Dialogue on Slavery, A Play

Book Excerpt

Background Notes

This play was published in 1843, as part of a source book of antislavery readings for use by students and at anti−slavery society meetings. It might have been performed on stage, but was more likely simply read aloud by several different voices. It includes an account of the treatment of house slaves written by Angelina Grimké, a well−known advocate for both abolition and women’s rights.

Transcription of Primary Source

Dramatis Personae. Mr. FREEMAN, a New England Abolitionist.
Rev. Dr. FULLCREED, ‘an Abolitionist BUT”—in other words, an apologist for slavery, a member of the American Board, Col. BOMBASTO, a Slaveholder from the South.
Thos. TURNWELL, Esq., a Planter from Barbadoes, formerly a Slaveholder.
Miss PATRON, a Distinguished Lady from the South, formerly a Slaveholder.

SCENE— An Anti−Slavery Room in Boston, where a number of persons are assembled to make arrangements preparatory to the Celebration of the First of August.

[ Enter Mr. Freeman and Rev. Dr. Fullcreed.]

Rev. Dr. Fullcreed. Mr. Freeman, I understood you were to hold an informal meeting here this morning, preparatory to your celebration, and for free and friendly conversation among the friends of anti−slavery. Although I do not agree with you in all your measures, you know I am friendly to the cause; and as it is your practice to admit opponents as well as friends to a free discussion of our principles, I would introduce Col. Bombasto, a friend of mine, now at my house, a slaveholder, from the South. He was on his way to New Hampshire, but hearing of your celebration, he has made his calculation to be present, provided there is no objection. The Colonel is a very exemplary Christian, and a member of the Rev. Dr. Fullrobe’s church in Savanah, where I often visit, where I have a daughter and many friends, and where I am always treated with the utmost hospitality and kindness.

Mr. Freeman. Very well, Dr., bring your slaveholding friend. We shall be glad to see and hear you both. A goodly number of our anti−slavery friends from a distance are already here, among whom are Mr. Turnwell, a wealthy and distinguished planter from Barbadoes, formerly a slaveholder; and Miss Patron, an intelligent lady of family and rank, from the South. We have no dread of seeing and meeting our opponents; aye, and of laying our hearts open before them—of telling them all our principles, views and feelings. If a slaveholder comes into our meeting, we are not seized with horror and filled with fearful apprehensions of the result. We do not order him out of our meeting, and send a mob to seize him, drag him to prison and to court to be tried as a criminal. No; so far from sending him away, we invite him to a seat, and a part in our discussions. And we are also glad to see you, Doctor, and as many of your reverend and learned associates as choose to be present, although you keep the subject of slavery out of your churches, and refuse to read our notices from your pulpits, and forget to mention the condition of the poor, oppressed slave in your prayers, while you are so fervently praying for the heathen abroad, and raising money to send him the gospel.

Rev. Dr. Fullcreed. Why, as to keeping slavery out of the church, out of the pulpit and our prayers, Mr. Freeman, I know you abolitionists have been in the habit of making objections, but here are difficulties attending the introduction of slavery. Some of our church members think it improper, and we dread getting the church divided by introducing exciting topics. For the same reason we omit the notices and prayers. But for the poor heathen there is no objection against praying or paying.

Mr. Freeman. So you are governed by the fear of man, rather than the fear of God. The solemn injunction, “Break every yoke and let the oppressed go free,” has no application to you. Let me tell you, Doctor, there is too much of the Priest and Levite, and not enough of the good Samaritan, in our modern clergy. They turn aside from present distress, to relieve distant sufferers. “This ought ye to have done, and not to have left the other undone.” But you are afraid of “dividing the church”—afraid of doing your duty—you cannot trust in God for the result. I say, a corrupt church ought to be divided, and the offensive members cast out. “ First pure, then peaceable,” is the doctrine, as I read it. If an eye offend thee, pluck it out; even if a right hand offend, it should be cut off, and severed from the body. If we are to have blind leaders of the blind, we may expect the ditch will have its due. Priests that love the praises of men—that love to be called Rabbi, and love the uppermost seats in the synagogues, are as plenty in these days as they were in the days of Christ; and I had almost said, our churches seem as much lost to the spirit , and bound up in the forms of religion, as were the Jews of old. So long as you fellowship men−stealers, thieves and robbers, in your churches, you will find it difficult to perform your whole duty; and especially if the fault is more in yourselves , Doctor, you will be inclined to omit “the weightier matters of the law.”

Rev. Dr. Fullcreed. I think you call our brethren of the South by hard names. Your language generally is too hard toward slaveholders. I do not think they are so bad, or so much to blame, as you represent. Many of them are good Christians—but hold! Here comes my friend from the South, whom I mentioned. He can speak for himself. Col. Bombasto, shall I make you acquainted with Mr. Freeman.

