Rogers takes us on a transcendent yet rugged tour of Vermont, a land virtually untouched by the scourge called “Colorphobia.”
The Collected Writings of Nathaniel Peabody Rogers
Anthony Comegna, PhD
Assistant Editor for Intellectual History
We begin our second selection of political writings from Nathaniel Peabody Rogers with a lively “Jaunt to Vermont.” In the Jacksonian era, Vermont was boom country. As land‐hungry immigrants from post‐Revolutionary Massachusetts and New Hampshire poured into Vermont, the state transformed from rugged and undeveloped frontier country to a land of prosperous, independent farms and bustling little burgs. Peddlers and turnpike roads connected towns together while new canals and railroads increasingly connected Vermont to the wider United States. Occasionally, Vermont affairs could even turn national events or spark important debate.
For Rogers and his abolitionist cohort, the most important thing about Vermont was its virtually unparalleled degree of human freedom. None of the original colonies–not even Massachusetts, with its fabled patriotism, or Rhode Island, with its famous rebelliousness–could match Vermont’s commitment to individual liberty. They may have had deeper historical roots in abolition, but the coastal states were far more deeply involved in human trafficking and finance capital for slave traders and planters. Aside from the occasional (if expected) politician without scruples truckling to the South, Vermont remained almost entirely isolated from the moral stain of slavery. Of course, the case should not be extended too far–after all, Americans in all states grew more interconnected and interdependent on one another than ever before during the period, and southern cotton made its way to even the humblest country towns. But to the extent that any sizeable American community could have claimed immunity from “Color‐phobia,” it was Vermont.
The rest of the nation was the easy prey of a class of predatory monopoly‐capitalists and monopolist‐planters. The monopoly classes formed in political cesspools at each state capitol before infecting the wider public with ‘Color‐phobia.’ A few decades of ingesting the miasma and, “Our people have got it. They have got it in the blue, collapse stage. Many of them have got it so bad, they can’t get well. They will die of it.” Rogers and his ilk hoped to be a dose of stern medicine, and though the patient may hate the taste they have only themselves to blame should the poison overtake all healthy functioning.
Concord: John R. French. 1847.
A Collection from the Newspapers Writings of Nathaniel Peabody Rogers
“Jaunt to Vermont,” Herald of Freedom 20 October, 1838
We have recently journeyed through a portion of this free state, and it is not all imagination in us, that sees, in its bold scenery,–its uninfected, inland position, its mountainous, but fertile and verdant surface, the secret of the noble and anti‐slavery predisposition of its people. They are located for freedom. Liberty’s home is on their Green Mountains. Their farmer‐republic no where touches the ocean–“the highway of the” world’s crimes, as well as its “nations.” It has no seaport for the importation of slavery, or the exportation of its own highland republicanism. Vermont is accordingly the earliest anti‐slavery state, and should slavery ever prevail over this nation to its utter subjugation, the last, lingering footsteps of retiring liberty will be seen–not, as Daniel Webster said, in the proud old commonwealth of Massachusetts, about Bunker hill and Faneuil hall, (places long since deserted of freedom)–but wailing, like Jephtha’s daughter, among the “hollows,” and along the sides of the Green Mountains.
