Embattled Freedom

White Abolitionists, Black Fighters of Waverly, Pa.

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Jim Remsen’s History Nuggets

“Persecution Makes Converts.”  Despite how we embrace them today, abolitionists were fringe actors in their day, resisted even by neighbors as “fanatics” and “monomaniacs.” My book Embattled Freedom gives some examples of the hostility. Recently I came upon a fresh example during an author trip up to Northeastern Pennsylvania. This account was written up by the Bradford County (Pa.) Historical Society, in a 2004 journal devoted to the county’s black history. The article described an ugly incident that occurred in 1839 in the county seat of Towanda. It seems that some fifty members of “the rowdy class” crashed a meeting that the newborn Bradford County Anti-Slavery Society was holding right inside the county courthouse. An old-timer, who’d attended as a boy, gave an account of it in 1913. He said the rowdies stood in the back heckling and producing grating noise with a crooked stick that they rolled back and forth with their feet. Soon a basket of rotten apples was produced from the rear. The rowdies took dead aim at the abolitionists and then at the candles lighting the room. He said one victim who was hit in the face with an apple felt the attackers “were helping our cause along” because “persecution makes converts. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

The meeting devolved—and the courthouse locked its doors to future abolitionist meetings. Local churches also turned down the society’s requests to use their sanctuaries. “The friends of liberty” would resort to meeting in a member’s barn, sitting on planks and in the hayloft. They persisted, and history would see them through.

“The Instincts of Nature Rebel.” It was good to hear the widespread condemnation of white supremacy in the wake of the Charlottesville horrors, but I found some of it to be historically naïve. “You are anything but a patriot,” Virginia’s governor said of the alt-righters.  AG Jeff Sessions said the violent racists “betray our core values.”

Actually, fellows, for much of U.S. history white supremacy ruled the land, politically and socially, north and south. Even where slavery was in disfavor, even in “polite society” where the supremacists weren’t militant, white superiority was a core value. In the decades before the Civil War, belief in an American “white republic” gained political force. That was certainly the case in Northeastern Pennsylvania, the epicenter of Embattled Freedom. In 1838, for instance, the region’s delegates pressed to repeal black voting rights in the state constitution by declaring “the Government was made by white men, and it must be preserved by white men.” Black people “are a caste, and to confer suffrage on them would be political amalgamation.  Against amalgamation in all its monstrous and hideous aspects the instincts of nature rebel.” In the Pennsylvania gubernatorial election of 1863—in the middle of the Civil War—the region’s powerful Democratic organ said the party stood for “continuing this government as framed by their fathers—a government of whites for the benefit of themselves and their posterity forever.” It’s taken dogged reformers, federal laws, and occasional martyrs to bend us toward justice. But across much of our nation’s history, white supremacy was considered mainstream and patriotic.

Book News.  As summer winds down, speaking season gears up again. Below is my upcoming author schedule through next February—sixteen events and counting. Hope to see you at one of them! Also, please share with friends who might be interested. And if your school, congregation, civic group or even book club is interested in a booking, let me know.

-SEPT. 6 (Wednesday), 7:30 p.m. – Rydal Park Senior Center, 1515 The Fairway, Jenkintown, Pa. 19046

-SEPT. 10 (Sunday), 3:30 p.m. – Forty Fort Meeting House lecture series, River Street and Wyoming Avenue, Forty Fort, Pa. 18704

-SEPT. 23 (Saturday), 10:30 a.m. – Wyoming County Cultural Center lecture series, Dietrich Theater, 60 E. Tioga St., Tunkhannock, Pa. 18657

-SEPT. 26 (Tuesday), 7 p.m. – First United Presbyterian Church of Lackawanna County, 1557 Main St., Peckville, Pa. 18452

-SEPT. 27 (Wednesday), noon – The Gathering Place for Community, Arts and Education, 304 S. State St., Clarks Summit, Pa. 18411

-SEPT. 28 (Thursday), 12:10 p.m. – Rotary Club of the Abingtons, at Ramada Inn, 820 Northern Blvd., Clarks Summit, Pa.  18411

-OCT. 5 (Thursday), 7 p.m. – Abington Community Library, 1200 W. Grove St., Clarks Summit, Pa. 18411

-OCT. 6 (Friday), 1:30 p.m. – Annual Northeast Pennsylvania History Conference, at Luzerne County Community College, Educational Conference Center, 1333 S. Prospect St., Nanticoke, Pa. 18634

-OCT. 7 (Saturday), 10 a.m.-4 p.m. – Collingswood Book Festival, downtown Collingswood, N.J. 08108

-NOV. 21 (Tuesday), 2:30 p.m. – Presby’s Inspired Life Senior Community, 404 Cheswick Place, Rosemont, Pa. 19010

-NOV. 29 (Wednesday), 5:30 p.m. – University of Scranton Schemel Forum lecture series, Weinberg Memorial Library, 815 Linden St, Scranton, Pa. 18510

