John Malvin, Civic Leader (1795-1880)

John Malvin was an influential civic leader who lived in Cleveland from 1831 until his death in 1880. Born in 1795 in Dumfries, Virginia, of a free woman and enslaved father, Malvin apprenticed with his father to learn carpentry and studied reading and writing secretly with a retired slave. In 1827, he moved to Cincinnati where he became an ordained preacher and helped at least five slaves escape to freedom on the Underground Railroad. As he learned that life in the free north was less than perfect, Malvin became an activist against Ohio’s Black Laws. In 1830, Malvin lived with his new wife, Harriet, in her hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, where he was accused of being an escaped slave.

In 1831 John and Harriet moved to Cleveland where he engaged in many occupations including sawmill operator, captain and owner of a canal boat, owner of a lake vessel, carpentry, and occasionally preaching. Throughout his 49 years in Cleveland, Malvin was always involved in civil rights activism, both at the local and national levels. Locally he was instrumental in winning integrated seating in churches, and forming schools for African American children and adults. After purchasing the freedom of his father in law, he helped others in similar ventures.

In 1846 when Cleveland African Americans were invited to join a movement to create a separate black state, Malvin sided with the majority who resolved “the prospects of improvement are brighter here.” He was an advocate against Ohio’s Black Laws until they were repealed in 1849. He was a lecturer for the Ohio state Anti-Slavery Committee and participated in work against Fugitive Slave Laws. During the Civil War, Malvin recruited African Americans for service in the Union, some of whom joined the 55th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment. After the war, he was an advocate for enfranchisement and was active in the Republican Party.

John Malvin Burial
Many of the transformations that occurred during John Malvin’s life were causes for celebration. In 1850 he shared a platform with Fredrick Douglass to commemorate the 16th anniversary of emancipation in the British West Indies. In 1871 he was chairman of a celebration commemorating the 15th amendment. 1n 1876 when Malvin was 81 years old, local citizens held a festival in honor of the emancipation proclamation to benefit “Father Malvin”. The next year his friends gave a testimonial dinner to honor a man who had “labored hard for the elevation of the colored race.” In 1879, John Malvin published his autobiography, North Into Freedom.

John Malvin died on August 1, 1880, and was buried in Erie Street Cemetery. His grave is located north of the large dark monument marked “Barnet.” In the late 1990’s local citizens placed a flat granite marker on his grave. The inscription is taken from his obituary on August 2, 1880, Cleveland Leader: "The eventful career and noble work of a worthy man whose thoughts were of his people, John Malvin, an accomplished educator, ship owner, minister, and carpenter."

Historical Marker

In 2003, the Ohio Bicentennial Commission erected an Ohio Historical Marker honoring John Malvin. It is located at the site of John Malvin’s last home in Cleveland. The present-day address is 2320 East 30th Street, which is two blocks south of Carnegie Avenue, the site of Malvin’s last home in Cleveland. (The pre-1906 address was 391 Sterling Street).The marker was placed in 2003. The Marker Number is 58-18.

John Malvin Historical Marker
John Malvin (1795-1880) was an operative on the Underground Railroad and an ardent member of anti-Slavery and abolitionist causes. Born in Dumfries, Virginia of a free mother and enslaved father, Malvin was apprenticed at an early age to learn carpentry and taught himself to read and write. In 1827, he moved to Cincinnati where he became an ordained preacher and an activist in the cause of freedom. In 1831, with his wife Harriet, he moved to Cleveland where he became a charter member of the First Baptist Church, a sawmill operator, and captain and owner of the canal boat Auburn.

John Malvin Historical Marker
John Malvin later owned the lake vessel Grampus and transported limestone from Kelly’s Island to Cleveland. Malvin was a founding member of the School Fund Society that established schools for African Americans throughout Ohio. He also was an agent for the “Colored American” newspaper, and abolitionist sheet published by African Americans in New York City. As an abolitionist, Malvin personally helped at least 5 slaves escape to freedom in Canada. At the outbreak of the Civil War, he recruited African Americans for service in the Union, some joining the 55th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment.

John Malvin in Cleveland Newspaper Articles

John Malvin was active in many civic issues and celebrations as shown in the articles below. These articles were transcribed from the original newspaper articles. The original articles can be viewed on microfilm of the original newspapers in the Microform Center of the Main Cleveland Public Library.

Education – School Education Society of Cleveland
Education – Forming a unified school board
Education – Forming a school for African Americans
Emigration – Should a separate African American state be formed?
Ohio Black Laws – Celebration of Repeal of Black Laws
West India Emancipation
Fugitive Slave Bill
Family in Slavery – Fundraising to purchase freedom
Against Black Codes – Argument against new Ohio Black Codes
Ohio Anti-Slavery Committee
Elections – Meeting to discuss political issues, June 1867
Elections – Meeting to discuss political issues, July 1867
Education – Thanks for the gifts
Elections – African American Republican Club
15th Amendment
Emancipation Proclamation
Obituary – A Good Old Man Gone to His Reward

Education – School Education Society of Cleveland, Cleveland Herald, December 28, 1839

To the Friends of Human Rights. The members of the School Education Society of the city of Cleveland, are gratified in being able to inform the public, that through their own exertions and the kindness of friends, they have succeeded in opening a school in Miller’s Block for the purposes of teaching all colored persons who wish to receive instruction. The disability we labor under on account of color in obtaining aid from the school laws of the State is known to all – and we therefore, from our own limited means, are reluctantly compelled to ask further aid from the friends of the colored race, in order to sustain the excellent school we have established. Though no recognized as citizens by the laws, we feel that we have duties to society to perform, and among the first is the proper education of our children.

