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Antebellum Period Quotes

They Said It

"I wheel about an' turn aboutAnd do jis' soAnd ebry time I wheel about I jump Jim Crow."

- Lyrics of "Jump Jim Crow," the song that white performer T.D. "Daddy" Rice made famous in his blackface minstrel shows during the 1830s. Rice supposedly based his mocking dance—which introduced the term "Jim Crow" to the American vernacular—on the awkward motions of a crippled old slave22
"It would seem absurd to say it, considering the use that has been made of them, that we have allies in the Ethiopian songs. 'Lucy Neal,' 'Old KentuckyHome,' and 'Uncle Ned,' can make the heart sad as well as merry, and can call forth a tear as well as a smile. They awaken the sympathies for the slave, in which anti-slavery principles take root and flourish."

- Frederick Douglass, commenting on "the Ethiopian songs"—a.k.a. blackface minstrelsy—to the Rochester Ladies' Anti-Slavery Society, 185523
"My hair is bold like the chestnut burr; and my eyes, like the sherry in the glass that the guest leaves."

- Emily Dickinson, describing herself in a letter24
"Mr. Fowler lectured again last night on phrenology. He recommends the cultivation of benevolence in some cases, as an agriculturalist would the cultivation of turnips—urges the propriety of a phrenological examination of children with a view to ascertaining the proper method of treating them, and insists that phrenology is now one of the exact sciences."

- Brooklyn Eagle, 7 March 184625
"At a late hour Friday night a genteel looking young man by the name of Samuel Albertson, was arrested in the Tenth Ward by officer Bogart, charged with passing a number of base counterfeit Bank bills at various grocery stores in the upper part of the City."

- "More Counterfeiters," New York Times, 29 September 185126
Joice Heth is a "curiously constructed automaton, made up of whalebone, india rubber, and numberless springs, ingeniously put together, and made to move at the slightest touch, according to the will of the operator."

- P.T. Barnum, in a letter to a Boston newspaper during his tour of NewEngland with Joice Heth, a black slave whom he advertised as the impossibly aged nursemaid to George Washington. Barnum suggested that Heth was a fraud in order to reignite public curiosity, debate, and ticket sales. It worked.27
"What a sight burst upon me! There stood an elegant double mahogany bed, all covered with burnt pieces of linen, blankets, pillows black as cinders. I could scarcely look at it [the body of murdered prostitute Helen Jewett, still on the floor, and covered by a linen sheet which the policeman pulled back] for a second or two. Slowly I began to discover the lineaments of the corpse, as one would the beauties of a statue of marble. It was the most remarkable sight I ever beheld—I never have, and never expect to see such another. 'My God,' exclaimed I, 'how like a statue! I can scarcely conceive that form to be a corpse.' Not a vein was to be seen. The body looked as white—as full—as polished as the pure Parian marble. The perfect figure—the exquisite limbs—the fine face—the full arms—the beautiful bust—all—all surpassing in every respect the Venus de Medicis.... For a few moments I was lost in admiration at this extraordinary sight—a beautiful female corpse—that surpassed the finest statue of antiquity."

- James Gordon Bennett, editor of the New York Herald, reporting on the sensational and well-publicized murder of New York City prostitute Helen Jewett, 183628

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