The Journal of Negro History, Volume 3, 1918
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Volume III


Table of Contents

Vol. III—January, 1918—No. 1

The Story of Josiah Henson W. B. HARTGROVE Elizabeth Barrett Browning and the Negro BENJAMIN BRAWLEY Palmares: The Negro Numantia CHARLES E. CHAPMAN Slavery in California DELILAH L. BEASLEY Documents California Freedom Papers Thomas Jefferson's Thoughts on the Negro Some Undistinguished Negroes Book Reviews Notes

Vol. III—April, 1918—No. 2

Benjamin Banneker HENRY E. BAKER George Liele and Andrew Bryan JOHN W. DAVIS Fifty Years of Howard University - Part I DWIGHT O. W. HOLMES Historical Errors of James Ford Rhodes JOHN R. LYNCH Documents Letters of Governor Edward Coles Some Undistinguished Negroes Book Reviews Notes

Vol. III—July, 1918—No. 3

Slavery in Kentucky IVAN E. MCDOUGLE Book Reviews Notes

Vol. III—October, 1918—No. 4

Beginnings of Miscegenation of Whites and Blacks CARTER G. WOODSON Gerrit Smith's Effort in Behalf of Negroes ZITA DYSON The Buxton Settlement in Canada FRED LANDON Fifty Years of Howard University - Part II DWIGHT O. W. HOLMES Documents What the Framers of the Federal Constitution Thought of the Negro Some Undistinguished Negroes Book Reviews Notes




VOL. III—JANUARY, 1918—No. 1


No one ever uttered a more forceful truth than Frederika Bremer when she said in speaking to Americans: "The fate of the Negro is the romance of your history." The sketches of heroes showing the life of those once exploited by Christian men must ever be interesting to those who would know the origin and the development of a civilization distinctly American. In no case is this more striking than in that of Josiah Henson, the man who probably was present to Harriet Beecher Stowe's mind when she graphically portrayed slavery in writing "Uncle Tom's Cabin."

Josiah Henson was born June 15, 1789, on a farm in Charles County, Maryland, where his mother was hired out. His parents had six children. The only recollection he had of his father was that of seeing his right ear cut off, his head gashed and his back lacerated, as a result of the cruel punishment inflicted upon him because he had dared to beat the overseer of the plantation for brutally assaulting the slave's wife. Because of becoming morose, disobedient and intractable thereafter, Henson's father was sold to a planter in Alabama and his relatives never heard of him again. His mother was then brought back to the estate of her owner, a Doctor McPherson, who was much kinder to his slaves. Dr. McPherson gave the youth his own name, Josiah, and the family name Henson after Dr. McPherson's uncle, who served in the Revolutionary War. Josiah showed signs of mental and religious development under the pious care of his Christian mother and for that reason became his master's favorite.

Upon the death of Doctor McPherson, however, it became necessary to sell the estate and slaves to divide his property among his heirs. The Henson family was then scattered throughout the country and worst of all Josiah was separated from his mother, notwithstanding his mother's earnest entreaty that her new master, Isaac Riley, should also purchase her baby. Instead of listening to the appeal of this afflicted woman clinging to his hands, he disengaged himself from her with violent blows. She was then taken to Riley's farm in Montgomery County. Josiah was purchased by a man named Robb, a tavern keeper living near Montgomery Court-House. Both masters were unusually cruel, in keeping with the tyrannical methods employed by planters of that time. Because of ill health resulting from the lack of proper care, Josiah became very sickly. He was then providentially restored to his mother, having been offered to her owner by Robb for a small sum, for the reason that it was thought that he would die.

His third master was "vulgar in his habits, unprincipled and cruel in his general deportment and especially addicted to the vice of licentiousness."[2] On his plantation Henson served as water-boy, butler and finally as a field hand, experiencing the usual hardship of the slave. He ate twice a day of cornmeal and salt herring, with a little buttermilk and a few vegetables occasionally. His dress was first a single garment, something like a long shirt reaching to the ankles, later a pair of trousers and a shirt with the addition of a woolen hat once in two or three years and a round jacket or overcoat in the winter time. He slept with ten or a dozen persons in a log hut of a single small room, with no other floor than the trodden earth, and without beds or furniture. In spite of this, however, Henson grew to be a robust lad, who at the age of fifteen could do a man's work. Having too more mental capacity than most slaves, he was regarded as a smart fellow. Hearing remarks like this about himself, Henson became filled with ambition and pride, and aspired to a position of influence among his fellows.

At times Henson would toil and induce his fellow slaves to work much harder and longer than required to obtain from their master a kind word or act, but these efforts usually produced no more from their owner than a cold calculation of the value of Josiah to him. When, however, the white overseer of this plantation was discharged for stealing from his employer, Josiah had shown himself so capable that he was made manager of the plantation. In this position his honest management of the estate made him indispensable to his master also as a salesman of produce in the markets of Georgetown and Washington. He had during these years come under the influence of an anti-slavery white man of Georgetown and had become a devout Christian with considerable influence as a preacher among the slaves.

About this time, Josiah was serving his master in another capacity, which brought upon him one of the greatest misfortunes of his life. This was accompanying his master to town for protection and deliverance when the owners of his order indulged in excessive drinking and brawls in taverns. Sometimes in removing his master from the midst of a fracas, he would have to handle his owner's opponent rather roughly. On one occasion when Riley became involved in a quarrel with his brother's overseer, Henson pushed the overseer down; and falling while intoxicated the overseer suffered some injury. The overseer decided to wreak vengeance on Henson for this. Finding Henson on the way home one day the overseer assisted by three Negroes attacked him, beating him unmercifully and left him on the ground almost senseless with his head badly bruised and cut and with his right arm and both shoulder blades broken. Being on a farm where no physician or surgeon was usually called, Henson recovered with difficulty under the kind treatment of his master's sister; but was never able thereafter to raise his hands to his head. The culprit did not suffer for this offense, as the court acquitted him on the grounds of self-defense.

In the course of time Henson's master, Isaac Riley, lived so extravagantly that he became involved in debt and lawsuits which heralded his ruin. Seeing his estate would be seized, he intrusted to Henson in 1825 the tremendous task of taking his 18 slaves to his brother, Amos Riley, in Kentucky. Henson bought a one-horse wagon to carry provisions and to relieve the women and children from time to time. The men were compelled to walk altogether. Traveling through Alexandria, Culpepper, Fauquier, Harper's Ferry and Cumberland, they met on the way droves of Negroes passing in chains under the system of the internal slave trade, while those whom Henson was conducting were moving freely without restriction. On arriving at Wheeling, he sold the horse and wagon and bought a boat of sufficient size to take the whole party down the river. At Cincinnati some free Negroes came out to greet them and urged them to avail themselves of the opportunity to become free. Few of the slaves except Henson could appreciate this boon offered them, but he had thought of obtaining it only by purchase. Henson said: "Under the influence of these impressions, and seeing that the allurements of the crowd were producing a manifest effect, I sternly assumed the captain, and ordered the boat to be pushed off into the stream. A shower of curses followed me from the shore; but the Negroes under me, accustomed to obey, and, alas! too degraded and ignorant of the advantages of liberty to know what they were forfeiting, offered no resistance to my command." "Often since that day," says he, "has my soul been pierced with bitter anguish at the thought of having been thus instrumental in consigning to the infernal bondage of slavery so many of my fellow-beings. I have wrestled in prayer with God for forgiveness. Having experienced myself the sweetness of liberty, and knowing too well the after misery of a great majority of them, my infatuation has seemed to me an unpardonable sin. But I console myself with the thought that I acted according to my best light, though the light that was in me was darkness."[3]

Henson finally arrived with these slaves at the farm of his master's brother, five miles south of the Ohio and fifteen miles above the Yellow Banks, on the Big Blackfords' Creek in Davies County, Kentucky, April, 1825. Here the situation as to food, shelter and general comforts was a little better than in Maryland. He served on this plantation as superintendent and having here among more liberal white people the opportunity for religious instruction, he developed into a successful preacher, recognized by the Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

There he remained waiting for his master three years. Unable to persuade his wife to move to Kentucky, however, his master decided to abandon the idea and sent an agent to bring upon those slaves another heartrending scene of the auction block, though Henson himself was exempted. Henson saw with deepest grief the agony which he recollected in his own mother and which he now unfortunately said in the persons with whom he had long been associated. He could not, therefore, refrain from experiencing the bitterest feeling of hatred of the system and its promoters. He furthermore lamented as never before his agency in bringing the poor creatures hither, if such had to be the end of the expedition. Freedom then became the all-absorbing purpose that filled his soul. He said that he stood ready to pray, toil, dissemble, plot like a fox and fight like a tiger.

A new light dawned upon the dark pathway of Josiah Henson, however, in 1828. A Methodist preacher, an anti-slavery white man, talked with Henson one day confidentially about securing freedom. He thereupon suggested to Henson to obtain his employer's consent to visit his old master in Maryland that he might connect with friends in Ohio along the way and obtain the sum necessary to purchase himself. His employer readily consented and with the required pass and a letter of recommendation from his Methodist friend to a preacher in Cincinnati, Henson obtained contributions to the amount of one hundred and sixty dollars on arriving in that city, where he preached to several congregations. He then proceeded to Chillicothe where the annual Methodist Conference was in session, his kind friend accompanying him. With the aid of the influence and exertions of his coworker Henson was again successful. He then purchased a suit of comfortable clothes and an excellent horse, with which he traveled leisurely from town to town, preaching and soliciting as he went. He succeeded so well that when he arrived at his old home in Maryland, he was much better equipped than his master. This striking difference and the delay of Henson along the way from September to Christmas caused his master to be somewhat angry. Moreover, as his master had lost most of his slaves and other property in Maryland, he was anxious to have Henson as a faithful worker to retrieve his losses; but this changed man would hardly subserve such a purpose.