Grateful indeed are we for past assistance, and we urgently appeal to the liberal-minded for further aid in the laudable work of mental and moral improvement. Editors friendly to the education and elevation of the character of the colored people, are respectfully requested to insert this appeal.
By order of the Society,
John Malvin, President;
R. D. Kenney, Secretary
Cleveland, Dec. 7, 1839

Education – Forming a unified school board, Cleveland Herald, July 16, 1842

At a public meeting of the colored people of the city of Cleveland, held on the 14th of June at their School House on Prospect Street. On motion, R. D. Kinney was called to the Chair, and John L. Watson appointed Secretary. It was, after mature deliberation, unanimously
Resolved, That we, the colored people of the city, will for the future support but one school and that shall be governed by a Committee of five, chosen from among the colored citizens of Cleveland.
Resolved, That John Malvin, John L. Watson, S. Griffin, John Brown, and R. D. Kenney be that Committee.
Whereupon, J. L. Watson and John Brown tendered their resignation, which was accepted, and J. Johnson and Thomas Davis were appointed to fill the vacancies.
On motion of John Malvin
Resolved, That the Committee serve one year, and that they have power to fill all vacancies that may occur in the Committee.
At a subsequent meeting of the Committee, John Malvin was unanimously chosen President, Jasper Johnson, Treasurer, and Stephen Griffin Secretary.
The citizens of Cleveland will perceive by these resolutions passed unanimously and with the most perfect good feeling as a large meeting of the colored citizens of Cleveland, that all opposition and contention and division in relation to schools is done away with entirely; and the feel now if necessity should ever require that they can appeal to the benevolence of the citizens of Cleveland, with confidence of success.
R. D. Kenney, Ch’n
J. L. Watson, Sec’y

Education – Forming a school for African Americans, Cleveland Herald, November 30, 1843

Notice — The subscriber wishes to inform the citizens of Cleveland that he will commence a School, in this city, for the benefit of people of color. This School will open on Monday, the fourth of Dec. next, just above High St., near the High St. School House.
Nov. 30.
R. N. Malvin

Emigration – Should a separate African American state be formed?, Cleveland Daily Herald, April 9, 1846

Proceedings of a Meeting
Of the colored citizens of Cleveland on the subject of Emigration.
Tuesday evening, March 17, 1846, a meeting of the colored citizens of Cleveland was held at Liberty Hall, to take into consideration certain propositions expected to come before them touching emigration.
Mr. R. B. Leach was appointed Chairman, and W. White, Secretary.

Mr. Malvin then rose, and stated that the meeting had been called to consider the propriety of adopting some plan of emigrating to some place in North America.

Mr. R. D. Kenny then read a statement in writing, that the colored people of Newark, Ohio, had met and considered the subject, and had come to the conclusion that their condition would be improved by emigrating to some place in the United States, or its territories, or California, and that if they should have their choice, Oregon or California would be preferred. That the plan then agreed upon was, to petition Congress for a grant of land on which the colored people might emigrate, form a government, have the protection of the United States, and wh4en their number should be sufficiently large they should become a state or states, admitted into the Union on an equal footing with the other States, and posses representation in Congress, &c., &c., and that the subject should be brought before the colored people of the United States, and that measures should be taken to call a convention to consider the propriety of petitioning Congress on the subject, &c.

Mr. Malvin moved that the above topics be adopted for the consideration of this meeting. Adopted.
Mr. Kenny then moved that the sentiments of the above be put forth as the sentiments of the colored citizens of Cleveland.

This called out a spirited debate between Messrs. T. N. Davis, F. White, and J. Underwood, against the motion. J. Malvin and J. Williams for the motion.

Mr. Leroy, formerly of Ohio, was then introduced to the meeting. Mr. L. spoke but a few minutes, during which he was listened to with the profoundest attention. He begged the meeting to consider well the importance of the subject under consideration, important to us, to the slave, and to our posterity, so long as there should be a colored man in the country. He asked that the meeting act entirely independent of the influences of the whites; that our acts be such as should savor of intelligence and judgment, and if we could by deliberation ascertain the proper course for us to pursue, that we adopt it.

Mr. John Brown in response to a general call then addressed the meeting at some length and said that he believed that the public propagation of any schemes of colonization inexpedient and greatly detrimental to our best interests, yea, were dangerous, and he hoped that we would have manhood enough to nip it in infancy, any such idle fantasies that might be seeking for a lurking place in our brain.

Mr. J. Bell, and Mr. R. B. Leach, then followed on the same side. Mr. Leach’s speech was replete with facts and arguments in favor of our remaining in this the country of our birth. He presented facts to show that the colonization agitation had done more to create prejudice and distinction between the colors, than all other causes together.

