Monday, July 04, 2005

Elihu Embree: Early Eastern Tennessee Abolitionism and the Roots of the Abolitionist Press, 1820

“A curious development has emerged in recent studies of abolitionism and northern antislavery; the connection between the southern institution of slavery and the motivations and behaviors of abolitionists has virtually disappeared,” writes James L. Huston.[1] Another element to also virtually disappear, or at least become overshadowed by northern efforts, is the southern contingency to the antislavery movement in the United States. Although a large historiography exists debating whether there ever was an effective, codified southern abolition movement, the fact remains southern abolitionists did. One such southerner was Elihu Embree, a Tennessee man who published the first newspaper in the United States solely dedicated to the cause of abolition. Although white northern abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison or Wendall Phillips grace the indices of numerous books, Embree if found in very few. Dwight L. Dumond - considered the leading historian of the antislavery movement of his era- traced northern abolition efforts, though, to the pioneering efforts of three Southern abolitionists: Charles Osborn, John Rankin, and Elihu Embree. [2] And as recently as 1989 historian Herbert Aptheker endorsed the idea that “a direct line” exists from Embree to Garrison.
Historian Stanley Harrold attempts to explain the disappearance of the notion of a Southern contingency in the antislavery movement stating: “Theories that the movement began in the upper South, that strong emancipationist sentiment existed there prior to the rise of immediate abolitionism in the North, that a northward diaspora of antislavery southerners helped shape the northern movement, that a creditable wing of northern abolitionism existed in the border region after 1831…have all been dismissed or relegated to romance and legend.”[3] As Harrold goes on to explain, “several of these theories have been justly discarded. Others are more viable than is commonly supposed.”[4] The story of Elihu Embree is one such theory “more viable than is commonly supposed.” As a Quaker, former slave owner, visionary, and radical, his story unearths the intricacies of the southern contingency of the antislavery movement in the United States.
Much of what is known of the early Embree family is due mainly to the fact that the family belonged to the Society of Friends, otherwise known as the Quakers. [5] The Quakers kept detailed records of their church services, called “meetings,” and these records included the names all participating in the meetings, as well as dates of marriages, births, and deaths.
The Embrees in America are believed to descend from French Huguenots. They apparently fled France during the persecuting reign of Catherine de Medicis and Louis XIV, and after the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1572 in which 20,000 Huguenots were murdered. The Embrees, among many Huguenots, fled to England to escape persecution and most likely lived there for about seventy years. They set out for the English American colonies during the period from about 1629 to 1642, contemporaneous with the Great Puritan Migration. [6]
Although the exact date is unknown, the Embree family must have arrived in the New England colonies one to two decades after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth because Quaker records state that Robert Embree,[7] Elihu’s great-great-great grandfather, lived in New Haven Colony and Stamford, Connecticut, in the late 1640s and 50s.[8] The migration of the Embree family from New England to the Tennessee and North Carolina frontier follows the general Quaker migrations of the time.[9] Also during this time the Embrees converted to Quakerism.[10] Started in the 1650s in England by George Fox, Quakerism shared many moral beliefs with Puritans but rejected the institution of an established church. The central concept of Quakerism was that “potentially anyone could experience God directly and inwardly, regardless of gender, nationality or social status.”[11] Also central to their beliefs was the rejection of all violence, including “just wars.”[12]
Motivated by extreme persecution by the Puritans, especially in Massachusetts, the first Quaker exodus out of New England sent followers, including the Embrees, to Long Island, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Moses I (born in 1653 and great-great grandfather to Elihu) and Moses II ( born 1675 and great-grandfather to Elihu) moved between these three locales. Confusion exists concerning the exact reasons for moving and the exact details of their family histories because both Moses I and Moses II married Marys. As Emilou McDorman, the woman whose analysis of Quaker records gives us most of what is known of the Embree family history, laments:
The repeated occurrences of the combined names, Moses and Mary Embree pose difficulties to the research of the family. As another son Moses takes another wife Mary, tradition evolves.[13]

