Sewall s Response to Mather s The Negro Christianized
Cotton Mather and Samuel Sewall clearly disagree on the legality of slavery. For Sewall, it is most important that slaves be given the same freedom as all men; for Mather, it is most important that slaves be Christianized and given the opportunity of eternal light through the grace of Jesus Christ. Christianizing slaves, according to Sewall, neither makes possession of them legal nor improves the providence of their masters.
Mather indicates that Christianization of African slaves will accrue benefits to their masters in the next life while Sewall believes that Christianization ameliorates the possibility of their masters receiving God s grace. According to Mather, You deny your Master in Heaven, if you do nothing to bring your Servants unto the Knowledge and Service of that glorious Master (Mather, 335). So to Mather, a master disserves not only God and Africans but also himself by missing the opportunity to Christianize his slaves. On the other hand, Sewall writes, The extraordinary and comprehensive Benefit accruing to the Church of God, and to Joseph personally, did not rectify his brethrens Sale of him (Sewall, 326). Essentially, Sewall believes that any attempt to improve the quality of a slave s life (Christianization or otherwise) does not outweigh the immorality of their purchase and possession. For he that shall in this case plead Alteration of Property, seems to have forfeited a great part of his own claim to Humanity (Sewall, 324). Consequently, owners, in Sewall s view, jeopardize their own salvation ( Humanity ) by owning slaves.
In addition, Sewall feels that it is wrong to separate Africans from their native land and that attempts at Christianization, if any, should occur in Africa; however, Mather writes that Christianization offers both removal from their savage land and salvation. To Christianize them aright, will be to fill them with all Goodness. Christianity is nothing but the very Mass of Universal Goodness (Mather, 335). In addition to this Goodness , of course, Mather believes that Christianization offers the hope of salvation to Africans. Sewall does not necessarily disagree with Mather s position on the benefits of Christianization; however, Christians should carry it to all the World, as the Israelites were to carry it towards another (Sewall, 327). In other words, Christians of the New World and Europe, in order to truly improve the situation of native Africans, should offer Christianity to Africans in their native lands. And for men obstinately to persist in holding their Neighbors and Brethren under the Rigor of perpetual Bondage, seems to be no proper way of gaining Assurance that God has given them Spiritual Freedom (Sewall, 327). Thus, the Christianization of Africans in America does not offer hope of salvation to native Africans as they are still bound to their masters and not to God.
Moreover, Mather believes that the law of Christianity allows for slavery, while Sewall argues that the Bible offers evidence to the contrary. Mather would like the reader to assume that biblical justification for slavery exists. He writes, Suppose these Wretched Negroes, to be the Offspring of Cham (which yet is not so very certain,) (Mather, 334). This is Mather s method of avoiding the topic of biblical justification entirely. This is in stark contrast to Sewall who writes, 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 (Sewall, 325). Sewall simply states that those condemned to slavery are not the Africans that men enslave today. Later in his piece, Mather writes, What Law is it, that Sets the Baptized Slave at Liberty? Not the Law of Christianity: that allows of Slavery; only it wonderfully Dulcifies, and Mollifies, and Moderates the Circumstances of it (Mather, 336). According to Sewall, 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 (Sewall, 324). So Sewall clearly believes that Africans should not be enslaved. He offers further evidence when he writes, It is Observable that the Israelites were strictly forbidden the buying, or selling one another for Slaves (Sewall, 326). As the Israelites were all brothers in God s eyes, and Psal. 115. 16 offers clear evidence of the brotherhood of all men, the purchasers of slaves of the New World are clearly violating God s law by buying their own brothers according to Sewall (Sewall, 324).
Christianizing slaves, according to Sewall, neither makes possession of them legal nor improves the providence of their masters. Sewall would have responded by noting Mather s avoidance of the legality of slavery. I would argue that Mather is the one who Dulcifies, and Mollifies, and Moderates the issue of biblical justification by refusing to answer Sewall s specific arguments against slavery in his piece. Remember that Ames writes slavery with the master as agent in general, thwarts the generall Canon, What you would have men do unto you, even so do unto them: Matth. 17.12. 3.3 (Sewall, 327). In Sewall s opinion, by violating the Golden Rule, slave owners clearly place themselves in a precarious position.
Mather, Cotton. The Negro Christianized. The Literatures of Colonial America. Ed. Susan Castillo and Ivy Schweitzer. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2001. 333-37.
Sewall, Samuel. The Selling of Joseph. The Literatures of Colonial America. Ed. Susan Castillo and Ivy Schweitzer. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2001. 323-27.