I was pleased to receive the award and to talk about the book at the 2017 American Literature Association Annual Conference. Shown here are Mark Noonan, RSAP President, and James Berkey, RSAP Secretary, presenting the prize.
I’m happy to share some wonderful news: Black Print Unbound has been named the winner of the Research Society for American Periodicals Book Prize. The 2017 award recognizes the best scholarly book on American periodicals published in 2015 and 2016.
I was pleased to receive the award and to talk about the book at the 2017 American Literature Association Annual Conference. Shown here are Mark Noonan, RSAP President, and James Berkey, RSAP Secretary, presenting the prize.
I’ve been excited to see interest in Edmonia Goodelle Highgate increasing.
A striking intellect, exciting writer, long-time activist, and dedicated teacher, Highgate (1844-1870) certainly deserves more attention in our classrooms and our scholarship. (For more on Highgate, see my Black Print Unbound, as well as an earlier blog entry, “Edmonia Highgate, the New Orleans Massacre, and Christian Recording.”)
As part of my on-going study of nineteenth-century African American engagement with print culture, I continue to look for traces of Highgate and her work, and I wanted to share a recently-recovered letter not listed in the extant scholarship.
Published in the 3 April 1869 National Anti-Slavery Standard, it details Highgate’s later work in Mississippi.
Specifically, it offers a rich sense of the educational struggles and goals of many of the recently-freed people in and around Jackson, Mississippi. It shares local and state news, including noting an assassination attempt on James Lynch (1839-1872), former Christian Recorder editor, editor of the Jackson Colored Citizen, and Mississippi politician and activist. In all of this, the letter speaks powerfully to our current day, too.
It also gives us glimmers of the lives of figures like John Russell Parsons (a white soldier who enlisted soon after graduating from Yale, became a Reconstruction-era Mississippi State Representative from Hinds County, and was found drowned on 3 March 1869) and of Edmonia Highgate’s sister Caroline V. Highgate, listed as “Miss C. V. Highgate,” who would later marry white veteran and politician Albert T. Morgan and have, among other children, twentieth-century writer and peace activist Angela Morgan.
But the gem for me, amid Highgate’s engaging narrative, is the report of freed folks reading, memorizing, and reciting the works of Frances Ellen Watkins Harper.
Harper had already done several tours in the South, both lecturing and learning, and she was beginning to add to her rich antebellum literary production (in addition to the various editions of her Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects and individual poems published in diverse periodicals, see the recently rediscovered Forest Leaves). Her long blank verse poem Moses: A Story of the Nile was garnering praise, and only two days after Highgate penned her letter, the Christian Recorder would publish the first chapter of Harper’s first serialized novel, Minnie’s Sacrifice, a narrative with powerful echoes in the stories Highgate hints at below.
Enjoy and keep learning!
The Work in Jackson.
Jackson, Miss., March 18th.
To the Editor of the Standard:
Interesting occurrences are transpiring here continually. Perhaps we might afford pleasure to some should we essay to chronicle them. Everything plainly indicates that “good is being made the final goal of ill.”
The bell on the M. E. Church, which was formerly owned by a slaveholder to summon bondmen to their unrequited toil, now calls a large and cheerful assembly, not only to Sabbath School and other sanctuary services, but to the Benevolent and Literary Societies which convene every Saturday night. The former has $110.25 in its treasury. This amount is the combined contributions of most of the hard-working young male and female freed people in this city. Rigid self-denial alone enables them to make these monthly donations, in order that they may care for the poor among them, and defray their burial expenses when they die. In the literary society we noticed mere boys, who had found the opportunity of spending but a few hours daily from their honest vocations, acquitting themselves decorously as presiding officers, and in no instance violating parliamentary rule. Several selections from Whittier and Frances E. W. Harper were rendered by these laundresses, cooks, porters, waiters, etc., with a pathos that told truly that the rhymed story was their own. We were pleased to notice several soldiers giving respectful audience; also the teachers of these youths. Several appreciative grey-headed old aunties were in attendance whose faces expressed the fact that they never expected to see this day.
Our schools contain about three hundred pupils. A society of Orthodox Friends are well represented here by several teachers who teach graded departments in miserably insufficient shanties. “The Gen. Grant” school, taught by Miss C. V. Highgate, is composed mostly of adults who aspire to become teachers. Several promising young persons have been taken and assigned to large schools in the country.
The West Jackson school has been well supplied with maps through the generosity of Northern friends. Night schools are well attended by those who work all day. Some of our pupils were attacked by a gang of rowdies last night who threatened them with rough handling if they “did not stop going to the d----d night school.” A box from McGrawville, N. Y., has just reached us containing some very valuable clothing, also two of Dr. C. P. Grosvenor’s incomparable safety lamps. This timely donation was most acceptable.
The attempted assassination of Rev. Jas. Lynch, you will probably learn from another source. One of Massachusetts’ brave sons, Major J. R. Parsons, met his death, it is currently believed, by “foul play”; he having been over prominent as an ardent supporter of the Radical party.
