Documenting the American South Logo
Loading
Collections >> Titles by Henry Bibb >> Letters written by Henry Bibb, 1850-1851

Henry Bibb to the Executive Committee of the American Missionary Association
14 December 1850
14 April 1851

FROM C. Peter Ripley et al., eds., The Black Abolitionist Papers, vol. 2, Canada, 1830-1865 (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1986), 113-8. Reproduced by permission of the publisher.

NOTE: The Black Abolitionist Papers faithfully transcribed these letters from original manuscripts. Spelling and grammatical errors as well as strike-throughs have been maintained.


The survival and success of the black refugees who fled to Canada West in the wake of the Fugitive Slave Law often depended upon the resourcefulness of black leaders. Henry Bibb, a former slave and prominent black abolitionist, was a persistent and energetic leader of the movement to assist Canadian fugitives. He published the Voice of the Fugitive, helped organize fugitive-slave settlements, and coordinated relief efforts in the Windsor area. During the difficult winter months of late 1850 and early 1851, he contacted the Executive Committee of the American Missionary Association with word of those activities. The AMA—an antislavery organization dedicated to Christianizing and educating nonwhites in the United States and abroad—seemed a natural ally. Bibb reported on conditions among the refugees, discussed efforts on their behalf, hinted at future plans, and requested AMA advice on several matters, all in the hope that the AMA would provide much-needed assistance. The AMA responded by endorsing the Refugee Home Society and increasing the number of missionaries it supported in the Windsor area. AM [American Missionary (New York, N. Y.)], June 1851; Murray, "Canada and Anglo-American Anti-Slavery Movement," 436.

Sandwich, [Canada West]
Dec[ember] 14th, 185[0]

To the American Missionary Association (1)
Messrs. L. Tappan &c.
Gentlemen

After a long silance to you on my part, respecting the Bible for the slave (2), I would now respectfully call your attention to it, in relation to the refugees from southern slavery who are so rapidly settling in Canada. This class of persons are almost entirly destitue of th[is m]ost important all books. I think if your society would forwared a lot of Bibles and Testimants to this place, they would be very acceptable&x2014;and would be profitablly distributed among the fugitives. My wife has just commenced teaching a school in Sandwich, for them—she has quite a large school, but has not a suppy of school books for the children.

I have not corasponded with lately with you concerning the Bible cause, not having any thing of importance to report.

Since & for a long time befor the passage of the fugitive slave law(3) my time & energies were taken up in doing what I could through this state in exposing it. Soon after the law was passed fugitives were fleing to Canadan in such vast nombers that I was induced by the friends of humanity to come here & commence an organ through which their wants & conditions might be made known to our friends in the States, & which should be devoted to the elevation of the condition of our people genrally. I here inclose the prospectus, (4) & I hope that you will inform me what you think of it (the object).

I have had the pleasure of forming an acquaintance with Br. Hogkiss Hotchkiss, your Agent or Missionary. (5) Judgeing from what I have seen of Him I think he is well quallified for the station in which you have placed him.

Sevral persons have been to this section of Canada just befor the close of navigation with boxes of things for the suffering fugitives & so far as clotheing is concerned I think those who are now here will be able to stand the winter. However others are still coming every week more or less, but the most they nede is shelter & something to eat. For the last 6 or 8 weeks our house has been filled with strangers almost every day & night but we have never turned one from our door without food or lodging if they could put up with such a as we had. Ever true to the cause of suffering humanity,

H. Bibb

American Missionary Association Archives, Amistad Research Center, New Orleans, Louisiana. Published by permission.

Sandwich, C[anada] W[est]
April 14th, 185[1]

To the Ex Com of the American Missionary As (6)

Your communication of March 20,th was thankfully received. I showed it to Br. Hotchkiss, who was much pleased with the idea of making a united applycation to the American Bible Society (7) for a donation of Bibles for the fugitives in Canada. I have been waiting for him to write until I think it is not best to wait longer. I therefor write myself. Enclosed you will find my applycation to them for Bibles, which you will please present. If they request should be granted—let the Bibles be forwared to Detroit Mich. to my care. If they refuse you will of course forwared forwared me their answer.

There is another subject to which I would respectfully call your attention and solicit your advice thereon. It is with regard to procuring land for the fugitives in Canada as a perminant means of self support and of Educating their children &c. My views are briefly setforth in an article which I here enclose. (8) Without confering with Br. Harned (9) on the subject I have taken the liberty of anouncing that He would receive contributions for that object. Such an enterprise commenced I think here just at this time would be one of the greatest temeral blessings that could be confered on this people. It would save many form being lofers and idellers—it would make the way possible for all to get homes by their own industey and to follow agracultural pursuits if they wish to do so—it would furnish the means for Educating hundreds who would perhaps otherwise grow up in ignorance, and last but not least it would put a check the American Coloncieation Society or scheme. (10) And I have faith to belive that if your society would only take hold of the work, it could be easely accompished. Shall I not hear from you soon on the subject? Let it be born in mind that this is the most southern part of Canada; the most conveninant crossing place for the fugitives and that the land is now very cheap but cannot be so long. Yours for God & humanity,

H. Bibb

The original letter is available at: the American Missionary Association Archives, Amistad Research Center, New Orleans, Louisiana. Published by permission.


