The petition and the report of the minister are in the Hargrett Rare Book Collection. You can download the full document here: Hargrett_Manuscripts
Many accounts of the Scots settlers in Georgia make much of their efforts to prohibit the introduction of negro slaves to the Colony. This is portrayed as a function of their liberty-loving nature quoting the phrase ‘it is shocking to human nature’ from their petition.
This is considerably less than the whole story. That phrase does appear in clause 5 of their petition dated 3 January 1739 but this is almost an afterthought after four clauses making the economic case against their use. Tellingly, the petition is made ‘for our own Sake, our wives & children, & our Posterity’ not for the sake of the slaves. The reference to the Spaniards giving freedom to slaves is not a tale of selflessness either. It was an attempt to destabilise the English colonies by the Spaniards encouraging slaves to run away from their English masters and guaranteeing them freedom thereafter.
Although the number of signatures on a petition should not necessarily be taken to represent the strength of feeling in any community, there were only twenty signatories to the petition opposing slaves and considerably more on the one from Savannah seeking permission for slaves. Somebody rather skilled in the arts of PR had the minister, William Norris, provide a report on the character of those who had signed the Savannah petition. He provides the trustees with twenty pages of character assassination with the signatories guilty of such things as being ‘fyn’d twice for assault’, ‘a greater dealer in Rum’, ‘ran to Carolina for debt’, ‘a Rioter in open Court’, ‘setting up a fence on another man’s lot’ and ‘overbuilt himself & ran out his purse too fast’.
Petition of the Settlers & Freeholders at Darien against the introducing Negroes into Georgia — We are informed that our Neighbours of Savannah have petitioned your Excellency for the liberty of having Slaves: We hope & earnestly intreat, that before Such proposals are hearken’d to, your Excellency will consider our Situation, and of what dangerous & bad consequence Such liberty would be of to us for many reasons.
1. The nearness of the Spaniard, who have proclaimed freedoms to all Slaves who run away from their Masters, makes it impossible for us to keep then, without more labour in guarding them than what we would be at to do their work.
2. We are laborious, & know a white man may be by the year more usefully employed than a Negroe.
3. We are not rich, and becoming debtors for Slaves in case of their running away, or dying, would inevitably ruin the poor Master, and he become a greater Slave to the Negroe Merchants, than the Slave he bought could be to him.
4. It would oblige us to keep a guard duty at least as Severe as when we expected a daily invasion: and if that was the case, how miserable would it be to us & our wives & families, to have one Enemy without, and a more dangerous one in our bosom.
5. It is Shocking to human nature, that any race of Mankind and their Posterity, Should be Sentenced to perpetual Slavery, nor in justice can we think otherwise of it, than that they are thrown amongst us to be our Scourge one day or other for our Sins: and as freedome to them must be as dear as to us, what a Scene of horror must it bring about and the longer it is un-executed, the bloody Scene must be the greater.
We therefore for our own Sake, our wives & children, & our Posterity, beg your consideration, and intreat, that instead of introducing Slaves, you will put us in the way to get ua Some of our Countrymen, who with their labour in time of Peace, and our vigilance if we are invaded, with the help of those, will render it a difficult thing to hurt us, or that part of the Province which we possess. We will ever pray for your Excellency, and are with all Submission
Yr. Excellency’s most obliged humble Servts.
Signed by John Cuthbert and nineteen others