Mr. Malvin next addressed the meeting, hoping that we would let reason and intelligence govern us in our deliberations. He had listened to Mr. L. with great pleasure because he seasoned and presented facts as became men.
On motion, the meeting then adjourned to meet next Friday evening, March 20th.

FRIDAY EVENING, March 20. – The colored citizens met according to adjournment. The question before them was the adoption of Mr. Kenny’s motion. M. J. M. Williams spoke in favor of the motion and was followed by F. White and T. N. Davis, in opposing of the same. Mr. Kenny followed, urging the propriety of calling a Convention, to consider the subject of general emigration.

Mr. Leach followed in a very pertinent speech of fifteen minutes, in which he insisted upon the great impropriety of the colored people agitating any scheme of colonization or general emigration, that it could result in only evil to us, and we should leave it to our enemies to do us this harm; that a few might perhaps be tired of waiting for their rights here, and so feel disposed to colonize, but that many would ever be willing to emigrate or colonize, it would be vain to think. Mr. Leach concluded by moving that a committee be appointed to consider and report resolutions expressive of the sentiments of the colored citizens on the subject. After some discussion, the motion was adopted, and the meeting than appointed W. White, R. B. Leach, John Brown, John Malvin, and R. D. Kenney, as a committee to report on next Tuesday evening, to which time the meeting adjourned.

TUESDAY EVENING, March 24th. – According to adjournment, the colored citizens met to hear the report of the committee. On motion of Mr. Washborn, the report was read. Mr. Kenney asked leave to read a minority report. Granted. It was moved that the minority report be received. Negatived. Mr. Washborn then moved that the report of the majority of the committee be received. Adopted.
Mr. Kenney here complained of some alterations having been made in the report, since the first meeting of the committee. Some slight verbal changes having been made by the committee in their report, after the first meeting, and after they had ascertained that he (Mr. K.) intended to carry in a minority report. Mr. Williams rose to reply to some remarks of Mr. Washborn, and was decided out of order by the chair; at which the minority of the meeting, or those in favor of emigration, took umbrage; and one of their number moved that the minority now retire; and without any action having been taken on the move, M. K. led the way, and was followed by Mr. Williams and R. Martin, these three composing the entire strength of the emigrationists present, as far as could be ascertained, retired from the room.

Mr. John Brown moved that the resolutions reported by the committee be adopted, and put forth as the sentiments of the colored citizens of Cleveland. Adopted.

Gentlemen: Your committee appointed to consider and report resolutions expressive of the sentiments of the colored citizens of this city, on the subject of colonizing or emigrating to some new Territory; have considered the subject as thoroughly as the short time allotted them, would allow. We have in connection considered the proposition of petitioning Congress for a grant of territory, and must confess, taking all things into consideration, judging the future by the past and the present, that we cannot see the least room to hope that we shall be able to obtain any such favors, as those contemplated by the minority.
While some of the states seem disposed to do us justice, we find that Congress is controlled solely by the slave power, and scruples not to trample under foot every principle of right and justice whenever the rights of the colored citizens are concerned. We see the greatest men of the nation, both in and out of Congress, Colonizationists, holding and disseminating the doctrine, that no where under heaven can the colored man be a man but in Africa, the Country of his origin. The Southern and Northern slaveocracy, the bone and sinew of Colonization boldly avow that they want us away from the sight of their slaves; and we would respectfully ask, is it to be expected that they will give us a territory, as it were, in the midst, where their slaves may see our greatness, if great we become, and the world behold the lie they have heaped upon us, in saying we cannot be men but in Africa? We your committee verily think not.

As to Oregon we see it seized and settled by men from slave states. They have formed themselves into a regular government, and among their first acts, was one or more against the colored man, debarring him the privileges of the territory; and compelling him to leave it at his own expanse, or be sold into slavery.

We do not see under these circumstances, that we could peaceably occupy a single foot of land in all Oregon. Some will say that Congress governs the territories, but it does not govern Oregon, nor is Congress ever the place to which to appeal in a dispute about laws. And as to appealing for the rights of the colored man against the slave power. We have seen the first state of the confederacy insulted, her rights trampled upon, and her minister compelled to fly for his life, when she undertook to defend her own rights, because in so doing she had espoused the cause of the colored man. But we, as yet, do not know what portion of Oregon may eventually belong to the United States, as Great Britain has declared that she as rights there which shall be respected.
As to California, the chance of improvement seems to us to be quite as poor as the other. Their wealth, and not manhood, confers political privileges, and on that head we should gain nothing. While we should be liable to be impressed to fight her battles, as that is the way in which armies are kept up. There being almost no such thing as voluntary enlistment. She has too, but a very scanty revenue, and her debts and expenses are paid by heavy and direct taxation, often beyond the citizen's ability to pay. These are grievous evils to which we are not subject here. The absence of markets to dispose of produce on a large scale would deprive us of the main chance to acquire wealth by association, and we can hope for nothing better until there shall be a permanent system of government established. We farther presume that very few of us would be willing to go to California when we know that there is a total absence of religious liberty in all the Mexican Territory.

