Edward Augustus Freeman.

An introduction to American institutional history written for this series; online

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American Institutional History

"The local annals of Maryland or of any other State are something more than
mere local history, something more than ' part of the history of the United States
or of the whole English-speaking people. They are really contributions to the gen-
eral science of politics no ,Iess than the lessons which we should have had if
Aristotle's comments on the kindred commonwealths of old Greece had been spared
to us." Freeman.





History is past Politics and Politics present History. Freeman


American Institutional History








Mr. Freeman came to America in the fall of 1881, on the joint invita-
tion of the Lowell Institute in Boston and of the Peabody Institute in
Baltimore. The united influence of these two local institutions, repre-
senting the intellectual union of -Northern and Southern cities, was
seconded by two other influences of a local character : first, by Mr.
Freeman's natural desire to visit his own son, who married in Baltimore
and who now lives upon a plantation in Virginia ; secondly, by an ardent
longing to see with his own eyes a New England Town Meeting, which,
in the genealogy of local institutions, is a long-lost child of Old England
and a grandchild of the Fatherland. The historian of " The English
People in their Three Homes " regards the local institutions of the
United States, North and South, as the historic offspring of England and
Germany, as truly as his own name, once applied to all freemen of the
English Colonies in America, is directly perpetuated by children and
grandchildren in the Old Dominion, where he indulged what he pleas-
antly calls " oldfatherly emotions towards the last-born bairn's bairn,"
and where, true to historical impulses, he began a " Virginia Domesday "
in the old forms : " Freeman tenet ; Bell tenuit Ante Guerram. Valebat
. . . dollarios ; modo , . . Waste fuit." With the grim humor of Wil-
liam the Conqueror, who, when he fell to the earth upon landing at
Pevensey, grasped the soil and thus took seizin of England, Mr. Freeman
describes his son's territorial conquest upon the shore of the Rapidan,
" Potuit ire quo voluit cum ista terra, for the soil of the Old Dominion
sticketh to the boots and is carried about hither and thither ! "

This extract from a letter dated Somerleaze, Rapid Ann Depot, Cul-
peper County, Virginia, December 25th, 1881, needs no better com-
mentary than the following extract from the Inquisitio Eliensis, Domes-
day, iii, 497 (or Stubbs' Select Charters, 86) : " Deinde quomodo vocatur
man&io, quis tenuit earn iem.pore Regis Eadwardi ; quis modo tenet ; . . .
quantum valebat totum simul ; et quantum modo; ..." The suggestion
of Domesday-forms came to Mr. Freeman not only from the history of
Virginia land-tenure, but from Professor William F. Allen's paper on
"The English Cottagers of the Middle Ages," a paper which had been
sent Mr. Freeman in answer to his query "about a man in Wisconsin,
who has written something about villainage what a long way off to
know about such things how can I get it ? " And after receiving the


6 Mr. Freeman's Visit to Baltimore.

above paper, Mr. Freeman inquired with manifest surprise, " Are his
cottagers the cotarii of Domesday ?" The historian of the Norman Con-,
quest was reminded of items in Domesday by the " Afri " of the South,
who still survive in emancipated forms. The negroes of the Old Do-
minion are no longer " servi," but their varying economic condition
might justify their enumeration in some such classes as appear in the
Norman census: "villani," "cotarii," lt sochemani," " liberi homines."
It brings the historian of " The English People in their Three Homes "
to the very heart of both North and South to think of him as spending
Christmas with his American children upon a Virginia Plantation, called
after the Old Home in England, " Somerleaze," where, resting from lec-
tures and labors, he indulges " oldfatherly emotions " towards his Ameri-
can grandchild. It is pleasant to think of the Nestor historian "among
the hills, enjoying the air, with the Blue Ridge right in front," and
reading a novel about the Old Dominion written by a Virginia lady now
living in Baltimore. He writes to this city for information touching the
plot of the historical novel. " Was there not an negro revolt once here-
abouts called Gabriel's War? I was reading a pretty story called
Homoselle, where it comes in, and I seem to have heard of it before ;
but nobody here can tell me. If the chronology of the story be right,
it must have been between 1837 and 1861." And later he returns to the
point : " I knew I had heard something of that Gabriel's War, but Mrs.
Tiernan must have 'altered the date. You say it was early in this cen-
tury ; but Homoselle lies in the time 1837-1861. For, on the one hand,
Victoria reigns in Great Britain ; on the other, Peace and Slavery reign
in Virginia.* I want to know another thing. Homoselle speaks of a

