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A Poetical Epistle to the Enslaved Africans


Historical long poem by Joseph Samson (Philadelphia: Joseph Crukshank, 1790). Digitized by the Antislavery Literature Project.


Joseph Samson (1765/7?-1826), a Quaker writer and artist from Philadelphia, published A Poetical Epistle to the Enslaved Africans in 1790. It is one of the earliest American antislavery long poems, a form that was to become more popular in antislavery literature only a half-century later.

The poem assumes the voice of an old black man speaking heroic couplets to describe the history of the antislavery movement. His argument suggests that black slaves adapt themselves to a slavery that is rapidly diminishing in harshness due to the efforts of British and American abolitionists. The now-emancipated narrator asserts that Christian-inspired recognition that divine justice will devolve on all humanity will enable slaves to accommodate the present injustices they suffer. "Be patient, humble, silent, and true, / In hope of coming freedom, as you can— / Commend your righteous cause to God and Man." (page 21) He reviews major antislavery figures of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, continuing to urge humility and patient silence until divine plans are realized through the human agency of white abolitionists. Much of the poem represents an historical introduction to antislavery thought through extensive explanatory footnotes. The poem concludes with a call for peace and abandonment of violence in favor of " the Christian Jubilee " (p. 23) when slavery and other human oppressions will disappear.

The publisher, Joseph Crukshank, was active in Philadelphia beginning in 1769 and continuing into the early nineteenth century. He published the works of Anthony Benezet, Thomas Clarkson, William Pinkney, Granville Sharpe, John Woolman, and other antislavery writers.

— Joe Lockard