HST296A: Reading Notes, 23-Feb-2005
Nash, Gary B. Forging Freedom: The
Formation of Philadelphia's Black Community, 1740-1820.
Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1988.
"This book describes a generation of noteworthy accomplishments in an
atmosphere of relative racial harmony from the end of the Revolution to
the beginning of the 19th century." (p. 5)
Philadelphia: 1st abolition law, 1780.
The Philadelphia Experiment: Is black inferiority racial or
environmental. Also an attempt to determine if all blacks could be
successfully integrated into U.S. society.Bejamin Rush: as good or
better that lower white classes, inductrious
Adam Smith: slavery is incompatible with an expanding commercial,
manufacturing society (p. 4)
Discrimination grew after 1820 and continued until Civil Rights
movement, but the black community also grew and grew together.
1) Slavery and
Anti-Slavery in the Capital of Conscience
1684, 3 years after Quakers arrive, 1,000 settlers, 150 slaves brought
in and sold quickly
by 1760: 20% of population slaves. Slave population ebbs and flows
depending on availability of white indentured servants, mostly Irish
most slaves come from West Indies or Carolina, thus semi-acculturated.
Also, many with masters from Del./Md. 1759-1766 - large numbers direct
Slaves committed suicide, ran away, and were treated more harshly for
crimes than white servants. Although there were no slave communities as
on a plantation, Philadelphia was a small enough "walking city" that
slaves could form connections. They met at burial ground (they had
strong African customs related to death and burial) and at courthouse
for Sunday meetings.
They could marry. The selling of one partner meant moving, but usually
not very far. Children were brought up by one parent and were "put out"
at 12 years old. Sometimes they were sold to Del/MD plantations so
families were split up.
Slaves tended to hold onto African traditions but this was hard where
there were only one or two per household.Most slave owners were English
though there were some French, Spanish, German, etc. in relatively
most Quakers did not teach slaves, Anglicans did - missionary societies.
Great Awakening - different kind of preaching. Traditional anglican:
rational, literate, non-mystical. New kind: emotional, charismatic,
more aligned with traditional Afircan belief expression.
1739: George Whitefield
Evangelical Christianlity can model supporting equality and brotherhood
or as supporting the obedient servant model. Slaves hoped for the
former while owners tended to enforce the latter (p. 21) However,
Anglicans dod open their church doors and opened schools for blacks so
most went there even though the more charismatic groups were appealing.
Quakers: slavery is incompatible with credo, but. . .
1720-30; Lay, Sandiford, radical anti-slavery Quakers
1750s: Benezet, Woolman - quiet work within the system, anti-slavery
Quakers "slaveholding is a form of sinful social astentation" (p. 27)
Benezet: a former huguenot who began teaching black children and a
pamphleteer who challenged belief in black inferiotrity
1740s - more slaves freed by all for variety of reasons, partly in
response to growing split with England re: ideas of freedom, partly a
preference for "free labor" wage hire
1766-1775: slave population halved, slave population decline, high
mortality/low fertility, more free blacks moving in, slave and free mix
2) The Black
Revolution in Philadelphia
1765: Stamp Act, 100 free/1400 slave. by 1783: 400 slave, 1,000+ free
Benjamin Rush, Princeton, Edinburgh, doctor influenced by Bezenet who
in 1773 had him write a pamphlet of abolition based on revolutionary
themes and pointing out hypocrisy by paralleling British rule. Also,
England had already abolished slave trade in 1772 so how could they,
the wicked oppressors, be better than Americans?
Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage -
created to defend free blacks who had been unlawfully returned to
slavery. Later becomes big abolition society.
England rumoured to be offering freedom to any slaves who would desert
their masters and fight for British. Lord Dunmore carries this out:
Virginia, Nov. 1775.
Sept. 1777 - young white men and other whites flee Philadelphia in face
of occupation by British. Many slaves take this opportunity to run
away, some join the British, however, some also fight with other
Americans against British (believing in the cause: Forten, ships)
1778: Brits now leave Philadelphia and NY. Many blacks go with them,
esp. young men and women. Older, or married with children stay behind.
1779: 1st bill - free slaves when they reach 18/21. No.
1780 2nd bill: free when reach 28/30 "because we know what oppression
is after haveing been an occupied city." Passed, but no slaves freed
before enactment date. It was the 1st in the new U.S. but more strict
than subsequent emancipation bills in northern colonies.
1781: they try to ammend it to make it more restrictive - blacks
protest, displaying a new group consciousness - amendment fails.
3) Becoming Free
Escaped slaves who were freed by the British during the war but
recaptured by Americans were resold.
1781 - Philadelphia black community takes form.
Examples: Moses Johnson, Virginia slave who joined the British, was
captured, resold, serves well, secures freedom, marries, begins family.
Absalom Jones: Delaware master moves to Philadelphia bringing 15 year
old Jones but breaking up Jones' family. In Phila. Jones attends night
school, marries, works to attain his freedom and his wife's. Saves
money, buys freedom, continues to work for former master/now employer.
Post-war Philadelphia economy is a mess. Quakers reviled as Tories, not
much abolition activity. However, blacks are drawn to the city for
employment (mariners, day laborers, domestics) and community (marrying,
having children, children often bound out, usually for 7 years or until
21. Poorest children sent to almshouses also bound out but period
is generally longer than poor white children--18/21 white, 28/30 black
and only 1/3 survive to that age. "So many recently freed slaves
returned their children to the "half-free" state of servitude. They
understood that freedom did not automatically mean economic freedom.
