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Fighting it out on Free Soil – Black Migration
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How, then, was this increasing influx of refugees from the South to be received in the free States? In the older Northern States where there could be no danger of an Africanization of a large district, the coming of the Negroes did not cause general excitement, though at times the feeling in certain localities was sufficient to make one think so.1 Fearing that the immigration of the Negroes into the North might so increase their numbers as to make them constitute a rather important part in the community, however, some free States enacted laws to restrict the privileges of the blacks.
Free Negroes had voted in all the colonies except Georgia and South Carolina, if they had the property qualification; but after the sentiment attendant upon the struggle for the rights of man had passed away there set in a reaction.2 Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and Kentucky disfranchised all Negroes not long after the Revolution. They voted in North Carolina until 1835, when the State, feeling that this privilege of one class of Negroes might affect the enslavement of the other, prohibited it. The Northern States, following in their wake, set up the same barriers against the blacks. They were disfranchised in New Jersey in 1807, in Connecticut in 1814, and in Pennsylvania in 1838. In 1811 New York passed an act requiring the production of certificates of freedom from blacks or mulattoes offering to vote. The second constitution, adopted in 1823, provided that no man of color, unless he had been for three years a citizen of that State and for one year next preceding any election, should be seized and possessed of a freehold estate, should be allowed to vote, although this qualification was not required of the whites. An act of 1824 relating to the government of the Stockbridge Indians provided that no Negro or mulatto should vote in their councils.3
That increasing prejudice was to a great extent the result of the immigration into the North of Negroes in the rough, was nowhere better illustrated than in Pennsylvania. Prior to 1800, and especially after 1780, when the State provided for gradual emancipation, there was little race prejudice in Pennsylvania.4 When the reactionary legislation of the South made life intolerable for the Negroes, debasing them to the plane of beasts, many of the free people of color from Virginia, Maryland and Delaware moved or escaped into Pennsylvania like a steady stream during the next sixty years. As these Negroes tended to concentrate in towns and cities, they caused the supply of labor to exceed the demand, lowering the wages of some and driving out of employment a number of others who became paupers and consequently criminals. There set in too an intense struggle between the black and white laborers,5 immensely accelerating the growth of race prejudice, especially when the abolitionists and Quakers were giving Negroes industrial training.
The first exhibition of this prejudice was seen among the lower classes of white people, largely Irish and Germans, who, devoted to menial labor, competed directly with the Negroes. It did not require a long time, however, for this feeling to react on the higher classes of whites where Negroes settled in large groups. A strong protest arose from the menace of Negro paupers. An attempt was made in 1804 to compel free Negroes to maintain those that might become a public charge.6 In 1813 the mayor, aldermen and citizens of Philadelphia asked that free Negroes be taxed to support their poor.7 Two Philadelphia representatives in the Pennsylvania Legislature had a committee appointed in 1815 to consider the advisability of preventing the immigration of Negroes.8 One of the causes then at work there was that the black population had recently increased to four thousand in Philadelphia and more than four thousand others had come into the city since the previous registration.
They were arriving much faster than they could be assimilated. The State of Pennsylvania had about exterminated slavery by 1840, having only 40 slaves that year and only a few hundred at any time after 1810. Many of these, of course, had not had time to make their way in life as freedmen. To show how much the rapid migration to that city aggravated the situation under these circumstances one needs but note the statistics of the increase of the free people of color in that State. There were only 22,492 such persons in Pennsylvania in 1810, but in 1820 there were 30,202, and in 1830 as many as 37,930. This number increased to 47,854 by 1840, to 53,626 by 1850, and to 56,949 by 1860. The undesirable aspect of the situation was that most of the migrating blacks came in crude form.9 “On arriving,” therefore, says a contemporary, “they abandoned themselves to all manner of debauchery and dissipation to the great annoyance of many citizens.”10
Thereafter followed a number of clashes developing finally into a series of riots of a grave nature. Innocent Negroes, attacked at first for purposes of sport and later for sinister designs, were often badly beaten in the streets or even cut with knives. The offenders were not punished and if the Negroes defended themselves they were usually severely penalized. In 1819 three white women stoned a woman of color to death.11 A few youths entered a Negro church in Philadelphia in 1825 and by throwing pepper to give rise to suffocating fumes caused a panic which resulted in the death of several Negroes.12 When the citizens of New Haven, Connecticut, arrayed themselves in 1831 against the plan to establish in that city a Negro manual labor college, there was held in Philadelphia a meeting which passed resolutions enthusiastically endorsing this effort to rid the community of the evil of the immigration of free Negroes. There arose also the custom of driving Negroes away from Independence Square on the Fourth of July because they were neither considered nor desired as a part of the body politic.13
It was thought that in the state of feeling of the thirties that the Negro would be annihilated. De Tocqueville also observed that the Negroes were more detested in the free States than in those where they were held as slaves.14 There had been such a reaction since 1800 that no positions of consequence were open to Negroes, however well educated they might be, and the education of the blacks which was once vigorously prosecuted there became unpopular.15 This was especially true of Harrisburg and Philadelphia but by no means confined to large cities. The Philadelphia press said nothing in behalf of the race. It was generally thought that freedom had not been an advantage to the Negro and that instead of making progress they had filled jails and almshouses and multiplied pest holes to afflict the cities with disease and crime.
