I stumbled on this little nugget when I was perusing Feedbooks. It has an odd title or shall I say the title is a wee bit of a paradox, but then again perhaps that is the whole point. Christmas, and Poems on Slavery for Christmas by Thomas Hill (1818-1891).
At first glance I thought ooh that’s a bit of a kick in the teeth, but the poems are actually a selection of Christmas and antislavery poems published by Thomas Hill for the Boston antislavery fair, which was first held in Boston in 1834.
The antislavery fair was started by abolitionists in an attempt to raise funds by selling publications, sewing and selling clothes, food and toys all, for the greater cause of freeing fellow humans from the binds of slavery. An excerpt from the The Liberator, an abolitionist newspaper published weekly in Boston.
Let a voice go forth from Massachusetts, on this subject, which shall agitate the whole country. We beseech you then, by the interest you have for the integrity of our enterprise,—by your love for our common country,—by your desire for the purification of the church from this great abomination,—and by the ties which bind you to your enslaved countrymen,—to come up to this Convention by hundreds, from every county in the State.
Bearing in mind that they are poems written by someone who does seek change and equality for all humans regardless of skin colour and not by an actual slave. My point being that best intentions are recognised by all, but the words and emotions of an actual slave are likely to be more potent.
The Runaway. A true Tale.
Covered with ashes the little girl lay
In a cellar’s darkest part,
Wild in her fears she dared not breathe,
And she stilled her throbbing heart.
In the night she steadily crept forth,
By her hunger’s pangs impelled,
But the strong-locked doors from her eager hands
Their treasures all withheld.
Covered with ashes the girl is found
When the morning light appears,
And is to the master’s presence brought
To tell her tale of tears.
“I am owned, Sir, they say, by Colonel Y.,
Who lives a mile from here,
And I live with him a wretched life
Of anguish and of fear.
“Tight to my leg above my knee
A log of wood he chains,
And this I drag till it galls the flesh,
And my life is filled with pains.
“And if, thus clogged with a heavy load,
My motions are too slow,
He flogs me with a whip that brings
The blood at every blow.
“Three days ago my chain got loose,
So I slipped it off and ran,
And hid myself in your cellar, Sir;
O, help me if you can!
“A withered pear in your ashes I found,
‘T is all I’ve had to eat
For three days; but I’d sooner starve,
Than I’d my master meet.”
When the man heard the little girl,
At the “lazy wench” he swore,
And sent her back to Colonel Y.,
To suffer as before.
But the shrieks of the beaten child
Reached a kinder neighbour’s ear,
And he bought the child to save its life
From anguish and from fear.
That child has now to a woman grown,
From bondage she is free,
And in her own neat cottage rears
A happy family.
by Thomas Hill
George Moses Horton (1798–1884) was born into slavery on a plantation and taught himself to read. His collection of poems The Hope of Liberty was published in 1829, despite the fact he didn’t learn to write his work himself until around 1832.
The voice in his poetry is slightly different to that of Thomas Hill’s. George speaks from personal experience, you can hear the frustration in his words and feel the desperation. In the above poem you can feel Hill’s disbelief and anger at the actions of his fellow humans.
On Liberty and Slavery
How long have I in bondage lain,
And languished to be free!
Alas! and must I still complain–
Deprived of liberty.
Oh, Heaven! and is there no relief
This side the silent grave–
To soothe the pain–to quell the grief
And anguish of a slave?
Come Liberty, thou cheerful sound,
Roll through my ravished ears!
Come, let my grief in joys be drowned,
And drive away my fears.
Say unto foul oppression, Cease:
Ye tyrants rage no more,
And let the joyful trump of peace,
Now bid the vassal soar.
Soar on the pinions of that dove
Which long has cooed for thee,
And breathed her notes from Afric’s grove,
The sound of Liberty.
Oh, Liberty! thou golden prize,
So often sought by blood–
We crave thy sacred sun to rise,
The gift of nature’s God:
Bid Slavery hide her haggard face,
And barbarism fly:
I scorn to see the sad disgrace
In which enslaved I lie.
Dear Liberty! upon thy breast,
I languish to respire;
And like the Swan unto her nest,
I’d to thy smiles retire.
Oh, blest asylum–heavenly balm!
Unto thy boughs I flee–
And in thy shades the storm shall calm,
With songs of Liberty!
by George Moses Horton
Christmas, and Poems on Slavery was digitized by the Antislavery Literature Project. It is an important part of history. Giving the people who swam against the stream of profit hungry traders of human flesh and the general opinion that it was the norm to treat another person as a non-entity, a second class citizen and on par to an animal, the attention they deserve. Although personally I find the mixture of Christmas spirit and base evil human nature is hard to swallow I think Hill was actually being facetious.
What kind of God-loving Christian would do that unto others and not be able to see the hypocrisy of their actions and words. Hill is saying do as you preach. The reality is even today the meaning would fall upon deaf ears. So many say one thing and do another. They follow their own interpretation of a religious mantra, to the detriment of mankind and themselves.We all bleed the same colour blood, and feel the same pain.
This short collection is certainly worth a read, even if poetry isn’t your cup of tea
Read Christmas, and other Poems on Slavery for Christmas, Poems by a Slave, Poems by Phillis Wheatley or listen to poems on religion and moral by Phillis Wheatley or On Virtue by Phillis Wheatley. Download The Fiend, George and his Magic Sword, Screw-Job, One Hundred Years Hence, or Attack of the Giant Cliche right here on the blog.