New York African Free Schools and Their Convention Legacies

Publication History of Allen’s Address

Address written on October 21, 1828

Charles C. Andrews asked his senior students at the NYAFS #2 to compose an address to the American Convention, and he would choose the “most appropriate” addresses to send to the Convention, including Allen’s. Five members of the Manumission Society signed their names to verify the authenticity of Allen’s essay, writing: “We are fully convinced that the said Address is the genuine, unaided production of George R. Allen, a very black boy of pure African descent, who is now between 12 and 13 years old, and was born in this city.”

 

Essay read at the American Convention in Baltimore, November 1828

Mahlon Day read Allen’s Address to the Convention. The committee stated that the essay was “a precocity of talent rarely met with in youth of their age” and considered it “striking evidence of the effects of education on the descendants of the despised Africans.

Allen was sent a copy of William Cowper’s poems from the delegates at the Convention. In the 1829 Convention, one delegate reported on the successful delivery of this book and other gifts to the NYAFS #2. He reported: “That the books were presented on the 5th of the 5th month (May) last, by one of the committee in company with Edmund Haviland, a member of the Convention. A short address was delivered to the scholars on the occasion, encouraging them to persevere in exhibiting to a prejudiced world, that Africans do possess talents when properly cultivated.”

 

Allen’s Audience Multiplies

Allen’s Address was included in the official minutes of the American Convention in Baltimore. One thousand copies of the minutes were printed and distributed to Anti-Slavery Societies around the nation. Copies of the minutes were also sent to editors of newspapers in the United States “with the request that they would publish such parts of them in their respective papers, as they may judge useful.”

Further, the delegates of the American Convention requested that the “specimens” from the NYAFS #2, including Allen’s essay, “be exhibited for a time in the rotunda of the capitol at the city of Washington, under the care of members of the Washington Abolition society, as evidence of the intellectual improvement of the African race.” There is no evidence to suggest that this request was fulfilled.

 

Essay published on the front page of Freedom’s Journal, March 14, 1829

A comparison of Allen’s address as published in the American Convention minutes and Freedom’s Journal suggested that the newspaper retrieved Allen’s essay from the minutes of the Convention, and deemed that it was “useful” to publish all five of the NYAFS students’ essays to the Convention. The layout of this page, which featured an introduction by Andrews and a verification of the Manumission Society in its center and the essays of the students in its periphery, memorialized the tenuous questions of agency surrounding these addresses.

 

Essay included in Charles C. Andrews’ The History of the New-York African Free Schools, 1830

Allen’s essay, among other specimens from students, were included in Andrews’ History as evidence for the efficacy of education. Andrews wrote the History to give a testimony for the “rise, progress, and present state” of the school to establish “the practicability of imparting the useful branches of education to the descendants of Africans.”

Credits

Researched, transcribed, and written by Amy Fehr. Edited by Simone Austin

References

Andrews, Charles C. The History of the New-York African Free-Schools. New York, 1830. Internet Archive. https://archive.org/details/historynewyorka00andrgoog.

Allen, George. “George R. Allen’s Essay.” Freedom’s Journal, 14 March 1829.

Minutes of the adjourned session of the twentieth biennial American Convention for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery and Improving the Condition of the African Race. Philadelphia, 1828. Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/89895124/.

Minutes of the Twenty-First Biennial American Convention for the Promoting the Abolition of Slavery, and Improving the Condition of the African Race. Philadelphia, 1829. Archive, www.archive.org/details/ASPC0002428700