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The Education Of The Negro Prior To 1861
Actual Education
by Woodson, Carter Godwin

Would these professions of interest in the mental development of the blacks be translated into action? What these reformers would do to raise the standard of Negro education above the plane of rudimentary training incidental to religious instruction, was yet to be seen. Would they secure to Negroes the educational privileges guaranteed other elements of society? The answer, if not affirmative, was decidedly encouraging. The idea uppermost in the minds of these workers was that the people of color could and should be educated as other races of men.

In the lead of this movement were the antislavery agitators. Recognizing the Negroes' need of preparation for citizenship, the abolitionists proclaimed as a common purpose of their organizations the education of the colored people with a view to developing in them self-respect, self-support, and usefulness in the community.[1]
[Footnote 1: Smyth, "Works of Benjamin Franklin", vol. x., p. 127; Torrey, "Portraiture of Slavery", p. 21. See also constitution of almost any antislavery society organized during this period.]
The proposition to cultivate the minds of the slaves came as a happy solution of what had been a perplexing problem. Many Americans who considered slavery an evil had found no way out of the difficulty when the alternative was to turn loose upon society so many uncivilized men without the ability to discharge the duties of citizenship.[1] Assured then that the efforts at emancipation would be tested by experience, a larger number of men advocated abolition. These leaders recommended gradual emancipation for States having a large slave population, that those designated for freedom might first be instructed in the value and meaning of liberty to render them comfortable in the use of it.[2] The number of slaves in the States adopting the policy of immediate emancipation was not considered a menace to society, for the schools already open to colored people could exert a restraining influence on those lately given the boon of freedom. For these reasons the antislavery societies had in their constitutions a provision for a committee of education to influence Negroes to attend school, superintend their instruction, and emphasize the cultivation of the mind as the necessary preparation for "that state in society upon which depends our political happiness."[3] Much stress was laid upon this point by the American Convention of Abolition Societies in 1794 and 1795 when the organization expressed the hope that freedmen might participate in civil rights as fast as they qualified by education.[4]
[Footnote 1: Washington, "Works of Jefferson", vol. vi., p. 456; vol. viii., p. 379; Madison, "Works of", vol. iii., p. 496; Monroe, "Writings of", vol. iii., pp. 321, 336, 349, 378; Adams, "Works of John Adams", vol. ix., p. 92 and vol. x., p. 380.]

[Footnote 2: "Proceedings of the American Convention", etc., 1797, address.]

[Footnote 3: The constitution of almost any antislavery society of that time provided for this work. See "Proc. of Am. Conv.", etc., 1795, address.]

[Footnote 4: "Proceedings of the American Convention of Abolition Societies", 1794, p. 21; and 1795, p. 17; and "Rise and Progress of the Testimony of Friends", etc., p. 27.]
This work was organized by the abolitionists but was generally maintained by members of the various sects which did more for the enlightenment of the people of color through the antislavery organizations than through their own.[1] The support of the clergy, however, did not mean that the education of the Negroes would continue incidental to the teaching of religion. The blacks were to be accepted as brethren and trained to be useful citizens. For better education the colored people could then look to the more liberal sects, the Quakers, Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians, who prior to the Revolution had been restrained by intolerance from extensive proselyting. Upon the attainment of religious liberty they were free to win over the slaveholders who came into the Methodist and Baptist churches in large numbers, bringing their slaves with them.[2] The freedom of these "regenerated" churches made possible the rise of Negro exhorters and preachers, who to exercise their gifts managed in some way to learn to read and write. Schools for the training of such leaders were not to be found, but to encourage ambitious blacks to qualify themselves white ministers often employed such candidates as attendants, allowing them time to observe, to study, and even to address their audiences.[3]
[Footnote 1: The antislavery societies were at first the uniting influence among all persons interested in the uplift of the Negroes. The agitation had not then become violent, for men considered the institution not a sin but merely an evil.]

