experience may shew errors in our establishments, we are bound to
correct them; and, if any practices exist contrary, to the principles of
justice and humanity, within the reach of our laws or our influence, we
are inexcusable if we do not exert ourselves to restrain and abolish them."-D.
WEBSTER, Discourse at Plymouth on the second centenary of the settlement
of New England.
"The distinction of color is unknown in Europe." --Speech of Chancellor KENT in the New York State Convention.
New York Elections. --Vote by Ballot.
--Annual Offices. --Restricted
qualification of Blacks. --Its origin.
--Fire, Firemen, and Fire-offices. --Fugitive
Slaves. --City Gaol. --Ex-sheriff Parkins. --Anecdote of Runaway and Master.
--Remarkable generosity in a Woman of color: --Spanish .and American pride
compared. --National Abolition Society. --American Quarterly Review
versus the free Blacks.
In New York State, colored men of the qualified age, and possessed of 250 dollars in freehold estate, are entitled to the elective franchise. It is singular, that, where no political privileges are connected with property, an exception should be made in favor of those with whom vice, not virtue, is supposed to be hereditary; and that the parchment on which the pedigree is written is the skin of the claimant. Equality of civil rights is granted where equality of social rights is denied; and the same man who is admitted to the ballot-box, is thrust out of the diningroom. Let the "African" carry off the palladium of the constitution; but he must not disturb the digestion of its friends. Plutus must be highly esteemed, where his rod can change even a negro into a man. If 250 dollars will perform this miracle, what would it require to elevate a monkey to this enviable distinction?
federal party obtained the ascendancy in the legislature, through
the votes of the colored electors. Hence it was, probably, that the qualification
of this class was restricted by the other party, who had the majority when
the New Constitution was formed in 1821. Among those who distinguished
themselves on that occasion by the liberality of their opinions, was R.
Clarke, who repelled with just indignation the
exclusion from voting which was found in the exclusion from military
duty. "It is haughtily asked", said he, "who will stand in the ranks, shoulder
to shoulder, with a negro? I answer, no one in time of peace: --no one
when your musters and trainings are looked upon as mere pastimes. But when
the hour of danger approaches, your 'white' militia are just as willing
that the man of color should be set up as a mark to be shot at by the enemy,
as to be set up themselves. In the war of the revolution, these people
helped to fight your battles by land and by sea. Some of your States were
glad to turn out corps of colored men, and to stand 'shoulder to shoulder'
with them. In your late war, they contributed largely towards some of your
most splendid victories. On Lakes Erie and Champlain, where your fleets
triumphed over a foe superior in numbers, and engines of death, they were
manned in large proportion with men of color. And in this very House, in
the fall of 1814, a Bill passed, receiving the approbation of all the branches
of your Government, authorizing the Governor to accept the services of
a corps of 2000 free people of color. . . They were not compelled to go,
they were not drafted, they were volunteers --yes, Sir, volunteers to defend
that very country from the inroads and ravages of a ruthless and vindictive
foe, which had treated them with insult, degradation, and slavery."
I never knew
a man of color that was not an anti-Jackson man. In fact, it
was their respectability, and not their degradation, that was the cause
of their disfranchisement. The Albany Camarilla limited the suffrage to
the blacks, and opened it to the Irish; --a pretty good proof that the
former were not likely to be their tools.
Nov. 27, I went to the city gaol to see some men who had been confined there some time as runaway slaves: that is, they were accused of having committed the heinous crime of stealing their own bodies. There were three of them: the first, a very decent good-looking man, about thirty years of age, had been living in New York for four years; having been in prison during the last twelve months. His case, as well as that of the other two, was then in course of adjudication. These poor creatures had no means of support, but what they obtained from casual charity or by waiting upon the other prisoners. Whatever any of them got to eat, by their own industry or the bounty of others, was shared equally between them. Upon inquiry of the keeper, I was told that there was no legal provision --no allowance of any kind, made for persons under these circumstances. This regulation reflects little credit on the humanity of the government; --whether the matter rest with the State or the corporation. A horse or a cow, if seized for rent, would not be suffered to starve; but these unhappy men, who have committed no crime that those who thus punish them would not themselves have committed, and most probably not even that, must depend upon chance --for justice has nothing to do with the affair --for a meal. In this respect they are worse off in the free, as they are called, than in the slave States; since it is the interest of those who keep them in gaol, as well as of those who claim them, that they should be supplied with food; as, in the event of their failing to prove their right to freedom, they would be sold, to defray the expense of keep --an event by no means uncommon on the south side of the Potomac; --whereas they would be discharged in the non-slave holding States, if declared innocent of self-robbery.
By an act passed in 1826 by the legislature of Pennsylvania, a fugitive slave, when committed to gaol for safe keeping, is --"there to be detained, at the expense of the owner, agent, or attorney, for such time as the judge (committing) shall think reasonable and just," &c.
The second case was that of a man who had been within the walls sixteen weeks. He had made his escape four years before from New Orleans. He honestly confessed to me that he was a slave; the other was less frank; and so disheartened by the prospect before him, that he declared he would destroy himself; if taken back to his master in Virginia.
