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Antislavery Poetry from San Francisco

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The Pacific Appeal was the leading African American newspaper on the West Coast during the early 1860s.  A newly-published set of eight antislavery poems from the journal's inaugural 1862 volume captures the sense of expectancy within the African American community for the imminent end of US slavery.  These poems include the work of James Madison Bell, a San Francisco plasterer, brickmason, and poet.  Read more... 
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The Liberty Cap (XHTML)



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                 LIBERTY CAP.
                                         BY ELIZA LEE. FOLLEN.
                               BOSTON: LEONARD C. BOWLES 1846.     
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                 LIBERTY CAP.
                                         BY ELIZA LEE. FOLLEN.
                               BOSTON: LEONARD C. BOWLES 1846.                                                                                                                                                             
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The Liberty Cap,                                               5
Am I not a Man and a Brother?                           8                                              
Pic-nic at Dedham,                                          10
 Lines on hearing of the Terror of the
            Children of the Slaves at the
Thought of being sold,                              22
 Dialogue,                                                       23                      
 Agrippa,                                                         31

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It  was a custom of the Roman when a slave was made free to take him to the temple of the goddess Fero­nia, and there to place upon his head a cap in sign of his liberation, and ever after the goddess, in whose temple the ceremony was performed was supposed to be his guardian and protector. The Romans lived before the time of the great teacher of our religion, and with but little of the light of the pure and perfect truth he taught. They were men of war and blood, who be­lieved that the strong should use the

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weak for their own selfish purposes, and who really knew no better: and so they believed that slavery was right, though they did not believe, as some who call themselves Christians say they do, that their Gods had marked one race of men with a black skin to point them out as slaves. Their slaves were the captives they took in war and their descendants, without distinction of color.
We pretend to be a Christian nation, to believe the religion of him who told us to do as we would be done by, whosaid that the substance of religion was to love God with all our heart and our neighbor as ourselves, and that our neighbor was the poor and the suffering and the oppressed, who told us that God was our Father and that we were all brethren, who told us to love one another even as God loved us. I say we pretend to believe this: every week

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we hear it preached; we call ourselves Christians, and pity the Bey of Tunis, though he has freed all the slaves in his dominions, because he is a heathen. And yet in our country are three millions of our brethren, groaning under a slavery far worse than that of the holy heathen and bloody Romans. We hold them in bondage–we ourselves–for their pretended masters could not keep them if it were not for our help. Yes, we even go to war and fight bloody battles to defend and perpetuate this infamous wickedness.
Shall we do it any longer? Shall there not be in all this, Christian land, one temple where the bondman can find freedom? Here where we profess to love our brethren, shall there be no guardian spirit, to go forth with its holy influence, for the protection of the suffering and oppressed? Yes. Let that temple be our hearts. Let that spirit

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be our words and deeds, mighty with all the power of truth and right. Let us not cease from laboring till the Cap of Liberty shall be placed upon the head of every slave, and their guardian shall be a better than the heathen goddess, even the spirit of him who preached perfect peace and perfect love.                                                                 W. P. A.
West Roxbury, May 9, 1846.
My country that nobly could dare   
     The hand of oppression to brave,
Oh how the foul stain canst thou bear
     Of being the land of the slave?
His groans, and the clank of his chains
Shall rise with the shout of the free,
           And turn into discord the strains
They raise God of  mercy to Thee

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The proud knee at His altar they bend,
     On God as their Father they call;
They call Him their Father and Friend,
     And forget He's the Father of all.
His children He does not forget,
His, mercy, His power can save;
 And sure as God liveth, he yet
Will liberty give to the slave.
Oh talk not of freedom and peace
With the blood of the slave on your sod;
Till the groans of the negro shall cease
Hope not for a blessing from God.
He asks, Am not I man ?
He pleads, Am not I a brother ?
Then dare not, and hope not you can
The cry of humanity smother.
'T will be heard from the south to the north,
In our halls and in poverty's shed;
'Twill go like a hurricane forth
And wake up the living anddead.
The dead whom the white man has slain,
They cryfrom the ground and the waves;
They once cried for mercy in vain,
They plead for their brothers the slaves.