[Footnote 2: Coke, "Journal", etc., p. 114; Lambert, "Travels", p. 175; Baird, "A Collection", etc., pp. 381, 387 and 816; James, "Documentary", etc., p. 35; Foote, "Sketches of Virginia", p. 31; Matlack, "History of American Slavery and Methodism", p. 31; Semple, "History of the Rise and Progress of the Baptists in Virginia", p. 222.]

[Footnote 3: "Ibid.", and Coke, "Journal", etc., pp. 16-18.]
It must be observed, however, that the interest of these benevolent men was no longer manifested in the mere traditional teaching of individual slaves. The movement ceased to be the concern of separate philanthropists. Men really interested in the uplift of the colored people organized to raise funds, open schools, and supervise their education.[1] In the course of time their efforts became more systematic and consequently more successful. These educators adopted the threefold policy of instructing Negroes in the principles of the Christian religion, giving them the fundamentals of the common branches, and teaching them the most useful handicrafts.[2] The indoctrination of the colored people, to be sure, was still an important concern to their teachers, but the accession to their ranks of a militant secular element caused the emphasis to shift to other phases of education. Seeing the Negroes' need of mental development, the Presbyterian Synod of New York and Pennsylvania urged the members of that denomination in 1787 to give their slaves "such good education as to prepare them for a better enjoyment of freedom."[3] In reply to the inquiry as to what could be done to teach the poor black and white children to read, the Methodist Conference of 1790 recommended the establishment of Sunday schools and the appointment of persons to teach gratis "all that will attend and have a capacity to learn."[4] The Conference recommended that the Church publish a special text-book to teach these children learning as well as piety.[5] Men in the political world were also active. In 1788 the State of New Jersey passed an act preliminary to emancipation, making the teaching of slaves to read compulsory under a penalty of five pounds.[6]
[Footnote 1: "Proceedings of the American Convention of Abolition Societies", 1797.]

[Footnote 2: "Proceedings of the American Convention of Abolition Societies", 1797.]

[Footnote 3: Locke, "Anti-slavery", etc., p. 44.]

[Footnote 4: Washington, "Story of the Negro", vol. ii, p. 121.]

[Footnote 5: "Ibid.", p. 121.]

[Footnote 6: Laws of New Jersey, 1788.]
With such influence brought to bear on persons in the various walks of life, the movement for the effective education of the colored people became more extensive. Voicing the sentiment of the different local organizations, the American Convention of Abolition Societies of 1794 urged the branches to have the children of free Negroes and slaves instructed in "common literature."[1] Two years later the Abolition Society of the State of Maryland proposed to establish an academy to offer this kind of instruction. To execute this scheme the American Convention thought that it was expedient to employ regular tutors, to form private associations of their members or other well-disposed persons for the purpose of instructing the people of color in the most simple branches of education.[2]
[Footnote 1: "Proceedings of the American Convention of Abolition Societies", 1796, p. 18.]

[Footnote 2: "Ibid.", 1797, p. 41.]
The regular tutors referred to above were largely indentured servants who then constituted probably the majority of the teachers of the colonies.[1] In 1773 Jonathan Boucher said that two thirds of the teachers of Maryland belonged to this class.[2] The contact of Negroes with these servants is significant. In the absence of rigid caste distinctions they associated with the slaves and the barrier between them was so inconsiderable that laws had to be passed to prevent the miscegenation of the races. The blacks acquired much useful knowledge from servant teachers and sometimes assisted them.
[Footnote 1: See the descriptions of indentured servants in the advertisements of colonial newspapers referred to on pages 82-84; and Boucher, "A View of the Causes", etc., p. 39.]

