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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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...
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