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    LIFE OF MAJOR M.R.DELANY   Table of Contents     CHAPTER II.

Rollin, Frank [Frances] A.
Life and Public Services of Martin R. Delany



IT has always been admitted that the early slaves of America were the vanquished of the wars waged among rival tribes of Africa. Among these were kings, chiefs, and their families, accustomed to state and circumstances, consigned to slavery in accordance with the laws of their warfare. From these early slaves the colored people of the United States and descended; and some of these captive kings and princes, it naturally follows, were the progenitors of some of the colored people of this continent. Yet, in consequence of the condition assigned them by an unholy prejudice, the mere mention of a claim to a family lineage, by one of that race, is treated with derision. Despite the opposition, however, there are Americans who not only claims a regal African ancestry, but cling to it with a pride worthy of a citizen of Rome in her palmiest days. Regardless of the gloom of barbarism which encircled their ancestry, knowing that the race which now stands at the zenith of its power suffered like disadvantages,

the colored people cherish this proud descent with all the strong feeling so characteristic of them. Prominent among them in this pride of race stands the subject of this work.

At a recent session of Congress an interrogatory was raised by a member of that honorable body, while the suffrage question was being agitated: "What negro, either ancient or modern, has risen up and shown his claims to a family lineage, or a kingdom, as have done other men through all times? Or where is the negro, who, by the force of his intellect, and might of his will and power, has attempted to bring together the scattered petty chiefdoms south of the Sahara into one grand consolidated kingdom? Show me one who has attempted any of these, and with all of my prejudices, to such will I accord honor." This will temper the criticism to which we render ourselves liable under a state of society where every man is supposed to stand upon the strength of his own merit, or fall for want of it, and where family titles are ignored, by beginning the biography of a colored man with his ancestry, instead of treating directly with himself. Since this reference to ancestry is not without precedent, as the histories of distinguished Americans show, there can be no violation of established rules for us to avail ourselves of the privilege, not in imitation of others, but rather with a view of presenting a faithful portrait of one representative of the race, known to two continents, but remarkable in the history of our times as the first black major in the United States service.

Martin Robinson Delany , the son of Samuel and

Pati Delany, was born at Charlestown, Virginia, May 6, 1812. He was named for his godfather, a colored Baptist clergyman, who, it appeared, gave nothing beyond his name to his godson.

With the name Delany, a peculiarity illustrative of the man himself is manifested. Regarding it as not legally belonging to his family by consanguinity, and suspicious of its having been borrowed from the whites, as was the custom of those days, he expresses himself always as though it was distasteful to him, recalling associations of the servitude of his family. With these associations clinging to it, his pride revolts at retaining that which he believes originated with the oppressors of his ancestors; and though he has made it honorable in other lands besides our own, encircled it with the glory of a steadfast adherence to freedom's cause in the nation's darkest hours, and uncompromising fidelity to his race, thus constituting him one of the brightest beacons for the rising generation, he eagerly awaits the opportunity for its erasure.

His pride of birth is traceable to his maternal as well as to his paternal grandfather, native Africans-- on the father's side, pure Golah; on the mother's, Mandingo.

His father's father was a chieftain, captured with his family in war, sold to the slavers, and brought to America. He fled at one time from Virginia, where he was enslaved, taking with him his wife and two sons, born to him on this continent, and, after various wanderings, reached Little York-- as Toronto, Canada, was then called-- unmolested. But even there he was pursued, and "by some fiction of law, international policy, old musty treaty, cozenly understood," says Major Delany, he was brought back to the United States.


The fallen old chief afterwards is said to have lost; his life in an encounter with some slaveholder, who attempted to chastise him into submission.

On his mother's side the claim receives additional strength. The story runs that her father was an African prince, from the Niger valley regions of Central Africa; was captured when young, during hostilities between the Mandingoes, Fellahtas, and Houssa, sold, and brought to America at the same time with his betrothed Graci.

His name was Shango, surnamed Peace, from that of a great African deity of protection, which is represented in their worship as a ram's head with the attribute of fire.