* Gabriel's War, a negro insurrection headed by a slave of uncommon ability, known as
" General Gabriel," occurred in the year 1800. The uprising was planned with great skill
and secrecy, and embraced about one thousand slaves. The plan was to make a night
attack upon Richmond, massacre the male inhabitant's, spoil the city, seize arms, and create
a general panic among whites throughout the State, whereupon, it was thought, a general
insurrection could be kindled among the slave population. On the night of the proposed
attack there was a furious rain-storm; but the slaves, undaunted, advanced with their
scythe-blades and axes. The attack was frustrated by two unforeseen events, the rapid
rising of a creek before Richmond, and the betrayal of the plot by a faithful servant of
William Mosby a slave named Pharaoh who swam the creek at the risk of his life
and gave the alarm in Richmond. The town was at once put under arms, and the slaves,
finding that their plot was discovered, rapidly dispersed. James Munroe was at that time
Governor of Virginia and he offered a reward of three hundred dollars for the arrest of
Gabriel, who was finally taken and executed. Many other conspirators were found out
and were duly tried and convicted by the court of "Oyer and Terminer," made up of
county justices. The Court Records of Henrico County contain evidence upon this mat-
ter, see Howisou's History of Virginia, ii, 392-3. This insurrection naturally created the
greatest horror throughout all Virginia, and the story of Gabriel's War was repeated until
it became a household tale. The authoress of Jfomoselle did not need to consult the written
history of Virginia for information, for the oft -told story was stamped upon every child's
imagination. Mrs. Tiernau never saw Howison's account of Gabriel's War until after
her story was written, the scene of which she purposely laid in later times of which she
herself had -personal knowledge. Without regard to the exact chronology of Gabriel's
War, Mrs. Tiornan utilized a popular tradition for literary purposes, which is not only
an artistic but a perfectly legitimate method in Cutturgeschichte. H. B. A.

Mr. Freeman's Visit to Baltimore. 7

free negro in Virginia. Another story speaks of free negroes as for-
bidden to dwell there. Some of your students of State laws will know
the date of that bit of legislation."*

Mr. Freeman's visit to Baltimore occured before his visit to Virginia.
He lectured first in Boston, then at Cornell University, and immediately
afterwards in Baltimore at the Peabody Institute, beginning November
15 and continuing until November 25. Both Cornell and Johns
Hopkins Universities availed themselves of Mr. Freeman's visit to
America to engage him for short courses of lectures before their students.
On arriving in Baltimore, the first place Mr. Freeman visited was the
University-Library. Although the historian professes " to hate libraries
as well as schools," his professions should not be taken quite literally.
He evidently enjoyed what some people call the "Johns Hopkins School,"
and he stayed one entire forenoon, and came again the next day. He
found some things tha,t he had never before seen, and ho manifested con-
siderable interest in the so-called " New Book Department " an arrange-
ment for securing the most recent scientific literature from England,
France, and Germany. Mr. Freeman saw at once the cosmopolitan rela-
tions and practical value of this department and also of the University
system of "exchanges" with the proceedings of academies and other
learned societies of the old world. He even intimated that his own

*Free negroes were " permitted by the court of any county or corporation to remain
in this State " (Code of Va., 1849, 466, Code, 1860, 520) ; but the law against emancipated
negroes abiding in the State or Colony was of very ancient standing. According to the
Act of 1691, no person could set free a slave, without paying for his transportation out of
the country within six months after setting him free. The Act of January i5, 1806, was
fundamental to all Virginia legislation during the present century touching the condi-
tion of freedmen ; it was provided that if any slave thereafter emancipated should
remain within the State more than twelve months after his right to freedom accrued,
he should forfeit such right and might be sold for the benefit of the poor of the county or
corporation. Cf. Acts 1815-16, Code 1819, Acts 1826-7, 1830-1, 1836-7. By an Act of
1840-1, "No free negro shall migrate into this State." By the Va. Const, of 1851, which
was in force in 1860, " Slaves hereafter emancipated shall forfeit their freedom by remain-
ing in the commonwealth more than twelve. months after they become actually free, and
shall be reduced to slavery as may be prescribed by law." The letter of the law was
probably more severe than the spirit of its execution. In point of fact, both free and
emancipated negroes were always allowed in Virginia by permission of the justices of
a county court. In fact, the law allowed ''free negroes" to " be registered and num-
bered" every five years by the clerk of the county court (Codes of 1849, 1860). Free
negroes were even allowed to own slaves of a certain kind, for example, a free negro
could own his wife and children, and their descent, also his own parents. And con-
versely, a free negro wife might own her husband, children, and parents.

