Included in here are the following people:
Ukawsaw GronniosawJupiter Hammon, Olaudah Equiano, W.E.B. du Bois; Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr; Rosa Parks, Philis Wheatly, Peter Williams, Prince Hall, Ibrahim Abd ar-Rahman, Nat Turner, Slave accounts, George Jackson, Frederick Douglass, Claude McKay, Jube Benson
IN THEIR OWN WORDS AND WRITING
There is a rich history of African American people that needs to be re-told and paid close attention-to. There have been and there are still men and women who are willing to put their life and fortune on the line just to see their people acquire complete freedom and equality so long denied them in the United States of America. These men and women have existed during the era of American Chattel Slavery and, through the times of the Black Codes, Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movements.
These men and women have used their own ingenuity and tactics to try to deflect and change the situation of their people under seriously trying circumstances and reality. Historians have justified this absence of slave voices in the history of slavery and the American people by insisting that , after all, the slaves left no record, accomplished little that was "noteworthy," and they did not have much history.
They somehow, conveniently left-out the laws and the legal and the draconian edicts and processes, as were applied to the people of African ancestry, which were, in many ways, an expression of social control. We are going to look at some of these people and what they had to do to uplift their enslaved people from the House of Bondage. This re-writing of some of the history of African American Slaves has been carried-out in this article because the subject been treated by most historians as a specialized and exotic entity, and not as a central focus of the study of the development of American people.
Herb Boyd, in whose book Autobiography of a People enabled the retelling and information about the slaves possible says: "There is probably no better time to reflect on the past than at the dawn of a new millennium… The story of African American people is a glorious one, replete with a pantheon of mighty voices and courageous souls who in their combined strength have overcome inestimable odds and carved a special niche in the gallery of world culture...… My only wish is that in a small way I have narrowed the scope for future endeavors of this sort". In a smaller way I hope to bring attention to the stories covered by him in this piece to help push forward learning and awareness of a rich history of the African Americans in the words and or recorded voices of the slaves themselves.
Black history in the United States must be viewed as an integral, if usually antagonistic, part of the history of the American people. Without understanding the historical development of the Black(African) society, culture, and community, comprehension of the totality of America's development impossible. Slavery was a fundamental part of the history of the whole American people, just as its aftermath continues to pose a fundamental question for our national life.
Most discussion of American development has ignored, side-stepped, or treated as a minor theme slavery and its aftermath. Emphasis has been placed, instead, upon geographic conditions, upon technological achievements and the organization of industry, upon technological achievements and the organization of industry, upon ideological uniqueness, and upon, and upon governmental practice and constitutional theory. The history of American society has been subordinated to the history of the American State; the reality of the American people to ideologically determined abstractions. The history of the American people has been subordinated to the history of industrial technology, of capitalism, and of related values and institutional arrangements.
There has been as a consequence very little written social history of the American people, and what there has been has usually avoided discussion of either class conflict r the subordination of Blacks(Africans) to Whites. Thus, for example, labor historians have usually focused upon the institutional development of trade unions, rather than upon the activities of working people No one has written a "Making of the American Working Class," but there have been many serious works on the institutional history of particular trade union organizations. If White workers rarely appeared in the annals and chronicles of the American people, Blacks(Africans) have appeared hardly at all. And the black(African) slave himself/herself has been virtually absent from the written history other than as the victim of White aggression or the recipient of White paternalism.
The Black(African) slave usually has been portrayed as the victim who never enters his own history as its subject, but only as the object over which abstract forces and glorious armies fought. Historians have justified this absence of slave voices in the history of slavery and the American people by insisting that, after all, the slaves left no records, accomplished little that was "noteworthy," and therefore did not have much of a history. Peter Chew wrote: "A subjugated people, reduced to and held in a condition little better than that of domestic animals,is not likely to make much history .... As uneducated slaves, Blacks(Africans were obviously in no position to lead noteworthy careers: they could not become lawyers, doctors, military leaders, architects, engineers, statesmen."
But it is not enough to assert that the history of Black(African) people has never been made integral to the history of the American people, or that the voices of the slaves have been rarely heard. There must be sources that demonstrate that White society cannot be understood without seeing its symbiotic relationship to Black(African) society, sources in which the slaves speak for themselves. But we have been told very often that slaves were illiterate and therefore left no records. And those historians most interested in finding the slaves' own accounts have so far depended upon those books left by occasional, and exceptional, runaway slaves.
Yet there is a large body of previously untapped material which directly expresses the views of slavery held by those who had been slaves. It is largely upon this work that the Hub is based, selections from which comprise the collection of material that this Hub introduces. What are these sources?
First, there were scores of slave autobiographies published before the Civil War or shortly thereafter. While there are o uneven quality, they are at least no less significant than the special pleadings of the slaveowners and White abolitionists whose writings historians have always dealt with seriously. Further, there were thousands of interviews with ex-slaves recorded in the 1920a and 1930s by several groups of investigators, by private scholars, and under the auspices of the federal government, all of which have received only scant attention by historians.
There were at least eighty published slave narratives which appeared before the Civil War and probably more. These fell generally into three types: those which were written by former slave who had made their way to freedom;those obviously written by an amanuensis but clearly and accurately reflecting the experiences of the narrator; and those which were either thoroughly ghostwritten by a well-known abolitionist such as John Greenleaf Whittier and Richard Hildreth, most of the slave narratives were clearly of the first two types.
In addition to the narratives published before the Civil War, there was a thin but steady stream that followed in the four decades after the war. These often were written by Black(African) ministers as fundraising devices for themselves and their churches; consequently, they tend to be very moderate in the views of the slave experience, reflecting the required ideological posture Black(Africans) had to assume in order to get money our of Whites.
It is worth noting that many ex-slaves clearly did not distinguish between the experience under slavery and that after abolition The plantation system did not change drastically for most ex-slaves after the end of slavery, and many continued to live and work on the same plantations where they formerly had been slaves. Indeed, when interviewed in the 1930s, some were still living on the same plantation or very near to it, even though they might have owned the portion of the plantation they worked. Evidence of this important continuity between slavery and freedom must be made available if we are to understand the depths of the system of American slavery and racism
This collection of slave narratives and interviews is no exception. The value of such narratives and interviews does not generally lied in their descriptions of great historical events. While we might learn something from them of the politics of the antebellum South, of the economic development of the nation, of its intellectual life, such information does not dominate the works in this hub. Instead, they reveal day-to-day life of people, their customs, their values, their ideas, hopes, aspirations, and fears.
We can derive from them a picture of slave society and social structure and of the interaction between Black(African) and White. We can see in them the outline the outlines of the slave community, that network of communication systems whereby people were enable to live. And we can study through them the development of the community. From these materials we can see how the Black(African) slaves, forced to abandon his/her African pst with its institutions had to adapt himself/herself to being a slave under White masters in a new land, formed from an Afro-American way of life that combined the thought patterns of the African heritage with the social forms and social conditions of the new land. Rather than becoming "deculturized," the slaves used what they brought with them from Africa to meet Africa to meet the new conditions; they created new social forms and behavior patterns which syncretized African and New World elements under the particular conditions of slave life in the United States. In these stories we can find ways of understanding and dealing with the slaves' daily accommodations to their conditions and, as well, with their resistances and rebellions. We can learn a great deal about the treatment of the slaves and the consequences of such treatment.