Vermont shows gloriously at this autumn season. Frost has gently laid hands on her exuberant vegetation, tinging her rockmaple woods, without abating the deep verdure of her herbage. Every where along her peopled hollows and her bold hill‐slopes and summits is alive with green, while her endless hard‐wood forests are uniformed with all the hues of early fall…Vegetation touched, but not dead, or if killed, not bereft yet of “signs of life.” “Decay’s effacing fingers” had not yet “swept the ‘hills,’ where beauty lingers.” All looked fresh as growing foliage. Vermont frosts don’t seem to be “killing frosts.” They only change aspects of beauty. The mountain pastures verdant to the peaks, and over the peaks of the high, steep hills, were covered with the amplest feed, and clothed with countless sheep;–the hay‐fields heavy with second crop, in some partly cut and abandoned, as if in very weariness and satiety, blooming with honey‐suckle, contrasting strangely with the colors on the woods–the fat cattle and the long‐tailed colts and close‐built Morgans wallowing in it, up to the eyes, or the cattle down to rest, with full bellies, by ten in the morning. Fine but narrow roads wound along among the hills–free, almost entirely, of stone, and so smooth as to be safe for the most rapid driving–made of their rich, dark, powder‐looking soil. Beautiful villages or scattered settlements breaking upon the delighted view, on the meandering way, making the ride a continued scene of excitement and animation. The air fresh, free and wholesome,–no steaming of the fever and ague of the West, or the rank slaveholding of the South,–the road almost dead level for miles and miles among mountains that lay over the land like the great swells of the sea, and looking, in the prospect, as though there could be no passage. On the whole, we never, in our limited travel, experienced any thing like it, and we commend any one, given to despondency or dumps, to a ride, in beginning of October, chaise‐top back, fleet horses tandem, fresh from the generous fodder and thorough‐going groomage of Steel’s tavern, a forenoon ride, from White‐river Sharon, through Tunbridge, to Chelsea Hollow. There’s nothing on Salem turnpike like the road, and nothing, any where, a match for “the lay of the land” and the ever‐varying, animating landscape…
The farmers looked easy and care‐free. We saw none that seemed back‐broken with hard work, or brow‐wrinkled with fear of coming to want. How do your crops come in, sir? “O, middlin’.”–How much wheat? “Well, about three hundred. Wheat han’t filled well.”–How much hay do you cut? “Well, sir, from eighty to one hundred ton.” Corn? “Over four hundred; corn is good.” How many potatoes? “Well, I don’t know; we’ve dug from eight hundred to one thousand.” How many cattle do you keep? “Only thirty odd head this year; cattle are scarce.” Sheep? “Three hundred and odd.” Horse kind? “Five,” and so on. And yet the Vermont farmers are leaving for the West.
The only thing we saw, the looked anti‐republican, was their magnificent State House, which gleams among their hills more like some ancient Greek temple, than the agency house of a self‐governed democracy. It is a very imposing object. Of the severest and most compact proportions, its form and material (the solid granite) comporting capitally with the surrounding scenery. About one hundred and fifty feet long, and some eighty or one hundred wide, we should judge, an oblong square, with a central projection in front, the roof of it supported on a magnificent row of granite pillars–the top a dome without spire. It looks as if it had been translated from old Thebes or Athens, and planted down among Ethan Allen’s Green Mountains. It stands on a ledge of rock; close behind it a hill, somewhat rocky and rugged for Vermont; and before it, descends an exceedingly fine and extensive yard, fenced with granite and iron in good keeping with the building, the ground covered with the richest verdure, broken into wide walks, and planted with young trees. It is a very costly structure; but Vermont can afford it, though we hold to cheap and very plain State houses, inasmuch as the seat of government with us is, or should be, at the people’s homes. We want to see the dwelling‐houses of the “owners of the soil,” the palaces of the country. There the sovereignty of the country should hold its court, and there its wealth should be expended. Let despots and slaveholders build their pompous public piles and their pyramids of Egypt.
The apartments and furniture of the State House within are very rich, and, we should judge, highly commodious. The Representatives’ Hall a semicircular, with cushioned seats, a luxury hardly suited to the humor of the stout old Allens and Warners of early times, and comporting but slightly with the hardy habits of the Green Mountain boys, who now come there, and in brief session pass anti‐slavery resolutions, to the dismay of the haughty South, and the shame of the neighboring dough‐faced North.
