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Bishop Richard Allen and Others in Community Led Plans for Emigration to Haiti

February 9, 2019

About 1824, Bishop Richard Allen (February 14, 1760 – March 26, 1831) of the African American Episcopal Church was one of the first persons in the United States to be approached with the idea of emigrating to Haiti. He held a meeting at his home where representatives of other black churches were also invited.

 

They endorsed emigration to Haiti, and the leaders of the organized Haytien Emigration Society. John Allen, son of Bishop Richard Allen, was among the first emigrants. "John Allen was very enthusiastic about life in Haiti. He urged his father to send over his brother, Richard Jr., and he advised Allen to relocate." See James O’Dell Jackson III, “The Origins of Pan-African Nationalism: Afro-American and Haytien Relations, 1800-1863,” doctoral dissertation, Northwestern University, 1976, 262

 

"By April 1826 Inginac estimated that, of the 6,000 settlers whose passage had been paid by the Haitian government, 2,000 had

 

                  Richard Allen (bishop) at Wikipedia

 

returned to America," American Free Blacks and Emigration to Haiti by Julie Winch, University of Massachusetts, Boston.

 

"60 The exact number of immigrants is uncertain. Granville’s son drew on the Telegraphe, the official gazette of Haiti, to state that, between September of 1824 and January of 1825, six thousand Americans arrived. Biographie, 21n. See also ibid., 164, 166, 170, 172, 182, 206, 224-5, 231. Dewey to Granville fils, May 23, 1865, in Biographie, 243. However, Benjamin Hunt estimated that as many as 13,000 Americans accepted Boyer’s offer. Remarks on Hayti as a Place of Settlement for African Americans; and on the Mulatto as a Race for the Tropics (Philadelphia: T.B. Pugh, 1860), 4." American Free Blacks and Emigration to Haiti by Julie Winch, University of Massachusetts, Boston.

 

This is the first post which shows the influence of Haiti  upon US enslavement. Below is a piece taken from  American Free Blacks and Emigration to Haiti by Julie Winch, University of Massachusetts, Boston which describes Bishop Richard Allen's initial involvement. I have studied his life, but I never knew this. Hopefully you will share this post with others. Together we will uncover American history and ancestors.

                     

"Within the city’s black community it was Bishop Richard Allen of the African Methodist Episcopal church who quickly took charge. While Granville went off to New York to secure more support, Allen summoned representatives from the various black churches to his home.31 The Philadelphians were understandably cautious. They had opposed the American Colonization Society since 1817, and the involvement of Dewey, an agent of the ACS, in the Haitian scheme probably led some to believe that it had been sanctioned by the society. However, their doubts were eventually overcome and a large meeting was organized at which the scheme was presented to the community.32

 

The meeting was well attended and Allen read to those present the correspondence between Boyer and Dewey, together with Boyer’s instructions to his agent. Careful consideration was also given to a letter from Thomas Paul, a highly respected black Baptist minister from Boston. He had spent several months in Haiti and was full of praise for the republic and its president. He had met Boyer and had been commissioned by him to carry back an invitation to American blacks to immigrate. Paul had found the Haitians very friendly and he considered that economic prospects on the island were excellent. Moreover, the determination of the Haitian people to preserve their liberty “must possess advantages highly inviting to men who are sighing for the enjoyment of the common rights and liberties of mankind.”33 After reading Paul’s letter, the Philadelphians endorsed emigration and their community leaders organized the Haytien Emigration Society.

 

The members of the Haytien Emigration Society set to work at once and published a pamphlet setting forth the advantages to be derived from moving to Haiti. They stressed that their motives in advocating emigration were above suspicion. “We are your brethren in colour and degradation; and it gives us a peculiar delight to assist a brother to leave a country, where it is but too certain the coloured man can never enjoy his rights.”34 Freed from the effects of prejudice, emigrants would be able to prosper in Haiti as they never could in the United States. As a further inducement to emigration they insisted that blacks should be ready to fight to defend each other. While discounting fears of an imminent French invasion of Haiti, they noted the praise heaped on the Marquis de Lafayette “for flying to the aid of an oppressed people” during the Revolutionary War. Haiti was “the only spot where the coloured man has gained his rights” and its overthrow “would…be putting out the very sun of our hopes.35

 

The optimism of the Philadelphians was shared by the New Yorkers, who formed their own emigration society.36 Other societies sprung up along the Atlantic seaboard and as far west as Cincinnati.37 No city with a sizable free black community was untouched by what one writer called the “emigration fever.”

 

The optimism of the Philadelphians was shared by the New Yorkers, who formed their own emigration society.36 Other societies sprung up along the Atlantic seaboard and as far west as Cincinnati.37 No city with a sizable free black community was untouched by what one writer called the “emigration fever.”

