‘It so happened that nature gave me a coloured skin, and on account of this, from infancy up to the time I left America, 18 years, I had to grasp the cold, flinty hand, of what in America was a misfortune punishable as a crime’
Jesse Ewing Glasgow Jr. (circa 1837-1860) was born free in Philadelphia and came to the UK for his university education. He enrolled in the University of Edinburgh in 1859 and he was immediately celebrated as ‘one of the brightest of her intellectual lights.’ Tragically, Glasgow Jr. died of consumption before he was able to graduate but not before he won many university prizes and authored his pioneering history, ‘John Brown, or The Harper’s Ferry Insurrection’ which he published in 1860. John Brown (1800-1859) was a white antislavery radical from the USA. Jesse Glasgow Jr.’s tract traced the history of John Brown’s war on the government arsenal at Harpers Ferry in Virginia and included a heartfelt plea to readers in Scotland that they ‘may be incited to do something towards securing the coloured man’s freedom.’
Jesse Ewing’s father, Jesse Glasgow, was one of the signers of Frederick Douglass’s appeal, ‘Men of Color to Arms,’ which he published far and wide in order to recruit Black combat soldiers to the Union cause during the Civil War. Douglass and Glasgow Jr. may themselves have known each other: Douglass was in Edinburgh lecturing on John Brown in 1859 and 1860 at the same time that Jesse Glasgow was living there as a student. One question remains as yet unanswered by history is: did they meet? Jesse Glasgow Jr. died at 10 Hill Place, Newington in Edinburgh, on 20 December,1860.
‘The following brief memorial of the events which, though in one sense trifling, lately caused the very foundation of the America Union to shake, is little more than a plain account of them, derived from a careful consideration of the newspaper accounts and conversations with some of the parties connected with the affair. In thus embodying them into a narrative, and sending them forth upon the public, it is presumed that but few of the particulars are known, and that there are some who would like to know them in full. To such we would say, that we hope they too may be incited to do something towards securing the coloured man’s freedom and manhood in America—if not in the way [John] Brown attempted to do so, in one against which they can have. no conscientious scruples—by sending through some of the anti-slavery societies that exist throughout this country, contributions to keep in a good state of repair and more active service the under-ground railroad that is the means of emancipating thousands yearly.
never have I felt, never can I feel, that patriotic sentiment towards America which the poet speaks of ; but before those who read this avowal pass the poet’s doom upon me, let me tell the reason why this is the case as briefly as possible. It so happened that nature gave me a coloured skin, and on account of this, from infancy up to the time I left America, 18 years, I had to grasp the cold, flinty hand, of what in America was a misfortune punishable as a crime. He who knows not what American prejudice is (and none can fully know except those who have felt it, which is a privilege only enjoyed by an unfavoured many), cannot know what is implied in the above sentence. It is to feel the world cold and unfriendly as soon as you have gained any knowledge of it; it is to have the dews which alight on life's path evaporated by a precocious, mischievous sun as soon as they have fallen; to have youth's sparkling fountain rendered insipid and impure, and manhood’s dry or filthy. In short, it is to have life drawn out into innumerable threads by a fell demon who sports with them, and ever and anon, by chance or otherwise, mostly the latter, breaks one. I had suffered this, and I need not say that I was glad to escape a country in which I could not rise to the sovereignty of a man, and to flee to one consecrated not only by the genius of Universal Emancipation, but also by those Christian sentiments that prompt its people to extend their hands to the oppressed of all countries...
America looked beautiful in the light of a fine day in early autumn; but it was only the beauty of a sarcophagus, its face was fair, but its heart was possessed by a demon. Far away, in the more sunny south at that moment might have been seen millions of human creatures debased into chattel, toiling their very life out for so called masters, under a penalty, at times, worse than of death. The influence of the slave power moves in a strong tide-wave over the length and breadth of America; and though occasionally it is checked in its course, it still moves on and on, baneful to all, alike to those who feel its power and to those against whom it is directed…Thou hast stripped thy black citizen of all his rights, and thou hast stained thy robes with lasting infamy, by robbing him of his oath and his God-given prerogative to hold and to have the earnings of his own sweat and toil. We tremble for thee when we think of the great wrong thou hast done, and remember that “justice may sleep awhile, but never dies.”’