Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Rufus King, 12 May 1803

From Rufus King

London May 12. 1803


I have not been able to obtain the consent of the Sierra Leone Company to receive the Slaves which the State of Virginia might be willing to send to that settlement. My Correspondence on this Subject has been closed by a Letter from the Chairman Mr. Thornton which states that the Company are in Treaty with Government to receive the Colony under its exclusive control.

The fact I understand to be that the Negroes who have been sent thither are so refractory and ungovernable, and the expense and trouble of maintaining the settlement so great, that the Company have determined to abandon their plan, and the application to Government is with the view of disembarrassing themselves of the Settlement.

With perfect Respect—I have the honour to be, Sir, Your obedt: & faithful Servt

Rufus King

RC (DLC); in a clerk’s hand, signed by King; at foot of text: “His Excellency Thomas Jefferson &c &c &c”; endorsed by TJ as received 4 July, but recorded in SJL as received 3 July. FC (NHi: Rufus King Papers). Enclosures: (1) King to William Wilberforce, Randalls Park estate, Surrey, 8 Jan.; asks Wilberforce to speak to his neighbor, Henry Thornton, about the application “to send certain of our Negroes to Sierra Leone”; King does not believe that “the Presumption, that our Negroes are all of the same idle and disorderly character, as those who joined the English army in America, and who afterwards were abandoned to and infected by the vices of a succession of Garrison Towns,” has any basis, but proposes that the Sierra Leone Company allow “a limited number” of blacks from the United States to be settled in the colony “by way of experiment”; the people to be sent would fall into two categories, the first being slaves “manumitted by their Masters,” a group that would “include our most meritorious Slaves”; the second category would consist of slaves “detected in attempts to excite Insurrections among their fellow Slaves”; this second group would not include “the idle and the vicious,” who would lack “sufficient influence over their associates to become Leaders in Schemes of Insurrection”; King notes that “occasional good offices, and Tokens of regard” will be beneficial to good relations between Great Britain and the United States (Tr in DLC; in a clerk’s hand; at head of text: “Copies” and “Mr. King to Mr. Wilberforce”). (2) King to Henry Thornton, London, 30 Apr., reminding him of the application for permission for the state of Virginia to send to Sierra Leone emancipated slaves, “together with those whose residence in virginia might prove injurious to the subordination of its Slaves” (Tr in same; in a clerk’s hand; at head of text: “Mr. King to Mr. Thornton”). (3) Thornton to King, London, 10 May, informing him that talks are under way for a transfer of the colony from the company to the British government; the company’s directors advise King to contact the secretary or undersecretary for war and the colonies for an answer to the Virginia proposition (Tr in same; in a clerk’s hand; at head of text: “Mr. Thornton to Mr. King”).

my correspondence: King did not enclose a copy of the reply that William Wilberforce wrote him on 11 Jan., in which Wilberforce said that he would impress on “Mr. A.”—Henry Addington, the prime minister—“the extreme Importance of cultivating that friendship betwn. the two countries so desirable, on all accounts, for both.” Wilberforce reported that he would try to take the matter up with Lord Hawkesbury also, but he was “not on the same confidential terms” with Hawkesbury as he was with Addington (King, Life description begins Charles R. King, ed., The Life and Correspondence of Rufus King: Comprising His Letters, Private and Official, His Public Documents and His Speeches, New York, 1894–1900, 6 vols. description ends , 4:206–7).

Henry thornton was chairman of the Court of Directors of the Sierra Leone Company. Wilberforce represented Yorkshire in the House of Commons. The two of them were founders of the company in 1791. Although in 1803 the company’s directors and Parliament considered transferring the colony to the crown’s control, an act for that purpose did not pass until 1807 (Michael J. Turner, “The Limits of Abolition: Government, Saints and the ‘African Question,’ c. 1780–1820,” English Historical Review, 112 [1997], 319–57; DNB description begins H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison, eds., Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, In Association with The British Academy, From the Earliest Times to the Year 2000, Oxford, 2004, 60 vols. description ends ; Vol. 38:473–6).

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