Following their meeting in Dundee on Tuesday 10 March, Frederick Douglass and James N. Buffum made their second visit to Perth. On the afternoon of Thursday 12 March, according to a notice in the Perthshire Advertiser that day, Douglass was scheduled ‘to address the ladies of Perth … on the subject of American slavery.’ We have no record of his speech, but the ‘Anti-Slavery Soiree’ at the City Hall that evening attracted reporters from several newspapers.
It was announced as follows:
FREDERICK DOUGLASS, a fugitive slave from America, and JAMES N. BUFFUM, Esq. of Massachusetts, have accepted an invitation to be present at a SOCIAL ENTERTAINMENT, which is to be given in the CITY HALL, on THURSDAY (to-morrow) evening.
Chair to be taken at half-past seven o’clock. Ladies are respectfully invited to attend. Tickets one Shilling each, to be had of the Booksellers.1
As at the Soiree in Dundee two days earlier, Douglass and Buffum shared the platform with local speakers – generally sympathetic to their cause, but not always concurring with their outspoken criticisms of the Free Church of Scotland. On this occasion, the chairman, the Rev. Dr David Young (the United Secession Minister of Perth North Church) ‘begged leave to say that he did not wish to mix himself up in the controversy betwixt their guests and the Free Church’, according to the report in the Northern Warder. It would appear that he left the room before Douglass spoke, forcing Douglass to rebuke his timidity in absentia.
It is worth noting that Douglass reprised the dramatic set-piece he had first tried out in Dundee. Impersonating the Free Church minister George Lewis and his own master Thomas Auld in Maryland, he invites his audience to imagine an encounter between them, witnessed by the young Frederick, who finds himself next day sold at a slave auction in order to raise funds to provide a donation to the cause Lewis had come to solicit.2 The Perthshire Constitutional indicates that the performance was met with much applause, laughter and cheering, but the Advertiser found the ‘mimicry … in very bad taste.’ The Northern Warder, which had for some weeks derided the visiting abolitionists, goes much further, taking the opportunity to mock them at some length, choosing to portray them as ‘strolling players’, attracting an audience of Church of Scotland ministers and town councillors a little the worse for drink, and ‘ladies’ – whose numerous presence alone would appear to condemn the proceedings to triviality.
ANTI-SLAVERY SOIREE.- A soiree, at which about 400 persons attended, was held in the City Hall last Thursday – at which Frederick Douglass, the self-emancipated slave, was the principal speaker. We have no room for a full report. The Rev. Dr. Young also spoke on the occasion, and in condemnation of the American system of Negro Slavery – but expressed regret that the Transatlantic deputation did not oppose that system upon its merits, and without mixing up the Free Church people so much with it. Mr. Douglas in noticing this point of the Rev. Doctor’s speech showed good reason why they should: The countenance and fellowship of the Free Church were a great encouragement to that system, whereas a repudiation and a resolution to ‘send back the money,’ would operate as the heaviest blow and severest discouragement to the system ever encountered. We can spare no space for any portion of Mr. Douglass’s address until next week.
Perthshire Constitutional 18 March 1846
THE ANTI-SLAVERY SOIREE
The following is a part of Frederick Douglass‘s Address at the City Hall of Thursday week:-
There has been an attempt on the part of Mr. Lewis and others to treat with ridicule the charges we make against them, as if they were a light matter. When I discovered that spirit in the man on reading his speech, it appeared to me to indicate a hardness of heart, more especially after what he had seen – what he had seen done and what he did in the midst of the slave states.3 I mean to state as many charges against the Free Church as there are laws in the decalogue; and each of these, if true, is sufficient to render that Church unworthy of the Christian regard of all those who love God and their fellow-men:-
1st, I charge the Free Church of Scotland with fellowshipping men-stealers, as the type and standing representatives of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ on earth.
2d, I charge the Free Church of Scotland with accepting money from well-known thieves to build her churches to pay her ministers.
3d, I charge the Free Church of Scotland with sending a deputation into a community of well known thieves to beg money which they had the best evidence was the result of the most foul plunder which has ever disgraced the human family.