The Negroes of York carefully worked out in 1803 a plan to burn the city. Incendiaries set on fire a number of houses, eleven of which were destroyed, whereas there were other attempts at a general destruction of the city. The authorities arrested a number of Negroes but ran the risk of having the jail broken open by their sympathizing fellowmen. After a reign of terror for half a week, order was restored and twenty of the accused were convicted of arson.
In 1820 there occurred so many conflagrations that a vigilance committee was organized.16 Whether or not the Negroes were guilty of the crime is not known but numbers of them left either on account of the fear of punishment or because of the indignities to which they were subjected. Numerous petitions, therefore, came before the legislature to stop the immigration of Negroes. It was proposed in 1840 to tax all free Negroes to assist them in getting out of the State for colonization.17 The citizens of Lehigh County asked the authorities in 1830 to expel all Negroes and persons of color found in the State.18 Another petition prayed that they be deprived of the freedom of movement. Bills embodying these ideas were frequently considered but they were never passed.
Stronger opposition than this, however, was manifested in the form of actual outbreaks on a large scale in Philadelphia. The immediate cause of this first real clash was the abolition agitation in the city in 1834 following the exciting news of other such disturbances a few months prior to this date in several northern cities. A group of boys started the riot by destroying a Negro resort. A mob then proceeded to the Negro district, where white and colored men engaged in a fight with clubs and stones.
The next day the mob ruined the African Presbyterian Church and attacked some Negroes, destroying their property and beating them mercilessly. This riot continued for three days. A committee appointed to inquire into the causes of the riot reported that the aim of the rioters had been to make the Negroes go away because it was believed that their labor was depriving them of work and because the blacks had shielded criminals and had made such noise and disorder in their churches as to make them a nuisance. It seemed that the most intelligent and well-to-do people of Philadelphia keenly felt it that the city had thus been disgraced, but the mob spirit continued.19
The very next year was marked by the same sort of disorder. Because a half-witted Negro attempted to murder a white man, a large mob stirred up the city again. There was a repetition of the beating of Negroes and of the destruction of property while the police, as the year before, were so inactive as to give rise to the charge that they were accessories to the riot.20 In 1838 there occurred another outbreak which developed into an anti-abolition riot, as the public mind had been much exercised by the discussions of abolitionists and by their close social contact with the Negroes. The clash came on the seventeenth of May when Pennsylvania Hall, the center of abolition agitation, was burned. Fighting between the blacks and whites ensued the following night when the Colored Orphan Asylum was attacked and a Negro church burned. Order was finally restored for the good of all concerned, but that a majority of the people sympathized with the rioters was evidenced by the fact that the committee charged with investigating the disturbance reported that the mob was composed of strangers who could not be recognized.21 It is well to note here that this riot occurred the year the Negroes in Pennsylvania were disfranchised.
