Originally created 09/09/01

An offer they can't refuse



At the same time Emily was writing to R.R. Gurley at the American Colonization Society, she had a similar correspondence with John Latrobe of the Maryland State Colonization Society in Baltimore. The Maryland society resettled free blacks from Richard's home state - the first American home of some of his slaves. The national society had a colony growing around its settlement at Cape Mesurado named Monrovia in honor of President Monroe. The Maryland society was a separate entity with a partially funded mandate from the Maryland state Legislature. Its colony, small but also growing, was centered on the tiny frontier town of Harper, on Cape Palmas, the African bulge's southernmost jut into the Atlantic.

The Cape Palmas settlement, which was also called Maryland in Liberia, was of particular interest to Emily Tubman because it was a farming community. She had the belief, she wrote, that "it would be the most conducive to the interest of my people to go where that was the case as they (had) ... been brought up cultivating the soil, they understand perfectly the culture of cotton, corn, potatoes, indeed all that is usually grown on a farm.

"(They) will in all probability continue the business of farming in Africa, if they are placed in a society where the Agriculturist ranks in respectability and influence with the Merchant or Trader, otherwise I fear they may be induced to become traders, and knowing nothing about it, may loose their little means and suffer."

Emily knew there wasn't room for everyone to be a farmer in Liberia's new society. She didn't want her people taken advantage of in a strange business in their new land.

At the time of the letter, April 9, 1837, she was concerned that the society might not be ready for them to travel right away and that there might not be housing for them when they arrived in Liberia: "I promised them early last Winter that they should go this Spring, and I do not feel willing to fail in my promise and disappoint them by postponing it later than the middle of May."

Foreshadowing her coming success as a businesswoman, she was tough in her negotiations and pitted the colonization societies against each other. She made it clear that she soon expected a call in person from Gurley, of the the American Colonization Society, and was ready to listen to what arrangements he could make.

"If your society cannot offer such an arrangement as I can approve, then I must accept the offer of one of the other societies, which are so liberal that I should unhesitatingly have accepted them at first," she wrote. The only things holding her back, she said, were her fervent wish for them to be farmers and the fact that some of the older slaves who had been brought to Augusta by her husband from Maryland were "retaining an affectionate regard for the name, (and) seem to think they will be happier in Maryland in Africa than else where."

As usual, Emily ended the letter like a proud high school guidance counselor recommending her star students.

Georgia statistics

72 - The number of Georgia slaveholders who released their slaves to settle in Liberia from 1812-1860.

41,084 - The number of slaveholders in Georgia in 1860, the last census before the Emancipation Proclamation.

1,200 - Approximate number of Georgia emigrants to Africa from 1817-1860.

462,198 - The number of slaves in Georgia in 1860

SOURCES: The University of Michigan's Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research; The African Colonization Movement in Georgia, 1817-1860, by James Gifford

"They are emancipated for their fidelity and good conduct," she wrote. "They are honest, industrious, and not an intemperate one among their number. If they will only act as well in a state of freedom as they have in slavery, they will be certain of respectability and wealth, for themselves and their children."

Luckily for Latrobe and the Maryland society, the American Colonization Society was caught napping. Before Gurley could make his sales pitch, the Maryland society tendered its final offer. On April 18, Emily wrote them to say she accepted. It was resolved that an agent would come to lead the Tubman people from Augusta to Baltimore, where they would be outfitted for their journey and set sail for Africa.

On May 4, she wrote Latrobe one last time, complimenting him and the other managers of the Maryland society for their good character, enabling her to "commit my people to their care with more confidence and pleasure." Just that morning, she wrote, 42 of her former slaves were on the railroad to Charleston, S.C., where they would sail for Baltimore. They were in the care of Capt. William Robertson, and would hope to meet an agent from the society on the ship.

Saying she thought the freight charges on the ship from Charleston to Baltimore were too expensive, she took the Maryland society up on its offer to equip the slaves in Baltimore. Consequently, she outfitted them only with new clothes.

