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HIST 1151 American History to 1877 Primary Source Readings 1: First Contact and British North America

HIST 1151 American History to 1877 Primary Source Readings 1: First Contact and British North America

Overview

A collection of primary source readings for American History to 1877.

Richard Frethrone’s Letter to his Father and Mother (1623), Richard Frethrone

The primary source readings in this course align with CSCC's version of The American Yawp, Volume 1, which is derived from the The American Yawp open textbook by Stanford University Press.  While the original The American Yawp is accompanied by its own primary source reader called The American Yawp Reader, the selection of primary sources you will find in this course differ somewhat in that some of the text excerpts are from the same sources but might feature a different selection from the text. Some of the primary sources in this course are in addition to those found in The American Yawp Reader. 

This collection is a work in progress. As introductions, annotations, and "Questions to Consider" are added, updates will be reflected. Users are also welcome to download the Word version of the reading then add or revise the introductions, annotations, or questions. 

To take this course for credit, register at Columbus State Community College.

This work, except where otherwise indicated, by Christianna Hurford at Columbus State Community College is licensed CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0.

Richard Frethrone’s Letter to his Father and Mother (1623)

Richard Frethrone

 

 

Introduction (Secondary Source)[1]

Servitude had a long history in England, dating back to medieval serfdom. The Ordinance of Labourers, passed in June 1349, declared that all men and women under the age of sixty who did not practice a craft must serve anyone requiring their labor. Parliament updated the law in 1495 and 1563, with the latter version, the Statute of Artificers, still being in effect when the English founded Jamestown. Between 1520 and 1630, England's population more than doubled, from 2.3 million to 4.8 million, and Parliament hoped its 1563 statute might "banishe Idleness[,] advance Husbandrye," and so deal with the near-overwhelming number of poor and unemployed citizens. In fact, the founding of Virginia itself was partially in response to this problem. In his Discourse on Western Planting (1584), Richard Hakluyt (the younger) argued to Queen Elizabeth that new American colonies would energize England's "decayed trades" and provide work for the country's "multitudes of loyterers and idle vagabondes."

In England, an indenture, or contract for labor, was known as a "covenant merely personal," and could apply either to farm laborers or apprentices learning a trade. Contracts generally lasted a year, after which terms were renegotiated. As the merchant and adventurer Sir George Peckham noted in 1583, many English men and women willingly became servants "in hope thereby to amend theyr estates," and young children were sometimes bound to service by parents who might not otherwise be able to afford their upbringing.

The Virginia Company of London always had more land than labor to work it. At first, the company attempted to entice investors by offering them shares in the company that were redeemable for land. But when profits failed to materialize and the colony became infamous for its high mortality rate, the company began shipping servants to Virginia at its own expense and placing them on company-owned land. (An Englishman willing to risk his life in order to work someone else's acreage was not usually someone who could afford transatlantic passage.) Once the servants arrived, the company could rent them out to planters for a year at a time, requiring the planters to take responsibility for the workers' food, shelter, and health.

With the introduction of marketable tobacco, however, demand for labor skyrocketed. Private investors who, alongside the company, had shipped servants at their own expense continued to do so while the company rid itself of its role as rental agent. Instead, it sold servants directly to planters at a price based on the cost of passage. Planters, mariners, and merchants then fixed the servants' years of service based on the labor required to recoup their purchase price and subsequent care.

Servants, who ranged from convicted criminals to skilled workers, in time came to occupy the lowest rung on the social ladder in Virginia. While tenants kept half of what they earned, servants kept nothing and were almost entirely at the mercy of their masters for the terms of their indentures. Movement up the ladder was limited, even once a term of service had been completed, although servants with marketable skills had a greater chance of success. Few servants were like Robert Townshend, who arrived as an apprentice in 1620 and eventually served in the House of Burgesses.

Headrights, first described in the so-called Great Charter of 1618, awarded 100 acres of land each to planters who had been in the colony since May 1616, and 50 acres each to anyone who covered the cost of transporting a new immigrant to Virginia. These newcomers, more often than not, were indentured servants, allowing successful planters simultaneous access to land and labor, with no upfront cost to the company. Merchants and mariners reaped a benefit, too, for they recruited prospective servants, bargained their indenture terms with them, and then sold the contracts to planters in Virginia. Merchants also accumulated headrights that could be used to acquire land.

Sometimes groups of investors collectively absorbed the cost of outfitting and transporting workers to the colony. Virginia Company of London stockholders were entitled to 100 acres per share, and high-ranking officials were furnished with indentured servants as part of their stipend. In some instances groups of investors promised to give land to their indentured servants after they fulfilled their contracts. The Society of Berkeley Hundred's investors offered their skilled servants parcels that ranged from 25 to 50 acres, to be claimed once they had fulfilled their contracts.

Various factors fueled the need for new servants. One was demographics. Approximately 50,000 servants—or three-quarters of all new arrivals—immigrated to the Chesapeake Bay colonies between 1630 and 1680. The ratio of men to women among servants in the 1630s was six-to-one. Between 1640 and 1680, the ratio dropped to four-to-one, but even then, many men could not find wives to marry and therefore could not establish families. As a result of this and the high mortality rate among new servants, company officials and English merchants were forced to constantly replenish the Virginia colony's servant population.

Another factor creating a need for new servants was the rapidly expanding tobacco market. It created substantial opportunities for would-be planters, but because tobacco was a demanding, labor-intensive crop, it also required a large number of laborers. At the same time, tobacco's acceptance as a medium of exchange prompted planters to enhance their productivity. Between the 1620s and the 1670s, the annual output of tobacco per hand rose from approximately 710 pounds to around 1,600 pounds; during the same period, shipping costs decreased. Although tobacco prices had begun to decline sharply by late in the 1620s and continued to fall, production remained profitable because planters were able to produce larger crops with fewer hands. Yet even as they technically required fewer servants, planters demanded more. That's because tobacco consumption rose in response to lower prices, and planters, eager to meet that demand, increased their production.

As indentured servants poured into Virginia, they came to account for fully half of Virginia's population. Such rapid change caused problems, however, and the General Assembly passed numerous statutes designed to address them. These laws served several broad purposes, including regulation of servants' contract terms, behavior, and treatment.

Contract terms were important for several reasons. The assembly wished to protect masters from terms that did not fully recoup their cost of transporting servants from England to Virginia, in addition to their subsequent care. The assembly also faced the problem of servants who arrived without any contracts; the English custom of requiring a single year's service absent any other arrangement would not suffice in America, where the labor market was less stable than in England. Finally, the masters—who included most men who sat in the assembly—had an interest in prolonging terms of indenture because briefer service led to disruptive turnover, labor shortages, and an unstable workforce.

