The Book

Frederick Douglass and Scotland, 1846: Living an Antislavery Life

Alasdair Pettinger

Available now from Edinburgh University Press.

The first full-length study of Frederick Douglass’ visit to Scotland in 1846

Frederick Douglass (1818–95) was not the only fugitive from American slavery to visit Scotland before the Civil War, but he was the best known and his impact was far-reaching. This book shows that addressing crowded halls from Ayr to Aberdeen, he gained the confidence, mastered the skills and fashioned the distinctive voice that transformed him as a campaigner. It tells how Douglass challenged the Free Church over its ties with the Southern plantocracy; how he exploited his knowledge of Walter Scott and Robert Burns to brilliant effect; and how he asserted control over his own image at a time when racial science and blackface minstrel shows were beginning to shape his audiences’ perceptions. He arrived as a subordinate envoy of white abolitionists, legally still enslaved. He returned home as a free man ready to embark on a new stage of his career, as editor and proprietor of his own newspaper and a leader in his own right.

Shortlisted for the Saltire History Book of the Year 2019

We have long known about the significance of Frederick Douglass’s visit to Britain and his activities in Scotland in 1846, but Pettinger calls on us to look beyond what we know, and in doing so takes us on an exciting intellectual excursion at the end of which we are left with a much deeper understanding of the ways those months spent in Scotland helped to sculpt the man who is now recognized as one of the great figures of 19th century history. – Richard Blackett, Vanderbilt University

… an exemplary intellectual, political, social, cultural, and ideological investigation into Douglass’s many lives as lived in Scotland. As the first full-length and exhaustively researched study of Douglass’s visit to Scotland in 1846, Pettinger’s volume is to be highly commended for its innovative literary, cultural, and philosophical analyses and for its effortless mapping of Douglass’s transatlantic life and works. – Celeste-Marie Bernier, University of Edinburgh, Scottish Literary Review, Vol 11 No 2 (Autumn/Winter 2019) [Link to full review]

Frederick Douglass and Scotland is an ambitious and highly original work that is an exciting new addition to the historiography. It addresses both the need for more recognition of Douglass in Scottish historiography, and also of Scotland in studies of Douglass in the United States. It is thoroughly researched, and the author does an impressive of using source material to reveal Douglass’s visit to Scotland as a truly transformative episode in the abolitionist’s life. – Shaun Wallace, University of Bristol, History Scotland, Vol 2 No 2 (March/April 2020) [Link to full review]

There is much to be admired in this book. Pettinger constructs a compelling narrative, all the while remaining faithful to a wide array of contemporary sources. His style is clear and inviting, evidenced – for example – by the image-laden prose used to describe the scenes Douglass would have taken in during his first days in Scotland. He also interacts constructively with the growing body of work on Scotland’s connection to slavery, including the output of Tom Devine, Michael Morris, and – with particular reference to the Free Church and slavery – Iain Whyte. The front and back matter also add to the book’s appeal. The introductory Dramatic Personae enlivens the book from the beginning, preparing the reader for what unfolds in the chapters that follow. The appendices and maps at the back add yet another level of detail, and aid the reader in placing Douglass – and themselves – in the unfamiliar cityscapes of Victorian Scotland. – Andrew Jones, Kennesaw State University, Scottish Church History, Vol 49 No 1 (April 2020) [Link to full review]

It seems utterly mind-blowing that W L Andrews’s otherwise excellent Oxford Frederick Douglass (1995) brought out in the 150th anniversary of the trip to Britain and Ireland contained not one letter or speech from the visit. Pettinger’s masterly study of his epochal visit to Scotland fills in some of those gaps with a comprehensively researched treatment of topics such as phrenology, his interest in photography, blackface minstrelsy and centrally the Free Church of Scotland and Douglass’s ‘Send Back the Money’ campaign that was so important to his maturation as an independent political figure. – Alan Rice, University of Central Lancashire, Journal of American Studies 54 (2020). [Link to full review]

This referenced and illustrated book is very well written and it includes an extensive bibliography. It should appeal to a broad spectrum of readers … The author provides a fascinating analysis of the impact of contemporary Scottish culture on Douglass (and vice versa). – Eric Graham, Scottish Local History 109 (Summer 2021) [Link to full review]

Pettinger’s vast research into Douglass’s speeches, correspondence and autobiographies enables him to foreground clearly Douglass’s agency in his transformation … Overall, this is an important addition to the scholarship on Douglass and abolitionism in the US. But equally, in calling to light the fact that Douglass did not come to Scotland to congratulate the people on ‘having broken with a slavery past, but to accuse them of a continued alliance with a slavery present’, Pettinger also provides an important contribution to the transatlantic scholarship examining Scotland’s role in slavery. – Nicola Martin, University of the Highlands and Islands, Scottish Historical Review, Vol 100 No 2 (August 2021). [Link to full review]

  • 234mm x 156mm
  • 376 pages
  • 31 b&w illustrations
  • Published in hardback, November 2018; paperback, August 2020.

A digital edition is available via University Scholarship Online, which is free to access for members of university libraries which subscribe to this database; also for registered readers of the National Library of Scotland whose main address is in Scotland.

The paperback may be ordered from Hive (the online portal for independent bookshops in the UK) for £18.89.

Arbroath: 10-12 February 1846

Arbroath, from Forfarshire Illustrated: Being Views of Gentlemen’s Seats, Antiquities, and Scenery in Forfarshire …. (Dundee: Gershom Cumming, 1843).

While Frederick Douglass left Dundee for a few days in Glasgow at the beginning of February, it seems that his companion James N Buffum went ahead to Arbroath, fifteen miles up the coast, to arrange a venue for lectures they would give together when he returned.

He probably expected to book the Second Secession church of Rev. Alexander Sorley on Fore (now West) Abbey Street (marked green on the map below).1 Their fellow campaigner Henry Clarke Wright had addressed meetings there on several occasions the previous year.2  But from the reports in the Arbroath Guide and Northern Warder, reproduced here, it appears that he failed to find a church willing to accommodate them, and they had to settle for the Trades’ Hall (marked purple) instead.

 A notice dated 6 February appeared in the Guide on the 7 February announcing the lecture:

ANTI-SLAVERY LECTURES

MR DOUGLASS, a Fugitive Slave from the United States of America, whose Lectures have excited the deepest interest in all parts of the Kingdom in which he has been, will, with his Friend and Companion, MR BUFFUM, LECTURE on the Subject of SLAVERY in the UNITED STATES, in the TRADES’ HALL here, on TUESDAY evening next, at half-past seven P.M.

** In order to defray expense, One Penny each person will be charged at the door.

According to the report in the Guide, a James Anderson, stood up at this meeting to promise the speakers the use of the Abbey Church (marked blue), of which he was a trustee.3 The next two meetings (on Wednesday 11th and Thursday 12th) took place there.

John Wood, Plan of the Town of Arbroath (1822). Detail. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.

Why Sorley did not make his church available we do not know for sure. It was not unusual for ministers to be overruled by their managers. They may have been especially cautious in the light of events that followed Wright’s previous appearance in the town. His criticisms of the Free Church of Scotland for its cordial relationship with pro-slavery churches in the United States, symbolised by its acceptance of donations from them, provoked a dramatic response.  As Wright tells it:

Some weeks ago, I lectured here twice, in the Superior Church, Rev. Mr. Sorley, minister. The Saturday night after I left, somebody prepared some black and some red paint, and at the midnight hour, painted with black paint, on the Free Churches, in a prominent place near the door, and in very large letters, the following sentence – ‘THE SLAVE’S BLOOD;’ and then, with a brush, dashed the blood red paint about on the stones, some ten feet from the ground. The churches are built of stone. Sabbath morn, when the people came to church, there were the sentence and the blood-red spots; and they carried shame, conviction and wrath to the Frees. The whole town flocked to see it, and for weeks it was the town talk, and led to a long discussion in the newspapers. They could not wash, nor scrape off the bloody spots, nor the black letters. It seemed like the blood of the murdered victim, that could not be washed out. A man was employed by the elders of one of the marked churches to put up a scaffold, and to chisel out the convincing words. But, on the other church, the words and bloody spots are still seen. I have just been to see them, and I do not wonder that they have excited the town.4

Wright was present in Arbroath with Douglass and Buffum and reported: ‘This town of 12,000 inhabitants, is in a state of great excitement. “Send back that blood money!” is the general watchword, and the Free Church cannot endure the scorn much longer.’5 But he did not join them on the platform. If the Church of Scotland trustees of the Abbey Church, like the dissenting churches, were reluctant to overly antagonise their Free Church rivals, perhaps they were reassured by his discretion. However, Douglass and Buffum clearly did not feel the need to modify the tone of their speeches which, on Thursday the 12th, unhesitatingly condemned the Free Church’s refusal to break fellowship with the American churches.

First, the report in the Arbroath Guide, which provided an account of the meetings on Tuesday 10 February and Thursday 12 February; and then the much briefer (and rather less sympathetic) report of the first meeting in the Northern Warder.  The Guide refers to a meeting on the Wednesday, but gives no details of it.


ANTI-SLAVERY LECTURES

On Tuesday evening last, Messrs Douglass and Buffum, Anti-Slavery Lecturers, who have visited a number of cities in [sic] various towns throughout the kingdom, held a meeting in the Trades’ Hall, to which hundreds of our townsfolk of all descriptions flocked. The utmost enthusiasm prevailed, and the powerfully impressive, excellently reasoned, and touchingly eloquent appeals of Mr Douglass, failed not to raise a feeling of sympathy for the unhappy, degraded, and persecuted slave of the Southern States of America, such as cannot fail to produce the best results. Mr Douglass is one of the most interesting and eloquent speakers we ever remember to have heard, and having a practical knowledge of his subject, he having himself been one and twenty years a slave, and now liable to be seized on as such the moment his foot touches the soil of that ‘Land of Liberty,’ the United States, the details he favoured us with were listened to with intense interest, and the valuable information afforded by him, received with marked attention.

Mr Buffum, his companion and friend, accompanies him. Zeal the most unwearied, efforts the most indefatigable, render Mr B. sufficiently remarkable, while, by his long and initimate acquaintance with all matters calculated to throw light upon the infamous slave commerce, and its baneful workings in the States, he has given us a fund of information as to the position of the slave, the brutal and savage habits of the slave holder, and the direful effects of the system upon the country generally. Mr Buffum has for many years been an active and enterprising member of the Slavery Abolition Society in America; and his account of the formation, organization, and progress of meritorious societies of the kind must have caused a deep, and we trust a lasting feeling of sympathy for the unfortunate beings, to the emancipation of whom he has devoted his time and energies. The style of Mr Buffum’s speaking is different from that of Mr Douglass, but teeming as his statements do with facts and figures, explicit as are his details, and graphic as are his descriptions, need we say that the stores of information which he possesses, and the anecdotes he introduces, are given with striking effect, and received with unmixed applause.

The lectures of these gentlemen have created no little sensation here; indeed, such as has been rarely if ever surpassed. They deal with their subject in a true spirit of candour, of honesty, and straightforwardness; and, armed in the panoply of justice, can well afford to laugh to scorn the weak but malicious attacks of such papers as the Northern Warder. These rigidly righteous rags are stung to the quick, no doubt, because honest and fearless men, such as Messrs. Douglass, Buffum, and Wright, dare to tell the truth as respects a section of the ministers of the Free Church – ministers who have undeniably, and by their proceedings, constituted themselves the aiders, abettors, and defenders of slavery. The damning facts cannot be gainsayed – the truth cannot be denied; and, unable to do away with that which while acknowledged cannot be excused, they, in a mean and dastardly manner, seek, by innuendos, misrepresentations and falsehood, to injure the reputation of men who are as much their superiors in standing as they are in talent. We are wae for the Church, be she bound or be she free, the cause of which is advocated by writers of the stamp we have described.

‘WARDER’ MORALITY

We have heard of Border morality in bygone days. In modern times we have now a specimen of Warder morality. In a commentary on that black business, viz., the Free Church deputation taking into its coffers the blood-stained dollars, and holding forth on the men-stealers and men-dealers of America the hand of Christian fellowship, the Warder says (we quote the substance, not the words, as we do not have the paper bye us), ‘we care not from what source the offerings to our church and to our cause come. If the source is polluted it is no concern of ours – the offering may have been given in a good spirit, and we ask no questions. The more polluted the source, the more acceptable and the more necessary the offering.’ If we quote the spirit of the Warder‘s commentary aright, and we think we do, what can be said of such a system? Murder and robbery may be committed, the plunder may be given for charitable or religious purposes, and no questions asked!! In cases such as this, where you have to deal with folks who indulge in this sort of morality, an appeal to the law may have more effect than an appeal to the gospel. If the Procurator for the Church says nothing, what would the Procurator Fiscal say? We opine he would ask a question; and we are, moreover, inclined to think it would be followed by an act.  There are such terms in the law of Scotland, if not to the Warder‘s code of moral law, as guilty of reset, of theft, and accessory after the fact and

Since laws were made, for every degree,
To check vice in bound, as well as in free,
We think there will soon be more companie
                                Upon Tyburn tree.6

So bewildered are we at the unblushing recklessness of the men who promulgate such doctrines, that we take leave of the subject in utter horror, leaving it to Churchmen, and Free Churchmen, and Christians of whatever creed, to form their own conclusions on it.

ANTI-SLAVERY LECTURES

Our space will not admit of our giving anything like a detail [sic] of the admirable, eloquent and impressive addresses of Mr Douglass on this subject, delivered in the Trades’ Hall on Tuesday, and in the Abbey Church on Wednesday last.

[Tuesday Meeting]

On Tuesday, Mr Buffum, Mr Douglass’s friend and companion, commenced by saying, that he was agreeably disappointed [sic] in meeting so large and intelligent an assembly as what he saw before him. He was disheartened the other day when he came to this town for the purpose of getting a place for his friend, Mr Douglass, and himself, to speak in, and felt, when he found the numerous churches closed against them, that the spirits of liberty had departed from the place.

Churches were built for the express purpose of preaching against sin, and advancing the principles of Jesus Christ; but when he asked them to open them to one who had been a slave one and twenty years of his life, had escaped with the marks of the whip upon his back, and had now four sisters and an aged grandmother in the prison-house, the image of Christ, whom their masters profess to serve, imbruted in their persons, their mind-darkened, and they not allowed to read the scriptures of truth, was it not natural that he (Mr D.) should wish to reveal the dark and bloody deeds of the slaveholders, and call upon them, as followers of Him who went about doing good, to lend him their aid and sympathy. His friend’s object was to free the oppressed from the horrible pit, and vindicate the claims of Christianity.

Strange, then, that not one of their churches could be opened to him.

One church, calling itself ‘Free’, had, for its own selfish purposes, taken a part of the gains of slave-robbers, and to prevent the exposure of this sinful act, had closed the doors of their churches against him and his friend: nay, more, had attempted to overawe others from doing so, and he feared to some extent had succeeded in doing so. This, he would submit, was presumptive proof of their guilt if they were innocent, they would have no fear from any charges. ‘Innocence fears not the light.’ It rushes into it, and says ‘examine;’ but it is the guilty that hate to be examined.7 The Free Churchmen say that we are men of moderate abilities,and may affect to despise our efforts. With the men of talents and learning which that church boasts of, they are surely perfectly competent to do themselves and their church justice. Why not come before the people, then, and show themselves right – prove that they have done right in taking the money, and recognizing the slave-holders as Christians – instead of throwing out vile insinuations against us as men and Christians? I think ‘there is something rotten in the state of Denmark,’ or they would pursue a different course.

Here Mr. Buffum was interrupted by Mr. James Anderson, merchant, who stated that he could not believe that it was from a want of sympathy with them on the part of the people of Arbroath that they were not in posseasion of a more commodious place; but as he (Mr A.) was one of the trustees of Abbey Church, he would venture to take on himself the responsibility of giving them the use of that church, one of the larget and most commodious in the town, for the next night, if they would accept of it.

Mr Buffum thanked Mr Anderson for his kind offer, and said, that he and his friends would avail themselves of it, and that a meeting would be held the next night at half-past seven in that church. He added, that as he knew that they must feel more interest in hearing one who had a long and bitter experience in slavery, and could speak of its actual workings as it came under his observation, he would give way to his friend, Mr Douglass.

Mr. Douglass then came forward and explained the objects which had induced his visit to this country, and stated that the principal one was to give accurate information regarding the practical working of slavery to the people of Great Britain, but that a desire for his own personal safety had also weighed with him, as the disclosures he had been enabled to make of the horrors of slavery, had made him a marked man in his own country. He also stated that he wished to rouse his hearers to a sense of the great influence which the expression of the opinions of the people of Scotland exerted over matters connected with slavery on the other side of the Atlantic, and earnestly entreated them to give their support and countenance to the means now using for the abolition of one of the greatest evils which had ever afflicted the world.

The speaker then entered at some length on the practical working of slavery, and the great support which that evil received from the church, an institution which he declared to be its bulwark in America.8 This part of the subject was handled with consummate ability and eloquence, and his withering denunciation of the profession of slave-holding churches in America compared with their practice, was received with loud and continued cheering.

After going over a variety of other matters bearing on the question of slavery, and appealing to the feelings of his audience in behalf of the poor persecuted, misrepresented, and degraded slave, he explained how the accursed system of bondage, from which the slave suffered, was owing to the institutions of the United States all leagued against him, rendering any hope of freedom under the existing circumstances out of the question.

He then referred to his own position when a slave – to the oppression he had been subjected to – to the hardships he had undergone – to his escape – the countenance he had received – the difficulties he had labored under in order to acquire education; and, finally, to the great, glorious, and amazing progress which the abolition cause was rapidly making in the United States.

No one can form a correct idea of the power and pathos, the thrilling eloquence and the powerful appeals ernbodied in Mr Douglass’s speeches. Of one thing we feel assured, and that is, that his and his friend’s visit will be attended with the happiest results, and not a little add to that just indignation with which the mind of every honorable and upright man must be filled, at the grovelling, base, and selfish attempts of some of the religious folks par excellence, of the Free Church defending and palliating slaveholders and slavery.

After Mr. Douglass had concluded, Mr Buffum again spoke of the origin of the Anti-Slavery movement in the United States, its principles and measures, and gave a short but graphic description of its triumphs and progress, concluding by thanking them for their kind attention, hoping that they should meet them all the next evening.

