A RESIDENCE AND TOUR
THE UNITED STATES
FROM APRIL, 1833. TO OCTOBER, 1834.
BY E. S. ABDY,
FELLOW OF JESUS COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE.
far as experience may shew errors in our establishments, we are bound to
correct them; and, if any practices exist contrary, to the principles of
justice and humanity, within the reach of our laws or our influence, we
are inexcusable if we do not exert ourselves to restrain and abolish them."-D.
WEBSTER, Discourse at Plymouth on the second centenary of the settlement
of New England.
"The distinction of color is unknown in Europe." --Speech of Chancellor KENT in the New York State Convention.
IN THREE VOLUMES.
JOHN MURRAY, ALBEMARLE STREET.
of VOL. II.
New York Elections.--Vote by Ballot..-Annual Offices. -Restricted qualification of Blacks.--Its origin.--Fire, Firemen, and Fire-offices.-Fugitive Slaves.--City Gaol. -.Ex-sheriff Parkins.-.Anecdote of Runaway and Master. -Remarkable generosity in a Woman of Color..-Spanish and American pride compared.--National Abolition Society. - American Quarterly Review versus the Free Blacks . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
RESIDENCE AND TOUR,
NOVEMBER 5th, being the second of the three days of election for the State and county officers, I went round with one of the voters to the different polling places, to see how the system "worked." We found every where the utmost quiet and order prevailing; and nothing to indicate any exception to the ordinary state of things, unless it were a national flag or two, outside the house where the business of making law-makers was going on, and here and there a group of persons assembled at the entrance. In each room, set apart for the purpose, were three inspectors, and a secretary or clerk to register the names as they were given in. In addition to the choice of a senator and eleven representatives, as well as that of the county functionaries, the opinion of the electors was to be taken on two constitutional questions, in reference, one to the election of mayor for the city, and the other to the salt duty. There were therefore four boxes appropriated to the State, the county, and the constitution; the last having two. Each voter had supplied himself with small slips of paper; the subject of his vote being printed on one side, and its object on the other: --such, for instance, as the following: "Proposed amendment to the constitution of this State (Mayor)", for the outside: "Against electing the Mayor of the city of New York by the electors thereof," for the inside. These were doubled up and presented to the inspectors, who immediately deposited them in the boxes, corresponding to the labels. If any doubt was entertained of the qualification, an oath, on taking the name, would be administered. This is occasionally done, at the suggestion of some friend of the candidates; for whom, when party feeling runs high, there are generally scrutineers present; though a friend as well as a foe may sometimes be hit by this sharpshooting *.
Two or three Irishmen, whose garb and dialect betokened the freshness of their importation, were called upon to "smack the calf-skin." At night the boxes are all sealed; and when the election is over, the inspectors take the "tottle of the whole," and report to the Board of Canvassers, composed of certain official personages, sitting at the city hall, as a sort of centre, to which all the returns from the various wards converge, and from which the decision on the contest of " the three days" ultimately emanates.
* In some of the States, the qualification is previously ascertained by registering the names of the voters.
We visited at least a dozen of these polling booths; and I found at every one the same sentiment in favor of the ballot --a mode of voting very general, if not universal, throughout the, middle and eastern States. In Rhode Island it is customary, I have been told, for the voter to write his name on the billet, and thus defeat the object for which it was adopted. If the boxes were so constructed (as they are in our club-houses) that the hand, when thrust in horizontally, could, by a turn of the wrist to the right or the left, deposit a billet or a ball, for or against the candidate, into an aperture made for the purpose, no one would know how the vote was given.
This way of exercising the elective franchise is considered a very simple thing. No one thinks it more unmanly to vote in secrecy than to be shut up in a juryroom; or that open voting would add to his consequence what it would take from his independence. There must have been a time when the ballot was un-American, as it was not long ago un-French, and as it is still un-English; but that was no more admitted as a valid objection to its adoption in either country, than an opposite epithet would save it from abolition, if it proved injurious. John Bull is more easily duped. He votes uniformly with his landlord: --but then he votes like a man, openly and fearlessly. He is not allowed to have an opinion: --but then he has a voice; and, while he bawls out for the squire, he may boast that he does not sneak, like a Yankee or a Frenchman, to the ballot box.
