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.