My Second Baltimore Trial

I have delayed making any public strictures upon this mock trial, for various considerations; and, in consequence of the length of the following report of it, (which, I will here barely remark, is as rich in embellishments as the ingenuity of a servile reporter could make it,) I am unable, in the present number, to give my defense. Next week, however, it shall come; in which, due notice shall be taken of Capt. Nicholas Brown’s remarkable affidavit. To screen his employer from merited reprehension, he has chosen to invoke upon himself the guilt of the wicked transaction. Let him take the consequences.

Is the inquiry made, how do I bear up under my adversities? I answer—like the oak—like the Alps—unshaken, storm-proof. Opposition, and abuse, and slander, and prejudice, and judicial tyranny, are like oil to the flame of my zeal. I am not discouraged; I am not dismayed; but bolder and more confident than ever. I say to my persecutors,—I bid you defiance. Let the courts condemn me to fine and imprisonment for denouncing oppression: Am I to be frightened by dungeons and chains? can they humble my spirit? do I not remember that I am an American citizen? and as a citizen, a freeman, and what is more, a being accountable to God? I will not hold my peace on the subject of African oppression. If need be, who would not die a martyr to such a cause?

Eternal spirit of the chainless mind!
Brightest in dungeons, Liberty! thou art,
For there thy habitation is the heart,—
The heart, which love of thee alone can bind;
And when thy sons to fetters are consigned,
To fetters, and the damp vault’s dayless gloom,
Their country conquers with their martyrdom,
And Freedom’s fame finds wings on every wind. [source]

[From the Baltimore Gazette.]

Baltimore County Court,

October term, 1830,

Francis Todd,
William Lloyd Garrison.

Action on the case for a libel.

This cause was tried at the present term, before Archer, Chief Judge; the evidence on the trial was in substance as follows:

In October, 1829, the ship Francis, belonging to the plaintiff, who is a resident merchant at Newburyport, Massachusetts, on her voyage from Baltimore to New Orleans, took on board at Herring Bay in the Chesapeake, as passengers, about eighty negroes, purchased by Mr. George B. Milligan, formerly of the State of Delaware, but for some years a Planter in Louisiana, from two gentlemen in Calvert County, for his own use. The agreement for the transportation of these people was made by Mr. Milligan, with Captain Brown who commanded the vessel, and Mr. Henry Thompson, to whom she was consigned in Baltimore. The Plaintiff, the owner, was not consulted nor apprised of the destination or employment of the ship, until she was about to sail. By the agreement, these people were to be found in provisions by the Captain; but, solicitous for their comfort, Mr. Milligan had directed, before the vessel left Baltimore, that certain extra articles should be purchased for their use, such as blankets, shoes, hats, whiskey, sugar, tea, and a quantity of cotton shirting to be made up by the women during the passage, for themselves and children, with needles, thread, &c. amounting to $400. The provision on board were all of the best quality;—for instance prime Pork, which cost $12, and Mess Beef, which cost $11 per barrel.

Accompanied by Mr. Milligan, these people came on board cheerfully and willingly. Their former proprietors having been compelled to part with them, they rejoiced at the prospect of still living together, instead of being separated, as they would have been if otherwise disposed of. During the voyage there was not a single instance of complaint or discontent among them,—their accomodations on board were the same as those of the steerage passengers;—no restraint was imposed on them—no confinement resorted to, no fetters used. They arrived safely at their new home, about twenty miles below New Orleans, and when Captain Brown visited the Plantation, shortly before his return to Baltimore, he found them perfectly contented.

On the 20th November, some weeks after the ship had left Baltimore, the following article appeared in a newspaper printed in this city, edited and published by Benjamin Lundy and William Lloyd Garrison, called Genius of Universal Emancipation.

Black List.

Horrible news—domestic and foreign.

The Ship Francis.

This ship, as I mentioned in our last number, sailed a few weeks since from this port with a cargo of slaves for the New Orleans market. I do not repeat the fact because it is a rare instance of domestic piracy, or because the case was attended with extraordinary circumstances; for the horrible traffic is briskly carried on, and the transaction was effected in the ordinary manner. I merely wish to illustrate New England humanity and morality. I am determined to cover with thick infamy all who are concerned in this nefarious business.

I have stated that the ship Francis hails from my native place, Newburyport (Massachusetts) is commanded by a yankee captain, and owned by a townsman named

Francis Todd.

Of Captain Nicholas Brown I should have expected better conduct. It is no worse to fit out piratical cruisers, or to engage in the foreign slave trade, than to pursue a similar trade along our coasts; and the men who have the wickedness to participate therein, for the purpose of heaping up wealth, should be ☞sentenced to solitary confinement for life;☜ they are the enemies of their own species—highway robbers and murderers; and their final doom will be, unless they speedily repent, to occupy the lower depths of perdition. I know that our laws make a distinction in this matter. I know that the man who is allowed to freight his vessel with slaves at home, for a distant market, would be thought worthy of death if he should take a similar freight on the coast of Africa, but I know, too, that this distinction is absurd, at at war with the common sense of mankind, and that God and good men regard it with abhorrence.