Nonetheless, it is known that Elihu’s grandparents, Moses III and Margaret (Elleman), and their family moved between 1769 and 1783to Orange County, North Carolina,(now Telford, Tennessee, in Washington County – the eastern most section of current day Tennessee and the future place of Elihu’s antislavery activity). [14]
This movement by the Embrees to the frontier of North Carolina again followed the pattern of Quaker migration to the Southeast during the eighteenth century. McDorman characterizes Moses III by stating, “to the son of Huguenots, whose blood was stirred and shed through out two centuries; setting in motion generations of change; a racing face for adventure was not tempered…”[15]
If Moses Embree III did have a “racing face for adventure” Washington County was the place to act upon that impulse. In 1770[16] Moses III bought a piece of land in Washington County near the Nolichucky River and commenced in forge-making iron, the first iron made in that section of the country. [17]
The future state of Tennessee was frontier and Indian land, home to numerous Cherokee villages. The time period during which Moses III emigrated is known as the “era of the long hunter” because hunters in the North Carolina and Virginia borders took extended hunting trips in the wilderness of Tennessee in search of adventure and furs to sell. These trips resulted in the greedy rush for land.[18] Against the orders of King George III many whites bought land by making treaties with the Cherokee. As was typical, settlers broke theses treaties and pushed past set boundaries. This disregard for agreed boundaries served as the impetus for scalping, raids, and cabin-burnings by both whites and Indians – a time of violence that lasted until 1796, the year of Tennessee’s statehood.[19] Nonetheless, between 1769 and 1800 six thousand whites settled in present day Washington County.
While Moses III made iron in the relative wilderness of Tennessee, his eldest son Thomas, also trained in ironwork, moved back to Pennsylvania for a time to work in the Welsh Mountain region. He then moved to Virginia where he met and married Esther Coulson in December 1781.
The first of Thomas and Esther’s three of their four children were born in Virginia: Elihu on November 8, 1782; Elijah on August 7, 1784; and Rachel on August 25, 1786. By December 19,1791, the date of the youngest child Sarah’s birth, records show that the family was admitted to the Westfield Monthly Meeting which served Washington County.[20] Upon arriving in Washington County in 1790 Thomas purchased one-half of the land his father owned and hired a man named Seth Smith to build a house made from locally quarried limestone rock. This stone house, which still stands today, in essence symbolized both the Embree’s growing prosperity and their commitment to permanent residence in the area. [21]
Upon its completion Thomas Embree allegedly stated: “On this rock I have built my house and the powers of Hell shall not prevail against it.”[22]
Elihu Embree, the eldest child of Thomas and Esther, spent much of his childhood and early teenage years in this house (and allegedly stayed in the family until 1808).[23]
Within its stonewalls the Embree house served as a forum for political discussion including antislavery discourse.[24] There Thomas became the most influential person in his son Elihu’s future quest for social justice. Thomas was prominent in the Society of Friends and as a devout Quaker he stood fast to the Quaker ideals of social justice, particularly the abolition of slavery.[25]
Quakers did not always have an established stance against slavery, though. In fact although Quakers objected to violence and encouraged humane treatment of slaves, as a general rule before the 1760s they had little opposition to the institution of slavery itself. In many areas, especially in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, Quakers owned slaves, creating a constant interaction between religious beliefs and economic interest. Their main objection at this time in the matter of slavery was concerning the slave trade.
It was not until the Seven Years War that Quakers established a stance against slavery. Preceding the 1760s Quakers experienced persecution and threat in England forcing many to immigrate to the American colonies, like the Embrees, and settled in the area of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Until the Seven Years War in 1754 Quakers held the majority in these areas and because of this were able to compromise with both the Crown and non-Quaker colonists. Being a nonviolent sect, the onset of the war saw Quakers’ refusal to pay taxes to a government raising troops. The refusal to pay taxes ended the era of Quaker power within the governments of both New Jersey and Pennsylvania. This loss of political power caused many changes to occur within the Quaker Yearly Meeting, held in Philadelphia, and as Jean Soderland points out “not the least of these was the Friends’ adoption of a firm antislavery stance.”[26]
Many historians have naturally turned to the Philadelphia Friends to see a brighter side to the overall dismal black-white relations of colonial America, not withholding any other time period in America. As historian Edmund S. Morgan explains, the general acceptance of slavery in the colonies was due less from an overarching cultural norm from the mother country than from the way the colonist built their society.[27] In other words, imperative to American’s free white society of varying classes was the oppression of blacks.[28]
A logical question then becomes why did Quakers choose to forbid the practice of slavery around 1770 when prior to that time many Quakers indeed held slaves and when most eighteenth century Americans accepted the institution? And why were Quakers the first group collectively to endorse abolition when many other Protestant groups held similar ideological beliefs?[29] Many scholars believe the loss of government control among Quaker elites during the Seven Years War in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania and the persecution they experienced during that same decade allowed for their Society to return to their fundamental beliefs: while a debate does exist over the exact impetus for the move to abolition among Quakers most historians agree that the events of the 1750s were the greatest influence.[30] Jean Soderland summarizes it best:
Further emphasis on the decade of the 1750s makes it very difficult to determine exactly what events or factors engendered abolitionism within the yearly Meeting. Possible influences encouraging antislavery reform at the time include the Great Awakening among Calvinists and the reform movement among English Friends, the psychological effects of the Seven Years’ War crisis on the Society in the Delaware Valley, to rise in importance of John Woolman and Anthony Benezet [31]within the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, increased acceptance of Enlightenment thought, and the burst of investment in slaves by Friends during the wartime labor shortages. Each scholar has argued for the preeminence of one factor, but in the end, it is really not possible to separate the impact of any one of these elements from that of the others as long as we focus on the change in attitudes during that one decade. There for we must look at Friend living in contexts other that Philadelphia in the 1750s, and at several aspects of their lives simultaneously and systematically.[32]

