Documenting the American South Logo
Collections >> North American Slave Narratives >> Document Menu >> Summary

Charles Stuart, 1783?-1865
Reuben Maddison: A True Story
Birmingham, [England]: B. Hudson, [1835].


Charles Stuart (1781-1865), who was born in Bermuda, was thought to be the son of a British army officer. Records of his origins are scarce, but biographer Anthony J. Barker argues that census records of Stuart's retirement in Canada counter other, earlier assertions that he was born in Jamaica in 1783. While in India in 1798, Stuart joined the East India Company's army and showed both religious inclinations and an eccentric personality. He proved incompatible with the army—Barker asserts that confidential army records revealed him as a "lonely misfit critical of the worldly excesses of fellow officers". He was eventually suspended from the army and forced to resign with the rank of captain. In 1817, he claimed a substantial land grant in Canada as a military pensioner. Stuart became a preacher and missionary to Indians and a supporter of fugitive American slaves. In 1820 he published The Emigrant's Guide to Upper Canada. He moved to upstate New York in 1822 and served as principal of Utica Academy, a Presbyterian school for boys. Stuart moved to Britain in 1829, where he became an active abolitionist under the influence of friends who had embraced the antislavery cause. He published numerous anti-slavery pamphlets between 1830 and 1831, and he became an anti-slavery lecturer in England and Ireland. By 1833, Stuart had become a significant British influence on American abolitionism. Six of his pamphlets were reprinted in William Lloyd Garrison's newspaper, the Liberator. Stuart returned to the United States, and from 1834 to 1837, he served as an agent of the American Anti-Slavery Society in New York and Ohio, wrote antislavery articles, and worked with American abolitionists. Stuart later renewed his abolitionist work in Britain, campaigning against the apprenticeship system that had replaced formal emancipation in British colonies and, from 1838-1839, touring the West Indies to report on the conditions there. He spent his final years in Canada and married a woman named Rebecca Watt in 1852. He died in 1865 at his home near Georgian Bay, Ontario, Canada.

Reuben Maddison is the subject of the first half of an anti-slavery pamphlet published by Charles Stuart in 1835. Little is known about the actual life of Maddison other than what is recorded in Stuart's pamphlet, where some details are deliberately omitted to obscure actual place names or whites' identities. According to Reuben Maddison: A True Story, Maddison was born into slavery in Kentucky. He was allowed to hire out his time and was required to pay his master an annual sum of $120 out of his earnings. He was married and had young children (the number is unspecified), but his master sold his family away one morning while Maddison was out working. Desperate to free himself and seek his family, Maddison obtained a manumission agreement from his master: he could purchase himself for $700, which he would pay in two installments. Maddison was able to pay the first $350 immediately, but because the second payment wasn't due for eighteen months, he was advised not to pay early but to invest his available cash in property. Angered by Maddison's display of wealth, his master demanded the final payment early, forcing him to sign over his property in lieu of the final payment, a cost of $1000 instead of the owed $350. Once free, Maddison inquired after his lost family only to discover that his wife "was dead, and his children equally lost to him, being sold and sent away, and he could never gain any further intelligence of them" (p. 14).

After some time, Maddison married an African American woman who was presumably free, as the narrative makes no mention of a need to free her from slavery. Together, they rescued an enslaved woman named Maria, whom they saw in the New Orleans slave market. Maria had been persecuted for her Christian piety, and "Reuben and his wife, meeting with poor Maria, and finding her to be a sister in Jesus, formed the resolution of purchasing her freedom . . . and they then took her home to live with them" (p. 16). Because of the racism they experienced in New Orleans, they moved their unusual family to New York. The captain of their vessel refused to allow them to stay near the white passengers and forced them to travel in an adjoining long boat with livestock. They arrived in New York ill from the poor weather and accommodations on their journey. Maddison's wife never recovered and died as a result of her illness. Though the captain was tried in New York for his cruelty and fined $40, he refused to pay it, "saying he had no objection to go to prison, if any one should choose to take the trouble to send him there" (pp. 18-19). At the close of the narrative, Maria had become a domestic servant in New York, and "when Captain Stuart was last in New York, in 1828, Reuben was in very favourable circumstances, labouring diligently, and evidently blessed of God" (p. 19).

The text following the narrative of Maddison's life consists of four anti-slavery treatises. "Slavery in Jamaica Exemplified" reprints a complaint filed by one slaveholder against another for violently flogging an elderly female slave named Eleanor James (p. 20). The complaint is a graphic illustration of the violence committed against vulnerable slaves, even elderly women, as well as an abolitionist argument against the farce of British legal protections for enslaved people in the West Indies. The decision of the courts that no complaint would be recognized rendered the council, in the view of the writer of this opinion, "a mere nominal institution, without the slightest benefit resulting to that class of our society to whom it is especially intended by the legislature that it should be, as its name purports, a Council of Protection" (p. 27). The second treatise is "Extract from the Christian Record of Jamaica, published in that Island, Oct. 1830, in further illustration of the wretched condition of the slaves in the British Colonies" (p. 29). This extract also graphically illustrates the violence of flogging and points out the particular shame and physical risk when these punishments are applied to pregnant women. "Slavery" (p. 44) provides a Christian liberation argument for full-scale emancipation, and "Our Father" (p. 47) includes an anecdote and poem on the theme, "The God of Heaven is even to thee"—the slave—"a Father in his love" (p. 48).

Though the latter half of the pamphlet does not directly relate to Reuben Maddison's life story, and the excerpts actually focus on slavery in British colonies rather than in the United States, the combination of these anti-slavery perspectives reflects Charles Stuart's diverse abolitionist interests. They also connect through the larger religious themes that are reflected in Maddison's piety and the treatises that argue that Christianity is an inherently anti-slavery doctrine.

Works Consulted: Barker, Anthony J., "Stuart, Charles," American National Biography Online, 6 May 2009.

Jenn Williamson

Document menu