Listen Siblings, I come in peace,
“I wake up each morning and say, thank God I am a man, whereas Delany wakes up and says thank God I am a black man.” — Frederick Douglass speaking of Martin Delany
The History of Literature begins with African people. There’s no telling how many novels were written in Ancient or Classical Africa. After Europeans or Asians visited the remains of Ancient Egypt, Classical Timbuktu or other University towns in Africa they made sure to destroy records and burn documents while copying, claiming or stealing our Knowledge. However, coming upon the end of African enslavement in America, a new wave of African novelists took form. In 1853 England, William Wells Brown published “Clotel, or, the President’s Daughter” (a fictionalized account of Sally Hemmings and Thomas Jefferson’s daughter); then he published “Miralda; or, the Beautiful Quadroon” (a militant version of “Clotel.”) In 1857 England, again, Frank Webb published “The Garies and their Friends”. Finally, in 1859 America, Martin Delany published “Blake or the Huts of America”, making him the first post-Maafa African writer published in America.
“Blake or the Huts of America” is very likely the greatest novel written in English. It is a manual for revolution, a documentation of history, a collection of eloquence and a philosophical forum bundled together in the story of a Knowledgeable, Wise and Loving African named Blake. The only downside to this book is its lack of popularity amongst our people. It was mostly buried until 1970, when Floyd J. Miller, one of our scholars on Delany, rediscovered it in The Weekly Anglo-African where published serially from 1861 to 1862 it was a circulation builder during a time when Africans were fighting for their Liberties.
To read the novel is to go back in time. Through Blake, Martin Delany details not only how to escape slavery, but which states are most receptive to escape or revolt; he settles debates that we still discuss: oppressor’s religion, shadeism, bi-racials, self-help, interracialism, “good” Whites, alliances, the contrast between European and African nature, Liberia and many more; he paints out the particulars of African oppression in the different states in America, in Cuba and on the African coast–you can hear the shrills of torture, smell the burning flesh from brandings, and see the brilliance of African thinkers; he brings to life our ancestors: Placido, Nat Turner, the champions of the Amistad, and countless more. It’s a really wonderful novel that the African Blood Siblings proudly shares!
Alas, not only is the novel lost on our people, but so too are the ideas. Mis-Education teaches Africans that European Nature is the only Human Nature. We believe that their cruelties are our cruelties. We believe that helping them is helping ourselves. We are misled into a historical narrative not of our own. We even borrow their Sociology, Ecology and Psychology. We read their novels, their books, their poetry and feel Knowledgeable, not realizing that there’s European, Asian and African Knowledge. And then we wonder why we are Oppressed. Ignorance of Self is the root of Oppression.
The organization opposing African Ignorance is the African Blood Siblings. Our members learn principles of racial uplift to provide for our people collective services which end our dependency, impoverishment and individualism. Their successes allows for the creation of African Blood Siblings Community Centers, which in turn teach principles of racial uplift to communities, connecting African people worldwide to their own liberation. This starts with readers like you.
Distribute the African Blood Siblings Flyer. Read more African Blood Siblings Literature. Finally, read “Blake or the Huts of America” by Martin Delany. It is not yet digitized. But Part 1 is available for download here: https://africanbloodsiblings.files.wordpress.com/2012/12/martin-r-delany-blake-or-the-huts-of-america.pdf
Or you can read it on the internet here: http://utc.iath.virginia.edu/africam/blakehp.html
Or by clicking the page numbers below.
Our scholar Floyd J. Miller also put some notes throughout the text. They are transcribed below. There’s much to learn and unlearn from these notes.
You can read some select passages from Part 2 in the next post. Subscribe, share, love.
Notes on Martin Robison Delany’s “Blake or the Huts of America”
By Floyd John Miller
- Natchez-under-the-Hill was also renowned as a center for gambling and prostitution and housed a transient population of boatmen, wagoners, and professional gamblers. These activities, however, were in decline by the 1830s. See D. Clayton James, Antebellum Natchez (Baton Rouge, La., 1968), p. 169.
