BLACK WORKERS IN SPECIFIC TRADES
Even though black workers were barred from many occupations by racial discrimination, and sometimes by mob violence, there were certain occupations where large numbers of blacks labored. Waiting on tables in northern hotels, restaurants, and saloons represented one of those occupations employing conspicuously large numbers of blacks. Wages and conditions were generally poor enough among waiters that they occasionally formed unions to improve their lot. One such organization, the Waiters Protective Association, after winning concessions from the employers, received an invitation to attend a meeting of white waiters and advise them how they might do the same (Doc. 1). This is the only known example before the Civil War of a white union requesting a black union to participate in a joint meeting. The Negroes were not invited to join, only to participate. A rival black waiters’ union had been formed about the same time, and it pledged to work even if the white union did strike for higher wages (Doc. 3). The Waiters Protective Association denounced these black brothers as traitors, charging that they were in collusion with the employers (Doc. 4–5).
One of the most glaring deficiencies in Afro-American historiography is the almost total lack of interest in black seamen. Although they have been ignored for the most part, blacks represented a very important percentage of the workers in that dangerous, exploited, and underpaid occupation. One of the earliest studies of black seamen was published in a series of articles printed in the National Anti-Slavery Standard n 1846. The articles reveal the atrocious conditions of life for black sailors, such as excessively hard work, brutal officers, excessive fees for food and lodging while ashore, and countless other harassments. All too often these problems were compounded by too much alcohol and too little education (Doc. 6–10). The black sailor faced his gravest danger, and degradation, if his ship anchored in a southern port. Beginning in the 1830s, southern port towns from Charleston to New Orleans imprisoned free black seamen at their own expense until the ship took sail. Every southern coastal state passed these legal restrictions as security precautions against the possible importation of seditious ideas about slavery, the proliferation of which they associated with free Negroes (Doc. 16–32). This constituted a serious breach of federal law in the case of black citizens from the North and produced a storm of controversy until the Civil War. On several occasions black subjects of Great Britain were detained, producing scandalous international incidents with potentially serious repercussions (Doc. 25–29).
Black ship caulkers, who practiced the skilled craft of sealing the seams of newly-built wooden ships with hot tar to waterproof them, also encountered serious racial handicaps as they pursued their labor. The Baltimore shipyards, which employed large numbers of Negroes, both slave and free, was the scene of innumerable acts of violence perpetrated by white caulkers attempting to drive off black competitors (Doc. 33–39). Violence was a fact of life at the yards, and ranged from individual fisticuffs to mob murder, and illustrates the depth of animosity produced by economic competition exacerbated by racism.
One of the most numerously attended, harmonious and efficient meetings which has been convened since the commencement of the general movement for an increase of remuneration among the working class, we held last evening at the Grand Street Hall, near Broadway, in this city. It was composed of the waiters employed in the various hotels, saloons and restaurants, as well as ballmen and waiters in private families. At half-past 8 o’clock, the room was crowded to suffocation, there being nearly five hundred men present, among whom the colored population of the profession was very well represented.
The meeting was called to order by Mr. William Hamilton, of the Union Place Hotel. Mr. H. said: Gentlemen, we have assembled here for the purpose of forming, in this city, a Waiters’ Protective Union Society. It is well known to you that such associations exist in almost all other large cities. Heretofore, it has been the idea among waiters that they were altogether depending for employment and support upon the landlords. This is a mistake, for it is the landlords who are depending upon us. But, however widely this may be known, even then the landlords will scarcely acknowledge it, and will not give us more wages than they can help. The aspect of the times demands that you should receive more for your services than twelve dollars a month. With the present high rents and rates of provisions, your families are brought to the verge of starvation. The same causes — rents and rate of market — have caused the landlords to raise the price of board and hotel charges; and, if they press so heavily on them, how must they be felt by the poor waiter, who has his wife and family still, but only has his twelve dollars? Rents have rendered it impossible that we can be generous to the landlords. The colored waiters are before us in this respect — they won’t work for less than sixteen dollars a month; and in the Metropolitan Irving House, and another house downtown, where they are employed, they get the sixteen dollars. The main reason why white men work for ten, twelve and fourteen dollars a month, is that they are generally driven, by a combination of unfortunate circumstances, to become waiters, and are, in a manner, ashamed of being so, and are consequently indifferent. Another reason is that the white men put too much confidence in the head waiters, who, most generally, have laid down a fixed standard which the under men shall work for, and thus, while they themselves are receiving from thirty to fifty dollars a month, and do not find the pressure at all, the real working man is not paid for his labor as he ought to be. There is no disgrace, gentlemen, attached to the profession of a waiter, for it requires an active, intelligent man, of good moral character and honesty, to be cone, and if you now be true to yourselves, you will dignify your calling and character.
Mr. HAMILTON read the preamble, constitution, and by-laws of the Waiters’ Protective Society.
The preamble recited the necessity of an organization. The rules were proposed to be twenty in number, and make provision for the formation of the society, admission of members, duties of officers, and initiation fees. It is proposed that all honest, sober waiters join the Union; that members shall not work with expelled members or others who have not joined; that the standard rate of wages shall be $18 a month; and that an office be hired for the transaction of business, where regular members can obtain situations, and employers form all parts of the States help of the waiter class.
The reading of the paper was received with loud and repeated cheers.
Mr. ADOLPHUS SWIN was appointed President pro tem, and made a very forcible speech upon putting the question of the adoption of the rules.
Mr. S. then pointed out the general rise in the price of board in Boston and New York. It was caused by high rents; but the poor waiter had to pay rent also, and his means were not increased. Many amongst you are prevented from marrying, and thus adopting a barrier against vice and dissipation, owing to the impossibility of sustaining a family upon twelve dollars a month. Your Sundays and your week days are all alike. If you ask the religious hotel keeper, who heaps in his twenty or sixty thousand dollars a year, “if you can go to church or to mass,” what does he reply? Just this, “I do not employ you to go to church; I pay you to work.” And yet perhaps this hotelkeeper is a member of a Bible Society, or subscribes to send missionaries out to the countries of the far Pacific, or the desert of Sahara, at the moment he refuses you a just remuneration for your time, and thus contributes to your moral and social degradation.
Mr. FLORNEY of the Mercantile, made a very eloquent speech in favor of the formation of the union.
Mr. HICKMAN (colored), of College place, said the colored men are the pioneers of the movement, and would not work for less than eighteen dollars a month, only they dreaded that the numerous body of white man would have taken less if they left. Gentlemen, I advise you to strike upon the 15th of April for $18 a month, and if the landlords do not give it, that you turn out, and be assured that we will never turn in in your places at less. (Cheers.)
Mr. Swin, Mr. Hamilton, and Mr. Florney, were appointed a committee to revise the by-laws, which are to be submitted for final adoption, at a mass meeting to be held upon the 15th of April. The contribution of members was fixed at 12-1/2 cents per month.
The great unanimity and good humor prevailed, and the meeting was excellently managed. The objects will be more completely developed upon the 15th of April.
New York Herald, March 31, 1853.
WAITERS — WE HAVE RAISED THE STANDARD. Let us defend it. We, the waiters of the New York Hotel, return our sincere thanks to Messrs. Coleman & Stetson, the worthy and generous proprietors of the Astor House, for their speedy compliance with the demands of our Union, and to the waiters of that establishment for their firmness in demanding their rights.
WE, THE WAITERS OF THE NATIONAL HOTEL, Cortlandt street, take this method of expressing our sincere and hearty thanks to Mr. George W. Seely, the worthy proprietor of the National Hotel, for the very gentlemanly and satisfactory manner in which he not only expressed his willingness, but also delcared his intention, to increase our wages from its present standard to that of $18 per month, to take effect on the first proximo.
WE, THE WAITERS OF THE ASTOR PLACE HOTEL, return our sincere thanks to Messrs. Coleman and Stetson, for being the first in giving the wages demanded at our first union protective meeting; may you long enjoy the good name you have so justly earned, by your boarders and helps, for being the first in everything that’s good. May those who first get up our Protective Union long live to see it go on prosperously and may their names be as dear to the waiters of this country as Washington’s is to the people of the United States. The poor African that’s stole from his native land, sold a slave, he buys his freedom, has got more than we white men, and sons of freemen; we have demanded eighteen dollars, so come on, come all, get your shoulder to the wheel; the colored men are at your back, and never stop till you roll eighteen dollars to the top. There are one or two houses to come forward yet. The Union must and shall be protected.
New York Herald, April 5, 1853.
At a meeting of the First United Association of the colored waiters of New York, held on the 11th day of April, at 156 Church street, it was unanimously
Resolved, That a committee of three be appointed to prepare and publish an exposition of the general objects of this Association.
On a motion being made, the following persons were appointed to carry out the object of the resolution:—T. G. Campbell, Jeremiah Dickerson and Ezekiel Buston.
The general objects and intentions of the First United Association of the Colored Waiters of the city of New York are these:—
1. Seeing the generally degraded position that waiters, as a class, hold in the scale of society, and knowing that moral and intellectual improvement is the only sure method by which any class can be elevated, we have therefore resolved to improve our minds, and by precept and example try to reform all with whom we may hereafter become associated, and endeavor to make gentlemanly deportment with a practical knowledge of the professional indispensable requirements to membership and advancement in the Association.
2. In view of the encouragement given to us by the keepers of the hotels, saloons, and boarding houses in this city, we feel that in gratitude it becomes our duty to remain in the city, and not go to the Springs and watering places, as we have heretofore done, (unless such prices as will renumerate us, and being poor, we owe it as a duty to our families and to ourselves to seek employment where it is most to our advantage,) knowing that permanent employment is the only sure way of producing identity of interest between the employer and the employed. We, as a society, recommend all our members to remain in the city, and by so doing, show their interest in the business in which they are engaged; and we trust, by this means, to establish a mutual feeling of confidence and good will between the employer and the employed, and that each will feel that the interest of either is the interest of both.
3. Therefore, the resolutions which we have published contemplates the raising the wages in the country, because, in the city the wages have always been regulated by the demand for all classes of help, and hence we are willing to trust to the proprietors themselves, from the encouragement already given, to arrange such a scale of prices as will be satisfactory to us — the colored waiters of the city of New York.
And we, the members of the First United Association of the Colored Waiters of the city of New York, take this method of expressing our sincere and hearty thanks to Mr. George W. Seely, the worthy proprietor of the National Hotel, for the very gentlemanly and satisfactory manner in which he not only expressed his willingness, but also declared his intention, to increase our wages from its present standard to that of $18 per month, to take effect on the first proximo.
We, also, hereby deny any connection with the contemplated strike of the waiters on the 15th inst., as that idea never was countenanced by this Association. We, therefore, hope that all will definitely understand that we have nothing to do with the contemplated strike, either directly or indirectly.
T. G. CAMPBELL)
JEREMIAH DERICKSON) Committee
Resolved, In review of the encouragement given by the proprietors of the hotels of the city of New York, that we, the waiters of New York, will not leave the city, as heretofore, unless such prices are paid as will justify poor men in making such change.
Resolved, That we will discharge our duties faithfully, as waiters, or in any occupation we may be engaged to fill.
Resolved, That in no instance will we leave the city of New York for the purpose of acting as waiter, or other calling, for a sum less than $16 per month, with passage, &c., paid.
Resolved, That it shall be the duty of every head waiter, when taking charge of a house out of the city, to secure for all men under him $16 per month, and any person having such charge, and refusing to make said demand, shall be considered incapable of filling the place to which he aspires, and all shall be at liberty to leave him.
Resolved, That, in our opinion, it is better to remain in the city, and work for the current prices than to leave, even in case the same prices and our passage, &c., are paid.
Resolved, That no second waiter shall go out of the city for a sum less than $20 per month, and passage, &c., paid.
JOHN CAMPBELL, JR.)
TUNES G. CAMPBELL) Committee
PETER J. HICKMAN)
NOTICE.— A public meeting of this Association will be held at the El Dorado Hotel, Church street, on Friday evening next, April 15.
New York Herald, April 13, 1853.
To the white waiters of New York City—
We the colored waiters of New York city, hereby declare that we have no communion with the meeting of April 11 (as may be supposed,) or with T. G. Campbell, J. Derickson, and E. Buston, or with the meeting assembled there on that night.
And we hereby declare our intention of intending the meeting of the 15th inst., at Grand Street Hall, and so abide by the decision of that meeting. We are sorry to see the name of any man in connection with the above-mentioned individual, for they are traitors to the Union.
New York Herald, April 14, 1853.
Between seven and eight hundred waiters assembled in Grand Street Hall last evening, to adopt measures to secure an advance of wages from twelve and fourteen dollars a month to eighteen. The first meeting was held about two weeks ago, since which time the proprietors of several eating houses, saloons, hotels, &c., have granted the increase demanded. Those who have not, it is expected, will not hold out much longer; but should they still persist in refusing, it is the intention of the waiters to strike. A society of colored waiters has also been formed, and they are prepared to co-operate with the white waiters in any movement of the kind that may take place. To prevent inconvenience to their employers by such action, should they desire to reengage their own men on a strike, a general place of meeting will be designated at which both employers and employed can assemble and reconcile their differences.
The meeting was called to order at eight o’clock by the President, Adolphus Schwind. The minutes were read by the Secretary, W. F. Hamilton, and received with repeated cheering and a unanimous approval. The Secretary stated that the committee had engaged an office at 483 Broadway for the agency of the society. He then read the constitution and by-laws which were adopted at the last meeting. A list of such waiters as desired to join the society was handed in from the different hotels, eating houses, &c., with their initiation fees, which amounted in the aggregate to about four hundred dollars.
The President made an appropriate address, when the preliminary business was transacted. He recommended union among the waiters as the only means by which they could secure their demands. Several hotel keepers had granted the advance, while others offered to do so, but only on condition that they should not join the society. This, said Mr. S., they refused to do. (Applause.) He spoke also of an editorial article in yesterday’s HERALD, as a proof that the press of the city supported the movement of the industrial classes for increased wages. This allusion was received with three cheers for the HERALD.
Mr. Florey next addressed the meeting. He disavowed on behalf of the waiters any intention to indulge in riotous proceedings, or to interfere with the peace of society. They were determined, nevertheless, to have their rights, and for this purpose they had formed a society, which would procure from them a fair remuneration for their labor. He mentioned several proprietors of hotels who had acceded to the demands of the waiters; among them were Messrs. Coleman & Stetson, Mr. Judson, and Mr. Ford. He also read a long list of head waiters who had joined the society, and expressed the opinion that there would be no occasion for a strike, as all their employers would grant the advance which had been asked. The society of waiters, he said, was calculated not only to benefit them materially, but to give them a more respectable position in society and in public opinion, than they had hitherto occupied. Mr. F. concluded by calling for three cheers for the HERALD for the manner in which it had supported the just demands of the waiters. The cheers were given and repeated.
Mr. JOHN THOMAS (colored) of the Irving House, made a few remarks in relation to an advertisement published in the HERALD a few days ago, by some society of colored waiters, which he said was calculated to injure all who had joined in the present movement, both colored and white. That society, he desired it to be understood, did not represent the majority of the colored waiters of the city, and what they had done should not therefore be regarded as the action of that majority. He concluded by promising, on behalf of the colored waiters, a hearty co-operation with the whites.
Addresses were also made by Mr. J. REID and Mr. HAMILTON, after which the following song was sung by Mr. W. E. Topley, the audience joining in the chorus:—
Waiters, all, throughout the nation, Why will you every be
Overburdened by oppression — Overawed by tyranny?
Wait for the good time coming no longer; Claim at once what is your due;
Toil no more like slaves, and hunger, To support an idle few.
A golden age is coming yet.
See your wives and children tender Badly clothed and pine for bread,
While your bosses live in splendor, And off dainty dishes fed.
If, united, you are the stronger, Why not to yourselves prove true?
Toil no more like slaves, and hunger, To support an idle few.
Be of good cheer, &c.
At the conclusion of this song, the meeting adjourned.
New York Herald, April 16, 1853.
1st. Statistics of coloured Seamen in the United States.
—It has always been to me a matter of surprise why measures have not been taken long to ascertain, if possible, the number of coloured seamen in the United States. Thousands of our people have lived and died in the naval service; and many of our fathers, brothers, and friends, yet live to tell the tales of their perilous adventures. As I have said, very little, if anything, is recorded in history as to the active part our people took in the great struggle for national rights. So that so far as my knowledge extends, I am only enabled to present such facts as will confirm whatever may appear to some minds to be doubtful.
In the debates of the New-York Convention, for amending the Constitution of the State, in 1821, Dr. Clarke, the delegate from Delaware county, speaking of the coloured inhabitants, said: “In the war of the Revolution these men helped to fight your battles by land and sea. In the late war they contributed largely towards some of your most splendid victories. On Lakes Erie and Champlain, our fleets were manned in a large proportion with coloured men.”
Governor Morrill, of New Hampshire, in a speech in Congress, in 1820, said: “Your soldiers of colour have fought your battles. They have defeated your country, they have preserved your privileges, but they have lost their own.”
By an estimate recently made, England, the greatest commercial country in the world, only exceeds this country in tonnage of ships a few thousand tons. Now, add to this fact the gigantic strides of this infant Republic in agriculture, which has brought the mother-country to our doors begging for bread, the increase of her commerce, and, as we shall hereafter show, that the increase of coloured seamen most assuredly keeps pace with the prosperity of the country, the unconstitutional Southern laws to the contrary, notwithstanding; because, whilst they do prohibit coloured seamen coming into their ports sailing from Northern ports, they do not prohibit and imprison coloured seamen when sailing from one Southern port to another, so that whilst the Charleston, Mobile, and New-Orleans ports are closed against us, it opens a market and gives employment to Southern coloured seamen. It does not reduce the number of coloured seamen, whilst it may throw them out of employment in the Southern trade. Will the North see to it, how this invidious distinction is made between her commercial interests and that of the South?
