Speech by William Wells Brown Delivered at the Hall of Commerce, London, England 1 August 1851
The influx of fugitive slaves into Britain after 1850 heightened their visibility and increased their role in British antislavery efforts. This was apparent at a unique meeting held on 1 August 1851 at the Hall of Commerce, a large meeting hall and former merchant exchange on Threadneedle Street, London. The meeting--arranged and directed by fugitive slaves--celebrated the anniversary of West Indian emancipation and the return of George Thompson from his American tour. Despite a one- shilling admission charge and a session of the London Peace Congress the same evening, nearly one thousand men and women attended, including a number of prominent British antislavery families and Americans Maria Weston Chapman, Caroline Weston, and Mary Gray Chapman. After tea was concluded, William Wells Brown, his daughters Josephine and Clarissa, Alexander Duval, Francis S. Anderson, Benjamin Benson, and several other blacks proceeded to the platform, accompanied by Thompson and several London clergymen. The blacks took seats in the front two rows on the platform; whites sat in the rear rows. Duval then rose and moved a resolution naming William Wells Brown as meeting chairman. Anderson seconded the motion, it was unanimously approved, and Brown rose and spoke. Lib, 5 September 1851.
The Chairman (who upon taking the chair was received with loud applause), in opening the proceedings, remarked that, although the metropolis had of late been inundated with meetings of various characters, having reference to almost every variety of subject, yet that the subject they were called upon that evening to discuss differed from them all. 1 Many of those by whom he was surrounded, like himself, had been victims to the inhuman institution of slavery, and were in consequence exiled from the land of their birth. They were fugitives from their native land, but not fugitives from justice, and they had not fled from a monarchical, but from a so-called republican government. They came from amongst a people who declared, as a part of their creed, that all men were born free, but who, while they did so, made slaves of every sixth man, woman and child in the country. (Hear, hear.) He must not, however, forget that one of the purposes for which they were met tonight was to commemorate the emancipation of their brethren and sisters in the isles of the sea. 2 That act of the British Parliament, and he might add in this case with peculiar emphasis, of the British nation, passed on the