Source 11 - The Benevolent Planters

The play 'The Benevolent Planters' by Thomas Bellamy was used as a propaganda tool by the pro-slavery group, the West Indies lobby. Abolitionists also sought the support of the creative community including artists, poets and writers and this play was written in response to an anti-slavery poem - The Negro's Complaint - by William Cowper.

It tells the story of two black lovers, Oran and Selima, who are separated in Africa and end up living on adjoining plantations in the West Indies. The story suggests their idle and easy life in Africa is replaced by a god-fearing, productive and structured life of toil on a plantation. It also suggests that the two planters 'Goodwin' and 'Heartfee' are decent individuals who have a paternal interest in the well-being of their slaves.

  • How might a play be a propaganda tool for the West Indian planter's lobby?
  • Compare with other sources on slavery which would have been circulating in 1789?
  • Do you think audiences would have found the play a convincing comment on slavery?

Taken from: The Benevolent Planters. A dramatic piece
Author / Creator: Thomas Bellamy
Publisher: J. Debrett, London
Date: 1789
Copyright: By permission of the British Library Board
Shelfmark: 643.e.19(2)