E. G. Highgate
And if you're wondering about Cyrus Pitt Grosvenor's safety lamps, mentioned above, here's an illustration:
I was excited to hear a story on NPR that focused on “Information Wanted” ads; see http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2017/02/22/516651689/after-slavery-searching-for-loved-ones-in-wanted-ads
The story profiles an exciting new online project, “Last Seen: Finding Family After Slavery,” which is available at http://informationwanted.org/
Wonderful to see, too, that this project includes deep collaboration with Mother Bethel AME Church in Philadelphia, whose heroic efforts to preserve African American history (including Jabez Pitt Campbell’s run of the Christian Recorder) have been simply amazing.
Ideally, I’d like to have seen the story mention Heather Andrea Williams’s beautiful book Help Me to Find My People, which, to my mind offers one of the richest discussion of the ads I’ve seen.
Similarly, several of the exciting pieces of this project, ranging from seeing transcription as community action to rescuing pieces of Black print culture for active contemporary consideration, have been pioneered by the Colored Conventions Project at http://coloredconventions.org/
These other resources are most definitely worth close consideration, too.
But it is a wonderful story and an amazing project. Check it out!
I’ve blogged some about the ads--and specifically about experimenting with tracing the stories of some of the individuals who placed such ads.
If you’d like to learn more, those blog posts are available at
My apologies for the long hiatus; I continue to learn and then learn more about African American literature, African American history, and the ways these subjects interface with our current moment.
I’ve been consistently excited to see the rich new work in our field—amazed by the books that can be read in dialogue with Black Print Unbound and joyous about how much more we can learn about early Black print culture.
In that spirit, I wanted to devote some blog space to sharing information on some of the incredible titles published in the last couple of years—as well as some of the wonderful work that’s soon to be published.
So here, described in snippet form, are some books to be reading, celebrating, and building from. Teach them, cite them, argue with them, and tell your libraries to buy them.
The Black Newspaper and the Chosen Nation
University of Georgia Press, 2016
An innovative study of the early Black press, focused on conceptions of Black “chosenness” vis-à-vis print culture and anchored in careful archival work, with close attention to Freedom’s Journal, the Colored American, Frederick Douglass’s North Star, the Provincial Freeman, and the Weekly Anglo-African.
Love, Liberation, and Escaping Slavery:
William and Ellen Craft in Cultural Memory
University of Georgia Press, 2015
Based on years of amazing archival research, the story behind one of the most amazing narratives of slavery and escape (the Crafts’ Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom) and the story, as well, of the Crafts’ lives before and after—narratives that tell us much about early Black print, Black mobility, and possibilities of citizenship.
The Strangers Book: The Human of African American Literature
University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015
A striking and new approach to American literature focusing how early African American culture's conceptions and deployments of the figure of the stranger might reshape our senses of humans and humanism, featuring intriguing work on Frederick Douglass and on Les Cenelles by a scholar as careful in the archive as he is thoughtful about literary theory and practice.
Dividing Lines: Class Anxiety and Postbellum Black Fiction
Andrea N. Williams
University of Michigan Press, 2013
One of the best and most detailed studies on questions of class and African American literature—especially later nineteenth-century literature—with provocative readings of work by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Sutton Griggs, and Charles Chesnutt, among others.
Black Girlhood in the Nineteenth Century
Nazera Sadiq Wright
University of Illinois Press, 2016
An in-depth exploration of the ways in which the figure of the Black girl functioned in and shaped early African American literature, built on extensive archival work, with close consideration of texts ranging from Black periodicals to conduct books and writers ranging from Frances Harper to Gertrude Bustill Mossell.
A History of Nineteenth-Century American Women’s Poetry
Jennifer Putzi and Alexandra Socarides, eds.
Cambridge University Press, 2016
A rich resource on women’s poetry of the period writ broadly, including a number of essays that pay real and thoughtful attention to Black women’s literary work. (Full disclosure: the chapter on “Nineteenth-Century American Women’s Poetry of Slavery and Abolition” is mine—a piece I’m so excited to share.)
Good reading to all of you. More to come!
A pause from blogging to do an interview with the wonderful New Books Network, with special thanks to interviewer James West. Take a listen at http://newbooksnetwork.com/eric-gardner-black-print-unbound-the-christian-recorder-african-american-literature-and-periodical-culture-oxford-up-2015/
As my last post suggested, considering how issues of the early AME Christian Recorder were numbered (and mis-numbered) only begins to highlight the difficulties of exploring what early Black periodicals we have and don’t have—and how early Black periodicals have and have not come to us.
Take the early Recorder as an example.