By a careful estimate I have prepared a table of the number of coloured seamen sailing from the principal and minor ports in the United States, viz:
There are eighty vessels of war in the United States Navy, including ships of the line, first and second class frigates, sloops, brigs, schooners, steamers, and storeships. Of thus number we must also include vessels in the Revenue service, (say about twenty,) making one hundred vessels of all classes. The highest number of coloured men on board the Pennsylvania at one time was eighty, and on board the North Carolina, fifty. The number of coloured men on board the other vessels varies according to the number of guns they carry. But it is not a regulated rule in the service to apportion coloured men according to the rate of the vessel. Though a successful motion was made and passed in Congress in 1843, to exclude coloured seamen from the naval service, waiters and musicians excepted, yet, to my certain knowledge, no regard is paid to this law. Subsequent to the passage of this law, in fitting ships for the African station, the Secretary of the Navy issued a special order to ship a larger proportion of coloured men than usual. Then again, another rule is to ship one coloured to every twenty white seamen; but in either case it is at the discretion of the Secretary of the Navy.
Of the one hundred vessels of war, there are eighty-five in actual service, in commission, or as receiving ships, and including those in the revenue service. The number of coloured seamen in the naval service, as near as can be ascertained, (the largest vessels having eighty, and the smallest five, would give us an average of eighteen, or an aggregate of fourteen hundred and thirty, deducting the fractions,) in round numbers, is fourteen hundred.
In the absence of official documentary evidence, I venture to offer so much to this table as being correct. But in order to satisfy the most scrupulous, I will endeavour to remove any objections upon which they may hang a doubt. I have laboured seven years in this city in behalf of coloured seamen, during which time I have closely investigated every fact in connection with this interesting subject, and whenever a vessel of war arrived in this or other ports, more especially those within my personal knowledge, I have endeavoured to ascertain the number of coloured seamen on board each vessel. In doing this, I have generally selected the most intelligent of the crew, either white or coloured men, of undoubted veracity, who have kindly furnished me with all the necessary information.
In the summer of 1839, when the North Carolina arrived from her last cruise, her complement of men being eight hundred, there were fifty coloured men. So with regard to the Independence, in 1840, the Ohio, Delaware, Columbus, and the Pennsylvania, (the latter having eighty coloured men.) All of these were ships of the line. Then there also arrived at this port several frigates, sloops-of-war, brigs, and schooners, having on board from forty, thirty, twenty-five, eighteen, down to five coloured men in each of the several classed vessels. Of this number discharged from the navy, one-third, and in some cases one-half have boarded at the Coloured Sailors’ Home. I think I am safe in my estimated table; if not, the errour can only be detected at head quarters. Will the Secretary of the Navy correct the table if wrong?
Statistics of coloured men sailing from the different whaling ports in the United States, with a table of the number of ships sailing from each port, viz:
In the table for coloured seamen engaged in the whaling service, I have given the average number to each vessel. Some ships manning five boats, very often have from ten to twelve coloured men, second and third mates, three boat-steerers, five foremast hands, and cook, and steward. There is not that nice distinction made in the whaling as there is in the naval and merchant services; a coloured man is only known and looked upon as a MAN, and is promoted in rank according to his ability and skill to perform the same duties as the white man; his opportunities for accumulating pecuniary means—investing his earnings in whaling capital, is equally the same. Hence the necessity, and in fact it is to the INTEREST of the whaling merchants, to keep constantly in their employ a large proportion of coloured men. Very few ships carry less than six coloured men, while many have more. In fact, there can be no doubt about the actual number of coloured men engaged in the whaling service; the table may vary, but in my opinion, not enough to effect it materially. The number of ships are correct, and from my knowledge of whaling, having performed one voyage myself, and resided eleven years in New Bedford, one of the largest whaling ports in the Union, I think I am nearly correct. If in errour even in this, I stand corrected.
The number of coloured men engaged in the international navigation cannot be less than three thousand six hundred. For instance, there are four thousand canal boats on the inland transportation in different sections of the Union: add to this the number of steamboats on the Lakes, the Mississippi, and other rivers of the Southwestern States; say one thousand—allow the number of coloured men to the one thousand steamers to be fourteen hundred, and this would give us five thousand coloured men engaged in the internal canal and steam navigation, or an average of one to each vessel.
The estimated marine of the United States according to Capt. Thomas B. Sullivan, (exclusive of the internal navigation) is 150,000, including the naval and merchant service, the whale, cod, and mackerel fisheries. Of this number, 25,000, or 16 2/3 per cent are Americans, the remainder being foreigners representing every tribe under heaven. Allowing the ratio of coloured seamen to be 1–15 of the estimated marine, (and this, I am informed on good authority, is the common ratio in this case,) it would give us ten thousand now in service, excluding those engaged in internal navigation. There is, however, one important fact which I wish to notice; of the one hundred and fifty thousand seamen in the United States, only twenty-five thousand are Americans. We claim one-half of the American seamen in the merchant and naval service, &c. &c. to be coloured men.
National Anti-Slavery Standard, September 14, 1846.
Statistics of coloured seamen imprisoned in Southern and foreign ports.
In order to get at the truth, in regard to the number of coloured seamen imprisoned in Southern and foreign ports, I shall be under the necessity of making further extracts from the laws of the State of Louisiana, enacted in the spring of 1842, which makes the person liable to be punished by imprisonment FIVE YEARS—and if found in the State thirty days after, shall be indicted therefor, and on conviction, shall be punished by imprisonment at hard labor for life.
SECTION 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the State of Louisiana, in General Assembly convened, that from and after the time specified in this act, no free negro, mulatto, or person of colour, shall come into this State, on board of any vessel or steamboat, as a cook, steward, mariner, or in any employment on board said vessel or steamboat, or as a passenger; and in case any vessel or steamboat shall arrive in any port, or harbour, or landing, on any river of this State, from any other State or foreign port, having on board any such free negro, mulatto, or person of colour, the harbour master, or other officer having charge of such port, or any person or persons residing at or near said landing, shall forthwith notify the nearest Judge or Justice of the Peace, in the parish in which said port or harbour or landing is situated, of the arrival of said vessel, or steamboat, whereupon the said Judge or Justice of the Peace shall immediately issue a warrant to apprehend and bring every such free negro, mulatto, or person of colour, before him; and on the execution of said warrant, by bringing before him such free negro, mulatto or person of colour, he shall forthwith commit him or her to the parish jail, there to be confined until said vessel or steamboat shall be ready to proceed to sea, or to her place of destination, when the master or commander of such vessel or steamboat, shall, by the written permit or order of the said Judge or Justice of the Peace, take and carry away out of this State, every such free negro, mulatto, or person of colour, and pay the expenses of his or her apprehension and detention.
SEC. 3. Be it further enacted, etc.—That if the master or commander of any vessel or steamboat, on board of which any free negro, mulatto, or person of colour, shall have been brought into this State, shall refuse or neglect to transport and carry out of this State, such free negro, mulatto, or person of colour, then the said Judge or Justice of the Peace shall order the same to be done by the Sheriff of the parish, and in the parish of New Orleans by either of the sheriffs or marshal of New Orleans, who shall thereupon be bound to transport or send out of the State, such free negro, mulatto, or person of colour, at the proper cost and charge of such free negro, mulatto, or person of colour, if he or she have the means to pay the same, and if not, at the expense of the State, to be paid out of the penalty recovered under this act or otherwise, on the warrant of the said Judge or the Justice of the Peace.
SEC. 4. Be it further enacted, etc.—That every free negro, mulatto, or person of colour, who, after having been transported or sent out of this State, in pursuance of this act, shall return into it, shall on conviction thereof, before a court of competent jurisdiction, be punished by imprisonment at hard labor for five years; and if such free negro, mulatto, or person of colour, shall be found in this State, thirty days after the expiration of said imprisonment, he shall be indicted therefor, and on conviction, shall be punished by imprisonment at hard labor for life.
SEC. 6. Be it further enacted, etc.—That any person who shall introduce or bring into this State any free person of colour, in violation of this act, shall be punished on conviction thereof, by fine, not exceeding two hundred dollars for the first offence, and for the second, by imprisonment not exceeding six months, and by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars.
SEC. 7. Be it further enacted, etc.—That any person who shall employ, or harbor, or entertain as a boarder, or lodger, any person of colour, residing in this State contrary to law, shall, on conviction thereof, be punished by a fine not exceeding two hundred dollars for each offence.
The reader will please notice that in the laws of Louisiana, no provision is made, (as is the case with South Carolina,) that these acts shall not extend, or that coloured seamen shall be exempted from imprisonment who have arrived in the State by SHIPWRECK, or STRESS of WEATHER, or UNAVOIDABLE accident, or who shall arrive in the State, in any port or harbour, employed as mariners, cooks, or stewards, in any vessel of WAR of the United States, or on board any national vessel of the navies of any European or other powers in amity with the United States; but all are liable to be seized upon and thrust into prison on account of their colour. A case in point. Here is a letter addressed to me three years ago, by a Robert Anderson. It will speak for itself:
NEW-YORK, March 7th, 1843.
Mr. William p. Powell—Dear Sir:—I have been in New Orleans six months, in the United States schooner Essex, Captain Charles Wolf. I sailed from New Orleans to Florida, and then back to New Orleans; on our arrival, two officers came on board the schooner and wished to know my name. I told them Robert Anderson, and they asked the steward his name, and he told them John Burton. They took us both out of the vessel, and put us in prison, and kept us there TWENTY-ONE days. We had to pay fifty cents a day for board. They gave us ONE loaf of bread, which costs THREE cents, and ONE half pound of beef and pork, and TWO potatoes, which is to last TWENTY-FOUR hours. No tea or coffee unless we put our hands in our pockets and buy it. If we want any hot water to shave or to use we must pay extra. They don’t give us any bed to lay on, unless we get bed and bedding from our ship. We had to pay our jail fees, the Recorder’s and officers’ bills. They do treat coloured seamen very bad. Indeed, they refused to take the Captain as bail for us.
As I depend mainly upon facts, in order to make my case good, I will give a few of the many brutal outrages committed upon the liberties of the poor defenceless coloured sailor, in his own country, and in the same State where, thirty-two years ago, coloured men POURED out their life’s blood, to defend their wives, their children, and their homes, from British bayonets, rapine and murder!
JOHN H. SLATE, a native of Connecticut, shipped as steward of the bark Gulnare, and sailed from the port of Boston to New Orleans—was taken from on board his vessel at New Orleans, and imprisoned for want of evidence to prove his freedom, was compelled to work in the chain-gang FOUR YEARS and SIX MONTHS, employed ditching in the winter, and digging graves for the public cemetery. If sick, charged ONE dollar per day, to increase the jail fees—was allowed only TWENTY-FIVE cents per day for labour, food, stinking meat and corn. Slept on the naked plank floor; he was finally released through the interference of lawyer Randolph, who was paid for his services out of the balance of the money due him from the State. This poor fellow arrived in this city destitute and crippled, the iron shackle which he wore on his ancle for four years and six months, having chafed the FLESH off to the BONE. Oh! I shall never forget the shadow of that poor boy, as he crossed the threshold of the coloured Sailors’ Home, and asked for charity—his emaciated form reduced to a mere skeleton. To look at his ancle made my heart sick. “Shall I not visit for these things,” saith the Lord, “shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this.”
In the year 1840, CHARLES BECKET, an inmate of the Sailors’ Home, shipped as cook on board ship Chester, of this port, and sailed for New Orleans. Was discharged there, sick—took a boarding-house, and had not been long there when, he was taken from his place of abode, late in the evening, and taken before the Recorder and imprisoned. Not having any free papers, he was sentenced to work in the chain-gang till he could prove his freedom. He was three years in the chain-gang. Lawyer Randolph secured his liberty. Charles Becket also returned to this city, and boarded at the Sailors’ Home. He was a native of the State of Delaware.
WILLIAM THOMPSON, a native of Pennsylvania, and whose father was ten years in the United States naval service during the last war, shipped on board of ship Havre, of Boston, Captain McClown, bound to New Orleans; was discharged, and joined the ship Mary Elizabeth. Was on board the said ship three weeks—was discharged from her, and joined another ship for Europe. Had liberty to go ashore for a few hours. When his liberty had expired, he returned to his ship. A police officer came on board, and asked him for his free papers. Not having any, he was taken to prison, and there kept till tried—was sentenced to work in the chain-gang. Was ONE year and five days a prisoner. William Thompson says he is well acquainted with John H. Slate and Charles Becket. Were all prisoners together, and worked in the same gang. He was also released through the influence of lawyer Randolph.
Another way in which colored seamen lose their liberty in New Orleans, which I must mention in order to account for a large number who cannot be found in the parish jail, and whose friends suppose them to be dead.
It is customary in New Orleans for masters of vessels, that is if they lay two or three months waiting for freight, to discharge the crew; previous to the law of 1842, a large number of ships carried coloured crews, who were either discharged, or left the vessel of their own accord, the same also with white seamen. The wages in New Orleans, generally, is for seamen, cooks, and stewards, from eighteen, to twenty-five dollars per month, which is a sufficient inducement for seamen to sail out of the port. Large ships generally lay down to the Balize, several miles below the city, and these finish loading, and when ready the crew are articled, and sent down to the ships in towboats. If seamen are scarce, it is a matter of no consequence whether they get white or coloured; either are shipped in a great hurry—take the advance money of twenty-five dollars per month, not knowing what kind of vessel they are to join. All they know is, that the vessel lays down to the BALIZE, and they are ready to go on board when called for. Now, very often the coloured sailors get deceived. Instead of going on board of a ship at the Balize, they are transferred and distributed among the pilot boats, where they are compelled to work, sometimes for LIFE, like galley slaves. The pilots will not pay them one cent of wages, and if they dare to say they are free, they are whipped and punished with such cruelty, that they are glad to have the opportunity at any and at all times, to say that they are SLAVES.
I have seen and conversed with eight who have been fortunate in getting away. Some have been discharged by the pilots, (after having been five years in Slavery,) and put on board ships outward bound, without a cent of wages, and glad to get off at that, others are released through the interference of friends, or the civil authorities and thrust into jail, and if free, they are shipped, and get off that way, others NEVER get their freedom.
On the first of this month a young man called on me for assistance to enable him to get home to Boston. His name is John H. Roberts, the son of Deacon Roberts, a worthy coloured man, and I believe a member of “the old South Church.”
The following is the substance of his written statement. I sailed from Boston, October 26th, 1845, for Rio de Janeiro, in the bark Effort, Capt. Hussey, was taken sick three weeks on the passage out, and remained so during the voyage—the Captain refused to give me any medicine. He also refused to let me go ashore at “Rio,” and go to the hospital, but told me to go to h—1. He did, however, make the attempt the next day to get me into the hospital, but the day being a great festival, he was unable to get a permit, so, without medical aid, I was compelled to remain on board till I arrived in New Orleans, when I was taken out of the ship, and shut up in prison; my disease, the dysentery, preying upon my system—obliged to lay on the naked floor—my food uncooked except the bread. I had about fifty dollars due me from the ship. I wrote a note to the Captain (as also did the keeper of the prison) to send me some money, but he did not. I was confined twenty-eight days, when the Captain, finding me unable to join my ship and go to work, cursed and swore at me, and sailed for Marseilles. I was finally taken out and put on board one of the New-York packets, and arrived at this port. The Captain made me pay my jail-fees, which was fifteen dollars. In consequence of the neglect and treatment I received at New Orleans, my health is entirely prostrated.
National Anti-Slavery Standard, October 8, 1846.
Statistics of coloured seamen imprisoned in Southern and foreign ports.
JACOB BROWN, a native of Nova Scotia, shipped as cook of the brig Oceana, of Boston, and sailed for New Orleans in January, 1841. The captain and mate conspired to sell him as a slave in New Orleans. Was compelled to leave the vessel without his wages. Soon after shipped as cook to join the ship Lafayette, for Liverpool, laying at Slaughter-House Point—wages twenty-five dollars per month. Put his clothes on board the tow-boat Tiger, to join said ship. When near the Point, inquired for the ship, and was told the ship had gone down further—when upon the second inquiry, was told that he had shipped to the pilot boats at the Balize. There were eight other coloured men shipped the same way, and all compelled to work without pay. There were sixty-eight free coloured men on board the several pilot boats at the Southwest and Southeast Pass, all made to work as slaves, some employed as pull-away boys, others repairing sails and rigging. A large number of these men were finally released by the civil authorities.
In my humble efforts to vindicate the character and condition of coloured seamen, I am aware that in order to bring my country to the bar of public opinion, and the world, to be adjudged for the outrages and cruelties inflicted upon the poor defenceless coloured sailor, when in the prosecution of his lawful business, much depends upon the WEIGHT of evidence, and to use a legal phrase I must keep a single eye to the LAW and the TESTIMONY.
Doubtless there are many who will not believe all the statements in the last number, as to the treatment the individuals therein named received at New Orleans; then again, there is another class who do not believe that a sailor can tell the truth, but sneeringly treat their story as a forecastle yarn, to enlist the sympathies of credulous citizens. But the difficulty does not lay here—it is the Southern States and their Northern apologists, who will not believe, and hence the difficulty to get the truth before them, and even if they should believe, you cannot get the newspapers to publish these wrongs, even as an item of information. There is, however, some fairness now and then to be found, of which the following extract from the report of the grand jury of the parishes of New Orleans, &c. &c. is a specimen. It is Southern testimony, and corroborates the statements of the principal sufferers.
“In this prison, our attention was attracted to several negroes, principally females, who are detained from inability to prove their freedom, some more, some less, than from one to four years. They most of them represent themselves to be from other States of the Union; and name persons of respectability therein, who can furnish proof of their being free, could they but find the means of informing each persons of their present situation. It occurred to the members of the jury that it might be an act of charity, on the part of the Mayor, to procure a weekly or other periodical report of such cases, accompanied with a statement from each party so committed, the truth of which he could ascertain by applying to the references given, either by correspondence, or otherwise; then deal with the parties accordingly; for if these people are really free, and only require means to establish their freedom, it would certainly not be a praiseworthy act to detain them incarcerated two years, and then sell them as slaves, as the laws provide for; whilst with a little trouble their freedom might be substantiated, and they sent back to the State to which they belong; and on this point, we feel authorized to state that Mr. Planchard, the present keeper, is ready and willing to take any trouble that humanity and justice call for in such cases. . . .
