Jacksonian Miscellanies, #95 
September 25, 2000

A View of the Lane Rebels

Copyright by the editor, Hal Morris, Hopatcong, NJ 2000.
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The following contains observations on the Lane Rebels, who, led by Theodore Weld, made up the majority of students at Lane Seminary, and - thoroughly "abolitionized", and forbidden by school authorities to continue to debate and act against slavery and racism, eventually left the school in a group, to be come the core student body of Oberlin.  There are also some impressions of Lyman Beecher, with the notable summation: "His humanity struggled with his prejudices, and his heart pleaded in favor of liberty, while his intellect yielded to sophistries which would rob it of more than half its value."

This is the 3rd and last part of chapter 23 of Journal of a Residence and Tour in the United States of North America, from April, 1833, to October, 1834. by Edward S. Abdy (London: Murray, 1835).

I was not sorry, the next day, that I had retired; as I found the reverend doctor, to whom I was introduced, was so far jaundiced, that he not only admitted the existence of the disease, under which he, in common with his countrymen, labor, but maintained that it was conducive to health, and in strict accordance with the order of nature, He called it a prejudice, yet he considered it a salutary preventive of that amalgamation, which would confound the two races and obliterate the traces of their distinction: --a result that, in the view of common sense, is neither to be dreaded nor deprecated, as it would destroy animosity by destroying its causes. He did not see why the Colonization Society should not call a man a "free agent" and departing with his "free consent," to whom no other alternative was offered but Liberia or the lash. He had the choice of two evils, and therefore he went with his free consent. He who gives up his purse, when the urgent "sounds salute his ear" --"Your money or your life!" gives up his money with his free consent: It is an abuse of words to say he is under duress. The only difference between the two cases is, that the alternative offered to the traveller comes from the highwayman alone; while that offered to the slave comes conjointly from his owner and the colonizationist. Dr. Beecher, however, advocated the cause of immediate emancipation. His humanity struggled with his prejudices, and his heart pleaded in favor of liberty, while his intellect yielded to sophistries which would rob it of more than half its value.

While the hatred of the pseudo-Christian would refuse to its victim a few feet of the land he has watered with his tears, and enriched with the sweat of his brow, a small number of good Samaritans, with whom "nor numbers nor example" have "wrought to swerve from truth," are binding up his sores, and pouring oil into his wounds. While the judges and clergy of Cincinnati would ship him off for Africa to teach the arts and sciences to the heathen, these devoted men would have him learn his letters at home. With this unequivocal good object in view, they have, with a zeal beyond their means, established three schools; one of which is under the care of the only young woman, who could be found, in the valley of the Mississippi, to undertake an office, that would be sure to involve her in ridicule and misrepresentation. This young person, whose name is Lathrop, has a sister married to an American missionary in Ceylon. I visited her school two or three times, and was equally pleased and surprised at the progress her pupils had made in the short space of a fortnight.

This and the two other schools are chiefly supported by the students at the Lane Seminary. They are visited every other evening by some of their young patrons, and are under the immediate superintendence of two from the body --of whom I have before spoken as having incurred the displeasure of Judge Hall --the censor morum and arbiter elegantiarum of Cincinnati. They contain about 100 pupils of both sexes. Those parents who are able to do so, (there are but thirty,) pay one dollar a quarter for their children. They were anxious to increase the sum --but their offer was declined. The expenditure exceeds the receipts by nearly 200 dollars. When the first school was opened, in the preceding March, there were but four or five who could read tolerably well. As it is made a condition of admittance that a child should know the letters of the alphabet, many were at first rejected. The poor little things were so much affected by the disappointment, that they cried bitterly, and begged to be taken into the school. There were forty or fifty in this situation. It was intended to hire a woman for the purpose of giving them this slight qualification. So assiduous are the pupils in learning their lessons, that one of the instructors, who had been a teacher in New Jersey and Connecticut, assured me, that he had never witnessed such instances of rapid improvement. Another, who had had a great deal of experience in Massachusetts, declared that an equal progress in arithmetic, after two years' study, had never come under his observation.