The form and attributes of this deity are so described as to render it probable that the idol Shango, of modern Africa, is the same to which ancient Egypt paid divine homage under the name of Jupiter Ammon. This still remaining the popular deity of all the region of Central Africa, is an evidence sufficient in itself to prove not only nativity, but descent. For in accordance with the laws of the people of that region, none took, save by inheritance, so sacred a name as Shango, and the one thus named was entitled to the chief power. From this sources this Americans family claim their ancestry.

Shango, at an early period of his servitude in America, regained his liberty, and returned to Africa.

Whether owing to the fact that the slave system was not so thoroughly established then,-- that is, had no legal existence,-- or the early slaveholders had not, then lost their claims to civilization, it was recognized

among themselves that no African of noble birth should be continued enslaved, proofs of his claims being adduced. Thus, by virtue of his birth, Shango was enabled to return to his home. His wife, Graci, was afterwards restored to freedom by the same means. She remained in America, and died at the age of one hundred and seven, in the family of her only daughter, Pati, the mother of Major Delany.

These facts were more fully authenticated by Major Delany while on his famous exploring tour, of which we will speak hereafter. While he travelled from Golah to Central Africa, through the Niger valley regions, he recognized his opportunity, and consulted, among others, as he travelled, that learned native another, Agi, known to fame as the Rev. Samuel Crowther, D.D., created by the Church of England Bishop of Niger, the degree of Doctor of Divinity having been conferred by the University of Oxford. From all information obtained, it is satisfactorily proved, that, his grandmother having died about forty-three years ago, at the advanced age of one hundred and seven year, as before stated, then his grandfather's age, being the same as hers would correspond with that period, which is about one hundred and fifty years, since the custom of an heir to royalty taking the name of a native deity was recognized; and, further, that his grandfather was heir to the kingdom which was then the most powerful of Central Africa, but lost his royal inheritance by the still prevailing custom of slavery and expatriation as a result of subjugation.

Some day, then, perhaps before the "star of empire westward takes its way," "the petty chiefdoms and

principalities south of the Sahara" may yet be "gathered into one grand consolidated kingdom" by some negro's intellect and might.

To possess himself of the early origin of his family was in keeping with a mind so richly endowed, and soaring always far beyond the confines which the prejudices of this country apportion him. Not that he expected it to elevate him in America, knowing that custom and education are alike averse to this--scarcely allowing him to declare with freedom from derision the immortal sentence, " I am a man ," and claiming rights legitimately belonging to its estate. For by observing his history, it may yet prove that the sequel is but the goal of his earliest determination, and not of recent conception, but nursed from his high-minded Mandingo-Golah mother, and heard in the chants of a Mandingo grandmother, depicted with all the gorgeous imagery of the tropics, as the story of their lost and regal inheritance. Thus becoming imbued with its spirit, it shaped itself in the dreams of his childhood, it entwined about the studies and pursuits of his youth, and, through that remarkable perseverance which characterizes him, it was realized in the full vigor of manhood to trace satisfactorily his ancestors' history on the soil of its origin.

Thus Africa and her past and future glory became entwined around every fibre of his being; and to the work of replacing her among the powers of the earth, and exalting her scattered descendants on this continent, he has devoted himself wholly, with an earnestness to which the personal sacrifices made by him through life bear witness.


Said he on one occasion, "While in America I would be a republican, strictly democratic, conforming to the letter of the law in every requirement of a republican government, in a monarchy I would as strictly conform to its requirements, having no scruples at titles, or objections to royalty, believing only in impartial and equitable laws, let that form of government be what it might; believing that only preferable under just laws which is best adapted to the genius of the people.

"I would not advocate monarchy in the United States, or republicanism in Europe; yet I would be either king or president consistently with the form of government in which I was called to act. But I would be neither president nor king except to promote the happiness, advance and secure the rights and liberty, of the people on the bases of justice, equality, and impartiality before the law."

Such are the principles to which he adheres. Unpopular as they are, they have not unfitted him for the duties of a republican citizen, owing to his ready adaptation to the circumstances in which he has happened to be placed for promoting the interests of his race.

For, next to his pride of birth, and almost inseparable from it, is his pride of race, which even distinguishes him from the noted colored men of the present time. This finds an apt illustration in a remark made once by the distinguished Douglass. Said he, "I thank God for making me a man simply; but Delany always thanks him for making him a black man ."

