Saturday, November 28, 2009

More from the Steering Committee...

I know. This is another installment about slavery. Still, this has a great introduction on colonial history in Providence, Rhode Island. More info from the Steering Commission at Brown University. They did some fantastic research on the eighteenth century beginnings of our country. True, much of it we have yet to learn. Centuries of telling only the palatable parts of it has almost dissolved the memory. Still, for our own purposes of healing, it needs to be told.

The "gentlemanly" figure to the left is Esek Hopkins, who captained the slave ship Sally and later served as commander-in-chief of the new United States Navy. This man would become infamous for his treatment of slaves on the 1764 voyage from Africa, 88 of whom had died for various reasons: disease, suicide, or malnutrition. The Brown brothers temporarily gave up the trade, not because it was morally horrifying, but because they did not make enough money.


Rhode Island led America in denouncing the heavy taxes imposed by England. Stephen Hopkins, later President of the school that would become Brown University, wrote many treatises on why taxing so heavily was detrimental to the human race, why it was comparable to slavery. Hopkins stated “Liberty is the greatest blessing that men enjoy, and slavery is the heaviest curse that human nature is capable of,” he wrote, adding that “those who are governed at the will of another, and whose property may be taken from them...without their consent...are in the miserable condition of slaves.”

Hophins wrote this while a slave owner (ala Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence) and saw little irony in his words. The Brown brothers, namesakes of the university, forwarded a copy of the pamphlet to Stephen's brother, Esek, then on the coast of Africa in search of a cargo of slaves for America as captain of the slave ship Sally.

Brown University got its start as “The College of Rhode Island” in 1764. It was opened as a training school for Baptist clergymen. Yet, the school was still open to all religious disciplines, in keeping with its intentions of religious liberty. Still, this idea of “liberty” extended no farther than religion.

While no precise number is possible, the Steering Committee yet identified as many as thirty members of the Brown Corporation who owned or captained slave ships, many of whom were involved in the trade during their tenure of service to the University.

References to the slaves, often specific, hang in unnoticed on the walls of the university today, references to the university’s first President, Rev. James Manning who arrived for the job with a personal slave, four enslaved men who worked on University Hall, including “Pero,” owned by Henry Paget, “Mary Young’s Negro Man,” “Earle’s Negro,” and “Abraham,” owned by Martha Smith. Pero Paget died at the age of 62 and is buried at Providence’s North Burial Ground. The fates of the others are not known.

Morgan Edwards and Hezekiah Smith were both charged with raising an endowment for the university and Smith sailed to Charleston, South Carolina, heartland of the Baptist religion and for the chattel slavery that permeated American society, to secure pledges. South Carolina planters, with huge numbers of slaves, contributed like, Governor William Bull, Gabriel Manigalt, and infamously, Henry Laurens (In the 1750s, his firm ran the largest slave trading house in North America with over 8,000 slaves. Laurens also succeeded John Hancock as president of the Continental Congress… the highest position in the early American government.).

The Brown family split over slavery in the late eighteenth century. The two brothers, Moses and John, entered into a vigorous debate over the morality of the institution, and of the transatlantic trade in particular. The father, James Brown left for Africa in 1736 in the Mary to carry a slave cargo to the West Indies (the most frequent buyer in the Americas) and then returned to Providence with several slaves for the family’s use. His brother, Obadiah (guardian of James’ children after his death) served as “supercargo” on the Mary. The supercargo was in charge of buying and selling captives. Since that voyage, the Browns provisioned numerous slave voyages, managing the sale after their arrival in Providence. The family again returned to the African trade in 1759 with the voyage of the Wheel of Fortune. That voyage ended as the ship was captured by a French privateer. The Browns suffered some significant financial loss. For the African captives, they were simply transported to French possessions in the West Indies. They were simply captured cargo to be sold at the most lucrative destination possible. By 1745, around 4 million slaves had been transported to the West Indies. Slave ship generally carried 300 to 400 slaves per voyage. That translated to a major maritime enterprise of at least 1,000 voyages by 1745. Many more would follow.

Any reaction would be in words that could never hope to express the horrors of the slave trade. Think not that the economic incentives that drove this capitalistic endeavor are gone. They still exist today. The island of Sao Tome was a proving ground for Africans that would later be brought to America, one of the quintessential sites of the Atlantic Slave Trade. Today, the United States is negotiating with Sao Tome to establish a base on the island to “protect” their new-found oil reserves. The Chinese are now heavily involved in Africa in much the same way as the colonial powers of the nineteenth century. They, too, are fighting to get in on the oil rush in Sao Tome. Chinese slaves are here today, in America… mostly women working as concubines for high level corporate firms or wage slavery victims. slavery.htm states “Today, most people suffer under globalistic slavery: either wage slavery or physical, chattel slavery [like in early America]. There are currently more than 27 million people physically enslaved as chattel. Approximately 95% of the 6.4 billion persons now living suffer under wage slavery at one time in their lives: 6.175 billion.”

But, hey. It’s not here, huh? We don’t do it, right? Ask American companies what kind of labor they use overseas. You might change your mind, assuming you ever got a straight answer. Slavery is a part of capitalistic imperialism, as we still are. This is not about America, folks. This is about a system of business that has been conducted for centuries and faces no real controls on how they do it. The one with the money makes the rules. The Atlantic Slave Trade was only a small part of a global abuse of our fellow man that still goes on around us everyday. We just need to look and get serious about it, educate ourselves.

Go to for a full copy of the Steering Commission's report from Brown University. These folks have done a wonderful job of telling Real History!

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