When we look at the records that come across from slave records written by some slavers as Ship captains, we cannot cull much information, but the best sources are from slave narratives wherein we get a sense of what life was like in some regions and villages of West Africa for the latter part of the eighteenth century, and in eighteenth century America. We begin by looking at the narrative of a slave who was taken from Africa, to America, but held on to his beliefs which coincided with those of the Christians from Europe; he was able to get the concept of paying, God, and reading the bible how all this connected to the way he was brought-up.
James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw (1710-- ?), Says he was a son of the King of Bornu. He gives us a glimpse of his life in Africa and what led to his capture. In his own narrative he says that he was born in the city of Bornu(Baurnou) and his mother was the eldest daughter of the reigning King. He say that he was the youngest of six children, is mother loved him and his grandfather doted over him. He said he was an inquisitive child and asked his parents and family questions they could not answer.
He grew up being taught about the Great Man of power, whom he was supposed to worship. He grew up wondering about 'Some Superior Power' that his mother always told him was responsible for the heavens and the stars and their lives and other peoples lives. He held on to this thoughts until he was taken into slavery. He says on one Saturday he woke up at three in the morning to be on time at their place of worship, where they would pray kneeling down till the sun came up(he estimates about 10 or 11 am in the morning).
They then got up upon the signaling from the Priest and headed for home. His people were manufacturing clothes and supplying the rest of the country with meat drinks and clothes. His life changed, as he put it when about this time, there came a merchant from the Gold Coast(the third city of Guinea), he traded with the inhabitants of our country in ivory.
He took great notice of him and told him that if his parents would let him take him away, it would be of service to him than anything he could imagine. He told him that he would see houses with wings walk upon water, and would see a lot of white folks. He also told him he had many sons his age, and that afterwards he would bring him back. Ukawsaw was taken by all this and he left his family. He says:
"I was now more than a thousand miles from home, without a friend or any means to procure one. soon after I came to the merchant's house, I heard the drums beat remarkably loud, and the trumpets blow, and was very inquisitive to know the cause of rejoicing, and asked many questions concerning it; I was answered that it was meant as a compliment to me, because I was the grandson of the King of Bornu."
A Dutch Ship came and took hi away, after he pleaded with the captain not to let him be ill-treated. The captain brought him and he goes on to add: "I was now washed and clothed in the Dutch or English manner. I watched everything he did very carefully. He used to read prayers in public to the ships crew every Sabbath day; and when I first saw him read, I was never so surprised in my whole life as when I saw the book talk to my master; for I thought it did, as I observed him to look upon it, and move his lips.
"I wish it would do so to me. As soon as my master had done reading, I followed him to the place where he put the book, being mightily delighted with it, and when nobody saw me, I opened it and put my ear down close upon it, in great hope that it would say something to me; but was very sorry and greatly disappointed when I found it would not speak, this thought immediately presented itself to me, that everybody, and everything despised me because I was Black."
The ship he was taken in was bound for Barbados, but it docked in New York where he was sold for fifty dollars to a man he names as Vanhorn. His work was to wait at table and tea and also clean knives. He said his life was easy and he noticed and learned that the rest of the slaves in the compound cursed a lot, and he too picked up the language(English) easily and he cursed too a lot. One day one of the slaves, and old man, told him that if he kept it up, he will be the child of the Devil and he was going to burn in hell. This scared him a lot and he stopped cursing.
The maid, with whom she was working with, lost her cool when she mistakenly sprinkled her waistcoat with a mop. The mistress got angry and called upon god to damn her, and this surprised and shocked Ukawsaw, and he also thought that the girl was foolish to have acted the way she did. This concerned him so much that he told the mistress that there is a black man called the Devil and lives in hell, and was going to put fire on her and burn her.
Upon inquiring who told him all that, Ukawsaw said the old slave, Old Ned, told him so. When her husband came back, she told him what Ukawsaw said, and old Ned was whipped and the old man and other slaves were banned from entering into the kitchen. Ukawsaw's mistress never got mad at him, but went on to tell all her visitors about Ukawsaw and his story. It was until a minister, called Freelandhouse took interest in him, persuaded Ukawsaw's master to sell him to him, minister Freelandhouse. After some persuasion, Ukawsaw was sold for fifty British Pounds.
Ukasaw later wrote: "He took me home with him, and made me kneel , and put my hands together, and prayed for me, and every night and morning he did the same.-I could not make out what it was for, nor the meaning of it, nor what they spoke to when they talked.-I thought it comical, but liked it very well.
After I had been a little while with my new master, I grew more familiar, and asked him the meaning of prayer: (I could hardly speak English to be understood) he took great pains with me, and made me understand that he prayed to God, who lived in heaven; that he was my father and best friend. I told him that this must be a mistake; that my father lived in Bornu, and I wanted very much to see him, and likewise, my dear mother, and sister, and I wished he would be so good to send me back to them; and I added all I could think of to induce him to convey me back.
I appeared in great trouble, and my good master was so much affected that the tears ran down his face. He told me that God was a great and good Spirit, that he created all the world, and every person and thing in it, Ethiopia, Africa and America and everywhere. I was delighted when I heard this. There, says I, I always thought so when I lived at home! Now,If I had wings like an eagle. I would fly to tell my dear mother that God is greater than the sum, moon and stars; and that they were made by him.
I was exceedingly pleased with this information of my master's, because it corresponded so well with my own opinion; I thought now if I could but get home, I should be wiser than all my country folks, my grandfather, or father, or mother, or any of them.-But though I was somewhat enlightened, by the information of my master's, yet I had no other knowledge of God than that he was a good Spirit, and created everybody, and everything.
I was never sensible in myself, nor had anyone ever told me, that he would punish the wicked, and love the just. I was only glad that I had been told there was a God, because I had always thought so. He knew that what was taught to him as the 'Superior Power that were responsible for the heavens' was the same as what he has already learned as a slave.
The story of Ukawsaw teaches us that, many of the slaves were people who were aware that there was God, a thing they learned from their parents and community. He took time to learn English and write about his experience. This is an important lesson that clearly shows us that most African were cognizant of the higher being and his powers, love and understanding.
Some slaves wrote letter and petitioned for themselves their own freedom and labor re-compensation,vote and recognition for their contributions to national defense and to be recognized and residence. This is one was written in 1780 to The Council and House of representatives for the state of Massachusetts in New England.
John Cuffe 1755- (from the Colored Patriots of the American Revolution)
"The petition of several poor negroes and mulattoes, who are inhabitants of the town of Dartmouth, humbly showeth,-That we are being chiefly of the African extract, and by reason of long bondage and hard slavery, we have been deprived of enjoying the profits of our labor or the advantage of inheriting estates from our parents, as our neighbors the white people do, having some of us not long enjoyed our own freedom.
