the number of our still-houses, and masters of vessels now living who have been in the trade). It declined very little till the Revolution. Some excellent writings were diffused previously to this, and the sentiment of the people was against it; but the merchants who had been engaged in the business still continued sending their vessels for slaves, till the trade was prohibited by an act of the court, 1787.*
3. If, by European adventurers, be intended persons disconnected with American merchants, they were few in number. The cause of abolition of slaves in the State may be traced entirely to the sentiment of the people; but, of the trade, to the act of legislature.
4. Slaves were never in a state of hard bondage. It is difficult to tell the exact proportion of blacks to whites; because, if we judge by the funerals, they were more infirm and sick, and died in more than equal numbers, compared with the inhabitants. Some persons may have proper data to answer this query.
The 5th and 6th will be answered by the above, &c, and looking into the acts of the court.
7. Answer — wretched, with a few exceptions, but owing to themselves. Every encouragement is given to them to work. A subsistence is easily obtained, and they have the same privileges with whites, from infancy to manhood. This includes the 8th query.
9. There is a perceptible difference, owing, perhaps, to their habits of life. They have been slaves. Some who were born free, and well educated, are here to be excepted.
10. There cannot be intermarriages by our laws. It is very seldom such a thing has happened. Between blacks and molattoes, more frequent.
* It was in 17o8. — Eds.