CHAPTER VI. INTELLECT OF NEGROES.
We must not allow negroes to be men, lest we ourselves
IN order to decide what is our duty concerning the Africans and their descendants, we must first clearly make up our minds whether they are, or are not, human beings—whether they have, or have not, the same capacities for improvement as other men.
The intellectual inferiority of the negroes is a common, though most absurd apology, for personal prejudice, and the oppressive inequality of the laws; for this reason, I shall take some pains to prove that the present degraded condition of that unfortunate race is produced by artificial causes, not by the laws of nature.
In the first place, naturalists are universally agreed concerning
"the identity of the human type;" by which
they mean that all living creatures, that can, by any process, be
enabled to perceive moral and intellectual truths, are characterized
by similar peculiarities of organization.
They may differ from each other widely, but they still belong to the
same class. An eagle and a wren are very unlike each other; but no one
would hesitate to pronounce that they were both birds: so it is with
the almost endless varieties of the monkey tribe. We all know that
beasts, however sagacious, are incapable of abstract thought, or moral
perception. The most wonderful elephant in the world could not command
an army, or govern a state. An ourang-outang may eat, and drink, and
dress, and move like a man; but he could never write an ode, or learn
to relinquish his own good for the good of his species. The
however it may be altered by the operation of physical or moral causes, differs from that of all other beings, and on this ground, the negro's claim to be ranked as a man, is universally allowed by the learned.
The condition of this people in ancient times is very far from indicating intellectual or moral inferiority.—Ethiopia held a conspicuous place among the nations.—Her princes were wealthy and powerful, and her people distinguished for integrity and wisdom. Even the proud Grecians evinced respect for Ethiopia, almost amounting to reverence, and derived thence the sublimest portions of their mythology. The popular belief that all the gods made an annual visit to the Ethiopians, shows the high estimation in which they were held; for we are not told that such an honor was bestowed on any other nation. In the first book of the Iliad, Achilles is represented as anxious to appeal at once to the highest authorities; but his mother tells him: "Jupiter set off yesterday, attended by all the gods, on a journey toward the ocean, to feast with the excellent Ethiopians, and is not expected back at Olympus till the twelfth day."
In Ethiopia, was likewise placed the table of the Sun, reported to kindle of its own accord, when exposed to the rays of that great luminary.
In Africa was the early reign of Saturn, under the appellation of Ouranus, or Heaven; there the impious Titans warred with the sky; there Jupiter was born and nursed; there was the celebrated shrine of Ammon, dedicated to Theban Jove, which the Greeks reverenced more highly than the Delphic Oracle; there was the birth-place and oracle of Minerva; and there, Atlas supported both the heavens and the earth upon his shoulders.
It will be said that fables prove nothing.—But there is probably much deeper meaning in these fables than we now understand; there was surely some reason for giving them such a "local habitation." Why did the ancients represent Minerva as born in Africa,—and why are we told that Atlas there sustained the heavens and the earth, unless they meant to imply that Africa was the centre, from which religious and scientific light had been diffused?
Some ancient writers suppose that Egypt derived all the arts and sciences from Ethiopia; while others believe precisely the reverse. Diodorus supported the first opinion,—and asserts that the Ethiopian vulgar spoke the same language as the learned of Egypt.
It is well known that Egypt was the great school of knowledge in the ancient world. It was the birth-place of Astronomy; and we still mark the constellations as they were arranged by Egyptian shepherds. The wisest of the Grecian philosophers, among whom were Solon, Pythagoras and Plato, went there for instruction, as our young men now go to England and Germany. The Eleusinian mysteries were introduced from Egypt; and the important secret which they taught, is supposed to have been the existence of one, invisible God. A large portion of Grecian mythology was thence derived; but in passing from one country to the other, the form of these poetical fables was often preserved, while the original meaning was lost.
Herodotus, the earliest of the Greek historians, informs us that the Egyptians were negroes. This fact has been much doubted, and often contradicted. But Herodotus certainly had the best means of knowing the truth on this subject; for he travelled in Egypt, and obtained his knowledge of the country by personal observation. He declares that the Colchians must be a colony of Egyptians, because, "like them, they have a black skin and frizzled hair."
The statues of the Sphinx have the usual characteristics of the negro race. This opinion is confirmed by Blumenbach, the celebrated German naturalist, and by Volney, who carefully examined the architecture of Egypt.
Concerning the sublimity of the architecture in this ancient Negro
kingdom, some idea may be conceived from the description of Thebes
given by Denon, who accompanied the French army into Egypt: "This
city, renowned for numerous kings, who through their wisdom have been
elevated to the rank of gods; for laws, which have been revered
without being known; for sciences, which have been confided to proud
and mysterious inscriptions; for wise and earliest monuments of the
which time has respected;—this sanctuary, abandoned, isolated through barbarism, and surrendered to the desert from which it was won; this city, shrouded in the veil of mystery by which even colossi are magnified; this remote city, which imagination has only caught a glimpse of through the darkness of time—was still so gigantic an apparition, that, at the sight of its scattered ruins, the army halted of its own accord, and the soldiers with one spontaneous movement, clapped their hands."
The Honorable Alexander Everett, in his work on America, says: "While Greece and Rome were yet barbarous, we find the light of learning and improvement emanating from the continent of Africa, (supposed to be so degraded and accursed,) out of the midst of this very woolly-haired, flat-nosed, thick-tipped, coal-black race, which some persons are tempted to station at a pretty low intermediate point between men and monkeys. It is to Egypt, if to any nation, that we must look as the real antiqua mater of the ancient and modern refinement of Europe. The great lawgiver of the Jews was prepared for his divine mission by a course of instruction in all the wisdom of the Egyptians.
"The great Assyrian empires of Babylon and Nineveh, hardly less illustrious than Egypt in arts and arms, were founded by Ethiopian colonies, and peopled by blacks.
"Palestine, or Canaan, before its conquest by the Jews, is represented in Scripture, as well as in other histories, as peopled by blacks; and hence it follows that Tyre and Carthage, the most industrious, wealthy, and polished states of their time, were of this color."
Another strong argument against the natural inferiority of negroes
may be drawn from the present condition of Africa. Major Denham's
account of the Sultan of Sackatoo proves that the brain is not
necessarily rendered stupid by the color of the face: "The palace as
usual in Africa, consisted of a sort of inclosed town, with an open
quadrangle in front. On entering the gate, he was conducted through
three huts serving as guard-houses, after which he found Sultan Bello
seated on small carpet in a sort of painted and ornamented cottage.
