Découvrez votre prochain livre préféré

Devenez membre aujourd'hui et lisez gratuitement pendant 30 jours
The Mind of the Negro As Reflected in Letters During the Crisis 1800-1860

The Mind of the Negro As Reflected in Letters During the Crisis 1800-1860

Lire l'aperçu

The Mind of the Negro As Reflected in Letters During the Crisis 1800-1860

1,219 pages
42 heures
Sep 5, 2013


This nuanced portrait of abolitionist politics in the decades leading up to the Civil War contains hundreds of historically valuable letters. This treasury recaptures the voices of prominent political and philosophical leaders such as Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison as well as the voices of slaves and free men, ordinary citizens, lawyers, and ministers. Along with documents concerning the active abolitionist movement, this compilation features correspondence related to the American Colonization Society, an organization that advocated the resettlement of freed slaves in Africa.
Editor Carter G. Woodson (1875–1950) founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History as well as the Journal of Negro History, and he was instrumental in establishing the foundations of Black History Month. His compilation of unique historical documents, many of them unavailable for study elsewhere, forms an essential reference for students of American history and politics. Introduction to the Dover edition by Bob Blaisdell.
Sep 5, 2013

À propos de l'auteur

Lié à The Mind of the Negro As Reflected in Letters During the Crisis 1800-1860

Livres associé
Articles associés

Catégories liées

Aperçu du livre

The Mind of the Negro As Reflected in Letters During the Crisis 1800-1860 - Bob Blaisdell





As Reflected in Letters

During the Crisis 1800–1860





G. W















, N





Introduction to the Dover Edition copyright © 2013 by Dover Publications, Inc.

All rights reserved.

Bibliographical Note

This Dover edition, first published in 2013, is an unabridged republication of the work originally published by The Association For the Study of Negro Life and History, Inc., Washington D.C., in 1926.

International Standard Book Number

ISBN-13: 978-0-486-49839-3

ISBN-10: 0-486-49839-5

Manufactured in the United States by Courier Corporation




If a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.

—Carter G. Woodson, Negro History Week¹

While Carter G. Woodson’s title may suggest to us a psychological or sociological study, what it is, instead, is a book bursting with public and private letters that, without mediation, directly reveal, as Woodson repeatedly remarks in his brief notes, the mind of the negro. Rather than arguing his own ideas and analyses of the pre-Civil War American crisis, Woodson (1875–1950), the father of black history, presents the little-known letters by black freedmen, freedwomen, and slaves. He offers up a treasure trove of the American Colonization Society correspondence on Liberia as well as the published newspaper letters on abolition by the leading lights of African American communities in the North. Intent on publishing these letters for other scholars and the community as soon as possible, he thrust a wide variety of collections previously published in his Journal of Negro History into this volume.²

As the son of slaves and as a Ph.D. in history from Harvard, Woodson knew through his life and studies that black men and women, when they weren’t simply misrepresented, had been excluded from or ignored by American history. Woodson needed this book in print so that it could reach readers in libraries, schools, and middle-class homes that his journal may not have reached. While The Mind of the Negro was not an original or new piece of scholarship, it aimed at collecting documents of a particular period within an unrestrictive, fascinating theme: "This book is merely a collection of letters which have already appeared serially in The Journal of Negro History," Woodson explained in a journal article.³ From this point of view, then, it requires no review here. In the 32 pages of the introduction to this collection however, there appear letters which antedate the collection which has been published. … it was considered advisable at the last moment to give some mention also as to what they [‘the most distinguished Negroes prior to 1800’] were thinking at this time, although the collection itself is concerned with the mind of the Negro as reflected in letters written between 1800 and 1860.

Woodson took great care as editor in the faithful reproduction of the private letters, with all their fitful spelling and punctuation; the letters that conclude this book were written for the most part by slaves and ex-slaves who had been forbidden in the South from learning to read or write or had been educated illegally by, among others, missionaries and literate slaves.⁵ Woodson knew that documentary evidence would be the first and most important step in bringing black history into American history, and he refrained from putting himself forward: facts, as the proverb goes, are a stubborn thing. Woodson knew that eventually those facts would change prominent historians’ opinions, and then, more importantly, the opinions of American blacks themselves. Only about two percent of the content of The Mind of the Negro is Woodson’s commentary, but in the journal and in this book we sense Woodson’s pride and pleasure in publishing all the touching, fiery, pathetic, and moving letters; he continually promoted their existence and their need to be read. His passion was not what he had to say about the letters but what the letters said for themselves about the mind of the negro. For example, through the files and records of back-to-Africa organizations from the 1830s to the early 1850s, Woodson wants us to discover the needs and interests, the concerns and wonderings of ordinary and extraordinary people who were able to articulate in writing their curiosity about or desire to emigrate to Liberia. Charles Deputie of Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, wrote in 1852 to the Reverend William McLain in Washington at the American Colonization Society: thare has bean men hear that has bean to Liberia and Lecterd to the People and gave Such a bad a Count of the place that it is hard to do much a preasant the Say that thare is nether Horse hog Cow nor nothing Can Live thare that the Natives ware no Close and thare is no Houses but the Govement House.

Woodson was ultimately skeptical and disapproving of the American Colonization Society: In fact, the colonization movement tended to drain off into the jungle the talented tenth of the free Negro population and thus rendered the race much less efficient at emancipation than it would have been had these enlightened members of the group been left undisturbed. As early as 1831, freedmen were doubtful of the ulterior motives of the colonization; A Colored Philadelphian wrote to The Liberator newspaper: I would ask some of our pretended white friends, and the members of the American Colonization Society, why they are so interested in our behalf as to want us to go to Africa? … Will some of those guardian angels of the people of color tell me how it is that we, who were born in the same city or state with themselves, can live any longer in Africa than they? The Liberian experience, about which Woodson would write in later books, was not initially successful; in 1858, Alfred V. Thompson testified to his experiences as a colonist: Our reason for leaving Liberia, after living there for eighteen months, was on account of bad health … Out of the company of emigrants that left America for Africa, numbering 225, at the expiration of the 18 months there was not living more than 85 or 100. We lost two children to the undertaking; my wife and myself suffered immensely.

