Skip to main content

Frederick Douglass to William Lloyd Garrison, September 1, 1845

1

FREDERICK DOUGLAS TO WILLIAM LLOYD GARRISON

Dublin, [Ire.] 1 Sept[ember] 1845.

DEAR FRIEND GARRISON:

Thanks to a kind Providence, I am now safe in old Ireland,1A letter dated 1 September 1845 from James Buffum in Dublin to William Lloyd Garrison confirms Douglass’s arrival in Dublin on Sunday, 31 August 1845. Lib., 26 September 1845. in the beautiful city of Dublin, surrounded by the kind family, and seated at the table of our mutual friend, JAMES H. WEBB,2James Henry Webb (c. 1810–68), a Quaker resident of Dublin, Ireland, actively pursued antislavery and temperance causes in conjunction with his more famous brother, Richard D. Webb. John R. McKivigan, “Irish Anti–Slavery Society,” in Macmillan Encyclopedia of World Slavery, ed. Paul Finkelman and Joseph C. Miller, 2 vols. (New York, 1998), 1:433–34. brother of the well-know RICHARD D. WEBB.3Richard Davis Webb (1805–72) was a Dublin Quaker. A printer by trade, he specialized in publishing antislavery books and pamphlets, most notably Douglass’s Narrative in 1845 and 1846. He first became involved in the antislavery movement in 1837 after hearing British abolitionist George Thompson speak about American abolitionism. Soon afterward, Webb helped to found the Hibernian Anti-Slavery Society. In 1840 Webb met William Lloyd Garrison, began to correspond with members of the American Anti-Slavery Society, and became a staunch defender of Garrisonianism. Later, with his wife, Hannah Waring Webb, he edited and published the Anti-Slavery Advocate (1855–63). Webb communicated regularly with American and British Garrisonians, and he arranged tours for abolitionists who came to Ireland. Richard D. Webb, The National Anti-Slavery Societies in England and the United States (Dublin, Ire., 1852), 5–8; Richard S. Harrison, Richard Davis Webb: Dublin Quaker Printer (Cork, Ire., 1993); Howard Temperley, British Antislavery, 1833–1870 (Columbia, S.C., 1972), 210, 212–13; Ripley, Black Abolitionist Papers, 1:87–88n; Douglas C. Riach, “Richard Davis Webb and Antislavery in Ireland,” in Antislavery Reconsidered: New Perspectives on the Abolitionists, ed. Lewis Perry and Michael Fellman (Baton Rouge, La., 1979), 149–67. I landed at Liverpool on Thursday morning, 28th August, and took lodgings at the Union hotel, Clayton Squire,4Douglass arrived in Liverpool on the Cambria with James Buffum and took up lodging in the Union Hotel on Clayton Square. Lib., 26 September 1845. in company with friend Buffum5James Needham Buffum (1807–87) abandoned his Quaker faith to become a militant Garrisonian abolitionist. From 1845 to 1847, Buffum accompanied Douglass on his lecture tour of the British Isles. Returning to Lynn, Massachusetts, he amassed a considerable fortune as a carpenter, house contractor, and financier. Buffum served as mayor of Lynn from 1869 to 1875 and as a Massachusetts legislator in 1873. Clarence W. Hobbs, Lynn and Surroundings (Lynn, Mass., 1886), 141–42; James R. Newhall, Proceedings in Lynn, Massachusetts, June 17, 1879: Being the Two Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the Settlement (Lynn, Mass., 1880), 133–34; idem, History of Lynn, 1864–1893 (Lynn, Mass., 1897), 337; Garrison and Garrison, William Lloyd Garrison, 3:324–25, 4:358; Mabee, Black Freedom, 114, 119–21, 125, 210–11, 221, 225, 250, 342. and our warm-hearted singers, the Hutchinson family. Here we all continued until Saturday evening, the 30th instant, when friend Buffum and myself (with no little reluctance) separated from them, and took ship for this place,6According to a 1 September 1845 letter from James Buffum to William Lloyd Garrison, Douglass departed for Dublin from Liverpool on Saturday, 30 August 1845. Lib., 26 September 1845. and on our arrival here, were kindly invited by James, in the temporary absence of Richard D. Webb and family, to make his house our home.

There are a number of things about which I should like to write, aside from those immediately connected with our cause; but of this I must deny myself,—at least under present circumstances.