"The men have three new suits, one cloth and two summer in addition to their former stock. The women have, in addition to clothing already up, two pieces each of cotton cloth, one blue and one white, averaging 40 yards in each piece.

"I sincerely hope the Society may not be disappointed in my people," she concluded, "which they will not be, if only they do as well for themselves as they have for us. My overseer ... remarked today that he had made twelve crops with these negroes (this is his thirteenth year) and he had never known one embroiled in a difficulty, or arraigned for theft or misconduct and ... that he did not believe there was such a set of Negroes left in the State.

"That they may justify this character through life is my most sincere prayer," the widow commended them, sounding not a little like a proud parent.

No longer slaves to fate

What Richard and Emily Tubman gave to their slaves wasn't merely their freedom. It was a whole new life for people who lived in a perpetual present tense, only dreaming that there might be a day when they or their children might live free. It was, in fact, Tubman's end that was their beginning.

Moreover, the Tubmans gave their slaves a choice - a rare chance to decide their own future. It couldn't have been easy to decide whether to stay or go, whether to leave the bondage they knew for an uncertain land far away.

The price of freedom

After they arrived in Baltimore, the Tubman settlers shopped for the supplies they would need to establish their new homes in the African colony. The following items are listed on "the invoice of the merchandise purchased by Maryland State Colonization Society on account of E.H. (Emily Harvie) Tubman shipped for Cape Palmas on board brig Baltimore 17 May":

For the farm
38 weeding hoes, 37 cents each
25 spades, 75 cents each
22 axes, $1.50 each
15 knives, 50 cents each
10 handsaws, $1.12 each

For the home
13 spinning wheels, $4.25 each
19 pairs of scissors, 37 cents each
1,850 sewing needles, $4.25
6 thimbles, 12 cents
344 yards brown muslin, $46.51
15 yards gingham, $3.75
8 yards pink ribbon, $1.06
16 double mattresses with bolsters, $64
16 single mattresses with pillows, $32
36 blankets, $1.12 and $1.25 each

For the kitchen
8 dozen dining plates, $5.36
4 dozen mugs, $5.05
2 dozen knives and forks, $4
4 dozen spoons, $2
9 teakettles, $1.12 each
7 coffee pots, 37 cents each

For the pantry
70 pounds of sugar, $7
14 pounds of coffee, $2
4 pounds of tea, $3
2 gallons of lamp oil $2.63

For the wardrobe
43 pairs of shoes, 62 cents to $1.37 per pair
22 menÕs hats, $1.25 to $1.75 each
19 razors, 50 cents each
1 dozen pairs of suspenders, 84 cents
5 bonnets with trimming, $5
1 pair of spectacles, 31 cents
These and other tools, household items and foodstuffs totaled $1,856.07.

Mrs. Tubman also paid the settlers' travel expenses:

Travel and lodging
Passage of 46 emigrants from Charleston to Baltimore, $307
1 week, 1 day's board and lodging for 36 adults ($2.50 per week) and 11 children ($1.25 per week) - $117.26
Passage of 46 emigrants to Liberia, $50 each - $2,300
Insurance, shipping and other miscellaneous expenses - $248.16

Total cost for expedition $4,828.49

"What kind of questions did these people have to raise in their heads?" asks Randall Miller, a professor of history at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia. "One ... is the same kind of question, in one sense, that a slave would have asked himself if he were to run away. Not just that you might get caught, but what is your life going to be like after you flee and what it's going to be like for those you left behind."

Runaway slaves in Augusta were hunted for bounties of $10, $20, $50 - even $120, according to front-page ads in The Chronicle. One from 1836 reads: "Ranaway from my premises on the night of the 29th my negro fellow HENRY - he is about 21 years of age, five feet 8 or 10 inches high - front teeth decayed - the little finger on the right hand off at the first joint... He has probably gone towards Augusta."