Bello had a
noble and commanding figure, with a high forehead and large black eyes. He gave the traveller a hearty welcome, and after inquiring the particulars of his journey, proceeded to serious affairs. He produced books belonging to Major Denham, which had been taken in the disastrous battle of Dirkullah; and though he expressed a feeling of dissatisfaction at the Major's presence on that occasion, readily accepted an apology, and restored the volumes. He only asked to have the subject of each explained, and to hear the sound of the language, which he declared to be beautiful. He then began to press his visiter with theological questions, and showed himself not wholly unacquainted with the controversies which have agitated the christian world; indeed, he soon went beyond the depth of his visiter, who was obliged to own he was not versant in the abstruser mysteries of divinity.
"The Sultan now opened a frequent and familiar communication with the English envoy, in which he showed himself possessed of a good deal of information. The astronomical instruments, from which, as from implements of magic, many of his attendants started with horror, were examined by the monarch with an intelligent eye. On being shown the planisphere, he proved his knowledge of the planets and many of the constellations, by repeating their Arabic names. The telescope, which presented objects inverted,—the compass, by which he could always turn to the East when praying,—and the sextant, which he called 'the looking glass of the sun,' excited peculiar interest. He inquired with evident jealousy, into some parts of English history; particularly the conquest of India and the attack upon Algiers."
The same traveller describes the capital of Loggun, beneath whose high walls the river flowed in majestic beauty. "It was a handsome city, with a street as wide as Pall Mall, bordered by large dwellings, having spacious areas in front. Manufacturing industry was honored. The cloths woven here were superior to those of Bornou, being finely dyed with indigo, and beautifully glazed.—There was even a current coin, made of iron, somewhat in the form of a horse-shoe; and rude as this was, none of their neighbors possessed anything similar. The women were handsome, intelligent and lively."
All travellers in Africa agree, that the inhabitants, particularly of the interior, have a good deal of mechanical skill. They tan and dye leather, sometimes thinning it in such a manner that it is as flexible as paper. In Houssa, leather is dressed in the same soft, rich style as in Morocco; they manufacture cordage, handsome cloths, and fine tissue. Though ignorant of the turning machine, they make good pottery ware, and some of their jars are really tasteful. They prepare indigo, and extract ore from minerals. They made agricultural tools, and work skilfully in gold, silver and steel. Dickson, who knew jewellers and watch-makers among them, speaks of a very ingenious wooden clock made by a negro. Hornemann says the inhabitants of Haissa give their cutting instruments a keener edge than European artists, and their files are superior to those of France or England. Golberry assures us that some of the African stuffs are extremely fine and beautiful.
Mungo Park says "The industry of the Foulahs, in pasturage and agriculture is everywhere remarkable.—Their herds and flocks are numerous, and they are opulent in a high degree. They enjoy all the necessaries of life in the greatest profusion. They display much skill in the management of their cattle, making them extremely gentle by kindness and familiarity." The same writer remarks that the negroes love instruction, and that they have advocates to defend the slaves brought before their tribunals.
Speaking of Wasiboo he says: "Cultivation is carried on here on a very extensive scale; and, as the natives themselves express it, 'hunger is never known.'"
On Mr. Park's arrival at one of the Sego ferries, for the purpose of crossing the Niger to see the king, he says: "We found a great number waiting for a passage; they looked at me with silent wonder. The view of this extensive city; the numerous canoes upon the river; the crowded population, and the cultivated state of the surrounding country, formed altogether a prospect of civilization and magnificence, which I little expected to find in the bosom of Africa.
"The public discussions in Africa, called palavers,
exhibit a fluent and natural oratory, often accompanied with much good sense and shrewdness. Above all, the passion for poetry is nearly universal. As soon as the evening breeze begins to blow, the song resounds throughout all Africa,—it cheers the despondency of the wanderer through the desert—it enlivens the social meetings—it inspires the dance,—and even the lamentations of the mourners are poured forth in measured accents.
"In these extemporary and spontaneous effusions, the speaker gives utterance to his hopes and fears, his joys and sorrows. All the sovereigns are attended by singing men and women, who like the European minstrels and troubadours celebrate interesting events in verse, which they repeat before the public. Like all, whose business it is to rehearse the virtues of monarchs, they are of course, too much given to flattery. The effusions of the African muse are inspired by nature and animated by national enthusiasm. From the few specimens given, they seem not unlikely to reward the care of a collector. How few among our peasantry could have produced the pathetic lamentation uttered in the little Bambarra cottage over the distresses of Mungo Park! These songs handed down from father to son, evidently contain all that exists among the African nations of traditional history. From the songs of the Jillimen, or minstrels, of Soolimani, Major Laing was enabled to compile the annals of that small kingdom for more than a century"*
In addition to the arguments drawn from the ancient conditions of Africa, and the present character of people in the interior of that country, there are numerous individual examples of spirit, courage, talent, and magnanimity.
History furnishes very few instances of bravery, intelligence, and perseverance, equal to the famous Zhinga, the negro queen of Angola, born in 1582. Like other despotic princes, her character is stained with numerous acts of ferocity and crime; but her great abilities cannot be for a moment doubted.
During her brother's reign, Zhinga was sent as ambassadress to
Loanda, to negotiate terms of peace with
the Portuguese. A palace was prepared for her reception; and she was received with the honor, due to her rank. On entering the audience-chamber, she perceived that a magnificent chair of state was prepared for the Portuguese Viceroy, while in front of it, a rich carpet, and velvet cushions, embroidered with gold, were arranged on the floor for her use. The haughty princess observed this in silent displeasure. She gave a signal with her eyes, and immediately one of her women knelt on the carpet, supporting her weight on her hands. Zhinga gravely seated herself upon her back, and awaited the entrance of the Viceroy. The spirit and dignity with which she fulfilled her mission excited the admiration of the whole court. When an alliance was offered, upon the condition of annual tribute to the king of Portugal, she proudly answered: "Such proposals are for a people subdued by force of arms; they are unworthy of a powerful monarch, who voluntarily seeks the friendship of the Portuguese, and who scorns to be their vassal."
She finally concluded a treaty, upon the single condition of restoring all the Portuguese prisoners. When the audience was ended, the Viceroy, as he conducted her from the room, remarked that the attendant, upon whose back she had been seated, still remained in the same posture. Zhinga replied: "It is not fit that the ambassadress of a great king should be twice served with the same seat. I have no further use for the woman."
Charmed with the politeness of the Europeans, and the evolutions
of their troops, the African princess long delayed her departure.
Having received instruction in the christian religion, she professed a
deep conviction of its truth. Whether this was sincere, or merely
assumed from political motives, is uncertain. During her visit, she
received baptism, being then forty years old. She returned to Angola
loaded with presents and honors.—Her brother, notwithstanding a
solemn promise to preserve the treaty she had formed, soon made war
upon the Portuguese. He was defeated, and soon after died of poison;
some said his death was contrived by Zhinga. She ascended the throne,
and having artfully obtained possession of her nephew's person, she
with her own hands. Revenge, as well as ambition, impelled her to this crime; for her brother had, many years before, murdered her son, lest he should claim the crown.