Attitudes: where did free blacks see themselves in Philadelphia
society? The evidence of names:
- African names - on plantations
- classical names - given by masters
- anglo names - given by free blacks to their children indicating
their intention to become/remain part of American anglo society. Upon
securing freedom they chose their own surnames. Sometimes they would
use a former name as a first or last name, more often they chose a new
name. Surnames were usually anglo. Conspicuously absent were surnames
of prominent slaveholding families (p. 86)
post-war Quakers: renewed moral fervor, also renewed interest in
abolition, Pennsylvania Abolition Society reinvigorated (partly in
reaction to two slave suicides). Purpose is to defend slaves who have a
hard time proving they are free and are going to be sold south. PAS
handles many cases, overly complicated because of how the law was
written: when were people registered, who was included (children?) etc.
1782: group of six freed blacks want to fence an area of the Strangers
Burial Ground, to maintain for their own dead. Shows importance of
African death customs and growing sense of black community within
1787: Free African Society - quasi religious but self-aware community
4) "To Arise Out
of the Dust"
1787: Constitutional Conventions, Free African Society formed (Absalom
Jones and Richard Allen), Pennsylvania Abolition Society rekindled.
FAS - very Quakerish model, with close ties to (no longer living)
Benezet: former pupils, meeting in his school, etc.
William Thornton, Aniguan Quaker promoting return to Africa promising
utopia in Sierra Leone: land, Christianity, and a base from which to
end slave trade. Philadelphians, even those who had been born in
Africa, didn't buy in. But it did help them decide that, even though
difficult, integration into America was their preferred path. Belief in
PAS support helped tip the balance. Benjamin Rush, inspired by a dream
of Benezet, becomes an earnest reformer. Other prominent Philadelphians
join, including Ben Franklin. Anti-slavery is in vogue, with pamphlet
from Samuel Stanhope Smith arguing that haumanity is a unitary species,
and others with examples of slaves attaining great things once freed.
Spring 1788: legislature amneds law to prevent children and pregnant
women from being transported south where they would become slaves. PAS
becomes even more active in representing blacks in court cases.
FAS: May 1790, petition to lease Strangers Burial Ground to turn it
into a black cemetary, establishes marriage practice and
record-keeping, initiates formal religious services.
Allen sees the FAS leaning too much towards Quakerism. He preferes
Methodism and so leaves the group. 1791, Jones proposes a union church
and school, non-denominational but Methodist in spirit to unify black
community: a "creative striving for dignity and self-generating power."
(p. 114) and doing so in a society that believed that blacks were
either unalterably inferior by birth or had become so through the
degradation of slavery. They raise building funds through
subscriptions. Some dissension from society regarding using society
funds for church. White church leaders hesitant to support the idea.
1792: St. George's Methodist Church expands to accommodate growing
congregation. Blacks contribute but then church leaders segregate
seating. Black congregants leave en masse. Welsh immigrant John
Nicholson (rather out of the blue) provides mortgage for new church.
Groundbreaking commences March 1793. Meanwhile Afro-French rebellion in
Dominique sends French planters into refuge in Philadelphia: former
white financial support gets syphoned off to help this new cause.
(White slave owners needing help trump black former slaves needing
July 1793: yellow fever epidemic delays continued building. Rush states
blacks are immune. FAS decides to help white sick and dead to show
their worth: "Perhaps they could dissolve white racism by demonstrating
that in their capabilities, civic virtue, Christian humanitarianism
they were not inferior, but in fact superior, to those who regarded
former slaves as a degraded, hopelessly backward people." (p. 123) They
bleed sufferers, nurse the sick, and drive the death carts.
20,000 whites flee city, 4,000 dead inclusing 480 blacks. Despite
publisher Carey's accusations that blacks were profiteers during the
epidemic and that it was the Irish who were the true heros, most
opposition to the African church dissolves after the epidemic.
Spring, 1794: church is finished and needs to decide what
denominational affiliation: Episopal or Methodist. Allen holds out for
Methodist but withdraws when they decide to go Episopalian, Jones as
minister, Episcopal requirement of Greek and Latin requirement for
minister is waived as long as African church agrees not to send a rep
to yearly convention.
First sermon by Magaw is condescending (Isiah: darkness/light), reminds
former slaves fo their degraded condition, adjures them not to take
action in abolition but be meek, and, in actuality, confirms their
belief that building an all-black church was a good idea! One month
later Jones responds in a sermon: the darkness was slavery, the light
is Christianity, the church will find a way to "promote strength,
security, and a decent existence." (p. 129)
meanwhile, Allen is still pursuing idea of methodist churhc. Buys,
moves to his land, renovates blacksmith shop, opens church which will
late become AME in 1817. They exclude white membership (guests
welcome), reserve right to nominate ministers, and intend to obtain a
fully ordained black ministry. (p. 131)
Attendance in both churches increases rapidly. perhaps one third of
Philadelphias black population, which, given the number still in
indentured servitude with restricted freedom of movement, also the
number of recently freed former French caribbean refugees who are
Catholic, is a goodly number.
"a growing feeling of strength and a conviction that black identity,
self-sufficiency, self-determination, and the search for freedom and
equality in a recalcitrant white world could best be nourished in the
early years of the republic through independent black action." (p. 133)
Questions for class:
1) What questions did this book raise for you regarding this time
period and subject? What was misisng that you would like to see
answered? What gaps?
2) Last week we talked about the Salem witch incidents. That can be
seen as the creation of a deviant class by the members of that social
group. In examining white and black in Philadelphia the line between
normal and deviant might seem clearer, but then again perhaps not. In
what ways did American and Philadelphia society create ideas of normal
and deviant society? In what ways were the lines blurred? in what ways
did freed slaves contribute to the creation of that boundary?
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