"A Gentleman of Superior Cultivation and Refinement": Recovering the Biography of Frank J. Webb.
Yet, although the book tantalizes us with a few bits of information about its author, we know very little about Frank J. Webb. The prefatory materials assure us that Webb was a free Black Philadelphian, and the novel itself shows that he was well-read and had a strong sense of literary conventions. Indeed, though scholars have criticized the novel's craft, this first novel by a seemingly unpublished writer shows a surprisingly keen sense of the possibilities and limits of the genre of sentimental fiction and of novels generally. The book also shows that Webb was well-educated--not only in Anglo-centric history, but also in a PanAfricanist sense of Black history (a portrait of Toussaint L'Ouverture looms large in key scenes, for example). And perhaps most importantly, the book suggests that Webb was an astute participant/observer of the complexities of free Black life in the North, perhaps as much an anthropologist as a polemicist. But however intriguing, this information is severely limited.
Reid-Pharr's brief biographical discussion of Webb, like Arthur Davis's introduction to the 1969 Arno Press reissue of The Garies (enlarged slightly in his "The Garies and Their Friends: A Neglected Pioneer Novel"), contains great gaps and some significant errors. Building from original archival research as well as on the pioneering work of Allan Austin and Phillip Lapsansky, this essay starts to fill in these gaps by beginning to sketch out the life of Frank J. Webb, suggesting the multiple contexts surrounding his life, and identifying areas of his biography about which further research could be especially valuable. I suggest, further, that, although The Garies is an important part of Webb's long dialogue with Black nationalism, it is only a part. I begin to offer groundwork that shows that Webb was defining and revising a Black aesthetic in his writing and, more importantly, that he was living that aesthetic--attempting to build a business and work within a frame of "racial uplift" in the 1840s, working wi th Harriet Beecher Stowe and then setting aside Stowe in favor of British abolitionists in the 1850s, considering a kind of "colonization" in Jamaica at the end of the 1850s, leaving Jamaica to return to the U.S. to work for the Freedmen's Bureau in the 1860s, publishing alongside Frederick Douglass and Martin R. Delany in the New Era at the beginning of the 1870s, and leaving the North for the West in the 1870s and 1880s. Thus I argue, by implication, that our specific understanding of The Caries and Their Friends and our more general sense of the multiple histories of Blackness in the nineteenth-century United States can be better informed by delving into Frank Webb's biography.
Given the relative commonality of Frank Webb's name--and the fact that he did not always list his middle initial and sometimes went by Francis--some biographers have tended to confuse him with others named F. Webb, Frank Webb, Francis Webb, etc. The author Frank J. Webb is not, for example, as some critics (including Reid-Pharr [xiv]) have asserted, the Francis J. Webb who worked as an agent of two short-lived Black newspapers, Freedom's Journal and Rights for All and lived in Philadelphia in the 1820s (1820 U.S. Census), although, as Lapsansky points out (35), this Francis Webb could be the father of the author Webb. The Frank J. Webb who wrote The Garies was born in the Philadelphia area in the late 1820s--most probably, based on collation of the four records that list his age, in the Summer of 1828 (1850, 1870, and 1880 U.S. Censuses; Passenger Lists of Boston).
We know little about Webb's family. The one record that mentions his parents notes that his father was born in Virginia and his mother in Pennsylvania (1880 U.S. Census). A brother (or paternal cousin) married Annie Woods, the only sister of Mary Virginia Woods Forten (1816-1840), Charlotte Forten Grimke's mother.  Ties such as this--Frank Webb visited the Forten family several times in the 1850s--provided a connection to the most prominent Black circles in Philadelphia. Thus, while we also know little about Webb's childhood, it is clear that, by early adulthood, he was well-connected in Philadelphia's Black community. He also seems to have been well-read and well-spoken. Lapsansky, for example, notes that in 1854 Webb gave a lecture on "The Martial Capacity of Blacks" to members of "a later formed literary and debating society, the Banneker Institute, composed of some of black Philadelphia's brightest young men..." (36). Frederick Douglass's Paper also contains a rather cryptic account of a March 20, 185 4, Anti-Colonization and Anti-Nebraska meeting held at the Philadelphia Institute in which, "during the absence of the Committee, Mr. Weir made some remarks in regard to the course of Francis J. Webb, as published in a Colonization paper at Norristown. Mr. F. J. Webb rose to defend himself, but the Committee returned, interrupting him" (4). To understand fully Webb's early life, I would suggest, we need to know a great deal more about what he said in such venues, especially given that the second seems to flirt with colonization (perhaps within a Black nationalist framework).
