Exhortations for Good Conduct in The Colored American

This page shows how an important Black newspaper, The Colored American, helped to establish norms of behavior. The following are small pieces drawn from a variety of different types of articles that all have one thing in common: emphasizing correct conduct. The ways in which these standards are enforced varies. Most commonly, women are positioned as the 'gentle correctors' who can and should urge men towards genteel deportment.

Some read much like a conduct book—indeed, the "Hints to Young Ladies" is an excerpt from Gregory's A Father's Legacy to his Daughters [1]. Others, like "A Word to the Ladies," are reprinted sentiments that were originally delivered in orations. They all emphasize women's role—indeed their responsibility—as that of being a decorous, reserved presence both in public and especially when interacting with men.

"Hints to Young Ladies," published September 15, 1838

Smiley face

In this reprint, women are described using common Victorian-like tropes of gentility and encouraged to be modest and reserved [2].

Later in this excerpt, women are encouraged to "consider every species of indelicacy in conversation as shameful in itself, and as highly disgusting to us." The author then warns female readers that men—with their less delicate natures—may occassionally use double entendres. When such social transgressions occur, the women's part is to gently correct them. The emphasis on women's corrective presence is important to consider in the context of Colored Conventions. 


"A Word to the Ladies," published March 18, 1837

Smiley face

The original text comes from a speech by Robert Fleming, given in 1828 in Georgia [3]. It emphasizes standards of conduct with women being encouraged to hold men in line from drinking or other vices, through the "potency of your frowns." Women are cast as the upholders of decorum through gentle expressions of displeasure. For convention behavior, women would have kept the more agitated or disruptive behavior in line with a raised eyebrow or through finding the offending gentleman "unworthy of admission into [their] associations of amusement." When men stepped out of line, quiet yet public censure would correct  wayward members.


"Responsibility of the Colored People in the Free States," published March 4, 1837

Smiley face

In this brief article, readers are reminded that living in a free state comes with the responsibility of performing as moral models [4]. The writer's remarks resonate with much of the discussion circulating in the Colored Conventions as he urges readers to remember that they are demonstrating that they are "worthy to be freemen."  Such remonstrances emphasize a common theme seen in Black conduct literature: the race as a whole is always being judged via the actions of a few. Such sentiments certainly emphasized why conduct was such a pressing concern and so widely a subject of debate and censure.




"A Letter on Women's place in Mixed Assemblies, by a woman," published October 12, 1839

Smiley face

This excerpt  addresses the growing number of "mixed assemblies" [5]. The authoress—whose sentiments are heralded by the editors in an introductory remark—believes that women should have a voice--but not a vote. She endorses traditional family hierarchies using Biblical references to support her opinion. Particularly important is her description of "family government" as the "embryo of all government." Such sentiments speak to how some Blacks saw the work of the Colored Conventions as important to establishing their already-in-practice political talents in public forums.





[1] John Gregory, "A Father's Legacy to his Daughters," (London: T.Cadell and W. Davies, 1808) https://archive.org/details/fatherslegacytoh00greg.

[2] "Hints to Young Ladies." The Colored American 15 Sept. 1838: Accessible Archives. Web. 2 May 2016.

[3] "A Word to the Ladies," The Colored American, 18 Mar. 1837: Accessible Archives. Web. 2 May 2016.

[4] "Responsibility of the Colored People in the Free States" The Colored American, 4 Mar. 1837: Accessible Archives. Web. 2 May 2016.

[5] "With much pleasure we give place to the communication below" The Colored American, 12 Oct. 1839: Accessible Archives. Web. 2 May 2016.