Title: Letters From "Ethiop"

Source text: Ethiop [Wilson, William J.], "Letters From "Ethiop"," The Anglo-African 29 August 1863: [2].

Date: August 29, 1863

Keywords:African Americans--Washington (D.C.)Baltimore (Md.)Gloucester, James N.Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865New York (N.Y.)--History--Civil War, 1861-1865Smith, James McCune, 1813-1865Slavery--Maryland

Civil War Washington ID: cww.02506

TEI/XML: cww.02506.xml

Full Images

Cropped Images



Mr. EditorDear Sir:

The enclosed, one of
a series of letters, kindly written for my "own-
​" by a well known literateur​, I find so re-
​ and "toothsome," that I must beg
you to give your patrons the pleasure of read-
​ them.

Truly yours,

J. M'C. S.
Dear Doctor:

I should have written you
before, but Mr. G. has been sick, which is my
apology. I much regret this, since it has pre-
​ me from sooner fulfilling my promise;
still, if not too late, I will endeavor to redeem
myself. We set out for Washington, D.C., at
12 at night. Rather an unseasonable hour, I
hear you say, for two grave men to be seen
gliding through some of the dark streets of
Gotham with carpet-bags and slouched hats
well-drawn. "All aboard!" soon was the cry
at Jersey City; a whistle, three snorts and a
terrific squeal, and our good old iron horse
hied us swiftly away for Dixie—a land known
only to me in story and in song; and as the
car rocked me gently into a doze, I found my-
​ humming—don't smile—"Oh, I wish I was
in Dixie." But what kind of a land, or what
really its inhabitants, I positively had no just
conception. As my dozing took the form of
sound napping, I dreamt of whips, and chains,
and thumbscrews; of slave gangs, old mas-
​, and slouched-hatted, grim-visaged over-
​; and at last I was in the chain-gang,
going through the streets of Washington to
the Southern market, to be sold; that I was
actually put up, that the hammer fell (I shall
never forget the look of that auctioneer), the
hammer fell, and I was struck off to one Abra-
​ Lincoln
. I awoke and found that we
were passing through Baltimore, my eyes gaz-
​ as we passed upon blocks of dirty build-
​ with hideous black bars, row after row.
"There," said my friend G., as he pointed to-
​ them, "do you know what those are?
Those," said he, "were the once famous slave-
​ of Baltimore." My indignation knew
no bounds; a sudden chilliness seized me; my
pulse beat quickly, and I determined to spit
upon the [first?] insulting-looking scoundrel that
dared to venture near me.

Having closed your eyes in sight of your
home, and waking up as you do in Baltimore,
you feel removed but just beyond your own
immediate neighborhood, but a few steps from
your own door-sill, and it seems impossible to
realize such a change that men are owned and
bought and sold like beasts. At your distance,
and merely reading, it is possible to realize, to
some extent, slavery; but to close eyes that
have ever gazed on freedom, and in five hours
thereafter, to open them upon slavery, is
strange indeed. You look upon the dominant
class with mingled curiosity and disgust. You
feel that they are a hardened, heartless set,
capable of committing any wrong, inflicting
any injury, or perpetrating any deed of evil.
I can easily conceive how armies of North
men, when they came down here, soon got it
into their heads to break up this accursed sys-
​. Notwithstanding the efforts of politi-
​ to the contrary, when the great masses
of men living all their lives surrounded by
freedom, and but ten hours remote from this
brutal system, and separated from it by no
lines either of government or nature, and when
brought suddenly face to face with it, it was
no marvel that they were determined to grap-
​ with it, and, if possible, squelch it out of
existence. It is no wonder. We have two
revolutions—one on behalf of the Confederacy
and the other on behalf of the negro. But
these once slave-prisons of Baltimore exist
now only in name. Some strong hand has
cleaned them out. Not a slave is there. The
grim gratings gape at the passer-by, but no
tear as the slave mother's eye strains through
them, trickles down to further blacken and cor-
​ them; no bronzed manly form now press-
​ against them for egress. There they stand
—cold, naked, frowning, silent—a horrible
commentary upon the chief city of "My
Our good old iron horse, having
took breath, gave one or two more snorts,
and then rushed on at such a speed that
between sleeping and waking we saw but lit-
​ of my Maryland, and soon lost sight of it

At length a few straggling houses hove in
sight; and then a few apologies for streets
peeped at us, and then a row or so of indiffer-
​ dressed-up houses would look out upon
us, but no one seemed to notice them. At
length the great dome loomed up in the dis-
​, and I required not to be told I was in
Washington. And here I am, weary, sleepy
and hungry as a wolf, else I might have writ-
​ you not such an indifferent letter. More

Yours truly,

To James M'Cune Smith, M.D.