-FEB. 4 (Sunday), 1:30 p.m. – Black History Month talk, G.A.R. Museum and Library, 4278 Griscom St., Philadelphia 19124

-FEB. 6 (Tuesday), 6:30 p.m. – Civil War Round Table of Eastern Pennsylvania, at Holiday Inn Conference Center, 7736 Adrienne Drive, Breinigsville, Pa. 18031

-FEB. 7 (Wednesday), 1 p.m. – Wallenpaupack Historical Society, at Wallenpaupack Environmental Learning Center, 126 PPL Drive, Hawley, Pa. 18428

-FEB. 8 (Thursday), 7:15 p.m. – Old Baldy Civil War Roundtable, at Camden County College, Connector Bldg., 200 College Drive, Blackwood, N.J. 08012

-FEB. 15 (Thursday), 6 p.m. — Luzerne County Historical Society, 49 S. Franklin St., Wilkes-Barre, Pa. 18701

Jim Remsen’s History Nuggets

Summer greetings, fellow history buffs. In my mission to share little-known but important tidbits about Underground Railroad and black history, I give you two more:

Faith-based “Come-Outerism.” This was a movement by uncompromising abolitionists, in the antebellum years, that called on people to withdraw from churches that were soft on slavery.  It took inspiration from a passage in Corinthians: “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, said the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.” Come-outers seceded from Presbyterian, Methodist, and Baptist churches to form congregations that numbered 241,000 adherents by 1850, according to
Wikipedia. As I write in Embattled Freedom, my book about abolitionism in Waverly, Pa., Waverly had its share of staunch Immediatists who opposed slavery. But I hadn’t heard of the Come-Outers until a visit last month to the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum, in Peterboro, N.Y. Two of the figures it honors, John Rankin and Abby Kelley,  were leaders of Come-Outerism who believed, as Kelley declared, “All the great family of mankind are bound up in one bundle.” Thanks to my cousin for introducing me to the Hall of Fame. I urge you all to put it on your bucket lists.

The “Exoduster” Movement. This was another principled departure — in this case taken by black people themselves. In the mid-1870s, the Reconstruction regime was collapsing in the South and white rule was being reimposed with a vengeance. In response, tens of thousands of Southern blacks pulled up stakes and headed for the Kansas frontier. They became known as “Exodusters.” A book I recently read, Capitol Men: The Epic Story of Reconstruction Through the Lives of the First Black Congressmen, recounts the Exodusters’ flight from oppressive sharecropping, the convict-lease labor system, political chicanery, “abject violence, night riding, lynching and other forms of terror.” Many Southern whites couldn’t believe the Exodusters were leaving at their own initiative but chalked it up to Yankee outside agitators. As one Northern newspaper observed, “The Southern white man is incontrovertibly fixed in the belief that the negro is incapable of any such thing as an independent, self-assertive movement.”  Though the migration was hard, author Philip Dray writes that the Exodusters “read accurately the drift of history and of recent events: a long night of national disregard for their rights and humanity was indeed at hand.”

Book News. After completing ten author talks and signings in support of Embattled Freedom, I’m on a welcome summer hiatus. On Sept. 6, I’ll give a talk in Jenkintown, Pa., that kicks off a schedule of eleven appearances in Pennsylvania and New Jersey through February (with an additional five events in the works).  My next e-newsletter will give the full details.  Meanwhile, I was delighted to see the major review of my book in The Philadelphia Inquirer today. The reviewer erroneously states that Waverly had one hundred free black residents in 1840. He was confusing Waverly with Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Waverly had no black residents in 1840. That said, it was still a thrill to read his verdict: “Memorably and, at time, beautifully written and well-researched.”

Jim Remsen’s History Nuggets

Hello, Mate.

“Was Waverly unique?” I’ve been asked that more than once.  My history book Embattled Freedom recounts how Waverly, a white farming village near Scranton, took in fugitive slaves and helped set them up with new lives. “Were other towns doing this back then?” folks have wondered. No, not other white communities, at least in the large swath of northern and north-central Pennsylvania that I’ve traced. Some runaways resettled themselves in isolated black enclaves that existed here and there in Pennsylvania, and others were absorbed into pre-existing communities of free blacks within larger towns like Montoursville, Wilkes-Barre, and Montrose. But to have an all-white hamlet plant and nurture a fugitive colony in its midst was remarkable. At the time the world had few models of successful racial coexistence. Thomas Jefferson himself had warned against trying it: “Deep rooted prejudices entertained by the whites, ten thousand recollections by the blacks of the injuries they have sustained; new provocations; the real distinctions which nature has made; and many other circumstances, will divide us into parties, and produce convulsions which will probably never end but in the extermination of the one or the other race.” In the face of such wariness, Waverly’s white progressives freely provided arriving fugitives with jobs, land, education, fellowship and hope. As I say, remarkable.