Frank Webb and Mary (maiden name as yet unknown) married in 1845 and settled in Philadelphia, according to a biographical account of Mary written by Frank for the British edition of Harriet Beecher Stowe's The Christian Slave (ii).  Both--with Frank appearing as "Francis"--are listed in the 1850 U.S. Census of the South Mulberry Ward of that city. Frank is listed as a 22-year-old native Pennsylvanian, and Mary as a 21-year-old Massachusetts native; both are marked with an "M" for mulatto. Webb's sketch says that they "engaged in business in Philadelphia, where they enjoyed the regard of a large circle of friends" (ii). Pointing to Philadelphia city directories published between 1851 and 1854 that list Frank as a "designer," Lapsansky has speculated that he was "a commercial artist in the printing trade, the same occupation Charlie Ellis finally secures" in The Garies (35), but the 1850 U.S. Census listing of Webb's occupation as "clothing store," suggests that the label designer is more likely related to tailoring. The lack of an amount in the "value of real estate owned" column suggests that Webb was renting a shop or, more likely, working for someone else.  The placement of Frank Webb in the clothing business is supported by another listing in the 1851 McElroy's directory of Philadelphia for a "Webb[,] Mary, trimmings, 120 N 9th" (448; out of alphabetical order), the same address at which Frank Webb is listed--as Francis J. Webb--in two of the directories that identify him as a designer (McElroy's 1851: 448; McElroy's 1852:464).
Webb's biography of his wife notes that his business failed around 1854, and Mary, who had always shown "elocutionary talent," made her debut giving public readings in April of 1855 in Philadelphia and performed again in May in Boston (ii). She quickly came to be referred to as "the Colored Siddons" or "the Black Siddons," after British actress Sarah Siddons. Amid Mary Webb's early successes, Frank suffered another significant setback. Having secured letters of recommendation for work in Rio de Janeiro from several "highly respected gentleman"--among them, Edward Kent (1802-1877), a Whig who served two terms as Governor of Maine and was U.S. Counsul to Rio de Janeiro between 1849 and 1853 --Webb secured passage to Rio on board the Sam Slick, which was to sail from Philadelphia on September 22, 1855 ("Disgraceful Conduct"). Apparently, the lighter-skinned Mary Went to the ship's captain (a Captain Mayo), who, when he "discovering that she had some African blood in her veins, wished to know whether Mr. Webb was as dark colored as herself"; when Mary replied that "his complexion was somewhat more brown that her own," the "brutal captain" denied Frank's passage, asserting that "there is some damned abolitionism about this." This left Frank to wait "for some other opportunity (near or remote, as the case may be) to procure" passage to Rio; apparently, the Webbs could not afford to wait ("Disgraceful Conduct"). 
Mary recommenced her public readings, which had initially included selections from Shakespeare and Sheridan, and soon added selections from Longfellow. In the summer of 1855, Harriet Beecher Stowe dramatized part of Uncle Tom's Cabin under the title The Christian Slave, "expressly for the readings of Mrs. Mary E. Webb"; Mary gave more than a dozen public readings of this text across the North in late 1855 and early 1856, before leaving for a British tour in May 1856.  Frank Webb accompanied her on both the U.S. and British tours. Although we do not yet fully know how Frank saw Mary's success, from the comments in his biographical introduction--written after the U.S. tour, but prior to the British tour--he seems to have seen it as a step within the process of securing Black equality in which he was engaged his whole life. He writes, for example, that Mary's success "will prove that the right which has been demanded for us, by the friends of our race, to stand side by side with our fair-skinned oppressors" is well deserved (iii).
Mary Webb's success in England was greater than it had been in the U.S. Armed with letters of introduction from major abolitionists--including one from Stowe that called Mary an "unequaled" example of "what the race is capable" of and Frank "a gentleman of superior cultivation and refinement"--the Webbs entered the highest echelons of British society.  In part because of Stowe's promotion, Mary Webb did several readings in British venues, including one at the home of the Duchess of Sutherland which received a glowing notice in the Illustrated London News. And while Stowe at one point complained of how difficult it was to shepherd the Webbs through British society (see Hedrick 250). all other evidence suggests that Mary Webb became quite capable of securing her own engagements and that the Webbs were welcomed by many British nobles with open arms. Mary Beecher Perkins, Stowe's sister who accompanied her to Great Britain, for example, noted that the Webbs were "very nicely established in Portman Place," tha t Mary was "very successful," that the Webbs were "here in high feather intimate with dukes & duchesses & lords & ladies without number," and that "it would have made a southerner gnash his teeth to see the attentions she [Mary Webb] rec'd [from] Lord Shaftsbury, Lord Clarendon, Marquis of Lansdown, Lord & Lady Hatherton & others ... all treating her with marked attention." Indeed, it seems that the Webbs did some of the shepherding. In a letter tentatively dated July 12, 1857, Perkins writes that "we saw the house of Lords & the commons in session--being introduced by Lord Hatherton a friend of Mrs. Webb," and an undated letter in the Stowe collection from Lady Hatherton to a "Mrs. Webb" outlines the possibility of Lord Hatherton's showing an unnamed group of Webb's friends around the House of Lords.
It seems likely that this was the time during which Frank wrote most of The Garies; at the very least, Lapsansky is probably correct when he says that, "while Frank may have been working on his novel for some time, he probably wrote the bulk of it during his enforced leisure after his business failed" (36). The first known mention of the novel comes in a letter from Perkins to Catherine Gilman, which the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center has tentatively dated October 23-26, 1856. In the letter, Perkins writes that "Mr. Webb has written a story & we hope it will take." 
