1797: Abraham Johnstone

Add comment July 8th, 2020 Abraham Johnstone

(Thanks for the guest post to Abraham Johnstone, who is … also the subject of the guest post. This was originally published, posthumously of course, as The Address of Abraham Johnstone, a Black Man, Who Was Hanged at Woodbury, in the County of Glocester, and State of New Jersey, on Saturday the the [sic] 8th Day of July Last; To the People of Colour. To Which Is Added His Dying Confession or Declaration. Also, a Copy of a Letter to His Wife, Written the Day Previous to His Execution. The original can be found here or here. -ed.)

TO THE PUBLIC.

As the trial, condemnation, and execution of Abraham Johnstone, a Black man, for the murder of Thomas Read, a Guinea Negro, has of late been the general subject of conversation, and is really what may be called a singularly uncommon and peculiar case, as there was not positive evidence of the fact; the proof being founded entirely on presumption, and that even not the most violent, it is presumed that the following pieces will not be unacceptable to the public. The more so as the address to his colour is a series of wholesome admonition, together with some general observations on the present situation of those of his colour &c.

His dying confession is a full and impartial account of himself from his birth unto the time of his execution. He having handed it out of the dungeon he was confined in, on the morning of his execution; before a number of truly respectable persons, and declared that all that was therein contained was the truth, and nothing but the truth, it among other par[ti]culars contains many circumstances respecting the crime for which he suffered not hitherto generally known, and which in justice both to society, and the deceased could not be suppressed: The copy of his letter to his wife is inserted merely to gratify the reader’s curiosity, and that by his having the whole of the pieces left by the unfortunate convict, before him, he may be enabled to form an opinion of the true character, and guilt of the man independent of the malignant assertions, and innumerable falsehoods that have been propagated on this occasion by prejudiced persons.

It must also be remarked that the account of his life is strongly corroborated by a Mulatto man and his wife, both of respectable characters, and now living in Haddonfield.

We must further add, that juries ought to be extremely cautious how they admit evidence founded solely on presumption to affect the life of a fellow creature and deprive society of a member: Proof of so vague and indeterminable nature, being too dangerous to be admitted in this country where I am sorry to say there is but too little regard paid to oaths, and the most glaring perjuries are suffered to pass with impunity; But it is also true that presumptive proof is necessary to be admitted sometimes, but then it should be the most violent, that ought in any wise be admitted to affect life, for that, once gone — can never be recalled. —

THE ADDRESS OF ABRAHAM JOHNSTONE.

Brethren,

IT is with a heart overflowing with love and humble hope in my God and Redeemer, and general benevolence, charity and good will to all mankind that I address you at this (to me, and not only to me but to all mankind) solemn important and truly aweful and momentous time, a time when I am on the verge of eternity, and that there is but a few short fleeting hours for me to remain in this world, and of that short time every moment spent by me even in addressing you my dear brethren, shortens.

Consider my dear friends, and brethren what a miserable and unhappy fate awaits me in a few days, consider what a truly unhappy miserable and melancholy spectacle I in a few short hours shall and inevitably must exhibit Being now a devoted victim to the just resentment of the laws of my country and the rules of society — just resentment — because, after a candid and impartial trial I have been convicted by a jury of my peers, twelve truly good and worthy men whose integrity and love of truth I so well know that had they not conceived themselves clear of all doubts and scruples, they would not have consigned a fellow creature to death, and to so ignominious a death — therefore their verdict having established a presumption of my guilt and my having not only transgressed the positive rules of society, but committed a crime of the blackest dye, a crime justly hateful odious and horrid in the sight both of God and man, I am to suffer death. —

Whether guilty or not guilty is a question that I will not enter upon or attempt to assert at this time, but will wait for a more tremendous and aweful moment, that moment when I am going to be ushered out of this vain frail world and to leave all earthly considerations and affections behind, and enter into a state of immortality, into a world where I shall meet my great Creator face to face, and there must answer for my transgressions while in this world of crosses and vexations before that all merciful almighty and omnipotent Judge who knoweth all hearts who knoweth all actions, and before whom no mortal prejudies nor delusory or malicious suggestions or representations can avail. It is then at that very moment when standing on the precipice from which at the very next instant I must be launched into a boundless eternity where I shall meet that all righteous and omnipotent Judge — then when my pitiable situation and the solemnity and horror of the spectable I shall be exhibiting shall add weight, and death shall give a sanction to my assertions, assertions that shall be sealed with my life, which the law claims forfeit and which to the law I give up as an atonement for any offence I may have been guilty of — Then at that aweful moment shall I declare my guilt or innocence in such a manner as to put it either [b]eyond all doubt or controversy: For tho’ at, this moment I declare my innocence, prejudiced people conceive such assertions to originate in subtuity saying that hope a pardon or reprieve while others attribute it to an unwillingness to confess the fact — both are alike mistaken for as to the first I neither hope, wish nor desire a pardon, being fully satisfied and prepared to die and death might perchance come at some other time when I should not be as well prepared to attend the summons of my dear Creator. Neither is there any thing in death so terrible on a nearer view. Who amongst you all that had a clear and just cause which you were honestly confident that ye should gain would be concerned at meeting before a magistrate on the day and time appointed in the summons? How much less can I regret the being summoned before my heavenly father and judge on the day and time appointed. Yes dear brethern with joy will I rush into the presence of my God and claim from him the reward that is due to my suffering in this life and which I firmly but without presumption hope to obtain, so that on that head I am perfectly at ease and have nothing to fear. As to the second head I have too perfect a knowledge of the attributes of my great Creator and Redeemer and too great a care for my salvation and future bliss, ever to rush into the presence of my Creator with an untruth gushing from my lips, and I must add without resentment or prejudice that my love for truth may have been as great as their’s that question my veracity. — And conceiving it a duty incumbent on me at this time to admonish and counsel you with respect both to your present and future welfare, which God knows has always been next my heart, for I ever and always took a lively interest and pride in forwarding the affairs and assisting all those of my colour, that I could, and had God been pleased to have spared me and granted me a length of days I fondly tho’ alas! vainly hoped to have rendered myself useful to all. But all these vain delusions those phantoms of the brain are now totally evanished, and on one side an horrid and ignominious death stares me in the face, and in a few hours will return this body to it’s kindred clay, while on the other side and but a little farther on I see the most glorious prospect open to me — and the outstretched arms of a merciful God open to receive me into the mansions of bliss and tranquility.

I then my dear friends and brethern take occasion from this, to call, and beg your attention to the following short but necessary council I now offer to you, and which will I hope be treasured up in your minds as the most proper repository, that after my dissolution, you in delivering it to your children, may give a sigh! and say, peace be with Abraham’s spirit — he deserved a better fate: Counsel which I not only think absolutely necessary to promote your prosperity and welfare, in this life, but essentially necessary to your future happiness as I shall direct it to such immediate points as I think most conducive to them two ends, to the thorough and perfect attainment of both of which ends all your thoughts words and actions should be directed, they being the only two and true sources from which real happiness either in this world or the world to come can spring.

In the first place then I most earnestly exhort and pray you, to be upright, and circumspect in your conduct; I must the more earnestly urge this particular from a combination of circumstances that at this juncture of time concur to make it of importance to our colour for my unfortunate unhappy fate however unmerited or undeserved, may by some ungenerous and illiberal minded persons, but particularly by those who appose the emancipation of those of our brethern who as yet are in slavery, be made a handle of in order to throw a shade over or cast a general reflection on all those of our colour, and the keen shafts of prejudice be launched against us by the most active and virulent malevolence: But such general reflections or sarcasms, will be only made by the low minded illiberal and sordid persons who are the enemies of our colour, and of freedom: and to them shall simply, answer that if the population throughout the United States be then taken, and then a list of all the executions therein be had, and compared therewith impartially, it will be found that as they claim a pre-eminence over us in every thing else, so we find they also have it in this particular, and that a vast majority of whites have died on the gallows when the population is accurately considered. A plain proof that there are some whites (with all due deference to them) capable of being equally as depraved and more generally so than blacks or people of colour.

Another circumstance that renders my fate peculiarly unhappy at this crisis, is that it happens at a time when every effort is using for a total emancipation of all our brethren in slavery within this state, and that by men of exalted spirit generosity and humanity–men whose bosoms glow with philanthrophy, good will to all mankind and a love of freedom that shews them to be actuated by the noblest of all motives, that first great principle in true religion, “do to all men as you would be done unto.” Men whose spirit rises indignant at seeing their fellow creatures whom God has created in his own likeness and endowed with immortality, held in bondage to each other, or that one human being shall have it in his power to torture and inflict innumerable pains and punishments such as his ingenuity may devise and as caprice may dictate to him on an unfortunate fellow creature who happens not to hold an equal rank in society with him, tho’ he undoubtedly does in creation and the eyes of the Almighty.

‘Tis thence my dear friends and brethern that I esteem it so peculiarly unfortunate, as it may be made a handle of to retard the truly laudable endeavours of such generous and worthy persons But no, I hope not, I am convinced that it cannot: for such a generous and noble work is too acceptable in the sight of God, and is founded on a basis too solid and firm to be at all shaken by such way-ward untoward or unfortunate and unforeseen accidents, as this proves to be, and as to the scoffs sneers and railings of the spitefully malicious or envious, let them consider but a moment that no man living knows what fate has in embryo for him to suffer, and that no man knows his length of days nor what moment death shall usher him into an endless eternity.

Permit me my dear brethern to express my sentiments more at large on this subject sentiments that I have long indulged myself in the enjoyment of, and sentiments which I firmly hope being delivered to you at this so very solemn time, when nature all patient and without regret is awa[i]ting in peace the fixed day of dissolution, when I shall for ever quit this world of crosses tribulations, and vexations — And in order to do it the more fully and satisfactorily I must beg your attention while I endeavour to point out the vissitudes of fortune our colour have generally encountered, from their first introduction into this country, as also the present hardships many of them endure at this moment tho’ we should all fervently bless God that they are but local, and also the very great blessings that some others enjoy in states where liberality of sentiment and philanthrophy pervades the bosoms of the meanest citizens.

This country was first discovered by the British in 4099. [The text really does read “4099”! -ed.] But they did not begin to people it by sending out colonies until 1606, and the first place they settled at, was a neck of land that run into Pawhatan river in Virginia, they called the place they settled at James Town in honour of the then king, and the river, James, for the same honorary reason. Shortly after religious dissentions caused very many to leave their native country and come hither with their families and goods where they might enjoy a liberty of conscience uncontroled and free from the danger of the religious persuasions that then raged in England. Those truly respectable emigrants settled in that part of this country now called New England, and named their first place of settlement New Plymouth, it was a very considerable time after before that part of Africa called Guinea was discovered, and a much longer time before they attempted to traffic in human beings, and tho’ at that time their earliest and best writers mentioned with abhorrence their cruelties to each other there, yet they did not hesitate to barter and traffic for them, as for other animals, and what is shocking to humanity to relate raise fortunes out of the price of blood, even in this country in latter years. I have known many a man continue the lawful offspring of his loins a slave during life, exposed to every hardship and cruelty because he was a mulatto. How very frivolous and vague an excuse, and such an one as implies the total want of natural feelings, or a total want of morality, for such persons whose ungovernable passions hurries them to the gratification of their gross apetites by a promiscuous intercourse, and carnal knowledge of the bodies of blacks, must either admit them to be human or themselves to be guilty of the most odious and enormous of all crimes, a crime that I blush to name — therefore shall leave it to your imaginations to supply the omission, and indeed I believe it to be an incontrovertible fact, that many of those people employed in that trade get the unfortunate creatures big with child, and then fell child mother and all in order to the enriching themselves by such inhuman and unprincipled means. The continual wars and dissentions between the Aborigines and the settlers left the settlers but little time to cultivate their lands, and besides they were too few to carry on husbandry with any sucess, at least not so extensively as to enable them to benefit themselves by trade in the staple commodities of the country, and Guinea Negroes having some short time before been introduced into the West Indies and found extremely serviceable, they were next introduced into this country for they having tried in vain to make slaves of the Aborigines, but having found all their attempts fruitless they next turned their thoughts to the importation of our colour, particularly to the southward, and it increased astonishingly until the colonies declared their independance, and from that time the importation annually decreased until at last the finishshing blow was given to that most inhuman and diabolical trade by an act of Congress, which expressly prohibits the further importation of negroes into any part of the United States, so that ever memorable era when the doctrine of non-resistance was exploded, the unalieneable rights of man were asserted, and the United States of America were delared sovereign free and independent, we may ascribe our present dawning hopes of universal freedom. It was then that the prospect of total emancipation from slavery which now begins to brighten upon us had birth, it was then that freedom, liberty, and the natural rights of mankind ennobled every sentiment, banished every slavish regard, and expanded the heart with every thing great noble and beneficent, the generous flame spread with rapidity, and communicated itself to every rank and degree; every bosom glowed with an emanated ardour emulative of its noble and exalted source, and all ages and persons, with transports unspeakable thronged around the standard of liberty — but still my dear brethren we were forgotten, or we were not conceived worthy their regard or attention, being looked on as a different species: Even the patriotic who stood forth the champions of liberty, and in asserting the natural rights of all mankind used the most perswasive eloquence the most powerful rhetoric and choicest language the rich treasury of words could afford, those who undauntedly stood forth day by day the advocates of liberty, at night would be cruel rigid and inexorable tyrants. How preposterously absurd must an impartial observer think the man whom he sees one moment declaring with a most incredible volubility in favour of natural rights and general freedom, and the next moment with his own hands for some very trivial offence inflicting the cruel and ignominious stripes of slavery, and riveting it’s shackles — surely in the eyes of any man of sense such conduct must be irreconcilable and just reason to doubt the soundness of his principles as a patriot and a lover of freedom, be given, for, that precept and practice could be so very contradictory, and a man to be in right earnest in the cause he undertakes, is not believed by any person: therefore it justly exposed them to the scoff and derision of their enemies both at home, and abroad, — The New England states first saw into that, or if they did not see into it first, they were the first that were noble minded, generous and disinterested enough to set all their slaves free. Individuals there, first nobly and generously set the glorious example; which was soon after followed by every individual in their states without the intervention of the legislatures of either, all they have done being the passing laws in each respective state to prohibit slavery in future, and at this time there is not one slave throughout them great populous and flourishing states, that compose New-England, and which states are generally peopled by Presbyterians. New-Jersey was the next that endeavoured to follow the glorious example, the Quaker society therein have manumised and set free all the slaves in their possession or in any wise their property, and the like has been done by many other good characters, and they have uniformly frood our friends, and are now using every effort in their power to render the emancipation of our colour general, and have us admitted to the rights of freedom as citizens in this state, in which truly laudable, and generous design they are now ably seconded in this county by some worthy men of other religious persuasions, whom together with all the friends of freedom, and our colour may God bless and prosper, and grant them health a length of days, fortitude and perseverance to put their designs in execution, and that success may crown their endeavours is my sincere with and prayer.

