“Downing and the Fine Collector.” (December 21, 1855)


This article, published in the abolitionist newspaper the Liberator on December 21, 1855, gives an account of the New York state militia mistaking Thomas Downing for a white man of the same name who was trying to escape militia duty, which was required of male citizens between the ages of 18 and 45. At this time, Downing was famous across New York City for his restaurant, community organizing, and activism. The story originally appeared in the New York Evening Post.




From the N. Y. Evening Post.

Downing and the Fine Collector.

Mr. Downing, the venerable publican of Broad street, was surprised yesterday by the warrant for his arrest, for non-appearance at the company parade of the Third Regiment of the New York State Militia. The document by which he was summoned to the ‘tented field’ is as follows:—State of New York, City and County of New York, ss.

3D Regiment 1st Brigade, and First

Division, N. Y. State Militia. Co. D.

Mr. Thomas Downings, 3 Broad, basement:

Sir—I have a warrant, to me directed and delivered, against you, for non-appearance at Company Parade, October 10th, 1855. By calling at my office and settling, you will save further expense.

J. Morris, Marshal.

Office, No.142 Fulton street, Room No. 4, 2d floor.

26th November, 1855.

Your not appearing at the Court of Appeals, to give your excuse, (if any you had,) you were fined by default.

If the above is not attended to within five days of date of this notice, the officer having charge of its collection will consider himself at liberty, at any moment thereafter, to pursue the course of the law directs to collect the same.

No property of the delinquent now exempt from execution, shall be so exempt from the payment of this fine. Passed April 17th, 1854. $3.85

Mr. Downing being exempt from militia duty both by his age and color, repaired immediately to the fine collector, where he was at once released from the necessity of further substantiating his excuses. It appeared that the requisition was designed for a white man of the same name with the well known oysterman, but how any lover of oysters could suppose there was, at No. 3 Broad street, more than one ‘Thomas Downing,’ of whom it may be said that oysters are his profit, is not explained. Mr. Downing however, in view of his triumph, may well pardon the collector’s ignorance.

Our reporter has preserved these facts for posterity in the following lines:—

            Have you heard how Thomas Downing—

            Downing, publican, of Broad street,

            Downing, he whose famous oysters,

            Drawn from Chesapeake and South Side,

Lie upon his shilling saucers,

Fat and large as the ear of Pete—

How this Downing hoaxed the collector

Of the fine for non-appearance

On the tented field of carnage?

Now, this Downing is a black man,

Or a rather dark mulatto,

Sixty years his head have frosted,

And the oysters so well known him.

That they leave their shells with pleasure,

And no knife he ever uses.

Well, one day a requisition

Told him he must go to prison,

‘Cos he wouldn’t leave his bivalves

Just to join the city train bands.

So this venerable man of color

Went to court at once, and showed ‘em

That, at least at that time, they had

The wrong passenger awakened: —

Saying, ‘Here I am before you,

Black and old, as you may see, sir;

Folks like me the law don’t call on,

And I don’t see wherefore you should;

But if you will choose me captain,

I’ll stick fast to colors sartin,

And I never will turn pale, sir.’

But the officer dismissed him,

Saying, ‘Downing, “one I owe you;”

You have beat me, now go homeward,

For indeed peace hath her victories

No whit less renowned than war’s are;

Live contented with your trophies,

Oyster-shells and fine collectors.’

APA Citation:
The Liberator. “Downing and the Fine Collector.” (December 21, 1855). (2022, November 01). In Encyclopedia Virginia.
MLA Citation:
The Liberator. "“Downing and the Fine Collector.” (December 21, 1855)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (01 Nov. 2022). Web. 21 Jul. 2024
Last updated: 2023, September 11
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