The third had been confined six weeks only. His story, though long and involved in incidents spread over many years, was clearly and distinctly narrated. He had purchased his freedom three or four times, and had been as often defrauded of it. It is required in North Carolina, to which he belonged, that a specific declaration of "meritorious services" performed should be made by an owner, as a condition of emancipation to his slave; and as no such plea could be urged in favor of Damon Jones, (that was the name of the man,) these successive sales were null and void; and the buyers had been most shamefully imposed upon.
It happened, that his master, to whom I had been particularly introduced a few days before at a party, was then in the city; and I determined to call and inquire of him whether Damon's account was to be relied upon. I questioned all these men closely and separately upon the condition of the slaves; and they concurred in the same declaration, --that the general treatment was most barbarous and inhuman. One can easily see why a slave's evidence is not received in a court of justice against a white man. The disqualification affords presumptive proof against the law-maker, who well knows that he would lose more by the truth than the witness could gain by a falsehood.
While I was conversing with the fugitives, I was told that ex-sheriff Parkins had been very kind to them; I accordingly called upon him to inquire about them. He had a room above stairs in the gaol; where he had been for some time incarcerated for contempt of court for an alleged assault --having refused to find bail, and thereby acknowledge, as he thought, that the charge had any foundation. He had been unfortunate in some speculations into which he had entered, and had lost a great deal of money in a way that certainly told as much against the fair dealing of others as his own prudence. He could not hold land as an alien; and yet, if I understood him rightly, he had been involved in a purchase of the kind. He had been made to pay too very severely for the license he had given his tongue, or the defamatory, expressions attributed to him *.
He generally pleaded his own cause; and, whatever sort of client he might have as an advocate, he undoubtedly had not a temperate advocate as a client. His opponents, and their name was truly "legion", had accused him of insanity; but, in the course of conversation I had with him upon different topics, I could perceive no indications of any tendency that way in his mind, except what might be found in great volubility of language, and the frequent use of that figure which Shenstone says is the forerunner of madness. He dealt largely in the parenthesis,--not here and there merely, --but one within another, like an involution of chinese ivory balls. He had written several letters --in behalf of his sable clients, and had shewn a degree of benevolence and zeal in their behalf highly creditable to him. His lawyer very impertinently remonstrated with him on the imprudence of interfering in behalf of these wretched men. "Why do you trouble yourself about these blacks?" said he. The reply was such as he merited. So indignant was the warm hearted ex-sheriff, that he afterwards dismissed him. The man might think it imprudent to interfere in favor of humanity --he was taught to feel that it is sometimes impolitic to interfere against it.
* Not long after, a report was spread that the ex-sheriff had assaulted a fellow-prisoner, and cut his head open with a hatchet. It turned out, however, that the attack was made upon, and not by, him. That he had a hatchet in his possession is true: for I saw it in his room both before and after the rencontre. The unanimity with which the press gave full credit to an ex-paxte statement, adducing it as a proof of derangement, could hardly have originated in any honorable feeling. I was myself witness to a piece of brutality towards this old man, which all his abuse of the country and its people could not have excused. As I took my leave of him, he was told he might go down stairs to see some men who were waiting for him on business. He approached the door with the intention of passing through ; when the turnkey stopped him, and desired him in a harsh manner to wait. Some words passed between them; and the man suddenly shut the door in his face with such violence, that had his arm been caught between it and the post, it must have been broken. He had a narrow escape. It was disgusting to see a young athletic man insult an old man of seventy with a degree of violence that a stout villain would not have required, and the greatest criminal would not have deserved.
The decision of the court was unfavorable to the three prisoners. The Virginian was to be taken back for the purpose of being exhibited to his master's slaves, as a warning to them, not to attempt their escape. He had previously been offered ten dollars, as an addition to a subscription he was told some friends were raising for him; and, when he consulted his lawyer whether he should accept the conditions, he was told that he must judge for himself. The object was to sell him for a distant market; prices having lately risen twenty per cent. The intention was obvious from the terms of the agreement. He was to have the money, providing he accompanied the donor into Virginia. That any lawyer should hesitate about the propriety of trusting a man, whose oath would not be valid, with a stranger who could have but one motive for giving his time and his ten dollars for such a purpose, shows how completely the blacks in the south are at the mercy of the whites.
A case occurred in this very gaol, not long before, illustrative of the whole system. A negro, who had escaped with a boat from Virginia to New York, was reclaimed; and was condemned, on his return, to be hanged for stealing the boat. It was exactly as if a man whose horse had been stolen had gone off with the horse, and had afterwards been executed for stealing the bridle that happened to belong to the thief. He had a wife and eight or nine children in New York. A message was sent to her that a petition had been got up in his favor; but there was little chance that he would be pardoned.
There were some circumstances in the case of one of the remaining slaves that rendered it probable he might eventually obtain his freedom. As for the other, Damon Jones, his story abounded in such singular turns of fortune, that I took it down from his own mouth: it is too long, however, for insertion here. It was a good specimen of the harassing and insecure life a slave leads, even when he has friends to assist him, and is desirous of gaining his liberty by unremitting industry.