I recollect that it was always a mystery in Newburyport how Mr. Todd contrived to make profitable voyages to New Orleans and other places, when other merchants with as fair an opportunity to make money, and sending at the same ports at the same time, invariably made fewer successful speculations. The mystery seems to be unravelled. Any man can gather up riches, if he does not care by what means they are obtained.

The Francis carried off seventy-five slaves, chained in a narrow place between decks. Captain Brown originally intended to take one hundred and fifty of these unfortunate creatures; but another hard-hearted shipmaster underbid him in the price of passage for the remaining moiety. Captain B, we believe, is a mason. Where was his charity or brotherly kindness?

I regretfully request the editor of the Newburyport Herald to copy this article, or publish a statement of the facts contained herein—not for the purpose of giving information to Mr. Todd, for I shall send him a copy of this number, but in order to enlighten the public mind in that quarter —G.

At the succeeding February term of Baltimore City Court, the Grand Jury presented this publication as a gross and malicious libel. They afterwards found an Indictment against both the Editors, which was at the same term tried against Garrison alone—Lundy being out of the State. The Jury, without hesitation, found a verdict of guilty; and after an ineffectual attempt to arrest the judgment, upon technical objections, the Court imposed a fine of $30. This the Defendant was either unable or unwilling to pay, and he was therefore committed, and remained in jail for some time, till it was satisfied.

A private action for this libel had been instituted by Mr. Todd against both the Editors; but in consequence of Lundy’s absence, the process was served only on Garrison, who was in fact the writer of the article. After his conviction in the City Court, he was distinctly informed through his Counsel, that as Mr. Todd had no vindictive feelings to gratify, the suit would be withdrawn, if a proper apology, and recantation of the calumny were put upon record. This offer Mr. Garrison not only refused, but while in confinement, published a pamphlet containing, with his report of the trial, a republication of the libel, and a number of gross insinuations against the Chief Judge of the Court.

At the trial of the civil suit, the publication having been proved, Mr. Jones, the Pilot of the Francis, testified that the negroes were taken on board at Herring Bay, and that the ship then proceeded to Annapolis to obtain the necessary Custom House papers:—that they came on board cheerfully and willingly—and that while he remained with them, which was until he left the Capes, they appeared to be contented and happy. That unusual attention seemed to have been given to their comfort and accommodation;—their berths were commodious, the women and children being separated from the men;—their provisions abundant and of good quality;—extra stores provided for them, which were distributed daily to them by Captain Brown, and that the clothing which had been furnished by Mr. Milligan, was amply sufficient for their wants. He further deposed that they were treated with kindness by Captain Brown;—that they were under no restraint, but were permitted to go about the ship by day and night, as other passengers, and that no chains, hand-cuffs, or other fetters, were used in any instance, nor did he believe that there were any on board the vessel.

The deposition of Captain Nicholas Brown was then read by consent, in which he stated—

That about the middle of the month of September, 1829, he came on to Baltimore, to take charge of the ship Francis, of Newburyport, belonging to Francis Todd, merchant of that place, the said ship being consigned for freight or otherwise to Henry Thompson, merchant of this city—That in the month of October following, Mr. Thompson and himself engaged to carry to New Orleans on board the ship Francis, from seventy-five to one hundred black people, for account of Mr. Milligan, a very respectable planter on the banks of the Mississippi; and that they made this engagement without consulting the owner of the ship, neither could he have known it, until about the time of her sailing from Baltimore—That Mr. Thompson and himself were the Agents of the Francis in Baltimore—That he sailed from the port of Baltimore with the said ship about the 20th of October, having no slaves on board, and proceeded down the Chesapeak Bay as far as Herring Cove, where he received on board the Francis eighty-eight black passengers in families, all brought up together on two estates in Calvert County; and that they were all perfectly willing to come on board the ship—nor was any one required to compel them, they having a perfect understanding with their new master, Milligan, who was present at the time of their embarkation, that they were not to be sold again at New Orleans—but that he intended them all for his own estate. That Mr. Thompson and Deponent provided for them on board the ship, previous to her departure from Baltimore, the best provisions; in addition to which, by request of Mr. Milligan, Mr. Thompson put on board, expressly for their use, tea, coffee, sugar, molasses, whiskey, tobacco, &c. &c. with every kind of convenience for using the same, and clothing of every description to make them comfortable, which was dealt out to them day after day, while on the passage, at my discretion; that they all expressed much satisfaction at their treatment while on board the ship; that they had their perfect liberty on board; that their conduct was good at all times; that they needed not chains nor confinement, nor was any one of them put in chains or confined during the whole passage. That after Deponent took them on board, he returned up the Bay as far as Annapolis, where they were all examined by an officer of the Customs, and regularly cleared from that port for New-Orleans. That about the middle of November he landed them all in good health and spirits, on the plantation for which they were intended, belonging to Mr. Milligan, 17 or 20 miles below the city of New Orleans. That their quarters on board the ship Francis were large and not narrow, that all of them had good comfortable sleeping places or berths, and that they were well provided with a plenty of blankets, &c. &c.—That the ship’s hatches were never closed on them during the whole passage for any other purpose than to protect them from rough and wet weather, and make them comfortable. Finally, from the very high opinion Deponent has of the honor and integrity of Mr. Milligan, their owner, he considers his act in carrying these people away as one of the best of his life.