The ballot has long been in use in North America. Oldmixon, in his History of Pennsylvania, in 1708, says that in the early periods of that colony, this mode of taking the votes having been laid aside, great inconvenience arose from its disuse. "Mr. Penn ", says he, "had all the laws so framed, that no difference was made in opinion, where property made no difference. All elections were by ballot; and the form of this government which, &c . . . . But such is the weakness of human nature, that being itself imperfect, it cannot relish perfection; and the nearer anything approaches to it in this world, the more likely it is to disgust the people. This form was too fine for the heavy intellects of some of the gross vulgar. They valued themselves, and with good reason in the main, on being Englishmen; and scorned, as they said, to give their opinions and votes in the dark: they would do nothing which they durst not own, and their foreheads and voices should always agree with one another. Thus they clamoured against that part of the constitution which secured the rest, --the election by ballot; and never gave over clamouring till it was abolished, and the first order of government broken in upon in the most essential parts of it. Upon which factions of course commenced, and discontents and tumults followed, to the great disturbance and detriment of the colony."
Colonel Napier observed the same effects from the same causes in the Ionian islands. "While the ballot existed", such are his words in his work On the Colonies, "elections passed quietly, there was no canvassing; rough natures grew rather more civil at such periods; the thermometer of urbanity ranged higher: no bribes were thought of, &c . . . . But when the open vote was established, the fiercest passions burst forth, &c. . . Old and steady men regretted this disorder; they attributed it all to the loss of the ballot. I have often said to my acquaintance, 'What ! are you and such a one enemies?' 'Yes! the accursed elections cost me his friendship. The viva voce Colonel! --he cannot pardon my vote; yet, had I given it to him, men, as dear to me as he was, would have cursed my children. We owe that to you, Englishmen: it perhaps suits your country; it do'n't suit ours."
Though the elections in New York State are annual, it is not found that the average period of service is less in the case of public functionaries thus chosen, than where a longer duration of tenure has been conferred by the constitution. It frequently happens in common life, that tenants at will hold their farms or houses longer than those who have a lease for a term of years. It is the landlord's interest that determines the renewal of the trust. A year will hardly suffice to injure the former; while it is quite enough to shew a man worthy of the latter.
Some years ago, a man of the name of Samuel Wyllis was elected, for the sixtieth time, to the annual office of town-clerk of Hartford, (Connecticut, having been appointed secretary of the State for the same number of years successively. His son succeeded him in the same way for sixteen or seventeen years. I was told of a case, where a person was elected annually for twenty years in succession to the office of supervisor, --the most trustworthy and not the least honorable office in the district. His brother, from whom I had this fact, and who was a staunch advocate for the ballot, assured me that he never knew an instance of influence having been used at elections in his part of the country. He once canvassed two of his tenants for a friend; when they both declared that they could not, however great their obligations to him were, vote in opposition to what they considered their duty. If secret voting admitted of such duplicity as its opponents impute to it, they might easily have satisfied their landlord and their political conscience at the same time, by promising one way, and voting another.
As New York is the most populous city, not only in the State, but in the Union, one would expect that its political importance in both would bear some proportion to its commercial ascendancy. But its wealth is no measure of its influence in either. When it is stated that it has not had for many years a Senator in Congress; that it has not a Chancellor, a Judge of the Supreme Court, Attorney General of the State, Comptroller, Secretary of the State, Treasurer, Canal Commissioner, Bank Commissioner, nor any State officer, (to say nothing of the Executive and his Lieutenant,) it certainly looks as if something were "rotten, in the State." The Evening Star, from which the above remarks are taken, ascribes this singular series of exclusions to a junto at the seat of government, known by the name of the Albany Regency. It would seem that politics were a trade at Albany, and trade were politics at New York; for it is hardly to be imagined that any Regency could control such a powerful body of merchants as the latter city possesses, were it to exert its strength.
In New York State, colored men of the qualified age, and possessed of 250 dollars in freehold estate, are entitled to the elective franchise. It is singular, that, where no political privileges are connected with property, an exception should be made in favor of those with whom vice, not virtue, is supposed to be hereditary; and that the parchment on which the pedigree is written is the skin of the claimant. Equality of civil rights is granted where equality of social rights is denied; and the same man who is admitted to the ballot-box, is thrust out of the diningroom. Let the "African" carry off the palladium of the constitution; but he must not disturb the digestion of its friends. Plutus must be highly esteemed, where his rod can change even a negro into a man. If 250 dollars will perform this miracle, what would it require to elevate a monkey to this enviable distinction?