When I called on his old master, Mr. Gaston, who was chosen about that time a Judge of the Supreme Court of North Carolina, I found the Secretary of the Anti-Slavery Society with him. He had come upon the same errand. Mr. Gaston then repeated to me what he had just stated to Professor Wright; --that the man was a worthless fellow, and had no right whatever to his freedom. I was much struck with one observation he made. He said he took great blame to himself for having indulged his slave too much: --he had treated him too kindly. They were nearly of the same age, and had been brought up together. What an opinion must this man have of human nature! or how must it be perverted by slavery, if that which produces gratitude in other men, produces estrangement in the slave! --that those "compunctious visitings of remorse", which are elsewhere known to vice and crime alone, should be the effect of virtue and benevolence in the breast of a slaveowner!
When informed that there were persons willing to buy the man's freedom, if he could say any thing in his favor, he answered that he could not do so conscientiously. The Secretary and myself then took our leave; and, on returning to my lodgings a few hours afterwards, I found that a person, at whose house I had a few days before met Mr. Gaston, had, with another acquaintance, called, and, finding me out, had communicated to my landlady the purport of the visit; adding that they would call the next morning early. The next morning about nine o'clock one of them made his appearance, with a letter from Mr. Gaston in his hand. The substance of what the latter had written was merely, that some one, --he knew not his name, --he believed he was a lawyer --whom he had met at the house of this gentleman --had been with him that morning about a slave. He was sorry he could not give the man a good character. He was willing, however, out of former regard, to give fifty dollars to the fund for purchasing his freedom. The writer (singular enough!) had totally forgotten that I had been particularly introduced to him as an Englishman. It was but incidentally that I had told him I should have been called to the bar, had the state of my health been favorable. He had forgotten, too, that it was the Secretary of the Anti-Slavery Society, not I, who had spoken to him about the subscription for Damon's freedom. He was perhaps anxious to quiet any uneasiness I might feel on the subject; and so lost no time in writing to his friend, who seemed to enter with great tact and promptitude into his feelings: --as he related, during the very short stay he made, an anecdote of a slave who had run away, and, having obtained his freedom, either by donation or a judicial decision, declared that he would rather go back to his former condition than remain where he was. I was left to infer from this that slavery is no such bad thing after all; and, indeed, this view of the subject may perhaps explain why Mr. Gaston gave fifty dollars to redeem "a worthless fellow" from bondage. Slavery was too good for him. This piece of liberality was not quite so intelligible to my visitor. He earnestly asked if I had any idea why the gift was made, and was highly pleased at the answer he received. I understood, I said, that the parties had been brought up together as children. It was rather silly in me to ask a slaveowner if his slave was to be trusted, when his own character was concerned in the answer; and still more so to apply to a judge of a slave-State for testimony in support of a colored man's veracity; since the latter is legally incompetent to testify against a white man. If his word is good for anything in New York, why is it good for nothing in North Carolina? It was placing the judge in a very awkward dilemma. He must have stultified either himself or the law he administers. How could the same person tell me to believe a man's word, when he himself will not take his oath? I was led into this error by a letter Damon Jones had received from a man whom Mr. Gaston admitted to be respectable. It was as follows:
When I informed Damon of Mr. Gaston's intention to advance fifty dollars for his liberation, he replied very mildly but very firmly, --"I would rather, not accept Mr. Gaston's money, Sir! He has used me extremely ill; and I do not wish to be under any obligation to him. If those gentlemen, who have so kindly taken my part, will purchase my freedom, I will work at my trade and repay them as soon as I can do so." Subjoined is the answer Mr. Parkins received to the application he had made in behalf of his colored protege.
It should be observed here, that the man had not the shadow of a claim to freedom, because the grant was not in accordance with the law of the land, which, as the judge himself told me, requires a formal allegation from the owner of "meritorious services" rendered by the slave, before he can obtain his emancipation. Now this allegation Mr. Gaston could not make. He had sold him because he had found him troublesome, and again bought him for the purpose of facilitating his escape. And yet, as we shall see by the following letter, he had received from the poor fellow himself the price of a contract which he well knew was neither legal nor binding. The letter alluded to is one from Dr. Caldwell to Mr. Parkins. Dr. Caldwell is President of the College of Chapel Hill, in Orange County, North Carolina, and is respected for his attainments and personal character. I have omitted to state that Damon was, when making his way to the north, advised by Mr. Sneyd, (a nephew-in-law of Mr. Gaston,) to put himself under the care of a man who promised to take him with him to Alabama in search of his wife. By this man he was sold at Mobile in that State.
I answered the letter as far as it was in my power to do so. Damon, in a letter which he sends to me now, says he wrote to me formerly. If he did, I never got his letter as I can remember. I shall have to say now the same things in answer to your inquiries as I formerly said to Professor Olmstead.
* Damon was brought by sea to New York in chains, and would have been carried, in that condition, into North Carolina, had not some members of the Anti-Slavery Society interfered for him, and brought the matter before the legal tribunals of the country.