Soderland makes the valuable distinction that the various reasons Quakers made a move toward abolition must be separated and considered relative to the specific location and circumstances of the participants. In border states such as Tennessee that produced crops including wheat and corn a seasonal, free labor work force was more economical than the maintenance of a year round slave labor force.[33] Therefore, the contexts other than Philadelphia that Soderlund makes reference to applies in eastern Tennessee. In other words, limits to the general Quaker reform did exist in spite of its new strong ideological stance. For instance, in New Jersey and Pennsylvania prohibition of slaveholding did not actually take hold until the late 1770s because many Quakers owned slaves. Also, the more “tribalistic Friends” did accept abolition but only as a means to purify the Society and not as a means to ensure justice for enslaved blacks.[34]
While Tennessee, during the time period at hand, is most noted for its Quaker role in the fight against slavery, the Presbyterians first advocated antislavery in Tennessee, thus attracting Quaker settlement in the region due to this stance. Run by trained ministers and operating directly alongside the church, the “log cabin colleges,” as the Presbyterian schools were called, “almost universally taught a strong antislavery doctrine” according to Richard B. Drake. [35] While no hard evidence exists to support it, Elihu is thought to have been taught by the famous Presbyterian minister Samual Doak who, along with his colleagues, preached the “New Light” gospel of socially aware evangelicalism.[36] Therefore with Quaker support, Presbyterians laid the foundation for Tennessee as the center of antislavery activity until 1830.
With Presbyterian support, by the time Thomas Embree moved to Tennessee in the 1790 Quakers had developed a strong antislavery stance. In 1797, shortly after Tennessee became a state, Thomas used the Knoxville Gazette to petition “the Inhabitants of Tennessee….the public spirited citizens of every denomination whose patriotic zeal is not limited to those of their own color.”[37] He expressed a “convincement” to the responsibility of the new state to “organize a society to promote a gradual abolishment of slavery of every kind,”[38] and announced that a group of citizens had already agreed to meet in March of that year for the purpose of forming the said society. It would be modeled after those in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Richmond, and Winchester.[39] Whether the announced meeting took place is unknown.
Thomas Embree also urged for accuracy in court records. For instance, he was known to petition for the term “force of arms” to be reserved for only the truly violent cases.[40] Thomas was also known to act often, “taking to court traders and holders of free Negroes.”[41] He explained that, “…although I ultimately succeeded in every case, it was at the hazard of life and living; being violently threatened by several and once chased with a drawn knife.”[42]
That very atmosphere of possible harm due to his actions in a slave state caused Thomas and his family to migrate again in 1806. With his wife, younger son, two daughters and other relatives, he moved north to Ohio, a free state, where they were received at the Miami Monthly Meeting in Warren County. Elihu, however, decided to stay behind to continue the family ironworks.
His brother Elijah returned from Ohio in 1808 and thereafter joined Elihu in the family business. Allegedly Elihu did not have a mind for business, but Elijah’s business savvy eventually lead to the brothers’ large accumulation of wealth.[43] They acquired a mine, forge, and 260 acres of land on the Nolichucky River. With these purchases the area surrounding Bumpass Cove on the Nolichucky River became known as Embreeville, the name which it is still referred.[44] With other acquisitions the brothers at one time held an excess of $120,000 in assets.[45]
Although a businessman, Elijah Embree Hoss writes in his autobiography of his uncle: “He was a dreamer of dreams, and had in him the genuine stuff out of which enthusiasts and martyrs are made.”[46] It was this enthusiasm in the form of antislavery fervor that eventually consumed Elihu, yet due to his second marriage, the genuineness of his antislavery convictions would be challenged.
In 1803, at the age of twenty, Elihu Embree married Annes (Annette) Williams. She died suddenly in 1806 and two year later he married Elizabeth Worley. That union created a conflict of interest for a Quaker who would soon establish two antislavery papers, for Elizabeth owned several slaves. In 1809 Elihu sold the slaves, who were members of a single family, but in1812 he bought the family back with the intent to free them with “considerable financial sacrifice.”[47] Although he freed many of the slaves he kept a female and her children until the end of his life. His will stated and provided that his
Faithful servant and slave black nancy together with her children Frames a yellow boy or young man Abegil & Sophea her two black daughters and Mount her yellow daughter and John her nearly black (should be) emancipated as soon as they can.[48]

The will also set aside forty dollars per child for the purpose of education. Whether or not the slaves were ever freed, let alone educated is quite unlikely however, because of the estate’s extreme debt to business creditors.[49]
Embree attributes his paradoxical ownership of slaves to deism. In the August issue of the Emancipator he explained, “I always believed slavery to be wrong, but deism had a tendency to make me not very scrupulous in adhering to what I believed to be right, as respected much of my moral conduct.”[50] In the same issue he proceeded to defend his true antislavery convictions:
But in as much as I have not set up even the best part of my life as a criterion, it is to be hoped that the worst acts of the worst part of it cannot be applied in such a way as to render even doubtful this self evident truth, “That all men are created equally free and independent,” and are entitled to their liberty, whatever may be the misconduct of others.[51]

Using rhetoric of the Declaration of Independence, here Elihu pleads for his actions not
to speak louder than his words. And arguably his brief stint of a slave-owner futher ingrained his future antislavery fervor.
In the same year Embree bought back the slaves he also decided to reestablish himself as a Quaker. As B.H. Murphy, the first publisher of the complete set of Emancipator issues, states:
About 1812, when Elihu was thirty years of age, a decided change in his philosophy of life occurred. Prior to that time, he had been a positive deist and a slave-holder. He now became a believer in the Christian religion, joined the Society of Friends…[52]

His decision to reestablish his Quaker roots undoubtedly influenced his repurchase of the slave family and his attempt to provide for them.
It was not Quaker influence alone that supported the hey-day of antislavery sentiment in eastern Tennessee, let alone Elihu Embree, but the influence of prominent Presbyterian teachers, ministers, and congregants who settled there.
With a firm Quaker under footing combined with natural conditions unsuited for plantation slavery, Tennessee became a likely place for antislavery activity. As mentioned above, although a society to promote abolition was not formed when Thomas Embree in 1796 first petitioned the people of Tennessee, under the leadership of a Quaker minister named Charles Osborn, eight men founded the Tennessee Manumission Society in 1815. According to Goodspeed’s History of Tennessee:
The first branch of the Tennessee Manumission Society was organized at Lost Creek Meeting-house in Jefferson County on February 25, 1815. On that day eight persons met for the purpose of forming themselves into a society, under the style of the Tennessee Society for promoting the Manumission of Slaves. These persons were Charles Osborne, John Canady, John Swan, John Underwood, Jesse Willis, David Maulsby, Elihu Swan and Thomas Morgan. The constitution adopted for this society was as follows:
Article I
Each member is to have an advertisement in the most conspicuous part of his house, in the following words, viz.” “Freedom is the Natural right of all men, I therefore acknowledge myself a member of the Tennessee Society for promoting the manumission of slaves.”
Article II
That no member vote for a governor or legislator unless he believe him to be in favor of emancipation.
Article III
That we convene twelve times at Lost Creek Meeting-house. The first on the 11th of the third month next…shall proceed to appoint a president, clerk and treasurer, who shall continue in office twelve months.
Article IV
The required qualification of our members are true Republican principles…and in for of…and that no immoral character be admitted into the society as a member.[53]