Yet of late, contrary to the inevitable custom and practice of our country, we have been, and now are, taxed both in our poor and that small pittance of estate which,through much hard labor and industry, we have got together to sustain ourselves and families with all. We apprehend it therefore, to be hard usage, and will doubtless(if continued) reduce us to a state of beggary, whereby we shall become a burden to others, if not timely prevented by the interpretation of your justice and power.
Your petitioners further show, that we apprehend ourselves to be aggrieved, in that, while we are not allowed the privilege of freemen of the State, having no vote or influence in the election of those who tax us, yet many oaf our color(as is well known) have cheerfully entered the field of battle in the defense of common cause, and that(as we conceive) against a similar exertion of power(in regard to taxation), too well known to need a recital in this place.
We most humbly request, therefore, that you would take our unhappy case into your serious consideration, and, in your wisdom and power, grant us relief from taxation, while under our present depressed circumstances, and your poor petitioners, as in duty bound, shall ever pray.
Karl Marx wrote about this situation as follows:
"...As soon as the people, whose production still moves within the lower forms of slave-labor, corvee labor,are drawn into the whirlpool of an international market dominated by capitalistic mode of production, the sale of their products for export becoming their principal interest, the civilized horrors of over-work are grafted on the barbaric horrors of slavery, serfdom and so on.
"Hence the Negro labor in the Southern States of the American Union preserved something of a patriarchal character, so long as production was chiefly directed to immediate local consumption. But in proportion, as the export of cotton became of vital interest to these states, the overworking of the Negro and sometimes the using up of his life in seven years' of labor became a factor in a calculated and calculating system".
The existence of the slaves in the United States must be seen as an integral part of antagonistic part of the history of the American people. In fact, the history of the American people has been subordinated to the history of industrial technology, of capitalism, and of related values. What is even more serious there's a paucity of material written in the eighteenth century by slave themselves because they were to allowed to read.
Unless some masters, like in the case of Ukawsaw, where he eventually got to know how to speak and write English and the case of John Cuffe or Jupiter Hammon and countless others who counseled their brethren. Some of these narratives were written by former slaves reflecting on their experiences. This is what one said in the address in an address to the negroes in the state of New York:
Jupiter Hammon (1711-1802) Said that: ".... I have wanted exceedingly to say something to you, to call upon you with tenderness of a father and friend, and to give you the last, and I may say, dying advice of an old man, who wishes your best good in this world, and in the world to come. But while I have had such desires, a sense of my own ignorance, and unfitness to teach others, has frequently discouraged me from attempting to say anything to you; yet, when I thought of your situation, I could not rest easy....
I think you will be more likely to listen to what is said, when you know it comes from a Negro, one of your own Nation and color; and therefore have no interest in deceiving you, or saying anything to you, but what he really thinks is your interest and duty to comply with. My age, I think, gives me some right to speak to you, and reason to expect you will hearken to my advice. I am now upwards of seventy years old, and cannot expect, though I am well and able to do almost any kind of business, to live much longer.
I have passed the common bounds set for man, and must soon go the way of all the earth. I have had more experience in the world than most of you, and I have seen a great deal of the vanity and wickedness of it. I have had great reason to be thankful that my lot has been so much better than most slaves have had. I suppose I have had more advantages and privileges than most of you, who are slaves, have ever known.
"Now I acknowledge that liberty is a great thing, and worth seeking for, if we can get it honestly; and by our good conduct, prevail on our masters to set us free: though for my own part I do not wish to be free, yet I should be glad if others, especially the young Negroes, were to be free; for many of us who are grown up slaves, and have always had masters to care of us, should hardly know how to take care of themselves; and it may be more for our own comfort to remain as we are.
That liberty is a great thing we may from our own feelings, and we may likewise judge so from the conduct of the white people in the late war. How much money has been spent, and how many lives have been lost to defend their liberty. I must say that I have hoped that God would open their eyes, when they were so much engaged for liberty, to think of the state of the poor blacks, and to pity us....
Let me beg of you, my dear African brethren, to think very little of your bondage in this life; for you're thinking of it will do you no good. I f God designs to set us free, he will do it in his own time and way; but think of your bondage to sin and Satan, and do not rest until you are delivered from it.
That is why it is interesting to note that many ex-slaves did not distinguish between the experience under slavery and that after abolition. Many slaves continued to live and work on the same plantations. There were those who , although they remain in slavery, wanted to see their offspring become free, but, as Jupiter counsels his brothers in the excerpt above, there was no need to dwell over what happened to his generation, but the younger one ought to taste freedom with all its new lifestyles.
Bu if the slave has a history, then his behavior changed over time as he learned from his past life of bondage and applied himself to the new frontiers of freedom. Men do not start revolutions on their own, but, only when they can no longer stand the contradictions of their own lives and personalities do they move into some decisive action very quickly. Victims are always in the process of becoming rebels because the contradictions in life and society demand and dictate for such a resolution.
Whether it was a belief in God, or dealing and asking for justice in a slave-holding society or exhorting ones fellow-men to grab freedom with both hands, all were doing what they did for the good of their brothers, society and future generations. Our reminding of ourselves of these narratives, helps to put history in a correct and clear path, and a unique perspective of understanding and knowing for ourselves and society what happened during slavery, from the slaves' accounts, and what it is we can do, learn and make better the present life we all live and exist in.
From The Poems of Phillis Wheatley Boston, 1770s
On Being Brought From Africa To America
"Twas mercy brought from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there's a God, that there's a Savior too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
"Their color s a diabolic die."
Remember, Christians, Negroes, Black as Cain
My be refin'd , and join the angelic train.
To the Right Honorable William, Earl of Dartmouth, His Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for North-America, & c.
Hail, happy day, when, smiling like the morn,
Fair Freedom rose New-England to adorn:
The Northern clime beneath her genial ray,
Dartmouth, congratulates they blissful sway:
Elate with hope her race no longer mourns,
Each soul expands, each grateful bosom burns,
While in thine hand with pleasure we behold
The silken reins, and Freedom's charms unfold.
Long lost to realms beneath the northern skies.
She shines supreme, while hated faction dies:
Soon as appear'd the Goddess long desired,
Sick at the view, she languished and experienced;
Thus from the splendors of the morning light
The owl in sadness seeks the aves of night.
No more, America, in mournful strain
Of wrongs, and grievance underdressed complain,
No longer shalt thou dread the iron chain
Which wanton Tyranny with lawless hand
Had made, and with it meant to enslave the land.
Should you, my lord, while you peruse my song,
Wonder from whence my love of Freedom sprung,
Whence flow these wishes for the common good,
By feeling hearts alone best understood,
I, young in life, by seeming cruel fate
Was snatched from Africa's fancy happy seat:
What pangs excruciating must molest,
What sorrows labor in my parent's breast?
Steel'd was that soul and by no misery mov'd
That from a father seized his babe beloved:
Such, such my case. And can I then but pray
Others may never feel tyrannic sway?
For favors past, great Sir, our thanks are due,
And thee we ask thy favors to renew,
Since in thy pow'r, as in thy will before,
To sooth the griefs, which thou did'st once deplore.