In 1813 the federal party obtained the ascendancy in the legislature, through the votes of the colored electors. Hence it was, probably, that the qualification of this class was restricted by the other party, who had the majority when the New Constitution was formed in 1821. Among those who distinguished themselves on that occasion by the liberality of their opinions, was R. Clarke, who repelled with just indignation the excuse for exclusion from voting which was found in the exclusion from military duty. "It is haughtily asked", said he, "who will stand in the ranks, shoulder to shoulder, with a negro? I answer, no one in time of peace: --no one when your musters and trainings are looked upon as mere pastimes. But when the hour of danger approaches, your 'white' militia are just as willing that the man of color should be set up as a mark to be shot at by the enemy, as to be set up themselves. In the war of the revolution, these people helped to fight your battles by land and by sea. Some of your States were glad to turn out corps of colored men, and to stand 'shoulder to shoulder' with them. In your late war, they contributed largely towards some of your most splendid victories. On Lakes Erie and Champlain, where your fleets triumphed over a foe superior in numbers, and engines of death, they were manned in large proportion with men of color. And in this very House, in the fall of 1814, a Bill passed, receiving the approbation of all the branches of your Government, authorizing the Governor to accept the services of a corps of 2000 free people of color. . . They were not compelled to go, they were not drafted, they were volunteers --yes, Sir, volunteers to defend that very country from the inroads and ravages of a ruthless and vindictive foe, which had treated them with insult, degradation, and slavery."I never knew a man of color that was not an anti-Jackson man. In fact, it was their respectability, and not their degradation, that was the cause of their disfranchisement. The Albany Camarilla limited the suffrage to the blacks, and opened it to the Irish; --a pretty good proof that the former were not likely to be their tools.
During the greater part of October and November, the weather was delightful. It was what is called the Indian summer; and certainly, if a clear sky, a mild air, and a bright sun enter into our ideas of that season, it was well entitled to the appellation. I generally had my window open during the day; and frequently the whole night. On one occasion of the latter kind, I was alarmed about one o'clock by a strong smell of fire. On going to the window, to find out the cause, I was met by a cloud of smoke, accompanied by large flakes of fire. The first impression on my mind was that the next house was in flames; and that we should soon share its fate. When we got out into the back yard, (for I immediately called up the family,) we found that the fire was raging in some outhouses, belonging to our neighbors, and was rapidly bearing down upon us. Great, as well may be supposed, were the consternation and confusion: --the adjoining houses pouring out their inhabitants overwhelmed with their fears and their furniture: --the church-bells ringing the alarum; and cries of "Fire! fire!" resounding through the streets. Soon after, the firemen with their ladders and engines arrived; and, water having been speedily procured, set to work like men who understand what they are about. They poured in streams of water so judiciously and effectually upon the different houses, for there were three or four in flames,-and directed their efforts with such promptitude as the change of the wind and the combustibility of the materials required, that, in about two hours, the enemy was subdued, after having destroyed one dwelling house, damaged very considerably two others, and consumed several wooden buildings in the rear. It was here that the chief danger lay; as there were many houses constructed of mere boards at the back, running between parallel streets, and presenting an unresisting front to the increasing fury of the flames. There are prohibitory regulations against buildings of this description; but they are not sufficiently comprehensive, or are easily evaded by those who care more for high profits than that their neighbors should be burned out, because obscure plots of ground give facilities for running up combustible tenements to be crowded with all sorts of people from all parts of the world.
I had leisure and opportunity enough for witnessing the zeal and courage of the New York firemen; and, as the house I was in was, I conceive, indebted to them for its preservation, I feel bound, in gratitude, to bear testimony to their merits. Some of then, who had mounted the houses, were literally surrounded by flames. It was a most wild and picturesque scene. The windows of the opposite houses were filled with anxious spectators. The street was lined on each side with furniture that had been brought out for safety: and the groups that had assembled were eagerly looking on, and expressing their hopes or apprehensions as the flames seemed to be arrested or strengthened in their progress. There were but few spectators immediately in front, for barriers had been put up at each entrance; and the police were stationed there to prevent an irruption of the crowd, who might have obstructed the efforts of the firemen or plundered the inhabitants. The whole was extremely well organized; and, considering the late hour and the progress made by the fire before it was discovered, the period was surprisingly short between the arrival of the firemen, and the moment when all was over, and the affrighted citizens had resumed their slumbers.
Fires are so frequent in New York, that scarcely a night passes that its citizens are not warned of their occurrence by the roar and rumbling of the engines and the shouts of those who attend them through the streets, while the church-bells are calling upon them to hasten their march. I once saw no less than fifty or sixty houses all in flames at the same time. No wonder the engine-companies are expert, with such constant demands upon them for the exercise of their talent. The members that compose them are all volunteers, and serve gratuitously; --the only remuneration they receive being exemption from military duty and from serving on juries. There is a sort of rivalry and emulation among them, that keeps alive the enthusiasm which first led them to enlist in the service, and which is sustained in full vigor and influence by the excitement their splendid apparatus and daring exploits produce among the boys who follow them or assist in dragging the machines.
The advantages of this system are not without a considerable mixture of alloy; as the young men, who are enrolled in these companies, not only suffer much in their health from exposure to wet and cold, at all hours and in all seasons of the year, but are too apt to contract bad habits and become dissipated or irregular.