The Abbey Church on Tuesday was crowded, and the powerful, forcible, and eloquent addresses of our American friends were listened to with the deepest attention. Mr Douglass confined his observations to the state of the slave churches in America, and to the debasing and degrading aid they gave to the crime of slavery, while Mr Buffum gave us some details respecting the working of the system in the places in which he had been and to a brief but interesting account of his (Mr B’s) and his friend’s voyage to this country. As the question of slavery in connection with the Free Church of Scotland is to be taken up this evening (Thursday,) and as it naturally must be of more interest to our readers than details with which they are less acquainted, we have deemed it expedient thus to curtail the account of the lectures on Tuesday and Wednesday, in order to give that of Thursday at greater length.

[Thursday Meeting]

On Thursday evening, the Abbey Church was densely crowded, and the utmost excitement prevailed. About eight o’clock, Mr Douglass addressed the audience as follows:–

Ladies and Gentleman, – I have come hither this evening, in the spirit of candor and fair dealing, to discuss the subject which has now called us together. I am deeply sensible of the prejudice already excited against myself and friends for daring to call attention to the present connection of the Free Church of Scotland with the slave holding churches of America. Much of this prejudice is owing to gross misrepresentations of our motives and objects by the Free Church paper at Dundee. The Warder having taken one false step, they adopt the common, though not the most Christian, mode of defending that step, by taking a dozen more in the same direction.

[The Scottish Churches]

In rising to discuss this subject, I wish to be distinctly understood. I have no war with the Free Church, as such. I am not here to offer one word as to the right or the wrong of the organization of that body. I am not here to say whether Drs Chalmers, Cunningham, and Candlish, or any of the Free Church leaders, did right or wrong in separating from the Establishment. I want no false excuse to be made, or false statements to obtain.

The Warder has dared to circulate the story, that myself and friends are in the pay, and under the sanction of, opposing religious denominations. As far as the charge is brought against me, I pronounce it an unblushing falsehood. I am here to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves, to plead the cause of the perishing slave, and to arouse the energies, excite the sympathies, and obtain the aid and co-operation of the good people of old Scotland in behalf of what I believe to be a righteous cause – the breaking of every yoke, the undoing of heavy burdens, and letting the oppressed go free! Thank God! all religious denominations may work in this cause. The anti-slaveholder’s platform is as broad as humanity, and as strong as eternal justice; all may stand upon it and work together, without violating any christian principle. If fewer of the Free than of the Established Church are to be found upon that platform, the fault is theirs, not mine. In a cause like this, he is a mean-spirited bigot who would refuse to labour because another is labouring in the same cause, whose religious opinion happens not to agree with his own. In denouncing the present connection of the Free Church with the slave-holding churches of America, I have distinguished men of different denominations – of the Established Church, Free and Dissentors – the Rev. John Angell James of Birmingham; Independent minister, Dr Duncan, Dr Willis, Dr. Ritchie, and thirty-six ministers in Belfast, with a host of others, have nobly come forward and refused christian fellowship to slaveholders. I am not here alone; I have with me the learned, and wise, and reverend heads of the church, to justify the position I have assumed. But with or without their sanction, I should stand just where I now do, maintaning to the last that man-stealing is incompatible with christanity – that slaveholding and true religion are at war with each other – and that a Free Church should have no fellowship with a slave church; – that as light can have no union with darkness, Christ has no concord with Belzebub; and as two cannot walk together except they be agreed, and no man can serve two masters, – so I maintain that freedom cannot rightfully be blended with slavery. Nay, it cannot, without stabbing liberty to the heart. Now, what is the character of those churches in America with which the Free Church is in full fellowship, and the christianity of which they indorse in the most unqualified manner? In the language of Isaiah, ‘Their hands are full of blood.’ Their hands are full of blood. Allow me to state the case as it really exists.

[The American Churches]

At this moment, there are three millions of people, for whom Christ died, in the United States held in the most abject slavery – the most galling and degrading bondage – deprived of every privilege – mental, moral, social, and political – deprived of every right common to humanity – herded togther like brutes – denied the institution of marriage – compelled to live in concubinage – left to be devoured by their own lusts – raised like beasts of the field for the market – mere chattels – things – property – deprived of their manhood – they are ranked with beasts – robbed of their identity with the human family – cut off from the race – loaded with chains  – galled by fetters – scarred with the whip – burnt with red hot irons.

They are living without a knowledge of God, groping their way from time to eternity in the dark, the heavenly light of religion shut from their minds. A mother may not teach her own child to read our Lord’s Prayer, not even to spell the name of the God who made her. For it is a crime punishable with death to teach a slave to read. It is nothing that Christ died, it is nothing that God has received his will, for the black as well as the white man. It is nothing that Christ commands us to search the Scriptures; it is a crime punishable with death, by American law, to teach a slave to do it. Good God! what a system! A system of blood and pollution; of infidelity and atheism; of wholesale plunder and murder. Truly did John Wesley denounce it as the sum of all villanies, and the compendium of all crime.

[The Case Against the Free Church of Scotland]

This, christian friends, is but a faint picture of American slavery, and this is the system upheld and sustained by the entire church in the Southern States of the American Union. It is with such a church that the Free Church of Scotland is linked, and interlinked in christian fellowship. It is such a church that the Free Church of Scotland are trying to palm of upon the world as being a christian church. Thus making christianity and slaveholding compatible, thus saying that man-stealing ought not to be a barrier to christian communion, and lowering the standard of christainity, so that the vilest thief, the foulest murderer, the most abandoned profligate, may claim to be a christian, and to be recongnized as such. The Free Church, in vindicating their fellowship of slaveholders, have acted upon the damning heresy that a man may be a christian whatever may be his practice, so his creed be right. So he pays tithes of mint, anise, and cummin, he may be a christian, though he totally neglect judgement and mercy. It is this heresy that now holds in chains three millions of men, women and children in the United States. The slaveholders’ conscience is put at ease by those ministers and churches. They tell him that slave-holding is quite consistent with a profession of religion, and thus sing his conscience to sleep.

Now, let us look at the circumstances under which this deed of christian fellowship was consummated . The Free Church had just broken off from the Established Church, as they say, in defence of christian liberty. They professed to bring off with them nearly all that was good, pure, and holy, from the Establishment. They proclained themselves the true exponents of the moral and religious sentiment of Scotland. Taking their word, they are the life, the soul, the embodiment of christianity in this country. So good, pure, and holy are they, that they would almost feel themselves contaminated by a touch of a member of the Establishment . And so free are they, that they look upon those who remain in the church as mere slaves.

With all this profession of freedom and purity, they appointed a delegation to visit the slave-holding churches in the United States, to beg money to build churches, and pay their ministers. The delegation went over three thousand miles of perilous deep. On their arrival at New York, they were besought, in the name of the perishing slave. not to go to the slave-holding Churches of the south; that as sure as they went, they would contaminate their own cause, as well as stab the cause of the slave.

But reason gave way to avarice, purity yielded to temptation, and the result is, the Free Church is now wallowing in the fifth and mire of slavery, possessing the bad pre-eminence at this time of being the only church in Scotland that makes it a religious duty to fellowship men-stealers as the followers of Jesus Christ.

Now, you have the case before you. The Free Church stands charged with fellowshipping slaveholders as followers of Christ, and of taking the wages of unrighteousness to build her churches, and pay her ministers. Are those charges true, or are they false? The Free Church admits these truths, but denies that she has done wrong. Then the question between us is as to the rightfulness of holding christian fellowship with slave-holders, and taking the results of slaveholding to build churches and pay ministers.The Free Church says it is right: I say it is wrong; and you shall judge between us.

My first position is, that slavery is a sin, the vilest that ever saw the sun, and thus far the Free Church and myself are at agreement.

If, then, slavery be a sin, those who hold slaves must be sinners. This seems to me to be the only rational and natural result to which we can come from such a premise. If lying, swearing, murder, adultery, and stealing be sin, then it is clear that the liars, swearers, murderers, adulterers, and thieves must be sinners.

[Thomas Chalmers’ ‘Doctrine of Circumstances’]

The argument in opposition to this is, that although lying swearing, murder , adultery, and slaveholding be sin, yet liars, swearers, murderers, and adulters, and slaveholders may be, and are, followers of the meek and lowly Saviour; for says Dr Chalmers on this point, ‘DISTINCTION ought to be made between the character of a system and the character of the person whom CIRCUMSTANCES have implicated therewith.9 The Doctor would denounce slaveholding, robbery, and murder as sin, but would not denounce the slaveholder , robber, and murderer as a sinner. He would make a DISTINCTION between sins and the persons whom CIRCUMSTANCES have implicated therewith; he would denounce the dice, but spare the sharper; he would denounce the murder, but spare the murderer; he would denounce the adultery, but spare the adulterer; for says the Doctor, ‘distinction ought to be made between the character of a system and the persons whom circumstances have implicated therewith.’

‘Oh! the artful Dodger.‘ What an excellent outlet for all sinners! Let slaveholders rejoice! Let a fiendish glee run round and round through hell! Dr Chalmers, the eloquent Scotch divine, has, by long study and deep research, found that ‘distinction ought to be made between sin and the sinner’; so that, while slavery may be a heinous sin, the slaveholder may be a good christian, the representative of the blessed Saviour on earth, an heir of heaven and eternal glory, for such is what is implied by christian fellowship.

When a man is received into the church, those who receive him say to the world, ‘we believe this man to be a christian, a representative of Christ, a member of his blessed body.’ This is most horrible doctrine, glossing over the awful sin.

But there is another point in this little sentence of Dr Chalmers; indeed we have, in this one sentence, the key to the entire defence which the Free Church have made to the fellowshipping slaveholders as christians. But to the point. He says that distinction should be made between the character of a system and the character of the persons whom circumstances have implicated therewith. Yes, circumstances – the doctrine of circumstances. Who proclaims it? Dr Chalmers. Yes, this doctrine, which has justly brought down upon the head of the infidel, Robert Owen, the execrations of Christendom, is now proclaimed by the eloquent Scotch divine. The Doctor has been driven to this hateful dilemma by taking a false step, in fellowshipping slaveholders as christians. This doctrine carried out does away with with moral responsibility. All that a thief has to do in justification of his theft is to plead that circumstances have implicated him in theft, and he has Dr Chalmers to apologize for him, and recognize him as a christian. A man-thief, the worst of all thieves has but to make this plea; say, the Doctor makes the plea for him, and receives him to the bosom of the Church as a christian. Christ says, ‘By their fruits shall ye know them.’ Dr. Chalmers says, no, ‘distinction is to be made between the character of the individual and the character of his deeds.’

Now, my friends, I wish to ask, do Dr Chalmers and the Free Church represent your sentiments on this subject? – (here the audience loudly shouted, No!) – I am glad you speak out. I regret to find that such is the power of the Free Church in some parts of this country, and even here in Arbroath, that the Dissenters, who know the Free Church to be wrong, yet do not dare to speak out, for fear of the displeasure of that church. I am ashamed of such abolitionists; they are unworthy the name, being destitute of the spirit. They have not yet learned to value their principles. But the people will speak, they will speak in tones not to be misunderstood. They have already spoken, and, I trust, will continue to speak, until they silence the arrogant pretensions of the Free Church, and cause her to send back that blood-stained money.

I now propose three cheers, which shall be given in the following words: – Send back that money ! (Here the audience joined with Mr Douglass making the welkin ring with ‘Send back that money.’ repeating it three times.)

Mr. Douglass read a compliment to Dr. Chalmers, from the New Orleans Picayune, and also two advertisements of runaway slaves from the same paper, showing that the slaveholders were highly pleased with the Doctor’s position on the slave question. And after commenting on the character of the paper by which the Doctor was eulogized, he closed with an eloquent appeal to the christian people of Scotland, to agitate the question of holding christian fellowship with slaveholders and to proclaim in the ears of the Free Church, ‘Send back that money.’ Oh! that the Free Church would send it back and confess that they did wrong is taking it. Such a course would send slavery reeling towards its grave as if struck by a bolt from heaven. Mr Douglass sat down amid loud applause.

We are sorry that our space will not admit of giving the spirited and well-timed observations of Mr Buffum, who addressed the meeting after Mr Douglass. The vile attack upon him and his friend which appears in the Northern Warder of Thursday he disposed of in a manner the most complete, by exposing the fallacy of its statements, its cobweb sophistry, and its mean insinuations. Never did we see a thing more thoroughly demolished, and in a more masterly style. With such a straightforward, plain-speaking man as Mr. Buffum, Jesuitry whether wrapped up in the garb of that religion peculiar of a Horner, or disguised in the solemn plausibility in which it comes forth from the lips of a Chalmers, has no chance. Sincerely do we wish Messrs Buffum and Douglass every success in their labour of love.

Arbroath Guide, 14 February 1846 (repr. Liberator, 27 March 1846 and 3 April 1846, minus the ‘Warder Morality’ section)

ANTI-SLAVERY MEETING. – Messrs Douglas and Buffum who have been declaiming in Dundee for some time past, held a meeting here in the Trades Hall on Tuesday last. We only notice this circumstance for the purpose of introducing a statement made by Mr Buffum in regard to the reception he had met with in Arbroath. Though he had letters of introduction to several gentlemen in town, none of them would have anything to do with him; and not a single church in all the town could he get opened to him. He maintained that if there was slavery in America, there was slavery of the grossest kind in Arbroath also. He could not get a single individual to render him the slightest assistance in any of his operations. He could not even get a door-keeper, and so had to perform the menial office himself. He was proceeding to rate soundly all parties concerned, when he was interrupted by Mr James Anderson, clothier, who said there had been a misunderstanding, and pledged his word that he would give him his choice of the churches in the town. After the application of this peace-offering, Mr Buffum cooled down, and the usual description of the most disgusting horrors of slavery, interlarded with ill-natured abuse against the Free Church, was gone through. We hear that the Abbey Chapel is to be opened for the reception of these wandering orators.

Northern Warder, 12 February 1846


Notes

  1. The church opened in 1821. Sorley was ordained minister there in 1837. George Hay, History of Arbroath to the Present Time (Arbroath: Thomas Buncle, 1876), pp. 248-9. The building no longer exists.
  2. Henry Clarke Wright to William Lloyd Garrison, Arbroath, 27 September 1845 (Liberator, 24 October 1845); Henry Clarke Wright to William Lloyd Garrison, Arbroath, 2 October 1845 (Liberator, 5 December 1845).
  3. According to Places of Worship in Scotland, the original church was built in 1797 as a chapel of ease to the Old Parish Church. It was rebuilt in 1876-78 but parts of the old church were incorporated in the new building, which still serves as a place of worship. The meetings of 11 and 12 February 1846 were rare occasions when Douglass spoke in an Established church; nearly all of his meetings in churches were in those of the United Secession Church or the Relief Church (the two denominations merged in 1847 to form the United Presbyterian Church).
  4. Henry Clarke Wright to William Lloyd Garrison, Arbroath, 11 Februuary 1846 (Liberator, 3 April, 1846).
  5. Ibid.
  6. The reporter here adapts a much-quoted song from John Gay, The Beggar’s Opera (1728) Act III, Scene iii.
  7. Buffum adapts a formulation from the commentary on 1 John 1:3 in Matthew Henry, Exposition of the Old and New Testament [1708-10] (London: James Nisbet & Co, [1857]), Vol XI: Romans to Revelations, p. 699: ‘They should see the evidences of their holy religion. It fears not the light, nor the most judicious examination.’
  8. Douglass alludes to James Gillespie Birney, The American Churches the Bulwarks of American Slavery (London: Johnston and Barrett, 1840), widely reprinted in Britain and the United States.
  9. Douglass is quoting from a letter Chalmers wrote to the Witness newspaper defending the Free Church’s position, insisting that a ‘distinction ought to be made between the character of a system and the character of the persons whom circumstances have implicated therewith.’ Thomas Chalmers to editor, Edinburgh, 12 May 1845 (Witness, 14 May 1845).

Dundee: 9 February 1846

Dundee, from Broughty Ferry Road. From Charles Mackie, Historical Description of the Town of Dundee (Glasgow: Joseph Swan, 1836).

Following his lecture at Bell Street Chapel in Dundee on Friday 30 January, Frederick Douglass must have returned to Glasgow for a few days.

There is no record of any public appearances by him there, but it is likely that he went primarily to make the necessary arrangements for a second Irish edition of his Narrative. He was running short of copies to sell at his lectures and over the previous weeks had written several times to his publisher Richard D. Webb urging him to send more to Glasgow, even though Douglass had taken a strong disliking to the portrait of himself that Webb had inserted in the most recent copies of the Narrative.  The portrait had been made of him by Bessie Bell, a family friend of Webb’s, while he was in Dublin two months earlier. Webb then had it engraved by Henry Adlard in London. Douglass’ objections dismayed Webb, but he had made his point. 

When the second edition was issued in May, it carried a new frontispiece portrait. Or, to be more precise, a close copy of the engraving that featured in the original Boston publication. This one bore the signature of Glasgow engraver Joseph Swan, no doubt commissioned by Douglass when he was in the city during the first week of February. The new edition also carried a new preface by Douglass, which was dated ‘Glasgow, Feb. 6th, 1846.’1

Shortly afterwards he rejoined James Buffum in Dundee for his fifth lecture there, this time at the church of Rev. Mr McGavin in Tay Square. The following morning Douglass wrote:

We held a very good meeting here last night, crowded to overflowing with a people whose influence cannot but be felt by the free church. Our faithful dealing with this church has at length had the effect to compel them to a defence of their conduct. They have until a few days since affected to despise our effort, deeming this the best mode of silencing and defeating our exposures […] The agitation goes nobly on – all this region is in a ferment.2

We reproduce below the reports in the Dundee Courier and the Dundee, Perth and Cupar Advertiser which appeared the next day.


ANTI-SLAVERY LECTURE

Last night, a public meeting was held in Mr M’Gavin’s Chapel, Tay Square, for the purpose of again hearing Messrs Frederick Douglass and J. N. Buffum lay open the secrets of American slavery. The church was crowded in every part with a most respectable and attentive audience.