"I am acquainted with Damon Jones. He acted as a barber for a number of years in this State, to my certain knowledge. Nearly about the last time I saw him he was at this place, and he shewed me a paper, in which Mr. Gaston, his former master, subscribed a declaration made by himself, that he gave full and entire permission to Damon Jones to go as far north as he should wish to go. Knowing something of the circumstances, I considered it as a total and final release of Damon Jones from a state of slavery to him William Gaston*
It certainly was intended to be so understood.
* This document would have been no bar to a seizure for debt or to a sale by an executor.
"It must now be explained, that by the laws of this State, a slave cannot be thus emancipated. Other conditions and forms are required by law, that the emancipation may be legal. If Damon had taken the paper given to him by Mr. Gaston, and travelled directly northward, it would have served him as a pass, by which he might have enjoyed his freedom unmolested the remainder of his days. This, however, I suppose he did not do. I heard of him afterwards, as having gone to the south-west. Being in that part of the State, perhaps at or near Salisbury, some man, it seems, availing himself of the power given by the law of North Carolina, probably got out legal process against Damon; took him up, and sold him again into slavery: --if, indeed, it could be said that he could be free without the sanction of the law. My intelligence was, that he was conveyed away into Alabama, perhaps to Mobile. The next thing I heard of him was by Mr. Olmstead's letter, asking for information, to know whether his right to freedom could be established against the claims of any one who had arrested him as a fugitive slave at Newhaven. These are the circumstances, so far as I am informed of them. Whether my information of the circumstances and events after he left this place is correct or not, I am unable to ascertain. Damon is well known here to all the persons he mentions in his letters: --Mr. Mitchell, Professor of Chemistry at this College; Mr. Chalmers; Judge Nash, of Hillsborough; Judge Martin, of Salisbury; Justice Ruffin, and a multitude of others whom he might name. These are most of them at some distance from this place, and I cannot see them.
"Some time before Mr. Gaston gave Damon his indefinite pass, there had been an understanding between Mr. Gaston and Damon, that Damon should go abroad, make such money as he could in his profession as a barber; and, upon paying a certain sum, his master was to make him free. Damon acted on this understanding for some time. Mr. Gaston had passed a note to John Lewis of this place for about 290 dollars. Damon was expected by Mr. Gaston to pay this note; and, should he do so within a time probably understood between them, Damon was to be a free man. The note was passed by Lewis to me. Damon made payments to me at different times. He paid me personally twenty-eight dollars, and left with Stephen Moore, of Hillsborough, sixty-seven dollars, eighty-two cents, which I received. It was a considerable time after this that Damon shewed me permission from Mr. Gaston to travel northward as far as he should choose to go. Mr. Gaston paid the balance, and took up the note.
"Mr. J. W. PARKINS.
" P.S. Damon Jones has written to me a letter on the same subject. If I write to him, I can say nothing else. Will you shew this letter to Damon? --and it will prevent the necessity of my writing to him.
The sequel of Damon's story, as it was afterwards narrated to me by those who had watched his conduct, confirmed the good opinion they had entertained of him, and gave ample corroboration to all that he had stated of himself. He was put in possession of the valuable prize he had so often been cheated of: --he became free, and was placed in a barber's shop; where his steady habits of industry and good behaviour gave fair promise that he would continue to do well. Want of health and a bad master combined to keep him down; and he was unable to raise sufficient money for the liquidation of the debt he had contracted. He had saved a trifle; and his benevolent friends, who never intended to accept any pecuniary return for their bounty to him, were fully satisfied that he had been calumniniated because he had been injured. His manners were very superior to what are generally found among men of his rank in life, and his disposition was characterised by frankness and simplicity --qualities which in him so far predominated, as to render him the dupe of the designing and the prey of the unprincipled.