[Footnote 2: "Ibid.", pp. 39 and 40.]
Attention was directed also to the fact that neither literary nor religious education prepared the Negroes for a life of usefulness. Heeding the advice of Kosciuszko, Madison and Jefferson, the advocates of the education of the Negroes endeavored to give them such practical training as their peculiar needs demanded. In the agricultural sections the first duty of the teacher of the blacks was to show them how to get their living from the soil. This was the final test of their preparation for emancipation. Accordingly, on large plantations where much supervision was necessary, trustworthy Negroes were trained as managers. Many of those who showed aptitude were liberated and encouraged to produce for themselves. Slaves designated for freedom were often given small parcels of land for the cultivation of which they were allowed some of their time. An important result of this agricultural training was that many of the slaves thus favored amassed considerable wealth by using their spare time in cultivating crops of their own.[1]
[Footnote 1: "Special Report of the U.S. Com. of Ed.", 1871, p. 196.]
The advocates of useful education for the degraded race had more to say about training in the mechanic arts. Such instruction, however, was not then a new thing to the blacks of the South, for they had from time immemorial been the trustworthy artisans of that section. The aim then was to give them such education as would make them intelligent workmen and develop in them the power to plan for themselves. In the North, where the Negroes had been largely menial servants, adequate industrial education was deemed necessary for those who were to be liberated.[1] Almost every Northern colored school of any consequence then offered courses in the handicrafts. In 1784 the Quakers of Philadelphia employed Sarah Dwight to teach the colored girls sewing.[2] Anthony Benezet provided in his will that in the school to be established by his benefaction the girls should be taught needlework.[3] The teachers who took upon themselves the improvement of the free people of color of New York City regarded industrial training as one of their important tasks.[4]
[Footnote 1: See the "Address of the Am. Conv. of Abolition Societies", 1794; "ibid.", 1795; "ibid.", 1797 "et passim."]

[Footnote 2: Wickersham, "History of Ed. in Pa.", p. 249.]

[Footnote 3: "Special Report of the U.S. Com. of Ed.", 1869, p. 375.]

[Footnote 4: Andrews, "History of the New York African Free Schools", p. 20.]
None urged this duty upon the directors of these schools more persistently than the antislavery organizations. In 1794 the American Convention of Abolition Societies recommended that Negroes be instructed in "those mechanic arts which will keep them most constantly employed and, of course, which will less subject them to idleness and debauchery, and thus prepare them for becoming good citizens of the United States."[1] Speaking repeatedly on this wise the Convention requested the colored people to let it be their special care to have their children not only to work at useful trades but also to till the soil.[2] The early abolitionists believed that this was the only way the freedmen could learn to support themselves.[3] In connection with their schools the antislavery leaders had an Indenturing Committee to find positions for colored students who had the advantages of industrial education.[4] In some communities slaves were prepared for emancipation by binding them out as apprentices to machinists and artisans until they learned a trade.
[Footnote 1: "Proceedings of the American Convention", 1794, p. 14.]

[Footnote 2: "Ibid.", 1795, p. 29; "ibid.", 1797, pp. 12, 13, and 31.]

[Footnote 3: "Ibid.", 1797, p. 31.]

