SHADOW AND LIGHT
SHADOW AND LIGHT
With Reminiscences of the Last and Present Century.
MIFFLIN WISTAR GIBBS
With an Introduction by Booker T. Washington
A Fatherless Boy, Carpenter and Contractor, Anti-Slavery Lecturer, Merchant, Railroad Builder, Superintendent of Mine, Attorney-at-Law, County Attorney, Municipal Judge Register of United States Lands, Receiver of Public Monies for U. S., United States Consul to Madagascar—Prominent Race Leaders, etc.
Washington, D. C. 1902.
During the late years abroad, while reading the biographies of distinguished men who had been benefactors, the thought occurred that I had had a varied career, though not as fruitful or as deserving of renown as these characters, and differing as to status and aim. Yet the portrayal might be of benefit to those who, eager for advancement, are willing to be laborious students to attain worthy ends.
I have aimed to give an added interest to the narrative by embellishing its pages with portraits of men who have gained distinction in various fields, who need only to be seen to present the career of those now living as worthy models, and the record of the dead, who left the world the better for having lived. To enjoy a life prominent and prolonged is a desire as natural as worthy, and there have been those who sought to extend its duration by nostrums and drinking-waters said to bestow the virtue of "perpetual life." But if "to live in hearts we leave behind is not to die," to be worthy of such memorial we must have done or said something that blessed the living or benefited coming generations. Hence autobiography is the record, for "books are as tombstones made by the living, but destined soon to remind us of the dead."
Trusting that any absence of literary merit will not impair the author's cherished design to "impart a moral," should he fail to "adorn a tale."
Little Rock, Ark., January, 1902.
By BOOKER T. WASHINGTON.
It is seldom that one man, even if he has lived as long as Judge M. W. Gibbs is able to record his impressions of so many widely separated parts of the earth's surface as Judge Gibbs can, or to recall personal experiences in so many important occurrences.
Born in Philadelphia, and living there when that city—almost on the border line between slavery and freedom—was the scene of some of the most stirring incidents in the abolition agitation, he was able as a free colored youth, going to Maryland to work, to see and judge of the condition of the slaves in that State. Some of the most dramatic operations of the famous "Underground Railroad" came under his personal observation. He enjoyed the rare privilege of being associated in labor for the race with that man of sainted memory, the Hon. Frederick Douglass. He met and heard many of the most notable men and women who labored to secure the freedom of the Negro. As a resident of California in the exciting years which immediately followed the discovery of gold, he watched the development of lawlessness there and its results. A few years later he went to British Columbia to live, when that colony was practically an unknown country. Returning to the United States, he was a witness to the exciting events connected with the years of Reconstruction in Florida, and an active participant in the events of that period in the State of Arkansas. At one time and another he has met many of the men who have been prominent in the direction of the affairs of both the great political parties of the country. In more recent years he has been able to see something of life in Europe, and in his official capacity as United States Consul to Tamatave, Madagascar, adjoining Africa, has resided for some time in that far-off and strange land.
It would be difficult for any man who has had all these experiences not to be entertaining when he tells of them. Judge Gibbs has written an interesting book.
Interspersed with the author's recollections and descriptions are various conclusions, as when he says: "Labor to make yourself as indispensable as possible in all your relations with the dominant race, and color will cut less figure in your upward grade."
"Vice is ever destructive; ignorance ever a victim, and poverty ever defenseless."
"Only as we increase in property will our political barometer rise."
It is significant to find one who has seen so much of the world as Judge Gibbs has, saying, as he does: "With travel somewhat extensive and diversified, and with residence in tropical latitudes of Negro origin, I have a decided conviction, despite the crucial test to which he has been subjected in the past, and the present disadvantages under which he labors, that nowhere is the promise along all the lines of opportunity brighter for the American Negro than here in the land of his nativity."
I bespeak for the book a careful reading by those who are interested in the history of the Negro in America, and in his present and future.
BOOKER T. WASHINGTON.
CHAPTER I 3
Parents, School and Teacher—Foundation of the Negroes' Mechanical Knowledge—First Brick A. M. E. Church—Bishop Allen—Olive Cemetery—Harriet Smith Home—"Underground Railroad"—Incidents on the Road—William and Ellen Craft—William Box Brown.
CHAPTER II 15
Nat Turner's Insurrection—Experience on a Maryland Plantation—First Street Cars in Philadelphia—Anti-Slavery Meetings—Amusing Incidents—Opposition of Negro Churches—Kossuth Celebration, and the Unwelcome Guest.
CHAPTER III 29
Cinguez, the Hero of Armistead Captives—The Threshold of Man's Estate—My First Lecturing Tour with Frederic Douglass—His "Life and Times"—Pen Picture of George William Curtis of Ante-Bellum Conditions—Harriet Beecher Stowe, Lucretia Mott, and Frances E. Harper, a Noble Band of Women—"Go Do Some Great Thing"—Journey to California—Incidents at Panama.
CHAPTER IV 40
Arrival at San Francisco—Getting Domiciled and Seeking Work—Strike of White Employees—Lester & Gibbs, Importers—Assaulted in Our Store—First Protest from the Colored Men of California—Poll Tax.
CHAPTER V 51
"Vigilance Committee" and Lynch Law at "Fort Gunny"—Murder of James King, of William—A Paradox to Present Conditions.
CHAPTER VI 59
Gold Discovery in British Columbia—Incidents on Shipboard and Arrival at Victoria—National Unrest in 1859—"Irrepressible Conflict"—Garrison and Douglass—Harriet Beecher Stowe and Frances Ellen Harper—John Brown of Harper's Ferry—"Fugitive Slave Law"—Flight to Canada.
CHAPTER VII 74
Abraham Lincoln President—Rebellion Inaugurated—Success of the Union Army—Re-Election of Lincoln—Bravery and Endurance of Negro Soldiers—Assassination of Lincoln—Lynching Denounced by Southern Governors and Statesmen—Words of Wisdom from St. Pierre de Couberton.
CHAPTER VIII 85
My First Entry Into Political Life—Intricacies of the Ballot—Number of Negro Schools, Pupils and Amount of School Property in 1898—Amendment to Constitution and Interview with Vice-President Schuyler Colfax at Victoria, B. C.—William Lloyd Garrison, Jr., and James Russell Lowell on the Right to Vote.
CHAPTER IX 93
Philip A. Bell, a Veteran Editor of the "Negro Press"—British Columbia, Its Early History, Efforts for Annexation to the United States—Meeting with Lady Franklin, Widow of Sir John Franklin, the Arctic Explorer, in 1859—Union of British Columbia with the Dominion of Canada in 1868, the Political Issue—Queen Charlotte Island—Anthracite Coal Company—Director, Contractor and Shipper of First Cargo of Anthracite Coal on the Pacific Coast—Indians and Their Peculiarities.
CHAPTER X 107
An Incident of Peril—My Return to the United States in 1869—Thoughts and Feelings En Route—Entered Oberlin Law College and Graduated—Visit to my Brother, J. C. Gibbs, Secretary of State of Florida—A Delegate to the National Convention of Colored Men at Charleston, S. C.—"Gratitude Expensive"—The Trend of Republican Leaders—Contribution of Southern White People for Negro Education—Views of a Leading Democrat.
CHAPTER XI 122
President of National Convention at Nashville, Tenn., in 1876—Pen and Ink Sketch by H. V. Redfield of "Cincinnati Commercial"—Colored Leaders Desire to Fraternize for Race Protection—William H. Grey, H. B. Robinson, and J. H. Johnson, of Arkansas, Leaders and Planters—My Arrival at Little Rock, May, 1871—Reading of Local Statutes in the Law Office of Benjamin & Barnes—"Wheeler & Gibbs," Attorneys-at-Law.
CHAPTER XII 134
Politics and Politicians—Disruption of the Republicans in Arkansas—"Minstrels and Brindle Tails"—Early Canvassing in the South, with Its Peculiarities—Ku Klux Visits—My Appointment as County Attorney and Election as Municipal Judge—Hon. John Allen, of Mississippi, His Descriptive Anecdote.
CHAPTER XIII 145
Lowering Cloud on Righteous Rule—Comparison of Negro Progress—Sir Walter Scott in His Notes on English History—George C. Lorimer, a Noted Divine—Educational Solution of the Race Problem—Baron Russell, Lord Chief Justice of England—Civil War in Arkansas—Expulsion of Governor Baxter and Instalment of Governor Brooks at the State Houses—Stirring Episodes—"Who Shall Bell the Cat?"—Extraordinary Session of the Legislature—My Issue of a Search Warrant for the Seal of the State—Recognition of Baxter by the President.
