REASON, PATRICK HENRY (1816-1898), engraver, lithographer, abolitionist, and fraternal order leader.
He was born in New York City, one of four children of Michel and Elizabeth Melville Reason; Patrick was baptized on April 17, 1816, as Patrice Rison. His father Michel Rison was from St. Anne Island, Guadeloupe, and his mother Elizabeth Melville from Saint-Domingue. Patrick's young sister Policarpe died in 1818 at age four. His brother Elver (or Elwer) did not attain the prominence that Patrick or his brother Charles Lewis did. All three brothers received their early education at the New York African Free School, established on Mulberry Street by the New York Manumission Society. Patrick's ability as an engraver was recognized at age thirteen when he made an engraving of the New York Africa Free School which was printed as a frontispiece for Charles C. Andrew's History of the New York African Free Schools…(1830).
In 1833 Patrick Reason, with the consent of his mother (his father having died), was apprenticed for four years to Stephen Henry Gimber "to learn the art, trade and mystery of an engraver." Gimber was to pay Patrick's mother three dollars a week. Two years later Patrick designed a stipple engraving of a kneeling slave in an attitude of prayer with chains hanging from her wrists and the inscription "Am I not a woman and a sister?" It was widely used by abolitionists as frontispieces to their publications, on antislavery broadsides, stationery, and commemorative coins. This design was not original with Reason. A figure of a chained kneeling slave, in similar position and attitude with the motto "Am I not a man and a brother?" was designed in October 1987 for a seal used by the English Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. It was influential in kindling antislavery sentiment in Great Britain, and with its direct and pathetic appeal was no less an inspiration to American abolitionists.
Reason's interest in portraiture began in 1835 when he made a stipple engraving of the likeness of Granville Sharp which was printed as a frontispiece for A Memoir of Granville Sharp (1836) by Charles Stuart. Reason based his engraving on an engraved portrait of Sharp by T. B. Lord of London.
For the next fifteen years Reason's portraits and designs appeared as frontispieces in slave narratives, in books such as Lydia M. Child's The Fountain for Everyday in the Year (1836). Thoughts on Slavery Written in 1774 by John Wesley (reprinted in 1839 by the American Anti-Slavery Society), and in periodicals. An excellent engraving of a slave, James Williams, was published in 1838. On April 12 of that year Reason's business card in the Colored American (p. 47) advertised that he was a "portrait and landscape Engraver, Draughtsman and lithographer." The U. S. Magazine and Democratic Review printed three excellent engravings by Reason to accompany biographies in the periodical. One, his well-executed portrait of Benjamin Tappan, an antislavery Ohio senator, appeared in the issue of June 1840 (p. 540). The editor noted that it was "a faithful representation of the strongly marked and intellectual countenance of one who has been styled by a contemporary—'the venerable patriarch of the Ohio democracy.' It presents him to the eye as he now daily appears amid the exciting scenes of the American Senate, calm, collected and attentive with the apparent self-possession of one not unconscious of superior strength: Reason had used a painting of Tappan by Washington Blanchard as a model. A copy was published in the Dictionary of American Portraits (1967, p, 609) . Reason engraved another portrait of a younger Benjamin Tappan, made from a daguerreotype. Lewis Tappan paid Reason $70 to make a steel engraving of his brother Benjamin and on July 11, 1840, Tappan wrote to Reason that the Tappan family was pleased with the portrait and that the "anti-slavery cause would be advanced if it were known that a Negro was capable of such craftsmanship." He added that "perhaps it will be best to wait until you have engraved two or three more before the secret is out.:
Reason's line and stipple engraving of the prominent lawyer and diplomat George Mifflin Dallas appeared in the February 1842 issue of the U. S. Magazine and Democratic Review. Since no statement indicates it was engraved after a portrait, Reason may have both drawn and engraved it. Another portrait by Reason published in the June 1844 issue contained an engraving of Robert Adrian, the mathematician, after a painting by Ingraham. It carried the statement that it was engraved by Patrick Henry Reason and signed by Adrian.