More successful and of less debate within black America were those men and women who had escaped slavery and were making their way to thriving communities in British Canada. Their letters, some of which were written to family members unfortunately left behind, some of which were to former owners, are among the best letters in the collection. Perhaps because the letters say so much, Woodson scarcely explains what the men and women had experienced in their escapes, in their new homes, in their memories of their lives in the South. John Thompson, in an undated letter (probably from the mid-1850s) to his mother, proudly writes from Pennsylvania: I have imbrace an opportunity of writing you these few lines (hoping) that they may fine you as they Leave me quite well I will now inform you how I am geting I am now a free man Living By the sweet of my own Brow not serving a nother man & giving him all I Earn But what I make is mine and iff one Plase do not sute me I am at Liberty to Leave and go some where elce & can ashore you I think highly of Freedom and would not exchange it for nothing that is offered me for it. Frederick Douglass is the most accomplished, dynamic and fully represented figure among the featured correspondents. Douglass, Woodson notes, was so fiercely independent he could not maintain alliances with anyone for long, and on disputed matters, he sometimes simply devastated his old friends and made his way alone (a characteristic Woodson shared with Douglass): Unfortunately, near the outbreak of the Civil War, Douglass differed so widely from some of the anti-slavery workers that not very much of his correspondence was published in their organs.

To help explain Woodson’s unframed, unchronological arrangement of the letters, it’s useful to remind ourselves that Woodson wasn’t only the editor of the Journal and chief researcher, he was the Association’s publisher, and because he was continually under-funded (he often used his own money for publication costs), he seemed to feel, If not now, then when? What if he were too late to instill and preserve cultural pride? The haste, however, came at a price, believes his biographer: Woodson’s uncontainable enthusiasm for his subject and his sense of urgency—he saw that there was so much to be done that he allowed imperfectly executed work for the sake of at least tackling a particular subject—account for the unevenness in his work. In fact he believed that he was laying the scholarly foundation for others to build upon. … Often he failed to introduce or conclude chapters in his books; they merely began at the beginning of his story and ended at the end. The manner in which Woodson composed his books also explains, in part, both his prodigious output and his more than occasional expository inelegancy.

Because his primary interest was to bring the material into the light of day rather than wait for more money and the time to get all the material in order, be warned that this museum of fascination that is The Mind of the Negro is something of a labyrinth. Within the first part of Section II, we read of various Antislavery Letters of the Negroes, starting in 1831, ending in 1833, and wandering in between with letters from Upper Canada and London and Pennsylvania, and in the next part we jump back to an arcane political dispute in Canada’s Wilberforce Colonization Company in the early 1830s. As if from various folders in his Washington, D.C., office Woodson was packing the trunk for quantity rather than for the ease of access or speed of unpacking. He laid in one set of proofs from The Journal of Negro History after another into this volume. As the book’s table of contents is remarkably skimpy, the last section of this introduction will serve as a guided tour to The Mind of the Negro.

As the son of former slaves, he moved from sharecropper to coal miner to Harvard graduate student to high school teacher to college professor, and, finally, to editor-scholar-administrator, and drew upon the wellsprings of the collective and cultural memories of his family and other African Americans. In doing so, he contributed immeasurably to black historiography and laid the foundation that several generations of scholars have built upon.

—Jacqueline Goggin,                       

Carter G. Woodson: A Life in Black History

Carter Godwin Woodson is the sole Ph.D. in history whose parents had been American slaves. He was born in New Canton, Virginia, in 1875, to James Henry Woodson and Eliza W. Woodson. His father, a farmer and carpenter, was illiterate, as had been most slaves, and while he never learned to read, Woodson’s mother was educated and she enthusiastically taught young Carter. As a teenager Woodson worked on the family farm in Buckingham County and then followed his older brothers to West Virginia, where he worked as a coal miner. But his interest in history, the result of reading and of listening to tales by former slaves and by Civil War veterans, brought him back at age eighteen to Buckingham County, where, making up for lost time, he finished high school in only two years. He continued his education by enrolling at Barea College in Kentucky, from which he graduated in 1903, after taking summer classes at the University of Chicago in 1902. He taught in a school for black miners’ children in West Virginia while working on his college degree and then taught at his old high school. In 1903, he left the United States to teach in the Philippines for three years. After returning to visit his family in 1906, he took a world tour, including studying a semester at the University of Paris (which city he regularly visited in the last two decades of his life). When he had earned his master’s degree at the University of Chicago in 1908, he went to Harvard. Once he had completed his course work, he moved to Washington, D.C. There he was able to do research on his dissertation, all the while teaching at various schools. In 1912 he earned his Ph.D. from Harvard. While teaching French, Spanish, English and history at the all-black academic M Street High School, he finished his first book, The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861. The little evidence that exists suggests he was not a delightful teacher; he was stern and impatient. Meanwhile, in 1915, he started the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History as director of research and the journal’s editor, in which he was able to publish not only his own studies but thousands of pages of primary, documentary research material.

In 1919, he left the high school, where he had become the principal, for Howard University. As a college professor he found himself with less time than when he ran the high school, and in 1922 he left so he could devote his full time to managing the association’s book-publishing arm and The Journal of Negro History. No one knew black history more comprehensively than Woodson, and he eventually withdrew himself from academic communities lest they interfered with and compromised his interests and plans. He had various assistants over the years, including a short stint by the man who would become America’s most prominent black writer, Langston Hughes. In 1925 young Hughes served as Woodson’s personal assistant and worked on various tedious tasks, including alphabetizing lists of thousands of names of free blacks in the South.⁸ Soon after Hughes quit, Woodson hired the brilliant and lively Zora Neale Hurston as an investigator, who with her anthropological training and keen ear, published an article for the Journal of Negro History, Cudjo’s Own Story of the Last African Slaver, in the October 1927 issue.