[Footnote 4: "Ibid.", 1818, p. 9.]
Two early efforts to carry out this policy are worthy of notice here. These were the endeavors of Anthony Benezet and Thaddeus Kosciuszko. Benezet was typical of those men, who, having the courage of their conviction, not only taught colored people, but gladly appropriated property to their education. Benezet died in 1784, leaving considerable wealth to be devoted to the purpose of educating Indians and Negroes. His will provided that as the estate on the death of his wife would not be sufficient entirely to support a school, the Overseers of the Public Schools of Philadelphia should join with a committee appointed by the Society of Friends, and other benevolent persons, in the care and maintenance of an institution such as he had planned. Finally in 1787 the efforts of Benezet reached their culmination in the construction of a schoolhouse, with additional funds obtained from David Barclay of London and Thomas Sidney, a colored man of Philadelphia. The pupils of this school were to study reading, writing, arithmetic, plain accounts, and sewing.[1]
[Footnote 1: "Special Report of the U.S. Com. of Ed.", 1871, p. 375.]
With respect to conceding the Negroes' claim to a better education, Thaddeus Kosciuszko, the Polish general, was not unlike Benezet. None of the revolutionary leaders were more moved with compassion for the colored people than this warrior. He saw in education the powerful leverage which would place them in position to enjoy the newly won rights of man. While assisting us in gaining our independence, Kosciuszko acquired here valuable property which he endeavored to devote to the enlightenment of the slaves. He authorized Thomas Jefferson, his executor, to employ the whole thereof in purchasing Negroes and liberating them in the name of Kosciuszko, "in giving them an education in trades or otherwise, and in having them instructed for their new condition in the duties of morality." The instructors were to provide for them such training as would make them "good neighbors, good mothers or fathers, good husbands or wives, teaching them the duties of citizenship, teaching them to be defenders of their liberty and country, and of the good order of society, and whatsoever might make them useful and happy."[1] Clearly as this was set forth the executor failed to discharge this duty enjoined upon him. The heirs of the donor instituted proceedings to obtain possession of the estate, which, so far as the author knows, was never used for the purpose for which it was intended.
[Footnote 1: "African Repository", vol. xi., pp. 294-295.]
In view of these numerous strivings we are compelled to inquire exactly what these educators accomplished. Although it is impossible to measure the results of their early efforts, various records of the eighteenth century prove that there was lessening objection to the instruction of slaves and practically none to the enlightenment of freedmen. Negroes in considerable numbers were becoming well grounded in the rudiments of education. They had reached the point of constituting the majority of the mechanics in slaveholding communities; they were qualified to be tradesmen, trustworthy helpers, and attendants of distinguished men, and a few were serving as clerks, overseers, and managers.[1] Many who were favorably circumstanced learned more than mere reading and writing. In exceptional cases, some were employed not only as teachers and preachers to their people, but as instructors of the white race.[2]
[Footnote 1: Georgia and South Carolina had to pass laws to prevent Negroes from following these occupations for fear that they might thereby become too well informed. See Brevard, "Digest of Public Statute Laws of S.C.", vol. ii., p. 243; and Marbury and Crawford, "Digest of the Laws of the State of Georgia", p. 438.]

[Footnote 2: Bassett, "Slavery in North Carolina", p. 74; manuscripts relating to the condition of the colored people of North Carolina, Ohio, and Tennessee now in the hands of Dr. J.E. Moorland.]
A more accurate estimate of how far the enlightenment of the Negroes had progressed before the close of the eighteenth century, is better obtained from the reports of teachers and missionaries who were working among them. Appealing to the Negroes of Virginia about 1755, Benjamin Fawcett addressed them as intelligent people, commanding them to read and study the Bible for themselves and consider "how the Papists do all they can to hide it from their fellowmen." "Be particularly thankful," said he, "for the Ministers of Christ around you, who are faithfully laboring to teach the truth as it is in Jesus."[1] Rev. Mr. Davies, then a member of the Society for Promoting the Gospel among the Poor, reported that there were multitudes of Negroes in different parts of Virginia who were "willingly, eagerly desirous to be instructed and embraced every opportunity of acquainting themselves with the Doctrine of the Gospel," and though they had generally very little help to learn to read, yet to his surprise many of them by dint of application had made such progress that they could "intelligently read a plain author and especially their Bible." Pity it was, he thought, that any of them should be without necessary books. Negroes were wont to come to him with such moving accounts of their needs in this respect that he could not help supplying them.[2] On Saturday evenings and Sundays his home was crowded with numbers of those "whose very Countenances still carry the air of importunate Petitioners" for the same favors with those who came before them. Complaining that his stock was exhausted, and that he had to turn away many disappointed, he urged his friends to send him other suitable books, for nothing else, thought he, could be a greater inducement to their industry to learn to read.
[Footnote 1: Fawcett, "Compassionate Address", etc., p. 33.]