Their legislature was about to sit–and an anti‐slavery friend, one of their state officers, informed us that Alvan Stewart was expected there, to attend their anti‐slavery anniversary. We should have rejoiced to stay and hear him handle southern slavery in that Vermont State House.–We trust yet to hear George Thompson there. It shall be our voice, when he comes again, that he go directly into Vermont; that he land there from Canada. Let him leave England in some man‐of‐war, that hoists the “meteor flag,” and mounts guns only in chase of the slave ship, and enter the continent by way of the gulf of St. Lawrence. Let him tarry some months among the farmers of Vermont, and tell them the whole mysteries of slavery, and infuse into their yeoman‐hearts his own burning abhorrence of it, till they shall loathe slaveholding as they loathe the most dastardly thieving, and with one stern voice, from the Connecticut to Champlain, demand its annihilation. We would have him go into the upland farming towns–not to the shores of the lake, where the steamboat touches, to land the plague of pro-slavery–nor to the capital, where “property and standing” might turn up the nose at the negro’s equal humanity, or the vassals of “the northern man with southern principles” veto the anti‐slavery meeting with a drunker mob–but to Randolph Hill, to Danville Green, the swells of Peacham, and the plains of St. Johnsbury, to Strafford Hollow and the vales of Tunbridge and Sharon–William Slade’s Middlebury, and up among James Bell’s Caledonia hills. Let the South learn that GEORGE THOMPSON WAS STIRRING THE VERMONTERS UP AMONG THE GREEN MOUNTAINS. See if Alabama would send a requisition for him to ANTI-SLAVERY Governor Jennison, or ANTI-SLAVERY Lieut. Gov. Camp. And what response, think ye, she would get back?–a Gilchrist report–or the thundering judgment rather of stout old Justice Harrington to the shivering slave-chaser–“SHOW ME YOUR BILL OF SALE OF THIS MAN FROM THE ALMIGHTY!” A decision,” said a judge of the present truly upright and learned bench of that state, “no less honorable to Judge Harrington’s head than his heart, and GOOD LAW.”
Let George Thompson land in Vermont, and stay there, till other states shall learn the courage to guaranty him his rights within their own borders, if they have not learned it already for shame. He can do anti-slavery’s work, and all of it, in Vermont. He need go no farther south. They can hear him distinctly, every word he says, from Randolph Green clear down to Texas. John C. Calhoun would catch every blast of his bugle; and assassin Preston startle at its note, in the rotunda at Charleston. And by and by, when every Vermont farmer shall have heard his voice, and shaken his hand and welcomed him to his hearth‐stone, let him come down into Montpelier and shake that granite State House; and mayhap to fair Burlington, to that University–where the colored student can now enjoy, unrestricted, all the equal privileges of “field recitation;” where he may come, under cloud of night, to gaze at the stars on the very same common with the young New‐Yorker, and the son of the rich merchant of this fair city of the lake, or accompany them, in broad day, on an excursion of trigonometry, in the open fields. The doors of that college chapel would open wide to George Thompson, after the Green Mountain boys had once heard him speak.
But we are lingering too long for our readers or ourselves, in this noble state. We hasten back to our own native, sturdy quarry of rocks and party politics.
“Color‐Phobia,” Herald of Freedom 10 November, 1838.
Our people have got it. They have got it in the blue, collapse stage. Many of them have got it so bad, they can’t get well. They will die of it. It will be a mercy, if the nation does not. What a dignified, philosophic malady! Dread of complexion. They don’t know they have got it–or think, rather, they took it the natural way. But they were inoculated. It was injected into their veins and incided into their systems, by old Doctor Slavery, the great doctor that the famous Dr. Wayland studied with. There is a kind of varioloid type, called colonization. They generally go together, or all that have one are more apt to catch the other. Inoculate for one, (no matter which,) and they will have both, before they get over it. The remedy and the preventive, if taken early, is a kine‐pock sort of matter, by the name of anti‐slavery. It is a safe preventive and a certain cure. None that have it, genuine, ever catch slavery or colonization or the color‐phobia. You can’t inoculate either into them. It somehow changes and redeems the constitution, so that it is unsusceptible of them. An abolitionist can sleep safely all night in a close room, where there has been a colonization meeting the day before. He might sleep with R. R. Gurley and old Dr. Proudfit, three in a bed, and not catch it. The remedy was discovered by Dr. William Lloyd Jenner‐Garrison.
This color‐phobia is making terrible havoc among our communities. Anti‐slavery drives it out, and after a while cures it. But it is a base, low, vulgar ailment. It is meaner, in fact, than the itch. It is worse to get rid of than the “seven years’ itch.” It is fouler than Old Testament leprosy. It seems to set the dragon into a man, and make him treat poor, dark‐skinned folks like a tiger. It goes hardest with dark‐complect white people. They have it longer and harder than light‐skinned people. It makes them sing out “Nigger–nigger,” sometimes in their sleep. Sometimes they make a noise like this, “Darkey–darkey–darkey.” Sometimes, “Wully–wully–wully.” They will turn up their noses, when they see colored people, especially if they are of a pretty rank, savory habit of person, themselves. They are generally apt to turn up their noses, as though there was some “bad smell” in the neighborhood, when they have it bad, and are naturally pretty odoriferous. It is a tasty disorder–a beautiful ailment; very genteel, and apt to go in “first families.” We should like to have Hogarth take a sketch of a community that had it–of ours, for instance, when the St. Vitus’ fit was on. We have read somewhere of a painter, who made so droll a picture, that he died a‐laughing at the sight of it. Hogarth might not laugh at this picture. It would be a sight to cry at, rather than laugh, especially if he could see the poor objects of our frenzy, when the fit is on–which indeed is all the time, for it is an unintermittent. Our attitude would be most ridiculous and ludicrous, if it were not too mortifying and humiliating and cruel. Our Hogarth would be apt to die of something else than laughter, at sight of his sketch.