The police prison of the second municipality, cannot be denounced in too strong terms, to the reprobation of the public. The prisoners, principally black, are kept locked up in small rooms . . . without a blanket to lay on; although the keeper admitted that they were supplied to the establishment. The rooms are floored on the ground, six or eight inches below the level of the ground, are filthy, full of vermin, several of them are not closed, having none but iron-railed doors and windows, thereby leaving the inmates exposed to the cold and wet.
“Painful as it may be, it is, nevertheless, our duty to present a series of malpractices connected with this prison. There are men now in it, who have been there for months and years, without having had a hearing before the Recorder. On our inquiring into the cause of this, the reply of the keeper was, ‘I don’t know. The Recorder receives regularly every morning a report of the prisoners, and orders before him those he thinks proper.’—Others are detained from inability to prove their alleged freedom, being foreigners, and not having the means of producing such proof, they are kept in prison for years, without further notice; to what good purpose, it is difficult to understand.
“That the public may judge by facts, we beg leave to report the following cases, merely remarking that the dates of their respective imprisonments are taken from the books of the prison, corroborating, in most instances, the report of the prisoners, who represent themselves as free persons:
No. 1. Augustus Smith, 18th August, 1840. This is a mulatto man, says he is a native of the Spanish Main. Has never been before the Recorder.
No. 2. John Harvey—imprisoned 24th April, 1839: a black man. Says his free papers have been taken to the Recorder by Mr. Jacob Barker—but he himself has never been before the Recorder.
No. 3. Louis Polony, imprisoned 28th September, 1839: a Griffe—says he is a native of Gaudaloupe—came here in the American brig Lucy, from New York; had his certificate of baptism on board, and lost the opportunity of producing it, the vessel having left the port shortly after; was never before the Recorder.
No. 4. Charles Banks, a black; imprisoned 18th September, 1843; never before the Recorder.
No. 6. Jeremiah Carroll, February, 1841—a black man. Says his case was investigated by the Mayor, in whose hands his free papers now are. Was taken up in second Municipality shortly after—never taken before the Recorder.
No. 7. Solomon Mandlop, a black, imprisoned above a year; had been taken up in the first Municipality, found here contrary to law, and discharged by the court, and subsequently taken up in the second Municipality; never taken before the Recorder.
No. 8. William Wallace, a mulatto, imprisoned 22d January, 1839; never before the Recorder.
No. 9. Francis Quin, a black, imprisoned 25th December, 1840; never before the recorder.
No. 10. Solomon Jones, an Indian, imprisoned 25th of August, 1849; is a native of Philadelphia, his mother is an Indian; has been once before the Recorder.
“Most of these persons, and many others now confined, came to this port from different ports of the United States, and are all made to work in the chain-gang as Slaves.
“All of which is respectfully submited,
“CHARLES J. DARON, Foreman.
“New Orleans, February 4th, 1842.”
The States of Virginia, Georgia, and Alabama, like South Carolina and Louisiana, have enacted similar laws imprisoning coloured seamen. At the port of Norfolk, coloured seamen when discharged from the Naval service, are not permitted to leave without first having their discharge signed by the Mayor of the city. He is under police regulations till north of Mason & Dixon’s line, and before he leaves Baltimore he must produce personal white evidence to prove his identity as the person holding said certificate of discharge as countersigned by the Mayor of Norfolk. Below is a copy of a discharge from the naval service; the holder being sick and unfit for duty:
No 1346.—This is to certify that John Blossom, landsman, being considered as unfit for duty, is, by order of the Hon. Secretary of the Navy, regularly discharged from the United States ship Pennsylvania, and from the sea-service of the United States.
JOHN DE BREE, Purser
J. PAUL ZANTZINGER, Captain.
Norfolk, 13th January, 1843.
On the back of this certificate is the following permission from the Mayor:
John Blossom, landsman. Colour, black, Age. 20 years. Height, 5 feet 6 inches. Hair, woolly. Eyes, black. Complexion, negro. Born—New Hampshire.
The bearer, John Blossom, is at liberty to proceed to New-York, in the Virginia packet.
M. KING, Mayor.
No. 186.—This is to certify that Andrew Robinson is regularly discharged from the United States ship Cyane, and from the sea-service of the United States. Norfolk, 10th October, 1844.
JOHN D. GIBSON, Purser.
GEORGE NICHOLAS HOLLINS, Commander
Norfolk Borough, to wit:
I, William D. Delany, a Justice of the Peace of the Commonwealth of Virginia, in and for the said Borough, do hereby certify that John Bedell, master of the schooner, Ann D. now lying in Norfolk, and bound for New-York, has this day produced before me a certain negro man, named ANDREW ROBINSON, who has been regularly discharged from the United States ship Cyane, as proved by the certificate of John D. Gibson, purser, and approved by Captain Hollins, Commander of said ship.
WM. D. DELANY, Mayor.
So much for the laws of Virginia, that when a coloured sailor having served his country from two to four years in the naval service, and honourably discharged from the sea-service by the Hon. Secretary of the Navy, he is seized upon by the laws of Virginia, and not permitted to leave without the consent of the corporate authorities at an expense of two dollars. Will the Secretary of the Navy please turn his attention to this matter, and extend to coloured seamen at least the protection of the Government whilst thus employed? Or will he suffer the broad seal of the United States to be trampled in the dust by the authorities of Norfolk?
The Legislature of Alabama have passed a law to imprison all the coloured seamen that may arrive in the port of Mobile from sea, and to retain them in prison at the expense of the owners of the vessels to which they may belong, until the vessel is ready for departure.
Some inquiries having been made by the writer of this of an intelligent ship-master relative to the law, and the presumed reasons for passing it, he has given us the information, which we herewith communicate to you for publication.
The avowed reasons for passing this law, was the alleged fear, that the coloured seamen of the North, having experienced the blessings of freedom, might contaminate their slaves, and thus cause insurrection.
Ships bound to Mobile, anchor off Cedar Point, distant thirty miles from the city, and in a wide, open roadstead. In almost every case, the boats are hoisted in, and no communication permitted by the masters with the city, except through passing steamboats, or return lighters. The coloured portion of the crew, are never permitted to go on shore, and the ship-masters have informed the authorities, that in case any coloured seamen go on shore, they would—however illegal to imprison a seaman, charged with no crime except having a black skin—interpose no objection to his detention. This would seem to be sufficient to satisfy the people, or rather the mob city of Mobile.
The law further provides, that the Marshal shall receive a fee of five dollars for taking, and five dollars for retaining each coloured seamen, which must be paid by the ship-owners.
The necessity of this law is yet to be explained.
It is the custom in the Bay of Mobile for crews of unemployed vessels to assist in loading the ships taking cargoes; for this service they receive, or rather the loading ship is charged, at the rate of two dollars per day, one-half of which goes to the seamen employed. This is a service they are eager to perform. The extra pay furnishes them with their small stores. Now the whole purport of this law is, to break up the loading ships by their crews, as far as possible, and to give to the slave-owners of Mobile employment for their slaves, at high prices. The merchants and men of business are opposed to it, but in vain.
It is seen by all men that this great question must be met by the people of the North; it obtrudes itself everywhere; the spirit of Slavery requires us to violate the trial by jury under penalties known to be unconstitutional Menaces of dissolution of the Union, have been again and again thrown out; and now the free coloured people of the North are to be kept in prison, that the slave owners of Alabama may find profitable employment for their slaves. We shall meet this great question; and if our great statesmen of the North desert us in the hour of need, other and worthier leaders of the people will not be wanting; one that at least, though borne down with the weight of years, will leave a bright example of faithfulness to the cause of human freedom.
The more I look at this subject, the more I see of Slavery. It is evident the South in this matter (as well as in Church and State) are determined to reap a rich harvest; there is no satisfying our Southern masters.
The people of the North have given them two-thirds of all the offices, both civil, military, and naval, in the gift of the National Government, in order to replenish the exhausted pockets of their profligate sons. The Tariff, the laws, and indeed everything is made to bend to the wishes of the South, who live upon the toils of unrequited labour. They prate about protection to American industry—protection to slave property. They claim the right, under the law of 1792, to come into the free States and pounce upon the coloured man, be he ever so free, and consign him to perpetual slavery. And now with the same high-handed injustice, enact laws to seize and imprison free coloured men when coming into their ports, as an excuse to prevent insurrection among their slaves, when the truth is, these laws operate pecuniarily to the benefit of slave owners.
The island of Cuba, taking advantage of the example of the Southern States, have also framed laws to imprison coloured seamen, except Indian, Malays, Lascars, subjects of China, and the South Pacific Ocean. Every negro seized with woolly hair, no matter how white his complexion may be, is thrust into prison.
Now as it regards the number of coloured seamen imprisoned in Southern and foreign ports. I think the foregoing facts are sufficient to deduce the following table. The reader will bear in mind that there are no slaves condemned to work in the chain-gang at New Orleans. All are free coloured men. I have been particular to ascertain the number of coloured men imprisoned at New Orleans, and learn that the average number is not less than thirty-five per month, for twelve months, whilst in some months, the number upon an average (say six months) is not less than fifty. Nineteen coloured men were taken out of vessels in one day; in fact, according to the statement of men who have been in prison, and the sworn testimony of not less than one hundred can be had, if desired, there is not a day passes without prisoners coming in under this law.
From the same authority I learn that the ports of Charleston, Savannah, Mobile, and the different ports of CUBA average, for Charleston, twenty per month. Savannah, seventeen; Mobile, seventeen; Cuba, eight. A provision is made in the laws of Cuba, that captains may give bonds for one thousand dollars, and thereby prevent the imprisonment of cooks, stewards, or seamen, amenable to this law; or else the number of Cuba would be much greater. I have been told by Mr. William H. Davis, who was imprisoned in Charleston Jail, that there were seventy coloured seamen, belonging to different vessels, in prison at the same time.
I think I am safe, (relying as I do, mainly upon the testimony of men whose veracity I have good reason to believe,) in my table, viz:
Eleven hundred and sixty-eight American citizens imprisoned in different parts of their own and foreign countries, for no other crime than for the crime of colour! Americans, look at this and blush!!
Before I finished this number, for the benefit of the generous North—the lavishing non-slaveholding States, to help their dear Southern brethren to defray the expenses of their own State Government, I will now foot the bill.
The general rule is to charge the vessel fifty cents per day for board for every coloured prisoner, besides charges for commitment. Then each vessel must employ a cook, at one dollar per day; the cook is generally a female slave, especially in Charleston.
The result will be as follows, viz:
For board and other incidental expenses, the North are made to pay for imprisoning coloured seamen at New Orleans, for one year,
National Anti-Slavery Standard, October 15, 1846.
Statistics of Coloured men — Captains and Officers of Merchant and Whaling Vessels.
It is difficult, as I before observed, to ascertain the whole truth in relation to definite numbers which go to make up a fair and correct estimate of the character and condition of coloured seamen, as it regards the number of coloured men, captains and officers of whale-ships. As I have said in a former number, there is not that nice distinction in the whaling as there is in the merchant and naval services. In the former there is no barrier, no dividing line, no complexional distinction, to hedge up the cabin gangway or the quarter-deck, to prevent the intrepid, enterprising, and skillful coloured sailor from filling the same station as the white sailor, but all are alike eligible, and stand upon a common level. There are some redeeming traits in the characters of the owners and captains of whale-ships which would be well for the Government of the United States, and the owners of merchant-ships to imitate. On board of whale-ships the crews are generally unlettered men, or rather, a large proportion are ignorant of the rudiments of a good common school education. No one can imagine, but those who have performed a whaling voyage, the thirst the men have for mental cultivation. The forecastles are turned into schoolrooms. There you will see the cook, the steward, and two or three of the crew, under the tuition of their several teachers, busily engaged in their primary lessons: and others studying navigation, and taking Lunars, under the instructions of the captain or mates. By close application during the voyage, an unlettered man may acquire the art of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Now this is the case with a large majority of coloured men in the whaling service, that when having acquired a thorough knowledge of the art and skill in capturing whales, together with navigation and seamanship, it qualifies them to fill the offices of boat-steerers, third, second, and first mates, and sometimes captains of whaling vessels.
A fair inference from the above can be drawn to insure a correct estimate. There are more than seven hundred vessels engaged in the whale fishery, each vessel averaging one coloured officer. I have known some ships to have second mate, and three boat-steerers; others to have chief mate and two boat-steerers. There are, without exception, any quantity of coloured men constantly employed as officers out of the different whaling ports—sufficient, in my humble opinion, to warrant the following table:—
In 1836, the brig “Rising States,” owned, and entirely manned and officered by coloured men, sailed from New Bedford on a whaling voyage, and returned in 1837, partially successful, re-fitted and sailed on the second voyage, which was unfortunately interrupted by the vessel’s being unseaworthy. The effort, however, gave satisfactory practical evidence of the coloured man’s ability to navigate vessels to any part of the world. It is not necessary for me to refer to this as an evidence what coloured seamen can do. Facts, overwhelming facts, can be given, if required, that for thirty years coloured men more or less have been in command of vessels without any material intermission.
I am confident that sufficient justice has not been awarded to all, for the very reason that I am not in possession of all the facts in relation to this one subject; and if sufficient pains were taken to collect all the facts, what a mass of evidence we could have at hand to refute the foul calumnies daily heaped upon us by those whose chief study is to degrade us.
National Anti-Slavery Standard, October 29, 1846.
Their Social, Civil, Moral, and Religious Character.
The time was when no man cared for the temporal and spiritual welfare of the sailor; he was looked upon only as an article of merchandise. Imported and exported from one country to another, and bartered for, sold, transferred from his ship to a rum-selling boardinghouse—to the brothel, and those sinks of pollution, where he is exchanged for what he is worth, until, like a depreciated currency, he is shipped at a discount to some foreign port, and passed off as current coin.
The sailor’s occupation necessarily shuts him out of the pale of social, civil, moral, and religious society; he is constantly forming new acquaintances in foreign and distant ports, and associating with a class of men whose habits of life very often (especially foreigners) compel them to seek refuge at sea from the vengeance of the sword of Justice for violating the laws of their country.
To those acquainted with a sea-life, and the vicissitudes and snares which follow in the wake of the sailor—his hard usage at sea, wholly at the mercy of tyrant captains and brutal officers, (more especially the coloured sailor,) subject as he is to the unholy prejudice, in consequence of the usage, customs, and laws of his native country, seized upon when entering a Southern port of discharge, and thrust into prison for no other crime than that of having a coloured skin, where in some cases he is stripped of his hard earnings, and not permitted to depart until he has paid the utmost farthing,—it is not at all surprising that when on shore and unrestrained, he is careless and thoughtless, and gives way to his passions and appetites, and drowns all his troubles in a glass of grog.
Thus we see the mind and physical energies of the generous, free-hearted sailor, steeped in vices of all kinds. His social and civil rights, few—his moral and religious privileges as things that have no existence; his hopes crushed; his manhood reduced to the mere title of a brute, he is easily made the willing dupe of myriads of landsharks, pimps, and false-hearted landlords and base friends—he is stripped of his hard earnings, beaten, and left to wallow in misery and wretchedness. And alas! is there no help for old Ocean’s sons? was the cry that greeted the ears of Christian philanthropists, coming from every point of the compass, until it had reached high heaven: and the spirit of God moved upon the waters of the mighty deep and caused the inhabitants thereof to sing a new song of deliverance from the powers of Satan and his kingdom! Now Bethel Churches, Seamen’s Friend Societies, and Sailors’ Homes, are established: magazines and papers are published advocating his claims, and Christians throughout the world unite in the glad sound, Glory to God in the highest, the Sailor is free.
It is not my purpose to disparage, or undervalue the many sterling virtues which, as a general rule, characterize the true-hearted sailor, for I am intimately acquainted with many who are an ornament to society and an honour to their country. Allowance must be made for the many precious gems that glitter amid the ruins of dissipated humanity.
For seventeen years I have been associated with this interesting class of people; five of which were spent at sea, in the capacity of a sailor. I have been twelve years engaged in seamen’s affairs, and with this experimental knowledge, I feel safe in saying that there is a decided improvement in the social and civil habits of the coloured sailor.
Again, about one-third of the coloured seamen in the United States were born and reared in the States of Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia; and in these States education so far as the coloured man is concerned, is to a great extent prohibited, and many make choice of a sea-life as a means of subsistence. At an early age he is deprived of a good parental education, which is the foundation upon which rests the mighty intellect of man, and of his future hopes for good. His social and civil habits depend mainly upon paternal and maternal cultivation. Blessed is that wandering but reclaimed prodigal sailor who can date his redemption from the fact that he has a praying mother and father, or sister, and friends, at home, supplicating the Throne of Grace in his behalf! Now take into the account all of the disadvantages under which the coloured sailor labours, and it is astonishing that there should be any redeeming trait in their character left.
It has been more than twenty-seven years since the first effort was made in this country to evangelize seamen, during which time thousands and hundreds of thousands of dollars have been expended for the benefit of white seamen, yet not one cent ever benefited the coloured sailor (within my knowledge) till 1839. Well, now what is the difference of character between the two classes, the one having been operated upon twenty-seven years, and the other but seven! You will bear in mind, that the ratio of the native American sailor is only 16 2/3 per cent. of the 150,000 seamen in the United States, all the rest being foreigners. The coloured seamen are eight per cent of the whole. I have proven that the coloured sailor is every way qualified to man and command vessels of any class to any part of the world—that he has surmounted superhuman difficulties, and placed himself side by side with his white brother sailors, the prejudice against his colour, the usages of society, and the customs of this slaveholding republic, to the contrary notwithstanding.
