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Antislavery Poetry from San Francisco

Running man image from workshop poster

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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Longfellow and Whittier on Slavery (XHTML)










By H.W. Longfellow.



In Ocean’s wide domains,

                Half buried in chains,

Lie skeletons in chains,

                With shackled feet and hands.


Beyond the fall of dews,                                                                     [5]

                Deeper than plummet lies,

Float ships, with all their crews,

                No more to sink nor rise.


There the black Slave-ship swims,

                Freighted with human forms,                                             [10]

Whose fettered, fleshless limbs

                Are not the sport of storms.


These are the bones of Slaves;

                They gleam from the abyss;

They cry, from yawning waves,                                                        [15]

                “We are the Witnesses!”


Within Earth’s wide domains

                Are markets for men’s lives;

Their necks are galled with chains,

Their wrists are cramped with gyves.                               [20]


Dead bodies, that the kite
                In deserts makes its prey;
Murders, that with affright
                Scare school-boys from their play!


All evil thoughts and deeds;                                                             [25]
                Anger, and lust, and pride;
The foulest, rankest weeds,
                That choke Life's groaning tide!


These are the woes of Slaves;
                They glare from the abyss;                                                [30]
They cry, from unknown graves,
"We are the Witnesses!"

[page 2]



By H.W. Longfellow


The Slaver in the broad lagoon

                Lay moored with idle sail;

He waited for the rising moon,

                And for the evening gale.


Under the shore his boat was tied,                                                   [5]

                And all her listless crew

Watched the grey alligator slide

                Into the still bayou.


Odours of orange-flowers, and spice,

                Reached them from time to time,                                        [10]

Like airs that breathe from Paradise

                Upon a word of crime.


The Planter under his roof of thatch,

                Smoked thoughtfully and slow;

The Slaver’s thumb was on the latch,                                              [15]

                He seemed in haste to go.


He said, “My ship at anchor rides

                In yonder broad lagoon;

I only wait the evening tides,

                And the rising of the moon.”                                             [20]


Before them, with her face upraised,

                In timid attitude,

Like one half curious, half amazed,

                The Quadroon maiden stood.


Her eyes were large, and full of light,                                               [25]

                Her arms and neck were bare;

No garment she wore save a kirtle bright,

                And her own long, raven hair.


And on her lips there played a smile,

                As holy, meek, and faint,                                                    [30]

As lights in some cathedral aisle

                The features of a saint.


“The soil is barren—the farm is old;”

                The thoughtful Planter said;

Then looked upon the Slaver’s gold,                                               [35]

                And then upon the maid.


His heart within him was at strife

                With such accursed gains;

For he knew whose passions gave her life,

                Whose blood ran in her veins.                                          [40]

[page 3]


But the voice of nature was too weak;

                He took the glittering gold;

Then pale as death grew the maiden’s cheek,

                Her hands as icy cold.


The Slaver led her from the door,                                                      [45]

                He led her by the hand,

To be his slave and paramour,

                In a strange and distant land!




By J.G. Whittier.


                A Christian! going, gone!

Who bids for God’s own image?—for His grace

Which that poor victim of the market-place

                Hath in her suffering won?


                My God! can such things be?                                           [5]

Hast Thou not said that whatso’er is done

Unto Thy weaker and Thy humblest one

                Is even done to Thee.


                In that sad victim, then,

Child of They pitying love, I see Thee stand                              [10]

Once more the jest-word of a mocking hand,

                Bound, sold, and scourged again!


                A Christian up for sale!

Wet with her blood your whips—o’ertask her frame,

Make her life loathsome with your wrong and shame,                  [15]

                Her patience shall not fail!


                A heathen hand might deal

Back on your heads the gathered wrong of years,

But her low, broken prayer and nightly tears,

                Ye neither heed nor feel.                                                     [20]


                Con well Thy lesson o’er

Thou prudent teacher—telling the toiling slave,

No dangerous tale of Him who came to seek and save

                The outcast and the poor.


                But wisely shut the ray                                                       [25]

Of God’s free gospel from her simple heart,

And to her darkened mind alone impart

                One stern command—“Obey.”*


*There is in Liberty County, Georgia, an association for the religious instruction of negroes.  Their seventh annual report contains an address by the Rev. Josiah Spry Law, from which we extract the following: —“There is a growing interest in this community, in the religious instruction of negroes.  There is a conviction that religious instruction promotes the quiet and order of the people, and the pecuniary interest of the owners.”

[page 4]


                So shalt thou deftly raise

The market price of human flesh; and while                                    [30]

On thee, their pampered guest, the planters smile,

                Thy church shall praise.


                Grave reverent men shall tell

From northern pulpits how thy work was blest,

While in that vile South Sodom, first and best,                              [35]

                Thy poor disciples sell!


                Oh, shame! the Moslem thrall,

Who, with his master, to the Prophet kneels,

While turning to the sacred Kebla, feels

                His fetters break and fall.                                                    [40]


                Cheers for the turbaned Bey

Of robber-peopled Tunis; he hath torn

The dark slave dungeons open, and hath borne

                Their inmates into day.


                But our poor slave in vain                                                  [45]

Turns to the Christian shrine his aching eyes—

Its rites will only swell his market-price

                And rivet on his chain.*


                God of all right! how long

Shall priestly robbers at Thine altar stand,                                      [50]

Lifting in prayer to Thee, the bloody hand

                And haughty brow of wrong?


                Oh, from the fields of cane,

From the low rice-swamp—from the trader’s cell—

From the black slave-ship’s foul and loathsome hell,                    [55]

                And coffle’s weary chain,


                Hoarse, horrible, and strong

Rises to heaven that agonizing cry,

Filling the arches of the hollow sky,

                How long—oh, God, how long?                                      [60]


* We often see advertisements in the Southern papers, in which individual slave, or several of a lot, are recommended as “pious,” or as “members of churches.”  Lately we saw a slave advertised, who among other qualifications, was described as “a Baptist preacher.”


Seventh thousand.


J. and R. Parlane, Printers, Paisley.