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Chapter 15: Anti-slavery martyrs

If any one is desirous of estimating the extent of the sacrifice of life, of treasure, of home and family comforts, and of innumerable fair hopes that the institution of slavery, in its struggle, not merely for existence, but for supremacy, cost this country, let him visit a government cemetery in the neighborhood of one of the great battle-fields of the Rebellion, and there, while looking down the long avenues lined with memorial stones that a grateful country has set up, make inquiry as to the number of those that are there bivouacked “in fame's eternal camping ground.” Some idea — a faint one it is true --will then be had of the multitudes that gave up all they possessed that liberty might live and rule in this fair land of ours. They were martyrs in the very highest sense to Freedom's immeasurable cause. The war was the product of slavery. It was the natural outcome of the great moral conflict that had so long raged in this country. It was simply the development of an agitation that had begun on other lines.

But there were martyrs to the cause of freedom before the war. Everybody knows more or less of the story of John Brown, of Ossawatomie, whose [114] soul kept “marching on,” although his body was “a-mouldering in the grave.”

There was another case involving the surrender of life to that cause, which has always struck me as having stronger claims to our sympathies than that of John Brown and his comrades in self-sacrifice.

I have already referred to Elijah P. Lovejoy who was a young Congregational clergyman, who went from the State of Maine to St. Louis, Missouri, in 1839. He became the editor of a religious journal in which he expressed, in very moderate terms, an opinion that was not favorable to slave-holding. The supporters of the institution were aroused at once. They demanded a retraction. “I have sworn eternal hostility to slavery, and by the blessing of God I will never go back,” was his reply. He also declared, “We have slaves here, but I am not one of them.”

It was deemed advisable by Mr. Lovejoy and his friends to move his printing establishment to Alton, opposite Missouri, in the free State of Illinois. There, however, a pro-slavery antagonism immediately developed. His press was seized and thrown into the Mississippi River. The same fate awaited two others that were procured. But, undismayed, Mr. Lovejoy and his friends once more decided that their rights and liberties should not be surrendered without a further effort. Another press was sent for. But in the meanwhile a violent public agitation had arisen. At the instance of certain pro-slavery leaders in the community a public meeting had been called to denounce the Abolitionists. Mr. [115] Lovejoy was invited to attend it and declare what he would do.

“Gentlemen,” said he, “as long as I am an American citizen; as long as American blood runs in my veins, I shall hold myself at liberty to speak, to write, and to publish whatever I please on any subject, being amenable to the laws of my country for the same.”

The fourth press arrived. It was landed from a passing boat in the small hours of the morning, and was safely conveyed to a warehouse where Mr. Lovejoy and several of his friends assembled with a view to its protection. What followed is thus described:

An hour or two afterwards there came from the grog-shops a crowd of people who knocked at the door and demanded the press. One of the owners of the warehouse informed them it would not be given up. Presenting a pistol, the leader of the mob announced that they were resolved to have the press at any cost. Stones were thrown, windows broken, and shots were fired at the building. The cry of ‘ burn them out ’ was raised. Ladders were procured, and some of the rioters mounted to the roof of the building and set it on fire. Mr. Lovejoy at this point stepped out of the building for the purpose of having a talk with his enemies, when he was fired upon. He received five balls, three in his breast. He was killed almost instantly.

The animosity of his enemies was such that they followed his remains with scoffings and insults on its way to the grave.

But the most cruel and brutal persecutions by the [116] slave power were not always those that involved the sacrifice of life.

In Canterbury, in the State of Connecticut, lived a Quaker lady of the name of Prudence Crandall. She conducted a school for young ladies. Among those she admitted was a colored girl. The fact becoming known, objection was raised by the citizens of the place. The position in which Miss Crandall was placed was a most trying one. Having invested all her means in the school building and its equipment, she was confronted with the alternative of losing her business and her property, or dismissing the colored student who had done no wrong. She chose to stand by her principles.

A public meeting was called, and a resolution to prevent the maintenance of the school, if colored students were admitted, was adopted by the citizens. Nevertheless, that brave Quakeress opened her doors to several colored young women. That brought the issue to a head, and then began a system of most remarkable persecutions. The school building was bombarded with clubs and stones, the proprietress found the stores of the village closed against her, and the young lady students were grossly insulted when they appeared upon the streets. Even the well from which drinking water was obtained was polluted.

