Extract from Thomas Jefferson to Rufus King

The course of things in the neighboring islands of the West Indies appears to have given a considerable impulse to the minds of the slaves in different parts of the US. a great disposition to insurgency has manifested itself among them, which, in one instance, in the state of Virginia broke out into actual insurrection. this was easily suppressed:1 but many of those concerned, (between 20. & 30. I believe) fell victims to the law. so extensive an execution could not but excite sensibility in the public mind, and beget a 2regret that the laws had not provided, for such cases, some alternative, combining more mildness with equal efficacy. the legislature of the state, at a subsequent meeting, took the subject into consideration, and have communicated to me through the Governor of the state, their wish that some place could be provided, out of the limits of the US. to which slaves guilty of insurgency might be transported; and they have particularly looked to Africa as offering the most desirable receptacle. we might, for this purpose, enter into negociations with the natives, on some part of the coast, to obtain3 a settlement, and, by establishing an African company, combine with it commercial operations, which might not only reimburse expences but procure profit also. but there being already such an establishment on that coast by the English Sierra Leone company, made for the express purpose of colonising civilized blacks to that country, it would seem better, by incorporating our emigrants with theirs, to make one strong, rather than two weak colonies. this would be the more desireable because the blacks settled at Sierra Leone, having chiefly gone from these states, would often recieve, among those we should send, their acquaintances and relations. the object of this letter therefore is to ask the favor of you to enter into conference with such persons private & public as would be necessary to give us permission to send thither the persons under contemplation. it is material to observe that they are not felons, or common malefactors, but persons guilty of what the safety of society, under actual circumstances, obliges us to treat as a crime, but which their feelings may4 represent in a far different shape. they are such as will be a valuable acquisition to the settlement already existing there, and well calculated to cooperate in the plan of civilisation.

PrC (DLC). Dft (DLC). Published in PTJ, 38:54–5.
1Reworked in Dft from “this was suppressed in a single day.”
2In Dft TJ here canceled “sincere.”
3In Dft TJ here canceled “or establish.”
4Word interlined in Dft in place of “must.”
Date Range
July 13, 1802
Quote Category