By 1774 the American colonies were awash with claims against the
British government based upon ideas of natural rights. For the most part the white leaders
of the American Revolution did not see that such universal rights language reprobated
slavery. Here a group of enslaved people petition the governor of Massachusetts for relief
and invoke three main lines of argument against slavery. First is the language of
"natural rights" - "we are a freeborn people and have never forfeited this
blessing by any compact". Second, the petitioners highlight the sexual and moral
outrage of slavery. Third, they cite the damands of Christian brotherhood.
Such arguments were of little avail - slavery remained in the
United States for another 90 years. One of the oddities of history is that, all things
being equal, if there had no been revolution, slavery would have ended much earlier. The
"Land of the Free" was only free for some, whereas the exact arguments made here
[natural law, moral outrage, Christian brotherhood] were successful in the British Empire
in leading to a ban on slavery in 1833.
The Petition of a Grate Number of Blacks of this Province who
by divine permission are held in a state of Slavery within the bowels of a free and
That your Petitioners apprehind we have in common with all other men a
naturel right to our freedoms without Being depriv'd of them by our fellow men as we are a
freeborn Pepel and have never forfeited this Blessing by aney compact or agreement
whatever. But we were unjustly dragged by the cruel hand of power from our dearest frinds
and sum of us stolen from the bosoms of our tender Parents and from a Populous Pleasant
and plentiful country and Brought hither to be made slaves for Life in a Christian land.
Thus we are deprived of every thing that hath a tendency to make life even tolerable, the
endearing ties of husband and wife we are strangers to for we are no longer man and wife
than our masters or mistresses thinkes proper marred or onmarred. Our children are also
taken from us by force and sent maney miles from us wear we seldom or ever see them again
there to be made slaves of for Life which sumtimes; is vere short by Reson of Being
dragged from their mothers Breest Thus our Lives are imbittered to us on these accounts By
our deplorable situation we are rendered incapable of shewing our obedience to Almighty
God how can a slave perform the duties of a husband to a wife or parent to his child How
can a husband leave master to work and cleave to his wife How can the wife submit
themselves to there husbands in all things How can the child obey thear parents in all
things. There is a great number of us sencear ... members of the Church of Christ how can
the master and the slave be said to fulfil that command Live in love let Brotherly Love
contuner and abound Beare yea onenothers Bordenes How can the master be said to Beare my
Borden when he Beares me down whith the Have chanes of slavery and operson against my will
and how can we fulfill our parte of duty to him whilst in this condition and as we cannot
searve our God as we ought whilst in this situation. Nither can we reap an equal benefet
from the laws of the Land which doth not justifi but condemns Slavery or if there had bin
aney Law to hold us in Bondage we are Humbely of tile opinion ther never was aney to
inslave our children for life when Born in a free Countrey. We therfor Bage your
Excellency and Honours will give this its deer weight and consideration and that you will
accordingly cause an act of the legislative to be pessed that we may obtain our Natural
right our freedoms and our children be set at lebety at the yeare of twenty one for whoues
sekes more petequeley your Petitioners is in Duty ever to pray.
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