The conditions which he observed around him were so much worse than what he had for some time been accustomed to and so changed was the environment because of the departure or death of friends and relatives during his absence that Henson resolved to become free. He then consulted the brother of his master's wife, then a business man in Washington, whom he had often befriended years before and who was angry with Henson's master because the latter had defrauded him out of certain property. This friend, therefore, gladly took up with Henson's master the question of giving the slave an opportunity to purchase himself. He carefully explained to the master that Henson had some money and could purchase himself and that if, in consideration of the valuable services he had rendered, the master refused to do so, Henson would become free by escaping to Canada. The master agreed then to give him his manumission papers for four hundred and fifty dollars, of which three hundred and fifty dollars was to be in cash and the remainder in Henson's note. Henson's money and horse enabled him to pay the cash at once. But his master was to work a trick on him. He did not receive his manumission papers until March 3, 1827, and when Henson started for Kentucky his master induced him to let him send his manumission papers to his brother in Kentucky where Henson was returning, telling him that some ruffian might take the document from him on the way. In returning to Kentucky Henson was arrested several times as a fugitive, but upon always insisting on being carried before a magistrate he was released. He had no trouble after reaching Wheeling, from which he proceeded on a boat to Davies County, Kentucky.

Arriving at the Kentucky home, he was informed that the master had misrepresented the facts as to his purchase. He had written his brother that Henson had agreed to pay one thousand dollars for himself, the balance-of the six hundred and fifty dollars to be paid in Kentucky. As the only evidence he had, had been sent to his master's brother, it was impossible for him to make a case against him in court. Things went on in uncertainty for about a year. Then came a complaint from his master in Maryland, saying that he wanted money and expressing the hope that Henson would soon pay the next installment.

Soon thereafter Henson received orders to go with Amos Riley carrying a cargo to New Orleans. This suggestion was enough. He contrived to have his manumission papers sewed up in his clothing prior to his departure on the flat boat for New Orleans. He knew what awaited him and his mind rapidly developed into a sort of smoldering volcano of pent-up feeling which at one time all but impelled him to murder his white betrayers. Blinded by passion and stung by madness, Henson resolved to kill his four companions, to take what money they had, then to scuttle the craft and escape to the North. One dark night within a few days' sail of New Orleans it seemed that the opportune hour had come. Henson was alone on the deck and Riley and the hands were asleep. He crept down noiselessly, secured an ax, entered the cabin, and looking by aid of the dim light, his eye fell first on Riley. Henson felt the blade of the ax and raised it to strike the first blow when suddenly the thought came to him, "What! Commit murder, and you a Christian?" His religious feeling and belief in the wonderful providence of God prevented him.

Riley talked later of getting him a good master and the like but did not disguise the effort to sell him. Fortunately, however, Amos Riley was suddenly taken sick and becoming more dependent on Henson then, than Henson had been on him, he immediately ordered Henson to sell the flat boat and find passage for him home in a sick cabin at once. Henson did this and succeeded by careful nursing to get Amos back to his home in Kentucky alive. Although he confessed that, if he had sold Henson, he would have died, the family showed only a realization of an increased value in Henson rather than an appreciation of his valuable services. He, therefore, decided to escape to Canada.

His wife, fearing the dangers, would not at first agree to go, but upon being told that he would take all of the children but the youngest, she finally agreed to set out with him. Knowing of the hardships that they must have to experience, Henson practised beforehand the carrying of the children on his back. They crossed the river into Indiana and proceeded toward Cincinnati, finding it difficult to purchase food in that State, so intensely did the people hate the Negro there. After two weeks of hardship, exhausted they reached Cincinnati. There they were refreshed and carried 30 miles on the way in a wagon. They directed themselves then toward the Scioto, where they were told they would strike the military road of General Hull, opened when he was operating against Detroit.

They set out, not knowing that the way lay through a wilderness of howling wolves and, not taking sufficient food, they did not pass homes from which they could purchase supplies on the way. They did not go far before his wife fainted, but she was soon resuscitated. Finally, they saw in the distance persons whose presence seemed to be the dark foreboding of disaster, but the fugitives pressed on. They proved to be Indians, who, when they saw the blacks, ran away yelping. This excited the fugitives, as they thought the Indians were yelling to secure the cooperation of a larger number to massacre them. Farther on they saw other Indians standing behind trees hiding. After passing through such trials as these for some time they came to an Indian village, the dwellers of which, after some fear and hesitation, welcomed them, supplied their wants and gave them a comfortable wigwam for the night. They were then informed that they were about twenty-five miles from the lakes. After experiencing some difficulty in fording a dangerous stream and spending another night in the woods they saw the houses on the outskirts; of Sandusky.

Using good judgment, however, Henson did not go into the village at once. When about a mile from the lake, He hid his family in the woods and then proceeded to approach the town. Soon he observed on the left side of the town a house from which a number of men were taking something to a vessel. Approaching them immediately he was asked whether or not he desired to work. He promptly replied in the affirmative and it was not long before he was assisting them in loading corn. He soon contrived to get in line next to the only Negro there engaged and communicated to him his plans.[4]

He told the captain, who called Henson aside and agreed to assist him in getting to Buffalo, the boat's destination, where the fugitives would find friends. It was agreed that the vessel should leave the landing and that a small boat should take the fugitives aboard at night, as there were Kentucky spies in Sandusky that might apprehend them. Henson said he watched the vessel leave the landing and then lower a boat for the shore and in a few minutes his black friend and two sailors landed and went with him to get his family. Thinking that he had been captured his wife had grown despondent and had moved from the spot where he left her. With a little difficulty, he found her, but when she saw him approaching with those men, she was still more frightened. She was reassured, however, and soon they were received on board in the midst of hearty cheers. They arrived at Buffalo the next evening too late to cross the river. The following morning they were brought to Burnham and went on the ferry boat to Waterloo. The good Captain Burnham paid the passage money and gave Henson a dollar beside. They arrived in Canada on the 28th day of October, 1830. Describing his exultation Henson said: "I threw myself on the ground, rolled in the sand, seized handfuls of it and kissed them, and danced round till, in the eyes of several who were present, I passed for a madman. 'He's some crazy fellow,' said a Colonel Warren, who happened to be there. 'O, no, master! don't you know? I'm free!' He burst into a shout of laughter. 'Well I never knew freedom make a man roll in the sand in such a fashion,' Still I could not control myself. I hugged and kissed my wife and children, and, until the first exuberant burst of feeling was over, went on as before."

He soon found employment there with one Mr. Hibbard, whom he served three years and was lodged in a cabin better than that in Kentucky. His family, however, had been so exposed that during the first winter they almost died of sickness, but his employer was kind to him. Mr. Hibbard taught Henson's son Tom, then twelve years of age. Tom's achievements were soon such that instead of reading the Bible to his father to assist him in preaching he taught his father to read. Henson then entered the service of one Mr. Risely, who had experienced more elevation of mind than Mr. Hibbard. With this advantage Henson not only realized more fully than ever the ignorance in which he lived, but became interested in the elevation of his people there, who had been content with the mere making a livelihood rather than solving the economic problems of freedom. A good many, thereafter, agreed to invest their savings in land. In this they had the cooperation of Mr. Risely. Henson set out, therefore, in 1834 to explore the country and finally selected a place for a settlement to the east of Lake St. Clair and Detroit river later called Colchester.

Henson thereafter directed his attention to those whom he had left in bondage. If he felt any compunction of conscience for having conducted the party of Maryland slaves through a free State without making an effort to free them, he made up for that in later years. Addressing an audience of Negroes some years later at Fort Erie, Pennsylvania, he took occasion to remind them of their duty to assist in the emancipation of their fellowmen in the South. In the audience was a young man named James Lightfoot, who had fled from a plantation near Maysville, Kentucky. Seeing his duty as never before, he approached Father Henson to arrange for the rescue of his enslaved kinsmen. Knowing the agony in which he was, Henson undertook the perilous task of bringing them to Canada. Leaving his family alone he traveled on foot through New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio into Kentucky. He had little difficulty in finding the Lightfoots. On presenting them a small token of the loved one, who, they were told, had gone to the land of freedom, they exhibited no little excitement. Unfortunately, however, Lightfoot's parents were so far advanced in years and his sisters had so many children that they could not travel. As the young men, who could have gone, were not anxious to be separated from their loved ones, all declined the invitation to make this effort for freedom at that time, promising to undertake it a year thereafter, if Henson returned for them.

Henson agreed to do so and in the meantime went forty or fifty miles into Bourbon County in the interior of Kentucky in quest of a large party of Negroes who were said to be ready to escape. After a search for about a week he discovered that there were about thirty fugitives collected from various States. With them he started on the return trip to Canada, traveling by night and resting by day. They contrived to cross the Ohio river and reached Cincinnati in three days. There they were assisted and directed to Richmond, Indiana, a settlement of Quakers, who helped them on their way. After a difficult journey of two weeks they reached Toledo and took passage for Canada, which they reached in safety.

