A Nationalistic Narrative of the 1890s


The idea of politics dominating the news isn’t anything new. For centuries, American politics and world news come to dominate the front page of every newspaper and always cause massive attention. This fact remains true in the American political sphere of the 1890s. This was a decade where not only the omnipotence of America’s empire steadily increasing, but its ego as well. Events such as Wounded Knee, the Spanish-American War, and the Wilmington Race riots of 1898 represented an emerging white-supremacy ethos along with a growing sense of imperialism that encapsulated the country. The overall dominance of the country was on the rise which lead to a subsequent rise in national narcissism and arrogance. The newspapers portrayed their attitudes towards the central government in the form of political cartoons. These cartoons would be depictions of either political leaders or specific foreign affairs painted in a more literal and sometimes jocular sense. Many of these political cartoons of the 1890s were propaganda that promoted nationalism and patriotism. Other cartoons depicted the rise of imperialism that was apparent in this country as well. These cartoons did a great job of representing the pompous nature of the American government and put the white supremacist ethos in visual form.

Cartoon #1:  “Out of the Frying Pan”, Louis Dalrymple, 1898, Puck Magazine


This image is a classic example of pro-war propaganda during the 1890s. As tensions between America and Spain grew over the ownership of Cuba, the USA published cartoons such as this to gather support for the Cuban conquest. The cartoon depicts Cuba, a vulnerable and beautiful woman, looking for help as she is held in the frying pan of “Spanish Misrule”. Beneath her are the flames of anarchy, threatening her life. The woman, who looks very docile, is draped in the Cuban flag and looks like she is in need of guidance and assistance. The frying pan, on the other hand, is being held by a white hand, indicating that American (white, Anglo-Saxon) intervention is a necessity. There is a quote at the bottom of the cartoon lies a quote that says, “The duty of the hour-to save her not only from Spain- but from a worse fate”. By adding this quote to the cartoon, Dalrymple implied that this apparent “Spanish Misrule” was not only anarchy, but something that required American intervention. This cartoon most definitely inspired many Americans to the pro-war stance. At the end of the day, American intervention in the war lead to a fall of the Spanish state, and America got paid handsomely for their help. They were awarded new territories such as the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico. Although this military aggression seemed to be a giant step for American dominance, it breaks away from traditional American values. The United States broke away from their mother country, and promised to be a land of the free accompanied with natural born rights. After the war concluded, they absorbed many territories and stripped their inhabitants of their rights. A source from independent.org writes, “History taught that republics that engaged in frequent wars eventually lost their character as free states. Hence, war was to be undertaken only in defense of our nation against attack”(Raico 1).  America wasn’t under attack, but yet they still flexed their military muscles anyway.

Cartoon #2: “Uncle Sam and Little Aguinaldo- See Here Sonny, Whom are you going to throw these rocks at?”, Charles M. Bartholomew, 1898, Minneapolis Journal


This cartoon is a depiction of what is known as the Filipino Insurrection. After the Americans won control over the Philippines from the Spaniards, a man named Emilio Aguinaldo thought that the country would be set free and be left to govern how they so chose. Aguinaldo was the leader of a Filipino rebel guerilla group, and had his hand in helping the Americans defeat the Spanish. In this cartoon, America is depicted as Uncle Sam, the leering, dominant figure we see so heavily injected in American political cartoons. Uncle Sam is looking down angrily at little Aguinaldo, who is collecting rocks himself. The cartoon is meant to mock Aguinaldo, implying that he is too weak and too feeble to seriously run an independent country. In the background, a much smaller and goofily dressed figure represents Spain. He’s there on purpose to indicate that Spain isn’t in the equation anymore. Bartholomew is questioning the legitimacy of the Philippine empire, and he strongly believed that they were too immature to self-govern. The whole idea of Aguinaldo depicted as a child and collecting rocks is a direct shot at the “American” belief of a Philippine dynasty. To conclude, it is apparent that this political cartoon resonates with the same message as many of the other cartoons of the time: America is a dominant, pure force that is rightful in its conquest of land and territory in the islands.

Cartoon #3: “School Begins”, Keppler & Schwarzmann, 1899, Puck Magazine

School Begins Image

There is a lot to digest when close reading this cartoon. Ultimately, Uncle Sam is portrayed as a teacher in a extremely diverse school room. There are many different races depicted in this cartoon such as African-Americans, Native Americans, the Chinese, and the newest territories that America was granted (Puerto Rico, Guam, Philippines, and Hawaii). All of these students in the picture are represented as misguided, immature oddities that need the assistance of Uncle Sam (America). For example, there is a black student in the top right corner who is washing the windows. This depiction might be the most appalling, because the authors are implying that the black student should not even be in school and stick to slave-esque labor. The Native American is depicted as reading a book upside down. Us Americans tend to question the intelligence of most Native Americans due to their different lifestyles. The Chinese student is not even allowed in the classroom. This is consistent with the American attitude towards the Chinese of the era. We wanted to exclude them from all American ideals. Lastly, the children of the new territories are right in front of Uncle Sam’s desk, with Uncle Sam giving them his undivided attention. This is very similar to when a new kid moved to town and is getting adjusted to life in a new area. I didn’t mention the white students that were present in the cartoon as well. They are in the back of the class and reading like normal students. They have order and are doing everything the right way. The authors wanted to imply that all of these other races are hopeless and need American assistance in order to even act normally. Again, this ties back to the white-supremacy and nationalistic ethos that warped this country during the 1890s.



