"Be it enacted, and it is hereby enacted...That all persons as well Negroes and Mulattoes as others, who shall be born within this state from and after the passing of this act, shall not be deemed and considered as servants for life, or slaves." As the men of the Pennsylvania legislature passed the Gradual Abolition Act in 1780, which granted freedom to children born to slave mothers, Pennsylvania set itself apart as the first state to pass such legislation. Pennsylvania would see a rising population of free blacks mainly concentrated in Philadelphia, as its slave population declined over the first half of the nineteenth century.
While Pennsylvania slaveholders gradually relinquished their title and freed their slaves, the fate of the millions of slaves still held in bondage across the United States became a topic of heavy political debate. While the U.S. abolished the international slave trade on January 1, 1808, slavery continued to spread further west following the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, Missouri Compromise in 1820, and the Compromise of 1850. The chains of slavery seemed impossible to break. Abolitionists and their allies gained more support, particularly throughout the 1840s, even as slavery spread across the South. In the face of such threats and discrimination, communities of free African Americans actively involved in fighting slavery began to carve a place for themselves in this tumultuous atmosphere as seen with the rise of black congregations and newspapers. However, large questions loomed regarding their fate as well. Could free blacks thrive in a nation that seemed tied to the institution of slavery? Would they ever receive citizenship? Voting rights? Men and women, black and white, would fight for answers to these questions leading up to the Civil War.
Though primarily remembered for his discovery of the first dinosaur fossil in the U.S., William Parker Foulke was also interested in the efforts of social reform in antebellum Philadelphia. Foulke's 1852 diary and this collection of manuscripts from the William Parker Foulke Papers, 1840-1865 reveal Foulke's growing interest and involvement in the American Colonization Society, and its state chapters, as detailed in his correspondence with Edward Everett (1794 - 1865), Elliott Cresson (1796 - 1854), John H.B. Latrobe (1803 - 1891), William Francis Lynch (1801 - 1865), and William McLain (? - 1873). Central themes in these letters include: slavery, abolition, The American Colonization Society, Africa, Liberia, state colonization societies, speeches and publications regarding colonization, and Congress.
What follows are example letters from the correspondence, short biographical sketches of the individuals involved and a bibliography of relevant sources. Scholars interested in this topic are encouraged to use this gallery as a starting point into these matters.
William Parker Foulke and the Colonization Cause
The debates surrounding the expansion or abolition of slavery and the fate of free African Americans were fiery and divisive. When the American Colonization Society (ACS) was founded in 1816, and reorganized in Washington DC in 1817, the founders advocated for the resettlement of free African Americans on the coast of West Africa. This was not a new idea or effort. Northern black leaders, such as Philadelphia native James Forten, had supported earlier efforts to colonize African Americans in Africa following the establishment of Sierra Leone by the British in 1792. Prominent white leaders became officers and members of the ACS and the organization had the support of the U.S. government. The motivations of the ACS were controversial. Would relocation to Africa allow African Americans to have freedom and self-governance? Was this an attempt to rid the U.S. of the labor of free blacks? Supporters of colonization were met with scathing criticism from some abolitionists including William Lloyd Garrison. Equally scathing were the responses from the black community and the black press who believed migration sponsored by the ACS was involuntary. As the popularity of colonization schemes declined, the ACS was largely inactive by the first two decades of the twentieth century. Nearly 150 years after its founding, the ACS was officially dissolved in 1964.
In this letter to Foulke from Elliott Cresson, he expressed his frustration with the incidents in Bassa Cove, Liberia and disappointment in the leadership behind the ACS. Cresson was Secretary of the Pennsylvania Colonization Society, a chapter of the ACS, from 1850 until 1854. Born in Philadelphia in 1796, Cresson was outspoken in his support of colonization and was a member of the Young Men's Society of Philadelphia, an auxiliary of the ACS established in Philadelphia in the early 1830s. Like Foulke, Cresson was devoted to philanthropy and bequeathed the money he amassed as a merchant towards hospitals, historic preservation, and education. As a result of his financial support, one of the early colonies established by the ACS in 1832 and settled by black Quakers was named Port Cresson. This colony was destroyed almost three years later by African natives. "I could not regard in that light any further co-operation with those whose malignity left Bassa Cove to her late melancholy fate: & hence I regard that catastrophe as the McLain Massacre."
In his correspondence with William Lynch, Foulke expressed his disappointment in the waning support of representatives in Congress for colonization. Lynch, a commander in the U.S. navy, had been exploring the coast of West Africa since October 1852 in an effort to locate new sites for colonization, a task that proved difficult for the ACS over the course of its existence. Lynch's trip to Africa, his illness upon his return, and the development of a new strategy in proposing an appropriation bill to Congress are themes that continue in their correspondence. Foulke's correspondence with Edward Everett, a scholar, philanthropist, and politician who was listed on the 1860 election ballot for Vice President for the Constitutional Union Party, also demonstrated the importance for members of the ACS to maintain allies who held power in the seat of government.