CHAPTER XIV 158
Arkansas Constitutional Convention and New Constitution Adopted—Augustus H. Garland Elected Governor—My Letter from Madagascar on Learning of His Demise—General Grant's Nomination in 1872 at the Academy of Music, Philadelphia—Oliver P. Morton, of Indiana—William H. Gray, of Arkansas—R. B. Elliot, of South Carolina—"Henry at Ajincourt"—Study of Obsolete Languages Versus Industrial Education—Views of Lord Rosebery, ex-Premier of England—Also of Washington Post—United States Have Supreme Advantages for the Negro.
CHAPTER XV 173
Presidential Elector in 1876, Receiving the Highest Vote—President Hayes, His Yearnings and Accomplishments—Protest Against Lawlessness by the Negroes in State Conventions—Negro Exodus from the Southern to the Western States in 1878—Secretary William Windom's Letter—Hon J. C. Rapier, of Alabama, and Myself Appointed by Secretary Windom to Visit Western States and Report.
CHAPTER XVI 185
Appointed by the President in 1877 Register of U. S. Lands—Robert J. Ingersoll on the Benignity of Homestead Law—General Grant's Tour Around the World and His Arrival at Little Rock, 1879—A Guest at the Banquet Given Him—Response to the Toast, "The Possibilities of American Citizenship"—Roscoe Conkling's Speech Nominating General Grant for Third Term—Bronze Medal as one of the Historic "306" at the National Convention of 1880—The Manner of General Grant's Defeat for Nomination and Garfield's Success—Character Sketches of Hon. James G. Blaine, Ingersoll's Mailed Warrior and Plumed Knight—Hon Grover Cleveland.
CHAPTER XVII 195
Honorary Commissioner for the Colored Exhibits of the World's Exposition at New Orleans, La.—Neglected Opportunities—Important Factors Necessary to Recognition.
CHAPTER XVIII 201
Effort of Henry Brown, of Oberlin, Ohio, to Establish "Schools of Trade"—Call for a Conference of Leading Colored Men in 1885—Industrial Fair at Pine Bluff, Ark.—Captain Thompson, of the "Capital Guards," a Colored Military Company—Meeting of Prominent Leaders at New Orleans—The Late N. W. Cuney, of Texas—Contented Benefactions from Christian Churches.
CHAPTER XIX 215
The Reunion of General Grant's "306"—Ferdinand Havis, of Pine Bluff—Compromise and Disfranchisement—Progress of the Negro—"Decoration Day"—My Letter to the "Gazette"—Commission to Sell Lots of the Hot Springs Reservation—Twelve Years in the Land Service of the United States.
CHAPTER XX 223
My Appointment as U. S. Consul to Tamatave, Madagascar—My Arrival in France En Route to Paris—Called on Ambassador Porter and Consul Gowdy Relative to My "Exequator"—Visited the Louvre, the Famous Gallery of Paintings—"Follies Bergere," or Variety Theater—The "Dome des Invalids" or the Tomb of the Great Napoleon—Mrs. Mason, of Arkansas and Washington, in Paris—Marseilles and "Hotel du Louvre"—Embarkation on French Ship "Pie Ho" for Madagascar—Scenes and Incidents En Route—"Port Said"—Visit to the "Mosque," Mohammedan Place of Worship.
CHAPTER XXI 236
Suez Canal—The Red Sea—Pharaoh and His Hosts—Their Waterloo—Children of Israel—Travel by Sea—Arrival and Landing at Madagascar—Bubonic Plague—My Letter From Madagascar.
CHAPTER XXII 250
Island of Madagascar—Origin and Character of the Inhabitants—Their Religion and Superstitions—Physical Appearance of Madagascar—A Word Painting of Antananarivo, the Capital, by Cameron—Forms of Government—Queens of Madagascar—Slavery and Forced Labor.
CHAPTER XXIII 265
Introduction of the Christian Religion—Printing the Bible, Edict by Queen Ranavalona Against It—The New Religion "a Cloth of a Pattern She Did Not Like"—Asked the Missionaries, "Can You Make Soap?"—"Dark Days"—Persecutions and Executions for a Quarter of a Century—Examples of Christian Martyrs—Death of Queen Ranavalona—Permanent Establishment of the Christian Religion—Self-denial and Heroic Service of the Roman Catholics—Native Race Protection Committee—Forced Labor Abolished.
CHAPTER XXIV 282
Cuba and the Philippines—Their Acquisition Under the Plea of Relief From Spanish Misrule—Aguinaldo, Leader of the Filipinos—The Fidelity and Bravery of the American Negro in the Spanish War—Attestation by Many Witnesses—Industrial Education—Othello's Occupation Gone When Polls are Closed.
CHAPTER XXV 298
Opposition Possibly Beneficent—President McKinley's Order for Enlistment of Colored Soldiers—General Grosvenor's Tribute—Fifteen Thousand in the Spanish War—U. S. Supreme Court vs. The Negro—The Basis of Congressional Representation.
CHAPTER XXVI 306
Departure from Madagascar—Memories—Governor General's Farewell Letter—Madagascar Branch of the Smithsonian Institute—Wild Animals, a Consul's Burden—Descriptive Letter to State Department.
CHAPTER XXVII 312
Leave-taking, its Jollity and Sadness—Arrival at Camp Aden, Arabia—An Elysium for the Toper—Whisky Was Plenty, But the Water Was Out—Pleasant Visit to U. S. Consul Cunningham, of Knoxville, Tenn.—Arrival at Suez—My Visit to the U. S. Cruiser "New York"—The Urbanity of Captain Rogers—Suez Canal—Port Said—"Mal de Mer"—Marseilles to Paris—Across the English Channel to London.
CHAPTER XXVIII 320
My First Visit to the Land of Wilberforce and Clarkson—Excursion on the Thames—Bank of England—Visited Towers of London—Beauchamp Tower With Its Sad Inscriptions—Arrival at New York—National Negro Business Men's League Convention at Chicago—Booker T. Washington President—Many Talented Business Men in Attendance.
CHAPTER XXIX 327
Visit to President McKinley at Canton, Ohio—His Assassination at Buffalo—The Assassin Struck Down by James Parker—President's Death—The Nation in Tears—A Christian Statesman—A Lover of Justice—Crucial Epochs of Our Country's History, the Negro at the Fore.
CHAPTER XXX 336
President Roosevelt—His Imperial Honesty—Ex-Governor Jones, of Alabama—Advance of Justice in Our Country—Status a Half-Century Ago—Theodore Parker's Arraignment—Eulogy by Ralph Waldo Emerson.
CHAPTER XXXI 343
Booker T. Washington a Guest at the White House—Northern and Southern Press Comments—The Latter Not Typical of the Best Element of Southern Opinion.
CHAPTER XXXII 361
Washington City, the American Mecca—Ante-room at the White House—The Diary of an Office Seeker—William, the Innocent—William, the Croker—Colored People of the District of Columbia—Colored Press of the District.
CHAPTER XXXIII 269
Howard University—Public Schools—R. H. Terrell Appointed to a Judgship of the District—Unlettered Pioneers—Conclusions.
1. M. W. Gibbs Frontispiece.
2. Richard Allen 8
3. Wm. Lloyd Garrison 18
4. Frederick Douglass 32
5. Booker T. Washington 44
6. H. M. Turner 50
7. Geo. H. White 58
8. J. M. Langston 70
9. Abraham Lincoln 74
10. W. B. Derrick 80
11. Alexander Walters 92
12. H. P. Cheatham 104
13. Edward E. Cooper 118
14. Judson Lyons 128
15. Powell Clayton 140
16. P. B. S. Pinchback 149
17. A. H. Garland 158
18. J. A. Booker 172
19. I. G Ish 175
20. J. P. Green 183
21. P. L. Dunbar 199
22. B. K. Bruce 204
23. T. T. Fortune 210
24. W. A. Pledger 220
25. John C. Dancy 228
26. Abram Grant 253
27. J. E. Bush 263
28. J. P. Robinson 272
29. Martyrs 274
30. Chester W. Keatts 284
31. J. T. Settle 294
32. Justice Harlan 302
33. Charles W. Chestnut 312
34. William McKinley 327
35. James B. Parker 331
36. President Roosevelt 336
37. Secretary Cortelyou 341
38. W. Calvin Chase 367
39. R. H. Terrill 370
In the old family Bible I see it recorded that I was born April 17, 1823, in Philadelphia, Pa., the son of Jonathan C. Gibbs and Maria, his wife. My father was a minister in the Wesleyan Methodist Church, my mother a "hard-shell" Baptist. But no difference of religious views interrupted the even tenor of their domestic life. At seven years of age I was sent to what was known as the Free School, those schools at that time invaluable for colored youth, had not graded studies, systematized, and with such accessories for a fruitful development of the youthful mind as now exist. The teacher of the school, Mr. Kennedy, was an Irishman by birth, and herculean in proportions; erudite and severely positive in enunciation. The motto "Spare the rod and spoil the child" had no place in his curriculum. Alike with the tutors of the deaf and the blind, he was earnest in the belief that learning could be impressively imparted through the sense of feeling. That his manner and means were impressive you may well believe, when I say that I yet have a vivid recollection of a bucket with an inch or two of water in it near his desk. In it stood an assortment of rattan rods, their size when selected for use ranging in the ratio of the enormity, of the offence or the age of the offender.