Following the example of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh had a riot in 1839 resulting in the maltreatment of a number of Negroes and the demolishing of some of their houses. When the Negroes of Philadelphia paraded the city in 1842, celebrating the abolition of slavery in the West Indies, there ensued a battle led by the whites who undertook to break up the procession. Along with the beating and killing of the usual number went also the destruction of the New African Hall and the Negro Presbyterian church. The grand jury charged with the inquiry into the causes reported that the procession was to be blamed. For several years thereafter the city remained quiet until 1849 when there occurred a raid on the blacks by the “Killers of Moyamensing”, using firearms with which many were wounded. This disturbance was finally quelled by aid of the militia.22
These clashes sometimes reached farther north than the free States bordering on the slave commonwealths. Mobs broke up abolition meetings in the city of New York in 1834 when there were sent to Congress numerous petitions for the abolition of slavery. This mob even assailed such eminent citizens as Arthur and Lewis Tappan, mainly on account of their friendly attitude toward the Negroes.23 On October 21, 1834, the same feeling developed in Utica, where was to be held an anti-slavery meeting according to previous notice. The six hundred delegates who assembled there were warned to disband. A mob then organized itself and drove the delegates from the town. That same month the people of Palmyra, New York, held a meeting at which they adopted resolutions to the effect that owners of houses or tenements in that town occupied by blacks of the character complained of be requested to use all their rightful means to clear their premises of such occupants at the earliest possible period; and that it be recommended that such proprietors refuse to rent the same thereafter to any person of color whatever.24 In New York Negroes were excluded from places of amusement and public conveyances and segregated in places of worship. In the draft riots which occurred there in 1863, one of the aims of the mobs was to assassinate Negroes and to destroy their property. They burned the Colored Orphan Asylum of that city and hanged Negroes to lamp-posts.
The situation in parts of New England was not much better. For fear of the evils of an increasing population of free persons of color the people of Canaan, New Hampshire, broke up the Noyes Academy because it decided to admit Negro students, thinking that many of the race might thereby be encouraged to come to that State.25 When Prudence Crandall established in Canterbury, Connecticut, an academy to which she decided to admit Negroes, the mayor, selectmen and citizens of the city protested, and when their protests failed to deter this heroine, they induced the legislature to enact a special law covering the case and invoked the measure to have Prudence Crandall imprisoned because she would not desist.26 This very law and the arguments upholding it justified the drastic measure on the ground that an increase in the colored population would be an injury to the people of that State.
In the new commonwealths formed out of western territory, there was the same fear as to Negro domination and consequently there followed the wave of legislation intended in some cases not only to withhold from the Negro settlers the exercise of the rights of citizenship but to discourage and even to prevent them from coming into their territory.27 The question as to what should be done with the Negro was early an issue in Ohio. It came up in the constitutional convention of 1803, and provoked some discussion, but that body considered it sufficient to settle the matter for the time being by merely leaving the Negroes, Indians and foreigners out of the pale of the newly organized body politic by conveniently incorporating the word white throughout the constitution.28 It was soon evident, however, that the matter had not been settled, and the legislature of 1804 had to give serious consideration to the immigration of Negroes into that State. It was, therefore, enacted that no Negro or mulatto should remain there permanently, unless he could furnish a certificate of freedom issued by some court, that all Negroes in that commonwealth should be registered before the following June, and that no man should employ a Negro who failed to comply with these conditions. Should one be detected in hiring, harboring or hindering the capture of a fugitive black, he was liable to a fine of $50 and his master could recover pay for the service of his slave to the amount of fifty cents a day.29
As this legislature did not meet the demands of those who desired further to discourage Negro immigration, the Legislature of 1807 was induced to enact a law to the effect that no Negro should be permitted to settle in Ohio, unless he could within 20 days give a bond to the amount of $500 for his good behavior and assurance that he would not become a public charge. This measure provided also for raising the fine for concealing a fugitive from $50 to $100, one half of which should go to the person upon the testimony of whom the conviction should be secured.30 Negro evidence in a case to which a white was a party was declared illegal. In 1830 Negroes were excluded from service in the State militia, in 1831 they were deprived of the privilege of serving on juries, and in 1838 they were denied the right of having their children educated at the expense of the State.31