“American Foreign Policy: The Turning Point, 1898-1919 – Ralph Raico.” The Independent Institute, http://www.independent.org/newsroom/article.asp?id=1345.

Window into an Enslaved Person’s Soul

By Benjamin Nechmad

People take autonomy for granted. In many countries today, people have the ability to decide where to live, what to eat, and what clothes to wear, along with countless other choices. North American enslaved persons had no agency over the trajectory of their lives. They lacked the opportunities to set goals for themselves or to even dream. The enslaved people were considered property and deprived of the basic human right to have agency over one’s own life. This lack of humanity was a governing force in many of their behaviors and attitudes. It caused anger, depression, hopelessness and even religious fervor.

An example of this horrid deprival of control was the separation of enslaved families. Often times, family members were sold to different owners and could be sent great distances away from their loved ones. Even if a family stayed together, they did not have a say on when they would be able to see each other or even on how they would interact when together. John S. Jacobs discusses his father’s lack of control over his family in an account of his life as an enslaved individual. 

“To be a man, and not to be a man—a father without authority—a husband and no protector—is the darkest of fates … His wife is not his: his children are not his; they can be taken from him, and sold at any minute … A slave’s wife or daughter may be insulted before his eyes with impunity. He himself may be called on to torture them, and dare not refuse. To raise his hand in their defense is death by the law” (85).


A grandfather and grandchild featured together in Peter Bruner’s A Slave’s Adventures Toward Freedom (1918). African American families in slavery were prevented from enjoying family unlike this freed slave.

John Jacobs’ father is most likely one of the many fathers who were unable to protect their families from the whim of their masters. This lack of control can cause anger and depression, as was the case with John’s own father.

“…my father’s violent temper, although, in justice to him, I must say that slavery was the cause of it…The knowledge that he was a slave himself, and that his children were also slaves, embittered his life, but made him love us the more” (86). 

This issue was especially sensitive due to the gender roles that males held in nineteenth-century American society. Men were the breadwinners, they ventured into the cruel world, (especially in the case of the enslaved male,) and expected to come home to the peace and serenity traditionally provided by his wife and children. If these emotional assets are not under his control, the nineteenth-century male can become bitter and paranoid. They would have lost their coping mechanism that got them through the harsh days.

In the Johnson reading, “Turning People into Property,” we clearly see that African Americans were largely viewed as property. Property is normally under the full control of the owner. Unfortunately, when people are placed in this classification, they too, are stripped of all agency.  Slavery was an established aspect of the American South and there was nothing that the enslaved people could do to improve their circumstances and fate. This unending cycle of depression and uncertainty only had one remedy—faith. By believing in God, many enslaved people were able to overcome their terrible situation by engaging with agency over their internal lives. They may have lacked agency over their external choices, such as what to eat and where to live, but by having faith they were able to feel comforted and loved, carrying those feelings with them regardless of their circumstances. 

In her narrative, “Old Elizabeth” passionately describes how God was the only one in her life that she could count on.

“I had none in the world to look to but God, I betook myself to prayer, and in every lonely place I found an altar. I mourned sore like a dove and chattered forth my sorrow, moaning in the corners of the field, and under the fences” (4).

Elizabeth painfully came to the realization that she was physically alone in the world after being separated from her family and sold to another slave owner. She could turn to none but God in her search for companionship and meaning.


African Americans worshipping in church as featured in Daniel H. Peterson’s The Looking-Glass (1854). Religion provided slaves with a sense of purpose in a very difficult environment.

The physical bondage and torture of enslaved African Americans is usually at the forefront of the American slavery experience. However, these narratives provide a personal window into the lives of enslaved persons. They play a crucial role in helping us understand the emotional and mental struggle that was part of their daily lives.

The Faith of a Woman: a Slave Narrative of Love, Despair, and Atonement

By: Jared Silverstein

If one should take away anything from the story of former slave Bethany Veney, it is that the most complex nuances of social perception, and heart-wrenching aspects of human existence, can all be found in the seemingly humblest of livelihoods. Her short yet powerful narrative reveals how her unremitting faith in God empowered her to navigate the most trying of circumstances, from childhood as a slave to adulthood as a woman fighting for her freedom.


Bethany Veney shown above in a portrait, or Betty as she was known around her community, begins her tale by recalling the moment in her childhood where she was taught the importance of honesty, making it clear that it was this lesson alone that gave her the fortitude to fight for herself throughout life. Betty’s narrative is decidedly unique among the genre, for rather than describing the unspeakable horrors of slave life, she devotes her words to the morals by which she lived and the heartache that humanizes everyone. In this way, her story becomes one of humanity, not just a description of a series of events.

The relationship that Betty formed with her master’s daughter, Miss Lucy, is one that illustrates compassion and hope:

She was kind and tender-hearted. She often said she hated slavery, and wanted nothing to do with it; but she could see no way out of it.