Mr Douglass took for his subject the great moral evils resulting from the institution of slavery in America – to the slaveholder as well as to the slave. In seeking the overthrow of American slavery he was actuated by love to the slaveholder as well as to the slave. They were not the enemies of the slaveholder because they told him the truth, but rather his best friends, as they would remove him from a position where he was liable to be tempted to do wrong every day of his life.

[The Power of Slaveholders]

The first moral evil was the absolute power enjoyed by the slaveholder. Such a power was never intended for man, and it soon destroyed in a greater or less extent the best faculties of his nature. It heightens that love of domination which is entirely inconsistent with that humility which is both the exponent and element of happiness in man, and without which no man can be happy. It begets a character in the slaveholder favourable to this love of domination over the slave.

He was also in a position by which he was made a liar. The very moment he asserts his right to hold property in man that very moment he proclaims himself a liar, and the truth is not in him.

The next position in which he is placed is that of a thief and a robber, not only a thief stealing the gains, but a robber stealing the bodies, the arms, and the sinews of his fellow-men. If a person were to attack an old woman in the street and not only steal her basket, but also carry off her person, would he not be a thief and a robber; and is the slaveholder not in the position of a person stealing the gains, and carrying off the persons of his fellow-men? The slave had no property of his own, all was his master’s.

The slaveholder was not only a thief and a robber, but he was in open rebellion against God. God says to the slave as he does to all men, honour thy father and thy mother; but the slaveholder comes in and says, heed not thy parents, honour and serve me. God may speak to the slave as he does to others, bidding him go through all the world to proclaim his name, but the slaveholder binds a bar of iron about his neck, he may not obey God when his master wills. The slave is not ranked among sentient beings,  but as chattels personal. He may not even approach his God in prayer. There is not a command in the decalogue but is broken directly or indirectly by the institution of slavery. The law that thou shalt not covet is violated, and so is thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not commit adultery – that is violated indirectly. Although a legal marriage is not known in the slave States, there are even cases among slaves of faithful, honest, chaste, and virtuous pairs. If, however, such cases occur, it is because slavery has not succeeded in annihilating all that is good within them; but the great mass herd together by the will of their masters in one great mass of concubinage. There is not a single precept of God’s law but is violated. Search the Scriptures, says the Word of God: Ye shall not search, says the slaveholder. If ye do, ye may be punished with death for the second offence. Mr Douglass here read extracts from the civil law of various States, showing the severe punishment to which, in every case, a party was rendered liable for teaching a slave to read.

He then described at considerable length, and with graphic skill, many of the various additional evils resulting from slavery – a hardening of the hearts even of the females of the slaveholding population. An instance of this he narrated – the murder of a female friend of his own by her mistress. In this case long watchfulness and fatigue, while in charge of a sick child, had brought on the slave heavy sleep; and the mistress, irritated at her not immediately awakening on the cry of the child, struck her so severely on the forehead and breast, with a heavy piece of wood, that she expired in a few minutes, and was buried long before morning. The culprit was not even once called to be examined, although, in consequence of the numerous reports, the body was examined, and death pronounced to have proceeded from violence. She still lives in freedom, and as much respected by her circle of friends as if no crime of blood had dyed her hands.

The evil effects of such a state on the slave were also pourtrayed. Could they expect that he, whose body, whose labour, whose every thing was his master’s, could suppose himself guilty of stealing when he took from that master and appropriated to his own use. It was but a transfer. Could they be supposed to adhere strictly to truth, when on no occasion was the word of a coloured man to be taken in evidence unless supported by that of a white person?

As an instance of this, he referred to the fact of his own left eye having been nearly put out in a shipbuilding yard in which he was employed; and although done in the presence of 1000 persons, his master could obtain no redress for the damage, because no white person would give evidence in his favour.

[Rebutting the Arguments of Slaveholders]

He also glanced at the arguments advanced by slaveholders for keeping their victims in bondage. They kept them ignorant, and then assigned that as a reason. They brutalized and degraded them, and then referred to their brutality and degradation as marks of their unfitness for a state of freedom. Even if this were true, it should, with properly constituted minds, be an inducement to aid and assist them to raise themselves in the scale of human beings; but although he admitted that there was necessarily great ignorance, still there were instances of slaves even, with all the difficulties they had to surmount, acquiring learning, and exhiniting no common powers of mind.

An instance of this kind, mentioned by Mr Lewis, and with which he himself was acquainted, he then narrated. In that case the party was bought by a religious body – not for the purpose of instructing his fellows, but to be sent to Liberia, where the slaveholders were anxious to have all the free blacks sent, that their slaves might not be induced to rebel, from seeing persons of their own colour at freedom among them. He also mentioned the case of black men – negroes with all their marked developments of head and other peculiarities – having received classical educations by the kindness of an abolitionist, and being now very talented and eloquent preachers.3 These were evidences that, put the negro in the same position as the white man, he would rise to the same scale of civilization and cultivated intellect.

As an instance of negro domestic affection, of which they were declared to be void, he mentioned the case of Maddison Washington, who, after escaping from bondage, again braved all its woes with the view of getting away his wife. He was retaken and put on board a ship, with upwards of a hundred others, to be despatched to a slave market. On the passage they burst their chains, took possession of the ship, and carried her to the British possession of New Providence, where they gained their liberty, and were permitted to retain it notwithstanding the efforts of the American democrats to cause the British to give them up.4

Mr Douglass concluded by a few eloquent observations on the evils of American slavery.

Mr Buffum began by some remarks on the attack which was made on them last week in the Northern Warder.5

He gave a graphic narrative of the efforts which had been long making [sic] by abolitionists in America to effect a revolution in public opinion there – the effect of their labours had had – the arrival of the Free Church deputation among them – the endeavour which was made to prevent the deputation visiting the Southern States, – endeavours which were altogether ineffectual from that party’s love of the dollars – and the paralysing and withering influence which such a step had on their exertions for freedom to the negro.

After narrating that this had induced them to visit Britain to see if they could enlist the good people of old Scotland in their sacred cause – to see if the Free Church deputation spoke truth in representing themselves as the representatives of the religious people of Scotland, – an assertion which was not believed, he mentioned that he had called on the editor or reporter of the Warder (he could not say which) – had requested him to invite Mr Lewis to a discussion – had offered to speak before an audience entirely selected by Mr Lewis, if he would give the use of his place of worship.6 All he wanted was the elucidation of the truth. To this it was replied that he and Mr Douglass were not known – that there was no certainty what sort of characters they were – and that it was impossible to separate a man’s statements from his character.

Mr Buffum then offered numerous references – references of a most unexceptionable kind – in order that this might not prove a loop-hole for them to get out by; and told them it was not his character, but the character of Mr Lewis and the other members of the deputation which were at stake, and if they had been as anxious in their inquiries after character on visiting America, his journey would have been unnecessary.

After detailing some father particulars of his conversation, Mr Buffum took up the statements in the Warder, and showed them to be a series of misrepresentations – of assassin-like attempts to stab and injure, while they dared not meet a single argument or statement advanced. He made no pretensions to eloquence or to logical reasoning, but let them come and confute him if they could. He then eulogised the American advocates of emancipation to the slave as men of vast intellect, and warmest and kindliest affection to the cause, with many of whom he was unworthy to be classed.

To show the truth of the various statements which had been made by Mr Douglass and himself, he read several extracts from Mr Lewis’ ‘Impressions of America and American Churches,’ commenting on them as he went along; and pointing out clearly and explicitly that in that very book, which he recommended to general perusal, would be found abundant evidence of the unmitigated horrors of slavery and the great inconsistency of the Free Church seeking an alliance with the perpetrators of such crimes – the upholders and supporters of such a dreadful system.7

Mr Douglass also made a few remarks on the attack made on him in the Warder – referred to the many tokens of esteem he had received from the most eminent Philanthropic and Benevolent Societies, and from persons in high and honoured stations in the kingdom, as ample refutation of the Warder‘s lies – to call things by their right name. He ridiculed the attempt to get off in this sneaking paltry manner, by distracting attention from the subject of dispute – by attempting to throw dust in the people’s eyes. He concluded by an earnest and eloquent appeal to the people of the Free Church in behalf of his brethen in bondage.

Dundee Courier, 10 February 1846


LECTURES ON AMERICAN SLAVERY

Last night another meeting was held relative to this subject, in Tay Square Chapel. The chapel, as usual, was crowded to excess.

Mr DOUGLASS, in speaking of the evil effects of slavery, illustrated some of its moral, religious, and intellectual effects on the slave-holder. He confined himself at first to the moral effects which it had on the slave-holder himself; and, in seeking the entire overthrow of slavery, he considered himself no more the enemy of the slave-holder by publishing its enormities to the World than was Jesus the enemy of mankind in promulgating the truths which he taught. Slavery laid the slave-holder under the greatest moral temptation to do wrong.

First, let us look to the evils arising from the absolute power of the slave-holder: Absolute power was not intended for any man, and all who had seized it had been overthrown by it. He had as much confidence in himself as he could place in any other man; but, high as this confidence was, he could not dare to assume absolute power with safety to himself. Such power induced haughtiness, a love of domination, and a wish to tyrannize over the slave; and, from his situation, the slave-holder had every inducement to exercise such power.

He started first as a liar: He asserted that the hands, the head, and the heart of the poor Negro was his; and the moment any mortal asserted such right, he asserted a lie – he misconstrued his own situation of life, so as to make a lie of all life, and became a thief as well as a liar. Who was a thief? It was one who appropriated the property of another; and the slave belonged to no slave-holder – for he belonged to himself. God gave him to himself. Singly he came into the World – he got powers for himself – he was responsible to none but God and his own conscience and the laws of his country, which made one man amenable for his transgressions to another. But the slave-holder had assumed the right of God, – he had taken that which only belonged to God. The Bible said – honour father and mother; the slave-holder said – honour me, your obedience to me must be absolute; God said – go over the whole World and preach the gospel; the slave-holder placed a band of irons over his limbs so that he could not go. The slave-holder went to the cradle and claimed the child that slept in it; the deed made him a thief; when he asserted his rights by violence he became a robber. Was not the man a robber who knocked an old woman down in the street and took not only her property but herself? and the slave-holder robbed the slave of his very identity.

By the existing laws of America, the slaves were not ranked among the human family; the slave-holders had as absolute a right over them as he had over brute beasts – they were not allowed to marry, but were forced by the laws of America to live in a state of concubinage. The right of the master being absolute in all things, the slave could not even assume to have the fetters taken from his feet that he might pray – and such are the laws of slavery. There was no law in the New Testament which slavery did not violate; it transgressed every commandment written by the finger of God on the two tables of stone. The pernicious example of the slave-holders had a withering and baneful influence on the feelings of the slave. By the existing laws of America, a slave could not steal – he did not own or possess anything – he was a brute beast, not amenable even to God, and could not be responsible for his actions. No man could act virtuously without freedom. There was no virtue in the deed of rescue done by his arm when forced by a neutral power. The slave said he was not responsible; he was compelled by the laws of his country to live in concubinage; from his situation he was compelled to transgress all moral laws.

These were three powers which the slave-holder held constantly over his head – force, fraud, and fear. By means of these the slave-holder contrived to uphold his power, and it was impossible for him to sustain his power without these. The slave-holder said it was decreed by Heaven for the Black Man to remain a slave, and the Christian Churches of the States sustained the sentence by the sanctity of its altar.

He had seen the slave holding lady weep lack-a-daisy tears over a sentimental novel, whose delicate nerves would not be moved by seeing a poor slave lashed in the field, and who at the slightest offence could draw a heated poker from the fire and apply it to the bare shoulders of the Black. He illustrated how slavery brutalized the slave-holder – the very frequency of the lashings and other punishments inflicted hardened his feelings.

[Tyranny and Ideologies of Inferiority]

He had often witnessed the baneful influences of the habit. Many persons had gone from this country to America, with a hatred of slavery – they had seen the poor Negro hated – they had seen him foolish – they had seen him a person everywhere despised – and, from the very frequency of such manifestations, they had felt their own abhorrence of slavery melting away. He alluded to a phrenological fact – that, the more one organ was used to the exclusion of the others, the organ became so much stronger, and acquired a preponderance over the others; and the slave-holder, by exercising self-esteem, which engendered love of dominion, lost the proper balance of his mind – the better feelings of the man were absorbed in the propensities of the tyrant; and from such causes might probably be traced the American propensities for duelling and using the bowie knives, which were of necessity the accompaniments of such an education.8

Mr Douglass then read passages from a book of Mr Jefferson‘s, illustrative of the pernicious effects of slavery on all observing it.9 He next read an extract from a South Carolina Paper, entering into details of the laws of duelling. He next referred to the reasons assigned for the rights of slave-holding; and the most common of these were the allegation that the Negro was of an inferior race, – but, though such were the case, he thought it no right for slave-holding; the holy Bible inculcated the doctrine for the strong to help the weak, and for all mankind to live in one common brotherhood, – and he regretted to meet in Scotland with men who could give support to such reasons. But the Negro had all the feelings which identify him with the White men – he had a mind capable of the same improvement.

It was an old custom of tyrants to prove the inferiority of those over whom they tyrannized, and all tyrants had adopted the same method. He then referred to the present state of Ireland. England at present held out that Ireland was an inferior race; but, if ever he had met in with gentlemen, it was in Old Ireland.

Mr Douglass then read the laws of the various States relative to the punishment of slaves for offences. Their laws expressly prohibit all evidences from slaves being taken. A White man might commit the most disgusting crimes in the presence of a thousand Blacks, and there was no redress possible to be obtained.

[Evidence of Black Achievement]

Mr Douglass next read an extract from a Work of Mr Lewis’s, of a Negro blacksmith, who had gained, by hard perseverance, a knowledge of letters – Arithmetic, Mathematics, Latin, and Greek. The ‘Black Light’ was soon found to be rather dangerous to the slave holding interests of the Church; and that Church, rather than clasp him in her Christian embrace, sent him off to the regions of Liberia.

He next related a story of Maddison Washington, a slave by birth, who made his escape from the United States to Canada, but felt that he could not be free while his wife and little ones remained in slavery. Against the united remonstrances of friends, that his mission prove hopeless, he returned to the United States, to wrest his wife from the possession of the man who dared to call her his property; but, so close was the guard placed over her, that in attempting to save her, he was seized himself. Maddison next appears a slave, bound down with heavy irons in the ship Clio.10 Love of liberty still prompted him on – he wrested his irons from him, and released others. At twilight, as he gazed out on the calm sea, a signal was heard; the liberated slaves rushed on deck, struck down the captain, and guided the vessel to a British island, and again felt himself free. Mr Douglass referred to the commotion which this incident had created in the American Congress and the British Parliament; and, after a long and eloquent speech, sat down admist great cheering.

Mr Buffum had commenced speaking when we had to leave.

Dundee, Perth and Cupar Advertiser, 10 February 1846.


Notes

  1. For a detailed discussion of the frontispiece portraits in the Irish edition of the Narrative see Alasdair Pettinger, Frederick Douglass and Scotland, 1846: Living an Antislavery Life (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2019), pp. 223-32.
  2. Frederick Douglass to Richard D. Webb, Dundee, 10  February 1846, The Frederick Douglass Papers, Series Three: Correspondence, Volume 1: 1842–52, edited by John R. McKivigan (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), p.92.
  3. The instance Douglass refers to is to be found in George Lewis, Impressions of America and the American Churches (Edinburgh: W.P. Kennedy, 1845), p. 176.
  4. Douglass later told the story of Madison Washington – including the mutiny he led on the Creole in 1841 – in his novella ‘The Heroic Slave’ in Autographs for Freedom, ed. Julia Griffiths (Boston: John P. Jewett, 1853). See also George Hendrick and Willene Hendrick, The Creole Mutiny: A Tale of Revolt Aboard a Slave Ship (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2003).
  5. As well as its report of the meeting of 30 March, the Northern Warder of 5 February, 1846 carried an article entitled ‘The Free Church and Slavery’ which referred to ‘hired bravoes from the ranks of the American abolitionists, who are at present perambulating the country, retailed columns of the most extravagant absurdities, and which, in so far as they at all bear upon the position of the Free Church, or the conduct of its ministers, are mere wild farragoes of mingled falsehood and slander.’ It went on to accuse these ‘foul-mouthed clamourers’ of perpertrating ‘impieties, fooleries, and extravagancies.’
  6. Lewis was the Free Church minister of St David’s Church on Ward Road, Dundee.
  7. Lewis’ book was found to be a useful source by historians of US slavery in the 1970s and 1980s: see Alasdair Pettinger, ‘George Lewis and the American Churches’ in Travel Writing in the Nineteenth Century: Filling the Blank Spaces, ed. Tim Youngs (London: Anthem, 2006), pp.145–62, esp. pp153–54.
  8. In his third autobiography Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, His Early Life as a Slave, His Escape from Bondage, and His Complete History to the Present Time (Hartford, CT: Park Publishing, 1881), Frederick Douglass recalled meeting the leading Scottish phrenologist George Combe in Edinburgh in 1846, and praised his book The Constitution of Man, ‘the reading of which had relieved my path of many shadows’ (pp. 245-46). The language of phrenology permeated much mid-century literature on both sides of the Atlantic, although Douglass drew on it rarely. Combe identified over thirty moral and intellectual ‘organs’ or ‘faculties’. ‘Self-Esteem’ was one of the ‘lower propensities’ which, if allowed to predominate, ‘presided over the slave trade and other institutions.’ And while the relative strength or weakness of the various faculties in a given individual could be discerned from a careful examination of the head, they were not fixed, but dependent on the opportunities available for their exercise, and thus amenable to reform: George Combe, The Constitution of Man Considered in Relation to External Objects. 7th edition (Edinburgh: Maclachlan & Stewart, and John Anderson, Jun., 1836), pp. 68, 240. For a fuller discussion of Douglass’ relation to Combe and phrenology see Pettinger, Frederick Douglass and Scotland, 1846, pp. 171–96.
  9. Douglass may have quoted from the passage in Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia (Philadelphia: R.T. Rawle, 1801) in which he writes: ‘Deep rooted prejudices entertained by the whites; ten thousand recollections, by the blacks, of the injuries they have sustained; new provocations; the real distinctions which nature has made; and many other circumstances, will divide us into parties, and produce convulsions, which will probably never end but in the extermination of the one or the other race’ (p. 269). But Douglass would certainly not have endorsed Jefferson’s view that the best way to avoid such conflict was the forced emigration of emancipated slaves.
  10. The reporter here mishears the name of the vessel, Creole.