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Oh let them, my country, be heard,
Be the land of the free and the brave,
          And send forth the glorious word,
This is not the land of the slave.
                 PIC-NIC AT DEDHAM.
                                                                     ----------, AUGUST 3, 1843.
Dear Mother,
You asked me when I left you, to write to you; I well remember what a choaky feeling I had in my throat, when I was standing in our porch, and I felt your arm round my neck, as you said, "You will write often to me, Hal," and yet I have written only once. Well! I mean to make up now, and write you a real long letter; and one reason is, I have got something to write about. Uncle told us the day before yesterday that he was going to take us the next day, to the pic-nic at

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Dedham, for they were going to cele­brate the first of August, and he must be there. I did not think much what it was all for, but I knew it was a holi­day, and that was enough for me.
You may be sure I was up betimes: we started soon after seven; uncle let me drive; George you know is a, little chap, and he sat on the back seat with aunt. We got to Dedham a little after nine, and went directly to the Town Hall; there we found a great many people round the door, and a long stream of folks just arrived from Bos­ton in the cars, and there was Dr. Bowditch and a number of other gentle­men with stars on their coats, arranging them so as to form a procession. They had ever so many beautiful banners. Uncle joined them, and left me in the wagon with aunt. After the procession was formed, they turned and passed directly by us, so that I saw every

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thing; and what was the best of the whole, the band of music was formed entirely of boys, and they played first rate. They walked so slowly that I could see what was on their banners, and read the inscriptions; I cannot re­member all, but I do some of them.
One had on it a fine figure of a black man, with his arms thrown up, exultingly, and his broken chains fall­ing to the ground, and his foot upon a whip; the words over him were, "This is the Lord's doing," and underneath, "Slavery abolished in the West Indies, August 1st, 1834, Laus Deo." The figure was finely done, and the poor negro's face was full of joy; I thought it almost handsome, and mother I do wonder that I never heard you or father speak of the 1st of August. The next one I remember was a banner borne by a boy about my age; on it were these words, "Shall a republic which

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could not bear the bondage of a King, cradle a bondage which a King has abolished?" Aunt told me that the boy who bore this banner, was the son of the man who wrote the words, and that his father had gone to that land where there was no slavery, and I felt, mother, that if I had been so unhappy as to lose my father, I should love to carry a banner with his words on it, for I should feel as if I was doing some­thing to carry on his work.   
Another banner had a liberty cap on it, with these words, "God never made a tyrant or a slave." Another, "Our fanaticism; "All men are created free and equal." "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." When you and father speak of the fanaticism of the abolitionists, you can't mean this, I'm sure. Another banner had these words on it, "The Almighty has no attribute that can take sides with the slave­-

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holder," and Thomas Jefferson's name under them: and yet Jefferson held slaves, and so did Washington, but Washington freed his in his last will.
One more I particularly noticed, for our friend Dr. Channing's name was on it. These were the words, "The Union: we will yield every thing to it but truth, honor, and liberty: These we will never yield." I forgot to men­tion that one banner had on it the ini­tials of Garrison's name surrounded with an oaken wreath; and underneath it this inscription, "I am in earnest! I will not equivocate! I will not excuse! I will not retreat a single inch, and I will be heard!" Uncle helped me re­member this. Well! the whole pro­cession, men, women, and children, all marched to the boys' music, which was real good, to a fine large pine grove about half a mile off. We went round by another road so as to get there first

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and see them enter: they passed under a beautiful arch of oak leaves and evergreens, and slowly ascended the side of a hill covered with seats, under the tall pines which made a fine amphi­theatre; at the foot was a raised platform for the speakers, round which they placed the banners, and pictures, which I forgot to tell you about. After all had taken their places Dr.Bowditch called for three cheers for the glorious occasion that had called them together,and oh! mother, they made the old grove ring well with their hurras, and how the hats and handkerchiefs did fly round! my great straw hat did good service, and you know I can take a pretty good noise when I try for­ it. Then they sang a beautiful hymn written by Mr. Pierpont, and then Mr. Allen prayed, he did not, as you say, make a prayer, he prayed: it was heart work, his prayer, I'm sure. While he

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was praying I looked far, far up into the clear blue sky through the open­ings in the trees, and I never felt so much as if God heard our prayers; and oh, how I didwish that the time mightcome when we might be thanking God that our slaves were all free. Then some appropriate passages from the Bible were read. After this they sang another hymn written by Mr. James Lowell, and mother it was very beauti­ful, I have got it for you, and you must read it. After this Mr. Pierpont spoke, he was very entertaining, he put it to vote which was most likely to make men work, cash or lash―cash had the vote: he told us that freedom was working as well for the masters as for the slaves. Mr. Stetson spoke beauti­fully, but mother, some how or other he always makes me laugh. I can't tell you much about the speeches, at last the same boy that carried the banner.