From the first bringing of our colour into this country they have been constantly kept to the greatest toil and labour, to drudge incessantly yet without the smallest hopes of a reward, and, oftentimes denied a sufficient portion of food to suffice the cravings of nature, or raiment sufficient to hide their nakedness or shield them from the inclemency of the weather. Yet, labouring under all those hardships and difficulties, the most unheard of cruelties and punishments were daily inflicted on us, for what? for not performing impossibilities, for not doing what was impossible for human nature or strength to have done with in the time allotted. And if the most pressing hunger should compel us to take from that master by stealth what we were sure to be denied if we asked, to satisfy our craving appetites, the most wanton and dreadful punishments were immediately inflicted on us even to a degree of inhumanity and cruelty. That I do not exaggerate is I dare say known to many of ye that hear me, or that may hereafter read this address to you, and therefore I appeal to ye, as personal knowledge of the facts I have here stated, I declare myself that I speak from experience — I was born to the southward of here, in the state of Delaware, and a slave, and had five masters before I was free, all of whom liked and loved me, and the last particularly, for having once saved his life when another negro man attempted killing him with a knife, but I instantly throwing myself between, saved my master who did not see the knife the fellow had concealed and endeavoured to stab him with. That together with my being always fond of work, and attentive to his interest gained me his friendship and confidence, and induced him to give me my manumission. When I was a slave I was never treated as rigidly or as cruelly as thousands have been to my own knowledge, yet God knows I have suffered incredible and innumerable hardships — ye ought therefore my dear brethren to account it a very great happiness and to bless God that you are in a country where the laws are wholesome, and where the majority of the leading characters are liberal minded, humane, generous and extremely well disposed to all our colour, and endeavour by a just, upright, sober, honest and diligently industrious, manner of life and a purity of morals to improve that favourable disposition in them, and if possible ripen it in to esteem for ye all. Consider, my dear friends, that it is but a very few years since any body could be found that had courage enough to step out of the common road of thinking and object to the insufficient unsatisfactory and unsubstantial arguments used against us, and tho’ some probably might have thought on the subject, and could hav[e] urged weighty and substantial ones in our favour yet they were deterred possibly by private consideration and interested motives, and probably by a fear of encountring popular and vulgar prejudice, from saying any thing on a subject that required to be treated with so much circumspection and caution; but thank God in this enlightend age there will not be wanting men of genius, spirit and candour, who will have courage enough to step out of the common road of thinking — some that cannot but with indignation see reason stoop to the controul of prejudice, and adopted principles, and who without pronouncing that man a vain and impious sceptic who shall dare to suggest doubts and difficulties their forefathers happened never to have dreamed of, can wave without ceremony that compliment usually paid to the opinion most in fashion, and on this and any affair of importance generously give the world their sentiments without reserve: and yet such settled enemies are the generality of mankind to an open freedom of thought (excepting those who turn it into licentiousness) so averse are they to the admission of ideas they were not before made acquainted with, that they are prejudiced against receiving, or had not been familiarised to from their youth, that reflections or representations are only rejected, or not attended to, because they are novel or displeasing to us or repugnant to our interest. But in this country the opinion is not only already broached, but its justice assented to by every body, for even enemies of freedom and our colour, acquiece in the solidity of the arguments urged in our favour. And therefore my dear brethern I exhort you most earnestly to endeavour by your irreproachable conduct to ripen that good disposition towards you into esteem, and by so doing you will make yourselves not only respectable but beloved, and also will thereby furnish your friends with strong arguments and inducements to endeavour the relief of the rest of our brethern, as yet in thraldom.

I have been longer on this head then I at first intended, but it being my wish to give it a full and ample discussion, I have been the more len[g]thy in speaking of it, and having I believe got fairly through it, I shall proceed to the next head that I mean to speak to you of And that is Religion, and on this head too I fear I shall be tedious as I wish to give it a fair discussion.

I most earnestly recommend to you a serious, and regular attendance on divine worship every Sabbath day at least, and as often at other times as you conveniently can. Religion being the basis of virtue and morality, when there is a want of Religion we may thence justly infer a want of both. For religion being the best practical system of virtue and good actions consonant to the will of our heavenly father, that is known, it sooth[e]s and comforts the mind of the afflicted and troubled, alleviates all our distresses, and disposes us to a perfect obedience to the divine will; and good will and peace to all mankind. But in speaking of practical religion, I do not mean that religion that springs from fear, but I mean a religion founded on a love of virtue and a detestation of vice; on a sense of that obedience which is due to the will of the Supreme Being, and a sense of those obligations which creatures formed to live in a mutual state of dependence on one another lie under. I always took the two greatest principles religion to be, “love honour and acknowledge three persons under the one God head, namely the Father Son, and Holy Spirit, three persons and but one God,” and that God I love & adore with my whole heart and soul; these cond is “do unto every man as you would be done unto” which is expersly directed in that divine commandment, “love thy neighbour as thyself”. Indeed I ever conceived public utility to be the touchstone of moral truth, for to receive and communicate assistance, constitutes the happiness of human life: man may indeed preserve his existence in solitude, but can enjoy it only in society. The greatest understanding of an individual, doomed to procure food and raimnent for himself, will barely supply him with expedients to keep off death from day to day; but as one of a large community, performing only his share of the common business, he gains instruction and leisure for intellectual pleasures, and enjoys the happiness of reason and reflection, and the supreme felicity of rendering himself useful to his fellow creatures in a greater or lesser degree according to his ability. This then, my dear frinds I conceive to be true religion, and it is upon these principles that I hope for solvation through the merits of my Saviour. Therefore would strenuously urge you to become as soon as possible members of some religious society, for it is far better to belong to some than none. But, as general benevolence and universal charity seem to be established in the gospel, as the distinguishing badges of christianity, I therefore wish all religious societies and orders well.

And here my dear brethern, I think it necessary to take notice of the cavils raised by some against us, and the foolishly chimerical notion that prevails with such, to say because we are black, we are not to enjoy a future state, nor be admitted to inherit the kingdom of God, and that our Saviour did not die for us, therefore we cannot hope a redemption: while some other speaking idiots would have us to be the feed of Cain all equally fallacious and frivolous: and indeed it is enough to make any unconcerned or disinterested person merry to hear such foolishly frivolous arguments adduced with such solemnity against us. However that I should not be wanting in respect to the whites, nor in justice to my own colour, I shall make such objections to those arguments as will, I pledge myself fully and completely refute them.

As to the first I shall content myself with making one general observation, namely, that God is neither a respecter of persons, nor colours, be they white black, or mulatto, but respects them merely from, their deeds and observance of his divine commands, and I humbly but on confidentially insist that not one living can produce a scriptural nor even respectably rational authority in support of such a vague and nonsensical opinion, therefore that argument fails.

As to the second, that we shall not inhert the kingdom of God, or enjoy a future state, I wonder where such chimerical notion exists, except in their heated brains or childishly prejudiced imaginations; for scripture tells us expressly, “That all that believe shall be saved,” but to go a step farther, and reason the matter candidly, and without prejudice, I am confident that the odds will be considerably in our favour: And first, I will ask all those persons seriously, how the economy of divine providence with respect to us, can be made reconcileable with our conceptions of the nature of the divine Supreme Being and his attributes, upon the supposition of this being the first and final stage of our existence? That we are endowed with reason and reflection, and a sensibility of pain as well as pleasure, is acknowledged to be an incontestible truth, neither can it be denied by any one. Nor is it less evident and unquestionable, that the latter is oftentimes more than overbalanced by the former. To instance only in our poor brethern at this moment in slavery, in the southern states, what exquisite, what affecting tortures do many of them endure (tho’ some few of them perhaps meet a more friendly fate) from some merciless callous hearted monster of a master? How frequently to the pangs of hunger, and a distempered body are there added the most cutting stripes and scourges most liberally and as wantonly dealt out to them by their inhuman masters or drivers, and all this merely for their not effecting perhaps impossibilities! But wherefore all this wretchedness, this unrewarded toil and labour? Wherefore all these agonizing pains and miseries heaped on an offspring of divine providence? — And why our colour because happens to be black? Are we not a living animated part of the creation? Are we not flesh and blood? Do we not as well as they know what sorrow means? Yes; and for them only, their use, or accidentally their pride, their wantonness, their cruelty were we brought into a sensible existence! Shall one being be created, but even under the bare possibility of being made miserable more or less) solely for the use and service of another? Lord what is man? Or rather what are not brutes? The unmerited sufferin is among whites urged with are great strength of reasoning, in proof of a recompence reserved for them hereafter. And must a being that happens to move in a low and humble sphere in society be at once pronounced unworthy of the like provision? But wherefore this partiality to to their noble selves? Why must they plead a right to be dealt with on the part of justice by the Almighty, and yet think it no injury done to us, if our suffering in a state we are forced into by our common Lord and Creator, meet not from him in an hereafter some similar tokens of an universal, and impartial goodness towards his creatures so necessary and essential to the divine nature. But to bring it more closely home to these our enemies. I will ask them; if they would think it just or equitable for the Moors in Algiers to deny a salvation or a recompence in an hereafter to those of this country who are there kept in slavery; and whose colour is white? No, they surely would not, they would laugh at the absurdity of the idea, and treat it with all the ridicule it justly deserved.

That our Saviour did not die for us, and that therefore we cannot hope a redemption through him, is too absurd and ridiculous to merit a moments serious consideration, for our Saviour was the promised hope of the world. And tho’ he said he came to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, yet he directed his gospel to be preached to all the Gentiles throughout the world, and we accordingly see that Phillip the Apostle by an express divine command, arose and went to the south and baptized an Ethiopan, an Eunuch who was a black man, for which, see the Acts of the Apostles, chap viii. ver. 26, and that in the earliest ages of christianity the gospel was preached to blacks, tawneys, and whites, indiscriminately, is beyond a doubt, for Abissinia, Ethiopa, Epirus, and many other nations of blacks were early converted to christianity, and have continued in the profession of it ever since, and not one disputes their right to saving grace, and in latter years the Portuguese missionaries have converted and admitted the negro inhabitants of their settlements in Africa, into their communion, without making a scruple about their undoubted right as human beings to salvation, nor was it ever questioned until the subtlety of after ages, in order to gloss their diabolical and inhuman traffick, made a pretext of that vague argument to sanction their unprincipled and inhuman conduct. another argument used to prejudice white people against us was, that negroes eat each other, a matter that I utterly deny, and formally call upon them to produce any one substantial and respectable authority to prove it–they cannot, that negroes sing their war dance around the prisoners taken in battle, I will admit and also that they sacrifice them to their Dhuu, Dhuns, or Gods, but that they ever eat them, themselves, I utterly deny.

As to our being the feed of Cain, it is still more frivolous than the rest, for either their knowledge must be extremely little and contracted, or their memories very weak, else they would have known or remembered that the flood followed after, which drowned all created beings, save what were saved with Noah in his Ark. And thus, my dear brethren, having shown, I trust, the frivolity and insufficiency of those arguments used against us, and that there must be a salvation for us, I earnestly exhort you to a perfect obedience to the divine will, and to a due performance of the four cardinal virtues, faith, hope, charity, and good works; by a constant practice of which, and due attendance with devout and contrite hearts at some place of divine worship, ye may fervently hope to receive that reward promised to the elect of God through the merits of our Redeemer Christ Jesus, which wish ye all in the name of the Father, Son, and holy Spirit, Amen.