- “Hut” is Delany’s equivalent of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Cabins.” Solomon Northrup, however, had previously described slave quarters as “huts” in his Twelves Years a Slave (Auburn, N.Y., 1853; reprint ed., Baton Rouge, La., 1968), pp. 6, 188. Delany may also have been influenced by the name “The Hut” given the small cottage in which he lived at Chatam, Canada West, in the late 1850s. (My appreciation to Victor Ullman for this information, which Mr. Ullman received in an interview with Stanley J. Smith, Ingersoll, Ontario.) See also Delany’s letter to the Rev. James Theodore Holly from the “King Street Hut,” Chatam, January 15,1861, in the Chatham Tri-Weekly Planet, January 21, 1861, p. 3.
- This attitude was shared by at least two of the many ex-slaves who wrote narratives. See Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, an American Slave and Narrative of William Wells Brown, a Fugitive Slave–both reprinted in Puttin’ On Ole Massa, edited by Gilbert Osofsky (New York, 1969), pp. 147, 166, 215.
- Compare this song with Harriet Tubman singing “Farewell, oh farewell” as she began her flight from slavery. Sarah H. Bradford, Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman (Auburn, N.Y., 1869), p. 18
- Ballard is referring to the Dred Scott decision of 1857 in which the Supreme Court held blacks not to be citizens of the United States which also declared the Missouri Compromise of 1820 unconstitutional. Ballard’s final statement–“that persons of African descent have no rights that white men are bound to respect”–is almost a direct quotation from Chief Justice Roger B. Taney’s opinion. The distinction between suffrage and franchise was one Delany frequently drew. See, for instance, the report of a lecture he gave in Monrovia, Liberia, July 27, 1859, in The Weekly Anglo-African, October 1, 1859, p. 2.
- The original version of this chapter, as it appeared in The Anglo-African Magazine, read “little Joe.” Delany corrected this for the serialization of the complete novel in The Weekly Anglo-African.
- An incident of this sort was not merely the product of Delany’s imagination, as the narratives of Solomon Northrup and Peter Still indicate. However, Harriet Beecher Stowe claimed the kidnapping of free blacks was not common. See her Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Boston, 1854; reprint ed., New York, 1968), p. 345; Northrup’s Twelve Years a Slave (Auburn, N.Y., 1853; reprint ed., Baton Rouge, La., 1968); and Kate E. R. Pickard, The Kidnapped and the Ransomed, Being the Personal Recollections of Peter Still and His Wife, Vina . . . (Syracus, 1856).
- Fort Towson was located about seven miles from the Red River in Oklahoma, then Indian Territory, in 1824 and was abandoned in 1854. It was a mile east of Doaksville, which was the trading center, site of the Indian Agency, and, in the 1850s, the capital of the Choctaw Nation. The Choctaws first moved to this area in early 1831 after having been pushed from their lands east of the Mississippi by white settlers in violation of the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek. The Chickasaws ceded their lands east of the Mississippi to the United States in 1832, and in January 1837, the two tribes signed a treaty at Doaksville by which the Chickasaws purchased a tract of land from the Choctaws for $530,000 and in turn secured citizenship within the Choctaw nation. Friction developed as a result of the Chickasaw’s minority status within the ostensibly united nation, and the two tribes separated in 1855. Some of the Choctaws had been slaveholders in Mississippi, and a few of the leaders brought their slaves to the large cotton plantations they established upon their new lands along the Red River. Both the Choctaws and the Chickasaws were strong supporters of the Confederacy during the Civil War. See W.B. Morrison’s paper, “Fort Towson,” in Chronicles of Oklahoma, III (June 1930), pp. 226-227, 231; Angie Debo, The Rise and Fall of the Choctaw Republic (Norman, Oklahoma, 1934), pp. 59-60; Grant Foreman, A History of Oklahoma (Norman, Oklahoma, 1942), pp. 13-14, 24, 36; and Annie Heloise Abel, The American Indian as Slaveholder and Seccessionist (Cleveland, 1915), pp. 155-157.