The corporation has made many fruitless attempts to discover the cause of such frequent fires. It is supposed to be connected, in a great measure, with the carelessness and negligence of lodgers, and the inflammable nature of the materials, with which the houses in the outskirts and narrow lanes of the city are built. These accidents occur almost as frequently by day as at night. It will be found, perhaps, on inquiry, that "spoiled children" have something to do with the matter. It is natural that the parent, on leaving the room, should beg her children not to touch the fire; and equally natural that the children, as soon as the mother's back is turned, should begin to poke in the grate; disobedience being as habitual on one side, as want of discipline on the other. Prohibition is sure to encourage what it suggests, when the penalty it threatens is never enforced. We constantly hear of children being burnt to death by their clothes catching fire; sometimes the delinquent escapes and the house alone suffers --of course the mother never suspects her darling, whom she brings up in such excellent order; --for it is a well-known fact that those who most neglect their parental duties, like hen-pecked husbands, are the last to find out what every body else knows.
The insurance offices at New York have entered into a sort of combination against the public interest by depositing each, in a common fund, the sum of 500 dollars, to be forfeited on granting insurance below a certain amount of premium. The person, from whom I received this information, was about to insure in London his property in New York. Even with the heavy duty so injudiciously laid by our government on this necessary species of prudence, he could get insured in England for half the sum it would cost him on the other side of the water. "Why do you not go to Boston or Philadelphia for the purpose?" --I asked. "Because I should get nothing by doing so. If such a practice were to become general, some retaliatory measure would be adopted by our companies, and their competitors would gain nothing by charging a lower price." This sort of monopoly could hardly be continued without the collusion of the legislature in granting charters of incorporation. As it is, however, it seems, like bounties and other kinds of protection, to carry its own punishment with it; since it tends, by inviting capital, to sink those profits it promises to raise.
The average rate, indeed, is already below what is to be made by investments in other commercial associations. If there were more fires, there would probably be more applications for insurance; as was found to be the case when our barns and ricks were destroyed by incendiaries. The same effect was produced by the numerous piracies from which the mercantile marine of the United States suffered so much some years back. The premium upon marine insurance was not increased by the risk, as the additional number of policies indemnified the insurance companies for any demands upon them.
The corporation of New York, wishing that the offices, which seemed to reap all the benefit of the fire-engines, should pay their share of the expense attending them, applied to some of them, with the view of entering into an arrangement upon the subject. The answer to the proposal was, that so far from contributing to the support of the establishment, the insurance companies would much rather give 10,000 dollars to the corporation if they would lay aside their engines altogether. The greater the destruction of private property by fires, the less unwillingness to pay for protection against the loss they occasion.
Nov. 27, I went to the city gaol to see some men who had been confined there some time as runaway slaves: that is, they were accused of having committed the heinous crime of stealing their own bodies. There were three of them: the first, a very decent good-looking man, about thirty years of age, had been living in New York for four years; having been in prison during the last twelve months. His case, as well as that of the other two, was then in course of adjudication. These poor creatures had no means of support, but what they obtained from casual charity or by waiting upon the other prisoners. Whatever any of them got to eat, by their own industry or the bounty of others, was shared equally between them. Upon inquiry of the keeper, I was told that there was no legal provision --no allowance of any kind, made for persons under these circumstances. This regulation reflects little credit on the humanity of the government; --whether the matter rest with the State or the corporation. A horse or a cow, if seized for rent, would not be suffered to starve; but these unhappy men, who have committed no crime that those who thus punish them would not themselves have committed, and most probably not even that, must depend upon chance --for justice has nothing to do with the affair --for a meal. In this respect they are worse off in the free, as they are called, than in the slave States; since it is the interest of those who keep them in gaol, as well as of those who claim them, that they should be supplied with food; as, in the event of their failing to prove their right to freedom, they would be sold, to defray the expense of keep --an event by no means uncommon on the south side of the Potomac; --whereas they would be discharged in the non-slave holding States, if declared innocent of self-robbery.
By an act passed in 1826 by the legislature of Pennsylvania, a fugitive slave, when committed to gaol for safe keeping, is --"there to be detained, at the expense of the owner, agent, or attorney, for such time as the judge (committing) shall think reasonable and just," &c.
The second case was that of a man who had been within the walls sixteen weeks. He had made his escape four years before from New Orleans. He honestly confessed to me that he was a slave; the other was less frank; and so disheartened by the prospect before him, that he declared he would destroy himself; if taken back to his master in Virginia.
The third had been confined six weeks only. His story, though long and involved in incidents spread over many years, was clearly and distinctly narrated. He had purchased his freedom three or four times, and had been as often defrauded of it. It is required in North Carolina, to which he belonged, that a specific declaration of "meritorious services" performed should be made by an owner, as a condition of emancipation to his slave; and as no such plea could be urged in favor of Damon Jones, (that was the name of the man,) these successive sales were null and void; and the buyers had been most shamefully imposed upon.
