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:


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.


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.


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.


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


  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).