For these reasons, terms of service did not shorten even as tobacco production became more efficient and profitable. Instead, lengthy terms of service became customary and dictated by law. As early as 1619, the General Assembly required all servants to register with the secretary of state upon arrival and "Certifie him upon what termes or conditions they be come hither." In its 1642–1643 session, the assembly passed a law mandating that any servant arriving without an indenture and who was younger than twelve years old should serve for seven years, servants aged twelve to nineteen should serve for five years, and servants aged twenty and older should serve for four years. Legislation passed in the 1657–1658 session adjusted these ages: anyone under the age of fifteen should serve until he or she turned twenty-one, while anyone sixteen or older should serve for four years. By 1705, the law had been simplified, so that all non-indentured Christian servants older than nineteen should serve until they turned twenty-four. ("Christian servants" generally referred to non-blacks and non-Indians.) Lawmakers entrusted the county courts with judging the age of each servant. In the meantime, they required slightly different terms for Irish servants.

Servants whose contracts had expired typically received "freedom dues," loosely described as a quantity of corn and clothing. The 1705 statute was the first to explicitly mention this "good and laudable custom," and required that male servants, "upon their freedom," be supplied with ten bushels of corn, thirty shillings (or the like value in goods), and a musket worth at least twenty shillings. Women were entitled to fifteen bushels of corn and the equivalent of forty shillings.

In 1675, an indentured servant who charged his master with cheating him asked the General Court to free him "and pay him corne & clothes." The judges ruled in his favor, granting him "three Barrels of Corne att the Cropp." Occasionally the owners of indentured servants refused to release them or give them their freedom dues. At Jamestown, when a male indentured servant who had fulfilled his contract insisted on receiving his "corn and clothes," his master exploded in rage and struck him on the head with his truncheon.

 

 

Questions to Consider:

 

  1. Context: Who is the author(s) (include a brief bio)? When did s/he write the piece (include some brief context)? Who is the audience? What was the agenda?
  2. In what ways did being an indentured servant shape the identity of Frethorne (consider for example type of work, living conditions, food, outlook on life, etc.)? How does this identity/perception compare to life as he remembers it in England?
  3. How does he describe their relationship with the Native Americans?  Why?
  4. What is Frethorne asking for from his parents? How do you think they might have felt about such a request?
  5. What insights does this document have to offer about both European and American society? Be Specific! [please be sure to consider author, agenda, bias, etc.]

 

Primary Source[2]

 

LOVING AND KIND FATHER AND MOTHER:

My most humble duty remembered to you, hoping in god of your good health, as I myself am at the making hereof. This is to let you understand that I your child am in a most heavy case by reason of the country, [which] is such that it causeth much sickness, [such] as the scurvy and the bloody flux and diverse other diseases, which maketh the body very poor and weak. And when we are sick there is nothing to comfort us; for since I came out of the ship I never ate anything but peas, and loblollie (that is, water gruel). As for deer or venison I never saw any since I came into this land. There is indeed some fowl, but we are not allowed to go and get it, but must work hard both early and late for a mess of water gruel and a mouthful of bread and beef. A mouthful of bread for a penny loaf must serve for four men which is most pitiful. [You would be grieved] if you did know as much as I [do], when people cry out day and night – Oh! That they were in England without their limbs – and would not care to lose any limb to be in England again, yea, though they beg from door to door. For we live in fear of the enemy every hour, yet we have had a combat with them … and we took two alive and made slaves of them. But it was by policy, for we are in great danger; for our plantation is very weak by reason of the death and sickness of our company. For we came but twenty for the merchants, and they are half dead just; and we look every hour when two more should go. Yet there came some four other men yet to live with us, of which there is but one alive; and our Lieutenant is dead, and [also] his father and his brother. And there was some five or six of the last year’s twenty, of which there is but three left, so that we are fain to get other men to plant with us; and yet we are but 32 to fight against 3000 if they should come. And the nighest help that we have is ten mile of us, and when the rogues overcame this place [the] last [time] they slew 80 persons. How then shall we do, for we lie even in their teeth? They may easily take us, but [for the fact] that God is merciful and can save with few as well as with many, as he showed to Gilead. And like Gilead’s soldiers, if they lapped water, we drink water which is but weak.

And I have nothing to comfort me, nor is there nothing to be gotten here but sickness and death, except [in the event] that one had money to lay out in some things for profit. But I have nothing at all–no, not a shirt to my back but two rags (2), nor clothes but one poor suit, nor but one pair of shoes, but one pair of stockings, but one cap, [and] but two bands [collars]. My cloak is stolen by one of my fellows, and to his dying hour [he] would not tell me what he did with it; but some of my fellows saw him have butter and beef out of a ship, which my cloak, I doubt [not], paid for. So that I have not a penny, nor a penny worth, to help me too either spice or sugar or strong waters, without the which one cannot live here. For as strong beer in England doth fatten and strengthen them, so water here doth wash and weaken these here [and] only keeps [their] life and soul together. But I am not half [of] a quarter so strong as I was in England, and all is for want of victuals; for I do protest unto you that I have eaten more in [one] day at home than I have allowed me here for a week. You have given more than my day’s allowance to a beggar at the door; and if Mr. Jackson had not relieved me, I should be in a poor case. But he like a father and she like a loving mother doth still help me.

For when we go to Jamestown (that is 10 miles of us) there lie all the ships that come to land, and there they must deliver their goods. And when we went up to town [we would go], as it may be, on Monday at noon, and come there by night, [and] then load the next day by noon, and go home in the afternoon, and unload, and then away again in the night, and [we would] be up about midnight. Then if it rained or blowed never so hard, we must lie in the boat on the water and have nothing but a little bread. For when we go into the boat we [would] have a loaf allowed to two men, and it is all [we would get] if we stayed there two days, which is hard; and [we] must lie all that while in the boat. But that Goodman Jackson pitied me and made me a cabin to lie in always when I [would] come up, and he would give me some poor jacks [fish] [to take] home with me, which comforted me more than peas or water gruel. Oh, they be very godly folks, and love me very well, and will do anything for me. And he much marvelled that you would send me a servant to the Company; he saith I had been better knocked on the head. And indeed so I find it now, to my great grief and misery; and [I] saith that if you love me you will redeem me suddenly, for which I do entreat and beg. And if you cannot get the merchants to redeem me for some little money, then for God’s sake get a gathering or entreat some good folks to lay out some little sum of money in meal and cheese and butter and beef. Any eating meat will yield great profit. Oil and vinegar is very good; but, father, there is great loss in leaking. But for God’s sake send beef and cheese and butter, or the more of one sort and none of another. But if you send cheese, it must be very old cheese; and at the cheesemonger’s you may buy very food cheese for twopence farthing or halfpenny, that will be liked very well. But if you send cheese, you must have a care how you pack it in barrels; and you must put cooper’s chips between every cheese, or else the heat of the hold will rot them. And look whatsoever you send me – be in never so much–look, what[ever] I make of it, I will deal truly with you. I will send it over and beg the profit to redeem me; and if I die before it come, I have entreated Goodman Jackson to send you the worth of it, who hath promised he will. If you send, you must direct your letters to Goodman Jackson, at Jamestown, a gunsmith. (You must set down his freight, because there be more of his name there.) Good father, do not forget me, but have mercy and pity my miserable case. I know if you did but see me, you would weep to see me; for I have but one suit. (But [though] it is a strange one, it is very well guarded.) Wherefore, for God’s sake, pity me. I pray you to remember my love to all my friends and kindred. I hope all my brothers and sisters are in good health, and as for my part I have set down my resolution that certainly will be; that is, that the answer of this letter will be life or death to me. Therefore, good father, send as soon as you can; and if you send me any thing let this be the mark.

