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‘The Grievances of the Fair Secesh’: Highlights from Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922

Posted on 09/22/2017

The September release of Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922: From the Library Company of Philadelphia includes an address on slavery by one of America’s Founding Fathers, a biography of William Pitt which contains a description of the Middle Passage, and a history of the 19th Colored Infantry Regiment.


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An Address to the Inhabitants of the British Settlements on the Slavery of the Negroes in America (1773)

By Benjamin Rush

Benjamin Rush (1746-1813) signed the Declaration of Independence, attended the Continental Congress, supported the American Revolution, and opposed slavery. He also founded Dickinson College, served as Surgeon General of the Continental Army, and was a leader of the American Enlightenment.

Rush viewed Africans as equals to Europeans and argues here that any differences are either products of slavery or only skin deep. He writes:

…we are to distinguish between an African in his own country, and an African in a state of slavery in America. Slavery is so foreign to the human mind, that the moral faculties, as well as those of the understanding are debased, and rendered torpid by it. All the vices which are charged upon the Negroes in the southern colonies and the West-Indies, such as Idleness, Treachery, Theft, and the like, are the genuine offspring of slavery, and serve as an argument to prove that they were not intended for it.

Nor let it be said, in the present Age, that their black color (as it is commonly called) either subjects them to, or qualifies them for slavery. The vulgar notion of their being descended from Cain, who was supposed to have been marked with this color, is too absurd to need a refutation. Without enquiring into the cause of this blackness, I shall only add upon this subject, that so far from being a curse, it subjects the Negroes to no inconveniencies, but on the contrary qualifies them for that part of the Globe in which providence has placed them. The ravages of heat, diseases and time, appear less in their faces than in a white one…

Attached to this address is a response to a pamphlet entitled, “Slavery Not Forbidden in Scripture: A Defense of the West Indian Planters.” Rush’s rejoinder begins:

There is no Subject so sacred that has not sometimes been exposed to Obloquy. The immortality of the Soul, the Obligations of Morality, and even the Existence of a Supreme Being, have all in their Turns been treated as unworthy of Belief. On the other Hand, there is no Subject so subversive of the Happiness of Mankind, but what has had its Advocates.—Adultery—Perjury, —and even Suicide, have all been defended as lawful. Posterity will hardly believe that human Ingenuity could rise higher, and that a Man had lived, who had undertaken to defend SLAVERY.   


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Life of the Right Honourable William Pitt (1861)

By Philip Henry Stanhope

Philip Henry Stanhope, 5th Earl Stanhope (1805-1875) was a British historian and politician. In this four-volume biography of William Pitt, Stanhope offers this description of the slave trade and some misconceptions of the Middle Passage:

Of the gross exaggerations and misstatements which were at this time put forward in defense of the Slave Trade one instance may suffice. Several of the dealers or captains had not scrupled to assert that the Middle Passage was perhaps the happiest period of the negroes’ lives; that they were constantly well fed; that the close air below in the holds was congenial to their frame of body; and that when upon deck they made merry and amused themselves with their national dances. But the real facts were disclosed by the evidence before the Privy Council. It was found that the poor wretches were chained two and two together, and secured by ring-bolts to the lower decks. The allowance for each was one pint of water daily, and they had two meals of yams and horse-beans. After eating they were loosened from their rings, and allowed to jump up in their irons, as an exercise necessary for their health; and for that reason it was not only permitted but urged on them by lashes whenever they refused. And such, then, were the “national dances” which had been so boldly and boastfully alleged!


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Services with Colored Troops in Burnside’s Corps (1894)

By James H. Rickard

Captain James H. Rickard writes of recruiting and leading the 19th Colored Infantry Regiment during the Civil War. Rickard’s narrative includes many interesting anecdotes, such as testing the mettle of the soldiers by subjecting them to friendly fire, as well as discussions of historically significant subjects. Quoting the Baltimore American, Rickard records the reaction of some to the changing face of the American soldier:

“A few years ago the man who would have said that the negro would have marched through the streets of Baltimore in military equipments and unarmed without being assaulted, would have been considered a fit candidate for a lunatic asylum. But such is the case, and during their march this morning it was pleasant to see, as the head of the column passed the Maryland Institute, where the arrangements for the fair are in progress, that they were lustily cheered. In many places along the route of the march, flags were waved from the stateliest or from the humblest dwellings. Several of the men were accompanied to the point of embarkation, the foot of Long Dock, by their wives and sisters, and many were the leave-takings there witnessed. Some of the more rabid of the rebels in our midst gave vent to their spleen in silent murmurs and ‘curses not loud but deep.’ One female, who was standing at the Institute as the procession turned down the market space, thought it had come to a pretty pass when she had to stand to allow ‘niggers’ to pass, and that they were a nice crowd to send to fight white men. But notwithstanding the grievances of the fair secesh, the troops passed quietly by, amid the congratulations of those who think the United States government can rightly use the colored man for a soldier or a laborer…”

For more information about Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922, or to request a trial for your institution, please contact

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