The courtly malady is the secret of all our anti‐abolition, and all our mobocracy. It shuts up all the consecrated meeting-houses–and all the temples of justice, the court‐houses, against the friends of negro liberty. It is all alive with fidgets about desecrating the Sabbath with anti‐slavery lectures. It thinks anti‐slavery pew‐owners can’t go into them, or use their pulpit, when it is empty, without leave of the minister whom they employ to preach in it. It will forcibly shut people out of their own houses and off their own land,–not with the respectful violence of enemies and trespassers, but the contemptuous unceremoniousness of the plantation overseer–mingled moreover with the slavish irascibility of the poor negro, when he holds down his fellow‐slave for a flogging. It sneers at human rights through the free press. It handed John B Mahan over to the alligators of Kentucky. It shot Elijah P. Lovejoy at Alton. It dragged away the free school, at Canaan. It set Pennsylvania Hall a‐fire. It broke Miss Crandall’s school windows, and threw filth into her well. It stormed the female prayer meeting in Boston, with a “property and standing” forlorn hope. It passed the popish resolution at Littleton, in Grafton county. It shut up the meeting‐house at Meredith Bridge, against minister and all,–and the homely court‐house there, and howled like bedlam around the little, remote district school‐house, and broke the windows at night. It excludes consideration and prayer in regard to the forlorn and christian‐made heathenism of the American colored man, from county conferences and clerical associations. It broods over the mousings of the New York Observer, and gives keenness to the edge and point of its New Hampshire name‐sake. It votes anti‐slavery lectures out of the New Hampshire state house, and gives it public hearing on petitions, in a seven by nine committee room. It answers the most insulting mandate of southern governors, calling for violations of the state constitution and bill of rights, by legislative report and resolves that the paramount rights of slavery are safe enough in New Hampshire, without these violations. It sneers and scowls at woman’s speaking in company, unless to simper, when she is flattered by a fool of the masculine or neuter gender. It won’t sign an anti‐slavery petition, for fear it will put back emancipation half a century. It votes in favor of communing with slaveholders, and throwing the pulpit wide open to men‐stealers, to keep peace in the churches, and prevent disunion. It will stifle and strangle sympathy for the slave and “remembrance of those in bonds,” to prevent disturbance of religious revivals. It will sell the American slave to buy Bibles, or hire negro‐hating and negro‐buying missionaries for foreign heathen of all quarters but christian‐waster Africa. It prefers American lecturers on slavery, to having that foreign emissary, George Thompsons, come over here, to interfere with American rights and prejudices. It abhors “church action” and “meddling with poltics.” In short, it abhors slavery in the abstract–wishes it might be done away, but denies the right of any body or any thing to devise its overthrow, but slavery itself and slaveholders. It prays for the poor slave, that he might be elevated, while it stands both feet on his breast to keep him down. It prays God might open a way in his own time for the deliverance of the slave, while it stands, with arms akimbo, right across the way he has already oepend. Time would fail us to tell of its extent and depth in this free country, or the deeds it has done. Anti‐slavery must cure it, or it must die out like the incurable drunkards.
“Ichabod Bartlett–Osceola,” Herald of Freedom, 17 January, 1839
Anti‐slavery engagements prevented our earlier noticing to our readers the opening lecture before the Concord Lyceum, by Ichabod Bartlett. It was on the very important subject of our country’s treatment of the aboriginal inhabitants of this land. A subject, on which we should think it very difficult for any American to be eloquent–but an American Indian. Our white men have acted a part towards their red countrymen, which we should think would embarrass their flights of fancy.