I will next, [m]y dear friends, speak to ye on a crime, that alas! too many of you are guilty of, and indeed, it is not confined to our colour alone, but as I do not mean to interfere with the whites who have got able teachers to admonish and reprove them for their faults and transgressions, and as I conceive it to be a duty more particularly incumbent on me to address ye, brethren, I now do so, being actuated by motives of love and zeal for your welfare and interest: it is of lying that I mean to speak to you; a crime which, though truly odious and detestable, is nevertheless, I am sorry to say, too much practised by you. A very justly admired author says, that the character of a liar is at once “so hateful, odious, and contemptible, that even “of those who have lost their every other virtue, it “might be expected, that from the violation of “truth, they should be restrained by their pride. “Almost every other vice that disgraces human “nature, may be kept in countenance by applause “and association; but the liar, and only the liar is “invariably and universally despised, abandoned, “and discovered; he has no domestic consolations, which he can oppose to the censure of “mankind; he can retire to no fraternity where “his crimes may stand in the place of virtues; but “is given up to the hisses of the multitude, with”out friend, and without apologist. It is, indeed, “the peculiar condition of falsehood to be equally “detested and despised by good and bad.” I do not, nor cannot see what a man can possibly promise to himself to get by telling lies? unless it be, not to be credited even when he speaks the truth. But though all lies are justly odious and detestable, yet there are some of greater enormity, and more malignity than others, I mean those lies with which, when actuated by some envious or spiteful motives, ye traduce, blacken, and villify some persons character, and often times without any other motive than the pleasure of hearing yourselves talk, and being listened to. It is an old saying, and a just one, that we can lock up from a thief, but cannot from a liar, for by this you reb a man of what it is out of his power to lock up; his good name, and it would be far better for a man to lose all his money than his good name; for, in taking his money, ye only take what others had before him, and what he might reinstate by industry, but robbing a man of his good name, ye do not, cannot enrich yourselves, and you thereby make him poor indeed, for every effort he can use cannot reinstate his good name, which is dearer to every good man than life.

But for this practice however vile, some have dared to apologize by contending that the report by which they injured a man’s character was true; This, however amounts to no more, than that they have not complicated envy and malice with falsehood, and that there is some little difference between detraction and slander. To relate all the ills that is true of the very best man in the world, would render him the object of suspicion and distruct and if this practice should become, but a little more universal than it now is, mutucal confidence and esteem the comforts of society and the endearments of friendship will be at an end. For after all the bounty of nature and all the labour of virtue, many imperfections will still be discovered in human beings, even by those who do not see with all the perspicuity of human wisdom; and he is guilty of the most aggravated detraction, who reports the weakness of a good mind, betrayed in an unguarded moment, something which is rather the effect of negligence than design, rather afolly than a faul, sally of vanity rather than an irruption of malevolence. It should therefore never be a maxim inviolably sacred with all men, never to disclose the secrets of private conversation; a maxim which, though it seems to arise from the breach of some other, does imply that general rectitude which is produced by a consciousness of virtuous dignity, and a regard to that reverence which is due to ourselves and orhers; for, to conceal any immoral purpose which, to disclose is to disappoint, any crime which to hide is to countenance, or any character which to avoid is to be safe; as it is compatible with virtue, and injurious to society, can be a rule or law only, among those who are enemies to both.

I shall proceed to a second part of this subject — as I think that I have said nearly enough on the first part, and also fear that I become too speculatively refined in my sentiments, and too tedious to my hearers, I shall therefore speak of the blakest and most horrid, audacious, and impious lies of all those that are supported by false swearing, and perjury.

“Swear not at all,” is the command expressly given to us by our Saviour; I therefore earnestly exhort ye my dear friends to refrain from cursing swearing and all manner of prophane language, since you see it is contrary to the divine will and commands, and is one of those sins that afford not the smallest sensual gratification in the practice or commission.

But how much aggravated must it’s heniousness be in the sight of the Almighty, when it is used to support and gain credit for an impudent falsehood. — But horrid as ever them complicated crimes must be in the eyes of the Almighty, how far short do they fall in blackness and horror both in the eyes of God and man, of that most dreadful of all crimes, perjury. That is the crime of the guilty wretch who for some diabolical purpose premeditately, viciously, and willfully, violates theath he is about to take–An oath itself being an affirmation or denial by any christian of any thing lawful and honest before one that hath authority to administer the same for the advancement of truth, solemnly invoking and calling God to witness that what he so deposes is true. The laws and rules of every society wherever the christian faith is professed presume that oaths will be kept sacred, and that no man will perjure himself; therefore faith is given to an oath; and all judgments as well upon the lives as the properties of the citizens or subjects respect are founded upon oath. This presumption is built upon good reason; this country is defined to be a common weal composed of christian people, and christians are such as are baptized and believe in the law of God as revealed by the Holy Jesus our Redeemer.

Indeed if men would but rightly confider the nature of an oath they would never take it without fear and trembling, even tho’ what they were about to swear was truth, if ye were to appear before the President, who is but your fellow creature, would you not approach him with awe and reverence? With what awe, with what reverence ought we then to appear before the Almighty and Omnipotent God our Creator? And if mortals should never approach his presence without trembling, how audaciously impious, how horridly and wonderfully wicked, must that man be who dares appear before him and call upon him to be witness to a falsehood. There is no sin whatever, not even murder itself, that so surely, and in so particular a manner, calls down it’s own punishment in this life as perjury — and the reason for it is very plain and evident; because that abominable crime must in many cases, be hidden from, and escape the judgement of mankind, and be known only to the heart of the criminal and to God whose holy name he has prostituted and made subservient to injustice. And moreover our Saviour expressly says, Luke Chap. XIIth. Verse Xth. ‘And whoever shall speak a word against the ‘son of man it shall be forgiven him: But unto ‘him that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost ‘it shall not be forgiven.” Therefore if God did not in a most particular manner furnish it in this world, men would e too apt to conclude, he did not regard rules of government, nor would indeed the punishment of that horrible sin in the next world only answer his wise ends in the moral rectitude of this, for the man who dares to take false oath must, one should think, believe that God does not either know or regard it; and therefore, God, who is all goodness, all justice, will surely convince him of the contrary, by a just and remarkable punishment. For no one who stedfastly believes that God is present, and will punish the person who takes his name to a falsehood, dare venture to tell a lie upon oath, no more than a thief would dare to take publicly a horse away from the stable, before the masters eyes, who had strength enough to take the horse from him, and punish him upon the spot. It is, therefore, the want of faith in believing that God is present and ready to punish, which occasions perjury; and persons who take false and prevaricating oaths (such as have, alas! robbed me of life,) and find they are not punished, increase in hardness, unbelief, and the blackest sin. But the perjurer; who calls God to witness his falsehood, does surely, at the same time, call down his own punishment. Perjury, like poison, most certainly destroys the guilty taker. As the perjurer disclaims all future help from God, so all the evils, misfortunes, and ills of the world must surround him, his gold will dissolve into air, and all his possessions vanish like a dream; instead of health, rottenness will seize his bones, every chronic disease, and every fierce malady will afflict him, age will suddenly surprise him like a midnight thief, and sickness, sorrows, and all the catalogue of human plagues will sink him to the grave; while living, his mind will be a hell to him, and his conscience gnawed incessantly by remorse, and when death takes him from this world, his soul will be cast out among the damned, where there will be nought, but everlasting torments, with weeping and gnashing of teeth.

It is a great concern to me to say, but it is a truth, of which I alas! have had woeful experience,) that this most execrable and horrid crime is become too general in this country, for it to offer any security for either life or property. The administring an oath on every slight occasion, and the indecent irreverent manner in which it is administred by some Justices, or Magistrates, tends only to promots perjury, but to subvert all truth and justice. If oaths were seldomer taken, and in a more awful manner administred by persons of suitable discretion and respectability, it would help, in a great measure, to suppress that dreadfully horrid sin. And surely, if it be viewed only in a political light, it is the interest of every state to render oaths as inviolable as words and ceremonies can make them, and must be highly and essentially necessary for the government to keep up the sanctity of an oath in the opinions of men.

The first cause of peoples regard to oaths being lessened, was the decay of practical religion christianity, and the second familiarity. Wise and good men will always pay an awful regard to oaths, and will strictly take care to aver nothing but truth upon oath, and they would do so if they were examined without an oath. But the multitude take up things more by habit than by reason or reflection, and many of those would tell an untruth to favour themselves or friends, who would not confirm the same, if an oath was administered to them in a solemn manner; and this kind of men, that makes the multitude, upon whose testimonies the estates and lives of their fellow-cittzens depends. To these kind of men the formality of administering an oath, is of the utmost consequence and importance, and the familiarizing them to oaths contributes greatly to the spreading of perjury. In order, therefore, to prevent the inconveniencies that arise from the too great familiarity with oaths, it, perhaps, might not be improper, not to administer oaths, but upon the most important and weighty occasions, and then, at such times, in a most solemn, serious, and decent manner.

Therefore, for all the above weighty causes and reasons, as also for your own ease, peace of mind, worldly, welfare, and future happiness, I most earnestly beg, exhort, and intreat ye, my dear brethren, to avoid all strifes, quarrels, contentions, animosities, law-suits or litigations of any kind, for they, in the end, are of no service, but on the contrary, give birth to envy, hatred, and ill-will. Rather chuse, when any misunderstanding shall arise, to refer it for decision to two or three respectable neighbours; and avoid, by all means, the frequent appearing before Justices of Peace to be sworn, for there is an old saying, that familiarity breeds contempt. And surely the taking oaths on such a multitude of occasions as is now daily practised, familiarizes them to the multitude, so as to take off any idea they might have had of its sanctity, and all the other sacred ties and obligations contemplated with it; and, of course, leaves the weight of the testimony uncertain and ambiguous, and scripture says, my dear friends, if,, thy brother smite thee on the right cheek, turn thou the left also,” therefore, my dear brethren, avoid all swearing, and everyand all occasion of strife or contention that might give rise to swearing.

My dear brethern I earnestly pray ye, to be diligent and industrious in all your callings, manners of business and stations in life, be punctual, upright and just in all your contracts, engagements and dealings of what kind or nature soever, be faithful, tende, rand affectionate in all the relations ye bear in society whether as children, servants, husbands, wives, fathers, or mothers. Be decent in your dress and frugal in all your expences, for by that means you will provide for the wants of sickness and old age, refrain from the too great use of spirituous liquors a little is serviceable, but by all means beware of two much, for that irreparably injures the constitution, and cannot add to the enjoyment of those innocent pleasures and recreations necessary to ye as human beings and members of society.–But above all my dear friends avoid frolicking, and all amusements that lead to expence and idleness for, they beget habits of dissipation and vice, and lead ye into many inconveniences, a few of which I will endeavour to point out as the most immediately attendant on such a manner of life.

In the first place then my dear friends, by a few hours frolicking, ye will spend the fruits of many an hours hard labour, and hte oftener ye go to frolicks the greater will be your dersire to go to them, and by frequently going to such places ye unavoidably incur such a heavy expence, and contract such a dissolute manner of, not only soon swallowing up all your earnings, the fruit of many a days hard toil and sweat; but also leaves ye considerably in debt, ye are then harrassed by proesses, Constables and duns, and if ye fortunately can avoid being lodged in jail, ye can but barely prolong your existence from day to day, while your merciless and rapacious creditors, exact such an exorbitant interest. And with the absorbs principle due and entirely swallows up for enormous length of time all the product of your labour, and leaves yourselves and children a prey to the greatest want and penury, but to pursue this picture a little farther, as far as ye yourselves know to be but too true, under all these difficulties your passion for frolicking continues unabated, and ye are determined to indulge it, be the means ever so unjustifiable, for ye will not hesitate to rob, thieve, and plunder, in order to procure some little money, which as soon as ye have procured ye will away to the tavern, and there spend your ill gotting gain in every species of licentiousness, debouchery and excess, thereby fully verifying the old adage “That what is got under the devil’s back goes awayunder his belly” and then in returning home may be drunk, from those scenes of debauchery and obscenity, ye will not hesitate a moment, nor scruple to kill the cow, calf, sheep or hog of your neighbour, or perhaps best friend and even sometimes will have the audacity when ye know the places well, to enter smookhouses or celars of your nearest and best neighbours and friends probably, and take there out whatever pleases ye and should such spoliation be detected, ye will be the first to cry out, and having the care and confidence of your Masters and Mistresses or employers ye with an art and subtlety of which none but those who perfectly know it, can believe: will shrewdly suspect some others and by a thousand circumstances and surmises well irrevocably fix the blame on some poor innocent person, whom a combination of wayward circumstances would render an object of suspicion. That these are stubborn and incontrovertible facts ye well know, and also that whites are equally as culpable in this respect as blacks. Another incontrovertable fact, I appeal to the conscience and personal knowledge of many of ye for the truth of what I have here asserted but do not think my dear brethern that I charge ye all indiscriminately with such refarious acts; no, for on the contrary there are some very good black men, and on the other hand there are some very bad, that there are many, very many; black people who would not be guilty of a mean or dishonest action, is without question but that there are some others that are capable of both, is also beyond a doubt.