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recited a poem called The Christian Slave. Mr. Pierpont told the audience that when they put up a slave on the auction table, the auctioneer would sometimes mention that she or he was a Christian, in order to get a higher price, and this was the subject of the poem―it made my blood run cold to think of selling Christians. The boy spoke well enough, and I think that if the men don't all do something about slavery soon, we boys had better see what we can do, for it is toowicked.
After this name the collation, wehad to walk in a procession and place ourselves four or five deep at the table, and then get what we could; I hoped to get some of aunt's cake that we carried with us, but I did not, though I got enough of somebody's else; for
they, put the children forward, andI remembered, mother, to help my neighbors, aren't you glad of that?

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After dinner there was a great deal more speaking and some real good singing; but what pleased me most was an address from a man who had been a slave. He was as white as I am, and a fine looking fellow: he spoke very well: he said that they had all come together to rejoice that eight hundred thousand human beings who had been slaves were made free-men, but if they knew what he knew, and had felt as he had what slavery was, they would gladly all meet to rejoice that one single man was free; then he spoke of what slavery was, and oh, dear mother, I never felt so about slavery before; every boy ought to know what American slavery is. When the whole was over, and it was time to go, they all joined together before they parted, in singing Old Hundred. Now dear mo­ther just imagine a grand large grove of tall pine trees, with their branches

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crossing each other, so as to look like the arches of a grand .cathedral, with the blue sky for a ceiling, and at least fifteen hundred people joining most of them with their voices, and all looking as if they did with their hearts in sing­ing, "From all who dwell below the
sky," and to that glorious old tune: it seemed to me as if the spirit of old Martin Luther was there. I never had such a feeling of awe in my life. I wanted you and father to be there; I never felt so religious; England may be forgiven a thousand sins for this one act. Why do not all Christians rejoice on this day?
   When we were all seated in the wagon again, and on our way home, I told uncle that I had had a beautiful time. He said that "it was the most glorious day in the year to him;"
"greater," I said, "than the fourth of July."  "Yes,'' he said, "because it

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celebrated a bloodlcss victory, it was won by persevering love and justice, against selfishness and tyranny. It is such a victory as this Hal, that we abolitionists strive for, pray for, and are willing to suffer for." Then uncle told aunt an anecdote he had just heard, that I think mother, you will like to hear. He said that five years ago on this same day, the 1st of August, a blind old man, a minister of religion, wished very much that there should be some public celebration of the event that was then taking place in the West Indies, that we republicans should join these eight hundred thousand souls in thanks to God, that they were free, that they were acknowledged to be men. The good man could not inspire those around him with his feelings about it; but all the more did he keep the hour holy in his own heart, so he and his daughter sat up that night till

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the clock struck twelve, and then he asked her to play a solemn tune on the piano, and the blind old man and his child sang by themselves at midnight a song of thankfulness and praise to God, that at that moment the chains of sla­vcry were unloosed from eight hundred thousand of their fellow beings, and that they were restored to the rights and dignity of men. "Surely," said uncle, "those two weak voices in the stil1ness of that solemn night, were heard with more favor by the Almighty, than the roaring of our cannons, and the peals of our bells on the fourth of July"—and mother, I could not help thinking so too. Is not this a good long letter? I hope you will not think it is too long, but I could not help telling you all about the first of August. I shall never forget it. Give my love to father.
Your affectionate son,

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When children play the livelong day
Like birds and butterflies,
As free and gay sport life away,
And know not care or sighs,
Then all the air seems fresh and fair,
Around, below, above,
Life's flowers are there, and everywhere
 is innocence and love.
When children pray with fear all day
         A blight must be at hand;
Then joys decay, and birds of prey -
Are hovering o'erthe land.
When young hearts weep as they go tosleep,
Then all the world is sad,
The flesh must creep and woes are deep,
     When children are not glad.