A few days after this little incident, I called at the house of a colored woman, who had been mentioned to me as a most remarkable instance of generosity and benevolence. Her name was Hester Lane; and her age between fifty and sixty. She was at home, and received me without affectation or reserve. The object of my visit was soon explained; and the request I made as readily complied with. She informed me that she had redeemed eleven human beings from slavery, in Maryland, having purchased them at different times with the savings she had made out of her hard earnings. She had never had twenty dollars given to her, nor benefited by inheritance or bequest to the amount of a dollar. The house she lived in was her own; and the room in which we sat was well furnished. The first purchased by her was a girl of eleven years of age: the price was 100 dollars. She had been present when she was born, and afterwards assisted at her marriage, at the birth of her four children, and ultimately at her death and her funeral. The next she liberated was a boy of fourteen, for 200 dollars. The third a man about thirty, for 280. The fourth case was that of a man, his wife, and one child. As the parents were sickly and no longer young, she was charged but 140 dollars for the family: --the former she had in a great measure to maintain. The fifth case occurred about eight years previously, and was that of a woman and three children. For these she had to pay 550 dollars. They were bought at a public auction in Maryland, whither she went for that purpose, having received several letters on the subject. She afterwards purchased the husband for 200 dollars, with great difficulty and trouble, as the owner insisted upon having 300. She had the children properly educated, and instructed to gain their own livelihood. The greater part of the purchase money was refunded by the objects of her bounty, when they were enabled to repay her. This account, which I had from her own lips, was confirmed to me by Mr. Curtis, of Crosby Street, a person of great respectability, and well known for his kind feelings towards the descendants of Africa. Most of the cases he himself knew to be as I had heard them: for the rest, he said, he would without hesitation vouch; as her word was as good as any other person's oath. When I was with her, she was teaching herself French. She was a woman of strong religious feelings and principles. By her own exertions, she had obtained a comfortable competency for herself; having been successful in discovering a new mode of coloring walls, by which, and the assistance of a shop, she had realised sufficient to provide for her own wants, and those of her less fortunate fellow creatures. Like all of her race, with whom I had any communication, she was deeply affected by the numerous humiliations to which she was exposed. She never for a moment doubted, she said, that the designs of Providence were wise and good. Yet it was mysterious and afflicting to think that whole nations and tribes should so long have been doomed to unmitigated and unmerited bondage; and when free, should still be subject to contempt and reproach. Her windows looked into the street, and it was most painful to her to witness the savage way in which the blacks were treated by the people, and by none worse than by the Irish; some of whom, not long before, would have murdered a man of color, if some persons, who were passing in a carriage at the time, had not assisted him to escape.
Quarterly Review upbraids the Spaniards of South America for pursuing, towards the Creoles, precisely the same conduct as its readers still observe towards men equally inoffensive, and equally entitled, with themselves, to a participation in political and personal rights. "Even as late as 1811," says the Reviewer, "they (the Creoles) were represented in the Cortez of Cadiz as a race of monkeys, full of vice and ignorance, and automata, unworthy of representing or being represented." --The Hispano-Americans were perfectly justified in resenting the calumny: the Africo-Americans must submit without a murmur. The same journal, (for June 1830,) in describing the effects of Spanish pride in Mexico, draws a complete picture of a very large portion of the United States. "The settlers scorned to be placed on a level with the wretched Indian; their color ennobled them in their own opinion; and the poorest white man would have perished with want, rather than lose caste by working in the fields, or by any other laborious occupation in which the Indians were habitually employed. Thus, then, was wanting that portion of a community which forms the strength of a nation --a hardy and virtuous peasantry."
When power had changed hands, these silly people were driven out of the country. Their neighbors might profit by the example, if it were possible for oppression to count the cost of its gratification; or if fatuity were not the necessary precursor of that destruction which tyranny brings with it, by blinding its instruments and emboldening its victims.
The overwhelming importance of this subject, was now beginning to force upon the public attention the deep impression it had made upon the minds of many who could think and feel like men. A meeting was held in Philadelphia, on the 4th of December, and continued by adjournment till the 6th, for the purpose of forming a national anti-slavery society. There were delegates from ten of the States to this convention; and the proceedings, I was told, (for illness prevented my attending,) were exceedingly solemn and affecting. Several who were present shed tears, and all were animated with one spirit of firmness and resolution. In the declaration of sentiments unanimously adopted. on this memorable occasion, was the following: "We further believe and affirm, that all persons of color, who possess the qualifications which are demanded of others, ought to be forthwith admitted to the enjoyment of the same privileges, and the exercise of the same prerogatives, as others; and that the paths of preferment, of wealth, and of intelligence, should be opened as widely to them, as to persons of a white complexion." The force of these expressions would hardly be felt in England. The unmanly prejudice against which they are aimed, is so deeply seated in the public mind, that its complete eradication is an indispensable preliminary to the abolition of slavery, which is as much the offspring of this feeling, as it is the parent of the slave trade. In striking at the latter, while we left the other in full vigor, we mistook the effect for the cause, and reversed the relation in which demand and supply stand to each other. By combining these two objects, the transatlantic philanthropists are proceeding towards their object in the most direct and the clearest path; for the negro will always be treated as a brute, till he is acknowledged to be a man.
Law-suits. --Arbitration. --Commercial Morality, --Greek Frigates. --Tricks of Trade. --Heroism of a black Boy. --Stagecoach Law. --Schoolboy claimed as Property. --Sympathy of African race. --Bordentown. --American Honesty .-Philadelphia. --Baltimore. --Whites purchased by Blacks. --Expatriation.
