By Ash Charlton, collaborative PhD student on placement with Rare Books.
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The National Library of Scotland holds a wealth of information, including a substantial collection of pamphlets relating to slavery. As part of my placement, I have been improving catalogue records for a selection of these pamphlets and this short blog series (2 of 3) will highlight some interesting finds. This work covered 35 bound volumes, totaling 355 pamphlets.
In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century the capture and enslavement of Africans who were then forcibly transported across the Atlantic Ocean was becoming an increasingly contentious topic in Britain and provoked much heated debate. As short publications, often on prominent social and political topics, pamphlets were the perfect medium to support arguments back and forth, resulting in pamphlet wars. There are two main clashes between pamphlet authors in this collection I catalogued, which I will be discussing here.
Reverend Thomas Cooper & Robert Hibbert
This controversy takes place between the Unitarian missionary, Reverend Thomas Cooper, and Robert Hibbert, of the Hibbert family who are known to have had deep connections with slavery, from owning enslaved people and plantations, to the trade of goods. Cooper had been invited to advise on the practicality of “improving” the religious education of enslaved people on Hibbert’s Jamaican enslaved labour plantation. Promoting the so-called “improvement” of enslaved people was common at this time and was characterised as a way of improving their circumstances through religious education and moral improvement.
The first part of Cooper’s 1824 pamphlet Facts illustrative of the condition of the negro slaves in Jamaica: with notes and an appendix (3.1673(4)) had featured in the now well-known 1823 publication Negro slavery; or, A view of some of the more prominent features of that state of society, as it exists in the United States of America and in the colonies of the West Indies, especially in Jamaica (3.1676(1)). This earlier pamphlet was edited and published by Zachary Macaulay, a Scottish philanthropist and anti-slavery campaigner. Cooper then chose to republish with his own additions, stating:
My chief view in now sending them forth to the world, accompanied by Notes and an Appendix, is, to take the whole responsibility of them on myself, and thereby to neutralize the attempt which has been made to persuade the public, that I have acted as the mere tool of a party, instead of giving my own report. (Page iii, 3.1673(4))
The pamphlet outlines Cooper’s concerns about his ability to provide religious instruction to the people enslaved by Hibbert, which he discusses specifically in the context of Hibbert’s plantation, however, he acknowledges that these issues ‘… throw light incidentally on several material features of the slave system’ (page 2, 3.1673(4)). This includes the labour-intense continuous manufacture of sugar from a Sunday evening‘… without intermission, either day or night…’ until the following Saturday and the treatment of the enslaved people, especially with punishments of whippings at the discretion of the overseer ‘… whenever he thinks them to have been deserved’ (page 18, 3.1673(4)). The pamphlet gives an overview of morals and religion, general treatment, the question of emancipation, of which the editor, Macauley, surmised:
And yet Mr. Cooper is fully of opinion, and in that opinion we entirely concur, that “the principle of gradual emancipation,” though the subject of so much alarm to West Indians, affords the best means of remedying the evils of the system, with safety to the master and the slave. (Page 243, 3.1673(4))
Cooper’s account of his time and negative report of the treatment of the enslaved people on Hibbert’s Jamaican plantation prompted a reactionary defense from Hibbert. His response was published in the same year in contradiction of Cooper’s pamphlet, in which he stated:
I have felt it my duty, independently of any personal consideration, to endeavour to refute so gross a calumny; and having lately received from Jamaica three statements upon oath, which will found materially to contradict Mr Cooper’s Report, I now give them to the public. (Page vii, 3.334(1))
Hibbert secured affidavits from workers and family on his estate to contradict the claims made by Cooper and presents quotes from Cooper’s pamphlet alongside the statements taken under oath, to show where he believed Cooper to be misrepresenting the situation. These three affidavits were from a planter, a medical practitioner and his relative, George Hibbert Oates, who became manager of the Georgia plantation. There is a subsequent pamphlet where Cooper responds in kind to the affidavits, presenting his own evidence against Hibbert’s testimonies. Both Robert Hibbert and George Hibbert Oates are listed as beneficiaries or claimants in UCL’s Legacies of British Slavery database.
These pamphlets between Cooper and Hibbert demonstrate the extent to which the discussion around enslavement in the West Indies was in the public sphere, reflecting the wider contemporary debates about treatment of the enslaved and amelioration.
Joseph Marryat & James Stephen/African Institution
This pamphlet clash took place between pro-slavery banker and West India merchant Joesph Marryat, and James Stephen, lawyer and abolitionist, writing for the African Institution. This debate began in 1815, the year of William Wilberforce’s proposal for a register of enslaved people ‘for better preventing the illicit Importation of Slaves into the British Colonies.’ Notably Stephen and Wilberforce were both vice-presidents of the African Institution.