It is here that the reader begins to see the true complexity to slave life and the psychology surrounding it. Here Betty also describes how she found the old woman kind for whom she worked while her master was away, due to the fact that she did not whip or starve her. Even she notes how a freeborn white child would have more extensive criteria for determining the kindness of someone!

Another recollection from her childhood reveals a fascinating insight into the economic allure of slavery when she overhears her master dismissing Miss Lucy’s idea to have a freeman from the North come and escort Betty to safety, for freemen quickly learn the profits to be had when they hold in their possession an ex-slave:

It was true that many Northern men came South very bitter in their opposition to slavery, and after a little while came to be the hardest and most cruel slaveholders.

Perhaps the most impactful experience in her youth occurred when Miss Lucy encouraged a friend to take Betty to a camp-meeting, where her desire to be free one day impelled her to pray and follow the path of God. All through her life it was this faith that reassured her actions. Similarly to how Charles Finney describes, it was by her own motives and will that Betty invested her faith passionately in God (Finney 2). When her master learned of her going to the church, of course she received severe punishment, but astonishingly even at her young age, she persisted in going. Not only that, but she even started encouraging her master to become a religious man, and although he never approved of Betty’s faith, he and the masters she would later served indeed admired her for her devotion and honesty. These qualities that Betty always upheld served to cultivate more positive experiences with those she served. Shown below is a camp-meeting location in Blue Ridge where Betty lived.



The writing itself is highly emotional and illustrative, particularly when expressing the treachery faced in her attempted eloping with her first love, Jerry. An instance occurs during this time where Betty is forced to lie to a slave tracker as to Jerry’s location, and remarkably she notes her guilt and shame for lying, even though it is to a white man who is threatening her, that is just how much integrity she had.

A stark contrast to Betty’s humanity emerges when retelling how she was dressed-up for auction to be sold:

This dressmaker was a most disagreeable woman, whose business it was to array such poor creatures as we in the gaudiest and most striking attire conceivable.

It is in this situation that the reader sees an apparent contrast to Betty’s previous experiences with whites such as Miss Lucy, who treat her with compassion. Here Betty is retelling the experience of being made into a product, by which all traces of humanity are stripped from the relationship between white man and slave (Johnson, 121).

Betty’s story ends with her eventually migration to Massachusetts, where she experiences this contradiction of the joy of long-sought freedom and homesickness. She remarks at the unfamiliarity of a strange new land where she is not recognized by neighbors, which provides insight into some of the deeper elements of community in slave life. The optimism stirred by her faith encapsulated the philosophy of equality and lack of resentment that Betty harbored, noting that she has finally attained a life:

…where I should need no pass written by a human hand to insure my safety as I went from place to place, but where the stamp of my humanity, imprinted by the Infinite Father of all, should be an all-sufficient guarantee in every emergency.


In her later years, Betty returned to the South to visit her old masters, and there was atonement between them despite the previous circumstances of their relationship. This shows the complex nature of the psychology surrounding how masters related to their slaves.

Zamba’s Experience from Royalty to Slavery

By Nadine Blank

Enslaved Africans were considered bottom of the barrel subjects in American society, and even freed blacks held the stigma of slavery because of the color of their skin. However, they were not always known this way; many affluent citizens of Africa and the Caribbean were captured and enslaved, which gives them an intense comparative perspective. Their narratives are especially impactful because of the audience they appeal to and the perspective they can give to white readers. Zamba, in his narrative, shows that enslaved persons were more than just dirty and poor; in fact, when left untouched by slavery, they prospered just as white Americans and Europeans did. In Life of Zamba, arranged by Peter Neilson, Zamba reminisces about his home, south of the Congo, where he resided when his father was king:

  “The royal palace towered over all the other buildings, and was in reality a very considerable edifice. Its form was circular, with an imitation of a dome at the top, in which hung an old ship’s bell that was rung on all great occasions, either of a mournful or joyous nature. The interior of the palace was divided into eighteen or twenty apartments, two of them especially being furnished in a manner that would rather astonish an European” (2).

This is not the typical lifestyle of Africa that many white people would have heard before, which may have been a hard pill to swallow at the time, and many white Americans may not have believed it. This imagery of a palace that “would rather astonish an European” gave a sense of grandiosity that is only associated with white royalty. Had any white Americans even thought of black royalty as a concept before? While it may be a stretch, beginning Zamba’s story with his past as a king could have been strategy to strike a chord of sympathy in some white Americans.

Delving further into his story, as Zamba was brought to America as a slave, the Captain bringing him over gave him lessons in reading the Bible, and Zamba thought it to be a special privilege because he was a king. He recalled that the Captain had been more cordial to him than others in Africa, but it seemed the Captain had alterior motives:

“Then addressing me, he said,–“Really, King Zamba, I must charge you for all the lessons I have given you for these some years past, and I cannot charge you less than a doubloon per hour. I could positively have picked up many a good boat-load of niggers during the time I spent in hammering lessons into your head; and besides this, it is not every day that the poor master of a slave-ship falls in with a king for a pupil. We shall talk of this again, however, and settle our accounts at the end of the voyage.” He laughed heartily as he said this, which I at first thought he meant only for a joke; but as he cast his eyes in a peculiar way from me to the mate, and again from the mate towards me, I could not help feeling somewhat uneasy. I felt, in fact, that I was not exactly safe” (90).