It happened, that his master, to whom I had been particularly introduced a few days before at a party, was then in the city; and I determined to call and inquire of him whether Damon's account was to be relied upon. I questioned all these men closely and separately upon the condition of the slaves; and they concurred in the same declaration, --that the general treatment was most barbarous and inhuman. One can easily see why a slave's evidence is not received in a court of justice against a white man. The disqualification affords presumptive proof against the law-maker, who well knows that he would lose more by the truth than the witness could gain by a falsehood.
While I was conversing with the fugitives, I was told that ex-sheriff Parkins had been very kind to them; I accordingly called upon him to inquire about them. He had a room above stairs in the gaol; where he had been for some time incarcerated for contempt of court for an alleged assault --having refused to find bail, and thereby acknowledge, as he thought, that the charge had any foundation. He had been unfortunate in some speculations into which he had entered, and had lost a great deal of money in a way that certainly told as much against the fair dealing of others as his own prudence. He could not hold land as an alien; and yet, if I understood him rightly, he had been involved in a purchase of the kind. He had been made to pay too very severely for the license he had given his tongue, or the defamatory, expressions attributed to him *.
He generally pleaded his own cause; and, whatever sort of client he might have as an advocate, he undoubtedly had not a temperate advocate as a client. His opponents, and their name was truly "legion", had accused him of insanity; but, in the course of conversation I had with him upon different topics, I could perceive no indications of any tendency that way in his mind, except what might be found in great volubility of language, and the frequent use of that figure which Shenstone says is the forerunner of madness. He dealt largely in the parenthesis,--not here and there merely, --but one within another, like an involution of chinese ivory balls. He had written several letters --in behalf of his sable clients, and had shewn a degree of benevolence and zeal in their behalf highly creditable to him. His lawyer very impertinently remonstrated with him on the imprudence of interfering in behalf of these wretched men. "Why do you trouble yourself about these blacks?" said he. The reply was such as he merited. So indignant was the warm hearted ex-sheriff, that he afterwards dismissed him. The man might think it imprudent to interfere in favor of humanity --he was taught to feel that it is sometimes impolitic to interfere against it.
* Not long after, a report was spread that the ex-sheriff had assaulted a fellow-prisoner, and cut his head open with a hatchet. It turned out, however, that the attack was made upon, and not by, him. That he had a hatchet in his possession is true: for I saw it in his room both before and after the rencontre. The unanimity with which the press gave full credit to an ex-paxte statement, adducing it as a proof of derangement, could hardly have originated in any honorable feeling. I was myself witness to a piece of brutality towards this old man, which all his abuse of the country and its people could not have excused. As I took my leave of him, he was told he might go down stairs to see some men who were waiting for him on business. He approached the door with the intention of passing through ; when the turnkey stopped him, and desired him in a harsh manner to wait. Some words passed between them; and the man suddenly shut the door in his face with such violence, that had his arm been caught between it and the post, it must have been broken. He had a narrow escape. It was disgusting to see a young athletic man insult an old man of seventy with a degree of violence that a stout villain would not have required, and the greatest criminal would not have deserved.
The decision of the court was unfavorable to the three prisoners. The Virginian was to be taken back for the purpose of being exhibited to his master's slaves, as a warning to them, not to attempt their escape. He had previously been offered ten dollars, as an addition to a subscription he was told some friends were raising for him; and, when he consulted his lawyer whether he should accept the conditions, he was told that he must judge for himself. The object was to sell him for a distant market; prices having lately risen twenty per cent. The intention was obvious from the terms of the agreement. He was to have the money, providing he accompanied the donor into Virginia. That any lawyer should hesitate about the propriety of trusting a man, whose oath would not be valid, with a stranger who could have but one motive for giving his time and his ten dollars for such a purpose, shows how completely the blacks in the south are at the mercy of the whites.
A case occurred in this very gaol, not long before, illustrative of the whole system. A negro, who had escaped with a boat from Virginia to New York, was reclaimed; and was condemned, on his return, to be hanged for stealing the boat. It was exactly as if a man whose horse had been stolen had gone off with the horse, and had afterwards been executed for stealing the bridle that happened to belong to the thief. He- had a wife and eight or nine children in New York. A message was sent to her that a petition had been got up in his favor; but there was little chance that he would be pardoned.
There were some circumstances in the case of one of the remaining slaves that rendered it probable he might eventually obtain his freedom. As for the other, Damon Jones, his story abounded in such singular turns of fortune, that I took it down from his own mouth: it is too long, however, for insertion here. It was a good specimen of the harassing and insecure life a slave leads, even when he has friends to assist him, and is desirous of gaining his liberty by unremitting industry.