First, some quick background. All of the online issues of the early Recorder and all of the microfilm prints trace back to a single run of the paper: the collection put together by Bishop Jabez Pitt Campbell and now housed at Mother Bethel in Philadelphia. If you carefully go through a source like WorldCat or even the Chronicling America project and eliminate records that are for microfilm rolls or online versions—or that initially appear to be for paper items and are actually, because of cataloging errors, really for film or electronic resources—you’ll actually find that there are almost no listings for pre-1880 paper issues. Contact the libraries that seem to have paper issues—as I did in writing Black Print Unbound—and you’ll grow even more sad and angry.
Before we begin to think through the issues surrounding having only a single run of a major early Black newspaper, a more basic question: just what do the Campbell run and derivatives contain and what is missing?
For the period covered by Black Print Unbound—post-1860 and pre-1869—at least thirteen issues of the Recorder were likely published but are not in the Campbell derivatives.
These issues are, quite simply, missing:
12 January 1861 (Elisha Weaver’s first issue as editor)
6 June 1863
13 June 1863
20 June 1863
27 June 1863
4 July 1863
11 July 1863
19 November 1864
11 March 1865 (the issue that should contain Ch. 3 of Julia Collins's Curse of Caste)
13 May 1865 (the issue that should contain Ch. 12 of Curse of Caste)
1 December 1866
30 March 1867
27 June 1868
Because of my close, contextualized study of issue numbering, my guess is that the paper did not appear on 23 May, 30 May, 6 June, or 13 June 1868; that said, there is an outside possibility that there may have been issues—now missing—on (some of) these dates with erroneous and/or duplicated numbering.
After Benjamin Tucker Tanner took over as editor in mid-1868, at least two more issue dates seem to have been skipped before the final issue of the year—26 December 1868.
But this is only the beginning of the story of what’s not present in the resources derived from the Campbell collection.
Just a reminder: the Recorder was a single sheet, folded once, and printed on both sides to produce four pages.
More than three dozen issues are only presented partially in both film and online products; 35 of these seem to be true partials. Most of the partials are missing a full half-sheet—that is, two full pages.
A list of the partial issues:
14 June 1862 (pages 1 and 2 missing)
26 July 1862 (pages 1 and 2 missing)
23 August 1862 (pages 1 and 2 missing)
13 December 1862 (pages 1 and 2 missing)
20 December 1862 (pages 1 and 2 missing)
17 January 1863 (pages 1 and 2 missing)
7 February 1863 (pages 1 and 2 missing)
28 February 1863 (pages 1 and 2 missing)
26 September 1863 (pages 1 and 2 missing)
31 October 1863 (pages 1 and 2 missing)
28 November 1863 (only pages 1, 3, and 4 appear in the film and other derivatives)
5 December 1863 (pages 1 and 2 missing)
19 December 1863 (pages 1 and 2 missing)
6 February 1864 (pages 1 and 2 missing)
5 March 1864 (pages 1 and 2 missing)
19 March 1864 (pages 1 and 2 missing)
23 April 1864 (pages 1 and 2 missing)
13 August 1864 (pages 1 and 2 missing)
22 October 1864 (pages 1 and 2 missing)
29 October 1864 (pages 1 and 2 missing)
5 November 1864 (pages 1 and 2 missing)
24 December 1864 (only pages 1, 3, and 4 appear in the film and other derivatives)
21 January 1865 (pages 1 and 2 missing)
28 January 1865 (pages 3 and 4 missing)
11 February 1865 (pages 1 and 2 missing)
17 June 1865 (pages 1 and 2 missing; should contain Ch. 17 of Curse of Caste)
16 September 1865 (pages 1 and 2 missing; should contain Ch. 30 of Curse of Caste)
13 January 1866 (pages 1 and 2 missing)
14 April 1866 (pages 1 and 2 missing; no images in online version at all)
11 August 1866 (pages 1 and 2 missing)
6 October 1866 (pages 1 and 2 missing)
2 March 1867 (pages 1 and 2 missing)
13 April 1867 (pages 1 and 2 missing)
11 May 1867 (pages 1 and 2 missing; no images in online version at all)
18 April 1868 (pages 1 and 2 missing; no images in online version at all)
1 August 1868 (pages 1 and 2 missing; no images in online version at all)
28 November 1868 (pages 1 and 2 missing; no images in online version at all)
Let’s do some quick math. The 35 issues that are true partials equate to 70 pages of the Recorder that are missing. Add that to the 13 fully missing issues (52 more pages), and we have 122 pages of the Recorder that scholars simply haven’t seen.
And remember: these figures cover only the Recorder from the moments when Elisha Weaver jump-started the paper in 1861 to the end of 1868.
(Consider, for a moment, the fact that we only have the issues that we have because of the powerful foresight on Jabez Pitt Campbell’s part and the care of Mother Bethel in holding the Bishop’s copies long after his death. What amazing effort, what love!)
I’m not simply making an argument for folks to go to the actual paper and to value the actual paper—or to read through full issues rather than using “full text” searching.
(I would, though, make both of those arguments, especially given the simple fact that “full text” rarely exists and when it does, is often marred by transcription errors.)
