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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Give Me Slavery Or Give Me Death

In a petition found in the records of Madison County, Alabama, a free man of color named John Williams asked that he be made a "slave for life" of Thomas Douglass.

Such a petition suggests hopelessness about real freedom ever coming to Southern slaves or the possibility of cruel deception of an ignorant free black man. It may even have been a contrived publicity attempt to deceive the North about the preferences of Southern blacks. It perhaps simply addressed the horribly stark realities of life for some free blacks in the antebellum South. One motivation to become a slave for life was stipulated in the petition. Yet another can be inferred from the fact that Thomas Douglass had only four other slaves in 1860, and all of them were females, ages 22, 20, 18, and 13.

The main text of John Williams' petition was worded as follows: "having become satisfied that rights, liberties, and privileges exercised by free persons of color is (sic) mostly theoretical. Therefore, your petitioner, who is a free person of color and wedded to the South and being desirous to dwell and make the South his permanent place of residence has selected, under the act of the Legislature of the State of Alabama approved on February 25, 1860, Thomas Douglass as his owner and master. Wherefore your petitioner prays that his petition be accepted and filed, and that after due legal proceedings held in accordance with the act aforesaid, your petitioner be adjudged and decreed to be a slave for life of him, the said Thomas Douglass, and for such other relief as the case may require." [Link]
His request was denied.

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