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On Colonization, Abolition, and Charles Coatesworth Rawn

Recent Correspondence with David Smith

May 8, 2004  David Smith to Afrolumens
C. C. Rawn, Early support for colonization

A quick note - I am working on a chapter on petitioning for my dissertation and am using the resources on your site as well as my archival research.

I want to point out that for the 1837 Dauphin County colonization petition, the "C.C. Rawn" is probably Charles Coatesworth Rawn, justly lauded elsewhere on your site as a defender of fugitives and an anti-slavery Democrat. This is probably both:

  • An example of how people's thinking evolved (the petition is pretty racist), and Rawn later travels to Richmond to buy back a citizen. You seem to have his grave as part of a tour stop - It would be interesting to contrast a quote from the petition with some of his 1850s quotes.
  • An example of how, in this area, many folks did not see a stark contrast between abolition and colonization, including Thaddeus Stevens, William and Deborah Wright of Columbia, and others.

Anyway, I wanted to point out the connection if you hadn't seen it - all the best with your research - keep up the good work.

David Smith.1

May 9, 2004 Afrolumens Response
Families that evolve from slaveholding to abolition

Thanks for the note pointing out Rawn's seemingly contrary views. I had noted his signature and meant to make note of it on the webpage, and in fact probably will one of these days. I have been fascinated by the evolution of thought, to paraphrase your words, among abolitionists in Central Pennsylvania and elsewhere. This is something that I first noticed a number of years ago when I observed that a lot of the names of families who held slaves in Pennsylvania began appearing in anti-slavery and abolitionist activities. The Graydons of Harrisburg, who worked tirelessly in the anti-slavery cause, probably remembered slaves on the family homestead. Mordecai McKinney's father and namesake held at least one slave near Middletown.

On a recent cemetery tour, one of the people in the tour pointed out that her reading and research had shown a high degree of racism in the abolitionist movement. I do attempt to cover this point in the tour, but it is a topic that certainly deserves more attention because it shows the complexity of race relations at the time, and how they have changed over the past century.

George F. Nagle
Editor, Afrolumens Project

May 13, 2004  David Smith to Afrolumens
Slaves in the family

 On the points you raise:

- In Gettysburg, the Dobbin family are celebrated as abolitionists and UGRR workers, and Matthew Dobbin was. But his father (I believe), the original Dobbin, held 3 slaves and showed no inclination to manumit any of them in his 1810 will.  [Editor's note:  See the Adams County slaveholders listings for Alexander Dobbin.]

The question of why this link is an interesting - is it because they could remember family slaves growing up? Or because they sensed some kind of disapproval from part of the community as they grew up, because their family owned slaves? Or is it just a class explanation - the rising middle class at one point tended to hold slaves, at another point they tended often to become abolitionists, and in some cases the same family was involved in both? But you see the same trend in Gettysburg. Particularly interesting is Samuel Simon Schmucker, who owned slaves as a result of his marriages to Virginians - they were freed when he moved to Pa. to take over the Lutheran Seminary at Gettysburg (and later he was president of Gettysburg College). Two of the slaves essentially became "servants for life" living with and serving the Schmuckers for the rest of their lives as paid servants rather than slaves.  [Editor's note:  See the Webpages presented by Gettysburg College on the life of Samuel Simon Schmucker.]

More on racism and colonization

The racism point is more difficult for me - undoubtedly it was there in some cases, but in other cases it may have been more of a rampant paternalism (and with it a possibly unconscious downplaying of African American capabilities). When I started my dissertation research abut 4 years ago, I thought I would point out how farmers in south-central Pennsylvania used fugitive slaves as low cost labor sources, essentially exploiting them. They were used as labor in some cases - but in the same cases, as in J. W. C. Pennington, William and Phoebe Wright were teaching him how to read and do math. You don't have to do that to have a laborer. So I have kind of dropped the racism angle, although undoubtedly it applies in some cases. I do try to explore the colonization movement, however, because although significant parts of the movement were racist, it was also embraced by humanitarians who saw it as the only real practical solution to the race problem. In fact, some of the leading abolitionists we celebrate today - Gerrit Smith, and I think briefly James Birney - were pro-colonization early in their careers. As was, apparently, Thaddeus Stevens. Colonization had resonance in south-central Pennsylvania because it helped (even if unrealistically) stem the fears of people in the community that they would be overwhelmed by African Americans, either fugitive slaves or manumitted or emancipated African Americans. Other humanitarians were genuinely concerned that America was too racist to ever allow African Americans to live as full citizens (although this argument became exploited by more racist colonizationists as an excuse for sending away African Americans to Africa and the like). The humanitarians genuinely believed that a new start in a new country would be the best thing (although many African Americans did not). So Rawn could have had these motivations in mind when he chose to sign a document that was essentially racist in tone in parts - unfortunately, we don't know; that is part of the limitations of history with limited sources. Carl Oblinger's dissertation is good on some of the motivations for colonization in this area.

David Smith 3


1. Correspondence, David Smith to Afrolumens Project, May 8, 2004.
2. Correspondence, George F.Nagle to David Smith, May 9, 2004.
3. Correspondence, David Smith to Afrolumens Project, May 13, 2004.

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