4th, I charge the delegation of the Free Church of Scotland with going into a land where they saw three millions of immortal souls, for whom the Saviour poured out his blood on Calvary, reduced to the condition of slaves – robbed of their just and God-given rights – plundered of their hard earnings – changed from men into merchandise – ranked with the lowing ox or neighing horse – subject to the brutal control of rough overseers – herded together like brutes – raised like cattle for the market – without marriage – without learning – without God – without hope – groping their way from time to eternity in the dark – left to be consumed of their own lusts – compelled to live in concubinage – punished with death, in some instances, for learning to read the word of God; and yet that delegation of professed ministers of the Gospel never whispered a single word of opposition to all this in the ear of the oppressor, or lifted up one prayer in the congregation for the deliverance of these wretched people from their galling fetters. The very idea is horrible, and ought to make every ear tingle and every heart quiver with terror.
5th, I charge the delegation of the Free Church of Scotland with having gone into the slave states and among men-stealers with a full understanding of the evil such a course must inflict on the Anti-Slavery movement. – they having been met and remonstrated with by the Committee of the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, and appealed to by them in the most Christian and fraternal manner, in the name of Christ and the perishing slave, not to go into the South – that such a course would inflict a great and lasting injury upon the cause of emancipation.4
6th, I charge the deputation of the Free Church of Scotland with having taken the counsel and followed the bidding of slaveholders and their guilty abettors, whilst they turned a deaf ear to the bleeding and whipscored slave, and to the counsel, prayers, and entreaties of those who are labouring in the most arduous manner for the immediate emancipation of the slaves held in the United States.
7th, I charge the delegation of the Free Church of Scotland with refusing to preach the truth against slavery, because by such preaching they would have failed in getting the price of human flesh to build Free churches, and to pay Free Church ministers in Scotland.
8th, I charge the delegates of the Free Church of Scotland with preaching such sermons only, while in the slave states, as would win for themselves the cordial approbation of man-stealers and their guilty abettors.
9th, I charge the distinguished leaders of the Free Church with apologising, excusing, and defending slavery and slaveholding – with an attempt to show that neither Christ nor his Apostles had any objection to Christians trading in the bodies and souls of their fellow men, and leaving the inference to be drawn that Christians may innocently do so now.
10th, I charge them with having adopted the name of ‘Free Church’ while they are doing the work of a slave Church, and have thereby disappointed the hopes and expectations of the perishing slave.
Sir, when the slaves in the United States heard of the formation of the Free Church – a free Church – accustomed as they were to nothing but slave Churches, to a slaveholding Gospel, and to slave-trading Churches – what must have been their feelings?
I for one used to exclaim, in what was wont to be a stereotype expression in my speeches in New England, What shakes nature just now? – Freedom, freedom! What shakes England? – The unwearied progress of freedom! What shakes Ireland? – The progress of freedom! What shakes Ireland? – The progress of freedom! What shakes Scotland? – The efforts of the Free Church! This is what I used to say to my coloured brethren.
But little better than twenty months ago it was said that a delegation from the Free Church was come to our land. – Strange emotions were excited. The Free Church was a somewhat different name from masters’ Church. In the slave states we used to be afraid of using the word liberty, and we called it for safety pig’s foot; and in this way we could speak of it even in our masters’ presence, without their knowing that liberty was the subject of our discourse. So when it was heard that the Free Church deputation was come, many a slave would be saying, ‘Well, pig’s-foot come at last.’ (Loud laughter.)
Freedom’s come! – But look at the unutterable disappointment, and what a reverse of feeling, when they found this Free Church meant nothing more to them than freedom for the deputation to clasp the hand of the slaveholder as a brother, and to neglect the poor bondmen! No word of sympathy for them, who were left to be treated by men as brutes, with the knowledge of the Gospel hid from them, deprived of the knowledge of the Word of God by law, and groping their way from time to eternity in darkness. The Free Church delegation behaved in the South as if they believed there was no God – like Atheists. Money! Money! was the entire actuating motive of their hearts. (Great applause.)
With what unutterable loathing must we look on men who dare to turn off attention from this matter with a laugh. Mr. Lewis, so far from making light of this matter, should go down on his knees, acknowledge his offence, and seek forgiveness of his God, of the poor slave, and of the Christian people of Scotland for daring to compromise their character by striking hands with slaveholders to the utter neglect of perishing bondmen.
