Civil Rights Class Week 2

USA Today

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Homework 1: Monday 31 Read 1664-1669 The Virginia Law on Baptism by Jemar Tisby

Notes from reading: Black people remain the most Christian demographic in the United States yet Christianity is the “white man’s religion.” White Christians deliberately used religion to strengthen a racial caste system.

1667 Virginia Assembly law – a Christian baptism would not free an enslaved person

In England, Christians can not enslave another Christian.

Freeing Christian from enslavement would:

  • Result in enslavers of free labor and income
  • Disrupt the ideology of white supremacy
  • Pit the plantation owners against Christian missionaries

Christianity – religion of racism and abuse

White Christian lawmakers used relgion reinforced enslavement by making it a cornerstone of white supremacy.

1682 – Virginia law defined who could be enslaved as “Negroes, Moors, Mollatoes or Indians” arriving “by sea or land” could all be held in bondage for life if their “parentage and native country are not christian.”

White missionaries initially had trouble converting the enslaved to Christianity.

Christian hypocrisy:

  • Book of Exodus god delivered Hebrews from slavery in Egypt
  • Promise Land of equity and justice
  • Spirituals became a source of endurance and motivation for protest and resistance
  • Preached spiritual salvation but said nothing about the physical and material conditions of the enslaved
  • Condemned darker-skinned people while worshipping a brown-skinned Jewish man
  • Christian was used to mean free person.

Racial inequalities are the result of racist policies, which have been justified by Christianity.

“Landing Negroes at Jamestown from Dutch man-of-war, 1619”. This 1901 illustration’s caption is incorrect, as The White Lion was an English privateer operating under a Dutch letter of marque, and landed at nearby Old Point Comfort.

William Tucker (born 1624) was the son of “Antoney and Isabell,” two African indentured servants who landed in Jamestown Colony before his birth. He was the first African American that was born in the British colonies that later became the United States. According to the colony’s 1624 census records, the son of “Antoney Negro and Isabell Negro” was baptized with the name of his family’s owner, William Tucker, in the Anglican Church becoming the first African child baptized in English North America. It was desirable to have as many Christians in the colony as possible. It was not believed, though, that baptizing a person changed their status as a servant or an enslaved person, which was formalized in 1667 by the Virginia Assembly. Enslaved people were still considered chattel, or personal property.

1693 – Spanish Florida offered freedom to fugitives from South Carolina if they converted to Catholicism.

Homework 2 February 1: Read the Declaration of Independence and the passage that was deleted from it. Think about the questions below.

  1. Were issues of racial equality implicated in the Declaration of Independence? If so, in what passages?
  2. Why did Jefferson want to include the passage that was ultimately deleted?
  3. Do you think the passage that replaced the deleted passage was effective?

Further reading.

168 powerful words condemning slavery that were removed from the Declaration of Independence.

When Thomas Jefferson included a passage attacking slavery in his draft of the Declaration of Independence it initiated the most intense debate among the delegates gathered at Philadelphia in the spring and early summer of 1776. Jefferson’s passage on slavery was the most important section removed from the final document. It was replaced with a more ambiguous passage about King George’s incitement of “domestic insurrections among us.” Decades later Jefferson blamed the removal of the passage on delegates from South Carolina and Georgia and Northern delegates who represented merchants who were at the time actively involved in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.

The desire to exploit labor was a central feature of most colonizing societies in the Americas, especially those that relied on the exportation of valuable commodities like sugar, tobacco, rice and (much later) cotton. Cheap labor in large quantities was the critical factor that made these commodities profitable, and planters did not care who provided it – the indigenous population, white indentured servants and eventually African slaves – so long as they were there to be exploited.

Jefferson’s original passage on slavery appears below:

He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian King of Great Britain. Determined to keep open a market where Men should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or restrain this execrable commerce. And that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people on whom he has obtruded them: thus paying off former crimes committed again the Liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.

BlackPast, B. (2009, August 10). (1776) The Deleted Passage of the Declaration of Independence.

Question 1: Were issues of racial equality implicated in the Declaration of Independence? If so, in what passages?