[Footnote 2: Fawcett, "Compassionate Address", etc., p. 33.]
Still more reliable testimony may be obtained, not from persons particularly interested in the uplift of the blacks, but from slaveholders. Their advertisements in the colonial newspapers furnish unconscious evidence of the intellectual progress of the Negroes during the eighteenth century. "He's an 'artful,'"[1] "plausible,"[2] "smart,"[3] or "sensible fellow,"[4] "delights much in traffic,"[5] and "plays on the fife extremely well,"[6] are some of the statements found in the descriptions of fugitive slaves. Other fugitives were speaking "plainly,"[7] "talking indifferent English,"[8] "remarkably good English,"[9] and "exceedingly good English."[10] In some advertisements we observe such expressions as "he speaks a little French,"[11] "Creole French,"[12] "a few words of High-Dutch,"[13] and "tolerable German."[14] Writing about a fugitive a master would often state that "he can read print,"[15] "can read writing,"[16] "can read and also write a little,"[17] "can read and write,"[18] "can write a pretty hand and has probably forged a pass."[19] These conditions obtained especially in Charleston, South Carolina, where were advertised various fugitives, one of whom spoke French and English fluently, and passed for a doctor among his people,[20] another who spoke Spanish and French intelligibly,[21] and a third who could read, write, and speak both French and Spanish very well.[22]
[Footnote 1: "Virginia Herald" (Fredericksburg), Jan. 21, 1800; "The Maryland Gazette", Feb. 27, 1755; "Dunlop's Maryland Gazette and Baltimore Advertiser", July 23, 1776; "The State Gazette of South Carolina", May 18, 1786; "The State Gazette of North Carolina", July 2, 1789.]

[Footnote 2: "The City Gazette and Daily Advertiser" (Charleston, S.C.), Sept. 26, 1797, and "The Carolina Gazette", June 3, 1802.]

[Footnote 3: "The Charleston Courier", June 1, 1804; "The State Gazette of South Carolina", Feb. 20, and 27, 1786; and "The Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser", Feb. 19, 1793.]

[Footnote 4: "South Carolina Weekly Advertiser", Feb. 19 and April 2, 1783; "State Gazette of South Carolina", Feb. 20 and May 18, 1786.]

[Footnote 5: "The Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advocate", Oct. 17, 1780.]

[Footnote 6: "The Virginia Herald" (Fredericksburg), Jan. 21, 1800; and "The Norfolk and Portsmouth Chronicle", April 24, 1790.]

[Footnote 7: "The City Gazette and Daily Advertiser", Jan. 20 and March 1, 1800; and "The South Carolina Weekly Gazette", Oct. 24 to 31, 1759.]

[Footnote 8: "The City Gaz. and Daily Adv.", Jan. 20 and March 1, 1800; and "S.C. Weekly Gaz.", Oct. 24 to 31, 1759.]

[Footnote 9: "The Newbern Gazette", May 23 and Aug. 15, 1800; "The Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser", Feb. 19, 1793; "The City Gazette and Daily Advertiser" (Charleston, S.C.), Sept. 26, 1797; Oct. 5, 1798; Aug. 23 and Sept. 9, 1799; Aug. 18 and Oct. 3, 1800; and March 7, 1801; and "Maryland Gazette", Dec. 30, 1746; and April 4, 1754; "South Carolina Weekly Advertiser", Oct. 24 to 31, 1759; and Feb. 19, 1783; "The Gazette of the State of South Carolina", Sept. 13 and Nov. 1, 1784; and "The Carolina Gazette", Aug. 12, 1802.]

[Footnote 10: "The City Gazette and Daily Advertiser", Sept. 26, 1797; May 15, 1799; and Oct. 3, 1800; "The State Gazette of South Carolina", Aug. 21, 1786; "The Gazette of the State of South Carolina", Aug. 26, 1784; "The Maryland Gazette", Aug. 1, 1754; Oct. 28, 1773; and Aug. 19, 1784; and "The Columbian Herald", April 30, 1789.]

[Footnote 11: "The City Gazette and Daily Advertiser", Oct. 5, 1798; Aug. 18 and Sept. 18, 1800; "The Gazette of the State of South Carolina", Aug. 16, 1784.]

