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African in America logo non-tabled version
Brotherly Love
Part 1: 1450-1750
Part 2: 1750-1805
<---Part 3: 1791-1831
Part 4: 1831-1865


Narrative | Resource Bank | Teacher's Guide


Colonization









Whereas our ancestors (not of choice) were the first successful cultivators of the wilds of America, we their descendants feel ourselves entitled to participate in the blessings of her luxuriant soil... We will never separate ourselves voluntarily from the slave population of this country; they are our brethren by the ties of consanguinity, of suffering and of wrong.

- Resolution of assembled free blacks, Bethel AME Church, Philadelphia, January 15, 1817







As the number of free blacks living in northern cities increased, many whites became resentful. After 1800, white hostility toward black residents grew. Wealthy whites feared vagrancy and crime, and poor whites resented the competition over jobs. As refugees fleeing the revolution in St. Domingue flocked into the country, concern over the influence of potential rebels mounted. This concern seemed justified by attempted insurrections in the South.

Fourth of July celebrations became the focus of racial hostility for whites and blacks alike. On July 4, 1804 in Philadelphia, several hundred young blacks roughed up whites on the streets. The following year, whites turned on blacks at the celebration in front of Independence Hall, chasing them away. This trend continued in subsequent years, effectively barring blacks from participating in public celebrations of American independence.
Fourth of July Celebration in Centre Square

Discriminatory legislation began appearing in 1805, calling for bans on black immigration, or a special tax on black households. The black community, the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, and the Society of Friends petitioned the legislature, and the bills failed.

The last census shows the number of free people of color of the United States, and their rapid increase. Supposing them to increase in the same ratio, it will appear how large a proportion of our population will, in the course of even a few years, consist of persons of that description.

... The least observation shows that this description of persons are not, and cannot be, either useful or happy among us; and many considerations, which need not be mentioned, prove, beyond dispute, that it is best, for all the parties interested, that there should be a separation...

- The American Colonization Society


White intolerance of free blacks manifested itself at the national level with the formation of The American Colonization Society, founded in 1817 by the Reverend Robert Finley to help free black people emigrate to Africa. With the assistance in Washington, D.C. of his brother-in-law Elias B. Caldwell, Clerk of the Supreme Court, and Francis Scott Key, author of "The Star Spangled Banner," he raised the support of prominent white men, who agreed that sending freed Africans back to Africa would be best for all concerned. The society gained government support with its 1820 petition to Congress.

American Colonization Society
A Memorial to the United States Congress
Memoir of Captain Paul Cuffe, Liverpool Mercury
A Portrait of James Forten
Forten Letter to Cuffe

The idea of colonization was not new. Since 1787, efforts had been made to find a home for freed blacks out of America, with both white and black support. Paul Cuffe, a free black shipping merchant, was a proponent of colonization. He felt that black people living in America would never be treated as equals and would be better off elsewhere. A Quaker convert, Cuffe was inspired by the idea of bringing Christianity to Africa, and as a merchant he was interested in establishing trade between Africa and black American businessmen. In 1811, Cuffe sailed to Sierra Leone, a British Colony on the west coast of Africa.

James Forten, a prominent black Philadelphian businessman, supported Cuffe's schemes. Other black leaders, such as Richard Allen and Absalom Jones, knew only too well the effects of prejudice, and were interested in colonization.

Soon after its founding, the American Colonization Society contacted James Forten to help recruit colonists from Philadelphia. On January 15, 1817, black leaders called a meeting at Bethel to discuss the idea. Almost 3,000 black men packed the church. Forten and three prominent black ministers, Allen, Jones, and John Gloucester, spoke in favor of emigrating to Africa. However, when Forten called for those in favor, not one voice answered. When he called for those opposed, one tremendous "no" rang out that seemed "as it would bring down the walls of the building." As Forten wrote to Paul Cuffe, "there was not one sole [sic] that was in favor of going to Africa."


Free blacks across the country had varying responses to the question of colonization. In Richmond, the idea was also rejected, but Abraham Camp, a free black living in Illinois, a free state that was nonetheless inhospitable to blacks, embraced the idea, as his letter to the Secretary of the American Colonization Society attests.

The Meeting of Free People of Color of Richmond, Virginia
Camp's letter to Caldwell



Next: Conspiracy and Rebellions




Part 3 Narrative:

Introduction
Map: The Growing Nation
Philadelphia
Freedom and Resistance
The Black Church
• Colonization
Conspiracy and Rebellions
Growth and Entrenchment of Slavery




Part 3: Narrative | Resource Bank Contents | Teacher's Guide

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