The Past and the Present Condition, and the Destiny, of the Colored Race_ A Discourse Delivered at the Fifteenth Anniversary of the Female Benevolent Society of Troy, N. Y., Feb. 14, 1848
PAST AND THE PRESENT
CONDITION, AND THE DESTINY,
THE COLORED RACE:
DELIVERED AT THE FIFTEENTH ANNIVERSARY
FEMALE BENEVOLENT SOCIETY
OF TROY, N. Y., FEB. 14, 1848,
HENRY HIGHLAND GARNET.
TROY, N. Y.:
STEAM PRESS OF J. C. KNEELAND AND CO.
Troy, Feb. 22, 1848.
Rev. Henry H. Garnet—
Dear Sir:—The members of F. B. S., having listenedto your discourse with great pleasure, and being desirous to present it to thePublic, have requested us to solicit a copy for publication, and we trust, sir, thatnothing will prevent you from granting our request,
Most respectfully, &c.,
Troy, Feb. 26, 1848.
Ladies:—I have received your polite note of the 22d inst., and, while I considermyself fortunate in serving you acceptably, I deem it my duty to complywith your request.
I am, Ladies, and ever hope to be, your friend and servant,
H. H. GARNET.
Mrs. H. B. Rich,
Miss Charlotte Putman,
Miss L. A. Gideons.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
My theme is the Past and the Present condition, andthe Destiny of the Colored race. The path of thought whichyou are invited to travel, has not as I am aware, beenpursued heretofore to any considerable extent. The Present,is the midway between the Past and the Future.Let us ascend that sublime eminence, that we may viewthe vast empire of ruin that is scarcely discernable throughthe mists of former ages; and if, while we are dwellingupon the desolations that meet our eyes, we shall mournover them, I entreat you to look upward and behold thebright, scenery of the future. There we have a clear sky,and from thence are refreshing breezes. The airy plainsare radiant with prophetic brightness, and truth, love, andliberty are descending the heavens, bearing the charter ofman’s destiny to a waiting world.
All the various forms of truth that are presented to theminds of men, are in perfect harmony with the governmentof God. Many things that appear to be discordantare not really so; for when they are understood, and themind becomes illuminated and informed, the imagined deformitiesdisappear as spectres depart from the vision ofone who had been a maniac, when his reason returns.“God is the rock, his work is perfect—a God of truth, andwithout iniquity. Justice and judgment are the habitationsof his throne, and mercy and truth go before his face.His righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and hislaw is the truth.”
The truth will profit us nothing if we suffer it not toclothe us in our right minds—it returns without accomplishingits high mission to us, if we refuse to let her leadus to the delectable mountain, from whence we can beholdthe pure stream of the law of Jehovah, flowing fromhis throne, hailed by angel voices and the music of thespheres.
In order to pursue my subject I must, for the sake ofdistinction, use some of the improper terms of our times.I shall, therefore, speak of races, when in fact there is butone race, as there was but one Adam.
By an almost common consent, the modern world seemsdetermined to pilfer Africa of her glory. It were notenough that her children have been scattered over theglobe, clothed in the garments of shame—humiliated andoppressed—but her merciless foes weary themselves inplundering the tombs of our renowned sires, and in obliteratingtheir worthy deeds, which were inscribed by fameupon the pages of ancient history.
The three grand divisions of the earth that were knownto the ancients, were colonized by the three sons of Noah.Shem was the father of the Asiatics—the Africans descendedfrom Ham, and Japheth was the progenitor of the Europeans.These men being the children of one father,they were originally of the same complexion—for we cannotthrough the medium of any law of nature or reason,come to the conclusion, that one was black, another wascopper-colored, and the other was white. Adam was ared man, and by what law of nature his descendants becamedissimilar to him, is a problem which is yet to beclearly solved. The fact that the universal Father has variedthe complexions of his children, does not detract fromhis mercy, or give us reason to question his wisdom.
Moses is the patriarch of sacred history. The sameeminent station is occupied by Herodotus in profane history.To the chronicles of these two great men we areindebted for all the information we have in relation to theearly condition of man. If they are incorrect, to whathigher authority shall we appeal—and if they are true, thenwe may acquaint ourselves with the history of our racefrom that period,
Ham was the first African. Egypt was settled by animmediate descendant of Ham, who, in sacred history, iscalled Mesraim, and in uninspired history he is known bythe name of Menes. Yet in the face of this historical evidence,there are those who affirm that the ancient Egyptianswere not of the pure African stock. The giganticstature of the Phynx has the peculiar features of the childrenof Ham—one of the most celebrated queens of Egyptwas Nitocris, an Ethiopian woman; yet these intellectualresurrectionists dig through a mountain of such evidence,and declare that these people were not negroes.