- Culver is referring to the Seminole Wars of 1817-1818 and 1835-1842 in which blacks and Seminoles fought side by side in Florida. See Kenneth W. Porter’s paper, “Negroes and the Seminole War, 1817-1818,” in the Journal of Negro History, XXXVI (July 1951), 302-322, and his “Negroes and the Seminole War, 1835-1842,” in the Journal of Southern History, XXX (November 1964), 427-440.
- Delany probably was referring to Chartres Street in New Orleans.
- Delany had previously recognized the extent of black and mulatto participation in New Orlean’s commercial life in his Condition, Elevation, Emirgration, and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States, Politically Considered (Philadelphia, 1852; reprint ed., New York, 1968), p. 109. For more recent accounts of the fluidity and relative “openness” of New Orleans ante-bellum society, see Joseph G. Tregle, Jr., “Early New Orleans Society: A Reappraisal,” in the Journal of Southern History, XVIII (February 1952), 32-36; and Roger A. Fischer, “Racial Segregation in the Ante Bellum New Orleans,” in the American Historical Review, LXXIV (February 1969), 926-937, esp. pp. 928-930, 934.
- Delany may have been the first to comment on the sorrowful songs of Mississipi boatmen. Compare this description with that given by W.E.B. Du Bois in his essay, “Of the Sorrow Songs,” in The Souls of Black Folk (originally published, 1903; paperback ed., Greenwich, Conn., 1961), pp. 181-191–especially p. 183, where Du Bois writes that spirituals and other black music “are the music of an unhappy people, of the children of disappointment; they tell of death and suffering and unvoiced longing toward a truer world, of misty wanderings and hidden ways.”
- This may not necessarily be a derivation from Stephen Collins Foster’s “Old Folks at Home,” first published in 1851. Since Foster (1816-1863) grew up in Pittsburgh and married the daughter of Dr. Andrew McDowell, a local physician under whom Delany began his study of medicine in the 1830s (Frank A. Rollin, pseud., Life and Public Service of Martin R. Delany, . . . [Boston, 1868], p. 46), it is conceivable that Foster learned the song from Delany, or that both drew upon a common source.
- Delany’s portrait of the Brown Fellowship Society, organized in Charleston in 1790, is essentially accurate. See E. Horace Fitchett, “The Traditions of the Free Negro in Charleston, South Carolina,” in the Journal of Negro History, XXV (April 1940), 139-152. Delany’s antagonism toward mulattoes who practiced color prejudice persisted throughout his life. See his letter to The North Star, June 22, 1849, p.2, in which he denounced “Quadroon Societies” and “Dead-Head Societies” as “ridiculous feints at superiority of descent” and as emanating “from slavery, ignorance and arrogance.” After the Civil War, he repeated this attack, claiming the societies to be “a relic of the degraded past.” The New National Era, August 31, 1871, p.3.
- Following Nat Turner’s rebellion of 1831 in Southampton County, Virginia, there were reports of large numbers of fugitives hiding out in the Great Dismal Swamp which ran from Southampton into North Carolina. See Herbert Aptheker, American Negro Slave Revolts (New York, 1943), p. 308; and Edmund Jackson, “The Virginia Maroons,” in The Liberty Bell: By Friends of Freedom (Boston, 1852), pp. 143-151. Delany’s remembrance of Nat Turner as a symbol of slave resistance was not unique. See Benjamin Quarles, Black Abolitionists (New York, 1969), pp. 128-129, 235; and The Weekly Anglo-African, October 29, 1859, p. 3.