Sentimental letter-writing must give way, when its claims are urged against facts necessary to the advancement of our cause, and the destruction of slavery. I know it will gladden your heart to hear, that from the moment we first lost sight of the American shore, till we landed at Liverpool, our gallant steam-ship was the theatre of an almost constant discussion of the subject of slavery—commencing cool, but growing hotter ever moment as it advanced.7Douglass spoke at the invitation of Captain Charles E. Judkins, who had earlier been approached by Buffum, the Hutchinsons, and some English passengers recently made familiar with Douglass’s Narrative. Captain Judkins had the steward ring the hell on the promenade deck, told the passengers that Douglass was going to make a few remarks on American slavery, and advised those who did not wish to hear him to go below. A few of the American passengers retired to the saloon in order “to take into consideration the propriety of expressing our feelings in some proper way, that the public might know the respect, or want of respect, paid to Americans on board this steamer.” Others, however, remained topside and kept up such a loud grumbling that the Hutchinsons had to silence the crowd with an abolitionist melody is order that the meeting might begin. Lib., 26 September 1845.; New York Herald, 1 December 1845; F. Lawrence Babcock, Spanning the Atlantic (New York, 1931), 84–85, 103, 121; Frank C. Bowen, A Century of Atlantic Travel, 1830–1930 (London, [1932]), 60, 85–86, 103–06; James Croil, Steam Navigation and Its Relation to the Commerce Of Canada and the United States (Toronto, 1898), 86–87; Henry Fry, The History of North Atlantic Steam Navigation (London, 1896), 105, 126; George D. Warburton, Hochelaga; or, England in the New World, ed. Eliot Warburton, 2 vols. (London, 1846), 2:359; Hutchinson, Story of the Hutchinsons, 145. It was a great time for anti-slavery, and a hard time for slavery;—the one delighting in the sunshine of free discussion, and the other horror-stricken at its God-like approach. The discussion was general. If suppressed in the saloon, it broke out in the steerage; and if it ceased in the steerage, it was renewed in the saloon; and if suppressed in both, it broke out with redoubled energy, high upon the saloon deck, in the open, refreshing, free ocean air. I was happy. Every thing went on nobly. The truth was being told, and having its legitimate effect upon the hearts of those who heard it. At last, the evening previous to our arrival at Liverpool, the slaveholders, convinced that reason, morality, common honesty, humanity, and Christianity, were all against them, and that argument was no longer any means of defence, or at least but a poor means, abandoned their post in debate, and resorted to their old and natural mode of defending their morality by brute force.

2

Yes, they actually got up A MOB—a real American, republican, democratic, Christian mob,—and that, too, on the deck of a British steamer, and in sight of the beautiful high lands of Dungarvan!8Dungarvan is a seaport located on Ireland’s southern coast in County Waterford. Saul Cohen, ed., The Columbia Gazetteer of the World, 3 vols. (New York, 1998), 1:879. I declare, it is enough to make a slave ashamed of the country that enslaved him, to think of it. Without the slightest pretensions to patriotism, as the phrase goes,9Possibly a quotation from John Dickinson’s “Farmer’s Letters,” where he writes, “I hope, my dear countrymen, that you will, in every colony, be upon your guard against those, who may at any time endeavor to stir you up, under pretences of patriotism, to any measures disrespectful to our Sovereign and our mother country.” John Dickinson, The Writings of John Dickinson, 1764–1774, ed. Paul Leicester Ford (Philadelphia, 1895), 324. the conduct of the mobocratic Americans on board the Cambria almost made me ashamed to say I had run away from such a country. It was decidedly the most daring and disgraceful, as well as wicked exhibition of depravity, I ever witnessed, North or South; and the actors in it showed themselves to be as hard in heart, as venomous in spirit, and as bloody in design, as the infuriated men who bathed their hands in the warm blood of the noble Lovejoy.10On 7 November 1837, an antiabolitionist mob killed Elijah Parish Lovejey (1802–37) in Alton, Illinois, as he defended his press from destruction. The son of a Presbyterian minister frem Albion, Maine, and a graduate of Waterville College, Lovejoy moved to St. Louis, Missouri, in 1827 to teach school and edit a Whig newspaper. Five years later, he returned east te study at Princeton Theological Seminary. Licensed to preach by the Philadelphia Presbytery in 1833, Lovejoy went back to Missouri to edit the St. Louis Observer, a Presbyterian weekly, and to champion gradual emancipation, temperance, and anti-Catholicism. By March 1837, he was forced to move to Alton, Illinois, because of his outspoken opinions. There, Lovejoy converted to immediatism after witnessing a black man being burned alive. He joined the American Anti-Slavery Society and announced his intention to organize local and state abolitionist societies. Prominent citizens of Alton who feared that their town would become an antislavery center began a campaign of intimidation to silence Lovejoy. Twice mobs dismantled his press, the Alton Observer, and threw its parts into the Mississippi River. When rioters returned for a third time, Lovejoy and his supperters resolved to defend their paper with armed force. In the ensuing skirmish, a shotgun blast from the crowd killed Lovejoy. Abolitionists enshrined him as a martyr, and his death led to debates over the role of self-defense in a movement of nonresistance. Merton L. Dillon, Elijah P. Lovejey, Abolitionist Editor (Urbana, Ill., 1961); John Gill, Tide without Turning: Elijah P. Lovejoy and Freedom of the Press (Boston, [1958]); Leonard L. Richards, "Gentlemen of Property and Standing": Anti-Abolition Mobs in Jacksonian America (New York, 1970), 100–111; Mabee, Black Freedom, 30–50; Perry, Radical Abolitionism, 75; DAB, 11:434–46.