Doubt of his claims and criticism of his actions may be freely indulged, for even under the more favorable

circumstances in a democracy like ours, they would be meted out to him; but it must be admitted it is not an ordinary occurrence, in a country like ours, with all the disadvantageous surroundings of the colored people, to find an individual lifting himself above the masses by the levers considered the most unwieldy-- his faith in his race, and his deep identity with them. So completely has slavery accomplished its mission, depriving the colored people of every opportunity of profit, and every hope of emolument, confining them to the most menial occupations, engendering a timidity to advancement into the higher pursuits, unless supported by some recognized popular element, as to cause them to be at all times painfully alive to their humiliating condition, and to act as though ready to bow apologies to the public for their color. While this can hardly be charged as a fault to them, it is at best lamentable, and at the same time it is equally true, that Major Delany, in the sincerity of his belief, even unconscious of its effect, tends to the other extreme-- that white men are often piqued when in contact with him, and are likely at first, to be prejudiced against him.

A true radical of the old school, once in conversation with another gentleman, when the black officer's opinion on the subject on which they were conversing was quoted, rejected it, and vehemently exclaimed, "Sir, I do not believe Delany considers any white man as good as himself."

He rejects always, with the deepest scorn, the assertion of inferiority, claiming always for his race the highest susceptibility in all things, which belief he

asserts with additional force since his intercourse with native Africans of the Niger valley regions, whose metaphysical reasonings and statuary designs, all circumstances considered, challenged his highest admiration, and claiming for himself, as before mentioned, a high descent.

On going to London, he made known his efforts to obtain, while in Africa, a correct knowledge of his ancestry to the distinguished Henry Ven, D.D., late tutor of mathematics and Latin and Greek in Cambridge College, now secretary of the Church Missionary Society, Salsbery Square, when the generous philanthropist at once stated that he had but one copy of Koehler's Polyglotta African , a work gotten up at great expense and labor expressly for the church publication, the price being four or five pounds sterling; but that Dr. Delany, of all living men, had a legitimate right to it, and therefore should have it; and he at once presented it to him, this being probably the only one in America. In this the high status claimed for his ancestry received additional proofs.

John Randolph of Roanoke referring always, in his pride, to his blood inherited from his Indian ancestry, as the strength upon which his great character was formed, and Martin Delany glorying in the blood transmitted to him from the dusky chiefs of Africa, cannot be considered a weakness in this country; where the Indian and the negro are entitled to the strongest consideration of the nation. For upon his percentage and race rests whatever of success and prominence our subject has achieved; they have entered so

strongly into all his pursuits, and blended themselves into a most ennobling influence, that they reflect themselves in every act, and each act, marked by this strong personality, leads to the individual himself.

In personal appearance he is remarkable; seen once, he is to be remembered. He is of medium height, compactly and strongly built, with broad shoulders, upon which rests a head seemingly inviting, by its bareness, attention to the well-developed organs, with eyes sharp and piercing, seeming to take in everything at a glance at the same time, while will, energy, and fire are alive in every feature; the whole surmounted on a ground work of most defiant blackness. It is frequently said by those best acquainted with his character, that in order to excite envy in him would be for an individual to possess less adulterated blackness, as his great boast is, that there lives none blacker than himself. His carriage, erect and independent, as if indicative of the man, calls attention to his figure. His wonderful powers of mental and physical endurance and great constitutional vigor, resulting in a physique of striking elasticity, lead us to institute comparisons with the great Lord Brougham.

If there is one faculty for the cultivation of which he is more remarkable than another, it is his power of memory, almost as universal as it is tenacious, never seeming wholly to forget persons, names, places, or events; especially those of interest he relates with accuracy. His ready memory, always suggestive, renders him in oratory exhaustless and lengthy, but at all times interesting; especially to a promiscuous audience

he is instructive. His gestures in speaking are nervous and rapid at first, then easy and graceful; his delivery forcible and impressive; while his voice, deep-toned and full, attracts his auditors, and influences them. At all times logical, appealing more to the reason than to the feelings, endeavoring at all times to infuse his own enthusiasm for the glorious future of his race into them, he appeals less to their passions than their pride.