‘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.”

Contradictions: Their world, ‘all men’ was a select group of white male landowners. They did not intend it to mean individual equality. Rather, what they declared was that American colonists, as a people, had the same rights to self-government as other nations.

America continued to be built upon systems of slavery and campaigns which robbed indigenous peoples of their lives and land. (White wives and daughters were property.)

Thomas Jefferson, the main architect of the Declaration of Independence. owned over 600 slaves, even went so far as to call slavery a ‘moral depravity’. Raped Sally Hemings Sally Hemmings, his slave and dead wife’s half-sister, so often that she had six enslaved children by him. At the time of the Declaration’s drafting, he owned 180 slaves, rising to 267 by 1822. He did not, as was often the practice, free his slaves upon his death.

The founding fathers phrased their own refusal to be “slaves” to Britain, government “[derives] their just powers from the consent of the governed” (The Declaration of Independence). Slaves are “governed” by their masters without their consent, which is another case of slaves being excluded from the rights that are supposed to be for all men.

The belief “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” relates back to not intending this declaration to mean individual equality.

Question 2: Why did Jefferson want to include the passage that was ultimately deleted?

Thomas Jefferson drafted a passage in the Declaration, later struck out by Congress, that blamed the British monarchy for imposing slavery on unwilling American colonists, describing it as “the cruel war against human nature.”

Jefferson could not imagine how black and white peoples could ever coexist as free citizens in one republic. There was, he argued in Query XIV of his Notes, that there was already too much foul history dividing these peoples. And worse still, Jefferson hypothesized, in proto-racist terms, that the differences between the peoples would also doom this relationship. He thought that African Americans should be freed – but colonized elsewhere. (Stanford historian Jack Rakove.)

Question 3: Do you think the passage that replaced the deleted passage was effective?

In the removed section, Jefferson blamed Britain’s King George for his role in creating and perpetuating the transatlantic slave trade—which he describes, in so many words, as a crime against humanity. The passage was removal because of politics and money (glory and gold!). Both the South and the North made money from slavery.

The replacement passage talks of King George’s incitement of “domestic insurrections among us,” for stirring up warfare between the colonists and Native tribes.

The colonizers’ failure to directly address the slavery makes “all men created equal” = all white male property owners are equal.

Homework Feb 4 – Read An Act for Gradual Abolition of Slavery.

Records of the Department of State, Engrossed Laws. 14 pages, 19″ X15″, iron gall ink on paper.

Reading Notes:

An Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery, passed by the Fifth Pennsylvania General Assembly on 1 March 1780, prescribed an end for slavery in Pennsylvania. It was the first act abolishing slavery in the course of human history to be adopted by a democracy. The Act prohibited further importation of slaves into the state, required Pennsylvania slaveholders to annually register their slaves (with forfeiture for noncompliance, and manumission for the enslaved), and established that all children born in Pennsylvania were free persons regardless of the condition or race of their parents. Those enslaved in Pennsylvania before the 1780 law came into effect remained enslaved for life. Pennsylvania’s “gradual abolition”—rather than Massachusetts’s 1783 “instant abolition”—became a model for freeing slaves in other Northern states.

The Dutch and Swedish settlers in the Delaware Valley held Africans as slaves.

The 1780 Act prohibited further importation of slaves into Pennsylvania, but it also respected the property rights of Pennsylvania slaveholders by not freeing slaves already held in the state. It changed the legal status of future children born to enslaved Pennsylvania mothers from “slave” to “indentured servant”, but required those children to work for the mother’s master until age 28. To verify that no additional slaves were imported, the Act created a registry of all slaves in the state. Slaveholders who failed to register their slaves annually, or who did it improperly, lost their slaves to manumission. The 1780 Act specifically exempted members of the U.S. Congress and their personal slaves. Congress was then the only branch of the federal government under the Articles of Confederation, and met in Philadelphia.