When I called on his old master, Mr. Gaston, who was chosen about that time a Judge of the Supreme Court of North Carolina, I found the Secretary of the Anti-Slavery Society with him. He had come upon the same errand. Mr. Gaston then repeated to me what he had just stated to Professor Wright; --that the man was a worthless fellow, and had no right whatever to his freedom. I was much struck with one observation he made. He said he took great blame to himself for having indulged his slave too much: --he had treated him too kindly. They were nearly of the same age, and had been brought up together. What an opinion must this man have of human nature! or how must it be perverted by slavery, if that which produces gratitude in other men, produces estrangement in the slave! --that those "compunctious visitings of remorse", which are elsewhere known to vice and crime alone, should be the effect of virtue and benevolence in the breast of a slaveowner!
When informed that there were persons willing to buy the man's freedom, if he could say any thing in his favor, he answered that he could not do so conscientiously. The Secretary and myself then took our leave; and, on returning to my lodgings a few hours afterwards, I found that a person, at whose house I had a few days before met Mr. Gaston, had, with another acquaintance, called, and, finding me out, had communicated to my landlady the purport of the visit; adding that they would call the next morning early. The next morning about nine o'clock one of them made his appearance, with a letter from Mr. Gaston in his hand. The substance of what the latter had written was merely, that some one, --he knew not his name, --he believed he was a lawyer --whom he had met at the house of this gentleman --had been with him that morning about a slave. He was sorry he could not give the man a good character. He was willing, however, out of former regard, to give fifty dollars to the fund for purchasing his freedom. The writer (singular enough!) had totally forgotten that I had been particularly introduced to him as an Englishman. It was but incidentally that I had told him I should have been called to the bar, had the state of my health been favorable. He had forgotten, too, that it was the Secretary of the Anti-Slavery Society, not I, who had spoken to him about the subscription for Damon's freedom. He was perhaps anxious to quiet any uneasiness I might feel on the subject; and so lost no time in writing to his friend, who seemed to enter with great tact and promptitude into his feelings: --as he related, during the very short stay he made, an anecdote of a slave who had run away, and, having obtained his freedom, either by donation or a judicial decision, declared that he would rather go back to his former condition than remain where he was. I was left to infer from this that slavery is no such bad thing after all; and, indeed, this view of the subject may perhaps explain why Mr. Gaston gave fifty dollars to redeem "a worthless fellow" from bondage. Slavery was too good for him. This piece of liberality was not quite so intelligible to my visitor. He earnestly asked if I had any idea why the gift was made, and was highly pleased at the answer he received. I understood, I said, that the parties had been brought up together as children. It was rather silly in me to ask a slaveowner if his slave was to be trusted, when his own character was concerned in the answer; and still more so to apply to a judge of a slave-State for testimony in support of a colored man's veracity; since the latter is legally incompetent to testify against a white man. If his word is good for anything in New York, why is it good for nothing in North Carolina? It was placing the judge in a very awkward dilemma. He must have stultified either himself or the law he administers. How could the same person tell me to believe a man's word, when he himself will not take his oath? I was led into this error by a letter Damon Jones had received from a man whom Mr. Gaston admitted to be respectable. It was as follows:
When I informed Damon of Mr. Gaston's intention to advance fifty dollars for his liberation, he replied very mildly but very firmly, --"I would rather, not accept Mr. Gaston's money, Sir! He has used me extremely ill; and I do not wish to be under any obligation to him. If those gentlemen, who have so kindly taken my part, will purchase my freedom, I will work at my trade and repay them as soon as I can do so." Subjoined is the answer Mr. Parkins received to the application he had made in behalf of his colored protege.
It should be observed here, that the man had not the shadow of a claim to freedom, because the grant was not in accordance with the law of the land, which, as the judge himself told me, requires a formal allegation from the owner of "meritorious services" rendered by the slave, before he can obtain his emancipation. Now this allegation Mr. Gaston could not make. He had sold him because he had found him troublesome, and again bought him for the purpose of facilitating his escape. And yet, as we shall see by the following letter, he had received from the poor fellow himself the price of a contract which he well knew was neither legal nor binding. The letter alluded to is one from Dr. Caldwell to Mr. Parkins. Dr. Caldwell is President of the College of Chapel Hill, in Orange County, North Carolina, and is respected for his attainments and personal character. I have omitted to state that Damon was, when making his way to the north, advised by Mr. Sneyd, (a nephew-in-law of Mr. Gaston,) to put himself under the care of a man who promised to take him with him to Alabama in search of his wife. By this man he was sold at Mobile in that State.
