Part of the opposition to these anti-slavery bills came from slave traders and their allies. Since the late seventeenth century, New England had been more heavily engaged in the slave trade than any other region. By 1767, however, the slave trade was in decline but the economic facts of life were that New England relied heavily on the "triangular trade" with the home country and the West Indies for its economic prosperity; and the islands of the West Indies could not prosper without slaves to work the plantations. In 1768, New England exported goods valued at 89,000 pounds to Great Britain and imported goods valued at 441,000 pounds. It was trade with the West Indies that balanced out this trade deficit and provided the cash to maintain this very complex economy. In Boston, slaves were often sold directly off ship. Among the public taverns used, at one time or another for slaves sales since there was no public market, were The Royal Exchange, The Crown Coffee House, the Bunch of Grapes Tavern, and the Sun Tavern. It should be noted that after 1740, the importation of slaves into Boston declined dramatically.
|Crown Coffee House|
The greatest obstacle to ending slavery, however, was the lingering colonists' fear of Africans. Like other British colonists, few Bostonians were free of prejudice and their assumption that Africans were inferior and a potential danger to whites. Even John Adams resorted to racial prejudice to oppose the Stamp Act, when, writing as "Humphrey Ploughjogger" he wrote "Providence never designed us for Negroes, I know, for if it had it wou'd have given us black hides, and thick lips, and flat noses, and short wooly hair, which it han't done, and therefore never intended us for slaves." The occupying British forces challenged Boston sensibilities on slavery and race. British officers were not above prodding slaves to revolt against their masters but, most importantly, the sight of British troops flogging soldiers for various offenses stirred the blood of Bostonians. For the the British used drummers of African-Caribbean descent to administer these floggings right in the middle of Boston Common. Bostonians were not strangers to public floggings but the occupying forces turned their world upside down with black men flogging whites. This role reversal stirred racist fears.
It should be noted that approximately five percent of Boston's residents in the 1760s and 1770s were "Negroes and Mollatoes."
|1768 Watercolor of British Troops on Boston Common|
Mein retaliated by printing the entries of "British Linen" attested to by George Haley, Hancock's business associate in England, and customs officials in England and Boston, slyly inquiring as to whom one should believe. "This affair then at present rests between Mr Hayley, a Merchant in London of great character and extensive business, and Mr William Palfrey, clerk to Mr. Hancock," Mein rhetorically concluded. Hancock wanted no more of this. A month later, he instructed his British agents to prevent all goods "except Coals, Hemp, Duck, & Grindstones being put on board any of my vessels." With that instruction, Hancock was finally in full compliance with the Non-Importation Agreement.
Mein had hoped to discredit his opponents, but inadvertently his disclosures strengthened the Non-Importation Agreement by forcing compliance. If he went after Hancock, no one was safe.
In the next skirmish, Mein takes the gloves off and escalates his rhetoric.
To Be Continued