Among the many sterling traits of character possessed by Mr. Kennedy was economy; the frequent use of the rods as he raised himself on tiptoe to make his protest the more emphatic—split and frizzled them—the immersion of the tips in water would prevent this, and add to the severity of the castigation, while diminishing the expense. A policy wiser and less drastic has taken the place of corporal punishment in schools. But Mr. Kennedy was competent, faithful and impartial. I was not destined to remain long at school. At eight years of age two events occurred which gave direction to my after life. On a Sunday in April, 1831, my father desired that the family attend his church; we did so and heard him preach, taking as his text the 16th verse of Chapter 37 in Genesis: "I seek my brethren; tell me, I pray thee, where they feed their flocks."
On the following Sunday he lay before the pulpit from whence he had preached, cold in death, leaving my mother, who had poor health, with four small children, and little laid by "for a rainy day." Unable to remain long at school, I was "put out" to hold and drive a doctor's horse at three dollars a month, and was engaged in similar employment until I reached sixteen years of age. Of the loving devotion and self-sacrifice of an invalid mother I have not words to express, but certain it is, that should it ever appear that I have done anything to revere, or aught to emulate, it should be laid on the altar of her Christian character, her ardent love of liberty and intense aspiration for the upbuilding of the race. For her voice and example was an educator along all the lines of racial progress.
Needing our assistance in her enfeebled condition, she nevertheless insisted that my brother and myself should learn the carpenter trade. At this period in the career of youth, the financial condition of whose parents or sponsors is unequal to their further pursuit of scholastic studies, it is not without an anxious solicitude they depart from the parental roof. For the correct example and prudent advice may not be invulnerable to the temptation for illicit pleasures or ruinous conduct. Happy will he be who listens to the admonitions of age. Unfortunately by the action of response, sad in its humor, too often is: I like the advice but prefer the experience.
The foundation of the mechanical knowledge possessed by the Negro was laid in the Southern States. During slavery the master selecting those with natural ability, the most apt, with white foremen, had them taught carpentering, blacksmithing, painting, boot and shoe making, coopering, and other trades to utilize on the plantations, or add to their value as property. Many of these would hire themselves by the year from their owners, contract on their own account, and by thrift purchase their freedom, emigrate and teach colored youths of Northern States, where prejudice continues to exclude them from the workshops, while at the South the substantial warehouse and palatial dwelling from base to dome, is often the creation of his brain and the product of his handiwork.
James Gibbons, of the class above referred to, and to whom we were apprenticed, was fat, and that is to say, he was jolly. He had ever a word of kind encouragement, wise counsel or assistance to give his employees. Harshness, want of sympathy or interest is often the precursor and stimulator to the many troubles with organized labor that continue to paralyze so many of our great industrial concerns at the present time, resulting in distress to the one and great material loss to the other. Mr. Gibbons had but a limited education, but he possessed that aptitude, energy, and efficiency which accomplishes great objects, that men call genius, and which is oftimes nothing more than untiring mental activity harnessed to intensity of purpose. These constituted his grasp of much of the intricacies of mechanical knowledge. His example was ever in evidence, by word and action, that only by assidious effort could young men hope to succeed in the battle of life.
Mr. Gibbons was competent and had large patronage. We remained with him until we reached our majority. During a religious revival we both became converted and joined the Presbyterian Church. My brother entered Dartmouth College, under the auspices of the Presbyterian Assembly, graduated and ministered in the church at Philadelphia. After a brief period as a journeyman, I became a contractor and builder on my own account. It is ever a source of strength for a young person to have faith in his or her possibilities, and as soon as may be, assume mastership.
While remaining subject to orders, the stimulus is lacking for that aggressive energy, indispensable to bring to the front. Temporary failure you may have, for failure lies in wait for all human effort, but sneaks from a wise and unconquerable determination. We read of the military prisoner, alone, dejected, and despairing, looking to the walls of his cell; he watches a score of attempts and failure of a spider to scale the wall, only to renew an attempt crowned with success. The lesson was fruitful for the prisoner.
Mr. Gibbons built several of the colored churches in Philadelphia, and in the early forties, during my apprenticeship, he was a bidder for the contract to build the first African Methodist Episcopal brick church of the connection on the present site at Sixth and Lombard streets in Philadelphia. A wooden structure which had been transformed from a blacksmith shop to a meeting house was torn down to give place to the new structure. When a boy I had often been in the old shop, and have heard the founder, Bishop Allen, preach in the wooden building. He was much reverenced. I remember his appearance, and his feeble, shambling gait as he approached the close of an illustrious life.
The A. M. E. Church was distinctively the pioneer in the career of colored churches; its founders the first to typify and unflinchingly assert the brotherhood of man and the Fatherhood of God. Dragged from their knees in the white churches of their faith, they met exclusion by cohesion; ignorance by effort for culture, and poverty by unflinching self-denial; justice and right harnessed to such a movement, who shall declare its ultimatum.
Out from that blacksmith shop went an inspiration lifting its votaries to a self-reliance founded on God, a harbinger of hope to the enslaved.
From Allen to Payne, and on and on along lines of Christian fame, its missionaries going from triumph to triumph in America, and finally planting its standard on the isles of the sea.
A distinct line is ever observable between civilization and barbarism, in the regard and reverence for the dead, the increase of solicitude is evidence of a people's advancement. Until the year 1848 the colored people of Philadelphia used the grounds, always limited, in the rear of their churches for burial. They necessarily became crowded, with sanitary conditions threatening, without opportunity to fittingly mark and adorn the last resting place of their dead.
In the above year G. W. Gaines, J. P. Humphries, and the writer purchased a tract of land on the north side of Lancaster turnpike, in West Philadelphia, and were incorporated under the following act by the Legislature of the State of Pennsylvania: "An Act to incorporate the Olive Cemetery Company," followed by the usual reservations and conditions in such cases provided. Among reasons inducing me to refer to this are, first, to give an idea of the propriety and progress of the race fifty years ago, and secondly, for the further and greater reasons, as the following will show, that the result of the project was not only a palladium for blessed memory of the dead, but was the nucleus of a benefaction that still blesses the living.
The land was surveyed and laid out in lots and avenues, plans of gothic design were made for chapel and superintendent's residence, and contract for construction was awarded the writer. The project was not entirely an unselfish one, but profit was not the dominating incentive. After promptly completing the contract with the shareholders as to buildings and improvements of the ground, the directors found themselves in debt, and welcomed the advent of Stephen Smith, a wealthy colored man and lumber merchant, to assist in liquidating liabilities. To him an unoccupied portion of the ground was sold, and in his wife's heart the conception of a bounteous charity was formed. The "Old Folks' Home," so beneficent to the aged poor of Philadelphia, demands more than a passing notice.
"The Harriet Smith Home for Aged and Infirm Colored Persons" is a continuation of a charity organized September, 1864, and the first board of managers (a noble band of humanitarians) elected. The preamble was as follows: "For the relief of that worthy class of colored persons who have endeavored through life to maintain themselves, but who, from various causes, are finally dependent on the charity of others, an association is hereby organized." The work of this home was conducted in a large dwelling house on South Front street until the year 1871, when, through the munificence of Stephen Smith and his wife, the land on the corner of Belmont and Girard avenues, previously purchased from the Olive Cemetery Company, together with a large four-story building, valued at $40,000, was given to the Board. In 1871 it was opened as the "Harriet Smith Home," where it still stands as an enduring monument to the original donors, and other blessed friends of the race, who have continued to assist with generous endowments. Edward T. Parker, who died in 1887, gave $85,000 for an annex to the building. Colored people since its incipiency have given $200,000. The board is composed of white and colored persons. On a recent visit I found the home complete, convenient, and cleanly in all its appurtenances, with an air of comfort and contentment pervading the place. From many with bent and decrepit bodies, from wrinkled and withered faces, the sparkling eye of gratitude could be seen, and prayer of thankfulness read; for this product of a benign clemency that had blessed both the giver and receiver. There can be no one with filial affection happy in the thought that it is in their power to assuage the pain or assist the tottering steps of their own father or mother, but will recognize the humanity, Christian character, and unselfishness of the men and women organized for giving the helping hand to the "unfortunate aged, made dependent by blameless conditions."
