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.

Reviews: http://www.jstor.org/view/00435597/di957280/95p0671g/0?searchUrl=http%3a//www.jstor.org/search/Results%3fQuery%3d%26hp%3d25%26so%3dnull%26si%3d1%26mo%3das%26All%3d%26Exact%3dforging%2bfreedom%26One%3d%26None%3d%26sd%3d%26ed%3d%26jt%3d%26ic%3d00435597%26node.History%3d1&frame=noframe&currentResult=00435597%2bdi957280%2b95p0671g%2b0%2c02&userID=84c668bf@uvm.edu/01cc99333c409c1024054183b&dpi=3&config=jstor


"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 and German.

most slaves come from West Indies or Carolina, thus semi-acculturated. Also, many with masters from Del./Md. 1759-1766 - large numbers direct from Africa.

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 cosmopolitan Philadelphia.

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. (p. 78)

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 Philadelphia community.

1787: Free African Society - quasi religious but self-aware community building

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 help.)

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?

hope.greenberg@uvm.edu, created/updated 2-February-2005
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