This exchange revealed to Zamba that his status did not give him special treatment–it made him a higher valued property and target. According to Walter Johnson in Turning People into Products, in order to sell a slave, a trader had to “slip beneath them a suggestion of personal distinction that would make one slave stand out to a buyer” (124). Zamba’s status, to the captain, was merely a key to selling him. Status to white Americans was merely another “feature.” Not only was Zamba a tool to the captain, but a way to fuel his ego and flaunt his power. The captain, laughing, even enjoyed the power play he was making, even though it was solely to prove his perceived superiority over Zamba.


Zamba, enslaved in Charleston 


Zamba was later enslaved to a master in Charleston, South Carolina. He tells many stories of terrible scenes regarding punishment and power, especially white women demonstrating their power over their slaves. He describes one gruesome example:

“The poor wretch, it seems, in ironing a gown of the lady’s, had applied an iron in rather too hot a state; and now the meek-tempered mistress revenged herself at the expense of everything sacred and dear to the sex, by treating her worse than a dog…I made some inquiries regarding the parties, and found that the lady was a Miss–(I am strongly tempted to disclose her name), a young woman of twenty; very beautiful, according to white notions, accomplished and wealthy, and much admired by the other sex: in short, one of the toasts of the city” (162)

The power exchange in this example as well as others is crucial and gives white women accountability. It also shows a violence that is not revealed in the passive language of “domestic” slavery. Zamba is disgusted by the woman’s stature in society even though she is terrible and cruel at home. In Charleston, at least, it seemed not to matter. The “white woman” in society was presented as a delicate object to protect, someone that could not take care of herself. The idea that a white woman could be so brutal and cruel was probably shocking to many white readers, who didn’t see this private, unpublished side of domestic life.


Methods of punishing black slaves. Female domestic slaves were not immune to punishment and were often beaten brutally by the white women of the house.


Zamba’s story is full of new perspectives and educated opinions on American slavery and its injustices, as well as facts and anecdotes to embellish his impactful experience and narrative.

The Importance of Education for African Americans in the 19th Century

By Andres Rodriguez

Manual Labor requires strength, patience and more importantly obedience. The least required asset for manual labor is to be educated. Slave owners in America had the same requirements. Slave owners would search and acquire slaves that were very physically strong, and very obedient.  They did not care if the slave was able to read and write, they only cared about the physical attributes of that slave. The question that I want to know is why do slave owners want their “property” to be the least educated? If a slave was able to read and write than they can be utilized to do specific tasks, like write a letter for their masters and be able to go into town to do tasks that requires more of their knowledge in order to accomplish. Slave owners thought the exact opposite.

 “If you give a nigger an inch, he will take an ell. A nigger should know nothing but to obey his master–to do as he is told to do. Learning would spoil the best nigger in the world. Now,” said he, “if you teach that nigger (speaking of myself) how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master. As to himself, it could do him no good, but a great deal of harm. It would make him discontented and unhappy.”  –Narrative of the Frederick Douglass (33)

This was said by one of Frederick Douglass’ former master when he found out Frederick was being educated. Frederick Douglas was born into slavery in February 1818 in Maryland. He is notorious for being a self-taught slave who escaped and began his career as a writer, abolitionist and statesman. Frederick Douglass realized that if he could gain enough education, he could escape slavery forever. Slaves that are least educated can be controlled better which would lower the risk of one trying to escape. A slave who does not know of anything other than work, will end up working until they die. Frederick Douglass gained enough education, through the most unthinkable ways possible, and figured out a way to escape for a third time and was successful. What does this say about the importance of education? Frederick Douglass realized that if someone can read and write, they could expand their knowledge and be bound by nothing! He proved that his education helped him get out slavery forever.

Frederick Douglass

Portrait of Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass has proved that his education helped him escape slavery but what happens after he is freed and starts his writing career? Is he seen, respected and treated the same as his white-counter parts? Equality seemed to be a non-existent term in 19th century America until Henry O. Flipper made history.

Henry O. Flipper

Henry O. Flipper as a Cadet in West Point Academy

Henry O. Flipper was the first African American man to graduate from West Point. This was no easy task for any “colored” man to accomplish, especially in 19th century America. He accomplished this impossible task by his merits, determination, respect, and most importantly his education. He was not the only “colored” person in the academy…. four others joined him but unfortunately, they failed to pass their examinations throughout the years.

“My own success answers most conclusively the first question, and changes the nature of the other. Was it, then, color or actual deficiency that caused the dismissal of all former colored cadets? I shall not venture to reply more than to say my opinion is deducible from what I have said elsewhere in my narrative. However, my correspondent agrees with me that color is of no consequence in considering the question of equality socially. My friends, he says, gain an important point in the argument for equal rights. It will be in this wise, viz., that want of education, want of the proof of equality of intellect, is the obstacle, and not color. And the only way to get this proof is to get education, and not by “war of races.” Equal rights must be a consequence of this proof, and not something existing before it. Equal rights will come in due time, civil rights bill, war of races, or anything of that kind to the contrary not- withstanding.” The Colored Cadet at West Point (184)

Henry Flipper realized his hard-work in the classroom allowed him to excel in his classes. His merits were the reason why he was able to graduate from West Point. He also stated that equal rights will come in time. He realizes that his graduation from West Point proves that education can bring a sense of equality in America. This cannot happen overnight but he realizes that it will happen over time. Flipper experienced a sense of equality by one his former classmates.

