Anna and the "Negro Bastile" Articles from the City of Washington Gazette
April 30, 1819
To the Public
Washington, D.C. 24th April, 1819
Mr. George Miller having made, and as I am informed still continues to make, a base and most unwarrantable attack on my character, as a man of honor and honesty; and having also publicly charged me with using expressions which I never uttered, with a view, I presume, to inujure me in the estimation of my fellow citizens; that sacred regard which I owe to my character as a man, and as a member of the community in which I live, is the only apology I offer for thus appearing before the public.
During the late fire in F street, while there, I overheard the conversation of several people, from which I learnt that it originated in the tavern or stable of Mr. Miller. One person observed that at the breaking out of the fire, there were a number of black people chained in the upper part of the house. Another observed that from that house, not long since, a negro woman, who was about to be sent to Georgia, sooner than be separated from her family connexions, threw herself from the garret window upon the pavement, broke her arms and legs, and mutilated her body in so shocking a manner that she died shortly afterwards, in the most excruciating agonies. While at the first I expressed to several of my acquaintances, my apprehension that the whole block of buildings would be consumed, that I regretted the thing extremely, but that, for my own part, I would not put my hand to a single bucket to extinguish the flame in the Bastile. From the depositions accompanying this statement it will appear that I was actively engaged in the ranks toward the other buildings. It seems that some person had informed Mr. Miller of what I had said. The next morning I went to the scene of destruction, with intention to search for my fire buckets, and while there, in the act of conversing with a gentleman, was attacked in the most furious manner by Mr. Miller. He charged me with having expressed a wish that the whole block of buildings might be burnt to the ground!—I told him that it was a falsehood. After having used considerable abusive and insulting language, he exclaimed in a loud tone of voice, addressing himself to the mob, "I am a man of honor,—I pay my debts honestly and honourably.—I do not, like you take the benefit of the insolvent act, and cheat my creditors like a scoundrel."
I told Mr. Miller that the charge was as false as it was unfounded.
Here an act of outrage, and attempt of violence, took place, on the part of Mr. Miller, that from delicacy to the public I forbear to describe.
Mr. Miller, when he charged me with the crime of having taken the benefit of the insolvent act, for the purpose of cheating my creditors, must have known that he was uttering a premeditated and deliberate falsehood. He must have known that I never did take the benefit of an insolvent act. The charge I presume was preferred with intention to inflame the anger and fury of the mob against me. One person, who from his appearance I judged to be a negro buyer, drew from his waiscoat pocket a large clasp knife, which he kept in his hand shut. No doubt remained upon my mind as to the use to which the instrument was to be applied, in case Mr. Miller and myself had unfortunately come to blows. In that event, in all probability, I should have shared the fate of Gen. Lingan. There is no fighting against numbers. I would no, however, have quitted the ground, but for the earnest and repated solicitations of Mr. John A. Wilson, deputy marshal, a gentleman for whom I have a high respect. Mr Wilson appeared to be convinced that I was in the mutmost danger, not from Mr. Miller, but from the mob. Those who know Mr. Miller, and who know me, know my superiority in physical power. They must be fully sinsible that I could with that power have silenced him.
The amiable and patriotic John Randolph, on the floor of the House of Congress, declaired that this Bastile was a foul stain, a disgrace to the Metropolis of a free nation.
To those gentlemen who know me, I should deem this statement entirely unnecessary. It is for the information of those who know me not. I have served in public capacity under no less that four different Presidence of the United States. General Washington, President Adams, Jefferson and Madison, with an unsullied reputation—I appeal to the Heads of Departments:
I have resided in Washington from the period of the establishment of the government, with the execption of about one year when I acted as Consul of the United States from Demarara, and its depencies in South America. My character, therefore, by this time ought to be known in Washington.
Both the charges which Mr. Miller has brought against me are of a serious nature. I have been strongly advised by a number of my friends to bring suit against Mr. Miller for defamation of character, in this foul and dsigraceful charge of having taken the benefit of the insolvent act for the purpose of defrauding my creditors. I have uniformly answerd, No! I merely wish to vindicate and defend my character from assault.—I have no wish, I have no disposition to add to the misfortunes of Mr. Miller.