All those who had attended these schools, as examiners, were of opinion that the supposed difference of intellect between the two races seemed to be in favor of that which is usually classed below the other. This may be accounted for from the additional stimulus, which the hope of rising from a galling, because an unmerited, degradation, has given, and the greater degree of docility which Nature or parental care has bestowed. In addition to these schools, there are between forty and fifty adults of both sexes, who are instructed in reading and useful branches of knowledge in the evening. Singular as it may seem, there is not, in a city containing nearly 30,000 inhabitants, one white who has shewn any permanent interest in these benevolent efforts to raise the condition of his fellow-citizens.

Judge Hall says, in his Magazine, that when an Englishman uses the word "singular" or "remarkable", to preface his account of any thing, he has heard or seen in America, he is sure to tell a lie. I hope most sincerely he will be able to prove that I am no exception to the rule; and it will add to the pleasure I shall have, if he be himself witness against me. I shall feel double respect for the bench, when it supplies both the evidence that convicts, and the sentence that condemns.

The day after the meeting, I bent my solitary way towards the enemy's quarters. On enquiring of a young man the road to Lane Seminary, I found he was one of the students, and was going thither.

The institution, which is situated about two miles from the city, and is supported by the Presbyterian church, has not existed longer than three or four years. Attached to the house are 120 acres of land, of which three or four are appropriated to the purposes of a garden. Of the students, forty belong to the theological class, and between that number and fifty to the literary: the latter being, for the most part, destined to the former. Three hours of each day are devoted to manual labor, rather as an auxiliary to health, than from motives of economy,) though the cause of learning has gained as much by the promotion of the one as by that of the other. Those who are employed in mechanical pursuits, such as stereotype printing, finishing hats and shoes, &c., earn, upon an average, two dollars a week; while the profits of agricultural labor amount to about half that sum for the same period. The benefits and advantages of these separate occupations are sometimes equalized by an interchange; and both parties gain by diversifying both exercise of limbs and acquisition of skill. The superintendent, who manages the financial affairs of the college, deducts, from the regular charges for board, the amount of what each gains; and it is, generally found, that the proceeds of their industry are sufficient to cover this part of their expense.

There was not in the Academy one abolitionist twelve months before my visit. There were then but three who were not so, and they were all from the free States. Of the rest, more than one-fifth consisted of slave-owners, and all, without exception, declared that "cruelty was the rule of slavery, and kindness the exception." One professor only, out of six, was a decided and open friend to emancipation. The students were nearly all men of mature age, not mere school boys, as Judge Hall had termed them.

While I was conversing with Mr. Weld, and two or three other students in his room, the former put into my hands a letter, written by a young man, who had been brought, when a child, from the coast of Africa, and had, by working extra time, and reducing his hours for sleep almost to the minimum required for existence, succeeded in teaching himself to read and write, and in purchasing his freedom. For the latter he had paid, in the year 1833, the sum of 700 dollars, including what he had given for certain portions of time to work on his own account. The writer, (James Bradley,) about twenty-seven years of age, was absent. The paper, which was addressed to Mrs. Child of Boston, contained the narrative of his sufferings and his exertions. His master bore the character of a kind and humane man towards his slaves; yet he was accustomed to knock poor Bradley about the head so cruelly, that his life was despaired of: and the whole family were equally brutal; for while the children were tormenting him with sticks and pins, the father expressed a wish, in his presence, that he was dead, as he would never be good for anything, telling him that "he would as soon knock him on the head as an opossum." In his letter to Mrs. Child, he assures her that what is said by travellers and others who have questioned the slaves upon their wish for freedom, is not to be relied on: as it is a matter of policy with them to affect contentment, and conceal their real sentiments on the subject, since harsher treatment, and severe measures to prevent escape, would be the inevitable result of any anxiety they might shew for liberty. "How strange is it", --such are his own words, --"that any body should believe that a human being could be a slave, and feel contented. I don't believe there ever was a slave who did not long for liberty." The whole letter bore the stamp of a mind elevated, candid, and simple, to a degree that art would attempt in vain to imitate.

