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Ethiop [William J. Wilson] to Frederick Douglass, July 12, 1853


From our Brooklyn Correspondent.

BROOKLYN HEIGHTS, July 12, 1853.

DEAR DOUGLASS:—A country cousin
laughed most heartily over the fact, that
Ethiop ventured as far from home as Roch-
ester; and desires to know what he heard
and saw there.

To gratify this natural inquisitiveness of
a lady, and inform some others of your read-
ers, it may not be amiss to say just here
something of what I, Ethiop, did see and
hear in Rochester. I own I had some credit
for fleetness of foot when a boy; yet had
you seen me moving up Broadway just be-
fore six A. M., on Tuesday, in quest of a
car, you would have surely doubted my iden-
tity. And, now, one foot on the car step,
and a half minute to spare! A few snorts,
and one prolonged and terrible hissing,
and off dashed, at a break-neck rate, the old
iron horse. There was no help for it; I was
on board, and off for Rochester; and adjust-
ing myself as well as I could, I resolved to
see the end of it; and so I did.

The idea, however, of having whole bones
by the time we reached Rochester, never
once occupied my thoughts; if I may be
said to have had any thoughts during this
transition. Twelve mortal hours was I
bumped and thumped, and jammed and jar-
red, and pitched and tossed, and bruised and
beat. At last our old iron horse, true to his
purpose, gave another terrific neigh, and the
polite conductor announced Rochester.

After all, there was something in this my
first railroad adventure: the fine surround-
ing scenery—the way-places—the iron horse
striding "the country like a thing of life"—not stopping aught for hill or dell, nor rivu-
let, nor deeper stream;—I say there was
something in all this so truly American, that
I really liked it. Anon, I wished the cars were
impelled yet faster; anon, that I dwelt in
some of the quiet nooks, or on some one of
the many gently sloping hill sides, or by
some one of the many winding streams at
their bases, a silvery glimpse of which I'd
catch as on we swiftly passed. To know
and appreciate Western New York, one must
see it. I would that thousands of our peo-
ple, during summer travel, would more and
better acquaint themselves with the country
and the people thereabouts. The effect would
be to settle many of them in those fine, fer-
tile and healthy regions, and make thrifty
and wealthy farmers.


But I was in Rochester, my dear M—, and you desire to know something of what
I saw and heard there. It was Wednesday
morning. I rose and made my toilet, (don't
smile;) breakfasted, and leisurely sauntered
down town to the Arcade. This is the
centre of business in Rochester, and through
it we pass to Corinthian Hall, (the finest
in the city,) where the Convention was to
hold its sessions. In the Arcade, and in
front and about the steps of the Hall, groups
of men were talking, though earnestly,
in tones so low as not to be understood by
the passer by. Gravity sat on every counte-
nance, and sat becomingly too. They all
seemed like men or purpose, sensible of hav-
ing something to do, and determined to do
it. This was about nine o'clock. At a quar-
ter before ten o'clock, persons of every class,
color and sex began to pour into the Hall.-
Delegates (with few exceptions) all arrived,
and were in their seats, with watches in
hand. Five minutes more, and some one—I
think the Rev. A. G. Beman, of New Haven,
Conn.—moved that the Rev. Mr. Peek,
of Pa., take the Chair till the Convention
was permanently organized. It was precise-
ly ten o'clock. This was a promptitude in-
dicative of what was to follow. Mr. Peek, a
fine appearing, middle aged gentleman, of
mild and bland manner, and looking as tho'
accustomed to good living, ascended the plat-
form, and commenced the operations of the
morning, with the air of a man of business.
Wm. Whipper, a gentleman of talent, busi-
ness, and, I am told, of much wealth, from
the same State, was appointed temporary

Let me say, just here, that I was never
more forcibly struck than with the appear-
ance of the entire delegation. A finer look-
ing body of men never before sat in one
room at the same time in this country. There
was such freedom from foolish pride, such an
absence of affectation or vanity, yet so good a


deportment, that one's heart swelled with pride
at the sight. If, my dear M—, I may be
allowed to instance one or two cases to the
contrary, it will serve but heighten the pic-
ture I have just drawn. I have read some-
where of a would-be-American critic, who,
while visiting the Pantheon at Rome, seeing
the grandeur and perfection of Art around
him, which he could neither appreciate nor
understand, threw back his coat, elevated
his head, twirled his agate cane round his
fingers, and with half closed eyes gleaming
out from behind his spectacles, sauntered
amidst the intelligent throng of spectators,
exclaiming aloud, "humbug! humbug!! all
a mere HUMBUG!!!"

Now to the point. Casual mention was
made by some one of the failure to pass one
of the reports, because of one or two of its
features, when a plump and rotund embodi-
ment of pomp and disappointment, in the
shape of a duck-legged, full-whiskered, lit-
tle man, exclaimed, "fallacy! fallacy!! all
mere fallacy!!! the whole of that report!"
and his little legs, and his little whiskers, and
his little sides all seemed to swell out with
the effort he had made.

Should any one of stuffed-up pomp
and conceit, recognize the portrait, let it
be set down as Head No. 0 of the ——One other young man exhibited his gold and
tinsel before Ethiop's eyes, rather more than
he could have wished; but these are the ex-
ceptions, and a friend of mine says they gave
variety to the body. So now, my dear M—, I
drop the curtain, and leave you, and those
who read with you, to conjecture for awhile
what followed. Not so with you, my dear
Douglass; you were behind the curtain, and
know the rest.

Yours truly,



Ethiop (William J. Wilson)


July 12, 1853


Ethiop [William J. Wilson] to Frederick Douglass. PLSr: Frederick DouglassP, 22 July 1853. Describes his experience of the National Black Convention held in Rochester from 6 to 8 July 1853.


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


Frederick Douglass' Paper (Rochester, N.Y.) 1851-18??



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