I therefore my dear brethern earnestly exhort ye to refrain from such evil ways and courses, as they undoubtly make yourselves detested and justly hated by your neighbours, inimical to society, and helps to throw an odium on the whole colour, which by all means should be avoided, for it is a settled axiom, that the more respectable every several individual in a society is, the more respectable will that society, generally be, and the more disrespectable the several members are, the more disrespectable will the body generally be, therefore dear friends, avoid by all means, the giving occasion for such general reproach.

And now my dear friends as I fear that I have trespassed on your patience and attention too long I shall take my leave of ye, as I also will of this world and its affections–in a few hours more. And as the solemnity of the spectacle I shall exhibit as also the novelty of this address at present, may make some little impression on ye for a moment, and then alas! it will be gone, and forgot-for even the all tremendious thunder affrights ye while the concusive violence of contending elements affects the senses with fear, as being indicative of the divine wrath; but as soon as the noise ceases and the gloom dispess, all farther fear and all thoughts of the thunder or, divine admonitions vanishes with it, or as ye have often observed the parched earth soak in the moisture of a plentiful shower, and exhibit no farther signs of the refreshing dew. — So I fear it will be with respect to these my admonitions. But my dear brethren and friends I beg of ye by frequent readings to impress it on your minds, and early instill those precepts I have laid down unto your children by frequent reading and relating it to them, for as the water by continual and incessant dropping makes an impression on the stone, so will these my admonitions make an impression on your minds by frequent readings and recourse to them, which the more earnestly recommend as I think them calculated to promote your prosperity in this world, and ensure you that everlasting happiness in the next, which that ye may all obtain is the sincere wish, and shall be the dying prayer of your truly affectionate, but deplorably distressed friend.

ABRAHAM JOHNSTONE

Woodbury jail July 2d. 1797.

THE DYING WORDS OF ABRAHAM JOHNSTONE.

Good people all,

MY real name is Benjamin Johnstone. But when I came to Jersey changed it, took my brothers viz. Abraham Johnstone. I was born in the state of Delaware, at a place called Johnny-cake landing Possom town, in Mother Kind-Hundred and County of Sussex. I was born a slave and the property of Doctor John Skidmore who died while I was very young, and I with the other goods and Chattels descended to his Nephew Samuel Skidmore, he being the heir at law. He soon ran through most of the property left him, and was obliged to sell me to John Grey a blacksmith, and from whom I learned that business; by him I was sold after some time to Edward Callaghan, him I did not like, therefore I would not live with him, and insisted on having another master, he accordingly sold me to James Craig at my own request, for he was very loth to part with me, as I was a very handy hard working black. My new masters confidence I soon gained my sedulous and, and unremitting attention to his business and interest and which was greatly increased by the following incident. A black man of his sisters was extremely insolent and rude to her, (she being a widow) made a complaint to my master who was going to chastise him for it, the black was very insolent to my master who he was just going to strike, I was standing near, and knowing the black was esteemed the stoutest man in all that county, and a very vicious bad man, I watched him narrowly for fear he should do my master any personal injury, I having heard that he intended it, and just as my master was going to strike I saw the fellow put his hand behind and grasped a very long knife, at the same time he swore he would instantly kill my master. I seeing the knife, and the meditated blow which my master could not possibly defend himself from, instantaneously threw myself between, and notwithstanding the knife grappled with him, and told him he must bury the knife in me before he should hurt my master, who all that time stood in amaze at seeing the fellows knife. He and I wrestled and fought sometime, but having got the knife away. I mastered him at last and got him fairly under. My master owned that he owed his life to me, and ever after held me very high in esteem, and told me that after such a time I should be free, shortly after he told my time to myself, and gave me a considerable length of time to pay the money in, during that time I went of, and staid away a whole year with a woman, and then was taken up as a run away, and put into Baltimore jail, from whence I let my master know my situation; he had me brought from thence and put into Dover jail, and while I was there he died drunk. The executors then wanted to have me a slave, but being informed of my master’s agreement with me, they did not then attempt it; and Mr. James Clements, merchant, at Mifflin’s cross roads near Dover came to me and took me out by paying the money due, for which I was to work a stated time with him. I did so to his utmost satisfaction, and I am confident that he still loves me, when done with him the executiors of my late master sent for me to chop some wood, and while out in the woods, they came with two Georgia men (to whom they had sold me) and tied me, and these two Georgians took me away 11 miles from there that day, at night were we staved we got our suppers, and I slipped the knife I had to eat mine with, in may bosom, and they being shewn to bed in one room I soon after into another, as I was lying down I cut the cords I was bound with, and having waited until they were asleep I stole away, and come to Mr. Clements and informed him of the business, who advised me to apply to Warner Mifflin Esq. in Dover which I instantly did, who knowing the sooting I was on with my late master, stood my fast friend on the occasion, and obtained for me the manumission which I have got, as yet and which protected me, But one of the brothers executors was extremely dissatisfied and was determined to have me, as also were the Georgia men. To avoid trouble I came to New-Jersey, and changed my name for I well knew that my poor colour had but few friends in that country, where slavery is so very general, and if one negro was befriended, it was feared to be setting a bad example to the others, I accordingly by the advice of all my friends, both black and white came by water up the Delaware to Philadelphia, and there I did not stay long, until I came to New Jersey; and the first place I went to work at when I came here, was Maj. Joshua Howell’s, where I worked six weeks at that time, it being the year 1792, and continued working about some time longer, and went back and brought my wife from Delaware state, and commenced housekeeping. My wife was born free, and we had been long married before my master died. I have one son now aged 13, living with Daniel Mifflin, Esq. who was born free. I have no child living by my wife. I had not long been here with my wife ere many reports were circulated to my disadvantage, and I now solemnly declare without just grounds: The first of which that did me any injury, was, that I had stolen some carpets from Mrs. Lockwood, which report had its rise in the following manner —

Mrs. Lockwood kept a boarding house, and my wife served as cook and house maid. I myself waited at Anderson’s tavern. The flux was then prevalent in Woodbury (it being the time of the Philadelphia sickness) and I was taken very bad with it: people feared that it was the sever I had gotten, and I had no house before that, and then Woodbury was so full, that I had like not to have got a house or place to lodge in: At last the worthy Mr. John Huffman let me go into his workshop — I moved there, but had neither bed, nor bedding. All the stores in town were searched for either, but I could get no more than one coverlid, which I got at Major Donnel’s. Those old carpets hung out of doors on a rail, being laid by as useless, my wife asked Mrs. Lockwood for them, who told her she might have them, by paying for them, and that she must come weekly and work it out; my wife agreed, and thereupon brought the old carpets for me to sleep on, and continued going to Mrs. Lockwood’s as usual to work for two or three days after, at which time I grew so very bad, that my wife stayed to nurse me. Mrs. Lockwood’s house being full of boarders, and having no help but my wife’s, she was greatly vexed, and sent to let my wife know that she must either come and pay the cash for the old carpets, or work it out according to agreement: but my wife returning for answer that she should not go, while I continued so very bad, irritated Mrs. Lockwood to that degree, that she said my wife might as well have stolen them as not have paid for them, and threatened sueing us immediately if we did not send her the money, or that my wife did not go to work. Thus originated that story; for the truth of which I appeal to the personal knowledge of some gentlemen now living in Woodbury, who boarded there at that time.

I was charged as unjustly by William Tatem, Esq. with robbing his smoak house; but I now solemnly declare that I never was inside of his smoak house, nor took nor received thereout a pound of meat in all my life: And moreover, the night his smoak house was robbed, I slept at Mr. Clarke’s in order to cradle for him the next day, and the meat I was seen to carry home through the country at that time, which gave rise to the suspicion, I bought when on my way home, at the Stone Tavern, from Mrs. Sparks, the woman of the house, who happened to be hanging up meat on the very day, and at the time I passed by, as may be fully known on a little enquiry.

I also do solemnly declare that I never took a pound of meat out of the slaughter house of Samuel Folwell, but what I had rendered a strict and true account of to him, and have paid him for.

Mark Brown has also charged me with stealing out of his smoak house, which I likewise declare myself innocent of.

And now before I come to speak of the crime that I am to die for, I shall (in justice to the religious society that I mean to die in the profession of) say a few words on that head. While in Delaware I was a chosen member of the Methodistical society, and in William Thomas’s class. But the manner of my departure from there precluded my getting a certificate there, whereupon, when I came here, I could not according to the mode of discipline be considered a member until I went thro’ a probation, and thereby regularly have got admitted which though extremely well inclined to do, I some how omitted until it alas was too late — and I die in the profession of that faith, tho’ not an actual member.

I must also say, and at this moment do solemnly aver, that I never saw Dillon, who swore against me, above twice to the best of my remembrance, during the time. Tom was missing; neither had I ever or at any time the conversation with him that he swore I had, nor any whatsoever similar to it; neither did I collar Tom the deceased after the trial between him and me, nor did I say a word to him, except that I told him I hoped we were good friends notwithstanding our law suit, and asked him to come with me to the tavern to take a drink. Those who wish a further confirmation of it, may have it by applying to Henry Craver and Timothy Young, both of whom were with me. May God forgive him! I do from my heart.

Richard Skinner also swore to a falshood, but I cannot, nor can any body blame him, for he being a Guinea negro, and not speaking the English language well, it could not be expected that he knew the nature of an oath. The answer he gave in the court on that head, he had merely got by note from my persecutors. That he was actuated by rancour and malevolence is beyond a doubt, for he told Perry and Sarah Paul, Peter Morris and others, from whom he received the first account of Tom’s being missing, “that he never liked me, and that if he could by any means whatsoever, compass my death, or if it was possible to be done, in any manner or wise, he would have me hanged;” and he in a day or two after saw the same people, and told them he had seen me, and related to them the conversation he had with me, which was very widely different from what he has sworn to. But if whites whose educations should make them know better, are capable of committing such horrid crimes, what must be expected from a poor Guinea negro. I freely forgive him — and may God forgive him and bless him.

As to Henry Ivens whose evidence caused my conviction, I here now do solemnly declare, in the presence of that God before whose awful and just tribunal I shall in a few moments appear, that I never since I had existence, nor at any time, told Henry Ivens either the whole, nor any part of what he declared on oath I did, for on the contrary, he used the following words to me; “well Abraham, people say you killed Tom, but I don’t believe it: if I did I would not let you work any more for me, but indeed Abraham, I do not take you to be a man that would kill another: After which, and in the same breath, he put the following question to me with great seeming friendship. “Abraham, now tell me did you kill Tom? you know you may tell me.” My answer nearly word for word was as follows. — “No indeed I did not Henry: nor did I ever kill a man in my life, nor never shall, except I should happen to fight a man and give him an unlucky blow, and then I believe they could not hang me for killing with one unlucky chance stroke when fighting; but I will never fight with any man, nor strike, as I know myself stronger than the general run of men, and then the law can take no hold of me, neither have I ever in all my life seen a man killed nor hung.” Some few nights after, John Williams came there in order to get me to thrash for him, when the report in circulation of my having killed Tom was mentioned, and Ivens said he did not believe it, for that if he thought it was so, I should not work for him; to which John Williams also replied, that he for his part could not give credit to it, and if he thought it was the truth, I should not thrash for him. That was all that passed between us, and I went away with John Williams that night, and did not see Henry Ivens again, untill Huffsey and David Evans had me tied, coming to jail, when Ivens came to us out of a piece of buck-wheat, and after some prefaratory conversation with the others, asked me the following question: — “Abraham, did you indeed kill Tom? I answered “No, nor no other man, nor never have I seen a man killed in my life, though I have been a great deal through the country.” That these were all the words or conversations I ever had on the subject with Ivens, I now in presence of that God before whom I am going to appear do solemnly pledge myself, and for the truth of it do here appeal to Henry Ivens’s own conscience; and if be is yet under such a delusion respecting it as not to acknowledge it, I here most solemnly do invoke my God and Redeemer to be my witness, and appeal to him to be my witness of the truth of these my solemn assertions in his presence, and to your tribunal my God I now appeal. It is not with a desire to satisfy men that I speak, for that to me at this time is no consideration, and I am perfectly at ease with respect to what they may think after my decease: they may, and undoubtedly will think as they please, but it is to ease my mind and conscience on that head, by declaring the truth, and thereby making my peace with that God whom I adore, and before whom I am going to appear; and may that God give Henry Ivens grace to see where he has so grossly erred, and grant him time to repent, and free and full forgiveness, as I freely do; for I most freely forgive him and all the world, for the world can do me no injury. It it true man may hurt the body, but he cannot reach sufficiently far to injure the soul: that belongs solely to God — and may that God bless, forgive, and protect Henry Ivens and family.