May heavenly grace the sacred sanction give
To all thy works, and thou for ever live
Not only on the wings of fleeting Fame,
Though praise immortal crowns, the patriot's name,
But to conduct to heavens refulgent fane,
May fiery coursers sweep the' ethereal plain,
And bear thee upwards to that best abode,
Where, like the prophet, thou shalt find thy God.
Prince Hall - 1797
"Beloved Brethren of the African Lodge"
"It is now five years since I delivered a charge to you on some parts and points of masonry. As one branch or superstructure of the foundation, I endeavored to show you the duty of a mason to a mason, and of charity and love to all mankind, as the work and image of the great God and the Father of the human race. I shall now attempt to show you that it is our duty to sympathize with our with our fellow-men under their troubles, and with the families of our brethren who are gone, we hope, to the Grand Lodge above.
"We are to have sympathy," said he, "but this, after all, is not to be confined to parties or colors, nor to towns or states, nor to a kingdom, but to the kingdoms of the whole earth, over whom Christ the King is head and grand master for all in distress.
"Among these numerous sons and daughters of distress, let us se our friends and brethren; and first let us see them dragged from their native country, by the iron hand of tyranny and oppression, from their dear friends and connections, with weeping eyes and aching hearts, to a strange land, and among a strange people, whose tender mercies are cruel,-and there to bear the iron yoke of slavery and cruelty, till death, as a friend, shall relieve them.
And must not the unhappy condition of these, our fellow-men, draw forth our hearty prayers and wishes for their deliverance from those merchants and traders, whose characters you have described in Revelations xviii. 11-13? And who knows but these same sort of trader may, in a short time, in like manner bewail the loss of the African traffic, to their shame and confusion? The day dawns now in some of the West India Islands. God can and will change their condition and their hearts, too, and let Boston and the world know that He hath no respect of person, and that that bulwark of envy, pride, scorn and contempt, which is so visible in some, shall fall.
"Jethro, and Ethiopian, gave instructions to his son-in-law, Moses, in establishing government.Exodus xviii. 22-24. Thus, Moses was not ashamed to be instructed by a Black man. Philip was not ashamed to take a seat beside the Ethiopian Eunuch, and to instruct him in the gospel. The Grand Master Solomon was not shamed to hold conference with the Queen of Sheba. Our Grand Master Solomon did not divide the living child, whatever he might do with the dead one; neither did he pretend to make a law to forbid the parties from having free intercourse with one another, without the fear of censure, or be turned out the synagogue.
"Now, my brethren, nothing is stable; all things are changeable. Let us seek those things which are sure and steadfast, and let us pray God that, while we remain here, he would give us the grace and patience, and strength to bear up under all our troubles, which, at this day, God knows, we have our share of Patience, I say; for were we not possessed of a great measure of it, we could not bear up under the daily insults we meet with in the streets of Boston, much more on public days of recreation.
How, at such times, are we shamefully abused, and that to such a degree, that we may truly be said to carry our lives in our hands, and the arrows of death are flying about our heads. Helpless women have their clothes torn from their backs. ... And by whom are these disgraceful and abusive actions committed?
Not by the men born and bred in Boston,-they are better breed; but by a mob or horde of shameless, low-lived, envious, spiteful persons-some of them, not long since, servants in gentlemen's kitchens, scouring knives, horse-tenders, chaise-drivers I was told by a gentleman who saw the filthy behavior in the Common, that, in all places he had been in, he never saw so cruel behavior in all his life; and that a slave in the West indies.
On Sundays, or holidays, enjoys himself and friends without molestation. Not only this man, but many in town, who have seen their behavior to us, and that, without provocation, twenty or thirty cowards have fallen upon one man. (O, the patience of the Blacks!) 'Tis not for want of courage in you, for they know that they do not face you man for man; but in a mob, which we despise, and would rather suffer wrong than do wrong, to the disturbance of the community, and the disgrace of our reputation; for every good citizen doth honor to the laws of the State where he resides.
"My brethren, let us not be cast down under these and many other abuses we at present are laboring under,-for the darkest hour is just before the break of day. My brethren, let us remember what a dark day it was with our African brethren, six years ago, in the French West Indies. Nothing but the snap of the whip was heard, from morning to evening.
Hanging, breaking on the wheel, burning, and all manner of tortures, were inflicted on those unhappy people. But, blessed be God, the scene is changed. They now confess that
goth hath no respect of persons, and, therefore, receive them as their friends, and treat them as brothers. Thus doth Ethiopia stretch forth her hand from slavery, to freedom and equality."
Peter Williams - 1808
Fathers, brethren, and fellow citizens: At this auspicious moment I felicitate you on the abolition of the Slave Trade. This inhuman branch of commerce which, for some centuries past, has been carried on to a considerable extent, is, by the singular interposition of Divine Providence, this day extinguished. An event so important, so pregnant with happy consequences, must be extremely consonant to every philanthropic heart.
But to us, Africans and descendants of Africans, this period is deeply interesting. We have felt, sensibly felt, the sad effects of this abominable traffic. It has made, if not ourselves, our forefathers and kinsmen its unhappy victims; and pronounced on them, and their prosperity, the sentence of perpetual slavery.
But benevolent men have voluntarily stepped forward to obviate the consequences of this injustice and barbarity. They have striven, assiduously to restore our natural rights; to guarantee them from fresh innovations; to furnish us with necessary information; and to stop the source from whence our evils have flowed.
The fruits of these laudable endeavors have long been visible; each moment they appear ore conspicuous; and this day has produced an event which shall ever be memorable and glorious in the annals of history. We are now assembled to celebrate tis momentous era; to recognize the beneficial influences of humane exertions; and by suitable demonstrations of joy, thanksgiving, and gratitude, to return to our heavenly Father, and to our earthly benefactors, our sincere acknowledgements.
Review, for a moment, my brethren, the history of the Slave Trade. Engendered in the foul recesses of the sordid mind, the unnatural monster inflicted gross evils on the human race. Its baneful footsteps are marked with blood; its infectious breadth spreads war and desolation; and its train is composed of the complicated miseries of cruel and unceasing bondage.
Before the enterprising spirit of European genius explored the western coast of Africa, the state of our forefathers was a state of simplicity, innocence, and contentment. Unskilled in the arts of dissimulation, their bosoms were the seats of confidence; and their lips were the organs of truth.
Strangers to the refinements of civilized society, they followed with implicit obedience the (simple) dictates of nature. Peculiarly observant of hospitality, they offered a place of refreshment to the weary, and an asylum to the unfortunate. Ardent in their affections, their minds were susceptible of the warmest emotions of love, friendship and gratitude.
Although unacquainted with the diversified luxuries and amusements of civilized nations, hey enjoyed some singular advantages from the bountiful hand of nature and from their own innocent and amiable manners, which rendered them a happy people. But, alas! This delightful picture has long since vanished; the angel of bliss has deserted their dwelling; and the demon of indescribable misery has rioted, uncontrolled, on the fair fields of our ancestors.