Henson then remained on his farm in Canada some months, but when the appointed time for the delivery of the enslaved kinsmen of James Lightfoot arrived, he set out again for Kentucky. He passed through Lancaster, Ohio, where the people were very much excited over a meteoric shower, thinking that the day of judgment had come. Henson thought so too, but believing that he was promoting a righteous cause, he kept on. On arriving at Portsmouth on the Ohio, he narrowly escaped being detected by Kentuckians in the town. He resorted to the stratagem of binding his head with dried leaves in a cloth and pretended to be so seriously afflicted that he could not speak. Arriving at Maysville, he had little difficulty in finding the slaves whom he was seeking. The second person whom he met was Jefferson Lightfoot, the brother of James Lightfoot for whom Henson was making this trip. Saturday night, as usual, was set as the time for the execution of this affair, for the reason that they would not be missed until Monday and would, therefore, have a day ahead. They started from Maysville in a boat, hoping to reach Cincinnati before daylight, but the boat sprang a leak and the party narrowly escaped being drowned. They procured another boat, however, and got within ten miles of Cincinnati before daylight. To avoid being detected, they abandoned the boat and proceeded to walk to Cincinnati, but faced another difficulty when they reached the Miami, which at that point was too deep to be forded. But in going up the river seeking a shallow place they were seemingly led providentially by a cow that waded across before them. As the weather was cold and they were in a state of perspiration on wading through, the youngest Lightfoot was seized with serious contractions, but recovered after receiving such ministrations as could be given on the way. They were assisted in Cincinnati and the next day started on their journey to Canada. They had not gone far before the young Lightfoot became so seriously ill that he had to be carried on a litter, and this became so irksome that he himself begged to be left in the wilderness to die alone rather than handicap the whole party with such good prospects for freedom. With considerable reluctance, they acceded to his request, and sad indeed was the parting. But before they had gone more than two miles on their journey one of the brothers of the sick man suddenly decided to return, as he could not suffer to have his brother die thus in the wilderness, and be devoured by wolves. They returned and found the young man seemingly in a dying condition. They at once decided to resume their journey and had not gone far before they saw a Quaker whose thee and thou led them to believe that he was their friend. They then told him their story, which was sufficient. He immediately returned home, taking them with him. The fugitives remained there for the night and arranged for the boy to remain with the Quaker until he should recover. They were then provided with a sack of biscuit and a supply of meat, with which they set out again for Canada. After proceeding a little further they met a white man, who became helpful to them in escaping the slave hunters who were then on their trail. This man while working for an employer who undertook to punish him had used violence and had to run off. The party, knowing the increasing danger of capture, walked all night, trying to cover the distance of forty miles. At daybreak they reached a wayside tavern near Lake Erie and ordered breakfast. While the meal was in preparation they quickly fell asleep. Just as the breakfast was ready, however, Henson had the peculiar presentiment that some danger was near and that he should at once leave the house. After experiencing some difficulty in persuading the fugitives to leave the tavern quickly they agreed to follow his orders. They had hardly left the tavern when they heard the tramping of the horses of the slave hunters. They hid themselves in some bushes nearby which overlooked the road. The Lightfoots quickly recognized the slave hunters and whispered their names to Henson as they passed by. This was the critical moment of their lives. Had they remained in the house a few minutes longer they would have been apprehended. Their white friend proceeded to the door in advance of the landlord and when asked as to whether he had seen any slaves said that he had, that there were six of them and that they had gone toward Detroit. The slave-hunters at once set out in that direction. The fugitives returned to the house, devoured their breakfast immediately and secured the assistance of the landlord, who hearing their piteous story agreed to take them in his boat to Canada. In the language of Henson, "Their bosoms were swelling with inexpressible joy as they mounted the seats of the boat, ready, eager, to spring forward, that they might touch the soil of the freeman. And when they reached the shore, they danced and wept for joy and kissed the earth on which they first stepped, no longer slaves but freemen."[5]

Within a short time thereafter the boy whom they had left in dying condition on the way reached them on the free soil of Canada in good health. And Frank Taylor, the master of these fugitives, on recovering from an attack of insanity which apparently resulted from the loss of these slaves was persuaded by his friends to free the remaining members of the Lightfoot family, an act which he finally performed, enabling them after a few years to join their loved ones beyond the borders of the land of the slave. In this way Henson became instrumental in effecting the escape of as many as one hundred and eighteen slaves.[6]

The next important work was the establishment of the British American Manual Labor Institute in connection with Reverend Hiram Wilson. After working out a tentative plan, Wilson wrote James O. Fuller, residing in the State of New York, and interested him in the free Negroes of Canada West. On a trip to England Mr. Fuller raised $1,500 for this purpose. A convention of the leading refugees in Canada West was then called to decide exactly how this money should be spent. Henson urged that it be appropriated to the establishment of a manual labor school, where children could be taught the elements of knowledge which are usually the courses of a grammar school; and where the boys could be given, in addition, the practice of some mechanic art and the girls could be instructed in those domestic arts which are the proper occupations of their sex. Such a school he though would so equip the Negro youth as to enable him to take over much of the work then being done by white teachers. This was then necessary, owing to the prejudice arising against the coeducation of the whites and blacks and the stigma attached to teachers of Negroes. For this purpose two hundred acres of land were bought on the river Sydenham. In 1842 the school was established at Dawn, to which Henson moved with his family. Henson traveled in New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Maine in the interest of the institution and obtained many gifts, especially from Boston, the liberal people of which gave him sufficient funds to maintain it some time.

In connection with this school there was established a saw-mill, the building and the equipment of which was secured by Henson also from philanthropists in Boston. These gentlemen were Rev. Ephraim Peabody, Amos Lawrence, H. Ingersoll Bowditch, and Samuel Elliot. Henson then proceeded to have walnut sawed in Canada and shipped to Boston. He sold his first eighty thousand feet to Jonas Chickering, at forty-five dollars a thousand. The second cargo was shipped to Boston via the St. Lawrence and brought Henson a handsome profit. This business not only became profitable to the persons directly interested in it but proved to be an asset of the whole section.

In the course of time, however, the institution became heavily indebted and some means of relief had to be found. At a meeting of the trustees it was decided to separate the management of the mill from that of the school. It was easy to find some one to take over the school, but few dared to think of assuming the management of the mill, which was indebted to the amount of seven thousand five hundred dollars. Henson accepted the management of the latter on the condition that Peter B. Smith would assume an equal share of the responsibility. Henson then proceeded to England to raise funds to pay the debts of the mill. Well supplied with letters of recommendation from some of the most prominent men in the United States, he easily connected with men of the same class in England. But before he could raise more than seventeen hundred dollars, an enemy, jealous of his success, circulated through the press the report that he was an imposter and was not authorized to solicit funds for any such purpose.[7] This, of course, frustrated his plans, but the English people were kind to him. They sent an agent, John Scobell, to Canada to inquire into the matter, Henson accompanying him. A thorough investigation of the affairs of the institution was made and the charges were repudiated. The person who circulated them even denied that he had done so. Upon returning to England Mr. Scobell informed Henson that should he ever desire to return to England, he would find in the hands of Amos Lawrence, of Boston, a draft to cover his expenses. Henson did return in 1851 and raised sufficient money to cancel the entire indebtedness of the institution. He was compelled to return to Canada soon after his arrival, however, on account of the fatal illness of his wife, who passed away in 1852.

How Father Henson claimed to be the original Uncle Tom of Mrs. Stowe's immortal story is more than interesting. Laboring in the anti-slavery cause, Henson traveled in Canada and New England, where he was welcomed to the pulpits of ministers of all denominations. Once when he was in the vicinity of Andover, Massachusetts, Mrs. Stowe sent for him and his traveling companion, Mr. George Clarke, a white gentleman promoting the abolition of slavery by singing at anti-slavery meetings. Mrs. Stowe became deeply interested in Henson's story and had him narrate in detail the many varied experiences of his eventful life. He told her, moreover, about the life of the slave in several sections and the peculiarities of many slaveholders. Soon thereafter appeared "Uncle Tom's Cabin." Henson said that the white slaves, George and Eliza Harris, were his particular friends. Harris's real name was Lewis Clark, who traveled and lectured with Henson in New England. Clark and his wife lived in Canada and finally moved to Oberlin to educate their children. Furthermore, Henson says there was on his plantation a clear-minded, sharp Negro girl, Dinah, who was almost like Mrs. Stowe's Topsy and that a gentleman Mr. St. Clair lived in his neighborhood. Bryce Litton, who broke Henson's arms and so maimed him for life that he could never thereafter touch the top of his head, he thought, would well represent Mrs. Stowe's cruel Legree. It has been denied that he was this hero.

When Henson was in England he had the good fortune to exhibit at the World's Fair there some of his beautifully polished walnut lumber, which Mr. Jonas Chickering sent over for him. The only exhibitor of color, he attracted attention from many, among whom was Queen Victoria, who in passing by was saluted by Henson, which salutation was returned. She inquired as to whether the exhibit he had charge of was his work. At the close of the exhibition Henson received a large quarto bound volume describing the exhibits and listing the exhibitors, among whom was found Josiah Henson. In addition he was awarded a bronze medal, a beautiful picture of the Queen and royal family of life size and several other objects of interest.

