Essential Reading List
Looking to expand your knowledge on Philly's Black Metropolis?
Below, you will find a collection of books that you've likely never heard of before. Yet, this *expanding* arrangement, perfectly ties in the core principles of our work and provides a Black-centered historical narrative of the everyday life for people who lived in and around Philadelphia near the year 1838.
Let us know your favorite reads and we might add them to the list!
The Garies and Their Friends
By Frank J. Webb
Unjustly overlooked in its own time, Frank J. Webb’s novel of pre-Civil War Philadelphia, The Garies tells the story of day to day life in 1830s and 1840s Philadelphia. Semi-Autobiographical, author Frank Webb using his own lived experience as a boy in Philadelphia at this time to weave together all the facets of love, sorrow, danger and joy. Characters struggle through the intersections of race, colorism, classism, and oppression which force them into decisions with triumphant and tragic outcomes.
Shadow & Light, an Autobiography
By Mifflin Wistar Gibbs
Born in 1821, Mifflin Wistar Gibbs was a child of the 1838 Black Metropolis. Growing up on Eagle's Court in Washingtons Square West, this autobiography is rich with incidents, vignettes and incredible stories of his early life in Philadelphia. He was there in the aftermath of Philadelphia hall. He apprenticed and help build the first brick Mother Bethel church. He remembers hearing Richard Allen preach. And this is only the beginning. He participated in the California Gold rush, and then lead 800 free Black people to Canada. He was the first Black elected judge in the United States. An Incredible life!
The Journal of Charlotte L. Forten
Edited by Ray Allen Billington
Charlotte L. Forten (1838-1914) was sensitive, intelligent, and educated in the culture and conventions of pre-Civil War America. Born into a prominent abolitionist family, Charlotte provides a unique perspective on Black life at home, at church and in the neighborhood.
Notes from a Colored Girl, The Civil War Pocket Diaries of Emile Frances Davis
Edited by Karsonya Wise Whitehead
"In Notes from a Colored Girl, Karsonya Wise Whitehead examines the life and experiences of Emilie Frances Davis, a freeborn twenty-one-year-old mulatto woman, through a close reading of three pocket diaries she kept from 1863 to 1865. Whitehead explores Davis's worldviews and politics, her perceptions of both public and private events, her personal relationships, and her place in Philadelphia's free black community in the nineteenth century."
The Kidnapped and the Ransomed
By Kate E. R. Pickard
**on this Website**
This story brings in many fo the themes we discuss here at 1838 Black Metropolis. In particular, all of the emotions, encounters, ups and downs in the journey of Freedom Seekers as they arrive in Philadelphia. In this story we see Black community organization and support for freedom seekers in action with Eliza Ann Bias and William Still. We get a glipse of the regional Black nation as Peter travels to New Jersey to visit his family. We can almost hear the street scene as Peter first gains his bearings in the Black Metropolis.
A Gentleman of Color
By Julie Winch
"In A Gentleman of Color, Julie Winch provides a vividly written, full-length biography of James Forten, one of the most remarkable men in 19th-century America. Forten was born in 1766 into a free black family. As a teenager he served in the Revolution and was captured by the British. Rejecting an attractive offer to change sides, he insisted he was a loyal American. By 1810 he was the leading sailmaker in Philadelphia, where he became well known as an innovative craftsman, a successful manager of black and white employees, and a shrewd businessman. He emerged as a leader in Philadelphia's black community."
By Gary Nash
"Gary Nash shows how, from colonial times through the Revolution and into the turbulent 1830s, blacks in the City of Brotherly Love shaped family life, gained occupational competence, organized churches, established neighborhoods and social networks, advanced cultural institutions, educated their children in schools, forged a political consciousness, and trained black leaders who would help abolish slavery."
The Elite of Our People: Jospeh Wilson's Sketches of Upper Class Philadelphia
Edited by Julie Winch
"Sketches of the Higher Classes of Colored Society in Philadelphia, first published in 1841, was written by Joseph Willson, a southern Black man who had moved to Philadelphia. The significance of Willson’s account lies in its sophisticated analysis of the issues of class and race in Philadelphia. It is all the more important in that it predates W. E. B. Du Bois’s The Philadelphia Negro by more than half a century. Julie Winch has written a substantial introduction and prepared extensive annotation. "
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
By Harriet Jacobs
Based on the true story of Harriet Jacobs’s escape from the South, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is one of American literature’s most powerful indictments of the evils of slavery.
Diary of Charlotte Forten
By Charlotte Forten
*For Young Readers*
As a free African-American living in the North in the 1800s, Charlotte Forten was luckier than most African-Americans of her time. But she still faced segregation, limited opportunities, and the sharp barbs of racism. Through it all, Charlotte wrote down her experiences in a diary. Read her story, and learn about the pre-Civil War days from someone who lived it.
(source: Book jacket)
By Francis Ellen Watkins Harper
First published in 1892, this stirring novel by the great writer and activist Frances Harper tells the story of the young daughter of a wealthy Mississippi planter who travels to the North to attend school, only to be sold into slavery in the South when it is discovered that she has Negro blood. After she is freed by the Union army, she works to reunify her family and embrace her heritage, committing herself to improving the conditions for Blacks in America.
(source: Book jacket)
By William Still
**Available with our friends at Historic Society of Pennsylvania**
William Still's 'Journal C of Station No. 2' of the Underground Railroad" provides extensive detail of the ways in which Philadelphia's Vigilance Committee offered aid to escaped slaves during their travels northward. His narrative offers rich documentation of families and individuals during their escape and illuminates the intricate network of people—including slaves, former slaves and free blacks—who made the Underground Railroad a success.
Gifts of Power, The Writing of Rebecca Cox Jackson
Edited by Jean McMahon Humez
Born and raised in The Black Metropolis, Jackson began her preaching career the womens groups of Mother Bethel A.M.E Church. A religious visionary, she founded a Shaker community in Philadelphia that survived her death by twenty-five years. She spent most of her life with her partner Rebecca Perot, living in a "covenanted relationship that has been described as lesbian, womanist, queer and/or celibate." Gifts of powers contains her complete extant writings, covering the period 1830 to 1864.