[Footnote 12: "The City Gazette and Daily Advertiser", Oct. 5, 1798.]

[Footnote 13: "The Maryland Gazette", Aug. 19, 1784.]

[Footnote 14: "The State Gazette of South Carolina", Feb. 20 and 27, 1780.]

[Footnote 15: "The Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser", Oct. 17, 1780. "Dunlop's Maryland Gazette and Baltimore Advertiser", July 23, 1776.]

[Footnote 16: "The Maryland Gazette", May 21, 1795.]

[Footnote 17: "The Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser", Oct. 17, 1780; and Sept. 20, 1785; and "The Maryland Gazette", May 21, 1795; and January 4, 1798; "The Carolina Gazette", June 3, 1802; and "The Charleston Courier", June 29, 1803. "The Norfolk and Portsmouth Chronicle", March 19, 1791.]

[Footnote 18: "The Maryland Gazette", Feb. 27, 1755; and Oct. 27, 1768; "The Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser", Oct. 1, 1793; "The Virginia Herald" (Fredericksburg), Jan. 21, 1800.]

[Footnote 19: "The Maryland Gazette", Feb. 1, 1755 and Feb. 1, 1798; "The State Gazette of North Carolina", April 30, 1789; "The Norfolk and Portsmouth Chronicle", April 24, 1790; "The City Gazette and Daily Advertiser" (Charleston, South Carolina), Jan. 5, 1799; and March 7, 1801; "The Carolina Gazette", Feb. 4, 1802; and "The Virginia Herald" (Fredericksburg), Jan. 21, 1800.]

[Footnote 20: "The City Gazette and Daily Advertiser", Jan. 5, 1799; and March 5, 1800; "The Gazette of the State of South Carolina", Aug. 16, 1784; and "The Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser", Sept. 20, 1793.]

[Footnote 21: "The City Gazette of South Carolina", Jan. 5, 1799.]

[Footnote 22: The City Gazette and Daily Advertiser (Charleston, South Carolina), June 22 and Aug. 8, 1797; April 1 and May 15, 1799.]
Equally convincing as to the educational progress of the colored race were the high attainments of those Negroes who, despite the fact that they had little opportunity, surpassed in intellect a large number of white men of their time. Negroes were serving as salesmen, keeping accounts, managing plantations, teaching and preaching, and had intellectually advanced to the extent that fifteen or twenty per cent. of their adults could then at least read. Most of this talented class became preachers, as this was the only calling even conditionally open to persons of African blood. Among these clergymen was George Leile,[1] who won distinction as a preacher in Georgia in 1782, and then went to Jamaica where he founded the first Baptist church of that colony. The competent and indefatigable Andrew Bryan[2] proved to be a worthy successor of George Leile in Georgia. From 1770 to 1790 Negro preachers were in charge of congregations in Charles City, Petersburg, and Allen's Creek in Lunenburg County, Virginia.[3] In 1801 Gowan Pamphlet of that State was the pastor of a progressive Baptist church, some members of which could read, write, and keep accounts.[4] Lemuel Haynes was then widely known as a well-educated minister of the Protestant Episcopal Church. John Gloucester, who had been trained under Gideon Blackburn of Tennessee, distinguished himself in Philadelphia where he founded the African Presbyterian Church.[5] One of the most interesting of these preachers was Josiah Bishop. By 1791 he had made such a record in his profession that he was called to the pastorate of the First Baptist Church (white) of Portsmouth, Virginia.[6] After serving his white brethren a number of years he preached some time in Baltimore and then went to New York to take charge of the Abyssinian Baptist Church.[7] This favorable condition of affairs could not long exist after the aristocratic element in the country began to recover some of the ground it had lost during the social upheaval of the revolutionary era. It was the objection to treating Negroes as members on a plane of equality with all, that led to the establishment of colored Baptist churches and to the secession of the Negro Methodists under the leadership of Richard Allen in 1794. The importance of this movement to the student of education lies in the fact that a larger number of Negroes had to be educated to carry on the work of the new churches.
[Footnote 1: He was sometimes called George Sharp. See Benedict, "History of the Baptists", etc., p. 189.]

