XXI: Free Negroes – Part 2
Urban freemen had on the average a somewhat higher level of attainment than their rural fellows, for among them was commonly a larger proportion of mulattoes and quadroons and of those who had demonstrated their capacity for self direction by having bought their own freedom. Recruits of some skill in the crafts, furthermore, came in from the country, because of the advantages which town industry, in sharp contrast with that of the plantations, gave to free labor. A characteristic state of affairs is shown by the official register of free persons of color in Richmond County, Georgia, wherein lay the city of Augusta, for the year 1819. Of the fifty-three men listed, including a planter and a steamboat pilot, only seven were classed as common laborers, while all the rest had specific trades or employments. The prosperity of the group must have been but moderate, nevertheless, for virtually all its women were listed as workers at washing, sewing, cooking, spinning, weaving or market vending; and although an African church in the town had an aged sexton, its minister must have drawn most of his livelihood from some week-day trade, for no designation of a preacher appears in the list. At Charleston, likewise, according to the city census of 1848, only 19 free colored men in a total of 239 listed in manual occupations were unclassified laborers, while the great majority were engaged in the shop and building trades. The women again were very numerous in sewing and washing employments, and an appreciable number of them were domestic servants outright.
[Footnote 49: Augusta Chronicle, Mch. 13, 1819, reprinted in Plantation and Frontier, II, 143-147.]
[Footnote 50: Dawson and DeSaussure, Census of Charleston for 1848, summarized in the table given on p. 403 of the present work.] (Goldenrule4Everyone.com comment: Page 403 is in Chapter XX of this book.)
In the compendium of the United States census of 1850 there are printed in parallel columns the statistics of occupations among the free colored males above fifteen years of age in the cities of New York and New Orleans. In the Northern metropolis there were 3337 enumerated, and in the Southern 1792. The former had 4 colored lawyers and 3 colored druggists while the latter had none of either; and the colored preachers and doctors were 21 to 1 and 9 to 4 in New York’s favor. But New Orleans had 4 colored capitalists, 2 planters, 11 overseers, 9 brokers and 2 collectors, with none of any of these at New York; and 64 merchants, 5 jewelers and 61 clerks to New York’s 3, 3 and 7 respectively, and 12 colored teachers to 8. New York had thrice New Orleans’ number of colored barbers, and twice as many butchers; but her twelve carpenters and no masons were contrasted with 355 and 278 in these two trades at New Orleans, and her cigar makers, tailors, painters, coopers, blacksmiths and general mechanics were not in much better proportion. One-third of all New York’s colored men, indeed, were unskilled laborers and another quarter were domestic servants, not to mention the many cooks, coachmen and other semi-domestic employees, whereas at New Orleans the unskilled were but a tenth part of the whole and no male domestics were listed. This showing, which on the whole is highly favorable to New Orleans, is partly attributable to the more than fourfold excess of mulattoes over the blacks in its free population, in contrast with a reversed proportion at New York; for the men of mixed blood filled all the places above the rank of artisan at New Orleans, and heavily preponderated in virtually all the classes but that of unskilled laborers. New York’s poor showing as regards colored craftsmen, however, was mainly due to the greater discrimination which its white people applied against all who had a strain of negro blood. This antipathy and its consequent industrial repression was palpably more severe at the North in general than in the South. De Tocqueville remarked that “the prejudice which repels the negroes seems to increase in proportion as they are emancipated.” Fanny Kemble, in her more vehement style, wrote of the negroes in the North: “They are not slaves indeed, but they are pariahs, debarred from every fellowship save with their own despised race, scorned by the lowest white ruffian in your streets, not tolerated even by the foreign menials in your kitchen. They are free certainly, but they are also degraded, rejected, the offscum and the offscouring of the very dregs of your society…. All hands are extended to thrust them out, all fingers point at