I'm going to make this as quick as possible, because I have a ton of what may be Mathew Franklin Whittier's published works from the Boston Weekly "Chronotype" to key in. I'm writing for two reasons, one worldly, and one more laudible. I do see that the hits for this website, and in particular this blog, are rising lately. So when people are finally coming to your restaurant, you want to keep on preparing more food. But beyond that, I like to announce when I am about to, or in the process of, encountering fresh evidence, to document my predictions and reactions ahead of time.
In this case, there are certain one-offs which I'm almost certain are from Mathew's pen, and these have their own implications as regards his personal life. But there are also two lengthy series of letters to the editor, Elizur Wright, from New York City. If these are Mathew's, then there are profound implications for his activities as an undercover Abolitionist, as well.
The first series--and I have not yet determined when it began, but so far I've got them at least as far back as October of 1847--is signed "X.F.W." This seems to replace the first letter in Mathew's full initials with an enigmatic "X." If we take it as the initials of a real person's name, the only "X" name I can think of, right off, is "Xavier." But it would be far more likely to find "F.X.," i.e., for "Francis Xavier," than "X.F." (It's not "Xerox," because that process hadn't been invented yet ;-)
Are there any other "X" names? Let's see, how would I Google that...
Okay, "surnames starting with x," and there are 16 listed. Xavier and Xander are the only ones deriving from the English language. Now, someone else with the initials "?.F.W." could have disguised himself by substituting his first initial with an "X." But let's bring in Occam's Razor, and probabilities. We have a personal friend of editor Elizur Wright, who is attending meetings of anti-slavery societies, both white and black, in New York City. I know that Mathew lived in New York City in the early 1830's, working as the junior editor for two successive papers there, edited by one Asa Greene. I also know that Mathew writes from Philadelphia beginning in mid-June, 1849, just about the time the second of these New York letter writers stops. And there are more clues.
The second series, apparently taking up where the first one leaves off, is all unsigned, except for one entry, which bears the simple signature, "B." There is also a scathing, satirical poem about hanging black people, signed "B," written in Mathew's accustomed meter. If I were to guess, I would say that Mathew was too damned careless in adopting "X.F.W.," and was found out. So he takes it up again with the entirely untraceable, single letter "B.," and then thinks better of it and leaves it unsigned after that. And writing a letter series like this, without signing it at all, was unusual.
As far as my subjective impressions are concerned, I feel that the second series, by writing style and several clues, is Mathew. The first one, "X.F.W.," I'm not so sure about. The second series is Mathew's full-blown style, such as he will very soon display as "Quails" in the Boston "Weekly Museum." But "X.F.W." is sort of Mathew subdued (even compared to his personal letters to his brother). I thought it was him when I first encountered this signature, but I was scared to claim it because I had no reason, at that time, to believe Mathew was in New York City for any extended period of time. I still feel like it's him; but I still feel scared to claim it. Perhaps I was scared to write it, and that's partly what I'm feeling.
Both of these letter writers attend meetings of socially progressive societies. So far I have seen anti-slavery, anti-capital punishment, and a mostly-black organization supporting the Underground Railroad.
Meanwhile, what I know, so far, about Mathew's personal life, is that he had been pressured, tricked or guilted into a family-arranged marriage only a year after his soul-mate, Abby, had died in March of 1841. The girl was not very attractive, he probably never met her before the marriage, and they had nothing in common. She was worldly and had neither any understanding of, nor appreciation for, his spiritual life and beliefs. When two of Abby's sisters visited over the 1847 Christmas holiday, something they said, or gave him, must have undermined the rationale for that marriage so completely, that it was over by early 1849. This, I had already figured out.
But here, we seem to have Mathew spending a lot of time in New York City as early as 1847. I think he was able to obtain much better work there, than in Portland, Maine, and he was commuting--living in New York, and visiting Portland. That means he would have been home for the holidays when he met with Abby's sisters over Christmas, 1847. More than this, I think he must have gotten a job with the post office in 1849, and at some point, became a postal inspector. That had him traveling around the New England states, writing a travelogue as "Down East" for the Boston "Weekly Museum"; maintaining his family in Portland, but with a home base in New York City. Later, he was based, for a time, in Philadelphia, where he rented an attic (I live in an attic, today); and then he made Boston his home by late 1849 or 1850. In the fall of 1849, he began writing as "Quails" for that same paper. At that point, "Down East" and "Quails" overlap, and while their respective itineraries make a double-authorship plausible, eventually they diverge in such a way as to preclude it (assuming one isn't fabricated).
