Documenting the American South Logo

Ante-Bellum North Carolina: A Social History: Electronic Edition.

Johnson, Guion Griffis, 1900- 1989


Table of Contents



Page 560


           THE "poor Negro," from his first enslavement, had probably aroused the sympathy of a few free-thinkers in North Carolina. Certainly as early as 1715 slaves were being liberated in the Province. The philosophy of the American Revolution, holding that all men have certain natural and inalienable rights, that all men are "born free and equal," undoubtedly increased the numbers of those having conscientious scruples against slavery.

           When, for example, Nathaniel Jones of Wake County made his will near the opening of the nineteenth century, he ordered that all his slaves more than twenty-four years old be liberated and that the remaining slaves be set free as they reached that age. The reasons he gave for being led to such a course show the combined influences of religion and the political philosophy of the natural rights of man: first, "agreeably to the rights of man, every human being, be his or her colour what it may be is entitled freedom" on reaching maturity; second, "my conscience, the great criterion, condemns me for keeping them in slavery"; third, "the golden rule directs me to do unto every human creature as we would wish to be done unto; and sure I am, that there is not one of us would agree to be kept in slavery during a long life"; fourth, "I wish to die with a clear conscience, that I may not be ashamed to appear before my master in a future world." 1

Impelled like Nathaniel Jones, a great many in North Carolina even to 1860 attempted to liberate their slaves although the policy of the State was consistently opposed to emancipation.

           It has already been pointed out that Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists, especially in the early ante-bellum period, frowned upon slaveholding. The Great Revival at the close of the eighteenth century and the opening of the nineteenth largely increased the membership of these denominations and brought greater numbers, fully three-fourths of the church membership of the State, under a mild anti-slavery influence. The active work

Page 561

of the Quakers of North Carolina in behalf of emancipation and colonization has already been mentioned.

           In addition to this religious and philosophical opposition to slavery, there were also economic factors which led the yeomanry, especially, to regard the slave system with disfavor. In Piedmont and Western North Carolina, the home of the small farmer, there were many who came into economic competition with the slave and decided that the slave was robbing the freeman of his wages. They were opposed to slavery not because of their sympathy for the slave but because of what the system did to the nonslaveholder.


           Besides religious leaders and nonslaveholders, even newspaper editors, professional men, and political leaders occasionally went on record as opposing slavery in the years before 1830. The distinguished James Iredell lamented the existence of slavery and in the convention assembled to consider the adoption of the Constitution of the United States expressed the hope that the problem might eventually be solved. In 1797 Charles Pettigrew, Episcopal minister, shrewd business man, and planter, warned his two sons in his last advice to them to "endeavour to treat your negroes well, and to get your plantations in the best order possible, as a change may take place sooner than is generally expected in respect to slavery." 2

In 1821 Dennis Heartt, a native of New England and editor of the Hillsborough Recorder, called attention to an article published in the Richmond Enquirer on "the deteriorating effects of slavery" and in an editorial of October 3 himself took the position that "the existence of this class of people among us is a misfortune of great magnitude." He thought that rapid emancipation "would but increase the evil" by throwing upon the public "a mass of improvident and helpless individuals, unfitted by their habits and their want of education, to provide for themselves." He recommended that slaves gradually be transported at public expense and called upon the Legislature to begin the policy at once. "As conservators of the public weal they should not neglect to provide a remedy in a case so intimately connected with the prosperity and happiness of the state."

           In 1823 Dr. R. H. Helme of Johnston County, delivering in Raleigh the annual address before the North Carolina Agricultural

Page 562

Society, pointed to slavery as "the dark spot" in the South "which will for a long time keep us behind our brethren of the north in agricultural improvement. . . . Agriculture will always flourish most successfully, and improvements will go on more rapidly in a country where the manual labour is the work of freemen." But he had no solution for the problem, for he concluded, as did many others in the South, that slavery is "an evil we all regret, but cannot remedy." 3

           When the question of the Missouri Compromise arose, the Raleigh Minerva thought that "true policy" forbade "the extension of slavery" and the editor warmly advocated gradual emancipation. 4

The Raleigh Register, on the other hand, opposed any restriction upon the admission of Missouri, but the editor, Joseph Gales, was himself deeply in favor of emancipation and colonization. There was no great controversy in North Carolina over the Compromise, and in 1825 when the Georgia Legislature threatened a southern confederacy, the Fayetteville Observer of June 23 remarked calmly: "Whatever the people of Georgia may think and do on the subject, we apprehend that the people of North Carolina, until some justificatory cause appear, will be excused from membership in the proposed confederacy."