You, gentlemen, have heard in the debates on this question, sufficient reasons, we presume, why we should not agitate the question of Colonizing ourselves, and on that account we have passed over that part of the subject; and have endeavored here to present you with our reasons for coming to the conclusion, that we never will be able to obtain a territory in North America on the terms contemplated by the minority, and to use a familiar phrase we think the scheme a very “visionary dogma.” WE would go more fully into this subject and present you with arguments, but we presume you have heard from the debates here, sufficient to enable you to come to a rational conclusion.

We therefore, with due respect for the minority who differ with us, and in accordance with the duty assigned us, present the following resolutions for your consideration.

Resolved, That in the present aspect of things, we see no prospect of improving our condition, as a people, by emigration and that the prospects of improvement are brighter here, than we can reasonably hope to make them by emigration.

Resolved, That the subject of Colonization or general emigration was fully canvassed and condemned by the colored people, and their white friends a few years since. That we still deem it false to our friends, treacherous to ourselves and or enslaved brethren to attempt a general emigration of Colonization, particularly now, when we have so much to hope for, from the rapidly growing disposition to do us justice here.

That here, in the country of our birth, we will continue to wage a moral warfare for our rights, trusting in the power of truth, and the Cod of justice, for a final triumph.

That to ask us, to go out from the arts, sciences and civilization to improve, is on a par with sending us to Africa; a country now preeminently unlearned, to become Statesmen, Philosophers, and Sages, and that we can see no difference between the colored Colonizationist and the white Colonizationist, and that we heartily condemn both.

That the agitation of this subject among us now, is putting a new stimulus to oppression in the hands of our enemies, and must tend greatly to throw us back from the improved stand we have attained, and that we have no language too harsh to express our abhorrence of the fostering of this offspring of Slaveocratic Colonization by colored persons.

The following resolution was offered in addition to the Committee’s resolution and adopted.

Resolved, That we disapprove of the Colonization movements commenced by R. D. Kenney and others, in other parts of the State.

Resolved, That the proceedings of this meeting, be published in the papers of the city. Signed by the officers.

The meeting then adjourned sine die.
R. B. Leach, Pres’t
Wm. White, Sec’y

Ohio Black Laws – Celebration of Repeal of Black Laws, Daily True Democrat, Feb. 19, 1849

By the Colored Citizens will take place on Tuesday, Feb. 20th, 1849, as follows: At 2 o’clock 10 guns will be fired. At the same hour the citizens will meet at the Wesleyan Chapel, the meeting to be opened by prayer, from Rev. Dr. Asken, after which addresses by Prof. Tnome of Ohio City and Mr. J. L. Watson. Meeting adjourns at 5 o’clock. 6½ o’clock, P.M. 10 guns. At the same hour the meeting will again convene at Empire Hall and at 7 o’clock a supper will be served up, after which addresses from the Rev. Mr. Kenyon, Mr. Davis and Hon. Judge Hitchcock. Mr. John Brown will deliver the closing speech.
The addresses by Prof. Tnome of Ohio City and Mr. J. L. Watson. Meeting adjourns at 5 o’clock. 6½ o’clock, P.M. 10 guns. At the same hour the meeting will again convene at Empire Hall and at 7 o’clock a supper will be served up, after which addresses from the Rev. Mr. Kenyon, Mr. Davis and Hon. Judge Hitchcock. Mr. John Brown will deliver the closing speech.
The clergy of the city are invited to take supper. The editors of the True Democrat, Plain Dealer, Herald, and Palladium of Freedom, are also invited to the supper.
Tickets to the supper to be had at the door of the Hall on the evening of the supper.
The public are invited without distinction.
Committee: John L. Watson, John Malvin, T. N. Davis, R. Martin, W. Haycock, Geo. Vosburg, John Brown, T. J. Fisher

West India Emancipation – Celebration of emancipation in the British West Indies, Daily True Democrat, July 31, 1850

Mass Convention - CELEBRATION!
The Sixteenth Anniversary of West India Emancipation will be held in this city on Thursday, August First, 1850.
The exercises of the day will be conducted as follows, viz:

The citizens will meet in convention at the Wesleyan Chapel on Euclid street, at nine o’clock A.M., and continue in session until 1 P.M.; and at two o’clock, orations will be delivered on the corner of Bond and Lake streets, by John Gaines of Cincinnati, O.; Joel Tiffany, Esq., of Cleveland; J. M. Langston, of Columbus; J. M. Jones and J. Malvin of Cleveland; and others.

The public is respectfully invited to attend.
By order of the Committee of Arrangements,
H.F.DOUGLASS, Secretary
Plain Dealer and Herald, please copy.

Fugitive Slave Bill – Resolutions against, Daily True Democrat, September 30, 1850

Meeting of the Colored Citizens of Cleveland.
Pursuant to a call the colored citizens of Cleveland met in the African M. E. Church, Thursday, Sept. 19th, to take into consideration the passage of Mason’s Fugitive Bill. – The meeting organized by calling the Rev. T. P. Woodson to the chair, and appointing B. G. Green Secretary. On motion a committee of five was appointed to draft resolutions for the meeting, consisting of Messrs. Van Rankins, Minor, Malvin, Morris and Douglass.