Let it be remembered, that he was not the cause of their bondage, but that he has actually relieved their condition in some degree, by carrying them to a climate much more congenial to their nature. Mr. Francis Todd and Deponent were brought up together at Newburyport, from children, and he has known both him and his business up to this time, and never knew him to carry slaves in any of his vessels; and he verily and conscientiously believes he never had a slave or slaves carried in any vessel of his to any part of the world, except in the solitary instance of the ship Francis aforesaid; and he knows he never owned a slave in his life.

Nicholas Brown.

Sworn and subscribed to before

Samuel Pickering,

A Justice of the Peace of the State of Maryland, for the City of Baltimore, on the 9th of September, 1830.

Here the case closed on the part of the Plaintiff. The defendant did not attempt any justification of the truth of the matters published;—he examined no witnesses, and the cause having been submitted to the Jury, they returned a verdict for the Plaintiff, with damages of One Thousand Dollars.

A late Convention of the Manumission Society of North Carolina unanimously adopted the following report of a Committee appointed to investigate the subject. Coming from a slave state, it is doubly gratifying to my feelings.

The Committee to whom was referred the communication from the Chair, report,

  1. That it is the opinion of your committee that nothing libellous was contained in the article for which William L. Garrison was indicted and convicted.
  2. That Mr. Garrison did not surpass that liberty which is guaranteed to the press by the constitution of the United States.
  3. Your committee recommend that the Association enter their protest against the illegal and unconstitutional decision in Garrison’s case.
  4. That the communication entire be published in the Greensborough Patriot.

The following commentary upon the trial was published in the Journal and Tribune of this city, some weeks since; and, emanating from the pen of the editor of that paper—a lawyer—is entitled to much consideration.

We have read a report of the case of Francis Todd, of Newburyport, vs W. L. Garrison, late editor of a Baltimore anti-slavery paper, for a libel, and we cannot but think the verdict of the Jury doubtful in law, or if legal, unreasonable in point of damages. Mr. Garrison edited a paper, devoted, we believe, from the best motives to the best of purposes. The charge that he made against Mr. Todd, was that he transported in his vessel a cargo of slaves from Maryland to Louisiana, there to be sold in the market, and that they, or a part of them were in irons, or were put in irons during the passage, and were otherwise treated harshly. For this, Mr. Garrison declared that he would cover Mr. Todd with thick infamy. Mr. G. also inferred that Mr. T. had made his property by carrying such freights.

We presume that the main fact of freighting a ship with negroes from one port of the United States to another, would be no libel, even if false, because this is a legal and usual business, with which it is no more libellous to charge a man, than to say that he had caught a freight of fish and carried them to market.—The main fact, however, was admitted to be true; but it was denied that the slaves were carried to be sold, they being already sold to a humane master [Mr. Milligan.] It was also denied that the slaves were ironed or otherwise harshly treated. These denials not having been rejoined to by the defendant, and having in fact been supported by the evidence of the captain, and one or two others, must be taken as correct, and Mr. Garrison’s statements as erroneous, in the subordinate particulars of the irons, the harsh treatment, and intended sale at New Orleans.

It does seem to us, that to say a man puts a slave in irons, whips him or sells him, is not prima facie, a libel, even though false; because these are lawful acts for slave-owners to do, and they are done every day. If the writing states that such acts were done without cause, or to an unreasonable extent where there was a cause, such writing, if untrue, might be a libel.

At all events, it was and is evident that Mr. Garrison’s intent and aim was to direct the force of public opinion against the sale and bondage of human beings born free and equal (as a certain Declaration says) and against all persons, particularly Yankees, who in any way co-operate in it, or profit by it. In so doing, he attacked the laws more than he did Mr. Todd, or at least equally with him, for he charged Mr. T. with nothing which the laws of any State or of the United States do not allow under certain circumstances, and no circumstances whatsoever were stated; thus leaving the case open for the reader and the court to suppose justifiable as readily as unjustifiable cause. Here the maxim, that every thing is to be construed in the milder sense, was applicable. Mr. Garrison had a perfect right, and in our opinion deserves praise for covering with infamy, as thick as he could, any slave dealer, slave owner, (voluntarily becoming or remaining such) or slave agent or driver in the world. All the infamy which he could heap upon them on the general grounds of violating the laws of God and nature, and justice and humanity, in trading in human flesh, or putting men in bondage, or holding them there longer than is absolutely necessary, was and is just, lawful, praiseworthy, and profitable to the Commonwealth, and no libel at all; and we doubt very much whether the particular allegation of putting in irons, treating harshly, and carrying to market, are in themselves libellous, though false.