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Chambers's miscellany of instructive & entertaining tracts (Volume 4) online

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tions from being ever placed on paper. This was the weakness of


her memory, which, though it did not prevent her from acquiring
the Latin tongue, or benefiting by her reading, yet disabled her
from retaining on her mind, for any length of time, her own cogita-
tions. Her kind mistress provided a remedy for this, by ordering a
lire to be kept constantly in Phillis's room, so that she might have
an opportunity of recording any thoughts that occurred to her mind,
by night as well as by day, without endangering her health from
exposure to cold.

The constitution of Phillis was naturally delicate, and her health
always wavering and uncertain. At the age of nineteen, her condi-
tion became such as to alarm her friends. A sea voyage was
recommended by the physicians, and it was arranged that Phillis
should take a voyage to England in company with a son of Mrs
Wheatley, who was proceeding thither on commercial business.
The amiable negro girl had hitherto never been parted from the side
of her benefactress since the hour of her adoption into the family ;
and though the necessity of the separation was acknowledged, it
was equally painful to both.

' Susannah mourns, nor can I bear

To see the crystal shower,
Or mark the tender falling tear

At sad departure's hour ;
Not unregarding can I see

Her soul with grief opprest,
But let no sighs, no groans for me
Steal from her pensive breast
* * *

Lo ! Health appears, celestial dame,

Complacent and serene,
\Yith Hebe's mantle o'er her frame,

With soul-delighting mien.'

Phillis was received and admired in the first circles of English
society ; and it was here that her poems were given to the world,
with a likeness of the authoress attached to them. From this like-
ness, the countenance of Phillis appears to have been pleasing, and
the form of her head highly intellectual. On this engraving being
transmitted to Mrs Wheatley in America, that lady placed it in a
conspicuous part of her room, and called the attention of her visitors
to it, exclaiming : ' See ! look at my Phillis ; does she not seem as
if she would speak to me ?' But the health of this good and humane
lady declined rapidly, and she soon found that the beloved original
of the portrait was necessary to her comfort and happiness. On the
first notice of her benefactress's desire to see her once more, Phillis,
whose modest humility was unshaken by the severe trial of flattery
and attention from the great, re-embarked immediately for the land


-of her true home. Within a short time after her arrival, she dis-
charged the melancholy duty of closing the eyes of her mistress,
mother, and friend, whose husband and daughter soon sunk also
into the grave. The son had married and settled in England, and
Phillis Wheatley found herself alone in the world.

The happiness of the African poetess was now clouded for ever.

Xittle is known of the latter years of her life, but all that has been
ascertained is of a melancholy character. Shortly after the death

- of her friends, she received an offer of marriage from a respectable
coloured man of the name of Peters. In her desolate condition, it
would have been hard to have blamed Phillis for accepting any

- offer of protection of an honourable kind ; yet it is pleasing to think
that, though the man whose wife she now became rendered her after-
life miserable by his misconduct, our opinion of her is not lowered
by the circumstances of her marriage. At the time it took place,
Peters not only bore a good character, but was every way a remark-

. able specimen of his race ; being a fluent writer, a ready speaker,
and altogether an intelligent and well-educated man. But he was
indolent, and too proud for his business, which was that of a grocer,
and in which he failed soon after his marriage.

The war of independence began soon after this, and scarcity and

distress visited the cities and villages of North America. In the

course of three years of suffering, Phillis became the mother of three
.infants, for whom and for herself, through the neglect of her husband,
^she had often not a morsel of bread. No reproach, however, was
ever heard to issue from the lips of the meek and uncomplaining
woman, who had been nursed in the lap of affluence and comfort,
and to whom all had been once as kind as she herself was deserving.
It would be needless to dwell on her career of misery, further than
the closing scene. For a long time nothing had been known of her.
A relative of her lamented mistress at length discovered her in a
state of absolute want, bereft of two of her infants, and with the third
dying by a dying mother's side. Her husband was still with her,
but his heart must have been one of flint, otherwise indolence, which
was his chief vice, must have fled at such a spectacle. Phillis
"Wheatley and her infant were soon after laid in one humble grave.