Good book news. Last Saturday, June 10, was a red-letter day in Waverly. Two descendants of Lot Norris, one of the town’s original fugitive-slave settlers, came in from the Midwest to reconnect with their family roots.  Joyce Gates and Mary Toney had known nothing of their ancestor’s history. I had the pleasure of showing them key sites and arranging for them to spend the night in their ancestor’s house, which still stands. The county proclaimed Lot Norris Day and the Scranton newspaper ran this feature story. On June 4, the Pennsylvania Cable Network aired its hourlong interview with me on the “Pa. Books” program; you can listen to it here. Tomorrow, June 17, I’ll be speaking at noon at the Grand Army of the Republic Civil War Museum, in Scranton City Hall, Washington and Mulberry Streets, Scranton.  On June 24, I’ll be signing books from 10 to 4 at the Wyoming County Historical Society,  11 E. Harrison St., Tunkhannock, Pa. On June 25, I’ll give an afternoon author talk at the Old Presbyterian Church on the green in New Milford, Pa. It’s co-sponsored by the Susquehanna County Historical Society, Old Mill Village and the Center for Anti-Slavery Studies. All are welcome. 

Jim Remsen’s History Nuggets

Hello again, History Mate.

If you’re in the Philly area, please drop by my next author talk, which is Wednesday, May 17, at 6:30 p.m., at the Narberth Bookshop, 221 Haverford Ave. in lovely Narberth. I’ll be talking about Embattled Freedom and signing copies.  Following that appearance are special talks to a Community College of Philadelphia class and to middle schoolers at my alma mater, Abington Heights in Clarks Summit. Then I’ll be giving public readings at the Library Express bookstore in Scranton’s Steamtown Mall (June 2, 6 p.m.) and at the G.A.R. Museum in Scranton (June 17, noon).  Come if you can!

Meanwhile, here are two fresh history nuggets for your pleasure:

Risking “Rough Treatment.” In 1863, a Maryland slave owner barged into Camp William Penn, the newly formed boot camp for black Union soldiers outside Philadelphia, demanding the return of a recruit he said had been one of his slaves. He was taking his life into his own hands. The camp was filled with runaways and freeborn blacks swollen with pride and toting weapons of war. Knowing the man “would have met with rough treatment” from the troops, the camp’s white commander spurned his demand and sent him away, angry but in one piece. I heard about the showdown at one of my talks and wondered how I’d missed it in my research into the 3rd and 22nd black regiments. Turns out it involved another regiment, the 6th. The defiant white commander was a familiar figure to me, however.  As I write in the book, Major Louis Wagner was a champion of equal rights and black troops. “When they put on the uniform,” he said proudly of his recruits, “they feel they are men.”

“The Rainbow Tribe.” You’ve probably heard of Josephine Baker, the African American performer who was the toast of Paris in the 1920s. Though known for her risque acts, there was much more to her story. I learned that on a recent visit to her hilltop chateau in central France. During World War II Baker helped the French Resistance by harboring a radio station in the chateau, and by carrying messages for the resistance in North Africa — written in invisible ink on her sheet music! In the 1950s, unable to bear children, she adopted a dozen children of different nationalities and raised them as a multiracial family, her “Rainbow Tribe.” Though criticized for putting the youngsters on display for tourists,  she saw her project as an expression of collective harmony. Baker was an activist determined to surmount her segregated childhood in St. Louis. On a U.S. tour, she demanded to perform before integrated audiences. Martin Luther King was one of her idols. The chateau featured a smiling photo of her at the 1963 March on Washington, wearing a blouse pinned with medals from her adopted country of France.  Hers was a full, poignant life worthy of a movie. Why hasn’t one been made yet?

Josephine Baker and her Rainbow children.

Jim Remsen’s History Nuggets

Hello again, History Mate.

Happy April. Let me jump in with two new gems  from our past:

“The Recoil of Negro Sympathy.” That was  the peculiar headline I came upon in the old North Branch Democrat, an anti-Lincoln weekly in the northeastern Pennsylvania town of Tunkhannock. It ran in August 1862, soon after word had gotten out that Lincoln intended to issue an emancipation proclamation. Beneath it was this commentary:  “There is observable in these days an effect of the Abolition movement which does not promise well for the future temporal welfare of the negro. While prosecuting so earnestly their schemes for releasing the Southern negro from the share of toil allotted to him, they have been unmindful that by their exertions, sentiment more than ever hostile to the black race is created in the North. The Abolitionist if possessed of any true philanthropy would begin to consider now whether this unfriendly sentiment so rapidly changing from prejudice to positive hate, in its effect upon the free blacks of the North, is not likely to outweigh all the advantages to be derived from an anti-slavery crusade. Not only is the insolence of the free black now becoming more offensive, but the feeling of jealousy which begins to pervade the laboring classes, from the fear of negro competition,  forms an element destined to operate henceforth with unwonted power. The Abolitionists, apparently, are in this way forging a weapon that may recoil on their own heads with stunning effect, and involve them and the unfortunate objects of their labors in ruin.”  (Bad enough that The Democrat was legitimizing white bigotry, but it was also insinuating that there would be violence and that black people and their allies would be responsible. Such was racism in the North.)