Sir, I can almost imagine I see brother Lewis calling on the slaveholder. I can almost go down south, and see him, when I was a slave, calling on my old master, Mr. Thomas Auld (who would be a very likely party to call on), with his subscription paper. When brother Lewis knocks at the door, I answer, and he asks, ‘Well, my lad, is your master in? (Laughter.) ‘Yes, Sir.’
Well, he walks into the house, sees my master, and introduces himself thus (for my ear would be at the keyhole immediately on the door being shut) – ‘My object in making this call this morning is to see if you would do something for the cause of religious freedom in Scotland. We have been labouring some time back, and have undergone severe struggles for Gospel freedom in Scotland, and we have thought it right to call upon you, as a benevolent man and as having means to bestow, to see what you can do for us.’
My master would reply. ‘Brother Lewis, I deeply sympathise with your efforts; and as I see the cause recommended by Deacon such-a-one, I would like to have my name down with his. I’ll tell you what I will do. I have a fine young negro who is to be sold, and I will sell him to-morrow and give you a contribution to the cause of freedom. (Applause and laughter.) If you will call, brother Lewis, and take your breakfast with me, I will then see what I can do; and as the slave is to be sold at Easton, I will feel happy if you also take a ride so far with me, as you may not have seen the capital of the county. Come about nine o’clock, brother, and I will see what I can do for the cause of freedom in Scotland.’ (Laughter and cheering.)
The morning comes, and the breakfast hour, and brother Lewis also (I have a son named Lewis, but I think I’ll change his name.) (Applause.) The Bible is given to brother Lewis, and he reads. ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are they that give to the poor,’ and so on. All goes on delightfully. Brother Lewis prays, and after prayer sits down and partakes of the bounties produced by the blood of the slave, watered by the sweat and enriched by the blood of the half-famished negro. (Applause.)
Brother Auld orders the carriage to be brought round to the door – I am tied behind the carriage and taken away, as I have seen often done: I am on the auction block, and the auctioneer is crying ‘Who bids for this comely, stout, young negro? He is accustomed to his work, and has an excellent trade on his hands.’
Well, 500 dollars are bid. Oh, how brother Lewis’ eyes twinkle! (Laughter.)
The auctioneer continues – ‘This is not half the value of the negro; he is not sold for any bad quality. His master has no desire to get rid of him, but only wants to get a little money to aid the cause of religious freedom in Scotland.’ (Laughter.)
Another flame of light from brother Lewis’ eyes. 600 dollars are bid. Once, twice, thrice, is said by the auctioneer, and I am sold for 600 dollars.
Brother Lewis and the master are there together, and they go home to dinner; and after prayer, brother Lewis, who has always an eye to the main chance, takes out the subscription list, and brother Auld gives him part of the price of the bones and the blood of his fellow-man.
Not a word from brother Lewis as to the sin of the action. They then devote the money thus obtained to building these Free Churches; and brother Lewis daringly stands up here in Scotland and makes light of it. That man must be hardened indeed that could do such a thing. Disgorge the plunder! Disgorge the plunder! (Cheers.)
Perthshire Constitutional 25 March 1846
ANTI-SLAVERY SOIREE. – On the evening of Thursday last, a Soiree was held in the City-Hall, ostensibly of an anti-slavery character, but apparently more exclusively directed against the Free Church. Mr. William Taylor, flax-spinner, occupied the chair – and the meeting was severally addressed by Mr. James N. Buffum; Dr. Young; and Mr. Frederick Douglass, the fugitive slave from America. The address of Dr. Young was short, and confined to the professed object in view; but those of the others were rather lengthy, and were devoted principally to ‘show up’ the Free Church for having received, in the first blush of her difficulties, the contributions of American slaveowners. Mr. Douglass’s mimicry of the Rev. Mr. Lewis, Dundee, was in very bad taste. Mimicry, at all times say in a player, is contemptible; but when directed against a minister of the gospel, and indulged in by one in the prosecution of such a holy mission as Mr. Douglass, it is not only contemptible but disgusting, and is provocative of consequences quite different from those anticipated. The meeting was but thinly attended – below three hundred being present. We may add, that the proceedings of the evening were a good deal enlivened by the plaudits of some members of the Perth Presbytery.
