HST296A: Reading Notes, 2-March-2005

Nash, Gary B. Forging Freedome: The Formation of Philadelphia's Black Community 1720-1840. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988.

Chaps 5-8 (Chaps 1-4 see notes-2-23.html)

5) A City of Refuge

End of revolution to 1815: heavy migration to cities. Freed slaves move frequently and adopt many job skills. Black census of 1820 undercounts black males, many of whom were serving on ships and others who were fugitives avoiding counting. The skewed numbers led historians to believe that female ex-slaves were more migratory than males as they were being counted in domestic situations. The number sof rmortality, which show much higher male population, are probably more accurate. Numbers more evenly distributed male/female by 19th cent.
Possible that number of Philadelphia-born is only 1/12th of pop., 2/3rds of which come from within 100 mile radius, some from NY/NJ, even from NE.

PAS works to indenture many newcomers "believing that only with a period of supervised labor could former bondspersons successfully negotiate the social and psychological distance between southern slavery and a life of freedom in a northern city." (p. 139)

influx of French West Indies slaveholders, slaves, and free mulattos in 1793 after 1791-93 uprisings: Philadelphians supported with $$ but questioned aristocracy/slavery, feared similar American uprising. Influx of slaves to Catholic churches, now made biracial, and politicized local blacks with news of "firsthand reports of the most extensive black revolution in two centuries of slavery in the Western Hemisphere." (p. 141) Once they had reached Philadelphia were they free? Yes, under decree by Jacobin commissioners in Santo Domingo' yes by National Convention in Paris that outlawed all slavery in French colonies in 1794; yes by abolition act of 1780; but no according to owners! PAS goes to work.

More refuges formsouth which has sealed its borders against migrating free blacks. Virginia: 1806: all free blacks must leave. Neighboring states close their doors.

Refuges face health problems (respiratory, north vs. West Indies) and economic: rising prices, declining wages, competition from european immigrants, decline in seaman's wages in wake of Jefferson embargo, barred from working in new industrial sector. Found work as laborers, some maritime, laundresses, waiters. However, a number developed skilled trades and their own businesses (esp. as service to other blacks). Self-employment highly prized as evidence of independence. (By 1815, 1 in 15 males in craft.)

Growing number of carters. Also, catering! Francis (Frank) Johnson: musician, composer, orchestra/band leader. Also, women working outside home. So, building autonomy and the visible black middle class.

Almshouse population: commensurate with precentage in general population (10-15%)
Vagrancy: same, except number of runaways
Crime: same in 1790s, higher by 1810, poverty theft/petty theft: better than going to almshouse and being returned to slavery

Pattern: freed, indenture to whites, develope composite household of friends, relatives, etc., then marry and set up single family household

Independent, free households - most male headed (Among whites, slightly higher percentage of female-headed than among black)
Way to property ownership: share house with another family, rent out parts, including outbuildings in back

Pre-1790s: lived dispersed with whites, then lived in town center. Post 1790; concentrated in two areas: older area north of commercial district, new area south/southwest of city. By 1810, still free blacks living in white's houses in central district, but families moved to periphery with others of lower class. Growing community cenetered on churches. When main streets had big houses on street, alleys and small houses at back, no segregation. As builders build cheap houses clustered in other areas, move to segregation.

6) Establishing the Color Line

Perceptions by whites of black population at beginning of 1800s: being swamped by rebellious southern or outside blacks. Visible migrants. Also, white lower class in competition for jobs. Arson in cities blown out of proportion and blamed on abolition or Santo Domingo people/sentiment. In face of fear, PAS adjures free blacks to act even more discretely. 1805: racists drive blacsk from July 4 celebration.

Branagan: Irish, worked on slave ships, got Methodism, became abolitionist, but wrote terribly racist fear pamphlets and advocated colonization to Louisiana, fear of miscegnation. Begin to see bills in 1805 related toblack restriction, to 1813 lwas for separate criminal penalties.

Meanwhile Philadelphias black citizens work harder on abolition and supporting newly freed slaves. Work to overturn fugitive slave acts.