“One winter’s night, while on guard in barracks during supper, a cadet of the next class above my own stopped on my post and conversed with me as long as it was safe to do so. He expressed–as all have who have spoken to me–great regret that I should be so isolated, asked how I got along in my studies, and many other like questions. He spoke at great length of my general treatment. He assured me that he was wholly unprejudiced, and would ever be a friend. He even went far enough to say, to my great astonishment, that he cursed me and my race among the cadets to keep up appearances with them, and that I must think none the less well of him for so doing. It was a sort of necessity, he said, for he would not only be “cut,” but would be treated a great deal worse than I was if he should fraternize with me. Upon leaving me he said, “I’m d–d sorry to see you come here to be treated so, but I am glad to see you stay.” – The Colored Cadet at West Point (142-143)

Henry’s fellow classmate, who is white, realizes he cannot speak to him due his fear of being punished but he compliments Henry’s hard-work and determination and is even glad to see Henry at West Point. Even though his classmate is afraid to be seen talking and complimenting him, this indicates great progress towards equality in America. Education proves to be a vital and important asset for a “colored” individual living in 19th century America.


Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Frederick Douglass. Boston. 1845. http://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/douglass/douglass.html

Flipper, Henry O. The Colored Cadet at West Point. New York. 1878. http://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/flipper/flipper.html 


The Messengers of History

by Fallon Ward

History, or at least the concept of telling history, right now is in a strange paradoxical argument where different sides of the isle are splitting history into threads of truths, facts, fictions, realities, lies, and misconceptions all while being a part of history making. Who the story tellers are has also come into question. Whether those who pass on history are reliable or biased and what the nature of their connection to their history subject is valid enough for them to even discuss the matter.

Within the “Documenting the American South”, a digital archive sponsored by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the catalog attempts to make collections of narratives of slaves, autobiographical or biographical, known. In the collection is biographies of Harriet Tubman, the legendary escaped slave who saved slaves during the 19th century, all written by Sarah H. Bradford. Bradford, an American female author, spent a long time with Tubman, having a correspondence where Tubman told the author about her entire life. In Bradford’s 1886 book Harriet: The Moses of Her People, the second edition available on DocSouth’s archive, she spends majority of the preface expressing her personal admiration for Tubman.

“Her name deserves to be handed down to posterity, side by side with the names of Jeanne D’Arc, Grace Darling, and Florence Nightingale, for not one of these women, noble and brave as they were, has shown more courage, and power of endurance, in facing danger and death to relieve human suffering, than this poor black woman, whose story I am endeavoring in a most imperfect way to give you.” (4)

Bradford tries to establish Tubman’s legitimacy in a lineage of famous female heroes like Joan of Arc and Florence Nightingale. It shows true respect for her subject but also a bias. Bradford does state the Tubman is a “poor black woman” but despite the socio-economic downfalls of Tubman’s inheritance of being born into brutal slavery, her courageous actions in the face of danger surpass that of the white female heroines that Bradford compares Tubman too. In this passage, Bradford titters on a balance of historical reliability. Like aforementioned, she spent a long time with Tubman to properly document her life and story but in that close correspondence, a relationship develops.

“For the satisfaction of the incredulous (and there will naturally be many such, when so strange a tale is repeated to them), I will here state that so far as it has been possible, I have received corroboration of every incident related to me by my heroic friend. I did this for the satisfaction of others, not for my own. No one can hear Harriet talk, and not believe every word she says. As Mr. Sanborn says of her, “she is too real a person, not to be true.”” (pg. 5)

Again, another effort to legitimize Tubman’s life by providing that Bradford took all the information that’s in Harriet: The Moses of Her People from the direct source but it gets complicated because she refers to her subject as “my heroic friend”. Bradford is one of the primary sources on Harriet Tubman and her life but how true can her reporting be? Is Bradford’s friendship, a white woman, corrupting the reality of Tubman’s experiences, of a black slave woman, for a primarily white audience to read about in 1886? Is she possibly changing aspects of Tubman to make her appear presentable to a white reading? Also, still contained in the preface, Bradford includes a letter written to her by Oliver Johnson in which he praises Bradford for writing down Tubman’s story. Within that letter, Johnson mentioned that during the first publication of Harriet, the money Bradford received was given to Tubman.

“I [Johnson] regret to hear that she is poor and ill, and hope the sale of your book will give her the relief she so much needs and so well deserves.” (8)

The relationship between Bradford and Tubman is clearly a real friendship. But can a friend truly historically document you? Does Bradford portray facts or her reality? This not meant to be a criticism of Bradford. She gives Tubman the respect she deserves and history knows her story because of her biographies. But while searching through DocSouth’s archive, the question of authenticity comes up often. There’s biographies where slaves tell their story to white authors, former slaves write their own stories, fictionalized stories of black men and women that all have some propaganda laced within, language barriers, and many unidentified figures. Where does history draw the line between truths, realities, and facts and can a line even be drawn?

