On March 31, 1848, the Boston abolition paper the Liberator reprinted a short notice from the Western Citizen (Paris, Kentucky), which, in turn, had reprinted something from a South Carolina paper, all under the heading, “A Faithful Slave.” It explains why the South Carolina legislature should not make an exception to state law and free a slave, even for “meritorious service.” (Similar laws existed in Virginia at the time, by the way. Only the governor could give you permission to free your slave, and even then you’d better have a good reason!)
Anyway, because I was reading the Liberator, and because the tone of said paper can be more than a little caustic, I assumed that the writer was being sarcastic here. Alas, I don’t think so. The writer, after all, is a South Carolinian writing for a South Carolina paper.
That in itself is interesting. Here’s a peek into the psychology of slave-owning, what planters told themselves must be true in order to justify their “peculiar institution.” But what’s also interesting is the nature of this particular slave’s meritorious service. Having served his master during the Mexican War, he was an earlier incarnation of a black Confederate!
A FAITHFUL SLAVE
The following is taken from a South Carolina paper. It is in a proposition before the Legislature of the State, to give permission to a master to emancipate his slave for meritorious services. It is here announced that it is in violation of the policy of the State to grant emancipation. It is the policy of the State also to regard freedom as unnatural and injurious to the black man. By what principle of justice and humanity, then, can the Legislature offer to curse this faithful slave with liberty? He cannot enjoy freedom—he can’t take care of himself—if set free, he must starve. He will be sure to become crazy, or an idiot, or ruin himself by dissipation. He was as much made to be a slave as the white man was made to be free, and these legislators now propose to do so great a violence to his nature in liberating him, as they would to plunge a white man into slavery. Such is the wise conclusion of John C. Calhoun and his disciples.
Mr. Yancey, of Edgefield, gave notice that on Monday next, he would ask leave to introduce a bill to enable David L. Adams to emancipate his man Charles.
Under the rule of the House, Mr. Yancey begged leave to announce the motives and reasons for this application for the emancipation of a slave—which was in contravention of the policy of the State.—The slave Charles was a servant of the gallant young Lieut. Adams, of the Edgefield volunteers, attached to the Palmetto regiment, now engaged in the Mexican war. At the reduction of Vera Cruz—on the march to Alvarado, which proved so fated to our regiment, and on its progress to Puebla, he was ever by the side of his gallant master, whatever position was assigned to him. When the regiment and the army were on the march from Puebla to the city of Mexico, the extreme rear guard, which was commanded by the brave Corporal Brooks, of the Edgefield company, was attacked by a party of Mexican lancers—the slave Charles, who was nearer to the regiment than to the rear guard, seized a musket, and ran and fought by the side of the lamented Brooks, who was one of the mess on which he waited. In the terrible battles of Contreras and Churubusco, where the Palmetto regiment gained immortal honor for itself and the State, in positions of the greatest danger, Charles, with weapon in hand, was ever by the side of his young master, (upon the report of the brave Lieut. Abney, of the Edgefield company) a courage as unquestionable, and a desire as ardent for the success of our arms, as any soldier in the army. At the battle of Churubusco, where the gallant Adams fell, while bearing aloft the standard of his company, and in that dreadful carnage when half the Palmetto regiment were bleeding to death, Charles lay during a day and night by the dead body of his master, and only left him to procure a few comforts for the brave Abney, who had fallen wounded upon the field. As an act of gratitude to the memory of his lamented son, and high appreciation of his untiring devotion and gallant conduct in his slave Charles, the father desires to be allowed, by an act of the Legislature, to give him his liberty. These remarks are submitted, that the House may be placed in possession, in advance, of the reasons why the Legislature will be appealed to, to depart from the salutary policy of the State.—[South Carolinian.
IMAGE: Top of the front page of the Liberator, March 31, 1848