           About this time Stephen Grellet, a refugee of the French Revolution, born a Roman Catholic but later converted to Quakerism, made a tour of the South preaching the sin of slavery. Governor Gabriel Holmes received him kindly. "The sheriff and some other principal officers of the Government were present," wrote Grellet. On the broad subject of slavery Governor Holmes said that "it would be a great relief to him, and many others, if they could be delivered from such a burden, under which the masters as well as the slaves are much to be felt for, and it was his opinion that measures throughout all the slave states, should be taken to promote their liberation, similar to those that had been taken by the state of New York." 5

           Leaving Raleigh, Grellet went to New Bern where he had previously lectured twenty-five years before. "There is certainly a great alteration for good. . . . Slaveholders can bear to be reasoned with on the great evils of slavery; and they also hear, without

Page 563

marks of displeasure, the testimony of Truths proclaimed against it, in meetings for worship; as I have done in this place before a large assembly." A day's journey from Core Sound on the road to New Bern, Grellet spent the night with a certain Colonel Ward who "stood high in the world." "He is one of those prepared to use all the influence he has, to promote the passing of laws for the abolition of slavery in this State. Others, with himself, are fully convinced that it is a system totally contrary to what the precepts of the Gospel of Christ inculcate, and that wherever the love of the Saviour prevails, slavery must cease." 6

           In 1828, with the slavery question still in the air and nullification impending, John H. Bryan, representative in Congress from North Carolina, wrote from Washington to his wife that he was fearful of the evil influence of slavery: "I cherish the hope that we may yet be settled in some more healthful clime & out of the reach of the moral contagion & danger of slavery--where our children can be established in a region of natural and moral salubrity." 7

           In the winter of 1830-1831 when the General Assembly passed its repressive measures against slaves and free Negroes, at least two newspapers in the State, the Wilmington Recorder and the Raleigh Register, lifted their voices in behalf of the oppressed race. The Recorder remarked ominously that "a string may be stretched till it breaks!" And the Register of April 28, 1831, observed: "It is admitted, that slavery is a curse to the Southern States. Would it not be better to think of some means of getting rid of it, rather than thus fly in the face of humanity and the constitution?"

           In 1832 Judge William Gaston, addressing the graduating class of the University said: "On you too, will devolve the duty which has been too long neglected, yet which cannot with impunity be neglected much longer, of providing for the mitigation, and (is it too much to hope for in North Carolina?) for the ultimate extirpation of the worst evil that affects the southern part of our Confederacy."

           Closely following the Southampton insurrection came the increased activities of the New York philanthropists and the organization of the American Anti-Slavery Society. 8

The South, too,

Page 564

was becoming more and more economically dependent upon the North. 9 The increasing number of slaves was also creating a greater social problem, and the slavery question itself was becoming inextricably involved in politics. In 1824 the North Carolina representative in Congress from the "Quaker District" had cast his vote for Adams, when the electoral vote had thrown the election into the House, because he thought Adams more favorable to emancipation than Jackson or Crawford; and in 1836 Lewis Williams, representative from the Surry District, voted against the admission of Arkansas upon the sole ground that its constitution recognized slavery. 10 But such freedom of action could not last much longer. Those in North Carolina who had been passively anti-slavery in sentiment, the advocates of the Revolutionary philosophy of the rights of man and even followers of the evangelical religious societies, were now thrown into the position of defending slavery. In 1835 the State was shaken over the alarm of abolition missionaries in its midst, and most property owners approved of the plea for concerted action which soon rose on all sides. On February 2, 1837, for instance, a writer in the Raleigh Star called the South "to instant, vigilant action" against that "race of modern Delators" whose "conduct would seem to indicate a desire . . . of beholding the scenes of Southampton reenacted; of exulting in the wail of the murdered mother and child," all for the "lovely and humane philanthropy" of "giving liberty to the African!" With these words, a reputable newspaper in the State, one with a considerable following among conservative men, came out unequivocably in behalf of slavery: "The institutions of the South relative to slavery are unalterable, firm, fixed and decided. Her stand has been taken. Cool, deliberate reflection justifies her position. IT WILL BE OCCUPIED TO THE LAST EXTREMITY."

