Documenting the American South Logo
Collections >> Related titles >> Comments and Letters Relating to William W. Brown and His Narrative, The Liberator, July 30, 1847.

Comments and Letters Relating to William W. Brown and His Narrative

FROM "Narrative of William W. Brown" and "William W. Brown at Hingham," The Liberator, 30 July 1847.


This thrilling Narrative is now ready for sale at the Anti-Slavery Office, 21 Cornhill, and we presume the edition will be rapidly disposed of. It was written by Mr. Brown, and is very creditable to him as a composition. It occupies 110 pages, 16mo. Price, bound, 37 1-2 cents—in covers, 25 cents. We copy from its introductory pages the following letter:

DEDHAM July 1, 1847.


MY DEAR FRIEND :—I heartily thank you for the privilege of reading the manuscript of your Narrative. I have read it with deep and strong emotion. I am much mistaken if it be not greatly successful and eminently useful. It presents a different phase of the infernal slave-system from that portrayed in the admirable story of Mr. Douglass, and gives us a glimpse of its hideous cruelties in other portions of its domain.

Your opportunities of observing the workings of this accursed system have been singularly great. Your experiences in the Field, in the House, and especially on the River in the service of the slave-trader, Walker, have been such as few individuals have had;—no one, certainly, who has been competent to describe them. What I have admired, and marvelled at, in your Narrative, is the simplicity and calmness with which you describe scenes and actions which might well 'move the very stones to rise and mutiny' against the National Institution which makes them possible.

You will perceive that I have made very sparing use of your flattering permission to alter what you had written. To correct a few errors, which appeared to be merely clerical ones, committed in the hurry of composition, under unfavorable circumstances, and to suggest a few curtailments, is all that I have ventured to do. I should be a bold man as well as vain one, if I should attempt to improve your descriptions of what you have seen and suffered. Some of the scenes are not unworthy of De Foe himself.

I trust and believe that your Narrative will have a wide circulation. I am sure it deserves it. At least, a man must be differently constituted from me, who can rise from the perusal of your Narrative without feeling that he understands slavery better, and hates it worse, than he ever did before.

I am, very faithfully, and respectfully,
Your friend,

Also, the following brief but touching dedication of the book to one who acted the part of the good Samaritan toward the author, in the hour of his sorest distress and peril.


Thirteen years ago, I came to your door, a weary fugitive from chains and stripes. I was a stranger and you took me in. I was hungry, and you fed me. Naked was I, and you clothed me. Even a name by which to be known among men, slavery had denied me. You bestowed upon me your own. Base indeed should I be, if I ever forget what I owe to you, or do anything to disgrace that honored name!

As a slight testimony of my gratitude to my earliest benefactor, I take the liberty to inscribe to you this little Narrative of the sufferings from which I was fleeing when you had compassion upon me. In the multitude that you have succored, it is very possible that you may not remember me; but until I forget God and myself, I can never forget you.

Your grateful friend,

Accompanying the Narrative, is an engraved likeness of the author, which is very accurate.

A few days since, Mr. Brown allowed us the privilege of reading a letter which had been sent to him by a highly intelligent and estimable lady in a neighboring town, expressive of the strong emotions that had been excited in her breast by his affecting remarks made at Waltham on the 5th of July. Suppressing the name, we have taken the responsibility of laying the letter before our readers, whose pulses will thrill as they peruse its 'thoughts that breathe, and words that burn.'

WEST NEWTON, JULY 6th, 1847.


DEAR SIR—Excuse the liberty I take in addressing to you these few lines. I am a stranger to you. I have seen you but twice, and never spoken with you. But I feel that I should smother the best feelings of my nature, if I did not, at this time, give vent to the overwhelming tide of thought and feeling that came swelling into my bosom, as I heard you speak yesterday at the anti-slavery gathering in Harrington Grove.