their dusky skin, all tongues, the most vulgar as well as the self-styled most refined, have learned to turn the very name of their race into an insult and a reproach.” Marshall Hall expressed himself as “utterly at a loss to imagine the source of that prejudice which subsists against him [the negro] in the Northern states, a prejudice unknown in the South, where the domestic relations between the African and the European are so much more intimate.” Olmsted recorded a conversation which he had with a free colored barber on a Red River steamboat who had been at school for a year at West Troy, New York: “He said that colored people could associate with whites much more easily and comfortably at the South than at the North; this was one reason he preferred to live at the South. He was kept at a greater distance from white people, and more insulted on account of his color, at the North than in Louisiana.” And at Richmond Olmsted learned of a negro who after buying his freedom had gone to Philadelphia to join his brother, but had promptly returned. When questioned by his former owner this man said: “Oh, I don’t like dat Philadelphy, massa; an’t no chance for colored folks dere. Spec’ if I’d been a runaway de wite folks dere take care o’ me; but I couldn’t git anythin’ to do, so I jis borrow ten dollar of my broder an’ cum back to old Virginny.” In Ohio, John Randolph’s freedmen were prevented by the populace from colonizing the tract which his executors had bought for them in Mercer County and had to be scattered elsewhere in the state; in Connecticut the citizens of New Haven resolved in a public meeting in 1831 that a projected college for negroes in that place would not be tolerated, and shortly afterward the townsmen of Canterbury broke up the school which Prudence Crandall attempted to establish there for colored girls. The legislatures of various Northern states, furthermore, excluded free immigrants as well as discriminating sharply against those who were already inhabitants. Wherever the negroes clustered numerously, from Boston to Philadelphia and Cincinnati, they were not only brow-beaten and excluded from the trades but were occasionally the victims of brutal outrage whether from mobs or individual persecutors.
[Footnote 51: Frances Anne Kemble, Journal (London, 1863), p. 7.]
[Footnote 52: Marshall Hall, The Two-fold Slavery of the United States (London, 1854), p. 17.]
[Footnote 53: Seaboard Slave States, p. 636.]
[Footnote 54: Ibid., p. 104.]
[Footnote 55: F.U. Quillin, The Color Line in Ohio (Ann Arbor, Mich.), p. 20; Plantation and Frontier, II, 143.]
[Footnote 56: J.P. Gordy, Political History of the United States (New York, 1902), II, 404, 405; John Daniels, In Freedom's Birthplace (Boston, 1914), pp. 25-29; E.R. Turner, The Negro in Pennsylvania (Washington, 1911), pp. 143-168, 195-204, containing many details; F.U. Quillin, The Color Line in Ohio, pp. 11-87; C.G. Woodson, "The Negroes of Cincinnati Prior to the Civil War," in the Journal of Negro History, I, 1-22; N.D. Harris, Negro Slavery in Illinois (Chicago, 1906), pp. 226-240.]
In the South, on the other hand, the laws were still more severe but the practice of the white people was much more kindly. Racial antipathy was there mitigated by the sympathetic tie of slavery which promoted an attitude of amiable patronage even toward the freedmen and their descendants. The tone of the memorials in which many Southern townsmen petitioned for legal exemptions to permit specified free negroes to remain in their communities found no echo from the corresponding type of commonplace unromantic citizens of the North. A few Southern petitions were of a contrasting tenor, it is true, one for example presented to the city council of Atlanta in 1859: “We feel aggrieved as Southern citizens that your honorable body tolerates a negro dentist (Roderick Badger) in our midst; and in justice to ourselves and the community it ought to be abated. We, the residents of Atlanta, appeal to you for justice.” But it may readily be guessed that these petitioners were more moved by the interest of rival dentists than by their concern as Southern citizens. Southern protests of another class, to be discussed below, against the toleration of colored freedmen in general, were prompted by considerations of public security, not by personal dislike.
[Footnote 57: Cf. N.S. Shaler, The Neighbor (Boston, 1904), pp. 166, 186-191.]
[Footnote 58: E. g., J.H. Russell, The Free Negro in Virginia, pp. 152-155.]
[Footnote 59: J.H. Martin, Atlanta and its Builders ([Atlanta,] 1902), I, 145.]