The Portuguese increased so fast in numbers, wealth, and power, that the people of Angola became jealous of them, and earnestly desired war. Zhinga, having formed an alliance with the Dutch, and with several neighboring chiefs, began the contest with great vigor. She obtained several victories, at first, but was finally driven from her kingdom with great loss. Her conquerors offered to re-establish her on the throne, if she would consent to pay tribute. She haughtily replied, "If my cowardly subjects are willing to bear shameful fetters, I cannot endure even the thought of dependence upon any foreign power."
In order to subdue her stubborn spirit, the Portuguese placed a king of their own choosing upon the throne of Angola. This exasperated Zhinga to such a degree, that she vowed everlasting hatred against her enemies, and publicly abjured their religion. At the head of an intrepid and ferocious band, she, during eighteen years, perpetually harassed the Portuguese. She could neither be subdued by force of arms, nor appeased by presents. She demanded complete restitution of her territories, and treated every other proposal with the utmost scorn. Once, when closely besieged in an island, she asked a short time to reflect on the terms of surrender. The request being granted, she silently guided her troops through the river at midnight, and carried fire and sword into another portion of the enemy's country.
The total defeat of the Hollanders, and the death of her sister,
who had been taken captive during the wars, softened her spirit. She
became filled with remorse for having renounced the christian
religion. She treated her prisoners more mercifully, and gave orders
that the captive priests should be attended with the utmost reverence.
They perceived the change, and lost no opportunity of regaining their
convert. The queen was ready to comply with their wishes, but feared a
revolt among her subjects and allies, who were strongly attached to
the customs of their fathers. The priest, by numerous arti-
fices, worked so powerfully upon the superstitious fears of the people, that they were prepared to hail Zhinga's return to the Catholic faith with joy.
The queen, thus reconciled to the church, signed a treaty of peace; took the Capuchins for her counsellors; dedicated her capital city to the Virgin, under the name of Saint Mary of Matamba; and erected a large church. Idolatry was forbidden, under the most rigorous penalties; and not a few fell martyrs to Zhinga's fiery zeal.
A law prohibiting polygamy excited discontent.—Zhinga, though seventyfive years old, publicly patronized marriage, by espousing one of her courtiers; and her sister was induced to give the same example. The Portuguese again tried to make her a vassal to the crown; but the priests, notwithstanding their almost unlimited influence, could never obtain her consent to this degradation.
In 1657, one of her tributaries having violated the treaty of peace, she marched at the head of her troops, defeated the rebel, and sent his head to the Portuguese.
In 1658, she made war upon a neighboring king, who had attacked her territories; and returned in triumph, after having compelled him to submit to such conditions as she saw fit to impose. The same year, she abolished the cruel custom of immolating human victims on the tombs of princes; and founded a new city, ornamented with a beautiful church and palace.
She soon after sent an embassage to the Pope, requesting more missionaries among her people. The Pontiff's answer was publicly read in the church, where Zhinga appeared with a numerous and brilliant train. At a festival in honor of this occasion, she and the ladies of her court performed a mimic battle, in the dress and armor of Amazons. Though more than eighty years old, this remarkable woman displayed as much strength, agility, and skill, as she could have done at twentyfive. She died in 1663, aged eighty-two. Arrayed in royal robes, ornamented with precious stones, with a bow and arrow in her hand, the body was shown to her sorrowing subjects. It was then, according to her wish, clothed in the Capuchin habit, with crucifix and rosary.*
The commandant of a Portuguese fort, who expected the arrival of an African envoy, ordered splendid preparations, that he might be dazzled with the idea of European wealth. When the negro entered the richly ornamented saloon, he was not invited to sit down. Like Zhinga, he made a signal to an attendant, who knelt upon the floor, and thus furnished him a seat. The commandant asked, "Is thy king as powerful as the king of Portugal?" The colored envoy replied: "My king has a hundred servants like the king of Portugal; a thousand like thee; and but one like myself." As he said this, he indignantly left the room.
Michaud, the elder, says that in different places on the Persian Gulf, he has seen negroes as heads of great commercial houses, receiving orders and expediting vessels to various parts of India. Their intelligence in business is well known on the Levant.
The Czar Peter of Russia, during his travels, became acquainted with Annibal, an African negro, who was intelligent and well educated. Peter the Great, true to his generous system of rewarding merit wherever he found it, made Annibal Lieutenant General and Director of the Russian Artillery. He was decorated with the riband of the order of St Alexander Nenski. His son, a mulatto, was Lieutenant General of Artillery, and said to be a man of talent. St Pierre and La Harpe were acquainted with him.
Job Ben Solomon, was the son of the
Mohammedan king of Bunda, on the Gambia. He was taken in 1730, and
sold in Maryland. By a train of singular adventures he was conveyed to
England, where his intelligence and dignified manners gained him many
friends; among whom was Sir Hans Sloane, for whom he translated
several Arabic manuscripts. After being received with distinction at
the Court of St James, the African Company became interested in his
fate, and carried him back to Bunda, in the year 1734. His uncle
embracing him, said, "During sixty years, you are the first slave I
have ever seen return from the American isles." At his father's death,
Solomon became king, and was much beloved in his states.
The son of the king of Congo, and several of the young people of rank were sent to the Portuguese universities, in the time of King Immanuel. Some of them were distinguished scholars, and several of them promoted to the priesthood.
In 1765, a negro in England was ordained by Doctor Keppell, bishop of Exeter. In Prevot's General History of Voyages, there is an account of a black bishop who studied at Rome.
Antonio Perura Reboucas, who is at the present time Deputy from Bahia, in the Cortes of Brazil, is a distinguished lawyer, and a good man. He is learned in political economy, and has written ably upon the currency of Brazil. I have heard intelligent white men from that country speak of him in terms of high respect and admiration.
Henry Diaz, who is extolled in all the histories of Brazil, was a negro and slave. He became Colonel of a regiment of foot-soldiers, of his own color; and such was his reputation for sagacity and valor, that it was considered a distinction to be under his command. In the contest between the Portuguese and Hollanders, in 1637, Henry Diaz fought bravely against the latter. He compelled them to capitulate at Arecise, and to surrender Fernanbon. In a battle, struggling against the superiority of numbers, and perceiving that some of his soldiers began to give way, he rushed into the midst of them, exclaiming, "Are these the brave companions of Henry Diaz!" His example renewed their courage, and they returned so impetuously to the charge, that the almost victorious army were compelled to retreat hastily.
Having wounded his left hand in battle, he caused it to be struck off, rather than to lose the time necessary to dress it. This regiment, composed of blacks, long existed in Brazil under the popular name of Henry Diaz.