I answered the letter as far as it was in my power to do so. Damon, in a letter which he sends to me now, says he wrote to me formerly. If he did, I never got his letter as I can remember. I shall have to say now the same things in answer to your inquiries as I formerly said to Professor Olmstead.
* Damon was brought by sea to New York in chains, and would have been carried, in that condition, into North Carolina, had not some members of the Anti-Slavery Society interfered for him, and brought the matter before the legal tribunals of the country.
"I am acquainted with Damon Jones. He acted as a barber for a number of years in this State, to my certain knowledge. Nearly about the last time I saw him he was at this place, and he shewed me a paper, in which Mr. Gaston, his former master, subscribed a declaration made by himself, that he gave full and entire permission to Damon Jones to go as far north as he should wish to go. Knowing something of the circumstances, I considered it as a total and final release of Damon Jones from a state of slavery to him William Gaston*
It certainly was intended to be so understood.
* This document would have been no bar to a seizure for debt or to a sale by an executor.
"It must now be explained, that by the laws of this State, a slave cannot be thus emancipated. Other conditions and forms are required by law, that the emancipation may be legal. If Damon had taken the paper given to him by Mr. Gaston, and travelled directly northward, it would have served him as a pass, by which he might have enjoyed his freedom unmolested the remainder of his days. This, however, I suppose he did not do. I heard of him afterwards, as having gone to the south-west. Being in that part of the State, perhaps at or near Salisbury, some man, it seems, availing himself of the power given by the law of North Carolina, probably got out legal process against Damon; took him up, and sold him again into slavery: --if, indeed, it could be said that he could be free without the sanction of the law. My intelligence was, that he was conveyed away into Alabama, perhaps to Mobile. The next thing I heard of him was by Mr. Olmstead's letter, asking for information, to know whether his right to freedom could be established against the claims of any one who had arrested him as a fugitive slave at Newhaven. These are the circumstances, so far as I am informed of them. Whether my information of the circumstances and events after he left this place is correct or not, I am unable to ascertain. Damon is well known here to all the persons he mentions in his letters: --Mr. Mitchell, Professor of Chemistry at this College; Mr. Chalmers; Judge Nash, of Hillsborough; Judge Martin, of Salisbury; Justice Ruffin, and a multitude of others whom he might name. These are most of them at some distance from this place, and I cannot see them.
"Some time before Mr. Gaston gave Damon his indefinite pass, there had been an understanding between Mr. Gaston and Damon, that Damon should go abroad, make such money as he could in his profession as a barber; and, upon paying a certain sum, his master was to make him free. Damon acted on this understanding for some time. Mr. Gaston had passed a note to John Lewis of this place for about 290 dollars. Damon was expected by Mr. Gaston to pay this note; and, should he do so within a time probably understood between them, Damon was to be a free man. The note was passed by Lewis to me. Damon made payments to me at different times. He paid me personally twenty-eight dollars, and left with Stephen Moore, of Hillsborough, sixty-seven dollars, eighty-two cents, which I received. It was a considerable time after this that Damon shewed me permission from Mr. Gaston to travel northward as far as he should choose to go. Mr. Gaston paid the balance, and took up the note.
"Mr. J. W. PARKINS.
" P.S. Damon Jones has written to me a letter on the same subject. If I write to him, I can say nothing else. Will you shew this letter to Damon? --and it will prevent the necessity of my writing to him.
The sequel of Damon's story, as it was afterwards narrated to me by those who had watched his conduct, confirmed the good opinion they had entertained of him, and gave ample corroboration to all that he had stated of himself. He was put in possession of the valuable prize he had so often been cheated of: --he became free, and was placed in a barber's shop; where his steady habits of industry and good behaviour gave fair promise that he would continue to do well. Want of health and a bad master combined to keep him down; and he was unable to raise sufficient money for the liquidation of the debt he had contracted. He had saved a trifle; and his benevolent friends, who never intended to accept any pecuniary return for their bounty to him, were fully satisfied that he had been calumniniated because he had been injured. His manners were very superior to what are generally found among men of his rank in life, and his disposition was characterised by frankness and simplicity --qualities which in him so far predominated, as to render him the dupe of the designing and the prey of the unprincipled.
