James Monroe Whitfield was born 10 April 1822 in Exeter, New Hampshire.
Little is known about his family and education, except that he had a sister, Elizabeth P. Allen, whose daughter, Annie Pauline Pindell, was a concert singer and songwriter. Some say he was a descendant of Ann Paul, sister of Thomas Paul, an Exeter, New Hampshire, clergyman.
He may have been educated in New York city, and he was “an avowed emigrationist.” He apparently settled in Buffalo, New York where he was employed as a barber, when he was visited by Frederick Douglass, who said of him, “the malignant arrangements of society has chained him in the barber shop.”
In May of 1853 his “America and Other Poems” was published while he was living in Buffalo, New York.
According to ProQuest, he was “a regular contributor to abolitionist journals, whose ironic and accusatory poems such as ‘The Misanthropist’ and ‘America’ anticipate the Black nationalism of later generations.”
The 1860 U.S. Census shows, a man who I believe to be the poet, James Whitfield, living in New Haven, Connecticut, with his wife and three sons. If the ages are correct, this would place the Whitfield Family in New York State from at least 1846-1853, and in Ohio around 1854. James Monroe Whitfield died of heart disease in San Francisco in 1871.
1860 United States Federal Census > Connecticut > New Haven > New Haven Ward 6
James Whitfield 38 M B Barber 2,000 40 [born in ] NH
Frances Whitfield 38 F B Conn
James Whitfield 6 M B Ohio [b abt 1854 Ohio]
Charles Whitfield 14 M B New York [b abt 1846 NY]
Walter Whitfield 11 M B New York [b abt 1849 NY]
His poetry scrutinizes the questions of slavery and freedom. James M. Whitfield was an important part of the first African American literary renaissance. His stirring declarations in verse masterfully combined artistry and acrimony.
And o’er the nation’s wide domain,
Where once was heard the clanking chain,
And timorous bondmen crouched in fear,
Before the brutal overseer,
Proclaim the truth that equal laws
Can best sustain the righteous cause;
And let this nation henceforth be
In truth the country of the free.”
Book of Poetry: “America And Other Poems” [online]
Poem: “To Cinque,” from America and Other Poems.
Hymn: “Written For The Dedication Of The Michigan Street Baptist Church, Buffalo”
Poem: “New Years Hymn”