Although the free colored numbers varied greatly from state to state, their distribution on the two sides of Mason and Dixon’s line maintained a remarkable equality throughout the antebellum period. The chief concentration was in the border states of either section. At the one extreme they were kept few by the chill of the climate; at the other by stringency of the law and by the high prices of slave labor which restrained the practice of manumission. Wherever they dwelt, they lived somewhat precariously upon the sufferance of the whites, and in a more or less palpable danger of losing their liberty.
Not only were escaped slaves liable to recapture anywhere within the United States, but those who were legally free might be seized on fraudulent claims and enslaved in circumvention of the law, or they might be kidnapped outright. One of those taken by fraud described his experience and predicament as follows in a letter from “Boonvill Missouria” to the governor of Georgia: “Mr. Coob Dear Sir I have Embrast this oppertuniny of Riting a few Lines to you to inform you that I am sold as a Slave for 14 hundard dolars By the man that came to you Last may and told you a Pack of lies to get you to Sine the warrant that he Brought that warrant was a forged as I have heard them say when I was Coming on to this Countrey and Sir I thought that I would write and see if I could get you to do any thing for me in the way of Getting me my freedom Back a Gain if I had some Papers from the Clarkes office in the City of Milledgeville and a little Good addvice in a Letter from you or any kind friend that I could get my freedom a Gain and my name can Be found on the Books of the Clarkes office Mr Bozal Stulers was Clarke when I was thear last and Sir a most any man can City that I Charles Covey is lawfuley a free man … But at the same time I do not want you to say any thing about this to any one that may acquaint my Preseant mastear of these things as he would quickly sell me and there fore I do not want this known and the men that came after me Carried me to Mempears tenessee and after whiping me untill my Back was Raw from my rump to the Back of my neck sent me to this Place and sold me Pleas to ancer this as soon as you Can and Sir as soon as I can Get my time Back I will pay you all charges if you will Except of it yours in beast Charles Covey Borned and Raized in the City of Milledgeville and a Blacksmith by trade and James Rethearfurd in the City of Macon is my Laller [lawyer?] and can tell you all about these things.”
[Footnote 60: Letter of Charles Covey to Howell Cobb, Nov. 30, 1853. MS. In the possession of Mrs. A.S. Erwin, Athens, Ga., for the use of which I am indebted to Professor R.P. Brooks of the University of Georgia. For another instance in which Cobb's aid was asked see the American Historical Association Report for 1911, II, 331-334.]
In a few cases claims of ownership were resurrected after a long lapse. That of Alexander Pierre, a New Orleans negro who had always passed as free-born, was the consequence of an affray in which he had worsted another black. In revenge the defeated combatant made the fact known that Pierre was the son of a blind girl who because of her lack of market value had been left by her master many years before to shift for herself when he had sold his other slaves and gone to France. Thereupon George Heno, the heir of the departed and now deceased proprietor, laid claim to the whole Pierre group, comprising the blind mother, Alexander himself, his sister, and that sister’s two children. Whether Heno’s proceedings at law to procure possession succeeded or failed is not told in the available record. In a kindred case not long afterward, however, the cause of liberty triumphed. About 1807 Simon Porche of Point Coupee Parish had permitted his slave Eulalie to marry his wife’s illegitimate mulatto half-brother; and thereafter she and her children and grand-children dwelt in virtual freedom. After Porche’s death his widow, failing in an attempt to get official sanction for the manumission of Eulalie and her offspring and desiring the effort to be renewed in case of her own death, made a nominal sale of them to a relative under pledge of emancipation. When this man proved recreant and sold the group, now numbering seventeen souls, and the purchasers undertook possession, the case was litigated as a suit for freedom. Decision was rendered for the plaintiff, after appeal to the state supreme court, on the ground of prescriptive right. This outcome was in strict accord with the law of Louisiana providing that “If a master shall suffer a slave to enjoy his liberty for ten years during his residence in this state, or for twenty years while out of it, he shall lose all right of action to recover possession of the said slave, unless said slave shall be a runaway or fugitive.”
