IAH201 Michigan State Week 1 Four Petitions Against Slavery Essay Drawing on a variety of class materials from Week 1 in the course (and documenting them appropriately), address the following in a focused manner (4-5 paragraphs).
According to Gordon Stewart, the roots of the Revolution may have been conservative, but American political culture and society radicalized in the course of fighting the Revolutionary War. Analyze the Four Petitions Against Slavery in light of the key changes taking place in this new American society.
Your answers will be evaluated based on responsiveness, mastery of course materials, appropriate citation, thoughtfulness, and clarity.
Incorporate at least five sources into your response, in addition to the Slave Petitions (Choose from Week 1 videos/audio, primary documents, ushistory.org).
Note: You are not being asked to summarize the sources here. You should construct a thesis statement and use evidence from these sources to back it up. Select your sources wisely. Document them appropriately. Four Petitions Against Slavery (1773 to 1777)
More evidence of resistance to slavery can be found in the various petitions by slaves to state
legislatures, seeking release from their bondage. Here are four of them, in part deferential but
also impassioned and defiant.
From Voices of A People’s History, edited by Zinn and Arnove
“FELIX” (UNKNOWN) SLAVE PETITION FOR FREEDOM (JANUARY 6, 1773)1
Province of the Massachusetts Bay To His Excellency Thomas Hutchinson, Esq; Governor;
To The Honorable His Majesty s Council, and To the Honorable House of Representatives in
General Court assembled at Boston, the 6th Day of January, 1773.
The humble PETITION of many Slaves, living in the Town of Boston, and other Towns in the
Province is this, namely That your Excellency and Honors, and the Honorable the
Representatives would be pleased to take their unhappy State and Condition under your
wise and just Consideration.
We desire to bless God, who loves Mankind, who sent his Son to die for their Salvation, and
who is no respecter of Persons; that he hath lately put it into the Hearts of Multitudes on
both Sides of the Water, to bear our Burthens, some of whom are Men of great Note and
Influence; who have pleaded our Cause with Arguments which we hope will have their
weight with this Honorable Court.
We presume not to dictate to your Excellency and Honors, being willing to rest our Cause
on your Humanity and justice; yet would beg Leave to say a Word or two on the Subject.
Although some of the Negroes are vicious, (who doubtless may be punished and restrained
by the same Laws which are in Force against other of the Kings Subjects) there are many
others of a quite different Character, and who, if made free, would soon be able as well as
willing to bear a Part in the Public Charges; many of them of good natural Parts, are
discreet, sober, honest, and industrious; and may it not be said of many, that they are
virtuous and religious, although their Condition is in itself so unfriendly to Religion, and
every moral Virtue except Patience. How many of that Number have there been, and now
are in this Province, who have had every Day of their Lives embittered with this most
intolerable Reflection, That, let their Behaviour be what it will, neither they, nor their
Children to all Generations, shall ever be able to do, or to possess and enjoy any Thing, no,
not even Life itself, but in a Manner as the Beasts that perish.
We have no Property. We have no Wives. No Children. We have no City. No Country. But we
have a Father in Heaven, and we are determined, as far as his Grace shall enable us, and as
far as our degraded contemptuous Life will admit, to keep all his Commandments:
Especially will we be obedient to our Masters, so long as God in his sovereign Providence
shall suffer us to be holden in Bondage.
It would be impudent, if not presumptuous in us, to suggest to your Excellency and Honors
any Law or Laws proper to be made, in relation to our unhappy State, which, although our
greatest Unhappiness, is not our Fault; and this gives us great Encouragement to pray and
hope for such Relief as is consistent with your Wisdom, justice, and Goodness.
We think Ourselves very happy, that we may thus address the Great and General Court of
this Province, which great and good Court is to us, the best judge, under God, of what is
wise, just and good.
We humbly beg Leave to add but this one Thing more: We pray for such Relief only, which
by no Possibility can ever be productive of the least Wrong or Injury to our Masters; but to
us will be as Life from the dead.
PETER BESTES AND OTHER SLAVES PETITION FOR FREEDOM (APRIL 20,1773)2
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 service 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 them-selve[s], 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 appraizment 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.
“PETITION OF A GRATE NUMBER OF BLACKES” TO THOMAS GAGE (MAY 25,
The Petition of a Grate Number of Blackes of this Province who by divine permission are held in
a state of Slavery within the bowels of a free and christian Country
That your Petitioners apprehind we have in common with all other men a naturel right to our
freedoms without Being depriv’d of them by our fellow men as we are a freeborn Pepel and have
never forfeited this Blessing by aney compact or agreement whatever. But we were unjustly
dragged by the cruel hand of power from our dearest frinds and sum of us stolen from the
bosoms of our tender Parents and from a Populous Pleasant and plentiful country and Brought
hither to be made slaves for Life in a Christian land. Thus are we deprived of every thing that
hath a tendency to make life even tolerable, the endearing ties of husband and wife we are
strangers to for we are no longer man and wife then our masters or mestreses thinkes proper
marred or on marred. Our children are also taken from us by force and sent maney miles from us
wear we seldom or ever see them again there to be made slaves of for Life which surnames is
vere short by Reson of Being dragged from their mothers Breest[.] Thus our Lives are imbittered
to us on these accounts [.] By our deplorable situation we are rendered incapable of shewing our
obedience to Almighty God[.] [H]ow can a slave perform the duties of a husband to a wife or
parent to his child [?] How can a husband leave master and work and cleave to his wife[?] How
can the wife submit themselves to there husbands in all things[?] How can the child obey thear
parents in all things[?] …
How can the master be said to Beare my Borden when he Beares me down whith the Have
chanes of slavery and operson [oppression] against my will and how can we fulfill our parte of
duty to him whilst in this condition [?] [A] nd as we cannot searve our God as we ought whilst in
this situation Nither can we reap an equal benefet from the laws of the Land which doth not
justifl but condemns Slavery or if there had bin aney Law to hold us in Bondege we are Humbely
of the Opinon ther never was aney to inslave our children for life when Born in a free Countrey.