ROT

RICHARD FRETHORNE,

MARTIN’S HUNDRED .

 

 

[1] "Indentured Servants in Colonial Virginia" by Encyclopedia Virginia, Brendan Wolfe, and Martha McCartney is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.

 

[2] Source: Richard Frethorne, letter to his father and mother, March 20, April 2 & 3, 1623, in Susan Kingsbury, ed., The Records of the Virginia Company of London (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1935), 4: 58–62.

Primary source text is in the public domain.

 

 

A Gaspesian Indian Defends His Way of Life (1641), Chrestien Le Clercq

A Gaspesian Indian Defends His Way of Life (1641)

Chrestien Le Clercq

 

Introduction (Secondary Source)[1]

 

Although Aboriginal populations remained dominant — in numbers and authority — through the 17th century across most of North America, change was upon them. It came so quickly in some instances and with such intensity that it produced a crisis of faith of sorts. Aboriginal peoples began to doubt themselves and their ability to adapt successfully to new forces in their midst. The European agenda of religious conversion took advantage of this trauma, not always with success, but reliably and in ways that worsened the crisis.

The first of the French missionaries to arrive were priests of the Recollet order. From 1615 to 1629 the Recollets worked with Aboriginal individuals near the St. Lawrence and in Wendake (Huronia). They were understood by Aboriginal groups to be emissaries from the French with exotic spiritual ideas; the missionaries were something to be tolerated but not indulged. The focus of the Recollets was on individual conversions but even more on the needs of French traders living among the Wendat. The arrival of the Recollets’ successors, the Jesuits, changed the missionary approach.

The Jesuits were closely tied to the Compagnie des Cent-Associés and were part of the restoration of French authority after a brief English occupation of the colony. The Jesuit approach was to convert whole communities rather than individuals. They did so by exercising greater control over the behaviour of the coureur de bois and working from within the host-community culture. They studied Wyandot (the language of the Wendat), represented the French enterprise in the field, and attempted (with mixed success) to live among the Wendat according to their hosts’ practices, rather than imposing their own.

The Wendat response to the clerics was mixed. On the one hand, the custom of exchanging community members had been well established in Wendat culture, so sending a few young men to Quebec to learn about the newcomers and accepting a few coureurs de bois or priests into their own villages just made sense. The priests’ agenda of cultural change, however, was not especially welcome. Various attempts were made to encourage the missionaries to return to New France, and plots were considered that would see them murdered by non-Wendat neighbours (and then invoking plausible deniability). But Champlain insisted on missionaries as part of the trading relationship so they were tolerated. Even the priests, however, knew that they were being judged by the Wendat and that they fell well short of being impressive. One report in the Jesuit Relations admits that the Wendat “gazed attentively at the Fathers, measured them with their eyes, asked if they were ill-natured, if they paddled well; then took them by the hands, and made signs to them that it would be necessary to handle the paddles well.”

 

Questions to Consider:

 

  1. Context: Who is the author(s) (include a brief bio)? When did s/he write the piece (include some brief context)? Who is the audience? What was the agenda?
  2.  Why does the author compare the Native American housing ideal to that of the French?  What does this suggest about the differences between the life-styles of the Native Americans and the French?
  3. How does the author present the identity of the Native Americans?  How does this compare to the European conception of them?
  4. What impact does the author suggest that the French are having on Native American society?  How does he defend this?  Why?
  5. What insights does this document have to offer about American society? Be Specific! [please be sure to consider author, agenda, bias, etc.] 

 

Primary Source[2]

… the Indians esteem their camps as much as, and even more than, they do the most superb and commodious of our houses. To this they testified one day to some of our gentlemen of Isle Percée, who, having asked me to serve them as interpreter in a visit which they wished to make to these Indians in order to make the latter understand that it would be very much more advantageous for them to live and to build in our fashion, were extremely surprised when the leading Indian, who had listened with great patience to everything I had said to him on behalf of these gentlemen, answered me in these words :

I am greatly astonished that the French have so little cleverness, as they seem to exhibit in the matter of which thou hast just told me on their behalf, in the effort to persuade us to convert our poles, our barks, and our wigwams into those houses of stone and of wood which are tall and lofty, according to their account, as these trees. Very well! But why now, do men of five to six feet in height need houses which are sixty to eighty? For, in fact, as thou knowest very well thyself, Patriarch—do we not find in our own all the conveniences and the advantages that you have with yours, such as reposing, drinking, sleeping, eating, and amusing ourselves with our friends when we wish? This is not all, my brother, hast thou as much ingenuity and cleverness as the Indians, who carry their houses and their wigwams with them so that they may lodge wheresoever they please, independently of any seignior whatsoever? Thou art not as bold nor as stout as we, because when thou goest on a voyage thou canst not carry upon thy shoulders thy buildings and thy edifices. Therefore it is necessary that thou prepares as many lodgings as thou makest changes of residence, or else thou lodgest in a hired house which does not belong to thee. As for us, we find ourselves secure from all these inconveniences, and we can always say, more truly than thou, that we are at home everywhere, because we set up our wigwams with ease wheresoever we go, and without asking permission of anybody. Thou reproachest us, very inappropriately, that our country is a little hell in contrast with France, which thou comparest to a terrestrial paradise, inasmuch as it yields thee, so thou safest, every kind of provision in abundance. Thou sayest of us also that we are the most miserable and most unhappy of all men, living without religion, without manners, without honour, without social order, and, in a word, without any rules, like the beasts in our woods and our forests, lacking bread, wine, and a thousand other comforts which thou hast in superfluity in Europe. Well, my brother, if thou dost not yet know the real feelings which our Indians have towards thy country and towards all thy nation, it is proper that I inform thee at once. I beg thee now to believe that, all miserable as we seem in thine eyes, we consider ourselves nevertheless much happier than thou in this, that we are very content with the little that we have; and believe also once for all, I pray, that thou deceivest thyself greatly if thou thinkest to persuade us that thy country is better than ours. For if France, as thou sayest, is a little terrestrial paradise, art thou sensible to leave it? And why abandon wives, children, relatives, and friends? Why risk thy life and thy property every year, and why venture thyself with such risk, in any season whatsoever, to the storms and tempests of the sea in order to come to a strange and barbarous country which thou considerest the poorest and least fortunate of the world? Besides, since we are wholly convinced of the contrary, we scarcely take the trouble to go to France, because we fear, with good reason, lest we find little satisfaction there, seeing, in our own experience, that those who are natives thereof leave it every year in order to enrich themselves on our shores. We believe, further, that you are also incomparably poorer than we, and that you are only simple journeymen, valets, servants, and slaves, all masters and grand captains though you may appear, seeing that you glory in our old rags and in our miserable suits of beaver which can no longer be of use to us, and that you find among us, in the fishery for cod which you make in these parts, the wherewithal to comfort your misery and the poverty which oppresses you. As to us, we find all our riches and all our conveniences among ourselves, without trouble and without exposing our lives to the dangers in which you find yourselves constantly through your long voyages. And, whilst feeling compassion for you in the sweetness of our repose, we wonder at the anxieties and cares which you give yourselves night and day in order to load your ship. We see also that all your people live, as a rule, only upon cod which you catch among us. It is everlastingly nothing but cod—cod in the morning, cod at midday, cod at evening, and always cod, until things come to such a pass that if you wish some good morsels, it is at our expense; and you are obliged to have recourse to the Indians, whom you despise so much, and to beg them to go a-hunting that you may be regaled. Now tell me this one little thing, if thou hast any sense: Which of these two is the wisest and happiest—he who labours without ceasing and only obtains, and that with great trouble, enough to live on, or he who rests in comfort and finds all that he needs in the pleasure of hunting and fishing? It is true, that we have not always had the use of bread and of wine which your France produces; but, in fact, before the arrival of the French in these parts, did not the Gaspesians live much longer than now? And if we have not any longer among us any of those old men of a hundred and thirty to forty years, it is only because we are gradually adopting your manner of living, for experience is making it very plain that those of us live longest who, despising your bread, your wine, and your brandy, are content with their natural food of beaver, of moose, of waterfowl, and fish, in accord with the custom of our ancestors and of all the Gaspesian nation. Learn now, my brother, once for all, because I must open to thee my heart: there is no Indian who does not consider himself infinitely more happy and more powerful than the French.

