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4 LOADED WITH DEADLY EVIDENCE British abolitionists challenged the common and negative perception of slave revolts that was shaped by slavery advocates and presented instead a more sympathetic depiction of the slaves’ revolt. They did not merely intend to dismiss planter descriptions of slave revolts or to examine the slave rebels’ role in shaping the plantation colonies of the New World. The abolitionists were marshalling the evidence for useful antislavery material . They best achieved this goal when they examined the manner in which colonists crushed the rebellions. This chapter traces how abolitionists presented the defeated slave rebel as both victim and agent, and used this dual image as a propaganda tool for the antislavery cause. On January 31, 1823, British abolitionists publicly announced their intention to work more vigorously for the mitigation and gradual extinction of colonial slavery. They were no longer hopeful that improvement in the slaves’ daily lives would follow the abolition of the slave trade as a matter of course, and they sought a more practical method to achieve their objectives. They perceived that the most effective way to bring about the mitigation and gradual abolition of slavery was to embark on a program of exposure of the evils of the system. On February 19, 1823, a little more than two weeks after the formal launching of the London Committee on Slavery, the leading abolitionists resolved, “that this Committee are of opinion that an exposition of the laws of slavery as it exists in the British West India Islands would essentially promote the object of enlightening the public mind as to the true condition of the slaves.”1 Society members believed that a good starting point for highlighting the evils of the system was the publication and circulation of James 96 Title is from Coupland (1933), 67–68, in reference to the field work undertaken by Thomas Clarkson on behalf of the Anti-Slavery Society. 1. February 19, 1823, p. 8, MSS. Brit. Emp. S. 20 E2/1, Anti-Slavery Society Papers; see also the Anti-Slavery Monthly Reporter 1, no. 6 (November 30, 1825): 53, which stated that the colonists themselves were the witnesses who proved that slavery was evil. Stephen Sr.’s The Slavery of the British West India Colonies Delineated.2 Stephen wrote to the society on February 28, 1823, accepting the challenge and informing the members that his work did not focus only on the laws of the colonies but also on the practice of slavery itself.3 In producing the work, he had intended to awaken the public to the suffering of the wrongs of the slaves.4 Slavery Delineated paved the way for the immediate post-1823 exposure tactics of the abolitionists. This tract was well supported by a series of antislavery pamphlets under the common title Negro Slavery. The stated objective of Negro Slavery was to “furnish to the public a plain, authentic and unvarnished picture of Negro Slavery . . . as it exists at the present moment.”5 The publication of many other antislavery treatises was to follow. Stephen’s son George noted that “in 1825 and 1826 the subject of slavery was often brought before Parliament in one form or another. The Mauritius slave trade . . . the administration of the slave laws, the proceedings of the colonial assemblies, the slave holding interest of colonial officers, were so many texts on which Buxton, Whitmore, William Smith, Brougham, and Lord Suffield preached most orthodox and powerful sermons.”6 Although abolitionists did not set out intentionally to publicize slave rebellions, their treatment of the manner in which slaves were victimized in the suppression of revolts soon became a central feature of their program of exposure. Charles Buxton, the son of abolitionist leader Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, observed that after 1824, “the next three years were spent in discussion of Smith’s death and the treatment of the rebel slaves.”7 The abolitionists were able to put enough distance between the act of rebellion itself, which they denounced, and the suffering of rebel slaves, which they manipulated, to be able to reinforce the British antislavery cause. 2. Ibid. 3. Ibid., p. 16. 4. Ibid. 5. Society for the Mitigation and Gradual Abolition of Slavery Throughout the British Dominions, Negro Slavery, or A View 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: J. Hatchard and Son, 1823), 1. 6. Stephen (1971...


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