The Domestic Slave Trade (1837)

On January 7, 1837 Phillip A. Bell began to publish a weekly newspaper called Weekly Advocate. From the beginning, one of the major goals of this newspaper was to educate its subscribers, and much information appeared in a list format including: principal railroads, lengths of rivers, heights of principal mountains, principal colleges in the United States and the principal features of various countries of the nations of the earth.


The following article is taken from a late number of the New York Sun, and the Editor anxiously asks, “CAN THIS BE TRUE?” as if he had never heard before of such inhuman conduct. We answer, “YES,” and we have FACTS in our possession, in relation to the traffic to American Citizens, which are ten-fold worse than the African slave trade itself. Let it be remembered, that all the particulars, in this case, come directly from the very scene of shear atrocities.

Shall we conceal, from motives of delicacy, the awful features of this nefarious traffic? But this is only one solitary instance, and yet we weep when we peruse it. O! how different would our cold and lukewarm brethren, feel and act on the subject, if they could only have brought up, vividly, before their imaginations, the several thousand free Citizens of these United States, who are now pining in hopeless captivity in this LAND OF FREEDOM!

Now here is a free MAN, born and brought up in one of the British Provinces of America, put in prison by some ruthless white ruffian; and unless he has some white witness at hand to prove his freedom, HE MUST BE SOLD INTO SLAVERY, to pay for the expenses of his arrest! Is not this acting on inhuman and worse than heathen principles? Shall it not be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah, in the Judgment, than for slaveholding America? We caution colored seamen, especially, against going among those soul-searchers and man-stealers. When will that day arrive, that we shall be spared the painful necessity of calling the attention of the public, to such inhuman and disgraceful conduct, in a land of Bibles and Missionaries; and in a country, too, professedly the freest, most enlightened, and Christian, of any other on the face of our globe.

Yours, &c.


This item, and others like it, can be found in Accessible Archive’s African American Newspapers Collection. This enormous collection of African American newspapers contains a wealth of information about cultural life and history during the 1800s and is rich with first-hand reports of the major events and issues of the day.
Can this be true? – We apprehend that our readers, or at least a large portion of them, will be as surprised, and not only as surprised, but as indignantly mortified, to learn from this paragraph, as we were last evening on gathering the fact from an advertisement, which appears in the Washington Globe, that though a really free colored man should be arrested in the District of Columbia, on suspicion of being a runaway slave, and no one shall appear within a given time to claim him, he is liable to be sold into slavery by the marshall of the district to defray costs of his arrest and keeping while in confinement! If this is not the climax of cruelty, tyranny, and oppression, our imagination is not competent to the conception of the iniquitous extent to which those vices may be carried. The statute books of Russia or Tartary, or the records of the darkest ages of Paganism, contain nothing that could compare with such matchless absurdity and despotism. The bare suspicion, the intimation of malevolence, or the assertion prompted by revenge, or mayhap by pure wantonness, in this boasted land of freedom and enlightened government, is competent to turn the freeman into a slave, sunder husband from wife, parents and children, and in short, all the ties of life, and the common rights of which “all men were born” equally possessed, Though there is no “loop to hang a doubt upon,” we cannot but repeat, can this be true.

Yes, indeed, it is too true. The Marshall of the District of Columbia advertises in the Globe that a colored man, of a dark copper color, 23 years of age, 5 feet 10 1-2 inches high, calling himself William Richardson, was committed to the prison of Washington city as a runaway. He claims to be free, and says he was born and raised in St. John, New Brunswick: that Mr. Warren Hathaway, farmer, on Deer Island, near Eastport, knows him; that he lived with and worked for Mr. Hathaway a long time; that he followed the sea, and came to Wash. in the ship Romulus, from Liverpool. The Marshall gives notice to his owner to prove him, &c., or he will be sold to pay his prison expenses! proclaim it, ye presses of the unchained nations of Europe, and do our matchless nation of freemen the common justice of exhibiting to the world the beauty, the equality, the justice, which govern at the centre of our republic!

Source: The Colored American for November 25, 1837

All images included in blog posts are from either Accessible Archives collections or out of copyright public sources unless otherwise noted. Common sources include the Library of Congress, The Flickr Commons, Wikimedia Commons, and other public archives.

Related Posts

Tags: ,

Positive SSL