Thus perished a woman who, by a fortunate accident, was rescued
from the degraded condition to which those of her race who are
brought to the slave-market are too often condemned, as if for the
.purpose of shewing to the world what care and education could effect
.in elevating the character of the benighted African. The example
.is sufficient to impress us with the conviction, that, out of the count-
less millions to whom no similar opportunities have ever been pre-
.sented, many might be found fitted by the endowments of nature,
and wanting only the blessings of education, to make them orna-
.ments, like Phillis Wheatley, not only to their race, but to



This self-taught African genius was born a slave in Charles City
county, about thirty miles below Richmond, Virginia, on the estate of
Mr William A. Christian. He was the only child of parents who
were themselves slaves, but, it appears, of a pious turn of mind ; and
though he had no instruction from books, it may be supposed that
the admonitions of his father and mother may have laid the founda-
tions of his future usefulness. In the year 1804, the young slave was
sent to Richmond, and hired out by the year as a common labourer,
at a warehouse in the place. While in this employment, he happened
to hear a sermon, which implanted in his uncultivated mind a strong-
desire to be able to read, chiefly with a view of becoming acquainted
with the nature of certain transactions recorded in the New Testa-
ment. Having somehow procured a copy of this work, he com-
menced learning his letters, by trying to read the chapter he had 1
heard illustrated in the sermon, and by dint of .perseverance, and the
kind assistance of young gentlemen who called at the warehouse, he
was in a little time able to read, which gave him great satisfaction.
This acquisition immediately created in him a desire to be able to
write ; an accomplishment he soon also mastered. He now became
more useful to his employers, by being able to check and superintend
the shipping of tobacco ; and having, in the course of time, saved
the sum of 850 dollars, or nearly ,170 sterling, he purchased his owi>
freedom and that of two children left him on the death of his first
wife. ' Of the real value of his services while in this employment,"
says the author of the American publication from whence these
facts are extracted, 'it has been remarked that no one but a dealer
in tobacco can form an idea. Notwithstanding the hundreds of
hogsheads which were committed to his charge, he could produce
any one the moment it was called for ; and the shipments were made
with a promptness and correctness such as no person, white or
coloured, has equalled in the same situation. The last year in which
he remained in the warehouse, his salary was 800 dollars. For his
ability in his work he was highly esteemed, and frequently rewarded
by the merchant with a five-dollar bank-note. He was also allowed
to sell, for his own benefit, many small parcels of damaged tobacco.
It was by saving the little sums obtained in this way, with the
aid of subscriptions by the merchants, to whose interests he had
been attentive, that he was enabled to purchase the freedom of his
family. When the colonists were fitted out for Africa, he was
enabled to bear a considerable part of his own expenses. He also
purchased a house and some land in Richmond. It is said that,
while employed at the warehouse, he often devoted his leisure time
to reading, and that a gentleman, on one occasion, taking up a book


which he had left for a few moments, found it to be Smith's Wealth
of Nations!

As early as the year 1815, this intelligent emancipated slave began
to feel special interest in the cause of African missions, and contri-
buted, probably more than any other person, in giving origin and
character to the African Missionary Society, established during that
year in Richmond. His benevolence was practical, and whenever
and whereVer good objects were to be effected, he was ready to lend
his aid. Mr Gary was among the earliest emigrants to Africa. Here
he saw before him a wide and interesting field, demanding various
and powerful talents, and the most devoted piety. His intellectual
ability, firmness of purpose, unbending integrity, correct judgment,
and disinterested benevolence, soon placed him in a conspicuous
station, and gave him wide and commanding influence. Though
naturally diffident and retiring, his worth was too evident to allow of
his remaining in obscurity. The difficulties which were encountered
in founding a settlement at Cape Montserado were appalling, and it
was proposed on one occasion that the emigrants should remove to
Sierra Leone, whose climate is of the most destructive character ;
but the resolution of Lott Gary to remain was not shaken, and his
decision had no small effect towards inducing others to imitate his
example. In the event, they suffered severely. More than eight
hundred natives attacked them in November 1822, but were repulsed:
and a few weeks later, a body of fifteen hundred attacked them again
at daybreak. Several of the colonists were killed and wounded ; but
with no more than thirty-seven effective men and boys, and the aid
of a small piece of artillery, they again achieved a victory over the
natives. In these scenes the intrepid Gary necessarily bore a con-
spicuous part. In one of his letters, he remarks that, like the Jews
in rebuilding their city, they had to toil with their arms beside them.
and rest upon them every night ; but he declared after this, in the
most emphatic terms, that 'there never had been an hour or a
minute, no, not even when the balls were flying round his head, when
he could wish himself back in America again.'