The Fall of Taney. Did you catch the recent story out of Frederick, Md.?  For 85 years its city hall displayed a bronze bust of Roger Taney, the U.S. Supreme Court chief justice notorious for his 1857 Dred Scott decision upholding slavery.  But no more. On March 18, onlookers in the now-cosmopolitan town applauded as the thing was  uprooted and moved to a nearby cemetery in accordance with a vote by the Frederick aldermen. “An embarrassment,” one official said of the bronze relic. I’d written about seeing it during my 2014 road trip to research whether a fugitive slave I was profiling, George Keys, might have fled from another of Frederick’s famous sons, Francis Scott Key. As fate would have it, the Taney bust will now be placed  near the Key memorial — two renowned figures, both slaveholders.

Lots of Book News. So far I’m scheduled to give a dozen author talks through next February, with five others in the works. The next talk will be May 17, 6:30 p.m., at the Narberth Bookshop in downtown Narberth, Pa. Also, Sunbury Press has issued Embattled Freedom as an e-book and has arranged for me to be interviewed on the Pennsylvania Cable Network’s statewide “Pa Books” show. Also, I’ve presented copies of Embattled Freedom to the mayor of Scranton and, through intermediaries, to Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, and U.S. Senator Bob Casey. Hey, why not? All three have ties to the Scranton area. Also, later this month, Intermediate Unit 19, a consortium of twenty school districts in northeastern Pennsylvania, will give a presentation to educators about the classroom applicability of the book and website. Finally, I’ve gotten some nice feedback from readers, and ask that folks consider posting reader reviews on Amazon. Please do. Even  a short one helps!

I had the honor of addressing the Working Writers Group on April 14 in West Philadelphia. 

Jim Remsen’s History Nuggets

Schedule Alert: My author talk Friday, March 17, at the Library Express bookstore in Scranton has been POSTPONED due to Winter Storm Stella. I’ll let you know when we’ve got a rescheduled date.

Meanwhile, dear reader, here are two fresh History Nuggets:

“Singing Their A,B,C.” One fact that moved me in my book research was how urgently the fugitive slaves of Waverly, Pa., yearned to read and write. As I state in Embattled Freedom, they knew education would lift them out of “the dark cavity of oppression” wrought by slavery, and they welcomed the schooling that white allies provided. It seems the same yearning was true for the droves of “contraband” slaves who fled toward the Union army for protection down in the war-torn South. This comes through clearly in the book I’m currently reading, Troubled Refuge: Struggling for Freedom in the Civil War. The author, historian Chandra Manning, has a wealth of examples. She tells of a free-black woman living near a contraband camp in Virginia who turned her home into a crowded school and taught the three R’s and hymns until tuberculosis overtook her. Not far from there, two white sisters from Massachusetts helped contraband women by tacking a large alphabet card onto the wall of the sewing room so everyone could keep “head and fingers busy” while they made clothing and repaired army material. When more slates were needed for the writing lessons, one of those sisters slipped away and pried roof shingles off a rebel building. In Tennessee, a runaway serving as a cook for the army kept a spelling book at hand so he could study even while tending his pots. In South Carolina, an elderly ex-slave taught math by lining his contraband pupils into rows and having them march around in shifting formations. He devised a method to teach reading by setting the alphabet and phonetics to song. When the old man’s brother died, the pupils “carried schoolbooks like hymnals” to the graveside, “singing their A,B,C, through and through again.” They knew education was a blessed thing.

“A Pioneer Antislavery Man.” As the contraband camps formed, white missionaries and Northern benevolent societies stepped in to attend to body, mind and spirit. Their presence continued after the war, at that point to assist the millions of newly classified freedmen. One of the white patrons, I discovered, was a Waverly man. John L. Richardson had been a teacher and principal of Waverly’s elite Madison Academy in the 1850s and would have known the village’s abolitionists and fugitives. After the war, according to an old county history, the “pioneer antislavery man” became a roving agent of the New York American Missionary Association and “addressed thousands of his countrymen in favor of the newly-created citizens of African descent.” Richardson raised thousands of dollars, helped to set up freedmen schools, and trained the teachers. He reminds me of another impressive figure from my research, Joseph Kiddoo, commander of the stalwart black regiment that included six soldiers from Waverly. Kiddoo went on to head the Freedmen’s Bureau in Texas, where he prioritized education and advocated for black civil rights. Direct exposure to black people and their aspirations had a lasting effect on many white Northerners. Richardson and Kiddoo are prime examples.

More Book News.  Embattled Freedom will be available as an e-book later this month, according to my publisher, Sunbury Press. Paula Radwanski of Tunkhannock, Pa., won last month’s book giveaway. Congrats, Paula! I’ve gotten some nice press for Embattled Freedom and am in the process of scheduling author talks–updates to come. And my book launch was a big success, with about 100 folks attending. Many thanks to my hosts at the Waverly Community House. Below is a photo from the launch. Civil War re-enactor Bob Bowell and I are displaying a replica of the dramatic battle flag of the black regiment that included six Waverly men.

