The Black Abolitionist Papers - Vol. 1

By C. Peter Ripley | Go to book overview

97.
J. Sella Martin to Editor, London Morning Star 8 September 1863

During the Civil War, blacks in Britain played a critical role in promoting the Union cause and combating pro-Confederate propaganda. In the summer of 1863, it was rumored that the Confederate army would soon enlist slaves. J. Sella Martin's 8 September letter to the London Morning Star's editor Samuel Lucas scoffed at the possibility. Martin's letter reached not only the Star's limited, Radical readership of fifteen thousand but a wider audience as well when it was reprinted in other periodicals like the Anti-Slavery Reporter. MS, 9 September 1863; Bourne, English Newspapers, 2:241, 272; ASRL, 1 October 1863.

Bromley London, [ England] Sept[ember] 8, [1863]

SIR: 1

I am prepared to believe the report that reaches us by this mail "that President Davis has decided, after consultation with the governors of the Confederate States, to call out 500,000 black troops, who are to receive their freedom and fifty acres of land at the end of the war." 2

Said Owen Glendower in a spirit either of boasting or superstition, "I can call spirits from the vasty deep." "So can I," replied Hotspur, "but will they come?" 3 Jefferson Davis has called the wandering spirits of the Confederate army from the wilderness of desertion, but they have not responded to his call--he now calls spirits from the vasty deep of his necessities and their sufferings, but will they come? I answer, "No." They may be driven to the field of battle as for six generations they have been driven to the field of unpaid labour, but a mere call from Jefferson Davis will serve no other purpose than to give another colour to his great crowd of deserters.

Some surprise has already been expressed by the friends of the slave that so small a proportion of the slave population has left the plantations of the rebel States to find safety within the Union lines. In answer to such expressions I have had to state that the number which came and thus made an effort to gain their freedom was in almost exact proportion to the self-reliant; and I now add that the proportion is as large as can be found among any degraded people. But if it is true that the South intends to call out the slaves as soldiers the grounds of that surprise will be speedily removed. Those morally renovated slaves who have been afraid of the battle-field, or too indolent to make an effort for their own freedom--waiting heretofore for the Union lines to embrace them as by en

-544-

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