Sir, I am now far advanced in the journey of life. I have ever been an abolitionist. I think God made me one, if not by the impress of himself on my soul, by the agency of a loved mother long since gone to the land of freedom. While yet a little one, I sat on her knee, and she told me of the wrongs and cruel treatment of the stolen black women, as she had heard them from their own lips. She planted too deeply down in my heart, ever to be eradicated, a sympathy for the slave, and detestation for the laws of man that made him such. These feelings became an element of my nature, 'grew with my growth, and strengthened with my strength.' Celebrations of our so-called National Independence, I could never attend; they seemed to me a farce, a mockery, an outrage upon the common sense of man, and insult to the God of justice. Yet, deeply as I have felt the wrongs of the slave, and the enormity of my country's guilt—when in that 'tall ancient grove I stood,' the free river flowing by its side; the free birds flying among the trees, the wild flowers springing up under our feet—I saw you, with nature's nobility stamped upon your brow, slowly and thoughtfully ascend the platform, and take your stand there, not as a man, but a slave, held, even on that spot, on that day, by the long iron grasp of slavery, liable to be snatched away by an owner, against whom we could not lawfully raise a hand—I seemed to be baptized anew as with fire from heaven, and felt with new intensity the wrongs, the burning wrongs of my sisters in bonds, and a deeper detestation of that cruel injustice, that made even you a piece of saleable merchandize, upon which we might not lay a finger for protection, should your master step up and lay his hand upon you. And when that old Briton, with irrepressible feelings, caught you by the hand as you descended from the platform, as though his gushing sympathies could no longer be suppressed, had I followed the impulse of my feeling, I should have pressed through the crowd that surrounded you, and pledged myself anew to the holy cause of emancipation. The impression of that moment is not effaced from my mind. Deeper than ever seem to me the wrongs of the slave, darker than ever the wickedness of the slave owner, and more awful and Heaven-daring those laws that hold not only the body, but the soul, in their crushing grasp. I feel, as it were, awed, overpowered, astounded by the enormity of the wrong. I have no language to express the height and depth of my feelings. I have an awful sense of a God-defying sin resting upon our land, which makes me tremble before him whose laws are never trampled on with impunity. In view of these things, I am humbled, depressed, grieved as with an immeasurable sorrow. A dark cloud seems hanging over our land, holding

'The crushing tempest in its gathering folds.'

But I will trouble you no longer with these sad reveries and dark forebodings.

Wishing you success in your arduous, but as it seems to me almost hopeless labors, I subscribe myself, the friend of the slave,

---- ----


HINGHAM, July 1st, 1847.


Antiquated Hingham received, last evening, an impetus towards regeneration, by which, if it do not profit, W. W. Brown, a slave, and one Mr. Quimby, a slaveholder in prospective, ought not, in the slightest degree, to be held responsible. If, after this his debut, Mr. Quimby does not occupy as high a seat as any in the anti-slavery heavens, it will be from no fault of his speeches. Like a famous crooked musket is this Quimby—his shots return upon himself and friends, and commit dreadful havoc.

Brown made a truly happy selection of topics from the great anti-slavery field;—the degradation at the South of whites as well as blacks, and the prejudice of color at the North. Of the first, he spoke from actual observation, and of course with power. As he cited several instances of the enslavement of whites, which he himself had witnessed, we felt that our own homes were not secure from the demon's clutch. Of the latter, as one possessing authority, having himself suffered from this unrighteous prejudice. He spoke of this feeling as a prejudice of condition, rather than of color. As one proof of this, he said, we at the North are extremely happy to be surrounded with colored waiters, and can in this relation appear to be even complaisant; but as soon as the waiter wishes to elevate himself to an equality with us—to occupy a seat beside us, rather than to stand behind our chairs—then it is that we cry out 'Odor! niggers! nastiness!' Alas, too true! Cowper should have written to suit our latitude,

'He finds his fellow guilty of a heart
More patient than his own!'

Judging by the power he had over me, Brown deservedly stands by the side of the great Douglass. But over, and pre-eminently above all, stands the crooked Quimby, whose defence (?) of the peculiar institution, I will now give you in his own words, in a condensed form, as nearly as I can recall them. Let me premise, that this was no extemporaneous performance. He had made an arrangement to be present at the next anti-slavery meeting in this place, and his notes bore evidence that he came prepared to speak. This gives greater power to his words. Hear him!

'Ladies and gentlemen, will you permit a representative of the institution so rudely assailed, to utter a few words in its behalf? Slavery is so surrounded by constitutional guaranties, and so closely interwoven with the history and progress of this nation, that it can never be overthrown, either by the efforts of mad fanaticism or impudent quackery. Misled by the false accounts of the designing and ignorant, and urged on by a romantic sympathy and poetic feeling, rather than a genuine benevolence, you have rivetted more closely the chains which you desire to break, and have retarded emancipation beyond all human foresight.