Antony William Amo, born in Guinea was brought to Europe when very young. The Princess of Brunswick, Wolfenbuttle, defrayed the expenses of his education. He pursued his studies at Halle and at Wittenberg, and so distinguished himself by his character and abilities, that the Rector and Council of Wittenberg thought proper to give public testimony of their respect in a letter of congratulation. In this letter they remark that Terence also was an African—that many martyrs, doctors, and fathers of the church were born in the same country, where learning once flourished, and which by losing the christian faith, again fell back into barbarism. Amo delivered private lectures on philosophy, which are highly praised in the same letter. He became a doctor.
Lislet Geofrroy, a mulatto, was an officer of Artillery and guardian of the Depot of Maps and Plans of the Isle of France. He was a correspondent of the French Academy of Sciences, to whom he regularly transmitted meteorological observations, and sometimes hydrographical journals. His map of the Isles of France and Reunion is considered the best map of those islands that has appeared. In the archives of the Institute of Paris is an account of Lislet's voyage to the Bay of St Luce. He points out the exchangeable commodities and other resources which it presents; and urges the importance of encouraging industry by the hope of advantageous commerce, instead of exciting the natives to war in order to obtain slaves. Lislet established a scientific society at the Isle of France, to which some white men refused to belong, because its founder had a skin more deeply colored than their own.
James Derham, originally a slave at
Philadelphia, was sold to a physician, who employed him in compounding
drugs; he was afterward sold to a surgeon, and finally to Doctor
Robert Dove, of New Orleans. In 1788, at the age of twenty-one, he
became the most distinguished physician in that city, and was able to
talk with French, Spanish, and English in their own languages. Doctor
Rush says, "I conversed with him on medicine, and found him very
learned. I thought I could give him in-
formation concerning the treatment of diseases, but I learned from him more than he could expect from me."
Thomas Fuller, an African residing in Virginia, did not know how to read or write, but had great facility in arithmetical calculations. He was once asked how many seconds has an individual lived when he is seventy years, seven months, and seven days old? In a minute and a half he answered the question. One of the company took a pen, and after a long calculation, said Fuller had made the sum too large. "No," replied the negro, "the error is on your side. You did not calculate the leap-years." These facts are mentioned in a letter from Doctor Rush, published in the fifth volume of the American Museum.
In 1788, Othello, a negro, published at Baltimore an Essay against Slavery. Addressing white men, he says, "Is not your conduct, compared with your principles, a sacrilegious irony? When you dare to talk of civilization and the gospel, you pronounce your own anathema. In you the superiority of power produces nothing but a superiority of brutality and barbarism. Your fine political systems are sullied by the outrages committed against human nature and the divine majesty."
Olandad Equiano, better known by the name
of Gustavus Vasa, was stolen in Africa, at twelve years old, together
with his sister. They were torn from each other; and the brother,
after a horrible passage in a slave ship, was sold at Barbadoes. Being
purchased by a lieutenant, he accompanied his new master to England,
Guernsey, and the siege of Louisbourg. He afterwards experienced great
changes of fortune, and made voyages to various parts of Europe and
America. In all his wanderings, he cherished an earnest desire for
freedom. He hoped to obtain his liberty by faithfulness and zeal in
his master's service; but finding avarice stronger than benevolence,
he began trade with a capital of three pence, and by rigid economy was
at last able to purchase—his own body and soul;
this, however, was not effected, until he had endured much oppression
and insult. He
was several times shipwrecked, and finally, after thirty years of vicissitude and suffering, he settled in London and published his Memoirs. The book is said to be written with all the simplicity, and something of the roughness, of uneducated nature. He gives a naïve description of his terror at an earthquake, his surprise when he first saw snow, a picture, a watch, and a quadrant.
He always had an earnest desire to understand navigation, as a probable means of one day escaping from slavery. Having persuaded a sea-captain to give him lessons, he applied himself with great diligence, though obliged to contend with many obstacles, and subject to frequent interruptions. Doctor Irving, with whom he once lived as a servant, taught him to render salt water fresh by distillation. Some time after, when engaged in a northern expedition, he made good use of this knowledge, and furnished the crew with water they could drink.
His sympathies were, very naturally, given to the weak and the despised, wherever he found them. He deplores the fate of modern Greeks, nearly as much degraded by the Turks as the negroes are by their white brethren. In 1789, Vasa presented a petition to the British parliament, for the suppression of the slave trade. His son, named Sancho, was assistant librarian to Sir Joseph Banks, and Secretary to the Committee for Vaccination.
Another negro, named Ignatius Sancho, was
born on board a Guinea ship, where his parents were both captives,
destined for the South American slave market.—Change of climate
killed his mother, and his father committed suicide. At two years old
the orphan was carried to England, and presented to some ladies
residing at Greenwich. Something in his character reminded them of Don
Quixote's squire, and they added Sancho to his original name of
Ignatius. The Duke of Montague saw him frequently and thought he had a
mind worthy of cultivation. He often sent him books, and advised the
ladies to give him a chance for education; but they had less liberal
views, and often threatened to send the poor
boy again into slavery. After the death of his friends, he went into the service of the Duchess of Montague, who at her death left him an annuity of thirty pounds; beside which he had saved seventy pounds out of his earnings.
Something of dissipation mixed with his love of reading, and sullied the better part of his character.—He spent his last shilling at Drury Lane, to see Garrick, who was extremely friendly to him. At one time he thought of performing African characters on the stage, but was prevented by a bad articulation.
He afterward became very regular in his habits, and married a worthy West Indian girl. After his death, two volumes of his letters were printed, of which a second edition was soon published, with a portrait of the author, designed by Gainsborough, and engraved by Bartolozzi.
Sterne formed an acquaintance with Ignatius Sancho; and in the third volume of his letters, there is an epistle addressed to this African, in which he tells him that varieties in nature do not sunder the bands of brotherhood; and expresses his indignation that certain men wish to class their equals among the brutes, in order to treat them as such with impunity. Jefferson criticises Sancho with some severity, for yielding too much to an eccentric imagination; but he acknowledges that he has an easy style, and a happy choice of expressions.
The letters of Sancho are thought to bear some resemblance to those of Sterne, both in their beauties and defects.
Francis Williams, a negro, was born in
Jamaica.—The Duke of Montaigne, governor of the island, thinking him
an unusually bright boy, sent him to England to school. He afterward
entered the University of Cambridge, and became quite a proficient in
mathematics.—During his stay in Europe, he published a song which
became quite popular, beginning, "Welcome, welcome, brother debtor."
After his return to Jamaica, the Duke tried to obtain a place for him
in the council of the government, but did not succeed. He then became
a teacher of Latin and mathematics. He wrote a good deal of
Latin verse, a species of composition of which he was very fond. This negro is described as having been pedantic and haughty; indulging a profound contempt for men of his own color. Where learning is a rare attainment among any people, or any class of people, this effect is very apt to be produced.
