The Black Abolitionist Papers - Vol. 1

By C. Peter Ripley | Go to book overview

38.
Speech by William Craft Delivered at the Plymouth Theatre, Plymouth, England 30 April 1851

William Wells Brown and William Craft continued the lecture tour they began four months earlier in Newcastle-upon-Tyne by addressing a crowded assembly at the Plymouth Theatre on 30 April 1851. They were joined by Ellen Craft, now recovered from the illness that initially prevented her participation in the tour. The gathering, held three weeks after Plymouth citizens heard from fugitive slave John Brown, was chaired by Mayor David Derry, who introduced Brown and the Crafts and discussed the implication of the Fugitive Slave Law for their safety. After a welcome resolution was adopted, Brown addressed the audience on slavery and the Fugitive Slave Law, hinting at a new acceptance of violent means to end slavery. William Craft later stepped forward and spoke. He evidenced his growing sophistication as an antislavery speaker by relying more on an analytical critique of slavery than on a narrative of personal experiences. Craft matured into a skilled professional anti- slavery lecturer as a result of his experiences in Britain. PT, 3 May 1851.

He said he felt himself that evening placed in a very curious position indeed, when he looked back and saw that it was only two years since his wife and himself were slaves in the state of Georgia; held in bondage by the laws of that country, and recognized by the constitution of the United States as nothing more than mere chattels--like the beasts of the field, subject to be bought and sold, and separated from each other at any time, and at the mere will of their master; and then when he looked at their position at the present time, and found they were as free as the freest, and that they were in the midst of friends, amongst whom there was not one who would think of returning them to the bondage they had fled from, when he thought of this great change in their position, the meeting would not wonder that he should feel strange and embarrassed. It was only two years since they had escaped from slavery. They did not know, when in bondage, how to read or write, and it would not be expected that he should know properly how to address that large, intelligent, and educated audience. But when he reflected upon what his relations, and his friends and fellow-men were still suffering in the United States, he could not help saying a few words on their behalf, even though those words should be ungrammatical. (Cheers.) He knew it had been said in this country that the slaves in America were happy--that he denied. He was in slavery for four-and-twenty years, during which time he came in contact with hundreds and thousands of slaves, and he never

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