Elizabeth Keckley and a Look into the Private Life of the Lincolns

By: Colleen vonVorys-Norton



Portrait of Elizabeth later in life


Elizabeth was born a slave in Virginia and at the age of four was the maid to a new born. After many years of moving around, she ended up marrying a white man who used to be her Master. After he died, the estate owner claimed that she was to be a slave once more and the only way to gain freedom for her and her son was through payment. With some help, she was able to leave and head to Washington D.C. where she quickly became the dressmaker for Mrs. Jefferson Davis. At this point in time, the south was beginning the process of succeeding. Having Elizabeth be working so closely with Mrs. Davis gave her access to the domestic life of the Confederate President. Mrs. Davis spoke frequently to Elizabeth about their future and remarked that “you had better go South with me; I will take good care of you. Besides, when the war breaks out, the colored people will suffer in the North. The Northern people will look upon them as the cause of the war, and I fear, in their exasperation, will be inclined to treat you harshly” (71). Knowing better than to head back to the south, Elizabeth stayed in D.C. with the desire to work as a dressmaker for the first lady.


Dress created by Elizabeth for Mrs. Lincoln


This became a reality when she was recommended for the position by another lady. This lead her to have a unique look at the private life of the Lincolns. The most notable of these was what she observed after Willie died at a young age. She was in the room with the President when he saw Willie and “great sobs choked his utterance. He buried his head in his hands, and his tall frame was convulsed with emotion… His grief unnerved him, and made him a weak, passive child” (103). This complexity bring much more light on the man that the President was. He was more than just a strong man who lead his country unflinchingly through war. Elizabeth’s story serves as a reminder that he was just an ordinary man who was able to do extraordinary things.



Photo of President Lincoln from Fredrick Douglass’ autobiography


Elizabeth was also there for the assignation of the President as well. Only a few days before, Mrs. Lincoln remarked “Yes, yes, Mr. Lincoln’s life is always exposed. Ah, no one knows what it is to live in constant dread of some fearful tragedy. The President has been warned so often, that I tremble for him on every public occasion. I have a presentiment that he will meet with a sudden and violent end. I pray God to protect my beloved husband from the hands of the assassin” (178). Having this only come days before the assignation is a telling sign of how confident that the President was in him not being hurt. At that time, Presidents did not believe that they could be hurt.

Elizabeth’s story holds so much valuable information on the domestic life of the Lincoln family. Even though she began her life as a slave woman, she was able to rise to such heights and become close friends with Mary Lincoln.


Photos: Elizabeth portrait, Mrs. Lincoln’s dress, President Lincoln

Education in the Lives of Slaves:

By: Sukhvir Singh

When examining what enslaved persons valued and what they did not, it is easy to come to the conclusion that because their conditions and circumstance were so terrible, their overarching goal was to always to reach a place where they could be free and live under their own rule. Moreover, there are a number of slave narratives that detail how literate slaves used this skill to forge documents and navigate their way to freedom, one of the most famous narratives being of Frederick Douglass. First, any schooling that slaves received was very informal, and very seldom in the setting of a proper location and professional instructor. As seen with Frederick Douglass and most enslaved persons, he asked his master to teach him how to read.

The frequent hearing of my mistress reading the Bible aloud, for she often read aloud when her husband was absent, awakened my curiosity in respect to this mystery of reading, and roused in me the desire to learn. Up to this time I had known nothing whatever of this wonderful art, and my ignorance and inexperience of what it could do for me, as well as my confidence in my mistress, emboldened me to ask her to teach me to read.”(69)

It is also very important to note that the circumstances for a slave to ask him master to teach him to read have to have been perfect. Masters would not want their slaves to know how to read, as it would weaken their ability to control them, as a literate slave could better maneuver the world and escape slavery. Additionally, for a slave to have such a trustworthy and legitimate relationship with their master was not common. Yes, slaves were trusted with the management and care of the property and owners, but that was their responsibility, the trustworthy relationship in this case refers to one in which the masters give information or reveal something that the slave can ultimately use to escape or go against the owners.

A corner in Millinery Room

Most schools that did exist for black individuals were centered around labor and domestic work, not the education of English, math or science.

The blog opened with explaining how it was nearly impossible for slaves to receive an education, but the key word there is nearly. In the northern states, such as New York and Pennsylvania, while still difficult, enslaved persons could attend schools only for blacks where they could receive an education. James Smith was an enslaved person who was able to escape the clutches of slavery and receive a proper schooling in Massachusetts.

I then made preparation to attend school at Wilbraham, Mass. After I had been there a while I became quite proficient in my studies, especially in mathematics, it being my favorite study. At first I found it difficult to keep up with the course of study; I overcame it, however, and progressed so rapidly that the students and the faculty of the academy gave me great praise.