I do not consider this fact a phenomenon to be gazed upon as one of the seven wonders of the world, but simply as an evidence that his social and civil habits are susceptible of the same improvement as that of the white sailor, provided always that his opportunities are the same.
National Anti-Slavery Standard, November 12, 1846.
UNDER THE DIRECTION OF THE AMERICAN SEAMEN’S FRIEND SOCIETY,
COLORED SEAMEN’S HOME,
KEPT BY WILLIAM P. POWELL,
No. 70 John, corner of Gold-street, New-York.
Cooks, Stewards, and Seamen, who come to this house will have their choice of ships, and the highest wages; and if they are not satisfied after remaining twenty-four hours, no charge will be made.
The Colored American, March 21, 1840.
Since the first of May, 1841, the experiment has been tried to sustain this establishment without the aid of the Society. From that time to the present there has been received and accommodated two hundred and eighty-three boarders, at an expense of $970 32; to defray which, the receipts during that time for board amounted to $804 73—not including the outstanding dues, some of which may be collected.
Independent of the expenses sustained for the support of the Home, and other incidental expenses, one of the present proprietors, William P. Powell, has been to an expense of $262, in lowering and finishing the basement, altering and finishing the attic, &c. The alteration and repairing thus made, it is believed, were necessary for the comfort and convenience of the inmates.
Of the two hundred and eighty-three boarders who have found a home in this house, many have duly appreciated the advantages of having a strictly temperance, and otherwise well conducted house, where, after escaping the dangers incident to the life of a sailor, they can enjoy repose and quiet, and none to molest nor make them afraid.
The proprietors acknowledge, with gratitude, their many thanks to Messrs. Goin, Poole & Pentz, shipping agents, for their large and increased patronage to the “Coloured Sailor’s Home,” since its establishment up to the present time.
With many thanks to the Seamen’s Friend Society, and to the friends of seamen, for the praiseworthy stand they have taken in their behalf; we humbly commend them and the cause to the care of our Heavenly Father: and with renewed zeal begin the new year with brighter prospects.
WILLIAM P. POWELL
NATHANIEL A. BORDEN.
New-York, Jan. 1, 1842.
Sailor’s Magazine, February, 1842, p. 197.
It is hardly necessary to call the attention of our readers to the following statement which we find in the last number of the Sailor’s Magazine. Mr. Powell is well known for his devotion to the improvement of that most neglected and abused of all classes, the coloured sailors, who, both from complexion and position, are exposed to a thousand dangers, temptations, and wrongs, which do not fail to the lot of those who are only black, or only sailors. Without having made a single inquiry as to the present exigencies of the “Home,” we feel quite confident that nothing but dire necessity would prompt Mr. Powell to make this appeal, for we know that the enterprise has for years past been a perpetual struggle, and that in a pecuniary point of view it has been to him a source of considerable loss. And this result is owing not to any want of good management on his part, but simply to the intrinsic difficulties with which he has had to contend—the unfortunate relations of coloured sailors, and the prejudices which pursue them no less than others of their race in other positions. The appeal we hope may find a fitting response on the part of those who are able of their abundance to aid a good purpose and an excellent man:
COLOURED SAILOR’S HOME, NEW YORK.—The undersigned, keeper of the Coloured Sailor’s Home in the city of New York, begs leave to submit to the Christian community the following statement:
In 1839, nearly ten years ago, the condition of the 2000 coloured seamen sailing out of this port was urged upon his attention. He found them subject to all the vices common among seamen, with very little motive for self-respect, and less encouragement of gaining the respect of others. Can they be elevated and saved? was a question most seriously pondered.
Two years before the American Seamen’s Friend Society had made a successful movement in the establishment of a Home for other sailors; and the same friends asked ‘why not also have a home for the coloured? At their instance and advice, accompanied by some pecuniary aid, the Coloured Sailor’s Home was opened. Notwithstanding the narrowness of its accommodations, and much pecuniary embarrassment, it has continued to be a refuge for the tempted, a protection for the virtuous, and a house of mercy for the wrecked and destitute. The whole number of boarders has been about 4,275, or an annual average of 450. Of the whole number, 560 destitute sailors, true objects of charity, have received relief in board and clothing, or an average of $3 each, amounting to $1,680. In the mean time many have refused admittance for the want of means to assist them.
Finding it necessary either to abandon the enterprise of keeping up a Home for coloured seamen, or to have a house commodious and comfortable for such a purpose. The undersigned has hired the three story brick building at 330 Pearl st. On the 1st of May he hopes to open it under auspices of greater good to his coloured brethren of the sea than ever enjoyed by them before. But in order to do it, he is compelled to make his first public appeal to the friends of the cause for aid. To procure beds and bedding and furniture, and to pay his additional rent, will sink the enterprise, unless friends voluntarily come to his relief. And this relief he earnestly asks; not on his own account, but on account of his brethren, who may, through the instrumentality of a well regulated home, be saved from wretchedness here and hereafter. Grateful acknowledgements are due for early and recent aid; and among the recent $20 worth of necessary articles from the Ladies’ Bethel Society, Newburyport, Mass. The friends of the cause are respectfully referred to any of the officers of the American Seamen’s Friend Society to ascertain the necessities of this case, and whether the much needed aid will be most wisely and usefully expended.
Keeper of Coloured Sailor’s Home,
330 Pearl street, New York.
April 1, 1849.
National Anti-Slavery Standard, April 5, 1849.
MR. WM. P. POWELL of this city, who, although of an unconstitutional and sinful color, is well known as a man of cultivated mind and great respectability, is about to leave this country with his family for England. In that kingdom he is sure that his children are not shut out by the laws of the country and the customs of society from such share of knowledge and such opportunity of obtaining and maintaining a respectable position among their fellow-men as law and custom offer to them. Though happily successful in life, this success has been in spite of the obstacles which every day of his life have been thrown in his way because of his complexion. He does not know that his children may be blessed with equally good luck, or that energy and enterprise, should they possess an unusual share of these qualities, will, under no circumstances command with them, the success which they have in his own case. Having the means of removing to another country where they will not, because of their color alone, be compelled to fight the battle of life at a disadvantage, which he, too well, knows how to appreciate, he does not feel that he would be discharging a parental duty by retaining them in a land which though theirs by birth, makes them alien to the protection of its laws and the benefits of its social relations.
Before leaving, however, Mr. Powell chose to present to the Legislature of his native State those claims upon her which from his birth to the present moment have been denied him by society. He asks her aid to assist him in the removal of his family to a new home. The petition, though its very presentation would be a cutting sarcasm, is a very proper one, and would have come with peculiar appropriateness before the assembled wisdom of the State, at a moment when its wise and Christian legislators were discussing the propriety of refusing its aid to a seminary of learning, because that Institution would not refuse to colored youth the advantages which it gives to others. Had Mr. Powell asked permission to sell his children at auction to the highest bidder, or have asked assistance to emigrate to Liberia, we have no doubt he would have gained a hearing, but a petition for aid to remove them where the buying and selling of their brethren would not consign them to contempt and degradation, it was not deemed proper by his representative even to present to the Legislature, and doubtless this gentleman estimated truly the character of the body of which he is a member. They might not, perhaps, hesitate to do an act not too palpably outrageous to degrade a colored man, but it was useless to ask them to aid in bettering the position of a whole family.
Mr. Powell sent his Memorial to the representative of his ward with the following letter:
TO HON. H. G. ALLEN.
Dear Sir:—Please present this petition and advocate its reception, and oblige your constituent, and twelve years a resident of the 4th Ward.
New York, July 7, 1851.
To the Honorable the Senate and House of Assembly of the State of New York Convened:
Your memorialist an inhabitant of the city and county of New York, and citizen of the State aforesaid represents,
That he is the Grandson of ELIZABETH BARJONA, one of the many Heroines who, during the Revolutionary war with Great Britain, rendered aid and comfort to the rebels of the first Continental Congress, that when these patriots were driven from one State to another, and when large rewards were offered for their persons dead or alive, and when it was declared a penal offence, punishable with death, for any person to aid, assist or even to give them a morsel of bread or a drink of water, struggling as they were for national Independence from British rule, your petitioner’s Grandmother, the said Elizabeth Barjona did in the capacity of Cook to the said Congress, carefully and regularly supply to the members thereof, every possible luxury which in those days of darkness and despair could be procured; and your memorialist feels therefore that his venerable relative though an humble was an important instrument in the deliberations of that body. It is not for your memorialist to remind your honorable body of how much the mind depends upon the wholesome, vigorous condition of its dwelling-place, nor to point out to you the disastrous consequences which might have ensued had not they eaten and drunken and been daily filled with the good things of this life, whereby the strength was given them to conceive, sign and proclaim to the world the great and noble truths of the American Declaration of Independence, “that all men are created free and equal and are entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and your petitioner further sheweth that notwithstanding his grandmother did directly and indirectly contribute all her youthful energies to cement the “Union of the States,” yet the “States of the Union” have violated the contract, securing LIFE, LIBERTY, and the PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS to all persons without regard to the color of their skin. And your petitioner further sheweth that, his father EDWARD POWELL was held a slave for life by the laws of New York, whereby your petitioner was deprived of a HOME and of a father’s protection; and your petitioner further showeth that, owing to the prejudices, customs, and usages of the people of this State and of the Union that, it is impossible for him though freed from the disabilities which weighed upon his father, to give his own children, of whom he has a large family, that education and to secure to them those opportunities for a livelihood and a respectable position in society, to which, as human beings, and as American Citizens they are entitled.
Now in view of all these facts above stated, and in view of the fact that, one branch of the Legislature did enact a bill this session appropriating monies from the State Treasury to aid colored persons emigrating from this country; which bill was lost in the Senate, your petitioner respectfully asks your honorable body to appropriate by special act——Dollars which will enable him to emigrate with his family from this country, which denies to him and them the rights guarrantied by the Declaration of Independence, in which he has as above shown so great an hereditary interest, to the Kingdom of Great Britain, where character and not color—capacity and not complexion, are the tests of merit; and your petitioner will ever pay &c.
New York July 7th 1851
WILLIAM P. POWELL
National Anti-Slavery Standard, July 17, 1851.
MY DEAR FRIEND GAY: In a few hours, with a strong breeze from “old blow hard,” and a few rolls of ocean’s billows between you and myself, I shall be beyond the reach of American Institutions; Institutions without a parallel in the civilized world. To enumerate their peculiarities would be a waste of labour and time. Much has been said in praise of them; the Pulpit—the Press—the State and National forums have groaned under the weight of religious and civil declamation in admiration of the wisdom of the Temple whose foundation and chief corner stone is Slavery. How long, oh! how long shall men, women, and children, be sacrificed on the altar of this god of oppression? how long shall humanity’s voice be stifled by the din and clamour of his worshippers? It is the voice of a god they exclaim, and you who oppose must obey it. Great God, shall it be so! Shall this wicked nation trample the poor black man in the dust any longer? Oh! for another miracle, another manifestation of they displeasure, such as befel Herod, the persecutor of thy people, in the days of the Apostles!
Sorry I am to leave you, but the way of duty is the way of safety. I have tried to do my duty to my brother man, whilst with you, and I mean to be found trying, not forgetting my family, wherever it may please God to cast my lot.
The success of my undertaking I leave in the hands of God; in Him do I put my trust; may I never be confounded.
Farewell, my friend; be true to principle; be true to the slave, and comfort my afflicted nominally free coloured countrymen, and the blessings of them that are about to perish, and the approbation of “Our Father, who art in heaven” “well done good and faithful servant,” &c., shall be your reward.
Mrs. Mercy A. Powell, Wm. P. Powell, Edward B. Powell, Sylvester H. Powell, Mary 0. Powell, Isaiah A. Powell, Sarah A. Powell, and Samuel Powell, wife and seven children, accompany me in my journey to England. You will confer a favour by publishing the names, for the information of my relatives and friends.
Truly and faithfully yours, in the bonds of American Slavery,
WILLIAM P. POWELL.
Monday, Nov. 17, 1851.
National Anti-Slavery Standard, November 27, 1851.
MR. EDITOR—It of course is well known to you that the legislature of Alabama have passed a law, to imprison all the colored seamen, that may arrive in the port of Mobile from sea, and to retain them, at the expense of the owners of the vessels to which they may belong, in prison, until the vessel is ready for departure.
Some inquiries having been made, by the writer of this, from an intelligent shipmaster, relative to the law, and the presumed reasons for passing it, he has given us the information, which we herewith communicate to you for publication.
The avowed reason for passing this law, was the alledged fear, that the colored seamen of the North, having experienced the blessings of freedom, might contaminate their slaves, and thus cause insurrections.
Ships bound to Mobile anchor off Cedar Point, distant 30 miles from the city, and in a wide, open roadstead. In almost every case, the boats are hoisted in, and no communication permitted by the masters with the city, except through passing steamboats, or return lighters. The colored portion of the crew are never permitted to go on shore, and the shipmasters have informed the authorities, that in case any colored seamen be found on shore, they would—however illegal to imprison a seaman, charged with no crime, except having a black skin—interpose no objections to his detention. This would seem to be sufficient to satisfy the people, or rather the mob of the city of Mobile.
The law further provides, that the marshal shall receive a fee of five dollars for taking, and five for retaining each colored seaman, which must be paid by the ship owner.
The present mayor of Mobile has hitherto refused attempting the execution of this law; and application having, it is stated, been made to the captain of one of our revenue cutters for assistance, be, of course, refused; consequently, no attempt has as yet been made to enforce this horribly unjust law; but the same interest from the city of Mobile, which was powerful enough to cause the passage of this law, will probably elect their own Mayor, and thus a collision will yet take place. Whether the British government will permit their free colored seamen to be forcibly taken from their ships, is yet to be seen; meanwhile the present Secretary of State for the United States, will have time to prepare an elaborate opinion, justifying the law in anticipation. After his published letter in the Creole case, he may as well be considered as the exponent of any ultra southern claim; the “necessity of the case,” &c., may furnish him with arguments.
The “necessity” of this law is yet to be explained. It is the custom, in the bay of Mobile, for the crews of unemployed vessels to assist in loading the ships taking in cargoes; for this service they receive, or rather the loading ship is charged, at the rate of two dollars per day, one-half of which goes to the seamen employed; this is a service they are eager to perform—the extra pay furnishes them with their small stores. Now the whole purport of this law, is to break up the loading of ships by their crews, as far as possible, and to give to the slave owners of Mobile employment for their slaves, at high prices. The merchants and men of business, and the present city authorities, were opposed to it, but in vain.
It is seen by all men, that this great question of slavery must be met by the people of the North; it obtrudes itself every where; the spirit of slavery requires us to violate the trial by jury; under penalties known to be unconstitutional, menaces of dissolution of the Union have been again and again thrown out; and now the free colored citizens of the North are to be kept in prison, that the slave owners of Alabama may find profitable employment for their slaves. We shall yet meet this great question; and if our great statesmen of the North desert us in the hour of need, other and worthier leaders of the PEOPLE will not be wanting—one at least, though borne down with the weight of years, will leave a bright example of faithfulness to the cause of human freedom.
National Anti-Slavery Standard, March 17, 1842.
An act has just been passed by the general assembly of Louisiana, to oblige every master of a vessel arriving at any of the ports of that State, and having blacks on board, to give notice of the fact to a judge or justice of the peace, and cause them to be confined in the jail during his stay there; the vessel being liable for all charges. Also, that he shall give his bond for five hundred dollars to pay said charges. If he fails to take said blacks out of the State on his departure, this shall be done at the expense of the State. If the colored person thus removed returns, he is liable to imprisonment for life. This bill does not affect the right of property of a master to a slave, who, contrary to his will, has gone out of the State. Any captain of a foreign vessel is bound to report, on his arrival at New-Orleans, to the mayor or recorder, on oath, the name, &c. of every colored person on board of his vessel, under penalty of $100. A penalty of $200 dollars is laid upon any person harboring a free person of color residing in the State contrary to law. The bill does not refer to free negroes who have resided in the State since 1st of January, 1825.
National Anti-Slavery Standard, June 23, 1842.
WARNING TO SHIPOWNERS AND SHIPMASTERS!—We have just seen an act, passed by the authorities of Louisiana the present year, entitled, “An act more effectually to prevent free persons of color from entering into this State, and for other purposes.” The act is not only arbitrary, but undoubtedly unconstitutional, and is exceedingly onerous and unjust in its operations, with regard to the free States; and the very essence of tyranny and oppression in its operation on free colored persons, who are not by the Constitution debarred from the rights and privileges of American citizens. The bill consists of fifteen sections; the first is as follows:
Sec. 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the State of Louisiana, in general assembly convened, That from and after the time specified in this act, no free negro, mulatto, or person of color, shall come into this State, on board of any vessel or steamboat, as a cook, steward, mariner, or in any employment on board said vessel or steamboat, or as a passenger; and in case any vessel or steamboat shall arrive in any port or harbor, or landing, on any river of this State, from any other State or foreign port, having on board any such free negro, mulatto or person of color, the harbor master, or other officer having charge of such port, or any person or persons residing at or near said landing, shayl forthwith notify the nearest judge or justice of the peace in the parish in which said port, or harbor, or landing is situated, of the arrival of said vessel or steamboat; whereupon the said judge or justice of the peace shall immediately issue a warrant to apprehend and bring every such free negro, mulatto, or person of color before him; and on the execution of said warrant, by bringing before him such free negro, mulatto, or person of color, he shall forthwith commit him or her to the parish jail, there to be confined until said vessel or steamboat shall be ready to proceed to sea or to her place of destination, when the master or commander of such vessel or steamboat shall, by the written permit or order of the said judge or justice of the peace, take and carry away out of this State every such free negro, mulatto, or person of color, and pay the expenses of his or her apprehension and detention.