Dundee: 30 January 1846

Dundee, from Forfarshire Illustrated: Being Views of Gentlemen’s Seats, Antiquities, and Scenery in Forfarshire …. (Dundee: Gershom Cumming, 1843).

For their fourth meeting in Dundee, the abolitionists moved from George Gilfillan’s church in School Wynd to the larger Bell Street Chapel.  On this occasion Frederick Douglass and James N Buffum were joined by Henry Clarke Wright, with whom they had shared a platform in Perth.

As with the earlier meetings, we reproduce the reports from the Dundee, Perth and Cupar Advertiser and the Northern Warder, preceded by the more detailed account that appeared in the Dundee Courier.

Plaque on the wall of the former Bell St Chapel, Dundee, placed there for the BBC TV documentary Black and British: A Forgotten History (2016).

In recent years, Douglass’ speech here has attracted special attention. It was anthologised in Great Scottish Speeches (2011), formed the basis of a poem by Aonghas MacNeacail commissioned by the Empire Café (2014), and is commemorated by a plaque mounted on the wall of the chapel (now the Bell Street Music Centre) for one of the set-pieces of the BBC television series Black and British (2016).1


AMERICAN SLAVERY

In the course of last week, four public meetings have been held, at which addresses on the subject of American slavery have been delivered by a Mr Frederick Douglass, a runaway slave; Mr Buffum, a member of the American Anti-Slavery Society; and, on the fourth occasion, by the Rev. Henry C. Wright of Philadelphia. The novelty of a slave addressing a Scottish audience, altogether apart from the interest felt in the subject, could not fail to draw together a numerous assembly; and consequently the School Wynd Chapel, where the first three meetings were held, was on the two occasions so fearfully crowded that admission by tickets had to be afterwards resorted to to [sic] prevent danger.

Mr Buffum is an excellent speaker, and depicted in glowing language the horrors and miseries of American slavery; but by far the most interesting speaker is Mr Douglass himself. In chaste and vigorous language, – such as was indeed surprising from the lips of a person, who, from his own simple narrative, has had so many difficulties to overcome in acquiring learning and information (teaching a slave to read being a criminal offence severely punishable) – he opened up the secrets of the dark prison house of slavery as it exists in the southern states of the Union. His own personal experience, the horrid scenes he had witnessed, the sufferings of the slaves, four of his own sisters and a brother being still among the number, the instruments of torture (specimens of which, consisting of a collar to prevent repose, handcuffs and anklets, with the lash, all commonly in use, were exhibited) were all described in a pathetic, earnest, and impressive manner. The evils resulting to the masters from such a system – the effect which it has in searing and hardening their hearts – the revolting state of concubinage in which the female slaves, in addition to their other sufferings, are kept (Douglass himself being the offspring of a connection of this description) found in the speaker an eloquent exponent.

Slavery has  been, however, often described; and even its worst features, as they are exhibited in the boasted land of professed universal freedom, have been frequently held up to the public. We therefore pass over the first three meetings to give a short sketch of the fourth one, which was held in Bell Street Chapel, on the evening of Friday, – the principal subject then considered being the fellowship which the Free Church, after casting off connection with the State here, had so suddenly struck up with the American slaveholders. The meeting was very numerously and respectably attended.

Mr Buffum, who was the first speaker, said it was now too late in the day to talk of Christianity in connection with such a system of slavery as that in the United States. Yet to such a horrid system the Free Church of this country, professing to represent the religious feeling of Scotland (although he did not believe the assertion), had offered the hand of fellowship, and, as a price for their countenance and support, had taken the money wrung from the blood of the slaves. Unless the Free Church cut loose their connection with slavery, they would be dragged down to perdition with it. (Applause.)

Mr Douglass said he had come hither this evening in the spirit of candour to discuss the subject, and he wished to be distinctly understood that in rising to call their attention to the connection of the Free Church of Scotland with the Churches in America, he was not rising to speak against the Free Church. He was not here to offer a single word as to the right or the wrong of the Free Church of Scotland, or of its organization. He was not here to tell whether Drs Chalmers, Candlish, and Cunningham, or any of the leaders of the Free Church did right or wrong in coming out and establishing that church. He wanted no false statements to be made, for he understood that stories were in circulation here that he and his friends were in the pay and under the sanction of the other opposing religious denominations. as far as that charge was made against him, there was not the slightest shadow of truth in it.

[American Slavery and the American Churches]

He was only here to plead the cause of the slave, and to arouse the energies and obtain the co-operation of the good people of old Scotland in behalf of what he believed to be a righteous cause – the undoing of the heavy burdens and letting the oppressed go free. He then said he could not better begin his speech than by reading a portion of the first chapter of Isaiah. Mr Douglass here read from the fourth to the twentieth verses, after which he continued – I could not state my mission to this land better than by reading to you the passage of Scripture I have read. I should find it impossible to draw a more graphic picture of the state of the Churches in the United States than is drawn in these lines from the holy prophet Isaiah. In the single line ‘your hands are full of blood’ we have the character of the American Churches aptly described. Their hands are full of blood. In the United States there are three millions of people in the most abject slavery – in a most degrading and loathsome bondage – deprived of every privilege, moral, intellectual, and political – deprived of all – not a single right common to humanity that they may use, that they may say belongs to them. They are deprived of their rights by what are called the people of the United States, but they are also deprived by religionists. They are not allowed the right to marry, they cannot enter into matrimonial alliances. The whole three millions are compelled by the law, and by the religious teachers of the land who uphold the law, to live in a state of lawless concubinage and pollution. This is the state of the case. They are living without the knowledge of God, groping their way from time to eternity in the dark – the gospel, the heavenly religion shut out from their minds. They may not learn to read the word of God, for it is a crime punishable with death to instruct a slave to read the Bible. (Hear, hear.) This is the nature of the system which is upheld in the United States. This state of pollution – of blood, for such it is – of Atheism – of gross and dark infidelity – of lawless murder and plunder – is upheld, as I can prove, by the churches, by the clergy of the United States. Mr Douglass then enumerated the several sects, the Episcopalians, Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, &c., who all sanctioned this system, and were willing and active participators in the sin of the slaveholders.

[The Free Church Delegation to the United States]

In this state of the case, there came from this land, the inhabitants of which are distinguished for their love of freedom – a land whose every hill has been made classic by heroic deeds performed by her noble sons – a land whose every brook and river carry the songs of freedom as they pass to the ocean – a land whose hills have nearly all been watered with blood in behalf of freedom – a land to which the slave had a right to look for sympathy, for aid, and for deliverance from his bondage. Instead of receiving such aid, there stands up in the midst a Church calling itself free! free! free! – (great cheering) – calling itself the Free Church, presenting itself both at home and abroad, arrogantly and egotistically, as the great representative of the people of Scotland. Does the Free Church represent your views on the question of slavery? (Cries of no! no!) I am glad to hear it. They claim to be the model, the impersonation, the life, the soul of Christianity in this country. Well, with all these influences, and with their exceedingly tender consciences – (laughter) – and with the professions of love to God and man, they leave their homes and go to the United States, and strike hands in good Christian fellowship with men whose hands are full of blood – the coats, the boots, the watches, the houses, and all they possess, are the result of the unpaid toil of those poor fettered, stricken, and  branded slave.

Where did these parties go when they went to the United States? I want to ask Mr Lewis where he went? (Great cheering and a few hisses.) I am glad to hear these hisses. It was said by a very learned man that when the cool voice of truth falls into the burning vortex of falsehood there would always be hissing. Innocence fears nothing. Perfect love casts off all fear. Innocence rusheth into the sun light, and asks to  be tried. It does not slink away and hide. It does not apologize and say I cannot talk with this or that man, because I do not know if he sustains an excellent reputation. It has no fears of this kind, it seeks to be searched and tried; and if there is a man here who feels for a moment that I should not unmask the Free Church of Scotland, he has more love for his sect than for truth, more love for his religious denomination than for God. I ought to have asked the brother who hissed, did not brother Lewis go to the United States? Did he not take the slaveholders’ money, and put it into his pocket? Let him come here and defend himself. But Mr Lewis has very wisely taken the counsel of Junius, who said to Sir William Draper, that he should never attract attention to his character – that as it would not pass without censure, it was better to endeavour to pass without observation.

The question with the Free Church is very easily settled if divested of all their sophistries. Their first justification is that the slaveholders are so situated that they cannot help holding their slaves; they are compelled by the laws of the land to hold them. I am here to pronounce this utterly false. There is not a slaveholder in the United States but can set his slaves free. In all the states except three, they can be set free on the soil. In three, I admit they cannot be set free on the soil unless the slaveholder becomes responsible for their good behaviour, but he can convey them to the protection of the British lion which prowls on three sides of them. But even if this were the case, it would not justify them. If slaveholding is a sin, as they admit it is, it is a sin in any circumstances. If the law were to say that they were to worship Vishnu or any other heathen deity, would it be right  because the law decreed it? Not at all. It would be none the less a sin because the laws of the land sanctioned it. Had these same Doctors of Divinity lived in the days of Shadrach, Meshech, and Abednego, on the same principle they would have bowed down to the golden image. I could almost divine their argument for so doing. It would be ‘It has so happened under the providence of God that we have been placed in a heathen land, and it is of the utmost importance that the knowledge of the true God should be known in this heathen country, and so it is of importance that our lives should be preserved; and what I would advise’ says Dr Chalmers ‘is to submit to the powers that be. When you hear the sound of the various instruments kneel down, but be sure of this, worship only in form, not in heart; you may be lifting your hearts up to the Lord, and thus save your lives and your principles also.’ (Great cheering and laughter.)  We would never have heard of these three heroes if their conduct had been like that of these Doctors of Divinity.

After some farther remarks on this point, Mr Douglass continued by referring to the Free Church taking the slave money, and saying that their very members, when they looked up to their meeting-houses and reflected that they were built with the price of blood, would yet compel their clergy to send back the blood-stained money. (Great cheering.)  The question had been asked why did they not go and remonstrate with these reverend Doctors of Divinity? His reply was, that the force of public opinion was a much more powerful argument with such gentlemen than any he could use. If they had thought that such an uproar would have been made about it, they would  never have accepted of it; but they anticipated that they would be able to get out to America and steal home again with the money nobody being the wiser – forgetting all the while that the eye of the Almighty was upon them. Public opinion would yet compel them to send it back. (Applause.)

[The Slaveholder’s Sermon]

Mr Douglass then referred to the argument of the Free Church that the slaves were favoured with religious instruction, and said he would give them a sketch of a sermon which he had often heard preached. The text was ‘Servants obey your masters.’ He would divide it into separate heads, and here he was going to imitate the preacher, for he wanted to show them how cantingly, how piously he might appear when in the service of the wicked one himself. Mr Douglass then in tones of mimic solemnity gave the following epitome of the discourse: – ‘Servants obey your masters.’

You should obey your masters, in the first place, because your happiness depends on your obedience. (Cheers and laughter.) Now, servants, such is the relation constituted by the Almighty between cause and effect, that there can be no happiness neither in this world nor the world to come save by obedience; and it is a fact, that wherever you see misery, wretchedness, and poverty, want and distress, all is the result of disobedience. (Laughter.) Peculiarly is this the case with yourselves. Under the providence of God, you sustain a very peculiar relation to your masters. The term ‘servant’ in the text means slave, and you will of consequence perceive that this is a message to you by the mouth of the Apostle; so as a preacher of the Gospel I beg you to listen to the words of wisdom. (Great laughter.) I said it was peculiarly the case that your happiness depends on your obedience. It is verily true, and suffer me to illustrate this position by the statement of a fact. A neighbour of mine sent his servant Sam into the fields to perform a certain amount of labour which ought to have taken him two hours and a half. Now, by the way, his master was a pious soul, and after having waited till the expiration of the time which he had allotted to Sam for the performance of the work, he went out into the field, as he was accustomed to do, for the purpose of ascertaining why Sam was detained. (Laughter.) When he went, lo and behold, there lay Sam, his hoe in one place, and Sam fast asleep in the corner of the fence. (Great laughter and cheers.)  Think of the feelings of that pious master. Oh! it was a trying situation for a servant of the Lord to be placed in. (Laughter.) He went ‘to the law and to the testimony’ to know his duty, and he there found it written, that ‘the servant who knoweth his master’s will, and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes.’ Accordingly, he took up Sam, and lashed him till  he was not able to bear it. Now this is the point I want to come to. To what was Sam’s whipping traceable? (Cheers and laughter.) Solely to disobedience. (Much laughter.) If you would be happy, therefore, and not be whipped, you will avoid sleeping when you should be working, for if you would enjoy and live under the sunshine of your master’s good pleasure, let me implore you, as one who loves your souls, ‘be obedient to your masters.’ (Cheers and laughter.)

You should obey your masters, in the second place, because of a sense of gratitude for your present situation compared with what it might have been. You should be inspired by a knowledge of the fact, that the Lord, in his mercy, brought you from Africa to this Christian country. (Shouts of laughter.) Oh! this is an important consideration, and one to which I will call your attention for a few moments. Your fathers – and I dread to enter upon the picture – were taken from Africa – degraded, lost, and ruined Africa – darkness may be said to cover that earth, and gross darkness that people – to be brought into the sunshine of this land of freedom. (Laughter.) Your fathers were living destitute of the knowledge of the gospel – destitute of all those civilising influences which you find surrounding you in this new region – destitute of religion, and bowing down to stocks and stones, and worshipping images. While they were in this state of deep despair the Lord put it into the minds of good men to leave their homes, to leave their families, and to brave the perils of the ocean, that they might snatch you as brands from the burning, and bring you to this Christian country. (Great applause and laughter.) I will now go to another head of my text.

Thirdly – (a laugh) – You should obey your masters, in the third place, because of your being adapted to your present condition. Now, servants, it is one of the peculiar marks of the wisdom of the Almighty, that whenever he establishes a relation amongst mankind he accompanies it with evidence of its fitness, and of the adaptability of parties to their several conditions. The relation of husband and wife, parent and child, the relation of ruled and rulers, of sovereign and subjects, and so on, all show this mark of adaptation. So the relation of master and slave! Permit me to point out to you some of the peculiarities and characteristics which show most conclusively that you should be contented to fill the very situation which you now find yourselves placed in. For instance, you have hard hands, strong forms, robust constitutions, black skins, and curly hair. (Cheering and laughter.) On the other side, we have soft hands, tender forms, delicate constitutions, and white skins. (Renewed cheers and laughter.) Oh! I wish to ask you from whence come these differences? ‘It is the Lord’s doing, and marvelous in our eyes.’ (Shouts of laughter and applause.) Now your hard hands and robust constitutions amply fit you to labour under our burning sun in the position in which you find yourself placed; while your masters and mistresses cannot labour thus. (Applause.)  The Lord has blessed you with black skins and strong constitutions; but, ah! boast not of your strength – boast not of those advantages, for while he has given you these advantages, he has also given us powers which mutually benefit you. (Loud applause.) You have not so much intellect as we have, so that you cannot take care of yourselves, nor provide for yourselves, and you would be in a most wretched condition if ever the Lord were to leave you to be guided by your own intellects. Thank God that we take care of you. Oh! the wisdom of God who made one class to do the thinking, while another does the working! (Cheers.) He hoped they would now allow him to say Amen.

Mr D. continued, he wanted to show them a specimen of the sort of spiritual instruction provided for the slaves. These were the brethren to whom brother Lewis was so much attached.

He then read a series of resolutions which had been lately agreed by the Churches in America, in which slavery was attempted to be defended from the example of ‘those good old slaveholding patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,’ as if these venerated patriarchs could be brought in as defenders of adultery and murder in their broadest and most damning sense. He pourtrayed in a happy and sarcastic style the encouragement afforded by the countenance of the Free Church to these American slaveholders; and contrasted with it the very different conduct of the celebrated John Wesley and others, of whom he spoke in warm and grateful terms for their labours in behalf of the slave. Would that John Wesley could stand up once more! Would that his words might be rung – not whispered – in the ears of those recreant Doctors of Divinity, who are now apologizing for and upholding the doctrine of slavery! (Great cheering.)

[Slavery and the Southern Press]

He would read from the New Orleans Picayune of July 8, 1845, a paper notorious for its slaveholding, slave-trading, slave-selling, and slave-buying tendencies, a eulogy on the Rev. Dr Chalmers for his course on the slavery question, and on another page of the same paper was an advertisement for two run-away negroes.2 The paragraph was as follows:–

‘Dr Chalmers, the eloquent Scotch divine, having  been appealed to by the members of the Free Church of Scotland, on the subject of receiving contributions from churches in the slave states of America, to say whether religious fellowship could consistently be extended to slaveholding churches, the Doctor repudiates the spirit that would narrow the sphere of Christian union, and says, that the refusal of such fellowship would be “most unjustifiable.”‘

Fellowship with slaveholders! (continued Mr D.) – refuse fellowship with man-stealers, woman-whippers, cradle-robbers, and plunderers! – to refuse Christian fellowship with such would  be ‘most unjustifiable.’ (Applause.) Did they think Dr Chalmers would ever have said this, if, like him, he had had four sisters and one brother in bondage? (Cheers, and cries of ‘No.’)  Would this paper have eulogised George Thompson or William Lloyd Garrison, or any other eminent abolitionist. (No, no!) Well, the slaves run away – the bloodhound has not been able to follow their tracks, and the paper which eulogises Dr Chalmers thus advertises the fugitives:–

‘Forty Dollars Reward will be given for the delivery or detention of the following Negroes, who ran away from my plantation, near Fort Pikes, La. on the 3d instant, or Twenty Dollars for either of them: –viz.

‘Phil, aged about 40 years, dark complexion; has a deep scar on (perhaps) his left hand, and a piece off one ear.

‘Sam, aged about 20 years; has a scar on his chin, several lumps on his neck and back, and walks rather lame.’

