Resolutions West Indies Planters & Merchants, 1789 of why slave trade should be continued (arguments for property rights, capital reasons, European “constitutions” not be adapted to clearing agricultural land), William Smith Papers, Box 3, Folder (Printed Material, 1788 - 1822)

The African Americans: Rubenstein Recap

Last Tuesday, PBS premiered the first episode of the six-part series, The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross. Written and narrated by Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the documentary traces African American history from the shores of West Africa to the election of Barack Obama. Join us as we feature documents from our Rubenstein Library that resonate with the previous week’s episode.

Episode 1: The Black Atlantic (1500 – 1800) began with the complicated routes of the transatlantic slave trade connecting ports across three continents from Africa to the West Indies, London to South Carolina. The dehumanizing conditions of the Middle Passage and the capital made from human bondage were just some of the factors that made the institution of slavery in the western world so different from any other in world history.

A list of slave ships from the 1790s, detailing the number of slaves that died in route to the western world. (l to r, name of Ship, number of slaves dead, special cause of death):

 William Smith papers, 1785-1860., Box 3, Miscellaneous Papers, Printed Material “Pilgrim - 18 slaves died”
William Smith papers, 1785-1860., Box 3, Miscellaneous Papers, Printed Material “Pilgrim – 18 slaves died”

 

Arguments for the continuation of the African slave trade:

Resolutions West Indies Planters & Merchants, 1789 of why slave trade should be continued (arguments for property rights, capital reasons, European “constitutions” not be adapted to clearing agricultural land), William Smith Papers, Box 3, Folder (Printed Material, 1788 - 1822)
Resolutions West Indies Planters & Merchants, 1789 of why slave trade should be continued (arguments for property rights, capital reasons, European “constitutions” not be adapted to clearing agricultural land), William Smith Papers, Box 3, Folder (Printed Material, 1788 – 1822)

 

Episode 1 concluded by contextualizing the importance of the American, French, and Haitian Revolutions. The rhetoric of liberty and freedom at the heart of these movement ignited the entire Atlantic world in the late 18th century, especially the lives of enslaved African Americans, slaves wanted some of that freedom for themselves. This letter from the Edward Telfair papers details an incident where Telfair accuses a white man from British Antigua of “enticing” his slaves away with promises of freedom. Telfair fails to understand that the 3 slaves had reasons enough of their own, especially with liberty in the air.

Edward Telfair Papers
Edward Telfair Papers, Box 2, Folder 1780 – 1783, Letter on Aug. 13, 1782 from N. Brownson & E. Walton: “Mr. Telfair then said that some persons had been seducing from his service, not only those three negroes, but a number of others, enticing them on board the flag vessel, by promises of freedom in Antigua. Mr. Jarvais denied his having any thing to do in it, and that he did not believe the officers or crew of the vessel had; and proposed going down to examine them: but Mr. Telfair observing that if they had villainy enough to commit an act of that kind, they would be at least handy enough to deny it.[...] [Mr. Telfair] forbade Mr. Jarvis from meddling with or harbouring his negroes, and told him if he lost any of them by those means, he would look to him for indemnification. Mr. Jarvis said, ‘to be sure.’
 

Post contributed by Karlyn Forner, John Hope Franklin Research Center Graduate Student Intern and John Gartrell, John Hope Franklin Research Center Director




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