Other engravings by Reason include a portrait of the Rev. Peter Williams, Jr., rector of St. Phillips Church in New York City, deposited for copyright on Aug. 28, 1841.
While he lived in New York Reason completed a line and stipple engraving of the Rev. Baptist Noel, member of the London Emancipation Society, and of the Rev. Thomas Baldwin made for the Baptist Memorial, the portrait of Henry Bibb used as a frontispiece for the Narrative of the Life and Adventure of Henry Bibb (1850), and the engraved copper nameplate for the coffin of Daniel Webster, who died on Oct. 24, 1852.
Reason's treatment of groups is seen in his copper-plate engraving of a certificate of membership in the Masonic order, an original conception of the Faith, Hope, and Charity composition showing Charity surrounded by her children, and a certificate of membership in the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows. The New York Public Library also has a copper-plate engraving of a mountainous landscape after a drawing by W. H. Bartlett, supposed to represent Balboa ascending the mountains. James A, Porter state that this "meticulous work shows Patrick Henry Reason attained great skill in representation of minute gradations of value" (unpublished notes).
During the New York draft riots in 1863 the merchants organized a committee for the relief of colored victims. The Rev. Henry Highland Garnet, who had been asked to aid in the work, wrote an "address to the Executive Committee of merchants for the Relief of Colored People," which was presented to them on Aug. 22, 1863. This acknowledgment was "elaborately engrossed on parchment and tastefully framed by Patrick Reason, one of their own people."
At one time, Reason worked for the New York publishers, Harpers, as an engraver preparing map plates, and for a New York firm as engraver of plates for printing banknotes. According to Martin R. Delany, he also frequently did government engraving.
Since white engravers refused to work with him, firms often refused to hire him and his name appeared in the New York City directories from 1846 to 1866 as a "col'd" engraver.
Reason married Esther Cunningham of Leeds, England, on June 22, 1862. In 1869 he left New York with his wife and young son Charles and went to Cleveland, where he had been invited to work as an engraver with several firms. For more than fifteen years Reason worked with the jewelry firm of Sylvester Hogan, a wholesale and retail dealer in fine jewelry and silver plate. The Cleveland Directories listed Reason as an engraver until 1899.
Reason was a member of the New York Philomathean Society, organized in 1830 for literary improvement and social pleasure. He, James Fields, and other members, feeling the need of an organization for mutual protection in case of sickness and death, decided to form their society into an Odd Fellows Lodge. They petitioned the International Order of Odd Fellows for a dispensation on behalf of the Philomathean Society, but their application was refused. The[y] were, however, granted a dispensation from Victoria Lodge No. 448 in Liverpool of which Peter Ogden, a New York Negro, was a past grandmaster, and it because on March 1, 1843, Philomathean Lodge No. 646, New York. On Feb 29, 1844, Philomathean No. 646 was formally authorized to institute Hamilton Lodge No. 710, New York, with which Reason was affiliated. He designed and engraved the first certificate of membership for the Odd Fellows. Reason was the composer of the Ruth degree, the first "degree to be conferred under certain conditions on Females" by Hamilton Lodge No. 710, New York, and he was the first person invested with this honor. A subcommittee conferred the degree on him as the founder on Aug. 23, 1858. Reason did much to develop the secret ritual of the order, devising a better system of signs, grips, and words. As past grand master he was the orator at some of the order's annual meetings. At the meeting of Sept. 4, 1856, in Broadway Tabernacle, New York, his speech was said to have been the finest given up to that time (Odd Fellows Journal, Oct 21, 1920; Nov. 18, 1921).
The souvenir program and Jubilee Celebration Booklet contain facsimile reproductions, from the minutes of Hamilton Lodge No. 710; dated Feb. 25, 1847, and March 9, 1848, they are all in the painstaking and beautiful handwriting of Patrick Reason whose name appears subscribed as permanent secretary.