Perthshire Advertiser, 19 March 1846
On Thursday evening last, a ‘social entertainment‘ was given in the City Hall here, to Frederick Douglass, a fugitive slave from America, and James N. Buffum, Esq., of Massachusetts. These gentlemen had previously accepted an invitation to the ENTERTAINMENT, as was announced by hand bills, and by advertisement in some newspapers, the editors of these papers lending a helping hand to the success of the soiree, by commending it to their readers.
During some months, these two individuals, along with Mr Wright, of peace-tract celebrity, have been exhibiting in a great many towns and villages throughout the country. Like other strolling performers, they announced their entertainments by hand bills, couched in as attractive form as possible, in order that audiences might be brought together. The staple topic of their placards was of a very attractive kind, setting forth the exposure and denunciation of slavery, as the great object of their patriotic exertions.
But, like other itinerant entertainers of the public, they had two strings to their bow, at least, and we think it pretty clear they had three. The grand clap-traps about slavery were merely the filagree and tinsel employed to busk the dagger which was concealed behind. We have said that they had three strings to their bow, and in this respect these Yankees have fairly out-witted the itinerant demagogue of their fatherland. Strolling players and the mountebank performers at home, are well contented if they can manage to play so well upon one string, namely, the entertaining of the public, as to make the second vibrate to the necessities of their pockets; but the Yankees have additional strings, as well as additional keys. The first may be called the attractive, for gathering a gaping crowd; the second, the vindictive, for brutally assailing those who never injured them; and the third, the remunerative, by which the cash is attracted to their coffers. It is perfectly clear that these American gentry depended mostly upon their second string, as the chief feeder of their pockets.
Well enough did they know that the cause of freedom, and the emancipation of the slave, have, in numberless instances, been pled in this country, by men of reputation, in a style which certainly left nothing for them to do. But, laying hold of a practice which all religious and humane men abhor, they saw that no better screen could be employed, through which they might have a stab at THE FREE KIRK; and as this religious community has bulked somewhat largely in the public eye for two or three years back, an assault upon it might be gratifying to some, and remunerative to themselves.
Accordingly, the Free Church and Free Churchmen, have been the objects of the special vituperation and abuse of these American landloupers. This requires no confirmation. There is not an individual who knows any thing about their doings, and who has any regard for truth, who will deny that the blackguarding of the Free Church and Free Churchmen, has been the main and engrossing object of these transatlantic demagogues. It may then be a matter of curious and instructive inquiry, what has been their success and reward?
They have succeeded in calling forth a full explanation of all the dealings and intercourse of the Free Church with the Churches in the Slave States of America, which must satisfy every rational and sober thinking man, that the Free Church by that intercourse gave no encouragement to slavery; and that the aid she received from the American Churches had nothing to do with slavery, but was an indication of a certain amount of desire to do good, even in a land groaning under the sin of slavery.
These peace-making visitors have farther succeeded in being the occasion of a republication of THE TESTIMONY AGAINST SLAVERY, which has been borne by the Free Church; and which testimony is not only surpassed, but unequalled by any other Church on the face of the earth!
They have further succeeded in bringing out into overt acts, the latent feelings of hostility against the Free Church, which appear to have been lurking in the bosoms of some individuals, from whom other things might have been expected.
So much as to their success; now what has been their reward?
In a pecuniary point of view we cannot think that it has been very great. But then they have had a reward of honour both here and elsewhere, inasmuch as they have been invited to SOCIAL ENTERTAINMENTS!
We shall now attempt to give our readers such a description of the entertainment here as will enable them to form some notion of the value of this branch of the reward. We have already glanced at the mission and main object which the parties invited and to be entertained, namely, Douglass and Buffum, had in view. We shall now, that we may have both the entertained and the entertainers before us, give a specimen of the parties who entertained Douglass and Buffum in the City Hall last Thursday evening. We shall, of course, say nothing of the ladies, who formed two-thirds of the entertaining party.
