Frederick Douglass to Maria Weston Chapman, March 29, 1846
FREDERICK DOUGLASS TO MARIA WESTON CHAPMAN
Kilmarnock, Scot. 29 March 1846.
Mrs M W Chapman
MY DEAR MADAM,
(PRIVATE)1Maria Weston Chapman received many letters written to her as an officer in the American Anti-Slavery Society. Douglass wrote “Private” at the top of this letter to indicate that the information was confidential, and the matter between Chapman and himself only.
I take up my pen to thank you for the ‘liberty bell’2The Liberty Bell, a gift book sold annually by the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society to raise funds. and the kind note which you were pleased to send me by the Cambria[.] I have not yet found time to read the ‘Liberty bell’ but hope to do so soon. My time is greatly taken up with immediate engagements—growing necessarily out of my present contact with friends here. I find that in order to make my visit of service to our sacred cause at home, I must as far as possible concentrate my strength up on those circles in whose midst I find my self placed. I am trying to preach and practice a genuine antislavery life—turning nither to the right—or left, and I think not without success. I think you may safely calculate on seeing some proof of this at your next Bazaar.3Each December from 1834 to 1858, the members of the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society held a fundraising fair at which they sold goods donated by various sewing circles throughout Massachusetts and Britain. Chapman was the main organizing force behind this fair. Chambers-Schiller, “Boston Antislavery Fair,” 252–53. At the suggestion of Mr. R. D. Webb4Richard D. Webb. I have inserted an appeal in behalf of the Bazaar in my narrative, so that wherever the narrative goes, there also goes an appeal in behalf of the Old organized Anti Slavery Bazaar.5In the Irish edition of his Narrative, Douglass added a notice, “To the Friends of the Slave,” in which he requested donations from British and Irish readers for the Boston Anti-Slavery Fair. Douglass Papers, ser. 2, 1:166–68. One of the first objects in my lectures—has been to make that Bazaar prominent—and increase its by encreasing its means. I have done so from no sordid motive, but because I
believe it to be a powerful instrument in affording means to carry on our important antislavery Machinery[.] I say this the more freely—because, though I consider my self as forming a humble part of that machinery I have never received any pecuniary aid directly from it. I have never absolutely needed any such aid from it. I have even mannaged to get on—and keep in the field with very little means—Lived in a small house paid a small rent, in-dulged in no luxuries—glad to get the common necessearies of life—and have followed on with a glad heart and willing mind—in the thin but brave ranks of our noble pioneer William Lloyd Garrison. Just before leaving the United States for this country—my warm and excellent friend N. Buffum6James N. Buffum.—aware of my poverty, stepped forward with his characteristic liberality and kindly offered to collect a sufficient sum to pay my passage to this land. He tried and succeeded in getting 68 Dollars, just 2 Dollars short of my expences in the steerage.7Buffum had solicited funds for Douglass’s passage to Great Britain from wealthy New York abolitionist Gerrit Smith among others. James N. Buffum to Gerrit Smith, 21 June 1845, Gerrit Smith Papers, NSyU. I brought with me three hundred, and fifty dollars, money which I had saved from the sale of my narrative. For means to sustain me while here I have relied—and still rely mainly upon the sale of my narrative. And thus far I have had reason to complain, having already disposed of 2,000 copies. I have mentioned these facts and made these remarks—because I have felt somwhat greaved to see by a letter from you to Mr. R. D. Webb of Dublin that you betray a want of confidence in me as a man, and an abolitionist, utterly inconsistent with all the facts in the history of my connection with the Antislavery enterprise.8Maria Weston Chapman wrote a letter to Richard D. Webb in which she voiced suspicions that Douglass was using the British tour and the sales of his book for personal gain rather than for the support of the American Anti-Slavery Society. Webb read that portion of the letter to Douglass. Taylor, British and American Abolitionists, 259–60. In that letter you were pointing out to Mr. Webb the necessity of his keeping a watch over myself and freind Mr. Buffum—but as Mr. Buffum was rich—and I poor while there was little danger but what Mr Buffum would stand firm, I might be bought up by the London Committee.9The “London Committee” refers to the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, which was founded by Joseph Sturge in 1839. The organisation sympathised with the anti-Garrisonians after the schism in the American antislavery movement in 1840, a sympathy that grew deeper under the leadership of John Scoble throughout the 1840s. Throughout his stay in Great Britain Douglass battled rumors that he would defect to the opposition abolitionist faction. Merrill and Ruchames, Garrison Letters, 1:343–44n, 2:588–92; Taylor, British and American Abolitionists, 290–92, 296, 300–305; Temperley, British Antislavery, 215–20. Now Dear Madam, you do me great in justice by such comparisons[.] They are direct insinuations and when whispered in the ear of a stranger to whom I look up as a friend they are very embarrassing. Up to the time of hearing Mr. Webb read that letter I supposed I shared your confidence in common with that of the other members of the committe at Boston; I am disappointed. I can assure you Dear Madam that you have mistaken me altogether if you suppose that ether the love of money—or the hate of poverty will drive me from the ranks of the old organized antislavery society[.] But had I no more confidence in them, than you seem to have in me, I would not take a second breath before leaving them. I have withstood the allurements of New organization liberty party—and no organization at home10Douglass probably refers to the 1844 controversy among Garrisonians over the extreme anarchist positions adopted by New Hampshire abolitionist editor Nathaniel P. Rogers. While most of the Garrisonian inner circle held some form of nonresistant principles by the early 1840s, Rogers editorialized for a “no-organization” ideology that condemned all forms of restrictions on free speech and action within the antislavery movement. When the New Hampshire Anti-Slavery Society took away Rogers’s editorship of its official newspaper, Herald of Freedom, he quit the seciety. This purge of Rogers left significant suspicions and hard feelings among Garrisonians for many years. Lawrence J. Friedman, Gregarious Saints: Self and Community in American Abolitionism, 1830–1870 (Cambridge, Eng., 1982), 59–61; Perry, Radical Abolitionism, 117–28.—why should I not withstand the London Committee. You have trusted me or seemed to do so, at home, why distruste me or seem to do so abroad.