The Tennessee Manumission Society sought the gradual abolition of slavery and
argued that the promises set forth in the Declaration of Independence applied not only to whites but to blacks.[54] As mentioned in the society’s articles of its constitution, members petitioned state legislators, withheld their votes from candidates not supporting emancipation, and used moral suasion in an effort toward abolition.
To understand the specific persuasions of the Manumission Society it becomes important to understand the specific condition of slavery in Tennessee at the time. While still a territory under jurisdiction of North Carolina, slavery laws established the institute of slavery in Tennessee. Although eastern, hill-country Tennessee according to historian Asa E. Martin “was poorly adapted to the economic, social, political, and religious life of the people” powerful slave owners still held legislative power in the state congress: upon statehood in 1796 the practice of chattel slavery based on race continued, supported by a series of laws enacted by the state legislature.[55] By 1815 the legislature called for the registering of all free blacks, outlawed certain slave activities, and founded a slave patrol. All these measures fixed the subordination of blacks in the state. In addition to these measures, state law called for the approval of a county court in order to manumit slaves and those persons wishing to manumit slaves had to post bond in order to protect the county from the “expense of supporting indigent, free blacks.”[56] The judicial acts along with the financial burden to would-be emancipators created a deterrent to manumission. With Elihu Embree as an example it becomes evident how difficult it was to manumit slaves in Tennessee due to legal and financial prerequisites. Assuming few people would face financial ruin to eradicate an institution inbred in white Americans, Embree provides an illustration of the fact that unless motivated by extreme moral and rational persuasion, the average person had to be able to afford to manumit his slaves. Embree, although having a moral commitment to his case, was only able to manumit his slaves because his iron manufacturing business could subsidize the cost or in other words his financial resources allowed him to act on his moral commitment. With the capital investment of slaves accounting for nearly 30 percent of the state’s wealth by 1860, those prosperous slave owners had little interest in antislavery philanthropy.[57]
Nonetheless, other such manumission societies modeled after the forerunner at Lost Creek developed across eastern Tennessee in 1815 and by the years end all such societies consolidated under one constitution at the Lick Creek Friends’ Meeting House in Greene County. By November of that year a dozen chapters existed in eastern Tennessee.[58] And by 1815, after freeing his slaves and having “repented” for his “misconduct” as a slave owner, Elihu Embree emerged as one of Tennessee’s leading activists in the Manumission Society.[59] His emergence at this time happened concurrently with the departure of Charles Osborn and John Rankin, former Tennessee abolition leaders, to free, northern states: this removal was seen not only by Osborn or Rankin, let alone Elihu’s father, but by many other abolitionist in the antebellum South.[60]
As a member and leading activist in the Tennessee Manumission Society Embree’s first task was to head a special committee to address the public in emancipation. This five-man committee again used the language of the Declaration of Independence to indict slavery as an evil and contrary to the nation’s founding ideals. They also condemned and fought to eradicate the bond requirement for emancipating slaves in Tennessee as well as the separation of slave families upon sale. In effect the committee chose to fight for future abolition with stipulations for mitigating the horrors of slavery in the mean time. When appealing to the public with these grievances, the committee appealed to all Christians to petition the legislature for the gradual abolition of slavery: no person outspokenly called for immediate abolition. [61]
In 1817 the Manumission Society met in Knoxville with the intent of petitioning the legislature for a gradual abolition law. Embree presented the first in a series of memorials to the legislature, lobbying for “the melioration of the condition of persons in bondage, by whatever lawful and prudent means the good of all concerned may be secured and protected.”[62] With East Tennessee as a stomping ground for the Virginia to the Deep South slave trade, abolitionists denounced “the practice of driving slaves, which is often done in irons, on our roads, through our streets, and before the eyes of our children, [and] is calculated to produce sentiments and feelings directly hostile to true republicanism.”[63] The committee asked for slave-driving to be added to the list of criminal felonies. With a more compromising note the committee also protested against the separation of slaves families upon sale and advocated for regulations to enforce adaquate food, clothing and housing provided to slaves. Future regulation of the amount of work a slave did on a given day was also a point of contention. While several thousand East Tennesseans signed petitions urging the legislature to make measures in the cause of abolition but their pleas fell on deaf ears: the legislators felt all measures presented by both the committee and petitioners of the state were “impractical.”[64]
Another regionally restricted petition drive concerned the admittance of Missouri to the Union as a slave state. Starting in 1818 Embree continued to run petition signing campaigns that pointed out the obvious injustices of slavery with the hope that the legislature would pick up the cause for gradual abolition, offering, along with the Manumission Society as a whole, the suggestion to have those slave children born after a certain date born free. One fact remained, however – the slaveholders held hegemony over the legislature and its law making abilities.[65]
In the same year that the Missouri question appeared, Embree traveled to Philadelphia on business. While there he met many members of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, the oldest antislavery society in the United States.[66] After his return from Philadelphia, Embree and the Tennessee Manumission Society decided the organization needed to publish an official paper. With Embree as its editor and primary financial backer, publishing of the Manumission Intelligencer commenced in 1819 in Jonesborough, Tennessee.
Very little is known about the Manumission Intelligencer and evidently only one copy exists. From that copy it is known that the subscription cost of the newspaper printed weekly on Tuesdays was $3.00 per year, payable in advance. [67] East Tennessee in 1819 had a small number of newspapers and the Manumission Intelligencer was the only newspaper within a thirty mile radius of Jonesborough. Intended as a vehicle to promote the abolition of slavery, undoubtedly the Intelligencer also carried articles concerning the issues of the day - agriculture, foreign and cultural interest – due to the overall lack of newspapers. Using this multifaceted approach, discussing both practical issues of the day as well as slavery, abolition material seemingly moved into homes of East Tennessee in a rather unproblematic fashion.[68]
The Manumission Intelligencer, although one of the earliest, was not the first newspaper to concern itself with the issue of abolition. Charles Osborn, one of the eight charter members of the Manumission Society of Tennessee, relocated to Ohio in 1816 for the same reasons many reformers moved away from the slave state – to avert the ties of slavery. After his arrival Osborn undertook the project of publishing a weekly newspaper called the Philanthropist. The newspaper’s aim was to attack the “three great national evils: war, slavery, and intemperance.”[69]
With its frequent discussion of slavery, the Philanthropist is regarded as the first anti-slavery paper printed in the United States and also as the “first journal in America to advocate immediate, unconditional emancipation.”[70] While the paper is regarded as such, examination of the Philanthropist will render no such conclusion. It is true that Osborn is known to have advocated immediate abolition but no considerable evidence exists that he used the Philanthropist to advocate such measures.[71] And thus, as historian Asa E. Martin points out:
Since the Philanthropist discussed other subjects, it can not justly be regarded as an anti-slavery periodical of the extreme type that was later developed. Many newspapers in various parts of the country occasionally published articles in which slavery was condemned as an evil and plans of emancipation were proposed, yet they were not established with that object in view. The Philanthropist might properly be assigned a position midway between these and the anti-slavery papers of a later date.[72]