There were present in all exactly 218. Amongst the gentlemen, there were, Mr William Taylor, millowner, chairman; Rev. Dr Young, Mr Thomas M’Pherson, Mr Reddie, Mr Morton, Mr Wm. Crichton, Mr James Whittet, Dr Halket, Mr David Turnbull, general agent. The latter gentleman deserves some credit, for he was heard to boast that by dint of activity he had been enabled to bring up sixteen ladies with him, large and small.
The CHAIRMAN rose and said that he had now the pleasure of exhibiting to them their two tried friends in the cause of freedom. He did not mean to say much to them; but he was very sorry to see such a thin meeting. He expected better things of Perth; but he would just introduce to their notice Mr Buffum.
Mr BUFFUM rose and was proceeding to speak, when considerable noise was heard about the door. The meeting appeared to be all agitated, and a general rising took place to ascertain the cause of the noise, when the members of the Established Presbytery of Perth, along with some members of the Town Council, were seen entering the Hall. We understand they had been dining in a neighbouring tavern, and so anxious were they for freedom that they had left their potations, Jamaica rum and altogether, and had adjourned to the City Hall, that they might take a part in entertaining the illustrious strangers.
The most prominent members of the Establishment Presbytery whom we observed, were the Moderator, Mr Kirkwood, the Clerk, Mr Touch, Mr M’Lean, Kinfauns, Mr Murdoch, Middle Church, Mr Auld, Moneydie, Mr Black, Kilspindie. Along with them there were, Mr David Peacock, leader of the Psalmody in the East Church; Councillors Peter Imrie, Patrick Wallace, James Thomas, and Robert Macfarlane. These are specimens of the gentlemen who met to entertain the American revilers of the Free Church. The music was somewhat defective, as Mr Peacock was not in voice to sing the appropriate song which he printed in his paper the day before and announced as part of the entertainment.
After these gentlemen had been seated, Mr Buffum proceeded to lament the apathy which existed on this question, as exhibited by the thinness of the meeting, but there was enough to show him that there existed in Perth a hatred to slavery, and the abettors of it, the Free Church of Scotland. Mr Buffum seemed to be very much from home in the few rearks he made on the slavery question, but when he got at the Free Church he was quite in his element.
He commenced an attack upon the Northern Warder for certain articles which have appeared there, exposing the wanton and malicious attacks which he and his colleagues have been so indefatigably making upon the Free Church. This onslaught upon us was, of course, couched in his choicest slang, but it seemed to give great delight to Mr David Peacock, who, although unable to sing, was most active in making all the noise he was able to make with his stick on the floor. We are not a little gratified by the attention paid to us, and the bad names bestowed upon us by this high authority. It shows that our humble efforts have told upon him and his colleagues.
We do not know whether he attributed the thin meeting, which he bewailed, to any services of ours or no. But notwithstanding of all discouragements, he threatens not to leave the country until the Free Church gives back the money, and then very modestly adds, that he would go back in the same ship with it. Both conditions bid fair for a pretty long sojourn of Mr Buffum in this country. If he remains till the Free Church sends back the money, his stay will not be short, and if he waits till she send it back in the same ship with him, we should think his stay will be longer still.
Mr Buffum concluded by thanking the meeting for THEIR ENTERTAINMENT.
The Rev. Dr YOUNG said he had been requested to take a part in the business of the evening. He had not attended any of the previous meetings which had been held by their guests. He had read about them, and he begged leave to say that he did not wish to mix himself up in the controversy betwixt their guests and the Free Church. He came there merely to give his testimony against slavery along with the godly members of the Free Church, the State Church, the Secession Church, and all other churches. An opinion had got abroad that Scotland is in a state of apathy upon the question of slavery, but he did not think that was the case. He had intended to have brought forward a motion upon the subject in the Presbytery to which be belonged, but that he had been done by another member.
The Doctor then read a certificate of character from the Anti-slavery Society in Glasgow in favour of Messrs Douglass and Buffum, and so soon as he had finished he left the room.
FREDERICK DOUGLASS then came forward. He did not care a pin for the smallness of the meeting. The respectability of the meeting made up for the few that were present. (Tremendous cheers from the gentlemen to whom the compliment was paid, and waving of handkerchiefs by the ladies.)
