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Major Martin R. Delaney c. 1865, Medium hand-colored lithograph on paper. National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.

Martin R. Delany


Date of Birth:


Place of Birth:


Family: Pati Delaney (free born) and Samuel Delaney (enslaved)


Historical Significance:





Headquarters, Assistant Commissioner


Bureau Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. Beaufort, S.C., July 24th, 1865.


Br[eve]t Maj. S. M. Taylor Asst. Adj't Gen'l.




In obedience to your request, I proceeded to St. Helena Island, yesterday morning for the purpose of listening to the public delivery of a lecture by Major Delany 104th Ne[gro] S.C. Troops.


I was accompanied by Lieut. A. Whyte Jr. 128th Ne[gro] S.C. Troops, Com[an]d'g Post.


The meeting was held near "Brick Church," the congregation numbering from 500 to 600.


As introduction Maj. Delany made them acquainted with the fact, that slavery is absolutely abolished, throwing thunders of damnations and maledictions on all the former slaveowners and people of the South, and almost condemned their souls to hell. He says "It was only a War policy of the Government, to declare the slaves of the South free, knowing that the whole power of the South, laid in the possession of the Slaves. But I want you to understand, that we would not have become free, had we not armed ourselves and fought out our independence" (this he repeated twice). He further says, "If I had been a slave, I would have been most troublesome and not to be conquered by any threat or punishment. I would not have worked, and no one would have dared to come near me, I would have struggled for life or death, and would have thrown fire and sword between them.


"I know you have been good, only too good. I was told by a friend of mine that when owned by a man and put to work on the field, he laid quietly down, and just looked out for the overseer to come along, when he pretended to work very hard. But he confessed to me, that he never had done a fair day's work for his master. And so he was right, so I would have done the same, and all of you ought to have done the same.


"People say that you are too lazy to work, that you have no intelligence to get on for yourselves, without being guided and driven to the work by overseers. I say it is a lie, and a blasphemous lie, and I will prove it to be so.


"I am going to tell you now, what you are worth. As you know Christopher Columbus landed here in 1492. They came here only for the purpose to dig gold, gather precious pearls, diamonds and all sorts of jewels, only for the proud Aristocracy of White Spaniards and Portuguese, to adorn their persons, to have brooches for their breasts, earrings for their ears, Bracelets for their ankles and rings for their limbs and fingers. They found here (red men) Indians whom they obliged to dig and work and slave for them-but they found out that they died away too fast and cannot stand the work. In course of time they had taken some blacks (Africans) along with them and put them to work- they could not stand it-and yet the Whites say they are superior to our race, though they could not stand it. (At the present day in some of the Eastern parts of Spain, the Spaniard there (having been once conquered by the black race) have black eyes, black hair, black complexion. They have Negro blood in them!!) The work was so profitable which those poor blacks did, that in the year 1502 Charles the V. gave permission to import into America yearly 4,000 blacks. The profit of these sales was so immense, that afterwards even the Virgin Queen of England and James the II. took part in the Slave trade and were accumulating great wealth for the Treasury of the Government. And so you always have been the means of riches.


"I tell you I have been all over Africa {I was born there)* and I tell you (as I told to the Geographical Faculty of London) that those people there, are a well-driving class of cultivators, and I never saw or heard of one of our brethren there to travel without taking seeds with him as much as he can carry and to sow it wherever he goes to, or to exchange it with his brethren.


"So you ought further to know, that all the spices, cotton, rice, and coffee has only been brought over by you, from the land of our brethren.


"Your masters who lived in opulence, kept you to hard work by some contemptible being called overseer-who chastised and beat you whenever he pleased-while your master lived in some Northern town or in Europe to squander away the wealth only you acquired for him. He never earned a single Dollar in his life. You men and women, every one of you around me, made thousands and thousands of dollars for your master. Only you were the means for your masters to lead the ideal and inglorious life, and to give his children the education, which he denied to you, for fear you may awake to conscience.* If I look around me, I tell you all the houses of this Island and in Beaufort, they are all familiar to my eye, they are the same structures which I have met with in Africa. They have all been made by the Negroes, you can see it by such exteriors.


"I tell you they (white man) cannot teach you anything, and they could not make them because they have not the brain to do it. (after a pause) At least I mean the Southern people; Oh the Yankees they are smart. Now tell me from all you have heard from me, are you not worth anything? Are you those men whom they think, God only created as a curse and for a slave? Whom they do not consider their equals? As I said before the Yankees are smart; there are good ones and bad ones. The good ones, if they are good they are very good, if they are bad, they are very bad. But the worst and most contemptible, and even worse than even your masters were, are those Yankees, who hired themselves as overseers.


"Believe not in these School teachers, Emissaries, Ministers, and agents, because they never tell you the truth, and I particularly warn you against those Cotton Agents, who come honey mouthed unto you, their only intent being to make profit by your inexperience.


"If there is a man who comes to you, who will meddle with your affairs, send him to one of your more enlightened brothers, who shall ask him who he is, what business he seeks with you, etc.