- Charleston and Charlestown were both in that part of Virginia which is now West Virginia. John Brown was hanged at Charleston on December 2, 1859, following his unsuccessful raid at Harper’s Ferry. The raid had been preceded by a Provisional Constitutional Convention at Chatham, Canada West, in May 1858, at which Delany was active. See the Chatham Tri-Weekly Planet, November 5, 1859, p. 2. Delany’s description of Charlestown above is equally appropriate for nearby Harper’s Ferry.
- Abolitionists forces in Kentucky made an unsuccessful attempt to elect to the 1849 state Constitutional Convention candidates favoring gradual emancipation. Although abolitionists retained some support in Kentucky, gradual emancipation remained an unfulfilled goal. J. Winston Coleman, Jr., Slavery Times in Kentucky (Chapel Hill, 1940), pp. 314-317.
- Didacticism of this sort was not untypical for Delany. Moreover, his emphasis on the North Star as the guiding light for the fugitive slave was not unusual as a cursory glance at slave narratives demonstrates. See the narratives of Henry Bibb and William Wells Brown in Puttin’ On Ole Massa, edited by Glibert Osofsky (New York, 1969), pp. 131, 133, 146, 205, 217.
- A similar stratagem was depicted by William Wells Brown in Clotel; or, the President’s Daughter (London, 1853; reprint ed., New York, 1969), pp. 168-170, and in a speech by Brown to the New England Anti-Slavery Convention reported in The Liberator, June 4, 1858, p. 2.
- This is almost identical with the song Harriet Tubman and a group of fugitives were reported to have been singing while approaching the Suspension Bridge leading from New York State into Canada. See Sarah H. Bradford, Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman (Auburn, N.Y., 1869), pp. 32-33.
- As the “mulatto gentleman” is a minister (see text, pp. 155-156), Delany could well be describing the Rev. William C. Monroe, a black Episcopal minister in Detroit who was active in Delany’s emigration movement in the 1850s and who sailed with Delany in 1859 to Liberia, where he died a few months after arrival. See also, pp. 188-189 of the text.
- Compare this scene with Henry Bibb’s comment concerning the importance of the marriage ceremony for fugitive slaves. This is in Bibb’s narrative in Puttin’ On Ole Massa, edited by Gilbert Osofsky (New York, 1969), p. 78.
- This is clearly Phillip A. Bell. See text, p. 188, where Delany uses the initials “B.A.P.” as further identification. Bell ran an intelligence office (which was both a mail drop and an employment office) in New York in the early 1850s. Delany included a brief sketch of Bell in The Condition, Elevation, Emigration, and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States, Politically Considered (Philadelphia, 1852; reprint ed., New York, 1968), pp. 102-103. Bell served as an editor of The Colored American in New York in the late 1830s, and during the Civil War he edited The Pacific Appeal in San Francisco.
- Albertis is referring to the process of “coartacion” by which the slave was given the right to purchase his freedom with funds earned outside of his master’s jurisdiction. Although more difficult on the plantation than in urban areas, coartacion, in the words of Herbert S. Klein, “was never seriously challenged and it steadily fed energetic and able Negro slaves into the free colored population.” Klein, Slavery in the Americas: A Comaprative Study of Virginia and Cuba (Chicago, 1967), pp. 98-99, 154, 196-200; quotation on p. 199.
- Compare this description with that of the historian Joseph G. Tregle, Jr., who has written that “The whole behavior of the Negro toward the whites, as a matter of fact, was singularly free of that deference and circumspection which might have been expected in a slave community. It was not unusual for slaves to gather on street corners at night, for example, where they challenged whites to attempt to pass, hurled taunts at white women, and kept whole neighborhoods disturbed by shouts and curses. Nor was it safe to accost them, as many went armed with knives and pistols in flagrant defiance of all the precautions of the Black Code.” “Early New Orleans Society: A Reappraisal,” in Journal of Southern History, XVIII (February 1952), p. 33.
- “B.A.P.” is clearly Phillip A. Bell and the Detroit minister is the Rev. William C. Monroe. See text, pp. 155-157.
