Frederick Douglass to William Lloyd Garrison, October 28, 1845
FREDERICK DOUGLASS TO WILLIAM LLOYD GARRISON
Cork, [Ire.] 28 Oct[ober] 1845.
I am here, well and hearty, and I trust doing something for the promotion of our holy cause. I have already had several meetings in this city, all of which have been very well attended by highly intelligent and inﬂuential people. The abolitionists here are of the true stamp. They look with the deepest interest on all movements for the abolition of slavery in America. When slavery was abolished in the West India Islands, it was proposed to disband their organization, but they nobly resolve never to disband, while the foul blot and bloody stain of slavery disgraced any portion of the globe. And although they have existed in an organized form for many years longer than any of our organizations in America, I find them as warm-hearted, active and energetic, as though they had just commenced operations. For
much of the interest manifested toward the Massachusetts A. S. Bazaar by the ladies of this city,1In a speech given in Cork in late October 1845, Douglass thanked the “ladies, English, Irish, and Scotch” who supported the annual Anti-Slavery Fair in Boston by sending donations. The Jennings sisters of Cork were among the women in charge of collecting Irish contributions for the Boston bazaar. NASS, 27 November 1845. the cause is indebted to Charles Lenox Remond. His labors here were abundant, and very effective. He is spoken of here in terms of high approbation; and his name is held in affectionate remembrance by many whose hearts were warmed into life on this question by his soul-stirring eloquence.2Charles Lenox Remond spent seventeen months touring the British Isles in 1840 and 1841. Remond attended the 1840 World’s Anti-Slavery Convention in London at the beginning of his stay. Following the convention, he lectured with John A. Collins, a white abolitionist and fellow Garrisonian. Whereas Collins’s unbending ideology angered many listeners, Remond remained more pragmatic and won enthusiastic supporters, particularly after Collins returned to the United States. With the assistance of such Irish abolitionists as Richard D. Webb, James Hanghton, and Richard Allen, Remond found particular success during his tour of Ireland from May to November 1841. He lectured to overﬂowing audiences in Dublin, Waterford, Cork, Limerick, Belfast, and other locations, and he encouraged the formation of several abolitionist organizations, including groups that collected items for the American Anti-Slavery Society’s Boston bazaar. R. J. M. Blackett, Building an Antislavery Wall: Black Americans in the Atlantic Abolitionist Movement, 1830–1860 (Baton Rouge, La., 1983), 42–44; Ward, “Charles Lenox Remond,” 56–111; Ripley, Black Abolitionist Papers, 1:7–8, 85, 97, 100.
My reception here has been truly ﬂattering. Immediately after my arrival, a public breakfast was given to receive myself and friend Buffum3James N. Buffum.—of the details of which, you are already informed. Since then, I have had every kindness shown me that the most ambitious could desire. I am hailed here as a temperance man as well as an abolitionist. My first speech here, as well as in Dublin, was on the temperance question. I have spoken on temperance several times since. On the 21st instant, Father Mathew, the living saviour of Ireland from the curse of intemperance, gave a splendid Soiree, as a token of his sympathy and regard for friend Buffum and myself.4On the evening of 21 October 1845, Father Theobald Mathew held a festival at the Temperance Institute in Cork. Over two hundred people attended. Cork Examiner, 24 October 1845; Lib., 12 December 1845. There were two hundred and fifty persons present. It was decidedly the brightest and happiest company, I think, I ever saw, any where. Every one seemed to be enjoying himself in the fullest manner. It was enough to delight any heart not totally bereft of feeling, to look upon such a company of happy faces. Among them all, I saw no one that seemed to be shocked or disturbed at my dark presence. No one seemed to feel himself contaminated by contact with me. I think it would be difficult to get the same number of persons together in any of our New-England cities, without some democratic nose growing deformed at my approach. But then you know white people in America are whiter, purer, and better than the people here. This accounts for it! Besides, we are the freest nation on the globe, as well as the most enlightened, and can therefore afford to insult and outrage the colored man with impunity. This is one of the peculiar privileges of our peculiar institution. On the morning after the Soiree, Father Mathew invited us to breakfast with him at his own house—an honor quite unexpected, and one for which I felt myself unprepared. I however accepted his kind invitation, and went. I found him living in a very humble dwelling, and in an obscure street. As I approached, he came out of his house, and took me about thirty yards from his door, and with uplifted hands, in a manner altogether peculiar to himself, and with a face beaming with benevolent expression, he exclaimed—‘Welcome! welcome! my dear Sir, to my humble abode;’ at the same time taking me cordially by the hand, conducted me through a rough, uncarpeted passage to a green door leading to an uncarpeted stairway, on ascending one ﬂight of which I found myself abruptly
ushered into what appeared to be both drawing and dining room. There was no carpet on the floor, and very little furniture of any kind in the room; an old-fashioned side-board, a few chairs, three or four pictures hung carelessly around the walls, comprised nearly the whole furniture of the room. The breakfast table was set when I went in. A large urn stood in the middle, surrounded by cups, saucers, plates, knives and forks, spoons, &c. &c., all of a very plain order—rather too plain, I thought, for so great a man. His greatness, however, was not dependant on outward show; nor was it obscured from me by his plainness. It showed that he could be great without the ordinary attractions with which men of his rank and means are generally anxious to surround themselves. Upon entering the room, Father M. introduced me to Mr. Wm. O’Connor,5William O’Connor, a merchant-tailor of Cork’s Marlborough Street, constructed a tower in honor of Father Mathew, which opened 9 November 1846. O’Connor intended to commemorate not only