Teaching The Quarry in Context

Chapter VI

“A man destined to play an important part in shaping the destiny of young Donald Seaton was Senator James L. Brown, the leading colored citizen of Cleveland….

An honest politician in an era of graft, when men of his race were subject to even greater temptation than politicians of a lighter hue, Brown had served first as a justice of the peace, then as state representative for several terms, and now was a member of the State Senate” (p. 33)
This character is based on Chesnutt’s older cousin, John Patterson Green, born in 1845 in New Bern, North Carolina.
Learn more about John Patterson Green, the first African American U.S. Postage Stamp Agent, by reading his autobiography, Fact Stranger Than Fiction. Seventy-Five Years of a Busy Life with Reminiscences of Many Great and Good Men and Women
“Of the rows of bookshelves, on one side of the room, several were filled with books by colored writers. Their number was surprising- it was long before the day of the New Negro-though in most cases their literary value was negligible.  With the exception of the three great Alexanders- two Dumas and one Pushkin …. There were thrilling stories of escapes from slavery.  The life of Frederick Douglass held a prominent place, George W. WilliamsHistory of the Negro another.… Along with these were novels of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Judge Albion W. Tourgee, the speeches of Wendell Phillips, the poems of Whittier and many another New England combination to anti-slavery literature. Fanny Kemble’s Journal of Life on a South Carolina Plantation was an item Brown valued highly because of its dispassionate and therefore all the more convincing description of commercialized slavery.” (p. 35)
To read Fanny Kemble’s most famous written work, just click on Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation. Read Kemble’s daily journal of the trip “Journey from Philadelphia to Butler Island, Georgia”.
      “Yes they adopted him because they thought he was white, and now they know he isn’t they want to throw him out. I don’t care a damn about them.  It’s the baby I’m interested in. They are white people and can take care of themselves. He is a “nigger,” and God will have to look after him.  I hope He’ll make a better job of it than He has been doing for the race up to date.  Don’t be profane, Jim,” reproved Mrs. Brown, or sacrilegious. As old Sojourner Truth said to Frederick Douglass in his darkest hour, “God still lives.”  (p. 42)
Read Sojourner Truth’s famous speech, “Ain’t I a Woman?” delivered at the 1854 Women’s Convention in Akron, Ohio.
God’s in heaven, All’s right with the world!”  quoted Miss Brown, who knew her Browning and loved him all the better because she had read, in an English biography of the famous poet, that some of his friends maintained that because of his dark complexion and curly hair and the warmth and sensuousness of his poetry, and his West Indian birth and breeding the probability was that he had some Negro blood…It would require a great deal of proof, Miss Brown was certain, to make Americans admit that the great Victorian could be colored. She recalled an article in a critical review in which the writer, a Southern woman and the leading literary light of Jackson, Mississippi, had mentioned that the famous French author Alexander Dumas could not possibly have been colored, for simple reason that no Negro could have written Monte Cristo, or The Three Musketeers.  It was too good to be true about Browning- but the thought was comforting.”  (p. 42)
Interested in learning more about Robert and Elizabeth Browning’s heritage? Read an excerpt from Dared and Done by Julia Markus.
“Senator Brown inquired of Mrs. Glover whether she cared to know the facts about the child’s origin.  She said no, that the doctrine of heredity did not appeal to her, that she believed in the controlling influence of environment.  Colored people, she said, in view of their history, were not in a position to be squeamish about blood and birth” (p. 45).
Chesnutt was interested in the study of sociology and raises the question of Nature vs. Nurture. If you’re interested in learning more about it go to, Nature vs. Nurture.

“Finally she put on her hat and coat, excused herself to her sister, took a street car downtown, through the heart of the city, across the long river bridge, through the business section of the West Side, which, like that of the East Side, abutted upon the river, to Ethel Avenue, in the residential suburb where the Seatons had their home” (p. 47).

The heart of the city refers to Cleveland’s Public Square.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Charles Chesnutt in the Classroom by Adrienne Johnson Gosselin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.