In Indiana the situation was worse than in Ohio. We have already noted above how the settlers in the southern part endeavored to make that a slave State. When that had, after all but being successful, seemed impossible the State enacted laws to prevent or discourage the influx of free Negroes and to restrict the privileges of those already there. In 1824 a stringent law for the return of fugitives was passed.32 The expulsion of free Negroes was a matter of concern and in 1831 it was provided that unless they could give bond for their behavior and support they could be removed. Otherwise the county overseers could hire out such Negroes to the highest bidder.33 Negroes were not allowed to attend schools maintained at the public expense, might not give evidence against a white man and could not intermarry with white persons. They might, however, serve as witnesses against Negroes.34
In the same way the free Negroes met discouragement in Illinois. They suffered from all the disabilities imposed on their class in Ohio and Indiana and were denied the right to sue for their liberty in the courts. When there arose many abolitionists who encouraged the coming of the fugitives from labor in the South, one element of the citizens of Illinois unwilling to accept this unusual influx of members of another race passed the drastic law of 1853 prohibiting the immigration. It provided for the prosecution of any person bringing a Negro into the State and also for arresting and fining any Negro $50, should he appear there and remain longer than ten days. If he proved to be unable to pay the fine, he could be sold to any person who could pay the cost of the trial.35
In Michigan the situation was a little better but, with the waves of hostile legislation then sweeping over the new36 commonwealths, Michigan was not allowed to constitute altogether an exception. Some of this intense feeling found expression in the form of a law hostile to the Negro, this being the act of 1827, which provided for the registration of all free persons of color and for the exclusion from the territory of all blacks who could not produce a certificate to the effect that they were free. Free persons of color were also required to file bonds with one or more freehold sureties in the penal sum of $500 for their good behavior, and the bondsmen were expected to provide for their maintenance, if they failed to support themselves. Failure to comply with this law meant expulsion from the territory.37
The opposition to the Negroes immigrating into the new West was not restricted to the enactment of laws which in some cases were never enforced. Several communities took the law into their own hands. During these years when the Negroes were seeking freedom in the Northwest Territory and when free blacks were being established there by philanthropists, it seemed to the southern uplanders fleeing from slavery in the border States and foreigners seeking fortunes in the new world that they might possibly be crowded out of this new territory by the Negroes. Frequent clashes, therefore, followed after they had passed through a period of toleration and dependence on the execution of the hostile laws. The clashes of the greatest consequences occurred in the Northwest Territory where a larger number of uplanders from the South had gone, some to escape the ill effects of slavery, and others to hold slaves if possible, and when that seemed impossible, to exclude the blacks altogether.38 This persecution of the Negroes received also the hearty cooperation of the foreign element, who, being an undeveloped class, had to do menial labor in competition with the blacks. The feeling of the foreigners was especially mischievous for the reasons that they were, like the Negroes, at first settled in large numbers in urban communities.
Generally speaking, the feeling was like that exhibited by the Germans in Mercer County, Ohio. The citizens of this frontier community, in registering their protest against the settling of Negroes there, adopted the following resolutions:
“Resolved”, That we will not live among Negroes, as we have settled here first, we have fully determined that we will resist the settlement of blacks and mulattoes in this county to the full extent of our means, the bayonet not excepted.
“Resolved”, That the blacks of this county be, and they are hereby respectfully requested to leave the county on or before the first day of March, 1847; and in the case of their neglect or refusal to comply with this request, we pledge ourselves to “remove them, peacefully if we can, forcibly if we must.”
“Resolved”, That we who are here assembled, pledge ourselves not to employ or trade with any black or mulatto person, in any manner whatever, or permit them to have any grinding done at our mills, after the first day of January next.39
In 1827 there arose a storm of protest on the occasion of the settling of seventy freedmen in Lawrence County, Ohio, by a philanthropic master of Pittsylvania County, Virginia.40 On “Black Friday”, January 1, 1830, eighty Negroes were driven out of Portsmouth, Ohio, at the request of one or two hundred white citizens set forth in an urgent memorial.41 So many Negroes during these years concentrated at Cincinnati that the laboring element forced the execution of the almost dead law requiring free Negroes to produce certificates and give bonds for their behavior and support.42 A mob attacked the homes of the blacks, killed a number of them, and forced twelve hundred others to leave for Canada West, where they established the settlement known as Wilberforce.
