Saturday, April 24, 2021

The Negro on the Fence

Before African Americans were allowed to enlist in the Union army, a sentiment among whites prevailed in the free states that the service of black men was not wanted or needed. Much of that attitude came from their mistaken race-based belief that African Americans would not hold up under the rigors of soldier life and that they did not have the courage for combat situations.

However, others did not understand why the United States government did not take advantage of this additional reserve of manpower much sooner than they did. One of these folks probably wrote "The Negro on the Fence." I came across this parable in the very well researched and written book, Embattled Freedom: Chronicle of a Fugitive-Slave Haven in the Wary North by Jim Remsen. He credits it to the Pittston (PA) Gazette and published in April 1863. 

The Negro on the Fence


Harken to what I now relate,

And on the moral meditate.


A wagoner with grist for mill,

Was stalled at bottom of a hill;

A brawny negro passed that way,

So stout he might a lion slay.


“I’ll put my shoulder to the wheels

It you’ll bestir your horse’s heels!”

So said the African, and made

As if to render timely aid.


“No,” cried the wagoner, “stand back!

I’ll take no help from one that’s black!”

And to the negro’s great surprise

Flourished his whip before his eyes.


Our “darkey” quick “skedaddled” thence,

And sat upon a wayside fence.


Then went the wagoner to work,

And lashed his horsed to a jerk;

But all his efforts were in vain

With shout, and oath, and whip, and rein.


The wheels budged not a single inch,

And tighter grew the wagoner’s pinch.


Directly there came by a child,

With toiling step and vision wild;

“Father,” said she with hunger dread,

“We famish for the want of bread.”


Then spoke the negro: “If you will,

I’ll help your horses to the mill.”


The wagoner in grievous plight,

Now swore and raved with all his might,

Because the negro was not white;

And plainly ordered him to go

To a certain place that’s down below.


Then rushing came the wagoner’s wife,

To save her own and infant’s life,

By robbers was their homestead sacked,

And smoke and blood their pillage tracked.


Here stops our tale. When last observed,

The wagoner was still “conserved”

In mud at bottom of the hill,

But bent on getting to the mill.

And hard by, not a rod from thence,

The negro sat upon the fence.

1 comment:

  1. Reading Defenders of Liberty-African Americans in the Revolutionary Way-Author Lt. Col. Michael Lee Lanning.