An Act for Prohibiting the Importation of Negroes, June 1774

This legal act outlawed the importation of enslaved Africans to the colony of Rhode Island in 1774.
Colony of Rhode Island
Grade Level

This text is part of the Teaching Hard History Text Library and aligns with Key Concepts 1 and 2.

Whereas, the inhabitants of America are generally engaged in the preservation of their own rights and liberties, among which, that of personal freedom must be considered as the greatest; as those who are desirous of enjoying all the advantages of liberty themselves, should be willing to extend personal liberty to others; 

Therefore, be it enacted by this General Assembly, and by the authority thereof it is enacted, that for the future, no negro or mulatto slave shall be brought into this colony; and in case any slave shall hereafter be brought in, he or she shall be, and are hereby, rendered immediately free, so far as respects personal freedom, and the enjoyment of private property, in the same manner as the native Indians. 

Provided, nevertheless, that this law shall not extend to servants of persons travelling through this colony, who are not inhabitants thereof, and who carry them out with them, when they leave the same. 

 Provided, also, that nothing in this act shall extend, or be deemed to extend, to any negro or mulatto slave, belonging to any inhabitant of either of the British colonies, islands or plantations, who shall come into this colony, with an intention to settle or reside, for a number of years, therein; but such negro or mulatto, so brought into this colony, by such person inclining to settle or reside therein, shall be, and remain, in the same situation, and subject in like manner to their master or mistress, as they were in the colony or plantation from whence they removed. 

Provided, nevertheless, that if any person, so coming into this colony, to settle or reside, as aforesaid, shall afterwards remove out of the same, such person shall be obliged to carry all such negro or mulatto slaves, as also all such as shall be born from them, out of the colony with them. 

Provided, also, that nothing in this act shall extend, or be deemed to extend, to any negro or mulatto slave brought from the coast of Africa, into the West Indies, on board any vessel belonging to this colony, and which negro or mulatto slave could not be disposed of in the West Indies, but shall be brought into this colony. 

Provided, that the owner of such negro or mulatto slave give bond to the general treasurer of the said colony, within ten days after such arrival in the sum of £100, lawful money, for each and every such negro or mulatto slave so brought in, that such negro or mulatto slave shall be exported out of the colony, within one year from the date of such bond; if such negro or mulatto be alive, and in a condition to be removed. 

Provided, also, that nothing in this act shall extend, or be deemed to extend, to any negro or mulatto slave that may be on board any vessel belonging to this colony, now at sea, in her present voyage. 

And to prevent any slave or slaves from being clandestinely brought into this colony, in order that they may be free, and liable to become chargeable. 

Be it further enacted, by the authority aforesaid, that all persons, so offending, shall be liable to, and pay, a fine of £100, lawful money, for each and every one so brought in, to and for the use of the colony, to be recovered in the same manner that other fines and forfeitures usually are, by the laws of this government. 

And also, all persons, who shall be convicted of receiving, harboring, or concealing, any such negro or mulatto slave, within this colony, he or they, so offending, shall be liable to the like penalty, to be recovered and applied in the same manner; and such negro or mulatto shall be sent out of the colony, as other poor persons are, by law.  

This text is in the public domain. Retrieved from http://www.inmotionaame.org/texts/viewer.cfm?id=1_028T&page=front_1&bhcp=1.
Text Dependent Questions
  1. Question
    What legal change did this law enact in Rhode Island?
    According to the law, no “negro or mulatto slave” could be imported to Rhode Island Colony following the passage of the law. If enslaved people were imported, they were to be immediately freed.
  2. Question
    What were the exceptions to enacting immediate emancipation of enslaved people, according to this law?
    The law contained many exceptions to the immediate emancipation of “negro or mulatto slaves" that had been imported to Rhode Island Colony. The law did not extend to the following: 1) persons traveling with enslaved people through Rhode Island (non-inhabitants); 2) “negro or mulatto slaves” belonging to inhabitants of other places, including the British colonies, islands or plantations; 3) “negro or mulatto slaves” from the West Indies or Africa aboard a Rhode Island vessel. In addition, persons who planned to leave the colony could take those they enslaved with them.
  3. Question
    How did Rhode Island as a colonial government benefit from all the exceptions stipulated in this law?
    The government benefitted from the fines the law leveed on two groups: 1) an enslaver might keep a “negro or mulatto slave” for a year in the colony if they gave a bond of 100 pounds; 2) individuals who brought “negro or mulatto slaves” to Rhode Island “clandestinely” to be freed were charged 100 pounds per enslaved person.
  4. Question
    According to the law, what happened to slaves brought into the colony to be freed?
    Those enslaved people “shall be sent out of the colony, as other poor persons are, by law.” Enslaved people brought into Rhode Island to be freed would be turned out with little regard given for them by the colonial government.
  5. Question
    Identify the racial language used to refer to enslaved people in this document. What do the terms tell us about enslaved people and race in Rhode Island?
    The law called enslaved people “negro or mulatto slaves,” which indicates that enslaved people were African or mixed races. “Slaves” in Rhode Island at the time were not part of white New England society.
  6. Question
    If you were enslaved and brought to Rhode Island after 1774, would you expect to be freed? Why or why not?
    Answers may vary as to reasoning, but students are more likely to expect not to be freed because there are so many exceptions stipulated in the law.
Reveal Answers
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