The peculiar exposure of the early emigrants, the scantiness of
their supplies, and the want of adequate medical attention, subjected
them to severe and complicated sufferings. To relieve, if possible,
these sufferings, Mr Gary obtained all the information in his power
concerning the diseases of the climate, and the proper remedies. He
made liberal sacrifices of his property in behalf of the poor and
distressed, and devoted his time almost exclusively to the relief of the
destitute, the sick, and the afflicted. His services as a physician to
the colony were invaluable, and were for a long time rendered with-
out hope of reward. But amid his multiplied cares and efforts for
the colony, he never forgot or neglected to promote the joint cause
of civilisation and Christianity among the natives.

In 1806 Mr Gary was elected vice-agent of the colony, and he


discharged the duties of that important office till his death, which
occurred in 1828 in the most melancholy manner. One evening,
while he and several others were engaged in making cartridges in
the old agency house at Monrovia the chief town in the settlement
in preparation to defend the rights of the colony against a slave-
trader, a candle appears to have been accidentally overturned, which
ignited some loose powder, and almost instantaneously reached the
entire ammunition, producing an explosion which resulted in the
death of eight persons. Mr Gary survived for two days. Such was
the unfortunate death of this active coloured apostle of civilisation
on the coast of Africa, where his memory will continue long to be
cherished. The career which he pursued, and the intelligence which
marked his character, might prove, to the satisfaction of all impartial
thinkers, that the miserable race of blacks is not destitute of moral
worth and innate genius, and that their culture would liberally pro-
duce an abundant harvest of the best principles and their results
which dignify human nature.


From the foregoing instances of intelligent negroes, we now turn
to Paul Cuffee, who presents us with an example of great energy of
mind in the more common affairs of life, as Gary and Wheatley
exhibited the finer and higher degrees of intellectual endowment.
The father of Paul was a native of Africa, from which country he
was brought as a slave to Boston, in North America. Here he
remained in slavery for a considerable portion of his life ; but finally,
by industry and eeonomy, he amassed a sum which enabled him to
purchase his personal liberty. About the same period he married a
woman of Indian descent, and continuing his habits of industry
and frugality, he soon found himself rich enough to purchase a farm
of a hundred acres at Westport, in Massachusetts. Here a family
of ten children was born to him, four sons and six daughters, all of
whom received a little education, and were ultimately established in
respectable situations in life. Paul, the fourth son, was born in the
year 1759. When he was about fourteen years of age, his father
died, leaving a considerable property in land, but which, being at
that time comparatively unproductive, afforded oftly a very moderate
provision for the large family which depended on it for subsistence.
After assisting his brothers for a time in the management of this
property, Paul began to see that commerce then held out higher
prospects to industry than agriculture, and being conscious, perhaps,
that he possessed qualities which, under proper culture, would enable
him to pursue commercial employments with success, he resolved
to betake himself to the sea. A whaling voyage was his first adven-
ture in the capacity of a mariner, and on his return from this, he



made a trip to the West Indies, acting on both occasions as a
' common man at the mast.' His third voyage occurred in the year
1776, at which period Britain was at war with America. Paul and
his companions were taken prisoners by the British, and detained
for about three months at New York. On being liberated, Paul
returned to Westport, where he resided for several succeeding years,
assisting his brothers in their agricultural pursuits.