When I first saw this, I was very confused; but one of the seemingly less-plausible theories I generated, was that the editor didn't like to drop a popular column. When the original author didn't want to write it anymore, if at all possible they would find another author to take it up. Think of a popular television series--if the originator of the series bows out, the channel isn't going to cancel the show. They just find another writer for it.
Turns out this must have been the correct theory, because I discovered that Mathew appears to have actually done this very thing, with his 1851 travelogue written as "J.O.B." for the Portland "Transcript." When, writing as "Quails" for the Boston "Weekly Museum," he leaves for Europe, "J.O.B." continues in the "Transcript" with a second installment--but it is now written by another author, who talks about personal family matters that wouldn't match Mathew's family at all. I had many examples of Mathew writing simultaneously as different characters, for the same newspaper and for different newspapers--I just hadn't realized that, to a certain degree, letter writers, whether based in one city or traveling, were also characters--or at least they were, when Mathew wrote them.
So when it comes to these series of letters to the editor--whether they come from a particular city, or are travelogues--you may have the same author writing as more than one signature; or, you may have different authors taking up the signature at different times. It was not as straightforward as it seems. On the other hand, I don't know how unique this MO was to Mathew. For example, N.P. Willis' travelogue series was written by N.P. Willis, period. Samuel Clemens' travelogue was written by Clemens. But letters from "Quails" and "J.O.B." were written by Mathew--even though "Quails" was supposedly an elderly man working for the government, while "J.O.B." was either a student taking a break from his studies, or a family man with children, depending on whether you read him in 1856, or 1857.
So here's what's happening with Mathew, if these letters are his. That second marriage is all but over, and it definitely ends by early 1849. Still, Mathew supports her and the three children. Meanwhile, he is attending, and reporting on, progressive activities in New York City. When he sees these leading figures in the anti-slavery movement speak, he also meets with them and socializes with them, as his brother, John Greenleaf Whittier, also does. He sees, and meets, William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglas, Wendell Phillips, and others. When he meets Garrison--who had recruited his brother--he is, himself, recruited. Being a writer and a newspaperman, with a particular gift for writing popular letters and articles, and being proficient in shorthand--and having a winning sense of humor and the ability to charm and get along with all sorts of people--he is recruited as a liaison. His job will be to contact heads of state, potential donors, and fellow-abolitionists, and to report on these contacts through the newspaper in his public columns--in such a way that it will seem entirely innocuous. Only Garrison and his team will get the hidden meaning.
I could give you dozens of examples of the types of people "Quails" reports visiting, but two of the most interesting are Daniel Webster, at his farm--just after the Fugitive Slave Law, which Webster supported, went into law--and French author Victor Hugo, at his Paris home. But to hear "Quails" tell it, you'd think these were just social calls.
Obviously, Mathew cannot reveal his identity as the author of this column. When the myth arises among his fellow-contributors that "Quails" is written by entertainer Ossian Dodge--with whom Mathew sometimes travels--Mathew doesn't interfere. He jokes and teases about it, and then slips in clues, for posterity or anyone listening, that it's really him. For example, he has "Quails" visit his character, "Ethan Spike." Nobody, in 1851, knows that Mathew is the writer of Ethan Spike. That won't become public knowledge until 1857.
So what I am seeing now, in the "Chronotype," is that point at which Mathew may have become formally associated with Garrison. There's another big piece of this I haven't touched on, and that is that in 1846, and 1848, Mathew goes undercover in New Orleans, working as a reporter for the Daily "Delta." There, he writes the blotter, or Police Office reports, as he used to do for the New York City newspapers in the early 1830's (and nobody writes them like this). Here, he signs with his middle initial, "F." But in 1848, he attends a private slave auction, and writes a scathing report of it for the Boston "Chronotype" in two installments, signing as "Grapho Mania." He risked his life to do this. I had my hands on a physical copy of it when I was in the library, yesterday. Nobody knew--nobody knows, to this day. Let me see if I can find an image of it, in the 600-or-so shots I took...I should be able to go right to it, because I attempted to shoot the full page, as well as the article, itself.