Phillis Wheatly, stolen from Africa when seven or eight years old, was sold to a wealthy merchant in Boston, in 1761. Being an intelligent and winning child, she gained upon the affections of her master's family, and they allowed her uncommon advantages. When she was nineteen years old, a little volume of her poems was published, and passed through several editions, both in England and the United States. Lest the authenticity of the poems should be doubted, her master, the governor, the lieutenant governor, and fifteen other respectable persons, acquainted with her character and circumstance, testified that they were really her own productions. Jefferson denies that these poems have any merit; but I think he would have judged differently, had he been perfectly unprejudiced. It would indeed be absurd to put Phillis Wheatly in competition with Mrs Hemans, Mary Hewitt, Mrs Sigourney Miss Gould, and other modern writers; but her productions certainly appear very respectable in comparison with most of the poetry of that day.
Phillis Wheatly received her freedom in 1775; and two years after married a colored man, who, like herself was considered a prodigy. He was at first a grocer; but afterward became a lawyer, well known by the name of Doctor Peter. He was in the habit of pleading causes for his brethren before the tribunals of justice, and gained both reputation and fortune by his practice. Phillis had been flattered and indulged from her earliest childhood; and, like many literary women in old times, she acquired something of contempt for domestic occupations. This is said to have produced unhappiness between her and her husband. She died in 1780.
Mr. Wilberforce, (on whom may the blessing of God rest forever!)
aided by several benevolent individuals, established a seminary for
colored people at Clapham,
a few leagues from London. The first scholars were twentyone young negroes, sent by the Governor of Sierra Leone. The Abbe Gregoire says, "I visited this establishment in 1802, to examine the progress of the scholars; and I found there existed no difference between them and European children, except that of color. The same observation has been made, first at Paris, in the ancient college of La Marche, where Coesnon, professor of the University, taught a number of colored boys.—Many members of the National Institute, who have carefully examined this college, and watched the progress of the scholars in their particular classes, and public exercises, will testify to the truth of my assertion."
Correa de Serra, the learned Secretary of the Academy at Portugal, informs us that several negroes have been able lawyers, preachers, and professors.
In the Southern States, the small black children are proverbially brighter and more forward than white ones of the same age. Repartees, by no means indicative of stupidity, have sometimes been made by negroes. A slave was suddenly roused with the exclamation, "Why don't you wake, when your master calls!" The negro answered, "Sleep has no master."
On a public day the New England Museum, in Boston, was thronged with visiters to see the representation of the Salem murder. Some colored women being jostled back by a crowd of white people, expostulated thus: "Don't you know it is always proper to let the mourners walk first?" It argues some degree of philosophy to be able to indulge wit at the expense of what is, most unjustly, considered degradation. Public prejudice shamefully fetters these people; and it has been wisely said, "If we cannot break our chains, the next best thing we can do, is to play with them."*
Among Bonaparte's officers there was a mulatto General of
Division, named Alexander Dumas. In the army of the Alps, with charged
bayonet, he ascended St Bernard, defended by a number of redoubts,
of the enemy's cannon, and turned their own ammunition against them. He likewise signalized himself in the expedition to Egypt. His troop, composed of blacks and mulattoes, were everywhere formidable. Near Lisle, Alexander Dumas, with only four men, attacked a post of fifty Austrians, killed six, and made sixteen prisoners. Napoleon called him the Horatius Cocles of the Tyrols.
On his return from Egypt, Dumas unluckily fell into the hands of the Neapolitan government, and was two years kept in irons. He died in 1807.
Between 1620 and 1630, some fugitive negroes, united with some Brazilians, formed two free states in South America, called the Great and Little Palmares; so named on account of the abundance of palm trees. The Great Palmares was nearly destroyed by the Hollanders, in 1644; but at the close of the war, the slaves in the neighborhood of Fernanbouc, resolved to form an establishment, which would secure their freedom. Like the old Romans, they obtained wives by making incursions upon their neighbors, and carrying off the women.
They formed a constitution, established tribunals of justice, and adopted a form of worship similar to Christianity. The chiefs chosen for life were elected by the people.
They fortified their principal towns, cultivated their gardens and fields, and reared domestic animals. They lived in prosperity and peace, until 1696, when the Portuguese prepared an expedition against them. The Palmarisians defended themselves with desperate valor, but were overcome by superior numbers. Some rushed upon death, that they might not survive their liberty; others were sold and dispersed by the conquerors. Thus ended this interesting republic. Had it continued to the present time, it might have produced a very material change in the character and condition of the colored race.
In the seventeenth century, when Jamaica was still under the
dominion of the Spaniards, a party of slaves under the command of John
de Bolas, regained their independence. They increased in numbers,
elected the famous
Cudjoe as their chief, and became very formidable.—Cudjoe established a confederation among all the Maroon tribes, and by his bravery and skilful management compelled the English to make a treaty, in which they acknowledged the freedom of the blacks, and ceded to them forever a portion of the territory of Jamaica.
The French National Assembly admitted free colored deputies from St Domingo, and promised a perfect equality of rights, without regard to complexion. But, as usual, the white colonists made every possible exertion to set aside the claims of their darker faced brethren.—It was very short-sighted policy; for the planters absolutely needed the friendship of the free mulattoes and negroes, as a defence against the slaves. Oge, one of the colored deputies, an energetic and shrewd man, was in Paris, watching political movements with intense interest,—resolved to maintain the rights of his oppressed companions, "quietly if he could—forcibly if he must." Day after day, a hearing was promised; and day after day, upon some idle pretext or other, it was deferred.—Oge became exasperated. His friends in France recommended the only medicine ever offered by the white man to the heart-sick African,—patience—patience.—But he had long observed the operation of slavery, and he knew that patience, whatever it might do for the white man, brought upon the negro nothing but contempt and accumulated wrong. Discouraged in his efforts to make head against the intrigues of the slave-holders, he could not contain his indignation: "I begin," said he to Clarkson, "not to care whether the National Assembly will hear us or not. But let it beware of the consequences. We will no longer continue to be held in a degraded light. Despatches shall go directly to St Domingo; and we will soon follow them. We can produce as good soldiers on our own estates, as those in France. Our own arms shall make us independent and respectable. If we are forced to desperate measures, it will be in vain that thousands are sent across the Atlantic to bring us back to our former state."
The French government issued orders to prevent the embarkation of
negroes and mulattoes; but Oge, by the
way of England, contrived return to St Domingo.—On his arrival, he demanded the execution of decrees made in favor of his brethren, but either resisted or evaded by their white oppressors. His plea, founded in justice, and sanctioned by Divine authority, was rejected. The parties became exasperated, and an attack ensued. The Spanish government basely and wickedly delivered Oge to his enemies. He asked for a defender to plead his cause; but he asked in vain. Thirteen of his companions were condemned to the galleys; more than twenty to the gibbet; and Oge and Chavanne were tortured on the wheel.