A student from South Carolina, Mr. B. ,T. Ramage, says it was no unusual thing before
tin- wur.lbr free negroes to own considerable property, both real estate and slave*. Ho
calls attention to an interesting item in the Baltimore Day, September 2~, 1SK2: "Henry
Todd, who lives in Darien, is the wealthiest colored man in Georgia. When a youth, his
master died and left him his freedom. When the Confederacy fell, he lost twenty slaves
and some Confederate bonds. After the war, he continued farming operations and en-
gaged in the lumber business. He is now 65 years old and is worth $100,000 in good
investments." H. B. A.

8 Mr. Freeman's Visit to Baltimore.

retired life at his country-home in Somerset cut him off in some degree
from the main stream of contemporary literature, to which members of
the Johns Hopkins have constant access. This frank confession is not at
all inconsistent with Mr. Freeman's well-known answer to the American
professor who asked him where he wrote his books : " In my own house,
to be sure, where else should 1 ?" Although the historian of the Norman
Conquest declares that he has never in his life consulted the library of
the British Museum, yet he himself admits that, " There are times for
which the library of the British Museum, or any other public library
must be invaluable: but these times are not the eleventh and twelfth
centuries," The point is, that for a man's own special study, it is possi-
ble to have, in some cases, all necessary original materials around him.
That point Mr. Freeman saw illustrated again and again in the special
department-collections of the Johns Hopkins Universitas Siudiorum.
But it would be strange indeed if the great and rushing stream of nine-
teenth century literature did mt impress the English historian of politics
even more profoundly than it does those who are borne upon the current.
He feels keenly enough " the utter hopelessness of keeping up with the
ever-growing mass of German books, and yet more with the vaster mass
of treatises which are hidden away in German periodicals and local
transactions. Of all of these every German scholar expects us to be
masters, while to most of us they are practically as inaccessible as if they
were shut up in the archives of the Vatican."

The continuity of human history is the life principle of Mr. Free-
man's philosophy. This principle he found already transplanted to
American shores. He found it germinating in the Public Schools of
Baltimore through the influence of his friend the Superintendent of
Public Instruction, Henry E. Shepherd, formerly a student at the Uni-
versity of Virginia, now President of Charleston College, South Carolina.
He found this principle bearing fruit in the Johns Hopkins University.
The English historian became interested at once in the studies of His-
torical and Political Science, which were there in active progress. He
met students in private and in public. He visited their special libraries
and work-shops, where he lent his master-hand in aid of apprentice
tasks. "With Bacon's folio edition of the Laws of Maryland before him,
he pointed out to Maryland young men graduates of the Johns Hopkins
University, the City College, and the Public Schools the continuity of
Old English institutions in their native State. He went with a member
of the University to the Library of the Maryland Historical Society,
where in the company of Mr. John H. B. Latrobe, the President, Mr.
J. W. M. Lee, the Librarian, and other members of that institution, he
examined some of the manuscript records of Colonial Maryland. And,
before leaving Baltimore, he penned the following letter which was
intended by him to quicken public as well as individual interest in the
collection and publication of the Maryland State Papers :

Mr. Freeman's Visit to Baltimore. 9

" Mount Vernon Hotel, Baltimore, November Ilik, 1881.