I’m recognizing that we simply don’t have lots and lots of pages of a key early Black periodical.
While this recognition certainly isn’t new to hardcore students of African American print, I submit that literary historians—even those African Americanists who have long dealt with a fragmentary record—simply haven’t come up with adequate theory or practice for dealing with these kinds of absences and these kinds of efforts. We haven’t even compiled the kinds of lists above for many periodicals.
Our talk about absences will have to go well beyond close reading—well beyond, say, figuring out how to talk about how to read a serialized novel without all of the chapters present (a tough enough task).
For now, some brief thoughts.
We desperately need, in addition to full and accurate bibliographic and catalog records of Black periodicals, real and in-depth scholarly consideration of circulation, distribution, library acquisition practices, and collection development and weeding practices tied to African American print in diverse libraries and other settings. We need to much more fully and richly support projects that help catalog and make available material at places like HBC’s and Black churches, and we need to think about ways of not blocking what we’ve found behind paywalls. (If you’re interested in these questions, check out my essay “Accessing Early Black Print” and the broader forum it is a part of on “Where are the Women in Black Print Culture Studies?” in the current issue of Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers.)
Another problem? I’ve found no catalog record or bibliographic note that covers the ground described above. That means if you go to any number of sources—some of the lists on Chronicling America and in WorldCat but also in key bibliographies of Black newspapers—the listings for the film and online versions of the Recorder often look as if there are for complete runs.
I don’t want to go all Nicholson Baker (see Double Fold)—though he’s has good stuff to say—but I wonder whether, in the flurry of microfilming, folks who had paper copies read these erroneous records, assumed that the paper copies they held had already been filmed, and disposed of issues that we may now never see. . . .
I have similar worries about the rush to uncritically praise digitization. (The recent forum on “Digital Approaches to Periodicals,” especially Benjamin Fagan’s “Chronicling White America” in the Spring 2016 American Periodicals does a nice job of beginning to address some of these—and other—key questions about digital periodical projects.)
Of course, this means that we need to continue to look for missing paper issues. Think of Noliwe Rooks’s work in preparation for her wonderful book Ladies’ Pages or, on a smaller scale, the recovery of a missing chapter of one of Frances Ellen Watkins Harper’s serialized novels, Sowing and Reaping. But also remember Ellen Gruber Garvey’s landmark work on scrapbooks, and think about ways to find pieces of those missing issues.
In short, we need to do the work of finding every last bit we can. But as we do this, we also need to talk much more actively about how to do our work communally and respectfully, with a much fuller sense of where we are and how we got here.
Press room of the Planet newspaper, Richmond, Virginia, c.1899. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <https://www.loc.gov/item/90706966/>.
I wanted to return to the BPU Blog to share some of the intriguing questions that have come out in the initial response to Black Print Unbound—especially those that make us think about the work we need to do and how we might do that work.
Both this entry and the next will focus on what may initially seem mundane questions—but are, nonetheless, massively important and provocative: how we might “count” and conceive of what we have left of the Recorder of the 1860s.
Folks have, for example, occasionally asked me why Black Print Unbound and much of my other works cite the Recorder and other Black newspapers by date in text rather, say, with full notes emphasizing volume/issue numbers or whole numbers.
My quick answer generally centers on my desire to make it easier for readers to find the issues I’m talking about, as most presentations--from microfilm that runs in chronological order to online resources organized around dates. I’m also deeply interested in thinking about the texts I study in time.
But I want to highlight two other reasons that have broader methodological import.
First, none of the major documentation styles effectively envisions scholarship that relies on a large number of citations from newspapers. As with the initial attempts to figure out how to cite online sources—something that hasn’t been fixed much—all of the major documentation formats, at best, require massive, cumbersome, and often repetitious listings. (Consider, just for a moment, how even the American system of dates used in Black Print Unbound—named month and numeric day followed by a comma before the numeric year—requires a flurry of commas and semi-colons that make any list of issues hard to read.)
As we’ve done in much literary criticism, we’ve built citation systems that privilege the bound book (something that carries only a year). Folks who work with census records, land records, and a range of other archival sources can testify similarly.
Second, editing and printing can be messy business, and there were moments when it seems the Recorder editor or staff—and/or the external contracted printers—had too much on their minds to carefully track volume numbers, issue numbers, and/or whole numbers. This means that there are sometimes errors in some or all of these numbers. While dating is occasionally imperfect—and while it can sometimes suggest an immediacy of the moment that wasn’t always present, given lag time in the editorial or printing work on the one side of an issue and delays in mailing and receiving issues on the other—issues dates are usually simply more accurate.
The sometime-inaccuracy in terms of the Recorder’s numbering becomes a crucial concern if, for example, we use issue numbering alone to think about which issues are missing. (My next entry will focus on questions surrounding missing and partial issues.) Thus, what follows is a year-by-year thick description of the paper’s numbering between 1861 and 1868—one drawing on and slightly expanding note 14 in chapter 2 of Black Print Unbound (pages 264-265).
