Samuel Sewall Welcome to the anti-slavery pamphlet, The Selling of Joseph: A Memorial (1700), by Samuel Sewall.
Prior to the 1861-1865 War, there were a number of Christian abolitionists who opposed slavery. Nowadays, their Biblical-based reasons are generally unknown.
This series of websites educates by making the text of their religious writings accessible. Whether or not you agree with their position, it is at least a good idea to know what it was!
This site in the series reprints the 1700 anti-slavery pamphlet by Samuel Sewall (1652-1730). Despite cultural biases of his era, he saw sinfulness of slavery, and was one of the earliest American writers to publish against it.

The Selling of Joseph:
A Memorial
by Samuel Sewall, M.A.
(Boston: Green and Allen, 1700)

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

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
*[Ed. Note: referencing Puritan ecclesiastical views, translated from Dr. William Ames' (1576-1633) book, De Conscientia, et Eius Iure, Vel Casibus (London, 1623)].


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!

And all things considered, it would conduce more to the welfare of the province, to have white servants for a term of years, than to have slaves for life. Few can endure to hear of a Negro's being made free; and indeed they can seldom use their freedom well; yet their continual aspiring after their forbidden liberty, renders them unwilling servants.

And there is such a disparity in their conditions, colour & hair,


that they can never embody with us, and grow up into orderly families, to the peopling of the land: but still remain in our body politick as a kind of extravasat blood [involuntary resident].

As many Negro men as there are among us, so many empty places there are in our Train Bands, and the places taken up of men that might make husbands for our daughters. And the sons and daughters of New England would become more like Jacob, and Rachel, if this slavery were thrust quite out of doors.

Moreover it is too well known what temptations masters are under, to connive at the fornication of their slaves; lest they should be obliged to find them wives, or pay their fines. It seems to be practically pleaded that they might be lawless; 'tis thought much of, that the law should have satisfaction for their thefts, and other immoralities; by which means, Holiness to the Lord, is more rarely engraven upon this sort of servitude.

It is likewise most lamentable to think, how in taking Negros out of Africa, and selling of them here, That which GOD has joined together men do boldly rend asunder [Matt. 19:6]; Men from their Country, Husbands from their Wives, Parents from their Children.


How horrible is the uncleanness, mortality, if not murder, that the ships are guilty of that bring great crowds of these miserable men, and women. Methinks, when we are bemoaning the barbarous usage of our friends and kinsfolk in Africa: it might not be unseasonable to enquire whether we are not culpable in forcing the Africans to become slaves amongst our selves. And it may be a question whether all the benefit received by Negro slaves, will balance the accompt of cash laid out upon them; and for the redemption of our own enslaved friends out of Africa. Besides all the persons and estates that have perished there.

Obj. 1. These Blackamores are of the Posterity of Cham, and therefore are under the curse of slavery. Gen.9. 25, 26, 27.

Answ. Of all offices, one would not beg this; viz. Uncalled for, to be an executioner of the vindictive wrath of God; the extent and duration of which is to us uncertain. If this ever was a commission; how do we know but that it is long since out of date? Many have found it to their cost, that a prophetical denunciation of judgment against a per-


son or people, would not warrant them to inflict that evil. If it would, Hazael might justify himself in all he did against his Master, and the Israelites, from 2 Kings 8. 10, 12 [killing the king, and women].

But it is possible that by cursory reading, this text may have been mistaken. For Canaan is the person cursed three times over, without the mentioning of Cham. Good Expositors suppose the curse entailed on him, and that this prophey was accomplished in the extirpation of the Canaanites, and in the servitude of the Gibeonites. Vide Pareum [Ed. Note: referencing the analysis of German theologian David Pareus (1548-1635)].

Whereas the Blackmores are not descended of Canaan, but of Cush. Psal. 68. 31. Princes shall come out of Egypt [Mizmim] Ethiopia [Cush] shall soon stretch out her hands unto God. Under which names, all Africa may be comprehended; and their Promised Conversion ought to be prayed for. Jer. 13. 23. Can the Ethiopian change his skin? This shows that black men are the posterity of Cush: Who time out of mind have been distinguished by their colour. And for want of the true, Ovid assigns a fabulous cause of it [Ed. Note: referencing ancient mythology, specifically, the myth of Phaeton].

Sanguine tum credunt in
     corpora summa vocato
Æthiopum populos nigrum
     traxisse colorem
   Metamorph. lib. 2.


Obj. 2. The Nigers are brought out of a pagan country, into places where the Gospel is preached.

Answ. Evil must not be done, that good may come of it. The extraordinary and comprehensive benefit accruing to the Church of God, and to Joseph personally, did not rectify his brethrens' sale of him.

The Africans have Wars one with another: Our Ships bring lawful Captives taken in those Wars.

Answ. For ought is known, their wars are much such as were between Jacob's sons and their brother Joseph. If they be between town and town; provincial, or national: Every war is upon one side unjust. An unlawful war can't make lawful captives. And by receiving, we are in danger to promote, and partake in their barbarous cruelties [contrary to Bible commands, e.g., Ephesians 5:7,   1 Timothy 5:22,   John 17:15,   2 Corinthians 6:14-18, and Revelation 18:4]. I am sure, if some Gentlemen should go down to the Brewsters to take the air, and fish: And a stronger party from Hull should surprise them, and sell them for slaves to a ship outward bound: they would think themselves unjustly dealt with; both by sellers and buyers.

