"For it is with justice, we believe, that the condition of slavery is the result of sin."
"Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, 'Let my people go, so that they may celebrate a festival to me in the wilderness'."
Exodus chapter 5. Verse 1
Pro-slavery proponents used religion to justify the enslavement of Africans. The book of Genesis was understood to suggest the descendents of Ham were condemned to slavery; Noah ‘curses’ his son Ham for not averting his eyes from his father’s nakedness, and so Ham is destined to be a slave of his brothers. Supporters of slavery linked the condemnation of Ham with Africans, claiming that the Hamites were Africans. They asserted that their skin colour signified darkness, evil, sin and the devil, while white skin signified purity, innocence and light.
Other passages from the Bible were used to support this claim that African enslavement was ordained – the story of Joseph, for example was often used by supporters of the slave trade:
"A further scriptural evidence that the conduct of Joseph in purchasing so many millions of his fellow creatures and reducing them to the conditions of slaves met the entire approbation of God and was therefore perfectly consonant to the sacred laws of nature is that remarkable declaration on the word of God registered in the first book of Chronicles," stated Reverend Harris in Liverpool in 1788.
William Knibb – Baptist minister and missionary to Jamaica. Abolitionist who preached equality, and presented evidence in favour of emancipation.
© Anti-Slavery International
Ironically, the scriptures that were used to justify enslavement were also used to condemn it. Passages in Exodus interpreted the enslavement of a fellow countryman or someone of the same religion as wrong. Therefore Africans who were baptised believed that they could not be enslaved. A church parish record of baptised Africans in England is evidence of this. In the Caribbean, the authorities were suspicious of missionaries wanting to spread the word of God amongst the enslaved workers. ‘"We have had occasion repeatedly to express our opinion of the sectarian propagandists, who send forth their missionaries out of a pretended zeal for the salvation of souls. The influence they possess over the minds of the Negroes is more widely ramified than imagined, or would be readily believed. Let them be looked after now more strictly than ever", an outraged planter wrote in the Guiana Chronicle.
The Reverend James Dore used the story of the Tyrians’ destruction as punishment for the enslavement of the children of Jerusalem, as his condemnation of the slave trade. "The idea of trading persons of men should kindle detestation in the breasts of men – especially of Britons, and above all Christians" , he said.
In a sermon preached before Cambridge University in 1788, Peter Peckard asserted that "it is not too late to return to God. We are assured that when the wicked turneth away from his wickedness and doeth that which is right, he shall save his soul".
The Jamaican Baptist preacher and activist Sam Sharpe believed from his reading of the Bible that slavery was morally wrong. He helped to spread the view that the Crown had already freed the slaves and that the local white people were withholding that freedom. He planned a campaign of passive resistance during Christmas 1831, which escalated into a full scale rebellion. Although Sharpe was hanged in 1832 the uprising had a significant effect in promoting the cause of emancipation.
Samuel Sharpe – see text
Narratives from the Collection
Observations occasioned by the attempts made in England to affect the abolition of the slave trade, showing the manner in which Negroes are treated in the British colonies in the West Indies.
Scriptural researches on the licitness of the slave trade, showing its conformity with the principles of natural and revealed religion, delineated in the sacred writings of the word of God, by the Rev. R Harris (Liverpool 1788
Second edition of the above pamphlet, to which are added scriptural directions for the proper treatment of slaves, and a review of some scurrilous pamphlets, by Rev. R Harris (Liverpool 1788)
Thoughts upon Slavery by John Wesley (London 1774)
The Negro and the Free Born Briton compared; or a vindication of the African slave trade, proving that it is lawful and right, in a religious, in a political and in a commercial view. Interspersed with religious and critical digressions, humbly addressed to the people of England, but more particularly to the Legislature and to the merchants, planters and others concerned in the West India trade (London no date, perhaps 1790)
The London Missionary Society�s report of the proceedings against the late Rev. J. Smith of Demerara, minister of the gospel, who was tried under martial law and condemned to death, on a charge of aiding and assisting in a rebellion of the Negro slaves (London 1824)
The just limitation of slavery in the Laws of God, compared with the unbounded claims of the African traders and British American slaveholders, by Granville Sharp, with a copious appendix (London 1776)
The West Indies as they are; or, a real picture of slavery: but more particularly as it exists in the island of Jamaica, in three parts, by the Rev. R Bickell (London 1825)
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