Documenting the American South Logo
Loading
Collections >> North American Slave Narratives, The Church in the Southern Black Community >> Document Menu >> Summary

J. W. Loguen (Jermain Wesley), 1814-1872
The Rev. J. W. Loguen, as a Slave and as a Freeman. A Narrative of Real Life
Syracuse, N. Y.: J. G. K. Truair & Co., 1859.

Summary

Jermain Wesley Loguen was born around 1814 in Davidson County, Tennessee, to an enslaved mother named Jane (who was later renamed Cherry) and her white master, David Logue. Originally named Jarm Logue, he later added the "n" to his last name to differentiate himself from his slave-master father and adopted the middle name "Wesley" to reflect his Wesleyan Methodist sympathies. When he was in his early twenties, Loguen escaped from slavery and fled to Canada. He eventually settled in New York state, enrolled in the abolitionist Oneida School in 1839, and later established a school in Utica, New York, for African American children. He moved to Syracuse, New York, in 1841, founded another school, and married Caroline Storum, with whom he had five children. Loguen was ordained by the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Zion Church in 1842 and became increasingly involved with the anti-slavery movement, working with other abolitionists, including Frederick Douglass, on the lecture circuit. Loguen publicly denounced the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law and swore to defy it. He even advertised himself as a prominent Underground Railroad conductor in an April 1855 issue of Frederick Douglass' Paper, writing "that the Underground Railroad was never doing a better business than at present. . . . I speak officially, as the agent and keeper of an Underground Railroad Depot." Loguen served as pastor of Zion Church in Binghamton, New York, in the early 1860s, and after the Civil War became active in establishing AME Zionist congregations for southern freedmen. Loguen was named a bishop in the AME Zion Church in 1868. He died in Saratoga Springs, New York, in 1872.

The Rev. J. W. Loguen, as a Slave and as a Freeman (1859) is a third-person account detailing Loguen's early life in slavery, his escape northward, and his ministerial and abolitionist activities in New York state and Canada. The biography was published anonymously, but scholarly sources generally attribute Loguen as the author. Some scholars, however, believe that although Loguen may have been involved in its publication, the narrative was ultimately compiled or edited by an outside source, possibly the abolitionist John Thomas. Since slave narratives were traditionally told in the first person, the text's third-person perspective links it to popular novels of the era, including Harriet Beecher Stowe's 1852 Uncle Tom's Cabin. The melodramatic techniques commonly seen in the genre of the "sentimental novel" specifically aimed to make readers identify with characters in a novel emotionally, in order to strengthen the effect of the book's moral message. In the preface to The Rev. J.W. Loguen, the editor acknowledges both employing these novelistic techniques and including scenes for which Loguen was not present in order to "move mankind on to a higher and a better level" (p. vii). Nevertheless, he insists that the narrative will "remain true" (p. iv).

The majority of the text is devoted to Loguen's experiences under slavery and his justification and preparation for escape. It begins with an account of his mother's kidnapping from the free state of Ohio and her purchase by the Logue family, which resides in Manscoe's Creek, outside Nashville, Tennessee. To hide her illegal abduction, Loguen's mother Jane is renamed "Cherry" and forbidden to discuss her original free status. During their tenure on the Logue farm, Cherry and Loguen are both "shielded from harm . . . because she was the admitted mistress of David Logue" (p. 22). However, as Loguen matures, he becomes aware of slavery's injustices when he witnesses his mother's whippings, the separation of families sold to pay slaveholders' debts, and the murder of slaves through public beatings. After Loguen, his mother, and his sister are sold to Manasseth Logue, David's brother and Loguen's uncle, they are forced to endure brutal treatment from their new master. Loguen enjoys a brief respite through a "mortgage" to the white Preston family. The Prestons treat him respectfully and welcome him into their family; their kindness marks a critical period in Loguen's early experience, because it shows him a view of life with equality. Loguen is thus devastated when Manasseth Logue eventually reclaims him in the fear that the Preston's influence might have "spoiled" him, and Loguen vows to escape his now-unbearable servitude (p. 217). After saving provisions for their journey over the course of several months, Loguen and two other slaves finally run away, journeying northward and eluding slave catchers until they reach Canada, where there is less risk of recapture.

After settling temporarily in Canada, Loguen moves to Syracuse, and the narrative focuses on his involvement in several county and state anti-slavery societies. These organizations are involved with two escapes in Syracuse, and in the second of these, a Syracuse anti-slavery society, organizes a mob assault on the courthouse in which William "Jerry" McHenry is held for trial under the Fugitive Slave Law. Eventually, McHenry is liberated and delivered safely to Canada, an act that intensifies local abolitionist sentiment. After being indicted (but not convicted) for his involvement in this incident, Loguen could not, by law, publicly claim to have participated, but the inclusion of the story in his narrative and his postings in local newspapers demonstrate his support for the events.

The narrative concludes with the transcription of two letters, dated 1860, which were added to the text after its initial 1859 publication. The first is a letter written to Loguen by Mrs. Sarah Logue, Manasseth's wife. She admonishes Loguen for running away and chastises him for the financial hardship caused by this loss, telling him: "we had to sell Abe and Ann [Loguen's brother and sister] and twelve acres of land" (p. 452). She demands he send one thousand dollars so they "may be able to redeem the land that you was the cause of our selling" (p. 452). She also proclaims Loguen unfit for ministry. In response, Loguen blasts Mrs. Logue's appeals to sympathy by pointing out her desire to regain the land instead of his siblings, and he refutes her assertion of having raised him "like our own children" by asking: "did you raise your own children for the market? Did you raise them for the whipping-post? Did you raise them to be drove off in a coffle in chains?" (p. 453-4). The inclusion of these letters provides a brief glimpse of the rhetorical skills that Loguen likely used in his pro-abolition lectures.

The narrative's appearance in 1859 coincides with increasing anti-slavery agitation prior to the Civil War and depicts an abolitionist's "life-long war for liberty" (p. 379). The text frequently addresses a possible call to arms against slavery: "If our rights are withheld any longer, then come war . . . until our rights are acknowledged or we perished from the earth" (p. 379). Although this rallying cry may have been controversial to a white audience, the text's fictional embellishments increase its sympathetic tone and attempt to make this radical view more palatable. Readers are able to "overhear" theological discussions on Christianity as an inherently anti-slavery religion, arguments for temperance, the opposition of slavery and manliness, and observations of the ways in which slavery negates or injures humanity. Thus, the text becomes both a narrative of J. W. Loguen's actual life experiences and a complex survey of religious and philosophical anti-slavery arguments.

Works Consulted: "Bishop Loguen," in The Christian Recorder, November 30, 1872, in African American Newspapers: The 19th Century, available from Accessible Archives, online database, (accessed September 26, 2007); Loguen, J.W., "The Fugitive Slave Law," in Frederick Douglass' Paper, April 8, 1852, in African American Newspapers: The 19th Century, available from Accessible Archives, online database, (accessed September 28, 2007); Loguen, J.W., "Letter from J. W. Loguen," in Frederick Douglass' Paper, April 6, 1855, in African American Newspapers: The 19th Century, available from Accessible Archives, online database, (accessed September 26, 2007); Milton C. Sernett, "Loguen, Jermain Wesley," in American National Biography Online, online database, (accessed September 26, 2007).

Jenn Williamson

Document menu