‘Mutterings of Pent-up Wrath’: Highlights from Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922
The July release of Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922: From the Library Company of Philadelphia includes examinations of slavery and the slave trade by a poet, an abolitionist society, and a Methodist minister.
The Works of Hannah More (1835)
By Hannah More
Hannah More (1745-1833) was a poet, playwright, and philanthropist. She was born in Bristol, England and became involved with the literary elite of London as her writing career progressed. More wrote primarily on moral and religious subjects and campaigned against the slave trade. This two-volume anthology of More’s writings begins with a note from the publisher:
When the veil of mortality descends upon splendid genius, that has been long devoted to the instruction and best interests of mankind, the noblest monument that can be erected to commemorate its worth and perpetuate its usefulness, is the collection of those productions which, when separately published, delighted and edified the world.
No writer of the past or present age has equaled HANNAH MORE in the application of great talents to the improvement of society, through all its distinctions, from the humblest to the most exalted station in life.
More’s poem The Slave Trade evidences such praise is well deserved. She writes:
Was it decreed, fair Freedom! at thy birth,
That thou should’d ne’er irradiate all the earth?
While Britain basks in thy full blaze of light,
Why lies sad Afric quench’d in total night?
Perish the illiberal thought which would debase
The native genius of the sable race!
Perish the proud philosophy, which sought
To rob them of the pow’rs of equal thought!
Does then th’ immortal principle within
Change with the casual colour of the skin?
Does Matter govern Spirit? or is mind
Degraded by the form to which ‘tis join’d?
No: they have heads to think, and hearts to feel,
And souls to act, with firm, though erring zeal:
For they have keen affections, kind desires,
Love strong as death, and active patriot fires;
Reiterating the humanity of the slave trade’s victims, More writes:
Whene’er to Afric’s shores I turn my eyes,
Horrors of deepest, deadliest guilt arise;
I see, by more than Fancy’s mirror shown,
The burning village and the blazing town:
See the dire victim torn from social life,
The shrieking babe, the agonizing wife!
She, wretch forlorn! is dragg’d by hostile hands.
To distant tyrants sold, in distant lands!
Transmitted miseries, and successive chains,
The sole sad heritage her child obtains!
E’en this last wretched boon their foes deny,
To weep together, or together die.
By felon hands, by one relentless stroke,
See the fond links of feeling Nature broke!
The fibres twisting round a parent’s heart,
Torn from their grasp, and bleeding as they part.
An Historical Memoir of the Pennsylvania Society, for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery; the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage, and for Improving the Condition of the African Race (1848)
By Edward Needles
Before the U.S. Constitution was written, the American Revolution won, or the Declaration of Independence signed; the Pennsylvania Abolition Society was founded. Originally organized in 1775 as the Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage, the association was the first American abolition society and still remains active today. Offering historical context on the need for such a society, Edward Needles, the organization’s president, writes:
The first account we have of the introduction of slaves into North America, was in the colony of Virginia, which was settled by freemen in 1607, although slavery does not appear to have been known amongst the planters until 1620, when it is stated that a Dutch man-of-war landed twenty negroes for sale. From that time, slavery appears to have taken root, and spread rapidly, not only in Virginia, but throughout the other colonies, of Delaware, Maryland, North and South Carolina, &c., as they were successively settled.
Turning to the Society’s background, Needles continues:
The Society met four times in the course of the year, the last of which meetings was held in the 11th month, 1775. After transacting the usual business, they adjourned to meet at the same place in the 2d month of the following year, 1776. About that time, however, the difficulties between this country and Great Britain, which preceded the Revolution, had resulted in the war, in consequence of which no further meetings of the society took place until it was over. The next meeting occurred in the 2d month, 1784. The opening minute explains the occasion of the interregnum, by stating, “The national commotions that have prevailed for several years, are the only reasons why the company have not met according to the rules.”
Needles goes on to explain that as Quakers members of the society also faced religious persecution including arrest and banishment during this time which further restricted their opportunities to meet.
The History of American Slavery and Methodism (1849)
By Lucius C. Matlack
Lucius C. Matlack (1816-1883) authored several works examining the 1844-1845 North-South schism in the Methodist Church. Among them was is Narrative of the Anti-Slavery Experience of a Minister in the Methodist E. Church, Who Was Twice Rejected by the Philadelphia Annual Conference, and Finally Deprived of a License to Preach for Being an Abolitionist. In addition to writing, Matlack served as the second president of Wheaton College in the 1850s and later joined the Union Army as chaplain of the 8th Illinois Cavalry.
His History of American Slavery and Methodism is presented here with a second volume, History of the Wesleyan Methodist Connection of America. Introducing the first volume Matlack writes:
The subject presented in this volume, is, the connection of Slavery with, and its influence upon, the Methodist Episcopal Church of the United States. This denomination was the largest in the country, but the anti-slavery agitation, has resulted in its dismemberment, and the organization of other religious bodies, one of which embraces about half its former strength.
A narrative of facts is here given, embracing the early introduction of slavery into the church—its successive innovations—the efforts of abolitionists to oppose its inroads—the opposition to those efforts, by the high and low judicatories, and individual authorities of the church—with the results, following the agitation, produced by those who labored to promote the cause of emancipation.
Matlack begins his “narrative of facts” with the following description of America’s peculiar institution:
The history of American Slavery is the history of robbery and wrong; a series of outrages upon the rights of man, in defiance of God. Every page of its iniquitous record is stained with blood. Following this monster of iniquity for ages past, there has been heard the deep-toned mutterings of pent-up wrath, and the dismal echo of anguish, extorted from the bleeding men, broken-hearted women, and worse than orphan children.