In speaking, he is most effective when in his loftiest flights. Losing sight of his audience, and wrapped up in his theme, his features beaming with the beauty of inspiration, he seems to address himself directly to the great injustice which towers above him, no longer himself, but the spirit of some martyr-hero of his race in the cause of right, bursting the cerements of the grave to renew the combat on earth. To all conscious of his life-long earnestness, and how closely the orator and the man are allied, his efforts are not without their effect.

He conformed to no conservatism for interest's sake, nor compromise for the sake of party or expediency, demanding only the rights meted out to others. His sentiments partaking of the most uncompromising radicalism, years before the public were willing to listen to such doctrine, caused his speeches and writings to be considered impracticable and impolitic. While they were never characterized by violent or incendiary expressions, they consequently rendered him less popular than many others of inferior ability. He was considered impolitic for what men talked with abated breath; when slavery had her myrmidons in church and state, he held up, in all of its deformities, and denounced without

fear or palliation, depending more upon the cause than the time to justify him. "Setting his foot always in advance of fate," his views were deemed impracticable; but, proud in the strength of his opinions, and rapped in the consciousness of their ultimate adoption, he bided his hour.

As an advocate of moral reforms his influence finds abundant scope. His habits being as simple as they are temperate, adhering rigidly to physiological rules, they render him successful in presenting such measures. In early youth he espoused total abstinence; conforming first from principle, it afterwards became an established habit to eschew the use of liquors, or even tobacco, in any form, and from these early principles he has never been known to swerve. While his labors and sympathies are more strongly put forth in behalf of his own race, as more needful of them, yet no one exhibits a more catholic spirit, even to the enemies of his race, than Martin Delany. In his present sphere, his untiring efforts to ameliorate the condition of every class, irrespective of former condition and politics, and to advance the prosperity of an impoverished and prostrate section of our country, will render his name acceptable, not only as the able and incorruptible executive officer of the government, but as a humanitarian in its widest acceptation. To sum up his character, there will be found a strong individuality permeating it, as though aiming always to be himself in all things; possessing all the pride, fire, and generous characteristics of the true negro, without the timidity or weakness usually ascribed, as resulting from their condition in America.


There is every evidence that he possesses in an eminent degree the elements of the true soldier, and under more favorable auspices would have made a reputation worthy of record beside the great names which the late rebellion has produced. Fearless without being rash; at all times self-possessed and fully equal to a emergencies, a lover of discipline; an iron will and great strength of endurance and perseverance bestowed by Nature, while she circumscribed his limits for exercising them; hence the record of his services in the late rebellion will be more of his achievements as an organizer of movements tending to advance the progress of freedom in reconstruction than of his martial accomplishments.

While the true place of the distinguished colored man is among the "self-made men" of our country, still it must be admitted that their surroundings being less favourable to insure success than white men of the same class, in proportion, their achievements are as great. And while many of this class were fostered by the Anti-slavery Society,-- its patronage being always extended to the talented and meritorious of the race, -- still its immediate support was never held out to him. Solely upon his own will, perseverance, and merits can be based the secret of his success wherein others have failed.

His mother was considered a most exemplary Christian, active and energetic, with quick perceptions and fine natural talents, inheriting all the finer traits of character of her Mandingoes, origin. The Mandingoes, from their love of traffic, are nicknamed the "Jews of Africa." An incident which is related of her shows the force of character which she transmitted to her son.


An attempt was made to enslave herself and children, five in all, in Virginia, where they resided. Being informed of it, she at once determined to test or avert it. Taking the two youngest, she set out on foot, with one lashed across her back, and the other in her arms; she walked the distance from Charlestown to Winchester in time to meet the court, consulted her lawyer, entered suit, and when all difficulties were satisfactorily adjusted, she returned to her children triumphant. "Some Roman lingered there," that neither the miasma of slavery, with which the atmosphere about was impregnated, nor the uncertain future of her children, could crush out; but a slow and steady fire burnt forever in her soul, and gleamed along the pathway of her youngest born to guide him to duty in the unequal strife of his race. She lived long enough to witness the overthrow of the oligarchy against which she had contended in Virginia. She died at Pittsburg, in the family of her son, Samuel Delany, in 1864, at the age of ninety-six.

