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Childhood in the Early Republic . Children and the Question of Freedom . The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass , 1845.

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childhood in the early republic

Childhood in the Early Republic

Children and the Question of Freedom

the narrative of the life of frederick douglass 1845
The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, 1845

"You are loosed from your moorings, and are free; I am fast in my chains, and am a slave! You move merrily before the gentle gale, and I sadly before the bloody whip! You are freedom's swift-winged angels, that fly round the world; I am confined in bands of iron! O that I were free! O, that I were on one of your gallant decks, and under your protecting wing! Alas! betwixt me and you, the turbid waters roll. Go on, go on. O that I could also go! Could I but swim! If I could fly! O, why was I born a man, of whom to make a brute! . . . .O God, save me! God, deliver me! Let me be free! Is there any God? Why am I a slave? I will run away. I will not stand it. Get caught, or get clear, I'll try it. I had as well die with ague as the fever. I have only one life to lose. I had as well be killed running as die standing. Only think of it; one hundred miles straight north, and I am free! Try it? Yes! God helping me, I will. It cannot be that I shall live and die a slave. I will take to the water. . . . Meanwhile, I will try to bear up under the yoke. I am not the only slave in the world. Why should I fret? I can bear as much as any of them. Besides, I am but a boy, and all boys are bound to some one. It may be that my misery in slavery will only increase my happiness when I get free. There is a better day coming."


Pocahontas as an English young lady, with some attractively placed Native garb

Pocahontas visiting the British court

children as cultural emissaries
Children as Cultural Emissaries

John White, circa 1585, Virginia. Note the English doll in the little girl’s hand

One in five children were likely to die before their fifth birthday in the early years of the republic.

“Eva’s Farewell,” Illustration from Uncle Tom’s Cabin, circa 1852.

cotton mather duties of children to their parents ca 1699
Cotton Mather, Duties of Children to their Parents, ca 1699
  • It is a memorable passage, in Prov 30:17: The Eye that mocks at his Father and despises to obey his Mother, the Ravens of the Valley shall pick it out, and the young Eagles shall eat it. It seems, an untimely death often Exposes the Carcasses of those Children, to the Carnivorous Fowls of Heaven
illustration from captivity narrative circa 1830
Illustration from Captivity Narrative circa 1830

Puritan tales of captivity often revolved around alleged acts of barbarity towards children.

tituba a cultural outsider tempting puritan children
Tituba, a cultural “outsider”, tempting Puritan children.

A Popular History of the United States. Vol. 2. By William Cullen Bryant, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1878

salem witch trials and spectral testimony
Salem Witch Trials and Spectral Testimony

Salem Witchtrial Papers

“Accused at the Salem Witch Trials,” circa 1883

  • Judge Hathorne: Why do you hurt these children?”
  • Hathorne then “desired the children, all of them, to look upon her, and see, if this were the person that had hurt them.”
  • “They all did looke upon her and said this was one of the persons that did torment them—presently they were all tormented.”
  • Judge Hathorne: “Sarah Good,, doe you not see now what you have done[?]” Why doe you not tell us the truth, why doe you thus torment these poor children?”
phillis wheatley
Phillis Wheatley

Perfect in bliss she from her heav'nly home

Looks down, and smiling beckons you to come;

Why then, fond parents, why these fruitless groans?

Restrain your tears, and cease your plaintive moans.

Freed from a world of sin, and snares, and pain

Why would you wish your daughter back again?


Phillis Wheatley, “To the Right Honourable WILLIAM, Earl of DARTMOUTH, His Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for North-America, &c.

I, young in life, by seeming cruel fate

Was snatch'd from Afric'sfancy'd happy seat:

What pangs excruciating must molest,

What sorrows labour in my parent's breast?Steel'd was that soul and by no misery mov'd

That from a father seiz'd his babe belov'd

new york african free school 1787 1833
New York African Free School, 1787-1833

This specimen of penmanship and drawing skill would have been featured at one of the school’s yearly examination days.

Edward T. Haines, clearly a star student, proudly displays his handwriting skill and his title as assistant monitor general, a position that carried significant responsibilities. The 1820 U.S. census lists an African American "Hains" family with a boy Edward's age living in New York City's Fifth Ward, a west-side neighborhood south of Canal Street that was the home of many free people of color in New York City.
napoleon francois charles joseph
Napoleon Francois Charles Joseph

A drawing by James McCune Smith, who would go on to become the first African American to earn an M.D. He would also write the introduction to Frederick Douglass’s My Bondage and My Freedom

margaret addle age 14 valedictory address circa 1822 records of the new york african free school
Margaret Addle, Age 14, Valedictory Address, circa 1822Records of the New-York African Free School

I appear before you . . . to take my leave of my School Mates and much endeared teachers. In doing this, I feel it difficult to suppress those feelings which such an occasion is calculated to produce on a heart sensible of obligations so numerous. . .

[I]t needs only to point you to those specimens, and remind you of the exercises this day exhibited before you to demonstrate a truth which must at no distant period find its way to the hearts of the most incredulous viz. That the African race, though by too many of their fellow men have long been, some still are held in a state, the most degrading to humanity, are nevertheless, endowed by the same almighty power that made us all, with intellectual capacities, not inferior to any of the greater human family.

margaret addle age 14 valedictory address circa 1822 records of the new york african free school1
Margaret Addle, Age 14, Valedictory Address, circa 1822Records of the New-York African Free School

In looking round on my school mates, I observe one among them who excites my most tender solicitudes.

It is my Brother.

John, this I feel to be an occasion which calls up all those tender emotions which he ever has designed should be felt by brother and sister towards each other.

What shall I say to you?

Oh, if I were called to part with you as some poor girls have, to part with their equally dear kindred, and each of us (like them) to be forcibly conveyed away into wretched slavery never to see each other again—-but I must forbear—Thank heaven it is not, no is not the case with us; nor have I ever the anxiety which the circumstances of leaving you under the charge of strangers would produce. No, I leave you to receive instruction, advice reproof, and every other salutary means of informing your mind and correcting your morals, from well known, and long tried friends.

george allen on slavery
George Allen, “On Slavery”


Slavery! Oh, thou cruel stain,

Thou dost fill my heart with pain:

See [m]y brother, there he stands

Chain’d by slavery’s cruel bands

Could we not feel a brother’s woes,

Relieve the wants he undergoes;

Snatch him from slavery’s cruel smart,

And to him freedom’s joy impart?