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.

[To the Earl of Egmont] Your Lordship's opinion concerning rum and Negroes is certainly very just, and your excluding both of them from your colony of Georgia will be very happy though with respect to rum, the Saints of New England, I fear will find out some trick to evade your act of Parliament...

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.

Excerpted from Compton's Encyclopedia of American History
Copyright (c) 1994 Compton's NewMedia, Inc.