- Placido was the pen name of Gabriel de la Concepcion Valdes (1809-1844), a freeborn mulatto of uncertain ancestry. After receiving a limited formal education, he was apprenticed to a portrait painter and then, around 1823, as a typesetter in the shop of Jose Severino Boloña, a printer and poet and later publisher of the Diario de la Marina de la Habana. Shortly thereafter, Placido became known as a poet although he had replaced typsetting with the more renumerative trade of carving tortoise shells. In the late 1830s, Placido, then living in Matanzas, published poetry in the local daily. In 1843 he was arrested on suspicion of plotting an insurrection but was released. He was again imprisoned in early 1844 and was condemned to death on the charge of high treason–partly because many of his poems appeared seditious and partly because it was believed that prominent blacks such as Placido were capable of inciting insurrections. He was executed by a firing squad June 28, 1844. See Frederick S. Stimson, Cuba’s Romantic Poet; The Story of Placido (Chapel Hill, 1964). Delany had previously recognized the heroic proportions of the Cuban poet in The Conditions, Elevation, Emigration, and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States, Politically Considered (Philadelphia, 1852; reprint ed., New York, 1968), p. 203. William Wells Brown also wrote about Placido; however Stimson claims the sketch of the Cuban poet-rebel in Brown’s The Black Man, His Antecedents, His Genius, and His Achievements (New York, 1863) confused Placido with the full-blooded black poet, Juan Francisco Manzano (1797-1854) who had been born into slavery. Stimson, p. 100. William G. Allen, a black professor at New York Central College at McGrawville, apparently did likewise. See his sketch in Autographs for Freedom, edited by Julia Griffiths (Boston, 1853), pp. 257-263.
- Delany used this poem–which he may have written himself–at the close of an article, “An Annexation of Cuba,” in The North Star, April 27, 1849, p.2.
- The advantages of employing the American flag on slave merchants has been confirmed by both contemporary and historical accounts. See “The Slave Trade in 1858,” in The Edinburgh Review, CVIII (July and October 1858), p. 294; Arthur F. Corwin, Spain and the Abolition of Slavery in Cuba, 1817-1886, (Austin, Texas, 1967), p. 94; and Lawrence F. Hill, “The Abolition of the African Slave Trade to Brazil,” in the Hispanic American Historical Review, XI (May 1931), pp. 179-181, 184-186. See also Hugh G. Soulsby, The Right of Search and the Slave Trade in Anglo-American Relations 1814-1862 (Baltimore, 1933).
- This was undoubtedly one of many bitter parodies of patriotic songs. For instance, the 1843 Anti-Slavery Almanac contains a song beginning “Oh, Hail Columbia, happy land!/The Cradle Land of Liberty/Where None but Negroes Bear the Brant/Or Feel the Lash of Slavery . . .” (My appreciation to Dorothy Sterling for calling this to my attention.)
- It was not uncommon for European merchants on the coast to have African wives. See, for example, Thomas J. Bowen, Adventures and Missionary Labors in Several Countries in the Interior of Africa, from 1849 to 1856 (Charleston, S.C., 1857; reprint ed., London, 1968), p. 86.
- Delany’s companion on his African trip, Robert Campbell, also described this slaver. See Campbell’s A Pilgrimmage to My Motherland . . . (New York, 1861), p. 133.
- Mendi or Mendeland was a portion of the African coast that was then adjacent to the Colony of Sierre Leone. In 1839, a group of Mendi blacks on the slaver Amistad traveling from Cuba to Puerto Rico, overwhelmed their captors and took charge of the vessel. Attempting to sail back to Mendi, the blacks followed the advice of the Spaniards whose lives they had spared and finally sailed to the New England coast where they were captured and jailed in New Haven, Connecticut. After lengthy litigation (including a successful argument before the Supreme Court by John Quincy Adams), the Africans returned home in early 1842, accompanied by missionaries sent by the Amistad Committee which had been formed to defend the liberated slaves. The committee eventually merged with two other groups to form the American Missionary Association which, in addition to many other activities, conducted a Mendi mission until 1883. C. P. Groves, The Planting of Christianity in Africa (London, 1954), II, pp. 64-67. Interestingly, the Mendi was the barque which carried Delany to Liberia in 1859.