 

In their campaign to recruit settlers, black leaders drew heavily on the glowing accounts of Haiti furnished by Granville and Boyer.38 However, they failed to take into account the devastation that years of war and neglect had brought about. Port au Prince was described by one traveler as being in a “ruinous state,” with its population shrunk from 60,000 to 5,000.39 In rural areas conditions were far worse. The census of 1824, upon which the enthusiasts of emigration relied, was referred to by another observer as “Boyer’s bravados.”40 The Haitian peasant could be forgiven for asking in whose interests the revolution had been fought. “The united Haitian family of the patriotic orations” was really “two Haitis, the one consisting of a small exploiting class, the other of the mass of ex-slaves—a situation differing from the colonial regime only in externals.”41 Black Americans had little idea how the majority of Haitians actually lived, but hundreds of them would soon learn firsthand about life in the Haitian countryside.

 

When the first party of emigrants was ready to leave Philadelphia Bishop Allen wrote to inform Boyer about the progress that was being made. He had collected the names of five hundred would-be settlers and he was receiving more inquiries daily. His heart warmed to a man who wanted to provide “a poor oppressed people” with “an asylum where they can enjoy liberty and equality.” Whites were trying to persuade the black elite to stay: they hoped to foist on Boyer the disreputable element within the black community, but their appeals were useless.42 It was the “respectable and hard-working” people who were opting for emigration. As Allen explained: “The voice of liberty is sweet in our ears.”43

 

To further the emigration scheme Allen also began corresponding with Secretary General Inginac, who was playing host to Allen’s son, John.44 Inginac assured Allen that the first group of settlers was delighted with Haiti. He acknowledged that there were some whose “desponding inertion” made them unwilling to work, but he insisted that Haiti was the land of opportunity for industrious settlers and he expressed his government’s gratitude for Allen’s attempts “to reunite the great family” of blacks in America and Haiti.45

 

Since many emigrants set out with hopes of immediate prosperity, disillusionment was inevitable.46 Benjamin F. Hughes, the pastor of Philadelphia’s First African Presbyterian Church, emigrated in 1824. Because he had promoted emigration so energetically, he felt bound to give an account of his experiences and observations. In a letter to his friend Bishop Allen he laid the blame for any dissatisfaction on the unrealistic expectations of the settlers. Some thought the Haitian government should supply them with everything they needed, while others had been deterred by an initial bout of sickness as they adjusted to the climate. In Hughes’s opinion, Boyer’s government was not at fault: it “has been and continues to be liberal beyond any reasonable conception.”47

 

Hughes’s favorable report was borne out by another Philadelphian, John Summersett. The Haitians had received him and his companions “more like brothers than strangers” and had taken them into their houses. “[T]he first gentlemen took us by the hand and led us to their tables, and the ladies would take all our children to use them as their own, if we would part with them.” Summersett was convinced that “no African of candid or industrious habits can deny this being the happy land of African liberty.”48 However, Hughes and Summersett were men with wealth, skills, and established leadership positions back home. The “first gentlemen” of the Haitian Republic came out to meet them, but the reception that poorer, less talented immigrants were accorded was very different.

 

Hughes and Summersett could find nothing to complain of, but Haitian officials were becoming frustrated at the attitude of other settlers. On his return to Haiti Granville wrote to Allen about the progress being made.49 He described how emigrants flocked to the towns, ignoring attempts to settle them in rural areas. He insisted that those who “attend to their business are happy with the pleasing prospect of a plentiful crop, and enjoying that liberty, which was denied them in America.” While the Haitians wanted such settlers as these, they would be happy to be rid of those whose “disappointed vanity” made them unwilling to “bend to a hoe or…an axe.” Granville hastened to assure Allen that he and those of his social standing would find a warm welcome and he urged the bishop to send over another of his sons.50

 

Despite the favorable accounts they received from some of the emigrants, black leaders and their white allies were soon involved in a desperate attempt to defend Haitian emigration. The American Colonization Society disowned Dewey for advocating Haitian emigration, but this did not dampen his enthusiasm. He visited Haiti and, although he encountered some dissatisfied settlers, he was encouraged that others had taken up land and expressed their willingness to stay. His only fear was that white Americans were not doing enough to help those, especially the slaves, who wished to go to Haiti. He observed that their “oppression is a thousand fold more injurious” than that of the American colonists at the time of the Revolution, and he warned of the consequences if their plight was ignored.51

 

In a subsequent letter Dewey asked Allen to pass on his advice to would-be settlers. They should form themselves into groups of eight or ten families, and elect a couple of men to handle all the negotiations with the local authorities. They should start planting crops as soon as possible so that they could survive when the government rations ran out. Most importantly, they should be religious, industrious and sober. “Attention to the above directions…will make [their] situation better here, in five years, than that of the white emigrants to the new countries of the west, is in ten.”5

 