In the other sections, various penalties are prescribed to aid in carrying out the principles of this act. Every master of a vessel, on board which a free black or mulatto may have been brought into Louisiana, must give a bond, with securities to an amount not exceeding five hundred dollars, that he will pay all expenses of arrest and detention, and carry the proscribed individual out of the State. The penalty for refusing to give such security, is one thousand dollars. Every free black or mulatto person, who may return after having been sent out of the State, shall be liable to imprisonment at hard labor, for five years; and if he shall be found in the State, thirty days after such imprisonment, he shall be liable to imprisonment at hard labor for life.
It is further enacted, that any person who brings into the State any free person of color, in violation of this act, shall be punished, on conviction, by a fine not exceeding two hundred dollars, for the first offense; and for the second, by imprisonment not exceeding six months, and by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars. Also, that any person who shall employ or harbor, or entertain as a boarder or lodger, any free person of color, residing in the State contrary to law, shall, on conviction thereof, be punished by a fine not exceeding two hundred dollars, for each offense.
It behooves our merchants and shipmasters to examine the provisions in the above unjust law, before they leave a northern port on a voyage to New Orleans.
National Anti-Slavery Standard, October 6, 1842.
Resolved, That the legislative enactments of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, prohibiting all free colored citizens of the United States entering those several States under penalty of imprisonment, are manifestly unconstitutional; insomuch as the Constitution declares that the citizens of each State shall be entitled to all the rights and immunities of citizens of the several States.
Resolved, That Congress possesses the power to invalidate any State Legislative enactment which tends to restrain the liberties of any portion of the citizens of the United States.
Resolved, That the voice of the Massachusetts Legislative should be heard in the Congress of our nation, remonstrating against the unjust and unconstitutional deprivation of the liberties of her citizens. . . .
Resolved, Therefore, That we, the colored citizens of Boston, memorialize Congress, and our Legislature, at their next sessions, for their action in this case; especially that on some fitting occasion the point may be carried by this State before the Supreme Court of the United States, in order that such laws may be pronounced unconstitutional by that tribunal.
A committee was appointed to prepare and circulate petitions, and also to correspond with our friends in the several States, to awaken an interest in behalf of their own seamen. Committee as follows, viz: William C. Nell, Victor W. Barker, Robert Wood, Benjamin Weeden, John Thompson, Charles A. Battiste, Eli Cesar.
The Liberator, November 4, 1842.
To the honorable the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States in Congress assembled:
Your petitioners, citizens of the United States, and some of them owners and masters of vessels,
That on board of that large number of vessels accustomed to touch at the ports of Charleston, Savannah, Mobile, and New Orleans, it is frequently necessary to employ free persons of color:
And whereas it frequently happens that such crews are taken from the vessels, thrown into prison, and there detained at their own expense, greatly to the prejudice and determinent of their interest, and of the commerce of these States:
They pray your honorable body to grant them relief, and render effectual in their behalf the privileges of citizenship secured by the Constitution of the United States. . . .
Majority Report ( Committee of Commerce) on Memorial of one hundred and fifty Citizens of Boston
. . . The committee are aware that the laws in question have sometimes been vindicated upon considerations of domestic police; and they have no disposition to deny, that the general police power belonging to the States, by virtue of their general sovereignty, may justify them in making police regulations even in relation to matters over which an exclusive control is constitutionally vested in the National Government.
But the committee utterly deny that provisions like these can be brought within the legitimate purview of the police power. That American or foreign seamen, charged with no crime, and infected with no contagion, should be searched for on board the vessels to which they belong; should be seized while in the discharge of their duties, or it may be, while asleep in their berths; should be dragged on shore and incarcerated, without any examination other than an examination of their skins; and should be rendered liable, in certain contingencies over which they may have no possible control, to be subjected to the ignominy and agony of the lash, and even to the infinitely more ignominious and agonizing fate of being sold into slavery for life, and all for purposes of police;—is an idea too monstrous to be entertained for a moment. It would seem almost a mockery to allude to the subject of police regulations in connection with such acts of violence. . . .
Report of the Minority of the Committee
. . . the undersigned need hardly state, what is notoriously a part of the social and political history of the times, that these State regulations have grown out of incendiary efforts to light up a servile war in the South. Not only do the non-slaveholding States tolerate, within their limits, these affiliated societies, whose professed object is to destroy the institutions of the South, no matter by what means; whose daily efforts are directed not only to the protection of runaway slaves, but to the instigation of insurrection and servile war; but these leagued bands of incendiaries send their emissaries to the South, to operate in secret, regardless of all the social obligations and fraternal feelings which should bind the various sections of the Union together. The opportunities offered, by the means and through the agencies of free negro sailors, of disseminating their mischievous purposes, have not been lost sight of by the abolitionists of the North. The ports of the Southern States have of late years frequently been agitated with rumors of intended insurrections; and, as the undersigned is informed, these disturbances have mostly had their origin in the agency of colored seamen in Northern vessels, who annoy the slaves with a glowing description of the efforts which their white brethren of the North are making in their readiness to co-operate with them in their struggles for freedom. The undersigned does not allude to these things with any wish to aggravate the difficulties already existing, or to exasperate the feelings, already too highly excited, of the respective sections of the country; but simply for the purpose of showing, that these police regulations of the Southern States, complained of, are not the result of unfriendly feelings toward the North, but of stern necessity; that they have been adopted as a means of self preservation, of preserving order and domestic tranquility, and of preventing commotion, violence, and bloodshed. . . .
“Free Colored Seamen—Majority and Minority Reports, January 20, 1843,” Report No. 80, House of Representatives, 27th Cong., 3d Sess., pp. 3, 7, 38.
Section 1. Be it enacted by the honorable the Senate and House of Representatives now met and sitting in General Assembly, and by the authority of the same, That, from and after the passing of this act, no free negro or person of color, who shall leave this State, shall be suffered to return; and every person who shall offend herein shall be liable to the penalties of the act passed on the twentieth day of December, in the year one thousand eight hundred and twenty, entitled “An act to restrain the emancipation of slaves, and to prevent free persons of color from entering the State, and for other purposes.”
Sec. 2. And be it further enacted, That every free male negro or person of color, between the ages of fifteen and fifty years, within this State, who may not be a native of said State, or shall not have resided therein five years next preceding the passing of this act, shall pay a tax of fifty dollars per annum; and in case said tax shall not be paid, the said free male person of color shall be subject to the penalties of the act against free persons of color coming into this State, passed on the twentieth day of December, one thousand eight hundred and twenty.
Sec. 3. And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That if any vessel shall come into any port or harbor of this State, from any other State or foreign port, having on board any free negroes or persons of color, as cooks, stewards, mariners, or in any other employment on board of said vessel, such free negroes or persons of color shall be liable to be seized and confined in jail, until said vessel shall clear out and depart from this State; and that, when said vessel is ready to sail, the captain of said vessel shall be bound to carry away the said free negro or free person of color, and to pay the expenses of his detention; and, in case of his neglect or refusal so to do, he shall be liable to be indicted, and, on conviction thereof, shall be fined in a sum not less than one thousand dollars, and imprisoned not less than two months; and such free negroes or persons of color shall be deemed and taken as absolute slaves, and sold in conformity to the provisions of the act passed on the twentieth day of December, one thousand eight hundred and twenty, aforesaid.
Sec. 4. And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That the sheriff of Charleston district, and each and every other sheriff of this State, shall be empowered and specially enjoined to carry the provisions of this act into effect, each of whom shall be entitled to one moiety of the proceeds of the sale of all free negroes and free persons of color that may happen to be sold under the provisions of the foregoing clause: Provided the prosecution be had at his information.
Sec. 5. And be it further enacted, That it shall be the duty of the harbor master of the port of Charleston to report to the sheriff of Charleston district the arrival of all free negroes or free persons of color who may arrive on board any vessel coming into the harbor of Charleston from any other State or foreign port.
Sec. 6. And be it further enacted, That, from and after the passing of this act, it shall be altogether unlawful for any person or persons to hire to any male slave or slaves his or their time; and in case any male slave or slaves be so permitted by their owner or owners to hire out their own time, labor, or service, the said slave or slaves shall be liable to seizure and forfeiture, in the same manner as has been heretofore enacted in the act in the case of slaves coming into this State contrary to the provisions of the same.
Sec. 7. And be it further enacted, That, from and after the first day of June next, every free male negro, mulatto, or mestizo, in this State, above the age of fifteen years, shall be compelled to have a guardian, who shall be a respectable freeholder of the district in which said free negro, mulatto, or mestizo, shall reside; and it shall be the duty of the said guardian to go before the clerk of the court of the said district, and before him signify his acceptance of the trust, in writing; and at the same time he shall give to the clerk aforesaid his certificate, that the said negro, mulatto, or mestizo, for whom he is guardian, is of good character and correct habits; which acceptance and certificate shall be recorded in said office by the clerk, who shall receive for the same fifty cents; and if any free male negro, mulatto, or mestizo, shall be unable to conform to the requisitions of this act, then and in that case such person or persons shall be dealt with as this act directs for persons of color coming into this State contrary to law; and the amount of sales shall be divided, one-half to the informer, and the other half for the use of the State.
Sec. 8. And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That if any person or persons shall counsel, aid, or hire, any slave or slaves, free negroes, or persons of color, to raise a rebellion or insurrection within this State, whether any rebellion or insurrection do actually take place or not, every such person or persons, on conviction thereof, shall be adjudged felons, and suffer death without benefit of clergy.
Sec. 9. And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That the commissioners of the cross roads for Charleston neck be, and they are hereby declared to be, justices of the peace, ex-officio, in that part of the parish of St. Philip’s without the corporate limits of Charleston, for all purposes except for the trial of causes small and mean.
In the Senate house, the first day of December, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and twenty-two, and in the forty-seventh year of the independence of the United States of America.
President of the Senate.
Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Our readers may remember that last year a commissioner was appointed by the Executive of this Commonwealth to attend to the interests of the State with regard to colored seamen in the port of Charleston, S. C. The same gentleman who was named for this duty has since been the chairman of a Committee of the South Carolina Legislature to investigate the existing laws on the subject, and to report on a bill which had been brought in to modify those laws. The report of this Committee is now before us, and we proceed carefully to give its purport for the information of our readers, interested on either side of the question.
The report acknowledges that ‘the practical enforcement of the existing laws tends to abuses, which may compromise the State, both with the other States of the confederacy, and with foreign friendly powers,’ and proceeds to recommend the passage of the proposed bill, as agreeable to the meaning of the Constitution of the United States, and the inalienable rights of an independent sovereignty. This ‘bill requires all colored seamen, while within the territorial limits of the States to remain on board their vessels, or within such limits as the municipal authority of the port shall prescribe; and a violation of this law incurs a penalty or fine, with security that the offender shall be detained on board his vessel, and depart with it. No expense is incurred by those who do not violate the law. But, to secure its enforcement, the captain or agent of the vessel, within three days after his arrival, is required to deposit in the sheriff’s office a list and description of all colored seamen brought in. The omission involves a penalty of fine for each day until the law is complied with. So that colored seamen are required to remain on board their vessels, and depart with them, under the penalty prescribed.’
We now proceed to the arguments in favor of the bill, as we find them in the report. It has been said that any law restraining, because of color, the free ingress, stay, and departure, of the subjects of foreign States, or of those who are citizens of other States of the Union, is a violation of the courtesy due to friendly powers, to the treaty stipulations of the general government, and to the Constitution of the United States, which provides that ‘the citizens of each State shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States.’ To prove the falsity of these notions, it is necessary to establish two positions. First, that a State, every way distinct and sovereign, may enact such laws without violating the law of nations; and secondly, that South Carolina has not given up such right by joining the confederacy of the United States. As to the first position, we think it cannot be doubted by any reasonable person that such a right exists, or, at any rate, is the common usage among civilized nations. The police and quarantine regulations of Europe, at the present time, are as annoying to strangers as they are (oftentimes) needless; but they are acquiesced in without demur. Vattel, in several places, is very explicit on the right of a sovereign power to admit what aliens he pleases within his dominion, and under what restrictions. We shall not, therefore, quote arguments on what seems to us to be indisputable. But, with regard to the present matter, the report adds—40
‘This liberty to adapt its laws to its own circumstances is indispensable to self-preservation. Such regulations depend on this right, and it is quite immaterial whether the disease is a physical or moral one; whether destruction is threatened from pestilence, or domestic insubordination, the right is the same. If South Carolina apprehends the baleful effects which a free intercourse with foreign negroes will produce, she has, by the primary law of nature, a right within her own limits to interdict it. She is not bound to wait until her citizens are involved in the conflagrations and murders of a servile outbreak. Humanity, as well as a proper caution, warn us not to suffer our slaves to be drawn into schemes which must end in their own punishment or destruction; while those who have seduced them from their fidelity are safe beyond the dangers and inflictions which must ever attend such attempts.
As to whether or not South Carolina has yielded any of her natural rights in joining the confederacy, the report answers in the negative, by declaring, first, because the right of self-preservation is inalienable, and self-preservation signifies the maintenance of the body politic as it was at the formation of the Union. At that time, the body politic of South Carolina consisted of ‘white citizens’—the negroes constituted no part of it, but were held, by her fundamental laws, to be ‘absolute slaves,’ personal property of their owners, and this relation cannot be changed without the destruction of the body politic, according to well established principles.
‘The preservation of a nation consists in the duration of the political association of which it is formed. If a period is put to this association, the nation or State no longer exists, though the individuals who composed it still exist.’ Any alteration in the relation of master and slave, and introduction of equal political power on the part of our colored population, would so entirely change the body politic as to render it a different State for all political purposes. Her very representation in Congress would be affected. Nay, the attempt to confer on negroes the right of citizenship is a clear violation of the principles of the federal Union. Negroes were no parties to the Constitution of the United States, and although the States may, in regard to their civil rights, introduce them into the class of white men—negroes are a race originally introduced by the English settlers as slaves; and although many of them have been released from servitude, they have not been, and public feeling and the natural antipathy to association has kept them, like the gypsies of England, an anomalous population, protected it is true by the humanity of the laws, but separated in habits, associations, and duties. They constitute no part of the militia, who are composed only of ‘free white men;’ as servants and laborers they may be used, but the flag of the Union is under the protection of ‘free white men.’ Even fanaticism itself has not yet polluted the ranks of the militia or the jury box with the associations of negroes.
But whatever folly and fatuity may bring about elsewhere, South Carolina entered the Union a slaveholding State, and as such she will continue unaffected by the terms of the Union. She declines to defend her position, because she admits no authority to question it. She is as absolutely beyond inquiry as Russia in relation to her boors, or subjugated Poland, or England, in relation to her Irish population, her starving operatives, or her millions of enslaved and conqueted natives of India, held in cruel bondage, not by the rod of a driver, but the bayonets and cannon of her mercenaries. On these matters each State is responsible only to heaven, by the laws of nature and of nations.’
This ground is supported by strong quotations from Vattel.
‘South Carolina never intended to yield her absolute right to secure the subordination of her slave population. It is a vital interest, as much so as that of New-York to establish health laws to prevent the importation of disease, or that of Massachusetts to prevent the importation into her State, of the paupers and felons of Europe.’
Again it is said, that South Carolina has no right to pass laws respecting citizens of other States, because she has given up to Congress the power to ‘regulate commerce.’ The report remarks—
‘If Congress alone can pass laws regulating those concerned in commerce, then the quarantine laws are unconstitutional. If not, then our laws also are no violation of that instrument. It is felony to quit the quarantine ground against the law, because the people of New-York believe that the presence of citizens of this State, leaving home in particular seasons, is dangerous to the bodily health of their fellow-citizens of that region, and the punishment is absolute slavery for a long term in their State’s prison—where hard labor, coarse diet, and the most cruel and bloody bodily punishment are indicted by keepers, who are the arbitrary judges and merciless executioners of their helpless victims. In South Carolina, we think the presence of a free negro, fresh from the lectures of an abolition society, much more infectious, and we confine him to the vessel, or prescribed limits. Each State acts for itself, upon a matter believed to be vitally important. It is proper to show that in this matter our State acts in good faith, and on sound principles. In the first place, it is a subject on which our people are peculiarly sensitive. It is connected with no immediate and pressing apprehensions, but interest and humanity unite in moving us to obviate the necessity for severity, which is alike painful to our feelings, and injurious to our interests.’
On another ground, also, the right of South Carolina to enact the laws under notice, is denied.
‘The first article of the second section of the Constitution of the United States provides that ‘the citizens of each State shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States;’ and under this clause, it is supposed, that if a negro is a citizen of Maine, he may come to South Carolina and claim here the rights and immunities of a white man. White or black, if a citizen of Maine, we must treat him as a citizen. The folly of such a claim is only equalled by the recklessness with which the pretension is urged. If true, this State would rather yield her place in the Union than submit to it. But it has no foundation in the Constitution. All that instrument means is this: Citizens of each State shall be entitled to the same rights in the other States as if they had been born there. A white man born in Maine, and removing to South Carolina, is on an equal footing with a white citizen; and so, a negro, born in Maine, is no better than one born here, and if he comes here, he must abide by our negro laws. Were not this so, this State might be infested with runaway negroes, who, having acquired the rights of citizens in Maine, would return to beard their masters and claim the protection of the federal Constitution. This may be illustrated by other cases. In some States, a service in the militia for a number of years, exempts one from ordinary duty, but he cannot carry that privilege out of the State, and insist upon it elsewhere. He must abide the laws of the State where he is. So, if by the laws of Maine every citizen can vote for President, a citizen of Maine living in Virginia must abide her laws, and unless he has a freehold he cannot vote, for her own native citizens are subject to that law. All then that the Constitution means is, that, white or black, the inhabitants of any State will stand in every other as her own citizens, white or black; not that if Maine chooses to permit her negroes to vote, or marry white persons, they can do so in other States where the same thing is forbidden to her own negroes. Massachusetts for years prohibited the marriage of blacks with whites; establishing a precedent that a State may make a color a distinction, as well as any other peculiarity. One State may prohibit the marriage of minors; if so, all minors within her limits must obey the law. So all negroes within our limits must abide our laws as to that population.’
