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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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Thoughts on Slavery. A Poem.

A long poem on slavery by Lewis Stevens (Pulaski, NY, 1854). Digitized by the Antislavery Literature Project.


Little is known about Lewis Stevens, the author of this popular-voice antislavery poem, other than that he was a clergyman in the area of Utica, New York. This lengthy poem is Stevens' only known publication. 

The region of Utica was heavily contested between pro- and antislavery political forces, despite there having been relatively little slavery in the area.  Early in the nineteenth century "Negro slavery was practically extinct, for of the ten thousand slaves numbered in the State of New York in 1820, Oneida had but nine.  Slave sales, which once had not been uncommon in Utica, were no longer announced in the papers, an issue of the year 1817 containing the last of such announcements...:  M.M. Bagg, The Pioneers of Utica: Being Sketches of its Inhabitants and its Institutions, with the Civil History of the Place (Utica, NY: Curtiss & Childs, 1877) 633-634.  The Oneida Institute, an interracial labor school headed by Beriah Green, was an important center of early antislavery activity near Utica.  However, the disappearance of the social institution of slavery did not mean disappearance of pro-slavery sentiments.   The 1835 convention of the New York Anti-Slavery Society, for example, was disrupted by rioters. 

The poem contains no local references, but rather addresses an apocalyptic warning to the nation against the social corruption of slavery.  Stevens argues that "we shall meet with the awful retributions of Heaven, unless we avert them by repentence and thorough reformation..." and the poem seeks to illustrate the consequences of ignoring this warning.

- Joe Lockard