During my apprenticeship, aware of my educational deficiencies, having been unable to pursue a consecutive course of study in earlier life, I spent much of the night and odd times in an endeavor to make up the loss. In joining the Philadelphia Library Company, a literary society of colored men, containing men of such mental caliber as Isaiah C. Wear, Frederick Hinton, Robert Purvis, J. C. Bowers, and others, where questions of moment touching the condition of the race were often discussed with acumen and eloquence, I was both benefited and stimulated. It was a needed help, for man is much the creature of his environments, and what widens his horizon as to the inseparable relations of man to man and the mutuality of obligation, strengthens his manhood in the ratio he embraces opportunity.
Pennsylvania being a border State, and Philadelphia situated so near the line separating the free and slave States, that city was utilized as the most important adjunct or way-station of the "underground railroad," an organization to assist runaway slaves to the English colony of Canada. Say what you will against old England, for, like all human polity, there is much for censure and criticism, but this we know, that when there were but few friends responsive, and but few arms that offered to succor when hunted at home, old England threw open her doors, reached out her hand, and bid the wandering fugitive slave to come in and "be of good cheer."
As one of the railroad company mentioned, many cases came under my observation, and some under my guidance to safety in Canada. One of the most peculiar and interesting ones that came under by notice and attention, was that of William and Ellen Craft, fugitives from the State of Georgia. Summoned one day to a colored boarding house, I was presented to a person dressed in immaculate black broadcloth and silk beaver hat, whom I supposed to be a young white man. By his side stood a young colored man with good features and rather commanding presence. The first was introduced to me as Mrs. Craft and the other as her husband, two escaped slaves. They had traveled through on car and boat, paying and receiving first-class accommodations. Mrs. Craft, being fair, assumed the habit of young master coming north as an invalid, and as she had never learned to write, her arm was in a sling, thereby avoiding the usual signing of register on boat or at hotel, while her servant-husband was as obsequious in his attentions as the most humble of slaves. They settled in Boston, living very happily, until the passage of the fugitive slave law in 1850, when they were compelled to flee to England.
The civil war of 1861 and proclamation of freedom followed. In 1870, arriving in Savannah, Georgia, seeking accommodation, I was directed to a hotel, and surprised to find the host and hostess my whilom friends of underground railroad fame. They had returned to their old home after emancipation. The surprise was pleasant and recognition mutual.
One other, and I shall pass this feature of reminiscence. It was that of William Brown, distinguished afterward as William Box Brown, the intervening "Box" being a synonym of the manner of his escape. An agent of the underground railroad at Richmond, Virginia, had placed him in a box two feet wide and four feet long, ends hooped, with holes for air, and bread and water, and sent him through the express company to Philadelphia. On the arrival of the steamboat the box was roughly tumbled off as so much dead freight on the wharf, but, unfortunately for Brown, on the end, with his feet up and head down. After remaining in such position for a time which seemed to him hours, he heard a man say to another, "Let's turn that box down and sit on it." It was done, and Brown found himself "right side up," if not "with care." I was called to the anti-slavery office, where the box was taken. It had been arranged that when he arrived at his destination, three slow and distinct knocks should be given, to which he was to respond. Fear that he was crippled or dead was depicted in the faces of Miller McKim, William Still and a few others that stood around the box in the office. Hence it was not without trepidation the agreed signal was given, and the response waited for. An "all right" was cheerily given; the lifting of suspense and the top of the box was almost simultaneous. Out sprang a man weighing near 200 pounds. Brown, though uneducated, it is needless to say, was imbued with the spirit of liberty, and with much natural ability, with his box he traveled and spoke of his experience in slavery, the novelty of his escape adding interest to his description. Many similar cases of heroism in manner of escape of men and women are recorded in William Still's "Underground Railroad."
The immortal bard has sung that "there's a destiny that shapes our ends." At eight years of age, as already stated, two events occurred which had much to do in giving direction to my after life. The one the death of my father, as formerly mentioned; the other the insurrection of Nat Turner, of South Hampton, Virginia, in August, 1831, which fell upon the startled sense of the slaveholding South like a meteor from a dear sky, causing widespread commotion. Nat Turner was a Baptist preacher, who with four others, in a lonely place in the woods, concocted plans for an uprising of the slaves to secure their liberty. Employed in the woods during the week, a prey to his broodings over the wrongs and cruelties, the branding and whipping to death of neighboring slaves, he would come out to meetings of his people on Sunday and preach, impressing much of his spirit of unrest. Finally he selected a large number of confederates, who were to secretly acquire arms of their masters. The attack concocted in February was not made until August 20, when the assault, dealing death and destruction, was made.
All that night they marched, carrying consternation and dread on account of the suddenness, determination and boldness of the attack. The whole State was aroused, and soldiers sent from every part. The blacks fought hand to hand with the whites, but were soon overpowered by numbers and superior implements of warfare. Turner and a few of his followers took refuge in the "Dismal Swamp," almost impenetrable, where they remained two or three months, till hunger or despair compelled them to surrender. Chained together, they were taken to the South Hampton Court House and arraigned. Turner, it is recorded, without a tremor, pleaded not guilty, believing that he was justified in the attempt to liberate his people, however drastic the means. His act, which would have been heralded as the noblest heroism if perpetrated by a white man, was called religious fanaticism and fiendish brutality.
Turner called but few into his confidence, and foolhardy and unpromising as the attempt may have been, it had the ring of an heroic purpose that gave a Bossarius to Greece, and a Washington to America. A purpose "not born to die," but to live on in every age and clime, stimulating endeavors to attain the blessings of civil liberty.
It was an incident as unexpected in its advent as startling in its terrors. Slavery, ever the preponderance of force, had hitherto reveled in a luxury heightened by a sense of security. Now, in the moaning of the wind, the rustling of the leaves or the shadows of the moon, was heard or seen a liberator. Nor was this uneasiness confined to the South, for in the border free States there were many that in whole or in part owned plantations stocked with slaves.
In Philadelphia, so near the line, excitement ran high. The intense interest depicted in the face of my mother and her colored neighbors; the guarded whisperings, the denunciations of slavery, the hope defeated of a successful revolution keenly affected my juvenile mind, and stamped my soul with hatred to slavery.
At 12 years of age I was employed at the residence of Sydney Fisher, a prominent Philadelphia lawyer, who was one of the class above mentioned, living north and owning a plantation in the State of Maryland. Over a good road of 30 miles one summer's day, he took me to his plantation. I had never before been that distance from home and had anticipated my long ride with childish interest and pleasure. After crossing the line and entering "the land of cotton and the corn," a new and strange panorama began to open, and continued to enfold the vast fields bedecked in the snowy whiteness of their fruitage. While over gangs of slaves in row and furrough were drivers with their scourging whip in hand. I looked upon the scene with curious wonder. Three score of years and more have passed, but I still see that sad and humbled throng, working close to the roadway, no head daring to uplift, no eye to enquiringly gaze. During all those miles of drive that bordered on plantations, as machines they acted, as machines they looked. My curiosity and youthful impulse ignoring that reticence becoming a servant, I said: "Mr. Fisher, who are these people?" He said, "They are slaves." I was startled but made no reply. I had not associated the exhilaration of the drive with a depressing view of slavery, but his reply caused a tumult of feeling in my youthful breast. The Turner episode of which I had heard so much, the narratives of whippings received by fugitives, slaves that had come to my mother's house, the sundering of family ties on the auction block, were vividly presented to my mind. I remained silent as to speech, as to feelings belligerent. A few moments elapsed and Mr. Fisher broke the silence by saying, "Mifflin, how would you like to be a slave?" My answer was quick and conformed to feeling. "I would not be a slave! I would kill anybody that would make me a slave!" Fitly spoken. No grander declaration I have ever made. But from whom did it come—from almost childish lips with no power to execute. I little thought of or knew the magnitude of that utterance, nor did I notice then the effect of its force. Quickly and quite sternly came the reply: "You must not talk that way down here." I was kept during our stay in what was known during slavery as the "great house," the master's residence, and my meals were eaten at the table he had quit, slept in the same house, and had, if desired, little or no opportunity to talk or mingle with the slaves during the week's visit. I did not understand at that time the philosophy of espionage, but in after years it became quite apparent that from my youthful lips had came the "open sesame to the door of liberty," "resistance to oppression," the slogan that has ever heralded the advent of freedom.