He hoped this advertisement would be copied along with the eulogy of Dr Chalmers, to show the people of Scotland what influence was being exerted to uphold slavery in the United States. One with a piece off his ear, and another with lumps on his neck and back, and walks rather lame and in the same paper an eulogy on Dr Chalmers. (Hear, hear.) Well might the Doctor exclaim ‘What have I done that the wicked speak well of me?’ He might ask with a degree of propriety never done before, ‘What have I done that slaveholders eulogise me?’ (Cheers.) He need not look far to know what he had done. He had struck  hands with them in Christian fellowship, and sanctioned the taking of the blood-stained money to build churches; and for this he was eulogised by the New Orleans Picayune. Mr D. then described the case of a slave boy being whipped to death by his master in the streets of New Orleans about fourteen months ago, and said with such parties the Free Church was joining and banding together. He concluded by making an earnest and eloquent appeal to the people of Scotland to lend their assistance in freeing three millions of their fellow creatures from bondage. Let the people of Scotland arise, and show the Free Church that they did not represent them. Let the voice of public opinion compel that church to send back the money. He would again visit Dundee, where, if there was to be found a house open for him, he would yet raise the cry ‘send back the blood-stained dollars.’ (Great cheering.)

The Rev. Henry C. Wright of Philadelphia exposed the inconsistency of those men who would refuse to be present at a funeral where a Residuary was permitted to offer up a prayer, and would yet go 3500 miles to form a fellowship with man-stealers. He took up the Warder of Thursday last,3 and in an eloquent and happy speech, in the course of which he was repeatedly cheered, ably and sarcastically exposed the fallacies and sophistries contained in an article therein defending the Free Church in its conduct respecting the retaining of the slave-money.

He asked, had Dr Cunningham on his recent visit to America been seized and sold as a slave (and he would have brought a good price) and the money been offered to the Free Church, would they have accepted it? How then could they receive the price of the body and soul of the injured African? After putting two or three cases of this kind, he said, let the Free Church declare what they will against the system (the usual way in which they permitted the individuals to escape, by blaming the system), the institution, or even the slaveholders themselves, it would be of no effect so long as they retained the money. With this the slaveholders bought their Christian fellowship, and they could not take back the fellowship unless they gave up the price. This was the position taken by Dr Candlish himself, who says, ‘The question of the acceptance of the money turns on present communion.’ They were the only Church in Great Britain and Ireland who had not repudiated communion with such a body.

As an evidence of the feeling which is entertained in England on the subject, he read the following extract from a letter he had received the other day from the rev. T. P. Mursell of Leicester (the successor of the celebrated Robert Hall):–

‘The letter to Dr Chalmers and others I think most admirable. If these gentlemen are not heartily ashamed of the favourable aspect they have turned towards the most hideous and sinful of all practices, there are hundreds of thousands both at home and abroad who are ashamed for them. The name of Chalmers has been sullied, and his reputation will suffer as long as that name is known, by his speeches on the American question. But when men forsake the high ground of principle for the swampy marshes of policy they must expect to sink. The money of slaveholders presented a temptation which the distinguished leaders of the Free Church could not withstand. That money, with the disgrace it brings with it, will prove their curse.’

The name of Dr Chalmers, which he formerly revered, he never heard now without loathing and abhorrence for his defence of man-stealers. After some farther remarks on the connection between the Free Church and man-stealers, and asking if they would associate with sheep-stealers (a less aggravated kind of theft), he referred in highly eulogistic terms to the late Dr Andrew Thomson of St George’s, Edinburgh, as a great and talented advocate of abolition. He then went over some of the arguments advanced by the Free Church, and showed that their conduct was even condemned by eminent ministers within their own body – by the Rev. Henry Grey, Drs Duncan and Willis. Dr Duncan asks –

‘Is every Free church to have a slave-stone in it? Is this the commencement of the Free Church of Scotland? What! Is the association between the Free Church and a stone wet with the blood of the slave? Is one of our first acts to be a soft denuncation of slavery and a practical participation in its fruits?’ ‘Has this Church nothing to do but to sit down at the Lord’s table with these unmakers of men – with such traders in human flesh? As for myself, I could not eat a common meal with them: It would choke me.’ ‘I would count it foul scorn to associate with such men.’

The language of Henry Grey is –

‘Have we separated ourselves from our Moderate brethren to form alliance with man-stealers? Do we remove from us a brother that walketh disorderly – a drunkard, a fornicator, an adulterer – to unite ourselves with fornicators, such even as are hardly named among the Gentiles – men polluted with incests, renouncers of marriage rights, man-stealers, murderers, sellers of their own offspring, stained with the blood of innocents, leprous with sin?’4

These were the sentiments of some of their most eminent ministers, but they had as yet had no visible effect. He was desirous, if the Free Church did not set about restoring the money, that the people of Scotland should raise the £3000 by subscription, and go to the Free Church leaders and say, ‘Here is the money; if you do not send it back we will, to show that you do not represent the religious feeling of the people of Scotland.’ (Cheers.) He had already received numerous offers of liberal subscriptions if such a course was necessary. (Great cheering.) Mr Wright concluded by proposing the following resolutions, which were carried by acclamation:–

‘1. That all who hold Christian fellowship with slaveholders are accessory to the robbery, concubinage, and all the crimes and pollutions necessarily involved in slave-breeding and slave-trading; and virtue and humanity, as well as Christianity, demand that the ministers and Churches of this Kingdom should exclude all who perpetuate these deeds of guilt and infamy from their pulpits and communion.

‘Whereas the Reverend Dr Candlish and other leaders of the Free Church have declared that the question of retaining the money of slaveholders depends solely on the right of fellowship with them as Christians, therefore resolve – (2.) That this meeting earnestly recommend to the people of that Church to urge their General Assembly to send back the money obtained of slaveholders, to obtain which they have pledged to those man-stealers their Christian countenance and fellowship; and thus to annul their compact with death, an [sic] place themselves in a position to bear a consistent and efficient testimony against slavery.’

(The exposé of the doings of the Free Church made by these lecturers wherever they have been is in numerous instances taking the scales from the eyes of those who were formerly her most uncompromising and devoted adherents. As an instance, we may mention that at the meeting on Friday night, and elsewhere, we heard several of her friends declare that they will not contribute one additional sixpence towards her support till the ‘blood-stained money is sent back.’)

Dundee Courier, 2 February 1846

LECTURES ON AMERICAN SLAVERY

Friday evening, being the last night of Messrs Buffum and Douglass’s stay in Dundee, the place of lecture was changed from School Wynd to Bell Street Chapel, for greater accommodation; and here, as on former evenings, the audience could scarcely find seats.

Mr Buffum, in addressing the Meeting, anticipated that it might be supposed he was destitute of the love of country in speaking only of the stains and stigmas of the American Government; but it was love of country prompted him to do so. The surgeon who amputated a limb from a patient who would otherwise have died, was his patient’s friend; and he, in speaking of slavery and of churches built by the price of slaves, did so only with the motive that America and the Free Church of Scotland should separate themselves from slavery. So deeply was slavery interwoven with American law, there was no institution, civil or religious, free from its baneful influence. The English Government deservedly took credit to themselves for the emancipation of eighty thousand slaves, and such conduct had much influence on the slavery question of America. Not very long ago a voice came like a whirlwind across the Atlantic – it was the voice of the one hundred and thirty Churches of Scotland petitioning against slavery. The times had changed since then – the Church of Scotland had become divided against itself – the representatives of one of its parties had gone across the Atlantic, entered into an alliance with the slave-holder, and returned home with the fruits of that alliance to build temples for the Free Church. At the farthest corners of America the voice of Daniel O’Connell was heard, like an earthquake, protesting against the deed; and Scotland, to be free from the stains entailed upon her by the act of her representatives, must reverberate the echo of Daniel O’Connell, and send back the money.5 Slavery was doomed – a leprosy spot was on it, which increased with the increasing intelligence of the age; and, unless the Free Church severed herself from it, she would be dragged into her troubled vortex, and share her destruction. Mr Buffum sat down admist much cheering.

Mr DOUGLASS, in speaking of the connexion of the Free Church, and the American Churches, did not intend to speak against the Free Church proper – he did not intend to say that Doctors Candlish, Cunningham, Chalmers and others, had done right or wrong in severing themselves from the State. False representations had gone out against him, and he assured the audience that he was here only to arouse the People of Scotland to acts of humanity and justice – to heal the hurt, and let the prisoner go free.

[Slavery and the American Churches]

Mr Douglass then read a long passage from Isaiah, confirmatory of this spirit; after which he referred to the condition of three millions of slaves living in the most abject bondage in the United States of America. Not one right common to humanity was left them; the religionist and the slave-holder had mutually combined to take them away; the light of religion was purposely forbidden to the slave. It was punishable by death to teach the Black population to read. This law had its origin in the belief that, when instructed, the Black man would become dissatisfied with his condition. Infidelity and Atheism, in their boldest and blackest form, overspread the United States; and their causes were clear. A system of plunder and oppression affected all the religions of the land; the psalm rose up in the temple, and the slave rattled his irons under the very altar, held up his manacled hands, and imploringly asked, ‘How long shall this be?’ and that altar answered back, ‘FOR EVER!’

[The Free Church Deputation]

The Churches of America had their walls built by the wages of unrighteousness. From Scotland, a land whose voice was sacred – whose brooks sung music, and whose every hill was dear – from a Church in this land calling herself free, claiming the life, the impersonification of love and Christianity, a Deputation leave their homes, and, with the expression of love and good-will to man on their lips, they go to the United States, and, in face of repeated remonstrances from the Anti-Slavery Party, strike fellowship with hands stained in human blood.6 (Cheers and faint hisses.) He liked to hear hisses; it proved that his facts told; innocence had nothing to fear; and he would ask, did Mr Lewis go to America? did he return with slave money?

The Free Church vindicated their deeds by saying, that, by the American laws, the slave-holder was bound to retain his slaves. This was utterly false; there was not a slave-holder in America who might not say to his slave, I have lived too long on your muscles and sinews – conscience will not admit me to claim property of your blood – go, and from henceforth be free. There were but three States in America where the slave-holder might not emancipate the slave on the ground, and in these three States he had only to become guarantee for the slave. Had the Doctors who defend slavery lived in the days of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, they would likely have bowed down to the sound of the Psaltery; and the spirit of Dr Chalmers’s defence says, – Bow down to the golden image – submit to the laws that be – but you will come out unscathed. But there was a spirit above all human enactments written on his heart to abhor rapine and blood; and, while such did exist, his heart would turn in revolt and loathing from the possession of human blood.

These men, in their mission to America, pretended to be representing Scotland, but he believed they were misrepresenting it at every turn; and their members would yet rise against them and compel them to return this blood-stained money. Many might complain why he did not go and reason with their leaders – why did he not call and remonstrate with Dr Cunningham and Mr Lewis. He believed the better way was to change the public mind. These men had accepted money against the remonstrance of the Anti-Slavery Society of America. Had they anticipated that the public opinion of the country would have come down like an avalanche upon them, they would not have dared to take this money; but they thought they could do so secretly; and he intended going through every town in Scotland, and telling of the deeds of these men that had blooded their hands with the slaves, till he shamed them to return the fruits of their labour.

Mr Douglass next drew a graphic picture of the slave-holding Churches in America, the neglect of all interests of the slave, and the utter sycophancy of the pastor to the slave-holder. He next read extracts from sermons, not sanctioned only by individual clergymen, but before whole Presbyteries. These extracts were to prove that slavery existed in the days of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and hence it should continue to exist. Who had heard of the good old slave holders, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? As well might they reason that, as adultery had existed in these good old days, it should continue to exist.

He next read a eulogy on Dr Chalmers, from a New Orleans Newspaper, well known for its slave-holding propensities; and on the same page a slave advertisement of a poor Black who had made his escape, – a piece out of his ear, lumps on back and neck and walked rather lame. The eulogy on Dr Chalmers was relative to his letter condemnatory of the spirit that would narrow the union of Christian Churches. At the conclusion of Mr Douglass’s speech, three cheers were given to send back the money. He would not leave the country till it was sent back.

Mr WRIGHT, in addressing the Meeting, wished the People of Dundee and the People of Scotland distinctly to understand his sentiments on this subject. He did not condemn the Free Church for the mere taking of money from the United States, but because, in the taking of this money, the Free Church had bound herself to hold communion and fellowship with the slave Churches in America. His question was – Shall Christianity be associated with slavery? And he felt sure that Scotland from sea to sea would resist such union.

Previous to 1816 a law was in existence in America, that all who bought or sold slaves should not be admitted into the Church. At 1816 the slave-holders became so numerous and powerful as to get this prohibition done away; and since that time he has been freely admitted to all the privileges of the altar. He believed nine out of ten of the members of the Free Church of Scotland reprobated this alliance with the slave Churches in America. Their leaders had gone over the Atlantic, and entered into union with the American Churches. By this deed the leaders of the Free Church had powerfully kept back the spirit of emancipation. Grant that the Free Church was otherwise a pure and good Church – that very goodness and purity shed but a false lustre on the slave Churches of America, which served to prolong the reign of corruption. He reprobated the overbearing spirit of the Free Church in their endeavours to overawe the People of Scotland.

He next alluded to the spirit that threw the whole blame from the individuals upon the institutions.7 Of all the wicked hypocrisies under Heaven, this was the most disgusting. Robbery in London was an institution; why might not the robber throw the blame from himself, and say he was bound to obey the laws of this institution; and the same argument held good with the Free Church, in going three thousand miles, entering into alliance with the slave Churches, and throwing the whole blame on the slave-holders. He cared not for the Free Church’s condemnation of slavery, while it held out the right hand of fellowship to slave Churches. Institutions were made for men, and not men for institutions. The Free Church had little scruple in making use of the money obtained from slaves. Suppose Dr Cunningham was sold as a slave for 1000l., which price is laid up in the pocket of Mr Lewis. If the People of Dundee, or the Free Church, knew this money was the price of Cunningham, would they take it? And how dared they take the price of a poor Negro? How dared they form alliance with the man who sold the poor fallen slave? They would not hold fellowship with the man who sold Dr Cunningham, but they held it with the man who sold the slave; and the day was not far distant when the Free Church, should she not cut herself loose from slavery, she would sink with it.

He next read an extract from a letter of the late Dr Andrew Thomson, condemnatory of the views of the Free Church and Dr Chalmers; a list of slave advertisements; and, after a long and eloquent speech, sat down amidst great cheering.

Dundee, Perth and Cupar Advertiser, 3 February 1846

AMERICAN SLAVERY. – Messrs Douglas and Buffum’s lectures on this subject, noticed by us last week, have  been continued on several evenings since that time. On Friday evening [30 January] the place of meeting was changed from School Wynd to Bell Street chapel, where, as formerly, large crowds were present. The subject of that and the previous lecture was changed from an exposition of the slave system of america, to a discussion of the conduct of the Free Church in consenting to receive money from churches in which are slave holding members. The speakers, finding that this theme suits well the taste of their audience, dwell upon it at great length, and with abundant want of justice and good sense. On Friday they were joined by Mr Wright, the person who distinguished himself a few months ago by his irrational abuse of the Free Church, and whose appearance on this occasion was exactly what the character of the man would have led us to expect. Loud applause at intervals greeted the speakers, more particularly when something stronger, and more flagrantly unjust than ordinary, was said against the Free Church.

Northern Warder, 5 February 1846


Notes

  1. Great Scottish Speeches, edited by David Torrance (Edinburgh: Luath Press, 2011); Aonghas MacNeacail, ‘saor bho shaorsa’ / ‘free from freedom’, in Yonder Awa: Poetry from the Empire Café, edited by Louise Welsh ([Glasgow]: Empire Café, 2014); Black and British: A Forgotten History, Part III, ‘Moral Mission’ (broadcast BBC 2, 23 November 2016).
  2. An editorial note relating to this passage in the Frederick Douglass Papers points out that the editorial appeared in the 3 July 1845 issue of the paper, and that the issue containing the quoted advertisements has not been traced: The Frederick Douglass Papers. Series One: Speeches, Debates, and Interviews, Volume 1: 1841–46, edited by John W. Blassingame (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979), pp. 154–55.
  3. Although the Northern Warder of 29 January 1846 had reported Douglass’ speeches at School Wynd Chapel fairly uncritically, on another page of the newspaper an article entitled ‘The Testimony of the Free Church Against Slavery’ offered a defence of the Church’s position, insisting that it had very clearly denounced slavery as a ‘heinous sin’, and had given the American churches ‘an earnest remonstrance on the matter in which they are at fault.’ If the Church was wrong to accept money from these churches, the argument continued, then ‘the greater guilt must be upon those who make gains by the toils of the slave,’ such as the grocer, the draper, the druggist. Indeed, ‘the vast majority of merchants are making their gains by slave produce; and there is hardly a man, woman, or child in this country who is not encouraging slavery, in using the produce of slave labour, either in what enters their mouths, or warms their bodies, or adorns their persons, or shelters them from the pelting rains.’ The article does not specify those who had criticised the Church for their actions, although another article in the same issue makes passing reference to a ‘rancorous and lying tract identifying the Free Church with slavery, which was circulated by a vagrant declaimer, who peregrinated the country some months ago, and which some of our readers may have seen.’  This ‘vagrant declaimer’ was almost certainly Henry Clarke Wright, author of a pamphlet, American Slavery Proved to be Theft and Robbery; with a Letter to Dr Cunningham (Edinburgh: Quintin Dalrymple, 1845), who had been lecturing on the subject across Scotland since the previous Spring. This might explain his eagerness to rebut their claims, and the especially negative response from the Warder in its report of this, the 30 January, speech of his – ‘the person who distinguished himself a few months ago by his irrational abuse of the Free Church, and whose appearance on this occasion was exactly what the character of the man would have led us to expect.’
  4. These remarks by Dr John Duncan and Dr Henry Grey were made at a meeting of the Free Church Presbytery of Edinburgh on 12 March 1845. See Iain Whyte, ‘Send Back the Money!’: The Free Church of Scotland and American Slavery (Cambridge: James Clarke, 2012), pp. 61–3.
  5. The ‘Send Back the Money’ campaign was probably inspired, or at least emboldened, by the example of Daniel O’Connell. In a notorious speech at a meeting of the Repeal Association in Dublin on 11 May 1843, he declared his intention to refuse ‘blood-stained money’ from pro-slavery Repeal groups in the United States. The speech was reported in the Liberator, 9 and 30 June 1843, and in the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Reporter, 9 August 1843.
  6. At a public meeting in March 1844, the Glasgow Emancipation Society condemned the Free Church’s solicitation of funds from the American churches. Minutes of Glasgow Emancipation Society committee meeting, 14 March 1844 (Smeal Collection, Mitchell Library, Glasgow: Reel 1); Glasgow Argus, 18 March 1844 (repr. Liberator, 26 April 1844).  And the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, in an initiative of its own, wrote an open letter to the Free Church condemning its actions, a letter which would be distributed outside the Free Church’s General Assembly the following month. American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, Letter from the Executive Committee … to the Commissioners of the Free Church of Scotland (Edinburgh: Myles Macphail, [1844]) (repr. Liberator, 26 April 1844). On its distribution at the General Assembly, see Michael W. Honeycutt, ‘William Cunningham: His Life, Thought, and Controversies’ (PhD diss., University of Edinburgh, 2002), p. 169n.
  7. Wright is probably referring to a letter Chalmers wrote to the Witness defending the Free Church’s position, insisting that a ‘distinction ought to be made between the character of a system and the character of the persons whom circumstances have implicated therewith.’ Thomas Chalmers to editor, Edinburgh, 12 May 1845 (Witness, 14 May 1845). Douglass mocked this argument in several of his speeches, including one he gave in Arbroath two weeks later on 12 February 1846.