           The following year, Charles B. Shepard, congressman from North Carolina, in a letter from Washington to his relative, Judge John H. Bryan, summarized the situation which was fast turning southern men into staunch defenders of slavery: "The South & its institutions are in the greatest danger, . . . Old Adams has

Page 565

been occupying the morning-hour for a fortnight in a philippic of the most abusive character against slavery, the South & Texas; among other things he said that we were adulterers, liars & hypocrites (the identical words). . . . Let this currency question be settled to their satisfaction, & a violent crusade will commence against us. . . . The more I see of movements among public men the more I distrust them, & the more I despair of the future. We are to go thro' a great trial--& I fear that we shall fall in the conflict--not that our slaves will be taken from us--but the moral influence of the North will be so exerted to make our condition unpleasant, our property insecure or worthless." 11 Politicians both at the North and South had begun to handle the slavery question much as gamblers do their cards until at last they "brought the country into a condition of peril from which nothing but the most sober and gentle management could deliver it." 12

           Such a man as Henry K. Burgwyn, owner of Thornburg plantation in Northampton County, who had once hoped to supplant the slaves on his plantation with Irish labor, now entirely reversed his position and in 1860 wrote a pamphlet on the necessity of slavery. "Those not familiar with the results of English emancipation in the West Indies, I recommend to consult the reports of the Governors of those Islands," wrote this one-time advocate of emancipation. 13

           But even as late as 1850 when the question arose of North Carolina's being represented at the southern convention called in Nashville, editors of at least five papers in the State opposed the convention, the Raleigh Times, the North State Whig, the Hillsborough Recorder, the Wilmington Chronicle, and the Greensborough Patriot. On one occasion the Times remarked that the editors most in favor of the convention were large slaveholders, as might be expected, and singularly enough, northern men. He then gave a table showing the extent of their "interests" in the slavery question: 14

Page 566



Name Newspaper Place of Birth Number of slaves
Gulick Newbern Republican North 125
Badger Hornet's Nest North 180
Bayne Fayetteville Carolinian North 110
Fulton Wilmington Journal North of Ireland 146
Robinson Goldsboro Patriot North 85
Holden North Carolina Standard South 190
Toole Wilmington Aurora South 200
Alston Goldsboro Telegraph South 133
Lemay North Carolina Star South 109

           Holden of the Standard replied in kind:

           It was during this controversy that Edward Cantwell of Wilmington entered into a newspaper wrangle with Brown, editor of the Chronicle, taunting him with being a northern man and hence entertaining anti-slavery affinities. Brown retorted by calling Cantwell a South Carolina squatter, whereupon Cantwell gave Brown a public caning. 16


           In an atmosphere which had become taut, an anti-slavery advocate might expect the treatment which B. S. Hedrick received in 1856. 17

He was a professor in the University of North Carolina

Page 567

and an editor of the Carolina Cultivator. 18 A native of North Carolina, born in Davidson County near Salisbury in 1827, he was from birth in sympathy with the small farmers of the West who were generally opposed to slavery: "Many is the time I have stood by the loaded emigrant wagon and given the parting hand to those faces I was never to look upon again. They were going to seek homes in the free West, knowing, as they did, that free and slave labor could not both exist and prosper in the same community."

           Hedrick was no militant abolitionist; his manner was quiet and gentle; but his position on slavery was fairly well known in Chapel Hill. In August, 1856, it was learned that he was in favor of Fremont, the nominee of the "Black Republican" Party and the North Carolina Standard at once began a campaign against him, for, as the paper later stated, "No man who is avowedly for John C. Fremont for President ought to be allowed to breathe the air or tread the soil of North Carolina." After the Standard had published several veiled attacks against the professor, Hedrick published a defense of his position in the issue of October 8, 1856, and thereby gave his enemies an opportunity of bringing a definite charge against him. Upon the appearance of his statement, the University faculty hastened to assure the public that there were no more Black Republicans among them; the students burned the professor in effigy; and the trustees dismissed him. In Salisbury, near his boyhood home, where he went two weeks later to attend an educational convention, he barely escaped tar and feathers.

           Another anti-slavery advocate, born in Davie County in 1829, was Hinton Rowan Helper. 19

Better known than his friend Hedrick, he came like Hedrick from the small farmer class of Western North Carolina. Except for a few years when he was in New York, California, and Chile, trying to make his fortune, he spent all his life in North Carolina until after the publication of his Impending Crisis of the South. Unlike other writers on the slave question, he attacked the problem from the point of view of the small farmer. He had no love for the Negro, but slavery was an

Page 568

evil because it retarded the economic development of the southern farmer.

           Slavery was a vicious circle. "It makes us poor," wrote Helper; "poverty makes us ignorant; ignorance makes us wretched; wretchedness makes us wicked, and wickedness leads us to the devil." So bitter was he against slaves and the system which their existence created that he declared, "No man of genuine decency and refinement would have them as property on any terms."

