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Communipaw (James McCune Smith) to Frederick Douglass, March 6, 1852


Letter from Communipaw.

Frederick Douglass:—It relieved a world of anxiety to find in your paper to-day, a column brought up in the rear by "mon ami" of the "heights;" for passing through Church St. the other night, I heard a hoarse objurgation on an "Ethiopian corpse," which made me fear that the daring Brooklyner had fallen a victim to his researches in St. Phillip's row. As it is, he has suffered some in his adventures; for, after promising to attend to me in due time, the poor fellow sprinkles me over with sage, and green at that, which reminds me of an old Carolina story: John was seated at table for his Christmas meal, and, plunging his knife into the principal dish, exclaimed, "Peggy, my dear, you tuffy de goose with green yarb in the de dead ob winter?" It turned out that John had cut into the gall.

A little further down the column, I exclaimed in boyish glee, "Buck, buck, how many horns?" And was sorely puzzled at Ethiop's three horned dilemma, until a lady suggested that he meant a chimera, which the classical dictionary says, was a three-headed monster, with "his fore parts a lion, the middle parts a goat, and the hind parts a dragon. (And Anthon's L'Empriese, Art, Chimaera.) This hypothesis I reject indignantly; for I am a plain Dutch negro, with only one head, without horns or tail: I am well known in the flats, and Harsimus and Bergen, and way up to Hell Gate, and am lineal descendant from one of the jolly fellows whom Washington Irving alluded to in his sketch book, as shining and laughing on our side of Buttermilk Channel.


The last paragraph in Ethiop's letter, the touching, winning, deprecatory, insinuating, melting, heart-of-stone-softening expression, "dear Communipaw," brings all freshly to my swimming eyes the vivid recollection of what occurred once, where Phil Bell, Ulysses, (brevitee, Bub,) Vidal, Frank Myers, and some others who,

"Lie where Cassia marks the spot,"

went to school together. One of us, (now, Phil, I shan't say who,) had "played hookey," (truant,) and came to school duly prepared, by extra pantaloons, to undergo the usual flagellation; which would have passed on very well, had it not been for an unfortunate layer of paper, which betrayed an unusual sound to Charley Andrew's quick ear, as the rattan went wop! Stripping off the extra garment, Charley laid on with a mischievous vigor which brought from the boy a hundred exclamations of Oh! Oh! Oh! Mr. Andrews, I'll never! Oh! Mr. Andrews, and finally, "dear Mr. Andrews! my dear Mr. Andrews!" which brought down the house; even Charley Andrews could cut no more, neither can I.

Seriously, then, I still hold, in regard to our people, that "our present real can only be bettered by a noble ideal." That money is not that nobler ideal; but liberty, equality, human brotherhood, in a word—manhood—is that nobler ideal; and we can only reach it by the right development of character, here where God has placed us. I take it that Frederick Douglass' manhood on board the Alida, did more for our elevation, than poor, old Godwin and his thirty thousand dollars he toiled for, and then, poor black, gave back to a white man, disinheriting his own people. I take it, that Alexander Crummell has done more for the advancement of our people, by his true manhood, than any colored man could do by amassing gold.


Compare Sam Ward with the only black millionaire in New York, I mean Jerry Hamilton: and it is plain that manhood is a "nobler ideal" than money. The former has illustrated his people and his country, the other has fled from his identity, (to use the elegant phraseology of Ethiop,) like a dog with a tin kettle tied to his tail!

There is no doubt, dearest Ethiop, that in the language of Scripture, you are "black, but comely." Learn to look at you[r] complexion, as a thing which, in your descendants, will pass [away:] laws, stronger than you will inevitably declare.

"[Black spot and white,]"

and however dear to you may be your ebon hue, your great grand children will be "many a whitey brown;" and when you marry, or if you are married, you will tend the same way. It is quite too late in the day to get up an association for the propagation of the pure African, or Irish, or any other breed.

New York is stricken with sickness and death among our people. Thomas [Tabtiskie], the oldest blackman in the city, a colored man, died the other day at the age of 62: his father before him was engaged in the same business, and he leaves a son who continues it with energy. Mr. John L. Esteve, an energetic, thrifty man, of great industry, also died last week; and our friend, Peter Paul [Simons], a most worthy son, lost his mother, at the age of 7[illegible], today.

Gerrit Smith's letter to Gov. Hunt comes as welcome news from a far country. Can't we have a few thousand down our way. Its influence on colored men is most happy and timely. [We needed] some such thing to strenthen our hands.



New York, March 6, 1852.


Smith, James McCune (1813–1865)




Communipaw (James McCune Smith) to Frederick Douglass. PLSr: Frederick Douglass' Paper, 18 March 1852. Advocates economic elevation for blacks.


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