If I had ever taken the benefit of the insolvent act, for the purpose of defrauding my creditors, the thing could easily be proven. If Mr. Miller can substantiate the fact, that I have ever taken the benefit of an insolvent act, or even in a solitary instance defrauded any one of my creditors, or that I am unwilling to apy their just claims, either in gold or silver, or bank note equivalent thereto, I hereby bind myself, in such case, to present him with the sum of five thousand Spanish milled dollars. Here is a public pledge, I believe that even Mr. Miller will acknowledge this to be fair and honourable dealing.
The documents which accompany this statement will show the character and standing which I have sustained through life. I have other letters equally strong, from Gen. John Shee, former collector of the port of Philadelphia, from Richard Hampton, esq. former adjutant general of Pennsylvania, and from many other gentleman of equally high standing. The most exalted characters in Pennsylvania, I have the honor to rank as my firm and steady friends. Those letters I shall have occassion to bring forward in a delicate case, in which my character and motives have been equally as basely and equally as falsely assailed. when the documents in my possession are published, the American People will then possess a full view of the whole ground.
William P. Gardner.
. . .
Washington City, (D.C.) ss.
Personally appeared before me, the subscriber, one of hte justices of the peace, and for the City of Washington, in the District of Columbia, William R. Cozens, a resident of said City, who being duly affirmed, deposeth and saith, that after having handed water at the late fire in F street until exertions could no longer be of any avail, I came up to William P. Gardner, in front of Mr. Miller's house. He observed to some gentlemen that he very much regretted the loss of the adjacent buildings, and said that in his opinion they owed their destruction to the Negro bastile, to put out which, he would not hand any buckets, if there was no other property in danger. He mentioned to me that he had been handing water to extinguish the fire in the other houses, for the preservation of which, he appeared very anxious.
Affirmed to, April 20, 1819, before R. S. Briscoe, J Peace.
May 12, 1819
To the Public.
Mr. William P. Gardner having, in a late publication, presented a statement to the public, for the purpose, as he says, of removing any misrepresentations which I may have made, affecting his character "as a man of honor and honesty;" respect for myself, and for public opinion, which he has labored so earnestly to enlist in his behalf, induces me to trespass upon their attention. Under pretence of regard for his reputation, he avails himself of particular circumstances, to gratify a childish and o'erweening vanity, by triumphantly exhibiting a few musty recommendations, which, if they prove any thing, prove only that Mr. Gardner has undergone a singular metamorphosis of temper, or that he imposed most grossly on the good nature of the distinguished persons, who, in 1801, lent him their names to establish his "talents, integrity, and firm republican principles." I will not here stop to show how congenial his notions of republicanism are with the sentiments of the America people, or how consistent his professions are with his practises. Recent instances might be adduced, (not, perhaps, entirely effaced from his recollection) which would prove, that if the most illiberal and unmanly assertions, the fruit of a vindictive temper, are the offspring of republicanism, then must Mr. Gardner be superlatively blessed with its heavenly attributes. His system of republicanism might prove eminently useful to barbarians, (in Algiers, for instance, where all are subject to the mandate of some petty tyrant, where heads can be lopped of, or the breath stopped, in his true republican style) but it is totally obnoxious to our soil.
Mr. Gardiner commences by enumerating cases of barbarity, and by denominating my house "A Negro Bastile." He mentions an instance of a negro woman having "thrown herself from the garret window upon the pavement, and mutilated her body in so shocking a manner, that she died shortly afterwards in the most excruciating agonies." Had he confined himself to facts, instead of giving credence to the tales of those destitute of principle, and ever ready to wound the feelings or injure the interest of those who incure their displeasure, he would have ascertained the true state of the affair. The woman, whom this humane gentleman commiserates so tenderly, is now alive, and in this city, having been restored by the care and attention of my family and myself. On her aversion to leaving this place being known to me, I purchased her, and she is now in my service; and I much doubt whether she would be willing to exchange her situation for one under the compassionate Mr. Gardner.
As to the charge of keeping a negro tavern, a little inquiry would prove, that instead of being governed by principles of avarice and cruelty, as this sapient stickler for humanity would have the public to believe, I was actuated by principles of charity, to which Mr. Gardner's late conduct has shown him to be an entire stranger—by a desire to ameliorate the condition, rather than to aggravate the sufferings of negroes. Had they not have been afforded a comfortable shelter by me, they must otherwise have been immured in damp and unwholsome cells in the common jail. As to partaking in the profits of any traffic of this kind, the insinuation is utterly false; and, if necessary, I can prove that, in many instances, I sought and obtained good masters for those who were unwilling to leave the district. As soon, however, as I found that my feelings and views, in this respect were mistaken and misrepresented, I refused to receive slaves into my house, nor have there been any admitted for more than twelve months past, with the exception of one, in my absence, and contrary to my wishes.