Reason was also active in the New York Masons. He was grand master from 1862 to 1868, and grand secretary from 1859 to 1869. In 1862 Baron du Bulow of France on his visit to the United States conferred the Thirty-third Degree of Masonry on Reason. On Bulow's second visit to American in1864 he organized a Supreme Council of Colored Americans whom he had earlier created Thirty-third Degree Masons under a Commission as sovereign grand inspector general of the Supreme Council of France. Upon learning that colored brothers were refused recognition by the white brothers, he obtained a special patent and organized a Supreme Council for the States, Territories, and Dependences with Reason, then most worshipful grand master of Masons for the State of New York, as the presiding officer. Reason was grand master in New York from 1861 ro 1867.
As a youth Reason was interested in the educational, social, and economic situation of the Negro. He was an intelligent and able lecturer on behalf of his people. At the age of twenty-two Reason, as president of the Phoenixian Literary Society of New York City, addressed its anniversary meeting on "The Philosophy of the Fine Arts" (July 4, 1837). His speech was reported in newspapers "as well-delivered and showing a talent and research and a thorough knowledge of the subjects full of sound reasoning and historical references." In the fall of the same year he was an active member of a committee appointed to arrange a public meeting to honor James McCune Smith on his return from a successful educational trip in Europe. During this time Reason also gave evening instruction to individuals and groups in "scientific methods of drawing." In 1838 he was awarded the first premium (prize) for India ink drawing at the Mechanics Institute Fair. At the annual meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1839, Reason signed a protest "against the principle, assumed by a majority of persons representing said Society at its present meeting that women have the right of originating, debating and voting on questions that come before said Society and are eligible to its various officers." (Weekly Advocate, Feb. and Sept. 1837; Emancipator, May 23 and Sept. 26, 1839, p. 87).
Interest in education, Reason served as secretary of the New York Society for the Promotion of Education Among Colored Children, organized and incorporated on Dec. 7, 1847, because separate colored schools were neglected and in some instances closed. Subject to the supervision of the city's board of education, the society had authority to open and manage nonsectarian schools for colored children; two were opened in 1848. Reason participated in the Albany Convention of Colored Citizens in 1840, serving on six important committees. On perhaps one of the most important, he served with Charles B. Ray, James McCune Smith, Theodore S. Wright, and Phillip Bell to draft a reply to derogatory remarks concerning Negroes made by Secretary of State John C. Calhoun to the British minister to the U. S. in April 1844 relative to the revolt of slaves on board the Creole. At a mass meeting in New York Negroes empowered a committee to draft a reply, which was written by Smith and forwarded as a memorial to the U.S. Senate.
Patrick Henry Reason died in Cleveland on Aug. 12, 1898, after a long illness of carcinoma of the rectum. Funeral services were held at his home, 162 Dunbam St., with burial at Lakeview Cemetery, Cleveland. His wife, whom he married in 1862, Esther Cunningham of Leeds, England, and a son Charles L. Reason survived him (Cleveland Gazette, Aug. 20, 1898, p. 2).
The most useful sources about Patrick Reason were "Indenture, Patrick Reason" (1833); Charles C. Andrew's History of the New York African Free Schools in the City of New York (1830); Charles Brooks's The Official History and Manual of the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows in America (1871); the Cleveland City Directories (1869-1898); New York City Directories (1846-1866); Henry Highland Garnet's A Memorial Discourse Delivered in the Hall of the House of Representatives (1865, p. 59); William H. Grimshaw's Official History of Masonry Among the Colored People of America (1908, pp,. 130, 348); James A. Porter's Modern Negro Art (1943, pp. 35-38, 156, 175); The Colored American (April 12, 1838, p. 47; Sept. 22, 1838, p. 123) Emancipator (May 23, 1839, p. 14; Sept. 26, 1839, p. 87). The indenture is in the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University, and the record from Register of Baptism and Record of Marriages, Church of St. Peter, N.Y., is in the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York City. — Dorothy B. Porter
Information courtesy of Constance Porter Uzelac, Executive Director, Dorothy Porter Wesley Research Center, Inc.