We learn from Herodotus, that the ancient Egyptianswere black, and had woolly hair. These people astonishedthe world with their arts and sciences, in which they reveledwith unbounded prodigality. They became themasters of the East, and the lords of the Hebrews. Noarm less powerful than Jehovah’s, could pluck the childrenof Abraham from their hands. The plagues were marshalledagainst them, and the pillars of cloud and of fire,and at last the resistless sea. “Then the horse and therider, sank like lead in the mighty waters.” But the kingdomof Ptolemys was still great. The most exalted mortaleulogium that could be spoken of Moses, was that he waslearned in all the learning of the Egyptians. It was fromthem that he gathered the materials with which he rearedthat grand superstructure, partaking of law, poetry, and history,which has filled the world with wonder and praise.Mournful reverses of fortune have passed over that illustriouspeople. The star that arose in such matchless splendorabove the eastern horizon has had its setting. ButEgypt, Africa’s dark browed queen, still lives. Her pyramidtombs—her sculptured collumns dug from the sandsto adorn modern architecture—the remnants of her onceimpregnable walls—the remains of her hundred gatedcity, rising over the wide-spread ruins, as if to guard thefame of the race that gave them existence, all proclaimwhat she once was.
Whatever may be the extent of prejudice against color,as it is falsely called, and is so generally practiced in thiscountry, Solomon, the most renowned of kings, possessednone of it. Among the seven hundred wives, and thethree hundred concubines, who filled his houses, the mostfavored queen was a beautiful sable daughter of one ofthe Pharoahs of Egypt. In order to take her to his bosom,he trampled upon the laws of his nation, and incurredthe divine displeasure—for a Jew might not espouseany heathen or idolater who was not circumcised inheart. When he had secured her, he bowed his great intellectbefore her, that he might do her that homage whichhe paid to no other woman. Solomon was a poet, andpure love awakened the sweetest melody in his soul. Toher honor and praise he composed that beautiful poemcalled the Canticles, or Solomon’s Song. For her hewove that gorgeous wreath which is unsurpassed in itskind, and with his own royal hand placed it upon her darkbrow. Several persons are represented in the poem, andit is composed of an interesting coloquy. The reader isintroduced to “the watchmen that went about the streets,”and to “the daughters of Jerusalem,” and to the brideand the groom, which are the king and the beauteousEgyptian. It is not at all surprising that she who receivedsuch distinguished marks of kingly favors, should encounterthe jealousy of the daughters of Jerusalem. Theysaw that the Egyptian woman had monopolised the heartof the son of David, and the royal poet represents hisqueen to say to her fairer but supplanted rivals:—
Thus she speaks of the superiority which nature had givenher over the women of Jerusalem. She was handsome,and like all handsome women, she knew it.
The bride again speaks, and says to the bride-groom:—
How inappropriate were this allusion if it had been placedin the mouth of any one else but an Egyptian. To givethe passage any other interpretation is virtually accusingSolomon of grosser ignorance than my reverence will allowme to attribute to him.
Professor Stowe and President Mahan, and others, agreein giving the following translation to another verse in thefirst chapter of the song,
The whole poem, without doubt, is nothing more thana brilliant out-burst of Solomon’s love for his bride.
Homer, the prince of epic poets, speaks of the Ethiopians,and presents them at the feast of the gods. Thesemen of sun-burnt faces, as their name implies, he calls theexcellent Ethiopians.
A distinguished scholar,[A] speaking of this passage in theGrecian’s renowned poem, in the presence of an Americanpedant, the young upstart seriously inquired if theEthiopians were black? “Most assuredly,” answeredthe scholar. “Well,” said the young republican, “had Ibeen at that feast, and negroes had been placed at the table,I would have left it.” “Had you been living at that time,returned the other, you would have been saved the troubleof leaving the table, for the gods would not have invitedyou.”
Such a man in such a banquet would have been as muchout of place as an ass would be in a concert of sacredmusic.
The interior of Ethiopia has not been explored by modernadventurers. The antiquarian has made his way intoalmost every dominion where relics of former greatnesshave promised to reward him for his toil. But this country,as though she had concealed some precious treasure,meets the traveller on the outskirts of her dominions, withpestilence and death. Yet, in the Highlands which havebeen traversed, many unequivocal traces of former civilizationhave been discovered. Very lately, British enterprizehas made some important researches in that region of Country,all of which go to prove that Homer did not misplacehis regards for them, when he associated them with theGods.
The wife of Moses was an Ethiopian woman, and whenMiriam, his sister, murmured against her, the Almightysmote Miriam, and she became white. Whether the murmuringarose on account of the complexion of the greatLawgiver’s wife, or from some other cause, I will not attemptto determine. Whatever was the cause, we all seehow Jehovah regarded it, how fierce was his indignation,and how terrible his punishment. He came down andstood in a cloudy pillar, and cursed the woman in whosebosom the unholy prejudice was harbored.[B]
Ethiopia is one of the few nations whose destiny is spokenof in prophecy. This is done in language so plain thatwe are not driven to dubious inferences.
It is said that “Princes shall come out of Egypt, andEthiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God.” Itis thought by some that this divine declaration was fulfilledwhen Philip baptised the converted eunuch of the householdof Candes, the Queen of the Ethiopians. In thistransaction, a part of the prophecy may have been fulfilled,and only a part.
A vision seen by another prophet has become a matterof history. Hosea, foresaw that God would call his son outof Egypt, and when the infant Redeemer could find noshelter in the