The facts connected with, and the circumstances leading to, this most disgraceful transaction, I will now give, with some minuteness, though I may border, at times, a little on the ludicrous.

In the first place, our passengers were made up of nearly all sorts of people, from different countries, of the most opposite modes of thinking on all subjects. We had nearly all sorts of parties in morals, religion, and politics, as well as trades, callings, and professions. The doctor and the lawyer, the soldier and the sailor, were there. The scheming Connecticut wooden clock-maker, the large, surly, New-York lion-tamer, the solemn Roman Catholic Bishop, and the Orthodox Quaker were there. A minister of the Free Church of Scotland,11In 1843 members of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland objected to the influence of government officials in the selection of ministers. These dissenters broke from the Presbyterian church to form the Free Church of Scotland, which worked for the relief and education of the poor. John Cannon, ed., The Oxford Companion to British History (Oxford, Eng., 1997), 393–94; Sally Mitchell, ed., Victorian Britain: An Encyclopedia (New York, 1988), 310–11. and a minister of the Church of England—the established Christian and the wandering Jew,12In folklore and literature, as Christ was carrying his cross to Calvary, he paused on the doorstep of a Jew who did not let Jesus rest there and drove him away. As punishment Jesus condemned the man to a life of wandering on earth until Judgment Day. R. Edelmann, “Ahasuerus, the Wandering Jew: Origin and Background,” in The Wandering Jew: Essays in the Interpretation of a Christian Legend, ed. Galit Hasan-Rokem and Alan Dundes (Bloomington, Ind., 1986), 1–11; George K. Anderson, The Legend of the Wandering Jew (Providence, R.I., 1965), 11–12. the Whig and the Democrat, the white and the black—were there. There was the dark-visaged Spaniard, and the light-visaged Englishman—the man from Montreal, and the man from Mexico. There were slave holders from Cuba, and slave holders from Georgia. We had anti-slavery singing and pro-slavery grumbling; and at the same time that Governor Hammond’s Letters13A reference to Two Letters on Slavery in the United States Addressed to Thomas Clarkson, Esq. (1845), by James Henry Hammond (1807–64), a slaveholder and governor of South Carolina (1842–44). Drew Gilpin Faust, James Henry Hammond and the Old South: A Design for Mastery (Baton Rouge, La., 1982). were being read, my Narrative was being circulated.