I read another, from a man in Indiana, who had, in a similar manner, obtained both his freedom and a knowledge of writing. His sentiments and style were of a very superior order. There were not more, in a long composition, than two or three trivial errors of grammar, --one of them so purely idiomatic that I have often observed it in men who profess to be well-educated. The hand-writing was singularly clear, and even beautiful.

Two days after this visit, I called again at the Seminary, and was introduced to James Bradley. It struck me, when I first saw him, that the color of his skin was of a deeper jet, than that which prevails among the Africo-Americans of equally pure descent*.

* Many facts might be adduced to render it probable that the color of the human skin is affected by climate. "India", says Bishop Heber, in his 'Narrative of a Journey, &c.', "has been always, and long before the Europeans came hither, a favourite theatre for adventurers from Persia, Greece, Tartary, Turkey and Arabia, all white men, and all, in their turn, possessing themselves of wealth and power. These circumstances must have greatly contributed to make a fair complexion fashionable. It is remarkable, however, to observe, how surely all these classes of men, in a few generations, even without any intermarriage with the Hindoos, assume the deep olive tint, little less dark than that of a negro, which seems natural to the climate. The Portuguese natives form unions among themselves alone; or, if they can, with Europeans. but the Portuguese have, during a 300 years' residence in India, become as black as Caffres."
As he was but two or three years of age when he was stolen from Africa, he could not remember anything that had occurred to him in that country, except that he was at play in the fields when he was carried off. The cruelties he had witnessed in South Carolina, whither he was taken, could not, he said, be described. The period he had purchased, in order to work on his own account, he passed in the Arkansas, where there are, to the eternal disgrace of the federal government, which has exclusive jurisdiction over it, a large number of slaves, exposed to the greatest hardships. When that territory is to be admitted into the Union, the same discussion which agitated it throughout every limb will be renewed; and the world will again witness the disgusting spectacle of a free people contending against liberty.

Dr. Beecher exhibited great liberality towards James Bradley, who was absent from a tea-party he gave to the students. He not only expressed great regret that he had not joined the company, but declared, if he had foreseen what had occurred, he would have gone himself to invite him.

Among the students was a young man, whose sole patrimony consisted, in addition to 200 dollars, of two slaves. When convinced of the sin of slavery by the discussions to which I have before alluded, he emancipated both; and, when I saw him, was paying, out of his own pocket, the expenses of education for one of them. I need not say that I felt it a much higher honor to take this noble-minded youth by the hand, than to see Andrew Jackson smiling on the toad-eaters and office-hunters about him.

The students from the South related to me anecdotes, illustrative of the horrid system under which they had been brought up. One of them said, he was sometimes asked by a slave what right his father had to his services. There is not, indeed, among those who are thus defrauded of their natural rights, one solitary being, that is not fully sensible of the injustice, and prepared to assert his claims at the first opportunity that the chance of escape may offer. Though naturally shrewd, and possessing what few faculties remain to them in a state of extreme acuteness, by frequent exercise and, the concentration of the mental energies on a few objects, they are in the constant habit of feigning stupidity, to disarm suspicion, and escape exaction. The attachment they evince to their children is very strong; and they are seen, after the toils of the day, caressing them on their knees, and listening, with parental fondness, to their prattle. Their affections are warm, and easily gained. The strongest attachment, and unbounded gratitude, in return for kind treatment, are characteristics of the whole race; and there are many who would not hesitate to risk their lives for those who have endeavored to make them happy.