"Confronted for the first time with a petition from Afro-Americans asking for a guarantee of their natural rights, Congress debated the issue only briefly. The majority, after listening to James Madison's argument that a petition from blacks "had no claim on their attention," dismissed the appeal, regarding any discussion of slavery at this time as inflammatory." (p. 187) (wrote the quote because of Towm Meeting today - could replace a few words and it would ring true for the resolution re: Iraq)

Petitions and sermons: celebrating "Independance Day' On Jan 1, anniversary of 1808 prohibition of slave trade day. Favorite tropes: Dec of Ind - all men created equal, and Exodus, oppressed people set free.

Churches: Wild Methodists! Not high church ritual and advocates improving entire life. But Methodist admin tries to apply legal pressure on loophole in original Bethel contract. Struggle between white and black Methodist over control of black Methodist church. Meanwhile, Presbyterian church begun by charismatic John Gloucester. Also, Baptist church established: different from others in that church admin always allowed blacks to conference.

Schools: Benezet, then other Quakers, in Sunday Schools in black churches, Jones and Allen and PAS: many failures because kids were being indentured which left no recourse for schooling. Public school system is built for whites only (while they excoriate "a growing problem of black ignorance and immorality while denying publicly supported education to a new generation of black children" p. 208)

Adult schools: "In their lukewarm response to the charity night schools, black adults signaled their belief that in their churches, where communication was oral and the learning process communal, they could find tools for fashioning an upstanding life." (p. 210)

"Black Philadelphians, confronted with this rising indifference and outright hostility, instinctively realized that they must move from a position of dependence upon white benevolence to one of self-reliance." (p. 211) hmm...

7) The Bittersweet Cup of Freedom

Black community was not undifferntiated whole: many immigrants, high mortality, low fertility (long indentures), many poor (disproportionate amount in almshouses for first time after 1815), wider economic specturm: more middle class, but depression of 1816 on makes it harder to break into their ranks. Irish also suffer. Established blacks form Masonic lodge, newcomers and lower class go to "stylin' out" instead.

After 1815: rising phobia, also rising belief, even among former abolitionists, about Afircan racial, as opposed to environmental, inferiority. Public opinion begins to see blacks as soaking up a disproportionate amount of $$ alms in a tightening economy. Not true, but perception is there.

1816-17: polarization shown by two events: American Colonization Society (white-directed), breakaway of Bethel AME Church (black-directed).

White Methodist tries to preach in Bethel (African Supplement of 1814 had said they could appoint own preachers) The congregants bar his way. (Turnabout on original black exclusion from Methodist church). 1816: successful in seceding from white Methodist rule. Similar rules to white methodist with two exceptions: no presiding elder, thus more democratic, and no slaveholders allowed.

Colonization: no hope in America; colonize Africa to gain full potential and to Christianize it. Sierra Leone, 1815. Idea is tempting to free black leaders, but movement soon taken over by racists and slaveholders wanting to make their property more secure. Leaders are taken in, masses are not. Later the myth is flipped: masses are seen as almost taken in but leaders convinced them otherwise.

Other dangers: Missouri Compromise and still bodysnatching: kidnapping free blacks and selling into slavery

Haitian Emigration Society: fares better because it is black plan to begin with. Not a success - city dwellers trying to homestead in bad climate - many return.

8) The Dream Deferred

1830s: a tiered black society

poor concetrating in areas. Also, judicial practice; local justice can charge for minor infractions and pocket fees or send to prison those who can't pay.

Economically parallel whites, but occupationally: no mercantile class, doctors, lawyers, and artisan and industrial jobs shrinking.

Clay and others: racist cartoons, also birth of Jim Crow and minstrelsy

Response: build more churches, benevolent societies, and education.
Second Great Awakening (so was the building of churches in response to racism or to SGA? or both?)

Public education formed to exclude blacks, they form Augustine Society instead.

Perception: blacks soaking up tax dollars
Reality: black benevolent societies carrying more than their share.

In the years leading up to the war it all fell apart...

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