Antislavery: The Crusade for Freedom in America

By Dwight Lowell Dumond | Go to book overview

Chapter 25
THE PRUDENCE CRANDALL CASE

Refusal of Northern state legislatures to follow the example of those in the slave states in suppressing antislavery publications and organizations did not wholly sustain the basic democratic principle of free enquiry and discussion. People always have found it easy to crucify those who differ with them. They never succeed in suppressing ideas in this way, but they never fail to try, and they seem to get a sadistic pleasure from the effort. Such was the public attitude toward the slaves and the free Negroes and their antislavery friends. Great souls must always bear a certain amount of rudeness and disrespect. The liberals, the humanitarians, the intellectuals, the philanthropists, and practitioners of Christian benevolence of the 1830's were no exception. The American people in 1830, certainly, were an ill- mannered lot, and when slaveholders, men in high public office, and political newspapers chanted a hymn of hate, ill manners turned to brutality. The shame of what happened then will always be with us. It could not have happened if public officials had performed the most elementary duty of protecting persons and property. They did not do so. The caprice of public opinion in a given community at a given time took from the law control of the affairs of men. The result was either mob violence or legal persecution, or both.

The first outburst of public hostility toward Negroes and their antislavery friends to attract national attention was the Prudence Crandall Case at Canterbury, Connecticut.1 Miss Crandall, in January 1833, admitted to her private school for young ladies seventeen-year-old Sarah Harris, daughter of a highly respected local Negro family. The white pupils made the adjustment easily enough, but some white parents and others protested. Miss Crandall then closed her school to white girls and opened it to Negro girls only in April 1833. The students were recruited from substantial Negro families in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Providence, with the aid of a group of prominent men of both races, including Samuel E. Cornish, George Bourne, James Forten, Samuel J. May, Simeon S. Jocelyn, and Arnold Buffum.2

Sentiment in the town against Miss Crandall was whipped into a frenzy by Andrew T. Judson, ambitious local politician and guiding genius of the local colonization society. This was a continuation of the battle against Jocelyn's project at New Haven, but one step farther down the ladder toward barbarism. Judson and his cohorts remonstrated with Miss Crandall. They dumped a load of manure in her well. They refused to sell her supplies and threatened her father and brother with mob violence, fine, and imprisonment if they continued to bring her food from their nearby farm. They piled refuse from a slaughter house on her front porch. They called a town meeting, refused to permit Samuel J. May and Arnold Buffum to speak in her behalf, and resolved to oppose the school "at all hazards." They tried to buy her out. They stoned her and her pupils on the street. They shut them out of the church services. They pelted the house with rotten eggs. The doctors refused medical care to Miss Crandall when she was ill.

They prepared to whip the girl pupils in the public square under the provisions of the vagrancy laws and were stopped from doing so only be

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