After Columbus unfolded to civilized man the vast treasures of this western world, the desire to gain of gain, which had chiefly induced the first colonists of America to cross the waters of the Atlantic, surpassing the bounds of reasonable acquisition, violated the sacred injunctions of the gospel, frustrated the designs of the pious and humane, and, enslaving the harmless aborigines, compelled them to drudge in the mines. ...
I need not, my brethren, take a further view of our present circumstances, to convince you of the providential benefits which we have derived from our patrons; for if you take a retrospect of the past situation of Africans, and descendants of Africans, in this and other countries, to your observation our advancements must be obvious.
From these considerations, added to the happy event which we now celebrate, let us ever entertain the profoundest veneration for our for our magnificent benefactors, and return to them from the altars of our hearts the fragrant incense of incessant gratitude. But let not, my brethren, our demonstrations of gratitude be confined to the mere expressions of our lips.
The active part which the friends of humanity have taken to ameliorate our sufferings has rendered them, in a measure, the pledges of our integrity. You must be well aware that notwithstanding their endeavors, they have yet remaining, form interest and prejudice, a number of opposers. these, carefully watching for every opportunity to injure the cause, will not fail to augment the smallest defect in or lives and conversation; and reproach our benefactors with them as the fruit of their actions.
Let us, therefore, by a steady and upright deportment, by a strict obedience and respect to the laws of the land, form an invulnerable bulwark against the shaft of malice. thus, evincing to the world that our garments are unpolluted by the stains of ingratitude, we shall reap increasing advantages fro the favors conferred; the spirits of our departed ancestors shall smile with complacency on the change of our state; and posterity shall exult in the pleasing remembrance.
May the time speedily commence when Ethiopia shall stretch forth her hands; when the sum of liberty shall beam resplendent on the whole African race; its genial influences promote the luxuriant growth of knowledge and virtue.
Ibrahim Abd Ar-Rhaman
I was born in the city of Tombuctoo. My father had been living in Tombuctoo, but removed to be King in Teembo, in Foota Jallo. His name was Alman Abrahim. I was five years old when my father carried me from Timbuctoo. I lived in Teembo, mostly, until I was twenty-one, and followed the horsemen. I was made Captain when I was twenty-one-after they put me to that, and found that I had a very good head, at twenty-four they made me Colonel.
At the age of twenty-six, they sent me to fight the Hebohs, because they destroyed the vessels that came to the coast, and prevented our trade. When we fought, I defeated them. But they went back one hundred miles into the country, and hid themselves in the mountain. We could not see them, and did not expect there was any enemy.
Wen we got there, we dismounted and led our horses, until we were half-way up the mountain. Then they fired upon us. We saw the smoke, we heard the guns, we saw the people drop down. I told everyone to run until we reached the top of the hill, then to wait each other until all came there, and we would fight them.
After I had arrived at the summit, I could see no one except my guard. They followed us, and we ran and fought. I saw this would not do. I told everyone to run who wished to do so. Everyone who wished to fun, fled. I said I will not fun for an African. I got down from my horse and sat down. One came behind and shot me on the shoulder. One came before and pointed his gun to shoot me, but seeing my clothes, (ornamented with gold), he cried out, that! The King. Then everyone turned down their guns, and came and took me.
When they came to take me, I had a sword under me, but they did not see it. The first one that came, I sprang forward and killed. The one cam behind and knocked me down with a gun, and I fainted. They carried me to a pond of water, and dipped me in; after I came to myself they bound me. They pulled off my shoes, and made me go barefoot one hundred miles, and led my horse before me. After they took me to their own country, they kept me for one week.
As soon as my people got home, my father missed me. He raised a troop, and came after me; and as soon as the Hebohs knew he was coming, they carried me to the Mandingo country, on the Gambia. They sold me directly, with fifty others, to an English ship. They took me to the Island of Dominica. After that I was taken to New Orleans. They took me to Natchez, and Colonel Foster] bought me. I have lived with Colonel F. for 40 years. Thirty years I have labored hard. The last ten years I have been indulged a great deal.
I have left five children behind me. I desired to go back to my own country again; but when I think of my children, it hurts my feelings. If I go to my own country, I cannot feel happy, if my children left. I hope, by god's assistance, to recover them. Since I have been in Washington, I have found a good many friends. I hope they will treat me in other cities as they have treated me in the city of Washington, and then I shall get my children. I want to go to Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York, and then I shall return hither again.
Nat Turner 1800 - 1831
Sir, — you have asked me o give a history of the motives which induced me to undertake the late insurrection, as you call it - To do so I must go back to the days of my infancy, and even before I was born. I was thirty-one years of age the 2 of October last, and born the property of Benj.
Turner, of this country. In my childhood a circumstance occurred which made an indelible impression on my mind, and laid the ground work of that enthusiasm, which has terminated so fatally to many, both White and Black, and for which I am about to atone at the gallows. It is here necessary to relate this circumstance-trifling as it may seem, it was the commencement of that belief which has grown with time, and even now, sir, in this dungeon, helpless and forsaken as I am, I cannot divest myself of.
Being at play with other children, when three of four years old, I was telling them something, which my mother overhearing, said it happened before I was born-I stuck to my story, however, and related somethings which went, in her opinion, to confirm it-others being called on were greatly astonished, knowing that these things had happened, and caused them to say in my hearing, I surely would be a prophet, as the Lord has shewn me things that had happened before my birth. ...
My grandmother, who was very religious, and to whom I was much attacked-my master, who belonged to the church, and other religious persons who visited the house, and whom I often saw at prayers, noticing the singularity of my manners, I suppose, and my uncommon intelligence for a child, remarked I had too much sense to be raised, and if I was, I would never be of any service to any one as a slave.
To a mind like mine, restless, inquisitive and observant of everything that was passing, it is easy to suppose that religion was the subject to which it would be directed, and although this subject principally occupied my thoughts-there was noting that I saw or heard of to which my attention was not directed.
The manner in which I learned to read and write, not only had great influence on my own mind, as I acquired it with the most perfect ease, so much so, that I have no recollection whatever of learning the alphabet-but to the astonishment of the family, one day, when a book was shewn to me to keep me from crying, I began spelling the names the names of different objects-this was a source of wonder to all in the neighborhood was constantly improved at all opportunities, particularly the Blacks.
When I got large enough to go to work, while employed, I was reflecting on may things that would present themselves to my imagination, and whenever an opportunity occurred of looking at a book, when the school children were getting their lessons, I would find many things that the fertility of my own imagination had depicted to me before; all my time, not devoted to my master's service, was spent either in prayer, or making experiments in casting different things in moulds made of earth, in attempting to make paper, gun-powder, and many other experiments, that although I could not perfect, yet convinced me of its practicability If I had the means(When questioned as to the manner of manufacturing those different articles, he was found well informed on the subject)).
I was not addicted to stealing in my youth, nor have ever been-Yet such was the confidence of the negroes in the neighborhood, even at this early period of my life, in my superior judgement, they would often carry me with them when they were going on any roguery, to plan for them.