Mr. Freeman. I am glad to see you, sir. [ They advance and shake hands. ]

Rev. Mr. Fullcreed. Mr. Freeman is one of our principal abolitionists, and was just calling me to an account for not refusing to fellowship with such men as yourself, who hold your fellow−men in bondage. You can now speak for yourself, Colonel, and I wish you would give your own views as to slavery, as to slaves, and the justice and propriety of holding them in bondage.

Col. Bombasto. Why, as to my views, gentlemen, I can give them freely, and in a few words. I believe, first, that the slaves are better off now than they would have been in Africa. Second, that they are incapable of taking care of themselves. Third, that is there is any thing wrong in slavery, we are free from the guilt, for the slaves were forced upon us by the British Government, while we were under that authority. The slaves are well provided for—are treated with kindness—and are, any of them, church members, and good Christians, and are contented and happy. The northern people are wrongly informed on this subject. The slaves fare better than your free people of color do here in New England. I verily believe that the negroes were born to be slaves, and that the Bible itself clearly sanctions slavery. Our most pious people are slaveholders. I believe that liberty, in its purity, cannot exist without slavery—that a personal knowledge and constant sight of slavery is necessary to teach men the value of liberty—that men of the North know nothing of slavery, and having noting to do with it. These are my sentiments. I should now like to hear yours, Mr. Freeman. Mr. Freeman. So you make God a respecter of persons, and a God of injustice. You consider liberty the greatest blessing on earth, and yet you are willing, and think it right, that a large portion of the human family should be deprived of it, because God has clothed them with a different dress —a darker skin. I believe as you do, and much more abundantly, as to the value of liberty. I believe that all men ought to possess it—and all are “born free and equal;” and as to your throwing off the responsibility of slavery from yourselves to the British Government, Colonel, it is quite out of the question. When we threw off the British Government, and adopted a free government, you might , and should , as some of the states did , throw off this, the worst and most barbarous feature to be found under the old government. Even the British themselves have since rid themselves of this ignominy, at great expense. As to the consistency of slavery with religion, I think even your good friend Dr. Fullcreed will hardly go with you in sentiment. But I see her Miss Patron, a friend of religion, formerly a slaveholder, from the South. As you will not allow that northern people know any thing of slavery, or have any thing to do with it, we will hear what one of your own southern sisters will say on the subject. Miss Patron, permit me to introduce you to Col. Bombasto, from Georgia, who has just been entertaining us with a eulogy on the glories of slavery, especially its consistency with religion, and its benign and happy effects on Christianity. Let us, if you please, have your views, founded, as they are, on experience.

Miss Patron. Does Col. Bombasto pretend to say that the influence of slavery is favorable to religion? Mr. Freeman. Yes. He says your most pious people are slaveholders, and many of the slaves are church members, and good Christians—are well provided for, and contented and happy. Now I should like to know your opinion.

Miss Patron. Well, I must say in the outset, that I cannot agree with Col. Bombasto in any of these assertions. It is true, there are some slaveholders who are not guilty of any of the more aggravated cruelties which are common, and who provide well for their slaves. This is especially true with regard to many of the house servants.

Col. Bombasto. Well, Miss Patron, I wish you would give us such facts as have come within your own knowledge, and such as may be relied on. Have you ever seen or known of any outrageous conduct toward slaves? Are not many owners of slaves members of the same church with their slaves, and kind−hearted and exemplary Christians?

Miss Patron. Why, Col. Bombasto, my knowledge in this respect has not been very extensive, but those I have known, Christian professors as well as others, have considered it a part of their duty to whip with severity their slaves for very trifling offences. This I say of house slaves. It is generally acknowledged, and never disputed, that field slaves are treated with greater hardship and cruelty.

Col. Bombasto. But give us facts, Miss Patron—something which may be relied upon. What are the facts relating to the piety and exemplary walk of slaveholders?