Henry was in good company that day. Other advertisers were seeking Rose (who had a scar on the back of her neck), Charlotte (who was believed to be hiding out with her mother in Augusta), Sarah (a "negro wench" who had fled Edgefield with her children, ages 10, 6 and 1) and Solomon (who was "quite black and speaks quick").

And the Tubman slaves might also have heard tales such as the one from December 1836, about a runaway who "came to his death by his own recklessness," the Barnwell coroner reported to the newspaper. The black man with the slightly yellowed face and long beard said he wouldn't be taken alive, and he was right.

"He was shot at several times," the coroner wrote, "and at last he was so disabled as to be compelled to surrender."

He died free in a creek in Barnwell County.

The Tubman slaves could die free, too, but they had to leave everything they knew behind.

"If you went across the ocean, you knew you weren't coming back. Of course, if you were an ex-slave you knew you weren't coming back because if you came back, you'd be re-enslaved," Dr. Miller says. "It was a life decision."

Some of the Tubman slaves chose to stay behind. Emily mentioned in one letter that five men and one woman were having trouble deciding whether to go, "some from age, and others from distress at parting with their families."

Others were ineligible for manumission. In his will (dated 1833), Richard excluded three women - Anna, Charlotte and Fanny - and their children, from release.

Of the 65 slaves the Tubmans owned in 1837, 42 decided to go.

The Tubmans who chose freedom watched the slave South go by as their train chugged along to Charleston. Once they arrived in Baltimore, they could breathe a sigh of relief that they had left it all behind and set their minds to outfitting themselves for their Liberian adventure.

They put their inheritance to good use, buying 10 kegs of nails, two hogsheads (large barrels) of Virginia tobacco, spades, handsaws, hatchets, shovels, axes and hoes galore, according to the receipts kept by the Maryland society.

For Maria Tubman, there was a new coffeepot and a teakettle. Madeira Tubman got a kettle, too, and a coffee mill, a gross of knitting pins and a pair of scissors. Most of the men bought new razors, straps and brush boxes. Most of the women got spinning wheels and cotton cards. Shadrach Cummings spent just $2.62, but got an ax, a weed hoe and a spade for his money.

The Tubman party made its way through James A. Langston & Co. and ended up with 36 blankets, a dozen palm leaf hats, 8 1/2 yards of pink ribbon and one dozen suspenders. The men seemed to fancy the hats at the Sappingtons' place, and George Addison must have sold the Tubmans twice or even three times his weight in shoes. Seventy pounds of sugar. Four pounds of tea. Fourteen pounds of coffee. Three and three-quarters gallons of molasses. Two dozen knives and forks. Four dozen spoons. Sixteen double mattresses and 12 single mattresses.

It was a lifetime of Christmases and birthdays made up for in eight days. All told, the Tubmans spent nearly $2,000 outfitting themselves for their journey. Published reports from Liberia after their arrival hailed them as the best-equipped colonists ever to set foot in the new land. The adventure was on for the Tubman People, as they were referred to by the colonization society - and it was very much an adventure. As colonists, they were outfitted for what the society called "expeditions," a far cry from the journeys their African ancestors had made to their New World indenture.

The Tubman people would sail on the brig Baltimore, the Maryland society's 10th voyage to Liberia. The first was aboard the schooner Orion in November 1831, and the largest expedition had been in the winter of 1832, when 146 colonists sailed on the ship LaFayette. The Baltimore, all 167 tons of her, was based in New York and piloted by a Capt. Chesebrough. The Tubman people were accommodated in the hold and on the deck; the white passengers, agents from the colonization society, were housed in the cabin. The voyage, from Baltimore to St. Iago in the Cape Verde Islands, and then on to Cape Palmas in Liberia - about 5,000 miles in all - was at done at a cost of $2,454.10.

They embarked on their journey May 17, 1837 - a Thursday morning. There were 55 emigrants aboard and three missionaries: the Rev. Minor and the Rev. Payne and his wife.

