Abner H. Francis to Frederick Douglass, January 25, 1849
ABNER H. FRANCIS1Abner Hunt Francis (1812-72), born on a farm near Flemington, New Jersey, lived in a number of locations throughout his life and became a leader of the black community wherever he resided. In Trenton, New Jersey, he protested against the American Colonization Society, acted as a subscription agent for the Liberator, and attended national black conventions in 1833 and 1834. In 1836 Francis moved to Buffalo, New York, where he established a clothing business. Not only was Francis a leading member of the integrated Buffalo Anti-Slavery Society, but he also spoke at the First of August celebrations of West Indian Emancipation, sought integration of schools, coordinated a state suffrage campaign, and acted as an agent for the Palladium of Liberty, published in Columbus, Ohio, and the North Star. In 1850 Francis openly opposed the Fugitive Slave Law and encouraged others to do so. In mid-1851, he and his wife Lynda relocated to Portland, Oregon, despite an 1849 law that prohibited black settlement in the Oregon Territory. Oregon courts in 1851 ordered O. B. Francis, Abner’s brother, to leave the territory under the exclusionary law. Two hundred eleven leading residents of Oregon offered a petition to the legislature requesting that the Francis brothers be given an exemption. The brothers were not forced to leave, but intolerance of blacks in Oregon continued to grow. In 1860 Abner and Lynda Francis moved to Victoria, Vancouver Island, Canada, where Francis became the first black elected to the city council in 1865 and remained a well-respected citizen until his death. Elizabeth McLagan, A Peculiar Paradise: A History of Blacks in Oregon, 1788-1940 (Portland, Ore., 1980), 88—89; Arthur 0. White, “The Black Movement against Jim Crow Education in Buffalo, New York, 1800-1900,” Phylon, 30: 380 (Winter 1969); Ripley, Black Abolitionist Papers, 4: 102, 105-07n. TO DOUGLASS
Buffalo, [N.Y.] 25 Jan[uary] 184.2The printed letter erroneously lists the year as 1848.
The ﬁrst year of the North Star having passed away, I feel that not only duty, but justice to yourself and the cause of freedom, demand a word of encouragement. The result of your effort does not stop at the triumphant success, on your part, of simply sustaining the North Star for one year, and making good your pledge. It concludes a new chapter in the history of the past, which, for important practical results in favor of freedom, is unequalled by any similar movement. The whole civilized world is convulsed with internal commotions, springing out of that great innate principle of man’ s adaptation to, and unceasing effort for, a free exercise of thought, speech and action. While the press—that is, a well—conducted, fearless, uncompromising and truth—telling press—must be one of the most effective agents to bring about this levelling process[.] In the North Star, visible marks are seen from its high-toned spirit and masterly efforts against the institution of slavery and other prominent evils, such as has been brought to bear upon them by no other paper conducted by colored men, and which no other, conducted by any other class of citizens, could do for us. By it, one of the most prominent objections extant—of inferiority—has been consigned over to take its place in the low and lying category of objections which have long since failed to aid the grovelling apologist for slavery. It has been the means of drawing thousands away from former habits—in a measure curing them of
that loathsome disease, expediency. The great objection to the North Star at its commencement was, that it took too high grounds—not that they were untrue in any of their bearings, but they were so far in advance of the diseased public sentiment of the age——so little in accordance with, but far over-reaching the popular religion of the day, that (sorry am I to record the fact) a large portion of the colored people have been arrayed against it—if not by public expressions of disapprobation, by silence and inactivity in its behalf. These objections are rapidly passing away, and colored men begin to see that the work must be done by them, upon uncompromising principles—that the only safe mode of action is to do right, and abide the issue. Another omen for good arising from the publication of the North Star, may be seen in the diffusion of anti-slavery principles in sections of the country he[r]etofore difficult to reach. In various and remote regions of the South, the editor has become the subject of public and private discussion, and much of his writings, although Violently and unjustly assailed, have established facts, brought out and disse[m]inated truths of incalculable benefit to the cause of freedom. These, together with the daily inﬂuence exerted on the minds of anti-slavery men for good in our own and other lands, as I in the outset stated, leave the North Star without an equal.
This is but a slight glance at the good results already emanating from a press conducted by colored men, and needs no further proof that the hour has come—yea, now is, when upon our action in a great measure depends the freedom of the slave and salvation of our country. The bugle blast for republican liberty in the old world, has crossed the Atlantic. Its delightful strains have taken lodgement, in Spite of the impure atmosphere, in the heart and body politic of this professed republic; and in spite of the efforts of slaveholders and their apologists against it, party strife, bloodshed, Mexican war, and all other hellish ingredients, the onward progress of equality can no longer be impeded; and there is hope that this land will ere long, in deed and in truth, become what it has professed to be for nearly three—fourths of a century. We must be the prominent actors in this mighty struggle. Let us stand by the press; through it alone can we reach the nation’s heart, and change the nation’ s will. Let us hold up, I beseech you, the North Star take it as our guide. It has never deceived us, and I venture to say it never will. Take the example of our Philadelphia friends,3Francis probably alludes to the creation of a North Star Association by Philadelphia black women, following visits to that city by both Douglass and Martin R. Delany. George W. Goines reported on this new organization in his 23 November 1848 letter to Douglass, which appeared in the North Star on 1 December 1848. Winch, Philadelphia ’s Black Elite, 161-62, 213. or whatever course is best adapted to increase its permanency. If we carry out these views, and rely upon Him who rules the destinies of men, victory is ours. More anon.
Yours as ever,
A. H. FRANCIS.