Perhaps I should close with the entire article, both installments, and get back to work digitizing the new material. If you have read that Mathew Franklin Whittier wrote humorous sketches in dialect; if you have read Whittier's unofficial biographer, William Sloan Kennedy, say that his work is not worth the trouble of looking up; if you have read that John Greenleaf Whittier had to appeal to Charles Sumner to give Mathew a job at the Boston Custom House, citing that he had done good work for the cause with his pen, think again. Mathew appears to have kept 95% of his activities from his own brother, so that JGW never understood his full contribution. In fact, there is a brief mention that after Mathew's death, his brother was surprised at the letters which came in from admirers--even though it seems that these letters weren't preserved. I'll bet he was surprised!
What you are about to see, below, is Mathew Franklin Whittier's full power, unveiled. Quite possibly, no-one, in his lifetime, except the editor of the Chronotype, Elizur Wright, knew he was the author. There are other examples, but I want you to see this one. This is the author of "Ethan Spike," when he was speaking plainly about slavery. The first of these appears on June 29, 1848; the second, on July 4, 1848. The third and last installment of this series (Mathew frequently launched a series for a particular purpose, under a new pseudonym, and then abruptly terminated it) is a lyrical report of the opening of a new cemetery, in Boston. (I know, but cannot prove, that Mathew makes a clear reference to his late first wife, Abby, regarding the song that was sung at that dedication--one of Abby's favorites, "I Would Not Live Alway," which always tore him up whenever he heard it. Perhaps he took it as a sign of approval for the work he had accomplished for the cause of Abolition, which they had shared.)
Note that when Mathew says he has "conversed" with slaves, he is a reporter with excellent skills in shorthand. "Conversed with," here, means "interviewed." I had long felt that Mathew interviewed slaves, but I didn't have proof of it until I found this article.
I know exactly what Mathew was feeling while observing this slave auction. The young lady you will see described, below, was just the age that his Abby was, when they began courting, and he is seeing Abby in her. (You will note he compares her to a queen--and he used this language to describe Abby, as well.) He desperately wants to defend her honor; but he hasn't the courage to martyr himself, and he is inwardly berating himself for being a coward. But he will take his revenge with his pen. Here is what I said under hypnosis in 2008, many years before I discovered this article:
S: I can't describe what I felt when I saw that slave market. But it, I can't think of the right word. Hatred. I felt such hatred for those people that were doing that. I don't know precisely what scene it was, whether somebody was being separated from their loved one, or their families, or...I, I saw the fear in those people, and I saw what they were doing. It, I was filled with such...I can't, I don't have a word for it. But whatever it was, that was enough, that one experience was enough! You know.
S: I'm sorry?
T: So the reward for you is what?
S: I think it was not really, really, it was hatred for those slave-owners. It was to ruin them, to disable them, to bring them down. As much as it was to help the slaves. It was the hatred I felt for those people. And I was going to destroy them with anything I had. Which was my mind, and my ability to write.
Several years later, writing as "J.O.B.," Mathew alludes to having escorted a black girl of about the same age across the border of Canada to freedom. Perhaps, in part, he was atoning for not having been able to help the girl on the platform.
Knowing Mathew's modus operandi, everything here is a true report. Although he would sometimes reinvent himself to remain under cover, he wouldn't have invented any of the people he describes, nor would he have embellished. Just as I do with my photography, today, he would simply have chosen, for best effect, the most impactful portions of what he had observed. I should also mention, before continuing with the article, that Mathew unwisely reveals his identity. Or, perhaps, he wanted it known for posterity, and so inserted a clue. If so, it was certainly risky. His wife, Jane, was from St. John. She would often take the children to live with her family, there. Grapho Mania says his family is 3,000 miles away, i.e., from New Orleans. If you take a map and draw a circle with a diameter of 3,000 miles outward from New Orleans, there is scarcely anywhere the writer's family can be, other than St. John, Canada.
The Boston "Chronotype"
June 19, 1848
FACTS AND IMAGININGS--NO. 1
By Grapho Mania.
THE SLAVE MART AT NEW ORLEANS.
“And thus they plot in sluggish misery,
Rotting from the sire to son, and age to age.”