When one examines the lives of slaves who were fortunate enough to manage an education, whether formally or informally, it is hard to argue that these individuals were not significantly better off than other enslaved persons. James Smith explains that even in at his age, when learning how to read and write may have seemed pointless, he knew it would still be invaluable to him.

The reason I attended school there was because it was a more retired place for me. I was very ambitious to learn, for I knew I would be better qualified to enter into business for myself, which I had some thoughts of doing then”

Rev. William J. Simmons, 1849-1890

Educators race varied depending on how north or south was when but the presence and existent of black teachers definitely contributed to the idea that African Americans can and should pursue an education

Education’s ties to slavery and freedom exemplify the difference between what made a slave valuable as property. Masters and owners looked at the physical characteristics of slaves, as Walter Johnson showcases how slaves are prepared for purchase and showcasing. (Johnson 123). So an owner would have no benefit from having a slave that knew how to read and write, rather it would be a treat as I mentioned above.

Uncle Sam as a Political Critique in the 1890s

By Nadine Blank

The character of Uncle Sam, beloved and notorious in the 19th and 20th centuries, originated during the War of 1812, when an American businessman, Samuel Wilson, supplied to the army with a stamp of U.S. to “indicate government property” (Brittanica). These initials were joked about to be from Wilson, known as “Uncle Sam.” As the folklore spread, Uncle Sam became a new symbol of the United States, and Thomas Nast of Puck Magazine was the first to depict him as we know him today, top hat, stars and stripes included. While it can be argued that he is most known for the “I Want You” propaganda, Uncle Sam was also depicted both affectionately and viciously in political commentary and cartoons. By the 1870s, he became a universal personification of the United States and was used extensively to critique American foreign affairs. This post will discuss four cartoons and their relation to American imperialism during the Spanish-American War. In the first two cartoons, I will discuss the drastic change in Uncle Sam’s character and the setting and circumstances in which he is viewed. “The White Man’s Burden” portrays America leading Cuba and others to civilization, while “Remember the Maine! And Don’t Forget the Starving Cubans!” shows America turning its back on those people in the first place. In the last two cartoons, I will draw important parallels between the depiction of Uncle Sam and “Negro Rule” and discuss how one can be considered a “vampire” and the other a hero and icon of American culture.

cartoon1(Victor Gillam, “The White Man’s Burden,” Judge, April 1, 1899.)

Here, Victor Gillam personifies the countries of the United States and Great Britain, as well as the respective peoples and countries they had invaded and imperialized. Uncle Sam seems to be struggling to carry his basket, which is “filled” with some of the countries of American interest during and directly after the Spanish American War, such as Cuba, the Philippines, Hawaii, and Samoa. The stepping stones are an interesting element, since their labels neither increase or decrease in severity and immorality. It is also worth noting that the labels of “vice” and “ignorance” have stepping stones at both the bottom of the hill and the top. Might this signal that these two matters exist even at the golden summit of civilization? Furthermore, Uncle Sam dons a red cross on his arm, symbolling aid, but the people on his back don’t seem very relieved. If anything, they are staring down at the stones he is using to forcibly “lead” them to the top. The words on the stones are mostly associated with how Americans viewed the native peoples of their imperialized countries, but if Uncle Sam is the one using them to climb up, isn’t he the one participating in “uncivilized” behavior?

cartoon2(Victor Gillam, “Remember the Maine! And Don’t Forget the Starving Cubans!” Judge, May 7, 1898.)

In an earlier piece by Gillam, Uncle Sam is depicted in front of what can only be described as a scrapbook of American imperialism. The use of real photographs gives this artwork a sense of tragic nostalgia and the two pages divided by Uncle Sam sends an eerie “cause and effect” message. The destruction of the naval ship USS Maine, thought to be at the fault of Spain, was often used as a reason for the Spanish-American War. While Spain and America fought for Cuba as a territory, both countries neglected the Cuban rebels, who were purposefully starved by the Spanish (Hernandez). A menacing Uncle Sam, with clenched fists, seems to be sending a warning, but to whom remains unclear. It is worth noting that within a year, Gillam’s Uncle Sam goes from angry and murderous to carrying the peoples he let starve in “The White Man’s Burden.” Perhaps this Uncle Sam never bothered to glance behind him at the consequences of his actions.

cartoon3.png(M. Moliné, “La Fatlera Del Oncle Sam,” La Campana de Gracia, 1896.)

The cartoon above, whose title translates to “Uncle Sam’s Craving,” was originally published in a newspaper, ironically, from Spain. Cuba was, at the time, rebelling from Spain, who was just as imperialist as the United States. Uncle Sam looks monstrous in this cartoon, and his hands are as large and clawlike as the “vampire” of Negro Rule in the below cartoon. He is reaching as far as Cuba and to what looks like faceless people swimming in the middle of the ocean. Uncle Sam, in this depiction looks predatory, as predatory as the vampire of the cartoon below. The caption reads, “saving the island so it won’t get lost.” In the face of Uncle Sam, it is incredibly obvious that his primary emotion is not concern, but greed. He is hunched over his empire in order to claim it. In the first two cartoons, his intentions may be naively justifiable at least; but in “Uncle Sam’s Craving,” it is obvious that he is a greedy, selfish beast, easily comparable to a vampire—the beast of imperialism that is the United States.

cartoon4(“The Vampire that Hovers Over North Carolina,” Raleigh News and Observer, September 27, 1898.)


