Reaction: Page 2

The problem, as slavery scholar David Brion Davis has argued, was not seen as slavery but as the Blacks themselves. The problem of integrating them, the victims, into a society that had risen on the strength of their stolen labor and abrogated their human rights was not considered the problem. They were considered the problem.

It is no surprise that during these decades the Colonization movement–preached ardently from Connecticut pulpits–seized the national stage. Formulated by a group of slaveholders in the South, the movement advocated sending free blacks back to Africa, where they would receive land and a stipend to set up a homestead, and help Christianize Africa. Never mind that these American-born black people had no desire to return to a continent with which they had no connection, and no desire to make farms in Liberia.

But even Connecticut’s Lyman Beecher, one of the great preachers of his day and father of Harriet Beecher Stowe, spoke in favor of colonization because, although deeply opposed to slavery, he saw the race hatred against even free black people as unconquerable. He thought America offered them no chance to rise.

Yet the numbers of free black people in Connecticut began to grow, and by 1830, the federal census shows there were about 8,000, many of them living in cities, including New Haven, Hartford, Middletown and New London. They were tradesmen, domestic workers, mariners, tailors and dyers of cloth. Some owned land and businesses. Black women worked as seamstresses, cooks, servants and in other domestic occupations.

Some of these new arrivals, through hard work and ingenuity, gained financial independence and the respect of their communities. In 1811, the Reverend Timothy Dwight, President of Yale College, singled out the black entrepreneur William Lanson and his brothers as “honourable proof of the character which they sustain, both for capacity, and integrity, in the view of respectable men.” But in a few short years such praise had all but vanished, and Lanson would find himself beset financially and attacked and ridiculed in the local press. Despite some advances, the bitter antagonism toward them as they tried to take their place in a free society did not abate…

Additional Resources:

Read the Constitution of the Hartford Auxiliary Colonization Society, 1819