The Black Abolitionist Papers - Vol. 1

By C. Peter Ripley | Go to book overview

40.
William Wells Brown to Editor, London Times 3 July 1851

The passage of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 sent a burgeoning number of fugitive slaves flooding into England and led to the development of an identifiable fugitive community, particularly in London, where many blacks were reduced to begging. In the summer of 1851, William Wells Brown became concerned with the situation. On 27 June he wrote to Frederick Douglass' Paper, warning fugitives that "if the climate in Canada is too cold, . . . go to the West Indies. But, by all means, don't come to England." Six days later, Brown expressed similar fears in the London Times, and he elaborated on the idea that the agricultural experience of slavery opened employment opportunities to fugitives on West Indian estates. Soon after the Times printed his advice, Brown had second thoughts. A series of conferences with West Indian proprietors and their agents left him uncertain of their motives. Rumors that some agents encouraged Canadian blacks to migrate to the West Indies on questionable terms strengthened his apprehension. Lib, 25 July 1851; Farrison, William Wells Brown, 190-92.

22 Cecil street
Strand, [London, England] July 3, [1851]

Sir: 1

Since the separation of the American provinces from the mother coun-
try in 1776, many thousands of slaves, escaping from the Southern
States, have sought a refuge and a home in Canada; and the "Fugitive
Slave Law," recently enacted by the American Congress, has already
added greatly to that number, so that the fugitive population is now
estimated at about 30,000; and as these people are mostly without edu-
cation, and have but little knowledge of mechanical branches, they find
many difficulties in the way of getting employment and thereby earning
for themselves an honest living. 2

This being the case, many of these people have, within the past six or
eight months, come to this country, seeking employment and that liberty
and protection which are denied them in their native land. On reaching
England, they find similar difficulties in the way of getting employment
that they had to encounter in Canada, and they, therefore, become a
burden to the benevolent, or inmates of the unions. 3 I wish, Sir, to call
the attention of those interested in the West India estates 4 to this fact,
and to suggest the propriety of adopting some measures to secure the
services of as many of these fugitives as may feel inclined to go to the
West Indies.

-283-

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