Scholarly and bibliographic notes from The Black Abolitionist Papers.

[Some bibliographic citations reference the microform edition of the The Black Abolitionist Papers which was published by Microfilming Corporation of America. Square brackets contain the reel number, a colon, and then the frame number, of the microfilm edition where there citation can be found: [reel #: frame #]

1. The American Missionary Association was founded at Albany, New York, in 1846. The society's affairs were initially directed by treasurer Lewis Tappan and secretaries Simeon S. Jocelyn and George Whipple. Whipple also edited the American Missionary, an AMA organ, until the Civil War. AMA membership was open to all nonslaveholding Christians. The association promoted mission work and Christian education among nonwhite peoples in the Americas and abroad. By 1855, it had missions in Egypt, Siam, Haiti, Jamaica, and West Africa, in addition to the more than one hundred "home" missions in North America. After the Civil War, the AMA became the largest supporter of freedmen's education in the South, founding and funding over five hundred black schools and colleges. Today blacks remain the AMA's primary focus. Clifton H. Johnson, "The American Missionary Association: A Study in Christian Abolitionism, 1846-61" (Ph.D. diss., University of North Carolina, 1958); Joe M. Richardson, Christian Reconstruction: The American Missionary Association and Southern Blacks, 1861-1890 (Athens, Ga., 1986); W. Augustus Low and Virgil A. Clift, eds., Encyclopedia of Black America (New York, N.Y., 1981), 101-2.

2. Bibb believed that the Bible was a potent antislavery document that would hasten the demise of slavery if read by slaves. In February 1849, he joined the American Missionary Association campaign to distribute bibles to slaves, and throughout the spring of 1850, he conducted fund-raising lectures in the Northeast. Despite Garrisonian opposition, Bibb had supported earlier, unsuccessful efforts to convince the American Bible Society to assume that task. Bibb believed that the bible campaign opened the antislavery debate to people that otherwise would oppose or ignore "naked" abolitionism. E [Emancipator, (Boston, New York)], 2 June 1847, 17 May 1849 [5: 0434, 1091]; Lib [Liberator (Boston)], 25 June 1847 [5:0437]; Henry Bibb to Executive Committee of the American Missionary Association, 14 February 1849, Henry Bibb to Lewis Tappan, 16 March 1849, H[enry] Bibb to L[ewis] Tappan and W[illia]m Harned, 6 May 1850, AMA-ARC [5:0972, 1007, 6:0502]; John R. McKivigan, "Abolitionism and the American Churches, 1830-1865: A Study of Attitudes and Tactics" (Ph.D. diss., Ohio State University, 1977), 292-96.

3. The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 was one of the five congressional enactments passed in September and collectively designated as the Compromise of 1850. The law was meant to address slave-owner dissatisfaction with the federal procedures for returning fugitive slaves; it created the position of United States commissioner, a federal hearing officer loosely affiliated with northern state courts, who had final authority over extradition proceedings. The law also ordered state and federal authorities to cooperate in capturing fugitives, and it imposed a $1,000 fine or six-month jail sentence on anyone that aided a runaway. Most important, the law made the slave certification hearing an administrative, and not a judicial, procedure. Blacks could not testify on their own behalves and had no right to counsel or to a habeas corpus hearing; free blacks regarded the law as a severe threat to their freedom. Abolitionists used the law to rouse northern antislavery sentiment and to reinvigorate fugitive slave rescue committees. Ultimately the law and the confrontations it precipitated moved the North and South closer to war. Stanley W. Campbell, The Slave Catchers: Enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law, 1850- 1860 (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1968), 15-25.

4. Bibb refers to the prospectus of the Voice of the Fugitive, which appears as Document 14 in this volume.

5. David Hotchkiss, a Wesleyan Methodist minister from Pennsylvania, did missionary work among the Choctaws and French along the frontier from 1835 to 1839. In 1850 the American Missionary Association appointed him to replace Isaac Rice at the Amherstburg, Canada West, mission. While there, Hotchkiss helped found the Refugee Home Society, briefly served as the society's corresponding secretary, and acted as subscription agent for the Voice of the Fugitive. He left the Amherstburg mission in 1853 but returned in 1855 to establish a mission on RHS property at Puce River, where his condescending treatment of blacks and his close ties to the RHS provoked opposition from some black settlers. Arsonists destroyed two buildings at his mission in 1857; the following year, he moved to Rochester, Canada West. After the Canada mission closed in 1862, Hotchkiss settled in Michigan. Johnson, "American Missionary Association," 329-52; AM [American Missionary, (New York)], December 1850, January 1860; Fred Landon, "Work of the American Missionary Association Among the Negro Refugees in Canada West, 1848-64," OHSPR [Ontario Historical Society Papers and Records] 21:198-205 (1924); SLO [St. Louis Observer], 7 September 1835; VF [Voice of the Fugitive, (Sandwich, Ontario, Canada; Windsor, Ontario, Canada)], 1 January 1851; Murray, "Canada and Anglo-American Anti-Slavery Movement," 456-57.

