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(1789) An Unknown Free Black Author Describes Slavery In 1789

We don’t know the name of one of the earliest orators against slavery. He was a West Indian who apparently was a former slave fortunate enough to be educated. He was also intimately familiar with slavery and the slave trade in that region. The themes and arguments advanced in this oration will be repeated by countless anti-slavery speakers for the next eight decades. It is not clear where this address was given but the author who was living in England felt by publishing the text of his speech he would reach a wider audience. The speech appeared in the journal, American Museum in 1789.

I am one of that unfortunate race of men who are distinguished from the rest of the human species by a black skin and woolly hair—disadvantages of very little moment in themselves, but which prove to us a source of greatest misery, because there are men who will not be persuaded that it is possible for a human soul to be lodged within a sable body. The West Indian planters could not, if they thought us men, so wantonly spill our blood; nor could the natives of this land of liberty, deeming us of the same species with themselves, submit to be instrumental in enslaving us, or think us proper subjects of a sordid commerce. Yet, strong as the prejudices against us are, it will not, I hope on this side of the Atlantic, be considered as a crime for a poor African not to confess himself a being of an inferior order to those who happen to be of a different color from himself, or be thought very presumptuous in one who is but a Negro to offer to the happy subjects of this free government some reflection upon the wretched condition of his country¬men. They will not, I trust, think worse of my brethren for being discontented with so hard a lot as that of slavery, nor disown me for their fellow creature merely because I deeply feel the unmerited sufferings which my countrymen endure.

It is neither the vanity of being an author, nor a sudden and capricious gust of humanity, which has prompted this present design. It has long been conceived