           Besides being a denunciation of slavery, The Impending Crisis was also a threat against the slaveholder. Playing upon the planters' fear of a slave insurrection, Helper asked, "Do you aspire to become the victims of white non-slaveholding vengeance by day, and of the barbarous massacre of the negroes by night? Would you be instrumental in bringing upon yourselves, your wives and your children, a fate too horrible to contemplate . . . you have long since overpaid yourselves for your negroes, and now, sirs, you must emancipate them--speedily emancipate them or we will emancipate them for you!" 20

           North Carolina at once placed a ban upon the book and anyone found circulating it was liable to indictment under the "incendiary publications" act of 1830. Newspapers declared that it was Helper's "unholy design" to start a class war in the South. "The present impertinent and vexing impending crisis consists," wrote the North Carolina Presbyterian of March 17, 1860, quoting the Christian Intelligencer, "in the alienation, suspicion, and ill-feeling which 'Helper' and his helpers have been the occasion of producing between brethren, fellow-citizens, and friends, threatening to sever bonds that are as sacred as those of the marriage relation and as important as our life." Senator Asa Biggs of North Carolina had spread upon the pages of the congressional record the statement that Helper was "a dishonest, degraded, and disgraced man," an "apostate son" of North Carolina who was "catering to a diseased appetite at the north, to obtain a miserable living by slanders upon the land of his birth." 21

           Daniel Reaves Goodloe, born in Louisburg in 1814, was another "recreant North Carolinian," as the Standard called those born in the State who actively opposed slavery. He, too, came from the nonslaveholding class. It was while he was a printer's

Page 569

devil in a newspaper office in Oxford that he received his "conviction" against slavery. Following the Southampton insurrection in Virginia in 1831, the Virginia Legislature freely debated the slavery question. 22 Some able men in the State thought that the insurrection proved the danger of slavery and advocated that laws looking toward gradual emancipation be passed. The two leading newspapers of Richmond, both of which were in favor of emancipation, printed the debates, and the papers reached the print shop where Goodloe was working. The debates made a deep impression upon the boy and convinced him for all time of the evils of slavery. After an unsuccessful career in North Carolina as lawyer and newspaper editor, Goodloe went North. Toward the close of the ante-bellum period he was editor of the National Era, one of the leading anti-slavery newspapers in the country. In addition to his editorial work, he wrote numerous pamphlets against slavery. 23


           Indicative of the attitude toward slavery in North Carolina was the response which the colonization movement received within the State. In 1816 the Legislature passed resolutions, introduced by Archibald D. Murphey, the leader in social and economic reform in the State, calling upon Congress to assign territory on the Pacific Coast as a colony for "persons of colour, who have been or shall be emancipated" in the United States and to provide for their transportation to this haven. The colony was to be "fostered and reared up" under the care of the United States government so that free Negroes might enjoy the blessings of freemen to the fullest extent. 24

           In June, 1819, the Reverend William Meade, agent of the American Colonization Society, arrived in Raleigh and soon organized the "Raleigh Auxiliary Society for Colonizing the Free People of Colour of the United States" with the Governor as chairman and Joseph Gales, editor of the Register, as secretary. The Society subscribed $1,277.50 to the cause, and met in December

Page 570

to draft a petition to the General Assembly, "praying for their patronage to the Society." 25

           Despite the skepticism of some North Carolinians, who thought "the non-slaveholding States feel a deeper interest in the successful exertions of this Society, than their brethren of the South . . . from the inconvenience many of the free states, and particularly Pennsylvania, find the ebony part of their citizens to be," 26

agents of the Society continued to travel within the State, organizing auxiliary societies, making speeches, and collecting funds. In 1821 there were five auxiliary societies in North Carolina and by 1829 there were eleven, among which were the Raleigh, Rowan, Pasquotank, and Fayetteville societies.

           After 1830 interest in the colonization movement was left chiefly to the Quakers and to individual enterprise. As early as 1826 the Fayetteville Observer asked, "What has become of the Fayetteville Auxiliary Colonization Society? Are there no officers, no members, no money in its Treasury?" 27

By 1824 the colonization movement had become entangled in politics. In that year the General Assembly of Ohio passed resolutions asking that Congress and the state legislatures consider "a system, providing for the gradual emancipation of the people of color, held in servitude in the United States" and recommended specifically a system of foreign colonization. The northern states approved the recommendation and some, as, for example, Delaware, Illinois, Connecticut, and Vermont, outlined plans by which gradual emancipation might be accomplished.

