Episode 27 - If it Says it in The Bible (Slavery Week)
Updated: Apr 18
Sam's Episode Notes: The odd pro-slavery propaganda used in the lead-up to abolition
WARNING: This episode (and therefore these notes) contains references to sources which use language in common use at the time, but which would be considered offensive and derogatory today.
So Tom, August 1st 1834 was the abolition of the slave trade in the British empire, so I thought I'd take a look at some of the arguments and evidence put forward by the people who really, REALLY didn't want the trade to end. Now obviously there was a heated debate in the UK over the complicated moral issue of whether it was OK to literally own someone. Yes, it's a tricky conundrum.
But there was a real debate at the time, and for every petition and bit of evidence about how horrible slavery was the abolitionists put forward, there was an equal amount of petitions and evidence from those who were really pretty happy with slavery, largely under the organisation of a group known as the London Society of West India Planters and Merchants. Often, that evidence is absolutely batshit crazy or just a total lie, but frankly, that's politics, nothing's changed has it. There were even pro-slavery musicals – one, called the Benevolent Planters, featured two lovers captured as slaves who were then reunited by their friendly plantation owners and realised life was much better in the West Indies than at home.
Here's (I imagine) one of the songs. I'm sure you can work out the tune.
It's now time to make a change
Just relax, take it easy
Take this shovel, oh what fun
Just ignore the men with guns.
Find a field, cut some canes
Release the hounds if you escape
Look at me, I'm nearly dead, locked in a rat infested shed.
I was once like you are now, and I know that it's not easy
To be calm, when you're shackled in a hovel
But take your time, you've got a lot
For you will still be here tomorrow, and every day, until you die
Aged 30, or there abouts, from communicable disease.
So I thought it would be fun today to look at some of the arguments in favour of keeping slavery going in the British empire, because they are pretty funny today as well as serving as a bit of a warning from the past. Now, there's the arguments that were obviously going to be put forward by slavers, ship owners, planters and, interestingly, shackle manufacturers about the economic impact and the fact that if you banned the trade the French would just pick it up. But that's not much fun.
So, I'm going to start with my favourite argument, Tom. And that is that slavery was wonderful. It was like a beautiful holiday.
There's a great quote to the privy council of the house of commons, which was investigating the slave trade at the time, from a man called Robert Norris. He was a trader in Africa who lived in Liverpool, a big slaving centre, and he's quite the salesman, Tom. I get the feeling he's the kind of guy who could sell you a used car. Here's a quote he gave parliament about the state the West Indian slaves were kept in.
“Their apartments,” says Mr. Norris, “are fitted up as much for their advantage as circumstances will admit. The right ankle of one, indeed, is connected with the left ankle of another by a small iron fetter, and if they are turbulent, by another on their wrists. They have several meals a day—some of their own country provisions, with the best sauces of African cookery; and by the way of variety, another meal of pulse, etc., according to European taste. After breakfast they have water to wash themselves, while their apartments are perfumed with frankincense and lime juice. Before dinner they are amused after the manner of their country. The song and the dance are promoted.” “The men play and sing, while the women and girls make fanciful ornaments with beads, with which they are plentifully supplied.”
Sounds great, doesn't it! An international buffet, room cleaning service. Plenty of sunshine, and just a tiny little pair of shackles. Just a little one. Barely more than a festival wristband. sign me up!
Especially when you consider what these lucky bastards would have been faced with if they'd been allowed to stay at home in Africa rather than being given this great, once in a lifetime (because it's your whole lifetime) holiday.
Here's old Robbie Norris again, telling you that odd grinding noise from the transmission of the car he's trying to flog you is completely normal. Here's an account of what life was like back in Dahomey, part of modern day Benin.
The King of Dahomey is absolute master of the life, liberty, and property of every person in his kingdom; and he plays with them with the most savage and wanton cruelty. Piles of heads are placed as ornaments before his palace on festival days... and the floors leading to his rooms are strewed with their bodies.
So there we go. No arguing with that. Far better that these lucky, lucky, lucky slave bastards come and stay with their white friends in the west indies and live in luxury in exchange for a little light housework than be hacked up for the amusement of the king back home. Yes, much better.
And it wasn't just old Robbie Norris who was up to this tired old 'everyone in Africa is getting slaughtered' gig. Here's another quote from a pro-slavery book caled “'The History of the British West Indies' written in 1819.
I spoke to a girl named Clara, who told me that in Africa after the death of a great man named Anamoa... twenty others were killed at his funeral. I asked her which country she liked best, Jamaica or Guinea? She replied that Jamaica was the better country, "for that people were not killed there, as in Guinea, at the funeral of their masters".So there we go, Tom. No question about it, slavery is the only way. Frankly, it'd be cruel NOT to rescue these people.