Growing up among them, with this confidence in my superiority, and when this, in their opinions, was perfected Divine inspiration, from the circumstances already alluded to in my infancy, and which belief was ever afterwards zealously inculcated by the austerity of my life and manners, which became the subject of remark by White and Black. Having soon discovered to be great,
I must appear so, and therefore studiously avoided mixing in society, and wrapped myself in mystery, devoting my time to fasting and prayer. By the this, having arrived to man's estate, and hearing the scriptures commented on at meetings, I was struck with that particular passage which says: "Seek ye the kingdom of Heaven and all things shall be added unto you." I reflected much on this passage, and prayed daily for light on this subject.
As I was praying one day at my plough, the spirit spoke to me, saying, "Seek ye the kingdom of Heaven and all things shall be added unto you." Question:-'what do you mean by the Spirit' Ans: 'The spirit that spoke to the prophets in former days'-and I was greatly astonished, and for two years prayed continually, whenever my duty would permit-and then again I had the same revelation, which fully confirmed me in the impression that I was ordained for some great purpose in the hands of the Almighty.
Several years rolled round, in which many events occurred to strengthen me in this belief. At this time I reverted my mind to the remarks made of me in my childhood, and the things that had been shewn me-and as it had been said of me in my childhood by those whom I had been taught to pray, both White and Black, and in whom I had the greatest confidence, that I had too much sense to raised, and if I was, I would never be of any use to any one as a slave. Now finding I had arrived to man's estate, and was a slave, and these revelations being made known to me, I began to direct my attention to this great object, to fulfill the purpose for which, by this time, I felt assured I was intended.
Knowing the influence I had obtained over the minds of my fellow servants (not by the means of conjuring and such like tricks-for to them I always spoke of such things with contempt) but by the communion of the spirits whose revelations I often communicated to them, and they believed and said my wisdom came from God.
I now began to prepare them for my purpose, by telling them something was about to happen that would terminate in fulfilling the great promise that had been made to me-About this time I was placed under an overseer, from whom I ran away-and after remaining in the woods under an overseer , from whom I ran away-After remaining in the woods thirty days, I returned, to the astonishment of the negroes on the plantation, who thought I had made my escape to some part of the country, as my father had done before.
But the reason for my return was, that the Spirit appeared to me and said I had my wishes directed to the things of this world, and not to the Kingdom of Heaven, and that I should return to the service of my earthly master-"For he who knoweth is Master's will, and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes, and thus have I chastened you."
And the Negroes found fault, and murmured against me, saying that if they had my sense, they would not serve any master in the world. And about this time I had a vision-and I saw White Spirits and Black Spirits engaged in battle, and the sun was darkened-thunder rolled in the Heavens, and blood flowed in the streams-and I heard a voice saying, "Such is your luck, such you are called to see, and let it come rough or smooth, you must surely bare it."
I now withdrew myself as much as my situation would permit, from the intercourse of my fellow servants, for the avowed purpose of serving the Spirit more fully and it appeared to me , and reminded me of the things it had already shown me, and it appeared to time, and reminded me of the things it had already shown me, and that it would reveal to me the knowledge of the elements, the revolution of the planets, the operation of the tides, and changes of the seasons.
After this revelation in the year of 1825, and the knowledge of the elements being made known to me, I sought more than ever to obtain true holiness before the great day of judgement should appear, and then I began to receive the true knowledge of faith. And from the first steps of righteousness until the last, was I made perfect, and the Holy Ghost was with me,and said, "Behold me as I stand in the Heavens" — and Looked and saw the forms of men in different attitudes-and there were lights in the sky to which the children of darkness gave other names that what they really were-for they were the lights of the saviors hands, stretched forth from East to West, even as they were extended on the cross on Calvary for the redemption of sinners.
And I wondered greatly at these miracles, and prayed to be informed of a certainty of the meaning thereof-and shortly afterwards, while laboring in the field, I discovered drops of blood on the corn as though it were dew from heaven-and I communicated it to may, both Black and White,in the neighborhood-and then I found on these leaves in the woods hieroglyphic characters, and numbers, with the forms of men in different attitudes,portrayed in blood, and representing the figures I had seen before in the heavens.
And now the Holy ghost had revealed itself to me, and made plain the miracles it had shown me-For as the blood of Christ had been shed on this earth, and had ascended to the heaven for the salvation of sinners, and was now returning to earth again in the form of dew-and as the leaves on the trees bore the impression of the figures I had seen in the heavens, it was plain to me that the Savior was about to lay down the yoke he had borne for the sins of men, and the great day of judgement was at hand.
About this time I told these things to a White man, (Etheldred R. Brantley) on whom it had a wonderful effect-and he ceased from his wickedness, and was attacked immediately with a cutaneous eruption, and blood oozed from the pores of his skin, and after praying and fasting nine days, he was healed and the Spirit appeared to m again, and said, as the Savior had been baptized so should we be also-and when the White people would not let us be baptized by the church, we went down into the water together, in the sight of many who reviled us, and were baptized by the Spirit.
After this I rejoiced greatly, and gave thanks to God. And on the 12 of May 1828, I heard a loud noise in the heavens, and the Spirit had instantly appeared to me and said the Serpent was loosened, and Christ had laid down the yoke he had borne for the sins of men, and that I should take it on and fight against the Serpent, for the time was fast approaching when the first should be last and the last should be first. Quest.
Do you not find yourself mistaken now? And. Was not Christ crucified? And by signs in the heavens that it would make known to me when I commenced the great work-and until the first sign appeared, I should conceal it from the knowledge of men-and on the appearance of the sign, (the eclipse of the sun last February) I should arise and prepare myself,and slay my enemies with their own weapons.
And immediately on the sign appearing in the heavens, the seal was removed from my lips, and I communicated the great work laid out for me to do, for four in whom I had the greatest confidence, (Henry, Hark, Nelson,and Sam)-it was intended by us to have begun the work of death on the 4 July last-Many were the plans formed and rejected by us, and it affected my mind to such a degree, that I fell sick, and the time passed without our coming to any determination how to commence-Still new schemes and rejecting, when the sign appeared again, which determined me not to wait longer.
Since the commencement of 1830, I had been living with Mr. Joseph Travis, who was a kind master and placed the greatest confidence in me; in fact, I had no cause to complain of his treatment of me. On Saturday evening of the 20 of August, it was agreed between Henry, Hark and myself, to prepare a dinner the next day for the men we expected, and then to concert a plan, as we had not yet determined any. Hark, on the following morning, brought a pig, and henry brandy, and being joined by Sam, Nelson, Will and Jack, they prepared in the woods a dinner, where, about three o'clock, I joined them. ...
I saluted them on coming up, and asked Will how came he there, he answered, his life was worth no more others, and his liberty as dear to him. I asked him if he thought to obtain it? He said he would, or lose his life. This was enough to put him in full confidence. Jack, I knew, was only a tool in the hands of Hark, it was quickly agreed we should commence at home (Mr. J. Travis') on that night, and until we had armed and quipped ourselves, and gathered sufficient force, neither age nor sex was spared, (which was invariably adhered to).
We remained at the feast until about two hours in the night, when we went to the house and found Austin: they all went to the cider press and drank, except myself. On returning to the house, Hark went to the door with an axe, for the purpose of breaking it open, as we knew we were strong enough to murder the family, if they were awakened by the noise; but reflecting that it might create an alarm in the neighborhood, we determined to enter the house secretly, and murder them whilst sleeping.