Believe none but those Agents who are sent out by Government, to enlighten and guide you. I am an officer in the service of the U.S. Government, and ordered to aid Gen'1 Saxton, who has been only lately appointed Asst Comr from South Carolina. So is Gen'l Wild Asst Comr. for Georgia.


"When Chief Justice Chase was down here to speak to you, some of those malicious and abominable New York papers derived from it that he only seeks to be elected by you as President. I have no such ambition, I let them have for a President a white or a black one. I don't care who it be-it may be who has a mind to. I shall not be intimidated whether by threats or imprisonment, and no power will keep me from telling you the truth. So I expressed myself even at Charleston, the hotbed of those scoundrels, your old masters, without fear or reluctance.


"So I will come to the main purpose for which I have come to see you. As before the whole South depended upon you, now the whole country will depend upon you. I give you an advice how to get along. Get up a community and get all the lands you can-if you cannot get any singly.


"Grow as much vegetables, etc, as you want for your families; on the other part of the land you cultivate Rice and Cotton. Now for instance 1. Acre will grow a crop of Cotton of $90-now a land with 10 Acres will bring $900 every year: if you cannot get the land all yourself,-the community can, and so you can divide the profit. There is Tobacco for instance (Virginia is the great place for Tobacco). There are whole squares at Dublin and Liverpool named after some place of Tobacco notoriety, so you see of what enormous value your labor was to the benefits of your masters. Now you understand that I want you to be the producers of this country. It is the wish of the Government for you to be so. We will send friends to you, who will further instruct you how to come to the end of our wishes. You see that by so adhering to our views, you will become a wealthy and powerful population.


"Now I look around me and notice a man, barefooted, covered with rags and dirt. Now I ask, what is that man doing, for whom is he working. I hear that he works for that and that farmer for 30 cents a day. I tell you that must not be. That would be cursed slavery over again. I will not have it, the Government will not have it, and the Government shall hear about it. I will tell the Government. I tell you slavery is over, and shall never return again. We have now 200,000 of our men well drilled in arms and used to War fare and I tell you it is with you and them that slavery shall not come back again, if you are determined it will not return again.


"Now go to work, and in a short time I will see you again, and other friends will come to show you how to begin.-Have your fields in good order and well tilled and planted, and when I pass the fields and see a land well planted and well cared for, then I may be sure from the look of it, that it belongs to a free Negro, and when I see a field thinly planted and little cared for, then I may think it belongs to some man who works it with slaves. The Government decided that you shall [keep] one third of the produce of the crops, from your employer, so if he makes $3-you will have to get $1.-out of it for your labor.


The other day some plantation owners in Virginia and Maryland offered $5.-a month for your labor, but it was indignantly rejected by Gen'1 Howard, the Commissioner for the Government."*


These are expressions, as far as I can remember, without having made notes at the time.


The excitement with the congregation was immense, groups were formed talking over what they have heard, and ever ~d anon cheers were given to some particular sentence of the speech.


I afterwards mingled with several groups, to hear their opinions. Some used violent language, "saying they would get rid of the Yankee employer."-"That is the only man who ever told them the truth." "That now those men have to work themselves or starve or leave the country, we will not work for them any more."


Some Whites were present, and listened with horror depicted in their faces to the whole performance. Some said, "What shall become of us now?" And if such a speech should be again given to those men, there will be open rebellion.


Major Delany was afterwards corrected by Mr. Town the Superintendent at that place, to the effect, that the pay of labourers on this Island is not 30 cents a day, but 30 cents a task, and that a man can easily make from 75 to 90 cents a day. Major Delany then corrected himself accordingly, saying that he must be misinformed.


My opinion of the whole affair is that Major Delany is a thorough hater of the white race and excites the colored people unnecessarily. He even tries to injure the magnanimous conduct of the Government towards them, either intentionally or through want of knowledge.


He tells them to remember "that they would not have become free, had they not armed themselves and fought for their independence. This is a falsehood and a misrepresentation.-Our President Abraham Lincoln declared the colored race free, before there was even an idea of arming colored men.t This is decidedly calculated to create bad feeling against the Government.


By giving them some historical facts and telling them that neither Indians nor Whites could stand the work, in this country, he wants to impress them (the colored men) with the idea that he in fact is not only a superior, in a physical view, but also in intelligence.-He says, "believe none of those ministers, schoolteachers, Emissaries, because they never tell you the truth." It is only to bring distrust against all, and gives them to understand that they shall believe men of their own race. He openly acts and speaks contrary to the policy of the Government, advising them not to work for any man, but for themselves.


The intention of our Government, that all the men should be employed by their former masters, as far as possible, and contracts made between as superintended by some Officer empowered by the Government.


He says it would be old slavery over again, if a man should work for an employer, and that it must not be. Does he not give a hint of what they should do by his utterings "that if he had been a slave etc?; or by giving narrative of the slave who did not work for his master?- further as he says: "that a field should show by its appearance by whom and for whom it is worked?"