But mostly Woodson worked alone. Even as Woodson advanced in years, he would not relinquish any administrative control over the association. Although he had always been obstinate, desiring to take over any activity in which he participated, Woodson became even more difficult to work with as he grew older, perhaps because he perceived himself to be the ‘Father of Black History.’⁹ Though domineering in his office domain, he realized that he could not correct the historical record alone and believed that black scholars had a major responsibility to preserve historical as well as contemporary documentation on the black experience for future generations of scholars.¹⁰ In Jacqueline Goggin’s Carter G. Woodson: A Life in Black History, there is no mention of his romantic life; he was apparently a very private and busy man. On the other hand, he showed great appreciation of the private lives of antebellum black Americans. His fire, unlike the fire and unguardedness of his admired nineteenth century subjects, he kept hidden, as if his personal life would distract him from focusing on the big picture of history.

The Association for the Study of Negro Life and History started its publishing company, Associated Publishers, in 1920 and brought out The Mind of the Negro in 1926 and several other works. One of Woodson’s proudest accomplishments through the association was creating in 1926 a Negro History Week every February, in commemoration of Frederick Douglass’s and Abraham Lincoln’s birthdays. He wrote of his hopes shortly after the first Negro History Week: … just as thorough education in the belief in the inequality of races has brought the world to a cat-and-dog stage of religious and racial strife, so may thorough instruction in the equality of the races bring about a reign of brotherhood through an appreciation of the virtues of all races, creeds and colors. In such a millennium the achievements of the Negro properly set forth will crown him as a factor in early human progress and a maker of modern civilization.¹¹ In the 1930s Woodson began publishing his studies and historical research about the West Indies and Africa.

When Woodson died in 1950, he had successfully promoted not only the serious academic study of black history but had helped create popular awareness of it and general interest.

History is what man has thought and felt and attempted and accomplished.

—Carter G. Woodson,

The Journal of Negro History¹²

Woodson’s table of contents is more confusing than useful. I offer here a map through the vast mostly uncharted collection of letters that will serve as a guide to the highlights and editorial interjections that might otherwise be overlooked.

After this introduction, and preceding the contents, is Woodson’s one-page foreword. He informs us that these letters were reproduced just as they were found in the sources. That is, Woodson believed even wayward spelling provided evidence of intellectual and social history.

Woodson’s foreword is less than two pages. His primary point is to remind us of the marvelous value of private correspondence: Personal letters are especially valuable because of their unconscious element. What this collection provides us, then, is the opportunity to judge hundreds of Negroes as they really expressed themselves.

The introduction to the 1926 edition abruptly brings us to the extraordinary writings of the slave Jupiter Hammon of New York, who in 1787 encouraged his listeners (the piece, really a speech to be read aloud, is an address to fellow New York slaves) to resign themselves to God’s will. To his disappointment, considering the liberty white Americans had demanded for themselves from the British, God’s will—for now—meant continued slavery: It may seem hard for us, if we think our masters wrong in holding us slaves, to obey in all things, but who of us dare dispute with God! He has commanded us to obey, and we ought to do it cheerfully, and freely. The slave and renown poet Phillis Wheatley’s letters then begin after a short note by Woodson. Wheatley’s letters are followed by those of the mathematician and astronomer Benjamin Banneker, including an exchange of Banneker’s with Thomas Jefferson. Woodson concludes the introduction with a paragraph mentioning the correspondence of other prominent black men.

Section I surveys correspondence related to Liberia, the American republic in Africa that was set up as a colony for freed slaves in 1822; Southern and Northern blacks, most of them freedmen, weigh in on the advantages and disadvantages and hopes and disappointment of emigration. Woodson writes: The Southern Negroes were easily influenced by the American Colonization Society and were more easily reached because of the interest of certain whites of that section in the deportation of the free Negroes there and of such others as might be liberated by conscience-stricken slaveholders. Wherever the Negroes had enjoyed freedom in the North, they did not easily embrace the idea of expatriating themselves. The Northern Negroes usually took the position that here their fathers fought, bled, and died for the country, here they were born, and here they intended to die. … [except] during the fifties when the heel of oppression upon the Negro in the North was becoming heavier and heavier. These letters in themselves are more than interesting.

One of the more than interesting writers in this section is Burrell W. Mann, a most pathetic case, typical, however, of thousands of ambitious slaves, whom Woodson introduces and whose letters plead for financial help to emigrate (June 21, 1847 to August 3, 1849). Woodson introduces S. Wesley Jones, a freedman businessman living in Alabama; Jones’s letters, dated June 12, 1848 to April 10, 1859. There are various writers through the rest of the section; Woodson introduces J. B. Jordan, a black businessman from New Orleans who queries after various conditions of life and governance in Liberia. In July of 1851 Jordan mentions his family leaving for Liberia by the next ship; Woodson seems to have found no further correspondence. Readers wishing for follow-ups on the fates of the less prominent letter-writers will be disappointed. (Woodson was no doubt disappointed as well by the paucity of biographical information.)

The first section of the book concludes, just as published in The Journal of Negro History, without a final assessment or summation by Woodson.

Section II is divided into fourteen subdivisions, each labeled with roman numerals, though inconsistently (e.g. Part XI immediately precedes Part IX). Woodson’s note discusses abolitionists and colonizationists; his most important point is this: These antislavery letters of the Negroes are of unusual significance for the reason that although many of these persons herein reported were editors and orators of consequence during the crisis, they failed to keep complete files of their newspapers or to record their orations for the benefit of generations unborn. In these letters, therefore, the investigator will find the only valuable source to determine what the free Negro was actually thinking and feeling during this period. Most of the letters in this section are directed to William Lloyd Garrison, the editor of The Liberator, the abolitionist newspaper in Boston.

Part I of Section II contains letters by several antislavery men. Regarding the emigration debate, an anonymous Philadelphian writes: I have nothing to say against the very laudable efforts of the Society. It has done, and continues to do, much good for our enslaved brethren; and the Colony at Liberia is well adapted to the bettering of their unhappy condition. I am glad to see they have friends, who will aid in moving them to that highly respected country. But we who have a right to free suffrages, have no disposition to emigrate either to Africa or Canada. If left to our own choice, we would much rather stay at home. It is here we have received our birth, and here we wish to remain.