I was once asked, with a sarcastic smile, by an American lady of Hibernian descent, if I had met with any interesting blacks in the course of my tour. The winter I passed in New York furnished what this woman, with all her contempt for a race more persecuted and less fortunate than that from which she herself sprang, would acknowledge to be most painfully interesting. During the frost, some ice, on which several boys were skating, in the outskirts of the city, gave way; and several of them were drowned. During the confusion and terror, occasioned by this accident, a colored boy, whose courage and hardihood were well known, was called upon to render assistance. He immediately threw himself into the water with his skates on, and succeeded in saving two lads; but, while exerting himself to rescue a third, he was drawn under the ice, and unable to extricate himself. No one would risk his life for him. Soon after, the details of this melancholy event appeared in one of the newspapers, (the New York American,) with an offer to receive subscriptions for the mother, who was left, with a sick husband and a young family, deprived of the support which she had derived from her son's industry. As reference was made to a medical man in Park Place, I called upon him, and received a very favorable account both of the boy and his poor mother, who was employed to wash for him. I immediately proceeded to her house, and found that she had three children left; --the eldest about ten years of age, and the youngest an infant at the breast. In addition to these, she had undertaken the care of a little girl, five years old, the daughter of a deceased friend, whose husband had deserted his child, and refused to pay anything towards her support. "I consider her as my child," said the generous woman; "and, while I have a crust left, she shall share it with my children." I made inquiries about the boy she had just lost, and was told, what I had heard in Park Place, that his conduct had always been most exemplary; --that he had carried to her every cent he could save from his earnings, and had often expressed a wish that he might obtain sufficient to save her from working so hard; --her business sometimes keeping her up nearly all night.
Such was the history of Susannah Peterson and her heroic boy. It was told in the most simple and natural manner; without any display of grief, or the slightest attempt to exhibit feeling or excite commiseration. There was an expression of dejection however, in the countenance that could not be mistaken; and an effort to suppress the workings of a mother's heart, that I never saw so striking in any one. Every thing, in the furniture of the room, the decent behavior of the children, and the general deportment of the parent, bespoke full as much propriety and respectability as I ever met with in the same class of life, whatever might be the occupation or complexion. Mrs. Peterson was a member of one of the numerous societies for mutual assistance, which exist among the colored inhabitants of New York. That, to which she belonged, is called "The Benevolent Daughters of Zion," and contains about 200 members. The entrance money is one dollar, and the subscription money one shilling (about sixpence of our money) per month. The benefits to be derived from it are an allowance of twelve shillings a week for six weeks during sickness; with any addition after that period that the state of the funds may admit of; --and, in case of death, the payment of funeral expenses (generally ten dollars). There is another society, to which she once subscribed,-- "The Benevolent Assistant Society." The entrance to this is two shillings, and the subscription four cents monthly.
These contributions, with occasional donations, enable the society to assist poor persons who do not belong to it, as well as its own members, when in distress. Mrs. Peterson 's brother, who is known in England as the African Roscius, had occasionally sent her remittances of money, and had expressed, in one of his letters from this country, an intention to provide for her unfortunate boy's education.
It would hardly be credited, that attempts could be made to send this excellent woman, --in bad health herself, with an infirm husband, and a young family, to the pestilential, climate of Africa. Yet the fact, cruel as it is, is too true. A person, under the pretence of employing her to wash for him, had been two or three times at her house, with the object of persuading her to emigrate to Liberia; where he assured her she would meet with every comfort she could desire. Just at this time, the disgraceful manner in which the affairs of the colony had been conducted, had transpired at the annual meeting of the Colonization Society at Washington, when it came out that the Society was in debt to the amount of 40,000 dollars; and no authentic account could be given by the managers, of the situation of the settlement, with respect to numbers, morals, health, or, indeed, any details which an ordinary share of attention or honesty might easily have obtained. Such was the wretched prospect exhibited to all present, that it was resolved not to send out any emigrants during the ensuing year, and to use every effort for replenishing the exhausted exchequer.
I had frequent opportunities of seeing Mrs. Peterson; and my respect for her character increased with my acquaintance. When I settled a little account I had with her for washing and other work, I had some difficulty in prevailing upon her to take what was strictly her due; such was her gratitude for the few services I was enabled, with the assistance of my friends, to render her. Three months had elapsed since the death of young Peterson, and not one of the relatives of either of the boys, whose lives he had saved at the cost of his own, had been near his bereaved mother; and the subscription did not amount to 70 dollars. This, at least, was all she had received. Two English ladies, who had been with her six or eight weeks before, had informed her that they had collected 20 dollars for her. When we consider that the population of the place amounts to more than 250,000, including Brooklyn, it is little to its credit that the gratitude it felt for the preservation of two of its citizens could find no better way to exhibit itself, than by a paltry donation to the self devoted preserver's afflicted parent of a sum scarcely exceeding one fourth of what he might have been sold for, when living, in the slave market at New Orleans.
On the very day that this generous act was performed by a poor lad of color, another example of humanity was given by a man belonging to the same "degraded caste." This case did not excite the same attention, though it well deserved commemoration and recompense. The latter it had, in the shape of five dollars, from the father of the boy who had been rescued from a watery grave. The name of the man who thus distinguished himself was Jones. He declined receiving any remuneration; and the money was given to another colored man, (Austin,) who had carried the child home with him, put him into his own bed, and restored him to life from the state of exhaustion in which he was when taken out of the water. Several white men were standing near, when the accident occurred; but none of them ventured to quit dry land: Two months elapsed before the father of the boy visited the man to whom he was indebted for the life of his son.