Hark found a ladder and set it against the chimney,own which I ascended, and hoisting a window, we entered and came down stirs, unbarred the door,and removed the guns from their places. It was then observed that I must spill the first blood. On which, armed with a hatchet,and accompanied by Will, I entered my master's chamber,it being dark, I could not give a death blow, the hatchet glanced from his head,he sprang from the bed and called his wife, it was the last word, Will laid him dead, with a blow of his axe, and Mrs. Travis shared the same fate, as she lay in bed.
Short On Nat Turner
The leader of a slave insurrection in Virginia,known as the "Southampton Insurrection", or more frequently, "Nat Turner's Rebellion." He was born in Southampton County, Virginia, in 1800. From his childhood he claimed to see visions and hear voices, and became a Baptist preacher of great influence among the Black(African) Slaves.
Unlike most slaves(Africans) of the time, Turner was literate. In 1828he confided to a few companions that a voice from heaven had announced that "the last shall be first," which was interpreted to mean that the slaves should control. An insurrection was planned, and a solar eclipse in February 1831 and peculiar conditions atmospheric conditions on the 13 of August were accepted as the signal for beginning the work.
On the night of the 21 August 1831, with seven companions, he entered the home of his master, Joseph Travis, and murdered the residents. After securing guns, horses and liquor they visited other houses, sparring no one. Recruits were added, in some cases by compulsion, until the band numbered about sixty.
About noon on the 22nd they were scattered by a small force of Whites, hastily gathered. Troops, marines and militia were hurried to the scene, and all participants were hunted down. In all thirteen men, eighteen were women, and twenty-four children had been murdered. After hiding for six weeks, Nat was captured on the 30 of October and was tried and hanged, having made, meanwhile, a full confession(Part of it can be read above).
Nineteen of his associates were hanged and twelve were sent out of the state. The insurrection, which was attributed to the teachings of the abolitionists, led to the enactment of stricter slave codes(Black Codes).
The Religion of the Slaves
In the nineteenth century there was a strong attempt by Whites[in America) to use religion as a form of social control. These White masters sought to impose to superimpose a formal religion on the slaves. But that religion never seemed to gain total adherence of the slaves who continued to carry on prayer meetings at night. What contemporaries referred to as the "AfricanCult" not only did not disappear, it continued to flourish with great creativity and strength and was clearly the mainspring of African religion in the United States.
The slaves' emphasis upon religion has often been seen as simply a release from the daily world of work, a way of finding a refuge in the promise of salvation n the future. And this might indeed have been the case if the slaves and been generally secular and urban people and if the only religious expression they had was that dominated by their masters. But that isa one-sided view of reality and ignores the independent basis of slave religion in the nighttime prayer meetings and sings. While religion certainly may at times be an opiate, the religion of the oppressed usually gives them the sustenance necessary for developing a resistance to their own oppression.
The religion of the slaves kept alive in them the desire and basis for a struggle for freedom. On a more immediate level, it made their daily lives bearable. If the community was not yet strong enough to overcome adversity, it could at least bear with it; the ability to survive adversity in the present is, of course, necessary to the ability to overcome it in the future…
In prayer meetings and night sings Africans became American slaves while American-born slaves renewed their contact with the African experience through exchanges of ideas with newly arrived migrants from Africa.
The slave narratives and slave autobiographies(some of which have been already written above), contain hundreds of references to such prayer meetings and night sings. Often they were held late at night in a cabin in the slave quarters. Often they took place in an "arbor church" an outdoor meeting place usually attached to a group of trees that were considered particularly sacred and as having magical properties.
The evidence indicates that such meeting s were usually held once a week on most plantations and that often slaves from several plantations would attend. The slaves, men and women, would crowd into an earthen-floored hut to sing, to pray, to shout and get "happy." Often they would do a slow circle, each individual's hand on the next person's shoulder. Through these prayer meetings the bonds among people were tightened.
Carey Davenport, a retired Black(African) Methodist minister from Texas, had been born a slave in 1855. He had the following to say about slave religion:
"I don't 'emember no culled(Colored) preachers in slavery times. The White Methodist circuit riders came around on horseback and preach. There was a big box house for a church house and culled(Colored) folks sit off in one corner of the church. Sometimes culled(Colored) folks go down in dugouts and hollows and hold hey own service and they used to sing songs what come a-gushing up from the heart."
There were to religious expressions: the official, Sunday service in the White church and the prayer meetings where the Black Maranos sang the songs that came "a-gushing from the heart." Clara Brim, born in the 1830s in Louisiana, indicates the same bipartite religious system:
"When Sunday come, old Massa ask who want to go to church. Dem what wants could ride hoss-back or walk. Us go to de White folks church. Dey sot(sat) in front and us sot(sat) in back. Us had prayer meetin' too, regular every week. One old culled(Colored) man a sort of preacher. He de leader in 'ligion.
Cato Carter , born in 1836 or 1837 as a slave in Alabama, indicates how slaves' own religion was often prohibited and practiced secretly:
"Course 'slaves' had their ser'ous side too. They loved to go to church and had a li'l log chapel for worship. But I went to the White folks church. In the chapel some 'slave' mens preached from the Bible,but couldn't read a line no more than a sheep could. The Carters didn't mind their 'slaves' prayin' and singin' hymns, but some places wouldn' 'low them to worship a-tall and they had put their heads in post to sing o pray."
Carter's testimony that the slaves were sometimes prohibited from religious expression in the nineteenth century is verified by other slaves, who also indicate other nuances of slave religion. Adeline Cunningham was born a slave in Texas in 1852. She says of her Master and his family about slave religion:
"Dey was rough people and dey treat ev'rybody rough .... No suh, we never goes to church. Times we sneaks in de woods and prays the Lawd to make us free and times one of the de slaves got happy and made noise dat dey heerd at de big house and den de overseer come and whip us 'cause we prayed de Lawd to set us free."
Ellen butler, born a slave in Louisiana in 1859 in 1859, had the following comment about slave religion:
"Massa never 'lowed us slaves to go to church but hey have holes in the fields they gits down down in and prays. They done that way 'cause the White folks didn't want them to pray. They used to pray for freedom."
Adeline Hodges, born a slave in Alabama, indicates the importance of the independent slave religion to her:
"De slaves warn't 'lowed to go to church, but they whisper roun', and all meet in de woods and pray. De only time I 'members my pa was one when I was a li'l chile, he set me on a log by him and prayed."
Mingo White indicates the importance of mid-week meetings in the total life of the slave, and how they were related in the minds of the slaves to other aspects of autonomy such as having their own gardens to work, Saturday night "frolics," and hostility to going to Sunday church:
"After de day's wuk(work) was done there warn't anything for de slaves to do but to go to bed. Wednesday night we went to prayer meetin'. We had to be in de bed by nine o'clock. Ever' night de drivers come 'round ten ter make sho' dat we was in de bed. I heard tell of folks goin' to bed an' den gittin' up and goin' to youther platation.