Part II is headed Controversial Correspondence. We learn of the Wilberforce Colonization Company in Ontario, British Canada. This settlement began in the early 1830s; the letters describe Wilberforce’s arrangement and indeed controversies between the board and its agents. Woodson does not escort us through the thorny paths, and we learn nothing of the resolution of the problems. (Frederick Douglass, in Part III, contributes his insights on this conflict.) Woodson does explain, however, another dispute within the abolitionist community: This letter of H. H. Garnett shows how the fugitive slave, taught to think of his former condition as deplorable and encouraged to struggle for the emancipation of his fellowmen in bondage, often differed from the abolitionist, who, after all, never took kindly to the idea of allowing Negroes to figure conspicuously in devising the ways and means to promote the antislavery cause. The address referred to was so revolutionary and radical, however, that the Negro convention called upon to consider it refused to give it sanction. That is, Henry Highland Garnett spoke his own mind and resented making it subservient to an organization’s political strategy: I was born in slavery, and have escaped, to tell you, and others, what the monster has done, and is still doing. It, therefore, astonished me to think that you should desire to sink me again to the condition of a slave, by forcing me to think just as you do.

Letters of Slaves to Former Owners, Part III, is one of the most impressive series of pages in the book. Frederick Douglass’s extraordinary letter to his master Thomas Auld on the ten-year anniversary of his emancipation is a literary and historical masterpiece: Oh! sir, a slaveholder never appears to me so completely an agent of hell, as when I think of and look upon my dear children. Douglass’s eleven-year anniversary letter follows it, as do William Wells Brown’s to his former master and the nearly laughable exchange between the Reverend J. W. Loguen and his former mistress, who tells him, now that he is free in Canada, If you will send me one thousand dollars, and pay for the old mare, I will give up all claim I have to you.

Part IV, Anonymous Letters and Others, is a grab bag of letters by slaves, freedmen and former slaves who could have been prosecuted for openly questioning the morality of slavery or for declaiming aloud from the Declaration of Independence. Woodson explains: In the newspapers there often appeared anonymous letters which decidedly differed from such of today. A Negro signing his name to a document attacking an institution protected by the laws of the country was in danger almost anywhere in this country before the Civil War. The failure to sign his name was not always due to a lack of courage but rather to the desire for self-preservation, the first law of nature. Such letters as these, then, are valuable in determining what the Negro was feeling and thinking at that time.

Part V is a collection of seven letters by David Ruggles, the editor of a New York City abolitionist newspaper. The existence of a jury trial law, recognizing man as a criminal for wearing the complexion he has received from his Creator, or conceding to slavery the right to incarcerate humanity as a chattel personal, is at variance with my notion of equal rights, the Declaration of American Independence, the laws of Nature, and of the living God, writes Ruggles.

Woodson briefly introduces Part VI, The Testimony of the Freedmen: A neglected aspect of the study of slavery is the mind of the slaves themselves. As bondmen, they were generally too illiterate to express themselves. Freed and brought North to be educated, however, they often bore intelligent testimony against the institution.

Part VII features the letters of Dr. James McCune Smith, Macon B. Allen and William G. Allen. In 1844, Smith carried out statistical analyses of schools, health, church and population of slaves and freedmen and here presents his studied answer to the argument of slave-owners that black people were better off as slaves than as freedmen in the North: The evidence is altogether in favor of emancipation.

The most widely known Negro in the United States prior to the rise of Frederick Douglass, writes Woodson, was Charles Lenox Remond (1810–1873), the son of free blacks in Boston, whose letters (dated July 3, 1838 to June 9, 1845) to William Lloyd Garrison are the focus of Part VIII. Remond wrote several of the letters while on lecture tour in England.

Now the confusing labeling begins: Part XI (that is, 11 in the 9 spot) William C. Nell, is a collection of letters to and from the first Negro to take seriously the writing of the history of the Negro race.

Part IX (that is, 9 in the 10 spot) is a series of letters by the fugitive slave William Wells Brown, who became an important lecturer in the North and in Europe. In his letter of January 30, 1845, Brown tells The Liberator’s readers: "Our own citizens cannot have the privilege of free locomotion; they cannot go to the South and declare that all men are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, and apply it to American Slavery, without being thrown into prison, and compelled to drag out years in chains. Their groans should cause every citizen of the North to cry out,



Whether Woodson mixed up the Roman numerals or the parts is unclear, but in the confusion Part X disappeared.

Part XII contains Frederick Douglass’s correspondence from November 8, 1842 to June 7, 1851. They seem to me the most electrifying and compelling public letters in American history. While touring and lecturing in Scotland in 1846, Douglas wrote to the famous editor Horace Greeley at The New York Tribune, I am called, by way of reproach, a runaway slave. As if it were a crime—an unpardonable crime—for a man to take his inalienable rights! There is spark and penetrating sense in every letter.

Woodson introduces the very short Part XIII, Slavery and the Church by remarking The whites and blacks promoting the anti-slavery cause did not fail to expose the church as the bulwark of slavery. The only letters are one by Samuel R. Ward of Boston and one by Lewis Woodson of Pittsburgh.

Part XIV concerns Emigration to Central America. Woodson explains: One of the ways in which the free Negroes expressed their opposition to African colonization was by presenting a counter proposal to the effect that such emigrants should be settled in the tropics of America. One of the most interesting of the letters is by Alfred V. Thompson, who lived for eighteen months in Liberia, before spending a few years in Jamaica and then a couple of years in America’s northern cities. He now expresses his interest in the idea of the colonization of colored people in South America.

To introduce the four letters in Part XV, The Martyrdom of John Brown. Woodson suggests, quite reasonably, that There must be some historic value in learning what the Negroes thought of John Brown, the martyr, who died that they might be free.