A student from Alabama, while detailing the horrors he had witnessed, mentioned the circumstance of a woman, in an advanced state of pregnancy, being flogged by her master till she miscarried. To be worked to death is no uncommon thing; and the torture is increased by the slowness of the process. Severity of toil depends on the kind of cultivation; increasing in intensity, as the produce is cotton, rice, or sugar. The last, on account of the nightwork, is so destructive, in its manipulations, of heath and life, that it is a custom with the slaves to pray for cheap sugar.

Mr. Weld, and two others, one of whom was Mr. Morgan, whom I before spoke of as the only abolitionist among the professors, accompanied me on my return to the city; and we spent the evening in visiting some of the colored people, with one of whom we drank tea.

I found their houses furnished in a style of comfort and elegance much superior to what I had seen among whites of the same rank. At one of them was an old man of a very advanced age. From his own statement, which was confirmed by those present, he must have been 114 years old. He had retained his faculties, and was strong enough to walk without assistance; though his feet were much crippled by the sufferings he had undergone: having been compelled, for six years, to drag a weight of fifty-six pounds, attached by a chain to his legs, while at work. In addition to this instrument of wearisome annoyance, he had worn an iron collar round his neck, fastened to his waist, and projecting over his head, with a bell suspended from the upper part. He was a very religious man; and it was for preaching to his fellow slaves, that these excruciating tortures were inflicted upon him. When we asked him if he had ever been flogged, he threw his arms up wildly, and seemed to labor under an oppressive load of recollections. This was invariably his custom, when the subject was recalled to his mind. "Yes!" he exclaimed, "the cow-hide was my breakfast, and dinner, and supper," meaning that he had been exposed to the lash at every meal. When he had completed a century of suffering and sorrow, he resolutely declared that his task was done, and he would work no more. His master (the brute's name was Patterson) then brought him from Virginia to Ohio, and left him on the banks of the river. In spite of his years and his infirmities, poor Solomon Scott managed to find his way to the Cincinnati hotel; where he was earning his bread, like an honest man, by cleaning shoes, and making himself useful about the house; when his owner, finding he had a few dollars' worth of labor still left in him, sent his brother-in-law (a "young gentleman" of the name of Price) to bring him back. Outraged humanity, however, at last asserted her rights. The indignation of the by-standers protected the old man's grey hairs: and the youth returned to his employer, to report the result of his unmanly errand. The benevolent spirit of his race has now rescued him from the misery that awaits the colored pauper in this country, and has smoothed the little that remains of his path to the grave. The son-in-law of the person, at whose house I saw him, took him from the harpies who had contracted to starve him, and he has at last found an asylum in his declining years. His benefactor, who had realized five or six thousand dollars by his industry, to which he was indebted for his own freedom, had laid out part of his savings in procuring that blessing for others. He had redeemed a young woman from servitude for 300, and a man for 600 dollars. They were to repay him the money as soon as they had the ability.

If any thing could add to the guilt of slavery it would be its effect on the female character. "Corruptio optimi fit pessima." I asked whether women were not sometimes more cruel than men. The answer from all present was, that they were much more so. The gross licentiousness of the men would account for this deplorable pre-eminence in guilt: as jealousy would not be contented with the suffering it inflicted upon its objects, but would transfer its hatred to all connected with them, and engender a habit of savage ferocity towards the whole race. There may be another reason for the unkindness alluded to --an opposite feeling might be imputed to bad motives. But this is a part of the subject too delicate to be touched upon: and perhaps human nature "is clad in complete steel" in the slave States; and Purity herself may tread in perfect safety the "infamous hill and perilous sandy wilds" of the south.