As I passed to manhood the object lesson encountered on the Maryland plantation did much to intensify my hatred of slavery and to strengthen my resolution to ally myself with any effort for its abolition. The burning of Pennsylvania Hall by a mob in Philadelphia, in 1838, built and used by anti-slavery people, the ravages of what was known as the "Moyamensing Killers," who burned down the churches and residences of the colored people and murdered their occupants, did much to increase the anti-slavery feeling.
Old Bethel Church, then the nursery of the present great A. M. E. Church, was guarded day and night by its devoted men and women worshipers. The cobble street pavement in front was dug up and the stones carried up and placed at the windows in the galley to hurl at the mob. This defense was sustained for several weeks at a time. Every American should be happy in the thought that a higher civilization is making such acts less and less frequent. It is not strange that our present generation enjoying a large measure of civil and political liberty can but faintly comprehend the condition fifty years ago, when they were persistently denied. The justice of participation seems so apparent, it is not easy to fully conceive, when all were refused, in quite all that were denominated free States.
When street cars were first established in Philadelphia "the brother in black" was refused accommodations. He nevertheless persisted in entering the cars. Sometimes he would be thrown out, at others, after being "sized up" the driver with his horses would leave his car standing on switch, while its objectionable occupant was "monarch of all he surveyed."
The "man and brother" finding his enemy impervious to direct attack, commenced a flank movement. As he was not allowed to ride inside, he resolved to ride alongside; bought omnibuses and stock and established a line on the car route at reduced rates. The cars were not always on time, and many whites would avail themselves of its service. I remember one of this class accosting a driver: "What 'Bus is this?" The simple driver answered, "It is the colored peoples!" "I don't care whose in the —— it is, does it go to the bridge? I am in a hurry to get there," and in he got. I thought then and still think what a useful moral the incident conveyed to my race. Labor to make yourself as indispensable as possible in all your relations with the dominant race and color will cut less and less figure in your upward grade. The line was kept up for some time, often holding what was called "omnibus meetings" in our halls, always largely attended, make reports, hear spirited speeches, and have a deal of fun narrating incidents of the line, receiving generous contributions when the horses or busses needed replenishing. But the most exciting times were those when there had been interference with the running of the "underground railroad," and the attempt to capture passengers in transit, or at the different way-stations, of which as previously stated, Philadelphia was the most prominent in forwarding its patrons to Canada.
Before the passage of the fugitive slave law, in 1850, if the fugitive was taken back it was done by stealth—kidnapped and spirited away by clandestine means. Sometimes by the treachery of his own color, but this was seldom and unhealthy. The agent of the owner was often caught in the act, and by argument more emphatic than gentle, was soon conspicuous by his absence. At others local anti-slavery friends would appeal to the courts, and the agent would be arrested. Slavery in law being local before the passage of the "Act of 1850," making it national, we were generally successful in having the fugitives released. We were extremely fortunate in having for our chief counsel David Paul Brown, a leader of the Philadelphia bar, who, with other white friends, never failed to respond to our call; learned in Constitutional law, eloquent in expression, he did a yeoman's service in behalf of liberty.
The colored men of Pennsylvania, like their brethren in other Northern States, were not content in being disfranchised. As early as 1845 a committee of seven, consisting of Isaiah C. Wear, J. C. Bowers, and others, including the writer, were sent to the capitol at Harrisburg to lay a petition before the Legislature asking for enfranchisement and all rights granted to others of the commonwealth. The grant was tardy, but it came with the cannon's boom and musketry's iron hail, when the imperiled status of the nation made it imperative. Thus, as ever, with the immutable decrees of God, while battling for the freedom of the slave, we broadened our consciousness, not only as to the inalienable rights of human nature, but received larger conceptions of civil liberty, coupled with a spirit of determination to defend our homes and churches from infuriated mobs, and to contend for civil and political justice.
They were truly a spartan band, the colored men and women. The naming of a few would be invidious to the many who were ever keenly alive to the proscription to which they were subject, and ever on the alert for measures to awaken the moral sense of the border States.
Meetings were nightly held for counsel, protests and assistance to the fugitive, who would sometimes be present to narrate the woes of slavery. Sometimes our meetings would be attended by pro-slavery lookers-on, usually unknown, until excoriation of the Northern abettors of slavery was too severe to allow them to remain incognito, when they would reply: It is a sad commentary on a phase of human nature that the oppressed often, when vaulted into authority or greater equality of condition, become the most vicious of oppressors. It has been said that Negro drivers were most cruel and unsparing to their race. The Irish, having fled from oppression in the land of their birth, for notoriety, gain, or elevation by comparison, were nearly all pro-slavery. At one of our meetings during the narration of incidents of his life by a fugitive, one of the latter class interrupted by saying, "Aren't you lying, my man? I have been on plantations. I guess your master did not lose much when you left." Now, it is a peculiarity of the uneducated, when, puzzled for the moment, by the tardiness of an idea, to scratch the head. Jacobs, the fugitive, did so, and out it came. "I dunno how much he lost, only what master said. I was the house boy, one day, and at dinner time he sent me to the well to get a cool pitcher of water. I let the silver pitcher drop in the well. Well, I knowed that pitcher had to be got out, so I straddled down and fished it up. Master was mad, 'cause I staid so long, so I up and tells him. He fairly jumped and said "Did you go down that well? Why didn't you come and tell me and I would made Irish Mike, the ditcher, go down. If you had drowned I'd lost $800. Don't you do that agin.""
It is needless to say that this "brought down the house," and shortly the exit of the son of the Emerald Isle. At another time the interrupter said: "Will you answer me a question or two? Did you not get enough to eat?" "Yes." "A place to sleep?" "Yes." "Was your master good or bad to you?" "Marster was pretty good, I must say." "Well, what else did you want? That is a good deal more than a good many white men get up here." The man stood for a moment busy with his fingers in a fruitless attempt to find the fugitive ends of a curl of his hair, temporarily nonplussed at his palliating concessions, half apologetically said: "Well, I think it a heap best to be free." Then suddenly and gallantly strengthening his defense; "but, look here, Mister, if you think it so nice down there, my place is still open." The questioner good naturedly joined in the general merriment.
Very frequently we were enthused and inspired by Frederick Douglass, Henry Highland Garnett, Marten R. Delaney, and Charles L. Remond, an illustrious quartet of the hallowed band in the anti-slavery crusade, whose eloquence, devotion, and effectiveness stood unsurpassed.
There were few, if any, available halls for these meetings. The only resort was the colored churches. Those under the auspices of white denominations had members who objected to their use for such a purpose. Craven and fawning, content with the crumbs that fell from these peace-loving Christians, who deprecated the discussion of slavery while they ignored the claim of outraged humanity, these churches were more interested in the physical excitement of a "revival" than in listening to appeals in behalf of God's poor and lonely. Their prototypes that "passed by on the other side" have been perpetuated in many climes, in those who believe that it is the formalities of contact with the building that blesses a people and not the Godliness and humanity of the worshippers that give glory and efficacy to the church. An antagonism thus created resulted in a crusade against such churches styled "Come-Outerism," and many left them on account of such apathy to carry on the warfare amid congenial association.
It has been said that citizenship was precipitated upon the Negro before he was fit for its exercise. Without discussing the incongruity of this, when applied to the ignorant native Negro and not to the ignorant alien emigrant, it may be conceded that keeping them in abject bondage with no opportunity to protest, made slavery anything but a preparatory school for the exercises of civic virtues, or the assumption of their responsibilities. It was not true, however, with the mass in the free, or many in the slave States. Always akin and adjunct are the yearnings indestructible in human nature for equal rights. And in every age and people the ratio of persistency and sacrifice have been the measure of their fitness for its enjoyment. During 25 years preceding the abolition of slavery the colored people of the free States, though much proscribed, were active in their protests against enslavement, seizing every chance through press and forum "to pour the living coals of truth upon the nation's naked heart," setting forth in earnest contrast the theory upon which the government was founded with its administration as practiced.