[Footnote 61: New Orleans Daily Delta, May 25, 1849.]
[Footnote 62: E.P. Puckett, "The Free Negro in Louisiana" (MS.), citing the New Orleans True Delta, Dec. 16, 1854.]
Kidnappings without pretense of legal claim were done so furtively that they seldom attained record unless the victims had recourse to the courts; and this was made rare by the helplessness of childhood in some cases and in others by the fear of lashes. Indeed when complexion gave presumption of slave status, as it did, and custody gave color of ownership, the prospect of redress through the law was faint unless the services of some white friend could be enlisted. Two cases made conspicuous by the publication of elaborate narratives were those of Peter Still and Solomon Northrup. The former, kidnapped in childhood near Philadelphia, served as a slave some forty years in Kentucky and northern Alabama, until with his own savings he bought his freedom and returned to his boyhood home. The problem which he then faced of liberating his wife and three children was taken off his hands for a time by Seth Concklin, a freelance white abolitionist who volunteered to abduct them. This daring emancipator duly went to Alabama in 1851, embarked the four negroes on a skiff and carried them down the Tennessee and up the Ohio and the Wabash until weariness at the oars drove the company to take the road for further travel. They were now captured and the slaves were escorted by their master back to the plantation; but Concklin dropped off the steamboat by night only to be drowned in the Ohio by the weight of his fetters. Adopting a safer plan, Peter now procured endorsements from leading abolitionists and made a soliciting tour of New York and New England by which he raised funds enough to buy his family’s freedom. At the conclusion of the narrative of their lives Peter and his wife were domestics in a New Jersey boardinghouse, one of their two sons was a blacksmith’s apprentice in a neighboring town, the other had employment in a Pennsylvania village, and the daughter was at school in Philadelphia.
[Footnote 63: Kate E.R. Pickard, The Kidnapped and the Ransomed, being the personal recollections of Peter Still and his wife Vina after forty years of slavery (Syracuse, 1856). The dialogue in which the book abounds is, of course, fictitious, but the outlines of the narrative and the documents quoted are presumably authentic.]
Solomon Northrup had been a raftsman and farmer about Lake Champlain until in 1841 when on the ground of his talent with the fiddle two strangers offered him employment in a circus which they said was then at Washington. Going thither with them, he was drugged, shackled, despoiled of his free papers, and delivered to a slave trader who shipped him to New Orleans. Then followed a checkered experience as a plantation hand on the Red River, lasting for a dozen years until a letter which a friendly white carpenter had written for him brought one of his former patrons with an agent’s commission from the governor of New York. With the assistance of the local authorities Northrup’s identity was promptly established, his liberty procured, and the journey accomplished which carried him back again to his wife and children at Saratoga.
[Footnote 64: [David Wilson ed.], Narrative of Solomon Northrup (New York, 1853). Though the books of this class are generally of dubious value this one has a tone which engages confidence. Its pictures of plantation life and labor are of particular interest.]
A third instance, but of merely local notoriety, was that of William Houston, who, according to his own account was a British subject who had come from Liverpool as a ship steward in 1840 and while at New Orleans had been offered passage back to England by way of New York by one Espagne de Blanc. But upon reaching Martinsville on the up-river voyage de Blanc had ordered him off the boat, set him to work in his kitchen, taken away his papers and treated him as his slave. After five years there Houston was sold to a New Orleans barkeeper who shortly sold him to a neighboring merchant, George Lynch, who hired him out. In the Mexican war Houston accompanied the American army, and upon returning to New Orleans was sold to one Richardson. But this purchaser, suspecting a fault of title, refused payment, whereupon in 1850 Richardson sold Houston at auction to J.F. Lapice, against whom the negro now brought suit under the aegis of the British consul. While the trial was yet pending a local newspaper printed his whole narrative that it might “assist the plaintiff to prove his freedom, or the defendant to prove he is a slave.”
[Footnote 65: New Orleans Daily Delta, June 1, 1850.]
