John Newton Spoke Out Against the Slave Trade
John Newton was born on July 24, 1725. He was a sea captain who engaged in slave trade who later rejected it as a “stain of our national character.” In 1788, he wrote a pamphlet Thoughts Upon the African Slave Trade in which he described the terrible conditions of the slave ships which he was captain of. Newton lived to see the abolition of slavery in the British empire in March of 1807. He died that same year in December.
From Thoughts Upon the African Slave Trade (1788), by John Newton:
The nature and effects of that unhappy and disgraceful branch of commerce, which has long been maintained on the coast of Africa, with the sole and professed design of purchasing our fellow creatures, in order to supply our West India islands and the American colonies, when they were ours, with slaves, is now generally understood. So much light has been thrown upon the subject by many able pens, and so many respectable persons have already engaged to use their utmost influence for the suppression of a traffic which contradicts the feelings of humanity, that it is hoped this stain of our national character will be soon wiped out.
If I attempt, after what has been done to throw my mite into the public stock of information, it is less from an apprehension that my interference is necessary, than from a conviction that silence, at such a time and on such an occasion, would, in me, be criminal. If my testimony should not be necessary or serviceable, yet, perhaps, I am bound in conscience to take shame to myself by a public confession, which, however sincere, comes too late to prevent or repair the misery and mischief to which I have, formerly, been necessary.
I hope it will always be a subject of humiliating reflection to me, that I was once an active instrument in a business at which my heart now shudders My headstrong passions and follies plunged me, in early life, into a succession of difficulties and hardships, which at length, reduced me to seek a refuge among the natives of Africa. There, for about the space of eighteen months, I was in effect, though without the name, a captive, and slave myself; and was depressed to the lowest degree of human wretchedness. Possibly I should not have been so completely miserable, had I lived among the natives only, but it was my lot to reside with white men; for at that time several persons of my own colour and language were settled upon that part of the Windward coast which lies between Sierra Leon and Cape Mount; for the purpose of purchasing and collecting slaves, to sell to the vessels that arrived from Europe.
Compiled by Kevin Woolsey, BTR360.
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