The Act did not attack the rights of slave-owners, and those currently in slavery were not freed by the  Act. In summary:

  • Sections 1 and 2 outline the purpose of the Act.
  • Section three states that all persons born in the state of Pennsylvania after the act was passed are no longer slaves or “lifelong servants of any kind.”
  • In Section 4, it goes on to say that even though the children born were not “slaves”, they are required to remain in the service of their owners as a type of indentured servant or apprentice until that child is 28 years old. This was an improvement since as indentured servants/apprentices, they had the same privileges, punishments and relief of servitude in case of mistreatment that they did not have hope of as slaves.
  • Section 5 requires all slave-owners to register their slaves annually, names ages, and etc. in order to enforce that the slaves would be freed at age 28 and to keep track of which ones had already been freed. If owners failed to register their slaves, they would have to free them by default.
  • Section 6 reinforces that as soon as the slaves reach 28, owners were required to give them a bill of sale and free them.
  • Section 7 gives slave children (the indentured) the same rights in a court of law as other indentured servants, though as slaves, they were still not allowed to testify against whites.
  • Section 8 promises reimbursement for slave-owners whose slaves were given the death sentence in court, based on the jury’s evaluation of the slave’s worth.
  • Section 9 covers the punishment for harboring or assisting runaway slaves.
  • Section 10 banned all future slavery and protected every freed man from ever being enslaved again, but excluded visitors to the state or anyone staying less than 6 months. Some people did take advantage of this section by carefully not staying longer than 6 months, leaving, and coming back.
  • Section 11 frees slaves who have run away and been missing for more than 5 years, while allowing owners to recover slaves during this time period.
  • Sections 12 and 13 make longer forms of indentured servitude illegal, regardless of laws in other states.
  • Section 14 repeals any older laws inconsistent with this new law.

Some slaveowners fought in court. Some just tried to work around it. Some enslavers moved out of state every six months to exploit the loophole made in Section 10. Some transported pregnant slaves over the state line to have their baby so that it was technically “born into slavery.” An amendment was made in 1788 to close this loophole, but it was overrulled as unconstitutional. Far from the 28 years planned, the last slaves in Pennsylvania weren’t freed until 1847, 67 years later.

William Penn received his charter in 1681

Quakers (including Penn) owned slaves.

Imported from the West Indies by way of port of Philadelphia.

PA slaves = house servants, farmhands, laborers on iron plantations, skilled craftsmen.

Pennsylvania “Black codes”

 First written protest about slavery in England’s American colonies came from Germantown Friends in 1688. 

  • slaves were not allowed to meet in groups of more than four;
  • they were not permitted to travel more than ten miles from their “master’s” residence without his permission
  • they could not marry Europeans
  • were not to be tried by juries
  • could not buy liquor.

The Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of Friends criticized the importation of slaves in 1696, objected to slave trading in 1754, and in 1775 determined to disown members who would not free their slaves.

1775 Pennsylvania Abolition Society was started was the first of its kind in the nation.

Throughout the 1700s, the Pennsylvania Assembly attempted to discourage the slave trade by taxing it repeatedly.

Benjamin Rush, Thomas Paine, and Richard Wells noted the hypocrisy of Americans “who condemned the tyranny of England’s colonial pollicies…while holding one-fifth of the colonial population in chains.”

Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery – passed by the Pennsylvania Assembly in 1780, first such legislative enactment in America, begins with an expression of gratitude for deliverance from the “tyranny of Great Britain” and for the opportunity to “extend a portion of that freedom to others.” 

Every Negro and Mulatto child born within the State after the passing of the Act (1780) would be free upon reaching age twenty-eight. When released from slavery, they were to receive the same freedom dues and other privileges “such as tools of their trade,” as servants bound by indenture for four years. Slaves were to be registered and those not recorded were to be free. The bill passed by a vote of 34 to 21. The most consistent “opposition to abolition came from German Lutherans and Reformed representatives” from heavily German counties, at least seventy-five percent of whom voted against the bill. They feared that emancipation of slaves would affect their social status in Pennsylvania. Episcopal and Presbyterian representatives split on the issue.

The law freed few slaves immediately. Although Pennsylvanians could no longer legally import slaves; they could buy and sell those who had been registered.