While in England Henson had the privilege of meeting some of its most distinguished citizens. He introduced himself to the thinkers of the country when, upon hearing an eminent man from Pennsylvania tell the Sabbath-School Union that all classes in the United States indiscriminately enjoyed religious instruction. Henson demanded a hearing and successfully refuted the misrepresentation. Having a standing invitation, he dined alternately with Samuel Morley and George Hitchcock, Esq., of St. Paul's Church Yard. Upon meeting Lord Grey, Henson was asked by the gentleman to go to India to introduce the culture of cotton, promising him an appointment to an office paying a handsome salary. Through Samuel Guerney, Henson had a long interview with the Archbishop of Canterbury, who was so impressed with Henson's bearing and culture that he inquired as to the university from which he was graduated. Henson replied, The University of Adversity. After listening to Henson's experiences for more than an hour he followed him to the door and begged him to come to see him again. He then attended a large picnic of Sabbath-School teachers on the grounds of Lord John Russell, then Prime Minister of England. Sitting down to dinner, Henson was given the seat of honor at the head of the table with such guests as Reverend William Brock, Honorable Samuel M. Peto and Mr. Bess.

Near the end of his career Henson had many things to trouble him. The divided management of the British American Manual Labor Institute and the saw-mill proved a failure. The trustees who got control of it promised to make something new of it but did not administer the affairs successfully and they were involved in law suits there with the Negroes, who endeavored to obtain control of it. It finally failed, despite the fact that the court of chancery appointed a new board of trustees and granted a bill to incorporate the institution as Wilberforce University, which existed a few years.

Henson showed his patriotism in serving as captain to the second Essex company of colored volunteers in the Canadian Rebellion, going to the aid of the government which gave them asylum from slavery. His company held Fort Maiden from Christmas until the following May and also took the schooner Ann with three hundred arms and two cannons, musketry and provisions for the rebel troops. They held the fort until they were relieved by the colonel of the 44th regiment from England. Then came the Civil War. Henson was too old to go, but his relatives enlisted. He was charged with having violated the foreign enlistment act and was arrested and acquitted after some harrowing experiences.

Henson made a third trip to England near the close of his career. Many of his friends had passed away, but he met his old supporter, Samuel Morley. He made the acquaintance also of Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton Hart, R. C. L. Bevan, and Professor Fowler. But he was then the hero of "Uncle Tom's Cabin." The English people had read of him. They then wanted to see him. He spoke at the Victoria Park Tabernacle and held in London a farewell meeting in Spurgeon's Tabernacle. The buildings were thronged to their utmost capacity and eager crowds on the outside made desperate efforts to see him. He was then called to Scotland that the people farther north might also see this hero. Just as Henson reached Edinburgh the crowning honor of his life was to come. He received a telegram from Queen Victoria inviting him to visit her the following day. After addressing an unusually large audience, Henson proceeded immediately to London. The next day he and his wife were dined by a group of distinguished gentlemen and were then taken to Windsor Castle, where they were presented to Queen Victoria. Her majesty informed him that he had known of him ever since she was a little girl. She expressed her surprise at seeing him look so different from what she had imagined he would. She briefly discussed with him the state of affairs in Canada, and in bidding him and his wife farewell expressed her wish for his continued prosperity, gave him a token of her respect and esteem, consisting of a full length cabinet photograph of herself in an elegant easel frame of gold.

On his return to the United States Henson visited the old plantation in Montgomery County near Rockville, Maryland, finding his old master's wife still living. He then proceeded to Washington to see again the old haunts which he frequented when serving as the market man of his plantation. While in the National Capital he went to the White House to call on his Excellency President Hayes, who chatted with him about his trip across the sea while Mrs. Hayes showed Henson's wife through the executive mansion. When he left the President extended him a cordial invitation to call to see him again. This was the last thing of note in his life. He returned to his home in Canada and resumed the best he could the work he was prosecuting, but old age and sickness overtook him and he passed away in 1881 in the ninety-second year of his life.



[1] On account of ill health Mr. W. B. Hartgrove, who was preparing this article, had to turn over his unfinished manuscript to the editor, who completed it. The story is based on the "Life of Josiah Henson," "Father Henson's Story of His Own Life" and "Uncle Tom's Story of His Life."—THE EDITOR.

[2] Henson, "Uncle Tom's Story of his Life," p. 15.

[3] Henson, "Uncle Tom's own Story of his Life," p. 53.

[4] Henson gives this interesting conversation:

"How far is it to Canada?" He gave me a peculiar look, and in a minute I saw he knew all. "Want to go to Canada? Come along with us, then. Our captain's a fine fellow. We're going to Buffalo." "Buffalo; how far is that from Canada?" "Don't you know, man? Just across the river." I now opened my mind frankly to him, and told him about my wife and children. "I'll speak to the captain," said he. He did so, and in a moment the captain took me aside, and said, "The Doctor says you want to go to Buffalo with your family." "Yes, sir." "Well why not go with me?" was his frank reply. "Doctor says you've got a family." "Yes, sir." "Where do you stop?" "About a mile back." "How long have you been here." "No time," I answered, after a moment's hesitation. "Come, my good fellow, tell us all about it. You're running away, ain't you?" Henson saw that he was a friend, and opened his heart to him. "How long will it take you to get ready?" "Be here in half an hour, sir." "Well go along and get them." Off I started; but, before I had run fifty feet, he called me back. "Stop," said he; "you go on getting the grain in. When we get off, I'll lay to over opposite that island, and send a boat back. There's a lot of regular nigger-catchers in the town below, and they might suspect if you brought your party out of the bush by daylight." I worked away with a will. Soon the two or three hundred bushels of corn were aboard, the hatches fastened down, the anchor raised, and the sails hoisted. I watched the vessel with intense interest as she left her moorings. Away she went before the free breeze. Already she seemed beyond the spot at which the captain agreed to lay to, and still she flew along. My heart sank within me; so near deliverance, and again to have my hopes blasted, again to be cast on my own resources. I felt that they had been making a mock of my misery. The sun had sunk to rest, and the purple and gold of the west were fading away into gray. Suddenly, however, as I gazed with weary heart the vessel swung round into the wind, the sails flapped, and she stood motionless. A moment more, and a boat was lowered from her stern, and with steady stroke made for the point at which I stood. I felt that my hour of release had come. On she came, and in ten minutes she rode up handsomely on the beach. My black friend and two sailors jumped out, and we started on at once for my wife and children. To my horror, they were gone from the place where I left them. Overpowered with fear, I supposed they had been found and carried off. There was no time to lose, and the men told me I would have to go alone. Just at the point of despair, however, I stumbled on one of the children. My wife it seemed, alarmed at my long absence, had given up all for lost, and supposed I had fallen into the hands of the enemy. When she heard my voice, mingled with those of the others, she thought my captors were leading me back to make me discover my family, and in the extremity of her terror she had tried to hide herself. I had hard work to satisfy her. Our long habits of concealment and anxiety had rendered her suspicious of every one; and her agitation was so great that for a time she was incapable of understanding what I said, and went on in a sort of paroxysm of distress and fear. This, however, was soon over, and the kindness of my companions did much to facilitate the matter."—Father Henson's Story of his own Life, p. 121.

[5] Henson, "Uncle Tom's Story of his Life," p. 162.

[6] Years thereafter when taking dinner with a distinguished gentleman in London the thought of enjoying such privileges while his only brother was in slavery dawned suddenly and impressed itself so forcefully upon him that he immediately arose from the table, unable to eat. He soon returned to America and at once proceeded to devise means to free his brother. Mr. William Chaplain, of New York, had repeatedly urged him to flee by way of the underground railroad, but he was so demoralized and stultified by slavery that he would not make an effort. Mr. Chaplain made a second effort to induce him to escape but he still refused. Henson finally arranged to sell the narrative of his life to secure funds for his liberation. The book sold well in New England and the requisite four hundred dollars being raised his brother was freed and enabled to join him in Canada.—Father Henson's Story of his own Life, pp. 209-212.

[7] Liberator, April 11, 1851.


Elizabeth Barrett Browning was a poetic artist who was intensely concerned with the large human movements of the world and the age into which she was thrown. Her whole life was one great heart-throb. While the condition of her health and the nature of her early training were such as to cultivate her rather bookish and romantic temperament, she followed with eagerness the great social reforms in England in the reign of William IV and the early years of Victoria; and The Cry of the Children and The Cry of the Human indicated what was to be one of her chief lines of interest. In her later years she threw herself heart and soul into the cause of Italian independence and unity, welcoming Napoleon III as a benefactor. Her political judgment was not always sound: her distinguished husband could not possibly follow her in her admiration for Napoleon, whom he regarded as to some extent at least a charlatan, and Cavour simply represented his countrymen in his amazement and chagrin at the terms of the Peace of Villafranca; nevertheless the great heart of Elizabeth Barrett Browning was ever moved by the demands of liberty, whether the immediate impulse was a child in the sweatshops of England, an Italian wishing to be free of Austria, or the exiled Victor Hugo, and there was no exaggeration in the tribute placed on the wall of Casa Guidi after her death:

Qui scrisse e mori Elizabetta Barrett Browning che in cuore di donna conciliava scienza di dotto e spirito di poeta e fece del suo verso aureo anello fra Italia e Inghilterra pone questa lapide Firenze grata 1861[8]