During their absence the meeting was addressed by Messrs. Woodson, White and others. The committee then reported the following preamble and resolutions:
Whereas, We claim that we are native Americans, and are justly entitled to the same protection that is secured to other citizens, who differ only in complexion, and, whereas, our recent Congressional enactment, namely: the passage of Mason’s Fugitive Bill, indicate that slaveholders and their abettors are determined to perpetuate the monstrous crime of human slavery, regardless of the cries and petitions of their outraged victims. And, whereas, It has been an established maxim among the wise and good of all nations, that the reasonableness of the law is the soul of the law, Therefore,

1. That we intend to use all the means which God and nature has given us, in resisting that unjust and unreasonable enactment, and do all that says in our power to battle down the huge walls of that bloody temple, in which is confined the heartbroken millions of our countrymen.

2. That we individually, and collectively, here swear upon the desecrated altars of our liberties, that we would sooner see this nation shattered into a thousand fragments, than quietly submit to any enactment honored by the name law, that would compel us to deliver our oppressed brethren into the hands of their heartless pursuers.

3. That we look upon the passage of the Fugitive Bill as one of the many deeds of villainy and oppression that has characterized this guilty nation from its foundation to the present time.

4. That Massachusetts, Michigan, Illinois and New York will remain forever disgraced, unless they raise us in the spirit of freedom, and hurl those miserable and contemptible tools of the slave power, namely: Webster, Cass, Douglass, and Dickinson from their Senatorial dignities, as unworthy of the suffrage of free people.

5. That we do most deeply sympathize with our most devoted friend, William Chaplin, in his unjust and cruel imprisonment in the Capitol of this Republic, for attempting to deliver from unenduring bondage, four of our unfortunate countrymen.

6. That what is recognized and worshipped as God by slaveholders and their allies in church and state, is not the just and loving Father of man, but is a Demon of injustice, pollution and blood, and is to his worshippers not an incentive to deeds of love and kindness, but an Almighty Apology for the wrongs which they perpetuate upon the slaves; and fidelity to the author of our being, our only lawgiver, Judge and King, demands that we should be atheists to such a God, and as we would efficiently seek the abolition of slavery, we must labor to dethrone in the hearts of the people that God which thus instigated them to perpetuate this “sum of all villainy,” American slavery.

7. That slaves owe no service nor obedience to their masters, and it is our duty to spurn the authority of all books, constitutions and laws that require such service or obedience.

8. That we will exert our influence to induce slaves to escape from their masters, and we will protect them from recapture, whether the kidnapper comes to us as an officer of the government, or otherwise. Laws, usages and religion of the country, not withstanding.

After eloquent speeches by Messrs. Minor, Jones, Milligan and others, they were, on motion, unanimously adopted.
On motion the meeting adjourned.
J. P. Woodson, Pres’t
B. G. Green, Secretary.

Family in Slavery – Fundraising to purchase freedom, Cleveland Leader, July 26, 1855

Pursuant to notice published in the Morning Leader, Herald and Plain Dealer, of Cleveland, a meeting was held at Plymouth Church, Euclid street, to hear the condition of the family of Thos Long, and to take measures to aid him in redeeming them from slavery.
John Malvin, Esq., was called to the chair, and W. J. Alton was chosen Secretary.

C. A. Yancy then stated, at some length, the distressed and perilous condition of said Long’s family. He also read various papers, attested by clerks of courts and justices of the peace, showing that no fraud was attempted to be practiced upon the public.

Mr. C. H. Langston, being invited, then addressed the meeting, showing the evils of slavery and the necessity of making some effort to redeem said family from its clutches. His speech made a good impression.
Mr. John Malvin was then appointed city agent, to aid Mr. Yancy in raising money to be applied to the object stated above; and Mr. Freeman Morris was appointed treasurer of said agency.

By collections in the meeting, and individual solicitations, the amount of twenty-three dollars and sixty-three cents was raised.
The meeting then adjourned.
John Malvin, President.
W. J. Alston, Secretary
Cleveland; July 24th, 1855

Ohio’s Progress Toward Barbarism, Cleveland Leader, July 26, 1855

We recently gave a striking specimen of progress toward barbarism in Virginia, no less than a proposition before the Legislature of the Old Dominion to sell the free negroes of that State into Slavery. The Democracy of Ohio—we are ashamed to record the fact—now propose to take steps in the same direction. A Democratic Legislature at the session of 1848-9, united with the friends of justice and repealed the infamous Black Laws which had so long disgraced our statute books, and the people rejoiced that even for party purposes a good thing had been done. But ten years have wrought changes, and none greater than in the leaders of the Ohio Democracy touching the rights of colored citizens and slavery. The party neck has been bowed lower and lower to the Southern yoke and the back to the lash of the slave-driver, until it is proposed by the Democratic General Assembly of 1858 to enact a law more heathenish in its provisions than any wiped out by the aid of the Democracy ten years ago. A bill has been introduced in the Senate by Mr. Kincaid, the Senator from Clermont and Brown counties, lying on the wrong side of the Ohio river, entitled :A bill to prohibit Negro or Mulatto persons from Immigrating into the State of Ohio,” which provides:

That it shall be unlawful for colored persons to come into the State after June next.
That the township Assessors shall make complete returns of all colored people in each township, to the Clerks, to be recorded in a book, from which a certificate of the record is to be made and given to each colored person in the township.
That when colored persons remove from one ward or township to another, they must get from the Clerk a certificate of their residence, for which they are to pay 25 cents.