It is remarkable that the prejudice against these people increases as its injustice becomes more apparent; one of them, on his way to Philadelphia, about the same time, suffered so much by exposure to the cold on board the steam-boat, that he was detained at that city some days by severe illness. He was not permitted, though an invalid, to go into the cabin. Seven or eight persons, who knew him to be a highly respectable man, petitioned the captain to grant him this slight indulgence in vain. Another case, almost as bad, occurred near New York. A man had taken his place by the Newark stage and had got inside, with the permission of the driver; but was compelled, after crossing the ferry, to get out and walk nine miles from Jersey city to Newark, which he did not reach till some time after dark. On his refusal to alight, he was dragged out by force. I was acquainted with the man, and can vouch for his respectability, and for the truth of this story. I need not say what was his pedigree. The matter was carried into a court of justice; when the judge put a leading question, "Whether a stage proprietor or driver has or has not a right to order his passengers to sit in or on any part of the stage, to suit his own convenience." After a delay of four days, a verdict was given for the defendant. Thus, it appears, a stage coachman in America can "turn out" any one from his "place," at his own will and pleasure; and "the man wot drives" the Andrew Jackson, is more despotic than Andrew Jackson himself.
A short time after this, a boy of color, only seven years of age, was taken by force, in open day, from a public school in the city, on a charge of being a fugitive slave. As soon as the outrage was known, --for what, after all that has been said about the rights of property, was this seizure of a child, but an outrage upon humanity? --a meeting of this ill-treated race, consisting of seventy or eighty men, was held; and a subscription was raised to defray the expenses, which the maintenance and legal defence of this poor child would occasion. In the mean time, such was the sensation produced among the children, both of this school and of others, that penny subscriptions were entered into, by the scholars of both sexes. I was at the Anti-slavery Society's office, when the contributions were paid in. There were two or three deputations from the schools with their bags of copper; one containing two dollars and three shillings; another thirteen shillings: --four dollars were obtained from the school-mates of the poor little fellow.
A man who had presided at the meeting alluded to, and who witnessed the sympathy exhibited by these innocent victims of a prejudice, from which he had himself suffered, and which falls on the young and the old indiscriminately, was so much affected, that he could not refrain from tears --a weakness, of which he said he felt himself ashamed, but which I assured him, did him the highest honor. The whole scene, connected as it was with feelings and practices for which the people, among whom it took place, ought to hang down their heads with shame, was one of the most interesting I ever saw.
One of the boys, who had come with the contributions of his school, had one of the finest heads and most intelligent countenances to be seen on human shoulders. The complexion was African, but the features were European. He was the brother of a boy, whom I had examined --with others of the same race some months before, in Latin: --on which occasion they all acquitted themselves beyond what the shortness of the time, in which they had been engaged in the study of language, could have warranted any one to expect. Some essays, which they had composed in English, were read by them at the same time. A few of them were particularly well written; and all of them as deserving of praise as any compositions by persons of the same age. I should add, that it was by mere chance that I was present during the recitations. It may be remarked here, that the sum advanced, on ,the spur of the moment, by a few Pariahs, in a small district to redeem an infant brother from bondage, was about one third of what was obtained from the most populous and wealthy city in the Union, after the delay of several months, to relieve a poor woman, whose son had saved the lives of two of its favored inhabitants, and sacrificed his own in trying to preserve that of a third.
The boy, whom I examined,
was very diligent and industrious. He would rise, in the depth of winter,
at four or five o'clock in the morning, to read, before the business of
the day, which began with him at an early hour.
I was anxious to get on to Washington; and had no opportunity of seeing anything of Baltimore.
On the evening of my arrival I called on Mr. Levington, the colored preacher whom I had heard at Boston. He was living in a wretched hovel: his room, however, was better furnished and more comfortable than the external appearance of his dwelling indicated. It is disgraceful to the Episcopal Church, that one of her most praiseworthy and disinterested ministers should be so ill provided for. In his way home from the East, he had preached at Peter Williams's church, and obtained sixty-five dollars forty cents from his auditors; while from Christ Church (Boston) he had received but thirty-five. As the gallery on that occasion was nearly filled with persons of color, some deduction must be made from the "white " contributions; and it may fairly be said, that the "degraded race" to which he belongs are twice as rich or twice as generous as the supercilious whites. After all the trouble and anxiety he had undergone, during an absence of six months, he had not cleared 600 dollars. He had paid over the proceeds to the creditors of his church; and the remaining 600 due were to be received by them in instalments. The testimonials he had brought back with him from the clergy in New York and New England had in some measure compensated the incomplete result of his mission, by conciliating the public favor, and inducing one of his clerical brethren to promise him the assistance of an annual sermon in aid of his exertions to liquidate what remained of the debt. One testimony to his worth might well have been spared; Elliott Cresson (the well-known agent of the Colonization Society) offered to provide for his wife and children, and arrange the affairs of his church, if he would go to Liberia. But he was too shrewd to accept a proposal which he knew was never made to any one from a generous motive. When those who are likely to do honor to themselves and their race are uniformly selected as fit objects of expatriation, --when solicitations and entreaties and inducements of all sorts are held out, not to the reprobate and ignorant, but the honest and well-educated, to quit the country, --suspicion is naturally excited that a preconcerted scheme, of a very extensive co-operation, has been brought into action, with views and objects directly the reverse of those professed by its artful agents.
