« PreviousContinue »
In dispuies of this sort it is common for each par. ty to think themselves in the right, and their arguments will always partake of that colouring which is nearest to private interest. Persons who have been educated from their infancy in ideas of royal prerogative and the omnipotence of government, will always think it strange to hear a people insisting upon the principles of the social compact, and the rights of fo. ciety; this in the first degree has a rebellious found in their ears, and they are ready to conclude that fuch a people' deserve the feverest punishment for indulging such disloyal notions and sentiments. In free ftates, where men are accustomed to examine all things freely, it appears strange to hear of the will of a few being a law to a whole society, and every one to bend his neck at the nod of a grand monarch.Such a state of existence to free men, appears to be worse than none at all, and they would sooner die than live under such a slavery. Reafon on both sides would determine the point speedily, would each par: ty stand to her impartial dictates; but passion for the most part takes the lead, and the voice of reason is but little regarded. Yet it will be found next to a maxiin, that the common people seldom depart from reason till they are corrupted by the precepts or example of the great.
Their demands are generally reasonable, and founded upon principles of common sense, till they are corrupted and misled by their supe. riors, who often corrupt them for their own intereft, and make them at last dupes to their lusts and passions. For as corrupt as human nature is said to be, it is manifest, that provided men were to have the tutorage which God has provided unadulterated, the common ranks of men would-fhow more virtue than those un
der the influence of the greatest refinement. It appears marvellous to a plain well-meaning man to hear it affirmed that persons whom he sees daily committing all sorts of vice without shame is best qualified to be a magistrate or ruler of the people. He can hard . ly bring his 'mind to think that reverence is due to such as do not reverence God and love truth.
Upon this occasion Lord Dunmore fell into that mistake which the government at home, and almost all the governors abroad have fallen into. He imagined that he could persuade the flaves to take up arms; and that government had more friends in the colony than there really were.
This has been an universal mistake all along in the ideas of government. They have continually imagined, and also declared, that their friends in the colonies were numerous, their cause prosperous, when the event declared the very contrary.
Whatever was the present ground of his progress he was determined though he should be obliged for the present to relinquith, not to abandon his hopes, nor entirely to lose sight of the country which he had governed. Being joined with those friends of government who had rendered themselves obnoxious to the people, to continue with safety in the country, as well as by a number of run-a-way negroes, and supported by the frigates of war which were upon the station, endeavoured to establish fuch a marine force as would cnable him, by ineans of the rivers which render the most valuable parts of that rich country accessable by water, to be always at hand, and ready to profit by any favourable occasion that offered.
Some such system as this he seems to have intenda ed to pursue : for by degrees he equipped and D
armed a number of vessels, of different kinds and sizes, in one of which he constantly resided, never setting liis foot on shore, but in an hostile manner. This force thus put together, was however only calculated for depredation, and never became equal to any effential service. The former indeed was in some degree a matter of necessity; for as the people on flore would not serve those on board with proper provisions or necessaries, they must either have starved, or endeavoured to provide them by force. The Virginians pretended that while the depredations were confined to those necessary objects, the respect which they bore to the rank of the Governor, prevented his marching with any resistance ; but their nature was soon changed into open and avowed hostility. Obnoxious persons they said were seized and carried a-board the ships ; plantations were ravished and destroyed, the negroes carried off; houses burnt, and at last lives lost on both sides. In one of those expeditions his Lordship destroyed a number of iron cannon, and carried off fome others, which he supposed were provided for the purposes of rebellion, though the Virginians affirm they were ship guns.These proceedings occasioned the sending of some of the new-raised detachments to protect the coasts, and from thence ensued a little mischievous plundering war, incapable of affording honour and benefit, and in which at length every drop of water and every necessary was purchased, at the price and the risque of blood.
During this state of hostility, Dunmore procured a few foldiers from different parts, with whose assistance an attempt was made to burn a port town in an important fituation called Hampton. It would appear
that the inhabitants had some previous notice of this design; for they had sunk boats in the entrance of the harbour, and thrown such other obstacles in the way as rendered the approach of the ships, and consequently the landing impracticable on the day on which this attack was begun. The ships cut a way through the boats in the night, and began to cạnnonade the town in a furious manner in the morning; but in this critical situation they were relieved from their apprehensions and danger by the arrival of the detachment of rifle-men from Williamsburgh, who had marched all night to their assistance. These, joined with the inhabitants, attacked the thips fo vigorously with their small arms, that they were obliged precipitately to quit their station, with the loss of some men, and of a tender which was taken.'
Upon the seventh of November, in consequence of this repulse, a proclamation was issued by the Governor, dated on board the ship William, off Norfolk, declaring, that as the civil law was at present insuffi. cient to prevent and punish treasons and traitors, that martial law should take place, and be executed throughout the colony; and it required all persons capable of bearing arms, to repair to his Majesty's standard, or to be considered as traitors.
This measure of setting the faves at liberty, gave less surprise, and probably had less effect in exciting an insurre&tion from its being so long threatened and apprehended, than if it had been more immediate and unexpected. It was however received with the
greatest horror in all the colonies, and was severely condemned at home, as tending to loose the bonds of society, to destroy domestic security, and to encourage the most barbarous of mankind to the commission of
the most horrid crimes, and the most inhuman cruelties. This was confounding the innocent with the guilty, and exposing those who were the best friends to government to the fame loss of property, danger and destruction with the most incorrigible rebels.--It was said to establish a precedent of a most dangerous nature in the new world, by giving a legal fanc-; tion to arraying and embodying of African negroes, to appear in arms against the whole people, and to encounter them upon an equal footing in the field ;. for however ill-founded distinctions with respect to colour may appear, when examined by the test of nature, reason, and philosophy; yet while things coultinue in the present state, while commerce, luxury and and avarice, render slavery a principal object in the political system of every European power, that possesses dominion in America, the idea of pre-eminence must always be cherished, and considered as a necessary policy.
This reason, however plausible, is in its own nature immoral and unjust, and the Virginians, as well as the government who encouraged and gave sanction to flavery, could not well expect that providence would always look on and suffer them to tyrannize over poor innocents, that had never done them any harm, and by nature deferved as much to be free as themselves, Claims of liberty made by men who themselves keep others in flavery, are made with a Yery
ill had the British government by emancipating the slaves meant well to the rights of mankind, every wise and good man would have wished them success.
The proclamation, with Lord Dunmore's presence, and the encouragement of the small marine force he had with him, produced fome effect in the town of