« PreviousContinue »
In many of the slave states they are prohibited from learning or being taught, to read, under heavy penalties. In some, they are excluded by law from many employments. In all the slave states, and in the free state of Ohio, their evidence is not allowed in courts of law. In all the states, enslaved and free, they are subjected variously to legal disabilities or penalties-and where law does not lend its iniquitous and cruel aid to crush and keep them down, "public sentiment," an insane and ferocious prejudice, generated by tyranny, sustained by hypocrisy, and glorying in its own guilt and shame, scowls upon them with its tyrant eye, and thunders, "down, down, ye sufferers !-I am holier than "thou-lie prostrate.-I indeed exclude you from light, yet "I will curse you for being ignorant.-I shut you out from "the most honorable and profitable employments, yet I spurn you for being poor.--I blast your brightest hopes, yet I ex"ecrate your want of enterprise.-I keep you out of office, "yet I either blame you for not being in office, or make the “danger of your rising to office should I give you fair play, "a reason for my continuing to trample upon and abuse "you. Away with you to Africa, the dark and heathen land, "where the bold and licentious abuse of religion and liberty "has not yet seared, beyond redemption, the consciences of "men.-Away with you-away with you to Africa, where, "in the midst of barbarian despotisms and heathen supersti❝tions, hope beams upon you, and justice and kindness may "be found; for in your native country, the United States, "there is nothing before you but utter outrage and despair."
Contemplating the class called "free colored," in relation to mind, we have a more pleasing prospect. My materials indeed are scanty, yet scanty as they are, the secret evidence which they supply has often refreshed my heart. To behold the clear blue heavens without a cloud, is beautiful; but a buoyancy of grateful joy adds rapture to the emotion, when, amidst the wild ragings of the tempest, and the dark mustering of the clouds, heaven's pure azure is again perceived, betokening the departing of the storm. I love to behold the smile, where all is smiles-but no smile is so sweet to me as the smile which lights up again the bosom of anguish, or which tells me of hope, where there was nought but despair.
The sky is in clouds, but the bow of promise is upon them. The evidences which I offer are as follows:
In the autumn of 1793 the yellow fever broke out in Philadelphia, with peculiar malignity. The insolent and unnatural distinctions of caste were overturned, and the people called colored, were solicited in the public papers to come forward, and assist the perishing sick. The same mouth which had gloried against them in its prosperity, in its overwhelming adversity implored their assistance: just as, were the chivalry of South Carolina to become cast-aways on the coasts of Africa, the bugbear horrors of the African physiognomy would be forgotten, and the chevaliers would be amongst the humblest supplicants of their negro lords. The colored people of Philadelphia nobly responded. The then Mayor, Matthew Clarkson, received their deputation with respect, and recommended their course. They appointed Absalom Jones and Wm. Gray to superintend it, the Mayor advertising the public that, by applying to them, aid could be obtained. This took place about September.
Soon afterwards the sickness increased so dreadfully, thať it became next to impossible to remove the corpses. The colored people volunteered this painful and dangerous duty -did it extensively, and hired help in doing it. Dr. Rush instructed the two superintendents in the proper precautions and measures to be used.
A sick white man crept to his chamber window, and entreated the passers by to bring him a drink of water. Several white men passed, but hurried on. A foreigner came up-paused-was afraid to supply the help with his own hands, but stood, and offered eight dollars to whomsoever would. At length a poor black man appeared; he heard― stopped-ran for water-took it to the sick man; and ther staid by him to nurse him, steadily and mildly refusing all pecuniary compensation.
Sarah Boss, a poor black widow, was active in voluntary and benevolent services.
A poor black man, named Sampson, went constantly from house to house giving assistance everywhere gratuitously, until he was seized with the fever and died.
Mary Scott, a woman of color, attended Mr. Richard Mason and his son, so kindly and disinterestedly, that the widow, Mrs. R. Mason, settled an annuity of six pounds upon her for life.
An elderly black nurse, going about most diligently and
affectionately, when asked what pay she wished, used to say "a dinner, Massa, some cold winter's day."
A young black woman was offered any price, if she would attend a white merchant and his wife. She would take no money; but went, saying that, if she went from holy love, she might hope to be preserved--but not if she went for money. She was seized with the fever, but recovered.
A black man riding through the streets, saw a white man push a white woman out of the house. The woman staggered forward, fell in the gutter and was too weak to rise. The black man dismounted, and took her gently to the hospital at Bush-hill.