To such a woman the Negro, held in slavery in a great free republic, made a ready appeal. The first concrete connection, however, was one directly affecting the fortunes of the Barrett family. For some years Mr. Barrett had made his home at a beautiful estate in Herefordshire known as Hope End. He had inherited from his maternal grandfather a large estate in Jamaica, where the families of both his parents had been established for two or three generations. The abolition of slavery in the British colonies in 1833 inflicted great financial embarrassment upon him, as a result of which he was forced to sell Hope End and to remove his family, first to Sidmouth in Devonshire, and subsequently to London. Elizabeth Barrett foreshadowed this change of fortunes in a letter to her friend Mrs. Martin dated Sidmouth, May 27, 1833:

The West Indians are irreparably ruined if the Bill passes. Papa says that in the case of its passing, nobody in his senses would think of even attempting the culture of sugar, and that they had better hang weights to the sides of the island of Jamaica and sink it at once.[9]

In September of the same year she wrote from Sidmouth to the same friend as follows:

Of course you know that the late Bill has ruined the West Indians. That is settled. The consternation here is very great. Nevertheless I am glad, and always shall be, that the Negroes are—virtually—free.[10]

It is some years before we find another reference so definite. Miss Barrett in the meantime became Mrs. Browning and under the inspiration of love and Italy gave herself anew to her work. The feeling for liberty was constantly with her, as was to be seen from Casa Guidi Windows and Poems before Congress. About 1855, when she was on a visit to England, through the work of Daniel D. Home, a notorious American exponent of spiritualism, Mrs. Browning became interested in the current fad, and gave to it vastly more serious attention than most other initiates. Browning himself, while patient, was intolerably irritated with those whom he regarded as imposing on his wife's credulity, and delivered himself on the subject in Mr. Sludge, 'the Medium.' Spiritualism, however, was a topic of never-failing interest between Mrs. Browning and her American friend, Harriet Beecher Stowe, whom she entertained in Italy. Uncle Tom's Cabin made a profound impression upon her. In 1853 this book was still in the great flush of its first success. On April 12, 1853, Mrs. Browning wrote from Florence to Mrs. Jameson as follows:

Not read Mrs. Stowe's book! But you must. Her book is quite a sign of the times, and has otherwise and intrinsically considerable power. For myself, I rejoice in the success, both as a woman and a human being. Oh, and is it possible that you think a woman has no business with questions like the question of slavery? Then she had better use a pen no more. She had better subside into slavery and concubinage herself, I think, as in the times of old, shut herself up with the Penelopes in the "women's apartment," and take no rank among thinkers and speakers. Certainly you are not in earnest in these things. A difficult question—yes! All virtue is difficult. England found it difficult. France found it difficult. But we did not make ourselves an armchair of our sins. As for America, I honor America in much; but I would not be an American for the world while she wears that shameful scar upon her brow. The address of the new president[11] exasperates me. Observe, I am an abolitionist, not to the fanatical degree, because I hold that compensation should be given by the North to the South, as in England. The states should unite in buying off this national disgrace.[12]

Under date Florence, December 11, 1854, Mrs. Browning wrote to Miss Mitford as follows:

I am reading now Mrs. Stowe's Sunny Memories, and like the naturalness and simplicity of the book much, in spite of the provincialism of the tone of mind and education, and the really wretched writing. It's quite wonderful that a woman who has written a book to make the world ring should write so abominably.[13]

More and more as the Civil War approached was Mrs. Browning depressed by the thought of the impending conflict. Between June 7, 1860, and July 25, 1861, she contributed to the recently established Independent eleven poems, chiefly on subjects of Italian liberty. Sometimes, however, especially in the letters accompanying her poems, she touched on themes somewhat closer to the American people. For the issue of March 21, 1861, she wrote to the editor as follows:

My partiality for frenzies is not so absorbing, believe me, as to exclude very painful consideration on the dissolution of your great Union. But my serious fear has been, and is, not for the dissolution of the body but the death of the soul—not of a rupture of states and civil war, but at reconciliation and peace at the expense of a deadly compromise of principle. Nothing will destroy the Republic but what corrupts its conscience and disturbs its fame—for the stain upon the honor must come off upon the flag. If, on the other hand, the North stands fast on the moral ground, no glory will be like your glory.... What surprises me is that the slaves don't rise.

On this great subject Mrs. Browning found her husband in full sympathy with her. Browning himself declared in a letter to an American, September 11, 1861:

I have lost the explanation of American affairs, but I assure you of my belief in the justice and my confidence in the triumph of the great cause. For the righteousness of the principle I want no information. God prosper it and its defenders.[14]

Two poems by Mrs. Browning at least have to do directly with the Negro and American affairs. One was A Curse for a Nation contributed to the Poems before Congress volume. The poet begins somewhat self-consciously:

I heard an angel speak last night, And he said "Write! Write a Nation's curse for me, And send it over the Western Sea."

She protests her unwillingness to execute such a commission, for, she says,

I am bound by gratitude By love and blood, To brothers of mine across the sea, Who stretch out kindly hands to me.

The angel, however, beats down this unwillingness and the curse follows, the second stanza reading:

Because yourselves are standing straight In the state Of Freedom's foremost acolyte, Yet keep calm footing all the time On writhing bond-slaves,—for this crime This is the curse. Write.

At best, however, A Curse for a Nation can hardly help impressing one as a little forced. In rather higher poetic vein is the other poem, The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim's Point. This was contributed to The Liberty Bell, a publication issued by the Boston Anti-Slavery Bazar in 1848. Mrs. Browning feared that the poem might be "too ferocious for the Americans to publish." The composition is undoubtedly a strong one. It undertakes to give the story of a young Negro woman who was bound in slavery, whose lover was crushed before her face, who was forced to submit to personal violation, who killed her child that so much reminded her of her white master's face, and who at last at Pilgrim's Point defied her pursuers. With unusual earnestness the poet has entered sympathetically into the subject. The following stanzas are typical:

But we who are dark, we are dark Ah God, we have no stars! About our souls in care and cark Our blackness shuts like prison-bars; The poor souls crouch so far behind That never a comfort can they find By reaching through the prison-bars.

* * * * *

Why, in that single glance I had Of my child's face, ... I tell you all, I saw a look that made me mad The master's look, that used to fall On my soul like his lash ... or worse And so, to save it from my curse, I twisted it round in my shawl.

* * * * *

From the white man's house, and the black man's hut, I carried the little body on; The forest's arm did round us shut, And silence through the trees did run: They asked no question as I went, They stood too high for astonishment, They could see God sit on his throne.

* * * * *

(Man, drop that stone you dared to lift!—) I wish you who stand there five abreast, Each, for his own wife's joy and gift, A little corpse as safely at rest As mine in the mangoes: Yes, but she My keep live babies on her knee, And sing the song she likes the best.

In such a review as this of the connections between Mrs. Browning and the Negro one can not help coming face to face with the question whether her famous husband was not himself connected by blood with the Negro race. The strain is hardly so pronounced as in men like Alexandre Dumas or Leigh Hunt, and as in the case of Alexander Hamilton, the point still seems to be waiting for final proof. The assertion is persistent, however, and there can be little doubt that such is the case. The standard life of Browning,[15] after wrestling in vain with the problem, dismisses it as follows:

Dr. Furnivall has originated a theory, and maintains it as a conviction, that Mr. Browning's grandmother was more than a Creole in the strict sense of the term, that of a person born of white parents in the West Indies, and that an unmistakable dash of dark blood passed from her to her son and grandson. Such an occurrence was, on the face of it, not impossible, and would be absolutely unimportant to my mind, and, I think I may add, to that of Mr. Browning's sister and son. The poet and his father were what we know them, and if Negro blood had any part in their composition, it was no worse for them, and so much the better for the Negro.

Aside from this last point, from the evidence that has been given, while this of course has its limitations, we may safely assert that with her large humanity and her enthusiasm for liberty, Elizabeth Barrett Browning was one of the sturdiest defenders in England of the cause of the American Negro at the time of the beginning of the Civil War. It is to be regretted that she did not live to read the Emancipation Proclamation and to see the Negro started on an era of self-reliance and progress.



[8] For the inscription we are indebted to the Cambridge edition of the poems of Mrs. Browning, edited by Harriet Waters Preston, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, p. xii. Translation: Here wrote and died Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who united to a woman's heart the learning of a savant and the inspiration of a poet, and made her verse a golden link between Italy and England. This tablet was set by grateful Florence in 1861.

[9] The Letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, edited by Frederic G. Kenton, 2 vols., Macmillan, New York and London, 1898. Vol. I, p. 21.

[10] Letters, I, 23.

[11] I. e., Franklin Pierce.

[12] Letters, II, 110.

[13] Letters, II, 183.

[14] Quoted from Browning Society Papers, Part XII, by Elizabeth Porter Gould in The Brownings and America, p. 55.

[15] Mrs. Sutherland Orr, Life and Letters of Robert Browning. 2 vols. Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, 1891. Vol. I, p. 8.


One of the most glorious achievements in the history of the Iberian Peninsula was the long and desperate defence of Numantia against the Roman legionaries sent to effect the destruction of the city. When the beleaguered inhabitants could no longer maintain themselves, owing to the shortage of food supplies, they burned the city, and those who were not killed in battle with the Romans committed suicide. Scipio AEmilianus, the Roman leader, entered Numantia to find nothing but burning embers and piles of corpses.