Our patience is fairly exhausted by hearing the sentimental whine about the institution of slavery, “which should not only be tolerated but for the sake of benevolence, be supported.” Bah! Mrs. Humbug--what do you know about slavery save from the look at your cousin George Washington Froth’s footman, and you, Miss Clementine Angelina Snooks but from the gentle attentions of your aunt Belinda’s waiting maid. Talk not to us of the kind care of a rich and an independent Northerner to his slaves! If you would see slavery in all its hideous blackness, go into the midst of it; look at it in all its phases and bearings, talk with the man dwarfed into the brute; count his privileges; weigh his opportunities and measure the span of his existence. After you have comprehended the individual, the unit, multiply it into the millions and then stand and gaze long and seriously upon the lowering curse that lies over our land.
A few weeks since, while lounging away a summer’s morning in the rotunda of the St. Charles, at New Orleans, the advertisement of a sale of slaves caught our eye. “One hundred plantation slaves, the property of a gentleman forced to sell them to raise money to meet the payment of his notes, then coming due in the city. The whole to be sold to the highest bidder, without reserve." We had already in our southward course looked upon the slave toiling doggedly at his unrequited labor; we had seen him scarred and maimed by the lash; we have beheld the stern glance of hate and heard the muttered threat, as he bowed grudgingly to his servitude. We had even walked several times through Gravier street and wonderingly peered into all the warehouses where the human animal is fattened, gaudily decked out, and exposed for private sale. We had oftentimes even made pretence of purchase for the opportunity to asking questions and getting at the thought that we knew to be teeming madly under the immovable muscle of the ebon visage. But here was a new spectacle. One hundred men, women and children were to be sold at public auction, for money to pay notes with.--At 12 o'clock, precisely, the hour appointed, I was at Hewlit's Exchange, the place of sale. The arena was already filled with the anxious purchasers, with catalogues in their hands. Most of them seemed gentlemen planters in pursuit of slaves for their own use, but among these were several speculators, traffickers in human flesh, without the fear of God or devil before them. This class were conspicuous for their particular examination of the articles on sale.
We noticed one hardened old sinner in particular. He had fixed his eye upon a young girl of some fifteen or sixteen summers. She was of a beautiful rounded form and had the head and face of a Venus. She would have been a queen in her own sunny clime--but here she must choke down her agony and tamely submit to insult. “Open your mouth, you slut,” sternly muttered the purchaser, and he suited the action to the words and thrust apart the lips and teeth of the girl. “Sound teeth, eh? Can eat your full allowance of grub, I’ll be bound!” Then followed certain rubs and pinches upon her arms, shoulders, breast and neck, such as a judicious horse-jockey bestows upon the animal for which he is in treaty. We hoped for the sake of common decency, if from no other motive, that his examination would end here, but we were disappointed. He was not the man to purchase a commodity without first fully understanding its value. “Lets see your ankles, your knees--up higher, you silly wench.” This was too much for the poor girl. A faint blushing tinge crept under her dark skin--and the tears started to her eyes. And this hardened villain had a daughter of his own about the same age! What would have been his rage at the suggestion of the same process to his own daughter? Where is the difference? If any, the delicacy of character would probably preponderate in favor of this poor enslaved girl. But she is placed upon the platform, so far above the floor as to be conspicuous to all the house. The auctioneer possessed an indifference sufficiently brazen to have knocked down St. Paul himself to the highest bidder.
“Who bids--what’s offered--fine wench--rather delicate in appearance--little ticklish--shy at this age--came of a good stock--no doubt will be a good breeder--come--come bid away--Five hundred--five fifty--six--six fifty--eight hundred--well done, sir, you have discovered her value--eight--eight--eight--eight hundred--once, eight-hundred twice--eight hundred dollars--and gone. Well, Mr. Haldfast, you have got a rare bargain there--hope I shall have the selling of the progeny--don’t let there be too many yellow ones, though--them always hurts my feelings to sell.” The misery of the poor black girl was now at the highest. She had fallen into the hands of the brutal speculator, and her fate could be imagined from the treatment already received from him. She continued in the position in which her natural gracefulness had at first thrown her--and such an eloquent expression of despair, depicted in her every form and feature, we never saw or imagined before. In the marked catalogue before us we find that Jane was sold to a Mr. Holdfast for eight hundred dollars. Mr. Holdfast takes his property and places it in a corner, evidently to add more to it in the course of the sale. A further account of this scene in our next.
The Boston "Chronotype"
July 4, 1848
For the Chronotype.