Absalom Jones and Wm. Gray, the colored superintendents, say, "a white man threatened to shoot us if we passed by his house with a corpse. We buried him three days afterwards."
About twenty times as many black nurses as white, were thus employed during the sickness.
The following certificate was subsequently given by the Mayor :
"Having, during the prevalence of the late malignant disorder, had almost daily opportunities of seeing the conduct of Absalom Jones and Richard Allen, and the people employed by them to bury the dead, I with cheerfulness give this testimony of my approbation of their proceedings, as far as the same came under my notice. The diligence, attention, and decency of deportment, afforded me at the time, much satisfaction."
(Signed) MATTHEW CLARKSON, Mayor. Philadelphia, Jan. 23d, 1794.
In 1814, when New Orleans was in danger, and the proud and criminal distinctions of caste were again demolished by one of those emergencies in which nature puts to silence for the moment the base partialities of art, the free colored people were called into the field in common with the whites; and the importance of their services was thus acknowledged by General Jackson :
"SOLDIERS-When, on the banks of the Mobile, I called you to take up arms, inviting you to partake the perils and glory of your white fellow-citizens, I expected much from you for I was not ignorant that you possessed qualities most formidable to an invading enemy. I knew with what
fortitude you could endure hunger and thirst, and all the fatigues of a campaign. I knew well how you loved your native country, and that you had as well as ourselves, to defend what man holds most dear, his parents, relations, wife, children and property. You have done more than ĺ expected. In addition to the qualities which I previously knew you to possess, I find moreover among you, a noble enthusiasm, which leads to the performance of great things.
Soldiers The President of the United States shall hear how praiseworthy was your conduct in the hour of danger, and the representatives of the American people will, I doubt not, give you the praise which your deeds deserve. Your General anticipates them in applauding your noble ardor.
The enemy approaches-his vessels cover our lakes-our brave citizens are united, and all contention has ceased among them. Their only dispute is, who shall win the prize of valor, or who the most glory, its noblest reward." By order, (Signed) THOS. BUTLER,
Aid-du-Camp. In Philadelphia, by the census of 1830, the proportion of the free colored people to the whites, was about 1 to 9.
In the same year, a committee of the Senate of Pennsylvania, was appointed to report upon the expediency or nonexpediency of enacting restrictions, upon the emigration of this class into that state. The following is an extract from the report of that committee, signed by Mr. Breck:
"On this subject your committee beg to remark, that by the last census, our colored population amounted to about 36,000, of whom 30,000 inhabit the eastern district, and only 6000 the western. And this number, so small compared with the white population, is scattered among 1,500,000 of our own color, making 1 colored to 42 whites. So few of these, it is believed by your committee, need not at present be an object of uneasiness, and would not seem to require the enactment of any restrictive laws; more especially as they are, for the greater part, industrious, peaceable and useful people," &c.
In the same year, (1830) the whole number of out-of-door paupers, statedly relieved in the city, was 549; but only 22 of these, or about 4 per-cent, were people of color. Of the paupers admitted into the almshouse the proportion was nearly the same.
In the same year, the payments by colored people to poor funds
Expenditure for colored poor
Balance paid by the colored people for help of poor whites
The rents paid by the colored people were upwards of
Some of these are incorporated. Of all, the members are bound to promote industry and morality; and for any breach of these rules, or for intemperance of any kind, they are liable to expulsion. These Societies raise and expend annually, upwards of $7000 for mutual aid. No member of any of these societies, has ever been convicted in any court.
These facts, &c. may be found detailed in a memorial, which was addressed to the Legislature of Pennsylvania in Jan. 1832, in behalf of the free colored people of that State, signed by James Forten, Chairman, and by Wm. Whipple and Robt. Purvis, Secretaries.
In the city of New-York, the people called colored amount to about 20,000.
They have-Presbyterian Church,
These are not all yet provided with buildings, but they meet statedly as churches.
They have 11 city schools on the same system as the whites; five of which are supported by themselves, and have colored teachers. One of these five is called "The Phoenix," under Dr. Brown, corner of Leonard and Chapel streets, and has 100 scholars.
They have upwards of 20 benevolent institutions, male and female, for mutual aid in sickness, &c. &c.
They have 5 literary societies, of which 2 are femaleand 4 libraries.