In 1848 Philadelphia Square, whereon the old State House of historic fame still stands, was made resonant by the bell upon whose surface the fathers had inscribed "Proclaim liberty throughout the world and to all the inhabitants thereof," and was bedecked with garlands and every insignia of a joyful people in honor of the Hungarian patriot, Louis Kossuth. Distinctive platforms had been erected for speakers whose fatherland was in many foreign lands. Upon each was an orator receiving the appreciation and plaudits of an audience whose hearts beat as one for success to the "Great Liberator." The "unwelcome guests," the colored men present, quickly embraced the opportunity, utilizing for a platform a dry goods box, upon which I was placed to give the Negro version of this climax of inconsistency and quintessence of hypocrisy. This was the unexpected. All the people, both native and foreign, had been invited and special places provided for all except the Negro, and on the native platform he was not allowed space. The novelty of the incident and curiosity to hear what the colored man had to say quickly drew a crowd equal to others of the occasion. Then, as now, and perhaps forever, there was that incalculable number of non-committals whose moral sense is disturbed by popular wrong, but who are without courage of conviction, inert, waiting for a leader that they may be one of the two that take place behind him, or one of three or four, or ten, who follow in serried ranks, that constitute the wedge-like motor that splits asunder hoary wrong, proximity to the leader being in ratio to their moral fibre. Most of the audience listened to the utterance of sentiments that the allurements of trade, or the exactions of society, forbade them to disseminate.
The occasion was an excellent one to demonstrate the heartlessness of the projectors, who, while pretending to glorify liberty in the distance, were treating it with contumely at home, where 3,000,000 slaves were held in bondage, and feeling keenly the ostracism of the slave as beyond the pole of popular sympathy or national compassion, with words struggling for utterance, I spoke as best I could, receiving toleration, and a quiet measure of approbation, possibly on the supposition, realized in the fruition of time, that such discussion might eventuate in the liberation of white men from the octopus of subserviency to the dictum of slavery which permeated every ramification of American society. I heard Hon. Cassius M. Clay, of Kentucky, sometime in the forties, while making a speech in Philadelphia, say: "Gentlemen, the question is not alone whether the Negroes are to remain slaves, but whether we white men are to continue free." So bitter was the onslaught on all, and especially on white men, politically and socially, who dared denounce slavery.
An event that came under my notice of startling character, attracting national attention, was the arrival of the schooner "Amistad" at Philadelphia in 1840. This vessel had been engaged in the slave trade. With a cargo of slaves from Africa was destined for one of the West India Islands. Cinguez, one of, and at the head of the captives, rebelled while at sea, killing a number of the crew and taking possession of the ship.
In the concluding scene of the foregoing drama, Mr. Douglass was an actor, I an observer. After the decision giving them their liberty, the anti-slavery society, who had been vigilant in its endeavors to have them liberated ever since their advent on American shores, held a monster meeting to receive them.
Frederick Douglass introduced "Cinguez" to the meeting. I cannot forget or fail to feel the inspiration of that scene. The two giants locked in each others embrace, looked the incarnation of heroism and dauntless purpose, equal to the achievement of great results. The one by indomitable will had shaken off his own shackles and was making slavery odius by his matchless and eloquent arraignment; the other, "a leader of men," had now written his protest with the blood of his captors. Cinguez, with unintelligible utterance in African dialect with emphatic gesture, his liberty loving soul on fire, while burning words strove for expression, described his action on the memorable night of his emancipation, with such vividness, power, and pathos that the audience seemed to see every act of the drama and feel the pulsation of his great heart. Through an interpreter he afterwards narrated his manner of taking the vessel, and how it happened to reach American shores. How, after taking the ship, he stood by the tiller with drawn weapon and commanded the mate to steer back to Africa. During the day he complied, but at night took the opposite course. After sometime of circuitous wandering the vessel ran into Long Island Sound and was taken possession of by the United States authorities. Cinguez, as hero and patriot, ennobled African character.
When majority and the threshold of man's estate is attained, the transition from advanced youth to the entry of manhood is liable to casualties; not unlike a bark serenely leaving its home harbor to enter unfrequented waters, the crew exhilarated by fresh and invigorating breezes, charmed by a genial sky, it moves on "like a thing of beauty" with the hope of "joy forever." The chart and log of many predecessors may unheeded lie at hand, but the glorious present, cloudless and fascinating, rich in expectation, it sails on, fortunate if it escapes the rocks and shoals that ever lie in wait. It is unreasonable to expect a proper conception, and the happiest performance of life's duties at such a period, especially from those with easy and favorable environments, or who have been heedless of parental restraint, for even at an advanced stage in life, there have been many to exclaim with a poet:
"Ne'er tell me of evening serenely adorning The close of a life richly mellowed by time, Give me back, give me back the wild freshness of morning Her smiles and her tears are worth evening's best light."
Twenty-one years of age found me the possessor of a trade, an attainment, and a capital invaluable for a poor young man beginning the race of life. For whether seen smutted by the soot of the blacksmith shop, or whitened by the lime of the plasterer or bricklayer; whether bending beneath tool box of the carpenter or ensconced on the bench of the shoemaker, he has a moral strength, a consciousness of acquirement, giving him a dignity of manhood unpossessed by the menial and those engaged in unskilled labor. Let it never be forgotten that as high over in importance as the best interest of the race is to that of the individual, will be the uplifting influence of assiduously cultivating a desire to obtain trades. The crying want with us is a middle class. The chief component of our race today is laborers unskilled. We will not and cannot compete with other races who have a large and influential class of artisans and mechanics, and having received higher remuneration for labor, have paved the way for themselves or offsprings from the mechanic to the merchant or to the professional. These three factors, linked and interlinked, an ascending chain will be strong in its relation, as consistent in construction.
In 1849 Frederick Douglass, Charles Lenox Remond and Julia Griffith, an English lady prominent in reform circles in England, attended the National Anti-slavery Convention held in Philadelphia, and presided over by that apostle of liberty, Wm. Lloyd Garrison. At its close Mr. Douglass invited me to accompany him to his home at Rochester, and then to join him in lecturing in the "Western Reserve."
Without salary, poor in purse, doubtful of useful ability, dependent for sustenance on a sentiment then prevailing, that for anti-slavery expression was as reserved as the "Reserve" was Western. I have often thought of my feelings of doubt and fear to go with Mr. Douglass, as an epoch in my life's history. The parting of the ways, the embarkation to a wider field of action, the close connection between obedience to an impulse of duty (however uninviting or uncertain the outcome), and the ever moral and often material benefit.
Rochester proved to be my pathway to California. Western New York, 50 years ago, then known as the "Western Reserve," was very unlike the present as to population, means of travel, material developments, schools of learning, and humanizing influences. Mr. Douglass, in the Baptist Church in Little Rock, Ark., a short time before his death, told how, in 1849, we there traveled together; that where now are stately cities and villages a sparsely settled wilderness existed; that while we there proclaimed abolition as the right of the slave, the chilling effect of those December days were not more cold and heartless than the reception we met when our mission as advocates for the slave became known; churches and halls were closed against us. Stables and blacksmith shops would sometimes hold audiences more generous with epithets and elderly eggs than with manly decorum. God be thanked, Douglass, the grandest of "our grand old men," lived to see "the seeds of mighty truth have their silent undergrowth, and in the earth be wrought." A family, however poor, striving as best they may to give the rudiments of knowledge to their children, should have, if but few, books descriptive of the hopes and struggles of those no better situated, who have made impress on the age in which they lived. We seldom remember from whence we first received the idea which gave impulse to an honorable action; we received it, however, most probably from tongue or pen. For impressible youth such biography should be as easy of access as possible.
It has been said that "a man's noblest mistake is to be born before his time." This will not apply to Frederick Douglass. His "Life and Times" should be in the front rank of selection for blessing and inspiration. A blessing for the high moral of its teaching; an inspiration for the poorest boy; that he need not "beg the world's pardon for having been born," but by fostering courage and consecration of purpose "he may rank the peer of any man."
Frederick Douglass, born a slave, hampered by all the depressing influences of that institution; by indomitable energy and devotion; seizing with an avidity that knew no obstacle every opportunity, cultivated a mind and developed a character that will be a bright page in the history of noble and beneficent achievements.
For the conditions that confronted him and the anti-slavery crusade, have been well and eloquently portrayed by the late George William Curtis. That how terribly earnest was the anti-slavery agitation this generation little knows. To understand is to recall the situation of the country. Slavery sat supreme in the White House and made laws at the capitol. Courts of Justice were its ministers, and legislators its lackeys. It silenced the preacher in the pulpit; it muzzled the editor at his desk, and the professor in his lecture-room. It sat a price on the heads of peaceful citizens; robbed the mails, and denounced the vital principles of the declaration of independence as treason. In the States where the law did not tolerate slavery, slavery ruled the club and drawing room, the factory and the office, swaggered at the dinner table, and scourged with scorn a cowardly society. It tore the golden rule from the school books, and from the prayer books the pictured benignity of Christ. It prohibited schools in the free States for the hated race; hunted women who taught children to read, and forbade a free people to communicate with their representatives.
