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into my hands. It has no date, but I conjecture fron some circumstances, that it must have been about the year 1767 or 1768. (It seems, if presented, it had no effect, since the act passed.) I imagine it may not be unacceptable to your readers, and therefore transcribe it for your paper; viz.
To the Honorable the Knights, Citizens, and Burgesses of Great Britain, in Parliament assembled,
The PETITION of B. F., Agent for the Province of Pennsylvania;
Most humbly showeth ;
That the transporting of felons from England to the plantations in America, is, and hath long been, a great grievance to the said plantations in general.
That the said felons, being landed in America, not only continue their evil practices to the annoyance of his Majesty's good subjects there, but contribute greatly to corrupt the morals of the servants and poorer people among whom they are mixed.
That many of the said felons escape from the servitude to which they were destined, into other colonies, where their condition is not known; and, wandering at large from one populous town to another, commit many burglaries, robberies, and murders, to the great terror of the people; and occasioning heavy charges for apprehending and securing such felons, and bringing them to justice.
That your petitioner humbly conceives the easing one part of the British dominions of their felons, by burthening another part with the same felons, cannot increase the common happiness of his Majesty's subjects, and that therefore the trouble and expense of transporting them is upon the whole altogether useless.
That your petitioner, nevertheless, observes with extreme concern in the votes of Friday last, that leave is given to bring in a bill for extending to Scotland, the act made in the fourth year of the reign of King George the First, whereby the aforesaid grievances are, as he understands, to be greatly increased by allowing Scotland also to transport its felons to America.
Your petitioner therefore humbly prays, in behalf of Pennsylvania, and the other plantations in America, that the House would take the premises into consideration, and in their great wisdom and goodness repeal all acts, and clauses of acts, for transporting of felons; or, if this may not at present be done, that they would at least reject the proposed bill for extending the said acts to Scotland; or, if it be thought fit to allow of such extension, that then the said extension may be carried further, and the plantations be also, by an equitable clause in the same bill, permitted to transport their felons to Scotland.
And your petitioner, as in duty bound, shall pray, &c.
The petition, I am informed, was not received by the
On second thoughts, I am of opinion, that besides employing our own vessels, as above proposed, every English ship arriving in our ports with goods for sale, should be obliged to give bond, before she is permitted to trade, engaging that she will carry back to Britain at least one felon for every fifty tons of her burthen. Thus we shall not only discharge sooner our debts, but furnish our old friends with the means of "better peopling," and with more expedition, their promising new colony of Botany Bay.
I am yours, &c.
THE RETORT COURTEOUS.
"John Oxly, pawnbroker of Bethnal Green, was indicted for assaulting Jonathan Boldsworth on the highway, putting him in fear, and taking from him one silver watch, value 51. 5s. The prisoner pleaded, that, having sold the watch to the prosecutor, and being immediately after informed by a person who knew him, that he was not likely to pay for the same, he had only followed him and taken the watch back again. But, it appearing on the trial, that, presuming he had not been known when he committed the robbery, he had afterwards sued the prosecutor for the debt, on his note of hand, he was found guilty, death." Old Bailey Sessions Paper, 1747.
I CHOSE the above extract from the proceedings of the Old Bailey in the trial of criminals, as a motto or text, on which to amplify in my ensuing discourse. But on second thoughts, having given it forth, I shall, after the example of some other preachers, quit it for the present, and leave to my readers, if I should happen to have any, the task of discovering what relation there may possibly be between my text and my sermon.
During some years past, the British newspapers have been filled with reflections on the inhabitants of America, for not paying their old debts to English merchants. And from these papers the same reflections have been translated into foreign prints, and circulated throughout Europe; whereby the American character, respecting honor, probity, and justice in commercial transactions, is made to suffer in the opinion of strangers, which may be attended with pernicious consequences.
At length we are told that the British court has taken up the complaint, and seriously offered it as a reason for refusing to evacuate the frontier posts according to treaty. This gives a kind of authority to the charge, and makes it now more necessary to examine
the matter thoroughly; to inquire impartially into the conduct of both nations; take blame to ourselves where we have merited it; and, where it may be fairly done, mitigate the severity of the censures that are so liberally bestowed upon us.
We may begin by observing, that before the war our mercantile character was good. In proof of this (and a stronger proof can hardly be desired), the votes of the House of Commons in 1774-5 have recorded a petition signed by the body of the merchants of London trading to North America, in which they expressly set forth, not only that the trade was profitable to the kingdom, but that the remittances and payments were as punctually and faithfully made, as in any other branch of commerce whatever. These gentlemen were certainly competent judges, and as to that point could have no interest in deceiving the government.
The making of these punctual remittances was however a difficulty. Britain, acting on the selfish and perhaps mistaken principle of receiving nothing from abroad that could be produced at home, would take no articles of our produce that interfered with any of her own; and what did not interfere, she loaded with heavy duties. We had no mines of gold or silver. We were therefore obliged to run the world over, in search of something that would be received in England. We sent our provisions and lumber to the West Indies, where exchange was made for sugars, cotton, &c. to remit. We brought molasses from thence, distilled it into rum, with which we traded in Africa, and remitted the gold dust to England. We employed ourselves in the fisheries, and sent the fish we caught, together with quantities of wheat, flour, and rice, to Spain and Portugal, from whence the amount was remitted to England in cash or bills of
exchange. Great quantities of our rice, too, went to Holland, Hamburg, &c., and the value of that was also sent to Britain. Add to this, that contenting ourselves with paper, all the hard money we could possibly pick up among the foreign West India Islands, was continually sent off to Britain, not a ship going thither from America without some chests of those precious metals.
Imagine this great machine of mutually advantageous commerce, going roundly on, in full train; our ports all busy, receiving and selling British manufactures, and equipping ships for the circuitous trade, that was finally to procure the necessary remittances; the seas covered with those ships, and with several hundred sail of our fishermen, all working for Britain; and then let us consider what effect the conduct of Britain, in 1774 and 1775 and the following years, must naturally have on the future ability of our merchants to make the payments in question.
We will not here enter into the motives of that conduct; they are well enough known, and not to her honor. The first step was shutting up the port of Boston by an act of Parliament; the next, to prohibit by another the New England fishery. An army and a fleet were sent to enforce these acts. Here was a stop put at once to all the mercantile operations of one of the greatest trading cities of America; the fishing vessels all laid up, and the usual remittances, by way of Spain, Portugal, and the Straits, rendered impossible. Yet the cry was now begun against us, These New England people do not pay their debts!
The ships of the fleet employed themselves in cruising separately all along the coast. The marine gentry are seldom so well contented with their pay, as not to like a little plunder. They stopped and seized.