“History Nuggets” – Update

Hello again, history friend.

With my history book Embattled Freedom freshly minted by Sunbury Press, let me give you a few updates:

  • The BOOK LAUNCH PARTY is this Sunday at 1 p.m. at the Waverly Community House in lovely Waverly, Pa 18471. Waverly is the scene of so much of the book, plus is my boyhood hometown, so I’m honored to be hosted there. I’ll speak and sign books, and a few surprises are in store. All are welcome!
  • If you live in northeastern Pa. and can’t make it to the party, I’ll also give an author talk Friday, March 17, at 7:30 p.m., at the Library Express bookstore in the Steamtown Marketplace in central Scranton.
  • If you’re a Philly area friend, note that I’ll be giving an author talk on Wednesday, May 17, at 6:30 p.m., at the Narberth Book Shop, 221 Haverford Ave. in Narberth.
  • Check out the podcast of my Feb. 28 interview on WVIA, northeastern Pa.’s public radio station.

Finally, Here’s a new history nugget for you:

“With Malignant Heart.” In August 1863, as the first African Americans troops were being trained for combat in the Civil War, President Lincoln wrote, in a prescient letter to a friend, that when peace finally came,  “there will be some black men who can remember that, with silent tongue, and clenched teeth, and steady eye, and well-poised bayonet, they have helped mankind on to this great consummation; while, I fear, there will be some white ones, unable to forget that, with malignant heart, and deceitful speech, they have strove to hinder it.” History certainly bore him out.

Jim Remsen’s History Nuggets

Hello, history mate.

Below you’ll find some exciting news about my new book release. But first, two more of my monthly history nuggets.

“When the timid falter.” The outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 forced Democrats in the North to choose whether to appease the South to hold the nation together, or join Lincoln in putting down the secession by force. One of the so-called War Democrats who chose to back the Union war effort was New York Senator Daniel Dickinson. He came to Waverly, Pa., the geographic focus of my new book, to headline an anti-Confederacy rally. Dickinson was renowned as a silver-tongued orator, and boy, was he. Here’s a sample: “When the timid falter and the faithless fly, when the skies lower, the winds howl, the storm descends, and the tempest beats, when the lightnings flash, the thunders roar, the waves dash, and the good ship Union creaks and groans with the expiring throes of dissolution, I will cling to her still as the last refuge of hope from the fury of the storm and if she goes down I will go down with her, rather than survive to tell the story of her ignoble end. I will rally round the star-spangled banner so long as a single strip can be discovered, or a single star shall shimmer from the surrounding darkness.” (Not exactly a sound bite, eh?)

“A machine for cleansing new Feathers.” The abolitionists of the Waverly area were intent not only on purifying society of the stain of slavery.  As Yankee reformers, they had a broad progressive ethos that also tried to perfect worldly affairs through innovations in seeds, farm implements, animal husbandry–and bedding. In my research I came upon a 1835 advertisement for a miracle device developed by two fellows who figure in my book as anti-slavery men. Alvinza Gardner and Lyman Green were peddling their own patented device to cleanse feather beds “from the dirt and all impurities which they have imbibed by long use, and made to possess (in every important particular,) the appearance of new feathers.”  Any sickness, even cholera, would be “cured complete,” they promised. Check out their ad: feather_bed_cleaner.

Book progress galore! Copies of Embattled Freedom are arriving at people’s homes, and this week I received a delivery of 100 copies to take to author events. I’ll be speaking next week to a Civil War group in Scranton and then will visit WVIA, the region’s public radio station, to tape an interview. The official book launch celebration is scheduled for Sunday, March 21, at 1 p.m., at the Waverly Community House–all are welcome! Plus, I have a few other talks in the works. The educational website embattledfreedom.org is nearly complete and is viewable online. Feel free to browse its features. I hope to speak to public school teachers about the  website’s lessons. In addition, home schoolers, private schools and even college teachers might find the educational material useful. If you have any connections in that regard, please reach out to them or to me. Ordering info and a sample chapter are available on embattledfreedom.org. You can see a copy of the book jacket and two nice testimonials here: book jacket

Free giveaway! I’ll give out a signed copy of Embattled Freedom to the third person who responds to this offer by email. And to the sixth person, a signed copy of my previous book, Visions of Teaoga. Plus, I’ll cover the mailing. One entry per person,  please.