- This is consistent with Herbert S. Klein’s observation that “Given the dark complexion of most Spaniards, it was often enough to be a moderate mulatto to be considered white, especially when the cultural and economic roles demanded such a definition.” Slavery in the Americas: A Comparative Study of Virginia and Cuba (Chicago, 1967), p. 195n.
- The banjo developed from the African bango. Delany was conscious of other African survivals as his borrowed account of the Congo Dance indicated. See text, pp. 300, 302.
- Delany made many of these points in a letter in which he expressed his clear preference for African emigration as opposed to Haytian emigration. See The Weekly Anglo-American, February 1, 1862, p. 2.
- Blake is referring to William Murray (1705-1793) first Earl of Mansfield and chief justice of the King’s bench for thirty-four years. In the Somersett case of 1772, Murray ruled that slaves were free the moment they set foot upon British soil.
- This may very well have been written after Delany returned from Africa and England and during a period when he was cooperating with the African Aid Society of England, which was committed to aid Delany in establishing a colony of Canadian blacks in the Niger Valley. See the introduction to this edition, pp. xv-xvi.
- This reflects Delany’s more moderate views at the time of his African trip. See, for example, The Colonization Herald (Philadelphia), July 1860, p. 478 (erroneously numbered p. 476).
- The British consul here probably was patterned after David Turnbull, an abolitionist who served as the British consul to Cuba from November 1840 until June 1842, when he was recalled at Spain’s request. As superintendent of liberated Africans, Turnbull returned to Cuba in October 1842 with some British free blacks. He was soon charged with plotting rebellion. The blacks were shot, and Turnbull, after being imprisoned, was eventually deported. Arthur F. Corwin, Spain and the Abolition of Slavery in Cuba, 1817-1866 (Austin, Texas, 1967), pp. 75-77. Cuban officials believed Turnbull and Placido were close friends; this, however, has never been adequately documented. Frederick Stimson, Cuba’s Romantic Poet: The Story of Placido (Chapel Hill, 1964), p. 79.
- Historians as diverse in their views as W.E.B. Du Bois and Ulrich B. Phillips have testified to the illicit importation of slaves after the trade had been outlawed in 1808. See Du Bois The Suppression of the African Slave-Trade to the United States of America 1638-1870 (New York, 1896), pp. 180-183; Phillips, American Negro Slavery (paperback ed., Baton Rouge, 1966), p. 147. A contemporary account can be found in The Cotton Supply Reporter (Manchester, England), October 15, 1860, p. 282. In addiction to smuggling slaves, there were efforts in Louisiana in the late 1850s to legalize the foreign trade. See James Paisley Hendrix, Jr., “The Efforts to Reopen the African Slave Trade in Louisiana,” in Louisiana History, X (Spring 1969), 97-123.
- William Wells Brown has vividly depicted the New Orleans Congo Dance in My Southern Home: Or, The South and Its People (3rd ed., Boston, 1882), pp. 121-124.
- Narciso Lopez, a native of Venezuela, came to the United States in 1849 as a Cuban exile intent upon overthrowing the Spanish regime. After centering his headquarters in New Orleans in the summer of 1849, he soon received the backing of Southerners dedicated to the annexation of the Spanish island as well as other groups interested in the liberation of Cuba. In late summer, 1851, he led an assault on Bahia Honda on the west coast of the island but was captured and garroted. Lester D. Langley, The Cuban Policy of the United States: A Brief History (New York, 1968), pp. 26-31; see also this text, p. 306, for a reference to Lopez’s execution.