 

 

[1] 5.6 Belief and Culture: The Wendat Experience by John Douglas Belshaw is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

 

Robert Horne’s Recruiting Settlers to Carolina (1666), Robert Horne, Publisher

Robert Horne’s Recruiting Settlers to Carolina (1666)

Robert Horne, Publisher

 

 

Introduction (Secondary Source)[1]

 

“This is one of the earliest descriptions of Carolina. It was published by Robert Horne in London (although he may not have been the author). The explicit purpose of the pamphlet was to entice English men and women to migrate to the colony, and thereby increase the value of the Proprietors' estate.”

 

 

Questions to Consider:

 

  1. Context: Who is the author(s) (include a brief bio)? When did s/he write the piece (include some brief context)? Who is the audience? What was the agenda?
  2. Why did many from Bermuda come to Carolina to settle?
  3. What privileges could one expect if they came to settle in the colony?
  4. Who is this pamphlet aimed at – what kinds of people is the author trying to attract to the colony and why?
  5. What insights do these document(s) have to offer about Native American society? Be Specific! [please be sure to consider author, agenda, bias, etc.]

 

 

Primary Source[2]

CAROLINA is a fair and spacious Province on the Continent of America: so called in honour of His Sacred Majesty that now is, Charles the Second, whom God preserve; and His Majesty hath been pleas'd to grant the same to certain Honourable Persons, who in order to the speedy planting of the same, have granted divers privileges and advantages to such as shall transport themselves and Servants in convenient time; This Province lying so near Virginia, and yet more Southward, enjoys the fertility and advantages thereof; and yet is so far distant, as to be freed from the inconstancy of the Weather, which is a great cause of the unhealthfulness thereof; also, being in the latitude of the Bermudas may expect the like healthfulness which it hath hitherto enjoy'd, and doubtless there is no Plantation that ever the English went upon, in all respects so good as this: for though Bermudas be wonderful healthy and fruitful, yet is it but a Prison to the Inhabitants, who are much straightened for want of room, and therefore many of them are come to Carolina, and more intend to follow. There is seated in this Province two Colonies already, one on the River Roanoak (now called Albemarle River) and borders on Virginia; the Other at Cape Feare, two Degrees more Southerly; of which follows a more particular Description. . . .

The Perticular Description of Cape Feare.

In the midst of this fertile Province, in the Latitude of 34 degrees, there is a Colony of English seated, who Landed there the 29 of May, Anno 1664. and are in all about 800 persons, who have overcome all the difficulties that attend the first attempts, and have cleared the way for those that come after, who will find good houses to be in whilst their own are in building; good forts to secure them from their enemies; and many things brought from other parts there, increasing to their no small advantage. The entrance into the River, now called Cape-Feare River, the situation of the Cape, and trending of the Land, is plainly laid down to the eye in the Map annexed. The River is barred at the entrance, but there is a Channel close aboard the Cape that will convey in safety a ship of 300 Tons, and as soon as a ship is over ihe Bar, the River is 5 or 6 fathom deep for a 100 miles from the Sea; this Bar is a great security to the Colony against a foreign Invasion, the channel being hard to find by those that have not experience of it, and yet safe enough to those that know it.

The Earth, Water, and Air.

The Land is of divers sorts as in all Countryes of the world, that which lyes neer the Sea, is sandy and barren, but beareth many tall Trees, which make good timber for several uses; and this sandy ground is by experienced men thought to be one cause of the healthfulness of the place: but up the River about 20 or 30 mile, where they have made a Town, called Charles-Town, there is plenty of as rich ground as any in the world. It is a blackish mold upon a red sand, and under that a clay, but in some places is rich ground of a grayer colour, they have made Brick of the Clay, which proves very good; and Lime they have also for building. . . . The Woods are stored with Deer and Wild Turkeys, of a great magnitude, weighing many times above 50lbs a piece, and of a more pleasant tast than in England, being in their proper climate; other sorts of Beasts in the Woods that are good for food; and also Fowls, whose names are not known to them. This is what they found naturally upon the place; but they have brought with them most sorts of seeds and roots of the Barbadoes which thrive very well, and they have Potatoes, and the other Roots and Herbs of Barbadoes growing and thriving with them; as also from Virginia, Bermudas, and New England, what they could afford: They have Indigo, Tobacco very good, and Cotton-wool; Lime-trees, Orange, Lemon, and other Fruit-Trees they brought, thrive exceedingly: They have two Crops of Indian-Corn in one year, and great increase every Crop; Apples, Pears, and other English fruit, grow there out of the planted Kernels: The Marshes and Meadows are very large from 1500 to 3000 Acres, and upwards, and are excellent food for Cattle, and will bear any Grain being prepared; some Cattle both great and small, which live well all the Winter, and keep their fat without Fodder; Hogs find so much Mast and other Food in the Woods, that they want no other care than a Swine-herd to keep them from running wild. The Meadows are very proper for Rice, Rape-seed, Lin-seed, etc., and may many of them be made to overflow at pleasure with a small charge. Here are as brave Rivers as any in the World, stored with great abundance of Sturgeon, Salmon, Bass, Plaice, Trout, and Spanish Mackrill, with many other most pleasant sorts of Fish, both flat and round, for which the English Tongue hath no name. . . . Last of all, the Air comes to be considered, which is not the least considerable to the well being of a Plantation, for without a wholesome Air all other considerations avail nothing; and this is it which makes this Place so desirable, being seated in the most temperate Clime, where the neighbour-hood of the glorious Light of Heaven brings many advantages, and his convenient distance secures them from the Inconvenience of his scortching beams. The Summer is not too hot, and the Winter is very short and moderate, best agreeing with English Constitutions. . . .

If therefore any industrious and ingenious persons shall be willing to partake of the Felicites of this Country, let them embrace the first opportunity, that they may obtain the greater advantages.