In 1836 another mob attacked and destroyed there the press of James G. Birney, the editor of the “Philanthropist”, because of the encouragement his abolitionist organ gave to the immigrating Negroes.43 But in 1841 came a decidedly systematic effort on the part of foreigners and proslavery sympathizers to kill off and drive out the Negroes who were becoming too well established in that city and who were giving offense to white men who desired to deal with them as Negroes were treated in the South. The city continued in this excited state for about a week. There were brought into play in the upheaval the police of the city and the State militia before the shooting of the Negroes and burning of their homes could be checked. So far as is known, no white men were punished, although a few of them were arrested. Some Negroes were committed to prison during the fray. They were thereafter either discharged upon producing certificates of nativity or giving bond or were indefinitely held.44
In southern Indiana and Illinois the same condition obtained. Observing the situation in Indiana, a contributor of “Niles Register” remarked, in 1818, upon the arrival there of sixty or seventy liberated Negroes sent by the society of Friends of North Carolina, that they were a species of population that was not acceptable to the people of that State, “nor indeed to any other, whether free or slave holding, for they cannot rise and become like other men, unless in countries where their own color predominates, but must always remain a degraded and inferior class of persons without the hope of much bettering their condition.”45
The “Indiana Farmer”, voicing the sentiment of that same community, regretted the increase of this population that seemed to be enlarging the number sent to that territory. The editor insisted that the community which enjoys the benefits of the blacks’ labor should also suffer all the consequences. Since the people of Indiana derived no advantage from slavery, he begged that they be excused from its inconveniences. Most of the blacks that migrated there, moreover, possessed, thought he, “feelings quite unprepared to make good citizens. A sense of inferiority early impressed on their minds, destitute of every thing but bodily power and having no character to lose, and no prospect of acquiring one, even did they know its value, they are prepared for the commission of any act, when the prospect of evading punishment is favorable.”46
With the exception of such centers as Eden, Upper Alton, Bellville and Chicago, this antagonistic attitude was general also in the State of Illinois. The Negroes were despised, abused and maltreated as persons who had no rights that the white man should respect. Even in Detroit, Michigan, in 1833 a fracas was started by an attack on Negroes. Because a courageous group of them had effected the rescue and escape of one Thornton Blackburn and his wife who had been arrested by the sheriff as alleged fugitives from Kentucky, the citizens invoked the law of 1827, to require free Negroes to produce a certificate and furnish bonds for their behavior and support.47 The anti-slavery sentiment there, however, was so strong that the law was not long rigidly enforced.48 And so it was in several other parts of the West which, however, were exceptional.49
“The New York Daily Advertiser,” Sept. 22, 1800; “The New York Journal of Commerce,” July 12, 1834; and “The New York Commercial Advertiser,” July 12, 1834. ↩
Hart, “Slavery and Abolition,” pp. 53, 82. ↩
Goodell, “American Slave Code,” Part III, chap. i; Hurd, “The Law of Freedom and Bondage,” I, pp. 51, 61, 67, 81, 89, 101, 111; Woodson, “The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861,” pp. 151-178. ↩
Benezet, “Short Observations,” p. 12. ↩
Turner, “The Negro in Pennsylvania”, pp. 143-145. ↩
“Journal of House”, 1823-24, p. 824. ↩
“Journal of House,” 1812-1813, pp. 481, 482. ↩
“Ibid.”, 1814-1815, p. 101. ↩
“United States Censuses”, 1790-1860. ↩
Brannagan, “Serious Remonstrances”, p. 68. ↩
Turner, “The Negro in Pennsylvania”, p. 145; “The Philadelphia Gazette”, June 30, 1819. ↩
“Democratic Press, Philadelphia Gazette”, Nov. 21, 1825. ↩