We have now to mention a circumstance most honourable to Paul
Cuffee. The free negro population of Massachusetts was at that
period excluded from all participation in the rights of citizenship,
though bearing a full share of every state burden. Paul, though not
yet twenty years of age, felt deeply the injustice done to himself and
his race, and resolved to make an effort to obtain for them the rights
which were their due. Assisted by his brothers, he drew up and
presented a respectful petition on the subject to the state legislature.
In spite of the prejudices of the times, the propriety and justice of
the petition were perceived by a majority of the legislative body, and
an act was passed, granting to the free negroes all the privileges of
white citizens. This enactment was not only important as far as
regarded the state of Massachusetts ; the example was followed at
different periods by others of the united provinces, and thus did the
exertions of Paul Cuffee and his brothers influence permanently the
welfare of the whole coloured population of North America.

After accomplishing this great work, our hero's enterprising spirit
directed itself to objects of a more personal character. In his twen-
tieth year, he laid before his brother David a plan for opening a
commercial intercourse with the state of Connecticut. His brother
was pleased with the scheme : an open boat, which was all that
their means could accomplish, was built, and the adventurers pro-
ceeded to sea. Here David Cuffee found himself for the first time
exposed to the perils of the ocean, and the hazard of the predatory
warfare which was carried on by the private refugees on the coast.
His courage sank ere he had proceeded many leagues, and he
resolved to return. This was a bitter disappointment to the intrepid
Paul ; but he was affectionate, and gave up the enterprise at his
elder brother's desire. After labouring diligently for some time
afterwards in the fields, at the family farm, Paul collected sufficient
means to try the scheme again on his own account. He went to sea,
and lost all the little treasure which by the sweat of his brow he had
gathered. Not discouraged by this misfortune, he returned to his
farm labours, only to revolve his plans anew. As he could not now
purchase what he wanted, he set to work, and with his own hands
constructed a boat, complete from keel to gunwale. This vessel was
without a deck, but his whaling experience had made him an adept
in the management of such a bark. Having launched it into the
ocean, he steered for the Elizabeth Isles, with the view of consulting
one of his brothers, who resided there, upon his future plans. Alas,


poor Paul ! he was met by a party of pirates, who deprived him of
his boat and all its contents. He returned once more to Westport in
a penniless condition.

Ardent indeed must the spirit have been which such repeated
calamities did not shake. Again did our young adventurer prevail
on his brother David to assist him in building a boat. This being
accomplished, the respectability of Paul Cuffee's character, and his
reputation for unflinching energy, procured him sufficient credit to
enable him to purchase a small cargo. With this he went to sea,
and after a narrow escape from the refugee pirates, disposed of his
cargo at the island of Nantucket, and returned to Westport in
safety. A second voyage to the same quarter was less fortunate ;
he fell into the hands of the pirates, who deprived him of everything
but his boat. Paul's inflexible firmness of mind did not yet desert
him : he undertook another voyage in his open boat, with a small
cargo, and was successful in reaching Nantucket. He there dis-
posed of his goods to advantage, and returned in safety to West-

Hitherto we have not alluded to the condition of Paul Cuffee as
far as regarded mental culture. In truth, up almost to manhood he
can scarcely be said to have received any education whatever beyond
the acquirement of the English alphabet. Ere he was twenty-five
years of age, however, he had obviated this disadvantage by his
assiduity, and had taught himself writing and arithmetic. He had
also applied to the study of navigation, and had mastered it so far
as to render himself capable of engaging in nautical and commercial
undertakings to any extent.

The profits of the voyage already alluded to put Paul in possession
of a covered boat, of about twelve tons burden, with which he made
many voyages to the Connecticut coasts. In these he was so
successful, that he thought himself justified in undertaking the cares
of a family, and married a female descendant of the same tribe of
Indians to which his mother belonged. For some years after this
event, he attended chiefly to agricultural concerns, but the increase
of his family induced him to embark anew in commercial plans.
He arranged his affairs for a new expedition, and hired a small
house on Westport River, to which he removed with his wife and
children. Here, with a boat of eighteen tons, he engaged in the
cod-fishing, and was so successful that he was enabled in a short
time to build a vessel of forty-two tons, which he navigated with the
assistance of his nephews, several of whom had devoted themselves
to the sea-service.

