Slaves who Stole themselves:. The AR as a Black War of Liberation. Stono Rebellion, 1739. Report from William Bull re. Stono Rebellion Report re Stono Slave Catchers Further reading: Mark M. Smith, ed., Stono: Documenting and Interpreting a Southern Slave Revolt (2005).
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The AR as a Black War of Liberation
“If American & Britain should come to a hostile rupture I am afraid an Insurrection among the slaves may and will be promoted. In one of our Counties lately a few of those unhappy wretches met together and chose a leader who was to conduct them when the English troops should arrive – which they foolishly thought would be very soon and that by revolting to them they should be rewarded with their freedom. Their intentions were soon discovered and the proper precautions taken to prevent the Infection.” “It is prudent,” Madison continued, that “such attempts should be concealed as well as suppressed.”
(James Madison, 26 Nov. 1774 to William Bradford, quoted in PHW, “Liberty is Sweet,” 160)
In Dorchester County, MD, in the fall of 1775, came news that “the insolence of the Negroes in this county is come to such a height, that we are under a necessity of disarming them which we affected on Saturday last. We took about eighty guns, some bayonets, swords, etc. The malicious and imprudent speeches of some among the lower classes of whites have induced them to believe, that their freedom depended on the success of the Kings troops. We cannot therefore be too vigilant nor too rigorous with those who promote and encourage this disposition in our slaves.”
[Report of Dorchester County Committee of Inspection, Fall 1775, Gilmor Papers, MHS, as quoted in Ronald Hoffman, A Spirit of Dissension, 148.]
[March 31, 1771]
Dear Col. I hoped you had been satisfied about the fence as you was assured no representations could prejudice me, but to make all things easy, I will as soon as I hasten to attend, take the matter in hand myself, & try to have such a fence made on the lines between us, as shall even defy a deer to get over.
Now give me leave to complain to you, that your Patroll do not do their duty, my people are rambling about every night, the last my saddle shews, a barbarous use [illeg.] allso, your favorite; my man Billie was out, he says he rode no horse of Masters, & that he only was at Col. Carter's, by particular invitation, so that the Entertainment was last night at Sabine hall, & may probably be at Mt. Airy this night, if my discoverys do not disconcert the Plan, these things could not be so I think, if the Patrollers did the duty they are paid for. I thank you for your neighbourly intentions, but we cannot command times, or Seasons, & from such weather can only pray, Good Lord deliver us Yrs Afftly John Tayloe Easter Sunday
NEABSCO FURNACE, April 1, 1774. RUN away from the Neabsco Furnace, on the 16th of last Month, a light coloured Mulatto Man named BILLY or WILL, the Property of the Honourable John Tayloe, Esquire. When I tell the Publick that he is the same Boy, who, for many Years, used to wait on me in my Travels through this and the neighbouring Province, and, by his Pertness, or rather Impudence, was well known to almost all my Acquaintances, there is the less Occasion for a particular Description of him. However, as he is now grown to the size of a Man, and has not attended me for some Time past, I think it not amiss to say that he is a very likely young Fellow, about twenty Years old, five Feet nine Inches high, stout and strong made, has a remarkable Swing in his Walk, but is much more so by a surprising Knack he has of gaining the good Graces of almost every Body who will listen to his bewitching and deceitful Tongue which seldom if ever speaks the Truth; has a small Scar on the right Side of his Forehead, and the little Finger of his right Hand is quite straight by a Hurt he got when a Child. He had on when he went away a blue Fearnought and an under Jacket of green Baize, Cotton Breeches, Osnabrug Shirt, a mixed blue Pair of Stockings, a Pair of Country made Shoes, and yellow Buckles. From his Ingenuity, he is capable of doing almost any sort of Business, and for some Years past has been chiefly employed as a Founder, a Stone Mason, and a Miller, as Occasion required; one of which Trades, I imagine, he will, in the Character of a Freeman, profess. I have some Reason to suspect his travelling towards James River, under the Pretence of being sent by me on Business. Whoever apprehends the said Mulatto Slave, and brings him to me, or to his Master, the Honourable John Tayloe of Mount Airy, or secures him so as to be had again, shall have double what the Law allows, and all reasonable Charges paid by THOMAS LAWSON.
Prince William County to wit
Cuthbert Bullitt attorney for the Commonwealth for the County aforesaid giveth information to the Court; that Billy alias Will, alias William late of the Parish of Dittengen in the County aforesaid; a Mulatto Slave belonging to John Tayloe Esqr. late of Richmond County in the Commonwealth aforesd. upon the Second day of April in the year of our Lord 1781 at the sd. Parish of Dittengen in the County of Prince William aforesaid with force of Arms &Ca. did feloniously & traiterously Adhere to the Enemies of the Commonwealth and gave them aid & Comfort & upon the Sd. Second day of April at the sd. Parish of Dittengen in the County of Prince William aforesd. did in Company of & Cunjunction with diverse Enemies of the Commonwealth in Armed Vessels, feloniously & Traiterously Wage & Levy War against the Commonwealth to the great Danger of Subverting thereof and against the Act of Assembly in Such Case made & Provided, and the Peace of the sd. Commonwealth, & the Dignity thereof.