That persons inducing such persons to immigrate, shall be fined from $10 to $100.
That any colored person coming into the State after the first of June next, shall be fined from $5 to $50, to be prosecuted before any Justice of the peace, for which they shall be repeatedly prosecuted and fined in the same amount till they leave the State.
That all contracts made with such persons shall be null and void.
That any person employing any negro or mulatto person that may come into this State after the 1st of June, 1858, shall be subject to a fine of $10 to $100.
That prosecutions shall be in the name of the township trustees.
That trustees shall prosecute under the Act, for which they shall be paid $1,50 per day.

Bring this Democratic measure to a home test. Such colored citizens of Cleveland as Messrs. Swing, Henderson, Morris, Hurste, Malvin, Vosburgh, Brown, Leach and others—old, intelligent, industrious, and respectable residents, who own property, pay taxes, vote at elections, educate their children in the public schools, and contribute to build up the institutions, and to the advancement of the prosperity of the city—are by the proposed law to be degraded and treated like plantation slaves, are to be registered like cattle, must carry passes from ward to ward for themselves and families when they remove, and must pay for them to; and if they bring home parents, children, or other relatives residing out of the State, after June 1st, 1858, or even “encourage” their colored friends abroad to reside in the Forest City, they are to be subject of penalties of from $10 to $100, and those relatives and friends who take up their residence here, to harassing prosecutions and fines until they will leave boasted free Ohio.

Try another home test. The African Methodist Church invite a Pastor of like hue of skin from abroad to take charge of the congregation in Cleveland. He accepts and begins his useful labors—this Democratic law steps in and punishes people and teacher, even to the driving of the latter from the State.

Another home test, less serious, but quite as illustrative of the proposed law. After the 1st of June next a colored professor of the tonsorial art from some emporium of fashion East or South, opens luxurious rooms and velvet headrests on Superior street. On the morning of the glorious anniversary of the day which proclaimed “all men free and equal,” our worthy Democratic May, Postmaster, Collector of Customs, District Judge, District Attorney, U. S. Marshal, or some would-be Governor, drops in and “employs” the professor to put him in trim to celebrate respectably. The dime is paid, he steps upon the side-walk, and congratulates himself that “This is a great country!” At the “Fourth of July Dinner” he drinks “To the Day we Celebrate!” –grows more patriotic and drinks “To Universal Freedom!”—and wakes the morning of the 5th with a slight ache where the professor shampooned, and to the realization before a Democratic Justice of the Peace, on information perhaps of a Clermont or Brown county spy and slave-catcher pursuing his vocation on the “benighted Reserve,” that the price established by Democratic law for tonsorial luxuries under such felicitous circumstances is from $10 to $100, and that the professor who so familiarly took him by the nose on the great day of equality and fraternity is elevated to the same Democratic Platform of Justice at precisely one half the cost to the “colored individual,” provided always he will sin no more and leave the State forthwith.

Caucus and pass Kincaid’s bill all means, Democrats of the General Assembly. It will be the tallest as well as the blackest feather ever won and worn by Ohio Solons.
Cleveland Leader, February 9, 1858

Ohio Anti-Slavery Committee – Malvin appointed general lecturer, Cleveland Leader, February 9, 1859

The State Executive Committee met on Monday evening in this city, when speeches were made by several prominent speakers.
At business meetings held yesterday, J. M. Langston, of Oberlin, was chosen President of the State organization, and General Agent; C. J. Langston was elected Secretary. David Jenkins, Columbus, C. H. Langston, Cleveland, Junsford Lane, O. S. B. Wall, Oberlin, J. B. Harris and John Malvin, Cleveland, were chosen general lecturers.

Rooms have been procured in this city, where the permanent offices shall be located.
The Anti-Slavery Festival last night was highly successful.

Elections – Meeting to discuss political issues, Cleveland Leader, June 6, 1867

Colored Men in Politics.
There will be a public meeting held on Monday night next at the Baptist Church, Hudson street, to discuss the political issues involved in the present campaign. It being a matter of especial importance that every colored citizen should have sound and distinct views on the subjects now in agitation, we urge upon them to attend. Several able speakers have promised to take part in the proceedings.

The following names are appended to the call: John Malvin, A. Meddlin, J. H. Hope, H. Parker, William Sampson, M. Freeman, M. Milligan, G. Worthington

Elections – Meeting to discuss political issues, Cleveland Leader, July 3, 1867

Colored Meeting.
A meeting of colored citizens was held at the Baptist Church, Hudson street, on Monday evening, to discuss the course of action to be pursued by them during the coming campaign. The venerable Mr. Malvin presided. The chairman introduced H. B. DeWolf, Esq., who spoke in an able manner upon the right and justice of all men being made equal before the law, irrespective of color. The chairman then introduced M. S. Castle, Esq., who, in his usual incid style, showed up in a masterly manner the hypocrisy of a free government withholding from a great portion of its citizens the elective franchise on account of their having a dark skin. Mr. Ernest King, a gentleman recently from England, being present, was called upon, and complied with an eloquent little speech, the lateness of the hour forbidding any lengthy remarks. The speakers were all well received, and their remarks highly appreciated by the audience.

