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ch a p ter 4 Samuel Ward and the Making of an Imperial Subject The boast of the Englishman, of their freedom from social negrophobia, is about as empty as the Yankee boast of democracy. —samuel r. ward, 1851 Who wonders that we are among the most loyal of Her Majesty’s subjects. —samuel r. ward 1855 Had Republican America remained a colony of Great Britain, the firs[t] to August, 1834, would have emancipated every slave, and made us a nation of FREEMEN. —the colored american, August 5, 1837 The American-born fugitive and prominent antislavery activist Samuel Ringgold Ward spent fifteen of his forty-nine years in Canada, the United Kingdom, and Jamaica. The significance of spending nearly one-third of his life on British soil removed from his native country, however, has attracted limited scholarly comment. These years and places are usually interpreted in one of three ways: exile from the United States, new vineyards for “Christ-like labors,” or as masonry for the wall around U.S. slavery.1 In contrast, this chapter examines Ward’s antislavery labors in Canada, the United Kingdom, and Jamaica between 1851 and 1866. It demonstrates the ways in which Ward was transformed into an imperial subject through the pursuit of personal and race-based liberty. This transformation is explained in four ways: Ward’s physical relocation from unfree to free soil, his advocacy of legal equality for all people regardless of racial origin, his calls for emigration to the British Empire, and his commitment to the spread of Pan-African evangelical Christianity. The documentary evidence draws primarily from Ward’s Autobiography of a Fugitive Negro published by John Snow in London in 1855. Although Ward’s Autobiography resembled the form, function, and utility of many slave narratives, it was marked by one key difference: it was written by one who had spent some four years prior to publication living and working 88 freedom’s seekers within the British Empire and who used this knowledge to authenticate imperial liberties.2 Samuel Ward’s speeches and letters, together with newspaper articles in the U.S., Canadian, and British press, are examined for details of the last decade of his life in Jamaica from 1855 through 1866 not covered by his Autobiography. Apart from providing the first critical evaluation of Ward’s transatlantic antislavery labors in extenso, this chapter further seeks to expand the conventional nationalist framework (American, African American) of the slave narrative.3 Moreover, it transcends existing evaluations of traveling black abolitionists beyond the notion of visiting other countries for fund-raising, antislavery mobilization, and building diplomatic pressure on the United States—the so-called abolitionists’ “liberating sojourn.” Its most urgent task is to reveal the contradictions between liberty and empire, a tension that is unfortunately overlooked in some recent historical literature.4 There are three current interpretations of Ward’s relationship to Britain. Some have dismissed the views of traveling black abolitionists like Ward, Josiah Henson, and Frederick Douglass for becoming “almost intoxicated” by their social mobility and acceptability in British social circles.5 It is true that Ward’s Autobiography was full of laudatory praise for reforming lords and ladies, but why should we find this strange given the necessity of wooing a powerful constituency to the U.S. antislavery cause? Besides, Ward also praised “the peasant” (English, Irish, and Scottish rural laborers) as well as “the prince” (reforming aristocrats like lords Shaftsbury and Brougham) for their “chord of sympathy” for his “suffering people.”6 A second interpretation of Ward’s relationship to Britain is that his consistent praise for the Empire was never authentic; it was just a clever way of ingratiating himself with powerful patrons in order to achieve his aim of persuading Great Britain to pressure the United States into terminating slavery. One problem with this view is that it fails to appreciate the historical specificity of antislavery struggles in the Anglo-Atlantic world in which Ward and others were embroiled. A more serious limitation is its imposition of an unchanging one-dimensional political identity. In other words, black leaders are “authentic” when addressing black people, but only clever strategists when dealing with whites. The reverse is equally valid. Samuel Ward’s attraction is that his multifaceted political agenda within an imperial polity transcends such facile racial categorization. Finally, a recent work has argued that Ward and other black abolitionists who visited the United Kingdom were Anglophiles. Their fascination with England, argues Elisa Tamarkin...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780807154724
Related ISBN
9780807154717
MARC Record
OCLC
878130616
Pages
272
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-24
Language
English
Open Access
No
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