Societies were established here and there for the prevention of kidnapping and other illegal practices in reducing negroes to slavery, notable among which for its long and active career was the one at Alexandria. Kidnapping was, of course, a crime under the laws of the states generally; but in view of the seeming ease of its accomplishment and the potential value of the victims it may well be thought remarkable that so many thousands of free negroes were able to keep their liberty. In 1860 there were 83,942 of this class in Maryland, 58,042 in Virginia, 30,463 in North Carolina, 18,467 in Louisiana, and 250,787 in the South at large.
[Footnote 66: Alexandria, Va., Advertiser, Feb. 22, 1798, notice of the society's quarterly meeting; J.D. Paxton, Letters on Slavery (Lexington, Ky., 1833), p. 30, note.]
A few free negroes were reduced by public authority to private servitude, whether for terms or for life, in punishment for crime. In Maryland under an act of 1858 eighty-nine were sold by the state in the following two years, four of them for life and the rest for terms, after convictions ranging from arson to petty larceny. Some others were sold in various states under laws applying to negro vagrancy, illegal residence, or even to default of jail fees during imprisonment as fugitive suspects.
[Footnote 67: J.R. Brackett, The Negro in Maryland, pp. 231, 232.]
A few others voluntarily converted themselves into slaves. Thus Lucinda who had been manumitted under a will requiring her removal to another state petitioned the Virginia legislature in 1815 for permission, which was doubtless granted, to become the slave of the master of her slave husband “from whom the benefits and privileges of freedom, dear and flattering as they are, could not induce her to be separated.” On other grounds William Bass petitioned the South Carolina general assembly in 1859, reciting “That as a free negro he is preyed upon by every sharper with whom he comes in contact, and that he is very poor though an able-bodied man, and is charged with and punished for every offence, guilty or not, committed in his neighborhood; that he is without house or home, and lives a thousand times harder and in more destitution than the slaves of many planters in this district.” He accordingly asked permission by special act to become the slave of Philip W. Pledger who had consented to receive him if he could lawfully do so. To provide systematically for such occasions the legislatures of several states from Maryland to Texas enacted laws in the middle and late fifties authorizing free persons of color at their own instance and with the approval of magistrates in each case to enslave themselves to such masters as they might select. The Virginia law, enacted at the beginning of 1856, safeguarded the claims of any creditors against the negro by requiring a month’s notice during which protests might be entered, and it also required the prospective master to pay to the state half the negro’s appraised value. Among the Virginia archives vouchers are filed for sixteen such enslavements, in widely scattered localities. Most of the appraisals in these cases ranged from $300 to $1200, indicating substantial earning capacity; but the valuations of $5 for one of the women and of $10 for a man upwards of seventy years old suggest that some of these undertakings were of a charitable nature. An instance in the general premises occurred in Georgia, as late as July, 1864, when a negro freeman in dearth of livelihood sold himself for five hundred dollars, in Confederate currency of course, to be paid to his free wife. Occasionally a free man of color would seek a swifter and surer escape from his tribulations by taking his own life; but there appears to be no reason to believe that suicides among them were in greater ratio than among the whites.
[Footnote 68: Plantation and Frontier, II, 161, 162.]
[Footnote 69: Ibid., II, 163, 164.]
[Footnote 70: In the absence of permissive laws the self-enslavement of negroes was invalid. Texas Supreme Court Reports, XXIV, 560. And a negro who had deeded his services for ninety-nine years was adjudged to retain his free status, though the contract between him and his employer was not thereby voided. North Carolina Supreme Court Reports, LX, 434.]
[Footnote 71: MSS. in the Virginia State Library.]
[Footnote 72: American Historical Association Report for 1904, p. 577.]
[Footnote 73: An instance is given in the Louisiana Courier (New Orleans), Aug. 26, 1830, and another in the New Orleans Commercial Advertiser, Oct. 25, 1831. The motives are not stated.]
