Abolitionist Philip Alexander Bell was born in New York City in 1808. He received his education at the African Free School, which was founded in 1787 by members of the New York Manumission Society to educate the children of enslaved people and free people of color. The Society, founded only two years earlier, promoted the abolition of the institution of slavery and battled against the slave trade. At the age of 23, Bell became the New York City agent for William Lloyd Garrison’s abolitionist paper The Liberator. Bell became well-known as an abolitionist, speaking on the topic and attending conferences related to the cause. In addition to the abolition of slavery, Bell was also a champion of citizenship and suffrage for African Americans.
While living in New York in the 1850s, Bell also operated an “intelligence office”, or employment agency. Bell’s firm sought to assist African Americans in need of work, some of whom may have been “fugitive” slaves.
In this manuscript, Joshua Whitney, who ran the Spring House resort in Richfield Springs, New York, writes to his friend Morgan Bryan in New York City, asking him to check in with Philip Bell about a cook and laundress he wanted to hire. Whitney and Morgan were both from Richfield Springs, where they had served together as members of the local Episcopal Church.
Around 1860, Bell made his way to San Francisco, California, where he founded a new journalistic venture called The Elevator. Bell published the first issue on April 7, 1865, only a couple of days before the surrender at Appomattox Court House. The Elevator became a strong voice for African Americans in the Bay Area, advocating for Black suffrage and other causes important to African Americans.
Philip A. Bell continued to publish The Elevator until illness forced him to close in 1885. He died four years later, financially impoverished, having survived his last years on meals from given by The Palace Hotel kitchen and private donations.