An interesting find in Google Books this evening. Abram Brewer is one of Jess's ancestors and I know from other research that he lived in Greenwood, Indiana, so this is likely to be him. Here is an image from The African Repository By American Colonization Society
that shows he donated $2.00 (a relatively sizeable
sum) in 1847 to the Greenwood (Indiana) Col. Society.
The Greenwood Colonization Society was a chapter of the American Colonization Society that was dedicated to the resettlement of free American blacks in Liberia
. Providing land and an opportunity to resettle freed slaves and free African-Americans into a self-governing society, Liberia was supposed to be an idealized society. It was founded by the American Colonization Society in 1820 on the west coast of Africa.
In 1832, the following goals
of the American Colonization Society were noted:
- I. To rescue the free coloured people from the disqualifications, the degradation, and the proscription to which they are exposed in the United States.
- II. To place them in a country where they may enjoy the benefits of free government, with all the blessings which it brings in its train.
- III. To avert the dangers of a dreadful collision at a future day of the two castes, which must inevitably be objects of mutual jealousy to each other.
- IV. To spread civilization, sound morals and religion throughout the vast continent of Africa, at present sunk in the lowest and most hideous state of barbarism.
- V. And though last, not least, to afford slave owners who are conscientiously scrupulous about holding human beings in bondage, an asylum to which they may send their manumitted slaves.
The idea of creating such segregation through a process of deportation now seems very racist, but the idea was then seen by many abolitionists as a progressive solution to slavery. Many people believed that it would be impossible
for blacks to live in liberty and improve their situations given the inequality and oppression inherent in American society:
"It is taken for granted, that, in present circumstances, any effort to produce a general and thorough amelioration in the character and condition of the Free People of Colour must be, to a great extent, fruitless. In every part of the United States there is a broad and impassable line of demarcation between every man who has one drop of African blood in his veins, and every other class in the community. The habits, the feelings, all the prejudices of society--prejudices which neither refinement, nor argument, nor education, nor religion itself can subdue--mark the People of Colour, whether bond or free, as the subjects of degradation,inevitable and incurable. The African in this country belongs, by birth, to the very lowest station in society; and from that station be can never rise, be his talents, his enterprise, his virtues, what they may. They constitute a class by themselves--a class out of which no individual can be elevated, and below which none can be depressed. And this is the difficulty, the invariable and insuperable difficulty, in the way of every scheme for their benefit. Much can be done for them--much has been done; but still they are, and in this country always must be, a depressed and abject race."--Address from the Connecticut Colonization Society, 1828
Rather than make changes to the American laws around slavery and free blacks and changes to the prejudices of the American public, colonization was proposed. Integration of society was seen as an impossible goal. In 1859, John Latrobe
stated about freed African-Americans:
The free...without an especial protector, dependant upon himself alone, living, as the bills of mortality seem to shew, a shorter life than the slave, and made to feel in a thousand ways his social and political inferiority, either frets away existence in aspirations, which, here, can never be realized, or, yielding hopelessly to circumstances, falls with benumbed faculties into a condition that is little better than the slave's.As an alternative to integration, many believed resettlement in a far-away land that was to be self-governed would provide greater opportunities for black success, economically, politically, and personally.
Resettlement was also supported by those who didn't entirely believe in the abolition of slavery. The presence of free blacks in a community was believed to be an inducement to slave rebellion, for slaveholders an omnipresent threat. As slaves outnumbered whites in most slaveholding communities, any possibility of rebellion created a crisis. In some places, freed blacks were forced to leave the area or were severely restricted.
The presence of free blacks in any location could also create economic pressure for whites who were competing for jobs. This made the deportation of free blacks attractive to many working-class whites who were not abolitionists. The increases in numbers of free African-Americans were often cited in speeches encouraging support of the colonization scheme.