Paul Cuffee was now the most influential person in a thriving
fishing community, which depended chiefly on his enterprise and
voyages for employment and support. How deeply he interested
himself in the welfare of those around him, may be estimated from
the following circumstance. Having felt in his own person the want



of a proper education, he called the inhabitants of his village to a
meeting, and proposed to them the establishment of a school. Find-
ing some disputes and delays to start up in the way, Paul took the
matter into his own hands, built a school-house on his own ground
at his own expense, and threw it open to the public. This enlight-
ened and philanthropic conduct on the part of a coloured person,
the offspring of a slave, may serve as a lesson to rulers and legis-
lators of far higher pretensions. Though the range of his influence
was limited, the intention of the act was not less meritorious than if
it had extended over an empire.

About this time, Paul proceeded on a whaling voyage to the
Straits of Belleisle, where he found four other vessels much better
equipped than his own. For this reason the masters of these vessels
withdrew from the customary practice on such occasions, and refused
to mate with Paul's crew, which consisted of only ten hands. This
disagreement was afterwards made up ; but it had the effect of
rousing the ardour of Cuffee and his men to such a pitch, that out of
seven whales killed in that season, two fell by Paul's own hands, and
four by those of his crew. Returning home heavily freighted with
oil and bone, our hero then went to Philadelphia to dispose of his
cargo, and with the proceeds purchased materials for building a
schooner of sixty or seventy tons. In 1795, when he was about
thirty-six years of age, Paul had the pleasure of seeing his new
vessel launched at Westport. The Ranger was the name given to
the schooner, which was of sixty-nine tons burden. By selling his
two other boats, Paul was enabled to put a cargo worth two thou-
sand dollars on board of the Ranger ; and having heard that a load
of Indian corn might be procured at a low rate on the eastern shore
of Maryland, he accordingly directed his course thither. It may
give some idea of the low estimation in which the African race was
held, and of the energy required to rise above the crushing weight
of prejudice, when we inform the reader that, on the arrival of Paul
at Vienna, in Nantichoke Bay, the inhabitants were filled with
astonishment, and even alarm ; a vessel owned and commanded by
a black man, and manned with a crew of the same colour, was
unprecedented and surprising. The fear of a revolt on the part of
their slaves was excited among the inhabitants of Vienna, and an
attempt was made to prevent Paul from entering the harbour. The
prudence and firmness of the negro captain overcame this difficulty,
and converted dislike into kindness and esteem. He sold his cargo,
received in lieu of it three thousand bushels of Indian corn, which
he conveyed to Westport, where it was in great demand, and
yielded our hero a clear profit of a thousand dollars. He made
many subsequent voyages to the same quarter, and always with
similar success.

Paul Cuffee was now one of the wealthiest and most respectable
men of the district in which he lived, and all his relations partook


of his good-fortune. He had purchased some valuable landed
property in the neighbourhood where his family had been brought
up, and placed it under the care of one of his brothers. He built
a brig likewise of a hundred and sixty-two tons, which was put
under the command of a nephew. As may be supposed, he had in
the meantime fitted himself also with a vessel suited to his increas-
ing means. In 1806, the brig Traveller, of a hundred and nine tons,
and the ship Alpha, of two hundred and sixty-eight tons, were built
at Westport, and of these he was the principal owner. He com-
manded the Alpha himself, and the others also were engaged in
the extensive business which he carried on at Westport.

The scheme of forming colonies of free blacks, from America and
other quarters, on the coast of their native Africa, excited the deepest
interest in Paul Cuffee, whose heart had always grieved for the
degraded state of his race. Anxious to contribute to the success
of this great purpose, he resolved to visit in person the African coast,

Online LibraryWilliam ChambersChambers's miscellany of instructive & entertaining tracts (Volume 4) → online text (page 38 of 58)