Where rests the guilt in this case? Let those blame Oge, who can. My heart and conscience both refuse to do it.
Toussaint L'Ouverture, the celebrated
black chieftain, was born a slave, in the year 1745, upon the
plantation of Count de Noe. His amiable deportment as a slave, the
patience, mildness, and benevolence of his disposition, and the purity
of his conduct amid the general laxity of morals which prevailed in
the island, gained for him many of those advantages which afterwards
gave him such absolute ascendency over his insurgent brethren. His
good qualities attracted the attention of M. Bayou de Libertas, the
agent on the estate, who taught him reading, writing, and
arithmetic,—elements of knowledge, which hardly one in ten thousand
of his fellow slaves possessed. Bayou made him his postillion, which
gave him advantages much above those of the field slaves. When the
general rising of the blacks took place, in 1791, much solicitation
was used to induce Toussaint to join them; but he declined, until he
had procured an opportunity for the escape of M. Bayou and his family
to Baltimore, shipping a considerable quantity of sugar for the supply
of their immediate wants. In his subsequent prosperity, he availed
himself of every occasion to give them new marks of his gratitude.
Having thus provided security for his benefactor, he joined a corps of
blacks, under the orders of General Biassou; but was soon raised to
the principal command, Biassou
being degraded on account of his cruelty and ferocity. Indeed, Toussaint was every way so much superior to the other negroes, by reason of his general intelligence and education, his prudence, activity and address, not less than his bravery, that he immediately attained a complete ascendency over all the black chieftains. In 1797, Toussaint received from the French government a commission of General-in-Chief of the armies of St Domingo, and as such signed the convention with General Maitland for the evacuation of the island by the British. From 1798 until 1801, the island continued tranquil under the government of Toussaint, who adopted and enforced the most judicious measures for healing the wounds of his country, and restoring its commercial and agricultural prosperity. His efforts would have been attended with much success, but for the ill-judged expedition, which Bonaparte sent against the island, under the command of Le Clerc. This expedition, fruitless as it was in respect of its general object, proved fatal to the negro chieftain.
Toussaint was noted for private virtues; among the rest, warm
affection for his family. Le Clerc brought out from France Toussaint's
two sons, with their preceptor, whose orders were to carry his pupil,
to their father, and make use of them to work on his tenderness, and
induce him to abandon his countrymen. If he yielded, he was to he made
second in command to Le Clerc; if he refused, his children were to be
reserved as hostages of his fidelity to the French. Notwithstanding
the greatness of the sacrifice demanded of him, Toussaint remained
faithful to his brethren. We pass over the details of the war, which
at length, ended in a treaty of peace concluded by Toussaint,
Dessalines and Christophe, against their better judgment, but in
consequence of the effect of Le Clerc's professions upon their simple
followers, who were induced to lay down their arms. Toussaint retired
to his plantation, relying upon the solemn assurances of Le Clerc,
that his person and property should be held sacred. Notwithstanding
these assurances, he was treacherously seized in the night, hurried on
board a ship of war, and conveyed to Brest. He was con-
ducted first to close prison in Chateaux de Joux, and from thence to Besancon, where he was plunged into a cold, wet, subterranean prison, which soon proved fatal to a constitution used only to the warm skies and free air of the West Indies. He languished through the winter of 1802-1803; and his death, which happened in April, 1803, raised a cry of indignation against the government, which had chosen this dastardly method of destroying one of the best and bravest of the negro race.
Toussaint L'Ouverture is thus spoken of by Vincent, in his Reflections on the state of St Domingo: "Toussaint L'Ouverture is the most active and indefatigable man, of whom it is possible to form an idea. He is always present wherever difficulty or danger makes his presence necessary. His great sobriety,—the power of living without repose,—the facility with which he resumes the affairs of the cabinet, after the most tiresome excursions,—of answering daily a hundred letters,—and of habitually tiring five secretaries—render him so superior to all round him, that their respect and submission almost amount to fanaticism. It is certain no man in modern times has obtained such an influence over a mass of ignorant people, as General Toussaint possesses over his brethren of St Domingo. He is endowed with a prodigious memory. He is a good father and a good husband."
Toussaint re-established religious worship in St Domingo; and on account of his zeal in this respect, a certain class of men called him, in derision, the Capuchin.
With the genius and energy of Bonaparte, General Toussaint is said to have possessed the same political duplicity, and far-sighted cunning. These are qualities which almost inevitably grew out of the peculiar circumstances in which they were placed, and the obstacles with which they were obliged to contend.
Wordsworth addressed the following sonnet to Toussaint L'Ouverture:
"Toussaint, thou most unhappy man of men!
Godwin, in his admirable Lectures on Colonial Slavery, says: "Can the West India islands, since their first discovery by Columbus, boast a single name which deserves comparison with that of Toussaint L'Ouverture?"
If we are willing to see and believe, we have full opportunity to convince ourselves that the colored population are highly susceptible of cultivation. St Domingo produces black legislators, scholars, and gentlemen.—The very negroes who had been slaves, formed a constitution that would do credit to paler-faced statesmen—Americans may well blush at its consistent republicanism.
The enemies of true freedom were very ready to predict that the
government of Hayti could not continue for any length of time; but it
has now lasted nearly thirty years, constantly increasing in
respectability and wealth. The affairs of Greece have been managed
with much less ability and discretion, though all the cabinets of
Europe have given assistance and advice. St Domingo achieved her
independence alone and unaided—nay, in the very teeth of prejudice
and scorn. The Greeks had loans from England, and contributions from
America, and sympathy from half the world; the decisive battle of
Navarino was gained by the combined fleets of England, France and
Russia. Is it asked why Hayti has not produced any examples of
splendid genius? In reply let me inquire, how long did the Europeans
ridicule us for our poverty in literature? When Raynal reproached the
United States with not having produced one celebrated man, Jefferson
requested him to wait until we had existed "as long as the Greeks
before they had a Homer, the Romans a Virgil, and the French a
Racine." Half a century elapsed before our republic produced Irving,
Cooper, Sedgwick, Halleck, and Bryant. We must not
forget that the cruel prejudice, under which colored people labor, makes it extremely difficult for them to gain admission to the best colleges and schools; they are obliged to contend with obstacles, which white men never encounter.
It might seem wonderful that the descendants of wise Ethiopia, and learned Egypt, are now in such a state of degradation, if history did not furnish a remarkable parallel in the condition of the modern Greeks. The land of Homer, Pericles, and Plato, is now inhabited by ignorant, brutal pirates. Freedom made the Grecians great and glorious—tyranny has made them stupid and miserable. Yet their yoke has been light, compared with African bondage. In both cases the wrongs of the oppressed have been converted into an argument against them. We first debase the nature of man by making him a slave, and then very coolly tell him that he must always remain a slave because he does not know how to use freedom. We first crush people to the earth, and then claim the right of trampling on them forever, because they are prostrate. Truly, human selfishness never invented a rule, which worked so charmingly both ways!