The chief of the Privileges are as follows.

First, There is full and free Liberty of Conscience granted to all, so that no man is to be molested or called in question for matters of Religious Concern; but every one to be obedient to the Civil Government, worshipping God after their own way.

Secondly, There is freedom from Custom, for all Wine, Silk, Raisins, Currance, Oyl, Olives, and Almonds, that shall be raised in the Province for 7. years, after 4 Ton of any of those commodities shall be imported in one Bottom.

Thirdly, Every Free-man and Free-woman that transport themselves and Servants by the 25 of March next, being 1667. shall have for Himself, Wife, Children, and Men-servants, for each 100 Acres of Land for him and his Heirs for ever, and for every Woman-servant and Slave 50 Acres, paying at most 1/2d. per acre, per annum, in lieu of all demands, to the Lords Proprietors: Provided always, That every Man be armed with a good Musquet full bore, 10lbs Powder, and 20lbs of Bullet, and six Months Provision for all, to serve them whilst they raise Provision in that Countrey.

Fourthly, Every Man-Servant at the expiration of their time, is to have of the Country a 100 Acres of Land to him and his heirs for ever, paying only 1/2d. per Acre, per annum, and the Women 50. Acres of Land on the same conditions; their Masters also are to allow them two Suits of Apparrel and Tools such as he is best able to work with, according to the Custom of the Countrey.

Fifthly, They are to have a Governour and Council appointed from among themselves, to see the Laws of the Assembly put in due execution; but the Governour is to rule but 3 years, and then learn to obey; also he hath no power to lay any Tax, or make or abrogate any Law, without the Consent of the Colony in their Assembly.

Sixthly, They are to choose annually from among themselves, a certain Number of Men, according to their divisions, which constitute the General Assembly with the Governour and his Council, and have the sole power of Making Laws, and Laying Taxes for the common good when need shall require.

These are the chief and Fundamental privileges, but the Right Honourable Lords Proprietors have promised (and it is their Interest so to do) to be ready to grant what other Privileges may be found advantageous for the good, of the Colony.

Is there therefore any younger Brother who is born of Gentile [Genteel] blood, and whose Spirit is elevated above the common sort, and yet the hard usage of our Country hath not allowed suitable fortune; he will not surely be afraid to leave his Native Soil to advance his Fortunes equal to his Blood and Spirit, and so he will avoid those unlawful ways too many of our young Gentlemen take to maintain themselves according to their high education, having but small Estates; here, with a few Servants and a small Stock a great Estate may be raised, although his Birth have not entitled him to any of the Land of his Ancestors, yet his Industry may supply him so, as to make him the head of as famous a family.

Such as are here tormented with much care how to get worth to gain a Livelyhood, or that with their labour can hardly get a comfortable subsistence, shall do well to go to this place, where any man what-ever, that is but willing to take moderate pains, may be assured of a most comfortable subsistence, and be in a way to raise his fortunes far beyond what he could ever hope for in England. Let no man be troubled at the thoughts of being a Servant for 4 or 5 year, for I can assure you, that many men give money with their children to serve 7 years, to take more pains and fare nothing so well as the Servants in this Plantation will do. Then it is to be considered, that so soon as he is out of his time, he hath Land, and Tools, and Clothes given him, and is in a way of advancement. Therefore all Artificers, as Carpenters, Wheelrights, Joyners, Coopers, Bricklayers, Smiths, or diligent Husbandmen and Labourers, that are willing to advance their fortunes, and live in a most pleasant healthful and fruitful Country, where Artificers are of high esteem, and used with all Civility and Courtesie imaginable, may take notice, that.

There is an opportunity offers now by the Virginia Fleet, from whence Cape Feare is but 3 or 4 days sail, and then a small Stock carried to Virginia will purchase provisions at a far easier rate than to carry them from hence; also the freight of the said Provisions will be saved, and be more fresh, and there wanteth not conveyance from Virginia thither.

If any Maid or single Woman have a desire to go over, they will think themselves in the Golden Age, when Men paid a Dowry for their Wives; for if they be but Civil, and under 50 years of Age, some honest Man or other, will purchase them for their Wives.

Those that desire further advice, or Servants that would be entertained, let them repair to Mr. Matthew Wilkinson, Ironmonger, at the Sign of the Three Feathers, in Bishopsgate Street, where they may be informed when the Ships will be ready, and what they must carry with them.

Thus much was convenient to be written at present, but a more ample Relation is intended to be published in due time.

 

[1] Source: Dorsey, Bruce. "Introduction to Robert Horne." History 41: The American Colonies. 1999. Accessed July 17, 2019.

http://www.swarthmore.edu/SocSci/bdorsey1/41docs/27-hor.html.

[2] Source: Robert Horne, A Brief Description of the Province of Carolina . . . (London, 1666), reprinted in Alexander S. Salley, Jr., ed., Narratives of Early Carolina, 1650-1708(New York, 1911), 66-73.

http://www.swarthmore.edu/SocSci/bdorsey1/41docs/27-hor.html

 

Wonders of the Invisible World (1693), Cotton Mather

Wonders of the Invisible World (1693)

Cotton Mather

 

Introduction (Secondary Source)[1]

The Salem witch trials were a series of hearings and prosecutions of people accused of witchcraft in colonial Massachusetts between February 1692 and May 1693. The trials resulted in the executions of 20 people, 14 of them women and all but one by hanging. Five others (including two infant children) died in prison.

Twelve other women had previously been executed for witchcraft in Massachusetts and Connecticut during the 17th century. The episode is one of colonial America's most notorious cases of mass hysteria. It has been used in political rhetoric and popular literature as a vivid cautionary tale about the dangers of isolationism, religious extremism, false accusations, and lapses in due process. What happened in colonial America was not unique, but rather an example of the much broader phenomenon of witch trials that occurred during the early modern period throughout England and France. 

Like many other Europeans, the Puritans of New England believed in the supernatural. Every event in the colonies appeared to be a sign of God’s mercy or judgment, and it was commonly believed that witches allied themselves with the Devil to carry out evil deeds or cause deliberate harm. Events such as the sickness or death of children, the loss of cattle, and other catastrophes were often blamed on the work of witches. 

Women were more susceptible to suspicions of witchcraft because they were perceived, in Puritan society, to have weaker constitutions that were more likely to be inhabited by the Devil. Women healers with knowledge of herbal remedies—things that were often deemed "pagan" by Puritans—were particularly at risk of being accused of witchcraft. 

Hundreds were accused of witchcraft including townspeople whose habits or appearance bothered their neighbors or who appeared threatening for any reason. Women made up the vast majority of suspects and those who were executed. Prior to 1692, there had been rumors of witchcraft in villages neighboring Salem Village and other towns. Cotton Mather, a minister of Boston's North Church (not to be confused with the later Anglican North Church associated with Paul Revere), was a prolific publisher of pamphlets, including some that expressed his belief in witchcraft. 

In Salem Village, in February 1692, Betty Parris, age 9, and her cousin Abigail Williams, age 11, began to have fits in which they screamed, threw things, uttered strange sounds, crawled under furniture, and contorted themselves into peculiar positions. A doctor could find no physical evidence of any ailment, and other young women in the village began to exhibit similar behaviors. Colonists suspected witchcraft and accusations began to spread.

