Servant and Slave

James II, At the court at Whitehall, this 26th day of March 1686. A proclamation against transporting His Majesty's subjects to his plantations in America. London: Printed by Charles Bill, Henry Hills, and Thomas Newcomb, 1686.  Acquired 1942 (A 1686 .G74)

Introduced by the Virginia Company in 1609, indentured servitude had become by the mid-17th century the primary means of encouraging settlement in the Chesapeake region. In exchange for free passage, colonists agreed to work a specified number of years for their sponsor. Strong demand for labor soon resulted in abuses: many individuals found themselves lured on shipboard by “a lewd sort of People, called Spirits,” and effectively kidnapped; others tried to break their indentures on arrival by falsely claiming to have been abducted. In this broadside proclamation, King James II institutes new regulatory controls.

Donald MacPherson, Letter from Donald MacPherson, a young lad who was sent to Virginia with Captain Toline, in the year 1715 [Edinburgh, 1717?]  Acquired 1941 (A 1717 .M337)

Donald MacPherson was one of 1,300 prisoners transported from Scotland to North America following the 1715 Jacobite Rising. As punishment, MacPherson was indentured for several years as a servant on a Port Tobacco, Maryland plantation. In this letter to his father back in Inverness, MacPherson expresses satisfaction with his situation: his master treats him well and promises to set MacPherson up on his own plantation. “I wis I het kum owr hier twa or tri Yeirs seener” [I wish I had come over here two or three years earlier]. This letter in Highland English (a blend of Scottish Gaelic and English) was written for the illiterate MacPherson by another Scottish emigré. This extremely rare broadside was published to reassure families of other Jacobite exiles and to promote emigration.

Thomas Tryon, Friendly advice to the gentlemen-planters of the East and West Indies [London]: Andrew Soule, 1684.  Acquired 1942 (A 1684 .T79)

Slavery established itself more quickly in Britain’s Caribbean possessions than in its North American colonies. By the 1680s thousands of African slaves worked under harsh conditions on the immensely profitable sugar plantations of Jamaica and Barbados. Members of the Quaker sect, who labored to improve their treatment, were the first to take up their cause. One was Thomas Tryon, who had lived on Barbados during the 1660s. In this handbook for current and prospective colonists, issued by England’s principal Quaker printer, Tryon mixes an extended denunciation of slavery with medical, culinary, and spiritual advice.

Associates of Dr. Bray, “Rules proper to be Observed by the Teachers of Negroes.”  Acquired 1939 (MSS 564)

In 1760, on Benjamin Franklin’s recommendation, a school for enslaved and free African American children was established at Williamsburg. Funded by an English religious charity, the Associates of Dr. Bray, its primary purpose was to teach blacks “to read the Bible [and] to instruct them in the … Doctrines of the Church of England.” The school ran for 14 years under the direction of Mrs. Ann Wager. The McGregor Library holds a cache of papers documenting the school’s founding and operation, including these draft lists of rules to be followed by Mrs. Wager.

Authentic and impartial narrative of the tragical scene which was witnessed in Southampton County (Virginia) on Monday the 22d of August last … [New York]: Printed for Warner & West, 1831.  Acquired 1962 (A 1831 .W377)

Although slave rebellions were infrequent, slave owners lived in constant fear of retribution. Those fears turned violent in August 1831, when Nat Turner led the deadliest of American slave revolts. Sixty whites were killed before the revolt was crushed. In the aftermath, many more blacks lost their lives to militias and mob violence, and harsh new laws further tightened slavery’s shackles. This sensationalist account of Nat Turner’s Rebellion includes a striking fold-out woodcut frontispiece. Four years later portions of both woodblocks were incorporated into the extraordinary hand-colored frontispiece (below) to a pamphlet describing similar attacks during the Second Seminole War.

Hand-colored frontispiece to An authentic narrative of the Seminole War … and a minute detail of the horrid massacres of the whites, by the Indians and Negroes, in Florida Providence [R.I.]: Printed for D. F. Blanchard, 1836.  Acquired 1962 (A 1836 .A87)

Lunsford Lane, The narrative of Lunsford Lane, formerly of Raleigh, N.C. … 3rd ed. Boston: Hews and Watson's Press, 1845.  Acquired 2012 (A 1845 .L3)

This recent addition to the McGregor Library’s extensive slave narrative collection was self-published and sold for Lane’s benefit as he traveled the anti-slavery lecture circuit. Born in 1803, Lane was raised in slavery outside Raleigh, N.C. With his owner’s consent, Lane arranged (illegally) to rent out his labor so that he could establish a pipe and tobacco shop. It thrived, in part because Lane maintained the appearance of being poor and uneducated. Eventually he earned enough to purchase freedom for himself and his family. In 1842 Lane and his family fled to Boston after being targeted by whites who feared he was spreading abolitionist sentiments.