“In Boston, the so-called ‘Athens of America,’ large audiences were sometimes thrown almost into spasms by the presence of one colored man in their midst; and, on one occasion, (in this writer’s experience,) a mob grossly insulted a gentleman and two ladies, who did not happen to exhibit the Anglo-Saxon (constitutional) complexion

          —– William Cooper Nell, The Liberator, 17 December 1853

“On May 4, 1853, Sarah Parker Remond, her sister Caroline Remond Putnam, and William C. Nell presented their one dollar tickets to the doorkeeper at the Howard Athenaeum in Boston – having purchased tickets through an expressman – for seats in the ‘Family Circle’ to hear Madame Henriette Sontag in the opera Don Pasquale. Sarah and her friends were given the customary checks. While quietly proceeding to their seats, they were stopped by Mr. A. Palmer, the manager of the house, who refused to let them take their seats.

 C. P. Philbrick, a police officer at the theater, was called and ordered the party out. They were told they could get their money back or take seats in the gallery. They refused. Philbrick attempted to push Sarah down the stairs, tearing her dress and injuring her shoulder.

Sarah made a legal protest against this treatment, and Palmer and Philbrick were brought before the police court. The case was tried before Judge Russell. The lawyer Charles G. Davis appeared for Miss Remond. Shortly afterwards, Sarah Remond brought a civil suit to recover damages against Palmer and Philbrick in the First District Court of Essex County. She agreed to accept a small sum on the condition that she and her friends should have tickets to the opera, for seats as good as those originally purchased on the night they were rejected.”

Howard Athenaeum, Boston, 1852 

Nell, In Colored Patriots of the American Revolution wrote that  ‘American colorphobia is never more rampant toward its victims, then when one would avail himself of the facilities of mental improvement, in common with the more favored dominant party, — as if his complexion was, indeed, prima facie evidence that he was an intruder within the sacred portals of knowledge.’

Dorothy Burnett Porter Wesley, The Remonds of Salem, Massachusetts: A Nineteenth-Century Family Revisited. Proc. American Antiquarian Society, Oct. 1985.

In Dorothy Porter Wesley and Constance Porter Uzelac, William Cooper Nell: Selected Writings 1832 – 1874 (Black Classics Press, 2002) p. 26.

[I have taken a few liberties with formatting, including dividing what was a single paragraph into smaller segments.  I have also italicized the passages by W. C. Nell quoted by D.B.P.W. Extensive coverage of the incident summarized above including the legal proceedings and the additional penalties imposed upon the defendants is presented in detail in a series of articles by Garrison in The Liberator. M.R.]

A scene from the comic opera in question, Donizetti’s Don Pasquale

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