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The Selling of Joseph: A Memorial
Digital History ID 2328

Author:   Samuel Sewall
Date:1700

Annotation: "The Selling of Joseph: A Memorial", by Samuel Sewall remains the earliest known anti-slavery tract to be published in New England. In it Sewall not only condemns the practice of human trafficking, but goes on to challenge many commonly held justifactions for the practice. Sewall also cites several Biblical passages which appear to clearly condemn the practice of "man stealing". This is an image of the only known copy in existance today.


Document: 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, 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. 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. Act 17.26, 27, 29.

Now although the Title given by the last ADAM, doth infinitely better men's estates, respecting GOD and themselves; and grants them a most beneficial and inviolable lease under the broad seal of Heaven, who were before only tenants at will: Yet through the indulgence of GOD to our First Parents after the Fall, the outward estate of all and every of their children, remains the same, as to one another. So that originally, and naturally, there is no such thing as slavery.

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. The commodity it self is the claimer. If Arabian gold be imported in any quantities, most are afraid to meddle with it, though they might have it at easy rates; lest if it should have been wrongfully taken from the owners, it should kindle a fire to the consumption of their whole estate.

'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: Whenas they are the offspring of GOD, and their Liberty is,

. . . Auro pretiosior Omni [Isaiah 13:12]. And seeing GOD hath said, He that stealeth a man and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death. Exod. 21.16. This law being of everlasting equity, wherein man stealing is ranked amongst the most atrocious of capital crimes: What louder cry can there be made of that celebrated warning,

Caveat Emptor!

Source: Reprinted by Benjamin Lay, Philadelphia, 1737.

Additional information: In Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 1863-1864, pages 161-165 (Boston, 1864)

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