The Black Abolitionist Papers - Vol. 1

By C. Peter Ripley | Go to book overview

95.
J. Sella Martin and the William Mitchell Episode
J. Sella Martin to Editor, London Patriot
25 June 1863
Statement by William Mitchell
3 March 1864

A black abolitionist's reputation for trustworthiness was a valuable and vulnerable asset in the world of middle-class British reformers. The reputation of a black fund-raiser or lecturer could be threatened by rumor or by the unconventional behavior of other black Americans. Black Baptist minister William Mitchell of Toronto visited Britain with William Troy from 1859 to 1861 on a legitimate antislavery mission. When Mitchell returned to Britain in April 1863 without proper references, he embarrassed J. Sella Martin by fraudulently using Martin's name and alleged friendship to obtain letters of recommendation and funds. Martin reacted with a 25 June 1863 letter to the London Patriot, which informed readers of the falsehood of Mitchell's claims. Mitchell's actions exemplify the limitations of the certification process. Dr. Michael Willis of Toronto, who only knew Mitchell by reputation, had written Mitchell a letter of introduction in 1859. Mitchell then used the letter to obtain recommendations from several British clergymen, who knew of Willis. Mitchell reused the references on his 1863-64 trip. By the time Mitchell admitted his errors in a 3 March 1864 statement (which later appeared in an article on "Coloured Imposters" in the Anti-Slavery Reporter), the British antislavery public already had good reason to doubt him. He had been arrested in Cardiff, Wales, failed to pay lodging bills in Canterbury, and kept no regular records of British contributions. PtL, 25 June 1863; ASRL, 1 June 1863, 2 May 1864; Michael Willis to Louis Alexis Chamerovzow, n.d., British Empire MSS, UkOxU-Rh.

Bromley St. Leonard
London, E[ngland]
June 25, 1863

SIR:

I learn from private letters from Boston, Mass., that some persons have written to the officers of the church of which I was formerly pastor, 1 inquiring if I was authorised to collect money for them in England. As I have not solicited money for any purpose since my second arrival in

-533-

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