Philadelphia was a stop on the Underground Railroad leading fugitive slaves North, and many decided to stay, strengthening the abolitionist movement in the city. In September, 1830, Philadelphia hosted the first meeting of the American Society of Free Persons of Colour (which later became the National Negro Convention). This was just one of numerous organizations black people created to further their community and the cause of emancipation. More than 100 beneficial societies were founded in the 1830s, to assist poor blacks in times of sickness, disability, and distress. Most of these societies were formed by blacks, and 62 were women's societies. The black community in Philadelphia also created schools for their children, since black children were denied access to public schools until 1829, when the first black public school was erected, followed by the second in 1832.The image of a supplicant woman slave became the emblem for the women's antislavery movement.
Philadelphia's blacks were satirized in the popular press. See the cartoons, Is Miss Dinah at Home?, Black Charge, and Grand Celebration ob De Bobalition Ob African Slabery.
By organizing, black people were able to have a voice in legislative issues affecting them. In January, 1832, the black community presented a Memorial to Pennsylvania legislators, arguing against a resolution recently passed by the House banning black emigration into the state, and urging the repeal of some existing fugitive slave laws.
Address to the Free People of Colour of these United States
Appendix to Memorial to Pennsylvania Legislature
Black women in Philadelphia were very active. In 1790, approximately 14 percent of black and white households were headed by women, and for almost all working class families, women as well as men worked outside the home to support their families. Black women found work primarily as domestic servants and washerwomen, but some women worked as teachers or owned their own businesses. Women from families in Philadelphia's black elite were generally well educated. Some worked as teachers, but most were not employed outside their homes.
A number of black women gained prominence in Philadelphia as activists. James Forten and his wife Charlotte had three daughters: Margaretta, Harriet, and Sarah. All were active abolitionists, and they hosted visiting speakers at their home. In December 1833, the Forten women helped establish the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society, with members from the city's white and black elite."While Mrs. Douglass was a lifelong adherent to Quaker principles, she never attempted to join the Meeting because she was dissuaded by "a Friend who said do not apply, you will only have your feelings wounded." Douglass described how "even when a child my soul was made sad with hearing five or six times during the course of one meeting this language of remonstrance addressed to those who were willing to sit by us."
The Douglasses were also very active in the abolitionist cause. Robert and Grace Douglass had one daughter, Sarah Mapps Douglass, and a son, Robert, Jr., a painter. Grace and Sarah were active in the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society. Sarah founded a school for black children in 1820, and gave classes in health issues to black women.
The Forten women
The Douglass family
Letter to William Basset
Next: The Black Church
Part 3 Narrative:
Map: The Growing Nation
Freedom and Resistance
The Black Church
Conspiracy and Rebellions
Growth and Entrenchment of Slavery
Part 3: Narrative | Resource Bank Contents | Teacher's Guide
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