Back in Tennessee Embree had, in addition to his continuing fight against slavery, another fight on his hands. As a provision in the bylaws of the constitution of the Manumission Society of Tennessee, a “Committee of Inspection” had to give consent before anything in the name of the Society was printed. As Embree explained of the provision:
Now if I write a piece for publication, I must, if a member either wait (perhaps as much as three months) for a meeting of the particular branch where I live, or prevail on the president to call a meeting of the branch for the sole purpose of inspecting it, to do which I have felt such a delicacy as has sometimes deterred me from writing altogether. In other instances I have written, and before the branch met have concluded that the piece had become out of date and no longer necessary to print.[73]

Ironically the precaution hindering the publication of Embree’s antislavery tract was suggested by Embree himself and inline with the Quaker tradition of consensus decision making.[74] The stipulation of prior approval for publication lead Embree to print the Intelligencer with irregularity and he sought a solution.
Embree pushed for the dissolution of this provision to no avail. As a result Embree severed his affiliation with the Manumission Society of Tennessee at roughly the same time he commenced publication of the Emancipator, the Intelligencer’s successor.
Although organizationally separate, Embree and the Manumission Society remained ideologically one and he planned to rejoin the Society as soon as it amended its constitution.[75] Experiencing an untimely death due to fever only seven months after the initial publication of the Emancipator in 1820, Embree did not live to see whether the Manumission Society would ever amend the Constitution.
While many papers in the country may have printed articles concerning abolition and slavery, the Manumission Intelligencer’s successor, the Emancipator, proved to be the first newspaper in the United States dedicated solely to the cause of abolition. Embree commenced publication of his second newspaper, the Emancipator, in the early months of 1820, soon after the Manumission Intelligencer’s dissolution. This new vehicle, printed in Jonesborough by Jacob Howard, came as an octavo monthly with the cost to subscribers of $1 per annum.[76]
Embree set forth in the Emancipator’s first issue the object of the newspaper. As he writes:
This paper is especially designed by the editor to advocate the abolition of slavery, and to be repository of tracts on that interesting and important subject. It will contain all the necessary information that the editor can obtain of the progress of the abolition of the slavery of the descendants of Africa; together with a concise history of their introduction into slavery, collected from the best authorities….The Manumission Society of Tenn. In particular, it is expected will afford many tracts on the subject of slavery, with the editor assures them he will feel inclined to respect; and where his judgment should not otherwise dictate, will give them an early and gratuitous insertion. They will find in the Emancipator a true chronicle of the proceedings of that benevolent society as far as the editor is enabled.[77]

The Emancipator would not carry articles on farm prices, wars in distant lands or local interest pieces
Embree from the beginning set his newspaper apart from preceding papers that discussed issues of slavery not only because his was the first to dedicate its entirety to abolition but also because he printed it in a slave state. As he explains:
Thousands of first rate citizens, mean remarkable for their piety and virtue, have within twenty years past, removed from this and other slave states, to Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, that their eyes may be hid from seeing the cruel oppressor lacerate the back of his slavers, and that their ears may not hear the bitter cries of the oppressed. I have often regretted the loss of so much virture from these slave states, which held too little before. Could all those who have removed from slave states on that account, to even the single state of Ohio, have been induced to remve to, and settle in Tennessee, with their high toned love for universal liberty and aversion to slavery, I think that Tennessee would ere this have begun to sparkle among the true starts of liberty. [78]

Here Embree undoubtedly refers to the likes of Charles Osborn, John Rankin and his father, to name a few, who all removed to Ohio to continue their fight, as mentioned above.
In essence Embree proved moving to a free state was not necessary in order to publish a newspaper solely dedicated to the cause of abolition. Although he only published the Emancipator for seven months, he managed to attract much attention. Despite its controversial subject matter, the Emancipator received a subscription list of 2,000 at the time of Embree’s death with the actual readership undoubtedly higher than that. He had subscription agents in Philadelphia, Baltimore and Wilmington and given the time period a subscription list of 2,000 surpassed that of any newspaper in Tennessee or Kentucky.[79] Commenting on the unanticipated success of his paper and the overall growth of abolition sentiment in eastern Tennessee, proven by the number of person involved in the Manumission Society, despite his detachment from the organization, Embree explains:
Twenty years ago the cause of abolition was so unpopular in Tennessee, that it was at the risque [sic] of a man’s life that he interfered or assisted in establishing the liberty of a person of colour that was held in slavery…But little & little, time are much changed here, until societies of respectable citizens have arisen to plead the cause of abolition…..I have no hesitation in believing that less than twenty years ago a man would have been mobbed, and the printing office torn down for printing and publishing anything like the Emancipator; whereas it now meets the approbation of thousands, and is patronized perhaps at least equal to any other paper in the State.[80]