As the poor old man expressed himself very indistinctly, the mistress of the house interpreted what he said. An anecdote she had frequently heard from him, and which she related to us, while he sat by enjoying the general laugh it created, shewed what cunning and self-possession the slaves have. She had before told us a very amusing story of a lad who acted the part of Brutus so successfully, that, while his master set him down for as idiot, he had completed his preparations for a long journey, and started "one fine day", with his saddle-bags well filled, --and a trusty steed, for Canada; with the route to which he had made himself thoroughly acquainted, by asking one of the sons to explain the queer dots and lines on the map. He changed horses regularly as he proceeded, whenever he could do so with safety, and dismissed them, in succession, to find their way home. In this way he arrived at the place "where he would be," and is now a good loyal British subject; while his master is vowing vengeance, and literally growing twigs, to scourge the rebellious boy --when he gets him again into his power: his forgiveness of a former flight, occasioned by his brutality, having, he declares, encouraged a second attempt.

But I must not forget "uncle Solomon" and his joke. He was, one Sunday, at a neighbor's house, when the mistress returned from church, and not finding the dinner ready, began to scold the cook in no measured terms. "Madam," said the woman, "you gave me no orders: and you know you have always told me to do nothing without orders:" "True," replied the other, "but your conscience might have told you that I was not to be starved." The cook put on a look of stupidity. "What! don't you understand me?" exclaimed the virago: "don't you understand what conscience is? Solomon! you know what conscience is?" Solomon kept his wisdom to himself. "Why, Solomon! you must be a fool. Conscience is something within us that tells us when we do wrong." "Where was your's then," said Solomon, "when you cut that poor woman's back to pieces other day?" Before she could recover from her confusion, Solomon had vanished; having very prudently followed the example of those wits who make it a point to quit the company when they have said "a good thing."

I need not --I cannot repeat the shocking stories of wanton unrelenting cruelty I heard during these visits. This woman, and her brothers and sisters, had been emancipated by their master, or rather their father, who had left instructions in his will, that they should be allowed sufficient time to earn the purchase money. When the proceeds had been divided among the family, every instrument, that fraud or force could suggest, was used, to reduce them again to a state of bondage. Her master's daughter, (her half sister,) in whose service she lived, was remarkable for her harshness. She was in the habit of accusing the female slaves of stealing her trinkets and sweetmeats, while she had herself secreted the one, and eaten the other; one day her sister, who was of a mild and amiable disposition, discovered one of her silk gowns concealed in the garden, and upbraided her for her conduct. It was too late! a poor girl, who had been falsely accused of the crime, had lost an eye, which was torn from the socket, by the flogging her master had inflicted upon her. This brute of a woman would shut up the children, in the depth of winter, without fire or furniture, in a dark room, and when they cried from the severity of the cold, apply heated irons to their feet.

The house where we drank tea, or rather supped, for it was a good substantial meal we partook of, was one of those, which Judge Hall thinks so ill fitted to the humble follower of Him, who taught by his own example the humility he inculcated in his precepts. The owner had completed the purchase of his freedom about eight years before, and had been enabled, by success in trade, to procure that of his brother and sister. He was a carpenter, and had five or six hands in his employment: all, but one, whites --a memorable victory, obtained by skill and perseverance over obstacles, that, with most men, would have proved insuperable. His journeymen had been so much jeered at and insulted by the members of their fraternity, for working with a "colored boss", that they were obliged to quit their lodgings. I saw them at work in his shop, or I would not have believed that so many men could have been found in Cincinnati, possessed of sufficient moral courage, to bear up against the taunts and upbraidings of their comrades. One of them had come from New York; and, though he had, at first, expressed great astonishment, on finding a colored man able to work well, (a pretty good proof of the repulsive feeling, that separates the inhabitants of the same city into two distinct castes,) yet he had bound himself to work a year with him, and renewed the agreement on the expiration of the term. I should add that nearly all the persons, who employed this man, were slave-owners, and not citizens of the free State of Ohio. I passed a very agreeable evening with him and his family; and I could not help thinking, that it would be as well if those who abuse such men as he, in their books and their speeches, had as much of his acuteness as they want of his benevolence. You can support this site at no cost if you make an Amazon purchase using this link to get to Amazon: Thanks