He had no time that evening to enter on the question of slavery. It was the Free Church that he had to deal with – their conduct, and their conduct alone. Dr Young had said that he did not wish to mix himself up with them. What did he (Mr Douglas) care for that? Unless Dr Young and the seceders took a decided step against the Free Church, they were as bad as the members of it. (Loud applause.) Mr Douglass seemed to be very much displeased at Dr Young for his mild speech, and said that the Doctor and his Church were as much to blame as the Free Church if they did not renounce all fellowship with the Free Church; and that, if they went nearer to a Free Churchman than that they could touch him with a pair of tongs they were far too near him.
He had ten charges against the Free Church, amounting to this – that its members were men-stealers, blood-suckers, robbers, thieves, and a few such choice epithets, which appeared to put some of the members of Presbytery in a perfect extacy. The Rev. Messrs Murdoch and M’Lean vied with each other which of their stentorian voices should have the ascendancy. The Rev. David Black actually took his orange from his mouth that he might give a skirl; and the dominie brought up the chorus with his stick. The four sapient councillors were literally drowned in the uproar. The merriment was on two or three occasions directed towards the Rev. Mr Murdoch, who made himself exceedingly agreeable by his roars of laughter. Towards the close Mr Lewis and Mr Roxburgh of Dundee were brought in for a full share of abuse and impertinence; and at the conclusion
Friend FENWICK, jun., moved a vote of thanks to the two gentlemen of the deputation.
Mr BUFFUM came forward to read a letter, but the meeting seemed satiated, and broke up.
There is but one incident connected with this ludicrous affair which is worthy of a serious observation, and it is this: how came Dr Young to be present at this ENTERTAINMENT? If he was not aware that it had been the chief business of the two individuals whom the meeting were entertaining to traduce the Free Church, that is wonderful. If he was aware of this fact, and attended the meeting to countenance them in their denunciations against slavery, which they used only as a stepping-stone to get at the Free Church, that is more wonderful still, for Dr Young does not require to be instructed as to the unwarrantabless of co-operating in even a good cause for a bad end. But the Doctor got his reward. Unless he goes the whole hog with Mr Douglass, he is as bad as the Free Church, and so there is an end of it. Dr Young’s appearance there is almost the only one we regret, and we dare say he may be somewhat of our mind before he is much older.
As to the entertainment itself, the thing was not so badly managed, for the benefit of the entertained. The price was a shilling a-head, excepting in the case of Mr Turnbull’s ladies; they would get in a fourteen to the dozen. For the shilling there was doled out at the door, upon entering, an orange, and a few almonds and raisins. The value of the fruits would not be more than threepence; so that there was threepence for fruit and ninepence for scandal. The ninepence would of course, go to the pockets of the scandalmongers, so that they would not be so badly entertained after all. But it is alleged that part of the fruit, at least, was slave produce, so that the liberty-loving divines, and liberal Councillors, may be called upon to ‘SEND BACK THAT FRUIT,’ a call which the reverend Mr Black of Kilspindie would have great difficulty in responding to.
Northern Warder, 19 March 1846
- Perthshire Constitutional, 11 March 1846.
- For a detailed consideration of this dramatic device, see Alasdair Pettinger, Frederick Douglass and Scotland, 1846: Living an Antislavery Life (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009), pp. 56–60.
- Douglass is referring to a speech made by Rev. George Lewis at a meeting of the Free Church Presbytery at St David’s Church on 11 February, much discussed (along with the speech by Rev. John Roxburgh) at the Anti-Slavery Soiree in Dundee on 10 March. For Lewis’ account of his visit to the United States as part of the Free Church fund-raising delegation see George Lewis, Impressions of America and the American Churches: From the Journal of the Rev. G. Lewis (Edinburgh: W.P. Kennedy, 1845).
- The remonstrance, dated ‘New York, April 2, 1844’ was addressed to the members of the Free Church delegation to the United States, and signed by the executive committee of the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, repr. Liberator, 26 April 1846 (from the New-York Commercial Advertiser) and published as Letter from the Executive Committee of the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society to the Commissioners of the Free Church of Scotland (Edinburgh: Myles Macphail, ).