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John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892). The Poetical Works in Four Volumes. 1892.

Anti-Slavery Poems

The Christian Slave

  • In a publication of L. F. Tasistro—Random Shots and Southern Breezes—is a description of a slave auction at New Orleans, at which the auctioneer recommended the woman on the stand as “A GOOD CHRISTIAN!” It was not uncommon to see advertisements of slaves for sale, in which they were described as pious or as members of the church. In one advertisement a slave was noted as “a Baptist preacher.”

  • A CHRISTIAN! going, gone!

    Who bids for God’s own image? for his grace,

    Which that poor victim of the market-place

    Hath in her suffering won?

    My God! can such things be?

    Hast Thou not said that whatsoe’er is done

    Unto Thy weakest and Thy humblest one

    Is even done to Thee?

    In that sad victim, then,

    Child of Thy pitying love, I see Thee stand;

    Once more the jest-word of a mocking band,

    Bound, sold, and scourged again!

    A Christian up for sale!

    Wet with her blood your whips, o’ertask her frame,

    Make her life loathsome with your wrong and shame,

    Her patience shall not fail!

    A heathen hand might deal

    Back on your heads the gathered wrong of years:

    But her low, broken prayer and nightly tears,

    Ye neither heed nor feel.

    Con well thy lesson o’er,

    Thou prudent teacher, tell the toiling slave

    No dangerous tale of Him who came to save

    The outcast and the poor.

    But wisely shut the ray

    Of God’s free Gospel from her simple heart,

    And to her darkened mind alone impart

    One stern command, Obey!

    So shalt thou deftly raise

    The market price of human flesh; and while

    On thee, their pampered guest, the planters smile,

    Thy church shall praise.

    Grave, reverend men shall tell

    From Northern pulpits how thy work was blest,

    While in that vile South Sodom first and best,

    Thy poor disciples sell.

    Oh, shame! the Moslem thrall,

    Who, with his master, to the Prophet kneels,

    While turning to the sacred Kebla feels

    His fetters break and fall.

    Cheers for the turbaned Bey

    Of robber-peopled Tunis! he hath torn

    The dark slave-dungeons open, and hath borne

    Their inmates into day:

    But our poor slave in vain

    Turns to the Christian shrine his aching eyes;

    Its rites will only swell his market price,

    And rivet on his chain.

    God of all right! how long

    Shall priestly robbers at Thine altar stand,

    Lifting in prayer to Thee, the bloody hand

    And haughty brow of wrong?

    Oh, from the fields of cane,

    From the low rice-swamp, from the trader’s cell;

    From the black slave-ship’s foul and loathsome hell,

    And coffle’s weary chain;

    Hoarse, horrible, and strong,

    Rises to Heaven that agonizing cry,

    Filling the arches of the hollow sky,

    How long, O God, how long?