21: The Way of Catching, Stealing, and Using of Negroes

Abington, the Seventh Month (September), 1736:

My dear and well-beloved Friends: My joy and the crown of all my sweet delights in this world I can truly say is the true unity with my true brethren, which are the true church in God the Father, and he in them, ever reigning in his own blessed kingdom, body, house, tabernacle, New Jerusalem, or a tent—synonymous terms. While Israel abode here, no divination could prevail or enchantments against them. But when Israel, our dear Friends, went out of their tents to look at and long after the pleasures, pride, profit, and friendship of this world, then they came to be snared with this cursed sin—Negro-trading—as well as some other gross sins of which this is chief, considering the hellish train of filthiness, which has, does, and ever will attend it and is inseparable from it. For it is granted by all sober, wise men that truly fear God and dearly love the Truth in sincerity, and are well acquainted with this soul trade from the beginning, and all its progressions to this day.

I say such as have had a true account do know that those that are employed in this trade are some of the worst of men, and withal some of the worst of thieves, pirates, and murderers, from whence our lesser pirates have proceeded. And many of these lesser pirates have been punished with death and some other ways. But the much greater villains by far, not only go free but are encouraged—and have been near 50 years if not more, by us as a people—by buying of their cursed hellish-gotten ware, at a very great price. And all this time pretending to the most holy pure religion in the whole world—to do unto all as we would they should do unto us, and as James writes, to visit the fatherless and widow in their afflictions, and keep ourselves unspotted  from the world. But I know no worse engine the devil has to make widows and fatherless children, and to bring into affliction and bondage and sore captivity indeed, than this hellish practice in Pennsylvania: Negro-keeping.

But these hellish miscreants, these men-stealers, pretend they fetch away these poor creatures that they may not kill one the other, when they are the murderers which set them to the work (a cursed work it is). For as I have had an account, near 35 Years ago, where 10 or 12 sail of vessels come on the coast of Guinea and they cannot catch Negroes enough to freight their vessels by the seaside and in rivers where they send their boats in search and pursuit of them, where they are acquainted, for they being used to the business known where to go. And to find out some old Negroes that they have been used to trade with, which will bring off in canoes their Wives or children, or their neighbors’ wives and children if they can catch them in woods or any where else: so bring them and sell them to our brave Christians, which come there with ships for that purpose.

O brave! give 30 shillings for a Negro and sell him for 30 pounds or 40, 50 or 60, 70, 80, 90, 100 pounds or more. Who would not be a trader in slaves and souls of men, although he goes to hell for it and in the meantime entails an iniquity on his own, and his neighbor’s posterity to their destruction and the ruin of the whole country beside.

Above 30 years ago, when I was a common sailor, I had this account, and likewise, by some sailors onboard [with] Captain Reeves, coming this voyage to Philadelphia, who had been at Guinea—and I suppose had been pirates; they did acknowledge they had been taken by them.

These vile fellows onboard with Captain Reeves, in their drink used to tell what cursed work their former captain and sailors made with the poor negroes in their passage, for their lusts. The Captain, six or ten of them in the cabin, and the sailors as many as they pleased; with much more too foul for me to mention, or for chaste ears to hear.

But I pray, I beg, and beseech you my Friends, in the pure love and fear of God: consider what part have true believers with such infidels, or Christ with such Belials, or our holy, pure God with such unholy, impure devils, until we can join these together. Now we can never reconcile slave-keeping without principles. We may as well say, as Solomon of a harlot: their steps go down to death and their feet take hold on hell.