While Embree’s paper experienced much success given the general atmosphere of the South, the Emancipator did receive hostility and resistance to its operation. Although a devout Quaker, Embree’s nephew E.E. Hoss explains of his uncle, “…he had a militant temper. I have heard that in his own household he was not counted an angel of light. His motto might well have been: ‘Blessed be the Lord, my strength, that teacheth my hands to war and my fingers to fight.”[81] Inline with this demeanor Embree was known to have sent copies of the Emancipator to the governors of Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, and Mississippi: Due to the production of labor intensive crops such as tobacco, rice, indigo, cotton, coffee and hemp in these four states, a slave plantation society was reality.[82]
In response to Embree’s gift of sorts, the “gubernatorial epistle” from Governor George Poindexter of Mississippi read like this:
Sir:
You have thought proper to address to me several numbers of ‘The Emancipator,’ edited and published by you, at Jonesborough, in Tennessee; an honor, which was both unsolicited and unexpected.
The price demanded for your sheet annually, being one dollar, is to my mind, conclusive evidence, that you represent an association of individuals, in another section of the United States, who bear the expense of the work you have undertaken, and reward you labors; and that your position in the western country, has been selected with a view of economy. I regard it as an effort, mischievous in its tendency; designed to sever the bond of social harmony, which ought to be cherished, and strengthened in every part of the union, and totally unworthy of public patronage. I cannot, therefore subscribe, even on cent for your paper, and have no wish to receive it on any terms.
The same providence, which has permitted African slavery in the new world, will point to the period of its happy termination. Every real christian & patriot, will look with patient hope, for the ‘consummation devoutly to be wished’ of that event, without resorting to means, calculated, if not intended, to excite passions and prejudices, the most unfavorable to domestic tranquility, and national prosperity.
Your fellow citizen,
GEO. POINDEXTER[83]

In his letter the governor gives light to two important facts. Mentioning “individuals in another section of the United States,” Poindexter alludes to the North versus South dichotomy, whether founded or not, of antislavery activities already in the works. And, although a slave state, Tennessee was considered the wilderness and the western reaches of the states.
Embree received every issue he sent to the chosen governors back and received them in many cases returned in a shape reminiscent of a letter, causing Embree to pay a higher postage for its return. By June of 1820, Embree wa experiencing difficulty dispersing his newspaper through the mail. Many papers were destroyed and many postmasters refused to deliver copies to customers.[84]
Nonetheless, the Emancipator, both appealing to many and inflammatory to others, was in fact a well edited compilation of original philosophical and historical tracts which included abolitionist poetry from Embree as well as articles from other publications that concerned topics relevant to abolition. Embree also printed various letters-to-the-editor, like the epistle from Governor Poindexter discussed above, in his Emancipator.
Within the well edited pages of his abolitionist tract, Embree did not call for the immediate abolition of slavery. As with his many legislative ventures within the Manumission Society of Tennessee, he did make it quite clear that he saw slavery as a complete wrong, though, both within the United States and abroad, fueled by “power, or profit or convenience.”[85] With that general standpoint, the Emancipator discussed common themes concerning the eradication of slavery in each of its seven issues.
By analyzing the Emancipator, it becomes clear that Embree most fervently opposed the slave trade. In countless articles collected, and written by Embree the slave trade and the resultant separation of families fell victim. As one of Embree’s articles reads:
We separate the most endearing connections - the husband from the wife, the wife from the husband, parents and children are torn asunder – the dearest ties disregarded, and sacrificed at the shrine of avarice; and the poor victims driven in gangs, through this boasted land of liberty, like drives of beasts to market, and often chained and fettered together, to prevent their escape to the fond object of their affections - treated with the ignominy and cruelty which ought to be reserved for, and inflicted on none but those who are guilty of the most flagitious crimes. [86]

While this statement attacks the domestic slave trade within the United States during the early decades of the nineteenth century, many articles report illegal acts of slave trading from African shores to the Americas during this time, an act illegal in the United States since 1808.[87]
Another topic to grace the pages of the Emancipator was the expansion of slavery in the United States. As for expansion, as discussed above, the Missouri issue was in the forefront of legislative issues during the year Embree published the Emancipator. As might be expected, Embree’s slant on the issue favored the containment of slavery in the United States. As he explains:
That any member of the grand council of the nation should advocate the cause, and extention [sic] of slavery in the United States, at this enlightened period, is wonderful; nor is it less surprising that a joint select committee of both houses of the Legislature of the religion professing, patriotic and republican state of Tennessee, should reject that part of the petition of the people, praying for the freedom of the unborn posterity of Africans, on the pleas of their legal property…[88]