One last thought before that description, though: as I talk about in Black Print Unbound and elsewhere, these questions also highlight flaws in most catalog and bibliographic records of the Recorder. Anecdotally, I can say that such flaws run throughout other treatments of Black periodicals—especially Black newspapers—of the nineteenth century. This, it seems to me, reminds us again of the simple facts that we still have much work to do at the most basic levels if we are to have a full sense of early Black print culture.
So here’s how to “count” the early Recorder:
Elisha Weaver opened 1861 with a “new series” and so dropped previous editor Jabez Pitt Campbell’s numbering and approach to labeling issues. Taking the (now-missing) 12 January 1861 issue as volume 1, number 1, the rest of the 1861 issues are numbered correctly, ending with 1.51.
The 4 January 1862 issue is correctly numbered 2.1 and whole number 52. Though some 1862 issues are extant in only partial form, all are accounted for in terms of numbering. The 27 December 1862 issue represents the first catchable error in numbering during Weaver’s tenure. While correctly marked 2.52, its whole number was mistakenly given as 104. (As the 13 December 1862 and 20 December 1862 issues are partials missing their first two pages, it is difficult to tell where this error began, though the 6 December 1862 issue’s whole number is correct.)
The 3 January 1863 issue is numbered 3.1 but, continuing the late-1862 error, has the incorrect whole number 105. The 10 January 1863 is numbered 3.2 and the corrected whole number 105 (thus sharing this whole number with the 3 January issue). Though there are June and July missing and partial issues, the 18 July 1863 is correctly numbered 3.29, whole number 132. The final issue of 1863 (26 December) is correctly numbered 3.52, whole number 155.
The first issue of 1864 (2 January) is numbered 4.1, whole number 156. The 9 April issue has an incorrect whole number—171, which should be 170—and this error persists in whole numbers for the rest of 1864. The final issue of 1864 (31 December) is numbered 4.52 (correct), whole number 209 (which should be 208).
The initial issue of 1865 (7 January) corrects the whole number error and is numbered 5.1, whole number 209 (thus sharing this whole number with the 31 December 1864 issue). The 18 February 1865 issue, which should have been whole number 215, is mislabeled 216, and this error persists for the rest of 1865. Of less import, the 18 March 1865 issue is erroneously marked 5.12; it was actually 5.11; the 1 April 1865 issue, which is marked 5.13, corrects this error by carrying the same number as the 25 March 1865 issue.
Except for the last issue of January 1866, that month’s issues continue the error in whole numbering from 1865. The 27 January 1866 issue’s whole number (264) corrects this error (and so shares the whole number with the 20 January 1866 issue). The final 1866 issue (29 December) is correctly numbered 6.52, whole number 312.
The first issue of 1867 (5 January) is correctly numbered 7.1, whole number 313, and the rest of this year’s numbering is correct. The last 1867 issue (28 December) was numbered 7.52, whole number 364.
The first issue of 1868 (4 January) was correctly numbered 8.1, whole number 365. No issues after 8 February 1868 (8.6, whole number 370) up to 28 March 1868 have been found, and the 4 April 1868 issue is available only in partial/damaged form. The 11 April 1868 issue is numbered 8.9, whole number 372; this confusing numbering (it should be either 8.8, 372 or 8.9, 373) suggests that only one or perhaps two issues were published during the gap.
Issues for 18 April, 25 April, and 2 May 1868 seem to have come out roughly on time, but the numbering of the 2 May 1868 issue (8.12, whole number 375, continuing the 11 April 1868 error in numbering) and of the 16 May 1868 issue (8.13, whole number 376)—as well as the lack of an extant issue between—suggest that no issue was published on 9 May 1868.
The 20 June 1868 issue—the first extant issue from new editor Benjamin Tucker Tanner—is listed only as whole number 377, though Tanner’s later continuance of the numbering above would also mean it was 8.14.
All of this strongly suggests that the paper did not appear at all on 23 May, 30 May, 6 June, or 13 June 1868. After Tanner took over, at least two more issues seem to have been missed before the final issue of the year (26 December), which is numbered 8.39, whole number 402 (continuing the 11 April 1868 error).
On a brief hiatus from blogging, as there's lots of teaching and writing going on.
But here's a new piece--part of a wonderful roundtable--on the recent recovery of Frances Ellen Watkins Harper's Forest Leaves and what it might mean for folks involved in African Americanist literary history and beyond: "Leaves, Trees, and Forests: Frances Ellen Watkins's Forest Leaves and Recovery."
You'll find it in the current issue of the wonderful online journal Common-place.
I’ve often argued that we need to check, recheck, and often revise the histories we’ve been told about African American folks--something I talked about in my blog post about Philadelphia’s historical marker for the AME Book Concern.
