The North Carolina Manumission Society
The following data is extracted from Trinity College Historical Society .
Perhaps it will be a matter of considerable surprise to many, in fact a majority of the citizens of the State, to know that the anti-slavery sentiment was ever strong enough here to take the form of organized protest and endeavor against the practice of slavery. And they would be still more surprised to know that this was the case in some of our most prominent counties. Nor was this simply the agitation of abolitionists just on the eve of the great war, but it was organized and carried on in the early part of this century. And it would be the occasion for still greater surprise to know that this organization ever reached so prominent a position as to receive such recognition from a similar general American Society, as to be asked to present their views to the general society at Washington. Yet such was the case.
The first record we have of this organization is the minutes of the several branches of the "Manumission Society" in Guilford and Randolph counties, which met at "Center Meeting House" July 19, 1816. This name it retained for two or three years; but there seems to have been some discontent with the limited sphere of work which was implied in the name, and after several unimportant changes the name was finally agreed upon and the society became known as the "Manumission and Colonization Society of North Carolina." And by this name it would have been known if the attempt, on the part of some of the members, to have the society incorporated had succeeded, but it was not seconded by a majority and so the project failed.
In the matter of organization, the aim of the society was to have, in the various townships, as many local branches as was possible. These were all entitled to send delegates to the General Society which met twice a year, alternating between Deep River and Center Meeting Houses. The local branches were usually called by the name of the “meeting house" at which their meetings were held, and they seem to have been carried on in nearly all the most populous communities of the two counties. These branches were allowed representation based on membership, and their delegates were elected for certain terms just as the other officers of the Society.
Among those who were present at the first meeting in 1816, we may notice the familiar names of Swain, Mendenhall, Sherwood and Worth, along with many others. The election of permanent officers resulted in choosing Moses Swain for President, Thomas Sherwood for Clerk, and Hugh Sherwood for Treasurer.
Upon a call of the local branches, it was found that the aggregate membership of the General Society of 147. At the September meeting in 1817 the whole number of members was reported at 256. In April, 1819, the total membership was estimated at 281. From this date until 1822 there were regular meetings, but in that year there were two attempts to hold sessions but were both failures. This marks the first flagging of the zeal of the Society.
In 1824 there began to be agitated the question of the advisability of longer continuing the organization, and also in that year a committee was appointed to meet a State Abolition Society and to try to effect a consolidation of the two societies; this design was never carried out.
In September, 1825, the whole number of members was placed at 497, and in addition to the regular branches, a female society, located in the vicinity of Jamestown, was reported, and the Society resolved to recognize it as an auxiliary. From this time on there were, at various meetings, addresses and papers presented by this auxiliary to the General Society, and scarcely a meeting passed without there being adopted some suitable resolution in commendation of the work being done by the female society, and it continually furnishes a subject for praise to the President in his semi-annual address.
In March, 1826, we see a name somewhat more noted than the others when Wm. Swain was elected Secretary. There are no other occurrences of importance until 1828, when a committee on that subject recommended the division of the Society into two societies, and that there thus be formed Eastern and Western sections. Whether this was ever done, does not appear on the records. Nothing more worthy of note in the internal history of the Society is shown until 1834, when the question of longer continuing the Society again arose and, after a rather prolonged debate, it was decided that, as the Society had not yet accomplished all it started out to do, it would be wise to discontinue. Here the record ceases and we are left to suppose that the resolution was immediately carried into effect.
Such is a brief history of the Society, but not of its work, and there remains to be treated yet the various undertakings and how it went about carrying them out. Its plans and methods will give us not only an insight into the workings of the Society, but their success will throw great light upon the state of public sentiment on the question that was afterwards to become vital in the United States.
In the preamble to their constitution they ask whether they are acting in accord with the time-honored principles of liberty in holding slaves; and then declare their adherence to the Declaration of 1776, and that all men are entitled to freedom without reference to race or color, and the more enlightened men are, the greater disgrace in keeping our fellow-men in bondage. With such a declaration of principles as this they were positively committed to an aggressive campaign in the interest of freedom.
The Society was primarily and pre-eminently a Maunmission Society. Of course it was out of its power to do anything effective along this line further than the dissemination of literature on the subject, and in every way possible to strive to stir up the consciences of men. It did not attempt or profess to be a political organization, and only once do we find it discussing the issue as a political one, and then it was on the question as to whether the voting for candidates for legislature who were not in Wm. of emancipation was an impeachable offence. We are not told how it was decided, the record only saying that the seventh article of by-laws was struck out, but as this article does not touch that part of the subject, it does not throw any light on the subject.
Source: Trinity College Historical Society