This family attained great longevity, as is again shown in the father of Major Delany, who gave every indication of a hale old age, when he was carried off by the cholera which swept over Pittsburgh at one time, when he had reached his eighty-fourth year. In life he was known as a man of great integrity of character, of acknowledged courage, and was remarkable for his great physical strength. He was well known in Martinsburg, where, for a stipulated sum, he obtained his freedom, thence went to Chambersburg, whither his family had preceded him. He bore a scar on his face, the result of a wound, which adds another testimony to the "barbarism

of slavery." It was inflicted by the sheriff of the county, who, with eight men, went to arrest him one morning, because he had nine times torn the clothes from off the person of one Violet, as he was endeavoring to inflict bodily punishment on him. Each time, as he dashed the man Violet from him, he assured him he had no wish to injure him.

The sheriff and his men, approaching, were warned by him to keep off. He then fortified himself behind a wagon in a lane, and, being armed with its swingle-tree, bade defiance to the authority attempting to surround him. The better to effect a retreat, if necessary, by climbing backwards he raised himself to the top of the fence, his face to his persecutors. At the moment the top was gained, he was brought to the ground, sense less and bleeding, by a skilfully-directed stone. He was then secured and taken to prison at Charlestown.

The sheriff was desirous of shooting him; but Violet, with a view to his market value rather than appreciation of his determined courage, objected most decidedly to this, adding that he was "too good a man to be killed." The stone was thus substituted for the bullet. With this mark of brutality daily before the eyes of his children, and in its train all the humiliations and bestial associations to which their hapless race was subjected, it is no matter of wonderment that Martin Delany should watch every enactment concerning his race with exactness, and his bitterness against their oppressors and abettors would sometimes outrun his sense of the politic, or that all his efforts should, through life, converge to the same end to contribute his aid to root out every fibre of slavery and its concomitants.


On the 15th of March, 1843, he was married to Kate A., youngest daughter of Charles Richards, of Pittsburg, the grandfather and father of whom had been men of influence and wealth of their time. This daughter was one of the heirs to their estate, which had increased in value, as it embraced some of the best property in the city of Pittsburg, estimated at nearly two hundred and fifty thousands dollars. This was finally lost to them in 1847, simply by a turn of law, in consequence of the unwillingness of attorneys to litigate so large a claim in favor of a colored against white families.

Mrs. Delany is a fine-looking, intelligent, and appreciative lady, possessed of fine womanly sympathies, and, always entering fully into his pursuits, has contributed no little aid to his success.

With a companion whose views are so thoroughly in unison with his own, his domestic relations are prosperous and happy. Equally as zealous for the interest of her race, and self-sacrificing as himself, she encouraged and urged him on in his most doubtful moments,-- for many they were while the political horizon was darkened by the thick clouds of slavery.

While they were never possessed of means, through her management many poor fugitives and indigent persons were succored by them. She has cheerfully borne poverty when it could have been otherwise, and would forego personal comforts rather than he should fall back from the position he had taken, for pecuniary benefits for herself and children.

From this marriage eleven children were born, seven of whom are living. In the selection of the names of

these children, the speciality is again evident. If the names given to children generally are intended as incentives to the formation of character, then, when they are sufficiently marked by selections from prominent characters, it may at least be indicative of the sentiments of the parents. If this is admitted, then the choice of names of these children gives unmistakable evidences of the determination of their parents that these brilliant characters should not be lost sight of, but emulated by them. While they are strictly in keeping with the father's characteristic, they being all of African affinity or consanguinity, they are nevertheless remarkable amidst such surroundings as American contingencies constantly present. The eldest is Tousaint L'Ouverture, after the first military hero and statesman of San Domingo; the second, Charles Lennox Remond, from the eloquent living declaimer; the third, Alexander Dumas, from that brilliant author of romance; the fourth, Saint Cyprian, from one of the greatest of the primitive bishops of the Christian Church; the fifth, Faustin Soulouque, after the late Emperor of Hayti; the sixth, Rameses Placido, from the good King of Egypt, "the ever-living Rameses II," and the poet and martyr of freedom to his race on the Island of Cuba; the seventh, the daughter Ethiopia Halle Amelia, the country of his race, to which is given the unequalled promise that "she should soon stretch forth her hands unto God."

    LIFE OF MAJOR M.R.DELANY   Table of Contents     CHAPTER II.