‘Kill Him in the Case of Resistance’: Highlights from Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922

The November release of Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922: From the Library Company of Philadelphia includes an Englishman’s observations on the Atlantic slave trade, a Scot’s concerns for the emancipated slaves in the West Indies, and reflections on the American abolitionist movement and slavery by the third baronet of Wraxall.


Narrative of a Voyage to the Southern Atlantic Ocean (1834)

By William Henry Bayley Webster

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William Henry Bayley Webster served aboard the HMS Chanticleer during her scientific expedition in the South Atlantic from 1828 to 1830. Webster, the ship’s surgeon, recorded the manners and customs of various peoples he encountered traveling along the Atlantic coasts of Africa and South America. He makes notes of finding slavery in South America “at the Cape in its mildest form” and at Rio “in all its plenitude” but after arriving at Maranham in northern Brazil he offers more detail, writing:  

Here the slave-trade flourishes, and compels me to revert with feelings of disgust to the abominable practice. Enough has already been written on the subject, and he would be a clever moralist who could find anything new in it to hold up to public scorn….This great question must be regarded in a two-fold light; that of the actual traffic in slaves, and that of slavery only. They cannot be considered apart, for they are essentially connected; and he that possesses slaves holds out a direct encouragement to the traders, as much as the receiver of stolen goods is the abettor of, and participator with, the thief.

Describing the conditions of the Middle Passage, Webster continues:

…let the advocate of slavery see the unhappy wretches on board the vessels; let him see them manacled and absolutely jammed together as if they were logs of ebony wood stowed in bulk; let him contemplate their sufferings, suffocated as they are by intolerable stench and filth of the worst kind; sinking with unquenched thirst, or rotting in their pestilence, gasping for air in a pent-up hold, and dying from the accumulation of all these evils…


The Duties of the Present Crisis (1838)

By Rev. Patrick Brewster

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Patrick Brewster (1788-1859) was a theologian and minister who spoke regularly on controversial political positions, championing causes of the working class. Only four years after his death a monument to his memory was erected by public subscription in Paisley cemetery. He advocated temperance, the repeal of the corn laws, and the abolition of the slave trade.

Brewster begins this sermon saying, “Reason and Religion alike denounce the inhumanity and injustice of making slaves of our fellow-men. All nature condemns it.” He continues, using the story of Moses, Pharaoh, and the deliverance of the Israelites from slavery as an analogy to the emancipation of the slaves in the British colonies. Brewster lauds the efforts of his fellow abolitionists with the following:

It was not the armed strength of England’s chivalry that won the fight. The Pharaohs’ of our government, who ingloriously wielded that power on the side of the oppressor, were conquered by the virtue of their own subjects, - by the peaceful agitation, the unbribed courage, the disinterested devotedness of a few noble minded men, who gathered around their holy standard the moral might of a Christian people; adding thousand after thousand, and million after million, of brave spirits and kind hearts; and leading on to the conflict the ever augmenting phalanx of unarmed suppliants, praying, entreating, demanding, in the name of all that is dear and sacred to man, - in the name of justice, - in the name of mercy, - in the name of God, that the oppressed should go free: till, by the blessing of heaven, - sustaining their efforts and giving them the victory, - they have triumphed gloriously.

Brewster’s high-mindedness was not without limit. Reminding abolitionists their work continues, now concerning the fair treatment of the newly liberated, Brewster states:

We must not let their unconfirmed liberty be placed at the mercy of their former tyrants. We must not let their inexperienced and simple minds be circumvented, by the cunning and cupidity of the men, who have so often cheated and deceived them.


The Second Empire as Exhibited in French Literature 1852-1863 (1865)

By Sir Frederic Charles Lascelles Wraxall

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Sir Frederic Charles Lascelles Wraxall, third baronet (1828-1865) was a writer and grandson of Nathaniel Wraxall for whom the Wraxall Baronetcy was created in 1813. Although Wraxall’s writings generally focus on Europe and military matters, in this two-volume examination of France’s Second Empire he looks peripherally west and across the Atlantic. Discussing the work of French journalist and author M. Xavier Eyma, Wraxall writes:

M. Xavier Eyma is one of the few Frenchmen who thoroughly understand what they are writing about when they treat on the difficult question of American manners and institutions. He has written a large number of volumes already about America, marked by good sense and modesty, and the one we have under notice is not the less notable at the present moment, when the temporary successes of the North have induced the Abolitionists once again to raise their war-cry. Of course, there is no Englishman who does not feel desirous of that abolition, but we all object to making a pretext of abolitionism to excuse the horrible and unjust war now going on in the United States.

After dismissing the abolitionist movement Wraxall praises the Slave States for creating ‘black codes’ as a measure of protection for slaves. The extent of that measure, however, lessens with every additional example he provides.

The black code ensures the slave a barrel of Indian corn per month, a pint of salt, a cotton shirt and trousers for the summer, flannel shirt and trousers, and a cap, for the winter, and a piece of ground to cultivate. Infirm, aged, and blind slaves must be fed, clothed, and taken care of at the master’s expense, under a penalty of twenty-five dollars for each infraction of this regulation.

The master cannot evade the duty of supporting his slaves, by allowing them a day a week to work on their own account.

Children under ten years of age cannot be sold apart from their mothers.

Slaves are prohibited from possessing anything, selling anything, having weapons, or sporting, without their master’s permission. They cannot prosecute or be witnesses at any trial, criminal or civil.

Any slave met on horseback without his master’s permission may be arrested and punished with twenty-five blows of the lash.

No one can strike a slave in the service of another master under a penalty of twenty-five dollars; still, any person meeting a slave beyond the limits of his master’s plantation is authorized to arrest, punish, and even kill him in the case of resistance.


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