Another favourite argument which I really like is the flip-side argument that actually black Africans were superior people, and that puny Europeans just couldn't hack it.
From a petition to parliament by one C Spooner in 1789.the Value of the Lands depends on the Cultivation of them by Means of Negro Labourers...; and that it continues to be the Practice of all the Nations of Europe in the West Indies, to employ Negroes only... founded on the Experience that Europeans must soon sink under the inclemency of the Climate.
And then, of course, you've got balls to the wall, full on Daily Mail comments section side. The 'ole black Africans aren't suited to anything more than manual labour and besides they should be so lucky argument. This is a letter from April 1789, published in Gentleman's Magazine.
"THE scheme for the abolition of the slave-trade is, in every view of it,absurd and impolitic. It is founded ona mistaken notion of humanity, or ratheron ignorance, folly, and enthusiasm.
The Negroes of Africa, in their native country, are apparently useless in the great scale of human society; they are totally incapable of refinement, arts, or sciences. The only way to promote their civilization, to make them service-able in their generation, and happy in themselves is to introduce them into a state of activity and industry. Man was not designed for a life of idleness. An idle man is a wretched creature. A Ne-gro, removed to the West Indies, is placed in a climate much more agreeable to a labourer than the burning plains of Africa. His work in the Plantations is not harder, or more oppressive, than that of our common labourers in England,such as miners, blacksmiths, founders,paviours, scavengers, coal-heavers and many others, whose situation is viewed,by those very humane and compassionate people who are advocates for their Afri-can brethren, without the least concern. Yet most of these drudges in this coun-try have been compelled by necessity to leave the place of their nativity. The vulgar are influenced by names and titles. Instead of SLAVES, let the Negroes be called ASSISTANT-PLANT-ERS; and we shall not then hear such violent outcries against the slave trade by pious divines, tender-hearted poetesses,and short-sighted politicians."
So there you go, they aren't slaves, they are assistant planters. Which as anyone who has ever worked as a store assistant in retail will know, as a title doesn't make a bad situation much better.
But that does bring up another interesting argument and one which pro-slavery campaigners were very fond of. And that argument is that the slaves don't have it any worse than you poor Europeans working away in the mills or in manual labour, and no one's fighting for your cause, are they?
Which is a brilliant argument that very rich people still use today: Yes, we're being pricks to X people. But we're also being pricks to you, and you aren't complaining about that, are you? Why should you care about them? We're dicks to EVERYONE EQUALLY. This was genuinely one of the most popular arguments at the time put to the general working public. You're suffering and not complaining, these people are at least getting free food and housing out of it. And the weather's better.
Fortunately, of course, slavery *was* abolished, though some slaves went from being slaves to apprentice assistant planters which was basically exactly the same until that loophole was closed a few years later, which just goes to show that people really don't change, do they.
· What a fantastically light-hearted and inherently fun and amusing topic!
· I haven’t researched a topic as depressing as this in the entire duration of this podcast
· Originally I was going to justify a claim I made a few podcasts back about their being gingers in Southern Spain due to Spanish raids on the southern coast of the UK during the Elizabethan period.
o However, I couldn’t find anything to substantiate this claim so I apologies; I was probably talking bolllocks.
o I can’t remember where I read or heard this but it was probably a reference to the Barbary Slave Trade between around 1500 and 1800
§ Ottoman provinces in North Africa had huge slave markets
§ Ottoman slave raiders raided European coastal areas for slaves
· Over a million white Europeans were sold into slavery
· The coast of the UK was raided, Iceland was raided, Denmark and Ireland (Baltimore).
o I was going to talk about this but it was so fucking depressing
§ Decided to explore successful slave revolts; and there seemed to many examples of African slaves overpowering their masters on ships to the Americas but when I was looking for primary sources, I came across a chap called Josiah Priest.
Josiah Priest (1788–1861)
· American writer from the 19th Century who wrote about Native Americans, Africans and American History and Pre-History
· I have to say that reading some of this guy’s literature really has changed my attitude to the Atlantic Slave Trade
o He’s an incredible writer whose depth of analysis of the slave trade and Africans is nuanced and enlightening
o For example, I have lived the last 33 years of my life under the misguided, ignorant belief that having black skin doesn’t make someone inferior to white people. And black people should be treated with respect and dignity and their enslavement was disgusting.
o How wrong could I be!
o And do you know why I was wrong Sam? Because I hadn’t taken the time to read the Bible with preconceived prejudices and a strong desire to justify my racism.
§ Josiah Priest has taught me to do just that!
· No before anyone tunes out in disgust, of course this is the famous British sarcasm.
o Josiah Priest was a racist bigot.
o One of those guys who thinks he smart, but is in fact a complete gobshite
o A sufferer of Dunning-Kruger syndrome
o We’ve all met these people haven’t we Sam? Someone who come across as reasonable, logical, sensible and intelligent. Everything about them makes you think that they are worth listening too. But when you actually start listening to them, you realise that they have the brain of a pea. He’s one of those.