Coming from Virginia, I have had constant opportunities of observing the slave population; and I declare that their social, moral and religious privileges are greater than those enjoyed by the laboring classes here, or on the other side of the water. With the picture of our wives and children butchered before our eyes, has come the necessity of restricting the slaves in the enjoyment of many heretofore granted privileges. We have been obliged to enact severer laws, to repress any attempt at insurrection, which your mad efforts would induce. We have been insulted by the North, by the agitation of this question without the CONSENT of the sovereign States of the South; insulted in Congress, by Northern members meddling with that which the Constitution guaranties, and which is entirely our own concern. While the fanatics confined themselves to the ballot-box, we did not fear them; but when they put into operation, these stupendous organizations, the whole country became confused, its Constitution endangered, and the institution particularly assailed tottered to its base. (What a confession from a slaveholder's lips!) The abolitionists seem to forget that all progress must be gradual; that the elevation of one race should never be sought at the expense of another. Forgetting this, they are endeavoring to elevate a race, by nature inferior to the rest of mankind, by measures which must inevtably [sic] produce anarchy and confusion among the whites. This, so contrary to nature's laws, cannot be effected. Slavery has been and is the greatest blessing to the African race, as all may see, who compare their situation to that of the native tribes of Africa, or even to the colored population of the North or West Indies. (And here the speaker enlarged grandiloquently upon the increase of civilization, religious improvement and social refinement, which slavery gives the African over his less fortunate brother. And, turning to the audience,) I congratulate you who have never taken sides with this fanatical movement. When you see, as you must upon inquiry, the incalculable mischief wrought by their insane measures, you will rejoice that you have never done what a genuine benevolence and a true love of country must condemn. Persevere, then, in your opposition, that your brethren at the South may feel assured that they have friends at the North, who will stand by them in support of the institution thus violently assaulted.

Then followed the usual charges of treason, rebellion, &c. &c. which having been so often heaped upon Abolitionists, have lost all claim to originality. I have given you, generally, his own words, suppressing repetitions, and occupying much less time, as his pauses were frequent, giving opportunity for sundry graceful evolutions of his gold-headed cane; thereby adding brilliance to his remarks.

Rev. J. L. Russell rose in reply—first asking if the gentleman was willing to inform the audience, whether or not he was a slaveholder. After a moment's hesitation, Mr. Quimby replied that he was an heir to some fifty or sixty slaves. In a strain of indignant eloquence, Mr. R. replied to him, thanking him for the encouragement which he had so unintentially given the abolitionists to persevere, by his acknowledgment of the great power wielded by them, and its effect upon the people at the South. I thank you, said he, in behalf of myself and coworkers. We knew not that our labors, which we feared would be unheeded amid the louder din of stronger parties, were bearing with so gigantic a force upon the institution of slavery. We will go home, sir, with renewed courage, and, ere retiring, will pray for you, our young friend, that when the day arrives, which gives into your power those fifty or sixty miserable, degraded souls, you may, in the strength of Christian principle, break their yokes; that when we again meet you in our streets, in sight as it were of Bunker Hill and Faneuil Hall, it may be as the Liberator, and not as the Enslaver.

Here Quimby, evidently discomfited, endeavored to beat a retreat; but being observed, and invited to tarry longer, he lingered at the door, until the speaker, touching upon the injustice of the comparison instituted by Mr. Q. between the slaves of American and the barbarians of Africa, alluded to the indisputable fact, that the superiority of the former is traceable to the intermixture of the races—the best blood of the Virginian aristocracy flows through their veins. Here, thinking prudence the better part of valor, he entirely disappeared.

Brown made some admirable remarks after Mr. Russell concluded, but the lateness of the hour prevented a full reply. We retired with the feeling that a deep impression had been made upon the audience, not only by the appeals of the slave, but also by the fallacious arguments of the slaveholder.

Yours, &c. B.

[This communication has been unintentionally delayed in its publication, having been mislaid at the Anti-Slavery Office.]—Ed. Lib.

Related title(s)