Enoch Sharp ought to have narrowly examined what he was about to say before he gave his evidence. He swore, “that on the day Tom was missed, he was at my house, and that the yard was scraped up much deeper than it could be by sweeping. Henry Craver who almost every day saw the place, and who was there that very morning, swore directly the contrary, and Henry Craver is an honest man, and a man of character. Enoch Sharp was but very seldom at my house; he was there after husking time; and after I had got in my corn, I threw the husks in a kind of hollow to make some manure, and there were some ridges between the door and the well, through which I cut a path, and threw the earth I had dug out of there upon the husks, in order to make them rot the quicker, and made the path level to the well thereby. I leave it to any man whatsoever if they have ever known corn husked in August. I had none there before. God for give Enoch Sharp! I freely do, and leave him my blessing, and that the blessing of God may be upon him and his family, is my prayer.

Indeed Samuel Huffsey and William Nicholson have long persecuted me with the utmost rancour and malice, but may God almighty bless, protect, and forgive them both, I do most freely and from my heart. But this is justice to my conscience I must declare on the solemn assertions of a dying man; that I think Samuel Huffsey procured Tom to steal my lease, as I then could have no title to shew for the place I held from him and lived upon, nor for the crop then growing on it, as I was improving the place fast, and doing well for myself, which made me an object of envy and hatred, and one circumstance that is not known I beg leave to inform the public of to wit. That on the unfortunate night that Tom came to my house he came from the landing to Huffseys first, and from thence came at that late hour to my house, tho’ it was near Huffseys house, and Tom was there engaged to work the following week for William Nicholson, and when I asked him in the morning to stay for his Breakfast, he said he would go to Nicholsons where he was going to work, and get it. They both know that it was at their instigation that Tom sued me, and they also know that they accompanied him and acted as his attorneys, at the magistrates. But to put it in a still fairer light, I will ask them, how came they to know at what instant of time Tom came to my house, and the particular conversation that passed between Tom and myself on that night, and that the very day after: And on the day after Sam. Huffsey brought a witness with him and called upon me to produce my lease, or else quit, &c. But let it not be thought that I blame them for Tom’s death, or speak through prejudice. — No, for I cannot impute his death to any body whatsoever, and as to the second I only state the truth impartially, and must think they have seen Tom later than I did. May God almighty bless and forgive them both, and spare them long to their families. I most freely and heartily forgive them, and desire my love and blessing to themselves and family.

And now at this aweful solemn moment when with the ignominious cord round my neck, and standing on a stage beneath that gallows that must in a few moments transport me into that boundless eternity there to meet my righteous, aweful and omnipotent Judge before whom no earthly considerations nor the evil suggestions of prejudiced persons can avail, now at this moment so dreadful and tremenduous. I most solemnly declare with my dying breath in presence of that God from whom I hope to find mercy and forgiveness, and before all the good people here assembled to see me make my exist from this world. That I am innocent, and unknowing to the death of Thomas Read the Guinea, Negro (that I die for) as the child unborn, neither have I been in any wise, knowing privy or accessary to his death, so bear witness of me my God before whom I am going to appear; and do thou Oh! Lord God stamp a conviction of my innocence, on all those prejudiced persons who are so uncharitable as not to credit my dying assertions, and I do also solemnly declare as I am a dying man, that I never have killed, nor been accessary nor privy to the killing any person whatsover, neither have I ever seen one killed nor hung in my life as I always studiously avoided such places, my feelings being naturally so very tender as to make such fights very affecting to me, nor is there any crime of great enormity wherewith I can justly charge myself, except a too great lust after strange women, and that is the only crime that I fear will hurt me in the fight of God; But I feel such a perfect inward calm and peace from a confidence in the divine love and promises of my Saviour; That exulting in that divine and heavenly love which I at this moment feel glow throughly out my bosom and which expands and raises my soul above all earthly things, I go chearfully to meet my Creator face to face, and now say to my Saviour as he did to his heavenly father, “Lord into thy hands I commend my spirit and from the divine assurances I feel within me that he will receive it, I leave this world with joy, and without the least regret.

I most fervently pray that God may bless Messrs. Stockton, and Person, my two lawyers, the Sheriff, and all the people in this jail, and all mankind; and bless and forgive my enemies, and grant them grace to repent and die his holy love and fear, I with heartfelt gratitude, bless them, for they have been the chosen instruments of my heavenly father, to bring me home to him, when I have had a known time to die, and leisure to repent of my sins, for by a longer continuance in this world, I might have died with many transgressions, unaccounted for, I bless and pray for them, and may thou O Lord bless them, and receive my spirit. Amen — I bid ye all an eternal Farewel.

ABRAHAM JOHNSTONE.

Woodbury jail Saturday, July 8, 1797.

LETTER TO HIS WIFE.

My ever dear, ever beloved and adored Wife! my much regretted Sarah,

As there are but a few, very few! short fleeting moments to glide away ere I enter into the mansion, of bliss and tranquility, and take a final leave of this vain transitory and delusory world, wherein I have experienced nothing but crosses, vexations, and tribulations, from all of which, I in a few short, alas! swift passing moments will be delivered, and set free, my paying that general, and certain debt that mankind must pay to nature, and resign in peace this cumbrous load of mortality, this weak body which as yet is faintly animated with vital warmth; but whose soul is full of the spirit, and heart cheering presence of my God, and Redeemer, through the merits of whose sufferings I hope for salvation; to its kindred clay. For of the crime that I am to die for, I most solemnly declare to you my ever dear, ever beloved wife; in the presence of God all just and omnipotent, and all the host of Heaven; That I am perfectly innocent, and therefore am perfectly resigned to death, and satisfied to quit this world, for like a lamb led to the slaughter house, shall I go in a few moments to my death, and have thoroughly resigned myself to the will of my heavenly father. I have fully weaned myself from this frail world and its gross affections, except what con-centre solely in you, on you now my beloved wife, all my earthly considerations rest, and all that in death appears unfriendly or unwelcome is the parting. The parting from a wife so beloved! — From you my beloved Sally; and leaving you behind in the world without husband to protect you, or friend to sooth, console, or alleviate, your distresses, misseries or wants, or support, and enable you to bear up under, and encounter misfortunes, with fortitude, such my dear Sally have I ever been to you. And tho’ sometimes I went astray and lusted after other women, yet still my dear Sally, my true and fond heart rested with you, and love for you always brought your wanderer back: you were to me, my all! my every thing dear and beloved. From the first of our acquaintance, to this moment, I have loved you with unabated fervor, unceasing tenderness; and the purest attachment: and even at this so truly awful and solemn moment, all that seems terrible in death is the parting from you. — My God and redeemer, and him alone possesses the first part (a part pure and uncontaminated) in my affections; and you possess the next; I am sure you cannot be impious enough to expect to hold an equal share with God, it must suffice you to know that in you my all, and only earthly considerations or affections rest, at this moment so truly aweful.

I did hope my dear wife to have seen you once more ere I departed this life. And to have obtained your pardon for all the transgressions I have committed against God, and our marriage bed during the time we have been united, and also to have given you such consel as I thought best with respect to your future conduct; or as I should have deemed necessary, or expedient. And to have bestowed on you the blessing of a dying husband, and have bid you a final farewell, all which I must do by letter as you would not consent to come and see me tho,’ I had the Sheriff’s express permission for your coming, and nobody should have molested you. Indeed my dear Sally had it been your case as it was mine: no earthly consideration should or would have kept me from seeing you. Even was certain death to have been the consequence, and that I was sure I should suffer on the same gallows with you: All! all! I would have braved to have seen my Sally and would executingly embrace you even in death. The cold phlegmatic remonstrances of disinterested persons; who under the sacred name of friend; But strangers to that and every nobler and better feeling and sentiment, are so often interposed under the mask of friendship, and is generally termed good reason; by which they so powerfully operate on the passions of the weak and timorous, as to leave them no will at all of their own, (of all such people my dear Sally beware in future) I say my dear wife that in spite of all such busy-bodys I should have gone to see you, but I will not wound your feelings by pursuing the subject farther, for I well know that your heart is already cankered with grief, and care worn on my account. And my wish is to alleviate and sooth the accute misery and poignant auguish and distress (I well know) at this moment endure: and to speek peace to your bleeding heart, rather than plant a dagger in the rankled wound. Which my unhappy fate and unmerited sufferings has given you, who possesses a mind replete with the tenderest and livest sensibility.

And now my dear Sally, that you see me so thoroughly resigned to my fate, let me earnestly beg and exhort you to alike resigned on and endeavour to encounter this sad blow with fortitude, and true christian regsination to the will of the Almighty. Call in religion to your aid, and take it as one of those way ward incidents directed by the Almighty to try the faith of us poor frail mortals, and if you consider it as such, you will and surely must think it just to murmer at the decrees of the Almighty God our creater: it is true my dear Sally. It is a shameful death to be suspended in the air between Heaven and earth like a dog that at first fight may hurt your feelings, but on reflection it must vanish and leave no trace behind. For in the first place, as nothing can take place, however trival, without divine permission; so no manner of death can be unnatural: But in the second place, only give yourself time to reflect a moment, and then get a testament and read, the 22d, 23d, and 24th, Chapters of the Apostle Luke, you will there find sufficient matter to console, and prevent your tears flowing for me. You will see there how much more ignominous a death our Saviour suffered; he was nailed to a cross crowned with thorns, arrayed in purple, lots cast for garments his sacred sides pierced with a spear by the hands of common garments his sacred sides peirced with a spear by the hands of common soldiers, crucified between thieves on Mount Calvary; All! every species of ignominy and infamy was heaped on the divine immaculate lambs, His life was taken away by false swearing, (Alas! so is mine,) He prayed for and forgive his enemies, (so do I most freely forgive mine,) the only and blessed person of the most high and omnipotent God shed his precious blood on the cross for the redemption of many; He offered himself up the accepted ransom for all mankind; What is my sufferings and death in comparison with his? What have I to fear in a future state, as I will die innocent of the crime I am to suffer for, and confidently but without presumption, hope a reward for all my sufferings, from him who has himself suffered by false witnesses? He who has said take up your cross and follow me, him will I follow with all my heart and soul, through and with all my crosses and trials.

But my ever dear Sally, I beg earnestly when you so read, to consider with attention the chapters you read, and see if you walk in the fear of love of the Lord, consonant to his divine will as therein is revealed, see if frolicking and attending at scenes of the most horrid and abandoned lewdness, excesses, debaucharies, licentiousness, obscenity prophanity and all their attendant train is agreeable to the divine will, ah! no my dear Sally they are not; for God’s sake my dear woman, and for your dying husbands sake, shun and by all means avoid frolicing and all it’s attending evil concomitants, for your personal attendance at such scenes, is inimical to your future happiness, and renders you odious in the sight of God, and contemptible in the opinions of men, for you may rest assured that there is no man of sense, but would as soon take his wife from a bawdy house, as from a frolic; How very dreadful must that one reflection be to any woman of sensibility or delacy of mind or feelings? Oh my dear Sally! for your own welfare and peace of mind, shun all such places: I do not; for amusements and recreations are necessary to promote both your health of body and peace of mind: but by all means, my love let all those you enjoy be rational.

In chusing another husband my ever dear Sally, after I am dead and gone, as you certainly will need one, chuse one that will love and protect you, and whom you will neither fear nor despise when you are a wife: rather than a pretty baby to look at who might through a rage of novelty and ill nature break your heart. Ah! Sally! think some few times through life on poor gone Abraham, and say with a sigh — He is gone — alas never to return! He was constant and kind to me. But I will some day follow. Yes, my dear Sally you will so; and if it is possible for the spirits of the departed to watch, over those they love, upon earth, and that I have divine permission, I will until them; be my beloved Sally, my truly dear wife guardian angel, and should my slitting spirit ever present itself to your view, be not afraid Sally it will be but the spirit that divine permission is hovering on the watch to shield and defend you from any impending danger.

My dear Sally, my white Hat, that you were so fond of, I leave you with this injunction that you wear it yourself while it lasts and give it, to no other person, and two orders for a small sum of money I also leave you, besides all the cloths at Henry Cravers; Mr. Hughes, my good and esteemed friend, whom together with his family may God bless, prosper, and prolong their lives; will hand you my hat and the two orders, the rest of my things being useless to you, I have given them away to different people; the spinning wheel and little box I have given to the little girl that lived with us.

And having now settled my wordly affairs I shall close and prepare to depart in peace.

I’ve kissed this paper — and bid it convey the kiss to you my love: And now my dear Sally, I bid you — Oh — Heavens! — I bid you my dear wife! — not the farewel of a day month nor year — But an eternal — Farewel. —

I earnestly beg your prayers for me; and may God protect preserve prosper and bless you; is the dying prayer of your dotingly fond husband.

ABRAHAM JOHNSTONE.

Woodbury jail July 8th, 1797.

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1811: Arthur William Hodge, brutal slaveowner

Add comment May 8th, 2020 Headsman

West Indies planter Arthur William Hodge hanged on this date in 1811 — a distinctive punishment, for the crime imputed was the murder of his own property, a slave named Prosper.