6. In April 1851, the Executive Committee of the American Missionary Association consisted of Arthur Tappan, Simeon S. Jocelyn, Charles B. Ray, William Harned, Anthony Lane, Thomas Ritter, Samuel E. Cornish, William E. Whiting, J. W. C. Pennington, J. 0. Bennett, Josiah Brewer, and M. S. Scudder. AM [American Missionary, (New York)], November 1850.

7. The American Bible Society was founded in 1816 by representatives of New York, Philadelphia, and Boston associations that had originated the free distribution of bibles early in the century. Wealthy New Yorkers concerned with the moral reform of American urban society led this effort to distribute the Bible to the lower classes and newly arrived immigrants. The ABS printed and distributed over six million bibles by 1840. Now an international organization, the ABS distributes more than 200 million bibles annually. Paul Boyer, Urban Masses and Moral Order in America, 1820-1920 (Cambridge, Mass., 1978), 23-24, 35, 80, 83, 308; The Directory of Religious Organizations in the United States, 2d ed. (Falls Church, Va., 1982), 16.

8. Bibb evidently refers to an editorial entitled "What do the fugitives in Canada stand mostly in need of," which appeared in the 26 March 1851 issue of the Voice of the Fugitive. It outlined a land-purchase plan advocated by a black convention held at Sandwich, Canada West, during November 1850. The editorial announced the creation of a stock fund to finance the purchase of twenty thousand acres of Canadian government land for subdivision into small farms and resale to fugitives from American slavery. One-third of all monies paid by fugitives would then be appropriated for the education of their children. Subscribers to this effort were asked to forward their names to William Harned at the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society office in New York City or to Bibb. VF [Voice of the Fugitive, (Sandwich, Ontario, Canada; Windsor, Ontario, Canada)], 26 March 1851.

9. William Harried (?-1854) spent his early life in Philadelphia, where his Quaker predilections led him to active involvement in antislavery, pacifist, and temperance circles by the mid-1830s. In 1836 he joined in a call to organize Pennsylvania's immediatist abolitionists and then served on the executive committee of the resulting Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society's Eastern District. Convinced of the efficacy of political antislavery, Harned actively supported the Liberty party during the early 1840s. By mid-decade he had moved to New York City to become office agent of the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society. After 1848 he worked closely with the local black community as corresponding secretary and treasurer of the New York State Vigilance Committee and local subscription agent for Frederick Douglass's North Star. During his decade in New York, he abandoned his Quaker roots and became a Congregationalist. Harned was assistant treasurer of the American Missionary Association during the early 1850s. AM [American Missionary, (New York)], October 1854; NECAUL [National Enquirer and Constitutional Advocate of Universal Liberty, (Philadelphia)], 29 October 1836, 14 January, 11, 18 February, 29 April 1837, 22 February, 1 March 1838, 30 May 1839; PF [Pennsylvania Freeman, (Philadelphia)], 14 June 1838, 18 January 1844; Lima, 20 April 1838, 24 April 1846, 29 June 1849, 15 February 1850; E [Emancipator, (Boston; New York)], 4 January, 20 May, 29 July 1841; Lewis Tappan to J[oshua] P. Blanchard, 15 May 1848, "Circular of the New York State Vigilance Committee," [August 1848], W[illiam] Harned to J[oshua] P. Blanchard, 11 April 1849, Drayton, Sayres, and English Papers, DLC; NSt [North Star, (Rochester, N.Y.)], 18 May 1849, 27 June 1850, 10 April 1851, 18 March 1852; FDP [Frederick Douglass' Paper, (Rochester, N.Y.)], 11 March 1853.

10. The American Colonization Society was founded in 1817 with a primary goal of removing free blacks from the United States, particularly to its colony in Liberia; secondarily, the ACS sought to aid the manumission of slaves and to suppress the slave trade. The society lobbied without success for congressional endorsement of African colonization as national policy. Ralph R. Gurley, longtime ACS secretary and editor of the society's organ, the African Repository, forged the ACS into a prominent national association with hundreds of state and local auxiliaries. But during the 1830s and 1840s, the society was weakened by strong opposition from northern free blacks and the growing abolitionist movement, by the conversion of some leading members to abolitionism, by competition from independent and local societies, and by internal division. When Liberians won their independence in 1847, the ACS became merely an advocate of black emigration. Although it was inactive after the Civil War, a skeletal organization remained into the 1960s. During its initial fifty years, the ACS claimed to have collected $2,500,000 for Liberian colonization and transported twelve thousand blacks to Africa. P. J. Staudenraus, The African Colonization Movement, 1816-1865 (New York, N.Y., 1961).

Titles by Henry Bibb