No one thinks of doubting the intellect of Indians; yet
civilization has certainly advanced much farther in the interior of
Africa, than it did among the North American tribes. The Indians have
strong untutored eloquence,—so have the Africans. And where will you
find an Indian chieftain, whose pride, intellect, and valor, are more
than a match for Zhinga's? Both of these classes have been most
shamefully wronged; but public prejudice, which bows the negro to the
earth, as borne with a far less crushing power upon the energies of
the red man; yet they have not produced a Shakspeare or a Newton. But
I shall be asked how it is that the nations of Africa, having
proceeded so far in the arts of civilization, have made a full stop,
and remained century after century without any obvious improvement? I
will answer this by another question: How long did the ancient
Helvetians, Gauls, and Saxons remain in such a state of barbarism,
that what they considered splendor and re-
finement, would be called poverty and rudeness, by their German, French, and English descendants?—What was it that changed the intellectual and moral character of these people, after ages of ignorance and ferocity? It was the art of printing. But, alas, with the introduction of printing, modern slavery was introduced! While commerce has carried books and maps to other portions of the globe, she has sent kidnappers, with guns and cutlasses into Africa. We have not preached the Gospel of peace to her princes; we have incited them to make war upon each other, to fill our markets with slaves. While knowledge, like a mighty pillar of fire, has guided the European nations still onward, and onward, a dark cloud has settled more and more gloomily over benighted Africa. The lessons of time, the experience of ages, from which we have learned so much, are entirely lost to this vast continent.
I have heard it asserted that the Indians were evidently superior to the negroes, because it was impossible to enslave them. Our slave laws prove that there are some exceptions to this remark; and it must be remembered that the Indians have been fairly met in battle, contending with but one nation at a time; while the whole world have combined against the Africans—sending emissaries to lurk for them in secret places, or steal them at midnight from their homes. The Indian will seek freedom in the arms of death—and so will the negro. By thousands and thousands, these poor people have died for freedom. They have stabbed themselves for freedom—jumped into the waves for freedom—starved for freedom—fought like very tigers for freedom! But they have been hung, and burned, and shot—and their tyrants have been their historians! When the Africans have writers of their own, we shall hear their efforts for liberty called by the true title of heroism in a glorious cause. We are told in the fable that a lion, looking at the picture of one of his own species, conquered and trampled on by man, calmly said, "We lions have no painters."
I shall be told that in the preceding examples I have shown only
the bright side of the picture. I readily
grant it; but I have deemed it important to show that the picture has a bright side. I am well aware that most of the negro authors are remarkable, principally because they are negroes. With considerable talent, they generally evince bad taste. I do not pretend that they are Scotts or Miltons; but I wish to prove that they are men, capable of producing their proportion of Scotts and Miltons, if they could be allowed to live in a state of physical and intellectual freedom. But where, at the present time, can they live in perfect freedom, cheered by the hopes and excited by the rewards, which stimulate white men to exertion? Every avenue to distinction is closed to them. Even where the body is suffered to be free, a hateful prejudice keeps the soul in fetters. I think every candid mind must admit that it is more wonderful they have done so much, than that they have done no more.
As a class, I am aware that the negroes, with many honorable exceptions, are ignorant, and show little disposition to be otherwise: but this ceases to be the case just in proportion as they are free. The fault is in their unnatural situation, not in themselves. Tyranny always dwarfs the intellect. Homer tells us, that when Jupiter condemns a man to slavery, he takes from him half his mind. A family of children treated with habitual violence or contempt, become stupid and sluggish, and are called fools by the very parents or guardians who have crushed their mental energies. It was remarked by M. Dupuis, the British Consul at Mogadore, that the generality of Europeans, after a long captivity and severe treatment among the Arabs, seemed at first exceedingly dull and insensible. "If they had been any considerable time in slavery," says he, "they appeared lost to reason and feeling; their spirits broken; and their faculties sunk in a species of stupor, which I am unable adequately to describe. They appeared degraded even below the negro slave. The succession of hardships, without any protecting law to which they can appeal for alleviation, or redress, seems to destroy every spring of exertion, or hope in their minds. They appear indifferent to everything around them; abject, servile, and brutish."
Lieutenant Hall, in his Travels in the United States,
makes the following just remark: "Cut off hope for the future, and freedom for the present; superadd a due pressure of bodily suffering, and personal degradation; and you have a slave, who, (of whatever zone, nation or complexion,) will be what the poor African is, torpid, debased, and lowered beneath the standard of humanity."
The great Virginian, Patrick Henry, who certainly had a fair chance to observe the effects of slavery, says, "If a man be in chains, he droops and bows to the earth, because his spirits are broken; but let him twist the fetters off his legs and he will stand erect."
The following is the testimony of the Rev. R. Walsh, on the same subject; he is describing his first arrival at Rio Janeiro:
"The whole labor of bearing and moving burdens is performed by
these people, and the state in which they appear is revolting to
humanity. Here was a number of beings entirely naked, with the
exception of a covering of dirty rags tied about their waists. Their
skins, from constant exposure to the weather, had become hard, crusty,
and seamed, resembling the coarse black covering of some beast, or
like that of an elephant, a wrinkled hide scattered with scanty hairs.
On contemplating their persons you saw them with a physical
organization resembling beings of a grade below the rank of man; long
projecting heels, the gastronymic muscle wanting, and no calves to
their legs; their mouths and chins protruded, their noses flat, their
foreheads retiring, having exactly the head and legs of the baboon
tribe. Some of these beings were yoked to drays, on which they dragged
heavy burdens. Some were chained by the necks and legs, and moved with
loads thus encumbered. Some followed each other in ranks, with heavy
weights on their heads, chattering the most inarticulate and dismal
cadence as they moved along. Some were munching young sugar-canes,
like beasts of burden eating green provender; and some were seen near
the water, lying on the bare ground among filth and offal, coiled up
like dogs, and seeming to expect or require no more comfort or
accommodation, exhibiting a state and conformation so unhuman, that
they not only seemed, but actually were,
far below the inferior animals around them. Horses and mules were not employed in this way; they were used only for pleasure, and not labor. They were seen in the same streets, pampered, spirited, and richly caparisoned, enjoying a state far superior to the negroes, and appearing to look down on the fettered and burdened wretches they were passing, as on beings of an inferior rank in the creation. Some of the negroes actually seemed to envy the caparisons of their fellow brutes, end eyed with jealousy their glittering harness. In imitation of this finery, they were fond of thrums of many colored threads; and I saw one creature, who supported the squalid rag that wrapped his waist by a suspender of gaudy worsted, which he turned every moment to look at, on his naked shoulder. The greater number, however, were as unconscious of any covering for use or ornament, as a pig or an ass.
