The Importation of Negroes into Massachusetts

In 1706, the Boston News Letter published an article regarding the importation of Africans into Massachusetts and its impacts on investments in labor.
Possibly John Campbell, Editor of the Boston News Letter
Grade Level

This text is part of the Teaching Hard History Text Library and aligns with Key Concept 8.


By last Years Bill of Mortality for the Town of Boston in Numb 100 News Letter, we are furnished with a List of 44 Negroes dead last year, which being computed one with another at 30 l. per Head, amounts to the Sum of One Thousand three hundred and Twenty Pounds, of which we would make this Remark: That the Importing of Negroes into this or the Neighbouring Provinces is not so beneficial either to the Crown or Country, as White Servants would be. 

For Negroes do not carry Arms to defend the Country as Whites do: Negroes are generaly Eye-Servants, great Thieves, much addicted to stealing, Lying, and Purloining. They do not People our Country as Whites would do whereby we should be strengthened against an Enemy. 

By Encouraging the importing of White Men Servants, allowing somewhat to the importer, most Husbandmen in the Country might be furnished with Servants for 8, 9, or 10 l. a Head, who are not able to Launch out 40 or 50 l. for a Negro the now common Price. 

A Man then might buy a White Man Servant we suppose for 10 l. to Serve 4 years, and Boys for the same price to Serve 6, 8 or 10 years: If a White Servant die, the Loss exceeds not 10 l. but if a Negro dies ’tis a very great Loss to the Husbandman. Three years Interest of the price of the Negro, will near upon if not altogether purchase a White Man Servant. 

If Necessity call for it, that the Husbandman must fit out a man against the Enemy; if he has a Negro he cannot send him, but if he has a White Servant, ’twill answer the end, and perhaps save his Son at home. 

Were Merchants and Masters Encouraged as already ’said to bring in Men Servants, there needed not be such complaint against Superiors Impressing our Children to the War, there would then be Men enough to be had without Impressing. 

The bringing in of such servants would much enrich this Province, because Husbandmen would not only be able far better to manure what Lands are already under Improvement, but would also improve a great deal more that now lyes waste under Woods, and enable this Province to set about raising of Naval Stores, which would be greatly advantagious to the Crown of England, and this Province. . . . 

Suppose the Government here should allow Forty Shillings per head for five years, to such as should Import every of those years 100 White Men Servants, and each to serve 4 Years, the cost would be but 200 l. a year, and a 1000 for the five years: the first 100 servants being free the 4th year, they serve the 5th for Wages, and the 6th there is 100 that goes out into the Woods, and settles a 100 Families to strengthen and Baracade us from the Indians, and so a 100 Families more every year successively. 

And here you see that in one year the Town of Boston has lost 1320 l. by 44 Negroes, which is also a Loss to this Country in general, and for a less Loss, (if it may improperly be so called) for a 1000 l. the Country may have 500 Men in 5 years time for the 44 Negroes dead in one year. 

A certain person within these 6 years had two Negroes dead computed both at 60 l. which would have procured him six white Servants at 10 l. per head to have Served 24 years, at 4 years a piece, without running such a great risque, and the Whites would have strengthened the Country, that Negroes do not. ’Twould do wel[l] that none of those Servants be liable to be Impressed during their Service of Agreement at their first Landing. 

That such Servants being Sold or Transported out of this Province during the time of their Service, the person that buys them be liable to pay 3 l. into the Treasury. 

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
    According to the author of this article, what were the reasons against the importation of enslaved Africans to Massachusetts?
    Answers may vary. According to the author, the importation of enslaved Africans was not beneficial for these reasons: 1) enslaved Africans could not defend the country with arms; 2) enslaved Africans were not trustworthy and acted unlawfully; 3) enslaved Africans would not populate the area with white people; 4) if they dies, a purchased enslaved African was a more expensive loss than a white servant’s termed labor.
  2. Question
    According to the author, why should husbandmen (farmers) import white servants instead of enslaved Africans?
    Answers may vary. 1) Farmers could send their servants to war in place of their sons but they could not send enslaved men in their place; 2) white servants would improve the land once they got some of their own, unlike enslaved Africans.
  3. Question
    Who was the intended audience of this newspaper article? Why?
    The newspaper, printed in Boston, was intended for farmers in the Province of Massachusetts Bay. Farmers often needed labor to manage their lands. The author urged farmers to consider white servants over enslaved Africans.
  4. Question
    What concerns did the author raise about war in the colonies? Why would the author be concerned about race when considering militia service?
    The author raised several considerations regarding war in the colonies. 1) Enslaved Africans could not bear arms to defend the colony; 2) a farmer could send a white servant to defend the colony in his or his son’s place when mustered; 3) if the government were to import white servants to serve for a limited period of time, those white servants could then become frontiersmen and barricade the frontier from Native American attacks on colonial settlements. Enslaved Africans could not increase the white population in the colonies nor defend the colonies, because enslaved people might turn the weapon against their masters.
  5. Question
    How did the author’s argument support racism?
    The issue of race was critical to his argument when the author directly argued that white servants were a better labor source than enslaved Africans, which he called “Negroes.” He argued that, since enslaved workers frequently died, a farmer who relied on this labor lost his investment. Instead, he says, the farmer, the country and the crown might have gained more return on their investment in white labor.
Reveal Answers