But one of my central scholarly concerns--so central that it shaped the title of my book Unexpected Places--is the need for all of us to think about African American presences throughout our history. This sense pushes me, when diving into current news, to ask about these kinds of traces and to think about the Black pasts not being discussed.
Accounts of the Flint water crisis, for example, made me ask what we’d need to understand not only the state’s massive environmental racism and the repeated failures to think through possibilities for urban renewal (especially in cities with significant Black populations) but also the roots of Black Flint.
Much popular media has, if commenting on such at all, traced Flint’s African American population to the massive migrations North in the early and mid-twentieth century--migrations that Isabel Wilkerson has rightly recognized as attempted escapes from racist structures and the pervasive culture of violence and oppression in the South.
But there were African Americans in Flint long before those crucial developments. Among them were folks who founded Quinn Chapel AME Church in the mid-1870s, a community critical in setting up the AMEC’s Michigan Conference in 1887 (an event presided over by AME lion Jabez Pitt Campbell). More on that early church community can be found at http://www.mycitymag.com/the-historical-quinn-chapel/, and, in beginning to learn more about them, I found the gem below in the Christian Recorder.
A combination of a biography and funeral sermon, the text appeared in the 7 April 1887 Recorder. It was submitted by the Reverend David A. Graham, who folks may know not only as a longtime AME minister but also as the father of Shirley (Graham) Du Bois.
Graham, who had been born in January 1861 in Princeton, Indiana, and had helped build and pay for a new parsonage while charged with Flint’s AME Church, spoke of Robert Burrell, whose life story has diverse powerful resonances. It is at once the story of the horrors of slavery and the difficulties faced by antebellum free African Americans. It reminds us of African Americans’ presences in the War of 1812 and in the “early West” of Indiana. It is the story of Black mobility in times when, as Graham reminds us (using a phrase many will know from Dred Scott on), African Americans “had no rights that the white man was bound to respect.” It is the story, too, of the impact of print on African Americans able to engage with it--as it not only embodies that impact in Graham’s act of remembering Burrell in print but also speaks to Burrell’s love of Pilgrim’s Progress.
And in the account of the elderly Burrell’s death--trapped in the second floor of a burning building, at which “the fire department hadn’t arrived”--it has eerie and all-too-expected echoes of the ways government has often failed and continues to fail folks in need, especially folks of color and folks with economic troubles. Even though the sermon ends with the to-be-expected nineteenth-century ministerial turn to celebrate heavenly entrance over earthly life, the circumstances of Burrell’s life, it seems to me, so heavily emphasize the “changing same” of surrounding Black folks’ experiences in these United States that they call us all to remember and to act today.
Here’s the piece, with some paragraphing added for readability and some brief cuts made due to space:
Funeral of Rev. Robert Burrell
By Rev. D. A. Graham
Sunday, March 20th, at 3 P.M. every available foot of the A.M.E. Church of Flint, Mich., was occupied and the doors and windows surrounded by a congregation consisting about equally of colored and white people of every station in life, assembled to pay the last respect to the charred remains of one of Flint's most worthy citizens. The pastor, Rev. D.A. Graham, chose for his texts, Jas. 2, 5, "Hath not God chosen the poor of this world, rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom?" and 2 Cor. 5, 2, "For in this we groan earnestly, desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven." The following is the sermon:
I will not on this occasion read you a biography and then preach a sermon, but the biography is the sermon. Rev. Robert Burrell was born in Jonesboro, Ky., about the beginning of the present century. He was with his master as body servant in the war of 1812. In the cruel bondage of the time he continued until he had married and began raising a family. The act which caused his freedom was the selling of his dear child by the master. The mother, with an agony that can only be approached by that of the mother who lays her first precious cherub in the cold, cheerless grave, went into the garden to pour out her soul to Him whose ear is always open to the cry of the oppressed. As she told Jesus all about it, the weight grew too heavy, the strain too great; the heart-strings broke and the blood-bought spirit was borne on the wings of angels beyond the reach of the master.
When Robert Burrell, then strong in manhood, realized the situation and contemplated the awful probabilities of human slavery, he formed the resolution that he and his remaining three children should be free or die in the effort to be. Being rich in faith and strong in body, he set his face toward the North star, and after many dangers and privations he reached Wayne county, Ind., where, among the Quakers, (the only religious sect of that day which recognized the golden rule as a Christian precept), he was comparatively safe for many years.
It was during these years that he did much of his most lasting work. Though not a member of the conference, he was associated with Bishop Paul Quinn in holding meetings in eastern Indiana and western Ohio. To appreciate the work done here, you must remember that those were the days when the "black man had no rights that the white man was bound to respect." The meetings were usually held in the groves, God's first temples, and, as a rule, were disturbed greatly, if not entirely broken up by white roughs. Though mobbed and persecuted in all manner of ways, Brother Burrell preached the unsearchable riches of Christ with God-given power, and eternity alone will reveal the full result. One thing I know, that at least ten men who came up in that section in that time are now members of the Indiana and Michigan Conferences, and it is very doubtful whether this is half the number which might be named. Some of these men may never have known Father Burrell and yet may be, spiritually, his grandchildren. . . . But his usefulness in this section was brought to a close in 1851, when Indiana called upon every colored person on her soil to produce proof of his freedom. Though Brother Burrell had accumulated some means, he was compelled to leave all for safety and he removed to Cincinnati. . . .