Turner, “The Negro in Pennsylvania”, p. 146. ↩
De Tocqueville, “Democracy in America”, II, pp. 292, 294. ↩
Turner, “The Negro in Pennsylvania”, p. 148. ↩
Turner, “The Negro in Pennsylvania”, pp. 152, 153. ↩
“African Repository,” VIII, pp. 125, 283; “Journal of House”, 1840, I, pp. 347, 508, 614, 622, 623, 680. ↩
“Journal of Senate”, 1850, I, pp. 454, 479. ↩
This is well narrated in Turner’s “Negro in Pennsylvania”, p. 160, and in DuBois’s “The Philadelphia Negro”, p. 27. ↩
Turner, “The Negro in Pennsylvania”, pp. 161, 162. ↩
Turner, “The Negro in Pennsylvania”, pp. 162, 163. ↩
Turner, “The Negro in Pennsylvania”, p. 163; and “The Liberator”, July 4, 1835. ↩
“The Liberator”, Oct. 24, 1834. ↩
“Ibid.”, October 24, 1834. ↩
Jay, “An Inquiry,” pp. 28-29. ↩
So many Negroes working on the rivers between the slave and free States helped fugitives to escape that there arose a clamor for the discourage of colored employees. Transcriber’s Note: The above should probably be “discouragement of colored employees.” ↩
“Constitution of Ohio”, article I, sections 2, 6. “The Journal of Negro History”, I, p. 2. ↩
“Laws of Ohio”, II, p. 53. ↩
“Laws of Ohio”, V, p. 53. ↩
Hitchcock, “The Negro in Ohio”, II, pp. 41, 42. ↩
“Revised Laws of Indiana”, 1831, p. 278. ↩
Perkins, “A Digest of the Declaration of the Supreme Court of Indiana”, p. 590. “Laws of 1853″, p. 60. ↩
Gavin and Hord, “Indiana Revised Statutes”, 1862, p. 452. ↩
“Illinois Statutes”, 1853, sections 1-4, p. 8. ↩
In 1760 there were both African and Pawnee slaves in Detroit, 96 of them in 1773 and 175 in 1782. The usual effort to have slavery legalized was made in 1773. There were seventeen slaves in Detroit in 1810 held by virtue of the exceptions made under the British rule prior to the ratification of Jay’s treaty. Advertisements of runaway slaves appeared in Detroit papers as late as 1827. Furthermore, there were thirty-two slaves in Michigan in 1830 but by 1836 all had died or had been manumitted. See Farmer, “History of Detroit and Michigan”, I, p. 344. ↩
“Laws of Michigan”, 1827; and Campbell, “Political History of Michigan”, p. 246. ↩
“Proceedings of the Ohio Anti-Slavery Convention”, 1835, p. 19. ↩
“African Repository”, XXIII, p. 70. ↩
“Ohio State Journal”, May 3, 1837. ↩
Evans, “A History of Scioto County, Ohio”, p. 643. ↩
“African Repository”, V, p. 185. ↩
Howe, “Historical Collections”, pp. 225-226. ↩
“Ibid”., p. 226, and “The Cincinnati Daily Gazette”, Sept. 14, 1841. ↩
“Niles Register”, XXX, 416. ↩
“Niles Register”, XXX, 416; “African Repository”, III, p. 25. ↩
Farmer, “History of Detroit and Michigan”, I, chap. 48. ↩
There was the usual effort to have slavery legalized in Michigan. At the time of the fire in 1805 there were six colored men and nine colored women in the town of Detroit. In 1807 there were so many of them that Governor Hull organized a company of colored militia. Joseph Campan owned ten at one time. The importation of slaves was discontinued after September 17, 1792, by act of the Canadian Parliament which provided also that all born thereafter should be free at the age of twenty-five. The Ordinance of 1787 had by its sixth article prohibited it. ↩
In 1836 a colored man traveling in the West to Cleveland said:
“I have met with good treatment at every place on my journey, even better than what I expected under present circumstances. I will relate an incident that took place on board the steamboat, which will give an idea of the kind treatment with which I have met. When I took the boat at Erie, it being rainy and somewhat disagreeable, I took a cabin passage, to which the captain had not the least objection. When dinner was announced, I intended not to go to the first table but the mate came and urged me to take a seat. I accordingly did and was called upon to carve a large saddle of beef which was before me. This I performed accordingly to the best of my ability. No one of the company manifested any objection or seemed anyways disturbed by my presence.” Extract of a letter from a colored gentleman traveling to the West, Cleveland, Ohio, August 11, 1836. See “The Philanthropist”, Oct. 21, 1836. ↩
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