Document: A Colonial Virginia Planter Worries About the Effects of Slavery
The founding of Georgia and the decision of its trustees to forbid alcohol and slavery there, gave William Byrd of Westover an occasion to ponder the impact of slavery on Virginia, particularly how it affected white people, their personal habits, and work ethic. He still compared it favorably with the slave societies that had developed in the British West Indies.
I wish that we could be blessed with the same prohibition. They import so
many Negroes hither that I fear this colony will sometime or other be confounded
by the name of New Guinea. I am sensible of many bad consequences of multiplying
these Ethiopians amongst us. They blow up pride, and ruin the industry of our
white people, who seeing a rank of poor creatures below them, detest work for
fear it should make them look like slaves. Then that poverty which will ever
attend upon idleness, disposes them as much to pilfer as it does the Portuguese,
who account it much more like a gentleman to steal than to dirty their hands
with labor of any kind.
Another unhappy effect of so many Negroes is the necessity of being
severe. Numbers make them insolent, and then foul means must do what fair will
not. We have, however, nothing like the inhumanity here that is practiced in the
[Caribbean] Islands, and God forbid we ever should. But these base tempers [of
the slaves] require to be rid with a very tort [tight] rein, or they will be apt
to throw their rider. Yet even this is terrible to a good-natured man, who must
submit to be either a fool or a fury. And this will be more our unhappy case,
the more the Negroes are increased amongst us. But these private mischiefs are
nothing if compared to the public danger....
It were, therefore, worth the consideration of a British Parliament, My Lord, to put an end to this unchristian traffic, of making merchandise of our fellow creatures.