It was under such conditions so pungently and truthfully stated that Douglass appeared as a small star on the horizon of a clouded firmament; rose in intellectual brilliancy, mental power and a noble generosity. For his devotion was not only to the freedom of the slave with which he was identified, but for liberty and the betterment of humanity everywhere, regardless of sex or color. His page already luminous in history will continue to brighten, and when statuary, now and hereafter, erected to his memory, shall have crumbled "neath the beatings of time;" the good fame of his name, high purpose and unflinching integrity to the highest needs of humanity, will remain hallowed "foot prints in the sands of time." Eminently fit was the naming of an institution in Philadelphia "The Frederick Douglass Hospital and Freedman's School;" the assuaging of suffering and the giving of larger opportunity for technical instruction were cherished ideals with the sage of Anacostia; also the lives of Harriet Beacher Stowe, Lucretia Mott and Francis E. Harper, and the noble band of women of which they were the type, who bravely met social ostracism and insult for devotion to the slave, will ever have a proud place in our country's history. Of this illustrious band was Julia Griffith, hitherto referred to, a grand representative of those renowned women, who at home or abroad, did so much to hasten the downfall of slavery and encourage the weak and lowly to hope and effort. Thackery has said that, "Could you see every man's career, you would find a woman clogging him, or cheering him, or beckoning him on."
Having finished my intended tour with Mr. Douglass, and returned to Rochester, the outlook for my future, to me, was not promising. The opportunities for advancement were much, very much less than now. With me ambition and dejection contended for the mastery, the latter often in the ascendant. To her friendly inquiry I gave reasons for my depression. I shall never forget the response; almost imperious in manner, you could already anticipate the magnitude of an idea that seemed to struggle for utterance. "What! discouraged? Go do some great thing." It was an inspiration, the result of which she may never have known. We are assured, however, that a kind act or helpful word is inseparably connected with a blessing for the giver. To earnest youth I would bequeath the excelsior of the "youth mid snow and ice," and the above injunction, "upward and onward;" "go do some great thing."
The war with Mexico, discovery of gold in California in 1848, the acquisition of new territory, and the developments of our hitherto undeveloped Western possessions, stimulated the financial pulse, and permeated every avenue of industry and speculative life. While in New York State I met several going and returning gold seekers, many giving dazzling accounts of immense deposits of gold in the new Eldorado; and others, as ever the case with adventurers, gave gloomy statements of peril and disaster. A judicious temperament, untiring energy, a lexicon of endeavor, in which there is no such word as "fail," is the only open sesame to hidden opportunities in a new country. Fortune, in precarious mood, may sometime smile on the inert, but she seldom fails to surrender to pluck, tenacity and perseverance. As the Oxford men say it is the one pull more of the oar that proves the "beefiness of the fellow;" it is the one march more that wins the campaign; the five minutes more persistent courage that wins the fight.
I returned to Philadelphia, and with some friendly assistance, sailed, in 1850, from New York, as a steerage passenger for San Francisco. Arriving at Aspinwall, the point of debarkation, on the Atlantic side, boats and boatsmen were engaged to transport passengers and baggage up the "Chagress," a small and shallow river. Crossing the Isthmus to Panama, on the Pacific side, I found Panama very cosmopolitan in appearance, for mingled with the sombrero-attired South American, could be seen denizens from every foreign clime. Its make up was a combination of peculiar attributes. It was dirty, but happy in having crows for its scavengers; sickly, but cheery; old, but with an youthful infusion. The virtues and vices were both shy and unblushing. A rich, dark foliage, ever blooming, and ever decaying; a humid atmosphere; a rotting vegetation under a tropical sun, while fever stalked on from conquest to conquest.
The sudden influx, the great travel from ocean to ocean, had given much impetus to business as well as to local amusements. For the latter, Sunday was the ideal day, when bull and cock fights secured the attendance of the elite, and the humble, the priest and the laity.
The church, preaching gentleness and peace in the morning, in the afternoon her minister, with sword spurred "bolosed" bantams under their arms, would appear on the scene eager for the fray.
After recovering from the Panama fever I took passage on the steamship "Golden Gate" for San Francisco. Science, experience, and a greatly increased demand have done much during the intervening fifty years to lessen risk and increase the comfort of ocean travel. Yet it is not without a degree of restless anticipation that one finds himself and baggage finally domiciled on an ocean-going steamer. Curiosity and criticism, selfishness and graciousness each in turn assert themselves. Curiosity in espionage, criticism in observation, while selfishness and graciousness alternate. You find yourself in the midst of a miniature world, environed, but isolated from activities of the greater, an epitome of human proclivities. A possible peril, real, imaginary or remote; a common brotherhood tightens the chain of fellowship and gradually widens the exchange of amenities.
We had a stormy passage, making San Diego with the top of smoke stack encrusted with the salt of the waves, paddle wheel broken and otherwise disabled, finally arriving at San Francisco in September.
Having made myself somewhat presentable upon leaving the steerage of the steamer, my trunk on a dray, I proceeded to an unprepossessing hotel kept by a colored man on Kearny street. The cursory view from the outside, and the further inspection on the inside, reminded me of the old lady's description of her watch, for she said, "it might look pretty hard on the outside, but the inside works were all right." And so thought its jolly patrons. Seated at tables, well supplied with piles of gold and silver, where numerous disciples of that ancient trickster Pharaoh, being dubious perhaps of the propriety of adopting the literal orthography of his name, and abbreviated it to Faro.
Getting something for nothing, or risking the smaller in hope of obtaining the greater, seems a passion inherent in human nature, requiring a calm survey of the probabilities, and oftimes the baneful effects to attain a moral resistance. It is the "ignis fatuus" that has lured many promising ones and wrecked the future of many lives.
The effervescent happiness of some of the worshipers at this shrine was conspicuous. The future to them seemed cloudless. It was not so with me. I had a secret not at all complacent, for it seemed anxious to get out, and while unhappy from its presence, I thought it wise to retain it.
When I approached the bar I asked for accommodation, and my trunk was brought in. While awaiting this preparatory step to domicile, and gazing at the prints and pictures more or less "blaser" that adorned the bar, my eye caught a notice, prominently placed, in gilt letters. I see it now, "Board twelve dollars a week in advance." It was not the price, but the stipulation demanded that appalled me. Had I looked through a magnifying glass the letters could not have appeared larger. With the brilliancy of a search light they seemed to ask "Who are you and how are you fixed?" I responded by "staring fate in the face," and going up to the bar asked for a cigar. How much? Ten cents. I had sixty cents when I landed; had paid fifty for trunk drayage, and I was now a moneyless man—hence my secret.
Would there be strict enforcement of conditions mentioned in that ominous card. I was unacquainted with the Bohemian "song and dance" parlance in such extremities, and wondered would letting my secret come out let a dinner come in. Possibly, I may have often been deceived when appealed to, but that experience has often been fruitful to friendless hunger.
Finally the bell rang, and a polite invitation from the landlord placed me at the table. There is nothing so helpful to a disconsolate man as a good dinner. It dissipates melancholy and stimulates persistency. Never preach high moral rectitude or the possibilities of industry to a hungry man. First give him something to eat, then should there be a vulnerable spot to such admonition you will succeed. If not, he is an incorrigible.
After dinner I immediately went out, and after many attempts to seek employment of any kind, I approached a house in course of construction and applied to the contractor for work. He replied he did not need help. I asked the price of wages. Ten dollars a day. I said you would much oblige me by giving me, if only a few days' work, as I have just arrived. After a few moments thought, during which mayhap charity and gain held conference, which succumbed, it is needless to premise, for we sometimes ascribe selfish motives to kindly acts, he said that if I choose to come for nine dollars a day I might. It is unnecessary for me to add that I chose to come.
When I got outside the building an appalling thought presented itself; whoever heard of a carpenter announcing himself ready for work without his tools. A minister may be without piety, a lawyer without clients, a politician impolitic, but a carpenter without tools, never! It would be prima facia evidence of an imposter. I went back and asked what tools I must bring upon the morrow; he told me and I left. But the tools, the tools, how was I to get them. My only acquaintance in the city was my landlord. But prospects were too bright to reveal to him my secret. I wended my way to a large tent having an assortment of hardware and was shown the tools needed. I then told the merchant that I had no money, and of the place I had to work the next morning. He said nothing for a moment, looked me over, and then said: "All right take them." I felt great relief when I paid the merchant and my landlord on the following Saturday.