This incident has an almost exact parallel in the history of Brazil—only this time the heroes were Negroes, defending the capital of one of the earliest and one of the strangest Negro republics in the history of the world. The Portuguese, who were the first to introduce Negro slavery into Europe, did not long delay in carrying the institution to their colony of Brazil. It was in 1574 that the first slave ship reached there. Thereafter, great numbers of Negroes were brought, especially to northern Brazil, in the equatorial belt, to work in the profitable sugar fields. No region of the Americas was so accessible to the slave trade, for the Brazilian coast juts out into the Atlantic Ocean directly opposite the Gulf of Guinea in Africa, whence most of the slaves were procured. It is profitless here to go into the question of the treatment of the slaves by their Portuguese masters. Some were badly treated, and took the chance of flight to the interior forest lands, rather than submit any longer. Various causes prompted yet others to escape from the colonial plantations. Thus many a quilombo, or Negro village of the forest, was formed. By far the most famous of these was the quilombo of Palmares, whose history is the subject of this article.

In 1650, forty determined Negroes of the province of Pernambuco, all of them natives of Guinea, rose against their masters, taking as much as they could in the way of arms and provisions, and fled to the neighboring forest. There they founded a quilombo on the site of a well-known Negro village of earlier days, which the Dutch had destroyed. The tale of their escape was told throughout the province, with the result that it was not long before the population of the new quilombo was greatly increased. Slaves and freemen were eager to join their brethren in the forest. It seemed prudent, however, to go farther away from the white settlements, lest the very strength of the Negro town should invite annihilation or re-enslavement by the planters. Thus it was that the inland site of Palmares, not far from present-day Anadia, was chosen. A town was founded, and all seemed well except for one thing—an essential to permanence was lacking, for there were no women. A detachment of Negroes was sent on the romantic mission of procuring wives for the colony. This party marched to the nearest plantations, and, without stopping to discriminate, took all the women it could find, black, mulatto, and white. Palmares was now on a secure footing indeed.

At first, the inhabitants lived by a species of banditry, robbing the whites whenever they could. Gradually, a more settled type of life developed. The Negroes began to engage in agriculture, and at length entered into something approximating peaceful relations with the Portuguese settlements. Trade took the place of warfare, although fear of the overgrown quilombo was perhaps as much the motive on the part of the whites as the desire for profits. A rustic republic of an admirable type was formed for the maintenance of internal order and external safety. Combining republican and monarchical features, they elected a chief, or king, called the Zombe, who ruled with absolute authority during the term of his life. The right of candidacy was restricted to a group recognized as composing the bravest men of the community. Any man in the state might aspire to this dignity, provided he had Negro blood in his veins. There were other officials, both of a military and of a civil character. In the interests of good order, the Zombes made laws imposing the death penalty for murder, adultery, and robbery. Slavery existed, and in this respect there was a curious custom. Every Negro who had won his freedom from the white man, by whatever method, as for example by a successful flight to Palmares, remained a free man. Those who were captured while in a state of slavery, however, became slaves in Palmares. Thus the reward of freedom was offered to those who should escape from the planters, and a punishment was held out to those who would not, or could not, do so. In course of time, the Negro republic expanded until it included a number of towns. Palmares alone is said to have had a population of 20,000, and the number of fighting men in the whole republic was some 10,000. The capital city, Palmares, was surrounded by wooden walls, made of the trunks of large trees. The city was entered by means of three huge gates, on the tops of which were great platforms, always well guarded.

For nearly half a century the little republic prospered. It was perhaps only natural that the Portuguese settlers should wish to destroy it, for it represented an alien force and an ever present danger, certainly so far as their profits from the use of slave labor went. At any rate, in the year 1696, Governor Caetano de Mello of Pernambuco decided upon an expedition against Palmares. A strong force was sent, but it was met by the Negroes and totally defeated. A veritable army of some 7,000 men was now gathered, and placed under the command of a competent soldier named Bernardo Vieira. This time, the Portuguese troops were well provided with artillery, with which the Negro republic could not be expected to cope. Palmares was reached, but it was in no mood for surrender, and it was necessary to begin a regular siege of the city. The defence was desperate. After the Portuguese artillery had breached the walls in three places, their infantry attacked in force. They entered the city, but had to take it, foot by foot. At last, the defenders came to the center of Palmares, where a high cliff impeded further retreat. Death or surrender were now the only alternatives. Seeing that his cause was lost beyond repair, the Zombe hurled himself over the cliff, and his action was followed by the most distinguished of his fighting men. Some prisoners were indeed taken, but it is perhaps a tribute to Palmares, though a gruesome one, that they were all put to death; it was not safe to enslave these men, despite the value of their labor. Thus passed Palmares, the Negro Numantia, most famous and greatest of the Brazilian qui-lombos.




Slavery in California prior to the Mexican War was slavery in the Spanish possessions. The Spaniards began with the enslavement of Indians and later at the advice of De las Casas changed to that of Negroes.[16] This system was first used in the West Indies and later extended to other colonies. It is said that about the year 1537, Cortes fitted out at the port of Tehuantepec, several small vessels, provided with everything required for planting a colony and sailed north to the head of the Gulf of California, transporting four hundred Spaniards and three hundred Negro slaves, that he had assembled for that purpose.[17] This is the first mention of Negro slavery in California. After the founding of the Mission of San Carlos by the president, Father Junipero Serra, with a community of twenty-three friars, we read that the first interment in the cemetery was that of Ignacio Ramirez, a former mulatto slave from San Antonio, who had money to purchase his freedom.[18] There were too a number of Negro slaves brought to California between these periods. They came on trading ships and with various expeditions, which they usually deserted after reaching the State. Hittell is wrong, therefore, in saying that the first slave in California was brought there in 1825 when the wife of Antonio Jose de Cot, a Spaniard, brought with her a slave girl named Juana, fourteen years of age, from Lima to San Francisco. He doubted even that this was the first slave in California for the lady expressed her intention to avail herself of the first opportunity to leave.[19]

Spain did not especially bother about Negro slavery in her Pacific coast territory for nearly two hundred years before the coming of the Americans. She promised by the treaty of September 30, 1817, to abolish the slave trade October 31, 1820, in all Spanish territory. In 1821, however, certain of the northern colonies of Spain in America established their independence as the United States of Mexico.[5] Three years later the importation of slaves from foreign countries was prohibited and children of slave parents were declared free. Notwithstanding this there set in considerable emigration from the Southern States followed by an agitation for the acquisition of Texas. In 1827, therefore, Coahuila and Texas were organized as a State with a law prohibiting slavery. As this, however, did not check the immigration, President Guerro issued a decree[20] in 1829 abolishing slavery in Mexico on the occasion of the celebration of the independence of Mexico and in 1830 ordered a military occupation of the State to enforce the anti-slavery measure.[4] But the aggressive southerner ever endeavoring to extend the territory of slavery had all but won the day in Texas. In 1836 Texas declared itself a republic with a constitution permitting the introduction of slavery and forbidding the residence of free Negroes without the consent of its Congress. Then came the Mexican War resulting in the defeat of Mexico and the cession to the United States of a vast territory of which California was the most valuable part.

It is clear, therefore, that at the time the United States government acquired the territory of California from Mexico, slavery had been abolished there nearly twenty years. The pro-slavery party, however, did not consider this action of Mexico a finality in the settlement of the slavery question in the new possessions. When a bill providing for the purchase of this territory was laid before the house, David Wilmot, of Pennsylvania, after consultation with other northern democrats, offered the following amendment:

"Provided that an express and fundamental condition to the acquisition of any territory from the republic of Mexico by the United States, by virtue of any treaty which may be negotiated between them, and to the use by the executive of the moneys herein appropriated, neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall ever exist in any part of said territory, except for crime whereof the party shall first be duly convicted."[21]

This proviso was adopted by a vote of 83 to 64. The bill carrying this proviso was then reported to the Senate where followed a heated debate which lasted until adjournment, the proviso being killed in the midst of stormy scenes in Congress.[22] This discussion showed that few statesmen believed that slavery would be profitable in California. They were not unlike Daniel Webster who, while speaking on the admission of the State of Texas, said that slavery was effectually excluded from California and New Mexico by a law even superior to that which admits and sanctions it in Texas. He meant the law of nature. The physiographic conditions of the country would forever exclude African slavery there; and it needed not the application of a proviso. If the question was then before the Senate he would not vote "to add a prohibition—to reaffirm an ordinance of nature, nor reenact the will of God."[23]

The coming and going of the Negro in California did not especially interest any one until the beginning of the immigration of the forties. The subject of slavery in California was officially called to the attention of the inhabitants through the issuance of a proclamation by the Commander in Chief of the District in regard to the unlawful enslaving of the Indians. He was endeavoring to protect them, but they were enslaved[24] in spite of his efforts. The legislature undertook to perpetuate this system by enacting a law permitting the enslavement of Indians, the only condition upon the master being a bond of a small sum, that he would not abuse or cruelly treat the slaves. Under the provision of the same law, Indians could be arrested as vagrants and sold to the highest bidder within twenty-four hours after the arrest, and the buyer had the privilege of the labor for a period not exceeding four months.[25] An Indian arrested for a violation of a law could demand a jury trial, but could not testify in his own behalf against a white person. If found guilty of any crime, he could either be imprisoned or whipped, the whipping not to exceed twenty-four lashes.[26]

