Read CHAPTER XIX of Twenty-Two Years a Slave‚ and Forty Years a Freeman, free online book, by Austin Steward, on


While the colored population of New York were rejoicing in the measure of freedom allowed them by the more wholesome laws of that State, our brethren in Ohio were being oppressed and maltreated by the unjust and odious “black laws” of that professedly free State, enacted with special reference to the disposition of the colored race.

In Cincinnati, O., within sight of the slave land of Kentucky, a terrible persecution had commenced, and an effort was made to drive all colored persons from the place.

Our people had settled there in large numbers, but now a mob had assembled in that city with the determination to drive them, not only from their homes and city, but from the State. A bloody conflict ensued, in which the white and black man’s blood mingled freely. So great had been the loss of property; and go horrid and fearful had been the scene, that our people chose to leave, rather than remain under such untoward circumstances. They lived in constant fear of the mob which had so abused and terrified them. Families seated at the fireside started at every breath of wind, and trembled at the sound of every approaching footstep. The father left his family in fear, lest on his return from his daily labor, he should find his wife and children butchered, and his house left desolate.

Meetings were held to devise plans and means for leaving the place where they had been so cruelly treated. But where should they go? And why should they be compelled to leave the State of Ohio? The fact is, that the African race there, as in all parts of this nominally free Republic, was looked down upon by the white population as being little above the brute creation; or, as belonging to some separate class of degraded beings, too deficient in intellect to provide for their own wants, and must therefore depend on the superior ability of their oppressors, to take care of them. Indeed, both the time and talents of eminent men have been wasted in unsuccessful research for the line of demarcation, between the African and the highest order of animals, such for instance as the monkey or the ourang-outang. Some even, have advanced the absurd idea, that wicked Cain transmitted to them the “mark” which the Almighty set upon him for the murder of his brother; and that he, (who then must have survived the deluge), is the progenitor of that despised and inferior race the negro slave of the United States of America!

If it be true, that the natural inferiority of the black man, connects him so closely with the animal creation, it looks passing strange to me that he should be made responsible for the violation of laws which he has been declared too imbecile to aid in framing or of comprehending. Nor is it less strange to see him enslaved and compelled by his labor to maintain both his master and himself, after having declared him incapable of doing either. Why not let him go then? Why hold with an unyielding grasp, so miserable and useless a piece of property? Is it benevolence that binds him with his master’s chain? Judge ye. Stranger still is the fact of attaching such vast influence to his presence and so much concern regarding his movements, when in a state of freedom, if indeed, he is of so little worth and consequence, and so nearly related to the brutes that perish.

Surely, the Legislature of Ohio, or of any other State, would never feel called upon to sit in grave counsel, for the purpose of framing laws which would impose fine and imprisonment on a monkey, should one chance to locate within its jurisdiction; nor would they think it advisable for the court to assemble, or a jury to be empanelled, to drive from their midst an ourang-outang. And yet this and more must be done to get rid of the hated negro, who has been born in that State, or has fled to it for protection from the manstealer.

When strangers pass hastily through this country, and after a careless glance at the colored population, report them to be “an indolent, improvident, and vicious class of persons,” they should consider some of the many obstacles thrown in the way of the most favored of that race. Knowing as they do, the rigor of the law, and feeling as they do, the oppressive power of prejudice, it becomes almost impossible for them to rise to that station they were designed to fill, and for which their natural abilities as certainly qualify them, as though they had never been robbed of their God-given rights. But let us return to our tried friends in Cincinnati.

They finally resolved to collect what they could of their possessions and establish a colony in Canada. In accordance with this resolution, they agreed to first send an agent to obtain liberty to settle there, and if successful to select and purchase a large tract of land, making such arrangements as he thought best for their speedy removal to their new home. Israel Lewis was their appointed agent, who departed immediately for Upper Canada to perform his mission; and there for the present we will leave him and return to Rochester.

Our more favored brethren in New York felt a deep sympathy for their outraged countrymen in Cincinnati; a sympathy equaled only by their indignation at the cause of such demand.

A meeting expressive of their views and feelings on that subject, was convened in the city of Rochester during which, the following preamble and resolutions were read and unanimously adopted:

Whereas, The city of Cincinnati has again become the scene of another dreadful mob and bloodshed, where nothing but terror and confusion reigned for a number of hours together.

And Whereas, Our brethren and fellow citizens were left exposed to the fury of an ungovernable mob, made up of the base, the ignorant, and vile, the very dregs of society; and probably led on by slaveholders, who of all men are the most execrable; while boasting of liberty, he tramples on the dearest rights of men and in the greatest robber of it on earth.

Resolved, That we deprecate an appeal to arms by any class of our fellow citizens, except in extreme cases, and we think that such a case has been presented in the late outrage at Cincinnati.

Resolved, That when a class of men so far forget the duty they owe to God, their fellow men, and their country, as to trample under their feet the very laws they have made, and are in duty bound to obey and execute, we believe it to be the duty of our brethren and fellow citizens, to protect their lives against such lawless mobs; and if in the conflict, any of the mobocrats perish, every good citizen should say Amen.

Resolved, That we do truly sympathize with the friends of God’s poor; the friends of the oppressed, throughout this boasted land of liberty, in the losses they have sustained in consequence of the mob.

Resolved, That we believe the time is not far distant, when the Queen City of the West, shall be redeemed from the hateful influence of the slaveholder; redeemed from that cruel prejudice of caste which, hangs like a mill-stone around the neck of our people; redeemed from all those unequal laws, which have a tendency to make the strong stronger and the weak weaker; redeemed from their falsehearted friends, whose sarcastic smile is more to be feared than the frowns of an open enemy.