Education – Thanks for the gifts, Daily Leader, January 19, 1870

Thanks.—John Malvin wishes to offer his sincere thanks to the teachers and principal of the Sterling Avenue School for the presents given him on New Year’s Day.

Elections – African American Republican Club, Cleveland Leader, June 3, 1870

Meeting of Colored Republican Club—The Republican club met at the wigwam on Garden street Monday evening, May 30, 1870, John Malvin chairman and W. E. Ambush secretary. The central and sub-committees will make a large registration of all the colored voters in the county.

15th Amendment – Celebration, Cleveland Leader, May 10, 1871

The following communication was received and accepted in the City Council last evening:
Cleveland May 9th, 1871.

To His Honor the Mayor, and members of the City Council and Officials of the City:
You are respectfully invited to participate with us in the coming celebration of the fifteenth amendment to the Constitution of the United States, Monday, May 15th, 1871. Due notice will be given in the daily papers of the line of march and when and where it will start from.

Hoping you will all favor us with your presence in the procession, we remain yours, most respectfully,
John Malvin, Chairman Com. of Arrangements.
Luis W. Turner, Secretary

Emancipation Proclamation – Celebration honoring ‘Father Malvin’, Cleveland Leader, Dec. 21, 1876

The Day of Jubilee.
The colored people of this city are arranging for a grand festival and jubilee, to be held in the Sixth Ward Wigwam on Monday evening, January 1st, in honor of the emancipation proclamation. In their circular announcing the event the committee says: “complimentary benefit tendered to father J. Malvin, who has labored long and hard for the freedom and elevation of the colored race. The exercises will consist of reading the emancipation proclamation, speaking, vocal and instrumental music. Refreshments and season will be served to satisfy the inner man. This day ought to be remembered in the annals of American history. Come one, come all, and let us have a good time together and give Father Malvin a crowded house. Everything will be made pleasant and agreeable for all who will give us their presence. Music will be furnished by Prof J. A. D. Mitchell’s celebrated band. James Thompson, Esq., will present a silver medal to Prof. J. A. D. Mitchell, leader of the Colored Brass Band.”

Obituary – A Good Old Man Gone to His Reward, Cleveland Herald, August 2, 1880

Malvin A Good Old Man Gone to His Reward
A Long Sickness and a Peaceful Death – A Glance at the Shadow of Slavery.
After a long illness, and fully ripe in many years of usefulness, Mr. John Malvin, one of the oldest and most respected colored men of Ohio, died at his residence, at No. 891 Sterling avenue, on Saturday afternoon at 3 o’clock. For near two years he had been losing strength day by day, and the decline was so gradual that his friends had come to hope that he might be spared to them for many years. The trouble was at first located on his lungs, but it soon developed into a complication of asthma and dropsy, and it was this difficulty that at last took him away. He was hardly able to make himself understood for the last two days, but before that he had set his house in order, and with

had given the last directions he would give upon earth. He leaves a wife and an adopted son, who live in Washington.

Mr. Malvin was one of the pioneer citizens of Cleveland. Everybody knew “Father John,” and everybody liked and respected him. He was always identified closely with the Republican party, and ever had some wise suggestion to add in the meetings of his people, or some good counsel to give. He was a good talker, and it was no trouble for him to talk. He was faithful to his convictions, and never forgot his early days of hardship and trouble. For years he was janitor of Sterling school building, and was for a long time in charge of the Sixth Ward Republican wigwam on Garden street.

Mr. Malvin, some time ago, at the suggestion of many friends, wrote a HISTORY OF HIS LIFE, which he published in pamphlet form and which is of exceeding interest. From that book we extract the following points:
He was born in Prince William county, Va., in the year 1795, in the little town of Dumfries. His mother, Dalous Malvin, was a free woman, his FATHER BEING A SLAVE belonging to one Henderson. In his seventh year he was bound to this Henderson, who was a large slave owner and owned several large farms, as an apprentice. This Henderson had a clerk named Griffith to whom John was assigned as a servant, blacking his boots, tending his horse and working on time personally, his spare time, after these duties were performed, being utilized in the field. In 1807 he was removed to one of the farms owned by Henderson, situated on Cow creek, and remained there until 1812. Griffith had preceded him, and he was kept substantially at the same occupation. It was here he witnessed the evils and miseries connected with the institution of slavery, and, though himself an apprentice, his treatment was little better than that of a slave, being supported yearly with one pair of shoes, two pairs of towlinen pantaloons, one pair of cotton pantaloons, and a negro cotton round jacket, his food consisting of one peck of cornmeal a week. Sometimes he received a little salt, but this luxury was doled out sparingly and he was obliged to resort to other means of obtaining food. Another boy on the same farm with him occupied the same cabin, and when a desire was felt for meat they would provide themselves with clubs and visit the hog pens in the night time. Selecting a sow with a likely litter, they would by a judicious use of their clubs secure the fruit of which they were in search, dressing and washing the same to their fancy, relishing it all the more by reason of the danger attending that mode of supplying their bodily wants. When nature called for a change of diet they would vary the same by milking cows in the field, or by waylaying some unsuspecting lamb, and, as John would naively remark, “unbutton its collar” (cut its throat)