The mention of having two hundred thousand men well drilled in arms:-does he not hint to them what to do?; if they should be compelled to work for employers?


In my opinion of this discourse he was trying to encourage them to break the peace of society and force their way by insurrection to a position he is ambitious they should attain to.


I am Major,


Very Respectfully, Your obedient servant, Edward M. Stoeber 1st Lieut 104th U.S.C.T.






  • 1812 - Born in Charles Town, Virginia (now West Virginia)  Martin Robison Delaney was an African American abolitionist, journalist, physician and writer.  Although his father Samuel was enslaved his mother was a free woman, and Martin took her status under slave law

    1812 - Delaney's paternal grandparents were of Gola ethnicity (from modern-day Liberia), taken captive during warfare and brought as slaves to the Virginia colony.  He is widely considered to be the grandfather of Black Nationalism.  

  • 1815 - When Delany was just a few years old, attempts were made to enslave him and a sibling. Their mother Pati carried her two youngest children 20 miles to the courthouse in Winchester to argue successfully for her family's freedom based on her own free birth.

  • 1816 - 1832 - He was also one of the first three blacks admitted to Harvard Medical School.  He studied to become a doctor.  Trained as an assistant and a physician.

  • 1833 - He treated patients during the cholera epidemics of 1833 and 1854 in Pittsburgh, when many doctors and residents fled the city.  

  • 1847 - in Pittsburgh in 1847 on an anti-slavery tour, they met with Delany. Together the men conceived the newspaper that became the North Star. It was first published later that year in Rochester, New York. 

  • 1852 - He Wrote the book, The Condition, Elevation, Emigration, and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States, Politically Considered, published in Philadelphia in 1852  "We are a nation within a nation, as the Poles in Russia, the Hungarians in Austria, the Welsh, Irish and Scotch in the British dominions." "

  • 1854 - In August 1854 Delany led the National Emigration Convention in Cleveland, Ohio.  Delany advanced his emigrationist argument in his manifesto "Political Destiny of the Colored Race on the American Continent". The convention approved a resolution stating, "[A]s men and equals, we demand every political right, privilege and position to which the whites are eligible in the United States, and we will either attain to these, or accept nothing." There were a significant number of women attendees who also voted for the resolution.

  • 1859 - He traveled in Africa, to find places where African Americans might emigrate.

  • 1861 - He returned to the United States in 1861, six weeks after the Civil War had broken out.

  • 1865 - He was one of seventy-five black officers in the Union army.  In February 1865, Martin R. Delany was commissioned as major of infantry and ordered to recruit an "Armee d'Afrique" in South Carolina.  Martin Delany was the only black officer to receive the rank of major during the Civil War.  Delany's advice to the ex-slaves to stand up for full freedom and resist reenslavement by arms if necessary, frightened the whites who were present and, indeed, the officer himself. That Lieutenant's name was Edward M. Stoeber.  He shocked white officers with his strong call for the right of freed blacks to own land.  Martin R. Delany was the only black officer who received the rank of major during the Civil War.  He achieved the highest rank an African American would reach during the Civil War.  In 1865, he was mustered out of the Freedmen's Bureau and shortly afterward resigned from the Army.  He served for three years in the Freedmen's Bureau.  

  • 1866 - He was later transferred to the Freedmen's Bureau, serving on Hilton Head.

  • 1874 - In 1874, Delany ran and lost an election for Lieutenant Governor of South Carolina to Richard Howell Gleaves.

  • 1875 - In 1875 charges of "defrauding a church" were brought against him.  He was convicted, forced to resign, and served some time in jail.  Although pardoned by the Republican governor, Delany was not allowed to return to his former position.

  • 1876 - More than 150 blacks were killed in violence related to the election of 1876.

  • 1876 - He switched his party loyalty and worked for the campaign of Democrat Wade Hampton III, who won the 1876 election for governor.  He opposed the candidacy of another black man for the mayor of Charleston, South Carolina.

  • 1877 - In 1877, Martin Delany and a group formed the 'Liberia Exodus Joint Stock Steamship Company'. Delany worked as president of the board while still  active in the Back to Africa Movement.  1877 - In 1877, he was appointed as a Trial Justice in Charleston.

  • 1880 - In 1880, with two kids in college in Ohio and his wife forced to work as a seamstress to make ends meet, Martin Delany was forced to withdraw from the project to serve his family.  1880 - Two of his children were students at Wilberforce College in Ohio and required money for tuition fees.  1880 - His wife had been Liberia Exodus Joint Stock Steamship Company chairmanship to return to medicine.  

  • 1885 - On 24 January 1885, Martin Delany died of tuberculosis in Wilberforce, Ohio.

  • 2002 - In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Martin R. Delany as among the 100 Greatest African Americans.


For more information on the life and legacy of Martin Robison Delaney, visit the online reference guide, The Black or read the article, "Martin Delany's Advice to Ex-Slaves" by Edward Stoeber.


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