We therefor Bage your Excellency and Honours will give this its deu weight and consideration
and that you will accordingly cause an act of the legislative to be pessed that we may obtain our
Natural right our freedoms and our children be set at lebety [liberty].
“PETITION OF A GREAT NUMBER OF NEGROES” TO THE MASSACHUSETTS
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES (JANUARY 13, 1777)4
To the Honorable Council and House of Representatives for the State of Massachusetts-Bay in
General Court assembled January 13th[,] 1777.
The Petition of a great number of Negroes who are detained in a state of Slavery in the Bowels
of a free and Christian Country Humbly Shewing:
That your Petitioners apprehend that they have, in common with all other Men, a natural and
unalienable right to that freedom, which the great Parent of the Universe hath bestowed equally
on all Mankind, and which they have never forfeited by any compact or agreement whatever
But they were unjustly dragged, by the cruel hand of Power, from their dearest friends, and some
of them even torn from the embraces of their tender Parents, from a populous, pleasant and
plentiful Countryand in Violation of the Laws of Nature and of Nation and in defiance of all
the tender feelings of humanity, brought hither to be sold like Beasts of Burden, and like them
condemned to slavery for LifeAmong a People professing the mild Religion of JesusA
People not insensible of the sweets of rational freedomNor without spirit to resent the unjust
endeavors of others to reduce them to a State of Bondage and Subjection.
Your Honors need not to be informed that a Life of Slavery, like that of your petitioners,
deprived of every social privilege, of every thing requisite to render Life even tolerable, is far
worse than Non-ExistenceIn imitation of the laudable example of the good People of these
States, your Petitioners have long and patiently waited the event of Petition after Petition by
them presented to the legislative Body of this State, and can not but with grief reflect that their
success has been but too similar.
They can not but express their astonishment, that it has never been considered, that every
principle from which America has acted in the course of her unhappy difficulties with GreatBritain, pleads stronger than a thousand arguments in favor of your Petitioners.
They therefore humbly beseech your Honors, to give this Petition its due weight and
consideration, and cause an Act of the Legislature to be passed, whereby they may be restored to
the enjoyment of that freedom which is the natural right of all Menand their Children (who
were born in this Land of Liberty) may not be held as Slaves after they arrive at the age of
twenty one years.
So may the Inhabitants of this State (no longer chargeable with the inconsistency of acting,
themselves, the pan which they condemn and oppose in others) be prospered in their present
glorious struggles for liberty; and have those blessings secured to them by Heaven, of which
benevolent minds can not wish to deprive their fellow Men.
And your Petitioners, as in Duty Bound shall ever pray.
1 “Felix” (Unknown) Slave Petition for Freedom (January 6. 1773). In Aptheker, ed., A
Documentary History ofthe Negro People in the United States, vol. 1, pp. 6-7.
2 Peter Bestes and Other Slaves Petition for Freedom (April 20,1773). In Aptheker, ed, A
Documentary History of the Negro People in the United States, vol. I, pp. 7-8. Leaflet in the
collection of the New York Historical Society library.
3 “Petition of a Grate Number of Blackes” to Thomas Gage (May 25, 1774). In Aptheker, ed., A
Documentary History of the Negro People in the United States, vol. 1, pp. 8-9. From the
Massachusetts Historical Society, 5th series, vol. 3 (Boston, IB77), pp. 432ff.
4 “Petition of a Great Number of Negroes” to the Massachusetts House of Representatives
(January 13, 1777). In Aptheker, ed., A Documentary History of the Negro People in the United
States, voL 1, pp. 9-10. From the Massachusetts Historical Society, 5th series, vol. 3 (Boston,
1877). pp. 432ff.
Back To History Is A Weapon’s Front Page
A word to [those] now tramping the streets, with hands
in pockets, gazing listlessly about you at the evidence of
wealth and pleasure of which you own no part, not
sufficient even to purchase yourself a bit of food with
which to appease the pangs of hunger now knawing at
your vitals. It is with you and the hundreds of thousands
of others similarly situated in this great land of plenty,
that I wish to have a word
Send forth your petition and let them read it by the red
glare of destruction. Thus when you cast ‘one long
lingering look behind’ you can be assured that you have
spoken to these robbers in the only language which they
have ever been able to understand, for they have never
yet deigned to notice any petition from their slaves that
they were not compelled to read by the red glare bursting
from the cannon’s mouths, or that was not handed to
them upon the point of the sword. You need no
organization when you make up your mind to present
this kind of petition. In fact, an organization would be a
detriment to you; but each of you hungry tramps who
read these lines, avail yourselves of those little methods
of warfare which Science has placed in the hands of the
poor man, and you will become a power in this or any
Learn the use of explosives!
Lucy E. Parsons, ‘To Tramps,’ October 4, 1884.
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