Dundee: 27-29 January 1846

Dundee in 1840 (detail): artist W H Bartlett, engraver E Benjamin.

Frederick Douglass and James N Buffum arrived in Dundee on Tuesday 27 January following a series of meetings in Perth. They were welcomed by George Gilfillan, and spoke at his church on School Wynd that night and the two following, before moving to more spacious accommodation for a fourth meeting on the Friday.  The reports in the Dundee, Perth and Cupar Advertiser and the (rather less sympathetic) Northern Warder (reprinted below) cover the first two meetings; we know of the Thursday meeting, but no report of it has so far been found.1

In a letter to the chair of the Belfast Anti-Slavery Society, James Standfield, after the second meeting in Dundee, Douglass writes:

Our meetings have been of the most encouraging and heart-cheering nature; we have spoken freely in the ear of the Free Church, telling them plainly in what light they must be viewed before God and the universe, and calling upon them, in the name of all that is good, pure, and holy, to have no fellowship with slave-holders, and send back the blood-stained money? Thus far the great mass of the people have nobly responded amen, to our appeal; our cry is, disgorgedisgorge your ill-gotten gold – give up – give up the fruit of plunder – build not your houses by fraud, and support not your gospel by the wages of unrighteousness! To these words the people respond in language not to be misunderstood. Our Scotland boils like a pot under this agitating cry. In this town we have one of the largest meeting-houses to hold our meetings; it was crowded last night to suffocation, and will be again crowded to-night. We shall have another and larger house to-morrow evening. We have justice, mercy, and love on our side; with these, who can stand before us? I find many of the Free Church joining in the cry – send back the money! One good lady took me by the hand and told me she belonged to the Free Church, and said, though poor she was willing to contribute her part towards sending back the money; this feeling is becoming general. Oh, what a shock has the Free Church the power to give American slavery! They might give the monster a blow which would send him reeling as if struck by a bolt from the Most High. May God give them the heart to do so, is my humble prayer.2

The two speakers probably stayed at the Royal Hotel. Certainly Douglass wrote from there on Thursday 29 January, presumably before the evening lecture.  His correspondent was Francis Jackson. As in his letter to William Lloyd Garrison from Perth two days’ earlier, Douglass can’t resist flaunting his location, confident that his reader will recognise the romantic historical associations it has for him:

I am now as you will perceive by the date of this letter in old Scotland – almost every hill, river, mountain, and lake of which has been made classic by the heroic deeds of her noble sons. Scarcely a stream but what has been poured into song, or a hill that is not associated with some firce and bloody conflict between liberty and slavery. I had a view the other day of what are called the Grampion mountains that devide east Scotland from the west. I was told that here the ancient crowned heads use to meet, contend and struggle in deadly conflict for supremacy, causing those grand old hills to run blood, each warming cold steal in the others heart.3

He tells Jackson that he has sold nearly all the remaining copies of his Narrative and is looking foward to the delivery of a second edition from his Dublin publisher.  After all he relies on these sales to cover his day-to-day expenses, such as the hotel bill he will have to pay in a few days’ time. ‘I shall probably remain in Scotland till the middle of March,’ he says. As it turned out, except for one brief trip to London in May, he would stay until the middle of June.

Newspaper reports often imply that audiences were partly drawn to Douglass’ meetings by the novelty of seeing a ‘runaway slave’ on stage as well as the content of his speeches.  Perhaps he satisfied an ethnic curiosity more effectively than the blackface minstrel shows that were all the rage at the time. Douglass rarely comments on this, but in this letter from Dundee he wryly acknowledges the extent to which he has become a theatrical spectacle.

It is quite an advantage to be a “nigger” here. I find I am hardly black enough for british taste, but by keeping my hair as woolly as possible, I make out to pass for at least a half a negro, at any rate. My old Fr Buffum finds the tables turned upon him here completely, the people lavish nearly all their attention on the negro. I can easily understand that such a state of things would greatly embarrass a person with less sense than he, but he stems the currant thus far nobly.4


LECTURES ON AMERICAN SLAVERY

Meetings were held relative to American Slavery, in School Wynd Chapel, on the evenings of Tuesday and Wednesday. Both nights the Chapel was crowded to excess; the passages on the second night were all thronged and many had to return home, being unable to obtain a hearing.

Mr Frederick Douglass (lately a slave himself), in contrasting the atrocities of slavery with all other institutions permitted by civil laws to exist in any other country, said – He was not able to trace in any history which he had read such institutions as those of American slavery. The slave had intellect, conscience, and moral perception, prompting him to think and act one way. The slave holder, so far as he was able, took these away; – he was not allowed to act for himself, to think for himself, or to decide for himself – all these the slave holder does for him. He supplanted him of all these, and acted for him in every particular. He had assumed that right which God had forbidden man to assume – he had torn the husband from the wife. If more than seven slaves were found together without a White man, thirty-seven lashes were given; for a second offence, a greater number were inflicted; and for a third, a finger was cut off. For going off the regular path, thirty-seven lashes were given; for riding after hours on horseback, without a written permission, twenty-five lashes; and for riding in the day-time, a slave may be lashed, chained, cut, branded, with a little R, or have his ear cut away. He had seen a young woman caught in attempting to escape; she was overtaken and dragged back again, when her ear was nailed by her master against a post, and in this condition she was left for an indefinite period.

The practice of branding slaves in America was as common as the custom of marking sheep was in this country. The slave was taken out for the purpose, the furnace was heated, the branding-iron placed in the midst of the fire, and, when heated, taken sparkling from it, and applied to the ear. His cheek was scorched all over. These atrocities were not the doings of individual slave-holders, but were recognised in their full extent by the laws of an American Government.

He had seen his own master tie up a young woman by the hands, and afterwards apply for fifteen minutes the bloody cowstick. Had seen his master’s brother take up his own brother and throw him against the ground till blood gushed from his nose and cheek, for no other reason than another slave was absent who should have been present. They were very frequently cut and bruised. After enumerating other barbarities, he anticipated that many might question what purpose such atrocities could serve; and, in answer to this, he would say, that the slave had a love of liberty deeply impressed within him, which very often prompted him to evince, by symptoms, words, and sometimes deeds, that, were it in his power, he would regain his liberty; and hence their method of keeping him down. He had known a girl about seventeen years of age, who was held in slavery; her keepers came to her prison to feed her, along with other slaves; they let bread fall to her; she picked it up while they passed on to other slaves. The gate of the prison had been left open; she dropped the bread, and, before they were aware, she had cleared the gate; pursuit was made after her by the keeper; she gained a bridge; two Virginian slave-holders were coming up; meeting her, the poor girl stood; she saw slavery before her and worse than death behind; she clasped her hands, as if beseeching mercy, and then sprung over the parapet into the water, – at once preferring to appear before God, in all her sins, rather than again endure slavery.

He was forbidden by the presence of the audience before him to tell all the secrets of his prison house; they could not endure to hear him, because these secrets were so horrible. A million of female slaves were left to the lusts of the slave-holders. These might have their left hands cut off, – their heads severed from the trunk, – they might be quartered, and afterwards mutilated – yet such were the laws of Republican America. He was himself a slave, if in the United States; in no portion of that immense country was he free; over its length and breadth slavery existed. The slave-holder could set the blood-hound on his track; and, wherever American republicanism held dominion, there was no valley so deep, no hill so high, as could save him from their search.

[Christianity and Slavery]

After stating his reasons for visiting this country, and contrasting the usage which he had received since visiting it with what he had suffered in America, he regretted that his race was misrepresented by American travellers who came into this country, and the more so, that in many instances they were believed. On the free hills of Scotland he had heard strange apologies for the conduct of slave-holding Christians; but what were slave-holding Christians? There was no such anomaly as a slave-holding Christian in existence. Slave-holding religionists there were. The widow who bound herself on the funeral pyre of her husband was one, and the man who threw himself under the wheels of the car was another;5 but the slave-holder who professed Christianity, and made  barter and oppression of human blood, was no Christian. If he understood what Christianity meant, he thought it was to be Christ-like. The slave-holder claimed for himself that adoration due only to the Deity; he wrested from the sacred page this devotion. ‘Thou shalt not steal’ was violated by slavery; for what could be plainer than man was intended to be free; if not free, why was he given the desire to be so? Why was he given the liberty to think and reason? and he who could take those from him was a thief and a robber, though called a Christian.

He had seen a husband and wife placed on the auction block – the wife was a strong, healthy, and a fine-looking woman; her limbs were brutally exposed to the examination of the purchaser; she was first put up, and sold after a lengthened contest. The man followed, his eye resting upon his wife; and from her it turned with an imploring look to him who had purchased her; and, so far was it understood, that he who had purchased the wife bade for him; but the price went too high, and he was sold to another, evincing the keenest symptoms of grief in being saparated [sic] from her who had been till then his companion. He pleaded for permission to have one kiss, but was refused. Prompted by grief, he persisted in his aim, when he was violently struck by the butt-end of a whip. He stood a moment, gazing in stupefaction and grief, on the ground, and fell down dead, – and such was slavery.

[‘A Mission of Plunder and Aggrandizement’]

After referring to the influence which the attention of this country, when properly directed to the subject of slavery, would have upon America – to the fear and horror manifested by the United States when their deeds of blood and damnation done under the star-spangled banner were alluded to – he gave a geographical sketch of what were generally supposed to be the slave-holding States. But here he stated an error existed: The whole States of America were one on the subject of slavery – they had entered into mutual agreement to return the slave who had escaped to his former holder; they had pledged their word that the Black population should remain slaves; and should they attempt to gain freedom they will shoulder musket and say to the slave – be a slave or die. America as a whole might at present be said to be on a mission of plunder and aggrandizement. They were seizing Mexico with one hand, with the other they pointed to Oregon; and staining whererever conquest led them, with the damning mark of slavery. There were in America at present three millions of slaves, and one million of these were eagerly waiting an opportunity for revolt – they would rise at the sound of the first trumpet. He did not wish to foster a spirit of war; but let England, in her claim of Oregon, decry slavery, and their slaves would flock to her banner. Were this done, there would be no war. America had enough on hand in governing her own population. Mr Douglass, after a long and eloquent speech, sat down amidst great cheering.

Mr BUFFUM, also from America, next addressed the Meeting. He came into this country, not to flatter the vanity of any class of men. Whatever errors might be observed by him, he would point out in a friendly spirit. There were what he considered errors in this country.

He had sailed down the Clyde. On landing, a beautiful hill was before him; he wished to climb this hill to obtain a prospect around him, but was stopped in his attempt by Lord Blantyre’s gamekeeper.6 If the Black population in America were not free, the hills of America were so. He had met in with other errors in Scotland: He thought it was an error of a body of professing Christians to send over to the slave-holders in America a Deputation to beg money, wrung from the sinews, and muscles, and blood of the slaves, to build churches with. (Loud cheering.)

He next referred to the speech made by his companion, Frederick Douglass. He could substantiate every sentence stated by him; in proof of which, he read advertisements from the American Newspapers. A Miss Spence, having been observed regularly to lash her slaves on the Sunday, on being inquired the reason said, it was beause they were more able to work on Monday, than had they received the lashes another day.

Last Spring, he went to Washington, and, within sight of that capital there were slaves and slave prisons. There were auctioneers who purchased licences to sell men, women, and children, from the Government itself, at 80 dollars. He went into the Senate and heard a discussion on the annexation of Texas. He heard George Duffy say within that Senate, in a long inflammatory speech, that slavery was the formation of American property, while at the same breath he spoke of the annexation of Texas as the means of extending the area of liberty. Others folowed him and spoke in the same style. He went out and stood on the steps of the Senate; a flag waved before him; on inquiring the reason why it was there, he was answered, that it belonged to a slave-trader. He dressed himself like a slave-holder, looked as savagely as he could, and went to the slave-trader, who said he was rather scarce of slaves at present, having sold thirty-six that morning. A few hours before his arrival there, thirty-six slaves had been yoked, handcuffed, and shipped to the South. On desiring to see how many remained, he was conducted to the slave prison, where eighty were confined, ten of whom were thrust within one little cell, these having all run from their masters. He asked the price of an old man, and never would he forget the answer he received – the slave-owner could not tell that man’s price; he thought he was going to die, and he did not know if he would get anything at all for him.

Mr Buffum enumerated many other atrocities; but, from what has already been stated, the reader can have some idea of American slavery.

After dwelling for some time on the difficulties which Frederick Douglass and himself had encountered in America, he counselled the people of Scotland by all means in their power to endeavour to put an end to this horrid system of bartering human flesh. He wished all other ministers and doctors of divinity were like him who presided on the occasion. He could not forget the kindness with which the Reverend Mr Gilfillan had at once granted him his chapel and his own presence, and these deeds he would tell to his brother emancipators of America. After a long and appropriate lecture, Mr Buffum sat down amidst deafening cheers.

On Wednesday the chains and manacles worn by the slaves were exhibited to the audience.

Dundee, Perth and Cupar Advertiser, 30 January 1846

AMERICAN SLAVERY.– On Tuesday evening, Frederick Douglas, a fugitive from the horrors of slavery in the United States of America, delivered a lecture on this subject in the School-wynd Chapel. The Rev. George Gilfillan occupied the chair. Mr Douglas spoke at considerable length, and with much energy. He speaks the English language with correctness and fluency, and his lecture was very effective, in some passages even eloquent. His intention, he said, was to present his audience with facts illustrative of his subject; and he stated several which seemed to excite a deep feeling of horror in the meeting. His diffuse style, however, and an apparently irresistible tendency to diverge from the point immediately under notice, kept him occupied very much with general considerations, and prevented him from adducing so many facts as he would otherwise have done.

He was suceeded by a Mr Buffum, a gentleman who has accompanied him from the States, and the object of whose visit seems to be to point out in a friendly way the various errors which may strike him in our national economy. For example, he attempted one day to ascend a hill on the banks of the Clyde,  but was stopped by the intimation of a gamekeeper that ‘His Lordship did not permit strangers here.’ Mr Buffum having ascertained that ‘his Lordship’ was Lord Blantyre, hastened to pen him a letter, in which he commented severely upon his Lordship’s exclusion of strangers from enjoying the fresh air upon his hills, and now he makes it his duty to censure publicly such conduct, and to assert that in a country where the men are free, the hills ought to be free also. After finding fault, in passing, with the Corn-laws, and with the Free Church deputations for taking money from slaveholders, he proceeded, like his companion, to give illustrations of American slavery. Last evening, the lecture and supplementary address were resumed and concluded. On both occasions the Church was thronged.

Northern Warder, 29 January, 1846


Notes

  1. The report of the 30 January meeting in the Dundee Courier (3 February 1846) refers to it as the fourth of four. Douglass himself, writing of the second meeting (on 28 January) reported: ‘it was crowded last night to suffocation, and will be again crowded to-night [29 January]. We shall have another and larger house to-morrow evening [30 January],’ Frederick Douglass to James Standfield, Dundee, [29 January 1846] (Belfast Commercial Chronicle, 4 February 1846).
  2. Frederick Douglass to James Standfield, Dundee, [29 January 1846], (Belfast Commercial Chronicle, 4 February 1846).
  3. Frederick Douglass to Francis Jackson, Dundee, 29 January 1846, in The Frederick Douglass Papers, Series Three: Correspondence, Volume 1: 1842–52, edited by John R. McKivigan (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), p. 89.
  4. Ibid., p. 90.
  5. Douglass here draws on prevailing Victorian conceptions of Hindu religious practices, whence the English loan-words suttee and juggernaut derive.
  6. When in Glasgow, Buffum was probably a guest of John Murray, who lived at Bowling Bay, twelve miles west of the city on the north bank of the Clyde. Lord Blantyre’s main residence was at Erskine House across the river, but it is likely the encounter of which Buffum speaks took place in the Kilpatrick Hills which overlooked Murray’s residence. Recalling a few days’ spent with Murray in September later that year, William Lloyd Garrison wrote of walking in ‘the lofty hills which rise somewhat precipitously behind his dwelling, and had a magnificent prospect opened up to us. James N. Buffum […] will remember this spot, and his memorable collision with one of Lord Blantyre’s servants, as well as his correspondence with his lordship, in regard to it,’ William Lloyd Garrison to the Liberator, Belfast, 3 October 1846 (Liberator, 30 October 1846).