Slavery declined after the passage of the act.

The Pennsylvania Abolition Society purchased a significant number of slaves and promptly set them free.

Between 1790 and 1800, the number of slaves dropped from 3,737 to 1,706 and by 1810 to 795. In 1840, there still were 64 slaves in the state, but by 1850 there were none.

Massachusetts Slavery

African slaves first arrived in Massachusetts in the 1630’s, and legalized the enslavement of Africans, Native Americans, and mixed-race people in The Body of Liberties, 1641. [Article 91, in William Henry Whitmore, The Colonial Laws of Massachusetts Reprinted from the Edition of 1660 With Supplements to 1672 Containing Also the Body of Liberties (Boston: Rockwell and Churchill, 1890), 53.]

“There shall be never be any bond slavery…amongst us, unless it be lawful captives taken in just wars, and such strangers as willingly sell themselves or are sold to us…”

Many laws were passed regulating movement and marriage among slaves, and Massachusetts residents actively participated in the slave trade. Historians estimate that between 1755 and 1764, the Massachusetts slave population was approximately 2.2 percent of the total population; the slave population was generally concentrated in the industrial and coastal towns.

In 1773, a group of slaves petitioned the General Court (legislature) to end slavery, and directly tied their search for liberty to the colonists’ struggles with Great Britain. The Massachusetts Constitution of 1780, in contrast, contained a declaration that “all men are born free and equal, and have . . . the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties.”

Because Massachusetts slaves were considered both as property and as persons before the law, slaves could institute and prosecute lawsuits in the courts against their master (the defendant) who would be obliged to demonstrate their lawful title to ownership of their slave. These cases were not decided on the basis of any “natural right” to freedom; instead, the courts required a specific point of law to decide in favor of a slave, such as a master’s broken promise to grant freedom, or the questionable slave status of the individual’s mother.

Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom

The act now commonly called the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom began simply as Bill No. 82, “A Bill For establishing religious freedom.”

“A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom,” June 18, 1779, in PTJ, 2:545-47. Transcription available at Founders Online.

After the American colonies declared independence from the United Kingdom, the Virginia General Assembly recognized that many of the laws that operated in King George’s loyal colony of Virginia would not work well in a newly independent state. Thus, in October 1776, the first General Assembly appointed a five-man Committee of Revisors to review the existing laws and redraft them for an independent Virginia.

William Waller Hening, The Statutes at Large, Vol. IX (Richmond: J. & G. Cochran, 1821), 175-77.

Primary responsibility was assumed by the three lawyers on the committee, Thomas Jefferson, George Wythe, and Edmund Pendleton; but of the three, Jefferson assumed responsibility for the greater part of the drafting. In 1779, after Jefferson was elected Governor of Virginia, the committee’s catalog of 126 bills was presented to the General Assembly.

“Catalogue of Bills Prepared by the Committee of Revisors,” June 1-5, 1779, in PTJ, 2:329-35 (transcription available at Founders Online); Jefferson and Wythe to Benjamin Harrison, June 18, 1779, in PTJ, 2:301-04 (transcription available at Founders Online).

Many of the proposed laws were not adopted or even seriously considered. Jefferson, for example, bemoaned the lack of action on Bill No. 79, a “bill for the more general diffusion of knowledge,” which called for some state funded education at the primary, secondary, and college levels. Bill No. 82, though, was one of the notable successes in the process.

Bill No. 82 was guided through the legislative process by James Madison while Jefferson watched anxiously from Paris where he was serving as U.S. minister. The bill was also strongly supported by religious dissenters (primarily Presbyterians and Baptists) who had suffered under the established church in colonial Virginia and who desired religious freedom and a separation of church and state. Bill No. 82 was finally adopted in 1786.

Madison to Jefferson, January 22, 1786, in PTJ, 9:194-203. Transcription available at Founders Online. The Statute passed the Virginia Senate on January 16, 1786, a date now celebrated as Religious Freedom Day. The Statute was signed into law on January 19, 1786.

