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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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The Two Altars; or, Two Pictures in One

Harriet Beecher Stowe's first antislavery story, published in her Uncle Sam's Emancipation collection (1853) and reprinted as a tract by the American Anti-Slavery Society. Digitized by the Antislavery Literature Project.

 

Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) produced a large oeuvre beyond Uncle Tom’s Cabin, yet it is rare for modern readers to encounter her writing beyond this most-successful of American novels.  Yet as Stowe developed she became one of the finest American novelists of her century, appreciated by her contemporaries for the depth and quiet aesthetic of her fiction.  A deep social conscience infuses her work, together with the evangelical piety for which she was noted.  She develops these qualities through domestic characterizations that frequently fit within a finely-balanced moral plot scheme.

 

This sense of balance characterizes Stowe’s first story, which she wrote prior to Uncle Tom’s Cabin and published as her novel’s popularity raged.  The story is directed against the Fugitive Slave Law; for this reason the American Anti-Slavery Society arranged to reprint it as a tract.

 

The first part of the story is set in a New England home in the year 1776 where Captain Ward is absent fighting in the American Revolution.  Explaining her husband’s absence to their son, Mrs. Ward tells him that his father has gone to fight because the rebels “would not be slaves” to the British crown.  “They saw clearly where it would all end, and they would not begin to submit to it in ever so little.” (4)  His father and uncles have joined the cause in order to make the new nation into “a city upon a hill,” where the “oppressed and distressed…shall come….to enjoy equal rights and freedom.” (5)  Inspired by this vision of sacrifice, the family contributes enthusiastically from its household goods when commissioners come to collect support for the army. 

 

The second half of the story takes place in Boston in 1850, set in a poor but comfortable family circle.  A black painter arrives home to join his wife and children at their evening meal and enjoy scenes of domestic happiness.  After grace at the table, officials enter the house, arrest the father as a fugitive, and transport him to Georgia for sale.  Stowe describes the slave auction scene where the captive father stands on an auction block and concludes with a bitter comparison of the ‘altar of liberty’ in 1776 and 1850.

 

- Joe Lockard