In his opening remarks on Section III, Letters Largely Personal or Private, Woodson makes the point that Most of these letters [spanning 1800 to 1865] differ from others of this series in that they were not written for publication. … The aim of most of this correspondence is to inform friends of the situation in which the writers found themselves, to thank them for favors, and to implore their assistance in the future. For example, in 1853 John H. Hill writes from Toronto: My friend I am a free man and feeles alright about that matter. I am doing tolrable well in my line of business, and think I will do better after little. I hope you will never stop any of our Brotheran that makes their Escep from the South but send them on to this Place where they can be free man and woman.

Woodson does not introduce or conclude Section IV, Miscellaneous Letters. (Sections III and IV appeared as pages 62 to 214 in The Journal of Negro History, January 1926.) The miscellany bounces from 1832 to 1856 with many originating from Canada. Notably, Anthony Burns writes impressively to the Baptist Church in Union, Virginia, on his having been excommunicated by the Church: Thus you have excommunicated me, on the charge of ‘disobeying both the laws of God and men, ‘in absconding from the service of my master, and refusing to return voluntarily.’ I admit that I left my master (so called) and refused to return; but I deny that in this I disobeyed either the law of God or any real law of men. Look at my case. I was stolen and made a slave as soon as I was born. No man had any right to steal me. That manstealer who stole me trampled on my dearest rights. He committed an outrage on the law of God; therefore his manstealing gave him no right in me, and laid me under no obligation to be his slave … You charge me that, in escaping, I disobeyed God’s law. No, indeed! That law which God wrote on the table of my heart, inspiring the love of freedom, and impelling me to seek it at every hazard, I obeyed, and, by the good hand of my God upon me, I walked out of the house of bondage.

The index is slightly more informative than Woodson’s contents pages but full of holes. There are useful headings, for example, such as California, proposed for colonization, and Population, Negro.

Although Woodson’s aim, it seems, was to get as many pages as he could afford to publish of documentary history between two covers of a book, that this single volume might enter libraries, institutions and homes not having subscriptions to the journal, The Mind of the Negro stands as an important work in its own right. Its components gave Woodson’s historical imagination plenty of facts to work with, and it now allows our imaginations the same opportunity.





New York City, June 2012

¹ The Journal of Negro History. April 1926. Washington, D.C. 239.

² "By 1925 the Journal devoted at least one quarter of its space to the publication of transcripts of primary source materials and thereby encouraged their use by scholars who otherwise would not have known about them, writes his biographer. Assisted by black scholars … Woodson collected materials on well-known and obscure nineteenth century blacks. The speeches, writings, petitions, and letters documenting their experiences were published in the Journal, and in collections edited and published separately by Woodson through the Associated Publishers, such as The Mind of the Negro Reflected in Letters During the Crisis and Negro Orators and Their Orations. To aid future scholars, Woodson placed the documents in context by providing appropriate biographical and introductory material." Jacqueline Goggin. Carter G. Woodson: A Life in Black History. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press. 1993. 78.

³ Review. (The article is unsigned but written by Woodson.) The Journal of Negro History. October 1926. 685.

⁴ In fact, there are letters written as late as August 1865, months after the end of the Civil War. (See pages 536–538.)

⁵ One of the documents in this book is a research article published in the New York Tribune in 1844 by the famed black doctor James McCune Smith, who wrote, "it is well known that the laws of all the slave States, by heavy penalties—in some, death, for the second offense—prohibit the teaching of the slaves to read." (Woodson remarks in his first book [1915], The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861: A History of the Education of the Colored People of the United States from the Beginning of Slavery to the Civil War: Quakers and Catholics … in defiance of the law, persisted in teaching Negroes to read and write.)

⁶ Jacqueline Goggin. Carter G. Woodson: A Life in Black History. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press. 1993. 182.

⁷ Ibid. 207.

⁸ "Although I realized what a fine contribution Dr. Woodson was making to the Negro people and to America, publishing his histories, his studies, and his Journal of Negro History, I personally did not like the work I had to do. Besides, it hurt my eyes. So when I got through the proofs, I decided I didn’t care to have ‘a position’ any longer. I preferred a job, so I went to work at the Wardman Park House as a busboy …" Langston Hughes. The Big Sea. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 1940.

⁹ Jacqueline Goggin. Carter G. Woodson: A Life in Black History. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press. 1993. 109.

¹⁰ Ibid. 67.

¹¹ Negro History Week. The Journal of Negro History. April 1926. 240. (Negro History Week became Black History Month in 1976.)

¹² From Woodson’s review of James Weldon Johnson’s The Book of American Negro Spirituals in The Journal of Negro History. January 1926. 221–222.


This collection of letters, like some other publications recently brought out by the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, is the result of the researches into the free Negro prior to the Civil War made possible by the grant which the Editor obtained from the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial in 1921. Almost all of these letters have been published in a series in the Journal of Negro History. They are reproduced here in this convenient form to facilitate research.

The letters to the American Colonization Society were copied from their files, whereas most of those to anti-slavery workers and agencies were extracted from books and newspapers. The chief source of the latter was the Liberator, published by William Lloyd Garrison in Boston. A score or more of them, however, were taken from the National Anti-slavery Standard, published by various editors in New York City. Copies of some of these same letters may be found in other antislavery publications like the Philanthropist and the Non-Slaveholder; but antislavery narratives and the like do not contain many of such letters. A considerable number of these letters were taken from the collection of manuscripts of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. Others came from collections of the New York Public Library, the New York Historical Society, and the Boston Public Library. The Anti-Slavery Collection of the Boston Public Library, especially that of the correspondence of William Lloyd Garrison, contains many letters written by Negroes. The most important of them appear in this volume.

These letters were reproduced just as they were found in the sources. Practically all of them were photocopied. In the case of those in manuscript form the copies were carefully studied in preparing them for the printer; and in the case of those found in print the photostat copies themselves were sent to the compositor that they might be reproduced in the original form as nearly as possible.



G. W




, D. C.

February 16,1926.