“History Nuggets”

Below is a compilation of “History Nuggets” from my author e-newsletters. These are illuminating bits of information I came upon in my book research—arcane terminology, old attitudes, shocking anecdotes, and the like. Some of them appear in Embattled Freedom and others don’t, but I found them all interesting enough to share with you:

“Little Negro Boy Begs for White Arm.” That was the startling headline on a 1904 article I came upon recently in The Scranton Republican. The story goes that a five-year-old boy named Albert Turner had been run over by a train in Scranton, losing his right arm. At the hospital the youngster kept asking the doctor to give him a white arm. “I don’t want nuthin’ if I can’t have a really good one,” he is quoted as saying. “I don’t want noh more black ones. Had enuf ‘f them. Please.” The doctor replied that perhaps he could get a white artificial arm someday. The unnamed reporter commented that Albert “is firm in his belief that the evolution is possible, if the doctors only will. His recovery is rapid, but that doesn’t satisfy him in the least. There is a psychological phase of the incident which furnishes food for thought.” Census records list no black Turner family in or around Scranton during the era so it’s difficult to confirm this odd story. But however odd, the incident was sadly plausible given the stigma society placed on black people. And how telling that the reporter characterized obtaining a white arm as “evolution.”

 “White Lily Republicanism.” This term popped up in The Scranton Defender, another now-defunct newspaper of the early 1900s. The black-owned weekly took aim at institutional prejudice including in the Republican party that black people had long supported. The party faction known as the “lily white movement” was managing to purge blacks from power, especially in the South, and The Defender felt its negative effect in Scranton. In a 1904 editorial, the paper complained of rampant discrimination in housing, public accommodations, and politics. Blacks “are ostracised in every way although they are at times the balance of power in local elections, yet not a single place is obtainable by them in this great Republican center; the only place held by the colored man is that of a dog catcher.” It was enough to make a boy like Albert Turner fantasize about changing his color.

“He separated the races.” Have you seen the new film Loving? Catch it if you can. It’s a graceful treatment of the mixed-race Virginia couple whose lawsuit prompted the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967 to invalidate state bans on interracial marriage. For centuries interracial love had been referred to by the ugly term miscegenation.  Pennsylvania, the focus of my book, ended its ban on miscegenation back in 1780 — but throughout the 1800s the state experienced plenty of open fear-mongering over miscegenation by another ugly term of the era: “racial amalgamation.” My book covers that. So it resonated when, in the film, we hear this quote from the Virginia trial judge’s 1965 opinion: “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.” At least Earl Warren’s Supreme Court had the wisdom to finally sweep that drivel into the juridical dustbin.

The “untamed” Maroons. A recent article in The New Yorker about current Underground Railroad scholarship made a passing reference to the Maroons. Who again? I must say I was clueless. If you, too, have never heard of the Maroons, you’re missing something. They were escaped slaves, many thousands of them across generations since the 1500s, who managed to band together into self-reliant, armed communities in pockets of the South and Caribbean. They often allied with native groups in remote highlands or swamps, and their periodic raids on plantations made them feared and hated by the whites. Could the old fugitive-slave settlement I researched in Northeastern Pennsylvania could be considered Maroon? Probably not. Although it had a degree of autonomy, and some weaponry as needed, the settlement was quite intermingled with the white village that harbored it. If you’re African American or a historian, you already might be familiar with the so-called “untamed” Maroons. For the rest of us, they’re one more eye-opening piece of history missing from our education. Fortunately, plenty is available about them on the internet.

“The White Race Alone Is Entitled.”  The year was 1866 and the governor’s seat was up for grabs. Union veterans had poured back home, including thousands of black men who had served with distinction. My little hometown of Waverly, Pa., had 13 black war vets, only three of whom returned from combat unscathed. Black leaders formed the new Equal Rights League to press boldly for greater rights including the vote. Spokesman Jonathan Jasper Wright of Wilkes-Barre challenged whites to “act as though they believed in their own Declaration of Independence, and especially in its assertion that all men are created equal.” But the Republicans went limp on their support for black aspirations, seeing few votes to gain on the issue. Meanwhile, the state’s Democrats, angry foes of Lincoln and abolitionism, whipped out the white-supremacy card and whipped up racial fears to help nominee Hiester Clymer (see below and here). The Clymer platform was explicit: “The white race alone is entitled to the control of the government of the Republic, and we are unwilling to grant to negroes the right to vote.” The Democratic newspaper in Scranton warned that a vote for the Republican, John Geary, is a vote for “negro suffrage, negro equality, high taxation, amalgamation, disunion, another war, and all the evils that abolition fanaticism can inflict upon our country and race.”  Republican vets in Waverly and elsewhere formed “Boys in Blue” clubs to get out the vote for Geary, to mixed results. Geary won narrowly statewide but was trounced in the county. And Waverly? It went for the Democrat, Clymer. It is a confounding fact that Waverly, despite having many GOP Boys in Blue and hosting its own fugitive-slave settlement, would remain in the camp of the race-baiting Democrats for another twenty years.