" I cannot leave Baltimore without saying a word or two about the State
records of Maryland, of which you were good enough to give me a
glimpse both in the University Library and in that of the Historical
Society. I did not see much, but I saw enough to get sorrfe notion of
their great interest and importance. But the few things which I saw
either in print or in manuscript must, I fancy, be mere fragments from
far greater stores at Annapolis or elsewhere. A systematic publication
would be a very great gain, and the State Legislature would surely not
refuse its help, if the matter were pressed upon it by influential persons
and societies in the State. During the short time that I have been in
America, I have been more and more impressed by the deep interest of
the early history of all these lands, first as provinces, then as independent
States. Each State has in the most marked way its own character, and
gives some special kind of instruction in comparative political history.
The local annals of Maryland or of any other State are something more
than mere local history, something more than part of the history of the
United States or of the whole English-speaking people. They are really
contributions to the general science of politics no less than the lessons
which we should have had if Aristotle's comments on the kindred c6m-
monwealths of old Greece had been spared to us "

This letter, shown to influential men, and read to the Historical Society
by the Hon. George William Brown, in connection with a similar letter
written by James Bryce, M. P., who was in Baltimore at the same time
with Mr. Freeman, has at last resulted, through the combined action of
the Society and of the State Legislature, in the transfer of the mass of
Colonial and Eevolutionary Archives from Annapolis to Baltimore,
where, in a well-lighted but fire-proof vault lately constructed by private
subscription, the manuscript records can be used to the best advantage by
students of Maryland History. The State has also provided for the
gradual but systematic publication of these Archives under the auspices
of the Maryland Historical Society. Thus by the institution of an
honorable Record Commission, a purely scientific undertaking is removed
from all political influences. These results are the direct historic out-
growth of Mr. Freeman's letter, supported by personal and corporate
power. The letter was first published in the New York Nation, * immedi-

*Note in the Nation, December n2, 1881, in connection with a review of the "Calendar
of Virginia State Papers;" cf. article in the Baltimore American, December 24, 1881;
editorial in the Sun, December 26, 1881; New York Times, December 29, 1881. An
account of the Archives themselves and of the provisions of the Bill which passed the
Maryland Senate March 16 and the House of Delegates, March 12, 1882, may be found in
the Nation " Notes," March 30, 1882 ; also, in the same number, an account of the " Stevens
Index of Maryland Documents in the State Paper Office, London," which Index,
containing descriptions and abstracts of 1,729 Maryland documents now preserved in


10 Mr. Freeman's Visit to Baltimore.

ately afterwards in Baltimore newspapers, and a copj* of it was sent to
every member of the Maryland Legislature. The letter is reproduced
above in a more complete form than heretofore, for the sake of its per-
manent preservation as a contribution to the Science of Maryland

Mr. Freeman's visit to Baltimore has a certain historical value, which
will become more and more apparent when the influence which he
exerted here upon the Historical Society and upon the Johns Hopkins
University goes forth into the State of Maryland and into the country at
large. The English lecturer made an impression wherever he went in
this country, in Boston, Ithaca, New Haven, Providence, New York,
Philadelphia, St. Louis, and other places ; but it is the writer's belief,
based upon careful inquiry, that the impression produced upon the stu-
dents of the Johns Hopkins University, the young life of Baltimore,
was the best, the strongest, and the most abiding of all. While his
public lectures ,at the Peabody Institute and elsewhere excited much
attention and remark at the time they were given, yet these popular
addresses, tested by the comparative method, were everywhere less quick-
ening and less permanent in their historic influence than the half dozen
informal "talks" given to a company of advanced students, meeting in
Hopkins Hall upon the afternoons of days alternating with Mr. Free-
man's public lectures at the Peabody Institute. In a room of small size,
before a strictly University audience, without a sheet of paper between
him and his hearers, with no lyceum-apparatus save a pointer and one or
two outline-maps prepared for the illustration of special matters, Mr.
Freeman in plain English, vigorous, and eloquent set forth " the
Eternal Eastern Question " in the light of past Politics and present His-
tory. He spoke of the Roman Power in the East: the Saracens and the
Slavs; the final Division of the East and the West; the Turks, Franks,
and Venetians ; the Ottomans and the Beginnings of Deliverance.
Probably no such telling, inspiring course was anywhere given by the
English historian in his American tour.