           The work of the Quakers in support of the American Colonization Society has already been pointed out. Others, slaveowners, for the most part, and church members devoutly opposed to perpetual servitude, contributed toward the cause. A resident of Edenton offered in 1825 to contribute $1,000 to the transportation of 100 free Negroes from that vicinity if they would go to Africa under the auspices of the Colonization Society, and "a widow lady in that neighborhood," owner of the wife and children of a "respectable free colored man" offered the Negro his family if he would go to Liberia where he might obtain "moral, intellectual and physical regeneration." 28

When John Rex of Raleigh

Page 571

made his will in 1838 he left a part of his large estate as a trust fund to pay for the transportation to Africa and the establishment there of all his slaves who desired to go. All went except one woman. 29 The will of T. Capeheart of Hertford County emancipated fifty-five slaves who set sail from Norfolk for Liberia early in 1850. 30

           In 1850 a number of free Negroes of New Bern went to Liberia, some on their own account and some aided by the American Colonization Society. Daniel Williams, a slave, engineer and tanner by trade, left in September with his family of eleven. A sum of $1,000 was made up in New York for the benefit of the family, a part of which was for the settlement of the family in Liberia and a part for the purchase of Daniel, the remainder of the family being already free. "Quite a disposition prevails among the negroes of New Berne to emigrate" wrote the Newbern Republican, "and we should not wonder if a considerable number leave for Liberia during the next twelve months particularly if those who have already gone give favorable accounts of the country." 31

           But those who went generally did not give favorable accounts. The first African colony supported by the American Colonization Society was a complete failure and the others met with the same hardships that confront most colonizing efforts. Nevertheless, the South would have been glad to rid itself of its free Negro population. When the project to build a railroad across the Panama Isthmus arose in 1848, the South with almost one accord proposed that the free Negroes perform the labor. The Governor of Virginia went so far as to say that the Negroes should be moved to Panama by force if necessary. The Raleigh Star of December 27, 1848, became eloquent at the thought of a free Negro colony in North America: "The Rail Road enterprise may prove the germ of a great empire of colored men. . . . Here no amount of virtue or intelligence can raise the black man to the level of the white, and consequently one of the strongest incentives to virtue is taken

Page 572

away." The white man regardless of his character "stands higher socially, than the most deserving black." But in Panama color was no barrier to achievement and the Negro, "civilized through slavery" would soon supplant the native Indians.

           North Carolina did not officially lend support to any colonization effort, 32

but Virginia passed a measure in 1850 looking toward the appropriation of $30,000 annually for the colonization of Negroes of that state in Africa. This money was to be raised by an annual tax of one dollar upon every male free Negro in the state between the ages of twenty-one and fifty.

           In the issue of February 13, 1851, the Carolina Watchman declared that nine-tenths of all the people of the slaveholding states were in favor of sending to Liberia all the free Negroes who would go. "There is a wide difference between Colonization and Abolitionism," declared the Watchman, "and the Southern People understanding this difference, are liberal contributors to the funds of the Colonization Society."


           Nevertheless, in 1824, as it has already been pointed out, colonization became somewhat tainted with anti-slavery agitation through the over-anxiety of a few northern states to get the South to agree upon some plan of gradual emancipation. Thereafter the South was on guard. The appearance of David Walker's Appeal in Four Articles within the State in 1830 was the first cause for general alarm over the work of abolitionists in North Carolina. 33

In the excitement which followed the Governor's message on abolition, even the work of the Quakers, which had for so long a time been tolerated, came under suspicion.

           When news of the message reached Washington, North Carolina, people recalled that a Quaker from New York had spoken there but a few days before. He "preached in the methodist meeting House to a Congregation composed amongst others of many slaves & his observations were highly seditious & nevertheless suffered to pass unnoticed," wrote J. G. Blount in alarm to Joseph B. Hinton, a member of the General Assembly. "He left here early next morning for Newbern where I hope he will meet his

Page 573

deserts and had it been generally known that he had so preached he would have had cause to remember Washington." 34 Blount then set himself to find out just how seditious the Quaker's speech had been. He learned that the man had "used the following strong language 'That the Slaves of the South were a degraded & oppressed People, that the just . . . vengeance of God was now hanging over the heads of their masters on account of it and that the time would soon come when they would all be . . . free.' " 35 This information which Hinton laid before the Senate had considerable influence in the passage of the laws against incendiary literature and freedom of speech. 36

           The first indictment under the incendiary publications act was by the grand jury of the Superior Court which met in Raleigh in October, 1831. The jury found a true bill against William Lloyd Garrison and Isaac Knapp, editor and publisher of the Liberator, published in Boston. The Raleigh newspapers explained the indictment: "It appears that a number of this journal, containing the most reckless and unjustifiable allusions to the attempted insurrection amongst the Slaves in this State, came to the Post-Office here, a few days since, and was read by those who could get hold of it, as a matter of curiosity--thus giving it circulation and publication in this county, in contravention of an Act of the General Assembly." 37

Northern newspapers were amused at this "impotent gesture of rage." "The contents of the Liberator may be of an inflamatory character," wrote the Boston Courier, "and its circulation at the South may be extremely dangerous, but we are not aware of the existence of any law which can stop the publication." 38

