About Corazon

Monday, October 18, 2010

Slave Petitions for Freedom

This morning, just before going to bed (I work the graveyard shift), I was watching a short discussion on one of the many ridiculous political cable channels on the issue of slavery and the Founding Fathers. During the back-and-forth debate, I was stunned to hear one pundit make the comment that, "the Founding Fathers protected slavery because they knew no better." To be honest, I was not really all that surprised by this comment. It seems that many Americans have embraced this delusional interpretation of our founding history as a convenient way to justify the founders' choice to keep an entire race in chains. After all, nobody wants to admit that their respective country has skeletons in the closet.

Anyway, after sleeping on it I decided to dust off my old copy of historian Gary Nash's book, Race and Revolution. I haven't bothered to look over this fantastic work since my undergrad days, so this seemed like the perfect excuse. Besides, Colorado Springs is dark and cold today, which makes for perfect reading conditions. What I love about Nash's book is that it provides several wonderful primary source examples of African American slaves who adopted the ideology of the American Revolution for themselves. They too caught hold of the idea that "all men are created equal" and that they could stake claim to certain "natural rights" guaranteed to them by "Providence." As a result, literally hundreds of slave petitions demanding freedom (sort of small declarations of independence themselves) were sent to the various colonial officials, all demanding immediate emancipation.

And there are literally hundreds of documents from slaveholders, which prove the fact that these colonials had a perfect understanding of the evils of slavery. Thomas Jefferson even stated that, "If there is a just god in heaven we will pay dearly for what has been done to the Negroes."

So, to make the idiotic claim that the colonial generation was somehow ignorant on the issue of slavery and knew no better is both foolish and irresponsible. I understand the need for Americans to cherish their history. I am in total agreement with that, and in no way am I a "founding father-hater." But there is no excuse for those who attempt to obscure the unsavory parts of our history. When we learn the TRUE nature of our history, the more noble it becomes. Our founders were human, not demigods.

I have attached one of the several slave petitions for you all to read (which can be found in Gary Nash's book). It is one of my favorites, because it proves that the slaves were anything but ignorant of the sweeping winds of revolution:
Boston, April 20th, 1773.

Sir, The efforts made by the legislative of this province in their last sessions to free themselves from slavery, gave us, who are in that deplorable state, a high degree of satisfaction. We expect great things from men who have made such a noble stand against the designs of their fellow-men to enslave them. We cannot but wish and hope Sir, that you will have the same grand object, we mean civil and religious liberty, in view in your next session. The divine spirit of freedom, seems to fire every humane breast on this continent, except such as are bribed to assist in executing the execrable plan.

We are very sensible that it would be highly detrimental to our present masters, if we were allowed to demand all that of right belongs to us for past services; this we disclaim. Even the Spaniards, who have not those sublime ideas of freedom that English men have, are conscious that they have no right to all the services of their fellow-men, we mean the Africans, whom they have purchased with their money; therefore they allow them one day in a week to work for themselves, to enable them to earn money to purchase the residue of their time, which they have a right to demand in such portions as they are able to pay for (a due appraizement of their services being first made, which always stands at the purchase money.) We do not pretend to dictate to you Sir, or to the Honorable Assembly, of which you are a member. We acknowledge our obligations to you for what you have already done, but as the people of this province seem to be actuated by the principles of equity and justice, we cannot but expect your house will again take our deplorable case into serious consideration, and give us that ample relief which, as men, we have a natural right to.

But since the wise and righteous governor of the universe, has permitted our fellow men to make us slaves, we bow in submission to him, and determine to behave in such a manner as that we may have reason to expect the divine approbation of, and assistance in, our peaceable and lawful attempts to gain our freedom.

We are willing to submit to such regulations and laws, as may be made relative to us, until we leave the province, which we determine to do as soon as we can, from our joynt labours, procure money to transport ourselves to some part of the Coast of Africa, where we propose a settlement. We are very desirous that you should have instructions relative to us, from your town, therefore we pray you to communicate this letter to them, and ask this favor for us.

In behalf of our fellow slaves in this province, and by order of their Committee.

Peter Bestes,
Sambo Freeman,
Felix Holbrook,
Chester Joie.

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