The Black Abolitionist Papers - Vol. 1

By C. Peter Ripley | Go to book overview

32.
Speech by William Craft Delivered at the Nicolson Street Church, Edinburgh, Scotland 30 December 1850

Soon after meeting in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, William Craft and William Wells Brown proceeded to Edinburgh to lecture there during the Christmas holidays. On 30 December 1850, they attended the annual meeting of the Edinburgh Ladies Anti-Slavery Society at Nicolson Street Church. Following the presentation of the society's annual report, Brown offered an antislavery resolution and made some brief remarks about the Fugitive Slave Law. Craft then spoke and was well received, although one reporter indicated that the audience was disappointed by Ellen's absence. William's story of his and Ellen's flight from slavery, and then from Boston, was made more dramatic by his status as the first refugee from the Fugitive Slave Law to appear on the British lecture circuit. His early speeches--factual accounts of slave life and the escapes from Georgia and Boston--were typical of those offered by his fugitive slave contemporaries. NASS, 30 January 1851; Lib, 24 January 1851.

It affords me great pleasure to meet with you here this evening, not because I feel capable of interesting you with a speech, but because I feel myself in the midst of friends, amongst whom I can exclaim, Thank God, I am free! (Applause.) It is only two years since I escaped from Slavery, and previous to my escape I was unable to read a syllable. I hope, then, if I should speak ungrammatically, or so as not to be clearly understood, that my friends will attribute it, not to any neglect of mine or of my parents, but to that accursed system which kept me in a state of ignorance. (Hear, hear.) My wife and I escaped together from Georgia, and came on to Boston, a distance of 2000 miles. We remained quietly in Boston for about two years, till the passage of the Fugitive Slave Bill. A couple of ruffians, 1 who were hired by the men that claimed us as slaves 2 to come to Boston and arrest us, got out warrants for our apprehension and placed them in the hands of the District Marshal, 3 but, for some reason or other, the Marshal refused to execute them. He knew that we had been slaves, and that, from knowing what Slavery was, I was prepared to protect myself and my wife at all hazards against a United States Marshal or anybody else that attempted to drag us back to bondage. (Loud applause.) A Committee of Vigilance4 was formed in Boston for the purpose of protecting us and other fugitive slaves who should be claimed under the new law; but we were compelled in the end to flee to a country where we could feel ourselves in greater security. But I suppose it will be more interesting if I give an account of the manner in which we

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