Circumstances contributed to make Mr. Freeman's lectures at the
Johns Hopkins University a peculiar and remarkable success. In the first
place, the President of the University had insisted upon it that Mr.
Freeman should talk to the students upon some special theme instead
of reading one of his two general courses of written lectures. The
informality of these " talks " which Mr. Freeman was at first very reluc-
tant to give, was made doubly pleasing by the fact that the historian
proved a good extempore speaker. The author of the Norman Conquest
has " stumped " the County of Somerset and knows how to make a good

England, was presented to the Maryland Historical Society by George Peabody, and thus
supplements the Annapolis collection. These Nation "Notes" of March 30, 1882, were
reprinted in the Johns Hopkins University Circular, May, 1882.

Mr. Freeman's Visit to Baltimore. 1 1

off-hand speech. In the second place, the natural orator was doubtless
tired by the enthusiasm of his student-hearers and by the presence and
applause of another historian and politician, his friend James Bryce,
M. P., whose remarkable lectures upon English Politics followed close
upon Mr. Freeman, upon the same platform, and upon the same days.
But what most of all contributed to Mr. Freeman's success at the Uni-
versity was the unimpeded rush of his own thought and feeling into the
historic fields of South-Eastern Europe, on which political interest was
then centering anew.

Mr. Freeman had come to America directly from Dalmatia without
tarrying in England. He had come from the historic border-ground
between the Aryan and the Turk, between Venice and the Ottoman
Power, between Old and New Rome. He had come to the Western
Empire of the English People, which, expanding with the great Teutonic
race from local centres, is repeating in the continental island of Atlantis
and in the continent of Asia, with Egypt and Ocean between, the experi-
ment of the Roman People upon a grander and nobler scale. He came
from ancient municipal centres of Grecian culture -and Roman do-
minion, from Ragusa, upon the rocks of the Dalmatian coast, a city
of refuge for the Grecian colony of Epidauros, * as Rome was a city of
refuge for the village communities of Italy, from Spalato in Dalmatia,
once a city of refuge for a Roman Emperor, Diocletian, who, born in this
lllyrian border-land, was' the first to propose the institution of two
Caesars and of Roman capitals wherever Emperors took up their abode,
whether at Spalato., Nikomedeia, Milan, Trier, or York.

The English historian of " The lllyrian Emperors and their Land "
came to a new York and to other capitals of a westward- moving English
Empire. Like an historical ambassador from the East, such as Emanuel
Chrysoloras, who came from Constantinople to Rome in 1396 in the
interest of the Eastern Empire and tarried in Italy three years to teach
Greek ; or as Georgius Gemistus (Pletho) who came in the interest of the
Greek Church to attend the Council of Florence in 1439 and remained
in that city for many years to lecture upon Platonic Philosophy, even so
the historian of " The English People in their Three Homes," coming to
Boston and Baltimore with a message upon his lips that invited national
belief in the civic kinship and religious unity of England and America,
came also with another message from the East. He came representing the
history of an older Eastern Empire than that of England in Egypt
and India. He came with a book in press upon " The Subject and
Neighbor Lands of Venice " f (Spalato, Ragusa, and other Dalmatian

* Epidauros in Dalmatia is now known as Ragusa Vccchia. Curiously enough, the
mother-town has taken its daughter's name. It is as though England should assume the
name, Old America.

t Reviewed in the Nation, February 9, 1882.

1 2 Mr. Freeman's Visit to Baltimore.

cities) and before that book was published in America, Mr. Freeman had
told students in Baltimore the story of the Eepublic of Bagusa, " the one
spot along that whole coast from the Croatian border to Cape Tainarcs
itself, which never came under the dominion either of the Venetian or of
the Turk," that city upon the rocks which " has always sat on a little ledge
of civilization .... with a measureless background of barbarism behind
her." Before Mr. Freeman's article on " The Revolt in Dalmatia " was
published in the Nation (February 16, 1882), the latest dispatches upon
which that article was based, had been made known in Baltimore. The
letters and telegrams from Eagusa to the Manchester Guardianby Arthur
Evans,* Mr. Freeman's son-in-law, were almost the only trustworthy
sources of information in England regarding affairs in Dalmatia. Mr.

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Online LibraryEdward Augustus FreemanAn introduction to American institutional history written for this series; → online text (page 1 of 4)