Stop Teaching That Boy! [Georgia in 1832]

This appeared in the April 7, 1832 issue of The Liberator. In addition to its own original articles calling for the immediate abolition of slavery in the United States, William Lloyd Garrison, it’s editor and publisher, often included short stories about slavery from all around the country like the one shown here:

An Interesting Case

With cheeks burning with shame for our country, we copy the following paragraph form the Cherokee Phoenix of the 16th inst:

On last Tuesday, a company of the Georgia Guard visited a school in this place under the care of Miss (Sophia) Sawyer, a missionary under the American Board. It had been understood by then that she had been giving instruction to a little black boy, and teaching him to read the Bible.

Miss Sawyer was warned, by a Sergeant who commanded the Guard, to forthwith desist from teaching the black boy. It appears that at the last sitting of the Legislature of Georgia, an act was passed making it unlawful for any person to give instruction to any black person in the State, under the penalty of a fine of not less than $1000 nor exceeding $5000, and imprisonment until the fine is paid, for every such offence.

Whether Miss Sawyer had ever heard of the existence of such a law, before she took the boy into school, we are not able to say; but it is very likely she never had. She was promised to be arraigned at the next Superior Court in the newly formed county called ‘Cherokee,’ on the fourth Monday of this month, provided she persists in teaching the boy.

A young lady is teaching a poor little black boy to read the bible— the word of him who spoke as never man spoke— and she is forthwith visited by a ruffian Guard, with bayonets fixed, and ordered to desist. This, too, in a land of freedom!— in a country where the Guard has no legal right to remain an hour.

William Lloyd Garrison’s The Liberator was a weekly abolitionist newspaper published in Boston. The paper held true to the founder’s ideals. Garrison was a journalistic crusader who advocated the immediate emancipation of all slaves and gained a national reputation for being one of the most radical of American abolitionists.

About Miss Sophia Sawyer

Sophia SawyerSophia Sawyer, an educator whose calling was to teach the Cherokee, founded the Fayetteville Female Seminary in 1839. This tireless educator was associated with the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions of the Congregational Church.

She was born May 4 or 5, 1792, in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. Little is known of her parents, save for the fact that they were extremely poor farmers who eventually bought a farm in New Hampshire. She never married.

Dr. Seth Payson, a Congregational clergyman from Rindge, New Hampshire, took Sawyer into his home as a housemaid after her parents died and sent her to school.

By 1823, Sawyer had applied to be a missionary teacher with the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions and was teaching in a Cherokee Indian mission school in Georgia. For the next fourteen years, she taught in missions with the Cherokee, first in Tennessee and then in Georgia.

Sawyer was zealous and uncompromising in her mission as a teacher. She broke the law in Georgia by teaching two African-American slaves owned by Cherokee. Although other educators had been jailed in Georgia for the same offense, Sawyer escaped arrest by telling the soldiers who came for her that, since she was on Indian territory, she would obey only Indian laws.

Read more about Sophia Sawyer (1792–1854) here.

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