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Frederick Douglass to William and Robert Smeal, April 29, 1847

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FREDERICK DOUGLASS TO WILLIAM AND ROBERT SMEAL1William (1793–1877) and Robert (?–1886) Smeal, Quakers from Gallowgate, were the proprieters and editors of the British Friend. William Smeal, a tea merchant or grocer, served as secretary of the Glasgow Emancipation Society with John Murray. Their sister, Jane, married John Wigham III of Edinburgh and, with her daughter Eliza Wigham, was active in the antislavery movement there. Merrill and Ruchames, Garrison Letters, 3:31n; Taylor, British and American Abolitionists, 54, 105.

Lynn, Mass. 29 April [1847].

MY DEAR FRIENDS,—

I am at home—in the warm bosom of my family, caressed and administered to, by the beloved ones of my heart. It is good to be here. Thanks be to God, the giver of every good and perfect gift,2James 1:17. whose tender mercies are over all,3Ps. 145:9. and without the notice of whose eye, even a sparrow may not fall to the ground,4Matt. 10:29. I have been preserved. After more than sixteen days of fierce conflict with head winds, adverse waves, and the immeasurable hardships and perils of a spring voyage across the Atlantic, I am surrounded by the calm, soothing, and tranquilizing influences of home. You will be glad

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to know that I found my family all well, and in a more healthy state than I had ventured to hope would be the case. My dear boys, Lewis and Frederick,5Lewis Henry was six years old at the time, and Frederick, Jr., was five. have grown rapidly, both knew me well, and, when within a few rods of our house,6The small house owned by Douglass in Lynn was beside the tracks of the railroad on which Douglass frequently embarked on speaking tours. McFeely, Frederick Douglass, 92. they ran with sparkling eyes, dancing with very joy to meet me. Frederick I caught up into my arms, and taking Lewis by the hand, I ran with them into the house, and relieved all anxious expectation. Imagination may rest here a short time. For once all cares of a public nature were cast aside, and my whole heart absorbed in grateful rapture. You have heard ere this, that an attempt was made to degrade me, by proscribing and placing me beyond the circle of my fellow-passengers, during the voyage. This was done to conciliate the democratic Slave-holders on board, who would have felt degraded by my presence at the table with them; these men would have been glad to have owned me for their slave, but they could not tolerate me as a free man. This proscription, though an early and at first a bitter foretaste of what then awaited me in this land, proved a blessing rather than a curse, since by compelling me to go into separate apartments, I was placed beyond the social influence of a set of persons, who proved to be a band of wild, uproarious, gambling tipplers, whose foul-mouthed utterances interposed an impassable gulf between us.

The first few days of the voyage, I felt the degradation of my position, and felt a degree of loneliness. I was on a British steamer, a British flag waving over me; on her deck were a hundred and twenty passengers, not one of all of them had paid more for their passage than I had, yet while I was confined like a criminal to a certain part of the ship because of my colour, they enjoyed the privilege of going at large, and in the spacious saloon, from which I was excluded. These superior privileges naturally enough induced in some a feeling of superiority over me, and made it somewhat improper to be seen near me; so while among men, children of one common Father, I was without society, I stood isolated and alone, with none to extend to me the hand of civility or pass a friendly smile in common, on the frowning waves of the deep—thus solitary and alone, my heart could dwell on the many beloved friends whose homes and hearts were ever open to me when I sojourned among you. * * *

After the first few days of our voyage, my proscription and the cause of it became generally known, and was at once a topic of common conversation among the passengers. A few persons, either from curiosity or humanity, spoke to me in my loneliness, and extended to me the common civilities of the day; they were of the more respectable part of our number, and this continued during the voyage. Thus was the attempt to degrade me

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rendered unavailing. I landed at Boston on Tuesday night, the 20th April, and a reception meeting was given me in Lynn, on Friday night, the 23d, and the coloured people of Boston intend giving me one on the 3d of May.7Receptions for Douglass were held in Lynn’s Lyceum Hall on 23 April, in the Belknap Meeting House in Boston on 3 May, in New Bedford’s Liberty Hall on 23 May, and in New York City’s Zion Church on 26 May. Lib., 23, 30 April, 7, 21 May, 4 June 1847. Invitations are pressing in upon me from all quarters. I cannot attend one half of the Meetings that parties are anxious to get up for me. My old friends receive me gladly, and new ones flock around to encourage me in my work, still I see before me a life of toil and trial. The war with Mexico, undertaken and carried on for the infamously wicked purpose of extending and perpetuating the enslavement of my race, is becoming more and more popular every day, and such is the feeling here, that to denounce this war in the terms which its atrocious character merits, is at once to be branded as a traitor; but justice must be done, the truth must be told, the wicked must be exposed, freedom and righteousness must be vindicated, and with the help of the God of peace and the oppressed, I will not be silent. I am still strongly determined to devote myself to printing as well as speaking for my race. * * * *

In kind remembrances to all my friends,—Yours truly, &c., &c.

FREDERICK DOUGLASS.

PLeSr: British Friend, 5:116–17 (May 1847); Fifeshire Advertiser, 19 June 1847.8The first printing of this letter, from the British Friend, serves as copy-text, with the exception of the passages omitted in that publication. The Fifeshire Advertiser later published some of the omitted passages, and it serves as copy-text for the latter part of the fifth sentence, beginning with “and in a more healthy state,” through the sentence ending “heart absorbed in grateful rapture.” Reprinted in NASS, 8 July 1847; Philadelphia Non-Slaveholder, 2:191–92 (August 1847).

Date

April 29, 1847

Type

Publication Status

Published