Stowe's willingness to preface the novel and especially the Webbs' ties to the British nobility--the novel is dedicated "by her kind permission" to Lady Noel Byron and contains an approving preface from Henry. Lord Brougham--undoubtedly aided Webb in securing publication, and the novel was published in late 1857 by the London firm of G. Routledge and Company. As Lapsansky notes, "though the book was well received in England" and "though the publisher ... had a distribution network" in the U.S. (including a New York imprint), scholars have not yet found record of any significant American response (28).
Stowe's preface may contain some clues about why and how this happened. She notes, for instance, that "the author takes pleasure in recommending this simply and truthfully-told story to the attention and interest of the friends of progress and humanity in England" (xx; italics mine). Designing the text for British sale would certainly have made sense; the Webbs were well-connected there, and, as Lapsansky notes, because The Garies was technically "not an antislavery novel" but rather "an anti-racist work" set in the North, American audiences--especially white audiences--might have had difficulty with it.  Regardless, the Webbs did not stay in Great Britain for long after the novel's publication. As the National Anti-Slavery Standard reported, Mary's health declined significantly during her time in England--she suffered from consumption--and Mary was "compelled entirely to suspend her public readings" and spend several months in the South of France on orders from a doctor (3).
In part because Mary's health "rendered a residence in a warmer climate necessary," the Webbs' British friends worked to secure Frank an appointment in the Post Office of Kingston, Jamaica (3). Webb apparently wrote home to apprise family and friends of this development. Grimke's March 1, 1858, diary entry, for example, notes that "Mr. F. Webb has received an appointment as postmaster in Jamaica" (289). The Webbs did stop in the U.S. prior to Frank's taking the appointment; they arrived in the U.S. on March 1, 1858, aboard the steamer America (which ran from Liverpool to Boston).  The Webbs' arrival was duly reported in the Liberator and the National Anti-Slavery Standard, which noted, in an implicit allusion to the Sam Slick incident, that the Webbs "received the warmest kindness ... at the hands of Capt. Moodie, and all of the officers and persons attached to the ship" and that they noticed "a marked change for the better in the deportment of the American passengers, as compared with the former experie nces of many of their friends in like circumstances" (3).
The Webbs spent most of March in Philadelphia, visiting often with the Fortens. Grimke notes, for example, that she saw "the very refined and lady-like" Mary on March 18, and that on March 22, in a semi-private gathering of close friends ("several other Abolitionists"), Mary, who she called "a particular genius," read "beautifully" from Stowe and Longfellow (293, 295). Frank showed pictures of the Duchess of Sutherland, Lady Byron, and the Black actor Ira Aldridge (295). The Webbs left Philadelphia on March 26, with plans to sail to Jamaica on March 28.
The move to Jamaica apparently was not enough to revive Mary Webb's failing health, and she died there on June 17, 1859. Brief obituaries appeared in London's Anti-Slavery Reporter, the National Anti-Slavery Standard, and Douglass's Monthly. Without Allan Austin's valuable research, we might have lost Frank Webb's trail after Mary's death--with the exception of his brief work with the Washington, D.C.-based Black weekly newspaper The New Era. Austin, though, was able to place Webb in Jamaica until about 1869, to note his marriage to a native Jamaican named Mary Rodgers, and to place the Webb family in Texas after 1870 (2796).
Considerably younger than Frank, Mary Rodgers was born to Jamaican parents in November 1845 (New Orleans Passenger Lists for 1872; 1880 U.S. Census). Webb and Mary Rodgers Webb had four children while in Jamaica: Frank R., born in August 1865; Evangeline M. L., born in October 1866 ; Ruth R. M., born in December 1867; and Clarice M. O. (sometimes referred to as Clarissa), born in March 1869. Both of the "R" initials seem to stand for Rodgers.
Frank Webb could not have chosen a more fascinating time to live in Jamaica. Subsequent to the effective abolition of slavery on the island in 1838, Jamaica had been struggling with its racial identity; as Samuel Hurwitz and Edith Hurwitz write, "those free people of color who had, over the years, acquired both education and wealth continued to be shut out from equal social relationships with white society" while poorer (and often darker-skinned) free people of color often simply became even poorer. When a series a droughts and subsequent food shortages overtook an island already beset with racial strife and unemployment in the 1860s, the government--especially Lieutenant Governor and then Governor Edward John Eyre--rather than dealing with the problems, ignored them. An open rebellion against Eyre broke out in Morant Bay in October 1865, and was quickly and harshly put down. But by the next year, Jamaica had a new governor, a new Constitution, and a new direction. 