Invitations to American free negroes to try their fortunes in other lands were not lacking. Facilities for emigration to Liberia were steadily maintained by the Colonization Society from 1819 onward; the Haytian government under President Boyer offered special inducements from that republic in 1824; in 1840 an immigration society in British Guiana proffered free transportation for such as would remove thither; and in 1859 Hayti once more sent overtures, particularly to the French-speaking colored people of Louisiana, promising free lands to all who would come as well as free transportation to such as could not pay their passage. But these opportunities were seldom embraced. With the great bulk of those to whom they were addressed the dread of an undiscovered country from whose bourne few travellers had returned puzzled their wills, as it had done Hamlet’s, and made them rather bear those ills they had than to fly to others that they knew not of.
[Footnote 74: J.H.T. McPherson, History of Liberia (Johns Hopkins University Studies, IX, no. 10).]
[Footnote 75: Correspondence relative to the Emigration to Hayti of the Free People of Colour in the United States, together with the instructions to the agent sent out by President Boyer (New York, 1824); Plantation and Frontier, II, 155-157.]
[Footnote 76: Inducements to the Colored People of the United States to Emigrate to British Guiana, compiled from statements and documents furnished by Mr. Edward Carberry, agent of the immigration society of British Guiana and a proprietor in that colony. By "A friend to the Colored People" (Boston, 1840); The Liberator (Boston), Feb. 28, 1840, advertisement.]
[Footnote 77: E.P. Puckett, "The Free Negro in Louisiana" (MS.), citing the New Orleans Picayune, July 16, 1859, and Oct. 21 and 23, 1860.]
Their caste, it is true, was discriminated against with severity. Generally at the North and wholly at the South their children were debarred from the white schools and poorly provided with schools of their own. Exclusion of the adults from the militia became the general rule after the close of the war of 1812. Deprivation of the suffrage at the South, which was made complete by the action of the constitutional convention of North Carolina in 1835 and which was imposed by numerous Northern states between 1807 and 1838, was a more palpable grievance against which a convention of colored freemen at Philadelphia in 1831 ineffectually protested. Exclusion from the jury boxes and from giving testimony against whites was likewise not only general in the South but more or less prevalent in the North as well. Many of the Southern states, furthermore, required license and registration as a condition of residence and imposed restrictions upon movement, education and occupations; and several of them required the procurement of individual white guardians or bondsmen in security for good behavior.
[Footnote 78: The schooling facilities are elaborately and excellently described and discussed in C.G. Woodson, The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861 (New York, 1915).]
[Footnote 79: Emil Olbrich, The Development of Sentiment for Negro Suffrage to 1860 (University of Wisconsin Bulletin, Historical Series, III, no, I).]
[Footnote 80: Minutes and Proceedings of the First Annual Convention of the People of Colour, held in Philadelphia from the sixth to the eleventh of June, 1831 (Philadelphia, 1831).]
These discriminations, along with the many private rebuffs and oppressions which they met, greatly complicated the problem of social adjustment which colored freemen everywhere encountered. It is not to be wondered that some of them developed criminal tendencies in reaction and revolt, particularly when white agitators made it their business to stimulate discontent. Convictions for crimes, however, were in greatest proportionate excess among the free negroes of the North. In 1850, for example, the colored inmates in the Southern penitentiaries, including slaves, bore a ratio to the free colored population but half as high as did the corresponding prisoners in the North to the similar population there. These ratios were about six and eleven times those prevalent among the Southern and Northern whites respectively. This nevertheless does not prove an excess of actual depravity or criminal disposition in any of the premises, for the discriminative character of the laws and the prejudice of constables, magistrates and jurors were strong contributing factors. Many a free negro was doubtless arrested and convicted in virtually every commonwealth under circumstances in which white men went free. The more severe industrial discrimination at the North, which drove large numbers to an alternative of destitution or crime, was furthermore contributive to the special excess of negro criminality there.
[Footnote 81: The number of convicts for every 10,000 of the respective populations was about 2.2 for the whites and 13.0 for the free colored (with slave convicts included) at the South, and 2.5 for the whites and 28.7 for the free colored at the North. Compendium of the Seventh Census, p. 166. See also Southern Literary Messenger, IX, 340-352; DeBow's Review, XIV, 593-595; David Christy, Cotton Is King (Cincinnati, 1855), p. 153; E.R. Turner, The Negro in Pennsylvania, pp. 155-158.]
