Rollin, Frank [Frances] A.
|CHAPTER II. -- EARLY EDUCATION.|
IN the recent struggle through which the nation has passed, like convulsions, sometimes, of certain portions of the physical world, old features and landmarks are swept away, and new features are apparent, developing on the surface, the existence of which very little, if anything, was heretofore known.
A class has been invoked into action, to whose sublime patience and enduring heroism the genius of poetry will turn for inspiration, while future historians, recognizing evidences of the true statesmanship which they have exhibited through the dark night of slavery, will place them amid the brightest constellations of our time. This class exhibited the same anomaly in the midst of slavery, that the slaves in a government whose doctrines taught liberty and equality to all men, and under whose banner the exile and fugitive found refuge, presented to the civilization of this century. They were an intermediate class in all the slave states, standing between the whites and the bondmen, known as the free colored; debarred from enjoying the privileges of the one, but superior in condition to the other, more, however, by sufferance than by actual law. While they were the say of the one, they were
Thus their position in the midst of a slave community was altogether precarious, as they were looked upon as a dangerous element by the slaveholders. Their lives and material prosperity standing in direct contrast to the repeated assertions of the advocates and apologists of slavery, that they would, if free, relapse
There were others whose far-seeing visions, peering into futurity, beheld the balance of power held out to them, and remained awaiting the march of events not far removed, and at this time are recognized as the accepted leaders of the rising race.
Under this state of society was engendered a habitual watchfulness of public measures, making them tenacious of their rights and immunities in every community where they are found, and a peculiarly sensitive to the slightest indication of encroachments, which has resulted in developing in them a foresight and sagacity not surpassed in others, whose individual status is less closely allied with political measures.
From this class sprang the honored and scholarly
Amid these uncertain surroundings was the boyhood of Martin Delany passed. In childhood the playmate of John Avis, at Charlestown, in manhood, the associate of the immortal Brown of Ossawatomie, in a measure which ultimately resulted in rendering the name of the kind-hearted Virginian historic in connection with his illustrious captive.
With all the schools closed against them in Virginia, it was not until about 1818 that his brothers and sisters ever attempted to receive instruction.
With the vast domain of Virginia at this date, teeming with school-houses, attended by thousands of colored children, and instructed by white northern teachers, as well as those of their own race, the tuition of the Delany children forms a singular contrast.
The famous New York Primer and Spelling Book was brought to them about that time by itinerant Yankee pedlers, trading in rags and old pewter, and giving in exchange for these new tin ware, school books, and stationery. These pedlers always found it convenient and profitable, like wise, to leave their peculiar looking box wagon to whisper into the ear of a
This stealthy manner of learning, while they were unconscious of the cause, had the tendency of making them more attentive and eager, perhaps, than otherwise, for their tuition was not of long duration before the elder boys were able to read intelligently, and instruct the younger children, we are told. And after a time almost improbable had elapsed, so well arranged were the plans for imparting instruction, that the authorities, who are always so vigilant in inspecting or prying into the movements of the free blacks, "that dangerous element" of the South, were so completely baffled, that not only the smaller children were reading and spelling, but the larger boys were actually writing "passes" for the slaves of their neighborhood.
As their minds developed, all restraint was thrown aside, and the lessons given and recited heretofore in whispers, were now being recited to each other aloud. Leaving the little room in which they were accustomed to assemble, with throbbing hearts and eyes beaming with joyous anticipations to receive those early lessons, unconscious of the hair-suspended sword of southern justice above their innocent heads, they dared to " play school ," like other children, under the shaded arbor of their mother's garden. This soon attracted the attention
It chanced one day, in the midst of their recitations, their mother being absent, they were interrupted by a man inquiring the name of their parents, then of each child, taking it down in the mean time in his book. Being satisfied, he rode away. These children, unconscious of the purport of the visit, joyfully related it to their mother on her return. Great was their astonishment to see the expression of deep dejection that over-shadowed the features that but a few moments before had shone with happiness as she greeted them. Her only response to their information was a long-drawn sigh, for too well she knew that visit foreboded trouble. In a few days her fears were realized. A man called at the house, and delivered a summons to her, to the effect that it was understood that she was having her children taught to read, in direct violation of law, for which she should answer before a court of justice. The devoted mother's consternation can be well pictured, when we recall the justice extended to the noble Prudence Crandell, in Connecticut, for teaching negro
This violation of law, and the inevitable consequences, were soon bruited around the country. Neither sympathy or advice was extended to the courageous woman, whose only crime was wearing a dusky skin; but instead, the jeers and scowls which the vilest culprit receives met her on every side. Mingled with their imprecations could be remembered the significant expressions, "A wholesome lesson!" "It will do that proud, defiant woman good!" "She always made pretensions above a negro." Suits were constantly entered, and failed. She was persecuted by all, with one noble exception -- that of Randall Brown, a banker, who often advised her to leave the place. Finally, in September, 1822, under the pretext of moving to Martinsburg, she left Charlestown for Chambersburg, Pa, where residing for fifteen years, her children were enabled to continue their studies, with "none to molest or make them afraid." There, for several years, they attended school, securing such advantages as the country schools of those days afforded.
After some time had elapsed, Delany's parents' means being limited, he was compelled to leave school. He then went to Cumberland County, about two years after he had left school, to work; but, becoming dissatisfied with his prospects, he returned to Chambersburg, to obtain the consent of his parents to go to Pittsburg,