Webb apparently moved back to the U.S. sometime in 1869, but his family stayed behind in Jamaica. Webb is listed in the 1870 U.s. Census as living in a boarding house with several other African Americans in Washington; his age is erroneously listed as 44, but his middle initial, race, place of birth, American parentage, and literacy are all correct. Most intriguingly, Webb's occupation is listed as "clerk." Boyd's directory of Washington, which lists Webb as boarding at "1153 17th NW" and marks him with a "[c]" for "colored" tells us that he was clerking for the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands--better known as the Freedmen's Bureau (384 1/2). Future research in the Freedmen's Bureau's massive archive should give us a better idea of just what Webb did there, but we know from the work of several historians that, by 1869, the Bureau was in decline (it was abolished in 1872).  Still, many of the Bureau's employees, especially its African American employees, saw the same nobility of mission t hat the Bureau's creators--especially the American Freedmen's Inquiry Commission (Samuel Gridley Howe, James McKaye, and Robert Dale Owen--all longtime abolitionists)--envisioned; that is, they hoped for "a permanent transformation of the condition of the emancipated slaves" and simultaneously, although not directly, a permanent transformation of the treatment of race in the U.S. (Foner 69). 
It was during this time that Webb had a brief relationship with The New Era, which billed itself as "a Colored American National Journal" and began publication in January of 1870 under editor J. Stella Martin (Bullock 53). Webb's contributions to the paper--two novellas ("Two Wolves and a Lamb" and "Marvin Hayle"), three articles on racial prejudice, and two poems--were all published between January and April of 1870. The last installment of "Marvin Hayle," which appeared in the April 21 issue, was his final publication in the newspaper, which corresponding editor Frederick Douglass took over later in 1870 and renamed the New National Era. The relative synchronicity of Webb's withdrawal from The New Era and Douglass's greatly expanded role with the paper should give us some pause, especially when we note that Douglass's coverage of Mary Webb's readings was amazingly scant when compared with that in other abolitionist periodicals and that he never seems to have mentioned The Garies. Hopefully, further researc h will uncover the relationship--or lack thereof--between Webb and Douglass.
Of Webb's New Era work, the novellas have received the most critical attention. However, that fairly scant attention has generally taken the form of cursory dismissals, in part because both novellas deal with upper-class white life in London, Paris, and Cannes and have no significant Black characters, and in part because, as Phillip Lapsansky notes of critics of The Garies, contemporary critics of the novellas confuse Webb's "acceptance of American middle class values with the lack of black identity and culture" (29).  But, as Reid-Pharr has begun to demonstrate, the positioning of a specific kind of Black nationalist project in The Caries within the schema of the
American middle class is a political gesture of great import; in many ways, it says, as Douglass did to Stowe, "the truth is ... we are here, and here we are likely to remain" ("Letter to Mrs. Stowe"). Rather than, as pioneering researcher Arthur Davis contends, suggesting an "escape" from the racism around him "through travel and writing romantic high society stories" (29), Webb's placement of two novellas of cultured, high-society, white European life in a paper boldly subtitled "a Colored American National Journal" shows that a Black writer and Black readers can claim these subjects while--and, indeed, as part of--developing a Black consciousness. This certainly seems to be the way in which the editors of the New Era saw the novellas, for they boldly proclaimed in their first issue that they would feature "a well-written ORIGINAL TALE, of considerable interest, by Frank J. Webb, Esq., a colored man, author of the somewhat famous book entitled 'The Garies,' published in London in 1858, with prefaces by Lord Brougham and Mrs. Stowe, and extensively read in England and this country" (3).
Taken in dialogue with one of Webb's New Era poems, "None Spoke a Single Word to Me," which details the speaker's lonely wanderings "midst the throng" of "men and matrons" (2) and, specifically, as Reid-Pharr notes, the denial of "the sign that would mark inclusion into this scene of bliss: 'None spoke a single word to me'" (xvi), the novellas' white focus seems even more clearly radical. As Reid-Pharr notes, this poem calls for an integrated public sphere, even as it and much of Webb's other work call for an emergent, Black nationalist private sphere.
This fascinating combination is expressed especially actively in Webb's New Era journalism in at least two ways. First, in "The Mixed School Question," Webb argues strongly for a level public playing field:
If we are ever to break down entirely the prejudice to color that so sadly obtains among us, we must influence the youth of the nation at that period of their existence, when the heart is unscared by worldly considerations, that mature years and maternal influences are apt to create. The boy or girl who has been outstripped by his colored classmate at school, learns his rival's true worth as well as his own, and the respect he is taught then is not forgotten during lifetime. He sees beneath the colored skin, that repels perhaps another, the merit that excited his boyish rivalry and respect. (1)
Thus, Blacks demonstrating that they can handle "white places"--one thinks of those in the novellas as well as in The Garies--teaches whites to re-evaluate prejudice. Indeed, Webb argues that such exchange can be immensely useful: "It may go rather against the grain to some to have colored teachers for white children, but as the experiment has been successfully tried elsewhere, we anticipate for it here the same pleasant result" (1).
