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The “Appeal of the Arkansas Exiles to Christians throughout the World” was a plea for assistance written by twelve free African Americans expelled from Arkansas after the passage of Act 151 of 1859 (also known as the Act to Remove the Free Negroes and Mulattos from the State or Arkansas’s Free Negro Expulsion Act of 1859). The authors of the appeal left Arkansas on or about January 1, 1860, and arrived, with several others, in Cincinnati, Ohio, on January 3, 1860. The exodus from Arkansas displaced an estimated 800 free blacks from an approximate population of 1,000 who resided in the state prior to 1860. Of the 800 free blacks who were expelled, as many as 200 were believed to have arrived in Ohio. The traveling secretary of the American Colonization Society, the Reverend John Orcutt, noted that although an estimated 200 individuals migrated to the state, few stayed in the city more than a few days after arriving.
In the appeal, the exiles called on Christians of the world to assist them in their fight against Arkansas’s Free Negro Expulsion Act, which expelled them from Arkansas and forced them to abandon family, friends, and property, or be enslaved. They noted that they had sought refuge and been refused admission into Illinois, Indiana, Oregon, and Minnesota. They thankfully acknowledged that Ohio opened its borders to them, but they called on their fellow Christians to have mercy on them and to assist them in correcting the injustices that were committed against them by their neighbors in Arkansas.
The Cincinnati Daily Press presented a bleak account of the first group of exiles arriving in the city, noting that the first refugees were a group of thirty-nine women and children accompanied by a single male. The newspaper accounted for the noticeable absence of men from the party by explaining that “the husbands and the fathers of the company” were slaves who had faced the difficult choice of either maintaining their families by staying together (meaning that their wives and children would have to forfeit their freedom—that is, be condemned to slavery), or dissolving their families.
The newspaper went on to explain that the exiles embarked on the steamboat Hickman in Little Rock (Pulaski County) and traveled overnight to Louisville, Kentucky. In Louisville, the exiles were forced to disembark due to the excessive amount of ice on the river and traveled the remainder of the way to Cincinnati by rail. Upon arrival in Cincinnati, the group was welcomed by a committee of free blacks, chaired by noted educator, activist, and black abolitionist Peter H. Clark. The committee secured temporary boarding for the exiles at the Dumas House, the well-known boarding house that catered exclusively to black travelers and was an important waystation on the Underground Railroad. Free blacks, as well as slaves accompanying their masters on excursions north, regularly passed information and intelligence while staying at the inn. The house was of such great importance to the abolitionist movement that it was affectionately referred to by the movement’s members as “Station Number One.”
The text of the appeal is as follows:
In consequence of a law passed by the Legislature of Arkansas compelling the free colored people either to leave the state or to be enslaved, we, a number of exiles driven out by this inhuman statute, who reached Ohio on the 3rd of January 1860, feeling a deep sense of the wrong done us, make this Appeal to the Christian World.
We appeal to you, as children of a common Father, and believers in a crucified Redeemer. To-day we are exiles, driven from the homes of our childhood, the scenes of our youth, and the burial places of our friends. We are exiles; not that our hands have been stained with guilt, or our lives accused of crime. Our fault, in a land of Bibles and churches, of baptisms and prayers, is, that in our veins flows the blood of an outcast race —to a race oppressed by power, and proscribed by prejudice—to race cradled in wrong, and nurtured in oppression.
In the very depth of the winter, we have left a genial climate of sunny skies, to be homeless strangers in the regions of the icy North. Some of the exiles Have children, who were very dear; but to with them was to involve ourselves in a lifetime of Slavery. Some left dear companions: they were enslaved, and we had no other alternative than Slavery or exile. We weak; our oppressors were strong: we feeble, scattered, peeled; they, being powerful placed before us Slavery or banishment. We chose the latter. Poverty, trials, and the cares incident to a life of freedom, are better, far better, than Slavery.
From this terrible injustice, we appeal moral the sentiment of the world. We to the free North; but even here oppression tracks our steps. Indiana shuts her doors upon us. Illinois denies us admission to her prairie homes. Oregon refuses us abiding-place for the soles of our weary feet. And even Minnesota has our exclusion under consideration.
In Ohio, we found kind hearts; hospitality opened her doors; generous hearts reached out a warm and hearty welcome. For this, may the God of the fatherless ever defend and bless them!
And now, Christians, we appeal to you, as heirs of the same heritage and children the same Father, to protest against this gross and inhuman outrage, which has been committed beneath the wing of the American eagle, and in the shadow of the American church. We ask you, by the love, the pity, and the mercy, in the religion of Jesus Christ, that you will raise your voices and protest against this sin.
Editors of newspapers, formers of opinion, conductors of intelligence and thought, we entreat you to insert this Appeal in your papers, and unite your voices against this outrage, which disgraces our land, holds it up to shame before the nations of earth. We entreat you to move a wave influence, which will widen and spread through all the earth, and roll back and wash away this stain.
Christian mothers, by our plundered cradles and child-bereft hearts, we appeal you and ask your protest.
Christian fathers, by all the sacred associations that cluster around the name, father, we appeal to you to swell the tide of indignation against our shameful wrongs.
We appeal to the Church of Christ, among all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people to protest against the inhumanity has driven us from our homes and kindred.
Members of all political parties, we ask your protest, in the name of a common humanity, against this cruel act of despotism.
Christian Ministers, we appeal to you, in the name of Him who came to preach good tidings to the meek, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captive, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound, to lay before your Congregations the injustice done us, and the wickedness of a system that tramples on the feeble, and crushes out the rights of the helpless.
And we appeal to the God of the fatherless, and the Judge of the widow, that he will remember His word—“Inasmuch as ye have done it to one of the least of these, ye have done it unto me”—that he will move the hearts of His children everywhere to unite their testimony against this unequaled iniquity that writes “property” on man; That chattelizes the immortal mind; and makes merchandise of the deathless soul. We appeal to Him who does not permit a sparrow to fall to the ground unnoticed, to plead the cause of the poor and needy, and in September him at rest from that him puffeth at him.
The Authors of the Appeal
County in the 1850 Census (Arkansas)
County in the 1860 Census (Ohio)
Eliza Ann West
Ann Eliza West
Elizabeth Taylor West
Wm. H. Newcomb
The 1860 federal census shows that several of the appeal’s authors stayed in Ohio after leaving Dumas House. Those who remained settled in Mount Healthy, a small community neighboring Cincinnati in Hamilton County.
For additional information:
“Arrival of Arkansas Exiles.” Cincinnati Daily Press, January 4, 1860, p. 3
Forty-fourth Annual Report of the American Colonization Society, January 15, 1861. Online at https://archive.org/details/ASPC0001926600 (accessed December 8, 2016).
“Persecution of Free Coloured People in the United States.” The Anti-slavery Reporter, April 2, 1860, 85-86.
Simmons, Roscoe. “Untold Story.” Chicago Tribune, April 17, 1949.
Brian K. Mitchell
University of Arkansas at Little Rock
Last Updated 1/13/2017
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