Later there was a steady influx of southerners and their Negro slaves into the territory of California, after the country was taken over by the United States. Then came the question as to the enslavement of the Negro. The situation became serious after the Congress of the United States appropriated three millions of dollars for the purchase of the new territory, and still more so after gold was discovered there. Mexican rule ended with the cession of the territory to the United States; and yet session after session of Congress adjourned without giving California a territorial form of government. The question of slavery in the newly acquired territory divided Congress so that they could not decide the issue. Southern newspapers were advertising for slave-owners to send names and the number of slaves they were taking to California to found a New Colony.[27]

The settlers were divided. Some came because they either disliked slavery, or were too poor to own slaves. They recognized the possibilities for making California a free State and did not care to be designated Poor White Trash by masters who were being allowed to fill the State with Negro slaves to constitute the basis of an aristocracy like that in the South. There were other inhabitants in California at the time who, being slave-owners, were southern sympathizers. They were determined either to have slavery in California or make a desperate effort before seeing the territory given up as a free State.[28] It did not require very much investigation, however, to show that the pro-slavery party was in the minority. The editor of the Californian said in May, 1848, that he voiced the sentiments of the people in California in saying that slavery was neither needed nor desired there. A correspondent of this paper hoping to hold that section for free labor said: "If white labor is too high for agriculture, laborers on contract may be brought from China." Referring to the proposal to make the commonwealth a slave State Buckelew said: "We have not heard one of our acquaintance in this country advocate this measure and we are almost certain that 97-100 of the present population are opposed to it." Again it is remarked in this paper: "We left the slave states because we did not like to bring up a family in a miserable, can't-help-one's-self condition," and dearly as he loved the union, he would prefer California independent to seeing her a slave State.[29]

The lack of law and order and fear of the southern slave-owners with their herds of Negro slaves finally led to the call of the Constitutional Convention. The question of slavery there was not so much debated in that body as was expected. Some excited pro-slavery leaders were talking of an independent Pacific Republic. The southern faction in the convention was led by a Mr. Gwyn, who afterwards became a United States Senator from California, and the northern element was ably represented by a Mr. Broderick, who later was chosen State Senator.[30] The convention finally drafted their constitution with a section which provided that "neither slavery nor involuntary servitude unless for the punishment of crime shall ever be tolerated in this state."

The pro-slavery faction in the convention was determined to have slavery somewhere and had managed to have the eastern boundary of California so designated that it extended as far as the Rocky Mountains. This would have resulted in rejection by Congress, or a division of the territory into a Northern and a Southern California, giving the pro-slavery element a new State. The unwieldy boundary, however, was discovered in time to have it changed, but not until after much debate, which almost wrecked the constitution. The California representatives elected by the convention left for Washington, where they presented to Congress the constitution and the petition of the California settlers asking for admission as a State. There had never been a precedent for their act. Yet the settlers in California felt perfectly justified, since it was their only safeguard against the pro-slavery leaders who were bringing their slaves into the territory.

Leaders at the national capital naturally hesitated, not knowing whether or not the admission of California under the conditions thus obtaining would aggravate or improve the national situation. California, however, cared little about the national situation, as is attested by the resolutions of 1850 to the effect: "That any attempts by congress to interfere with the institution of slavery in any of the territories of the United States would create just grounds of alarm in many of the States of the union; and that such interference is unnecessary, inexpedient, and in violation of good faith; since, when any such territory applies for admission into the union as a state, the people thereof alone have the right, and should be left free and unrestrained, to decide such question for themselves." Broderick moved the insertion of the following: "That opposition to the admission of a state into the union with a constitution prohibiting slavery, on account of such prohibition, is a policy wholly unjustifiable and unstatesmanlike, and in violation of that spirit of concession and compromise by which alone the federal constitution was adopted, and by which alone it can be perpetuated." This amendment was adopted.[31]

After a debate of four months Congress admitted California as a free State as one of five compromises. Jefferson Davis, however, repudiated the idea of advantage to his section. He said: "Where is the concession to the South? Is it in the admission, as a state, of California, from which we have been excluded by congressional agitation? Is it in the announcement that slavery does not and is not to exist in the remaining territories of New Mexico and California? Is it in denying the title of Texas to one half of her territory?" He held that gold washing and mining was particularly adapted to slave labor, as was agriculture that depended on irrigation.[32] The day after the admission certain southern senators sent to that body a Protest against the injustice of the act of Congress, admitting California as a free State. The Senate refused the clerk permission either to read or record it. Whereupon the newspapers began publishing articles of severe criticism and talked of dividing the Union. Jefferson Davis went before the United States Senate and, addressing it, called attention to these comments, adding that so much outside criticism was doing more to divide the Union than the Protest would possibly do. Congress finally voted that the Protest be recorded.[33]

Was this to be a free State in every sense of the word? This was the day when the slave power "was covertly grasping at the Spanish-speaking countries beyond the Rio Grande, as it had at the lands beyond the Sabine."[34] At first, it was not, for a good many slaves were brought into the State. On April 1, 1850, an advertisement appeared in the Jackson Mississippian referring to California, the Southern Slave Colony and inviting citizens of slave-holding States, wishing to go to California, to send their names, number of slaves, time of contemplated departure, etc., to the Southern Slave Colony, of Jackson, Mississippi. The design was to settle in the richest parts of the State and to secure an uninterrupted enjoyment of slave property. The colony was to comprise about 5,000 white persons and 10,000 slaves.

Another effort to extend slavery in this section came in the unsuccessful filibustering expedition of the Tennessee lawyer, William Walker, who undertook to establish to the south in Sonora, a State with a constitution like that of Louisiana, basing his advocacy of slavery on the lofty grounds of civilizing the blacks and liberating the whites from manual labor. To explain the meaning of this expedition Bancroft considers it sufficient to point out that Jefferson Davis was Secretary of War at that time and that the Gadsden purchase was then under consideration.[35] In 1852 Peachy of San Joaquin introduced a resolution to allow fifty southern families to immigrate into California with their slaves. Some of them came without permission but on finding that they could not legally hold their slaves, they sent a part of them back while others became free.

In 1852 the Legislature passed a rigid Fugitive Slave Law intending to bar slavery from the State. The mischievous clause of this measure was that all slaves who had escaped into or were brought to California previous to the admission of the State to the Union were held to be fugitives, and were liable to arrest under the law, although many of them had been in the State several years, during which they had accumulated considerable property. The pro-slavery element not only profited by this, but the interpretation of this law by many of the Judges enabled them to bring their slaves into the State, work them in the mines, and return to the south and back to slavery with their Negroes.[36]

If they did not wish the trouble of their return passage they auctioned them off to the highest bidder. It also enabled them to make fortunes by selling to the slaves their freedom, charging them twice and often thrice the price he could have possibly brought on the other side of the Rocky Mountains.[37] In certain southern counties of the State it was unpopular to speak in behalf of the slaves. In 1855 Chase and Day, two Abolitionists of Alameda County, were ridden on a rail, ducked and otherwise maltreated.[38] That same year expired the Fugitive Slave Law which had been renewed from year to year to enable slave-owners to reclaim fugitives who had sought refuge in that State prior to its admission to the Union. Fearing that this might be followed by other legislation hostile to their class, the Negroes held a convention in San Francisco that year to discuss their rights, their treatment by the white people, politics, principles and necessity of education. The Fugitive Slave Law was not reenacted.

Many slaves, however, asserted their rights. Such was the case of Archy, a slave brought by one Charles A. Stoval from Mississippi to California in 1857. After hiring Archy out for some time Stoval undertook to return him to Mississippi. Archy escaped and was arrested as a fugitive. Stoval sued out a writ of habeas corpus for his possession and the case came before the Supreme Court for adjudication. Peter Burnett, formerly Governor, who had been appointed justice of that court by Governor Johnson in 1857 and filled the office until 1858, presided. As Burnett was a southern man, his decision was foreshadowed. He decided that although Stoval could not sustain the character of either a transient traveler or a visitor and under the general law was not entitled to Archy, but he yet held that there were circumstances connected with the particular case that might exempt him from the operation of the rules laid down. One of the circumstances was that Stoval was traveling for his health; another, that he was short of means upon arrival in California; and still another, that this was the first case of the kind. He, therefore, ordered Archy to be turned over to Stoval. Joseph G. Baldwin, who succeeded Burnett, characterized the decision as "giving the law to the North and the Negro to the South."[39] After being delivered to Stoval, Archy was taken to San Francisco, but his friends there sued out a writ of habeas corpus for his liberation before Judge Thomas W. Freelon, of the County of San Francisco. While this case was pending, however, Stoval swore to a new affidavit that Archy escaped from him in Mississippi and procured a warrant from George Pen Johnston, United States Commissioner, for his arrest as a fugitive slave from Mississippi. Archy was then discharged by Judge Freelon. He was immediately rearrested and taken before George Pen Johnston, who decided that Archy was in no sense a fugitive from Mississippi and discharged him.[40]

The tendency to free the Negroes brought there checked the importation of that class. The rights of the master to his slave, however, were not easily relinquished and the institution of slavery in California did not come to an end until 1872. Freedom, however, had to win and the pro-slavery element had to change its policy. In 1856 and 1857 efforts were made to call a convention to change the constitution so as to permit the importation of slaves, for with the expiration of the Fugitive Slave Law in 1855, slave-owners who held minors had to return them to slave States or let them go free. Since the Negroes brought into the State could in most cases become free the pro-slavery party then sought to get rid of the free Negro.