Second, Webb argues, especially in "An Old Foe with a New Face," that an internationally aware Black political consciousness must not be sacrificed by falling for the lies of whites who are unwilling to participate in fully equal exchange. (Such whites, especially Democrats who have seen that "this same long-despised colored man has become a power in the land," tend falsely to say to their "colored friend and brother, how delighted I shall be to make your acquaintance" simply to gain black votes.) Rather, Webb counsels, Blacks need to develop an awareness of how white power functions in the world--"in Russia it is serfdom and the knout," "in Spain a monarchy in opposition to a republic," "in Cuba subjection to Spain and slavery," etc.--and to use this knowledge to aid them in "walking manfully to the polls, depositing an intelligent vote for that party whose friendship for us has been tried." Only by doing this will they see "happy-faced colored children on their way to mixed schools"; only by doing this wil l they see "this 'new era' of our country's history" in which Blacks "have attained the full stature and dignity of American citizens" (1).
We do not yet know why Webb left what must have been a good job--and certainly one tied to the mission of uplift described above--and what seems to have been a rebirth of his career as a writer (the byline to "Marvin Hayle," for example, lists Webb not only as the "Author of 'The Garies'" and of "Two Wolves and a Lamb," but also of "other tales"); hopefully future research will shed light on Webb's move from Washington. Austin places the Webbs in Galveston, Texas, in 1871, says that Webb edited a short-lived radical newspaper while there, and asserts that the Webbs continued to live in Galveston for several years--with Frank working as a postal clerk between 1872 and 1880. The records I have found generally bear this out. Webb is listed in a number of Galveston directories published between 1872 and 1878; in all, he is marked as "col." or "col'd" for "colored," listed as a clerk (sometimes "paper clerk" or "newspaper clerk"), and listed as residing close to the Post Office. However, Webb's family did not joi n him in Texas until at least late 1872; passenger logs from the Moses Rogers, which arrived in New Orleans from Kingston on December 20, 1872, list Mary R. Webb, Frank R. Webb, Evangeline M. L. Webb, Ruth R. M. Webb, and Clarissa M. 0. Webb (New Orleans Passenger Lists for 1872). I have not yet found extant copies of Webb's newspaper.
Webb's reasons for choosing Galveston are hazy at best. Perhaps, like many Americans, he still saw it as part of the mythical West; perhaps he became familiar with Galveston's Black community during his time with the Freedmen's Bureau (about which, the 1870 city directory--after noting under the heading "Public Schools and Colleges" that "the city has none!"-- rather sarcastically says, "erected a good frame building, for the use of the people of color" ). By 1880, Galveston boasted sixteen "colored organizations," including the Grant Rifles, the Lincoln Guards, and a city band (75-77).
Austin says that, after Webb left the postal service, the Webbs continued in Galveston, where Webb worked as a principal and school teacher (1881c.1894) (2796). I have been unable to find record of this; Webb does not appear at all in Galveston directories for 1879-1882. Rather, my research has traced the Webb family to the small city of Columbus, Colorado County, Texas, which is about halfway between Galveston and Austin. The Webb family--now including two additional children born in Texas, Ethelrid (age 5) and Thomas R. (age 2), as well as Mary Rodgers Webb's brother August H. Rodgers (age 30, race "mulatto," birthplace Jamaica, no occupation listed, marked as divorced/widowed) and sister or sister-in-law Sarah A. Rodgers (age 28, race "mulatto," birthplace Jamaica, no occupation listed, marked as married)--appear in the 1880 U.S. Census of Columbus in a home on Crocket Street. All ten members of the household are listed as being in good health, and all who are old enough are listed as literate. The vast m ajority of their neighbors are African Americans. Frank's job is listed as "P0 Clerk Store"; Evangeline, Ruth, and Clarissa (Clarice) are all listed as "scholars."
Colorado County had a large Black population for much of the nineteenth century; according to Bill Stein, in 1860 almost half of the county's residents were slaves, many of whom lived on large cotton plantations (45). Although anti-Black sentiments often ran high, Colorado County's Black community "exerted a powerful political influence over the county" in and after Reconstruction, and served in a range of community, county, and even state offices (47-48). Figuring Frank Webb's dialogue with this rough and tumble county--which was still having prominent gunfights at the end of the nineteenth century--should provide significant ground for future research, especially given Colorado County Black teacher Robert Lloyd Smith's organization of the Farmers Improvement Society in early 1890 with "the intention of bringing 'the American Negro up to a high standard of citizenship'" (47-48). Smith was elected to the state legislature in 1894, setting off a decade of intense white resentment during which a "White Man's P arty" was established (in 1902) that worked, fairly effectively, to disenfranchise Blacks by controlling Democratic party primaries (48-49). If, as Austin asserts, Webb was alive until 1894 and was, as my work with the 1880 census suggests, settled in this area, he would have spent his final years in the thick of yet another conflict over the establishment of a Black nationalist presence in the United States.
While I have been unable to find any record of Frank J. Webb after 1880--including a death record--we have found some tantalizing hints about his two male children (because of marital renaming and the sexist record-keeping of the period, the female children are more difficult to track). First, a Thomas R. Webb, whose age, race, literacy, birthplace, and mother's birthplace match those of Frank and Mary Webb's son Thomas appears in the 1900 U.S. Census of Galveston, Texas.  Working as a delivery clerk, he lodged with a white widow who taught school, E[lizabeth?] Mabson, and her three children. Tracing Thomas back becomes difficult because of the severe damage, bordering on complete destruction, of much of the 1890 U.S. Census; and I have not yet found a record of him after 1900.
