The National Era
Mary Elizabeth Wormeley
Washington, D.C.: 11 August 1853


NEWPORT, R.I., July 23, 1853.

SIR: Will you allow me, through the columns of your paper, to make an appeal to the many readers of "Uncle Tom's Cabin?" There are thousands, even of those who disapprove the purpose and challenge the fairness of our great American novel, who have their sympathies called forth in behalf of the race it advocates. In the South such sympathies find ready vent; at the North, opportunities are more rare of legitimate action. I have been passing part of the summer in Clarke county, Virginia, where two cases, affecting persons I have known for years, have greatly enlisted my sympathy, and I now venture to make my most earnest appeal to persons richer than myself, to assist me in the attempt to give them freedom, home, and happiness.

  The more pressing case is that of a man named John Gordon, a very light mulatto, a blacksmith and paper-hanger by trade, whom I have known since 1842, and who bears the highest character amongst the gentlemen who employ him. He was born the slave of Mrs. Mawes, of Rappahannock county, and received his freedom at her death, when all her negroes were emancipated, and provision made for their transport to Africa. John Gordon, who had recently married a slave woman, to whom he was much attached, preferred to remain in Virginia. He had continued to reside there fifteen years as a free negro, but, under the laws recently passed by the Convention of Virginia, he has been called before the county court, and warned that he must quit the State within two months or return into slavery. It is easy, calmly to read or state these facts; but it was not easy to listen to them calmly when the poor fellow, in deep distress, came up to speak to me. He had an idea that people in free countries would pity him—that "Miss Lizzie from the North" could do something to assist him in the purchase of his wife, and at least some of his eight children, so that they might leave the State together. Was there nothing I could do? he asked; was there nothing he could do to prevent his being separated forever from his family, leaving his wife and children to the uncertain chances of slavery? "Oh! I would do anything," he explained, with a pathos that deeply touched me, "anything on earth for them, Miss Lizzie, but go back and be a slave again." I could not bear to tell him that I had no power effectually to assist him—that I could give him only my own few dollars and my sympathies. I did what I think any one else in my place would have done. I promised—however painful it might be to me to ask assistance—that I would lay his case before my friends when I came North, and see what could be done for him.

  The gentleman who owns the family also urged me to interest myself in the case. He is a person of great benevolence, and the heir-at-law of Mrs. Hawes. Instead of opposing the emancipation of her negroes, he took the most lively interest in their welfare, superintended their embarkation, and continues to receive the most grateful letters from Liberia. But he is far from rich, and though he assures me he will gladly sell Evelina and her children (whom he originally bought at the earnest request of John Gordon, to save them from being separated and sold to the traders) for less than half their market value, in order to secure their freedom, the state of his affairs is such that he is not justified in giving them their liberty.

  My other case is that of a woman, now about thirty years of age, who was the beloved and devoted attendant of one of my dearest relations. It was her mistress's most earnest wish upon her death-bed to give Sarah the freedom she had long sighed for; and after many difficulties, owing to the arrangement of the property, the family was enabled to give her her papers. But, by the same law of Virginia, which operates so harshly on John Gordon, she is compelled to leave the State within a year, or return into slavery. She has a husband, to whom she is devotedly attached. Conjugal affection is (not unnaturally) rare among negroes, but this attachment I have never seen surpassed in any condition; and she cannot bear to leave him. He is a slave of excellent character, trusted and esteemed through all the neighborhood—but, unfortunately, though hired by the family to whom Sarah belonged, and living for the past ten years under the same roof with his wife, he belongs to another master. This gentleman is willing to sell him to his wife for a sum very much less than his market value. They have warm friends at the South, willing to do all in their power to promote their object; and, once free, are secure of employment and the highest wages in Baltimore.

  About $3,500 are necessary to accomplish both these objects; a sum so large that I can hardly hope to raise it all. A thousand dollars would set free John Gordon's wife and five youngest children. The cause seems to have been committed to my hands, and I earnestly pray, that though I cannot present the case in such a way as would infuse my own feelings of sympathy into the hearts of others, that some of those to whom I thus appeal, may be willing to assist me in an object which must command itself to every breast that estimates the value of family affection.

I have the honor to remain, sir, yours, faithfully,


  Any sums for this object will be gratefully acknowledged, if forwarded to Miss Wormeley, at Newport, or to the care of Messrs. Ticknor, Reed, & Fields, Boston, or to the office of the Newport News.