The first three people accused and arrested for allegedly causing the afflictions were Sarah Good (a homeless beggar), Sarah Osborne (a woman who rarely attended church), and Tituba (an African or American Indian slave). Each of these women was a kind of outcast and exhibited many of the character traits typical of the "usual suspects" for witchcraft accusations. They were left to defend themselves. 

Throughout the year, more women and some men were arrested, including citizens in good standing, and colonists began to fear that anyone could be a witch. Many of the accusers who prosecuted the suspected witches had been traumatized by the American Indian wars on the frontier and by unprecedented political and cultural changes in New England. Relying on their belief in witchcraft to help make sense of their changing world, Puritan authorities executed 20 people and caused the deaths of several others before the trials were over.

 

Questions to Consider:

 

  1. Context: Who is the author(s) (include a brief bio)? When did s/he write the piece (include some brief context)? Who is the audience? What was the agenda?
  2.  What insights does this document shed on Puritan religion and society (note keep in mind who the author is!)?
  3.  What are the accusations against Martha Carrier and what proof is presented of these accusations?  Do you notice any patterns here? Significance?
  4. In what ways did Martha Carrier stand in opposition to Puritan Society?
  5. What insights does this document have to offer about American society? Be Specific! [please be sure to consider author, agenda, bias, etc.]

Primary Source[2]

 

47 Wonders of the Invisible World: The Author’s Defence

The Author's Defence

Cotton Mather

Tis, as I remember, the Learned Scribonius, who reports, That one of his Acquaintance, devoutly making his Prayers on the behalf of a Person molested by Evil Spirits, received from those Evil Spirits an horrible Blow over the Face: And I may my self expect not few or small Buffetings from Evil Spirits, for the Endeavours wherewith I am now going to encounter them. I am far from insensible, that at this extraordinary Time of the Devils coming down in great Wrath upon us, there are too many Tongues and Hearts thereby set on fire of Hell; that the various Opinions about the Witchcrafts which of later time have troubled us, are maintained by some with so much cloudy Fury, as if they could never be sufficiently stated, unless written in the Liquor wherewith Witches use to write their Covenants; and that he who becomes an Author at such a time, had need be fenced with Iron, and the Staff of a Spear. The unaccountable Frowardness, Asperity, Untreatableness, and Inconsistency of many Persons, every Day gives a visible Exposition of that passage, An evil spirit from the Lord came upon Saul; and Illustration of[Pg 4] that Story, There met him two possessed with Devils, exceeding fierce, so that no man might pass by that way. To send abroad a Book, among such Readers, were a very unadvised thing, if a Man had not such Reasons to give, as I can bring, for such an Undertaking. Briefly, I hope it cannot be said, They are all so: No, I hope the Body of this People, are yet in such a Temper, as to be capable of applying their Thoughts, to make a Right Use of the stupendous and prodigious Things that are happening among us: And because I was concern’d, when I saw that no abler Hand emitted any Essays to engage the Minds of this People, in such holy, pious, fruitful Improvements, as God would have to be made of his amazing Dispensations now upon us. Therefore it is, that One of the Least among the Children of New-England, has here done, what is done. None, but the Father, who sees in secret, knows the Heart-breaking Exercises, wherewith I have composed what is now going to be exposed, lest I should in any one thing miss of doing my designed Service for his Glory, and for his People; but I am now somewhat comfortably assured of his favourable acceptance; and, I will not fear; what can a Satan do unto me!

Having performed something of what God required, in labouring to suit his Words unto his Works, at this Day among us, and therewithal handled a Theme that has been sometimes counted not unworthy the Pen, even of a King, it will easily be perceived, that some subordinate Ends have been considered in these Endeavours.

I have indeed set myself to countermine the whole PLOT of the Devil, against New-England, in every Branch of it,[Pg 5] as far as one of my darkness, can comprehend such a Work of Darkness. I may add, that I have herein also aimed at the Information and Satisfaction of Good Men in another Country, a thousand Leagues off, where I have, it may be, more, or however, more considerable Friends, than in my own: And I do what I can to have that Country, now, as well as always, in the best Terms with my own. But while I am doing these things, I have been driven a little to do something likewise for myself; I mean, by taking off the false Reports, and hard Censures about my Opinion in these Matters, the Parter’s Portions which my pursuit of Peace has procured me among the Keen. My hitherto unvaried Thoughts are here published; and I believe, they will be owned by most of the Ministers of God in these Colonies; nor can amends be well made me, for the wrong done me, by other sorts of Representations.

In fine: For the Dogmatical part of my Discourse, I want no Defence; for the Historical part of it, I have a Very Great One; the Lieutenant-Governour of New-England having perused it, has done me the Honour of giving me a Shield, under the Umbrage whereof I now dare to walk abroad.

48 Wonders of the Invisible World: The Trial of Martha Carrier at the Court of Oyer and Terminer, Salem, August 2, 1692

The Trial of Martha Carrier

Cotton Mather

Martha Carrier was Indicted for the bewitching certain Persons, according to the Form usual in such Cases, pleading Not Guilty, to her Indictment; there were first brought in a considerable number of the bewitched Persons; who not only made the Court sensible of an horrid Witchcraft committed upon them, but also deposed, That it was Martha Carrier, or her Shape, that grievously tormented them, by Biting, Pricking, Pinching and Choaking of them. It was further deposed, That while this Carrier was on her Examination, before the Magistrates, the Poor People were so tortured that every one expected their Death upon the very spot, but that upon the[Pg 155] binding of Carrier they were eased. Moreover the Look of Carrier then laid the Afflicted People for dead; and her Touch, if her Eye at the same time were off them, raised them again: Which Things were also now seen upon her Tryal. And it was testified, That upon the mention of some having their Necks twisted almost round, by the Shape of this Carrier, she replyed, Its no matter though their Necks had been twisted quite off.

II. Before the Trial of this Prisoner, several of her own Children had frankly and fully confessed, not only that they were Witches themselves, but that this their Mother had made them so. This Confession they made with great Shews of Repentance, and with much Demonstration of Truth. They related Place, Time, Occasion; they gave an account of Journeys, Meetings and Mischiefs by them performed, and were very credible in what they said. Nevertheless, this Evidence was not produced against the Prisoner at the Bar, inasmuch as there was other Evidence enough to proceed upon.

III. Benjamin Abbot gave his Testimony, That last March was a twelvemonth, this Carrier was very angry with him, upon laying out some Land, near her Husband’s: Her Expressions in this Anger, were, That she would stick as close to Abbot as the Bark stuck to the Tree; and that he should repent of it afore seven Years came to an End, so as Doctor Prescot should never cure him. These Words were heard by others besides Abbot himself; who also heard her say, She would hold his Nose as close to the Grindstone as ever it was held since his Name was Abbot. Presently after this, he was taken with a Swelling in his[Pg 156] Foot, and then with a Pain in his Side, and exceedingly tormented. It bred into a Sore, which was launced by Doctor Prescot, and several Gallons of Corruption ran out of it. For six Weeks it continued very bad, and then another Sore bred in the Groin, which was also lanced by Doctor Prescot. Another Sore then bred in his Groin, which was likewise cut, and put him to very great Misery: He was brought unto Death’s Door, and so remained until Carrier was taken, and carried away by the Constable, from which very Day he began to mend, and so grew better every Day, and is well ever since.