Second, both Lapsansky (37) and Penelope Bullock (98) note the two contributions in the A.M.E. Church Review (sometimes titled the A.M.E. Christian Review), the well-established magazine voice of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, in the 1890s by a "Frank J. Webb, Jr." There is some chance that this is the same Frank Webb who is listed as a doctor renting a house in the 1900 U.S. Census of Washington, D.C. This Frank Webb's birthdate, race, and literacy match those of Frank R. Webb, although his birthplace is listed as Washington, and his parents' birthplaces are listed as Maryland. Given the complex position of West Indians in the District, this Frank Webb could have consciously given himself a different birthplace and nationality--claiming to have been born a citizen of the U.S.  Whether or not "Frank J. Webb, Jr.," Dr. Frank Webb, and Frank R. Webb were the same person remains to be proven.
The other trace of Frank R. Webb is equally fascinating. In the copy of The Christian Slave now owned by the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center (full provenance unknown), three ownership markings appear--a signed dedication to the first Mary Webb from Harriet Beecher Stowe, two signatures of M. R. R. Webb, along with the words "particular property," and, very faintly on the rear pastedown, a signature of Frank Rodgers Webb. I have yet to find how Frank J. Webb transmitted this legacy of his first wife to the children of his second, and we are, of course, only now beginning to receive his own complex legacy as we finally delve into his writing and his life.
Eric Gardner teaches American literature and culture, writing, and multimedia studies at Saginaw Valley State University. A University of Illinois Ph.D., he has published essays on Harriet Wilson and Mary Webb, and is doing further research on the Webbs. Gardner wishes to thank Jodie Gardner for her tireless support, and Thomas Zantow, Margaret Mair, Jacqueline McKiernan, Phillip Lapsansky, Nina Baym, and the anonymous readers of this manuscript at African American Review for their generous assistance. The title quote is drawn from Harriet Beecher Stowe's letter of May 24, 1856, to Mr. and Mrs. Edward Baines, and is quoted courtesy of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center.
(1.) For readers unfamiliar with the novel, the parents of the title family, the white Clarence Garie (a planter from Georgia) and the black Emily (a light-skinned former slave whom Clarence has married) move to Philadelphia with the hope of finding a place to raise their two mixed-race children. There, they are embraced by an industrious Black family, the Ellises, and by Mr. Walters, a rich Black real estate speculator. But they find nothing but tragedy in Philadelphia. In the midst of a race riot caused by a white mob, Garie is murdered, and his wife dies giving birth to a stillborn baby, leaving their children to suffer from Northern racism and, in the case of son Clarence, racial confusion. The "friends" in the title thus become complex loci of racial difference-as they include both white "friends," some of whom betray the Garies, and the black Ellises and Walters, who consistently aid them.
(2.) This brother, whose name I have yet to discover, apparently lived until 1887 or 1888, and the couple, who lived in Trenton, New Jersey, had several children (see esp. Grimke 535).
(3.) Webb's introduction notes that Mary was born c.1828/1829 in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Her mother was a fugitive slave and her father a Spanish gentleman of some wealth (i).
(4.) It is, though, certainly possible that Webb held two jobs or that his "designing' work connected the printing trade and the clothing business (fashion plates, for example).
(5.) On Kent, see entries in the Biographical Dictionary of the Governors of the United States, 1789-1978(601-02) and the Dictionary of American Biography (10:343-44).
(6.) This event did not, as Allan Austin suggests, happen in 1858 (2796).
(7.) For Mary Webb's career, see Lapsansky; my "Stowe Takes the Stage: Harriet Beecher Stowe's The Christian Slave"; Susan F. Clark's "Solo Black Performance before the Civil War: Mrs. Stowe, Mrs. Webb, and The Christian Slave"; and my forthcoming work on Mary Webb.
(8.) Stowe's patronage here is worth commenting on; her flirtation with colonization at the end of Uncle Tom's Cabin, return to it after Dred, and her alleged mistreatment of Harriet Jacobs have led us to depict her as a rather stodgy, racist conservative on questions of race. She often was. See, for example, Hedrick passim and Yellin's "Introduction" to Harriet Jacobs's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Still, Stowe went to great pains to aid the Webbs in a variety of ways; as Susan Clark points out, "the writing of a full-length play... hugely surpasses the gifts of clothing, money, and letters of introduction that Mrs. Stowe provided to the many others who sought her assistance" (340). And while I am not so willing to ascribe such fully pure motives to Stowe-Mary Webb may have offered a convenient Black mouthpiece through which she could answer Black critics of Uncle Tom's Cabin-we need to re-evaluate Stowe's patronage of Blacks during the 1850s, especially given her willingness, on top of everything else, to preface Frank Webb's novel of free Black life in Philadelphia.
(9.) On this, cf. Lapsansky 37.
(10.) One need only look at the neglect of Harriet Wilson's Our Nig for proof of this; cf. my "'This Attempt of Their Sister': Harriet Wilson's Our Nig from Printer to Readers."