And yet 'tis to be feared, we have no other kind of title to our Nigers. Therefore


all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the Law and the Prophets. Matt. 7.12.

Ed. Note: For more on slavery origin in war, see Somerset v Stewart (1772), pp 27-28; and Edward C. Rogers, Slavery Illegality (1855), p 10.

Obj. 4. Abraham had servants bought with his money, and born in his house.

Answ. Until the circumstances of Abraham's purchase be recorded, no argument can be drawn from it. In the mean time, Charity obliges us to conclude, that he knew it was lawful and good.

It is observable that the Israelites were strictly forbidden the buying, or selling one another for slaves. Levit. 25. 39, 46. Jer. 34. 8 . . . 22. And GOD gaged His Blessing in lieu of any loss they might conceipt they suffered thereby. Deut. 15. 18.

And since the partition wall is broken down, inordinate self love should likewise be demolished. GOD expects that Christians should be of a more ingenuous and benign frame of spirit. Christians should carry it to all the world, as the Israelites were to carry it one towards another. And for men obstinately to persist in holding their neighbours and brethren under the rigor of perpetual bondage, seems to be no proper way of gaining assurance that God has given them spiritual free-


dom. Our blessed Saviour has altered the measures of the ancient love-song, and set it to a most excellent new tune, which all ought to be ambitious of Learning. Matt. 5. 43, 44. John 13.34. These Ethiopians, as black as they are; seeing they are the sons and daughters of the First Adam, the brethren and sisters of the Last ADAM, and the Offspring of GOD; they ought to be treated with a respect agreeable.

Servitus perfecta voluntaria, inter Christianum & Christianum, ex parte servi patientis sæpe est licita quia est necessaria: sed ex parte domini agentis, & procurando & exercendo, vix potest esse licita: quia non convenit regulæ illi generali: Quæcunque volueritis ut faciant vobis homines, ita & vos facite eis. Matt. 7.12.

Perfecta servitus pænæ, non potest jure locum habere, nisi ex delicto gravi quod ultimum supplicium aliquo modo meretur: quia libertas ex naturali æstimatione proximo accedit ad vitam ipsam, & eidem a multis præferri solet.*

Ames. Cas. Consc. Lib. 5.

Cap. 23.Thes. 2, 3.

BOSTON of the Massachusets;
Printed by Bartholomew
, and John Allen,
June, 24th, 1700.
*[Ed. Note: referencing Dr. William Ames' distinction between voluntary and involuntary employment, the latter violating Matt. 7.12.

Sewall had decided to write this pamphlet 19 June; publication turn-around time was speedy, a mere five days.]


This historic pamplet was reprinted by
  • Benjamin Lay, Philadelphia, 1737, in Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 1863-1864, pages 161-165 (Boston, 1864)
  • George H. Moore, Notes on the History of Slavery in Massachusetts, pages 83-87 (New York, 1866).
  • For other analyses of the Joseph situation, see, e.g.,
  • Rev. John G. Fee, Anti-Slavery Manual (New York: Wm. Harned, 1851), pp 27-30
  • Rev. George B. Cheever, D.D., God Against Slavery (New York: Joseph Ladd, 1857), pp 111 and 145.
    See also
  • John Woolman, Some Considerations on the Keeping of Negroes, Part I (1754), and Part II (1762).
  • William Bedford Clark, "Caveat Emptor!: Judge Sewall vs. Slavery," Studies in the Literary Imagination 9.2(1976): 19-30.
  • Biographies of Judge Sewall
    Nathan Henry Chamberlain, Samuel Sewall and the World He Lived In (Boston: De Wolfe, Fiske & Co., 1898)
    Elizabeth Ola Winslow, Samuel Sewall of Boston (New York: Macmillan Co., 1964).

    Related Writings by Other Authors
    Roman Catholic Anti-Slavery Material
    B. Lay's 1737 Slaveholders Apostates
    (Reprints Sewall's Pamphlet)
    Bishop Horsley's 1806 Anti-
    Slavery Bible Principles Speech

    Rev. J. Rankin's 1823
    Letters on American Slavery
    Rev. T. Weld's 1839
    Slavery Conditions
    Alvan Stewart's 1845
    Legal Speech For Freeing Slaves
    P 34 cites the Ten Commandments)
    Rev. Wm. Patton's 1846 Pro-slavery
    Interpretations of the Bible:
    Productive of Infidelity

    Rev. J. Fee's 1849
    Non-Fellowship With Slaveholders
    The Duty of Christians

    Rev. J. Fee's 1851
    Anti-Slavery Manual
    Rev. P. Pillsbury's 1883 History
    Acts of the Anti-Slavery Apostles
    Rev. Wm. Goodell's 1852
    Slavery and Anti-Slavery
    (Cites Sandiford's Book)
    H. B. Stowe's 1853
    Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin
    F. Douglass' 1860 Lecture,
    Unconstitutionality of Slavery
    Modern Slavery—Criminalization

    A slaver quickly published a rebuttal, by John Saffin (1626-1710), A Brief and Candid Answer, spouting pro-slavery disinformation.