“Prejudice so prevalent in the present generation”: Slavery at the College of William & Mary Exhibit

“Prejudice so prevalent in the present generation”: Slavery at the College of William & Mary Exhibit
Colleges In Virginia
Image by Special Collections Research Center, Swem Library
Shown here are images from the exhibit "Prejudice so prevalent in the present generation": Slavery at the College of William & Mary, on display just inside the Special Collections Research Center in Swem Library at the College of William and Mary. The exhibit will be on display from March 1-September 2011.

The following is taken from the label text presented in this case:

St. George Tucker was professor of Law at the College of William & Mary from 1788 to 1804. He wrote “A dissertation on slavery: with a proposal for the gradual abolition of it, in the state of Virginia.” Tucker’s definition of abolition only included women and children and would not have granted freed slaves equal rights as citizens, such as the right to vote.

Print from an engraving of St. George Tucker, Engraving by St. Memin

Letter from St. George Tucker to Robert Pleasants, 29 June 1797, Tucker-Coleman Papers, Mss. 40 T79

“A dissertation on slavery: with a proposal for the gradual abolition of it, in the state of Virginia,” St. George Tucker, E445 .V8 T89 1796

St. George Tucker wrote this letter, entitled “Letter to Robert Pleasants on the Abolition of Slavery” in 1797. Robert Pleasants was a Quaker and one of the founders of the Virginia Abolition Society. Tucker proposed the emancipation of all female slaves as a first measure towards abolition.

“Convinced that nothing short of the emancipation of all females in the first instance would effect the object…I proposed that measure in the hope that [it]…would calm the apprehensions of the timid, and lull to sleep the fears of the avaricious.”

However, Tucker was not without reservations. Specifically, he was worried that giving the rights of citizenship to freed slaves would cause conflict between them and their former masters.

“Until this prejudice is overcome, I am also of the opinion that it would be dangerous to extend the civic privileges of the Blacks: for their numbers and those of the whites being nearly equal if they could acquire any share in the administration of the state we should soon behold two parties formed and enlisted by nature under different Banners whose Contests would probably convulse the state.”

To see to full transcription of this letter, please go to hdl.handle.net/10288/13432.

Thomas Dew was president of the College of William & Mary from 1836 to his death in 1846. He was also one of the most prominent defenders of slavery, whose writings included the “Review of the debate in the Virginia legislature of 1831 and 1832,” which outlined his defense. His book was included in the popular book “The pro-slavery argument; as maintained by the most distinguished writers of the southern states,” and became one of the most famous defenses of slavery.

Photograph of an oil portrait of Thomas R. Dew, University Archives Photograph Collection, UA 8

“Review of the debate in the Virginia legislature of 1831 and 1832,” Thomas Roderick Dew, E449 .D511 1832

“The pro-slavery argument; as maintained by the most distinguished writers of the southern states,” William Harper, E449 .P956 1853

From the Special Collections Research Center, Earl Gregg Swem Library at the College of William and Mary. See swem.wm.edu/scrc/ for further information and assistance.

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