(11.) The ship's passenger list calls Frank a merchant and lists "West Indies" as the country to which both "currently belong" and "intend to become inhabitants in" (Boston Passenger Lists). Given that the Webbs' return happened in 1858, Brenda Stevenson's and my suggestions that Mary Webb was the "Miss W" who visited with Charlotte Forten Grimke in 1857 may be incorrect (see Grimke 264-65, 268, 270; Gardner 79).
(12.) Webb's remembrance of Stowe and/or Longfellow must have been favorable to permit-or, at least, not unfavorable enough to stop-the naming of Evangeline.
(13.) For instructive introductions to this period in Jamaican history, see Hurwitz and Hurwitz; Richard D. E. Burton's Afro-Creole: Power, Opposition, and Play; Gad Heuman's Between Black and White and The Killing Time; Thomas Holt's The Problem of Freedom; Mavis Campbell's The Dynamics of Change in a Slave Society; and Bernard Semmel's Jamaican Blood and Victorian Conscience. For a white account roughly contemporary with Webb's time in Jamaica, see W. J. Gardner's A History of Jamaica from Its Discovery by Christopher Columbus to the Year 1872. For a discussion of Jamaica with which Webb may have been familiar before moving there, see James Mursell Phillippo's Jamaica: Its Past and Present State.
(14.) Eric Foner's Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877, provides a useful discussion of the Bureau and the circumstances surrounding it.
(15.) Foner, I think correctly, notes, though, that the Bureau's gigantic and hazy mission, its failure to comprehend "the depths of racial antagonism and class conflict in the postwar South," and the presence of a number of whites (and Blacks) who took advantage of their positions in the Bureau for personal gain led to the Bureau's ultimate failure-even though in the years immediately following the Civil War, it accomplished a great deal (170).
(16.) Indeed, one mid-twentieth-century critic, Herbert Gloster, amazingly suggested that Webb may have been white, based simply on the novellas' familiarity with Europe (260).
(17.) This Thomas Webb's father's birthplace is listed as Virginia.
(18.) This seems to be the same Frank Webb listed in Boyd's 1897, 1899, 1900, and 1901 directories of Washington.
Austin, Allan D. "Frank Webb." Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History. Ed. Jack Salzman, David Lionel Smith, and Cornel West. New York: Simon, 1996. 5:2796.
Boyd's Directory of Washington, D. C. for the Year 1870. Washington: Boyd, 1870.
Boyd's Directory of Washington, D. C. for the Year 1897. Washington: Boyd, 1897.
Boyd's Directory of Washington, D. C. for the Year 1899. Washington: Boyd, 1899.
Boyd's Directory of Washington, D. C. for the Year 1900. Washington: Boyd, 1900.
Boyd's Directory of Washington, D. C. for the Year 1901. Washington: Boyd, 1901.
Bullock, Penelope L. The Afro-American Periodical Press, 1838-1909. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1981.
Burton, Richard D. E. Afro-Creole: Power, Opposition, and Play in the Caribbean. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1997.
Campbell, Mavis C. The Dynamics of Change in a Slave Society. Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 1976.
Clark, Susan F. "Solo Black Performance before the Civil War: Mrs. Stowe, Mrs. Webb, and 'The Christian Slave.'" New Theatre Quarterly 13 (Nov. 1997): 339-48.
Davis, Arthur P. "The Garies and Their Friends: A Neglected Pioneer Novel." CLA Journal 13.1 (1969): 27-34.
"Disgraceful Conduct." Liberator 21 Sep. 1855:2. (Rpt. in Frederick Douglass's Paper 5 Oct. 1855: 1.)
"Dramatic Readings by a Colored Native of Philadelphia." Illustrated London News 2 Aug. 1856:121-22.
Foner, Eric. Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877. New York: Harper, 1988.
Galveston City Directory for 1875-76. Galveston: Fayen and Reilly, 1876.
Galveston City Directory for 1881-82. Houston: Morris and Fourmy, 1882.
Gardner, Eric. "Stowe Takes the Stage: Harriet Beecher Stowe's The Christian Slave." Legacy 15.1 (1998): 78-84.
---. "'This Attempt of Their Sister': Harriet Wilson's Our Nig from Printer to Readers." New England Quarterly 66.2 (1993): 226-46.
Gardner, W. J. A History of Jamaica from Its Discovery by Christopher Columbus to the Year 1872. 1873. London: Frank Cass, 1971.
Gloster, Hugh M. Negro Voices in American Fiction. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P. 1948.
Grimke, Charlotte Forten. The Journals of Charlotte Forten Grimke. Ed. Brenda Stevenson. New York: Oxford UP, 1988.
Hatherton, C. A. Letter to Mrs. Webb. Undated. Qtd. courtesy of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center.
Hedrick, Joan. Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Life. New York: Oxford UP, 1994.
Heller's Directory of the City of Galveston for 1870. Galveston: John J. Heller, 1871.
Heller's Directory of the City of Galveston for 1872. Galveston: John J. Holler, 1872.