Henry Lee, William Carr, Foushee Tebbs, Richard Graham, William Tebbs,
The said Slave Billy, Alias Will, alias William, let of the sd. Coty. of Prince William being brought to the Bar of the Court, and Indicted for Treason, in Joining the Enemies of this Commonwealth, upon his Arraignment, Says he is not Guilty, Upon hearing the Several Witnesses, it is the opinion of the Court that he is Guilty, & that he Suffer Death, And be Executed agreeable to the Act, Declaring what Shall be Treason And the Said Sheriff of the Sd. County on the Twenty fifth of this Inst. between the Hours of Eleven & two of the Same day, do Execution thereon at the Common Gallows of the Sd. County, by Causing the Sd. Slave to be hanged by the Neck untill Dead, & his head to be Severed from his Body & Stuck up at Some Publick Cross Road on a pole, And the Sd. Court do Say that the Sd. Slave is worth Twenty Seven Thousand Pounds Current Money
[ ] Graham Clk. Court
“There were also two Negroes, servants of the English family. They secretly wished that the British army might win, for then all Negro slaves will gain their freedom. It is said that this sentiment is almost universal among the Negroes in America.”
(Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, Notebook of a Colonial Clergyman, p. 177)
General of the Colony and Dominion of VIRGINIA, and Vice Admiral of the same.
As I have ever entertained Hopes, that an Accommodation might have taken Place between GREAT-BRITAIN and this Colony, without being compelled by my Duty to this most disagreeable but now absolutely necessary Step, rendered so by a Body of armed Men unlawfully assembled, firing on His MAJESTY'S Tenders, and the formation of an Army, and that Army now on their March to attack his MAJESTY'S Troops and destroy the well disposed subjects of the Colony. To defeat such treasonable Purposes, and that all such Traitors, and their Abettors, may be brought to Justice, and that the Peace, and good Order of this Colony may be again restored, which the ordinary Course of the Civil Law is unable to effect; I have thought fit to issue this my Proclamation, hereby declaring, that until the aforesaid good Purpose can be obtained, I do in Virtue of the Power and Authority to ME given, by His MAJESTY, determine to execute Martial Law, and cause the same to be executed throughout this Colony: and to ****** the Peace and good Order may the sooner be restored, I do require every Person capable of bearing Arms, to resort to His MAJESTY'S STANDARD, or be looked upon as Traitors to His MAJESTY'S Crown and Government, and thereby become liable to the Penalty the Law inflicts upon such Offenses; such as forfeiture of Life, confiscation of Lands, &. &. And I do hereby further declare all indented Servants, Negroes, or others, (appertaining to Rebels,) free that are able and willing to bear Arms, they joining His MAJESTY'S Troops as soon as may be, foe the more speedily reducing this Colony to a proper Sense of their Duty, to His MAJESTY'S Crown and Dignity. I do further order, and require, all His MAJESTY'S Liege Subjects, to retain their Quitrents, or any other Taxes due or that may become due, in their own Custody, till such a Time as Peace may be again restored to this at present most unhappy Country, or demanded of them for their former salutary Purposes, by Officers properly ***** to receive the same.
GIVEN under my Hand on board the Ship WILLIAM by Norfolk, the 7th Day of November in the SIXTEENTH Year of His MAJESTY'S Reign.
(GOD save the KING.)
Virginia, Dec. 14, 1775.
By the Representatives of the People of the Colony and Dominion of VIRGINIA, assembled in GENERAL CONVENTION
WHEREAS lord Dunmore, by his proclamation, dated on board the ship William, off Norfolk, the 7th day of November 1775, hath offered freedom to such able-bodied slaves as are willing to join him, and take up arms, against the good people of this colony, giving thereby encouragement to a general insurrection, which may induce a necessity of inflicting the severest punishments upon those unhappy people, already deluded by his base and insidious arts; and whereas, by an act of the General Assembly now in force in this colony, it is enacted, that all negro or other slaves, conspiring to rebel or make insurrection, shall suffer death, and be excluded all benefit of clergy : We think it proper to declare, that all slaves who have been, or shall be seduced, by his lordship's proclamation, or other arts, to desert their masters' service, and take up arms against the inhabitants of this colony, shall be liable to such punishment as shall hereafter be directed by the General Convention. And to that end all such, who have taken this unlawful and wicked step, may return in safety to their duty, and escape the punishment due to their crimes, we hereby promise pardon to them, they surrendering themselves to Col. William Woodford, or any other commander of our troops, and not appearing in arms after the publication hereof. And we do farther earnestly recommend it to all humane and benevolent persons in this colony to explain and make known this our offer of mercy to those unfortunate people.
This portrait of an unidentified Revolutionary War sailor was painted in oil by an unknown artist, circa 1780. Prior to the war, many blacks were already experienced seamen, having served in the British navy and in the colonies' state navies, as well as on merchant vessels in the North and the South. This sailor's dress uniform suggests that he served in the navy, rather than with a privateer. Image Credit: The Newport Historical Society (P999)
In Congress, July 4, 1776, A Declaration by the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress assembled.
When in the Course of human Events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another, and to assume, among the Powers of the Earth, the separate and equal Station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the Separation.
We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles and organizing its Powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient Causes; and accordingly all Experience hath shown, that Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while Evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the Forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future Security. Such has been the patient Sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the Necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The History of the present King of Great-Britain is a History of repeated Injuries and Usurpations, all having in direct Object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid World.
The Declaration of Independence: to what extent did it have meaning for African Americans
That slavery was an “unnatural practice…founded in injustice and cruelty, and highly dangerous to our liberties, (as well as lives), debasing part of our fellow-creatures below men, and currupting the virtues and morals of the rest.” Slavery existence, they asserted, “is laying the basis of that liberty we contend for …upon a very wrong foundation.”
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