The remainder of the paper is devoted to a consideration of the extent of the treaty-making power of our general government, and to answering those who affirm that the laws respecting negro seamen, &c., when affecting English subjects, are contrary to the Convention of 1818, with Great Britain. The ground taken on the latter topic is, that ‘all treaties, and the Convention in particular, are subject to the internal laws of the respective countries.’ This stipulation was absolutely made, and though, if the proviso were not literally written in the treaty, the construction would be the same, yet as it was made, the matter is settled beyond question.
‘The laws of a nation are not to be repealed by the construction of treaties; the parties to which would, if they intended to do so, expressly stipulate upon the point. And it is equally true, that not only existing laws, but such internal laws as the necessities of each may require, may be enacted; provided they do not directly impair the obligations of the contract. It would be no violation of our Convention if Great Britain should make any regulations as to shipping generally, which affected the mode of carrying on the trade guarantied by the Convention; she might exclude our ships from specified parts of the river, or compel them to load their cargoes in specified docks. This would be but a mode of carrying on commerce; and if she may designate where our ships shall lie, why may we not prescribe limits to her black seamen? If the necessities of one of the contracting parties existing at the time or supervening afterwards, require regulations to be adopted to preserve the health, the morals, or the political safety of such party, they are by the just application of what is termed the ‘restrictive interpretation,’ exceptions to the general terms of the contract.’
We conclude with the remarks of the treaty-making power of the central government—
‘The Constitution vests in the President the ‘power to make treaties,’ by and with the advice of the Senate, &c. I hold that this power, however general in its terms, is limited by the other provisions of the Constitution. The treaty-making power cannot extend to impair those rights which the States have not delegated. It would otherwise be the most sweeping and dangerous power vested in the federal government, and being exercised in conjunction with the Senate only, where the smallest States are represented equally with the largest, might be exercised in a way to destroy the most cherished rights of the States. If the federal government could do by treaty what Congress could not by law, then have the large States yielded to a Convention of States what they have denied to a Congress, in which the preponderance of their population is justly felt. I then hold it as a fundamental maxim, in relation to the treaty-making power, that it is but a mode of exercising those powers which are expressly delegated by the States, or which are necessary to the perfect exercise of those powers; but does not authorize the President and Senate to invade those rights reserved to the States respectively, or to the people. That it is not an unlimited grant, but is restrained and modified by the nature of the federal compact, and the express powers therein delegated. Each State has an undoubted right to lay taxes upon all who reside within its limits, and the United States could not, by treaty, stipulate that the subjects of any foreign State should be exempt. If so, they might as well stipulate that they should be liable to trial only in the courts of the United States, and not subject to the criminal process of the States. It might be advantageous to surrender some town or post to a foreign government, with the privilege of exercising martial law, yet no treaty could invade the domain of a State in these particulars. In short, the States retain their domestic legislatures and natural powers, and all the acts of the general government must leave the exercise of them, as far as necessary for their preservation and protection, unimpaired. It will never be admitted as a sound interpretation of the Constitution, that the President and Senate possess powers controlling the States, which were purposely withheld from Congress; but the extent of the authority of the treaty-making power must be limited to the delegation of powers by the States. Construction has already gone far to swallow up the state sovereignties, and it will be fearful if the treaty-making power is to be the bottomless gulph into which they are eventually to sink.
I thus have attempted to maintain that South Carolina, as a sovereign State, does possess the power to pass the law. That is a power upon the exercise of which her dearest and most vital interests depend. That such a power is the rightful and inalienable attribute of a sovereign State—that its exercise must depend upon the views of policy, and upon the individual discretion of the State, which can alone safely decide in matters involving self-preservation—that it was not either expressly or by implication ever surrendered, and from its nature could not be—that the treaty-making power does not extend so far as to authorize stipulations destructive of this power—that is but a police regulation, and not inconsistent with any commercial convention.
It was due to our sister States, and to those foreign powers with whom we trade, to thus demonstrate our respect to national law, and our regard to treaties entered into with friendly States. The objections against the act of 1835, we have endeavored to remove, as far as they were well-founded—and, at the same time, to preserve the just rights of the State to secure her domestic tranquility.’
The Liberator, January 12, 1844.
As in many other cases, the information which Anti-Slavery lecturers and Anti-Slavery papers have, from time to time, for years past, brought to public notice of the cruel injustice and unconstitutional character of Southern laws in regard to Northern coloured seamen, is beginning to have due effect. The principle of quid pro quo is one to which politicians are very sensible, and several of our contemporaries of the political press have lately had the boldness to question whether, inasmuch as anybody may be made a slave of, at the North, to oblige the South, it is asking too much that free Northerners who go South shall be permitted to remain so. Considering that that never has been the case, and that the only religion now thought worth having is, that we should believe the Constitution as the only revealed law of God, and that we should love the slaveholders better than ourselves, the only wonder is that somebody, beside the Abolitionists, has not before discovered that to imprison Northern seamen in Southern ports if they are not of the pale tint, and sell them for slaves, if they are not themselves able to pay the expense, of their imprisonment, is not in accordance with all the articles of the popular “higher law.” However, we must be thankful for things as they come, hoping to live long enough to look at the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution without laughing.
It must be confessed, however, that the late discovery of this unconstitutional conduct of the Southern brethren had been brought about by the aid of “Foreign Interference.” The British Consul at Charleston, Mr. Matthews, has done much to assist the Northern sight, in the salve he has been using for Southern blindness. Great Britain seems quite determined to make it a recognized and fixed fact, that a British subject is a man, and can, by no possibility, be permitted to be made a slave of. The correspondence of Consul Mathew with the Governor of South Carolina was, as far forth, more than mere diplomatic correspondence, that it meant something. It is now to be followed up by something more. We quote a paragraph current in the papers of the week:
IMPRISONMENT OF COLOURED SEAMEN IN SOUTH CAROLINA—MR. CONSUL MATHEW AGAIN.—The validity of the law of South Carolina, requiring the imprisonment of coloured seamen, who may arrive in the ports of that State, has at length been controverted in a form which will put it to the test before the judicial tribunals of the country. Manuel Pereira, a coloured Portuguese sailor, articled to service on an English brig which was recently driven into Charleston by stress of weather, having been arrested and committed to jail, Mr. Mathew, the British Consul at that port, has applied to Judge Withers, through his counsel, Mr. Pettigru, for a writ of habeas corpus. The Judge has refused to grant the writ, and notice of appeal has been given. The issue, therefore, has been legally raised, and there is every probability that it will ultimately be carried up to the Supreme Court of the United States for final adjudication.
If the British Government shall not be more successful in this attempt to get a decision of the Supreme Court on this question than Massachusetts was when she tried to do the same thing, the Minister for Foreign Affairs will probably have a question to put to some body at Washington. Hinc illa lachryma perhaps, of our contemporaries.
A paragraph in the Charleston (S. C.) Mercury, of the 27th ult., though it does not promise that that State will open any way out of this embarrassment, shows that one other Southern State at least prefers to be discreet rather than valorous:
THE LAW REGARDING COLOURED SEAMEN.—The Legislature of Louisiana, after full consideration of the representations that have been addressed to them, have repealed those provisions of their law which provided for the imprisonment of coloured seamen from abroad, and have substituted for this a provision allowing such seamen to land for their necessary duties with passports from the Mayor. We have not yet seen the statute, and cannot say whether it applies to coloured seamen from the North as well as from foreign countries. In regard to the former, we should be decidedly opposed to placing them on the same footing as the latter, except where they are driven into our ports by stress of weather. But even in regard to them it seems to us that our law ought to be changed on the principle of the Indiana and Illinois constitutions. Let coloured seamen from the North be forbidden to enter our ports, and let their introduction subject the vessel to a fine of a thousand dollars for every one, and we venture to say we should be more troubled with the visits of those precious “citizens of Massachusetts.” We shall publish the Louisiana statute as soon as we can get a copy.
National Anti-Slavery Standard, May 6, 1852.
The Legislature of Louisiana, after full consideration of the representations that have been addressed to them, have repealed those provisions of their law which provided for the imprisonment of colored seamen from abroad, and have substituted for this a provision allowing such seamen to land for their necessary duties with a passport from the Mayor. We have not yet seen the statute, and cannot say whether it applies to colored seamen from the North as from foreign countries. In regard to the former, we should be decidedly opposed to placing them on the same footing as the latter, except where they are driven into ports by stress of weather. But even in regard to them, it seems to us that our law ought to be changed on the principle of the Illinois and Indiana constitutions. Let colored seamen from the North be forbidden to enter our ports, and let their introduction subject the vessel to a fine of a thousand dollars for every one, and we venture to say we should be no more troubled with the visits of those precious “citizens of Massachusetts.” We shall publish the Louisiana statute as soon as we can get a copy.—Charleston Mercury.
Frederick Douglass’ Paper, June 17, 1852.
Shortly after President Taylor’s cabinet was formed, the attention of his Secretary of State was invited to the systematic violations of our treaty stipulations, by South Carolina, under a law authorizing the arrest, imprisonment and conditional enslavement of free colored people. Mr. Clayton regretted that South Carolina was so naughty, but he said he could not help it; this confederacy was a collection of independent sovereignties, and the general government had no power to compel a refractory State to respect treaties, or the Constitution, or anything else. This was duly communicated by the British Minister to Lord Palmerston, and by him, with well-affected gravity, communicated to Parliament.41
The Premier’s statement created some amusement in political circles in England, and a great deal of mortification in the United States, but it was accompanied by none of the threats or denunciation which we had a right to have anticipated from the English government. Mr. Clayton thought it was very kind of the Queen to take the matter so quietly, and congratulated himself that he had extricated himself and his party, as he imagined, from a vexatious dilemma, with no greater loss than his own self-respect.
He supposed that the matter was here to end, and that England, appreciating the defects of our Constitution, and the lamentable weakness of our government, and the general imperfections of our political institutions, would forbear to insist upon her rights, and would be grateful for the observance of such portions of the treaties existing between her government and ours, as could be enforced without distracting the Whig party or unsettling the government.
But such is not England’s usual way of doing things. Lord Palmerston very naturally thought that if South Carolina was independent of the federal authority in questions of this nature, hers was the government for England to treat with, and the next thing we hear is the arrival at Charleston of Mr. George Mathew, commissioned as Consul-General for the Carolinas, and specially charged to present the wrongs sustained by free colored British seamen in the ports of those States, to the consideration of their respective governments, for redress.
Mr. Mathew did as he was bid; he addressed the Executive at length upon the subject, and made out a very strong case—a casus belli for a quarrelsome nation—unless the amplest reparation was promptly offered. This letter appeared in our columns last winter. Governor Means immediately communicated it to the Legislature, who adjourned, however, without acting upon it.
At the last season of the Legislature, which commenced, we believe, in November, Gov. Means, at the request of Mr. Mathew, brought the subject again to the attention of that body, expressing himself, however, averse to any modification of the law in question. The substance of his doctrine upon this point appeared in the Evening Post immediately after the Message was delivered. A Committee was appointed, in each branch of the Legislature, to consider the subject, and both reported in conformity with the sentiments of the Governor.
This conclusion, at war with the treaties and with the Constitution of the United States, with the Constitution of the State of South Carolina, with the decisions of her tribunals, and with the written and printed opinions of some of her most eminent lawyers, evidently took Mr. Mathew by surprise, and he has taken occasion to address Governor Means once more upon the subject. His letter will be found in another column of this sheet.
He wishes it to be understood that his government has not modified or abated a particle of their claim, but are desirous of maintaining a good temper on both sides, if possible, and of getting the redress, which they are determined to have, in the way it will be most agreeable to the Carolinians to grant it.
We understand that the aid of the Courts will now be invoked, and the question whether the Supreme Court of South Carolina will adhere to its former decision against the constitutionality of the imprisonment laws, and, if so, whether its decrees will be enforced by the executive authorities, will be tested.
A case of hardship occurred some months ago, which can hardly be forgotten; and which, if forgotten, ought to be brought into remembrance. On the 22d of last June, Mr. Milnes inquired of Lord Stanley, in the House, what had been, or would be, done in aid of Manuel Pereira, a British subject, who had been imprisoned in Charleston on account of the colour of his skin, being charged with no other offence, and being, moreover, a reluctant intruder in that port, into which he was drifted for refuge in a sinking ship. Lord Stanley gave hopes that the poor man would be watched over by our Consul at Charleston, and intimated that the case was one of “peculiar delicacy,” from the intricacy of the relations between the Federal and “Provincial” governments. The error of calling the State Governments provincial was pointed out at the time by several authorities. It is a mistake of serious consequence to ourselves to think of the American States—which are all sovereign—as provinces. The safety of our seamen, and other fellow-subjects, is deeply concerned in that difference, as may be seen in a moment. If any seaman is put in jail, in any provincial port of a friendly foreign power, we have simply to demand his release, and are sure to obtain it, with due apology for the improper conduct of local authorities. But the case is very different when we have to do with a Federal Government, whose function of managing the foreign relations of the whole nation is invaded by the legislation of any particular State. This was so clearly seen and admitted six months ago, that there was a kind of promise all round that the case of Manuel Pereira should not be lost sight of, and that its treatment by the two American Governments—the General Government and that of South Carolina—should be regarded as an indication of what we may have to do, in regard to the safety of British subjects who may enter the port of Charleston. The Governor of South Carolina, in a recent message to the Legislature, gives a report of the matter, and his view of it.
It appears that just two years ago, our Consul at Charleston addressed a communication to the Legislature on the subject of a modification of the law by which “the Sheriff of Charleston is required to seize and imprison coloured seamen who are brought to that port.” Committees of the two Houses were appointed to consider the suggestion; and they reported against any modification of the law. Last March, the ship in which Pereira served was driven into the port in distress, and the Sheriff put the poor fellow in jail. The British Consul applied to Judge Withers for a writ of habeas corpus; and Judge Withers refused it. The Governor laid his commands on the Sheriff not to release the prisoner, even if the writ were granted. Anxious to get rid of the prisoner, the Sheriff procured a passage for him in a ship to Liverpool; an act which the Governor lauds as one of great kindness, adding that Pereira was at liberty to take a passage anywhere beyond the limits of the State—as if a man in prison, whose ship had gone to pieces, had any means of letting his services as a free and innocent man should always be able to do! To get free, Pereira signed the articles offered to him in the prison, and was on his way to the ship when our Consul interfered, and prevented his departure. A few days after, the Consul paid his passage to New York, and saw him off—having, no doubt, by that time, assurance that the Federal Government meant to move in the case. On the 19th of May another coloured seamen, named Reuben Roberts, also a British subject, was seized on the arrival of his ship, the Clyde, and imprisoned till her departure on the 26th. And now comes the interesting sequel to the story. “On the 9th of June, a writ in trespass, for assault and false imprisonment, from the Federal Court, was served upon Sheriff Yates, laying the damages at four thousand dollars.” Such is the Governor’s news; but he does not tell us which case the writ relates to. No matter! The Federal Government has taken up the case against South Carolina, and our dispute is with the little State, and not with our ally at Washington. The Governor recommends the Legislature whom he addresses to add to the law in question some means of protection to the sheriff, whom it compels to occupy the position of Sheriff Yates.
Governor Means is like Southern politicians in general in his faculty of wonder. He is amazed that anybody should have dared to annoy a Sheriff of Charleston by calling him to account. He is amazed that any one dares to complain of any law that South Carolina thinks proper to make. He is amazed that any one ventures to interfere with the operation of State laws. Will he be amazed when the day comes for merchants—American and foreign—to sail past the port of Charleston, and seek one where innocent men are not marched to jail in sight of a whole city? Louisiana has provided by law for the liberty and safety of coloured seamen in her ports. And Louisiana is wise; for there are two constitutional provisions which it might be dangerous for any State to infringe. By the one, every free citizen has a right to the same liberty in every part of the country that he has in his own State; and by the other, the management of foreign relations is vested in the central Government. South Carolina has infringed the latter, and threatens to violate the former, by forbidding the entrance of free coloured men from Massachusetts and other Northern States into her port. The Supreme Court will see to the matter; and it will be very interesting to witness the result of the controversy. There is probably no one outside the boundaries of the blustering little State who has any doubt of what the verdict will be in the first place. The Supreme Court is not likely to rule that any State of the Union can, under pretence of police necessity, give cause of war to any foreign power or sister State. If the verdict is against Sheriff Yates, what next? The men of his State boast that they never yield. Well—it is not now our affair. The two Governments must settle the matter; we, meantime, keeping a careful watch over the safety of our seamen who may go to Charleston, whether in the regular course of trade, or as Pereira did, as the only alternative from going to the bottom. There are two or three points, however, worthy of notice in the Governor’s statement and pleading. He expressly, without the slightest disguise, avows that the obnoxious law was made in self-defence against a grave danger, and will be maintained on that ground. When strangers let fall a remark on that same danger, in which the citizens of Charleston are living, the fact is denied, and allusion to it is resented. Yet Governor Means calls this law “a police regulation which is so essential to the peace and safety of our community. In fact,” he proceeds, “it is neither more nor less than the right of self-preservation, a right which is above all constitutions, and above all laws, and one which never was, and never will be, abandoned by a people who are worthy to be free. It is right which,” he is pleased to say, “has never yet been attempted to be denied to any people except to us.” Without going into any historical review which may affect this last statement, we may indulge, in our turn, in a little wonder that this ruler does not see that every Pereira and Roberts, and other Britons, and every Boston and New York seaman, has a similar right; and that if the self-preservation of South Carolina is incompatible with that of the whole world besides, South Carolina must succumb. That is a fact clear to the meanest capacity. She may be comforted, however. It is not the destruction of South Carolina that will be found necessary, but only of that peculiarity in her which places her at war with the rest of mankind, including her own federal head. That she should choose to live in bondage to such a fear as her ruler confesses, is strange to those who live in a State of freedom. That these recent transactions may teach her a better wisdom, and suggest to her the means of emancipating herself from a life of conflict, isolation, and terror, is the best thing that her friends could desire.
