Belinda Slave Petition (1783)
Massachusetts greatly benefited by the institution of slavery in colonial times. During the 18th Century. Boston was the leading northern commercial port in the Triangular Trade. African Slaves were abducted and taken to the West Indies, sugar was exported from the West Indies to the Northeast, from there rum and other goods were exported to Europe, and finally Europe traded with Africa. This trading pattern resembled an inverted triangle on a map.
In 1780, the Massachusetts constitution was approved. It wasn't until 1783 that slavery was abolished in the state after a series of lawsuits known as the Quock Walker Cases. Walker was promised his freedom at age 25 by his original owner. Walker's owner died and ownership was passed to the widow's new husband. When Walker fled and asserted his freedom, it took three years and three lawsuits for the Massachusetts Supreme Court to finally decide in 1783 that slavery was not constitutional in the state.
Belinda, born in Africa, kidnapped, and brought to America, petitioned the Massachusetts Legislature in 1783 for her Freedom. Her owner's last will and testament had stated that "my Negro Woman Belinda in case she does not choose her Freedom [will be inherited by her daughter]; if she does choose her Freedom to have it provided she get security that she shall not be a charge to the Town of Medford."
Belinda's petition conveys the inhumanity of the institution of slavery and the mental and physical confinement that a slave experiences. Belinda's petition was published in the May 29, 1783 Massachusetts Spy, which the legislature decided in her favor:
"To the Honorable the Senate and House of Representatives in General Court assembled,
The petition of BELINDA an African, Humble Shews,
That seventy years have rolled away since she, on the banks of the Rio Da Valta, received her existence—the mountains covered with spicy forests, the valleys loaded with the richest fruits, spontaneously produced; joined to that happy temperature of air, which excludes excess; would have yielded her the most complete felicity, had not her mind received early impressions of the cruelty of men, whose faces were like the moon, and whose bows and arrows were like the thunder and the lighting of the clouds.
The idea of these the most dreadful of all enemies, filled her infant slumber with horror, and her noontide moments with cruel apprehensions! But her affrighted imaginations, in its most alarming extension, never represented distresses equal to what the hath since really experienced for before she had twelve years enjoyed the fragrance of her native groves, and ere she realized, that Europeans placed their happiness in the yellow dust which she carelessly marked with her infant footsteps—even when she, in a sacred grove, with each hand in that of a tender parent, was paying her devotion to the great [God Orisha] who made all things, an armed band of white men, driving many of her country men in chains, rushed into the hollowed shades! Could the tears, the sighs, and supplications bursted from the tortured parental affection, have blunted the keen edge of [greed] , she might have been rescued from agony, which many of her country’s children have felt, but what none hath ever described in vain she lifted her supplicating, voice to an insulted father, and her guiltless hands to a dishonored Deity! She was ravished from the bosom of her country, from the arms of her friends, while the advanced age of her parents, rendering them unfit for servitude, cruelly separated her from them forever.
Scenes which imagination had never conceived of—a floating world—the sporting monsters of the deep, and the familiar meetings of billows and clouds, strove, but in vain, to divert her melancholy attention from three hundred Africans in chains, suffering the most excruciating torment; and some of them rejoicing that the pangs of death came like a balm to their wounds.
Once more her eyes were blest with a continent; but alas! How unlike the land where she received her being! Here all things appeared unpropitious—she learned to catch the ideas, marked by the sounds of language, only to know that her doom was slavery, from which death alone was to emancipate her. What did it avail her, that the walls of her Lord were hung with splendor, and that the dust trodden under foot in her native country, crowded his gates with for did worshippers the laws had rendered her incapable of receiving property; and though she was a free moral agent, accountable for her own actions, yet never had a moment at her own disposal.
Fifty years her faithful hands have been compelled to ignoble servitude, for the benefit of an ISAAC ROYALL, until, as if nations must be agitated, and the world convulsed, for the preservation of that freedom which the Almighty Father intended for all the human race, the present war commenced. The terrors of men, armed in the cause of freedom, compelled her master to fly, and to breathe away his life in a land, where lawless domination sits enthroned, pouring bloody outrage and cruelty on all who dare to be free.
The face of your petitioner is now marked with the sorrows of time, and her frame feebly bending under the oppression of years, while she, by the laws of the land, is denied the enjoyment of one morsel of that immense wealth, a part whereof hath been accumulated by her own industry, and the whole augmented by her servitude.
Wherefore, casting herself at the feet of your Honors, as to a body of
men, formed for the extirpation of vassalage, for the reward of virtue,
and the just returns of honest industry—She prays, That such allowance
may be made her, out of the estate of Col. Royall as will prevent her,
and her more infirm daughter, from misery in the greatest extreme, and
scatter comfort over the shore and downward path of their lives—And she
will ever pray.