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            "I have been to aunt Elizabeth's this afternoon," said a warm hearted boy to his mother, "and have heard a Polish gentleman tell her of the cruelties inflicted upon his countrymen by the Russian emperor. Why, mother, they are too horrible to believe; and because they have made an effort lately to recover their freedom the emperor has offered a large reward for the head of every Polish nobleman, and a great many hundred heads have been carried to him. The poor Poles have no liberty, they are banished to Siberia for the least offence, and they make the Polish girls marry Russians whether they like them or not."                                                                                                                                         "I do pity the poor Poles, and I do hate the Russians."

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"And so do I pity the Poles," said the mother; "but, Robert, there is a nation as wicked and cruel as the Russians that you perhaps have not read any complete history of, and which you ought to know something about, and in many respects I think them worse than the emperor of Rus­sia. No correct history has yet been written of this people, for their histori­ans are afraid to tell the truth of them because they fear the people would be angry and not read their books. Shame on them for their mean cowardice and want of principle! A few of their poor exiles, like this Polish gentleman, tell of their wicked deeds, and now and then a traveller goes there, and brings back information about them, but if he is not very cautious while there, his life would be in danger. They are a very extraordinary people, and the Christian world is but just getting acquainted

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with their true character and history. Shall I tell you about them, Robert, and then you shall judge whether the Russians are any worse than they."                                                       "Do, mother," said the boy.
"These wicked people, Robert, have agreed among themselves to take a certain number of their infants as soon as they are born, when they cannot help themselves, and condemn them to the most wretched life that a human being can endure. They say to each one of these poor innocents, 'Although the good God has sent you into his beauti­ful world that you may be happy and enjoy existence, and learn to knowand love him, and by your obedience to his laws here, make yourself fit for a higher state of existence, yet we will as far as we are able, deprive you of all these blessings. The mother that bore you and has suffered so much pain for you, on whose bosom you are now lying, to

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whose eyes you are looking up with such trusting love, shall have no right over you, we will take you from her when we please for our own purposes. If you are a boy, when you grow strong and your father feels proud of his boy, then we will tear you from his arms and send you for our advantage among strangers, who may be cruel to you if they will. If you are a girl your fate shall be yet worse, and your mother who now presses you to her heart shall pray for your death. If your father or mother should dare to defend you, death shall be their reward. You shall never learn to read: all that good and wise men have uttered, all their inspir­ing and inspired words embalmed in books, you shall know nothing of; you shall wear the meanest clothing; you shall be fed as the horses and pigs are fed; there shall be no true love for you; you shall marry and unmarry at

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our bidding, for your husband, or your wife shall notbelong to you, but to us; the light of your intellect shall be dark­ened, the fire of your soul shall be quenched, your spirit shall be broken. We will shut out from you the know­ledge of the Universal Parent; you shall know God only as a tyrant, not as your Father in Heaven. Life shall be hateful to you if you have a soul."
"Horrible, mother, horrible! Can this be true of any people?"
"Yes, my son, and this is not all. When in spite of all their efforts com­mencing at the cradle to extinguish the souls of these poor, helpless beings, some of them when they are grown up come to a sense of their own rights and try to escape from these savages, they hunt them with dogs and shoot then down like wild beasts. And if their victims do escape, they do as the em­peror of Russia does, they offer a re-

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ward to whoever will bring them back, not, to be sure for their heads, because their heads would not be of any service to them, but alive that they may have possession of them, and use them for their own purposes, and then they often punish them for having run away, so se­verely that death would be preferable."
"Mother," said Robert, "this is too horrible; what people can be so wick­ed? where is this country?"
"You are living in it, my son; you are one of its citizens; your father pays taxes to support the government which sanctions and defends these crimes against innocent beings. This country is now at war, as you know, with Mexico who has abolished slavery, for the purpose of making this infamous system more secure and extending it farther."
"Mother," said Robert, "I knew we had slaves and I always thought slave­-

