HISTORICAL BACKGROUND OF LETTER: William Dickson, a former secretary to the Governor of Barbados (Hon. Edward Hay) and the author of 'Letters on Slavery' (1789), was engaged by the London Anti-Slavery Society to gain support for the abolition movement in Scotland. William Dickson has a diary of a visit to Scotland from January 5th - March 19th, 1792 on behalf of the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. It is probable that the writer of this letter had personal contact with William Dickson, who originally came from Moffat, Scotland.
Let's get a sense of Dickson's feelings about the Slave Trade -- In an 1787 letter to Thomas Clarkson, Dickson states, "Of the Africans, above one fourth perished on the voyage to the West Indies, and four and a half percent more died on average in the fortnight intervening between the days of entry and sale. To close this awful triumph of the King of terrors, about two in five of all whom the planters bought were lost in seasoning within the first three years and before they could be said to have yielded any productive labour. Now if seven years be the average labouring period of bought slaves, a lot of five should yield thirty five years of labour; and two of them having died, each of the other three must yield nearly twelve years or with the three years of seasoning, nearly fifteen years. But to look for fifteen years of even blank existence, without labour, from each of the survivors of a worse than pestilential mortality, heartless and enfeebled as they must generally be, would be madly romantic." One scholar states that Dickson "one of the most useful and intelligent observers on the institution of slavery in Barbadoes .. he makes many shrewd sociological assessments of the working of the slave system ... an important book for the study of Barbadoes social history." Dickson was an enlightened man of his day, who argued for an end to the slave trade and gradual, but not immediate, emancipation.