“Hope, delusive hope”: Highlights from Black Authors, 1556-1922

Nathaniel Paul (1793?-1839)The December release of Black Authors, 1556-1922: Imprints from the Library Company of Philadelphia includes two celebratory speeches: the first by Russell Parrott on the anniversary of the cessation of the slave trade, and the second by Nathaniel Paul in observance of the abolition of slavery in New York. Also included this month is an alluring tract by occultist Paschal Beverly Randolph. 


 An Oration on the Abolition of the Slave Trade (1814)

By Russell Parrott

A relatively obscure figure in Philadelphia’s early African American community, Russell Parrott is best remembered for three speeches celebrating the abolition of slave trafficking. The Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves went into effect on January 1, 1808, and anniversary orations quickly became a regular feature of the annual cycle of celebrations in African American churches.

After some brief prefatory remarks, Parrott opines: 

The discovery of America, opened a new era in the affairs of Europe: the immense treasures that inundated the mother country…spread such an [sic] universal desire of gain, that it pervaded all ranks of society, from the peasant to the king. It is from this period, that we may date the commencement of the suffering of the Africans… 

Parrott continues, describing eloquently the horrific Middle Passage:  

Hope, delusive hope, amidst all his somber prospects, holds out one faint, one glimmering ray, that an opportunity to escape may occur; —how vain, how illusory. The signal for departure is made; he sees the home of his affections, recede from his sight—mute and immoveable, he stands; —the transition, from joy most perfect, to woe, is so sudden, that reason is banished, and wild despair usurps her seat. What language can tell the feelings of his soul? what pen portray the intenseness of his grief.

The passage is one continued scene of suffering and barbarity.…these monsters in human shape, to recover the insurance from the underwriters, cast into the sea the sick and the disabled. To what lengths will not the love of lucre drive mankind; what crimes will it not cause them to commit.

Instances of individual sufferings are so numerous that their recital would extort a tear from hearts that never wept before. 


An Address, Delivered on the Celebration of the Abolition of Slavery, in the State of New-York (1827) 

By Nathaniel Paul, pastor of the First African Baptist Society in the city of Albany 

Born to a free black family in Exeter, New Hampshire, Nathaniel Paul would move to Albany, New York, and serve as the first pastor of the Union Street Baptist Church. The abolitionist minister was also an organizer of the Wilberforce School in Canada, the founder of the Union Society of Albany for the Improvement of the Colored People in Morals, Education, and Mechanic Arts, and a vocal opponent of the colonization movement.  

While better known for an 1829 speech that appeared in the abolitionist journal The Rights of All, there is no lack of rhetorical mastery in Paul’s 1827 oration celebrating the abolition of slavery in New York:  

We are permitted to behold one of the most pernicious and abominable of all enterprises, in which the depravity of human nature ever led man to engage, entirely eradicated. The power of the tyrant is subdued, the heart of the oppressed is cheered[,] liberty is proclaimed to the captive, and the opening of the prison to those who were bound, and he who had long been the miserable victim of cruelty and degradation, is elevated to the common rank in which our benevolent Creator first designed…

Slavery, with its concomitants and consequences, in the best attire in which it can possibly be presented, is but a hateful monster, the very demon of avarice and oppression, from its first introduction to the present time; it has been among all nations the scourge of heaven, and the curse of the earth....

On the shores of Africa, the horror of the scene commences; here, the merciless tyrant, divested of every thing human, except the form begins the action. The laws of God and the tears of the oppressed are alike disregarded; and with more than savage barbarity, husbands and wives, parents and children, are parted to meet no more: and, if not doomed to an untimely death, while on the passage, yet are they for life consigned to a captivity still more terrible; a captivity, at the very thought of which, every heart, not already biased with unhallowed prejudices, or callous to every tender impression, pauses and revolts; exposed to the caprice of those whose tender mercies are cruel; unprotected by the laws of the land, and doomed to drag out miserable existence, without the remotest shadow of a hope of deliverance, until the king of terrors shall have executed his office, and consigned them to the kinder slumbers of death. 


After Death: The Disembodiment of Man (1873) 

By Paschal Beverly Randolph 

Paschal Beverly Randolph was a medical doctor, occultist, trance medium, and Spiritualist. He is known for introducing the principles of “sex magic” to North America and for establishing the earliest known Rosicrucian order, a philosophical secret society, in the United States.  

Among his other claims, he offers this biographical background:  

Suffice to say that the work has been gestating in my soul for long years. Independent of what is popularly known as spiritualism, I have been a seer from childhood, the record of which seership has been long before the world. My mother was a seer before me, and I have been a clairvoyant by spontaneity since my fourth year; and that power has been quickened by mesmeric induction all along the bitter years, and intensified since the exciting advent of the modern Theurgia. Experiences, visions, supernal intercourse, in all four quarters of the globe; and hundreds of intromissions into the worlds of disbodied, unearthed peoples; and mental notes, then, thus and there taken, and subsequently committed to paper, are the authorities for what hereinafter follows.  

Randolph goes on to make many assertions that are equally dubious and intriguing before offering, unsurprisingly, a miracle cure. 

I have never found any medicinal agents at all comparable to those I have herein named; especially that known as PHOSODYN,—an element closely approximating the principle of vitality itself, because it is speedily absorbed by the blood, is carried to the lungs, —which it heals if ailing, —and from there, having gained additional oxygen from the air, back to the heart, which, with renewed energy, sends it whirling, flying, searching, into and through every vein, artery, cell, muscle, organ, and crevice of the entire body, leaving not a single spot unvisited, unsearched, unexplored by the life-charged blood, —I say life-charged, for this subtle agent most assuredly is very near akin to life itself, and while as perfectly harmless as the air we breathe, is, like that very air, the accredited vehicle of muscular, digestive, cerebral, and nervous energy; for wherever it goes it carries life, vigor, health, and strength. The lungs, be they never so badly diseased, immediately begin to heal. Sleepless nights are exchanged for hours of sweet slumber and calm repose. Exhausted nerves gain new thrills of gleeful, joyous life, activity, and vigor. The dyspeptic stomach regains its healthful tone; the liver is forthwith cleansed and purified, the kidneys begin to thoroughly do their proper work, and the excess of uric acid, urea, chalk, carbonate of lime, pus, slime, and poison is strained from the blood…and are…effectually cast forth from the body. 


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