On the breaking out of THE WAR OF 1812
he attempted to run away, but failing to get on board a boat on the Ohio he returned to his station without being missed. He was beaten unmercifully many times on this farm by the man Griffith, whom he was serving, on one occasion his wrist being tied crosswise together, then brought down and tied to his ankles. His shirt was then taken off, and he was compelled to lay on the ground while being flogged. The cause for this was the fact that he had been ordered to chop some logs which were to be burned under the supervision of Griffith’s brother, and by some accident the rail fences close by had taken fire, and for a short distance were entirely destroyed. John stopped the fire from spreading, and kept watch until 12 o’clock to keep the cattle from reaching the corn. John, after this whipping, resolved that if ever opportunity afforded he would kill Griffith. Mr. Henderson died in 1818, and John returned to his parents in East Virginia, never seeing the clerk again. John next worked with his father at THE CARPENTER BUSINESS and by the aid of an old slave, who lived three miles distance, he learned to read, or, as he then said, to “talk pretty like the white people.” After learning to read, John experienced religion and concluded to preach the gospel, but Virginia, by reason of his color, refused him a license, but gave him verbal permission so to do. He preached among the slaves and solemnized marriages with the permission of the owners until 1827, in which year he concluded to go to Ohio. With but an extra shirt in his possession, he started on foot, accomplishing a distance of 300 miles from Prince William county to Marietta in six days. Here he boarded a flatboat and worked his passage to Cincinnati. It was in that city that he opened his career as THE CHAMPION OF HIS PEOPLE. He found the doors of all public and State institutions closed against his race. He succeeded in calling a meeting of colored men, and suggested that a committee be appointed to go to some country with power to arrange for the purchase of some place where they might live free from the trammels of unsocial and unequal laws. A committee went to Canada, the result being that Wilberforce Colony was formed, taking that name after the great anti-slavery champion.

While resident in Cincinnati, he saw a company of some thirty slaves on the steamboat Criterion, en route for the Southern market, one of whom, a woman, was from his native county. She had two children with here, and Uncle John resolved, no matter what the consequences might be, that he would rescue her. That same evening, under cover of a friendly cloud, he brought a boat over from the Kentucky shore and succeeded in RESCUING THE WOMAN and her son, it being impossible to get the daughter without detection, subsequently effecting in like manner the escape of two young men and a young woman. The woman was by sickness compelled to remain secluded in Cincinnati until she was in a condition to travel, the others under charge of a guide being sent to Richmond, Ind. Great excitement prevailed when the escape was discovered, but none were recaptured, nor was Uncle John suspected of the active part he had taken in connection therewith. In March, 1829, he MARRIED in Cincinnati, and in August of the same year he moved to Louisville, at which place he was arrested as a fugitive slave and flogged with a view to extort a confession.

He then went to Canada and contracted for a small farm, and returned to Cincinnati for his wife, returning as far as Cleveland en route to Canada. At this point his wife became troubled at leaving her father and he concluded to give up the farm, and determined to locate in Cleveland and work at his trade. He worked as cook on a lake schooner, finally securing a position driving an engine in a steam mill. He here opened negotiations for the redemption of his father-in-law, who was sixty years of age. The response was $400-$100 down and the balance on time. To this end the public donated $100, he giving two notes for the $150 each, at one and two years respectively, with good endorsements. His wife took the money and notes to Kentucky and brought the old man back to Cleveland. John experienced great difficulty in paying the notes on time, but, with a little extension, succeeded. He next embarked in the steamboat business, being employed on the Rochester, trading between Buffalo and Chicago. In 1832 he took a great interest in the founding of SCHOOLS FOR COLORED CHILDREN and it may safely be said that he took a livelier interest in this direction than any of his race then resident in the city. He was particularly solicitous as to the welfare of runaway slaves, and was at all times ready with what he possessed, whether money or worldly goods, to assist them in maintaining their liberty.

Space will not permit us to allude to Uncle John’s many acts of devotion in behalf of fugitive slaves. Suffice it to say that his memory will be long nurtured by those fortunate enough to have been favored with his acquaintance.


The primary source for information on Malvin is his forty-two page Autobiography of John Malvin (1879). A modern reprint, North into Freedom: The Autobiography of John Malvin, Free Negro, 1795-1880 (1966), ed. Allan Peskin, is annotated and contains a useful introduction by Peskin. For additional details on Malvin, see Harry E. Davis, "John Malvin, A Western Reserve Pioneer," Journal of Negro History 23 (1938): 426-34, and Kenneth L. Kusmer, A Ghetto Takes Shape: Black Cleveland, 1870-1930 (1976), which places Malvin in the context of the black community of Cleveland.

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