Perth: 23-26 January 1846

Image of Perth, Scotland, 1850s engraving
Adapted from Perth. Drawn and engraved by J. Rapkin [1854]. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.
From Glasgow, Frederick Douglass and James N. Buffum made their way to Perth, probably on Monday 19 January. It would have been eight hours by coach, but at least the weather was mild.1  There they joined forces with Henry Clarke Wright, who had been lecturing in the area with hardly a break since the beginning of December. ‘Never did I see a town more thoroughly convulsed,’ wrote Wright to William Lloyd Garrison, editor of the Boston anti-slavery paper the Liberator.2

They held a meeting in the new City Hall on Friday 23 January. ‘Three thousand crowded in,’ wrote Wright, ‘and as many more came and had to go away. So densely crowded that we had to break up the meeting before the time, for fear of accidents.’3  

Another meeting at the same venue on Monday 26 January was

admission by tickets, four cents each. Thirteen hundred tickets were sold during the day. About 1500 persons present from 7 to 11 – so intensely interested are they. If Frederick gives himself to anti-Slavery in Scotland, three or four months, he and J. N. Buffum could do more for our cause in America than they could do in a year in any other part of the kingdom.4

Wright reports that ‘four anti-slavery meetings we have held here.’5 Douglass refers to ‘five meetings in Perth’.6 The dates and locations of the other meetings are not known. Perhaps one or two were held on Saturday 24 January, but they could also have lectured earlier in the week. Douglass had been in town since at least Tuesday 20 January.7  The newspaper reports reproduced below do not shed any further light on these other meetings, nor do they give a detailed account of the content of Douglass’ speeches, but they do convey something of his reception in Perth.  Here, for the first time, he condemns the Free Church of Scotland for its refusal to break ties with Presbyterian churches in the United States. This would be the theme of many of his subsequent speeches, which called on it to return the donations solicited by a Free Church delegation which visited in early 1844.

The morning after the Monday meeting, Douglass himself wrote to Garrison. But rather than duplicate the account of his fellow-campaigner, he used most of his letter to respond to something he had read in a recent issue of the Liberator, which he would probably have perused in Glasgow. He was incensed by the allegations made by a certain A. C. C. Thompson in the Delaware Republican, questioning the veracity of his newly-published Narrative. Thompson refused to believe that its author was the same person as the young man he had known in Maryland.  In his rebuttal, Douglass made much of the contrast between how he was then and how he was now, exploiting the historical associations of his present surroundings on the very edge of the Scottish Highlands.

I fancy you would scarcely know me. I think I have altered very much in my general appearance, and know that I have in my manners. You remember when I used to meet you on the road to St Michaels, or near Mr Covey’s lane gate, I hardly dared to lift my head, and look up at you. If I should meet you now, amid the free hills of old Scotland, where the ancient ‘black Douglass’ once met his foes, I presume I might summon sufficient fortitude to look you full in the face; and were you to attempt to make a slave of me, it is possible you might find me almost as disagreeable a subject, as was the Douglass to whom I have just referred. Of one thing, I am certain – you would see a great change in me!’8

Later that day Douglass and Buffum took the coach to Dundee, a ride of some three hours along the north banks of the Tay.  The railway, still under construction, would halve the journey time when it opened in 1848.


UNITED-STATES SLAVERY.– Numerous and respectable audiences have been repeatedly addressed here, within the last ten days, by a deputation from North America, consisting of Frederick Douglass, a self-emancipated slave; Messrs. Buffum and Henry C. Wright, also from the States of the Union, – with a view to awaken the sympathies of our countrymen for the degraded and abject condition of about three millions of human beings in the Southern States of America, suffering evils harder to be borne than even the negroes of our West-Indian plantations were ever subjected to. The slave Douglass is a noble instance of what the power of the mind may achieve under all the means that may be taken to debase and enslave it. He is a man of brilliant intellect, highly gifted even as an orator, and a most able advocate for the unfortunate race of our fellow-creatures whom he represents. Mr. Wright is also a powerful and argumentative reasoner, and never allows the attention of his audience to flag for a single instant.  The picture they draw of negro slavery in the States – and we believe it is a just one – is absolutely sickening to any philanthropic heart. The slavery of the mind, in that abominable system, is even more  deplorable than the enthralment of the body, and is more disgraceful to those who practise it than those who endure it. On Friday and Monday last, these strangers found it necessary, for sufficient accommodation, to occupy the City Hall, which was completely filled on both occasions. Both the orators we have alluded to administered the most withering castigation on the Free Church for its recognising Christian fellowship with the slaveholders, for the sake of their money.

Perthshire Constitutional, 28 January 1846 (repr. Liberator, 27 February 1846).

AMERICAN SLAVERY. – Several addresses have been delivered in the City-Hall, and other places, here, within the last eight days, on the subject of slavery in America, by Mr. F. Douglass (a coloured person, described as a fugitive slave from the States), by Mr. Henry C. Wright of Philadelphia, and Mr. Buffum of New York.9 All of these gentlemen are tolerable speakers, and were listened to with much interest by large and respectable audiences. Mr. Douglass, particularly, is no mean adept in popular oratory. He declaims with considerable vigour, and is not deficient either in pathos or sarcasm. There was, of course, nothing very novel in the statements or information given by these gentlemen, and therefore we do not consider it necesary to present any report, as our readers have abundant knowledge regarding the slave system of America, and its various horrible consequences. All the speakers dealt out severe condemnation to the Free Church of this country for so far fraternizing with the slaveholders of the Union as to receive their contributions. These animadversions occasionally provoked very opposite manifestations of sentiment among the audiences; but, on the whole, the majority seemed to concur in the justice of the censures. An interesting notice of Mr. Douglass will  be found in Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal of last week.10

Perthshire Advertiser, 29 January, 1846

AMERICAN SLAVERY. – Several lectures have, during the last two days, been delivered in the City Hall and other meeting-houses, on the subject of American Slavery, by a Mr Frederick Douglass, a fugitive slave from the Southern States of America. The novelty of a slave addressing the people of this country could not fail to attract attention, and Mr Douglass had crowded audiences on every occasion on which he lectured. He, however, communicated nothing new on the slave system generally. He dealt heavy blows against every sect, party and denomination – Unitarians, Baptists, Methodists, Roman Catholics, &c. – in America, who all more or less gave countenance to the traffic in human bodies. He did not spare the Free Church of this country, and seemed to consider it the most prominent in the encouragement of the system, by its acceptance of money from the slave-holders in America, and called upon them to ‘send it back,’ and, if not to the original  owners, for the purpose of establishing schools in the United States, wherein to educate fugitive slaves. There is a good deal to attract and interest in the narrations Mr Douglass gives of his own life while under bondage. – The manner in which he managed to acquire a knowledge of reading and writing, under the greatest difficulties, and at the risk of his life – his sufferings – his escape from bondage, and his emotions consequent thereon, when he felt he was free – all tend to produce and keep up no common interest. Besides, Mr Douglass has also the advantage of possessing mental attainments much beyond what might be generally supposed to belong to a slave; and can, thereby, be listened to, more than once, with interest. Indeed, we have had agitators of every school belonging to our own country in this city, many of whom cut a much poorer figure than this fugitive slave, in oratorial qualifications and mental display. On all the occasions of Mr Douglass’s lectures, although the houses were densely crowded, and himself considered at times rather severe in his strictures on the conduct of the leaders of the Free Church body, the great bulk of which formed his auditories, he was listened to throughout invariably with the most marked attention, and without the least symptoms of opposition.

Perthshire Courier, 29 January 1846


Notes

  1. A weather report in the Perthshire Courier on 29 January 1846 notes that the ‘unprecedentedly open and mild weather which has characterised the present month still continues’, with decidedly Spring-like temperatures of around 40–45 degrees Farenheit.
  2. Henry Clarke Wright to William Lloyd Garrison, Perth, 26 January 1846 (Liberator, 27 February 1846).
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Frederick Douglass to James Standfield, Dundee, [29 January 1846] (Belfast Commercial Chronicle, 4 February 1846).
  7. A letter from Douglass to Richard Webb is dated ‘Perth, 20 January 1846’, The Frederick Douglass Papers, Series Three: Correspondence, Volume 1: 1842–52, edited by John R. McKivigan (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), pp. 80–1.
  8. Frederick Douglass to Wiliam Lloyd Garrison, Perth, 27 January 1846 (Liberator, 27 February 1846, reprinted inThe Frederick Douglass Papers, Series Three: Correspondence, Volume 1: 1842–52, edited by John R. McKivigan (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), p. 85).  When Douglass chose to include this refutation of Thompson in an appendix to the second Dublin edition of his Narrative, which came out in the Spring, he revised it.  This passage became: ‘The change wrought in me is truly amazing. If you should meet me now, you would scarcely know me. You know when I used to meet you near Covey’s wood-gate, I hardly dared to look up at you. If I should meet you where I now am, amid the free hills of Old Scotland, where the ancient “Black Douglass” once met his foes, I presume I might summon sufficient fortitude to look you full in the face. It may be that, wearing the brave name which I have assumed, might lead me to deeds which would render our meeting not the most agreeable. Especially might this be the case, if you should attempt to enslave me. You would see a wonderful difference in me. I have really got out of my place; that is, I have got out of slavery, which you know is “the place” for negroes in Christian America.’  Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself, 2nd Irish edition (Dublin: Chapman and Webb, 1846), p. cxxvii.
  9. The reporter was somewhat confused over the provenance of the speakers. Wright was not ‘of Philadelphia’ (he grew up in upstate New York and later moved to Massachusetts) and Buffum was not ‘of New York’ (he grew up in Maine, and later moved to Massachusetts).
  10. ‘Narrative of Frederick Douglass,’ Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal, 24 January 1846, pp. 56–59.

Spotlight: Glasgow

Adapted from Joseph Swan, ‘Plan of Glasgow and Suburbs. Engraved expressly for the Post Office Directory.’. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.
  1. Terminus of the Glasgow-Ayr Railway.
  2. 161 Gallowgate.
  3. City Hall.
  4. Assembly Rooms, Ingram Street.
  5. Eagle Temperance Hotel.
  6. Monteith Rooms, Buchanan Street.
  7. Adelphi Theatre Royal, Jail Square.
  8. Terminus of the Glasgow-Edinburgh railway.
  9. 16 Richmond Street.

Frederick Douglass travelled to Glasgow on Saturday 10 January 1846, sailing from Belfast after an extensive tour of Ireland.  He had been invited by William Smeal and John Murray, secretaries of the Glasgow Emancipation Society who had been eagerly anticipating his arrival for some months.  A ‘large and respectable’ audience gathered to hear the ‘self-liberated slave’ deliver his first public lecture at the City Hall the following week.  This meeting, he recalled later that year

was attended by 1,500 people; our second meeting was much larger, 2,500 being present, and these principally working people. Few learned or reverend gentlemen graced our platform – but the ladies of Glasgow united in rendering us aid.

For the next three months Glasgow served as his main base from which he travelled north to Perth, Dundee and as far as Aberdeen; to Paisley and Ayr to the south; and west to Greenock and the Vale of Leven. On the lecture platform he was usually joined by his companion James Buffum. On several occasions he also spoke alongside the English abolitionist George Thompson, and the American peace campaigner Henry Clarke Wright, who had been lecturing widely in Scotland since late 1844.  Douglass returned to Glasgow in the autumn with William Lloyd Garrison from Boston, undertaking his third anti-slavery tour of Britain.  His friends the Hutchinson Family Singers – who had sailed across the Atlantic with Douglass and Buffum – also performed for audiences at the City Hall in June.

On arrival he would have crossed the Clyde, packed with sailing vessels, some of them bearing slave-grown cotton from New Orleans, offloading their cargo to be consumed by the 150 or so mills in the city and surrounding area. Glasgow’s economy for a long time had relied on imports from the tobacco, sugar and cotton plantations of North America and the Caribbean but Douglass focussed on another connection: the cordial relationship between the Scottish churches and their counterparts in the United States. The main target of his speeches was the Free Church of Scotland, which faced criticism from abolitionists when it accepted donations from Presbyterians in the Southern States and refused to condemn their pro-slavery stance. But – as Douglass continued his recollections:

I was besought not to agitate the question there, and for a time, I confess my hands hung down – I felt almost incapable of prosecuting my work. … I found that nothing was left for me, but to attack that Church boldly, and I at once proclaimed myself ready to go through the length and breadth of the land and sound the anti-slavery alarm, to summon forth the old feeling of opposition to slavery which I knew existed in the hearts of the people of Scotland.

Douglass revitalised the campaign; its slogan ‘Send Back the Money!’ was chanted at meetings, sung in the streets, and scrawled on the sides of buildings.

photo of wall-mounted installation
Sound installation for Merchant City Voices (2012), City Halls, Glasgow.

On a number of occasions Douglass expressed his disappointment that anti-slavery sentiment was not as strong as he expected. ‘Not six years ago there were many in this city who did not hesitate to come forward and avow themselves the uncompromising advocates of emancipation,’ he remarked. ‘Where are they now? They are among the missing.’

And he had sharp words for those who wondered why he was not equally committed to the cause of the working class in Scotland. ‘We have slavery here,’ they say. Douglass certainly ‘did not mean to dispute the existence of much misery and suffering in the country,’ reported the Glasgow Argus, ‘but he denied that they had slavery here.’ Slavery was not merely hardship or the denial of political rights, but the ownership of one human being by another, secured by repeated acts of physical violence. ‘Let one who had felt in his own person the evils of slavery – let the mark of the slave-driver’s lash on his own back – tell them what it was.’

Douglass competed for audiences who flocked to halls and meeting rooms to hear edifying lectures on history, science, literature and religion. He also had to lure them away from lighter entertainments.  The celebrated dwarf General Tom Thumb drew crowds to City Hall from January to March, while the African American actor Ira Aldridge appeared at the Adelphi Theatre in February.  Glasgow Dramatic Review noted how Aldridge coupled his  Shakespearian speeches with renditions of ‘Possum up a Gum Tree’, responding to the popularity of minstrel shows.  Indeed, notices for Douglass’ lectures were printed alongside those for the blackface troupe Dick Pelham and his American Sable Brothers – an offshoot of the Virginia Minstrels – offering ‘unrivalled delinations of Negro Life and Character’, illustrating the kind of prejudices the abolitionist had to confront.

Terminus of the Glasgow-Ayr railway. Douglass first arrived in Glasgow on the evening of Saturday 10 January on a train from Ardrossan, and passed through the station on Bridge Street again several times during the year. The line was extended over the Clyde in 1879 to terminate at Central Station and Bridge Street station closed in 1905. The site is now occupied by a restaurant.

161 Gallowgate. The home of William Smeal who lived over his and his brother’s grocery store. It would be Douglass’ base in Glasgow for the first three months of the year. He would regularly return there to pick up deliveries of his Narrative shipped from Dublin, which he would then sell at his lectures for half a crown. The site was later occupied by a public house, a chip shop, and today, a cafe.

City Hall. This new civic building, which opened in 1841, was the venue for most of Douglass’ public appearances: in January and February (with Buffum), April (with Buffum, Thompson and Wright), and September and October (with Garrison). His friends, the Hutchinson Family Singers performed here in June. The hall remains a major venue in the city.

Assembly Rooms, Ingram Street. Douglass addressed afternoon meetings of the Glasgow Female Emancipation Society on 18 February and 23 April, in advance of larger public meetings at City Hall.  The building was later demolished, but part of the frontage has been preserved as the McLellan Arch on Glasgow Green (pictured here).

Eagle Temperance Hotel. Douglass and Garrison addressed a ‘breakfast party’ attended by ‘seventy friends’ before taking the train to Kilmarnock for an afternoon meeting. The building was later used as a seaman’s mission, and the site is now occupied by a large office block, forming part of the new riverside development on Atlantic Quay.
Monteith Rooms, Buchanan Street. Audience demand for Dick Pelham and his ‘American Sable Brothers’  sustained an extended run here from January to March.  The Rooms were built around 1840 and included a large hall used for public meetings, exhibitions and balls; especially popular were  panoramas and wax-work exhibitions. They building later housed the offices and printing works for the Glasgow Herald and is currently occupied by retail outlets.

Adelphi Theatre Royal. After an unsuccessful run the previous October, Ira Aldridge returned in February as Zaraffa, Mungo and Three-Fingered Jack, while Douglass was lecturing in Dundee and Arbroath.  The large wooden theatre on Glasgow Green, with a capacity of 2,500, was destroyed in a fire in 1848.

Terminus of the Glasgow-Edinburgh railway. A point of departure and arrival for Douglass on several occasions, with four trains a day to and from the capital. The journey took two and half hours, although the new telegraph installed along its route allowed messages to be transmitted in two minutes. Queen Street Station has been substantially redeveloped since the 1840s, none of the original buildings remaining.

16 Richmond Street. Home of Andrew Paton, committee member of the Glasgow Emancipation Society, and his sister Catherine, active in the women’s society.  Garrison stayed here in the autumn, and they were close friends of Wright, who also often stayed at their summer residence at Roseneath on the Firth of Clyde.  The site is now occupied by University of Strathclyde.

Custom House, Bowling Bay (not on map). Home of John Murray.  We know for sure that Douglass spent a few hours here between speaking enagements in Greenock and Paisley in September and it would would have been a natural base for him when he was lecturing in Dunbartonshire in the Spring. The house still stands, overlooking the basin that connects the Forth-Clyde Canal with the river.

The full text of newspaper reports of Douglass’ 1846 speeches in Glasgow (and elsewhere in Scotland) will be added to this site during 2019. For an overview, see this list of his speaking engagements.

Spotlight: Paisley

Adapted from ‘Ordnance Survey 25 inch to the mile, 1st edn, 1855-82: Renfrew Sheet XII.2 (Abbey, Middlechurch, High Church and Low Church). Survey date: 1858. Publication date: 1864’. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland. (Click map to enlarge.)
  1. United Secession Church, 16 Abbey Close (Rev. William Nisbet)
  2. Exchange Rooms, Moss Street.
  3. United Secession Church, 21 George Street (Rev. Robert Cairns)
  4. Free Church of Scotland, High Church, Orr Square (Rev. John McNaughtan)
  5. Church of Scotland, Abbey (Rev. Patrick Brewster)
  6. West Relief Church, Canal Street (Rev. James Banks)

Alongside his companion James Buffum, Douglass addressed numerous meetings in Paisley during March and April 1846. For the last meeting on 25 April, they were joined by fellow campaigners Henry Clarke Wright and George Thompson. All four abolitionists then made their base in Edinburgh for the final push of the campaign against the Free Church of Scotland during the lead up to its General Assembly at the end of May.  In September Douglass returned to Paisley with William Lloyd Garrison whom he accompanied on two tours of Scotland during Garrison’s three-month visit to Britain in the autumn.