Why do I detail to such length these items of endeavor; experiences which have had similarity in many lives? For the reason that they seem to contain data for a moral, which if observed may be useful. Never disclose your poverty until the last gleam of hope has sunk beneath the horizon of your best effort, remembering that invincible determination holds the key to success, while advice and assistance hitherto laggard, now with hasty steps greets you within the door.
I was not allowed to long pursue carpentering. White employees finding me at work on the same building would "strike." On one occasion the contractor came to me and said, "I expect you will have to stop, for this house must be finished in the time specified; but, if you can get six or eight equally good workmen, I will let these fellows go. Not that I have any special liking for your people. I am giving these men all the wages they demand, and I am not willing to submit to the tyranny of their dictation if I can help it." This episode, the moral of which is as pertinent today as then, and more apparent, intensifies the necessity of greater desire upon the part of our young men and women to acquire knowledge in skilled handicraft, reference to which I have hitherto made. But my convictions are so pronounced that I cannot forbear the reiteration. For while it is ennobling to the individual, giving independence of character and more financial ability, the reflex influence is so helpful in giving the race a higher status in the industrial activities of a commonwealth. Ignorance of such activities compel our people mostly to engage in the lower and less remunerative pursuits. I could not find the men he wanted or subsequent employment of that kind.
All classes of labor were highly remunerative, blacking boots not excepted.
I after engaged in this, and other like humble employments, part of which was for Hon. John C. Fremont, "the pathfinder overland to California."
Saving my earnings, I joined a firm already established in the clothing business. After a year or more so engaged, I became a partner in the firm of Lester & Gibbs, importers of fine boots and shoes. Just here a thought occurs which may be of advantage to ambitious but impecunious young men. Do not hesitate when you are without choice to accept the most humble and menial employment. It will be a source of pleasure, if by self-denial, saving your earnings, you keep a fixed intent to make it the stepping stone to something higher.
The genius of our institutions, and the noblest of mankind will estimate you by the ratio of distance from the humblest beginning to your present attainment; the greater the distance the greater the luster; the more fitting the meed of praise.
Our establishment on Clay street, known as the "Emporium for fine boots and shoes, imported from Philadelphia, London and Paris," having a reputation for keeping the best and finest in the State, was well patronized, our patrons extending to Oregon and lower California. The business, wholesale and retail, was profitable and maintained for a number of years. Mr. Lester, my partner, being a practical bootmaker, his step to a merchant in that line was easy and lucrative.
Thanks to the evolution of events and march of liberal ideas the colored men in California have now a recognized citizenship, and equality before the law. It was not so at the period of which I write. With thrift and a wise circumspection financially, their opportunities were good; from every other point of view they were ostracised, assaulted without redress, disfranchised and denied their oath in a court of justice.
One occasion will be typical of the condition. One of two mutual friends (both our customers) came in looking over and admiring a display of newly arrived stock, tried on a pair of boots, was pleased with them, but said he did not think he needed them then; lay them aside and he would think about it. A short time after his friend came in, was shown the pair the former had admired; would he like such a pair? He tried on several and then asked to try on his friend's selection; they only suited, and he insisted on taking them; we objected, but he had them on, and said we need not have fear, he would clear us of blame, and walked out. Knowing they were close friends we were content. Possibly, in a humorous mood, he went straight to his friend, for shortly they both came back, the first asking for his boots; he would receive no explanation (while the cause of the trouble stood mute), and with vile epithets, using a heavy cane, again and again assaulted my partner, who was compelled tamely to submit, for had he raised his hand he would have been shot, and no redress. I would not have been allowed to attest to "the deep damnation of his taking off."
The Magna Charter, granted by King John, at Runney Mead, to the Barons of England, in the twelfth century, followed by the Petition of Right by Charles I, has been rigidly preserved and consecrated as foundation for civil liberty. The Continental Congress led the van for the United States, who oftimes tardy in its conservatism, is disposed to give audience to merit and finally justice to pertinacity of purpose.
In 1851, Jonas P. Townsend, W. H. Newby, and other colored men with myself, drew up and published in the "Alto California," the leading paper of the State, a preamble and resolutions protesting against being disfranchised and denied the right of oath, and our determination to use all moral means to secure legal claim to all the rights and privileges of American citizens.
It being the first pronouncement from the colored people of the State, who were supposed to be content with their status, the announcement caused much comment and discussion among the dominant class. For down deep in the heart of every man is a conception of right. He cannot extinguish it, or separate it from its comparative. What would I have others do to me? Pride, interest, adverse contact, all with specious argument may strive to dissipate the comparison, but the pulsations of a common humanity, keeping time with the verities of God never ceased to trouble, and thus the moral pebble thrown on the bosom of the hitherto placid sea of public opinion, like its physical prototype, creating undulations which go on and on to beat against the rock and make sandy shores, so this our earnest but feeble protest contributed its humble share in the rebuilding of a commonwealth where "a man's a man for all that."
The committee above named, with G. W. Dennis and James Brown, the same year formed a company, established and published the "Mirror of the Times," the first periodical issued in the State for the advocacy of equal rights for all Americans. It has been followed by a score of kindred that have assiduously maintained and ably contended for the rights and privileges claimed by their zealous leader.
State conventions were held in 1854, '55 and '57, resolutions and petitions passed and presented to the Legislature of Sacramento. We had friends to offer them and foes to move they be thrown out the window. It is ever thus, "that men go to fierce extremes rather than rest upon the quiet flow of truths that soften hatred and temper strife." There was that unknown quantity, present in all legislative bodies, composed of good "little men" without courage of conviction, others of the Dickens' "devilish sly" type, who put out their plant-like tendrils for support; others "who bent the pliant servile knee that thrift may follow fawning"—all these the make-weight of a necessary constituent in representative government conservatism. The conservative majority laid our petition on the table, most likely with the tacit understanding that it was to be "taken up" by the janitor, and as such action on his part is not matter for record, we will in this happier day with "charity to all," over this episode on memory's leaf, simply wrote "lost or stolen."
Among the occasions continually occurring demanding protests against injustice was the imposition of the "poll tax." It was demanded of our firm, and we refused to pay. A sufficient quantity of our goods to pay tax and costs were levied upon, and published for sale, and on what account.
I wrote with a fervor as cool as the circumstances would permit, and published a card from a disfranchised oath-denied standpoint, closing with the avowal that the great State of California might annually confiscate our goods, but we would never pay the voters tax. The card attracted attention, the injustice seemed glaring, the goods were offered. We learned that we had several friends at the sale, one in particular a Southern man. Now there was this peculiarity about the Southern white man, he would work a Negro for fifty years for his victuals and clothes, and shoot a white man for cheating the same Negro, as he considered the latter the height of meanness. This friend quietly and persistently moved through the crowd, telling them why our goods were there, and advising to give them a "terrible letting alone." The auctioneer stated on what account they were there, to be sold, asked for bidders, winked his eye and said "no bidders." Our goods were sent back to our store. This law, in the words of a distinguished Statesman, was then allowed to relapse "into innocuous desuetude." No further attempts to enforce it upon colored men were made.
A rush to newly discovered gold fields bring in view every trait of human character. The more vicious standing out in bold relief, and stamping their impress upon the locality. This phase and most primitive situation can be accounted for partly by the cupidity of mankind, but mainly that the first arrivals are chiefly adventurers. Single men, untrammeled by family cares, traders, saloonists, gamblers, and that unknown quantity of indefinite quality, ever present, content to allow others to fix a status of society, provided they do not touch on their own special interests, and that other, the unscrupulous but active professional politician, having been dishonored at home, still astute and determined, seeks new fields for booty, obtain positions of trust and then consummate peculation and outrage under the forms of law. But the necessity for the honest administration of the law eventually asserts itself for the enforcement of order.
It was quaintly said by a governor of Arkansas, that he believed that a public official should be "reasonably honest." Even should that limited standard of official integrity be invaded the people with an honest ballot need not be long in rectifying the evil by legal means. But cannot something be said in palliation of summary punishment by illegal means, when it is notorious and indisputable that all machinery for the execution of the law and the maintenance of order, the judges, prosecuting attorneys, sheriff and drawers of jurors, and every other of court of law are in the hands of a despotic cabal who excessively tax, and whose courts convict all those who oppose them, and exonerate by trial the most farcical, the vilest criminal, rob and murder in broad day light, often at the bidding of their protectors. Such a status for a people claiming to be civilized seems difficult to conceive, yet the above was not an hypothesis of condition, but the actual one that existed in California and San Francisco, especially from 1849 to 1855. Gamblers and dishonest politicians from other States held the government, and there was no legal redress. Every attempt of the friends of law and order to elect honest men to office was met at the polls by vituperation and assault.