The original manuscript in Jefferson’s hand no longer exists. The text of the act as drafted by Jefferson (and approved by the Revisors) as well as the changes adopted by the General Assembly is provided below, with the General Assembly deletions shown in italics and the Assembly’s insertions shown within brackets):

Well aware that the opinions and belief of men depend not on their own will, but follow involuntarily the evidence proposed to their minds; that [Whereas] Almighty God hath created the mind free, and manifested his supreme will that free it shall remain by making it altogether insusceptible of restraint; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments, or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do, but to extend it by its influence on reason alone; that the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time: That to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical; that even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion, is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness; and is withdrawing from the ministry those temporal[ry] rewards, which proceeding from an approbation of their personal conduct, are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitting labours for the instruction of mankind; that our civil rights have no dependance on our religious opinions, any more than on our opinions in physics or geometry; that therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right; that it tends also [only] to corrupt the principles of that very religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing, with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments, those who will externally profess and conform to it; that though indeed these are criminal who do not withstand such temptation, yet neither are those innocent who lay the bait in their way; that the opinions of men are not the object of civil government, nor under its jurisdiction; that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty, because he being of course judge of that tendency will make his opinions the rule of judgment, and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own; that it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order; and finally, that truth is great and will prevail if left to herself; that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate; errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them.

We the General Assembly of Virginia do enact [Be it enacted by the General Assembly] that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

And though we well know that this Assembly, elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding Assemblies, constituted with powers equal to our own, and that therefore to declare this act [to be] irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare, that the rights hereby asserted are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural right.

“A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom,” June 18, 1779, in PTJ, 2:545-47. Transcription and editorial note available at Founders Online. The accompanying editorial note extensively explains some slight differences in the Jefferson version of the Statute and the text as adopted, and discusses the process of adoption and various printings of the text. See also Hening, The Statutes at Large, Vol. XII (Richmond: George Cochran, 1823), 84-86.

More information:

Class Notes Feb 2:

The movie Ground Hog Day is a comedy. Moral = you get off of the treadmill of life by stopping your selfishness to do something good to benefit the world.

Between 1492 and 1770 more Africans than Europeans entered the Americas (most to Brazil or the Caribbean). Over 10 million enslaved people – with about 260,000 by 1775 to the current United States.

Growth of Black Religion

Enslaved Africans a wide range of local religious beliefs and practices.

Slaves lived with high death rates, the separation of families and tribal groups, and the concerted effort of white owners to eradicate “heathen” (or non-Christian) customs.

Latin America, where Catholicism was most prevalent, slaves mixed African beliefs and practices with Catholic rituals and theology, resulting in the formation of entirely new religions such as vaudou in Haiti (later referred to as “voodoo”), Santeria in Cuba, and Candomblé in Brazil. But in North America, slaves came into contact with the growing number of Protestant evangelical preachers, many of whom actively sought the conversion of African Americans.

On Secret Religious Meetings

“A Negro preacher delivered sermons on the plantation. Services being held in the church used by whites after their services on Sunday. The preacher must always act as a peacemaker and mouthpiece for the master, so they were told to be subservient to their masters in order to enter the Kingdom of God. But the slaves held secret meetings and had praying grounds where they met a few at a time to pray for better things.” Harriet Gresham, born a slave in 1838 in South Carolina, as reported by her interviewer, ca. 1935

Southern slaves converted to evangelical religions such as the Methodist and Baptist faiths. Many clergy actively promoted the idea that all Christians were equal in the sight of god and encouraged worship in ways that many Africans found to be similar with enthusiastic singing, clapping, dancing, and even spirit-possession.

White owners insisted on slave attendance at white-controlled churches, since they were fearful that if slaves were allowed to worship independently they would ultimately plot rebellion against their owners. Many blacks saw these white churches, in which ministers promoted obedience to one’s master as the highest religious ideal, as a mockery of the “true” Christian message of equality and liberation as they knew it.

