The New York Times
4 August 1878



   A strange scene was presented early yesterday morning on the pier of the White Star Steamship Line. Nothing like it has been witnessed in New York since the good old-time Sabbath mornings when the "darkies" used to assemble on the dock at Catharine Market to dance "the juba" and the "Ole Virginny break-down" for a wriggling recompense in eels. About 500 colored people—old men, young men, and boys, and old women, young women, and girls—danced, sang, laughed shouted, or wept, as the mood seized them, to express some undefinable emotions excited in their breasts by the fact that 60 members of their race were about to sail on the steam-ship Adriatic for England, to amuse theatre-goers with the quaint melodies and strange antics of plantation "darkies." No ocean steam-ship ever carried such voyagers, and perhaps none ever had so large a party of persons of one race among whom class distinctions were so strongly marked. Some of the colored men were intelligent and "high-toned." They wore eyeglasses, and looked with disdain upon the others, whom they styled "niggers" and "trash." These were the members of the Sable Quintet, who, insisting that they were artists, compelled their employers, Messrs. Jarrett & Palmer, to procure better accommodations for them on board the Adriatic than were allotted to their fellow-travelers of the same race. "You see," said their leader to Commodore Tooker, "we have social distinctions, just as white people have. You wouldn't associate with the low white trash in the Fourth and Sixth Wards, and we won't live with those South Fifth-avenue 'niggers.' Of course, when we meet them on the stage we will treat them well, but we will have no other communication with them." So these high-grade colored persons, three of whom have their wives with them, were given quarters in what is known as the hospital of the Adriatic, while the other "artists"—for all declared themselves such—were placed in the "intermediate." None would go as steerage passengers, and for this trip, at least, there is no steerage apartment on the Adriatic.

   The Sable Quintet went to the pier of the steamship in hacks, and did not receive a very cordial greeting from the colored people assembled there, by some of whom they were called the "stuck-up niggers." It was not until the Jubilee Singers, the Jolly Coons, the comedians, and banjoists, and the dancers, led by the Whistler and the Camp-meeting Shouter, arrived that the enthusiasm of the crowd was aroused. These "artists" assembled at pier No. 1 North River at 7 o'clock in the morning, and were marshaled in line by Commodore Tooker, who led them to West-street, and bade them tumble into two Belt Line cars, an injunction which they obeyed literally. On the way up to the pier of the Adriatic they sang continuously such songs and hymns as "Just like Joe," "Picking Cotton in the Lowlands," "Roll, Jordan, Roll," "Walk Into Jerusalem," and "Wait till we get on the road." The Whistler led them, and Abby Hamilton proved that she deserves the title of "The Camp-meeting Shouter." In the intervals between the hymns, it must be said with sorrow, the Whistler gave evidence of more than ordinary proficiency in the art of swearing. The party was cheered lustily by the numerous laborers on West-street and Washington Market butchers gave a hearty evidence of good will toward the "darks," as they entitled them. One exciting little episode occurred during the trip. An impudent "hoodlum" jumped upon one of the cars, and, putting his head within it, cried out, "Nigger eat dirt." There was an immediate rush made at him by every man and woman in the vehicle. If he had not been fleet-footed he would have had cause to remember the day Jarrett & Palmer's colored troupe left this City for England.

   The scene when, at 8:30 o'clock, the Adriatic moved away from the pier was unique. The colored people shouted back and forth their adieus and some of the troupe sang "Wait till we get on the road." Some of the old men and women on the dock cried as if their hearts would break at parting from their children. At the head of the dock the band of the Plymouth Rock played "America," and several tunes that were not at all appropriate to the occasion. As the Adriatic steamed down the river she was met by the Plymouth Rock, which was decorated with flags, and which saluted her with chimes and the booming of cannon.

   The presence of the colored people and their strange antics drew attention generally away from the fact that there was a large party of white voyagers on board the Adriatic, and that among these were some distinguished persons. The principal of these were Mr. David Dudley Field and Mr. E. J. Reed, M. P., who was formerly Chief Consulting Engineer of the British Navy. Mr. Field goes to Paris to attend an International Law Conference. Mr. Reed is returning home from a journey through the United States. There were also 14 ladies and gentlemen who are going to England to take part in the production of "Uncle Tom's Cabin," in which the colored "artists" are to appear.