Frederick Douglass to William Lloyd Garrison, April 21, 1847
FREDERICK DOUGLASS TO WILLIAM LLOYD GARRISON
Lynn, [Mass.] 21 April 1847.
MY DEAR FRIEND:
I hasten to inform you of my safe arrival at home. I left Liverpool per steamship Cambria, at 12 o’clock on Sunday, April 4th, and reached Halifax on Sunday evening, the 18th, and here on Tuesday afternoon, about 6,1Douglass returned to the United States from his European tour on Tuesday, 20 April 1847. Lib., 23 April 1847.—thus performing the voyage in sixteen days and six hours.
My passage was not the most agreeable;2Douglass relayed the events concerning his voyage on the Cambria in a similar letter to John Thadeus Delane, dated 3 April 1847. That letter also appears in this volume. for, aside from the head winds, a rough sea, and the innumerable perils of the deep, I had the cruel, and almost omnipotent and omnipresent spirit of American slavery with which to contend.
After an interesting tour of twenty months through the British isles,—during which, I made use of all the various means of conveyance, by land and sea, from town to town, and city to city, my feelings as a man, and my rights as a passenger, sacredly regarded, and never being able to detect the slightest dislike to me on account of my color,—I bid farewell to monarchical England, and looked toward democratic America; and while yet three thousand miles away from her shores, at the first step, I am smitten with the pestilential breath of her slave system! I came home a proscribed man; and this, solely to propitiate American pro-slavery hate. The American public demanded my exclusion from the saloon of the steamship, and the company owning the steamer had not the virtue to resist the demand. The dominion of slavery is no longer confined under the star-spangled banner, but extends itself, and bears away, even under that of Great Britain. But, without farther preface, I will at once put you in possession of the facts in the case.
On the 4th of last March, in company with my friend Mr. George Moxhay, of the Hall of Commerce, London, I called upon the agent of the Cunard line of steamers, for the purpose of securing a berth in one of the Company’s vessels, to sail for the United States on the 4th of April. I was informed by the agent, that there was but one berth unsold, and that was berth 72, in the Cambria. This berth I took, and paid for—paying first class price. I then asked the agent, whether there would be any difficulty in my enjoying any of the rights and privileges on board the ship, granted to white passengers. ‘Certainly not,’ was the reply. On hearing this, I left the office.
Reposing on the honour and the integrity of the Company, and never dreaming of the possibility of a contingency to deprive me of my berth, I
made myself perfectly easy till the afternoon of the 3d April, the day previous te our contemplated departure from Liverpool to Boston. I then went on board with my baggage; and here, to my surprise, disappointment and mortification, I learned that my berth was given to another—that on account of the color of my skin, it had been decided that I should not have the berth for which I had paid, and to which I was justly entitled! Confused and confounded by this intelligence, I went to the office of the agent in Liverpool, for an explanation of what I had heard on board the steamer, was now lying in the Mersey about two miles frern the shore. The agent, Mr. McIver,3Charles McIver. with the harshness of an American slaveholder, told me that the agent from whom I had purchased my ticket had no right to sell it to me. I replied that I knew nothing more of the authority of the agent to sell tickets, than what I learned from the public press. He was there advertised as the authorised agent of the Company, and persons wishing to secure passage in the Company's ships were requested to call upon him. I had as much right to regard Mr. Foord as the agent in London, as to regard Mr. McIver the agent in Liverpool. They were both the advertised agents of the Company. But here was not the difficulty, as I afterwards compelled him to confess. This was a deceitful stratagem, (I will say nothing of its meanness,) to deprive me of my berth, without openly incurring the responsibility of trampling upon, and robbing a traveller of his rights, on account of the color of his skin.
The ageat said, that great dissatisfaction had been given to the American travelling public, by my having been permitted on the quarter-deck, when crossing the Atlantic in the summer of 1845, and that much ill-feeling had been created against the line in America by what I said against American slavery during the voyage; and that while he would not undertake to defend American prejudice, he must, nevertheless, prevent the recurrence of any such event again; and that, if I went home in the ship, I must go in an apartment wholly separate from the white passengers; but that I should have every accommodation in the way of attention, and apartments enjoyed by other passengers. Subject to this restriction, I must never enter the saloon,—the part of the ship the most commodious, and where other passengers took their meals. I must eat alone—sleep alone—be alone. These were my limits on board the British steamship Cambria. By this regulation, I was not only deprived of the privilege of eating in the saloon, but also shut out from religious worship. We had two Sundays during the voyage, and in conformity to the religious ideas of the Company, as well as of[ ]the British public, had regular religious services performed
on board. They called upon ‘our Father,’4The Lord’s Prayer, as contained in Matt. 6:9. the Creator of the heavens and the earth—the God who has made of one blood all nations,5Acts 17:26. the black as well as the white—to bless them—while they cursed and excluded me on account of the color of my skin. This, I thought, was Ameriean slaveholding religion, under British colors, and I felt myself no great laser by being excluded from its benefits.
Aside from this proscription, I was as well provided for as any other passenger. Indeed, my apartments were much to be preferred to any which I saw on board. I was treated with the utmost politeness by every officer on board, and received every attention from the servants during the whole voyage. It may be asked, then, why do I yet complain? The answer is, that my position was one of coercion, when it ought to have been that of option. The difference is as wide as that of freedom and slavery; and the man who cannot see the one, cannot see the other.
In haste, yours, sincerely,
PLSr: Lib., 30 April 1847. Reprinted in NASS, 6 May 1847; PaF, 6 May 1847; Newcastle-upon-Tyne Christian, 3:518–21 (1 June 1847); JNH, 10:722–25 (October 1925); Woodson, Mind of the Negro, 458–61.