Skip to main content

A[mos] G[erry] B[eman] to Frederick Douglass, September 9, 1854


For Frederick Douglass' Paper.


FREDERICK DOUGLASS: DEAR SIR:—Your paper, a few weeks since, contained an allusion to the course of a man, said to have been denied recognition as a citizen of these United States, by one of its functionaries, in consequence of his color. The particular facts were not stated: but in the hope of awakening investigation, I send you the following facts, which may be found in that most excellent work—"THE RIGHTS OF COLORED MEN," by Wm. Yates, Esq.—a book that should be in the hands of every colored man. These statements are found on the 61st page. The following circumstance is related in a letter from the Rev. A. A. Phelps, dated May 24th, 1834, to Wm. Goodell:—
"On Tuesday evening I took tea at Mr. Forten's, a well known manufacturer and merchant of Philadelphia—a man of color—in company with brothers Leavitt, Pomeroy and Dr. Lansing. It was a very pleasant interview, and not the least pleasant thing about it, is the following: We were scarcely seated before in came Robert Vaux, Esq., with a passport for Robert Purvis and wife, under the seal of the Secretary of States, certifying that said Purvis and wife were citizens of the United States. Mr Purvis is son-in-law to Mr. Forten. He was about to visit Europe for his health, and in some of the countries on the continent, as in France a passport is necessary, certifying who the person is, where from, &c. The application was made through Robert Vaux, Esq., and on the representation of the case by him it was at once granted." (See the Emancipation, June 8th, 1834, Vol. 2d, No. 6)

The following is a copy of the passport granted to the Rev. Peter Williams, the respected pastor of St. Phillip's Church, New York, and a man of color. He visited England and France in the years 1836-37. The passport is headed with a beautiful impression of the American Eagle, and the motto "nunc sidera ducit," in a scroll in his beak:

To all to whom these present shall come, greeting:

No. 4189
DESCRIPTION.—Age, 50 years; statue, 5 feet 6 inches; forehead, high; eyes, hazel; nose, broad; mouth, ordinary; chin, pointed; hair, black; complexion, yellowish; face, round and full. Signature of the bearer, Peter Williams.*
I, the undersigned, Secretary of State of the United States of America, hereby request all whom it may concern, to permit safely and freely to pass Rev. Peter Williams, a citizen of the United States, and in case of need to give him all lawful aid and protection.
Secretary of L S State's office.
Given under my hand, and the impression of the Seal of the Department of State, in the City of Washington, the 17th day of March, A.D. 1836, in the 60th year of the Independence of these United States.

As a question, our citizenship in this country is one of deep and vital interest to us; and as such, everyone should be familiar with the facts and principle upon which it is to be dedicated.
Yours, as ever, A.G.B.
NEW HAVEN, Sept. 9, 1854.
*In his own hand-writing.


Beman, Amos Gerry (1812–1872)




A[mos] G[erry] B[eman] to Frederick Douglass. PLSr: Frederick DouglassP, 15 September 1854. Comments on and provides information about the status of the citizenship question for blacks in the United States.


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


Frederick Douglass' Paper



Publication Status



Frederick Douglass' Paper