Sarah Abbot also, his Wife, testified, That her Husband was not only all this while Afflicted in his Body, but also that strange extraordinary and unaccountable Calamities befel his Cattel; their Death being such as they could guess at no Natural Reason for.

IV. Allin Toothaker testify’d, That Richard, the son of Martha Carrier, having some difference with him, pull’d him down by the Hair of the Head. When he Rose again, he was going to strike at Richard Carrier; but fell down flat on his Back to the ground, and had not power to stir hand or foot, until he told Carrier he yielded; and then he saw the shape of Martha Carrier, go off his breast.

This Toothaker, had Received a wound in the Wars; and he now testify’d, that Martha Carrier told him, He should never be Cured. Just afore the Apprehending of Carrier, he could thrust a knitting Needle into his wound, four inches deep; but presently after her being siezed, he was throughly healed.

He further testify’d, that when Carrier and he some[Pg 157]times were at variance, she would clap her hands at him, and say, He should get nothing by it; whereupon he several times lost his Cattle, by strange Deaths, whereof no natural causes could be given.

V. John Rogger also testifyed, That upon the threatning words of this malicious Carrier, his Cattle would be strangely bewitched; as was more particularly then described.

VI. Samuel Preston testify’d, that about two years ago, having some difference with Martha Carrier, he lost a Cow in a strange Preternatural unusual manner; and about a month after this, the said Carrier, having again some difference with him, she told him; He had lately lost a Cow, and it should not be long before he lost another; which accordingly came to pass; for he had a thriving and well-kept Cow, which without any known cause quickly fell down and dy’d.

VII. Phebe Chandler testify’d, that about a Fortnight before the apprehension of Martha Carrier, on a Lords-day, while the Psalm was singing in the Church, this Carrier then took her by the shoulder and shaking her, asked her, where she lived: she made her no Answer, although as Carrier, who lived next door to her Fathers House, could not in reason but know who she was. Quickly after this, as she was at several times crossing the Fields, she heard a voice, that she took to be Martha Carriers, and it seem’d as if it was over her head. The voice told her, she should within two or three days be poisoned. Accordingly, within such a little time, one half of her right hand, became greatly swollen, and very painful; as also part of her Face; whereof she can give no account how[Pg 158] it came. It continued very bad for some dayes; and several times since, she has had a great pain in her breast; and been so siezed on her leggs, that she has hardly been able to go. She added, that lately, going well to the House of God, Richard, the son of Martha Carrier, look’d very earnestly upon her, and immediately her hand, which had formerly been poisoned, as is abovesaid, began to pain her greatly, and she had a strange Burning at her stomach; but was then struck deaf, so that she could not hear any of the prayer, or singing, till the two or three last words of the Psalm.

VIII. One Foster, who confessed her own share in the Witchcraft for which the Prisoner stood indicted, affirm’d, that she had seen the prisoner at some of their Witch-meetings, and that it was this Carrier, who perswaded her to be a Witch. She confessed, that the Devil carry’d them on a pole, to a Witch-meeting; but the pole broke, and she hanging about Carriers neck, they both fell down, and she then received an hurt by the Fall, whereof she was not at this very time recovered.

IX. One Lacy, who likewise confessed her share in this Witchcraft, now testify’d, that she and the prisoner were once Bodily present at a Witch-meeting in Salem Village; and that she knew the prisoner to be a Witch, and to have been at a Diabolical sacrament, and that the prisoner was the undoing of her, and her Children, by enticing them into the snare of the Devil.

X. Another Lacy, who also confessed her share in this Witchcraft, now testify’d, that the prisoner was at the Witch-meeting, in Salem Village, where they had Bread and Wine Administred unto them.[Pg 159]

XI. In the time of this prisoners Trial, one Susanna Sheldon, in open Court had her hands Unaccountably ty’d together with a Wheel-band, so fast that without cutting, it could not be loosed: It was done by a Spectre; and the Sufferer affirm’d, it was the Prisoners.

Memorandum. This Rampant Hag, Martha Carrier, was the person, of whom the Confessions of the Witches, and of her own Children among the rest, agreed, That the Devil had promised her, she should be Queen of Heb.

 

The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano (1789), Olaudah Equiano

The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano (1789)

Olaudah Equiano

 

 

Introduction (Secondary Source)[1]

The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano is the first instance in English in the genre of the slave narrative, the autobiography written by one of the millions of persons from Africa or of African descent who were enslaved in the Atlantic world between the sixteenth and the nineteenth centuries. Equiano’s is an extraordinary work, telling the author’s life story from his birth in west Africa, in what was then known as Essaka (in what is now the nation of Nigeria), his kidnapping, the middle passage across the Atlantic ocean in a slave ship, the brutality of the slave system in the American colonies in the Caribbean, the mainland of North America, and at sea. Equiano also tells the story of his life as a free man of color; after he was finally able to purchase his freedom in 1766, a merchant, a seaman, a musician, a barber, a civil servant, and, finally, a writer who took to the pages of London newspapers to argue on behalf of his fellow Afro-Britons before publishing this account of his life. Equiano’s book offered the first full description of the middle passage, a description harrowing in its sensory vividness.

Equiano’s book is both a personal story and a powerful piece of testimony about the larger system of slave-trading that supported the economic system through which Britain developed a global empire. Spanning the transatlantic world, Equiano’s story powerfully captures the lived experience of slavery in the eighteenth century through the eyes of an observer with almost unbelievable resourcefulness and resilience. Equiano’s Interesting Narrative is one of the most absorbing, indeed interesting first-person stories of the entire century, a work that both narrates a remarkable set of experiences and shrewdly shapes it through the forms available to its author to make the case for the abolition of the slave trade.

It is important to note, however, that in the last two decades, scholars have raised doubts about the truth of some parts of Equiano’s Interesting Narrative. Vincent Carretta, probably the leading scholar in the United States on Equiano’s work and life, has discovered documents such as Royal Navy muster rolls where Equiano (identified for much of his adult life as “Gustavus Vassa,” the name given to him by Michael Pascal, his first owner) is recorded as having been born in colonial South Carolina. So too does the record of his baptism into Christianity in 1759 at St. Margaret’s Church in London. It is possible, then, that Equiano is misrepresenting his place of birth, perhaps because he believed that his story would be more compelling if he were able to describe himself as a native-born African. Other scholars have suggested that there may be other reasons to account for the discrepancy; Equiano was not responsible for creating these records, and there may be all sorts of reasons why the people who were in charge of these documents, or he, might have decided not to have identified him as having born in Africa, some of which we probably cannot reconstruct from this distance. The question of where Equiano was born will probably remain unresolved until better documentary evidence or new ways of understanding the evidence that we already have become available. What no one has ever questioned is that Equiano’s Interesting Narrative is extremely accurate in its depiction of the way that the eighteenth-century slave system worked, the horrors of the middle passage, and the constant threats to their freedom and well-being experienced by free people of color, particularly in the American colonies.

