This rare letter was written by a highly literate Black man in 1847 named John N. Still — the owner of a secondhand clothing store in Brooklyn — who devoted a couple decades of his life championing the rights of his fellow Black men in America. He was elected as a delegate from Brooklyn along with William J. Wilson, Junius C. Morell, and Amos N. Freeman at the Colored National Convention in Rochester, New York, held on 6 July 1853.
John wrote the letter to George H. Baltimore (1814-1871) — a black man — of Whitehall, Washington county, New York. George and his wife Jeanette (1815-18xx), were originally from Rensselaer county, New York, but moved to Whitehall prior to 1840 where George worked as a shoemaker.
Still’s letter refers to the War with Mexico — a war most Americans believed was unjust and waged for the sole purpose of acquiring more slave territory. To negate this concern and appease the abolitionists, the Wilmot Proviso proposed an American law to ban slavery in any territory acquired from Mexico in the war. It failed, however.
Addressed to Mr. George H. Baltimore, White Hall, New York
Postmarked Brooklyn, New York
47 Atlantic Street
Brooklyn, Long Island
February 9th 1847
Yours in reply to my letter of enquiries was duly received. I am happy to say it found me well as I hope this may find you and family. I am particularly requested to return the sincere thanks of those for who, I wrote, for the very prompt, definite, and satisfactory reply you made to my letter. All who have heard it are highly pleased with it and with the information you gave. They set you down for “one of us.” When we get organized and enter into operations, I shall hasten forward my promised introductory letter of correspondence. I have not as yet had time to prepare a sufficient number of letters to commence with. I am pleased to say I shall have something rich for you when I write next.
A few days since, several gentlemen of undoubted character and intelligence called on me to suggest the very mode of operations which my plan proposes. They acquiesced with my plan advising me to hasten the correspondence. You will bear in mind that our movement is intended to be kept as secret as the affairs of Polk’s Cabinet. I believe that we shall be able to do something and I have no doubt but our plan will meet your approbation and cooperation.
I send you two copies of the Ram’s Horn ¹ and one of the National Era. ² I would say in regard of the editor of the former that he is not considered by the intelligent by any means a proper person for that office though he meets considerable encouragement in the absence of any other periodical. The fault I find with our writers and editors is they have no regular systems, but talk a little about this and a little about that — all of which may be true in itself, but it cannot tend to produce any lasting benefits. We must commence with some system and let all of our talk, writing and labors tend to develop that principle. The Rams Horn has adopted no system, however, the field will be all the better & clearer for us when we come. We must all bring our minds to bear on certain pointers and labor unitedly to accomplish (in time) certain ends. I also send the Tribune containing the enactments of the Legislature of Pennsylvania. You will be rejoiced to read them.
Please tender my respects to Mr. Harrison ³ and your brother-in-law and let them see the papers. I am sorry Mr. Harrison is not a grantee. However, he may buy cheap. When you next write, please send me the names of any intelligent and thorough-going young men you may know in any part of the country (White Hall excepted) as I may write to them.
My respects [to] your family & most respectfully yours &c., — John N. Still
P. S. The Wilmot Proviso was last still and is not yet lost. The war [with Mexico] intended to ruin us may yet produce much good as I always thought it would for us. I look with great anxiety for the results of the next battle and the attack on the castle in both of which it is thought by many here, the Mexicans will be victorious. I hope they may.
— J. N. S.
¹ “The Ram’s Horn was a weekly newspaper published and edited by Willis A. Hodges, a free Black born in Virginia. His family moved to New York in the mid-1830s after Nat Turner’s rebellion prompted the Virginia legislature to severely limit the liberties of free Blacks, but they kept their family farm in Virginia. Active in school reform in Williamsburgh [Long Island], the Black community in which he settled, he owned a grocery store and attended the Abyssinian Baptist Church. By the 1840s, Hodges functioned as one of the most outspoken advocates for abolition and equal rights in the State. His abolition paper caught the eye of Frederick Douglass and John Brown, both of who, contributed articles and funds.” [Source: The Ram’s Horn Founded 1847]
² The National Era was an abolitionist newspaper that ran from 1847 to 1860. It was published weekly in Washington D. C.
³ This was most likely John Harrison, a Black barber in Whitehall, who lived with his wife Minerva and two young daughters, Margaret and Mary.
My passion is studying American history leading up to & including the Civil War. I particularly enjoy reading, transcribing & researching primary sources such as letters and diaries.