1926 E


I. L








From Abraham Camp

"     John B. Russwurm

"     A Negro in Savannah

     A Man of Color"

"     John Jones

     A South Carolinian"

"     James Drew

"     Bureell W. Mann

"     Lewis C. Holbert

"     George H. Baltimore

"     Cecelia D. Lyon

"     Peter B. Bolling

"     Branch Hughes

"     John F. Cook

"     Alfred Evans

"     Jacob Anderson

"     Titus Shropshire

"     Sherry J. Jackson

"     S. Wesley Jones

"     James B. Bland

"     Alphonso M. Sumner

"     James R. Starkey

"     Thomas G. Smith

"     Sion Harris

"     H. B. Stewart

"     Samuel J. Lewis

"     W. H. Burham

"     Daniel Strother

"     Peter Butler

"     Saml. V. Mitchell

"     Alfred Payne

"     Mary Higgins

"     Henri Underwood

"     E. W. Baker

"     N. D. Artist

From Isaah T. Wilson

"     Edwards Smith

"     Mary Moore

"     Alexander Harris

"     Maria Fenemur

"     C. L. De Lamotta

"     Elie W. Stokes

"     H. Teague

"     J. B. Jordan

"     W. W. Findlay

"     A. H. Dickinson

"     E. Duglas Taylor

"     J. Theodore Holly

"     Benjamin S. Beebe

"     James Winn

"     Peter H. Clark

"     Augustus Washington

"     Hardy Mobley

"     John W. West

"     Anthony Sherman

"     Charles Deputie

"     John Barlon

"     Charles Moore

     A Negro in Baltimore"

"     Geo. Sample

"     Nathaniel Bowen

"     John W. Jones

"     Mobile Colored Missionary Society

"     Terry McHenry Farlan









From R about John B. Russwurm

     C. D. T." a Philadelphian

"     Nathaniel Paul

"     Thomas Cole

"     James Forten

"     Robert Purvis

"     Austin Steward 180, 184,

"     Israel Lewis

"     Lisbon Wine

"     J. B. Cutler

From H. H. Garnet

"     Wm. C. Nell

"     Frederick Douglass 202, 210, 384,

"     William Wells Brown 213,

"     J. W. Loguen

     A Man of Color"

     A Colored Bostonian"


     A Colored Philadelphian"


     A Colored Lady"


     A Colored Gentleman in Maryland"

"     Samson Harris Moody

     A Colored Citizen of Brooklyn"

     A Colored Baltimorean"

     A Colored American"

"     J. B. Vashon

"     William P. Powell

     W. J. W."

"     David Ruggles

"     James L. Smith

"     W. and E. Craft

"     Francis S. Anderson

"     Anthony Burns

"     James McCune Smith

"     Macon B. Allen

"     William G. Allen

     S. R. W."

"     M. R. Delany

"     Charles Lenox Remond

"     William C. Nell

"     George T. Downing

"     Josephine Brown

"     Samuel R. Ward

"     Lewis Woodson

"     J. T. Holly

"     J. M. Whitfield

"     M. R. Delany

"     A. V. Thompson

"     J. D. Harris

From H. O. W. and others

     F. E. W."

     M. S. J. T."









From Caesar Brown

"     Medard Portellette

"     John Miller

"     Mary Stokes

"     J. J. Roberts

"     N. H. Elebeck

"     William J. Walker

"     John Moshell

"     Adam Plummer and relatives

"     Wm. Eden

"     Joseph C. Bustill 529,

"     Otho Taylor

"     N. B. Harris

"     Jacob A. White, Jr



"     J.C. White

"     Richard Hackley

"     Jourdon Anderson

"     C. A. Stewart

"     H. Amelia Loguen

"     Lewis H. Douglas

"     Thomas H. Jones

"     Peter Van Wagenen


"     W. H. Gatewood

"     Henry Bibb

"     J. W. C. Pennington

"     William Still

"     John H. Hill

     Ham & Eggs"

"     Sheridan Ford

     A Fugitive"

"     John Thompson

"     William Jones

     N. L. J."

From James M. Mercer

"     W. H. Gilliam

"     John Clayton

"     Mary D. Armstead

"     Isaac Forman

"     William Brinkly

"     Emma Brown

"     Joseph Robinson

"     Nat Ambie

"     John Scott

"     Israel Whitney

"     William Cooper

"     Edmund Turner

"     Jefferson Pipkins

"     Jame Masey

"     Henry Trusty

"     C. W. Thompson

"     Richard Edons

"     Manual T. White

"     J. W. Loguen

"     Samuel W. Johnson

"     Elijah Hilton

"     William Brown

"     Flarece P. Gault

"     E. Weems

"     W. H. Actkins

"     Harriet Elgin

"     W. Boural

"     David Robinson

"     Patterson Smith

"     George W. Freeland

"     Samuel Green

"     John Hall

"     Henry Washington

"     James H. Forman

"     Robert Jones

"     William Donar

"     Ellen Saunders

"     Frances Hilliard

"     Samuel Miles

"     Anthony & Albert Brown

From Anthony Brown

"     Albert Metter

"     John Atkinson

"     W. H. Atkinson

     Several Fugitives"

"     Henry James Morris

"     Rebecca Jones

"     Daniel Robertson

"     Thomas F. Page

"     Caroline Graves

"     John Knight

"     Lewis Cobb

"     Lewis Burrell

"     Oscar D. Ball

"     John Delaney

"     John B. Woods

"     Edward Lewis

"     George Ballard


"     Joseph Ball

"     John H. Dade

"     Jacob Blockson

"     Stepney Brown

"     Catherine Brice

"     J. W. Dungy

"     Louisa F. Jones





From Lyman A. Spalding

"     S. E. Cornish

"     A. Steward

"     N. Paul

"     Benj. T. Onderdonk

"     Peter Williams

"     William C. Nell

"     David Ruggles

"     J. W. C. Pennington

"     Wm. W. Findlay

"     Frederick Douglass

"     Anthony Burns

"     Wm. L. Garrison


Letters are regarded by historians as excellent historical evidence. Personal letters are especially valuable because of their unconscious element. Many letters supposedly personal or private, however, are intended for publication. As such they are of no more value than the ordinary newspaper materials, the worth of which is determined largely by the extent to which they reflect the sentiment of the people. The letters herein published are of all sorts. Under the classification herein set forth they can be used to advantage in the study of the development of the Negro prior to emancipation.

