Boston’s connection to ‘Freedom’s Journal’

Pioneering black publication relied on Boston contributors, thought leaders

Jacqueline Bacon | 2/9/2018, 6 a.m.

“An Enquirer” from Boston asked in August 1828 about the “derivation of the word” Negro and “the propriety of applying this term” to African Americans. The newspaper also reprinted pieces from Boston publications such as The New-England Galaxy and short, relevant news items about the city, such as a report of a march in Boston of sailors demanding higher wages and the announcement of the arrest in Boston of a “man of colour” from Maryland who was charged by authorities in Philadelphia of “stealing free coloured children from that city, and selling them for slaves.”

Announcements of black Bostonians’ marriages, births and deaths were also included in the newspaper, as were advertisements for David Walker’s new and used clothing store and clothes-cleaning service on Brattle Street.

Freedom’s Journal reported frequently on Walker and his fellow black activists in Boston. In October 1828, the newspaper noted Walker’s contribution to “the fund about to be raised for the purchase of George M. Horton, of North Carolina.” Horton, a North Carolina slave who taught himself to read and write, was a poet whose talents had first become known among students at the University of North Carolina and whose fame eventually spread. Efforts in the North and South were undertaken to purchase his freedom from his master, and African Americans throughout the nation, including Walker, became involved. The effort, unfortunately, did not prove successful.

A similar case in which Walker and fellow Bostonians became involved ended quite differently.

In 1828, Freedom’s Journal featured news about the case of Abduhl Rahahman, an American slave who had been born the son of a ruler in Futa Jallon, a region in Guinea, West Africa; educated in various cities; captured in 1788 after a military campaign; and sold, first to British traders and then to a Natchez, Mississippi, planter.

Freedom fight

In the 1820s, Rahahman gained notoriety when his desire to return to Africa was publicized by a newspaper editor. His master agreed to release him, and in 1828 he became a free man. Rahahman’s wife Isabella was purchased with money raised in Natchez, but they also sought to buy their children’s freedom. In freedom, Rahahman toured cities in the North to raise the requisite funds. At least some of their children were eventually freed and reunited with him and Isabella after they sailed to Africa in 1829.

Freedom’s Journal offered reports of a public dinner given in Boston to raise money for Rahahman’s family, with George B. Holmes as chief marshal, Walker as second marshal and John T. Hilton as third. Walker’s words on the occasion expressed the sharp condemnation of slavery and of whites’ exploitation of Africa that would be elaborated in his “Appeal.”

“Our worthy Guest, who was by Africa’s natural enemies, torn from his country, religion, and friends, and in the very midst of Christians, doomed to perpetual though unlawful bondage, may God enable him to obtain so much of the reward of his labor, as may purchase the freedom of his offspring.”

It is notable that Walker described funds for Rahahman’s family not as compensation for the slaveholders who owned his children but as wages deserved for his labor. Although other proclamations were more conciliatory — Hilton referred to the “liberality of the white men towards” Rahahman — at least one attendee matched, if not exceeded, Walker’s righteous indignation.