Additional Sources Cited:

José M. Hernandez, “Cuba in 1898,” Hispanic Division Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/rr/hispanic/1898/hernandez.html

The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica, “Uncle Sam: United States Symbol.” https://www.britannica.com/topic/Uncle-Sam

American Imperialism as a British Echo

By Luke Wiley

During the last decade of the 19th century, various political actors shifted the United States foreign policy towards a system known as “imperialism.” Imperialism as a system of governance involves the extending or expansion of a nation’s power or authority over another country for cultural, economic, or territorial gains. However, the rapid expansion of the system of American imperialism did not happen in a vacuum; one of the reasons often attributed to the speedy colonial acquisitions perpetrated by the United States is the competition against their own former colonial masters, Great Britain. While a good portion of the developed part of the European world was taking part in empire building, the American system emerged as a global player, despite the fact that the country was still relatively new. However, American imperialism did not simply appear out of thin air; the blueprint used by our nation for empire expansion was set before them by their bygone controllers. By crafting their imperialist plans out of the British system, the United States had a leader to follow in the world of empire. While the American system of imperialism was a direct descendant of Great Britain’s, the United States Empire eventually took on a life of its own after emerging out of the British shadow. Civilization Image.png

(Joseph Keppler, “From the Cape to Cairo,” Puck, 12/2/1902)

This cartoon displays an angelic woman, draped in an all-white robe, appropriately labeled “Britannia,” flying the flag of civilization. This woman leads the “civilized” gun-toting British soldiers (red coats) and potential colonists (craftsmen with tools) into battle against the banner-flying “Barbarians,” characterized by their spears and lack of clothing, who are of African heritage (the Cape and Cairo, two locations in Africa). This piece is an adequate introduction into what Imperialism is all about. The cartoon displays what is perceived by the viewer to be the noble and heroic endeavor that pervades imperialism. In this cartoon, “civilization” as an ideal is being brought to a people that have lived the entirety of their lives in a backward and savage state, even at the expense of numerous dead (splayed out in front of Britannia) that pave the way. The British saw their government’s attempts at educating and developing the African peoples’ way of life as beneficent, which, in reality, it hardly was. The United States saw these efforts of the British and decided to take them a step further, performing similar actions in gaining colonies but also acquiring strategic military bases in the Caribbean and the Pacific Ocean. This notion is seen throughout the Amy Kaplan article, “Where is Guantanamo?” about the United States’ extralegal way of colonial base incorporation.


White Man's Burden Image

(Victor Gillam, “The White Man’s Burden,” Judge, 4/1/1899)

This cartoon displays two individuals trudging up a hill with large loads of perceived “savage” peoples on their back, ultimately trying to reach the peak, labeled “civilization.” The two individuals are the personification of the British nation, John Bull, and his United States counterpart, Uncle Sam. Each of their loads is stuffed with racist caricatures of the people they hold sovereignty over (Indians, Chinese, Filipinos, and Cubans). Each painstaking stride by John Bull and Uncle Same keeps those in their basket, the people they are sheltering, away from the dangers of the rocks, labeled “vice,” “ignorance,” and “barbarism.” As suggested in lecture, the mindset that these “savage” individuals need nations like the United States and Great Britain to achieve “civilization” was persistent throughout the dominating countries (Lecture, 10/2). Gillam’s cartoon shows the American model of Imperialism, focused in the Caribbean and Pacific islands, as a literal follower of the British system, focused in Africa and Asia. American shadowing of British Imperialism was mostly based in the vastness of their Empire and the shared commonality of their languages (Kramer, 1320). In a show of good faith to their old colonial rulers, the United States labors to keep their “protected” peoples safe, an endeavor that would be smiled upon by their former subjugators.


School Begins Image

(Louis Dairymple, “School Begins,” Puck, 1/25/1899)

The final cartoon displays the most significant stage in the transformation of a unique American Imperialism. In this cartoon, Uncle Sam lectures his new students, natives of nations that the United States has annexed during the Spanish-American War. Uncle Sam tells the students to follow the example set by the class before them in order to gain a place in American society. A key factor in the class scheme is the blackboard in the back which states that the best Imperialists, England, did not wait for the groups they were attempting to civilize to consent, an important aspect of American Imperialism. Even though the United States was ceded a majority of these colonies by Spain, they still had to fight alongside the Cuban revolutionaries, creating a bond that did not exist between an empire like Great Britain and her colonies. However, the continually subjugated factions of the American populous (African Americans, Native Americans, and Chinese) occupy different secondary positions in the room and outside the building, whether they are workers or students that are lagging behind. This cartoon shows American Imperialism in its final form; the nation attempts to bring oppressed people into their folds through means of cultural suppression. As a nation, the United States strips people of what makes them unique in an attempt to assimilate them into a homogenous society with the promise of eventual self-government.

Kramer, Paul A. “Empires, Exceptions, and Anglo-Saxons: Race and Rule between the British and United States Empires, 1880-1910.” The Journal of American History, Mar. 2002, pp. 1315–1353.