           Although the newspapers occasionally reminded their readers that "these factious fanatics and their followers are laboring with great zeal and industry in their vocation," 39

the State apparently forgot abolition until 1835. The Star seems to have opened the campaign with an article showing that abolition was spreading

Page 574

rapidly. "Being unwilling to produce unnecessary excitement in the public mind," wrote the editor, "we have thought it prudent heretofore to proceed cautiously in presenting to our readers an account of the proceedings of the Northern abolitionists. Their late movements, however, coupled with the appalling disclosures in Mississippi, show, beyond a doubt, that they have extensive and deep laid schemes on foot, of a most mischievous tendency, which they are insidiously prosecuting with a zeal and activity that should arouse the utmost vigilance and energy of the whole South." 40 The Star recommended that "the patrol system should, at all events, be vigorously pursued" and that "all to whom any seditious publications are sent, should return them to the publishers."

           The State was instantly aflame. County after county 41

called meetings of their citizens "to take into consideration the wicked projects of the Northern Abolitionists and Fanatics, and to adopt such measures as might seem most proper to counteract the horrid evils which they are meditating against the South." Sampson County adopted resolutions calling for a commercial embargo against the North and infliction of the death penalty "for circulating incendiary publications, or using seditious conversation among our slaves." 42

           With the people thoroughly aroused, and with the Star laying before its readers "such damning proofs, as even the most infatuated partisan cannot resist," the General Assembly convened, appointed a committee of twenty-six on abolition, and passed resolutions vigorously protesting against the abolition movement. "We believe that our property, the lives of our fellow-citizens, and the peace and harmony of our country, are threatened by the measures of those misguided, wicked men," ran the resolutions. ". . . And would the means now adopted, prove ineffectual in stopping the progress of these attacks on our peace and happiness, we would invoke the aid of the other slave-holding States, that there may be concert of action in taking such steps as the occasion may demand." 43

           From this time forward, except for a few years in the forties,

Page 575

the State papers did not let the matter rest. It was not, however, until 1850 that the people were again as aroused as they were in 1835. It was again politics 44 and the activities of the "diabolical" abolitionists that fanned the flame. A great many in North Carolina were rankling over the terms of the Compromise of 1850. In May the anti-slavery associations met in New York to review the accomplishments of the year. The North Carolina Standard saw a report declaring that a Wesleyan Methodist missionary had been laboring with much success for a year in Guilford, Stokes, and other counties in the upper part of the State. The Standard recommended that the missionary be found and that "the people take him in hand, in open day, and compel him to leave the country." 45

           The missionary was Adam Crooks, who, as it was related in Chapter XII, came to North Carolina in 1847 in response to a request from a group of Guilford County Methodists who were dissatisfied with the stand taken on slavery by the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. Two years later Jesse McBride joined him, and together they ministered unto the growing number of Wesleyan Methodist congregations and openly preached "the strange doctrines of the abolitionists" in the "land of the bleeding slave." Both were young men, gentle and mild-mannered, preaching against slavery in a section which had long heard anti-slavery sentiment expressed. They had come to win converts to the Wesleyan Methodist faith and to preach the whole doctrine of their creed which also included strictures against the use of spirituous liquor and membership in secret organizations. They preached nearly every day and won a convert at nearly every sermon. Soon their activities came under the suspicion of religious denominations which disapproved of proselyting, slaveholders who feared that their laborers would be disturbed, farmers who habitually distilled their crops, and lodge members who resented the implication that a fraternal order was ungodly.

           In May, 1850, when the North Carolina Standard ordered the men run out of the State, there were many willing to lend a hand. At the time, McBride probably had already been arrested in Forsyth County, and Crooks' arrest soon followed. Their trial came up at the October term of the Superior Court. Before "a large

Page 576

crowd of anxious spectators," the court found the evidence against McBride to be that he had handed the small daughter of a certain Washington Kennedy an incendiary pamphlet, The Ten Commandments, upon leaving the Kennedy house in Salem where he and Crooks had spent the night. Against Crooks there was no evidence except his association with McBride. Although it had been said that no attorney ought to appear for the men, George C. Mendenhall, a Quaker and friend of the accused men, and James T. Morehead, brother of the former governor, came to their defense, while John A. Gilmer, H. Waddell, and John F. Poindexter prosecuted them. Despite the cry on the street for hanging, the jury acquitted Crooks, but found McBride guilty, and the court ordered that he receive twenty lashes on the bare back, stand an hour in the pillory, and be imprisoned in the county jail for a year. 46 "Good--very good!" exclaimed the Standard. "We wish the law could take hold of their necks, instead of their backs." 47 The Register thought that "nothing but that high sense of loyalty to the law" saved McBride "from summary punishment." The missionaries were also indicted in Guilford County, but the grand jury failed to find a true bill against them. 48

