Harriet B. Stowe (essay date 1857)
SOURCE: Stowe, Harriet B. Preface to The Garies and Their Friends. 1857. Reprint, pp. v-vi. New York: AMS Press, 1971.
[In the following preface to the 1857 edition of Webb's The Garies and Their Friends, Stowe characterizes the work as a “simple and truthfully-told story” of the plight of free blacks, emancipated slaves, and fugitive slaves in antebellum Philadelphia.]
The book which now appears before the public may be of interest in relation to a question which the late agitation of the subject of slavery has raised in many thoughtful minds; viz.—Are the race at present held as slaves capable of freedom, self-government, and progress?
The author is a coloured young man, born and reared in the city of Philadelphia.
This city, standing as it does on the frontier between free and slave territory, has accumulated naturally a large population of the mixed and African race.
Being one of the nearest free cities of any considerable size to the slave territory, it has naturally been a resort of escaping fugitives, or of emancipated slaves.
In this city they form a large class—have increased in numbers, wealth, and standing—they constitute a peculiar society of their own, presenting many social peculiarities worthy of interest and attention.
The representations of their positions as to wealth and education are reliable, the incidents related are mostly true ones, woven together by a slight web of fiction.
The scenes of the mob describe incidents of a peculiar stage of excitement, which existed in the city of Philadelphia years ago, when the first agitation of the slavery question developed an intense form of opposition to the free coloured people.
Southern influence at that time stimulated scenes of mob violence in several Northern cities where the discussion was attempted. By prompt, undaunted resistance, however, this spirit was subdued, and the right of free inquiry established; so that discussion of the question, so far from being dangerous in Free States, is now begun to be allowed in the Slave States; and there are some subjects the mere discussion of which is a half-victory.
The author takes pleasure in recommending this simple and truthfully-told story to the attention and interest of the friends of progress and humanity in England.