In his message to the legislature in 1850, Governor Burnett recommended the exclusion of free Negroes. This was always Burnett's hobby. He incorporated this into the laws of Oregon when he revised them in 1844. Burnett had been brought up in the South and although he had ceased to be a slaveholder, he could not think of living with Negroes as freemen. The exclusion of the blacks too had a sort of popular appeal in it. The legislature, however, was divided on the question as to what should be done with the free Negro. A bill in compliance with the wishes of the Governor was introduced but defeated. Undaunted by this, however, the enemy of the free Negroes won a victory in another quarter in enacting a law that no black or mulatto person or Indian should be permitted to give evidence in any action to which a white person was a party. The leaders of the Negroes held another convention in 1856 to protest against this law. Another bill providing for the prohibition of the immigration of free persons of color into the State was introduced in 1858 and after much debate put through both houses, but it never became a law. The black code, of course, was abrogated after the Civil War.



[16] Bourne, "Spain in America," 271.

[17] California Miscellany, I, 9.

[18] Bancroft, "History of California," I, 175; Place Notices, I, 151.

[19] Hittell, "History of California," II, 115.

[20] Garrison, "Westward Extension," 26.

[21] Cong. Globe, 29 Cong., 2 Sess., 509.

[22] Garrison, "Westward Extension," 254-268, 284-314. Cong. Globe, 29 Cong., 2d Sess., 178, 453, 455; 30 Cong., 1st Sess., 875, 989, 910, 1002-1005, 1062, 1081; 2d Sess., 216, 381.

[23] Tuthill, "Hist. of California," 312, 316.


It having come to the knowledge of the Commander in Chief of the District that certain persons have been and still are imprisoning and holding to service Indians against their will and without any legal contract for service. It is thereby ordered that all persons so holding or detaining Indians shall release them, and permit them to return to their own homes. Unless they can make a contract with them which shall be binding upon both parties. The Indian population must not be regarded in the light of slaves, but it is deemed necessary that the Indians within the settlement shall have employment, with the right of choosing their own master and employment. Having made such a choice they must abide by it, unless they can obtain permission in writing to leave, or the Justice in their complaint shall consider they have just cause to annull the contract and permit them to obtain another employee. All Indians must be required to obtain service and not be permitted to wander about the country in idleness in a dissolute manner. If found doing so they will be liable to arrest and punishment by labor on the public works at the direction of the Magistrate. All officers, Civil or Military under my command are required to execute the terms of this order and take notice of every violation thereof.—Given at headquarters in Yerba Buena.—Signed, John Montgomery. Sept. 15, 1846. Published for the Government of all concerned. Washington A. Bartlett, Magistrate of San Francisco, Sept. 15, 1846.—California Star, Sept. 15, 1846.

[25] California Laws, 1849-50, p. 408.

[26] Ibid., p. 408.

[27] Bancroft, "History of California," VI, p. 313.

[28] Ibid., p. 313.

[29] The Californian, March 16 and Nov. 4, 1848.

[30] Bancroft, "History of California," p. 287.

[31] Jour. Cal. Leg., 1850, 372-373.

[32] Cong. Globe, 1849-50, App., pt. I, 149-157.

[33] Tuthill, "History of California," p. 320.

[34] Bancroft, "History of California," VI, pp. 252-253.

[35] Ibid., p. 595.

[36] Many Negroes were returned to slavery by the Courts. An owner of slaves in Mississippi brought them voluntarily into California before the adoption of the Constitution by the State. The slaves asserted their freedom and for some months were engaged in business for themselves. The owner under the provision of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1852 brought them before the Justice of Peace, who allowed the claim of the owners and ordered them into his custody. The slaves then petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus which came before the Supreme. Court and after hearing the case the Court ordered that the writ be dismissed and the slaves remanded to their owners.—California Reports, II, 424-426.

The case of Alvin Coffey is equally as interesting. This account was given by a lifelong friend of the subject.

Alvin Coffey was born in 1822, in Saint Louis, Missouri. He came to California with his sick master, a Mr. Duvall, who landed in San Francisco, September 1, 1849. They went to Sacramento, October 13, 1849. During the next eight months the slave earned for his master $5,000, working in the mines, and by washing for the miners and mining for himself after night, he earned $700 of his own. As the master continued in poor health he decided to return with Alvin to Missouri at the expiration of two years. When they reached Kansas City, Missouri, the master sold Alvin to Nelson Tindle, first taking from him the $5,000, earned for the master, and also the $700 earned for himself.

Nelson Tindle took a great liking to Alvin and in a short time made him overseer over a number of slaves. Alvin, however, longed to return to California and, in order to earn his freedom, bought his time from his master and took contracts to build railroads. One day Nelson Tindle said to Alvin that he was too smart a man to be a slave and ought to try and purchase his freedom. Whereupon Alvin told him if he would let him return to California, he could easily earn enough money to effect the purchase. Alvin was permitted to return to California, and in a short time sent his master the $1,500 to pay for his freedom. Alvin then undertook to earn the money to pay for the freedom of his wife and daughters, who were slaves of Doctor Bassett, of Missouri. He earned the required sum and returned for his family. After paying for their freedom, he went with them to Canada, where he left his daughters to be educated. He and his wife Mahalia came to California. It cost him for the freedom of himself and family together with the trips to and from California about $7000. See Bancroft, "History of California," VI, p. 382.

[37] Some of these cases are more than interesting. Daniel Rodgers came across the plains with his master from Little Rock, Arkansas, worked in the mines in Sonora, California, during the day for his master and at night for himself, earning and paying his master $1,100 for his freedom. Soon afterward the master returned with him to Little Rock and sold him. A number of the leading white gentlemen of Little Rock raised a sum of money, paid for his freedom and set him free. William Pollock and wife from North Carolina came to California with their master who located at Cold Springs, Coloma, California. He paid $1,000 for himself and $800 for his wife. The money was earned by washing for the miners at night and making doughnuts. They removed to Placerville, California, and afterward earned their living as caterers. In 1849, a slaveholder brought his slave to California. Not wishing to take the Negro back to his native State, Alabama, he concluded to sell him by auction. An advertisement was put in the papers, the boy was purchased for $1,000, by Caleb T. Fay, a strong abolitionist, who gave the boy his freedom.

A Mississippi slaveholder brought several slaves from that State and promised to give them their freedom in two years. They all ran away save one, Charles Bates, when they learned that they were already free. The owner, finding mining did not pay, started east, taking Charles with him. On the Isthmus of Panama, Charles was persuaded to leave his master. He returned to California and to Stockton with his true friend. On the street one day he was recognized by a party who had lent money to Charles's master. The debtor got out an attachment for the former slave as chattel property, and according to the State law, the Negro was put up and sold at auction. A number of anti-slavery men bought the boy for $750 and gave him his freedom.—California Reports, I, 424-426.

[38] Bancroft, "History of California," VI, p. 716.

[39] Bancroft, "History of California," VI, p. 716.

[40] Ibid., VI, p. 716.



To determine the sources of the Negroes first brought into California their treatment by the whites and the methods employed to obtain their freedom no documents are more valuable than the manumission papers found in the archives of that State. These throw much light also on the personal history of Negroes, many of whom later became useful citizens of that State.


TO ALL WHOM IT MAY CONCERN; This is to certify that Dennis Aviery has been my Slave in the State of Georgia for about the term of eight years but by virtue of money to me in hand paid he is free and Liberated from all allegiance to my authority. Coloma Eldorado county California Feb. 8, 1851



On this eight day of February, A.D. 1851 personally appeared before me the recorder of said County. E. H. Taylor, satisfactory proved to me to be the person discribed in and who executed the foregoing instrument of liberating his negro slave by the oath of George Scall, a competent witness for that purpose by me duly sworn and the said E. H. Taylor acknowledged that he executed the same freely and voluntarily for the use and purposes therein mentioned. In testimony the thereof, I, John A. Reichart; Recorder for the said county have hereunto signed my name, and affixed the seal of said office at Coloma this day of year first above written

JOHN A. REICHART Recorder of Eldorado county

Filed for Recording February, 8, 1851 at 9, oclock A.M. J. A. REICHART Recorder's office Record Book[42]



Know all men by these presents that I Samuel Grantham of the county and state aforesaid, acting by power of Attorney vested in me by S. Oliver Grantham of St Louis, State of Missouri, acting for and in behalf of said S. Oliver Granthan, and in consideration of the sum of four hundred dollars to me in hand paid the same to receive to the benefit of the said Oliver Grantham have this day liberated, set free and fully and effectually manumitted, Aleck Long. Heretofore a slave for life—the lawful property of the said Thomas Granthan. The description of said Aleck Long, being as follows to wit: about fifty-seven years old; five feet, ten inches in height, gray hair dark complexion with a scar on the inside of the left leg above the ankle.—The said Aleck Long to enjoy and possess now and from hence forth the full exercise of all rights, benefits and privileges of a free man of color free of all or any claim to servitude, slavery or service of the said S. A. Granthan, his heirs, Executors, and assigns and all other persons claiming or to claim forever.

In Testimony of this seal of Manumission, I have this day signed my name and affixed my seal this 2nd day of March 1852.

SAMUEL A. GRANTHAN Attorney for State of California


Personally appeared before me William Palmer who makes oath and says that Samuel Granthan, whose name appears in the accompanying Seal of Manumission as a party thereto did freely voluntarily and of his own will execute to and subscribe the same for the uses and purpose therein contained.

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