"The first impression of all this on my mind, was to shake the conviction I had always felt, of the wrong and hardship inflicted on our black fellow-creatures, and that they were only in that state which God and nature had assigned them; that they were the lowest grade of human existence, and the link that connected it with the brute; and that the gradation was so insensible, and their natures so intermingled, that it was impossible to tell where one had terminated and the other commenced; and that it was not surprising that people who contemplated them every day, so formed, so employed, and so degraded, should forget their claims to that rank in the scale of being in which modern philanthropists are so anxious to place them. I did not at the moment myself recollect, that the white man, made a slave on the coast of Africa, suffers not only a similar mental but physical deterioration from hardships and emaciation, and becomes in time the dull and deformed beast I now saw yoked to a burden.
"A few hours only were necessary to correct my first impressions
of the negro population, by seeing them under a different aspect. We
were attracted by the sound of military music, and found it proceeded
from a regiment drawn up in one of the streets. Their colonel had
just died, and they attended to form a procession to celebrate his obsequies. They were all of different shades of black, but the majority were negroes. Their equipment was excellent; they wore dark jackets, white pantaloons, and black leather caps and belts, all which, with their arms, were in high order. Their band produced sweet and agreeable music, of the leader's own composition, and the men went through some evolutions with regularity and dexterity. They were only a militia regiment, yet were as well appointed and disciplined as one of our regiments of the line. Here then was the first step in that gradation by which the black population of this country ascend in the scale of humanity; he advances from the state below that of a beast of burden into a military rank, and he shows himself as capable of discipline and improvement as a human being of any other color.
"Our attention was next attracted by negro men and women bearing
about a variety of articles for sale; some in baskets, some on boards
and cases carried on their heads. They belonged to a class of small
shopkeepers, many of whom vend their wares at home, but the neater
number send them about in this way, as in itinerant shops. A few of
these people were still in a state of bondage, and brought a certain
sum every evening to their owners, as the produce of their daily
labor. But a large proportion, I was informed, were free, and
exercised this little calling on their own account. They were all very
neat and clean in their persons, and had a decorum and sense of
respectability about them, superior to whites of the same class and
calling. All their articles were good in their kind and neatly kept,
and they sold them with simplicity and confidence, neither wishing to
take advantage of others, nor suspecting that it would be taken of
themselves. I bought some confectionary from one of the females, and I
was struck with the modesty and propriety of her manner; she was a
young mother, and had with her a neatly dressed child, of which she
seemed very fond. I gave it a little comfit, and it turned up its
dusky countenance to her and then to me, taking my sweetmeat and at
the same time kissing my hand. As yet unacquainted with the coin of
country, I had none that was current about me, and was leaving the articles; but the poor young woman pressed them on me with a ready confidence, repeating in broken Portuguese, outo tempo. I am sorry to say, the 'other time' never came, for I could not recognise her person afterwards to discharge her little debt, though I went to the same place for the purpose.
"It soon began to grow dark, and I was attracted by a number of persons bearing large lighted wax tapers, like torches, gathering before a house. As I passed by, one was put into my hand by a man who seemed in some authority, and I was requested to fall into a procession that was forming. It was the preparation for a funeral, and on such occasions, I learned that they always request the attendance of a passing stranger, and feel hurt if they are refused. I joined the party, and proceeded with them to a neighboring church. When we entered we ranged ourselves on each side of a platform which stood near the choir, on which was laid an open coffin, covered with pink silk and gold borders. The funeral service was chanted by a choir of priests, one of whom was a negro, a large comely man, whose jet black visage formed a strong and striking contrast to his white vestments.—He seemed to perform his part with a decorum and sense of solemnity, which I did not observe in his brethren.—After scattering flowers on he coffin, and fumigating it with incense, they retired, the procession dispersed, and we returned on board.
"I had been but a few hours on shore for the first time, and I saw
an African negro under four aspects of society; and it appeared to me,
that in every one his character depended on the state in which he was
placed, and the estimation in which he was held. As a despised slave,
he was far lower than other animals of burthen that surrounded him;
more miserable in his look, more revolting in his nakedness, more
distorted in his person, and apparently more deficient in intellect,
than the horses and mules that passed him by. Advanced to the grade of
a soldier, he was clean and neat in his person, amenable to
discipline, expert at his exercises, and showed the port and being of
a white man similarly placed. As a
citizen, he was remarkable for the respectability of his appearance, and the decorum of his manners in the rank assigned him; and as a priest, standing in the house of God, appointed to instruct society on their most important interests, and in a grade in which moral and intellectual fitness is required, and a certain degree of superiority is expected, he seemed even more devout in his impressions, and more correct in his manners, than his white associates. I came, therefore, to the irresistible conclusion in my mind, that color was an accident affecting the surface of a man, and having no more to do with his qualities than his clothes—that God had equally created an African in the image of his person, and equally given him an immortal soul; and that a European had no pretext but his own cupidity, for impiously thrusting his fellow-man from that rank in the creation which the Almighty had assigned him, and degrading him below the lot of the brute beasts that perish."
The Hon. A. H. Everett, in his able work on the political situation of America, says, "Nations, and races, like individuals, have their day, and seldom have a second. The blacks had a long and glorious one; and after what they have been and done, it argues not so much a mistaken theory, as sheer ignorance of the most notorious historical facts, to pretend that they are naturally inferior to the whites. It would seem indeed, that if any race have a right claim to a sort of preeminence over others, on the fair and honorable ground of talents displayed, and benefits conferred, it is precisely this very one, which we take upon us, in the pride of a temporary superiority, to stamp with the brand of essential degradation. It is hardly necessary to add, that while the blacks were the leading race in civilization and political power, there was no prejudice among the whites against their color. On the contrary, we find that the early Greeks regarded them as a superior variety of the human species, not only in intellectual and moral qualities, but in outward appearance. 'The Ethiopians,' says Herodotus, 'surpass all other men in longevity, stature, and personal beauty.'"
Then let the slave-holder no longer apologize for himself by urging the stupidity and sensuality of negroes. It is upon the system, which thus transforms men into beasts, that the reproach rests in all its strength and bitterness. And even if the negroes were, beyond all doubt, our inferiors in intellect, this would form no excuse for oppression, or contempt. The use of law and public opinion is to protect the weak against the strong; and the government, which perverts these blessings into means of tyranny, resembles the priest, who administered poison with the Holy Sacrament.
Is there an American willing that the intellectual and the learned should bear despotic sway over the simple and the ignorant? If there be such a one, he may consistently vindicate our treatment of the Africans.