Benjamin Lundy, the white abolitionist editor of the Genius of Universal Emancipation and an enthusiastic supporter of the Haitian scheme, joined with Dewey in observing that the Haitians had “invited such of our colored people…as were of good character, and accustomed to industrious habits.” They did not want “the vicious and the idle.” However, many whites were anxious to rid themselves of “the worthless part” of the black population.53 They had convinced “hundreds of effeminate, lazy wretches” to go, with the assurance that they would immediately be given “offices of honour, trust, and profit.” Naturally they were discontented, but the Haitians did not force them to stay…The government of Haiti, according to Lundy, was allowing anyone who wanted to return to do so. He conceded that the tales of life in Haiti circulated by returning settlers would have a negative effect: “But the check will be momentary.” He noted that two prominent black New Yorkers, Rev. Peter Williams and Peter Barker, had gone to investigate conditions, and he was confident that their reports would prove that most of the settlers were prospering.54 

 

By the spring of 1825 the emigrationists had another problem to contend with. Boyer was rethinking his whole policy with regard to the American settlers. In May Inginac issued a statement that the transportation of settlers was becoming a “matter of sordid speculation.” He charged that American blacks were conniving with masters of vessels to defraud the Haitian government by claiming their passage money and then returning to America. To put an end to this abuse, all emigrants would have to pay the cost of their passage.55

 

Far more lay behind this withdrawal of support than a desire to stop a few people making a profit at the expense of the Haitians.56 Boyer and his advisers had discovered that the Americans were less tractable than they had supposed. While members of the elite were more than willing to aid in building up trade, poorer blacks were not fitting in with Boyer’s plans. He needed them as agricultural laborers, but they were mostly city dwellers and such skills as they had were more suited to an urban environment.57 They soon rejected rural life and began drifting to the towns, where unemployment was already high.58

 

Although Boyer was aware of the discontent among the settlers, it was the fact that his gamble had failed that induced him to withdraw his backing. He discovered that Dewey, far from speaking for the American Colonization Society, was working in opposition to it. Moreover, many of the influential whites who had pledged themselves to support Haitian resettlement when it was first proposed were now less enthusiastic. Dewey was a virtual outcast. He no longer had any friends among highly-placed colonizationists in Washington, and Boyer’s hopes of winning recognition were dashed.59 From his point of view the whole undertaking had been a dismal failure.

 

By April 1826 Inginac estimated that, of the 6,000 settlers whose passage had been paid by the Haitian government, 2,000 had returned to America.60 If Boyer was disenchanted so were they. The promised government aid frequently failed to materialize and, instead of being welcomed as long-lost members of the “great family,” they were regarded as inferior foreigners fit only for menial labor. The warm welcome was reserved for a privileged few. As the Haitian historian Beaubrun Ardouin observed, most of the Americans found themselves in the midst of “a people whose language they could not understand, even though they were the same color as themselves, and on whose faces they saw mocking smiles, in spite of all the good will they pledged them.”61

 

Even after Boyer’s administration refused to continue offering free passage, immigration from the United States continued.62 Some of those who arrived were newly emancipated slaves. At the encouragement of Benjamin Lundy, the British reformer Frances Wright took thirty-two former slaves to Haiti from her failed utopian community of Nashoba. Boyer received her as an honored guest and settled her colonists on one of his own plantations.63 Lundy also urged members of the Society of Friends in North Carolina to send their slaves to Haiti, and he himself made two trips to Haiti with manumitted slaves entrusted to his care by Southern planters.64 He remained an enthusiastic supporter of Haitian emigration for many years, although he insisted that any resettlement scheme must be tied to securing the complete abolition of slavery in the United States.65

 

While some of the immigrants to Haiti in the 1820s and 1830s were ex-slaves shipped off to the republic by well intentioned whites, others came on their own initiative. The failure of Boyer’s program meant the end of large-scale resettlement, but just as some free blacks were attracted to Canada, Trinidad, and Jamaica, so others found their way to Haiti. When he graduated from Bowdoin College in 1826, John Browne Russwurm gave a commencement address entitled “The Condition and Prospects of Hayti” and announced his intention of studying medicine and emigrating to Haiti.66 John Allen, the bishop’s son, remained on the island for many years and established himself as a printer. Robert Douglass, Jr., a talented portrait painter, went to Haiti with two white abolitionists in the fall of 1837. When they returned to the United States he stayed on to become Boyer’s court artist. Learning Spanish and French, he gained admittance to the Haitian elite and sent back glowing reports of life in Haiti to his friends and family in Philadelphia.67 Hezekiah Grice of Baltimore initially went to Haiti because he had been humiliated by other leaders in the free black community. However, he prospered in his new homeland, and occasional visits to the United States only served to convince him that he had improved his prospects by emigrating.68 James Forten, who had spoken with such emotion of his sense of kinship with the Haitian people, remained in Philadelphia, but two of his apprentices emigrated, and both did well.69

 

Like James Forten, many within America’s free black community eventually decided against emigration in the 1820s and 1830s (although the Haitian scheme would be resurrected by James Redpath and James Theodore Holly in the 1850s and would find many new supporters). However, like Forten, even if they had no intention of settling in Haiti, they continued to express their deep interest in the future of the republic and to call upon the defenders of slavery in the United States to acknowledge an unpalatable truth—that slave rebellions were not always doomed to failure,70" American Free Blacks and Emigration to Haiti by Julie Winch, University of Massachusetts, Boston.

 

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