Tag Archives: John Wesley

14 September: Wesley on slavery XIV. Human trafficking in the 18th Century

Wesley continues his argument that it is not by nature that Africans were slaves but by deliberate cruelty on the part of slavers. We today do not know who might be on board a lorry, in a car boot, only to be deprived of liberty and justice by the traffickers and their co-conspirators.

They were, in most parts, a sensible and ingenious people. They were kind and friendly, courteous and obliging, and remarkably fair and just in their dealings. Such are the men whom you hire their own countrymen to tear away from this lovely country; part by stealth, part by force, part made captives in those wars which you raise or foment on purpose. You have seen them torn away, — children from their parents, parents from their children; husbands from their wives, wives from their beloved husbands, brethren and sisters from each other. You have dragged them who had never done you any wrong, perhaps in chains, from their native shore. You have forced them into your ships like an herd of swine, — them who had souls immortal as your own; only some of them leaped into the sea, and resolutely stayed under water, till they could suffer no more from you. You have stowed them together as close as ever they could lie, without any regard either to decency or convenience. And when many of them had been poisoned by foul air, or had sunk under various hardships, you have seen their remains delivered to the deep, till the sea should give up his dead. You have carried the survivors into the vilest slavery, never to end but with life; such slavery as is not found among the Turks at Algiers, no, nor among the Heathens in America.

Oscar Murillo’s Turner Prize travellers

 May I speak plainly to you? I must. Love constrains me; love to you, as well as to those you are concerned with. Is there a God? You know there is. Is he a just God? Then there must be a state of retribution; a state wherein the just God will reward every man according to his works. Then what reward will he render to you? O think betimes! before you drop into eternity! Think now, “He shall have judgment without mercy that showed no mercy.”

Sadly, trafficking continues – we must not grow inured to people dying in the back of container trucks, or smuggled across frontiers in other ways. And if the places they are leaving are poverty stricken, is that not thanks to the economic system which has benefitted us in the prosperous West, but not the people whose fingers do so much of the work, whose products are affordable to us but highly priced to them.

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13 September: Wesley upon Slavery XIII. Can you wonder?

The Last Judgement, Strasbourg Cathedral

What pains have you taken, what method have you used, to reclaim (slaves) from their wickedness?

Have you carefully taught them, that there is a God, a wise, powerful, merciful Being, the Creator and Governor of heaven and earth? that he has appointed a day wherein he will judge the world, will take an account of all our thoughts, words, and actions? that in that day he will reward every child of man according to his works? that then the righteous shall inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world; and the wicked shall be cast into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels?

If you have not done this, if you have taken no pains or thought about the matter, can you wonder at their wickedness? What wonder, if they should cut your throat? And if they did, whom could you thank for it but yourself? You first acted the villain in making them slaves, whether you stole them or bought them. You kept them stupid and wicked, by cutting them off from all opportunities of improving either in knowledge or virtue: And now you assign their want of wisdom and goodness as the reason for using them worse than brute beasts!

The artists of Strasbourg used the Last Judgement to say something about those in authority who had more regard for themselves and their comfort than the poor people of their day. But the Lord is blessing Creation with his Glorious Wounds.

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9 September: Wesley on Slavery IX:an Angolan has the same rights …

Slave ship from a XIX Century Methodist history

Wesley now appeals to the Natural Law, beloved of Catholic moral theology, as opposed to human law.

The grand plea is, “They are authorized by law.” But can law, human law, change the nature of things? Can it turn darkness into light, or evil into good? By no means. Notwithstanding ten thousand laws, right is right, and wrong is wrong still. There must still remain an essential difference between justice and injustice, cruelty and mercy. So that I still ask, Who can reconcile this treatment of the Negroes, first and last, with either mercy or justice?

   Where is the justice of inflicting the severest evils on those that have done us no wrong? of depriving those that never injured us in word or deed, of every comfort of life? of tearing them from their native country, and depriving them of liberty itself, to which an Angolan has the same natural right as an Englishman, and on which he sets as high a value? Yea, where is the justice of taking away the lives of innocent, inoffensive men; murdering thousands of them in their own land, by the hands of their own countrymen; many thousands, year after year, on shipboard, and then casting them like dung into the sea; and tens of thousands in that cruel slavery to which they are so unjustly reduced?

But waving, for the present, all other considerations, I strike at the root of this complicated villainy; I absolutely deny all slave-holding to be consistent with any degree of natural justice.

