Slaves’ Petition for Freedom to the Massachusetts Legislature (1777)

This was one of many petitions submitted to the Massachusetts General Court in 1777, appealing for enslaved people’s liberation.
Grade Level

This text is part of the Teaching Hard History Text Library and aligns with Key Concepts 3, 5 and 10.

“Natural and Inalienable Right to Freedom”: Slaves’ Petition for Freedom to the Massachusetts Legislature, 1777. 

To The Honorable Counsel & House of [Representa]tives for the State of Massachusitte [Massachusetts] Bay in General Court assembled, Jan. 13, 1777. 

The petition of A Great Number of Blackes detained in a State of slavery in the Bowels of a free & Christian Country Humbly shuwith [showeth] that your Petitioners apprehend that thay [they] have in Common with all other men a Natural and Unaliable [inalienable] Right to that freedom which the Grat Parent of the Unavers hath Bestowed equalley on all menkind and which they have Never forfuted by any Compact or agreement whatever—but thay wher Unjustly Dragged by the hand of cruel Power from their Derest friends and sum of them Even torn from the Embraces of their tender Parents—from A popolous Pleasant and plentiful contry and in violation of Laws of Nature and off Nations and in defiance of all the tender feelings of humanity Brough hear Either to Be sold Like Beast of Burthen & Like them Condemnd to Slavery for Life—Among A People Profesing the mild Religion of Jesus A people Not Insensible of the Secrets of Rational Being Nor without spirit to Resent the unjust endeavours of others to Reduce them to a state of Bondage and Subjection your honouer Need not to be informed that A Life of Slavery Like that of your petioners Deprived of Every social privilege of Every thing Requisit to Render Life Tolable is far worse then Nonexistence. 

[In Imitat]ion of the Lawdable Example of the Good People of these States your petitiononers have Long and Patiently waited the Evnt of petition after petition By them presented to the Legislative Body of this state and cannot but with Grief Reflect that their Success hath ben but too similar they Cannot but express their Astonishment that It has Never Bin Consirdered that Every Principle form which Amarica has Acted in the Cours of their unhappy Dificultes with Great Briton Pleads Stronger than A thousand arguments in favowrs of your petioners they therfor humble Beseech your honours to give this petion [petition] its due weight & consideration & cause an act of the Legislatur to be past Wherby they may be Restored to the Enjoyments of that which is the Naturel Right of all men—and their Children who wher Born in this Land of Liberty may not be heald as Slaves after they arrive at the age of twenty one years so may the Inhabitance of this Stats No longer chargeable with the inconsistancey of acting themselves the part which they condem and oppose in others Be prospered in their present Glorious struggle for Liberty and have those Blessing to them, &c. 

This text is in the public domain. Retrieved from http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/6237/.
Text Dependent Questions
  1. Question
    “[In Imitat]ion of the Lawdable Example of the Good People of these States…” To whom are the authors referring?
    The colonists fighting the British for independence in the name of freedom and equality.
  2. Question
    In what ways do the letter’s authors compare themselves to white colonists fighting for freedom from Great Britain?
    They say they are imitating the revolutionaries by asking for their freedom and equality; they refer to slavery as violating the “Laws of Nature,” similar to the calls for natural rights from the colonists.
  3. Question
    How do the authors appeal to religion?
    The petitioners state that they are in a “Christian Country.” They also say that they are treated like animals and “condemn[e]d to slavery for life” by those who claim to follow “the mild religion of Jesus.”
  4. Question
    How do the authors believe freeing enslaved people will help support the War for Independence with Great Britain?
    If the enslaved people are freed, the colonies could “no longer be chargeable with the inconsistency of acting themselves the part which they condem[n] and oppose in others” – thus, they would no longer be acting hypocritically.
  5. Question
    The authors subtly imply that ignoring this letter could lead to further bloodshed or fighting amongst the colonies. How so?
    The following passage says the fighting in the Revolution is a stronger plea for liberty than previous efforts at petitioning the British, thereby implying that to earn freedom, the colonists needed to fight for it. Thus, this implies that ignoring petitions, such as this one, may have the same result.
    “It has Never Bin Consi[d]ered that Every Principle f[ro]m which Am[e]rica has Acted in the Cours[e] of their unhappy Dif[f]icult[i]es with Great Briton Pleads Stronger than A thousand arguments in favo[r]s of your peti[ti]oners they ther[e]for[e] humble Beseech your honours to give this peti[ti]on its due weight & consideration & cause an act of the Legislatur[e] to be past”
Reveal Answers
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