It was no secret that enslaved people in America had their own traditions and practices outside of their labor. What can be surprising about these traditions held is who has anything to say about it.
Thomas Jefferson, this country’s third president and one of our founding fathers, was a consistent opponent of slavery. He once said, “I hope in all my soul that the day will come when slavery is a word without meaning in the English language…” The paper this quote comes from is one from the Fredrick Douglas Paper and this specific publication had his eulogy printed.
In Notes on Virginia with an appendix by Thomas Jefferson (1801), he openly praised them for being “equal in memory to the whites” and in the same sentence also claimed Black people were inferior in reason to white people. In terms of their music, however, Jefferson called Black people “generally more gifted than the whites with accurate ears for tune and time, and they have been capable of imaging a small catch.” This book is a collection of thoughts from Jefferson himself and a fair number of his colleagues wouldn’t have praised Black people this highly during this time. He was a liberal thinker for his time, though, but seeing this made my eyes go wide. It’s rare to see a white person praising Black people like this from this time period.
When we were reading sources from this time in class, we didn’t see a lot of white people talking about Black and enslaved people this way. Most white people who wrote about them at the time were quick to judge them for anything they saw or didn’t see. Opinions like Jeffersons are incredibly important because it shows that there were powerful people who did appose slavery and praised the enslaved people for some of the faculties they were trying their best to express. It shows that people saw them for more than property and in the sea of awful racist language (which some of his comments do have, mind you) it’s comforting to see those pockets of good.
“Eulogy.” Frederick Douglass’ Paper, vol. I, no. XIII, 24 Mar. 1848, p. . Readex: African American Newspapers, infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=EANAAA&docref=image/v2%3A11BE9340B7A005AB%40EANAAA-11D0A375F6CC4A30%402396111-11D0A376083F6788%400-11D0A376375BB120%40Eulogy. Accessed 12 Dec. 2022.