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8 September: Wesley upon Slavery VIII, Bad Laws enable slavery

Wesley now exposes the lie behind the claim that slavery is legal so therefore is not wrong.

In order to rivet the chain of slavery, the law of Virginia ordains: “That no slave shall be set free upon any pretence whatever, except for some meritorious services, to be adjudged and allowed by the Governor and Council; and that where any slave shall be set free by his owner, otherwise than is herein directed, the Churchwardens of the parish, wherein such Negro shall reside for the space of one month, are hereby authorized and required to take up and sell the said Negro by public outcry.”

   The law of Jamaica ordains: “Every slave that shall run away, and continue absent from his master twelve months, shall be deemed rebellious.” And by another law, fifty pounds are allowed to those who kill or bring in alive a rebellious slave. So their law treats these poor men with as little ceremony and consideration, as if they were merely brute beasts! But the innocent blood which is shed in consequence of such a detestable law, must call for vengeance on the murderous abettors and actors of such deliberate wickedness.

But the law of Barbadoes exceeds even this: “If any Negro under punishment, by his master, or his order, for running away, or any other crime or misdemeanor, shall suffer in life or member, no person whatsoever shall be liable to any fine therefore. But if any man, of wantonness, or only of bloody-mindedness, or cruel intention, wilfully kill a Negro of his own,” (now, observe the severe punishment!) “he shall pay into the public treasury fifteen pounds sterling! and not be liable to any other punishment or forfeiture for the same!”

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7 September: Wesley upon Slavery VII, what can be more wretched?

What can be more wretched than the condition they then enter upon?Banished from their country, from their friends and relations for ever, from every comfort of life, they are reduced to a state scarce anyway preferable to that of beasts of burden. In general, a few roots, not of the nicest kind, usually yams or potatoes, are their food; and two rags, that neither screen them from the heat of the day, nor the cold of the night, their covering.

Their sleep is very short, their labour continual, and frequently above their strength; so that death sets many of them at liberty before they have lived out half their days. The time they work in the West Indies, is from day-break to noon, and from two o’clock till dark; during which time, they are attended by overseers, who, if they think them dilatory, or think anything not so well done as it should be, whip them most unmercifully, so that you may see their bodies long after wealed and scarred usually from the shoulders to the waist.

Before they are suffered to go to their quarters, they have commonly something to do, as collecting herbage for the horses, or gathering fuel for the boilers; so that it is often past twelve before they can get home. Hence, if their food is not prepared, they are sometimes called to labour again, before they can satisfy their hunger. And no excuse will avail. If they are not in the field immediately, they must expect to feel the lash. Did the Creator intend that the noblest creatures in the visible world should live such a life as this?

Are these thy glorious work, Parent of Good?

 As to the punishments inflicted on them, says Sir Hans Sloane, “they frequently geld* them, or chop off half a foot: After they are whipped till they are raw all over, some put pepper and salt upon them; some drop melted wax upon their skin; others cut off their ears, and constrain them to broil and eat them. For rebellion,” (that is, asserting their native liberty, which they have as much right to as to the air they breathe,) “they fasten them down to the ground with crooked sticks on every limb, and then applying fire, by degrees, to the feet and hands, they burn them gradually upward to the head.”

  • Castrate.

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5 September: Wesley’s thoughts upon slavery V; Kidnapping slaves.

Slaving Ship from a 19th Century Methodist history book.

 The first sentence of today’s extract from Wesley’s thoughts upon slavery suggests strongly that the white men of the day who accepted and promoted slavery were not to be trusted to give an accurate and honest account of the lives of he West Africans they abducted into slavery. The remainder of the extract makes clear why these writers were not to be trusted.

We have now seen what kind of country it is from which the Negroes are brought; and what sort of men (even white men being the judges) they were in their own country. Inquire we, Thirdly, In what manner are they generally procured, carried to, and treated in, America.

 First. In what manner are they procured? Part of them by fraud. Captains of ships, from time to time, have invited Negroes to come on board, and then carried them away. But far more have been procured by force. The Christians, landing upon their coasts, seized as many as they found, men, women, and children, and transported them to America. It was about 1551 that the English began trading to Guinea; at first, for gold and elephants’ teeth; but soon after, for men. In 1556, Sir John Hawkins sailed with two ships to Cape Verd, where he sent eighty men on shore to catch Negroes. But the natives flying, they fell farther down, and there set the men on shore, “to burn their towns and take the inhabitants.” But they met with such resistance, that they had seven men killed, and took but ten Negroes. So they went still farther down, till, having taken enough, they proceeded to the West Indies and sold them.