“Fraud! Fraud Everywhere.” I encountered that scary headline while back in Scranton on a research trip. You know how Donald Trump alleged that systematic vote-rigging might rob him of victory? And how he called on supporters to monitor the polling “in certain places,” which in Pennsylvania at least has been understood as code for Philadelphia? Well, Donald was hardly the first one to cry election foul. While poring over old newspapers in the Scranton public library, I came upon an unsigned item that The Scranton Daily Times, a conservative Democratic organ of the day, printed in October 1872. A statewide election was nearing and The Times claimed that the Republican machine was sending out hirelings, especially newly enfranchised black men, hither and yon to cast multiple votes. The writer offered a shocking solution: “when a negro from another State, brought here by the Cameron ring, presents himself to cast a fraudulent vote, shoot him dead. We ask no quarter, and we will give none on this point.” (Fortunately there was no actual violence, at least according to the election coverage I could find.)

“The ‘Despised race.'” As a counterpart to The Scranton Times’ trigger-happy view just above, consider how The Pittston Gazette, another newspaper in that corner of Pennsylvania, spoke of black people during the postwar era. In an item in late 1865 titled “Fair Play for the Negro,” The Gazette, a Republican weekly, noted how “the ‘despised race’ bravely mingled their blood with that of the Anglo-Saxon defenders of the Constitution on many well fought fields.” The black man, it continued, had thus earned “a fair and equal chance with the white man in the great race of life–and if he succeeds against the odds of color and the debasing effects of generations of servitude, he will show superior capacity to those who would make color and not character the criterion of merit.” Perhaps that sentiment rings a bell with you. Martin Luther King, in his immortal “I Have a Deam” speech a century later, yearned for a day when his children could live in a nation “where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

The Southern “Bulldozers.” In reading Retreat From Reconstruction, 1869-1879, the other day I was puzzled by a Virginia Republican’s reference to Northerners abandoning him “to the tender mercies of the Ku Klux and ‘Bulldozers.’ ”  An internet search found several origins for the bulldozer term, one of them was dead-on relevant. During that woeful period of our history, black people across the South were plagued by gangs of murderous white terrorists. By using violence akin to the brutal  “bull dose” a farmer might wield to bring a difficult bull to heel, these goons became known as bull-dosers or bulldozers. When the land-moving machine we’re all familiar with was invented a few decades later, a machine of brute force, the name was a natural fit.

“The Fountain of Sin.” One shared value that probably helped Waverly’s whites accept black newcomers was temperance—disdain for alcohol. Waverly briefly had a Temperance Hotel and its churches had teens sign personal temperance pledges. And the vigilance could never slacken, according to this July 1866 item in The Scranton Republican. “For several months past our village had been very orderly,” wrote the Waverly correspondent, a  teetotaling Methodist minister. “The former hotel keeper, for conscientious reasons, had abandoned the sale of intoxicating liquors, and as a result our community was almost entirely free from intemperance, and the good people of Waverly enjoyed a short Millennium. But the enemy has again been let loose upon us; a new proprietor has again opened the fountain of sin and misery… Many Abington mothers have wept, and others are destined to weep over the wreck of promising sons. Many such have hopelessly disappeared into the Maelstrom of intemperance.”

“Mudsills.” That was a Civil War era slur for low-born people. I came upon it while looking closer at how whites of the day viewed one another. It turns out high-born whites referred to “the lower breeds” as clay-eaters, poltroons, and midsills. As historian Nancy Isenberg writes in her new book White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America, midsills were “a foul collection of urban roughs, prairie dirt farmers, greasy mechanics, unwashed immigrants, and by 1862, with the enlistment of Afro-American troops, insolent free blacks.” (We humans love our insults, don’t we?)

“Abid.” That’s Arabic for slave–and it’s still an Arab slur for any black African person. The legacy of the vast Arab slave trade is recounted in “Ten Facts About the Arab Enslavement of Black People not Taught in Schools,” a startling article on my History Enthusiasts online feed. It reminded me of when, during my time with a Darfur support group a few years ago, Darfuri expat friends told me how Arab janjawid marauders would call the black Darfuri villagers abid as they swooped in to plunder, burn and kill them. My friends say the Arab world, in fact, has never reckoned with its own deep-seated racism.

” ‘Proper’ Racial Awareness.”  I’ve just finished reading a book titled Forgotten: The Untold Story of D-Day’s Black Heroes, at Home and at War. It recalls the black GIs’ horrific Jim Crow treatment at Army training camps—and then their delight at being embraced by British villagers during their months in Britain mobilizing for the 1944 Normandy invasion. The stories are remarkable. Having no inbred racism, the rural Brits took a liking to the black men’s good manners and invited them in for meals and fellowship. The girls freely sought them out as dance partners. Restaurants and pubs welcomed them, too—and white Yanks who tried to oust them might find themselves ousted by the owners instead. “To white American soldiers, usually from the South, the lack of ‘proper’ racial awareness in Britain was appalling,” writes author Linda Hervieux. When D-Day came, the black troops distinguished themselves under fire as handlers of the barrage balloons that protected the Normandy beaches. Back home, though, they found attitudes unchanged. A Philadelphia GI said the first words they heard upon arriving back at camp in Georgia were: “Here comes that nigger group. Got all them medals over there in France. We’re gonna make sure that we take care of them while they’re down here.”