[Footnote 2: "Ibid.", p. 189.]

[Footnote 3: Semple, "History of the Baptists", etc., p. 112.]

[Footnote 4: "Ibid.", p. 114.]

[Footnote 5: Baird, "A Collection", etc., p. 817.]

[Footnote 6: Semple, "History of the Baptists", etc., p. 355.]

[Footnote 7: "Ibid.", p. 356.]
The intellectual progress of the colored people of that day, however, was not restricted to their clergymen. Other Negroes were learning to excel in various walks of life. Two such persons were found in North Carolina. One of these was known as Caesar, the author of a collection of poems, which, when published in that State, attained a popularity equal to that of Bloomfield's.[1] Those who had the pleasure of reading the poems stated that they were characterized by "simplicity, purity, and natural grace."[2] The other noted Negro of North Carolina was mentioned in 1799 by Buchan in his "Domestic Medicine" as the discoverer of a remedy for the bite of the rattlesnake. Buchan learned from Dr. Brooks that, in view of the benefits resulting from the discovery of this slave, the General Assembly of North Carolina purchased his freedom and settled upon him a hundred pounds per annum.[3]
[Footnote 1: Baldwin, "Observations", etc., p. 20.]

[Footnote 2: "Ibid.", p. 21.]

[Footnote 3: Smyth, "A Tour in the U.S.", p. 109; and Baldwin, "Observations", p. 20.]
To this class of bright Negroes belonged Thomas Fuller, a native African, who resided near Alexandria, Virginia, where he startled the students of his time by his unusual attainments in mathematics, despite the fact that he could neither read nor write. Once acquainted with the power of numbers, he commenced his education by counting the hairs of the tail of the horse with which he worked the fields. He soon devised processes for shortening his modes of calculation, attaining such skill and accuracy as to solve the most difficult problems. Depending upon his own system of mental arithmetic he learned to obtain accurate results just as quickly as Mr. Zerah Colburn, a noted calculator of that day, who tested the Negro mathematician.[1] The most abstruse questions in relation to time, distance, and space were no task for his miraculous memory, which, when the mathematician was interrupted in the midst of a long and tedious calculation, enabled him to take up some other work and later resume his calculation where he left off.[2] One of the questions propounded him, was how many seconds of time had elapsed since the birth of an individual who had lived seventy years, seven months, and as many days. Fuller was able to answer the question in a minute and a half.
[Footnote 1: Baldwin, "Observations", p. 21.]

[Footnote 2: Needles, "An Historical Memoir", etc., p. 32.]
Another Negro of this type was James Durham, a native slave of the city of Philadelphia. Durham was purchased by Dr. Dove, a physician in New Orleans, who, seeing the divine spark in the slave, gave him a chance for mental development. It was fortunate that he was thrown upon his own resources in this environment, where the miscegenation of the races since the early French settlement, had given rise to a thrifty and progressive class of mixed breeds, many of whom at that time had the privileges and immunities of freemen. Durham was not long in acquiring a rudimentary education, and soon learned several modern languages, speaking English, French, and Spanish fluently. Beginning his medical education early in his career, he finished his course, and by the time he was twenty-one years of age became one of the most distinguished physicians[1] of New Orleans. Dr. Benjamin Rush, the noted physician of Philadelphia, who was educated at the Edinburgh Medical College, once deigned to converse professionally with Dr. Durham. "I learned more from him than he could expect from me," was the comment of the Philadelphian upon a conversation in which he had thought to appear as instructor of the younger physician.[2]
[Footnote 1: Brissot de Warville, "New Travels", vol. i., p. 223.]