In some instances the violence of mobs was added to the might of the law. Such was the case at Washington in 1835 when following on the heels of a man’s arrest for the crime of possessing incendiary publications and his trial within the jail as a precaution to keep him from the mob’s clutches, a new report was spread that Beverly Snow, the free mulatto proprietor of a saloon and restaurant between Brown’s and Gadsby’s hotels, had spoken in slurring terms of the wives and daughters of white mechanics as a class. “In a very short time he had more customers than both Brown and Gadsby—but the landlord was not to be found although diligent search was made all through the house. Next morning the house was visited by an increased number of guests, but Snow was still absent.” The mob then began to search the houses of his associates for him. In that of James Hutton, another free mulatto, some abolition papers were found. The mob hustled Hutton to a magistrate, returned and wrecked Snow’s establishment, and then held an organized meeting at the Center Market where an executive committee was appointed with a view to further activity. Meanwhile the city council held session, the mayor issued a proclamation, and the militia was ordered out. Mobs gathered that night, nevertheless, but dispersed after burning a negro hut and breaking the windows of a negro church. Such outrages appear to have been rare in the distinctively Southern communities where the racial subordination was more complete and the antipathy correspondingly fainter.
[Footnote 82: Washington Globe, about August 14, reprinted in the North Carolina Standard, Aug. 27, 1835.]
Since the whites everywhere held the whip hand and nowhere greatly refrained from the use of their power, the lot of the colored freeman was one hardly to be borne without the aid of habit and philosophy. They submitted to the regime because it was mostly taken as a matter of course, because resistance would surely bring harsher repression, and because there were solaces to be found. The well-to-do quadroons and mulattoes had reason in their prosperity to cherish their own pride of place and carry themselves with a quiet conservative dignity. The less prosperous blacks, together with such of their mulatto confreres as were similarly inert, had the satisfaction at least of not being slaves; and those in the South commonly shared the humorous lightheartedness which is characteristic of both African and Southern negroes. The possession of sincere friends among the whites here and there also helped them to feel that their lives lay in fairly pleasant places; and in their lodges they had a refuge peculiarly their own.
The benevolent secret societies of the negroes, with their special stress upon burial ceremonies, may have had a dim African origin, but they were doubtless influenced strongly by the Masonic and other orders among the whites. Nothing but mere glimpses may be had of the history of these institutions, for lowliness as well as secrecy screened their careers. There may well have been very many lodges among illiterate and moneyless slaves without leaving any tangible record whatever. Those in which the colored freemen mainly figured were a little more affluent, formal and conspicuous. Such organizations were a recourse at the same time for mutual aid and for the enhancement of social prestige. The founding of one of them at Charleston in 1790, the Brown Fellowship Society, with membership confined to mulattoes and quadroons, appears to have prompted the free to found one of their own in emulation. Among the proceedings of the former was the expulsion of George Logan in 1817 with a consequent cancelling of his claims and those of his heirs to the rights and benefits of the institution, on the ground that he had conspired to cause a free black to be sold as a slave. At Baltimore in 1835 there were thirty-five or forty of these lodges, with memberships ranging from thirty-five to one hundred and fifty each.
[Footnote 83: T.D. Jervey, Robert Y. Hayne and His Times (New York, 1909), p. 6.]
[Footnote 84: Ibid., pp. 68, 69.]
[Footnote 85: Niles' Register, XLIX, 72.]
