“This Is a White Man’s Country”: Highlights from Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922
The July release of Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922: From the Library Company of Philadelphia includes an English abolitionist’s perspective on the slave trade, a speech advocating for equal suffrage in post-Civil War America, and an incredible advertising circular for a book about Henry Morton Stanley’s adventures in Africa.
The History of Uncle Tom's Countrymen: with a Description of Their Sufferings in the Capture, the Voyage, and the Field (1853)
Although slavery had been abolished throughout the British Empire in 1833, Great Britain continued to import products produced by slave labor. Calling for an end to the importation of American cotton and the tacit support of slavery, the author writes:
The plea that we are compelled from necessity to purchase the fruits of the slave is feeble in the extreme. It is either from a willful negligence or postulated blindness on our parts, that we have so long allowed ourselves to become thus dependent, and we now wish to make a virtue of necessity; but of all evils under the sun, that of making vice commendable is the greatest. The Times of November the 25th, 1852, says—“Show me the man chiefly benefitted by this crime, and I will show you the greatest criminal.” If then the people of England reap the chief benefit, they are certainly the chief criminals.
The author, in keeping with his pseudonym, emphasizes the inhumanity of slavery and the slave trade to counter an otherwise economic argument. Writing of the conditions aboard captured slave ships, the author quotes several British officers:
Mr. Cliff says—“In one ship three tiers of slaves are stowed away in six feet—namely, 18 inches for each tier, the timbers of the ship occupying the remainder of the space.”
Commander Horton states the case of a schooner of 50 tons carrying 306 slaves, principally boys and girls; and that a cutter-rigged vessel of 38 tons carried 214 slaves, principally boys and girls also, the place in which they lay being on 16 inches high, where it was utterly impossible for them to move without being lifted.
Captain Butterfield states that a slaver was captured of Loando of 18 tons. She contained the enormous number of 195 slaves, all children, none above 8 years, but running down to mere infants of 3 and 4 years; the poor little creatures having nothing to lie upon but casks covered with mats.
Equal Suffrage (1865)
This 1865 “address from the colored citizens of Norfolk, Va, to the people of the United States” provides an “account of the agitation among the colored people of Virginia for equal rights.” The speech begins with a response to an argument couched in terms not unlike those used in today’s debates on the source of American values.
It is a common assertion, by our enemies, that “this is a white man’s country, settled by white men, its government established by white men, and shall therefore be ruled by white men only.” How far are these statements true and the conclusion reasonable? Every school-boy knows that within twelve years of the foundation of the first settlement at Jamestown, our fathers as well as yours were toiling in the plantations on James River for the sustenance and prosperity of the infant colony.
Heroes of the Dark Continent and How Stanley Found Emin Pasha (1889)
This advertisement for James William Buel’s book about the adventures of Henry Morton Stanley boasts it is “a complete story of the heroic attempts to civilize savage Africa.” The brochure includes many eye-catching illustrations and incredible descriptions of the book’s contents:
In addition to the histories thus given, embellished with a thousand stories of astounding adventures, there are added descriptions of the numerous fables, fancies, superstitions and legends that were of universal belief a few centuries ago, respecting the remarkable creatures that were said to have their haunts in African wildernesses. Among there may be mentioned this story of the great roc, a bird which was said to carry off elephants in its giant talons; the belief in a race of giants having only a single eye set in the centre of the forehead; a race of pigmies whose beards swept the ground; a tribe of Amazons that fed on babies, and who could overcome any army of men sent against them; a race of headless men, whose faces were on their breasts; and a tribe that had but a single leg whose progress was by hopping, and whose feet were large enough to serve them as a sun-shade when lying down; and other stories equally frightful about wondrous animals such as the Unicorn, whose horn was supposed to possess the most marvelous antidotal properties, and many others of such astounding character that to a belief in them may be attributed the long deferred exploration of the country.