A few days after this little incident, I called at the house of a colored woman, who had been mentioned to me as a most remarkable instance of generosity and benevolence. Her name was Hester Lane; and her age between fifty and sixty. She was at home, and received me without affectation or reserve. The object of my visit was soon explained; and the request I made as readily complied with. She informed me that she had redeemed eleven human beings from slavery, in Maryland, having purchased them at different times with the savings she had made out of her hard earnings. She had never had twenty dollars given to her, nor benefited by inheritance or bequest to the amount of a dollar. The house she lived in was her own; and the room in which we sat was well furnished. The first purchased by her was a girl of eleven years of age: the price was 100 dollars. She had been present when she was born, and afterwards assisted at her marriage, at the birth of her four children, and ultimately at her death and her funeral. The next she liberated was a boy of fourteen, for 200 dollars. The third a man about thirty, for 280. The fourth case was that of a man, his wife, and one child. As the parents were sickly and no longer young, she was charged but 140 dollars for the family: --the former she had in a great measure to maintain. The fifth case occurred about eight years previously, and was that of a woman and three children. For these she had to pay 550 dollars. They were bought at a public auction in Maryland, whither she went for that purpose, having received several letters on the subject. She afterwards purchased the husband for 200 dollars, with great difficulty and trouble, as the owner insisted upon having 300. She had the children properly educated, and instructed to gain their own livelihood. The greater part of the purchase money was refunded by the objects of her bounty, when they were enabled to repay her. This account, which I had from her own lips, was confirmed to me by Mr. Curtis, of Crosby Street, a person of great respectability, and well known for his kind feelings towards the descendants of Africa. Most of the cases he himself knew to be as I had heard them: for the rest, he said, he would without hesitation vouch; as her word was as good as any other person's oath. When I was with her, she was teaching herself French. She was a woman of strong religious feelings and principles. By her own exertions, she had obtained a comfortable competency for herself; having been successful in discovering a new mode of coloring walls, by which, and the assistance of a shop, she had realised sufficient to provide for her own wants, and those of her less fortunate fellow creatures. Like all of her race, with whom I had any communication, she was deeply affected by the numerous humiliations to which she was exposed. She never for a moment doubted, she said, that the designs of Providence were wise and good. Yet it was mysterious and afflicting to think that whole nations and tribes should so long have been doomed to unmitigated and unmerited bondage; and when free, should still be subject to contempt and reproach. Her windows looked into the street, and it was most painful to her to witness the savage way in which the blacks were treated by the people, and by none worse than by the Irish; some of whom, not long before, would have murdered a man of color, if some persons, who were passing in a carriage at the time, had not assisted him to escape.
The American Quarterly Review upbraids the Spaniards of South America for pursuing, towards the Creoles, precisely the same conduct as its readers still observe towards men equally inoffensive, and equally entitled, with themselves, to a participation in political and personal rights. "Even as late as 1811," says the Reviewer, "they (the Creoles) were represented in the Cortez of Cadiz as a race of monkeys, full of vice and ignorance, and automata, unworthy of representing or being represented." --The Hispano-Americans were perfectly justified in resenting the calumny: the Africo-Americans must submit without a murmur. The same journal, (for June 1830,) in describing the effects of Spanish pride in Mexico, draws a complete picture of a very large portion of the United States. "The settlers scorned to be placed on a level with the wretched Indian; their color ennobled them in their own opinion; and the poorest white man would have perished with want, rather than lose caste by working in the fields, or by any other laborious occupation in which the Indians were habitually employed. Thus, then, was wanting that portion of a community which forms the strength of a nation --a hardy and virtuous peasantry."
When power had changed hands, these silly people were driven out of the country. Their neighbors might profit by the example, if it were possible for oppression to count the cost of its gratification; or if fatuity were not the necessary precursor of that destruction which tyranny brings with it, by blinding its instruments and emboldening its victims.
overwhelming importance of this subject, was now beginning to force upon
the public attention the deep impression it had made upon the minds of
many who could think and feel like men. A meeting was held in Philadelphia,
on the 4th of December, and continued by adjournment till the 6th, for
the purpose of forming a national anti-slavery society. There were delegates
from ten of the States to this convention; and the proceedings, I was told,
(for illness prevented my attending,) were exceedingly solemn and affecting.
Several who were present shed tears, and all were animated with one spirit
of firmness and resolution. In the declaration of sentiments unanimously
adopted. on this memorable occasion, was the following: "We further believe
and affirm, that all persons of color, who possess the qualifications
which are demanded of others, ought to be forthwith admitted to the enjoyment
of the same privileges, and the exercise of the same prerogatives, as others;
and that the paths of preferment, of wealth, and of intelligence, should
be opened as widely to them, as to persons of a white complexion." The
force of these expressions would hardly be felt in England. The
unmanly prejudice against which they are aimed, is so deeply seated in
the public mind, that its complete eradication is an indispensable preliminary
to the abolition of slavery, which is as much the offspring of this feeling,
as it is the parent of the slave trade. In striking at the latter, while
we left the other in full vigor, we mistook the effect for the cause, and
reversed the relation in which demand and supply stand to each other. By
combining these two objects, the transatlantic philanthropists are proceeding
towards their object in the most direct and the clearest path; for the
negro will always be treated as a brute, till he is acknowledged to be