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ry was wicked, but I never knew it was so bad. I never thought of their treating children so; I supposed they were kind to children."
"They are, I suppose, as kind to them as they are to little pigs, but they are defrauded of all the rights of intel­lectual and immortal beings. I have not told you half of its horrors. I would not harrow up your young heart by a relation of all the slaves have to endure, of all their bodily sufferings, of horrors too bad to think of. But all
I have told you is strictly true."
"Whom, mother, do you mean by the exiles who relate these things?"
 "Whoever, Robert, dares to tell thewhole truth about slavery, and says he
will, have nothing more to do with it in any way, is an exile from that part of our country where these wicked things are done. A Polish nobleman would be as safe with the emperor of

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Russia as an abolitionist in our South­ern States. Georgia has offered a re­ward of five thousand dollars for the head of William Lloyd Garrison. And even here in the free States, abolition­ists are spoken ill of and the world hates them, and the friends of the Southern slaveholders say all sorts of evil things against them."
"Are our men here willing to bear these things, mother?"
"All but the abolitionists submit quietly to them, and some even vindi­cate Southern slavery."
"What do the abolitionists do, mo­ther, what can they do against slavery?"
"I will tell you, Robert, what they do, and what they have done, and what they wish to do; but I must defer this to another time, and then I will tell you all about the abolitionists and their purposes."

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In the village of Stockbridge lives a black man by the name of Agrippa
Hull, who served in the Revolutionary War. At the close of it he was honora­bly discharged; in testimony of which he shows a certificate signed by Gene­ral Washington. He was for some years the servant of General Kosciusko, of whose generous and humane char­acter he speaks with grateful love and admiration.
Agrippa has an uncommonly fine head, and is remarkable for his excellent understanding and good character. By his industry he has become possess­ed of a valuable farm, which he now, at the age of seventy-six, cultivates himself. He is eminent for his piety,

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and those who have heard him speak at conference meetings which he is in the habit of attending with his white neighbors, say that in prayer he is dis­tinguished for fervor and eloquence, and forthe peculiar originality and richness of his language.
The acuteness and wisdom of his views upon most subjects, and the wit and force of his illustrations, make his conversation so impressive that you re­member what he has said, long after you have parted from him. During an interview of perhaps half an hour with him, I was so struck with his re­marks that as soon as he left me, I wrote down his very words, as I here transcribe them, without any alteration or embellishment.
When I expressed to Agrippa my opinion upon the subject of prejudice against color, he said,

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"When there is a flock of sheep, and some black ones among them, I always think that, if they behave well, they have as good a right to be fed as the white ones. God will not ask what is our color, but what has been our conduct. The Almighty made all colors. If we find fault with the work, we find fault with the workman. His works are all good. A black, ugly bottle may have just as good spirits in it as the cut glass decanter. Not the cover of the book, but what the book contains is the question. Many a good book has dark covers. Which is the worst, the white black man, or the black white man? When a white man says any hard thing to me about my color, I tell him I pity him, but I ask him which is the worst, to be black outside, or in? When a black man is treated ill on account of his color by a

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white man, and he bears it patiently and onlypities him, I think that he has a chance to take a very high place over the white man."
"Once," said Agrippa, "when I was a servant to a gentleman who was very overbearing and haughty, we both went to the same church. One Sun­day, a mulatto gentleman, by the name of Haynes, preached. When we came out of meeting, my master said to me, 'Well Agrippa, how do you like nig­ger preaching?' 'Sir,' I answered, 'he was half black and half white; I liked my half; how did you like yours?"
Upon the assertion that the slave­holders cannot abolish slavery, Agrippa said, "No one is obliged to do wrong. When the drunkard says he cannot live without spirit, I tell him to take temperate things for a time, and see if

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he is not better. It is his will that is in fault. There is no necessity to do wrong. God never makes us do wrong."
He put his hand on a little boy's head, and said, "I love children; I love to see them well brought up. It is a good thing to feed the minds-of children."
When speaking of the abolitionists, he said, "It will be a great while be­fore the abolitionists can succeed in their purpose ; but they will do great good to the black men by inducing them to keep down their bad feelings, because they know that they will have help at last."
"The abolitionists have the great happiness of working for a cause inwhich they know that they will have God on their side."
In a cause the merit of which de­pends upon the question whether the

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black man is a man, no further testimony is needed than the remarks of Agrippa; and what greater encouragement can the abolitionists desire than contained in his words, "God is on their side?"