The tone and purpose of the lodges may be gathered in part from the constitution and by-laws of one of them, the Union Band Society of New Orleans, founded in 1860. Its motto was “Love, Union, Peace”; its officers were president, vice-president, secretary, treasurer, marshal, mother, and six male and twelve female stewards, and its dues fifty cents per month. Members joining the lodge were pledged to obey its laws, to be humble to its officers, to keep its secrets, to live in love and union with fellow members, “to go about once in a while and see one another in love,” and to wear the society’s regalia on occasion. Any member in three months’ arrears of dues was to be expelled unless upon his plea of illness or poverty a subscription could be raised in meeting to meet his deficit. It was the duty of all to report illnesses in the membership, and the function of the official mother to delegate members for the nursing. The secretary was to see to the washing of the sick member’s clothes and pay for the work from the lodge’s funds, as well as the doctor’s fees. The marshal was to have charge of funerals, with power to commandeer the services of such members as might be required. He might fee the officiating minister to the extent of not more than $2.50, and draw pay for himself on a similar schedule. Negotiations with any other lodge were provided for in case of the death of a member who had fellowship also in the other for the custody of the corpse and the sharing of expense; and a provision was included that when a lodge was given the body of an outsider for burial it would furnish coffin, hearse, tomb, minister and marshal at a price of fifty dollars all told. The mortuary stress in the by-laws, however, need not signify that the lodge was more funereal than festive. A negro burial was as sociable as an Irish wake.
[Footnote 86: The By-laws and Constitution of the Union Band Society of Orleans, organised July 22, 1860: Love, Union, Peace (Caption).]
Doubtless to some extent in their lodges, and certainly to a great degree in their daily affairs, the lives of the free colored and the slaves intermingled. Colored freemen, except in the highest of their social strata, took free or slave wives almost indifferently. Some indeed appear to have preferred the unfree, either because in such case the husband would not be responsible for the support of the family or because he might engage the protection of his wife’s master in time of need. On the other hand the free colored women were somewhat numerously the prostitutes, or in more favored cases the concubines, of white men. At New Orleans and thereabouts particularly, concubinage, along with the well known “quadroon balls,” was a systematized practice. When this had persisted for enough generations to produce children of less than octoroon infusion, some of these doubtless cut their social ties, changed their residence, and made successful though clandestine entrance into white society. The fairness of the complexions of some of those who to this day take the seats assigned to colored passengers in the street cars of New Orleans is an evidence, however, that “crossing the line” has not in all such breasts been a mastering ambition.
[Footnote 87: J.H. Russell, The Free Negro in Virginia, pp. 130-133.]
[Footnote 88: Albert Phelps, Louisiana (Boston, 1905), pp. 212, 213.]
The Southern whites were of several minds regarding the free colored element in their midst. Whereas laboring men were more or less jealously disposed on the ground of their competition, the interest and inclination of citizens in the upper ranks was commonly to look with favor upon those whose labor they might use to advantage. On public grounds, however, these men shared the general apprehension that in case tumult were plotted, the freedom of movement possessed by these people might if their services were enlisted by the slaves make the efforts of the whole more formidable. One of the Charleston pamphleteers sought to discriminate between the mulattoes and the blacks in the premises, censuring the indolence and viciousness of the latter while praising the former for their thrift and sobriety and contending that in case of revolt they would be more likely to prove allies of the whites. This distinction, however, met no general adoption. The general discussion at the South in the premises did not concern the virtues and vices of the colored freemen on their own score so much as the influence exerted by them upon the slaves. It is notable in this connection that the Northern dislike of negro newcomers from the South on the ground of their prevalent ignorance, thriftlessness and instability was more than matched by the Southern dread of free negroes from the North. A citizen of New Orleans wrote characteristically as early as 1819: “It is a melancholy but incontrovertible fact that in the cities of Philadelphia, New York and Boston, where the blacks are put on an equality with the whites, … they are chiefly noted for their aversion to labor and proneness to villainy. Men of this class are peculiarly dangerous in a community like ours; they are in general remarkable for the boldness of their manners, and some of them possess talents to execute the most wicked and deep laid plots.”
[Footnote 89: [Edwin C. Holland], A Refutation of the Calumnies circulated against the Southern and Western States respecting the institution and existence of Slavery among them. By a South Carolinian (Charleston, 1822), pp. 84, 85.]
[Footnote 90: E.R. Turner, The Negro in Pennsylvania, p. 158.]
[Footnote 91: Letter to the editor in the Louisiana Gazette, Aug. 12, 1819.]
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