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Charles Burch to Frederick Douglass, October 4, 1848


Prosc[r]iption in Travelling.
Mr. Editorー
Sir: ー
Having some knowledge of the position which you hold in relation to the subject of proscription on account of color, I have taken the liberty to send you a few lines on this subject, for the benefit of such as may be disposed to withhold their patronage from a man who, on account of his extreme dislike (not to say his inveterate hatred) against color, stands solemnly pledge to procribe, ill-treat, and insult colored people whenever they favor him with it.
Having occasion a short time since to pass up the canal from Lockport to Buffalo, I chance to alight on board of the opposition boat Francis, commanded by Capt. Schuyler. Soon after we left the landing-place at Lockport, the bell rang for passengers to settle for their passage. In my turn, I stepped up to the table, (there being no office on the boat) and inquired how much the fare was to Buffalo. I was informed by the captain that it was twenty-five cents without dinner, and fifty cents with. I paid the fifty cents, and requested the captain to give me a dinner ticket. But he said that I did not need one, as he should remember that I had paid for dinner. Nothing further of importance occurred until the hour arrived, when all things were in readiness, as is usually the case.ーThe ladies were all seated at the table, when a general rush of the passengers ensued, and the table was quickly filled. But as I was in feeble health, and quite weak, I did not attempt to gain admission to the first table, but still continued on deck.
With the second table ready, the rush for it was about the same; and I still continued to keep my seat on deck. After the second table had dined, and the crowd was over, I went down and took my seat in the cabin, hoping to get a seat at the third without difficulty, when due notice should be given. But you can judge what was my surprise when, as I attempted to take my seat at the table, I found my arm fast in the firm grasp of a stout colored man, who very unceremoniously informed me that I could not dine at that table. I inquired the reason, and was told that there were yet white people to eat, and it was against their rules to seat colored persons at the table with white people. I again inquired if I had not paid as much for my far as they had. But I was promptly informed that it was useless for me to argue or contend, as I could not be permitted to take a seat at the table while there were white people to eat.ーFinding myself thus shamefully insulted and deprived of my rights, for which I had paid as dear as any man on board, I left the cabin in disgust, and resumed my seat on deck to await the setting of the negro-table, at which I had no dispostion to eat after the insults received. When within a few miles of Buffalo, a favorable opportunity presented itself, and the following conversation took place:
Burch.ーCaptain, I believe I paid you for my dinner to-day, did I not!
Captain.ー(Starting up with considerable apparent surprise) You did sir.
B.ーI think, then, it is nothing more than just that you should refund my money, as I have been driven from the table by your Steward, and not permitted to have that privilege.
C.ー(Starting up from his seat with increased surprise) Not had any dinner! (at the same time handing me back my change)ーnot had any dinner? that is very strange.
B.ーThat is just what I thought too, captain; and I wish now to inquire of you, sir, whether it is a rule of yours not to suffer colored persons to sit down at table because there may be white people eating, or whether it was the exercise of undue authority on the part of the steward?
Cー(Changing from his apparent surprise, and affecting a degree of sanctity which, had it been real, might have become a better man)ーYou know that white people have an objection to sit at the table with colored, and you know it will not do to offend those from whom we get our living, to gratify a few colored people.
B.ーThen you would give me to understand, do you, that however respectable a colored man's appearance may be, whatever may be his intelligence or his moral worth, so long as he is a colored man he cannot be permitted to eat at the table with white people on your boat.
C.ー(Changing from his affected sanity to give vent to the spontaneous effusions of his evil heart, his face flushed, and his eyes sparkling with the indignant fire that burned within. Thus nerved for his important work, proceeded to answer)—I have had many colored passengers of as respectable appearance as you are; but I never had one to say as much to me on this subject before my life; and now I wish it to be distinctly understood, once for all, that no colored man can ever be permitted to set down at my table to eat with white people.
Thus it will be seen that Capt. Schuyler stands pledged to procribe and insult every colored man that seeks a passage on his boat. Permit me, then, to say, in conclusion, that it is the duty of every one who is true to his interest, and true to his color, to withhold from such a man his patronage, till, with repenting tears, he shall wash out that foul stain from his character.
Buffalo, Oct. 4. 1848.


Burch, Charles




Charles Burch to Frederick Douglass. PLSr: NS, 20 October 1848. Reveals racial discrimination aboard Great Lakes steamships.


This document was calendared in the published volume and has not been published in full before.


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