The Governor declares that, if the Supreme Court had not taken up the question, piquing the pride of the State, he should have advised some modification of the law, to the extent of sparing coloured seamen the penalties of imprisonment, if their captains were prohibited to allow them to land. They might be imprisoned, he thinks, on board their ships instead of in the jail. No doubt it would be convenient to the Charleston people to be spared the dangerous spectacle of a black man being marched to prison because he is free. It would be convenient that their slaves should know nothing about such a fearful anomaly as a free mulatto. But it is not at all convenient to Britons, or to Salem or Boston merchants, to turn their ships into jails to please the men of Charleston. It is not convenient to them to make such distinctions of complexion. It is not convenient to the world to relinquish constitutional rights, or rights under treaty, to spare the alarms of the men of Charleston. The Governor speaks of this proposal of his as a concession of the spirit of the age. If the age had not got on further than that, we would just as soon have lived in any other. One word more. Whatever South Carolina may think, there is a world outside her borders, which will serve the world’s turn well enough for traffic and other intercourse. There are ports in other States where cotton may be got without seeing our seamen carried to jail. We expect relief from the General Government, but, if South Carolina chooses to fight it out with the General Government, we need not wait. Cotton can be bought at other ports.—London News.
National Anti-Slavery Standard, January 20, 1853.
In the present state of public feeling with respect to American Slavery, it is probable that some sensation was created by an official argument upon the subject which we published. . . . It will, perhaps, be recollected that attention was called some two years ago to the State Laws of South Carolina, as exemplified on the person of Isaac Bowers, a British seaman of colour, who, on no charge excepting the tint of his skin, was forcibly taken from the vessel and lodged in Charleston jail. It proved that this proceeding was in strict conformity to the laws of the State, which, in order to prevent any possible contagion of negro liberty, enacted that any free black coming even upon the waters of South Carolina should be arrested and locked up forthwith till the ship’s departure. On this law, thus exemplified, the Governor of South Carolina, in his recent message to the Legislature of the State has offered some remarks of considerable decision and importance. It appears that the ordinance in question has, since the case of Bowers, been again put in force, and, on one occasion especially, under circumstances of peculiar notability. On the 24th March in the present year, a vessel was driven into the port of Charleston in distress. On board the unfortunate ship was a coloured seaman named Manuel Pereira, who, notwithstanding the involuntary character of his visit to the shores of South Carolina, was immediately seized and thrust into prison. This proceeding, as well as another of a similar kind in the May succeeding, provoked certain legal measures on the part of the British Consul, and it is on a general review of these transactions that Gov. Means founds the official remarks to which we allude. In this communication the Governor observes that when, upon the case of Isaac Bowers, the British Consul had applied for some modification of the law, committees of the State Legislature were appointed to consider the subject, and that these committees “reported adverse to any modification.” The Governor himself, as appears from his own acknowledgement, was “anxious that the modification should be made,” and he would even have recommended such a measure in his first message, had not the subject been already taken into consideration. Now, however, he avows such unbrage at the legal proceedings referred to, that he positively refuses to “abate one jot or tittle of the law.”
We should be extremely sorry to import into this question any assumption injurious to either the rights or feelings of an independent people. We may even venture to grant the premises from which Governor Means proceeds. There is no doubt that the laws of South Carolina do plainly provide for the capture and incarceration of unoffending mariners being of negro blood. It is equally certain, we may presume, that the skins of Manuel Pereira and Reuben Roberts brought them under the penalties of the statute; nor are we entitled to argue that this provision was made without visible warrant. Very possibly the question may, to use the Governor’s own expression, be one of “self-preservation,” and we certainly cannot interfere in the regulation of State rights and federal duties under the Act of Union. But the unsoundness of the argument—for unsound it assuredly is—lies somewhat deeper. It lies in the character of Slavery itself—in the utterly indefensible nature of those institutions which this particular law was directed to maintain. It is absolutely true—and we do not gainsay the fact—that a large portion of the population of South Carolina is kept in such a condition as to render the very sight or company of a free negro dangerous—that is the strongest possible evidence against the institutions themselves. The rights of “self-preservation,” spoken of by the Governor, are not unconditional. A slaver or a pirate might resist an American sloop-of-war in direct “self-defence,” but any homicide committed in this proceeding would be treated as murder. True it is, undoubtedly, that every State has “a right to make police regulations of its own,” but is it not also true that this right is also qualified by the forbiddance to inflict injury upon others? We are now addressing Americans themselves—men of our own blood and lineage—and not Free Soilers or Abolitionists merely, but all the right-thinking people of the Union. They have lately dispatched an armed expedition to Japan, and one of the soundest justifications of this menacing embassy is based upon the inhospitable treatment experienced by foreign seamen at the hands of the Japanese. Now, in what does this treatment differ from that inflicted upon similar visiters in an American port, and justified by an American Governor? The Japanese look upon a stranger as dangerous to their institutions, and they frame their own police regulations accordingly, in virtue of which a shipwrecked mariner is consigned to severe custody. The Americans of South Carolina profess the same views, and adopt the same precautions. They make no exception or allowance for the perils of the deep; and, if a vessel from the Republic of Liberia were driven upon Charleston strand, every passenger who escaped the fury of the waves would be instantly incarcerated in Charleston jail. Excepting the probable difference between Oriental and Christian prisons, there is literally no distinction between these two cases, and we request Americans to consider what answer they could return if an African State powerful enough to fit out a 300-gun squadron should send to Carolina exactly such a message as they are sending to Japan.42
Much has been recently said and written about the proprieties or advantages of external interference in a case like this, and the example of Governor Means himself, whose assent was converted into opposition by provocation from without, is an opportune verification of the arguments employed by “A States’-Man” in our paper of Thursday. On these arguments, however, we cannot avoid remarking that they would tell with greater force against pressure from without, if more movement be observed within. If those Southern proprietors, who, as “A States’-Man” informs us, are “anxious to surrender their slaves without a penny in exchange,” would but give some sign of their resolutions, or lay some visible foundation for negro emancipation at any day, however distant, it would be a cogent fact against that unreasoning and irresponsible agitation, which, we freely acknowledge, is fraught with incalculable peril to blacks and whites alike. Institutions which have taken root and ramification like those of domestic Slavery in the Southern States cannot be violently destroyed without extreme danger to the whole community, and the magnitude of the hazard is enormously increased when the scene of experiment, instead of being laid, like our own, in a distant colony, is among the very homes and dwellings of the people concerned. But, if there is to be no external interference, and nothing is done in the State itself, what is to be the end of institutions which the universal voice of mankind has condemned?
Much, again, has been said of British “complicity”—of the responsibility which rests upon ourselves as originators of the evil, and of the immunities which the Americans thus derive. But is the argument really either sound or becoming? Doubtless the New England colonists carried with them many old English principles, and among them not the least settled was that of treating witchcraft by combustion. Would this be thought a justification for burning old women in New York at the present day? Do the free and enlightened people of America really hold that they are bound to model their own practices in the 19th century on those of English in the 17th? Do they hang for shoplifting? do they press men to death for refusing to plead? or do they maintain any other civil disabilities, except those created by the colour of the skin? And what was thought of the force of this whole argument on tradition on another occasion? There was an institution in America more ancient and more universal than that of Slavery; more intimately connected with the daily business of the population, and more inextricably linked with the thoughts and principles of society. This was allegiance to Great Britain. Less than ninety years ago—within the recollection, indeed, of men not long dead—this institution was not only in existence, but influencing and governing all the proceedings of the States. In pursuance, as they stated in their Declaration of Independence, of the right to “assume the station to which the laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitled them,” the Americans destroyed this institution utterly, and succeeded, through all the vicissitudes of a dangerous struggle, in superseding it by others. Is the case of the slave, according to these same “laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” less plain or less urgent than that of the colonists? or is the “institution” in the former instance less amenable to change than in the latter? We do not think “A States’-Man,” or any of his countrymen, will venture on an affirmative reply.—London Times.
National Anti-Slavery Standard, April 21, 1853.
We would not mind having a dark complexion if we were sure of never going to the Southern States of America. In that country, a tinge of brown on a man’s cheek renders him more or less an object of suspicion, and we strongly advise all brunettes who may contemplate a trip to the Southern States, to provide themselves before leaving their country, with credentials establishing the fact of their Caucasian origin. In all seriousness we are not certain that such a precaution is unnecessary. If brown-complexioned men may be legally seized by the American authorities of the South, conveyed to jail, scourged, and finally sold into Slavery, we know of nothing to prevent them from laying violent hands on women, whose olive complexion may excite doubt as to their descent. The ready and the legal excuse would be, that all coloured persons entering the States of North and South Carolina, may be lawfully incarcerated. Women are not exempted from the operation of this law. It is, then, clearly resolved into a question of shade. Now some of the enslaved population of America are even fairer than the Spaniards or the English, and are in no wise distinguishable from them. The same may be truthfully asserted of a large proportion of the free population of the North, of African descent. The Southern legislatures have not left in doubt what fate awaits these persons, should they trespass upon the territories which the slaveholders have taken under their especial patronage. The laws of North and South Carolina, in providing “that no persons shall enter these who are labouring under any contagious or infectious diseases; who are foreign paupers; or convicts; or persons of vicious character” (and we do not quarrel with them for attempting in such manner to preserve their health and their virtue): comprise in this not by any means distinguished category, “free persons of colour,” because they are “a dangerous class of persons.” We are informed that the law which prohibits them from entering into these States, was introduced by the local legislature about thirty years ago, subsequent to the detection and suppression of an insurrectionary movement, devised and set on foot by a free negro who had been for some time in the habit of going and coming at his pleasure, and whose frequent excursions were proved to have been connected with this attempt at revolt. “Therefore,” says the authority from whom we quote, “it is certainly very far from being unreasonable or surprising that free persons of colour, coming from abroad into North and South Carolina, should be deemed a dangerous class of persons, and dealt with accordingly.” This is slaveholders’ logic, which carried out in its integrity would prove that one swallow does certainly make a summer. If it could be shown that at any time an Englishman had rendered himself obnoxious to the charge of infringing the laws of these States, the Legislature might, by a parity of reason, urge this circumstance as a reasonable pretext for passing a law prohibiting all Englishmen from entering the country, on “pain of being incarcerated for the first offence; whipped for the second; and sold at auction as slaves for the third.” And this, in point of fact, is the law of North and South Carolina as it stands at present; and under it, British subjects, men and women may be imprisoned, whipped and sold, if they be so unfortunate as to possess a complexion of African hue. The thing has actually been done.
Sometime in March, 1852 (we believe it was on [illegible]) . . . Jamaica, was driven into the port of Charleston by stress of weather. The captain and the crew had scarcely landed, before she went to the bottom. One of the crew, Manuel Pereira by name, was immediately seized and conveyed to jail. He was of African descent, and therefore belonged to a “dangerous class.” He was guilty of no greater offence than that of being a man of colour, and even the misfortune of shipwreck did not save him from the black law of the States. According to it, he would have had to remain in prison until the vessel that brought him should sail again, when the captain would have to pay the cost of the poor fellow’s keep, the jail-fees, and two dollars as a fee to the justice of the peace for entering Pereira’s name in a book, with a specification of his age, occupation, height, and distinguishing marks. In case of a refusal on the part of the captain, Pereira might have been sold to pay these fees: sold into Slavery. In the present instance, the vessel had sunk, and the captain and the crew procured a passage in another vessel. Pereira therefore remained in jail; although Governor Means asserts, in his late message, that “the man was at perfect liberty to depart at any moment he could get a vessel to transport him beyond the limits of the State.” How the unfortunate prisoner was to “get a vessel,” under these circumstances, Governor Means does not inform the public. The British Consul, George Mathew, Esq., thought this a favourable opportunity for trying the question how far the forcible detention of a British subject is in accordance with the treaties existing between the Federal Government and that of Her Britannic Majesty. He had sometime before mooted the same subject, and suggested a modification of the existing laws, to the extent of simply restricting coloured persons to their vessels (except when engaged in loading or unloading on the wharfs), under a police passport or ticket. Governor Means says that this suggestion was under consideration when Mr. Consul Mathew, on behalf of Pereira, sued for a Habeas Corpus in the Courts of the State, but his application was rejected. He then appealed to the higher Court, pending which the authorities, getting somewhat alarmed, made an attempt to ship Pereira off, with the obvious intention of thus preventing any further legal steps being taken. But Mr. Consul Mathew, finding that his great object would thus be defeated, intercepted the sheriff, on his way to the vessel, with Pereira still in custody, and had the latter reconveyed to prison, until, having completed the requisite arrangements for carrying on the suit in appeal, and given due notice thereof to the Sheriff, he paid Pereira’s passage to New York, and he recovered his liberty.
Here is another case. On the 19th of May, the steamer Clyde arrived at Charleston, from the Bahamas. On board of her was a coloured seaman named Reuben Roberts, who was, in like manner, forthwith seized by the Sheriff and conveyed to jail, where he remained until the 26th, when the Clyde being ready to sail, Roberts was once more put on board, and departed the same day.
If Pereira or Roberts return, they will not only be imprisoned, but flogged: should they return a second time, they may be sold, for the law says, speaking of such persons thus offending a third time, “he or she shall be sold at public sale as a slave, and the proceeds of such sale shall be appropriated and applied, one half thereof to the use of the State, and the other half to the use of the informer.”
We are informed, upon the very best authority, that in 1851, thirty-seven British subjects were seized and incarcerated and forty-two in the course of last year; and that there is no doubt of many free coloured British subjects having been sold into Slavery under the operation of this law, all traces of whom have been lost. The cases of Pereira and Roberts are, however, now being prosecuted, with a view of bringing the subject before the Supreme Court of the United States. The Legislature of South Carolina asserts its intention of resisting to the last any attempt to abate one jot or tittle of the law, alleging as its reason for making so resolute a stand, that an attempt has been made to defy the law, and bring the States of North and South Carolina into conflict with the Federal Government. On the other hand her Majesty’s Government will allow the case to go on until the decision of the Supreme Court is known, when it will no doubt, in the advent of an adverse verdict, take that course which is at once consistent with what is due to its own dignity, to the spirit of our treaties, and to the freedom of British subjects.
We may mention that besides the barbarous penalties which an infraction of the above-mentioned law involves, it operates most injuriously in other respects. The commerce of the West Indies with the Southern ports of the United States is (in winter especially), of great importance to those islands, where the state of the population and the nature of the climate precludes the employment of any considerable number of white seamen. The vessels are chiefly of small tonnage, and suited only for coast-wise navigation. They are mainly sailed on what is called the share-system: that is, the captain and the crew agree to receive remuneration according to a certain scale determined upon amongst themselves, the superior officers of course receiving more or less according to their rank, and the total amount to be divided, pro rata, depending upon the proceeds of the voyage. It is obvious that the operation of the law under review must prove detrimental to the commercial success of these coasting enterprises. In the first place it takes from the master of the vessel a portion of his paid and articled labourers, and forces him to employ slave-labour, to load and unload his cargo, at the rate of a dollar per man per day, whilst he has to maintain his own hands in jail, at considerable cost, and pay the registration fees besides. In the next place it always causes a longer detention of his vessel in port, so that he frequently finds himself fore-stalled in the market, and compelled to dispose of his cargo at a disadvantage. In the third place it checks the enterprise of the free-coloured seamen, who are naturally deterred from entering upon a vocation which to pursue with profit, they should be able to pursue constantly, but in attempting to do which they must risk their liberty, since they may be sold as slaves for paying a third visit to the same port or State, though they be engaged in a perfectly legitimate calling. These arbitrary laws are in reality intended as a precaution to prevent the free-coloured seamen from having access to the slaves. This is openly avowed, for the authorities are quite aware that with a population of nearly 9,000,000 free persons of colour, and with the constant transit of travellers from other States and countries, it is next to impossible to prevent the slaves of North and South Carolina from acquiring the knowledge of the existence of negro freedom, or of the geographical limits of Slavery. It is, therefore, they think, to their interest to perpetuate ignorance, by shutting up the coloured men who come in from foreign parts, and who, from their being generally intelligent, enterprising, and above all, free, might engender a contagion for liberty amongst their enslaved brethren. Such is the nature of this abominable system: it is actually afraid of its own victims.
We conclude this notice with a statement which will be found in Mr. Consul Mathew’s letter to Governor Means, under date of the 5th January, 1852. He says:
“On Saturday, and again on this very day, the spectacle has been exhibited in the streets of Charleston, of unoffending British seamen taken forcibly from the protection of the flag of their country, and marched along to a jail.”—(London) Anti-Slavery Reporter.
National Anti-Slavery Standard, April 21, 1853.
On the 20th, in the Commons, Mr. Kinnaird put the following question:
“In what state the correspondence between the British and United States Governments, with reference to colored seamen, being British subjects, on the vessels to which they belong arriving at a port in any of the Southern States being imprisoned on account of their color, now is; and whether there would be any objection to lay the correspondence on the table of the House?”
Lord John Russel, in reply, stated that there had been a great deal of correspondence, and beneficial changes had been proposed in Georgia and Carolina, which would soon be carried into effect. He thought it was better not to produce the correspondence as hopes were entertained that there would be great improvement in the legislation of the States he had mentioned.
Frederick Douglass’ Papers, May 15, 1854.
In regard to the imprisonment of colored seamen visiting ports in South Carolina, which has long been a subject of complaint and remonstrance on the part of foreign nations, Governor Adams makes some important suggestions. He says:
“I recommend that the law be so modified as to permit colored seamen, the subjects of foreign nations, to remain on board their vessels, to be allowed to land whenever the duties of the vessel may require it, upon their receiving a written permit to that effect from the Mayor of the port; and that while on land they be subjected to the ordinary restrictions applied to the native colored population. Such a modification would relieve the law of all its harshness, without compromising our right or endangering our domestic quiet.”