Miss Patron. Well, Col. Bombasto, I have just been reading the testimony of Mrs. Angelina Grimke Weld on this very subject; and as she will be allowed by all to be good authority, and has the happy talent of expressing herself with great clearness, I will use her own language. She says: [ Reading. ] “I saw nothing of slavery in its most vulgar and repulsive forms. I saw it in the city, among the fashionable and the honorable, where it was garnished by refinement, and decked out for show. A few facts will unfold that state of society in the circle with which I was familiar, far better than any general assertions I can make. “I will introduce the reader to a woman of the highest respectability—one who was foremost in every benevolent enterprise, and stood for many years, I may say, at the head of the fashionable elite of the city of Charleston, and afterwards at the head of the moral and religious female society there. It was after she had made a profession of religion, and retired from the fashionable world, that I knew her; therefore I will present her in her religious character. This lady used to keep cowhides, or small paddles (called pancake sticks,) in four different apartments in her house; so that when she wished to punish, or to have punished any of her slaves, she might not have the trouble of sending for an instrument of torture. “For many years, one or another, and often more, of her slaves were flogged every day; particularly the young slaves about the house, whose faces were slapped, or their hands beat with the ‘pancake stick,’ for every trifling offense—and often for no fault at all. But the floggings were not all; the scoldings and abuse daily heaped upon them all, were worse; ‘fools’ and ‘liars,’ ‘sluts’ and ‘husseys,’ ‘hypocrites’ and ‘good−for−nothing creatures,’ were the common epithets with which her mouth was filled, when addressing her slaves, adults as well as children. Very often she would take a position at her window, in an upper story, and scold at her slaves while working in the garden, at some distance from the house, (a large yard intervening,) and occasionally order a flogging. I have known her thus on the watch, scolding for more than an hour at a time, in so loud a voice that the whole neighborhood could hear her; and this without the least apparent feeling of shame. Indeed, it was no disgrace among slaveholders, and did not in, the least injure her standing, either as a lady or a Christian, in the aristocratic circle in which she moved. After the ‘revival’ in Charleston, in 1825, she opened her house to social prayer−meetings. The room in which they were held in the evening, and where the voice of prayer was heard around the family altar, and where she herself retired for private devotion thrice a day, was the very place in which, when her slaves were to be whipped with the cowhide, they were taken to receive the infliction; and the wail of the sufferer would be heard, where, perhaps only a few hours previous, rose the voices of prayer and praise. This mistress would occasionally send her slaves, male and female, to the Charleston workhouse, to be punished. One poor girl, whom she sent there to be flogged, and who was accordingly stripped naked and whipped, showed me the deep gashes on her back—I might have laid my whole finger in them— large pieces of flesh had actually been cut out by the torturing lash. She sent another female slave there, to be imprisoned, and worked on the tread−mill. This girl was confined several days, and forced to work the mill while in a state of suffering from another cause. For ten days, or two weeks after her return, she was lame, from the violent exertion necessary to enable her to keep the step on the machine. She spoke to me with intense feeling of this outrage upon her, as a woman. Her men−servants were sometimes flogged there; and so exceedingly offensive has been the putrid flesh of their lacerated backs, for days after the infliction, that they would be kept out of the house—the smell arising from their bodies being too horrible to be endured. They were always stiff and sore for some days, and not in a condition to be seen by visitors.”

Mr. Freeman. Well, Colonel, as this lady was “at the head of fashion and of the moral and religious society,” you will admit this to a fair specimen of the piety you spoke of.

Col. Bombasto. It is a pretty strong case, I must acknowledge, and pretty well authenticated.

Mr. Freeman. She appears to have shown her faith by her works. This, too, let it be remembered, was the fashion in Charleston, the most learned and refined city in all the South. If this is a specimen of the most exalted and refined piety, what must it be among the vulgar? Verily, their tender mercies are cruelty.

Col. Bombasto. It is strange that I have never seen such instances, when I have lived in the South all my days. Mr. Freeman. It is strange, indeed. But, Colonel, this case is mildness itself compared with some that we could relate, which come to us equally well authenticated. A gentleman who has resided several years at the South as a teacher and preacher, gives no better account of the Rev. Mr. Davis, who, it will be recollected, came all the way from Georgia to attend our anti−slavery anniversaries in Boston, in 1841, and who was treated with great attention and respect by our pro−slavery clergymen, and with great forbearance and candor by the anti−slavery people. But the same gentleman relates an anecdote which took place under his own eye and observation. He was in company with a slaveholding church−member, when one of his slaves, who was also a member of the same church, was seen returning home very early one morning, which showed that he had been away the night before, contrary to rule. Without asking the slave why he had been absent, or giving him any opportunity to tell why, or to defend himself, he called his bloodhounds and set them on to this poor slave and brother church−member, and ordered them to tear him to pieces. The poor slave got himself into a corner of the fence, and there, with a walking−stick, or club, which he held in his hand, kept them off till he found they were like to kill him, when he succeeded in getting on the top of the fence, all the time begging for his life. On this, the master and brother church−member drew his pistol, and told him he would shoot him dead if he did not surrender himself to the bloodhounds, which he did; and, after being shockingly lacerated and mangled by these fierce animals, this master, this monster, called them off. The slave was then permitted to give an account of himself. He was a millwright—a very ingenious workman, as well as an industrious, faithful, honest slave, and exemplary Christian. A neighbor had broken the wheel of his mill. There was no other man but this slave who could mend it, and it was necessary it should be done without delay. He was sent for, but could not finish the work till into the night, when, by the slave laws, it was a high crime for him to go home, and he was compelled, after finishing the work, to stay till day−light. After this very satisfactory account, and in view of the inhuman cruelty and torture inflicted upon him, this monster master, and church−member, was asked why he suffered the bloodhounds to mangle and lacerate the slave, when he coolly replied, it would have hurt the training of the bloodhounds, and set them a bad example, to have called them off without doing their work!