The Oxford-educated gentleman ruled an estate upon Tortola called Bellevue, aptly called* for Hodge gives every symptom of laboring under some sort of madness, even beyond that madness which might be inherent to a slaveholding society. Famous among other planters for his cruelty long before he came to his own grief, Hodge had allegedly reduced through sheer barbarity his own farm’s slave roster from 140 in 1803 to 35 by the time of his death. (This allegation seems to be contradicted by a post-execution advertisement for the sale of his estate enumerating 160 slaves.)

Documents published in 1811 as a Report on the Trial of Arthur Hodge, Esquire — available here and here — are thick with blood-curdling reports of Hodge’s “repeated and excessive acts of cruelty towards his slaves,” e.g.

That a slave, called “Tom Boiler,” between three and four years ago [i.e., circa 1807-1808 -ed.], was by order of the said Hodge, laid down and cart-whipped without intermission for at least an hour; that the said Arthur Hodge stood by and saw it done … that when the said negro slave “Tom Boiler,” after the infliction of said punishment attempted to rise, he could not stand, but was taken up and carried to the sick-house, from whence he never came out, but died in about a week …

That this deponent hath known the said Hodge to order, at different times, kettles of boiling water, prepared for the purpose of pouring said water down the throats of his negroes, who had offended him.

That Margaret, the cook, and Else, a washer, were served so; that said Hodge said they were going to poison Mrs. Hodge and the children, and he would put an end to them — that this deponent did not see the boiling water poured down their throats, because she had not the heart to be present; but heard the screams of Margaret, and saw both Margaret and Else running afterwards with scalded mouths, &c. …

That this deponent in passing the sick-house saw a child, about ten years of age, named Sampson, with the skin all off … that this deponent made enquiry concerning said child, and learnt by general report on the estate, from the negroes, that said child had been by order of said Hodge, dipped into a copper of boiling liquor.

-Deposition of a free black woman named Perreen Georges who was intermittently employed at Bellevue

Another negro slave, about nineteen years of age, was by order of said Hodge very severely cart-whipped and put in heavy irons, crook puddings, &c. and allowed little or nothing to eat. That he was burnt in the mouth with an hot iron, and that he, this deponent, saw him in consequence thereof, with his mouth all raw, and that he shortly after died …

That a free man, named Peter, was hired by said Hodge … to work as a cooper, on said Hodge’s estate. And that he, this deponent, has seen said Hodge in his presence, cart-whipping said Peter repeatedly, at short quarters,** and every other way, and put chains upon him, and had him worked upon his estate with the field negroes; that Peter died as this deponent believes, in consequence of the ill treatment of said Hodge …

That Bella, a small mulatto child, reputed to be the natural child of said Hodge, by his female slave Peggy, (then about eight years of age, as this deponent believes) was repeatedly cart-whipped by order of said Hodge; and this deponent further saith, he hath more than once seen the said Hodge strike said child with a stick, upon her head, and break her head; and hath repeatedly seen him kick her so violently in the lower part of her belly, as to send her several feet on the ground, from whence, he, this deponent, thought she never again would rise.

-Deposition of Stephen M’Keough, a former overseer on Hodges’s Bellevue estate

It’s a matter of speculation just why it was that Hodge’s excesses were judged by his peers sufficiently outrageous to merit what appears to be the first and only execution doled out in the British empire to a slaveholder for mistreating his chattel. Was it fear in the wake of the Haitian Revolution that his behavior invited a jacquerie on this sugar colony where the slave population outnumbered the white landowners 7:1? A stirring of the advancing abolitionist spirit that had barred the slave trade in 1807? Notably, this prosecution in 1811 for a three-year-old crime took place only with the advent of a new anti-slavery governor.

That crime, however dated when finally brought to bar, was every bit as dreadful as the sampling above from Perreen Georges and Stephen M’Keough — and Virgin Island elites gave short shrift to the planter’s defense “that a Negro, being property, ‘it was no greater offense in law for his owner to kill him, than it would be to kill his dog.'” “My God! Are we patiently to hear such a declaration?” the Crown prosecutor answered in horror. “If we one instant even tacitly acquiesced we could expect nothing short of the vengeance of heaven to overtake us and the judgments of an offended Deity, with plague, pestilence and famine to be our merited punishments.”

Prosper caught Hodge’s fury on account of losing a mango and when he was unable to produce payment for the fruit he was flogged 100 times on consecutive days, until he was too weak even to cry out. Carried to a sick-house and abandoned there without rations, he was “found there dead, and in a state of putrefaction, some days afterwards; that crawlers were found in his wounds, and not a piece of black flesh was to be seen on the hinder part of his body where he had been flogged.” With the colony in a state of outrage at these charges — “I am sensible that the country thirsts for my blood,” Hodge said in his unsuccessful closing statement to his jurors — the court defied all precedent to condemn him. In the few days before the sentence was executed, Tortola was heavily locked down to preempt possible disturbances around the public hanging, which went off without incident.

However anomalous the execution of a slaveowner, Hodge’s tyranny would be invoked again and again in a project to reform judicial administration of the West Indies that stretched into the 1830s. The concern, as Lauren Benton and Lisa Ford describe in Rage for Order, was that these reservoirs of local and private power, barely checked in a distant colony where the justices deciding cases were hopelessly compromised by their membership in the same social circles and economic engines as their fellows, corrupted the law, bringing Britain herself into disrepute. “The flywheel of this project,” Benton and Ford note, “was the subordination of masters to imperial authority, not the championing of the rights of slaves.”

* The New York asylum by which the innocent name Bellevue attains its association with psychiatric disorders did not open until 1879.

** M’Keough’s testimony digresses to define close or short quarters as Hodge’s own term, meaning “the most cruel and severe mode of cart-whipping, as the whip is shortened and goes all round the body, cutting every part, particularly the stomach and belly, making no noise, which he believes to have been an inducement with said Hodge to practice it.” While we’re dallying with definitions, a cart-whip is described as “a certain instrument of punishment … made of wood and rope of the value of one shilling” used to flog and beat slaves.

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1892: Jozef Lippens and Henri De Bruyne, Congo Free State hostages

Add comment December 1st, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1892,* Belgian colonial agents Jozef Lippens and Henri De Bruyne were executed by the rebelling native king who had taken them hostage.

The gentlemen were a lieutenant (Lippens) and sergeant (De Bruyne) of the Force Publique colonial deployment in Belgian Congo.

Their misfortune was proximity when in 1892, rivalry over control of the eastern Congo ivory trade brought the European power into war with its erstwhile Zanzibar “Arab”** allies. (The Arabs were slave-traders, affording a classic humanitarian intervention pretext … which obviously is pretty rich coming from Belgium.)

The Congo-Arab War — which in practice was fought on both sides mostly by black Congolese troops — saw in its opening months the defection of one of the Arabs’ best commanders, Gongo Lutete,† a manumitted former slave who had risen to leadership of the Batetela and Bakussu tribes. In revenge when he switched sides to join the Europeans, the Arab leader Sefu bin Hamid seized Lippens, Belgium’s representative Resident at Kasongo, and De Bruyne, Lippens’s aide — demanding the return of his disloyal general and a settlement of hostilities as the price for these European envoys’ lives.

In fact, it was De Bruyne himself who had the honor of delivering the demand. Escorted by his captors to the eastern bank of the Lomami River on November 15, the emaciated De Bruyne shouted across to Belgian officers on the western side the terms of his captivity. The Belgians, who had the river covered by gunners, urged their countryman to leap into the water and swim for it; De Bruyne declined to abandon his comrade. “By this act of self-abnegation he was to go down in the Belgian folklore as a national hero.” (European Atrocity, African Catastrophe: Leopold II, the Congo Free State and its Aftermath)

His flight would have meant certain death for Lippens; instead, both paid the forfeit together after the Belgian commander Francis Dhanis repelled Sefu bin Hamid’s attack and smashed across the Lomani. According to the account of the war by Sidney Langford Hinde, one of many British officers employed by the Force Publique,

News also reached us here of the murder of Lippens and Debruyne, two officers representing the Free State Government, resident at Sefu’s court in Kasongo. We found out later that, after the defeat of Sefu on the Lomami (which resulted in the death of his cousin and several other noted chiefs), an advance party of the retreating Arabs arrived at Kasongo, and, by way of individual revenge, murdered the two Residents. It is probable, since we have no actual proof to the contrary, that this was done without Sefu’s orders. Twelve of these people, armed with knives hidden in their clothing, made some trivial pretext for visiting Lippens at the Residency, who, however, refused to come out and interview them. They then said that news of a big battle had come to them from Sefu; on hearing which Lippens came out, and, while talking in the verandah, was promptly and silently stabbed. Some of the murderers entering the adjoining room, found Debruyne writing, and killed him before he had learned the fate of his chief. When Sefu returned to Kasongo, a day or two afterwards, he gave orders that the pieces of Debruyne’s body should be collected and buried with Lippens, whose body, with the exception of the hands (which had been sent to Sefu and Mohara of Nyangwe as tokens), was otherwise unmutilated. The strong innate respect for a chief had protected Lippens’ body, while that of his subordinate had been hacked to pieces.

A curious fatality followed these twelve murderers. The chief of the band, Kabwarri by name, was killed by us in the battle of the 26th of February with Lippens’ Martini express in his hand. Of the others — all of whom were the sons of chiefs, and some of them important men on their own account — four died of smallpox, one was killed at Nyangwe, one in the storming of Kasongo, and the remaining six we took prisoners at Kasongo. During the trial they one day, though in a chained gang, succeeded in overpowering the sentry, and thus escaped. One was drowned in crossing a river; three more were killed, either fighting or by accident, within a month or two of their escape; and the two remaining we retook and hanged; — which brings to me a curious point. Of the many men I have seen hanged nearly all died by strangulation, and not by having the neck broken. As compared with shooting, hanging seems to me the less painful death; the wretched being becomes insensible in a very few seconds, whereas a man shot will often require a coup de grace, no matter how carefully the firing party is placed.


Monument to De Bruyne and Lippens in Blankenberge. (cc) image from Zeisterre.

* December 1 is the commonly attributed date for the hostages’ butchery but it can’t be documented with certainty.

** As we’ve noted elsewhere, the term “Arabs” as used for eastern Congo by European sources in this period denotes Muslim bantus. We’re following the prevailing term here, whatever its imprecision.

† As a reward for his services, Gongo Lutete was spuriously accused of treason by a Belgian officer in September 1893 and speedily executed without any form of superior approval.

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1716: Maria of Curacao, slave rebel

Add comment November 9th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1716, a woman named Maria was burned for leading a slave rebellion on the West Indies island of Curacao.

Maria was a cook owned by the Dutch West India Company itself who apparently instigated the slaves on her plantation to rise up and slaughter the white staff in September of 1716.

Whether Maria herself was Curacao-born or a recently captured import is not known, but her plantation of St. Maria held many of the latter category; Curacao was a major shipping nexus for the Dutch slave trade. It’s possible that this meant Maria’s newly-arriving peers were more liable to harbor that cocktail of hope and desperation needed to wager their lives on rebellion.

Whatever the case, the rising was quickly put down. Another slave named Tromp, Maria’s lover, told his torturers that she had sought revenge on a white overseer named Muller for killing her husband.

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1779: Manuel, burned for witchcraft in the USA?

Add comment June 15th, 2019 Clarence Alvord

(Thanks to the late University of Illinois history professor Clarence Walworth Alvord for the guest post, which originally appeared in an essay he wrote for the centennial of the Land of Lincoln‘s 1818 statehood. For context to this 1779 execution, the area comprising the future U.S. state of Illinois had been attached by the British crown to its own recently annexed province of Quebec, formerly French and Catholic. Illinois had then been seized during the Revolutionary War by Virginia, which at this moment (and only a few years thereafter) maintained it as Virginia’s own “Illinois County”. Notwithstanding Dr. Alvord’s rebuttal, the slave Manuel is still frequently described down to the present day as having been burned for witchcraft. -ed.)

The secret of writing true history depends upon the collection of all the contemporary evidence bearing on the case. The reason that people complain of the changing interpretations of history is that new material is found as society demands a broader and broader interpretation of the phenomena of the past. There was a time when history consisted in what we call to-day the drum and fife history; the doings of the great political leaders, events of military glory; and almost no other phenomena of changing society were noted. To-day the task of the historian, however, is far greater; and he is obliged to cast his net far afield in order to collect the material for the social development of the past …

“it must be remembered that the Creoles were very ignorant and superstitious, and that they one and all, including, apparently, even their priests, firmly believed in witchcraft and sorcery. Some of their negro slaves had been born in Africa, the others had come from the Lower Mississippi or the West Indies; they practised the strange rites of voudooism, and a few were adepts in the art of poisoning. Accordingly the French were always on the look-out lest their slaves should, by spell or poison, take their lives …

At this time the Creoles were smitten by a sudden epidemic of fear that their negro slaves were trying to bewitch and poison them. Several of the negroes were seized and tried, and in June two were condemned to death. One, named Moreau, was sentenced to be hung outside Cahokia. The other, a Kaskaskian slave named Manuel, suffered a worse fate. He was sentenced “to be chained to a post at the water-side, and there to be burnt alive and his ashes scattered.” These two sentences, and the directions for their immediate execution, reveal a dark chapter in the early history of Illinois. It seems a strange thing that, in the United States, three years after the declaration of independence, men should have been burnt and hung for witchcraft, in accordance with the laws and with the decision of the proper court. The fact that the victim, before being burned, was forced to make “honorable fine” at the door of the Catholic church, shows that the priest at least acquiesced in the decision. The blame justly resting on the Puritans of seventeenth-century New England must likewise fall on the Catholic French of eighteenth-century Illinois.