From the point of view of psychology of the Negro, which must be taken into consideration as an important factor in the study of history, these letters are of still larger value. The mind of a people, the development of the public mind, has become a new factor in historical interpretation. This factor is now being considered not only as important as the social, political, and economic, but also as productive of these forces.

Until within the last half century, moreover, the style a man used in letter writing often served as an index to his cultural development. Even today a man is frequently judged by the sort of letter which he writes. The multiplication of devices of production and reproduction, however, and the increasing number of well-educated workers whom a man in public life can easily employ, now make it impossible to determine from one’s correspondence exactly what his mental development is. But these letters herein given were written when modern facilities had not developed beyond that of frequent use of copyists, and practically all of these letters were written by the Negroes themselves. Here, therefore, we have the opportunity to judge hundreds of Negroes as they really expressed themselves.

To appreciate the importance of such letters one needs only to study the correspondence of distinguished men of a century ago. In the absence of the valuable facilities of communication by wire and newspapers such letters carried more of the significant developments which we would expect today from books dealing with topics of concern to intelligent people. That some of the letters of Negroes found their way to such files is an evidence of the mental development of the Negro and the tendency of the most liberal whites to grant them recognition.

Although this work is intended to deal primarily with the correspondence of Negroes between 1800 and 1860, then, it might be well to present here also a few letters of certain outstanding Negroes who were well known prior to that time.

Jupiter Hammon, the first of these known to fame, was a slave of Long Island. He attained some distinction as a writer of verse and a religious worker. It is highly probable that he was a preacher of local standing. Hammon was born about 1720 and died just before or a little after the close of that century. As a writer of verse he seems very devout. He made some impression on his contemporaries, but he does not rise to the level of the contributions of Phillis Wheatley.

The following letter and address to the Negroes of New York will give an idea as to the mind of Jupiter Hammon:


I TAKE the liberty to dedicate an Address to my poor brethren to you. If you think it is likely to do good among them, I do not doubt but you will take it under your care. You have discovered so much kindness and good will to those you thought were oppressed, and had no helper, that I am sure you will not despise what I have wrote, if you judge it will be of any service to them. I have nothing to add, but only to wish that the blessing of many ready to perish, may come upon you.

I am Gentlemen,

Your Servant,


Queen’s Village, 24th Sept.














I am writing to you with a design to say something to you for your good, and with a view to promote your happiness, I can with truth and sincerity join with the apostle Paul, when speaking of his own nation the Jews, and say: "That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh." Yes my dear brethren, when I think of you, which is very often, and of the poor, despised and miserable state you are in, as to the things of this world, and when I think of your ignorance and stupidity, and the great wickedness of the most of you, I am pained to the heart. It is at times, almost too much for human nature to bear, and I am obliged to turn my thoughts from the subject or endeavour to still my mind, by considering that it is permitted thus to be, by that God who governs all things, who setteth up one and pulleth down another. While I have been thinking on this subject, I have frequently had great struggles in my own mind, and have been at a loss to know what to do. I have wanted exceedingly to say something to you, to call upon you with the tenderness of a father and friend, and to give you the last, and I may say dying advice, of an old man, who wishes your best good in this world, and in the world to come. But while I have had such desires, a sense of my own ignorance, and unfitness to teach others, has frequently discouraged me from attempting to say any thing to you; yet when I thought of your situation, I could not rest easy.

When I was at Hartford in Connecticut, where I lived during the war, I published several pieces which were well received, not only by those of my own colour, but by a number of the white people, who thought they might do good among their servants. This is one consideration, among others, that emboldens me now to publish what I have written to you. Another is, I think you will be more likely to listen to what is said, when you know it comes from a negro, one of your own nation and colour, and therefore can have no interest in deceiving you, or in saying any thing to you, but what he really thinks is your interest, and duty to comply with. My age, I think, gives me some right to speak to you, and reason to expect you will hearken to my advice. I am now upwards of seventy years old, and cannot expect, though I am well, and able to do almost any kind of business, to live much longer. I have passed the common bounds set for man, and must soon go the way of all the earth. I have had more experience in the world than the most of you, and I have seen a great deal of the vanity and wickedness of it, I have great reason to be thankful that my lot has been so much better than most slaves have had. I suppose I have had more advantages and privileges than most of you, who are slaves, have ever known, and I believe more than many white people have enjoyed, for which I desire to bless God, and pray that he may bless those who have given them to me. I do not, my dear friends, say these things about myself, to make you think that I am wiser or better than others; but that you might hearken, without prejudice, to what I have to say to you on the following particulars.

1st. Respecting obedience to masters.—Now whether it is right, and lawful, in the sight of God, for them to make slaves of us or not. I am certain that while we are slaves, it is our duty to obey our masters, in all their lawful commands, and mind them unless we are bid to do that which we know to be sin, or forbidden in God’s word. The apostle Paul says: Servants be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling in singleness in your heart as unto Christ: Not with eye service, as men pleasers, but as the servants of Christ doing the will of God from the heart: With good will doing service to the Lord, and not to men: Knowing that whatever thing a man doeth the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free.—Here is a plain command of God for us to obey our masters. It may seem hard for us, if we think our masters wrong in holding us slaves, to obey in all things, but who of us dare dispute with God! He has commanded us to obey, and we ought to do it cheerfully, and freely. This should be done by us, not only because God commands, but because our own peace and comfort depend upon it. As we depend upon our masters, for what we eat and drink and wear, and for all our comfortable things in this world, we cannot be happy, unless we please them. This we cannot do without obeying them freely, without muttering or finding fault. If a servant strives to please his master and studies and takes pains to do it, I believe there are but few masters who would use such a servant cruelly. Good servants frequently make good masters. If your master is really hard, unreasonable and cruel, there is no way so likely for you to convince him of it, as always to obey his commands, and try to serve him, and take care of his interest, and try to promote it all in your power. If you are proud and stubborn and always finding fault, your master will think the fault lies wholly on your side; but if you are humble, and meek, and bear all things patiently, your master may think he is wrong; if he does not, his neighbours will be apt to see it, and will befriend you, and try to alter his conduct. If this does not do, you must cry to him, who has the hearts of all men in his hands, and turneth them as the rivers of waters are turned.