The next day being Sunday, I went to Mr. Levington's church, the congregation at which was very small, but very decent in their dress and demeanor: the rest of his flock having been kept away by the weather, which was very boisterous; the wind and the rain seeming to vie with each other in violence. The service was performed with propriety and devotion; and the responses made with decorum and regularity. Most part of these people at Baltimore are of the Methodist persuasion; and the opposition their preachers make to Episcopacy, renders it a matter of no small difficulty to find occupiers for the new pews in the new church, in spite of the attraction of comfortable seats and a handsome building.
There are a good many free blacks in Baltimore, the merchants of which prefer them to the whites as porters and carmen. So well known are they for their superior honesty and civility, that the storekeepers and tradesmen are used, as I have been informed by more than one reputable person, to tell their customers that they will not be answerable for any goods they may send out, when entrusted to white people. No such proviso is made in the case of a colored porter. Some of them possess property, and the whole class is sufficiently numerous to have excited the jealousy of the whites, who endeavored, some years back, to procure a law for excluding them from some of the most lucrative employments in the city. The attempt failed; for the citizens had the good sense to see that they would be sure to suffer by the monopoly which concession would have granted to the claimants. A very singular fact is mentioned in a work published in 1818, by a person (M. de Fiirstenwather) who was sent from Germany, to make inquiries into the condition of the emigrants from that country to the United States: "There arrived," he says, "this summer a ship from Amsterdam, addressed to Mr. Graff --one of the richest merchants in this place. A greater part of the passengers had not paid their freight. Two families were bought by free negroes, of which there is a large number in Maryland. This disgusted the Germans in Baltimore to the degree, that they, and among them Mr. Graff himself, though consignee of the ship, without whose knowledge the thing had taken place, immediately rebought them, and formed an association to prevent the recurrence of any such degrading abuse."
In the session of 1830-31, the legislature of Maryland passed an act of expatriation against the free blacks. 20,000 dollars were voted for the purpose; and a power of raising ten times that sum, by loan, if necessary, was granted. Compulsion was to be used in the case of those who refused to quit the State. Such wanton cruelty is almost without an example in the annals of human tyranny; which in other times, and in other places, has at least endeavored to conceal its crimes under some sort of cover --some plea of religious or political expediency. Another act , of the same date, prohibits, under the severest penalties, the introduction of any free negro or mulatto from other States. An infringement of this law, the penalties of which have fallen so severely on Levington, by depriving him of the pupils he might have otherwise had, is visited with a fine of fifty dollars for every week of its continuance; and, in default of payment, subjects the offender to be sold for a length of time necessary to pay the mulct:-that is, in fact, to perpetual slavery: for who is to protect him against a further sale, and a removal to the remote regions of the south for life?
Washington City. --Gadsby's.
--Capitol --Two Houses of Congress. --Interview with Cherokee Chiefs --Treatment
of Slaves by Indians. --Causes of Extermination
of Aborigines. --Indian Character misrepresented --Gold Mines. --Motive
for removing Indians. --Insuperable Bar to incorporation with the Whites.
--Despotic Laws of Georgia. --Protest against Emigration. --Religious Persecution
I put up at Gadsby's hotel --an establishment upon an immense scale: --between three and four hundred persons having been at one time accommodated there. At Baltimore, the bed-room doors were locked, at the hotel; and the guests requested to leave their keys at the bar of the house. Here, on the contrary, I was informed that no precaution of the kind was necessary. As the servants at the one were white, and at the other black, I was curious to learn the cause of this difference. I asked, therefore, one of the waiters at the breakfast-table how many servants there were; and whether they were free. "Sir," replied the man, "there are seventy or eighty of us; and not one freeman." My heart sunk within me at this unexpected piece of intelligence. I felt shocked beyond description at the idea of being surrounded by slaves. "Do you belong to the master of the house?" I inquired. "No," was his reply: "my owner lives at Alexandria: --I am let out, as many others are, to the landlord: --there are many here who do not know each other, even by name." The man spoke in a dejected voice, but his language was good --much better than what I had heard the day before in the stage. I conversed with him some time; --as long, indeed, as I remained the only white in the room ;-and felt deeply convinced, by what he told me, that his fellow bondsmen, as well as himself, were unhappy and discontented.
all thieves, why does Gadsby allow his doors to be left unlocked,
and so much valuable property exposed? Is the whip a better preventive
of crime than the penitentiary? Or is he who is compelled to labor more
honest than the man who is hired? Gadsby's treatment of those under his
care is, I was told, mild and considerate, --this is the more to his credit
--for he is an Englishman, long resident in the country; and it is generally
observed that the English slave-owners are more cruel masters than the
Americans; and of the latter, the southerners are less severe than those
from the north. It is well known that those habits, which are most repugnant
to our nature, are, when once they have obtained the mastery, the least
easily subdued; while they are more severely condemned, from their supposed
indication of innate depravity.