           McBride's lawyers appealed the case and friends posted his bond so that he was again at liberty. There was a delay in preparing the case for the Supreme Court, and in the meantime public opinion was steadily rising against him. Several times he was abused by mobs and barely escaped with his life. On May 25, 1851, a mob assembled at Colfax near Greensboro with the avowed purpose of taking him out of the State. Failing to frighten him into leaving, one of the mob leaders at length obtained McBride's consent to go on condition that his bondsmen would be released of their obligation. Six days later he returned to his home in Ohio.

           The public wrath now focused on Crooks. In June he was dragged from the pulpit of Lovejoy Chapel in Montgomery County and taken to jail where he remained for three days until he agreed as the price of his release not to preach in the county again. Many thought that his agreement was to leave the State,

Page 577

and, when he continued preaching in adjoining counties, his enemies were determined to be rid of him. After a battle between an armed mob and a group of Wesleyans had barely been averted in Randolph County in July and a reward had been posted for Crooks' arrest, the minister realized that his own life and the lives of his converts were endangered. Upon George C. Mendenhall's advice, he accordingly left the State. 49 Nine years later the Fayetteville Observer attributed the purging of Crooks and McBride from the State to the "zeal and energy of John A. Gilmer." 49a

           During the excitement of the McBride-Crooks case, Charles Boyd of Philadelphia, in the employ of the North Carolina Mining and Smelting Company, was arrested in Rutherfordton for using incendiary language in the presence of slaves at a camp meeting. He had been under suspicion for some time because of reports which Negroes had given of his activities. "The evidence," said the Mountain Banner of Rutherfordton, "will doubtless convict him; . . . He is in the hands of the law, and will be dealt with according to his deserts." 49b

In May, 1851, the Guilford County grand jury indicted James Ballard for circulating a pamphlet similar to the one for which McBride had been convicted in Forsyth.

           While Crooks and McBride were keeping the ball of abolition rolling in North Carolina, Jarvis C. Bacon, another Wesleyan Methodist minister, was preaching in Grayson County, Virginia. Although several times arraigned before the court and forced to give bond for his good behavior, Bacon was still preaching in Virginia in the autumn of 1851, when two different encounters of white men with runaway slaves in Grayson County resulted in bloodshed and death. The North Carolina press shuddered to think what might have happened in this State had McBride and Crooks been permitted to remain.

           The effect of this stir over abolition was more painful to the free Negro than to the slave. The more the public mind dwelt upon this black "citizen of necessity," the more it considered him a fertile field for the abolition missionary. Soon after the McBride trial, the State newspapers began the attack. The Wilmington Aurora did not want free Negro sailors to be permitted to enter North Carolina ports, for "they are of course," said the editor, "all

Page 578

of them, from the very nature of their position, abolitionists, and have the best opportunity to inculcate the slaves with their notions." The Wilmington patrol had already been at work. They found a free Negro sailor in the street "using impertinent, if not seditious language." Obtaining a slave to do the whipping, the patrol ordered the free Negro flogged, jailed, and flogged again. The flogging, said the Aurora, "was never better done. . . . This may be Judge Lynch's Law, but we think it a very good one. Nor has the patrol stopped here. They have extended their services into the tribe of free negroes who have swarmed here from other sections and squatted in the perlieus of the city, and already have and now are in the act of abating much of that nuisance." 50

           The Raleigh newspapers joined in the crusade. The North Carolina Standard thought that the time had come when the State ought to devise some plan ultimately of removing the free Negroes from the State. "It is due to candor and justice to say," wrote the editor, "that we have among us some free persons of color who are worthy and industrious citizens, . . . but as a general rule, this class of our population are vicious, idle, and disorderly and therefore a dead weight upon the body politic." The editor favored Virginia's plan 51

recently passed, but he thought a better idea might be to take up bodily every free Negro in the State and set him down "in the old-fashioned, law-and-order State of Massachusetts." The editor chuckled over the thought of it: "Such an event would create a delectable stir among the descendants of the Puritans. It might serve to cool their affection for fugitive slaves, and incline them to restore the stolen property of Southern people." 52

           The Register thought, too, that the time had come for "the immediate application of the cautery" to this "grevious sore upon our body politic." The editor strongly urged that the free Negroes be deported and smiled with the Standard over what would happen at the North if the southern states in general should adopt such a policy. ". . . the Northern States--the great theatre of the vile anti-slavery agitation--will be literally filled with a population that will exhaust all the charity and philanthropy of their benevolent hearts! There will be some 'shaking among the dry bones,' then!" 53