Reverend William McLain was elected as the Secretary of the ACS in 1844 and the Financial Secretary and Treasurer in 1858. Much of the early activity within the ACS focused on fundraising which was mainly accomplished through memberships. The money would be used to free slaves and cover the cost of their trip to Liberia. This emphasis gradually shifted as the organization focused on internal improvement, government, and education in Liberia. In his letter to Foulke, McLain listed the auxiliary status of several state colonization societies, including those in Alabama and Ohio, that continued to support colonization.
Foulke's correspondence with John H.B. Latrobe referenced the election of ACS officers, the publication of reports and addresses, and invitations to deliver speeches at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Latrobe was a significant leader in the colonization movement. Succeeding Henry Clay as the President of the ACS in 1853, Latrobe proposed the name Monrovia, after president James Monroe, as the first settlement in Liberia. Born in Philadelphia in 1803, Latrobe was well known throughout his life as a lawyer, inventor, social activist, and artist. He served as the Secretary of the Maryland State Colonization Society, a branch of the ACS, from 1837 to 1853. This organization was responsible for the establishment of Maryland in Liberia (a colony populated by free African Americans from Maryland). Latrobe also founded the Maryland Historical Society in 1844. Following Foulke's death in 1865, his wife Julia continued correspondence with Latrobe. In the letter dated July 27, 1866, Latrobe clearly articulated his view of colonization.
Bibliography & Additional Resources
- Hornsby, Alton. Chronology of African American History: From 1492 to the Present. 2nd ed. Detroit: Gale Research, 1997.
- Smith, John David. The American Colonization Society and Emigration. New York: Garland Publications, 1993.
- Beyan, Amos J. The American Colonization Society and the Creation of the Liberian State. University Press of America, 1991.
- Beyan, Amos J. African American settlements in West Africa : John Brown Russwurm and the American Civilizing Efforts. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.
- Cassell, C. Abayomi. Liberia: History of the First African Republic New York: Fountainhead Publishers, Inc., 1970.
- Library of Congress Exhibitions. "The African-American Mosaic." Accessed July 2014. http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/african/afam002.html
- Hepburn, Joseph Samuel. “Special Report on the Life and Works of Elliott Cresson,” Journal of The Franklin Institute 281, no3 (Philadelphia: The Franklin Institute 1966).
- Dana, Richard H. "An Address upon the Life and Services of Edward Everett; Delivered Before the Municipal Authorities and Citizens of Cambridge," February 22, 1865. Cambridge: Sever and Francis, 1865.
- Semmes, John E. John H.B. Latrobe and His Times 1803-1891 Baltimore: The Waverly Press, 1917.
- Tyson, Job Roberts. “A Discourse before the Young Men’s Colonization Society of Pennsylvania, Delivered October 24, 1834, in St. Paul’s Church, Philadelphia. With a Notice of the Proceedings of the Society, and of their First Expedition of Coloured Emigrants to Found a Colony at Bassa Cove." Philadelphia: Printed for the Society, 1834.
- Cresson, Elliott. “An Account of the Proceedings of the Young Men’s Colonization Society of Pennsylvania, in connexion with their First Expedition of Coloured emigrants to Liberia, to found a New Colony at Bassa Cove." October 31, 1834.
- American Colonization Society “A Few Facts Respecting the American Colonization Society, and the Colony at Liberia." Washington: Way and Gideon, 1830.
- American Colonization Society "Constitution, Government and Digest of the Laws of Liberia, As Confirmed and Established by the Board of Managers of the American Colonization Society, May 23, 1825" Washington City: Way & Gideon, 1825.
- “African Colonization – Its Progress and Prospects. Addresses Delivered by William H. Allen, L.L.D., and John P. Crozer, ESQ., at the Anniversary Meeting of the Pennsylvania Colonization Society, Held in Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church, Philadelphia, October 25, 1863” Philadelphia: William F. Geddes, 1863.
- Lesley, J.P. "Memoir of William Parker Foulke. Read Before the American Philosophical Society, November 6, 1868" Philadelphia: 1869.
- The Naval History and Heritage Command. "Biographies in Naval History: Captain William Lynch 1 April 1801-17 October 1865." Accessed July 2014. www.history.navy.mil.
- Yale Law School Lillian Goldman Law Library. "An Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery, 1780." Accessed July 2014. http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/pennst01.asp
Stephanie Lampkin, APS Digital Library Intern, Summer 2014, wrote the text for this gallery, scanned the correspondence and uploaded the items into the Digital Library.
Scott Ziegler, Web Development Librarian, supervised this internship project and developed the scope of the gallery.
Published August 2014.