New National Era, December 13, 1855.
U.S. Steamer Walker, Pensacola, Florida
January 8, 1858
I must first tell you of my adventures in Charleston. My duty on board this ship required that I should go on shore. The laws of South Carolina forbade my doing so. The day after I arrived I was ordered ashore and obeyed. When I was walking up King Street I was seized and arraigned before the mayor. Fortunately for me, a young gentleman, an acquaintance of Captain Huger (the Capt. of the Walker) saw the arrest and informed him immediately. The Captain rendered securities and I was released.
You, sir, have not perhaps been south of Mason and Dixon line, and judge slavery therefore by the testimony you receive. You must witness it in all its loathsomeness. On the 5th of December I was seated in the stern sheets of one of our boats going on shore. As I neared the wharf I saw a crowd of half-clad, filthy looking men, women and children go on board the Savannah steamer. Poor wretches. In all that vast number, 2 or 300, I did not notice one smile. All were moody, silent, sorrowful. I see in this gang both sexes and all ages from the suckling babe to the decrepit old, all bartered and sold to the rice swamp.
I walked up a large thoroughfare. The first thing that attracted my [attention] was a sign: “Negroes and Land for sale.” I passed on a little farther and I see a large open room, over the door “Brokers’ office.” This means, a Negro Seller. Two or 3 half starved looking wretches were seated around. The very Earth seemed to tremble for the guilt of the oppressor.
A few days after my perambulation about the streets of Charleston I met a young man with whom I had become acquainted in Philadelphia. I invited him to take a cigar with me. He informed me that it was against the law for a colored man to smoke a cigar or walk with a cane in the streets of Charleston. And if the streets (sidewalk) are crowded the Negro must take the middle of the street. I met several white women. They did not move an inch—so I had always to give way to them. If I had run against one of them, they would have had me flogged.
One can witness here what education can effect. The blacks here invariably believe that white men are superior not merely mentally but physically. I had occasion to have some clothes washed and called on an old [slave] woman for that purpose. Several little white children were running about the house, and she called them “Master” and “Mistress.” I could not stand this and reprimanded her. She was perfectly astonished, commenced an argument with me to prove that those children were entitled to this distinction. She told me I must not talk this way—some of the people might overhear me and tell master.
G. E. Stevens
Jacob C. White Collection, Moorland-Spingarn Collection, Howard University Library.
We trust that the following appeal to the Northern public by four colored seamen, now in prison in Wilmington, North Carolina, will meet with a cordial response. This case is one of peculiar hardship. The poor fellows are far from home, without friends, without money to employ counsel; popular feeling is against them, and however meager the evidence, they are likely, unless help come speedily, to be convicted of a crime of which the penalty is death. Were it the worst of crimes, they would be entitled to counsel and to an impartial trial. The charge is, that they have ‘abducted’ a piece of property, which was and is a part of the real and personal estate of a clergyman—the Rev. Michael Robbins. The culprits shipped in Boston last month. Shall they be hung because the servant of a minister of the Gospel chose to take passage northward on board of their schooner?—Tribune.
WILMINGTON, N. C., Aug. 31, 1859.
We are here in jail on the charge of abducting a slave, the property of the Rev. Michael Robbins, who was found secreted on board the schooner George Harriss, while on a passage to your city from this port, which caused us to be brought back, when an investigation was had, and we were committed to jail, and are to be tried for our lives in October. The penalty for same, by the laws of this State, is ‘DEATH.’
The vessel is owned here, and the loss to her owners being great, we cannot expect help, or even sympathy from them—nor can we obtain a lawyer without means, and can only appeal to Northern friends for help in this our ‘time of need.’ Public sentiment is against us. We are all colored men. The excitement is great, and if funds can be raised to employ a lawyer, and we succeed in having our trial removed to an adjoining county, with the meager testimony bearing on the case, we will be acquitted. If without counsel, and our case is tried here, with popular feeling against us, we fear the result. The only witness is the slave himself, whose evidence is admissible against his own color, but not against a white. The other witnesses are gentlemen who found the slave on board, but are not aware how he came there.
We shipped on board the schooner George Harriss, in Boston, as seamen, early in this month. We have written our friends for help and appeal to you for assistance, and all who feel for suffering humanity, for aid.
Please publish this, if practicable, and get all papers friendly to us to copy. Your servants,
William Tubbs, Taunton, Mass., born in Elizabeth City, N. C. William Weaver, Boston, Mass, born in Sierra Leone. John Williams, Boston, Mass, born in Sandwich Islands. Tom Winisfield, New York, born in the Island St. Kitis; well known in St. Thomas as an English subject.
Douglass’ Monthly, October, 1859.
. . . they wher Rebuilding of the Columbia frigate and Commodore Hull issued a order that no Mechanics or laborer should eat ther Dinners in rooms of those shops in Dinner hour and at that time they wher Shop Carpenters her from difrent parts of the cuntery at work on the Columbia frigate and they got unsulted at the order that Commodore Hull isshued and every one of them struck and said they wouldent work anny moore and at the same time they wher a collered man from Baltimore By the name of Isral Jones a Caulker By trade he was the forman Caulker of those collered Caulkers and they wher fifteen or twenty of them here at that time Caulkin on the Columbia and the Carpenters made all of them knoc off too.
Micheal Shiner Diary, July 28, 1835, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.
So great is the fear excited in the minds of the colored caulkers by the frequent attacks made upon them that a number have deserted the city and sought labor in other seaboard cities.
Baltimore Sun, July 5, 1858.
The difficulty between the white caulkers and the colored caulkers still exists, we learn, to such an extent that Messrs. William Skinner & Sons have ceased operations at their ship yeard, and are about to commence to suit against the city for damages growing out of the interruption of their business, on the alleged ground of the failure of the authorities to afford them adequate protection. Messrs. Skinner in a card, state that the police having refused to accompany the colored caulkers from the yard, Mr. Jeremiah P. Skinner proceeded with them in a boat, and was intercepted by a number of armed men who had taken possession of the schooner Cambria in the river, and pointed their weapons at them and threatened to fire, and it was only by Mr. Skinner presenting his own weapon and calling out to some of the parties by name that the lives of the negroes were prevented from being sacrificed. The posse of police who were sent over to prevent any infraction of the peace at the yard of Messrs. Skinner were we learned instructed to remain on duty there until 6 o’clock in the evening, and another force started about five o’clock under the charge of Marshal Herring, to escort the colored caulkers from the yard, and protect them on their way to their homes, but on arriving found that they had stopped work a half hour previous, and that their services were then not wanting. Had they remained until the usual hour of stopping work adequate protection would doubtless have been afforded them.
It is a difficult matter to obtain all the facts with regard to outbreaks of this description, and still more difficult to give satisfaction to all parties concerned. As to the origin of this outbreak both parties defend themselves and give their own version of the matter. The white caulkers complain that a most stringent combination and association exists among the black caulkers, who, from their superior numbers, have not only oppressed the whites, but have obtained control of most of the yards. A case is cited of a party of black caulkers having been induced, after considerable persuasion, to caulk a schooner ready for launching in a ship yard in which the proprietors had refused to acknowledge the sway of their society. When the work was done they received their pay, and the schooner was no sooner launched than she filled with water, the caulking having been done so bad intentionally that the vessel had to be hauled up and recaulked. Another case is mentioned of a white foreman in a yard that acknowledged the society’s regulations having done a day’s work in another yard that resisted its authority, and his employers were compelled to discharge him forthwith, the black caulkers refusing any longer to work under him. It is also asserted that a party of black caulkers having found a white man at work on a vessel on which they were engaged threw down their tools and refused to work until he was discharged from the vessel. These charges, if true, were certainly provocative of resistance, but do not justify any violence or infraction of the rights and interference with the business of employers. The black caulkers on the other hand allege that there not, or was not until very recently, any white caulkers in the city, that the business has always been in their own hands, and that the regulations of their society were exclusively applicable to their own members—They also say that those men who are interfering with them are not caulkers, or such bad workmen that they are unwilling to work with them, and share in the blame that would fall on all if the work should prove defective. It is an undoubted fact that for many years past all of the caulking done in the city has been performed by blacks, and it was not until this outbreak occurred, that we were aware that there were any white men who claimed a knowledge of the business.
The parties who committed the acts of violence at the yard of Messrs. Skinner are known to these gentlemen, and should be at once arrested and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Every employer should be allowed, without let or hindrance, to employ black or white men, as he may think proper, and if the white caulkers have, as has been alleged, resolved, that no black caulkers should work on the south side of the basin, so long as the work is not more than sufficient for their employment, they should be taught that such resolve cannot be carried into execution.
We visited the yards on the south side of the basin yesterday afternoon, and found black caulkers at work in some of the yards, and white caulkers in others, and great activity visible everywhere. Perfect calm prevailed, and some to whom we spoke on the subject remarked that they had witnesses or heard of little of the outrages that they had read in some of the papers. Those employers who refuse to employ black caulkers, allege many grievances that they have suffered at their hands, besides being compelled to pay them $1.75, being fifty cents more per day than they could get the work done by white men, whilst each journeyman caulker has two or three apprentices for whom they are compelled to pay $1.50 per day. Other employers, however, allege that they are perfectly satisfied with the blacks, that they are good workmen and are in such numbers that the work can be done much more rapidly than by white men, who do not number at present more than thirty, whilst a hundred or more are sometimes required in that locality. They also allege that the white men are, generally speaking, not as good workmen as the blacks, whilst others assert that the whites do better work than the blacks. It appears that there is also a Ship Masters’ Society, the operations of which, are alleged to be connected with the difficulty, and that the black caulkers have been used to bring refractory members to terms.
The appearance of white caulkers in the city, who are now here in considerable numbers, we learn has been occasioned by the oppressive action of the blacks, who formerly monopolized the business and effectually excluded the whites from participation from them.—We were yesterday informed by one of our most extensive firms that they were compelled to advertise for them on account of the refusal of the blacks to work in their yards, leaving them at a time when they were crowded with business, and willing, as they always had been, to pay them the wages they demanded. The following substance of an affidavit yesterday voluntarily made to Mayor Swann by Captain Adams Gray, formerly engaged in ship building, will probably throw some light on the subject:
“In 1850 Captain Adams Gray rented on Fardy’s ship yard. He followed the business of building and repairing ships for four years. There was then an association of black caulkers, whose President was Mr. Flannigan. It is the same association that exists now, but they have another President. Captain Gray was not a regular ship builder, and gave dissatisfaction on this account. The colored caulkers were ordered to leave working for Captain Gray, and he was left without hands in his yard. He had had not difficulty with the colored men and had always given the highest wages. Captain Gray determined not to be made the victim of what he supposed to be a combination, and Mr. Cully, who was then in his employ, was instructed to go to Wilmington and procure white caulkers. He also threatened the foreman of the black caulkers, who had contracted to do the work, that he would sue him for damages for suffering himself to be controlled by the association. The Captain considered himself entirely at the mercy of the colored association. The black caulkers, finding Captain Gray determined and resolute, afterwards returned to their work.”
Baltimore American and Commercial Advertiser, July 8, 1858.
We learn that the ship-yard of Messrs. Skinner & Sands, Federal Hill, which had been closed since Saturday in consequence of the difficulty between the white and colored caulkers was reopened yesterday morning, and a number of the white class were set to work on the vessels in the yard.
Baltimore Sun, July 9, 1858.
We received yesterday various statements with regard to the hostility assumed by the white caulkers on the south side of the basin against the black caulkers, none of which, however, conflict in the least with the review of the difficulty contained in yesterday’s American.—There have been faults on both sides, and causes for provocation and resentment, and the exercise of arbitrary power by both when circumstances gave them the strength to resist and oppress each other. Heretofore the association of blacks, when the pursuit was altogether in their own hands, by combination, sought and did maintain an exclusive monopoly of the business, and effectually excluded white men from this field of employment. In this course they were sustained, and acted, we believe, under the direction and advisement of the association of employers. Indeed it has been no fault of the blacks that this difficulty has been brought upon them, but rather in being required to submit to the dictation of their employers, in withdrawing from the employment of refractory members as a means of forcing them into an obedience to the rules and regulations of the association of employers. The blacks may perhaps have been the willing instruments in this species of oppression, but it was a regulation originally adopted by the consent of all the shipwrights of the city, with one or two exceptions, and consequently beyond their powers of resistance, had they so desired. The rule was that in case of any members of the Association of Employees disregarding the rules of the Association, he should be fined $50 and the caulkers withdrawn from his service until the fine was paid. It was the enforcement of this rule on Messrs, Fardy & Brothers that brought the white caulkers to the city, and was the incipient step to the present difficulty.
However, both the society of employing shipwrights and the association of black caulkers have now been dissolved, and all rules and regulations, whether oppressive or otherwise, have been abandoned. The employers at Fell’s Point all desire to continue the employment of their old hands, most of whom have been brought up in their yards, and some have been in their employment for ten or fifteen years, and for whom they have a sincere regard. All they ask and demand is, that they shall be protected in their inalienable right to give employment to whoever they choose, whether white or black, without let or hindrance, and in this they should be protected and doubtless will be protected by the city authorities. The violence that has been exercised by the white caulkers on the south side of the basin should be at once checked and the perpetrators punished.—They have committed high-handed outrages, and have established a tyranny that must become still more oppressive if continued to be countenanced by any portion of the employers. They should at once, and before it is too late, deny the right of this white association to assume the power to say who they shall or shall not employ, or it may still further extend its powers by limiting a day’s work to six hours, or demand a per centage on the profits of employers. Above all, the poor negro should be protected, and not be beaten and intimidated from seeking employment in the business to which he has been reared. If employers prefer the black caulkers, they should be protected in their preference, their interest to use their influence to maintain the rights of all in this respect. There is abundance of work for all the real caulkers in the city, both black and white, at the present time, and if the effort to force on employers inexperienced and incompetent white men is countenanced, it will lead to greater troubles than any that have yet been encountered.
We learn that the Messrs. Skinner yesterday resumed business at their yard on the south side of the basin, taking into their employment twelve white caulkers, having been compelled to yield to their demands. The colored caulkers at work on the south side of the basin we learn were allowed to work by permit from the President of the white caulkers’ association, which certainly exhibits a sad state of affairs.
We are requested by Captain Adam Gray to state that he was summoned to testify before the Mayor, and did not appear voluntarily to give his testimony as published in the American yesterday. Mr. Fianigin also requests us to say that Captain Adams is mistaken in his supposition that he was President of the Caulkers’ Association at the time of the difficulty in his shipyard, and neither is he President at the present time.
Baltimore American and Commercial Advertiser, July 9, 1858.
Highhanded Proceeding.—Yesterday afternoon an outrageous proceeding was enacted at the screw deck, Fell’s Point, in which Mr. Hugh 0. Cooper was knocked down and several colored caulkers were severely beat. As far as the facts could be ascertained, it appeared that a brig was placed on the screw-dock for the purpose of being coppered, which had been caulked by white caulkers, and the party employed to put the copper on engaged the colored caulkers, who do all their work in that line. Shortly after one o’clock a party of three or four white men went to the dock and threatened the colored men with summary vengeance if they did not desist from the work, and after knocking down three or four them left.—Some two hours later a larger force of white men appeared, headed by Joseph Edwards, and again ordered the colored men to cease work. They exhibited some hesitation about complying with the order, when the white men fell upon them and beat several severely, and finally drove them from the work. Hugh A. Cooper was standing on Thames street, when Edwards followed one of the colored men, and Mr. Cooper called to him, saying that if he committed any breach of the peace he would lay it before the grand jury. Edwards ceased his pursuit of the colored man and turning on Mr. Cooper, dealt him a blow which felled him to the ground, and then kicked him severely in the abdomen.
By this time information had been sent to the middle district police station, and Capt. Lynch, with a posse of officers, proceeded to the scene of riot—The assailants, however, had been busily at work, and had inflicted severe wounds on several of the colored men. An apprentice boy on the rail of the vessel was struck with a club and knocked to the deck. One of the colored men, named Anthony Miller, living in Happy alley, had his right cheek cut open, severing the facial artery, which bled profusely. Dr. Monkur took up the artery and dressed the wound. Another named Wm. Hudlow was struck over the left eye with a club, inflicting a severe wound. Several others were beat, and nearly the whole of them driven from work. As soon as the police approached the assailants fled to their boat, in which they crossed the harbor, and tried to make the south shore of the harbor, but Captain Lynch at once procured a steam-tug, gave chase and soon overhauled them. Joseph Edwards, George Gardner, James Carr and Wm. Kirwan, all the parties in that boat, were arrested and conducted to the office of Justice Griffin.—There were no white witnesses to appear against Gardner, Carr and Kirwan, and they were dismissed from custody. Edwards was held to bail in the sum of $300 for the assault on Mr. Cooper, George Gardner becoming his security. The whole thing was said to have been entirely unprovoked, but anticipated, from previous threats which had been made.
Baltimore Sun, June 28, 1859.
The outrage at Fell’s Point on Wednesday afternoon, it appears was not confined to the attack on the colored men in coppering the barque Virginia. After Edwards and his associates had been arrested and released, George Gardner, the party who entered bail for Edwards, took the command and went to the ship David Stewart, when they made an attack on a man named Hammond, employed on that vessel.—When the attack was first made, H. endeavored to defend himself with a barrel stave and struck Gardner one blow; the others then rushed upon him, beating him over the head and in the face, until he sought refuge in the hold of the ship.—They followed him to the hatchway, and fired pistols into the hold. After his assailants left, Hammond procured a carriage and went to the office of Dr. Monkur, where his injuries were dressed and then went to his home. The assailants then left that part of the city. Yesterday morning the grand jury found a true bill against Joseph Edwards for the assault on Hugh A. Cooper, one of their number, and a bench warrant was ordered for his arrest.
Baltimore Sun, June 29, 1859.