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Communipaw (James McCune Smith) to Frederick Douglass and John Thomas, January 1, 1852



Messrs. Editors:—Happy New Year!—May many, many more find you and your paper increasing in circulation and usefulness! The day smiles gloriously, and men and children shout uproariously over Gotham and Communipaw, (in the Jerseys,) everything invites to an al fresco; but somehow my pen will 'go in' for an overhauling of Mr. Squier's book in Nicaragua.

Like Stephens' Central America, and Layard's Nineveh, this book has the freshness and originality in the subject matter, that carries one along with it almost unconscious of the style and language. The two volumes are well arranged into, first, Introduction, comprising geography and topography—2d. Personal narrative, comprising manners, customs, scenery, antiquities, &c. 3d. Proposed Inter-Oceanic Canal. 4th. Aboriginal inhabitants. 5th. Outline of Political History.

Look at your map of Central America, and you will find Nicaragua a territory, bounded on the north by Honduras, and San Salvador, south, by the State of Costa Rica, and on either side by the Carribean Sea and the Pacific. At the mouth of the river San Juan, is the beginning of a "water privilege," which with Lakes Nicaragua and Managua, cut this territory diagonally to within twelve miles of the Pacific Ocean. Greatest length of transit, 258 miles. Greatest height of water level, 156 feet above the Pacific. But the transit may be shortened to 146 miles, with no higher water level that 128 feet, by cutting a canal from Lake Nicaragua to the Bay of Salinas on the Pacific. The rise to this water level on the eastern approach is by the San Juan, which averages 1.40 feet to the mile and may be made navigable for large


vessels at a small outlay in the rapids.

This route is not only the best for easy transit, it is also the nearest by 300 miles to Europe and North America; and, lately, it is by far the healthiest. And if anything can add to "lastly," it is the singular beauty and sublimity of the natural scenery on this route, which Mr. Squier paints so enchantingly, that a "Journey to the Lakes" can mean nothing else than Nicaragua and Managua, and the rapids of the San Juan!

There is no doubt that this will be the great highway between the oceans. Hence its political and commercial importance cannot be over-estimated. The British Government claims protection over the mouth of the San Juan, for its ally the colored King of the Musquitos. The American Government claims protection over the rest of the route, for their allies the colored republic of Nicaragua.

For Nicaragua is a colored republic. The population consists of Whites, 25,000; Negroes, 13,000; Indians, 80,000; mixed of all three above 130,000; total, 250,000. (Vol. L. P. 35.) And of the 25,000 whites, Mr. Squire says: "An infusion of Indian blood (? negro too) is easily detected in a large portion of those who claim to be of pure Spanish descent. It displays itslef in the color of the skin, &c." Hence truth might say, Whites, 10,000; Negroes, 15,000; Indians, 80,000; mixed, 145,000; or, if we take the American view of the question, (North American of course,) and put down figures in the order of majority, we have, Colored or Negroes, 160,000; Indians, 80,000; Whites, (so called,) 10,000. Which, as an equation, can't be beat in Bonny castle! Whites, one twenty-fifth.


And among these quarter of a million of people, "the fusion between all classes of the population of Nicaragua has been so complete, that notwithstanding the diversity of races, distinctions of caste are hardly recognized." P. 267. Even this is qualified at P. 294. "In some states of Central America, a jealousy of caste has been artfully excited by unscrupulous partizans for unworthy purposes, which has led to most deplorable results; but in Nicaragua, if this feeling exists at all, it is only in a latent form." All classes may aspire to the highest position in Church and State.

Hear that, American Colonizationism! where is the barrier which the Almighty has placed between the admixture of the negro and the white man? Hear it, O Horace Greely! and stand convicted of ignorance or falsehood when you say it is "neither natural nor desirable that whites and blacks shall live together in the same community." Mr. Squier, brought up in Albany, as full as any man of filthy American prejudice, of nasty negro hate, a witness from the other side, says, that caste has been artfully excited, created between [the] races in Central America.

To be sure, Mr. Squier does not admit all this without "squirming." He says: "The Indian retains his traditionary deference for the white man, and tacitly admits the superiority." No such thing about the negroes; but then there are negroes as in negroes.—"In respect to physique, leaving color out of the question, there are probably no handsomer men in the world than some of the sambos or offspring of Indian and negro parents." "It should, however, be observed that the negroes of Nicaragua differ very widely in appearance from those of the Unites States. They must have been derived from an entirely different portion of the


African continent. They have, in general, aqueline noses, small mouths and thin lips—in fact, with the exception of crisp hair, (shade of Sir Piercy Shafton! what a pleasant euphemism for 'wooley headed!') and dark skin, they have few of the features, which, with us, are regarded as peculiar and universal in the negro race."

One does not know which most to admire in the above, the 'couleur de rose,' which the necessity of eating, drinking, dancing, sleeping and negociating with these negroes throws around their features, in the vision of our Charge d' Affaires; or the intoxicating influence which the gorgeous scenery, or [huge] black eyes, and 'peach complexioned damsels' have thrown over his brain; for be it known he "admits the corn" of his having been, smitten in Nicaragua by damsels of each several race, or the asinine stupidity which assumes that an American with the seven fold gauze of prejudice before his eyes, when in the United States, can even see the physique of the black men whom they so eternally wrong and at the expense of a thousand hells within their scared and still burning conscience still persist in wronging, or the miraculous ignorance of the ethnography of Africa which our author exhibits. Mr. Squier professes to be an Ethnographist. He is a member of the New York Ethnological Society; he should know, therefore, that the Joloffs,* on the Guinea coast, are just such looking negroes as those of Nicaragua; that throughout that coast travelers are struck with the European features of the natives; that just such looking negroes abound in these United States; and that the [vague] "with us" is not an actual physical heir of


flesh and bones and blood, but a ridiculous monster of the mind, ugly beyond all physical portraying, so utterly and ineffably monstrous as to frighten reason from its throne, and justice from its balance, and mercy from its hallowed temple, and to blot out shame and probity, and the eternal sympathies of nature, so far as these things have presence in the breasts or being of American republicans! No sir! It is a constructive negro—a negro by implication—a John Roe and Richard Doe negro, that haunts with grim presence the precints of this republic, shaking his gory looks over legislative halls and family prayers, such as Dr. Cox utters.

The moment an actual negro makes himself manifest by word or blow, he is no longer a negro, he is half white, or he is, anything but a negro.

But I must close. More about Mr. Squier's book next week. Rowdy mobs are the order of the day-to-day. Palmos, Astor House, and many large hotels have been stormed, and the decanters rifled. An assualt was made on Mr. Downings, 5 Broad St.; but Ireland and Virginia stood shoulder to shoulder, and gave the assailants Jessie. The committee of thirteen met in tears on the receipt of Bro. Allen's castigation, and would be utterly inconsolable but for the fact that he is solitary and alone in the discovery of their delinquency. They hope his leg is well knit by this time, and that he won't drive so fast the next.

Very sorry to hear of your illness. If you don't improve soon, I will get grand uncle to dig some of the healing roots which grow about.


New York, Jan. 1, 1852.

* Prichard's Physic History of Man.


Smith, James McCune (1813–1865)




Communipaw (James McCune Smith) to Frederick Douglass and John Thomas. PLSr: Frederick Douglass' Paper, 8, 15 January 1852. Reviews new book on Nicaragua by Ephraim George Squier.


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


Frederick Douglass' Paper



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Frederick Douglass' Paper