“Odiferously” Maligned. That untold WWII story, above, reminded me of the vicious attitude that a Scranton newspaper expressed toward black soldiers during the Civil War. A dozen black men from the Waverly enclave had already volunteered to serve, but the reactionary Lackawanna Register predicted nothing but doom. It warned white soldiers not to fight alongside blacks, “for if you get killed, some African gentleman, in his long tall blue, may take your widow or marry your sweetheart for you. It will be pleasant to die on the field of battle, knowing this is the best government the sun ever shone upon; and that for the life you gave up, some darkey will come in your place to warm his shins at your fire, to sleep in your bed, to eat at your table, to ride in your carriage, to father your children, and to shine as odiferously in your mansion in a rotten mackerel.”

“Causes of Insanity Given.” According to the old Scranton Republican newspaper, Pennsylvania was building a new mental hospital at Danville in 1870 to take overflow from the crowded state asylum in Harrisburg. Some of the patients may have been traumatized war veterans, but the listings only indicated categories like “farmers 520, laborers 469, blacksmiths 26, housewives 618, daughters of farmers 121.” Here is the official rundown of the patients’ problems, verbatim: “ill health, 339; domestic trouble, 251; epilepsy, 118; trouble, 330; grief, 8; millerism, 4; spiritualism, 2; excessive study, 3; disappointment, 11; overexertion, 89; fright, 23; intemperance, 84; religious excitement, 8; opium eating, 10; loss of sleep, 6; failure in business, 2; loss of money, 4; ill treatment, 2; excesses, 25; novel reading, 2; sunstroke, 10; want of occupation, 1; mortified pride, 1; public excitement, 88; pecuniary trouble, 5; jealousy, 1; causes not assigned, 1,358” I can imagine what some of the terms meant and how we might classify them today, but novel reading? Mortified pride?

“The Slave’s Friend.” That was the actual name of a children’s magazine the American Anti-Slavery Society produced in the 1830s to awaken young readers to the cruelties of the Southern bondage. The website slate.com recently ran an article about it in conjunction with Slate Academy’s fine podcast series on American slavery. The abolition magazine gave it to the kids straight, telling them about slaveholders “who cropped enslaved people’s ears and chained them in attics or lashed them for the smallest of offenses.” My manuscript mentions other literature that abolitionists were circulating (slave narratives, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and more), but I didn’t know about The Slave’s Friend. I think I’ll add it.

“Poetical Justice.” Here’s a vivid story that appears in the book. Six Waverly recruits were posted in 1863 to a fort near Petersburg, Va., under the command of a fiery white abolitionist. A raiding party returned to the fort one day with a plantation owner they’d taken captive, a fellow who was known to have whipped his slaves especially severely.  An eyewitness wrote that the commander gathered his black troops for a show of “poetical justice.” He had the planter tied to a tree and let one of the soldiers—a runaway from that very plantation—whip the man’s back bloody. Then two female runaways, also victims of the planter, did the same “to remind him that they were no longer his, but safely housed in Abraham’s bosom, and under the protection of the Star Spangled Banner.”

“The Camp of Skulkers and Cowards.” In October 1864, the colonel commanding the main black Civil War regiment I’ve been researching openly shamed 23 of his men as cowards and relegated them to a pariah camp. I recently uncovered his directive, issued in the aftermath of the bloody Battle of New Market Heights, where the regiment had been in the forefront of the uphill charge. The officer, Joseph B. Kiddoo, said the men “Straggled and Skulked and played the coward in the late battles and some of them actually ran away while their brave comrades were fighting the enemy.” The accused had survived prior traumatic combat at Petersburg, where at least one had been wounded, but Kiddoo gave them no quarter. “All good soldiers should frown upon them with that contempt due to their cowardly conduct,” he decreed. “It is therefore ordered that these men be placed in the rear in a camp by themselves called the Camp of Skulkers and Cowards and that they do all the fatigue duty of the Regiment till it again moves against the enemy when an opportunity will be given them to retrieve their lost honor.” Their opportunity came a month later, at the Second Battle of Fair Oaks. The regiment (the 22nd U.S. Colored Troops) assaulted Rebel entrenchments and suffered “heavy slaughter,” losing more than 100 killed or wounded.  A quick check of regimental records showed two of the “skulkers” among the wounded.

Ever hear of Doughfaces? Neither did I, until I kept seeing the word in period newspapers of the 1830s. It was a term for Northerners who openly sided with Southern slaveholders in the decades before the Civil War. Antebellum Pennsylvania was lousy with Doughfaces, as I document in the book.

How about Immediatists? They were a brand of Presbyterian abolitionists who were shaking up their churches, including the one in Waverly. They demanded the immediate emancipation of slaves, as opposed to the gradualism of the Colonizationists, and they wanted to immediate purge the church of slaveholders. They feuded with the region’s “Old School Presbyterians” who opposed abolitionists as fanatics.


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