· This week I’ve had a brief read (actually listen) to Josiah Priest’s Bible Defence of Slavery from 1843. It’s a long and rambling work of bullshit that was fortunately, too long for me to listen to in its entirety. So I’ve familiarise myself with the preface and introduction, and chapter 8, which sounded particularly stupid as it was called “Moral and civil inferiority of the Negro. The lewdness of the Negro Sodomites. Evidences for sexual perversions of the Negro.”
o It’s worth mentioning here that I am using the word Negro in this podcast only when Josiah Priest uses it. I understand that it is an offensive word. That said, we have used the word cunt on a few different occasions. It begs the question, which word makes your cringe the most? Cunt or nigger. Please write in listeners.
· This document is actually an important historical document because it explains the thought processes of Americans who opposed the abolition of slavery.
o We’ve got a few options, we can get annoyed by the stupidity and dangerousness of this document and refuse to discuss it sensibly. Which I’ve already done and plan to do again. We can also be a bit less emotional about it and discuss it as a historical document. I will do this also.
· So let’s discuss this document to give you a snippet of how Josiah Priest legitimised slavery of blacks.
o Firstly Priest interprets the Bible very literally. He is also clearly devoutly Christian. Therein lays his first two problems. As his primary source of information regarding this topic, he is using the Bible. He is also using the Bible as Bible. Rather than questioning it as a historical source, that isn’t even particularly relevant to the topic of African slavery, he just makes the grand assumption that everything in it is correct. UH UH. Bad history their Mr Priest! Explore the provenance of your sources dear boy. Question everything! Including, your own prejudices!!!!
§ Interestingly though, this does highlight that in this period, the Bible was your got to document for answers. Priest is using the sources he has available to him. Darwin’s Origins of the Species was published in 1859 just before Priest died and the study of things like genetics, evolution, human archaeology, early human civilisations etc. were either in their infancy or non-existent.
· There are very few fossils of human ancestors discovered before 1960s and I couldn’t find any discovered before Priest’s death.
· So there was very little understanding of human evolutionary history at this point.
o The introduction:
§ “In presenting this following work to the American public, no apologies are offered. We live under a Government which tolerates liberty of thought and freedom of the press, and in this expression of our honest views and feelings upon a subject relating to the general welfare of the country, we are but exercising a right which belongs to every American citizen.”
· For someone so enthusiastic about freedoms, he’s quite happy taking away other people’s
· “The right to be heard does not automatically include the right to be taken seriously” – Hubert Humphrey (American politician)
§ “…the reader may confidently expect to find a work of great research and ability – one of deep interest, and well worth his candid perusal. The author has sought, in the oracles of god, in authentic history, and in the analogies of nature, the key to the mystery of the past, of the negro race. The fact of the inferiority and consequent subordination of the black race to the white, being in accordance with the will of the Supreme Ruler of the universe… Himself a Northern man, prejudiced in his early education against the institution, the conclusion at which he arrives as they are by the most powerful train of reasoning, cannot fail to check the suicidal progress of the pseudo-philanthropy od modern abolitionism.”
§ Priest believes that Noah’s three sons were born three different colours. Ham was black and his offspring became the Africans. They were cursed to be the slaves of white people.
o Chapter 8
§ So Ham’s descendants become all sorts of nasty people like the Sodomites
· Priest takes great pleasure in describing the nasty disgusting dirty behaviour of these Sodomites
· He talks about how two men from Sodom visited Lot’s house and basically tried to bum everything in their path
o Lot incidentally being the Old Testament figure who was raped by his daughters. Nothing weird there.
· Ooooh and you never guess what, those Sodomites even bummed animals
· When God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, those cast out became the African nations apparently
· You never guess what Herodotus wrote
o Egyptian lady having sex with an animal, in the street
· The naughty Egyptians influenced some of the Jews with their naughtiness
o Quote; “the sexual members of the black man and the brute called an ass, there was but little difference as to elongation and magnitude”
o Oh I see! I think we’re getting to the cause of Priest’s racism
· Herodotus again, apparently in Egypt people carried around phallic sculptures a full cubit in length
o He also refers to a machine sculpture of Bacchus that apparently moved presumably in a sexual manner!
o The women loved it!
· “In all the southern regions it is thus, promiscuous intercourse of the sexes everywhere prevails among the blacks”
· I like this bit; a reference to a paper written by a preacher
o “The congregation consisted of some 800 coloured persons. Many of them seemed to be intelligent in their appearance. Their decorum in the church, and attention to the sermon, was worthy of all imitation. They sung with great devotion and melody. Their piety, the minister said was generally uniform and consistent but one exception. And what was that exception ye think? It was promiscuous intercourse between the sexes.