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.
Fr Lourdel became influential at the royal court of Buganda, the main kingdom of what would shortly become the British protectorate of Uganda. He and the other missionaries, including the Protestant Alexander Mackay, would successfully lobby King Mwanga to have the abolition of slavery and freedom of religion enshrined in the treaty he signed with Great Britain in 1890.
Slavery was not a matter of abstract theology. Pope and cardinal were well aware of the real flesh and blood suffering and determined to bring it to an end. Lavigerie therefore left his diocese of Algiers and travelled through Europe, stirring up support for justice towards the victims of violence and abuse.
“Instead of returning to Africa, I am going to Paris, not to ask for funds, but rather to finally tell what I know about the crimes without name which are destroying the interior of our Africa, and then to let out a great cry, one of those cries which shakes up to the bottom of the soul, of all that is still worthy the name of man and Christian in the world. What I have to do is nothing other than bringing into the light what Leo XIII has just written about African slavery.”
In his encyclical In Plurimis of 1888, Pope Leo welcomed the abolition of slavery in Brazil. He reiterated how Jesus had come to set the captives free, and how the popes, from Saint Gregory the Great onwards had urged the breaking of the chains of slavery to restore all men and women to the dignity God intended. Leo made clear that, ‘The system [of slavery] is one which is wholly opposed to that which was originally ordained by God and by nature.’ He rejected outright the theory that some people were born inferior and so could be legally and morally enslaved.
This excuse had been used down the centuries from pre-Christian times to the conquistadores in Latin America; it was how the Portuguese had justified slavery in Brazil and the Spanish in the rest of the continent, and its poison can still be felt in racist attitudes today. Pope Leo made clear that from Saint Paul onwards the Church had striven to put an end to slavery. However, human greed, as well as war had caused it to linger in Christian as well as Muslim lands until the 19th century when the successors of Columbus were still avariciously abusing Africans as well as Indians in the Caribbean and Central and South America.