"The emigrants went on board, on which occasion numerous friends of Colonization and missionary labor having collected to witness their embarkation, a prayer to the throne of grace was made ... and a most eloquent and admirably appropriate address to the immigrants was delivered," read an account of the voyage.

"All appeared in good spirits," it continued, "and when it was asked them whether any thing had been neglected which could conduce to their comfort, answered unanimously, by expressing their thanks to the Society for the kindness that they had received."

Passengers on the brig Baltimore

The Maryland State Colonization Society kept a log listing the names and ages of slaves who traveled to its colony. Below are the Tubman settlers who boarded the brig Baltimore on May 17, 1837. There were 23 men, 13 women and 11 children under 14. The oldest was Jeremiah Tubman, 80; the youngest, Sylvia Cummings, 2. According to Emily TubmanÕs letters, the group was made up of 42 of her slaves plus three men and one woman who were related to the departing Tubman slaves and consequently emancipated by their owners. The society's log has 47 names, and a note stating that three names and ages were unknown. Owners referred to slaves by first names only, but the slaves commonly adopted their ownersÕ surnames. The Cummings slaves are believed to have been purchased from another Augusta family.

Samuel Tubman, 46
Dashwood Tubman, 27
Calfrey Tubman, 44
Lydia Tubman, 16
Rina Tubman, 47
Nelly Tubman, 24
Sylvia Tubman, 25
Maria Tubman, 30
Madeira Tubman, 50
Samuel Tubman Jr., 7
Johnson Tubman, 5
Major Tubman, 3
Cesar Cummings, 60
Rachel Cummings, 48
John Cummings, 45
Jacob Cummings, 26
Stephen Cummings, 20
Shadrach Cummings, 41
Osborne Cummings, 16
Meeky Cummings, 13
Antony Cummings, 18
Aquilla Cummings, 30
Margaret Cummings, 34
Araminta Cummings, 22
Margaret Cummings, 11
Eliza Cummings, 9
Polly Cummings, 7
Judy Cummings, 5
Sylvia Cummings, 2
Julia Cummings, 5
Osman Tubman, 50
Dennis Tubman, 45
Stephen Tubman, 55
Benjamin Tubman Sr., 38
John Tubman, 46
Dembo Tubman, 70
Lydia Tubman, 60
Benjamin Tubman Jr., 35
Montee Tubman, 45
Letty Tubman, 46
Cyrus Tubman, 48
Jeremiah Tubman, 80
William Tubman, 5
Richard Tubman, 48
Frederick Tubman, 45
Fanny Tubman, 35
Susan Tubman, 17

Their ancestors had left Africa as tribesmen generations before. They had left Georgia as slaves just days before. That day, they were leaving Baltimore as free men and women, farmers and pioneers.

The ship was towed by steamboat out of Baltimore harbor to the mouth of the Patapsco River and out into Chesapeake Bay. They could watch from the Atlantic as the sun set on America and bondage. It was their spiritual songs come to life, and they were goin' over Jordan.

Freedom and hardship

As hard as it must have been to leave their Georgia home, in some ways, that was the easy part. They had made their decision to go and had gotten on the ship. The really hard part lay ahead. For most of the Tubmans, Africa was truly the Dark Continent - an unknown and harsh land. It would be an inhospitable environment for the very young and the very old. Dembo, the 70-year-old husband of one of Emily's slaves, wanted to return to the land he was abducted from in his early 40s. Even so, Emily tried to persuade him not to go.

"Dembo is old and blind and I feared he would have been a heavy burden on his wife in a new country," she wrote. Dembo was a member of the Baptist church - beloved for his "piety and child-like simplicity," one missionary said - and proudly remembered his 1827 baptism in Georgia. But the land of his rebirth and the land of his birth were not the same.