Again was he compelled to flee, this time to Canada. He settled in Amherstburgh, Ont., where he remained till 1879 when he came to this city. For several years past he has suffered from disease and the infirmities of old age until he was unable to care for himself. In this condition only two of his seven children have remembered the first commandment with promise--Mrs. Maggie Birch and Mrs. Susan McCleary. The latter, a young widow, has kept house for her father and has worked hard, day and night, to give him comfort in his declining years. Her devotion stands out in striking contrast to the faithlessness of older brothers. For months Father Burrell has been confined to his house, but when I first called on him, as well as on all subsequent visits, I found him patient in tribulation, rejoicing in hope, shining with glory, trusting in God. . . . His voice was weak, but it was heard in heaven; his sight was dim, but "he could read his title clear to mansions in the skies."
I was impressed with the fact, in spite of surrounding evidences of poverty, that I was in the presence of a child of God, a brother to the prince of glory. . . .
Yes, he was always in smiles and seemed to be happy in Jesus. "Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom?" He was a great lover of Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress and I never had a conversation with him in which he did not mention some character in that wonderful book. Every one mentioned in that work was to him a living character and the example of each life was the same as if he had been personally acquainted with all the incidents thereof. On my last visit he dwelt long on Christian's passage through the river. As the good father told of the angel band meeting him on the other shore, he seemed to follow the happy company through the pearly gate and to almost peep in and see the golden streets, and to hear the heavenly voices singing, "Come in, come in." I shall never forget the rapture which shone through the dim windows of the soul, while he contemplated that grand reception and anticipated the same. . . .
After prayer he asked me if I thought it wrong for him to want to go home to rest. I told him I thought not, for Paul said, "In this we groan earnestly, desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven." The following Thursday evening about 11 o'clock, the building--in the second story of which was their home--was found to be on fire. Soon the only avenue of escape was shut off, but the faithful daughter at the peril of her own life succeeded in getting him to the front window, but alas! There was no ladder and no men present to assist.
The fire department had not arrived. The floor beneath them was already burning. Flames and smoke came rolling in the back door. Friends shouted "jump," and the daughter, at the last moment, leaped to the pavement below. Although her ankle was severely sprained, she made wild endeavors to get back to the rescue of her father, but was restrained by those who saw that it was impossible, and the aged sire was left to his fate. But there amidst that stifling smoke and lurid flames, where men did not dare venture, a shining company of the heavenly host, fresh from the King of Glory, hovered round and waited till the last fetter was burned away. Then with songs of triumph they carried that child of the King to Abraham's bosom. . . .
The nineteenth-century iterations of the Christian Recorder participated in many of the Christmas traditions and trends common in the white and Black press in the US and Britain during the period. Santa Claus makes appearances in issues of the early 1860s, functioning alongside distinctly Victorian discussions of celebrations and decorations and, of course, commentaries on the Gospels and faith functioning within the paper’s Black Protestant evangelical framework.
Two genres are especially common: Christmas poems--especially religious poetry--and Christmas stories--often short fiction, but also some short non-fiction, all often designed specifically for family and youth reading. But, working in dialogue with the paper’s own tradition of using space in one of its final numbers each year to reflect on what needed to happen during the coming year, there are also what we might call “Christmas manifestos”--reflective pieces on politics, faith, and other broad questions that often function as calls-to-action.
I’m thinking of one of those today: a piece that ran in the 12 January 1867 Recorder under the head “Christmas Pastime” and the sub-head “Carpenter’s Address to the African Race.” Signed “Henry Doyle Carpenter,” it carries the dateline “Trenton, N. J., Dec. 25th, 1866,” and it appeared on the paper’s front page:
For the Christian Recorder.
OR CARPENTER’S ADDRESS TO THE AFRICAN RACE.
It is a melancholy fact that we are standing in a country that refuses to give us our rights as citizens. I, your obedient soldier, have contemplated on writing something in our behalf.
Shall we who have fought and bled to save this once distracted country, be told we have no right to become citizens of the United States of America? We who have borne our trials and tribulations without a murmur! Before this cruel war broke out, we went through much more suffering, than any people living.
The spirit of the age impels an onward step. The people every where in the Old and New World, roused from the lethargy of ages, are demanding an extension of rights. The reconstruction of this Union is a broader, deeper work, than the restoration of the Rebel States. It is the lifting up of the entire nation into the practical realization of our republican idea. Let the lovers of liberty and freedom from every quarter stand up for their rights, and add their voice and their influence on the side of Justice and a light to the world. Massachusetts has nobly taken the lead in sending two black men to the Legislative halls. Let us hope that this State will take the lead in elevating the colored man, and restoring to us our rights as citizens, for we have gained it, and it has been promised to us. Should we not get our rights, this country will be in more tears than she was when they called on the colored volunteers.
