Solomon Bayley (c.1771—c. 1839) was an African American slave who was born in Delaware. He is best known for his 1825 autobiography entitled A Narrative of Some Remarkable Incidents in the Life of Solomon Bayley, Formerly a Slave in the State of Delaware, North America.
From slavery to freedom
Bayley's birth and death dates were never recorded like many African Americans who lived in America during the 19th century, although some scholars such as Henry Louis Gates, Jr. were able to make rough estimates of his birth and death year. In his autobiography, Bayley quoted that his maternal grandmother was born in Guinea, and was captured and brought to North America in the 17th century. Bayley's writings illustrated how his owner took him to Virginia and after arriving there, he later escaped and returned to Delaware where he was reunited with his wife. In 1799, while he was living in Camden, Delaware, his owner recaptured him. Bayley was eventually able to buy his own freedom for $80. Shortly thereafter, he purchased the freedom for his wife and children. He worked as a farmer after being freed from slavery, although he harbored a desire to enter the Methodist ministry.
A Narrative of Some Remarkable Incidents in the Life of Solomon Bayley, is forty-eight pages in length and is disjointed at times, in part because it is based on correspondence between Bayley and another slave. Despite the episodic nature of the work, Bayley's religious faith and dependence on God are constants throughout. His escape and recapture are covered in detail. In addition to the general outline of Bayley's life, he includes information about his wife, mother, and two daughters who died young.
"The plot line of most of the narrative constitutes a picaresque journey of incredible incidents, all governed by Divine Providence". "The narrative describes a double journey from slavery to freedom, spiritual and physical. Bayley’s rhetorical structure frequently oscillates between an interpretive perspective that is (sometimes in the same paragraph) both African and Western. Bayley’s merging of African and Western belief creates a liminal space for Bayley in which he does not have to abandon one to adopt the other".
Bayley "belonged to the same Methodist church as the man who was attempting to sell Bayley’s wife and infant daughter". Bayley wrote how it was extremely difficult “to keep up true love and unity between him and me, in the sight of God: this was a cause of wrestling in my mind; but that scripture abode with me, ‘He that loveth father or mother, wife or children, more than me, is not worthy of me; then I saw it became me to hate the sin with all my heart, but still the sinner love; but I should have fainted, if I had not looked to Jesus, the author of my faith”.
Slaves using the courts
In the 19th century, African Americans petitioned various levels of government on a variety of issues. When necessary, they even used the courts. Numerous individuals addressed the topics of personal freedom and economic discrimination in their appeals. To explain his thinking about using the legal avenues open to him, Solomon Bayley wrote: "I thought where the law made liberty the right of any man, he could not be wrong in trying to recover it." Bayley threatened to take his master to court for transporting his family out of state and immediately selling them on arrival in Virginia. His firm stance led to an out-of-court settlement and an arrangement to buy his freedom over time. Bayley later purchased the freedom of his wife, Thamar, and his three children (Spence, Margaret, and Leah). Following the path of Solomon Bayley, many others, when their masters violated the law, successfully petitioned the courts to achieve what was rightfully theirs.
- Bayley, Solomon (1825), A Narrative of Some Remarkable Incidents in the Life of Solomon Bayley, Formerly a Slave in the State of Delaware, North America, London: Harvey and Darton. Retrieved 2007-04-17.
- Dalleo, Peter T. (1997), THE GROWTH OF DELAWARE'S ANTEBELLUM FREE AFRICAN AMERICAN COMMUNITY, U.S. Courthouse, Wilmington, Delaware, June 27, 1997. Retrieved 2007-07-13
- Gates, Henry Louis; Higginbotham, Evelyn Hooks, African American Lives, Oxford University Press US, 2004, ISBN 0-19-516024-X
- Newton, J. E. (1997), BLACK AMERICANS IN DELAWARE: AN OVERVIEW, University of Delaware, Wilmington, Delaware. Retrieved 2007-07-13
- Raboteau, A. J. (2002), The African American Witness to the Sacred Gift of Life, a lecture given at the Orthodox Peace Fellowship conference at St. Tikhon’s Monastery, South Canaan, Pennsylvania. Retrieved 2007-04-17.
- Raboteau, A. J. (2005), Survival, Resistance, and Transmission: New Histological and Methodological Perspectives for the Study of Slave Religion, The North Star, Volume 8, Number 2. Retrieved 2007-08-18
- Gates, Higginbotham (2004), p. 59.
- Bayley 1825, p. 1.
- Dalleo 1997, p. 1.
- Bayley (1825), p. 38.
- Bayley 1825, p. 6.
- Newton 1997, p. 1.
- Bayley 1825, p. 17.
- Bayley 1825, p. 18.
- Bayley 1825, p. 27.
- Raboteau 2002, quoted in the lecture
- Bayley 1825,p. 44.
- Raboteau 2005, quoted in the article
- Bayley 1825, pp. 17-18.
- Slavery article by Albert J. Raboteau that includes Solomon Bayley
- WebRoots.org: Nonprofit Library for Genealogy
- American Slavery: Pre-1866 Imprints
- Black History Overview (see 1825)
- A Narrative of Some Remarkable Incidents in the Life of Solomon Bayley, Formerly a Slave in the State of Delaware. London: Harvey and Darton, 1825.