African Americans organized their own “invisible institution.” Through signals, passwords, and messages not discernible to whites, they called believers to “hush harbors” where they freely mixed African rhythms, singing, and beliefs with evangelical Christianity. It was here that the spirituals, with their double meanings of religious salvation and freedom from slavery, developed and flourished; and here, too, that black preachers, those who believed that God had called them to speak his Word, polished their “chanted sermons,” or rhythmic, intoned style of extemporaneous preaching.

BT’s formula for taking notes from the readings: look for SOA

Statements (facts), Observations/Opinions, Awareness

The history of slavery is American history. White people (MEN) we’re required by law to keep an eye on black people.

Christianity was retrofited to benefit only white people.

We vs Them

GOLD — we get paid

GOD — inflict our religion on them

GLORY — for our supremacy over them

Bruce Taylor

“Blacks don’t know any better so we are going to teach them because we are / know better than them. Even if we baptize them we are still better than them.” This / religion / was used to justify conquest – gold for god’s glory.

The colonies did not have a separation of church and state.

Massachusetts was founded by Puritans to be a safe place for puritans. John Adams wrote the state’s constitution. Laws benefited the church.

Virginia was founded (and owned) by King George who was the political and religious head of England (and Virginia.) Laws benefited the church and England.

Hush Arbor or habor: During antebellum America, a hush harbor was a place where slaves would gather in secret to practice religious traditions.

Nat Turner: lead armed insurrection in Virginia in 1831 resulted in the deaths of scores of white men, women, and children, was a Baptist preacher sent by his owner to convert blacks.

peculiar institution: a euphemistic term that white southerners used for slavery. Its implicit message was that slavery in the U.S. South was “different”from the very harsh slave systems existing in other countries and that southern slavery had no impact on those living in northern states. Regardless of slave-holding status, economic status, and living situation, white southerners defended the “peculiar institution” of slavery because they believed that it was an economic and moral good. They believed that black people were made inferior, so slave labor suited them perfectly.

Atlantic Trade Routes By the late seventeenth century, an elaborate trade network linked the countries and colonies bordering the Atlantic Ocean. The most valuable commodities exchanged were enslaved people and projects of their labor.

Lord Dunmore – John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore, originally from Scotland, was the royal governor of the Colony of Virginia from 1771 to 1775.

From PBS LearningMedia:
Nat Turner Rebellion | The African Americans

  • Homework 3: Read Lord Dunmore’s Proclamation.
  • As you read it, consider the following questions:
  • What is its purpose?
  • Who is its audience?

Lord Dunmore’s Proclamation (designed to destroy Virginia and enrich the crown by freeing all enslaved people who fight on the side of England in the Revolutionary War.

In this proclamation, created on November 7, 1775, John Murray, Earl of Dunmore, the governor of Virginia, declares martial law, adjudged all revolutionaries as traitors to the crown, and emancipates all slaves and indentured servants willing to fight for the British.

The proclamation was practical and militaristic rather than humanitarianism. Dunmore wanted to add to his troops and scare the colonist so much that there would be a slave uprising that the colonists would abandon their revolution.

Black people don’t know whether to believe Dunmore or what to believe. The British were deeply implicated in the slave trade. Slavery at the time of the Revolution was still legal in the British colonies. The largest number of African peoples became free during the Revolution with this “escape” than become free until the Civil War. [Fath Ruffins on blacks’ reaction to Dunmore’s Proclamation]

The angered colonizers because freeing the enslaved, deprived them of their property rights. The Virginia Convention responded on December 14, 1775, with an unambiguous declaration that all fugitive slaves would be executed.

The escaped slaves Dunmore accepted were enlisted into what was known as Dunmore’s Ethiopian Regiment. Dunmore was forced out of the colony in 1776, taking about 300 former slaves with him. [Ruffins, Fath. “Fath Ruffins on blacks’ reaction to Dunmore’s Proclamation”. Public Broadcasting Service. Retrieved 2007-09-10.]

The 1779 Philipsburg Proclamation issued by British Army General Sir Henry Clinton on June 30, 1779, intended to encourage slaves to run away and enlist in the Royal Forces. During the course of the war, between 80,000 and 100,000 slaves escaped from the plantations. [Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves, and the American Revolution: Simon Schama, p. 19]

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