Finding that there was no law in Connecticut under which the instruction of colored people could be prohibited and punished, the enemies of Miss Crandall went to the Legislature of the State and asked for such an enactment, and, to the eternal disgrace of that body, their request was complied [117] with. It was made a crime in Connecticut to instruct colored people in the rudiments of an ordinary education.

Miss Crandall, as she made no change in her course of action, was arrested, brought before a committing magistrate, and sent to jail. A man had shortly before been confined in the same prison for the murder of his wife, and therefrom had gone to execution. Miss Crandall was confined in the cell this man had occupied. Other indignities were heaped upon this devoted and courageous lady. Physicians refused to attend the sick of her household, and the trustees of the church she was accustomed to attend notified her that she and the members of her family were denied admission to that sanctuary.

Miss Crandall was finally convicted of the crime with which she was charged, but the case, being carried to the highest court of the State, was dismissed on a technicality. But, although the legal prosecution of this poor woman reached an end, her enemies did not cease their opposition. The mob made an attack upon her dwelling, which was also her schoolhouse. Doors and windows were broken in, and the building was so thoroughly wrecked as to be uninhabitable. Having no money with which to make repairs, she was forced to abandon the structure and her educational business at the same time.

The Crandall family became noted for its martyrs. A brother of Prudence Crandall was Dr. Reuben Crandall, of Washington City. He was a man of high attainments, being a lecturer in a public scientific [118] institution. While engaged in his office he received some packages that had been wrapped in newspapers, among which happened to be a copy or two of Abolition journals. At the request of a gentleman who was present at the unpacking he gave him one of the publications. Having looked it over the gentleman dropped it, where it was picked up by some one who was on the lookout for incendiary publications. No little excitement followed its discovery. The community was aroused. Indeed, so great was the agitation occasioned that Dr. Crandall, to whom the inhibited paper had been traced, was in great physical danger from mob violence. He was arrested, and, partly to save his life, was thrust into jail, where he remained for eight months. He was tried and, although acquitted, was really made the subject of capital punishment. Tuberculosis developed as the result of his incarceration, and death soon followed.

Of many cases of the kind that might be cited, perhaps none is more strikingly illustrative than that of Charles Turner Torrey, a New England man. He was accused of helping a slave to escape from the city of Baltimore, and being convicted on what was said to be perjured testimony, was sent to the penitentiary for a long term of years. The confinement was fatal, a galloping consumption mercifully putting a speedy end to his confinement. And then a remarkable incident occurred. Torrey was a minister in good standing of the Congregational denomination, and also a member of the Park Avenue Church of Boston. Arrangements were made for funeral exercises in that church, but its [119] managers, taking alarm at the threats of certain pro-slavery men, withdrew their permission and locked the sanctuary's doors. Slavery punished the dead as well as the living.

The case of Amos Dresser, a young Southerner, may not improperly be mentioned here. He had gone to a Northern school, and had become a convert to Abolitionism. He went to Nashville, Tennessee, to canvass for a book called the Cottage Bible, which would not ordinarily be supposed to be dangerous to well regulated public institutions. While peaceably attending to his business he was accused of Anti-Slaveryism. He did not deny the charge and was arrested, his trunk being broken open and its contents searched and scattered. He was taken before a vigilance committee and by it was condemned to receive twenty lashes on his bare back, “well laid on,” and then to be driven out of town. The sentence was carried out, we are told, in the presence of thousands of people of both sexes.

Of the many somewhat similar instances that might here be referred to the writer will make room for only one more.

A seafaring man of the name of Jonathan Walker undertook to convey in a sloop of which he was the owner seven colored fugitives to the Bahama Islands, where they would be free. Owing to an accident to his boat, he and his companions were captured. He was sentenced, among other things, to have his hand branded with the letters S. S., signifying “Slave Stealer.”

The incident just referred to inspired one of the [120] finest productions of Whittier's pen. Singing of that “bold plowman of the wave” he proceeds:

Why, that hand is highest honor,
Than its traces never yet
Upon old memorial hatchments was
A prouder blazon set;
And the unborn generations, as they
Tread our rocky strand,
Shall tell with pride the story of
Their father's branded hand.

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