Primary Source

The Dolben's Act of 1788 [Government Document]

Annotation

The Dolben's Act of 1788 was proposed by noted abolitionist Sir William Dolben before the English Parliament. While it was meant to restrict the slave trade, it actually had an adverse effect on children. The act mandated that no more than two fifths of a ship's cargo be children, and it also limited the number of African men to 1 male per ship ton. With such restrictions threatening slave supply, planter demand began to change in response. Since this act did not define a 'child,' more children between the ages of 12 and 18 entered the trade. Furthermore, this act sparked an important debate on the benefits of breeding slaves rather than buying them. Consequently, this act was somewhat responsible for an increased number of girls and children in the trade.

Source

Donnan, Elizabeth. Documents Illustrative of the Slave Trade to America. Volume 2. New York: Octagon Books, 1965, 583-87. Annotated by Colleen A. Vasconcellos.

Primary Source Text

An act to regulate, for a limited time, the shipping and carrying slaves in British vessels from the coast of Africa.

Whereas it is expedient to regulate the shipping and carrying of slaves in British vessels from the coast of Africa; be it therefore enacted. . . That it shall not be lawful for any master, or other person taking or having the charge or command of any British ship or vessel whatever, which shall clear out from any port of this kingdom from and after the first day of August one thousand seven hundred and eighty eight, to have on board, at any one time, or to convey, carry, bring, or transport slaves from the coast of Africa to any parts beyond sea, in any such ship or vessel, in any greater number than in the proportion of five such slaves for every three tons of the burthen of such ship or vessel, over and above the said burthen of such ship or vessel, so far as the said ship or vessel shall not exceed two hundred and one tons; and moreover, of one such slave for every additional ton of such ship or vessel, over and above the said burthen of two hundred and one tons, or male slaves who shall exceed four feet four inches in height, in any greater number than in the proportion of one such male slave to every one ton of the burthen of such ship or vessel, so far as the said ship or vessel shall not exceed two hundred and one tons, and of three such male slaves (who shall exceed the said height of four feet four inches) for every additional five tons of such ship or vessel, over and above the said burthen of two hundred and one tons. . . and if any such master, or other person taking or having the charge or command of any such ship or vessel, shall act contrary hereto, such master, or other person as aforesaid, shall forfeit and pay the sum of thirty pounds of lawful money of Great Britain, for each and every such slave exceeding in number the proportions herein-before limited. . . .

II. Provided always, That if there shall be, in any such ship or vessel, any more than two fifth parts of the slaves who shall be children, and who shall not exceed four feet four inches in height, then every five such children (over and above the aforesaid proportion of two fifths) shall be deemed and taken to be equal to four of the said slaves within the true intent and meaning of this act. . . .

VIII. Any person hindering the process of ascertaining the number of negroes in any vessel to be fined £100. . . .

XI. And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid. . . it shall not be lawful for any person to become a master, or to take or have the command or charge of any such ship or vessel at the time she shall clear out from any port of Great Britain, for purchasing and carrying slaves from the coast of Africa, unless such master, or person taking or having the charge or command of any such ship or vessel, shall have already served in such capacity during one voyage, or shall have served as chief mate or surgeon during the whole of two voyages, or either as chief or other mate, during three voyages, in purchasing and carrying slaves from the coast of Africa; under pain that such master, or person taking or having charge or command of any such ship or vessel, and also the owner or owners, who shall hire or employ such person, shall, for every such offence respectively, forfeit and pay the sum of fifty pounds. . . .

XIV. And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid…that there shall not have died more than in the proportion of two slaves in the hundred, from the time of the arrival of such ship or vessel on the coast of Africa, to the time of her arrival at her port of discharge in any of the islands in the West Indies, belonging to or under the dominion of his Majesty, in such case, the collector or other principal officer as aforesaid shall, and he is hereby authorised and required to make out certificates, specifying the number of slaves that appear to have been taken on board the said ship or vessel, and the number that have died within the period above- mentioned; one of which certificates shall be delivered to the master, and the other to the surgeon of such ship or vessel; and on production of such certificates, the commissioners of his Majesty's customs in England and Scotland respectively shall, and they are hereby authorised and required to direct the sum of one hundred pounds to be paid to the master, and the sum of fifty pounds to be paid to the surgeon of such ship or vessel, out of any money that shall be in the hands of the receiver general of the customs of England and Scotland respectively; or if it shall be made appear to the collector, or other principal officer as aforesaid, that there shall not have died more than in the proportion of three slaves in the hundred, from the time of the arrival of such ship or vessel on the coast of Africa, to the time of her arrival at her port of discharge in any of the said West India islands, in such case the collector or other principal officer as aforesaid shall, and he is hereby authorised and required to make out like certificates, and to deliver one to the master, and the other to the surgeon of such ship or vessel; and the commissioners of the customs in England and Scotland respectively shall, and they are hereby authorised and required, on production of such certificates, to direct the sum of fifty pounds to be paid to the master, and the sum of twenty five pounds to be paid to the surgeon of such ship or vessel.

XX. And be it further enacted, That this act shall continue in force till the first day of August one thousand seven hundred and eighty-nine, and no longer, except for the purpose of trying or suing any person in consequence of any offence or offences committed in breach or violation of this act.'

How to Cite This Source

"The Dolben's Act of 1788 [Government Document]," in Children and Youth in History, Item #146, http://chnm.gmu.edu/cyh/primary-sources/146 (accessed July 24, 2014). Annotated by Colleen A. Vasconcellos