The publication of the Interesting Narrative was an important event in its own right. First issued in the spring of 1789, the book was timed to coincide with a Parliamentary initiative to end Britain’s participation in the international slave trade. This was the goal of the first abolitionist movement, a movement originating largely with Quakers that was adopted and secularized by a combination of evangelical and more secular writers in the 1780s and that found its institutional centers of gravity in the largely white Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade, founded in 1787, and in the Sons of Africa, a society of free persons of African descent in Great Britain in which Equiano had a leadership role. This generation of abolitionists focused on ending the slave trade rather than for the ending of slavery as an institution and the emancipation of all enslaved people in large part because they believed it to be unviable politically. Rather, they focused on ending the slave trade, arguing that if slave owners were unable to purchase new slaves kidnapped and transported from Africa, they would be forced to be more benevolent to their own slaves, and the institution would be forced to reform itself. Equiano was active in these abolitionist circles, and his book in part serves the function of a petition to Parliament to end the slave trade, with the names of the book’s subscribers identifying themselves as allies and co-petitioners in the cause.  The first edition begins by including the names of 311 people who subscribed to it and thereby subsidized its printing, and later editions (nine in all in Equiano’s lifetime, a testimony to the great demand for his book) added more, eventually totaling over a thousand, as more people wanted both to own the book and to ally themselves with the abolitionist cause. Subscribers were thus taking an interest in this book in the financial sense, publicly advancing resources to support Equiano and the movement that the book was published to support. The Interesting Narrative was first printed in the United States in New York in 1791 (without Equiano’s permission, as was typical for books reprinted from Britain in the early decades of the new republic), and was widely reprinted throughout the first half of the nineteenth century. 

Equiano toured throughout the British Isles in the early 1790s, making speaking engagements to promote the abolitionist cause, and also to support sales of his book, for which he had retained copyright. This turned out to be a smart business decision; he made a fair amount of money from sales of the Interesting Narrative. Equiano married a woman from Cambridgeshire named Susannah Cullen in 1792; they had two daughters, only one of whom survived to adulthood. But neither Olaudah or Susannah was able to enjoy their married life for very long. Susanna died in 1796 and Olaudah died in 1797. The abolitionist cause to which the Interesting Narrative was a major contributor succeeded only after his death, as Britain ended its participation in the slave trade in 1807, and finally abolished slavery in its colonial holdings in 1833. Slavery in the United States continued until the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865.

 

 

Questions to Consider:

 

  1. Context: Who is the author(s) (include a brief bio)? When did s/he write the piece (include some brief context)? Who is the audience? What was the agenda?
  2.  Recount Equiano’s description of the Middle Passage.  What impact do you think this description might have had on readers who never experienced the journey themselves?
  3.  What was Equiano’s perception of the Europeans?  What did he make of their treatment of both whites and blacks? Why?
  4. How and why does Equiano attempt to understand his current situation in light of what is familiar to him?  What conclusions does this lead him to?
  5. What insights does this document have to offer about American and/or African society? Be Specific! [please be sure to consider author, agenda, bias, etc.]

 

 

Primary Source[2]

The first object which saluted my eyes when I arrived on the coast was the sea, a slave ship, which was then riding at anchor, and waiting for its cargo. These filled me with astonishment, which was soon converted into terror, when I was carried on board. I was immediately handled, and tossed up to see if I were sound, by some of the crew; and I was now persuaded that I had gotten into a world of bad spirits, and that they were going to kill me. . . indeed, such were the horrors of my views and fears at the moment, that, if ten thousand worlds had been my own, I would have freely parted with them all to have exchanged my condition with that of the meanest slave in my own country. When I looked round the ship too and saw a large furnace of copper boiling, and a multitude of black people of every description chained together, every one of their countenances expressing dejection and sorrow, I no longer doubted of my fate; and, quite overpowered with horror and anguish, I fell motionless on the deck and fainted. When I recovered a little, I found some black people about me, who I believe were some of those who had brought me on board, and had been receiving their pay; they talked to me in order to cheer me, but all in vain. I asked them if we were not to be eaten by those white men with horrible looks, red faces, and long hair. They told me I was not, and one of the crew brought me a small portion of spirituous liquor in a wine glass; but being afraid of him, I would not take it out of his hand. One of the blacks therefore took it from him and gave it to me, and I took a little down my palate, which, instead of reviving me, as they thought it would, threw me into the greatest consternation at the strange feeling it produced. . .

I was not long suffered to indulge my grief; I was soon put down under the decks, and there I received such a salutation in my nostrils as I had never experienced in my life: so that, with the loathsomness [sic] of the stench, and crying together, I became so sick and low that I was not able to eat, nor had I the least desire to taste anything. I now wished for the last friend, death, to relieve me; but soon, to my grief, two of the white men offered me eatables; and, on my refusing to eat, one of them held me fast by the hands, and laid me across, I think, the windlass, and tied my feet, while the other flogged me severely. I had never experienced anything of this kind before, and, although not being used to the water, I naturally feared that element the first time I saw it, yet, nevertheless, could I have got over the nettings, I would have jumped over the side, but I could not; and besides, the crew used to watch us very closely who were not chained down to the decks, lest we should leap into the water; and I have seen some of these poor African prisoners most severely cut, for attempting to do so, and hourly whipped for not eating. This was often the case with myself.

I inquired of these what was to be done with us. They gave me to understand we were to be carried to these white people's country to work for them. I then was a little revived, and thought if it were no worse than working, my situation was not so desperate. But still I feared that I should be put to death, the white people looked and acted in so savage a manner. I have never seen among my people such instances of brutal cruelty, and this not only shown towards us blacks, but also to some of the whites themselves.

One white man in particular I saw, when we were permitted to be on deck, flogged so unmercifully with a large rope near the foremast that he died in consequence of it, and they tossed him over the side as they would have done a brute. This made me fear these people the more, and I expected nothing less than to be treated in the same manner. . ..

One day, when we had a smooth sea and moderate wind, two of my wearied countrymen who were chained together (I was near them at the time), preferring death to such a life of misery, somehow made through the nettings and jumped into the sea. Immediately another quite dejected fellow, who on account of his illness was suffered to be out of irons, followed their example. I believe many more would very soon have done the same if they had not been prevented by the ship's crew, who were instantly alarmed. Those of us that were the most active were in a moment put down under the deck, and there was such a noise and confusion among the people of the ship as I never heard before to stop her and get the boat out to go after the slaves. However, two of the wretches were drowned, but they got the other and afterwards flogged him unmercifully for thus attempting to prefer death to slavery.

 

 

[1] "The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano" by Olaudah Equiano; ed. John O’Brien, Department of English, The University of Virginia is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0

 

[2] Source: Equiano, Olaudah. The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Written by Himself. Edited by Robert J. Allison. New York: W. Durell, 1791. Reprint, Boston: Bedford Books, 1995, 53-54. Annotated by Colleen A. Vasconcellos.

Primary source text is in the public domain.

Annotation of The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano: Slave Ship is licensed under CC-BY-SA 4.0