From the landing of the fathers, up to the last Indian ouster civilization and Christianity (such as they were) have been crowding upon the Indian, and hunting him as a beast of the forest. Every advantage has been taken of his unacquaintance with the roquery of refined life. He has been circumvented, overreached, cheated, and called meantime a savage, all the way from the pilgrim‐landing to the “father of waters,” across which his mournful canoe now bears the remnants of the mighty forest nations. He has been all the way and all the time hunched by our republicanism, while that has been blustering about our justice and magnanimity, and his cruelty and perfidy–because his tomahawk did not always outbear the patience of Job. We have thrust him over the Mississippi. Civilization and Christianity are building steamboats to follow on, and rout him from his wilderness there. And although he is promised a permanent home and hunting ground, the smoke will scarce have curled above his new‐built wigwam, before our enterprise will hunch him farther, till he disappears, or is driven to turn his despairing canoe out on the shoreless Pacific. The church will see that he has a scattered missionary after him, meanwhile, and the monthly concert will be entertained with the geography of his wanderings. But not an effort will be made (none has been) to reform the white man of that character which makes it impossible for the Indian to live with him. The cheapest mode of repentance for the American church with regar to the Indian and the Negro seems to be to ”remove” on “by treaty” toward the illimitable sunset, and to “colonize” the other, (as fast as they become free) “with their own consent,” on the oblivious shores of Western Africa!
But to the lecture. The orator…he exposed the treachery, the baseness, the duplicity, the tyranny, the savage cruelty, the more than savage–the republican and civilized–barbarity of this country. He paid some merited compliments to the learned law‐officers of this great republic, for their official opinions, as counsel, advising this mighty nation on the legal effect of some of their processes to “extinguish Indian titles” to country and to home and hearth‐stone…
We do not attempt a complimentary notice of this lecture. We felt mortified and humbled through the whole of its delivery, eloquent, powerful, graceful and forcible as it was. We felt that a few such finely drawn laments was all the relief the country promised the wretched Indian. The generous and indignant orator himself would say, we presume, if asked what could be done for the Indian, that nothing could be done; that he must retire; that he could not be civilized; that he was irrevocably a savage, and that he must retire before, or be trodden beneath, the inevitable westward movement of civilization. He would not say the white man must recognize the brotherhood of the savage, and respect his human rights and endure his aboriginal customs and habits of life, here on the land. He would treat him honorably, to be sure, and keep faith…But would he say that the policy of William Penn should be observed towards them–the principles of non‐resisting, unarmed peace, of primitive Christianity, which would immediately abolish our Indian‐phobia, and give them place in the American human family? We think not. He does not hold to the immediate abolition of negro slavery–that mighty national iniquity and shame, before which the wrongs of the Indian dwindle into insignificancy. We have trespassed on the Indian. We have enslaved the Negro. We have defrauded the Indian. We have extinguished the Negro. But we cannot pursue the theme here.
The lecture was “denunciatory.” The lecturer used “harsh language.” He called the white people “miscreants and caitiffs,” and other names of homely, old‐fashioned severity. He did not style them southern brethren, or northern brethren. He did not call the Indians savages and Indian dogs, inferior race, that could not live or rise among white men, that must be sent to their own appropriate country, the woods. He did not palliate our conduct in the least, but denounced it worse than ever Garrison did the conduct of slaveholders. We refer the denouncers of abolitionists to this authority for calling things by their right names. And we call upon the learned and eloquent lecturer, to demand of his white countrymen justice and humanity for the remaining Indians–that they invite and help them back to their native soil and their homes, and that the national treasures be expended in reforming, in this behalf, the wicked scorn and haughtiness of the white man, amid which an Indian can’t live in safety or peace–instead of spending it in miserable politics, or more miserable preparations for civilized quarrelling with other nations by land or sea. We call on him to advocate a national love of the Indian as a man, to gather associations in his behalf, like ours for the more deeply‐wronged and insulted negro, and we call on him further to enlist in the cause of his colored countrymen and brethren, sprung with himself from one stock, of one kindred, of one brotherhood, of one destiny. We ask him in the name of humanity, why he, an eloquent advocate, stands coldly and more than silently by, while those of feebler powers are breasting the storm of a most savage and brute public sentiment, which is crushing to the dust and mire the colored man of this country and his uncolored friends.