So it behooves every colored man to try and do something for his race, and endeavor to encourage every colored person who attempts to defend the African race.
Since peace has been restored, our President and the Copperheads have done all they can to keep us from our rights. The door has been opened, and we are bound to slip in. So fear not[,] bold Africans, they can do us nothing. We must and shall have our rights. All we call for is, valiant-hearted men that are not afraid to die. Nor will let their colors fly. We helped to save this Union in the darkest hour of her distress, when the Rebels were about to invade this distracted country. Why then should we not be recognized as citizens? The white soldiers say they suffered a great deal for our liberty; that is all very good; but did we not suffer over a hundred years under the lash and whip, and gross insults of the white man North and South? And now all that we ask, is to be submitted to the restriction that other citizens are, and no other. This is what we demand as a right, not as a gift.
We shall anxiously look to see whether it will be the President or Congress who will take special care and pains to give the black man the rights so unjustly withheld from him.
We took a part in crushing this wicked rebellion, and shall we not now take a part as far as right is concerned?
All we have to do, is to stand firm as we did when we faced the Rebel hordes. It is the duty of every African to stand up and vindicate his cause in this great struggle for honor, fame, and right, which unquestionably belongs to us.
HENRY DOYLE CARPENTER,
1st Sergt. Co. F, 43d U.S.C.T.
Trenton, N.J., Dec. 25th, 1866 .
Some Recorder readers might have remembered Carpenter’s name, though they might have been confused by two significant missteps in the Recorder’s version of his signature. The “D” in “Doyle” should actually have been an “H,” for “Hoyle,” and the paper switched the writer’s middle name and surname.
Henry Carpenter Hoyle, who was indeed in Company F of the 43rd Regiment of the USCT, had written a “Letter from the Front” datelined 18 February 1865, “camp near Richmond, Va.,” that was published in the 18 March 1865 Recorder. More recently, it has been reproduced in a number of sources, including Edwin Redkey’s landmark Grand Army of Black Men. That letter had followed “A Voice from the Front” in the 18 February 1865 Recorder, as well as what seems to have been his earliest contribution, “A Soldier’s Letter,” which appeared in the 28 January 1865 Recorder. While the first letter carried the name “Henry C. Hoyle,” both of the two latter letters listed him as “Henry Carpenter Hoyle.”
“Henry Hoyle” is also the name Hoyle used when he joined the army on 29 March 1864 in Philadelphia (credited to the 24th Ward). His enlistment papers, which he signed with a fairly steady hand, describe him as a “waiter” who was 31 years old, Philadelphia-born, 5 feet and 5 1/4 inches in height, of “dark” complexion, with “black” eyes and “black” hair. He signed up for a term of three years.
Hoyle has proven tough to trace. He wrote another letter from Trenton that appeared in the same 12 January 1867 issue (on page two) where he worried that New Jersey African Americans would never be enfranchised and would never have full citizenship--though he urged “let us press onward, do or die.” Though this letter is simply signed “Henry Carpenter,” it carries the identical rank and unit information.
Bits of additional information on the 43rd appear at the NPS site and on this resource list. Chaplain Jeremiah Marion Mickley’s regimental history, focused heavily on the 43rd’s white officers, can be found in the Internet Archive here.
While Hoyle is mentioned in some of these sources, information on his life outside of the military seems sparse. I have not yet found a pension record, and he seems absent from census records and city directories. Three letters from a Black soldier in Company H of the 10th Calvary that appeared in the Recorder in late 1867 and early 1868 with datelines in Kansas are intriguingly signed “Henry Carpenter,” but I haven’t yet made a definitive connection. This Henry Carpenter is listed among the “Buffalo Soldiers” returns for 1867 and 1868 at Fort Leavenworth and Fort Riley—bouncing back and forth, as Hoyle did, between ranks (Private, Corporal, Sergeant).
Hoyle’s listing of his rank and unit in his Christmas letter more than a year after being mustered out--at Brownsville, Texas, on 20 October 1865, and discharged in Philly a month later--offers a reminder of exactly what his letter addresses and, indeed, it proved key to gathering the slim information above. It seems to me that simply listing himself in this way was part of “this great struggle for honor, fame, and right.”
And it remains a powerful rhetorical device. Certainly his invocation of facing “the Rebel hordes” and working for justice rings all too true today, amid the continued need to say that “Black Lives Matter” in a nation that has failed to make such language a given.
But what still strikes me most is the way Hoyle reminds the readers of his Christmas letter that such justice should be demanded “as a right, not as a gift.” Yes.
I'm a student of early Black print culture. Building from my new book Black Print Unbound (Oxford 2015), I'll use this space to talk about C19 African Americans and print.