-Theodore Roosevelt, The Winning of the West

An example of how easy it is to misinterpret a past event, provided all the material available is not collected, and how easy is that interpretation after the material has been found, has come under my observation … About forty years ago Edward G. Mason, at that time secretary of the Chicago Histori[c]al Society, found the record book kept by the county Lieutenant, John Todd,* in the year 1779, when Todd came to govern the territory that had been occupied by George Rogers Clark and his Virginians during the Revolutionary War. In this record book Mason found the copy of a warrant for the death of a negro, named Manuel, by burning at the stake, which burning was to take place after consolation to the criminal had been given by the parish priest. The copy of the warrant had been crossed out by drawing lines through it. Please bear this fact in mind, since it should have suggested a correct interpretation. Naturally this warrant aroused the imagination of Mr. Mason, and he vegan to search for an explanation and discovered that about this time there was an outbreak of voodooism among the Illinois slaves and that two slaves had been put to death. He drew the natural conclusion therefore that Manuel had been burned at the stake for the practice of witchcraft. Basing his interpretation upon Mr. Mason’s find, a well-known ex-president, Theodore Roosevelt, who among other occupations has dabbled in history, wrote at some length upon this episode and drew a comparison between eighteenth century Catholic Illinois, where for the practice of witchcraft men were burned at the stake with the sancttion [sic] of the parish priest and in accordance with French Catholic law, with a similar episode in the history of Puritan Massachusetts in the seventeenth century.

Fortunately there has come into my hands a full record of the court’s proceedings by which Manuel was condemned; and I find that the judges in the case, although they were obliged to listen to the superstitious accusations of negro slaves, were careful to determine the fact that Manuel and another negro had been guilty of murder by poisoning their master and mistress, Mr. and Mrs. Nicolle, and that it was for this act the two negroes were condemned to death. I then looked up the law of the land. Naturally it might be supposed as Roosevelt did that this was French law, but there was another possibility, namely that Virginia law in criminal cases would be used by a Virginian magistrate, such as John Todd. I found that the Virginia law in the case of murder of a master by a slave was death by burning at the stake so that in the case of Manuel you see that the condemnation was strictly in accordance with Virginia law and not with French law. Another document of even greater interest in the case also came to my hands. It certainly was a surprise. This was another warrant for the death of Manuel, issued at a later hour in the day, but by this later warrant the death penalty was changed from burning at the stake to hanging by the neck. To summarize then: Manuel was not condemned for witchcraft but for murder; he was not condemned to be burned at the stake in accordance with French law, but in accordance with Virginia law; and finally he was not burned at the stake at all, but was hung by the neck. This is an excellent example of the danger of drawing inferences in regard to historic events upon too narrow information. There was one fact which both Mr. Mason and Mr. Roosevelt ignored in their interpretation of the warrant. The copy of the warrant was found in a carefully kept record book, and was crossed out by lines being drawn through it. That fact should have made them suspicious of their own interpretation. Records such as this condemnation to death would not be lightly erased by the keeper of a record book. An historical Sherlock Holmes would not have been misled.

* Todd’s brother Levi was grandfather to eventual U.S. First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln. -ed.

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1771: Edmund James and Joseph Jordan, runaway slave aides

Add comment March 1st, 2019 Headsman

From this doctoral dissertation (pdf) by Gabriele Gottlieb:

The early 1770s in Charleston also saw the largest number of executions of whites who had been convicted of crimes connected with slavery. On March 1, 1771, Edmund James and Joseph Jordan were hanged for “aiding runaway slaves.” Jones [sic], the master of the schooner Two Josephs, and Jordan, a sailor, allegedly had stolen the schooner, taking with them several slaves. Thomas Dannails, a third condemned defendant, was pardoned after he was “recommended to Mercy by the Jury.” Several slaves, likely some of those who had run away on the Two Josephs, were hanged together with Jordan and Jones.

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1768: Quamino (Dubois)

Add comment February 9th, 2019 Headsman

Entry from North Carolina’s colonial records:

Minutes of a Court of Magistrates and Freeholders in New Hanover County North Carolina.

Magistrates and Freeholders Court

February 08, 1768

At a Court of Magistrates and Freeholders held at the Court House in Wilmington on Monday February 8th 1768 on the Tryal of a Negro Man named Quamino belonging to the Estate of John DuBois Esqr Deceased, charged with robbing sundry Persons —

Present
Cornelius Harnett Esqr Justice
John Lyon Esqr Justice
Frederick Gregg Esqr Justice
John Burgwin Esqr Justice
and
William Campbell Esqr Justice

And
John Walker Freeholder and Owner of Slaves
Anthony Ward Freeholder and Owner of Slaves
John Campbell Freeholder and Owner of Slaves
William Wilkinson Freeholder and Owner of Slaves

The Court upon Examination of the Evidences relating to several Robberies committed by Quamino have found him guilty of the several Crimes charg’d against him, and Sentenced him to be hang’d by the Neck until he is dead to morrow morning between the hours of ten & twelve o’Clock and his head to be affixed up upon the Point near Wilmington —

The Court valued the said Negro Quamino at eighty Pounds proclamation money proof having been made that he had his full allowance of Corn pd agreeable to Act of Assembly

CORNs HARNETT Chn

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1856: Six Tennessee slaves, election panic casualties

Add comment December 4th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1856, the white citixens of Dover, Tennessee hanged at least six black slaves in the midst of a regional panic.

They could well sense, as could all Americans, the hollowing authority of slavery in the 1850s with the Civil War looming ahead in 1861. Conflict over the issue had split the country sectionally over the disposition of the huge territory annexed in the Mexican-American War; the matter came to literal blows on the western frontier in the “Bleeding Kansas” bush war.

On the cultural plane, these are the years that germinated the definitive anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852); on the legal plane, they produced the the notorious pro-slavery Dred Scott Supreme Court case (1857).

And on the political plane, the slavery issue tore apart the old Whig Party — and so the 1856 presidential election for the first time featured the new anti-slavery Republican Party as the chief opposition. The very first Republican presidential nominee, John Fremont, carried 11 states on November 4, 1856: not enough to capture the White House, but enough to put the Slave Power in fear for its human chattel and catalyze, in the weeks surrounding the vote, paranoid reactions in various southerly locales to the effect that Fremont-inspired blacks would be coming to dispossess all the masters.

Now it only takes a glance at Twitter to evidence the capacity of a presidential ballot to dominate the public mind, so there can hardly be doubt that seditious rumors of liberty fell from black lips which had never been so close to tasting emancipation. “Wait till Fremont is elected, and den I guess as how, missess, you will have to dew de pots yourself,” a Memphis kitchen-slave supposedly told her mistress on the eve of the election. (New York Herald, December 11, 1856) The masters too would have spoken of the same topic, but with trepidation; nobody knew but what the future could hold, and words overheard would have worked their way to and fro across the color line to shape hope, terror, anticipation. The newspapers from the last weeks of 1856 have reports of rumored insurrections and white vigilance committees in Missouri, in Texas, in Arkansas, in Louisiana.

As is usual in slave rising panics no firm evidence exists that black plots consisted in this moment of anything more substantial than whispered hopes. Whites in scattered localities saw Nat Turner everywhere — and nowhere was this more the case than in western Tennessee. There, slaves around the Cumberland River were believed to be organizing a Christmas Day rising* to cut their masters’ throats, run amok, and rendezvous with an imagined army of Fremont liberators. One correspondent described for northern papers how

the credulity of these poor people is such that, in the belief of the whites who excite them, they imagine that Col. Fremont, with a large army is awaiting at the mouth of the river Cumberland … Certain slaves are so greatly imbued with this fable, that I have seen them smile while they are being whipped, and have heard them say that ‘Fremont and his men can bear the blows they receive.’ (via the Barre (Mass.) Gazette, Dec. 19, 1956)

Against such hope — more blows. A truly horrifying and widely republished editorial in the Clarksville (Tenn.) Jeffersonian that Dec. 3 proposed an overwhelming bloodletting to crush this prospective jacquerie.

It is useless to shut our eyes and deny the facts, or sneer at the developments which have been made. Every hour multiplies the proof and corroborates previous discoveries. It is no Titus Oates affair, but a solemn, fearful and startling reality, and must be dealt with accordingly.

The crimes contemplated should be atoned for precisely as though those crimes had been attmpted and consummated. Fearful and terrible examples should be made, and if need be, the fagot and the flame should be brought into requisition to show these deluded maniacs the fierceness and the vigor, the swiftness and completeness of the white man’s vengeance. Let a terrible example be made in every neighborhood where the crime can be established, and if necessary let every tree in the country bend with negro meat. Temporizing in such cases as this is utter madness. We must strike terror, and make a lasting impression, for only in such a course can we find the guaranties of future security …

The path of future safety must be wet with the blood of those who have meditated these awful crimes. Misplaced clemency, and we believe that any clemency would be misplaced, may at no distant day bring upon this people, the horrors and the inexpressible crimes which marked the enfranchisement of St. Domingo. While retributive justice, sternly and unbendingly enforced, will certainly remove the cause of the evils we now suffer and prove our sure protection against their repetition in all time to come.

So far as this writer can establish it is not certain how many people overall in Tennessee and throughout the Slave Power met the guns and nooses of white vigilantes, but some of the best-established are a sextet hanged at Dover on December 4, 1856. This town on the Cumberland was roiled by rumors that slaves from nearby communities intended to march, armed, on Dover itself, an idea that seems not much less fanciful than that of deliverance by Fremont; it became thereby an epicenter of the suppression, and favors us from a sea of unreliable timelines and misstated figures with a concrete eyewitness description.

Tuesday morning [sic — the writer means Thursday, Dec. 4, having narrated Wednesday, Dec. 3 immediately prior], I went to Dover, and arrived there about 2 o’clock. The people had hung four negroes at 11 o’clock that morning, and two more then in town to be hung. I got to the place of execution in time to see the last one go off. Of the six that were hung, three had been preachers. They were all proved to be ring-leaders. I learned that the men at the forge were at work whipping the truth out of their negroes, so I rode out there that night, and was up with them all night. I never had such feelings in my life. I saw a list of negroes that had been whipped, and was told what they all had stated, and then I heard the balance examined — some taking five and six hundred lashes before they would tell the tale … One of the negroes at the forge died from whipping that night, several hours after the operation.

We are at work here to-day. We have one negro in chains, and will hang him I think, certain; if the committee will not the community are determined to do it. I think we will have quite an exciting time here before we get through. I have no doubt but that it is a universal thing all over the Southern States, and that every negro fifteen years old, either knows of it or is into it … (Louisville Daily Courier, Dec. 29, 1856)

Two key academic sources on this affair are:

  • Harvey Wish, “The Slave Insurrection Panic of 1856,” The Journal of Southern History, May, 1939
  • Charles Dew, “Black Ironworkers and the Slave Insurrection Panic of 1856,” The Journal of Southern History, August 1975

* Shades of Jamaica.

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1822: Johan Wilhelm Gebhardt, Junior, slave-slayer

Add comment November 15th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1822, Johan Wilhelm Gebhardt was executed at the Dutch-founded South African settlement of Paarl. His offense, unusual but not unheard-of in our executioner’s annals: killing his slave.

According to Alex Mountain in An Unsung Heritage: Perspectives on Slavery, the 21-year-old Gebhardt, who managed the farm belonging to his father, Rev. Johan Wilhelm Gebhardt Sr., had ordered a slave named Joris flogged “for not working properly.”

the flogging was done repeatedly by a slave called November who had been warned by Gebhardt, who remained present throughout the torture, that he too would be severely punished if he did not flog Joris properly. The flogging was done with a variety of instruments and from time to time salt and vinegar were rubbed into his wounds.

It was only when Joris lost consciousness that the torture stopped.

Joris died that night.

The western Cape had recently been taken under British management, and these looked with surprising hostility on the murder of Joris. Gebhardt was not suffered to plead to manslaughter in order to escape his fate.

Mountain reproduces a photo of Gebhardt’s gravestone (found “being used as a small bridge across a ditch”) with the lines

Rest in Peace
Unfortunate Youth
Your Career was short
and you were led Astray
Few were the Pleasures of your Life
And many your Sufferings!

There’s no gravestone for Joris, of course.

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1835: Four slaves, for the Malê Rebellion

Add comment May 14th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1835, four African slave rebels were shot at Salvador.

