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In the Classroom > African Americans Lessons > Ministers Owned Slaves

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Excerpts from The Selling of Joseph. A Memorial
Samuel Sewall, Boston, 1700

Excerpts taken from National Humanities Center Resource Toolbox, http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/pds/becomingamer/ideas/text3/slaverychristian.pdf

National Humanities Center, 2008: (nationalhumanitiescenter.org/pds.) For clarity, some pagination has been added and some spelling and punctuation modernized, including the punctuation of biblical citations. Bracketed phrases and sidebars added by NHC.

The Selling of Joseph. A Memorial 1

FORASMUCH as Liberty is in real value next unto Life: None ought to part with it themselves, or deprive others of it, but upon most mature Consideration. The Numerousness of Slaves at this day in the Province [Massachusetts Bay], and the Uneasiness of them under their Slavery, hath put many upon thinking whether the Foundation of it be firmly and well laid; so as to sustain the Vast Weight that is built upon it. It is most certain that all Men, as they are the Sons of Adam, are Coheirs; and have equal Right unto Liberty, and all other outward Comforts of Life. GOD hath given the Earth (with all its Commodities) unto the Sons of Adam, Psal 115:16.4 And hath made of One Blood, all Nations of Men, for to dwell on all the face of the Earth; and hath determined the Times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation: That they should seek the Lord. Forasmuch then as we are the Offspring of GOD &c. [etc.] Act 17: 26-29…

…Joseph was rightfully no more a Slave to his Brethren than they were to him: and they had no more Authority to Sell him, than they had to Slay him. And if they had nothing to do to Sell him; the Ishmaelites bargaining with them, and paying down Twenty pieces of Silver, could not make a Title. Neither could Potiphar have any better Interest in him than the Ishmaelites had. Gen. 37: 20, 27, 28. For he that shall in this case plead Alteration of Property, seems to have forfeited a great part of his own claim to Humanity. There is no proportion between Twenty Pieces of Silver and LIBERTY…’Tis pity there should be more Caution used in buying a Horse, or a little lifeless dust, than there is in purchasing Men and Women: Whereas they are the Offspring of GOD, and their Liberty is,

Auro pretiosior Omni.2

And all things considered, it would conduce more to the Welfare of the Province, to have White Servants for a Term of Years than to have Slaves for Life. Few can endure to hear of a Negro’s being made free; and indeed they can seldom use their freedom well; yet their continual aspiring after their forbidden Liberty renders them Unwilling Servants. And there is such a disparity in their Conditions, Color & Hair, that they can never embody with us, and grow up into orderly Families, to the Peopling of the Land: but still remain in our Body Politick as a kind of extra-vasat Blood. 3

It is likewise most lamentable to think, how in taking Negros out of Africa and Selling of them here, That which GOD has joined together men do boldly rend asunder; Men from their Country, Husbands from their Wives, Parents from their Children.

Evil must not be done, that good may come of it. The extraordinary and comprehensive Benefit accruing to the Church of God, and to Joseph personally, did not rectify his brethrens’ Sale of him.

GOD expects that Christians should be of a more Ingenuous and benign frame of spirit. . And for men obstinately to persist in holding their Neighbours and Brethren under the Rigor of perpetual Bondage seems to be no proper way of gaining Assurance that God has given them Spiritual Freedom.


  1. In the biblical book of Genesis (chapters 37-50), Joseph is sold for twenty pieces of silver by his jealous brothers to traveling merchants (Ishmaelites) and later sold in Egypt to Potiphar as a household slave.
  2. “…and their Liberty is,- Auro pretiosior Omni” [Latin], i.e., Liberty is more precious than all the gold in the world.
  3. Extravasat blood, i.e., blood from a ruptured artery or vein filling the body cavity [archaic medical term].

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