FACTS AND IMAGININGS--No. 2.
By Grapho Mania.
BY GRAPHO MANIA.
THE SLAVE MART AT NEW ORLEANS.
"So spake the fiend, and with necessity
the tyrant's plea, excused his devilish deeds."
The hundred slaves were huddled together near the auctioneer's platform, where one by one they were successively to pass under the hammer. The men sat in stoical silence. The women, especially such as were mothers, gazed in anxious grief upon their little ones as they playfully grouped themselves upon the floor at their feet. The children that but a short time since had been pressed to the mother's bosom, with all the earnest yearnings that none but a mother's heart can feel, were to be sold and separated away to cruel servitude, never more to know the endearments of a maternal love. All the ties of consanguinity and friendship were here to be severed for life, and the miserable objects to be sent from the place where all their happy associations had clustered, away to the fever and ague swamps of Miss. or to the barbarous cotton fields of upper Texas. And such an outrage upon humanity was to be perpetrated in open day light, in a Christian city, and witnessed, yes, sanctioned by hundreds of witnesses. One could hardly realize the atrocious fact. here, in the freest country on earth and in the nineteenth century, was a scene transpiring that would have disgraced the times of nero or Caligula. It is no dream of fiction, it is too real. And yet no avenging hand is put forth to stay the outrage. The work goes on.
The two next victims are a noble middle aged man and his wife, who called herself twenty-two. They were not to be sold together--for they would not bring so much money as if sold separate, and moreover it seems the design of every one who has any thing to do with slaves to discourage and deaden all the domestic loves to which human nature is addicted. The young wife was first questioned in this manner, that she might perchance recommend herself:--
“How old are you?”
“How long have you been married?”
“How many children have you?”
And as she made the last reply in a saddened tone, the tears started from her eyes, and she turned beseechingly to her husband for protection. Upon this the questioner, too, turns ferociously towards him--
“You villain you--have you lived three years with this wench without having any children?”
Now the true man was seen, although bound in fetters and trampled in the dust. With form erect and folded arms, and with a dignity that might have lent lustre to Othello himself he calmly replies--
“We have had one, but God took him.”
The fact that the woman had been the mother of but one child, and that dead, was the reason for the low price of two hundred dollars for which she was knocked down. She was purchased by a Red River planter to be turned out into the fields to hoe and pick cotton. The husband was afterward sold for seven hundred and fifty dollars, to be sent into the swamps of Tennessee as a wood chopper. The two were separated never more to meet in this world. It is expected that husbands and wives thus separated will form new connections, rear up new families, and perchance be again sold and divided asunder. Thus are the holiest of the institutions of Heaven rendered void by the management of men: and thus are poor ignorant slaves made to commit the sins that are denounced by all moral and civil law and by the direct commands of God.
The last spectacle was as much as we could bear. We thought of our own deep domestic loves--then three thousand miles away. The love and the sympathy of the wife so entwined into our own soul that no fate in time or eternity could separate the two whose separate existence had become one life. The clinging fondness of the little ones, who will not be content with a separate existence but insist upon being a part of the parent still. We left the scene, but the anguish of that separated pair followed us--it has not ceased to follow us since. There was the memory of their little log house in the skirt of cotton wood upon the river side; there was the place of their early love, as they had been reared up together on their wealthy owner's plantation; from thence had they entered the precincts of the church and before God and in the holy forms of the Episcopacy had they promised to take each other "for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness in health to love and to cherish, till death should part them according to God's holy ordinance." There was born to them their little boy who had gladdened their hearts--and then died; and there hard by was his little grave over which they had wept together and would only be comforted in believing that God had taken him. In that last long lingering look was crowded the gathering reminiscences of all the happiness they had known in life.
In closing this sketch allow us to say that we have seen slavery in every form. We have conversed with slaves, slave owners, slave speculators--and those who would have nothing to do with slaves. We have looked at it politically, morally and religiously--and may hereafter give our views from each point of observation. We can only say now that it is difficult to comprehend the enormity of the evil--and that in the work of the emancipation is required much care and consideration. If possible the philanthropists of both North and South--of the whole country and the whole civilized world should work harmoniously together, that the time may be hastened when slavery shall be no more.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
Music opening this page, "Follow the Drinkin' Gourd," traditional,
sung by Richie Havens on the album, "Songs of the Civil War"