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31 August: Wesley’s thoughts upon slavery II; the injustice.

St Gregory sees Anglian children at the Roman Slave Market c590.

Slavery might have been legal but that did not make it just. From the first paragraphs of Thoughts upon Slavery.

Slavery imports* an obligation of perpetual service, an obligation which only the consent of the master can dissolve… It generally gives the master an arbitrary power of any correction, not affecting life or limb. Sometimes even these are exposed to his will, or protected only by a fine, or some slight punishment, too inconsiderable to restrain a master of a harsh temper. It creates an incapacity of acquiring anything, except for the master’s benefit. It allows the master to alienate+ the same, in the same manner as his cows and horses. Lastly, it descends in its full extent from parent to child, even to the last generation.

The beginning of this may be dated from the remotest period of which we have an account in history. It commenced in the barbarous state of society, and in process of time spread into all nations. It prevailed particularly among the Jews, the Greeks, the Romans, and the ancient Germans; and was transmitted by them to the various kingdoms and states which arose out of the Roman Empire. But after Christianity prevailed, it gradually fell into decline in almost all parts of Europe. This great change began in Spain, about the end of the eighth century; and was become general in most other kingdoms of Europe, before the middle of the fourteenth.

  • *i.e. implies.
  • + legally confiscate unto himself, so that the slave may own nothing.

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30 August: Wesley and slavery I: souls enslaved and neglected.

John Wesley spent some time in Georgia, where he was ministering at the time he received the letter mentioned here, in a note to Boswell’s Life of Johnson. He would have been able to see slavery in action for himself.

A gentleman, writing from Virginia to John Wesley, in 1735, about the need of educating the negro slaves in religion, says:—’Their masters generally neglect them, as though immortality was not the privilege of their souls in common with their own.’ Wesley’s Journal, II. 288.

Of course immortality is the privilege of any human being who chooses to accept it, but to enslave others by kidnapping them, or buying them from their abductors, is to deny their essential humanity. Teaching them the Good News would undermine the whole edifice of slavery.

We will be looking at some of Wesley’s thoughts on slavery in the coming days; we also have the feast of Saint Gregory on Thursday 3rd September, with some reflections on slavery by John Buchan.

The following posts will be based on Wesley’s Thoughts upon Slavery of 1774; these were based on a pamphlet Some Historical Accounts of Guinea, published in Philadelphia in 1771 by Anthony Benezet, an American Quaker.

Thoughts upon Slavery can be found here. The drawing depicts the Reverend John Wesley (1703-1791) at age 48. It comes from the  John Wesley: Holiness of Heart and Life, website,

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13/12 From a Child’s Faith to an Adult’s – I

There is more to the night than bad dreams. As a child Dylan Thomas made stories in the ‘warm, safe island’ of his midnight bed.[1]

At day’s end in A Child’s Christmas in Wales Dylangot into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept.’[2] This childhood feeling of closeness to God when tucked up in bed – Dylan does not name the holy presence – surfaced in 21st Century interviews by Catherine Stonehouse, who comments that children ‘experience the presence of God and find comfort in that sense of nearness’.[3] She argues that children do theology when they think through their experiences of God, but follows John Wesley in pointing out that for these experiences to lead to an adult faith people must have available, at the right time, the ‘words, ritual and doctrine’ to allow the rational mind to receive God’s grace.[4]

So how do we adults admit this Lord into our hearts and minds? David Powell has written of the old lady who felt the need of a special vocabulary to be able to pray (see post Plain Speaking, 17th November 2015); a personal approach to words and ritual, if not to doctrine.

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERA

It is he who gives bread to the hungry. FISC dining room by CD.

Perhaps a healthy place to lead off from would be to say, even if under the breath, a short grace before every meal. We have everything to be grateful for; acknowledging the fact, three times a day that ‘It is he who gives bread to the hungry’ (Psalm 145:7) will speak to the rational mind as well as the heart, and lead to a continuing conversion.

MMB.

[1]  Dylan Thomas, ‘Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog’, London, Dent, 1974; p8.

[2] Dylan Thomas: ‘A Child’s Christmas’, London, Orion, 1993, pages not numbered.

[3]Catherine Stonehouse: ‘Child Theology Matters: Offering Guidance for Practices of Christian Nurture’ in Dharma Deepika, July – Decmber, 2008, pp 18–32; p21-2.

[4]Stonehouse: ‘Child Theology’ p25.

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