In the midst of the debate going on, there sprang up quite a desire, on the part of a number on board, to have me lecture to them on slavery. I was first requested to do so by one of the passengers, who had become quite interested. I, of course, declined, well knowing that that was a privilege which the captain14The captain of the Cambria, Charles H. E. Judkins (1811–76), became the first commodore of the Cunard Line and was among the first civilian pilots to be awarded a commission in the Royal Navy Reserve. By the time he retired in 1871, Judkins had commanded many of the Cunard Line’s record-breaking steamers and had made more than 500 transatlantic voyages without serious mishap. Babcock, Spanning the Atlantic, 84–85, 103, 121; Bowen, Century of Atlantic Travel, 60, 85–86, 103–06; Croil, Steam Navigation, 86–87; Fry, North Atlantic Steam Navigation, 105, 126; Warburton, Hochelaga, 2:359. alone had a right to give, and intimated as much to the friend who invited me. I told him I should not feel at liberty to lecture, unless the captain should personally invite me to speak. Things went on as usual till between five and six o’clock in the afternoo[n] of Wednesday, when I received an invitation from the captain to deliver an address upon the saloon

3

deck. I signified my willingness to do so, and he at once orered the bell to be rung and the meeting cried. This was the signal for a general excitement. Some swore I should not speak, and others said I should. Bloody threats were being made against me, if I attempted it. At the hour appointed, I went upon the saloon deck, where I was expected to speak. There was much noise going on among the passengers, evidently intended to make it impossible for me to proceed. At length, our Hutchinson friends broke forth in one of their unrivalled songs, which, like the angel of old, closed the lions mouths,15A reference to Dan. 6:22. so that, for a time, silence prevailed. The captain, taking advantage of this silence, now introduced me, and expressed the hope that the audience would hear me with attention. I then commenced speaking; and, after expressing my gratitude to a kind Providence that had brought us safely across the sea, I proceeded to portray the condition of my brethren in bonds. I had not uttered five words, when a Mr. Hazzard,16J. Hazzard listed himself on the ship’s manifest as being from New Haven, Connecticut. He was a Baptist and had lived in Georgia for enough years to consider himself so “well acquainted with her laws” as to believe that Douglass “was not reading any of them.” New York Herald, 1 December 1845. from Connecticut, called out, in a loud voice, 'That’s a lie!' I went on, taking no notice of him, though he was murmuring nearly all the while, backed up by a man from New-Jersey. I continued till I said something which seemed to cut to the quick, when out bawled Haggard, 'That’s a lie!' and apeared anxious to strike me. I then said to the audience that I wouid explain to them the reason of Hazzard’s conduct. The colored man, in our country, was treated as a being without rights. 'That’s a lie!' said Hazzard. I then told the audience that as almost every thing I said was pronounced lies, I would endeavor to substantiate them by reading a few extracts from slave laws. The slavocrats, finding they were now to be fully exposed, rushed up about me, with hands clenched, and swore I should not speak. They were ashamed to have American laws read before an English audience. Silence was restored by the interference of the captain, who took a noble stand in regard to my speaking. He said he had tried to please all of his passengers—and a part of them had expressed to him a desire to hear me lecture to them; and in obedience to their wishes he had invited me to speak; and those who did not wish to hear, might go to some other part of the ship. He then turned, and requested me to proceed. I again commenced, but was again interrupted—more violently than before. One slaveholder from Cuba shook his fist in my face, and said, ‘O, I wish I had you in Cuba!' 'Ah!' said another, 'I wish I had him in Savannah! We would use him up!' said another, 'I will be one of a number to throw him overboard!'

We were now fully divided into two distinct parties—those in favor of my speaking, and those against me. A noble-spirited Irish gentleman assured the man who proposed to throw me overboard, that two could play

4

at that game, and that, in the end, he might be thrown overboard himself. The clamor went on, waxing hotter and hotter, till it was quite impossible for me to proceed. I was stopped, but the cause went on. Anti-slavery was uppermost, and the mob was never of more service to the cause against which it was directed. The clamor went on long after I ceased speaking, and was only silenced by the captain, who told the mobocrats if they did not cease their clamor, he would have them put in irons; and he actually sent for the irons, and doubtless would have made use of them, had not the rioters become orderly.

Such is but a faint outline of an AMERICAN MOB ON BOARD OF A BRITISH STEAM PACKET.

Yours, to the end of the race,

FREDERICK DOUGLASS.

PLSr: Lib., 26 September 1845. Reprinted in NASS, 2 October 1845; JNH, 10:663–66 (October 1925); Woodson, Mind of the Negro, 399–402. PLeSr: Foner, Life and Writings, 1:115–18. HLSr: General Correspondence File, reel 1, frames 544–49, FD Papers, DLC; FD Collection, DHU-MS. TLSr: General Correspondence File, reel 1, frames 550–52, FD Papers, DLC.

5

6

Date

September 1, 1845

Type

Publication Status

Published