Page 579

           After the McBride and Crooks episode, the papers let abolition and the free Negroes alone for a while, and the public dozed again until the elections of 1856. The political season this time brought the expulsion of Professor Hedrick, which has already been mentioned. The papers were again quiet until 1858 and then, strangely enough, it was a religious paper which raised the cry of abolition. In January, 1858, the North Carolina Presbyterian received a copy of the American Missionary, a magazine published by an abolition society in New York, giving the report of one of the society's missionaries in North Carolina. "Believing that such proceedings come within the reach of the strong arm of a righteous law, we consider ourselves as discharging a plain duty in forwarding the Magazine to the Solicitor of the 4th Circuit," wrote the Presbyterian, "and we cannot but hope that the individual in question may see this article, and flee the State at once." 54

           It was not until November, 1859, that the Presbyterian again gave news of the abolition missionary in the State. Without disclosing the name of the man, the editor declared that an agent of the Boston Tract Society was at work in North Carolina. "Society must be protected against cut-throats and assassins," the Presbyterian declared, "and the sword of the civil magistrate is the instrument which God has appointed for their punishment. The agent of the Boston Tract Society is an abolition emissary, . . . The mildest treatment which can be administered to him is to remove him from the State, and this is what we advised." 55

A cry immediately went up for the name of the agent, and a month later the Presbyterian gave out the name of Daniel Worth. "For a year or two past, it is notorious that he has been inculcating, publicly and privately, his incendiary doctrines in Randolph and Guilford counties, and the time has come when he should be compelled to abandon his work. . . . We are authorized by a prominent member of the large and highly respectable family which bears the same name and to which he is distantly related (and who is one of the Proprietors

Page 580

of this paper) to announce that they have no sympathy with the man and sternly discountenance his proceedings." 56

           Daniel Worth was a native of Guilford County. He had removed to Indiana but, now grown old, he returned late in 1857 as a Wesleyan Methodist preacher. When the Presbyterian called for his arrest in November, 1859, a warrant was sworn out against him on the specific charge of circulating Helper's Impending Crisis. On December 22, he gave himself up and the sheriff committed him to the Guilford County jail where he remained four months awaiting trial, denied, as all prisoners in the State were at this time, the ordinary comforts of life so that, during the severely inclement winter, his feet froze and his health became very feeble. Later, five 57

of his converts were also arrested. The State was alarmed as it was during the McBride-Crooks case. Crowds surrounded the jail in Greensboro where Worth was imprisoned, and it was sometimes feared that he might be lynched. In January, 1860, charges were preferred against him in Randolph County, and in March he was tried in Ashboro, found guilty, and sentenced to imprisonment for a year, the mildest punishment possible under the incendiary publications act. Late in April his trial came up in Greensboro, where he was again found guilty and sentenced to imprisonment. Later, the Supreme Court upheld the decision, and Worth, rather than submit to imprisonment which would have endangered his life, left the State to earn on the lecture platform in the North the money to repay his bondsmen. 58 At the next session of the Legislature, anyone circulating "incendiary documents" or "exciting" a Negro to "a spirit of insurrection" was declared guilty of a felony, and anyone using "inflammatory language" was made guilty of a misdemeanor. 59

           One of Worth's converts was George W. Vestal of Chatham County, a teacher in one of the common schools. As soon as the school committee learned of Vestal's association with Worth, it called a meeting, dismissed the teacher, and passed resolutions calling on every school committee in the State to purge the schools of

Page 581

anti-slavery teachers. "Let no one be employed to teach our youth who is not sound on the slavery question," urged the North Carolina Standard. 60 Other communities began to look about them for abolition agents. In Charlotte indignant citizens seized a certain Sandy Tate, a stone mason by trade who had been in the neighborhood for several years. They tarred and feathered the man, rode him on a rail, and shaved one side of his head "for expressing violent abolition sentiments." 61

           The person who now raised his voice against slavery did so at the certain risk of mob violence despite the statement in the Boston Tract Journal of June, 1859, that North Carolina was "wonderfully opened for the reception of antislavery truth." 62

So great had the excitement become that the Fayetteville Observer protested on January 9, 1860, against "the excesses" of lynch law. "We are decidedly in favor of the arrest and punishment, legally, of all men who, like Daniel Worth, have violated the law," wrote the Observer. "But all else than this is wrong, and dangerous--. . ." In such times as these the lot of the free Negro was a difficult one. Over and over the cry was heard in the State press: ". . . remove the free negro population from the limits of the State, after two years notice, or if they will remain, . . . reduce them to the same condition as slaves." 63

Table of Contents