Col. Bombasto. And yet, Paul sent back a slave to his master, Philemon.

Mr. Freeman. Yes, and Paul also cautioned his brethren to “beware of dogs.” But if the church−members in those days had been as much like bloodhounds as “our southern brethren,” Paul, instead of sending back the slaves, would have cautioned them to beware of their masters. Perhaps he had reference to these monsters in the shape of men, when he said, “beware of dogs.”

Col. Bombasto. Well, whatever other may have done, I am willing my slaves should tell how they have been treated. I know they are attached to their master, and I am willing, Mr. Freeman, that you should inquire of them. I have a female slave now with me in Boston, who came on from the South with me, and I defy you, Mr. Freeman, or any of your anti−slavery folks, to get her away. In fact, they made the attempt last year, (for she has been on here before now,) and they got out a writ of habeas corpus and took her, but she would not hear a work about leaving her master. She loves him and her own condition too well.

Mr. Freeman. Not too fast, sir; the abolitionists can tell you a story worth two of that. Your boasted slave has already left you: she went home last year only to see her husband, concert measures for clearing him, and bringing away her own substance—all of which she has already accomplished. She is free; and the next you will know, her husband will be free also. So you see, Colonel, by this instance, that the love of liberty is naturally implanted in the human breast, so deeply, too, that even your good treatment cannot restrain them, when liberty is once set before them. Col. Bombasto. [ Aside. ] Is it possible that all this can be true? [ then turning to Mr. F. ] Well, whatever delusion may be carried to the slaves’ minds in the sound of liberty, I believe they are incapable of taking care of themselves—that they were born to be slaves—and that if they were set at liberty, a general slaughter of the whites would be the inevitable consequence.

Mr. Freeman. Why so in the slave states, any more than in the West India Islands, where the proportion of the blacks is much greater. [ Enter Mr. Turnwell. ] But here comes Mr. Turnwell, a planter from one of those Islands, who was once a slaveholder, and can tell us all about the revolution and its effects on those Islands. Mr. Turnwell, let me introduce you to Col. Bombasto, a slaveholder from Georgia, who has just been expatiating on the glories of slavery, and the danger of immediate abolition. You are the very man to give us the result of your own experience, which I wish you would do directly, as it is about time we were gone.

Mr. Turnwell. Well, I must confess I have some compassion for the poor deluded slaveholders. I was formerly one myself, and thought, as they now think, that there is no safety in setting at liberty a large body of slaves, as they would retaliate upon us, and cut their masters’ throats. Truth has taught me, that it is never too late to repent of doing wrong—that it is always safe to do right. Our colored people bear a much larger proportion to the whites than in your southern states; and when they were all to be set a liberty at once, we were under the most fearful apprehensions for the consequences. We smile now, when looking back on those groundless fears. The poor slaves were too much overjoyed at the result to harbor any malice, envy, or ill−will, toward their former masters. It is enough that the servant be as his master. The large sum which was paid us by the English Government we also feel to a gratuity, for without pay, the slaveholders would have been greatly benefitted. The slaveholders needed liberty as well as their slaves, and they received it at the same time. They are now free from the care and anxiety of supporting their workmen, and of much of the expense. They accomplish much more labor than they did while in bondage, and support themselves at a less expense. That is, 100 hogsheads of sugar cost the master less now, in the free state, than it did formerly in the slave state. At the same time, crimes are greatly diminished, and morals improved. In fact, our jails are now nearly useless. Churches and schools are multiplying, and we now know the luxury of living in peace, harmony and happiness. There is no part of the world where a person could sleep all night with his doors unlocked, with a trunk full of gold and silver in the doorway, unlocked, with more safety than in the island where I live. Let me assure my friend Col. Bombasto, that slavery, from beginning to end, in all its bearings, is a miserable delusion—a mere work of the devil. [ Exeunt omnes.]

Curator Notes

Exact Title: 
The Anti−Slavery Offering and Picknick; A Collection of Speeches, Poems, Dialogues, Songs for Schools and A.S. Meetings
H.W. Williams
Place of Publication: 
Old Sturbridge Village