Here Embree makes reference to another ardent topic amid the debates over slavery – gradual emancipation. While Embree does not ponder the possibility of immediate emancipation anywhere in the Emancipator, he does in numerous cases give cause to gradual emancipation. Embree printed several outside tracts along with his own pieces advocating for general emancipation because, “As our country had inflicted a most grievous injury on the unhappy Africans, by bringing them to slavery, we cannot, indeed, urge that we should add a second injury to the first, by emancipation them in such manner as that they will be likely to destroy themselves or others.”[89] One solution proposed within the pages of the Emancipator in order to move toward gradual emancipation was for all female slaves in the States to be granted freedom upon reaching a certain age.[90] This means was, in effect, supposed to remove the possibility of continued reproduction of the slave community. Another topic concerning gradual emancipation discussed within the pages was the possibility of colonization of slaves. This topic was merely mentioned, though, not explored in depth.
No matter the antislavery topic discussed in the Emancipator, Embree makes it clear that he felt slavery was wrong, if not for rational examination of the institution, than due to its contradiction to Christian beliefs. Therefore, calling upon his Quaker roots, Embree frequently appealed to Christian followers to take up the cause of abolition. He extends this appeal by stating: “But if there were nothing in the scriptures which necessarily implied a prohibition of slavery; yet in declaration [sic] of American Independence, stands as a perpetual standard against it.”[91] Here Embree clearly points out the contradiction between what is written in the Declaration of Independence compared to slavery in practice - what for many is the most evident contradiction surrounding slavery in the United States.
During the seven months of publication Embree suffered great financial loss: he exhausted his personal savings as well as neglected the family business.[92] Already almost financially ruined, his wife Elizabeth fell ill and ultimately died in July of 1820. She left Embree with nine children. Later that same year Embree suffered from a fever and, like his wife, ultimately died from it on December 4 in Jonesborough. Although Embree had only published seven issues of the Emancipator to date, he had clearly demonstrated that a newspaper solely dedicated to the cause of abolition could not only be published but accepted.[93]
Upon Embree’s death his father returned to Tennessee for a short time to try and rescue his son’s newspaper as well as his sons’ business. Thomas Embree contacted a fellow Quaker named Benjamin Lundy who had recently established his own antislavery newspaper in Ohio called The Genius of Universal Emancipation. Thomas succeeded in convincing Lundy to take over the publication of the Emancipator. A saddle maker by trade, Lundy agreed to the endeavor but upon reaching Jonesborough decided to move to Greenville instead to continue his own antislavery publication. Although Lundy did not directly continue the publication of the Emancipator, he benefited from the legacy of Embree.[94] Lundy utilized Embree’s subscription lists as well as fellow Quakers known by Embree who served as representatives for the paper in other regions of the state. Even Elihu’s brother Elijah served as a representative for Lundy. Although short-lived, the Emancipator influenced abolitionist papers to come. As Lundy states in writing his plans for The Genius: “The Genius is designed to rise like the Phoenix from the ashes of the late Emancipator published by Elihu Embree. Had that worthy man lived to continue his useful labors, it is likely that this paper would not have appeared at this time.”[95]




[1] James L. Huston, “The Experiential Basis of the Northern Antislavery Impule.” Journal of Southern History 56:4 (1990) p. 609.
[2] Stanley Harrold, The Abolitionists and the South. (Lexington, 1995) p. 13.