This first pamphlet, Reasons for establishing a registry of slaves in the British colonies: being a report of a committee of the African Institution (3.2802(1)), was published by the African Institution and is credited to Stephen. This pamphlet argues that the prior acts of Parliament such as the Slave Trade Act 1807 were not enough to suppress the slave trade and that people from Africa were still being transported illegally and enslaved. This was due to a continued demand for the cheap labour of enslaved people and the ability of the enslavers and transporters to continue their actions with limited punishments. The proposal of a public registry with records of enslaved people that are documented ‘… with great care to secure their fulness [sic] and precision, their truth, their accuracy, and their duration.’ (page 71, 3.2802(1)), was designed so that any person who was not documented would be free from slavery and would avoid free people being forced into, or back into, enslavement.
Marryat served as an MP from 1808 and was present when Wilberforce proposed the register in parliament, responding in opposition:
If we acted as the hon. gentleman recommended, we might perhaps light up a flame between the mother country and the colonies, which would one day be deeply deplored. He hoped the hon. member would withdraw his motion for the present.
Marryat’s pamphlet Thoughts on the abolition of the slave trade, and civilization of Africa with remarks on the African Institution, and an examination of the report of their committee, recommending a general registry of slaves in the British West India islands articulates similar concerns and addresses the African Institution’s report as containing ‘inflammatory declamation’ (page 114, Google Books). Marryat’s financial interest in West Indian property is abundantly clear as he concludes ‘So shall Great Britain continue to flourish, in the possession of those sources of wealth and power for which Buonaparte sighed amidst all his conquests,- ships, colonies, and commerce…’, all of which were supported by the vast systems of enslavement (page 243, Google Books).
This debate is continued in pamphlets each addressing the most recent publication, and Marryat and Stephen continue their opposition in the public sphere in the subsequent years.
Pamphlets provided a space for discussion and debate for wider public audiences, with topics that provoked extensive heated debate such as slavery, the slave trade and abolition at the forefront of political and social spheres in the early nineteenth century. These types of materials give us an insight not only into the topics that were revolving in the public sphere, but the types of media publications used to circulate information and create intellectual discussion.
Cooper & Hibbert
Cooper, Thomas. A letter to Robert Hibbert, Jun., Esq., in reply to his pamphlet, entitled, “Facts verified upon oath, in contradiction of the report of the Rev. Thomas Cooper, concerning the general condition of the slaves in Jamaica,” &c., &c.; to which are added, a letter from Mrs. Cooper to Robert Hibbert, Jun., Esq., and an appendix containing an exposure of the falsehoods and calumnies of that gentleman’s affidavit-men (London: 1824). Shelfmark: 3.1673(6)
Cooper, Thomas. Facts illustrative of the condition of the negro slaves in Jamaica : with notes and an appendix (London: 1824). Shelfmark: 3.1673(4)
Cooper, Thomas. Correspondence between George Hibbert, Esq., and the Rev. T. Cooper, relative to the condition of the negro slaves in Jamaica, extracted from the Morning Chronicle: also, a libel on the character of Mr. and Mrs. Cooper, published, in 1823, in several of the Jamaica journals with notes and remarks (London: 1824). Shelfmark: 3.1673(5)
Hibbert, Robert. Facts, verified upon oath, in contradiction of the report of the Rev. Thomas Cooper, concerning the general condition of the slaves in Jamaica; and more especially relative to the management and treatment of the slaves upon Georgia estate, in the parish of Hanover, in that island. (London: 1824). Shelfmark: 3.334(1)
Macaulay, Zachary. Negro slavery; or, A view of some of the more prominent features of that state of society, as it exists in the United States of America and in the colonies of the West Indies, especially in Jamaica (London, 1823). Shelfmark: 3.1676(1), 3.2798(2), 3.1673(1)
Marryat & Stephen
Marryat, Joseph. More thoughts occasioned by two publications which the authors call “An exposure of some of the numerous misstatements and misrepresentations contained in a pamphlet, commonly known by the name of Mr. Marryat’s pamphlet, entitled Thoughts, &c.” and “a defence of the bill for the registration of slaves.” (London: 1816). Shelfmark: 3.2802(4)
Marryat, Joseph. Thoughts on the abolition of the slave trade, and civilization of Africa with remarks on the African Institution, and an examination of the report of their committee, recommending a general registry of slaves in the British West India islands (London: 1816). Shelfmark: Mc.3 (3,833-3,835) or online via Google Books.
Stephen, James. A defence of the bill for the registration of slaves (London: 1816). Shelfmark: 3.2800(2)
Stephen, James. Reasons for establishing a registry of slaves in the British colonies : being a report of a committee of the African Institution. Published by order of that Society. (London: 1815). Shelfmark: 3.2800(1), 3.2802(1)