Of One thing I am cirtain, and that is I never gave you any just cause to distrust me, and if I am to be watched over for evel rather than for good, by my professed freinds I can say with propriety save me from my friends, and I will take care of my enemies! Had you kind friend privious to my leaving America given me face to face that advice and freindly counsel which your long experience, and superior wisdom has richly enabled you to do, or written to me a kind letter as did my freind Mr. Phillips11Wendell Phillips. warning me against the London Committee, my feelings toward you, as to him would be those of ardent gratitude. If you wish to drive me from the Anti-slavery society, put me under overseer ship and the work is done. Set some one to watch over me—for evil and let them be so simple minded as to inform me of their office, and the last blow is struck. I have said what I now have, because I wish you to know just how I feel toward you. I wish to be candid with my freind. It would have been quite easy to have passed the matter over had you not sent me the ‘liberty bell,’ and made it my duty to write to you. When I parted from you at the Antislavery office on the morning of the 16 August 1845, I felt on leaving that you expected a faithful discharge of my duties a broad. I went forth feeling my self armed with the confidence reposed in me by yourself and the Board generally—resolved to do my duty. And although not sustained as I supposed myself to be, I can thus far challenge the strictest scrutiny into all my movements[.] I have neither compromised my self nor the character of my friends. But enough.
The cause goes nobly on. Our efforts—that is the effort of friends Wright12Henry C. Wright. and Buffum—and my own have been mainly directed toward exposing the conduct of the free church of Scotland—in holding fellowship with slave holders—and taking slave money to build free churches. The Antislavery Committee at Glasgow13The Glasgow Emancipation Society, founded by John Murray and William Smeal in 1833, was the most popular Garrisonian organization in Scotland until the 1840s, when two divisions led to its decline. The first division, occurred at the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention, when the female members bolted from the organization to form the Glasgow Female Anti-Slavery Society. The second division took place in. 1846, when conservatives formed the Glasgow New Association for the Abolition of Slavery. During its existence, the Glasgow Emancipation Society welcomed such speakers as George Thompson and supported a variety of antipoverty laws in addition to abolitionism. Rice, Scots Abolitionists, 22–23, 35–42, 80, 91–95, 112; Merrill and Ruchames, Garrison Letters, 3:31n. have succeeded in getting George Thompson14George Thompson (1804–78), a leading Garrisonian abolitionist in Britain, was born in Liverpool, England. In 1833 he formed emancipation societies in Edinburgh and Glasgow. The following year, he began a fifteen-month speaking tour in the United States that was marked by mob violence from supporters of slavery, and he was forced to leave Boston secretly in 1835. He returned to England, where he worked with British abolitionists. Thompson joined Douglass at a public meeting in Glasgow on 21 April 1846 to condemn the Free Church of Scotland's fellowship with slaveholders. He made two more visits to the United States on behalf of abolitionism. Lib., 29 May 1846; C. Duncan Rice, "The Anti-Slavery Mission of George Thompson to the United States, 1834–1835,” Journal of American Studies, 2:13–31 (April 1968); Garrison and Garrison, William Lloyd Garrison, 1:434–522, 221–72; Temperley, British Antislavery, 237–38; DNB, 10:691. to join us—in an effort to get the free church to send back the money!
Very respectfully Yours
P.S. Will you Do me the kindness to send the enclosed note to H. W. Williams,15Boston-born Henry Willard Williams (1821–95) served as general agent for the Liberator in the early 1840s and occasionally operated the journal during Garrison’s absence. From 1846 to 1849, Williams attended medical school at Harvard and Le Havre, later gaining fame as a pioneer ophthalmic surgeon. Lib., 30 April 1841; Garrison and Garrison, William Lloyd Garrison, 3:209; Merrill and Ruchames, Garrison Letters, 3:87n, 206n, 335; DAB, 20:265–66. the former agent of the Antislavery office.
Yours &c. &c.
ALS: Anti-Slavery Collection, MB. PLSr: Foner, Life and Writings, 1:142–45. PLeSr: Taylor, British and American Abolitionists, 258–59.