Resolved, That the untiring exertions of our friends, and the indefatigable industry of our brethren, are sure guarantees that the State of Ohio will not long be what she now is, a hissing and by-word on account of her iniquitous laws; but that she will rise above every narrow minded prejudice, and raise up her sable sons and daughters and place them on an equality with the rest of her citizens.

Resolved, That we deeply deplore the loss our friends have sustained in the destruction of their printing press in Cincinnati.

Resolved, That we as an oppressed people, feel it our duty to give our undivided support to the press and the laborers in our cause.

Mr. Israel Lewis made his way to Canada, and having obtained permission to establish a colony, he bargained with the Canada Company for one township of land, for which he agreed to pay the money demanded, in a few days, and then returned to Cincinnati, by way of Rochester. The poor, persecuted colored people, had in the mean time made ready for their flight from their homes, their native land, and from this boasted free Republic, to seek a residence in the cold and dreary wilds of Canada; to claim that protection from the English government which had been denied them in the land of their birth; and like the overtasked Israelites, “they went out with their wives and their little ones,” but with smaller possessions.

During the stay of Mr. Lewis in Rochester, he reported there and elsewhere, that eleven hundred persons were then in the dense woods of Canada in a state of actual starvation, and called upon the humane everywhere, to assist them in such extreme suffering.

To me he also told the story of their destitution, which affected me deeply. I had at that time just made a public profession of my faith in the Christian religion and my determination to be governed by its holy precepts, I felt for the distressed and suffering everywhere; but particularly for those who had fled, poor and destitute, from cruel task-masters, choosing rather the sufferings of cold and hunger, with liberty, than the meager necessities of life and Slavery. I concluded to go to Canada and try to do some good; to be of some little service in the great cause of humanity.

As soon as practicable therefore, I left Rochester for Toronto, the capital of Upper Canada, which I found quite a thriving town, and containing some fine brick buildings, and some I saw were built of mud, dried in the sun, wearing rather a poor than pretty appearance. At Toronto we hired a team to take us on to Ancaster, fifty miles distant. We traveled now through a new country; the roads were very bad, and the inhabitants few. We, however, reached Ancaster, a small village, where we remained one night and next morning pursued our journey to the settlement of the poor fugitives from Cincinnati. After some hard traveling, we finally arrived at the place where we found our brethren, it is true, but in quite destitute circumstances. Our fare was poor indeed, but as good as they could get. The township was one unbroken wilderness when purchased for the colony, and of course their lands must be cleared of the heavy timber before crops could be got in, hence, there was a great deal of destitution and suffering before their harvest could ripen after the land was prepared for the seed.

The day after I arrived at the settlement, which consisted of a few rude log cabins, a meeting was called to give the township a name. Several were suggested, but I at length motioned to name it in honor of the great philanthropist, Wilberforce. This was carried, and the township from that time has been known by that name. It is situated on what is known as the Huron Tract, Kent County, London District, and is the next north of the township of London. Our neighbors on the south, were a company of Irish people, who owned the township, and on the west side were a township of Welshmen, a hardy, industrious and enterprising people.

In Wilberforce there were no white inhabitants; the land appeared level and handsome, with but one stream of any magnitude running through it; this was the Oxsable, which was dry during a part of the year. All was one vast forest of heavy timber, that would compare well with that of Western New York. Beech, maple, ash, elm, oak, whitewood, bass, balm of gilead, &c. The soil was good for corn, wheat, rye, oats, and most kinds of the grain and vegetables raised in New York, and was a superior grazing country, about fifteen miles from London. This was a village containing perhaps thirty dwellings, and two hundred inhabitants; a court-house and jail all under one roof, built of stone and plastered; small doors and windows in the style of some of the old English castles. London was built in the forks, or between the east and west branches of the river Thames; hence, you would hear people speak of “going to the forks,” instead of the village; it is about two hundred miles from Buffalo, and the nearest port between the two is Port Stanley, thirty miles from London.

I returned from Canada, where I had seen an oppressed people struggling with the hardships and privations of a new settlement; I had seen wretchedness in some places, but by no means sufficient to justify the report made by Mr. Lewis, and I determined I would remove there with my family, and do all in my power to assist the colored people in Canada.

I had witnessed a disposition on the part of some to prevent our brethren from settling in Wilberforce, while the colonizationists made a grand argument of it in favor of their wicked policy. All must see that it became a necessity with those who fled to Canada to save themselves from constant abuse or from Slavery, and in some instances their lives; and not because they admitted the justice of one portion of American citizens driving another from their native land; nor their right to colonize them anywhere on the habitable globe.

All these things taken into consideration, determined me to join them in the enterprize of building up an asylum for the oppressed, where our colored friends could obtain a home, and where, by their industry they could obtain a competency for themselves, besides providing a safe retreat for the weary fugitive from Slavery; guiding by its beacon light of liberty, the destitute and oppressed everywhere, to home and plenty.

I felt willing to make any sacrifice in my power to serve my Lord, by administering to the necessities of my down-trodden countrymen. How far my desire has been accomplished God only knows, but I do know that the purest motives influenced me, and an honest purpose directed my steps in removing to Wilberforce. Not so with all, however. Some there were, Judas-like, who “cared not for the poor; but because he was a thief and had the bag, and bore what was put therein,” made great exertions for a time in favor of the settlement. It too soon became apparent that to make money was the prominent object with by far too great a number of the colonists; hence, our future difficulties.