Heller's Directory of the City of Galveston for 1874. Galveston: John J. Heller, 1874.
Heller's Directory of the City of Galveston for 1876-77. Galveston: John J. Heller, 1877.
Heller's Directory of the City of Galveston for 1877-78. Galveston: John J. Heller, 1878.
Heller's Directory of the City of Galveston for 1878-79. Galveston: John J. Heller, 1879.
Heller's Directory of the City of Galveston for 1880-81. Galveston: John J. Heller, 1881.
Heuman, Gad J. Between Black and White. Westport: Greenwood, 1981.
---. The Killing Time: The Morant Bay Rebellion in Jamaica. Knoxvilie: U of Tennessee P, 1994.
Holt, Thomas C. The Problem of Freedom. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1992.
Hurwitz, Samuel, and Edith Hurwitz. Jamaica: A Historical Portrait. New York: Praeger, 1971.
Jacobs, Harriet. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Ed. with an intro, by Jean Fagan Yellin. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1987.
"Kent, Edward." Biographical Dictionary of the Governors of the United States, 1789-1978. Ed. Robert Sobel. Westport: Meckler, 1978. 601-02.
"Kent, Edward." Dictionary of American Biography New York: Scribner's, 1928-1958. 10: 343-44.
Lapsansky, Phillip. "Afro-Americana: Frank J. Webb and His Friends." Annual Report of the Library Company of Philadelphia for the Year 1990. Philadelphia: Library Company of Philadelphia, 1991. 27-43.
[Martin, J. Stella.] "Prospectus of the New Era." New Era 13 Jan. 1870:3.
McElroy's Directory of Philadelphia for 1851. Philadelphia: A. McElroy, 1851.
McElroy's Directory of Philadelphia for 1852. Philadelphia: A. McElroy, 1852.
Obituary for Mary Webb. Anti-Slavery Reporter [London] 1 Aug. 1859:170.
Obituary for Mary Webb. Douglass's Monthly 2.5 (Oct. 1859): 160
Obituary for Mary Webb. National Anti-Slavery Standard 3 Sep. 1859: 3.
Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at Boston, 1820-1891. Washington: National Archives, 1959.
Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving in New Orleans, 1820-1902. Washington: National Archives, 1958.
Perkins, Mary Beecher. Letter to Catherine Gilman. 23-26 Oct. . Qtd. courtesy of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center.
--. Letter to Thomas Perkins. 5-8 July . Qtd. courtesy of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center.
--. Letter to Thomas Perkins. 12 July . Qtd. courtesy of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center.
Phillippo, Jame's Mursell. Jamaica: Its Past and Present State. 1843. London: Dawsons, 1969.
Semmel, Bernard. Jamaican Blood and Victorian Conscience. Boston: Houghton, 1963.
Stein, Bill. "Capsule History of Colorado County." Nesbit Memorial Library Journal 3.1 (1993): 45-50.
Stowe, Harriet Beecher. The Christian Slave: A Drama Founded on a Portion of Uncle Tom's Cabin.
Dramatized by Harriet Beecher Stowe, Expressly for the Readings for Mrs. Mary E. Webb.
Biographical Sketch by F[rank] J. Webb. London: Sampson Low, Son, and Company, 1856.
--. Letter to Mr. and Mrs. Barnes. 24 May 1856. Qtd. courtesy of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center.
Untitled description of Webbs' arrival in Boston. National Anti-Slavery Standard 13 Mar. 1858: 3. (Originally appeared in The Liberator)
Untitled description of Anti-Colonization Meeting. Frederick Douglass's Paper 7 Apr. 1854: 4.
U.S. Census (1820) of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Washington: Bureau of the Census.
U.S. Census (1850) of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Washington: Bureau of the Census.
U.S. Census (1870) of Washington, D.C. Washington: Bureau of the Census.
U.S. Census (1880) of Columbus, Texas. Washington: Bureau of the Census.
U.S. Census (1900) of Washington, D.C. Washington: Bureau of the Census.
U.S. Census (1910) of Galveston, Texas. Washington: Bureau of the Census.
Webb, Frank J. The Garies and Their Friends. Prefaces by Harriet Beecher Stowe and Henry, Lord Brougham. London: G. Routledge, 1857.
--. The Garies and Their Friends. Intro. Arthur P. Davis. New York: Arno P. 1969.
--. The Garies and Their Friends. Intro. Robert Reid-Pharr. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1997.
--. "Marvin Hayle." New Era 3l Mar. 1870: 4; 7 Apr. 1870: 4; 14 Apr. 1870: 4; 21 Apr. 1870:4.
--. "The Mixed School Question." New Era 27 Jan. 1870: 1.
--. "An Old Foe with a New Face." New Era 10 Feb. 1870: 1.
--. "Two Wolves and a Lamb." New Era 13 Jan. 1870: 4; 20 Jan. 1870: 4; 27 Jan. 1870: 4; 3 Feb. 1870:4.
Wilson, Harriet. Our Nig; or Sketches from the Life of a Free Black. 1859. New York: Vintage, 1983.
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|Publication:||African American Review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2001|
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