The Malê Revolt acquired its name from the local designation for Muslims … which was the predominant religion of the slaves harvested from West Africa* who were pouring into Brazil. (It’s also known as the Muslim Revolt, or simply the Great Revolt.) Ethnically, these were mostly Yoruba peoples, known in Brazil as Nagôs; Nagôs constituted the bulk of the slave sector whom the Portuguese had nicknamed “Minas” — Gold Coast imports who had embarked their slave ships at the notorious Elmina Castle.

Under whichever designation, this population was particularly thick in the agrarian Atlantic province of Bahia; there, “slaves constituted the majority of Bahia’s population in the 1820s and 1830s, [and] the maority of slaves were African-born.” And African-born slaves proved over the years to share a vigorous spirit of resistance. Slave risings and plots had emerged in Bahia in 1807, 1809, 1814, 1816, 1822, 1824, 1826 1827, 1828, 1830, and 1831, spanning the periods of Portuguese colonialism and Brazilian independence. Scottish botanist George Gardner, recalling his travels in Brazil in the late 1830s, opined that

The slaves of Bahia are more difficult to manage than those of any other part of Brazil, and more frequent attempts at revolt have taken place there than elsewhere. The cause of this is obvious. Nearly the whole of the slave population of that place is from the Gold coast. Both the men and the women are not only taller and more handsomely formed than those from Mozambique, Benguela, and the other parts of Africa, but have a much greater share of mental energy, arising, perhaps, from their near relationship to the Moor and the Arab. Among them there are many who both read and write Arabic. They are more united among themselves than the other nations, and hence are less liable to have their secrets divulged when they aim at a revolt.

Here, in secret madrassas and an underground tongue, these people cultivated a shared religion that naturally fused with the religious to the political and eventually germinated a revolutionary conspiracy. Two elderly, enslaved Muslim teachers seems to have been particular nodes in this community of resistance.**

On the night of January 24-25 of 1835, some 300 of these African-born slaves (with a few African-born freedmen) rebelled and attacked the city of Salvador. The fighting spanned only a few midnight hours; rumors of a rising had reached white ears on the 24th and as a result the masters stood halfway prepared and rallied quickly enough to crush the revolt — killing around 80 rebels in the process.

Nevertheless, it was perhaps the largest and most frightening servile rebellion in Brazil’s history. And although not all participants were Muslim, they very distinctively were all African-born: second-generation, Brazil-born blacks (whether slave or free) as well as mulattoes, who occupied a higher caste rank more in simpatico with whites, were deeply distrusted by African natives as liable to betray the plot — and rightly so. This turned out to be the very channel by which advance warning of the imminent rebellion reached white ears on the night of January 24. It was a great, if last-minute, victory for white Brazilians’ intentional stratification of the servile labor force: “The division among Africans is the strongest guarantee of peace in Brazil’s large cities,” the governor of Bahia had written in 1814.

Surprisingly, only four juridical executions are known to have resulted from this rising, although flogging sentences inflicted on others were so brutal that at least one person also died under the lash. Records, however, are patchy, and as João José Reis notes in his essential text on the Malê revolt (Slave Rebellion in Brazil: The Muslim Uprising of 1835 in Bahia) it is scarcely apparent why these particular men came in line for the law’s final extremity:

The president of the province, under pressure from influential members of Bahian society, felt that it was important to put on a public spectacle and hang prisoners as soon as possible so as to intimidate would-be rebels. With this in mind, on 6 March 1835 Francisco de Souza Martins wrote to the minister of justice:

It seems fitting, as has been suggested to me by many Citizens of this Capital, that the Government of His Majesty the Emperor, so as not to diminish the healthy effect of an execution as soon as possible after the crime, should have the sentences carried out on the two or three main leaders, at the same time declaring that these individuals should not have any recourse or appeal; that is, such a measure is thought to be both efficacious and necessary to the present circumstances.

In a decree dated 18 March 1835 the central government accepted this suggestion and ordered that the death sentences be “immediately carried out without being allowed to go before a Court of Appeal, after the remaining legal steps had been taken.” A month later, on 14 May, one day after the publication of the law on deportations, and without having taken “the remaining legal steps,” the government put four Africans to death.

There was only one freedman among those executed: Jorge da Cruz Barbosa, a hod carrier (carregador de cal) whose African name was Ajahi. Ajahi had been arrested on the day after the uprising, in the house of some fellow Nagô acquaintances, Faustina and Tito. Tito was also involved in the rebellion and had left home some days before the twenty-fifth, never to return. On the morning of the twenty-fifth, Ajahi showed up wounded and hid under a bedframe (estrado). Faustina turned him in to inspectors Leonardo Joaquim dos Reis Velloso and Manoel Eustaquio de Figueiredo, who arrested him. Under questioning Ajahi declared that he lived on Rua de Oracao and was a neighbor of Belchior and Gaspar da Cunha, whom he used to visit regularly. Concerning the meetings they had there, he claimed: “Everybody prattled on and on or just stopped in to say hello.” He denied being a Malê and having participated in the revolt. He tried to convince the judge and jury that the bayonet wound in his right leg “had been inflicted by soldiers … while he was at the window, [and] not because he was outside fighting with anybody.” Ajahi was apparently just an ordinary rebel. Indeed none of the Africans questioned in 1835 suggested he had played an important part in the Malê organization. Even so, on 2 March 1835 he was sentenced to death, along with other important prisoners. His sentence had been set by Francisco Goncalves Martins, the chief of police, now presiding over the jury as a judge: “In light of the previous declaration … on behalf of the Sentencing Jury I sentence prisoners: Belchior da Silva Cunha, Gaspar da Silva Cunha, and Jorge da Cruz Barbosa (all freedmen), as well as Luis Sanim, a slave of Pedro Ricardo da Silva, to natural death on the gallows.” With the exception of Jorge Barbosa (Ajahi), all those listed by Martins had their sentences commuted. Ajahi appears to have escaped from prison, but he was quickly recaptured. Perhaps the maintenance of his sentence comes from his being considered an incorrigible rebel.

Little is known about the others sentences to death. They were all Nago slaves. One of them was Pedro, a slave of Joseph Mellors Russell, the English merchant. It seems that all of this man’s slavees took part either in the rebellion or, at least, in the Malê conspiracy. On his own Russell had turned over to the justice of the peace a crate containing a great number of Malê objects belonging to his slaves — Necio, Joao, Joaozinho “the urchin,” Tome, Miguel, and Pedro. Of all these men Joao was the most militant, and his final sentence is not known. No one knows why Pedro was singled out for the death penalty. I could not find the records for his particular trial.

The other two slaves executed were Goncalo, whose owner appears in the records as Lourenco so-and-so, and Joaquim, who belonged to Pedro Luis Mefre. About them all that is known is that they were among the thirteen rebels wounded and taken prisoner during the confrontation at Agua de Meninos. It may be that they were both abandoned by their masters, since nothing suggests that they might have been leaders and none of the other eleven taken prisoner in the same circumstances received similar punishment.

These were, then, the four Africans put to death in 1835. Rodrigues began a tradition claiming that five Africans were executed, but there is no evidence for it. He names a freedman by the name of Jose Francisco Goncalves as the fifth victim. This African actually existed. He was a Hausa and lived in the Maciel de Baixo neighborhood. According to his testimony, he earned his living “bringing out samples of sugar from the warehouses for Merchants.” His name appears on the Roll of the Guilty with this observation: “sentenced and acquitted on 4 June 1835.” On that same roll the names of Jorge da Cruz Barbosa, Joaquim, Pedro, and Goncalo appear, with the following observation after each one: “sentenced to death and executed on 14 May 1835.”

Like all public executions, this one had its share of pomp and ceremony. The victims were paraded through the streets of Salvador in handcuffs. At Campo da Polvora new gallows had been constructed to replace the old ones, which had rotted from lack of use. At the head of the cortege marched the council “doorman,” Jose joaquim de Mendonca, who cried the sentence out to the ringing of bells. After him came Joao Pinto Barreto, the execution scribe, and Caetano Vicente de Almeida, a municipal judge. On both sides of the prisoners marched a column of armed Municipal Guardsmen. The Santa Casa da Misericordia was also presente, since the bylaws of that important philanthropic institution obliged its members, who were recruited from the local elite, to march along with people condemned to death as an act of Christian piety. The execution itself was to be witnessed by the interim chief of police (Martins had already gone to Rio de Janeiro as a congressional deputy), Judge Antonio Simoes da Silva, and by the commandant of the Municipal Guard, Manoel Coelho de Almeida Tander.

Much to the authorities’ disappointment, the new gallows could not be used to hang the prisoners. No one would act as executioner. On 13 May, one day before the execution, the vice-president of the province, Manoel Antonio Galvao, in response to a request from the chief of police, offered 20-30 milreis to any ordinary prisoner in Bahia’s many jails to act as executioner. Even though that was four months’ earnings for the average urban slave, no one came forward. The chief warden, Antonio Pereira de Almeida, expressed his disappointment in a communique to the chief of police that afternoon: “I have offered the job to the inmates, and no one will take it. I did the same thing today at the Barbalho and Ribeira dos Gales jails, and no one will take it for any amount of money; not even the other blacks will take it — in spite of the measures and promises I have offered in addition to the money.” Either because of prisoners’ solidarity or out of fear of retaliation from the African Muslims, an executioner could not be found. For this reason, still on 13 May, the president of the province had a firing squad formed to carry out the sentences. Then, on the fourteenth at Campo da Polvora, the four men were executed by a squad of policemen and immediately buried in a common grave in a cemetery run by the Santa Casa, next to the gallows. Without the hangings, the didactic value Bahian leaders envisaged in the spectacle was lost.

Less pomp surrounded floggings, although they too were public. Here, as well, the chief of police insisted (20 March 1835) that the “punishment should immediately follow the crime.” He argued that haste was necessary “so that the prisoners would not overflow,” a practical more than a political reason. The scenes of torture oculd not have been more degrading. The victims were undressed, tied, and whipped on their backs and buttocks. Floggings were held at two different sites: the Campo da Polvora and the cavalry garrison at Agua de Meninos, where the last battle of the uprising had been fought. At times the authorities worried that these public spectacles would themselves disturb the peace. Alufa Licutan’s sentence to one thousand lashes would be carried out in public, “but not on the street of the city.”


Illustration of a slave being publicly flogged in Brazil, by Johann Moritz Rugendas.

Prisoners received fifty lashes per day, “for as many days as it took to undergo the entire sentence … provided there was no risk to a prisoner’s life.” The victims’ suffering was closely watched by armed guards and carefully supervised by officers of the law, as well as by a court scribe who on a daily basis recorded the date, names, and numbers of lashes. From time to time, doctors visited the victims to check on their health and to advise whether the whipping should be continued or suspended for a while. These doctors’ reports are shocking testimony to the physical state of the tortured individuals. On 2 May 1835 Dr. Jose Souza Brito Cotegipe told Caetano Vicente de Almeida, the municipal criminal judge: “I have only found two who are well enough to continue serving their sentences. The rest cannot because of the enormous open wounds on their buttocks.” In a report on 19 September he said: “Having proceeded in the examination … of the Africans being flogged, I can inform Your Grace that the blacks [named] Carlos, Belchior, Cornelio, Joaquim, Carlos, Thomas, Lino, and Luiz (at the Relacao Jail) are in such a state that if they continue to be flogged, they may die.”

On that very day Luiz was admitted to the Santa Casa da Misericordia Hospital, where he stayed for two months. On 3 November he went back to the stocks, and two weeks later he completed his sentence of eight hundred lashes. Narciso, another slave, was less fortunate. He was caught red-handed during the uprising and did not survive the twelve hundred lashes of his sentence. He is the only African known to have died from that terrible punishment, but there may have been more.

After the Malê Rebellion, the signs and practices of Islam came under harsher surveillance than ever before. Brazil did not abolish slavery until May 13, 1888 — the very last nation in the western hemisphere to do so.

* Prisoners taken by all sides during the wars accompanying the formation and growth of the Sokoto Caliphate were a key source for the early 19th century slave trade.

** Neither teacher was directly involved in the rebellion: one, Ahuna, had alredy been exiled to another locale and the other, Bilal, languished in prison for debts. We have particularly poignant word of the latter’s devastation upon hearing word of what had transpired.

After the rebellion, Bilal, still in jail, received news of the fate of the rebellion. One of his cell companions said in a gripping testimony that Bilal lowered his head to weep and that he never saw him raise it again. Bilal wept as many of his cherished students were brought into the jail. When one of the surviving rebels, who was being incarcerated, passed Bilal a piece of paper with a message written on it, he read it and swiftly began to weep. The devastating fate of his students had brought Bilal to a perpetual trail of tears. His fate, however, was to be amongst the most devastating. Although he could not be charged with participation in the physical uprising that took place, it was clear to authorities that he had participated in the spiritual cultivation of the uprising. Bilal “was sentenced to 1,200 lashes of the whip, to be carried out in public, though not in the streets where everyone could see. The sentence was divided up into 50 lashes a day until completed.” We can imagine that this is how Bilal died.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Brazil,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,History,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Revolutionaries,Shot,Slaves,Torture

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