[3] Harrold, Abolitionts and the South, p. 9.
[4] Ibid.
[5]Ella Pierce Buchanan and John F. Nash, “Elihu Embree – His Background and Family” in The Emancipator (Jonesborough, TN, 1995), iii-v.
[6] Emilou McDorman, “A Revised Sketch of the Moses Embree III Family and the Quaker Migration South,” Green Plains Orthodox Monthly Meeting, Selma, OH, August 7, 1979. Embree Papers (folder 1), Archives of Appalachia, East Tennessee State University
[7] The Anglicized name Embree originated from Ambres of French origin and translated as Ambry, Emry, and Embro before finally ending up as Embree.
[8]Ella P. Buchanan “Moses Embree III Family,” in History of Washington County Tennessee (Walsworth Press, 1988), 323.
[9] Buchanan and Nash, ix.
[10] McDorman, “A Revised Sketch of the Moses Embree III Family,” p. 5.
[11] Jean R. Soderland. Quakers and Slavery. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985) p.6.
[12] Ibid
[13] Emilou McDorman, op. cit. The repetition of names among the later generations has also caused confusion.
[14] According to the History of Washington County Tennessee (1988) Moses III came in 1769 and set up the family iron mill. According to Ella Pearce Buchanan and John F. Nash in the introduction to the bound version of the Emancipator the exact date of his arrival is unknown, placing him in Washington County somewhere between 1769 and 1783. Further research of Quaker records confirms that the exact date of his arrival in unclear.
[15] Emilou McDorman, “A Revised Sketch of the Moses Embree III Family and the Quaker Migration South,” Green Plains Orthodox Monthly Meeting, Selma, Ohio, August 7, 1979. Embree Papers (folder 1).
[16] Again it is not clear from Quaker records that Moses’s family moved in 1770 yet or if they arrived at a later date after the iron foundry was set up.
[17] While Moses III settled near Jonesborough, Tennessee, in the area of present day Washington County, as did most of the settlers in Tennessee at the time, the entire land area of the future state of Tennessee was then considered Washington County.
[18] Buchanan, “Moses Embree III Family,”p. 323.
[19] Buchanan and Nash, “Elihu Embree – His Background and Family”, p.x.
[20] Ibid.
[21] Ibid.
[22] Ibid
[23] Stilled called the Embree House, it is now the home of John Nash and Barbars Humphrys.
[24] McDorman – Find exact page in notes.
[25] McDorman, “A Revised Sketch of the Moses Embree III Family and the Quaker Migration South,”p.17.
[26] Soderland, Quakers and Salvery. p.8
[27] Edmund S. Morgan, American Slavery American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia (New York, 1975), 295-387.
[28] Ibid
[29] J. William Frost, ed., The Quaker Origins of Antislavery (Norwood PA, 1980), p.2.
[30] Soderland, Quakers and Slavery. p. 10.
[31] Woolman and Benezet were Quakers ahead of their time when in the 1730s and 1740s they spoke out against slavery. Benezet even started a school specifically for black students.
[32] Soderland, Quakers and Slavey. p. 10
[33] Harrold, The Abolitionists and the South, p. 3.
[34] Soderland. Quakers and Slavery. p.174.
[35] White, “Sketch of the Author,” p.vii.
[36] Ibid.
[37] Knoxville Gazette, January 23, 1791.
[38] McDorman, “A Revised Sketch of the Moses Embree III Family and the Quaker Migration South,” p. 12.
[39] Jack Mooney, “Antislavery Papers in Appalachia: Elihu Embree and his Manumission Intelligencer and Emacipator,” Presented to the Tennessee and Regional Culture Division of Popular Culture Association, New Orleans, Lousiana, April 1993 found at Archives of Appalacia (Folder 2) p. 5.
[40] McDorman, “A Revised Sketch of the Moses Embree III Family,” p. 13.
[41] McDorman, “A Revised Sketch of Moses III Family,” p. 12.
[42] Thomas Embree, “A Causion”, Elihu Embree Papers, Archive of Appalachia, (folder 2) p. 2. Thomas Embree is also believed to have used the stone house as a link in the Underground Railroad.
[43] Elihu’s lack of business skills eventually led the brothers into debt with his tendency to over purchase items for the business.
[44] Buchanan and Nash, “Elihu Embree – His Background and Family”,.p. 6.
[45] The dollar figure is in 19th Century dollars.
[46] Elijah Embree (E.E.) Hoss, Elihu Embree, Abolitionist (Nashville: University Press Company, 1897) p.7.
[47] Buchanan and Nash, “Elihu Embree – His Bachground and Family,” p. 7.
[48] Robert H. White, “Sketch of the Author: Elihu Embree, Agitator and Abolitionist” in the Elihu Embree’s the Emancipator (Jonesborough, Tennessee) 1820, reprint (Nashville: B.H. Murphy, 1932) p. vi.
[49] Buchanan and Nash, “Elihu Embree – His Background and Family,” p. 7.
[50] Emancipator, August, 1820.
[51] Emancipator, August 1820.
[52] White, “Sketch of the Author,” p. vi.
[53] Goodspeed, History of Tennessee. P. D19-D20.
[54] Lawrence B. Goodhart, “Tennessee’s Antislavery Movement Reconsidered: The Example of Elihu Embree,” Tennessee Historical Quarterly, 41:227 (1982)p. 312.
[55] Asa Earl Martin, “Pioneer Anti-Slavery Press” in the Mississippi Valley Historical Review, 2:4 (March 1916), p.509.
[56] Goodhart, “Tennessee’s Antislavery Movement Reconsidered,” p.225. For the complete laws concerning black codes in Tennessee see the Acts of Tennessee at the Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA), Nashville.
[57] Goodhart, “Tennessee’s Antislavery Movement Reconsidered:,”p.228.
[58] The Emacipator, April 30, 1820, 10-12, provides a history of the Tennessee Manumission Society.
[59] Elihu Embree to Joseph M. Paul, August 6, 1820, Joseph M. Paul Papers, Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP).
[60] Harrold, The Abolitionists and the South.p.20.
[61] Goodhart, “Tennessee’s Antislavery Movement Reconsidered,” p. 230.
[62] “First Memorial on Slavery 1817” in The Emancipator, p. xxv (1995).
[63] Goodhart, “Tennessee’s Antislavery Movement Reconsidered,”.p. 230.
[64] Goodhart, “Tennessee’s Antislavery Movement Reconsidered,” p. 230.
[65] Gordon E. Finnie. “The Antislavery Movement in the Upper South Before 1840” Journal of Southern History, 35:323 (1969).
[66] Embree to Joseph M. Paul, October 15, 1818, and February 15, 1819, Paul Papers, The Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP).
[67] Manumission Intelligencer, Vol. 1, No. 18, April 17, 1819, pp.1-4. Tennessee Newspapers, Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA), Nashville, Tenn.
[68] Mooney, “Antislavery Papers in Appalachia,” p. 6.
[69] Martin, “Pioneer Anti-slavery Press,” p. 511.
[70] Martin, “Pioneer Anti-slavery Press,” p. 512.
[71] Dwight D. Dummond, ed. Letter of James G. Birney. (New York: Appleton-Century, 1938) p. 360.
[72] Martin, “Pioneer Anti-slavery Press,” p. 513. An almost complete file of the Philanthropist is at the Johns Hopkins Library.
[73] The Emancipator, April 30, 1820, p. 9.
[74] Elijah Embree Hoss, Elihu Embree, Abolitionist. (Nashville, 1897) Publication of the Vanderbilt Southern History Society, p.13.
[75]Buchanan and Nash, “Elihu Embree – His Background and Family”, p. 8.; Goodheart, “Tennessee’s Anti-slavery Movement Reconsidered” p. 234.
[76] Emancipator. April 1820.
[77] Emancipator, April 1820.
[78] Emancipator, April 1820.
[79] Martin,”Pioneer Anti-slavery Press,” p. 518.; Goodheart, “Tennessee’s Anti-slavery Press,” p. 234.
[80] Hoss, Elihu Embree, Abolitionist, p. 17-18.
[81] Hoss, Elihu Embree, Abolitionist, p. 13.
[82] Ira Berlin, “From Creole to African: Atlantic Creoles and the Origins of African-American Society in Mainland North America,” in How Did American Slavery Begin (New York: Bedoford/St. Martins, 1999) p. 8
[83] Emancipator, October 1820.
[84] Mooney, “Antislavery Papers in Appalachia,” p. 10.
[85] Emancipator, August, 1820.
[86] Emancipator, June 1820.
[87] John Hope Franklin, From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans. ( New York: Random House, 1967)p. 153.
[88] Emancipator. May 1820.
[89] Emancipator, July 1820.
[90] This solution resembles that of the West Indies and France.
[91] Emancipator, August 1820.
[92] Mooney, “Antislavery Papers in Appalachia,” p. 12.
[93] Ibid.
[94] Mooney, “Antislavery Papers in Appalachia,” p. 14.
[95] Notes on Matilda Evans, Paul Fink Paper, Public Library, Jonesborough, Tenneessee.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Does anyone know who Elihu Embree was?