I should be myself degraded in my own and in the opinion of my fellow citizens, if I cherish in my bosom such a "bastil" of malignity, as that which warms the breast of Mr. Gardner. The man who can calmly look on and exalt in the destruction of the property of a fellow creature, hafar stronger claims to the character of a barbarian than to that of a member of a civilised community. And it requires but little ingenuity to discover how slight a difference exists between the secret incendiary who, with his own hand, applies the torch to his neighbor's property, and the heartless wretch who endeavors, insidiously, to instil into the minds of the unprincipled, sentiments so diabolical, and hostile to honor, justice, or humanity, and so subversive of morality and fellow feeling.
Mr. Gardner says (alluding to the quarrel which took place between him and myself the day after the fire,) that I charged him with taking the benefit of the insolvent act, for the purpose of defrauding his creditors. The conversation on this point, I believe, was as follows: Gardner said, he was informed that five negroes were chained in my garret at the time of the fire. I said, in reply, that it was false; but that if I had two or three more houses burnt down, I would not take the benefit of the insolvent act to pay my debts, as, I was informed, he had done. I merely said I was informed that such was the fact, and did not, at that time, know to the contrary; but Gardner must have known that this charge, in relation to the confined negroes, was unfounded; as numbers can testify, who had an opportunity of being in my garret very soon after the fire commenced. He also observes, in his publication, that I addressed myself to the mob, (mark the audacity of the assertion!) with a view to inflame the anger of those present to acts of violence against him. This is also absolutely false and malicious, I addressed myself to him only, in vindication of my character and injured feelings—a privilege I will ever exercise when as saited by base and cowardly calumniators. Those present had drawn together, accidentally, without preconcert, and took no part in the dispute; and as to the insulting epithet of mob, which he so freely applies to them, it would, perhaps, be a difficult matter to find a solitary individual present, who would not scorn to possess sentiments so corrupt as those uttered by Gardner on the evening of the fire; or who would not have assisted to save the property of even the most deadly foe. To say that a mob, in this city, was ready to do violence to any man, is an aspersion on the character of the citizens of Washington as foul as it is unmerited.—Gardner states again, that "one person, who, from his appearance, he judge to be a negro buyer, drew from his waistcoat pocket a large clasp knife, which he kept in his hand shut," and which was no doubt intended to be used against him. This I believe also to be false, or created by his own imagination. But if I were even to admit that a man had a knife in his hand, is that such an extraordinary circumstance, that death must have been lurking beneath its blade? Can a knife be handled for no other purpose than that of vengeance? For my part, I cannot believe that this simple occurence would have excited fear in any breast but that corroded by guilt, and conscious of it. He declares, in another place, that an "act of outrage and attempt of violence took place, on my part, that, from delicacy to the public, he forbears to disclose." I should like to know how or when he became possessed of delicacy. His late conduct has evinced how refined his notions of delicacy are. The tumult most manifest to him, I would suppose to have been, the conflict between the vicious and corrupt propensities of his nature, and the remnant of virtue that might possibly have been struggling within him. He attempts to give official sanction to his assertions in regard to a mob, by stating that he was "persuaded to leave the ground by Mr. John A. Wilson, deputy marshal, who appeared to be convinced that he (Gardner) was in the utmost danger, not from Mr. Miller, but the mob." Here again his disregard for truth developes itself. It is well known to him that mr. Wilson is not "deputy marshal;" tho' all will admit that is a gentleman entitled to as much respect as when he was. Gardner's view in this, will be easily seen through: he wises to convey the idea that nothing but the legal> interference of Mr. Wilson saved him from the fury of the mob. He stated that "those who know him and me, know his superiority in physical power, and that, with that power, he could easily have silenced me." If he had been so conscious of the physical superiority, all who know his disposition, know also that he would have been as ready to have exercised that power as he had been to use his malicious tongue to injure my reputation. And I will now inform him that I dread not his power, in any shape; and that I fear him as little as I do any unfeeling being who may attempt to vent his wrath upon me.
Having given a statement of facts, in order to defend my character against aspersions, I will now bid adieu to this paragon of moral excellence, probity, and sound republicanisms, and let him enjoy, in the contemplation of his misplaced "testimonials," that self sufficiency, and meditate that revenge most constant with his habits.