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Francis Barry to Frederick Douglass, August 20, 1848


FRANCIS BARRY1 A frequent contributor to the Liberator in the 1850s, Francis Barry, a founder of a utopian community in Berlin Heights, Ohio, was an advocate of spiritualism and free love. He and his wife, Cordelia, were members of the free-love community of Firelands and edited a short-lived utopian periodical, the Age of Freedom. Lib, 24 November 1854, 14 January, 26 July, 2 November 1855; Perry, Radical Abolitionism, 192. TO FREDERICK DOUGLASS

Berlinville, [Ohio]. 20 Aug[ust 1848].


I have just been perusing your address delivered at the celebration of the first of August held in your city.2On 1 August 1848 Douglass delivered a speech in Rochester, New York, to commemorate West Indian Emancipation. Unless otherwise noted, Barry accurately quotes that speech in this letter, except for minor alterations in punctuation. NS, 4 August 1848; Douglass Papers, ser. 1, 2:132-47. In it I find the following passage:—


“About eighteen years ago, a man of noble courage rose among his brethren in Virginia.”3Nat Turner (1800-31) was a literate, enslaved carpenter and preacher, and the leader of a slave insurrection in Southampton County, Virginia, in August 1831. Turner’s band, which consisted of no more than seventy followers, mostly slaves, killed at least fifty-seven whites before being dispersed and captured by the local militia. The revolt triggered retaliatory murders of innocent blacks in the general area, undercut what sentiment there was in the slave states for emancipation, and heightened the southern fear of servile insurrections. Authorities executed approximately seventeen of Turner’s followers and banished most of the remainder. Turner himself remained at large for over two months and after his capture supposedly dictated his “Confessions” to a local lawyer. Tried and sentenced to death on 5 November 1831, Turner was executed by hanging on 11 November 1831. Herbert Aptheker, Nat Turner’s Slave Rebellion (New York, 1966); Stephen B. Oates, The Fires of Jubilee: Nat Turner’s Fierce Rebellion (1975; New York, 1990); Henry Irving Tragle, comp., The Southampton Slave Revolt of 1831: A Compilation of Source Material (Amherst, Mass., 1971); Miller and Smith, Dictionary of Afro-American Slavery, 744-46; ACAB, 6:187; NCAB, 13:597; DAB, 19:69-70. For what purpose? “We have long been subjected to slavery. The hour for our deliverance has come. Let us rise and strike for liberty. In the name of a God of justice, let us slay our oppressors.” Yes, noble man. Oh, that there were a few such noble men now! Oh that the slaves would rise as one man, and hurl the tyrant from his throne! —Oh that this were not a nation of hypocrites! Oh that there were at the North a few noble men, with philanthropy, religion, and soul enough in them to go and aid their brethren in freeing themselves from the galling tyranny. And is it possible that there are not? Do we not all know that the slaves would be justifiable in rending their chains, even if to effect if it were necessary to take the blood of every slaveholder in the land? And do we not know that what one man may do, another may assist him in doing? In short, do we not know that we ought to “deliver the despoiled out of the hand of the oppressor?”4Jer. 21:12, 22:3. Why this silence on the part of abolitionists and the abolition press? I wish to propose, for the consideration of abolitionists, the following question: Is it the duty of abolitionists, under present circumstances, to make an effort to liberate the slaves by force? Will its discussion be detrimental to the cause of liberty? Who will take the negative? Give us light.

Yours for the slave,


PLSr: NS, 8 September 1848.


Barry, Francis




Yale University Press 2009



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