[Footnote 2: Baldwin, "Observations", etc., p. 17.]
Most prominent among these brainy persons of color were Phyllis Wheatley and Benjamin Banneker. The former was a slave girl brought from Africa in 1761 and put to service in the household of John Wheatley of Boston. There, without any training but that which she obtained from her master's family, she learned in sixteen months to speak the English language fluently, and to read the most difficult parts of sacred writings. She had a great inclination for Latin and made some progress in the study of that language. Led to writing by curiosity, she was by 1765 possessed of a style which enabled her to count among her correspondents some of the most influential men of her time. Phyllis Wheatley's title to fame, however, rested not on her general attainments as a scholar but rather on her ability to write poetry. Her poems seemed to have such rare merit that men marveled that a slave could possess such a productive imagination, enlightened mind, and poetical genius. The publishers were so much surprised that they sought reassurance as to the authenticity of the poems from such persons as James Bowdoin, Harrison Gray, and John Hancock.[1] Glancing at her works, the modern critic would readily say that she was not a poetess, just as the student of political economy would dub Adam Smith a failure as an economist. A bright college freshman who has studied introductory economics can write a treatise as scientific as the "Wealth of Nations". The student of history, however, must not "despise the day of small things." Judged according to the standards of her time, Phyllis Wheatley was an exceptionally intellectual person.
[Footnote 1: Baldwin, "Observations", etc., p. 18; Wright, "Poems of Phyllis Wheatley", Introduction.]
The other distinguished Negro, Benjamin Banneker, was born in Baltimore County, Maryland, November 9, 1731, near the village of Ellicott Mills. Banneker was sent to school in the neighborhood, where he learned reading, writing, and arithmetic. Determined to acquire knowledge while toiling, he applied his mind to things intellectual, cultivated the power of observation, and developed a retentive memory. These acquirements finally made him tower above all other American scientists of his time with the possible exception of Benjamin Franklin. In conformity with his desire to do and create, his tendency was toward mathematics. Although he had never seen a clock, watches being the only timepieces in the vicinity, he made in 1770 the first clock manufactured in the United States,[1] thereby attracting the attention of the scientific world. Learning these things, the owner of Ellicott Mills became very much interested in this man of inventive genius, lent him books, and encouraged him in his chosen field. Among these volumes were treatises on astronomy, which Banneker soon mastered without any instruction.[2] Soon he could calculate eclipses of sun and moon and the rising of each star with an accuracy almost unknown to Americans. Despite his limited means, he secured through Goddard and Angell of Baltimore the publication of the first almanac produced in this country. Jefferson received from Banneker a copy, for which he wrote the author a letter of thanks. It appears that Jefferson had some doubts about the man's genius, but the fact that the philosopher invited Banneker to visit him at Monticello in 1803, indicates that the increasing reputation of the Negro must have caused Jefferson to change his opinion as to the extent of Banneker's attainments and the value of his contributions to mathematics and science.[3]
[Footnote 1: Washington, "Jefferson's Works", vol. v., p. 429.]

[Footnote 2: Baldwin, "Observations", etc., p. 16.]

[Footnote 3: Washington, "Jefferson's Works", vol. v., p. 429.]
So favorable did the aspect of things become as a result of this movement to elevate the Negroes, that persons observing the conditions then obtaining in this country thought that the victory for the despised race had been won. Traveling in 1783 in the colony of Virginia, where the slave trade had been abolished and schools for the education of freedmen established, Johann Schoepf felt that the institution was doomed.[1] After touring Pennsylvania five years later, Brissot de Warville reported that there existed then a country where the blacks were allowed to have souls, and to be endowed with an understanding capable of being formed to virtue and useful knowledge, and where they were not regarded as beasts of burden in order that their masters might have the privilege of treating them as such. He was pleased that the colored people by their virtue and understanding belied the calumnies which their tyrants elsewhere lavished against them, and that in that community one perceived no difference between "the memory of a black head whose hair is craped by nature, and that of the white one craped by art."[2]
[Footnote 1: Schoepf, "Travels in the Confederation", p. 149.]

[Footnote 2: Brissot de Warville, "New Travels", vol. I., p. 220.]


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