Further, the presence of African-Americans in Africa was presumed to be a way of spreading the Christian religion into the interior of Africa, and so supported by many religious people. Ironically, while the American Colonization Society encouraged this rationale for colonization, many members also decried the poor morals of free black citizens of the United States, assigning them every sort of vice.
There was opposition to the colonization scheme from the British and from American abolitionists. Perhaps most prominently, William Lloyd Garrison wrote
in the 1830s:
If I must become a colonizationist, I insist upon being consistent: there must be no disagreement between my creed and practice. I must be able to give a reason why all our tall citizens should not conspire to remove their more diminutive brethren, and all the corpulent to remove the lean and lank, and all the strong to remove the weak, and all the educated to remove the ignorant, and all the rich to remove the poor, as readily as for the removal of those whose skin is 'not colored like my own;' for Nature has sinned as culpably in diversifying the size as the complexion of her progeny, and Fortune in the distribution of her gifts has been equally fickle. I cannot perceive that I am more excusable in desiring the banishment of my neighbor, because his skin is darker than mine, than I should be in desiring his banishment, because he is a smaller or feebler man than myself.
Emigrants supposedly had to agree to moving to Liberia before they embarked, but probably many emigrants had little real sense of what life would be like in the distant country. Many slaves were emancipated on the condition
that they emigrate to Liberia, and opponents to the colonization often claimed that some had been forced to embark. Despite positive reports to the members of the American Colonization Society, life was hard for emigrants. The death rate for early colonists was especially high. Still, few negative reports of the colony seem to survive.
The American black community was split on the organization with some eager to move
to a land where life would be easier and others distressed by the implications of deportation of free, black Americans. In 1849, Frederick Douglass, himself free and black, wrote
We are of the opinion that the free colored people generally mean to live in America, and not in Africa; and to appropriate a large sum for our removal, would merely be a waste of the public money. We do not mean to go to Liberia. Our minds are made up to live here if we can, or die here if we must; so every attempt to remove us will be, as it ought to be, labor lost. Here we are, and here we shall remain. While our brethren are in bondage on these shores, it is idle to think of inducing any considerable number of the free colored people to quit this for a foreign land.
Still, by 1867, about 13,000
immigrants had moved to Liberia.
Liberia was initially governed by the American Colonization Society, but achieved independence in 1847. It existed until 1980, when the government was overthrown. Ironically, the free blacks that governed Liberia had oppressed the native Africans, taking their lands and occasionally impressing them into servitude.
Abram Brewer was 17 at the time of his donation to the Greenwood Colonization Society. D.A. Brewer who donated 25 cents may have been either Abram's brother Daniel or David.
It is impossible to know the motivations behind Abram's donation. Looking at census information, however, it was probably not the increased presence of free blacks locally. According to the statistical information
, only a handful of free blacks were enumerated in Johnson County, IN from 1820 to 1850. The high for free "colored" persons was in 1840 with 20 persons, 13 of whom were free colored males, out of a total population of 9,352. Neighboring Marion County, where Indianapolis is located had 625 free colored persons in 1850, but still had a proportionately small number of blacks to whites since the total population was 24,103. No slaves were ever enumerated in Johnson or Marion Counties, Indiana. Abram would not likely have been in competition with free blacks for employment or lands, especially as he was a farmer all his life.
Indiana, however, was a strong proponent of the colonization efforts. In 1851
, a law was passed that proposed moving the entire free black population of the state to Liberia and forbade any new free black settlement in the state.
Still, the only possible connection I can make between Abram and anyone of color is that a Caroline Hodges, age 22 and black, lived in Pleasant Township in 1850. She had $800 worth of personal estate, and resided with the George Noble family. Next door was a David Brewer, quite possibly some relation to Abram (maybe his brother?).
The Library of Congress has a collection from the American Colonization Society
that provides much information about the immigrants and the society. There is also a timeline
that can provide a useful summary of key events and documents. The University of Virginia also has materials related to the colonization, including letters
from Liberia. A history of Indiana and the colonization effort can be found here
Labels: family history, sources