Five years’ earlier, a recession had hit the town hard, forcing many mills to close. Across Scotland in 1842, there were mass meetings, strikes and threats of civil disobedience, and the police and army were put on high alert.  The Chartists, with their political demands, were somewhat outflanked by these protests provoked by economic distress, but they were not inactive. In Paisley the moderate Chartist, Patrick Brewster, formed a Society for the Protection of the Destitute Poor, earning him a year-long suspension from his post as a Church of Scotland minister.

Brewster was also an active abolitionist, an honorary member of the Glasgow Emancipation Society, but Douglass would have taken exception to his claim that the British worker was ‘as much at the mercy of his Master, as if he was a Negro Slave.’  In his first speech in Paisley Douglass acknowledged ‘the evils stalking abroad in this land’ but insisted – in what might have been a dig at Brewster – that they ‘are nothing like American slavery. I protest against the use of the term slavery being applied in such a manner – it is an awful misnomer.’

Another Paisley clergyman, with whom Douglass had a rather less cordial relationship, was John MacNaughtan of the Free Church, who had dismissed him as an ‘ignorant runaway slave who had picked up a few sentences.’  At the West Relief church on 25 April, Douglass gave his response:

The man whose pockets are lined with the gold with which I ought to have been educated, stands up charging me with ignorance and poverty. The man who enjoys his share of the three thousand pounds taken from the slaveholder, and robbed from the slave, stands up to denounce me as being ignorant. Shame on him.

There is no record of Douglass meeting Peter Burnet, an African American who had lived much of his life in the town, after accompanying his employer to Scotland during the Revoutionary War. Known as ‘Black Peter’, he made a living as a weaver and was a friend of the poet Robert Tannahill. By the time of Douglass’ visit, Burnet was in his eighties and in ailing health (he died the following year), but it seems unlikely that they wouldn’t have been made aware of each other’s presence.

United Secession Church, 16 Abbey Close.  Douglass spoke here at least seven times during March and April. On 25 April he tells his audience that they stand alongside campaigners from England, Ireland, Mexico, Canada, and ‘even the red Indians’, to form ‘an anti-slavery wall’ surrounding the United States. The graveyard survives, but the church itself is no more, its site now an open green space next to the Town Hall.
Exchange Rooms, Moss Street.  Douglass and Buffum were guests of honour at a soirée here on 17 April. In his speech Douglass insists how effective British public opinion could be in changing American perceptions of slavery. He singles out Charles Dickens for praise, but warns that racist attitudes are not confined to the US. ‘Some of the people here were about as bad,’ he says. Opened in 1837, it is one of the few non-ecclesiastical buildings to survive from the period.
United Secession Church, 21 George St. Douglass returned to Paisley with Garrison on 23 September. A ‘Great Anti-Slavery Meeting’ was moved here – then the largest church in the town – from its original venue, when it was discovered that tickets were changing hands at three times their face value. The building no longer exists and the site is now occupied by shops and flats.
Free Church of Scotland, High Church, Orr Square.  The church of the minister John MacNaughtan who insulted Douglass, prompting several sharp responses in speeches in Paisley and elsewhere. The church has since been converted to residential accommodation.
Paisley Abbey, Church of Scotland.  The outspoken Patrick Brewster had a difficult relationship with the Church of Scotland, but was minister at the Abbey when Douglass was in Paisley, and shared a platform with him on several occasions.   It remains a place of worship, a prominent landmark in the town.
Castlehead Church, Paisley, formerly West Relief Church West Relief Church, Canal Street. Douglass addressed his seventh meeting in the town here on 25 April, alongside Buffum, Wright and Thompson, shuttling between here and the church in Abbey Close. ‘They found when they came to town that the excitement was so great, they would have two large meetings.’ The building still stands, but is no longer in use.
Monument to Patrick Brewster, Woodside Cemetery (not on map).  John G Mossman’s monument (1863) forms part of the heritage trail in the cemetery, located to the west of the town centre.

The full text of newspaper reports of Douglass’ 1846 speeches in Paisley (and elsewhere in Scotland) will be added to this site during 2019.  For an overview, see this list of his speaking engagements.

Spotlight: Edinburgh

Map of Edinburgh c1846
Adapted from W H Lizars, ‘Plan of Edinburgh and Leith. Engraved expressly for the Post Office Directory’. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland. (Click on map to enlarge).
  1. York Temperance Hotel, 19 Nicolson Street.
  2. United Secession Church, 19 Rose Street (Rev John McGilchrist)
  3. Waterloo Rooms, 29 Waterloo Place.
  4. Music Hall, 54 George Street.
  5. Brighton Street Chapel.
  6. 45 Melville Street.
  7. Council Chambers.
  8. Theatre Royal.
  9. 33 Gilmore Place.
  10. 10 Salisbury Road.
  11. 5 South Gray Street.
  12. 7 Montpelier.

Frederick Douglass loved Edinburgh. ‘It is a beautiful city,’ he wrote, ‘the most beautiful I ever saw – not so much on account of the buildings as on account of its picturesque position.’  He briefly entertained the idea of bringing his family over and settling permanently, but he was soon convinced of the need to return to the United States and rejoin the abolitionist campaign on the front lines. ‘I know it will be hard to endure the kicks and cuffs of the pro-slavery multituude, to which I shall  be subjected; but then, I glory in the battle, as well as in the victory.’

Plaque marking the place Frederick Douglass stayed in Edinburgh
Historic Environment Scotland plaque at 33 Gilmore Place, placed there November 2018.

He arrived for the first time in April 1846, and embarked on an intense schedule of a dozen or so lectures in the month leading up to the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland that opened at the end of May. He and his fellow campaigners, James Buffum, Henry Clarke Wright and George Thompson, exerted pressure on the church’s leaders to take an unequivocal stand against their Presbyterian counterparts in the United States for their willingness to placate slaveholders.  The Assembly was to be the culmination of the ‘Send Back the Money’ campaign. It was even said that Douglass was observed carving the slogan in large letters of the slopes of Arthur’s Seat with ‘two fair Quakeresses’, probably Jane Smeal and her step daughter Eliza Wigham, active members of the Edinburgh Ladies’ Emancipation Society.

With Thomas Chalmers in failing health (he died the following year), it was left to William Cunningham and Robert Candlish to manage the few dissenting voices in the Free Church.  The abolitionists attended the Assembly and an outburst from Thompson momentarily disrupted proceedings, but the leadership held firm. Buoyed by vigorous editorials on the issue by Hugh Miller in the Witness, they engineered a compromise that effectively closed the debate.

Disappointed, the campaigners went their own ways from the capital in June to pursue their activities in Ireland and England. But Douglass returned in the autumn with Thompson and William Lloyd Garrison as they looped twice around Scotland, promoting their new venture the Anti-Slavery League.  They enjoyed the hospitality of several leading Edinburgh abolitionists including the Wighams, and the Rev. James Robertson, secretary of the Scottish Anti-Slavery Society.

Douglass records meeting several leading figures in the city, including the publishers Robert and William Chambers (who reviewed his Narrative in theirJournal). And he later recalled with fondness his breakfast with phrenologist George Combe, whose best-known work, Douglass claimed, ‘relieved my path of many shadows.’

As elsewhere in Scotland, Douglass found himself competing for audiences with blackface minstrel shows, including crowds who flocked to see the Ethiopian Serenaders, whose tour overlapped with his in Edinburgh in October.  He later denounced such performers as ‘the filthy scum of white society, who have stolen from us a complexion denied to them by nature,’ but chose to pointedly ignore them on this occasion.

In his letters from Edinburgh we get rare glimpses of the private Douglass – fatigued by the relentless campaigning and missing his wife Anna and their children.  In one of his ‘fits of melancholy’, he tells a family friend, he saw a fiddle for sale in a music shop. He promptly bought it and took it back to his hotel and played a Scots air. ‘I  had not played ten minutes before I began to feel better and – gradually I came to myself again and was lively as a crikit and as loving as a lamb.’

York Temperance Hotel, 19 Nicolson Street. Advertised as ‘combining the elegance and comfort of a first-rate Hotel with the quiet and home-like character of a genteel family residence’, this was Douglass’s main base when in Edinburgh. The site was subsequently occupied by a number of entertainment venues, most recently the Festival Theatre.

United Secession Church, 19 Rose Street. Douglass spoke here on 28 and 29 April and on 7 May (with Buffum, Thompson and Wright).  Letters to the Witness newspaper pointed to the church being a beneficiary of compensation paid to slaveholders in the wake of West Indian Emancipation, suggesting the hypocrisy of the abolitionist campaign’s exclusive focus on the Free Church.
Waterloo Rooms, 29 Waterloo Place. At a ‘Public Breakfast’ on 1 May ‘Mr Douglass especially enchained the attention of his audience,’ according to a report, ‘alternately humorous and grave – argumentative and declamatory – lively and pathetic. None who heard him will ever forget the impression.’  The building is now a restaurant.
Music Hall, 54 George StreetDouglass spoke here numerous times in May and June (with Buffum, Thompson and Wright). On 25 May, ‘the orchestra was crammed from top to bottom, and hung with a galaxy of ladies and gentlemen, like a drop scene of a theatre.’ Built in the 1780s, the grand building, as the Assembly Rooms, remains one of the city’s main venues.
Brighton Street ChapelDouglass spoke here on 31 July (alone) at a meeting of the Scottish Anti-Slavery Society, and three times in the autumn (with Garrison). In his October speech Douglass told how the previous morning in Liverpool he had encountered a former slave he had known in Baltimore. The church no longer stands, the site now occupied by the National Museum of Scotland.
45 Melville Street. The home of George Combe, the leading British exponent of phrenology.  Douglass visited him there (with Buffum and Thompson) on 7 June, Combe noting in a letter that ‘he has an excellent brain’ and praising his eloquent speeches, but expressing reservations about his uncompromising stance towards the Free Church. The building is now occupied by the Information Commissioner’s Office.
Council Chamber. On 6 June, Douglass attended a packed meeting held to confer the freedom of the city on George Thompson in recognition of ‘his exertions in the cause of negro emancipation in the West Indies, and for his advocacy of the abolition of the corn laws.’ In his acceptance speech Thompson diplomatically promised to abstain from referring to the campaign against the Free Church.
Theatre Royal, Shakespeare Square. The Ethiopian Serenaders performed here in October to Douglass’ likely irritation. He would no doubt have preferred to see the African American actor Ira Aldridge in The Black Doctor in April 1847 but by then Douglass was crossing the Atlantic back home. The theatre was demolished in 1860 and the site was later occupied by the city’s main post office, now converted to offices.
33 Gilmore Place. Douglass stayed here at the end of July and possibly on other occasions. This was the home of James Robertson, secretary of the Scottish Anti-Slavery Society, a body formed that summer in an attempt to unify the various strands of Scottish abolitionism. Robertson spoke alongside Douglass and Garrison at several of their autumn engagements in Scotland.
10 Salisbury Road. The home of John Wigham, Jr, cousin of the John Wigham who lived at 5 South Gray Street. Douglass stayed here at the end of October, penning his response to charges against him made by the American Presbyterian Samuel Cox, revealing his ‘pretensions to abolition as brazen hypocrisy or self-deception.’
5 South Gray Street. Douglass probably visited the home of John Wigham, of the Edinburgh Emancipation Society. His wife Jane and daughter Eliza, both active in the – more radical – Edinburgh Ladies’ Emancipation Society, were among Douglass’ most loyal supporters in the city.
7 Montpelier. Home of Mary Welsh, an abolitionist who continued to be active in the Glasgow Women’s Anti-Slavery Society, after moving to Edinburgh. Douglass may have visited, as Welsh was in the same social circle as the Wighams. A detached house with generous grounds at the time, the site is now occupied by tenements next to Bruntsfield Primary School.
Broughton Place Church (Not on map). Venue for the United Associate Synod, which Douglass attended on 8 May for its debate on slavery. Although it passed a motion that met his approval, he was not permitted to voice his thanks. The building has been restored and is currently occupied by an upmarket auction house.
Tanfield Hall, Canonmills (Not on map). Venue for the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland, which Douglass and his fellow abolitionists attended on 30 May. Situated at the foot of Dundas Street, beside the Water of Leith, it was used as a meeting hall from 1839. The site was redeveloped as a modern office building in 1991.

For the full text of newspaper reports of Douglass’ 1846 speeches in Edinburgh (and elsewhere in Scotland) see this list of his speaking engagements.

Spotlight: Dundee

Adapted from Charles Edward, ‘Plan of the town of Dundee, with the improvements now in progress’ [Edinburgh : W. & A. K. Johnston, 1846]. Reproduced with the permiission of the National Library of Scotland.
  1. Royal Hotel, 54 Nethergate.
  2. United Secession Church, ‘George’s Chapel’, School Wynd (Rev. George Gilfillan)
  3. United Secession Church, Bell Street (Rev. W. B. Borwick)
  4. United Secession Church, Tay Square (Rev. James R. McGavin)
  5. Relief Church, ‘James’ Church’, Bell Street (Rev. James Reston).
  6. Free Church of Scotland, St David’s Church, Ward Road (Rev. George Lewis)
Plaque on the wall of the former Bell St Chapel, Dundee, placed there for the BBC TV documentary Black and British: A Forgotten History (2016).

Douglass was welcomed to Dundee in January 1846 by the United Secession minister George Gilfillan who had him speak at his church in School Wynd, despite the objections of some of those on the managing committee, who subsequently resigned. The author of three volumes of Literary Portraits, who counted Carlyle and de Quincey among his friends, Gilfillan later proclaimed Douglass ‘the Burns of the African race’. He had embraced the antislavery cause after hearing the English abolitionist George Thompson speak in Glasgow in 1836 and was close to two ministers on the committee of the Glasgow Emancipation Society.

On their way between the chapel and the manse on Paradise Road they would have passed close by the flax-spinning mills that would produce the thread that would be woven into Osnaburg linen and exported to the plantations in the Americas to be worn by slaves.1 Douglass himself recalled that as a child he ‘was kept almost naked’ except for ‘a coarse tow linen shirt, reaching only to my knees.’  Perhaps Gilfillan told Douglass of the recent protests when six young women at Baxter’s mill were sentenced to ten days’ imprisonment with hard labour for taking the afternoon off after their request for a modest pay rise in line with other operatives was refused.

The Free Church of Scotland was the target of many of Douglass’ speeches.  When in Dundee he singled out George Lewis, the minister of St David’s Church, for particular attention. Lewis had been a member of the Free Church delegation that sought financial support in the United States and he wrote memorably about the trip in Impressions of America and the American Churches (1845). At a meeting on 10 March, Douglass invited his audience to imagine Lewis calling on his master in Maryland to beg for funds. ‘Mr Douglass’s mimicry of the Rev. Mr Lewis was in very bad taste,’ remarked the Perthshire Advertiser. His audience, though, were thrilled by the impersonation.

In his winter meetings in Dundee, Douglass spoke alongside his companion James Buffum and the controversial peace campaigner Henry Clarke Wright.  In the autumn he returned with George Thompson and William Lloyd Garrison, the editor of the Boston antislavery newspaper, the Liberator.

Royal Hotel. On his first visit to Dundee, Douglass wrote to Boston abolitionist Francis Jackson from here. ‘I am now in old Scotland – almost every hill, river, mountain and lake of which has been made classic by the heroic deeds of her noble sons.’ The hotel (now private accommodation) probably served as his base there on this and subsequent visits.

United Secession Church, School Wynd. Gilfillan’s church was packed to overflowing for Douglass’ first three lectures here on 27, 28 and 29 January 1846. At an ‘Anti-Slavery Soirée’ there on 10 March 1846 the chapel again ‘was crowded to excess, each passage being literally crammed’ and Douglass crafted a theatrical performance that by the end was drowned in cheers.  The site is now occupied by the Overgate Shopping Centre.
United Secession Church, Bell Street.  To meet demand, for his fourth meeting in Dundee, Douglass, Buffum and Wright moved to this larger venue on 30 January, where Douglass delighted the packed hall with a mocking imitation of a pro-slavery sermon. He returned on 28 September with Garrison.  The building still stands, now a music centre, and a plaque on the wall honours Douglass’ visit.
United Secession Church, Tay Square. Douglass spoke here with James Buffum on 9 February. They both read extracts from George Lewis’ travel book which demonstrated the unchristian character of American slavery that the Free Church had chosen to ignore. It is not known how much of the original building survives as part of what is now the Nethergate Medical Centre.
Relief Church, Bell Street.  Garrison and Thompson were the main speakers here on 23 October 1846, with Douglass merely proposing a poetic vote of thanks to the managers of the chapel, reciting John Greenleaf Whittier’s ‘Our Countrymen in Chains.’  Later an ironmongers and a shoe warehouse, the site is now occupied by Abertay University.
St David’s Church, Ward Road.  The church of George Lewis, who had travelled to the United States as part of a fund-raising delegation in 1844. Douglass challenged Lewis to publicly debate the Free Church’s reluctance to break ties with American presbyterians, but he evidently declined the offer, although his travel account in many ways supported the abolitionist arguments.  The site is now occupied by a hostel and public gardens.

The full text of newspaper reports of Douglass’ 1846 speeches in Dundee (and elsewhere in Scotland) will be added to this site during 2019. For an overview, see this list of his speaking engagements.

Note

  1. Some primary sources which attest to the wearing of osnaburg linen clothing by enslaved people in the United States: ‘As to the clothing of the slaves on the plantations, they are said to be usually furnished by their owners or masters, every year, each with a coat and trousers, of a coarse woolen or woolen and cotton stuff (mostly made, especially for this purpose, in Providence, R. I.), for Winter, trousers of cotton osnaburghs for Summer, sometimes with a jacket also of the same; two pairs of strong shoes, or one pair of strong boots and one of lighter shoes for harvest; three shirts; one blanket, and one felt that.’ (Frederick Law Olmsted, A Journey in the Seabord Slave States, London 1856, p112).  ‘Of course I was required to strip off my only garment, which was an Osnaburg linen shirt, worn by both sexes of the negro children in the summer’ (Jacob Stroyer, My Life in the South, Salem, 1885, p. 12)  ‘As to their clothing, two good strong suits were given every year – in the summer, white Osnaburgs; in the winter, a kind of jeans, partly cotton and mostly wool, and stout brogans.’ (from Chapter V, ‘The Negro – How He Was Housed, Fed, Clothed, Physicked, and Worked’ in Robert Q Mallard, Plantation Life Before Emancipation, Richmond VA, 1892, p. 32).