Father Mathew, but also the English people who had warmly welcomed the clergyman on a visit in 1843. O’Connor accompanied Mathew on that trip, and he was impressed by the respect with which Londoners treated the Roman Catholic priest. The tower stood atop Mount Patrick, a hill belonging to O’Connor that was located outside the city of Cork. O’Connor spared no expense in furnishing the 100-foot-high tower. Carved oak trim, emblems of Ireland and England, busts and other depictions of Father Mathew, and a chandelier decorated the tower’s interior, which included a dining room. Theobald Mathew, Illustrated Memoir of Father Mathew, with an Account of the Father Mathew Tower, at Cork, and the Interesting Ceremonies Attending the Laying of the Foundation Stone, and Opening ofthe Tower (New York, 1849), 14, 21, 24–31. an invited guest, a gentleman of property and standing, and though not a teetotaller, yet an ardent admirer of Father Mathew. As an evidence of his devoted attachment, honor and esteem, Mr. O’Connor has erected a splendid tower on his own land, about four miles from Cork, in a very conspicuous place, having a commanding view of the harbor of Cork, and a view of the beautiful hills for miles around. The presence of this gentleman at the breakfast afforded me an excellent opportunity of witnessing Father Mathew’s faithfulness to his friends. I found him entirely uncompromising. This gentleman complained a little of his severity towards the distillers of Cork, who had large amounts invested in distilleries, and who could not be expected to give their business up to their ruin. To which Father Mathe[w] replied in the natural way, that such men had no right to prosper by the ruin of others. He said he was once met by a very rich distiller, who asked him rather imploringly how he could so deliberately plot the ruin of so many good and unoffending people, who had their all invested in distilleries'? In reply, Father Mathew then told with good spirit the following excellent anecdote: ‘A very fat old duck went out early one morning in pursuit of worms, and after being out all day, she succeeded in filling her crop, and on her return home at night, with her crop full of worms, she had the misfortune to be met by a fox, who at once proposed to take her life, to satisfy its hunger. The old duck appealed, argued, implored, and remonstrated. She said to the fox—You cannot be so wicked and hard-hearted as to take the life of a harmless duck, merely to satisfy your hunger. She exhorted him against the commission of so great a sin, and begged him not to stain his soul with innocent blood. When the fox could stand her cant no longer, he said—‘Out upon you, madam, with all your ﬁne feathers; you are a pretty thing, indeed, to lecture me about taking life to satisfy my hunger—is not your own crop now full of worms!
You destroy more lives in one day, to satisfy your hunger, than I do in a whole month!’ Father Mathew has a fund of anecdotes, which he tells in the happiest manner, always to the point, and with most excellent effect. His whole soul appeared to be wrapped up in the temperance cause. The aim of his life appears to be to spread the blessings of temperance over the whole world. To accomplish this, he spares no pains. His time, strength and money are all freely given to the cause; and his success is truly wonderful. When he is at home, his house is literally surrounded with persons, many of whom have come miles to take the pledge. He seldom takes a meal without being interrupted by some one to take the pledge. He was called away twice while I was there, to dismiss a number who had come to take the pledge. This he did with great delight.
Cork contains one hundred thousand inhabitants. One half of this number have taken the pledge of Father Mathew. The change already wrought in the condition of the whole people of Ireland is almost, through his labor, miraculous; and the cause is still advancing. Five millions, four hundred eighty-seven thousand, three hundred and ninety-five souls have received the pledge from him6Statistics regarding the total number of pledges administered cannot be verified because the register of teetotallers has not survived. However, no one can deny that Father Mathew’s campaign enjoyed a frenzied success that was spurred on by priests, employers, and crop failures. Many superstitiously believed that they had to take the pledge directly from Mathew for it to take effect, so they made pilgrimages by the thousands to Cork or wherever Mathew traveled. In 1839 Mathew claimed that as many as 4,000 a week came to him. When he visited Limerick that December, between 125,000 and 250,000 mobbed him in a three-day period. By 1840, more than 700,000 had taken the pledge. In 1842 Mathew claimed that there were five million teetotallers in Ireland, and in 1846 he claimed six million. The pledge may have been administered that many times, but these numbers probably include teetotalers who had lapsed and repeated the pledge on multiple occasions. Colm Kerrigan, Father Mathew and the Irish Temperance Movement, 1838–1849 (Cork, Ire., 1992), 54-59, 80–83.—‘and still they come.’7Macbeth, act 5, sc. 5, line 2. So entirely charmed by the goodness of this truly good man was I, that I besought him to administer the pledge to me. He complied with promptness, and gave me a beautiful silver pledge. I now reckon myself with delight the fifth of the last five of Father Mathew’s 5,487,495 temperance children.
The papers here leave me little to say about my anti-slavery proceedings. They very readily report my movements.
Friend Buffum left me on the 21st October, to attend the great Anti-Corn-Law Bazaar, now holding at Manchester.8On or about 21 October 1845, James N. Buffum left Douglass at Cork to attend the Free Trade and Anti-Corn Law Bazaars in Manchester, England, which had commenced on 16 October. They reunited by early November and then parted ways again, with Buffum joining the Hutchinsons in Liverpool. ASB, 28 November 1845; Lib., 12 December 1845. We shall meet again in the course of a few weeks in Belfast.
My love to your dear family, and the true that surround you.
Ever and always Yours for freedom,
PLSr: Lib., 28 November 1845. Reprinted in NASS, 4 December 1845; JNH, 10:668–72 (October 1925); Woodson, Mind of the Negro, 404–08; Foner, Life and Writings, 5:6–9. PLeSr: PaF, 18 December 1845. HLSr: General Correspondence File, reel 1, frames 563–67, FD Papers, DLC.