On Sat'day de hans' wukked(worked) 'twell noon. Eyhad de res' of de time to wuk(work) dey gardens.Ever' fambly(family) had a garden of dere own. On Sat'day night the slave could frolic for a while. Dey would have parties sometimes an' whiskey and homebrew for de servants. On Sundays we didn't do anything but lay 'round an' sleep, 'case we didn't lack to go to church."
The slaves understood that the official religion was being used as a method of social control and it was clear that for many slaves it simply didn't work. Wes Beady, born in about 1850 in Texas, told it as he saw it:
"We went to church on the place and you ought to heard that preachin'. Obey your massa and missy, don't steal chickens and eggs and meat, but nary(not) a word 'bout havin' a soul to save."
Lewis Fabor, born a slave in Georgia in 1855, had this to say about White preaching under official auspices:
"On Sunday all were required to attend the White church in town. They sat in the back of the church as the White minister preached and directed the following text at them: 'don't steal your master's chickens or his eggs and your backs won't be whipped."(see picture in Photo Gallery)
The slaves at times prayed in one way while the preacher preached in another way. Minnie Davis, an ex-slave from Georgia. About ten years old when the war ended, said:
I recall that Dr. Hoyt used to pray that the Lord would drive the Yankees back. He said that "Niggers were born to be slaves." My mother said that all the time he was praying out loud like that, she was praying to herself: "oh Lord, please send the Yankees on and let them set us free."
One of the richest expressions of this counterposition of the slaves' reactions to the official religion and his practice of his own religion is in the following account of Richard Carruthers, born in Memphis, Tennessee, in the mid-1830s, and raised as a slave in Texas:
"When the White preacher come he preach and pick up his Bible and claim he gittin' the text right out of the Good Book and he preach" "The Lord say, don't you niggers steal chickens from your missus. don't steal your master's hawgs." That would be all he preach ...
Us 'salves used to have a prayin' ground down in the hollow and sometimes we come out of the field, between eleven and twelve at night, scorchin' and burnin' up with nothing to eat, and we wants to ask the food Lawd to have mercy. We put grease in a snuff pan or bottle and make a lamp. We take a pine torch, too, and goes down to the hollow and pray. Some gits so joyous they stars to holler loud and we has to stop they mouth. I see 'slaves' gits so full of the Lawd and so happy they draps unconscious."
The slaves' religious ceremonies emphasized and tightened the social bonds among people. In the religious meetings the people of the slave quarters gathered together to discuss the events of the day, to gain new strength from the communal reality to face their individual realities, to celebrate the maintenance of life in the midst of adversity, and to determine the communal strategies and tactics. Out of these meetings came the modern Black church and many black lodges which play such an important role in the modern Afro-American community, and which continue to function as important social institutions both for accommodation and for struggle.
Frederick Douglass - 1840
The impression which I had received respecting character and condition of the people of the North. I found to singularly erroneous. I had very strangely supposed, while in slavery, that few of the comforts, and scarcely any of the luxuries, of life were enjoyed at he north, compared with what were enjoyed by slaveholders of the South. I probably came to tis conclusion from the fact that northern people owned on slaves.
I supposed that they were about upon a level with the non-slaving holding population of the south. I knew they were exceedingly poor, and I had been accustomed to regard their poverty as the necessary consequence of their being non-slaveholders. I had somehow imbibed the opinion that, in the absence of slaves, there could be no wealth, and very little refinement.
And upon coming to the North, I expected to meet with a rough, hard-handed, and uncultivated population, living in the most Spartan-like simplicity, knowing nothing of the ease, luxury, pomp, and grandeur of southern slaveholders. Such being my conjectures, any one acquainted with the appearance of New Bedford may very readily infer how palpably I must have seen my mistake.
In the afternoon of the day when I reach New Bedford, I visited the wharves, to take a view of the shipping. Here I found myself surrounded with the strongest proofs of wealth. Living at the wharves, and riding in the stream, I saw many ships of the finest model, in the best order, and of the largest size. Upon the right and left, I was walled in by granite warehouses of the widest dimension, stowed to their utmost capacity with the necessaries and comforts of life.
Added to this, almost every body seemed to be at work, but noiselessly so, compared with what I had been accustomed to in Baltimore.There we no loud songs heard from those engaged in loading and unloading ships. I heard no deep oaths of horrid curses on the laborer. I saw no whipping of men; but all seemed to go smoothly on.
Every man appeared to understand his work, and went at it with a sober, yet cheerful earnestness, which betokened the deep interest which he felt in what he was ding, as well as a sense of his own dignity, as a man. To me this looked exceedingly strange. From the wharves I strolled around and over the town, gazing with wonder and admiration at the splendid churches, beautiful dwellings, and finely carved gardens; evincing an amount of wealth, comfort,taste, and refinement, such as I had never seen in any part of slaveholding Maryland.
Everything looked clean, new, and beautiful. I saw few or no dilapidated houses, with poverty=stricken inmates; no half-naked children and bare-footed women,such as I had been accustomed to see in Hillsborough, Easton, St. Michaels', and Baltimore. The people looked more able, stronger, healthier and happier, than those of Maryland. I was for once made glad by a view of extreme wealth, without being saddened by seeing extreme poverty. But the most astonishing as well as the most interesting thing to me was the condition of the colored people, a great many of whom, like myself, had escaped thither as refuge from the 'hunters of men'.
I found many, who had not been seven years out of their chains, living in finer houses, and evidently enjoying more of the comforts of life, than the average slaveholders in Maryland. I will venture to assert, that my friend Mr. Nathan Johnson (of whom I can say with a grateful heart, "I was hungry, and he gave me meat; I was thirst, and he gave me a drink; I was a stranger, and he took me in") lived in a neater house; dined at a better table; took, paid for, and read, more newspapers; better understood the moral, religious, and political character of the nation, — than nine-tenths of the slaveholders in Talbot County Maryland.
Yet Mr. Johnson was a working man. is hands were hardened by toil, and not his alone, but those also of Mrs. Johnson. I found the colored people much more spirited than I had supposed they would be. I found among them a determination to protect each other from the blood-thirsty kidnapper, at all hazards.
Soon after my arrival, I was told of a circumstance which illustrated their spirit. A colored man and a fugitive slave were on unfriendly terms. The former was heard to threaten the latter with informing his master of is whereabout. Straightaway a meeting was called among the colored people, under the stereotyped notice, "Business of Importance!" The betrayer was invited to attend.
The people came at the appointed hour, and organized the meeting by appointing a very religious old gentleman as president, who, I believe, made a prayer, after which he addressed the meeting as follows: "Friends, we have got him here,and I would recommend that you young men just take him outside the door, and kill him!" With this, a number of them bolted at him; but they were intercepted by some more timid than themselves, and the betrayer escaped their vengeance, and has not been seen in New Bedford since. I believe there have been no more such threats, and should there be hereafter, I doubt not that would be the consequence.
I found employment, the third day after my arrival, in stowing a slop with a load of oil. It was new, dirty, and hard work for me; but I went at it with a glad heart and a willing hand. I was now my own master. It was a happy mome