He had been born near Goree, a slave-trade town of some infamy in modern day Senegal. Sometime around 1809, he was traveling far from his home in the town of Kudmore, to collect some debts. At the home one man, he was captured by a gang of native kidnappers in an apparent double-cross. He was sold that day to an American slave trader who shipped him and about 150 of his fellow Africans to the slave market in Charleston, he recalled, where Thomas Cumming, an Augusta official, bought him and five others. He would marry one of Richard Tubman's slave women, and now that she was preparing to leave for Africa, his owner released him to go with her. Despite Emily's concerns, Dembo was not about to let his age or infirmity keep him from returning home.

Emily was justified in her warnings, as the hardships of Liberian pioneer life were well known in America and were probably the greatest single deterrent to emigration to Liberia. In his book, Dear Master, Dr. Miller, the professor from St. Joseph's University, uses the letters of freed slave Peyton Skipwith and his family to tell the story of their new lives in Africa.

Their owner, Virginia planter John Hartwell Cocke, had a close relationship with Skipwith, and had educated him and otherwise tried to prepare him for his new life in Africa.

Skipwith, 33, wrote to Cocke in February 1834: "After 56 days on the ocean we all landed safe on New Year's Day and have all had the fever, and I have lost Felicia (his 6-year-old daughter), but I thank God that our loss is her gain. As Job says, the Lord gave and he taketh. I thank God that we are all on the mend."

In March of the next year, he wrote again: "I embrace the opportunity to write you these few lines to inform you that I am not well with a blindness of nights so that I cannot see. All the information that I can get from the doctors is that (I) must stop laying stone.

"I have lost my wife," he continued in the same letter, sounding all the more like Job. "She died on July 2d 1834."

Skipwith asked his former master to let his mother know he was thinking of her, but not to let on about the night blindness. After several more months, he wrote to say that his daughters were well, but that he and his two small sons had months-old wounds that would not heal, "for such are the diseases of a tropical climate."

At the same time, Skipwith was trying to adjust to his new hometown of Monrovia, which left him less than thrilled.

"We are dissatisfied with this place," he had written when they first landed. "There is some that have come to this place that have got rich and a number that are suffering. Those that are well off do have the natives as slaves, and poor people that come from America have no chance to make a living for the natives do all the work.

"As it respects farming, there is no chance for it unless we would get the natives to work for us, and at the same time when we ought to put in our grain it rains so hard that we dare not be out unless exposing our health. The sun is so hot that people from America can not stand it in the dry season and in the wet it rains too much."

Just four years after the Skipwiths left America, Peyton Skipwith wrote to his mother, no longer willing to conceal his poor health: "Dear Mother, I write these few line to inform you that I am very unwell, but the rest of the family is quite well and I hope that these few lines will find you in good health. I calculate to come and see you all this year, but this wound have throw me so far back, I don't know when I shall be able to come and then, Mother, I hope will give you consolation if you never see me no more in this world. I am trying to meet you in a better world than this where we shall part no more."

And the Skipwiths' troubles were by no means unique. The Tubman slaves had been forced to decide between living on in what seems to have been benevolent bondage and crossing the sea to a malarial coast with uncertain fortunes. The prospects had troubled Emily Tubman enough that those were her only main concerns in choosing the Maryland society.

The Maryland society and Mrs. Tubman believed they had done their best to prepare her people. They had sent 364 colonists to Cape Palmas before that, but the Tubmans were superlative.

"The Board hazard little in saying that when the Baltimore sailed, it carried out morally and physically one of the best and strongest, as well as the most thoroughly furnished expeditions, that had yet left the United States for Africa," the Maryland society wrote in its 1837 annual report. The society also congratulated itself on the outfit of the brig.

"Every arrangement on board the vessel was made with special reference to comfort of the passage. The whole vessel was chartered in view of allowing ample room in the sleeping department," they wrote in the Maryland Colonization Journal. They were particularly happy with the high quality, yet economical, husk mattresses they bought for the ship.