2d. The particular I would mention, is honesty and faithfulness.

You must suffer me now to deal plainly with you, my dear brethren, for I do not mean to flatter, or omit speaking the truth, whether it is for you, or against you. How many of you are there who allow yourselves in stealing from your masters. It is very wicked for you not to take care of your masters goods, but how much worse is it to pilfer and steal from them, whenever you think you shall not be found out. This you must know is very wicked and provoking to God. There are none of you so ignorant, but that you must know that this is wrong. Though you may try to excuse yourselves, by saying that your masters are unjust to you, and though you may try to quiet your consciences in this way, yet if you are honest in owning the truth, you must think it is as wicked, and on some accounts more wicked, to steal from your masters, than from others.

We cannot certainly, have any excuse either for taking any thing that belongs to our masters, without their leave, or for being unfaithful in their business. It is our duty to be faithful, not with eye service as men pleasers. We have no right to stay when we are sent on errands, any longer than to do the business we were sent upon. All the time spent idly, is spent wickedly, and is unfaithfulness to our masters. In these things I must say, that I think many of you are guilty. I know that many of you endeavour to excuse yourselves, and say, that you have nothing that you can call your own, and that you are under great temptations to be unfaithful and take from your masters. But this will not do, God will certainly punish you for stealing and for being unfaithful. All that we have to mind is our own duty. If God has put us in bad circumstances, that is not our fault, and he will not punish us for it. If any are wicked in keeping us so, we cannot help it, they must answer to God for it. Nothing will serve as an excuse to us for not doing our duty. The same God will judge both them and us. Pray then my dear friends, fear to offend in this way, but be faithful to God, to your masters, and to your own souls.

The next thing I would mention, and warn you against, is profaneness. This you know is forbidden by God. Christ tells us: swear not at all, and again it is said, thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless, that taketh his name in vain. Now, though the great God has forbidden it, yet how dreadfully profane are many, and I don’t know but I may say the most of you? How common is it to hear you take the terrible and awful name of the great God in vain?—To swear by it, and by Jesus Christ, his Son—How common is it to hear you wish damnation to your companions, and to your own souls—and to sport with the name of Heaven and Hell, as if there were no such places for you to hope for, or to fear. Oh my friends, be warned to forsake this dreadful sin of profaneness. Pray my dear friends, believe and realize, that there is a God—that he is great and terrible beyond what you can think—that he keeps you in life every moment and that he can send you to that awful Hell, that you laugh at, in an instant, and confine you there forever, and that he will certainly do it, if you do not repent. You certainly do not believe, that there is a God, or that there is a Heaven or Hell, or you would never trifle with them. It would make you shudder, if you heard others do it, if you believe them as much, as you believe any thing you see with your bodily eyes.

I have heard some learned and good men say, that the heathen, and all that worshipped false Gods, never spoke lightly or irreverently of their Gods, they never took their names in vain, or jested with those things which they held sacred. Now why should the true God, who made all things, be treated worse in this respect, than those false Gods, that were made of wood and stone. I believe it is because Satan tempts men to do it. He tried to make them love their false Gods, and to speak well of them, but he wishes to have men think lightly of the true God, to take his holy name in vain, and to scoff at, and make a jest of all things that are really good. You may think that Satan has not power to do so much, and have so great influence on the minds of men: But the scripture says: "he goeth about like a roaring Lion, seeking whom he may devour—That he is the prince of the power of the air—and that he rules in the hearts of the children of disobedience,——and that wicked men are led captive by him, to do his will" All those of you who are profane, are serving the Devil. You are doing what he tempts and desires you to do. If you could see him with your bodily eyes, would you like to make an agreement with him, to serve him, and do as he bid you. I believe most of you would be shocked at this; but you may be certain that all of you who allow yourselves in this sin, are as really serving him, and to just as good purpose, as if you met him, and promised to dishonour God, and serve him with all your might. Do you believe this? It is true whether you believe it or not. Some of you excuse yourselves, may plead the example of others, and say that you hear a great many white people, who know more, than such poor ignorant negroes, as you are, and some who are rich and great gentlemen, swear, and talk profanely, and some of you may say this of your masters, and say no more than is true. But all this is not a sufficient excuse for you. You know that murder is wicked. If you saw your master kill a man, do you suppose this would be any excuse for you, if you should commit the same crime? You must know it would not; nor will your hearing him curse and swear, and take the name of God in vain, or any other man, be he ever so great or rich, excuse you. God is greater than all other beings, and him we are bound to obey. To him we must give an account for every idle word that we speak. He will bring us all, rich and poor, white and black, to his judgment seat. If we are found among those who feared his name and trembled at his word, we shall be called good and faithful servants. Our slavery will be at an end, and though ever so mean, low, and despised in this world, we shall sit with God in his kingdom as Kings and Priests, and rejoice forever, and ever. Do not then my dear friends, take God’s holy name in vain, or speak profanely in any way. Let not the example of others lead you into the sin, but reverence and fear that great and fearful name, the Lord our God.

I might now caution you against other sins to which you are exposed, but as I meant only to mention those you were exposed to, more than others, by your being slaves, I will conclude what I have to say to you, by advising you to become religious, and to make religion the great business of your lives.

Now I acknowledge that liberty is a great thing, and worth seeking for, if we can get it honestly, and by our good conduct prevail on our masters to set us free. Though for

Vous avez atteint la fin de cet aperçu. Inscrivez-vous pour en savoir plus !
Page 1 sur 1


Ce que les gens pensent de The Mind of the Negro As Reflected in Letters During the Crisis 1800-1860

0 évaluations / 0 Avis
Qu'avez-vous pensé ?
Évaluation : 0 sur 5 étoiles

Avis des lecteurs