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WASHINGTON IN 1871.
with its sisters. A few days since, after an absence of several months, I returned, to realize the vast difference between the Washington of 1839 and the Washington of 1871. During these few months a magical transformation has been wrought. The desolation, decay, and retrogression of thirty-two years have been succeeded by a diversified and miraculous development. The inertness of the past is put to shame by the activity of the present. Youth has superseded age, enterprise enervation. Ten years ago its churches were hospitals, its parks campinggrounds, many of its public places barracks or prisons. Its avenues and streets trembled under the march of embattled thousands, and were torn and lacerated by long trains of artillery and huge processions of army wagons. Nothing maintained its character but the marble Capitol, and that, as if to prefigure the new era, extended its wings in all the wonders of its classic beauty amid the shock of conflict and of death. And now, on the eve of that anniversary of the birth of Him whose
“ Blessed feet Which nineteen hundred years ago
Were nailed for our advantage on the bitter cross,” the visitor, whether American or foreigner, stands in the midst of something more than a material metamorphosis. It was said of one of the Roman emperors that he found Rome brick and left it marble. Not less true is the eulogy that the Republicans found Washington in chains and made it free. They found it a miserable mockery and converted it into a magnificent metropolis. My companions, most of whom had not seen Washington for years, and easily recalled its former wretchedness, stood in amazement in the midst of the trophies of its present splendor. After riding along Pennsylvania Avenue and obserying the new residences going up in every quarter, and the broad streets laid with enduring composite, we stopped on the noble walk before the north front of the Treasury Department and stood opposite the Freedmen's Savings Bank. Its history will form a striking chapter in the annals of these times. On the east corner of the same block I pointed out the famous banking-house of Corcoran & Riggs—now managed, I believe, by Mr. George W. Riggs. The contrast between these two edifices is a contrast between two ideas, and suggests a moral better than an argument. Let us take two living men-men whose names are immediately associated with these institutions—W. W. Corcoran, the former head of the little old banking-house at the corner, and William J. Wilson, cashier of the new savings bank—the one white and the other colored, both natives of the United States, and both sympathizers with the South in the rebellion-Corcoran with the Confederates and Wilson with the slaves. It can be no offense to the white man to say that, like his colored brother, he was of humble origin, and it is equally true that while he flourished under our institutions, William J. Wilson was oppressed and degraded. The white man grew in riches and in graces with his years. Under former Administrations, before the Sub-Treasury, he was the principal depositary of the national funds, and to this day his name is a letter of credit in all financial circles. Belonging to the age that is fast passing away, he does not forget that most of his wealth is the result of the confidence of his Government; and in the rapid growth of Washington, although he himself has resisted many of the recent efforts in that direction, there are no more beautiful objects than his noble Art Gallery and the Louisa Home for Indigent Ladies. The black man had none of these chances. When Congress, early in 1865, passed a charter of incorporation for the Freedmen's Savings Bank, William J. Wilson, the present indomitable cashier, was teaching school on Twelfth Street, near R, in Washington City, without remuneration. The trustees called upon him to make the bank known to the colored people of America, and he undertook the work. His first office was a rented room in a small brick house in G Street, where he remained for a few months stemming the tide
FREEDMEN'S SAVINGS BANK.
of bigotry against his ráce, and untiring in teaching them the necessity of hoarding their surplus wages in some institution that would keep them safely and profitably. A freedman, in 1866, told Wilson that his father's box had been broken into and two hundred dollars stolen, but that the old man had still twenty-four dollars left, and this was the first investment, under Wilson's advice, in the Freedmen's Savings Bank. It was the seed from which has grown what is already a gigantic and must become an overwhelming corporation. Other deposits followed in rapid succession, and real estate was purchased at the corner of Nineteenth and I Streets in Washington. The operations of the concern became too large in a short time, and it was finally moved to the northwest corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Nineteenth Street. During this period colored soldiers began to deposit something of their pay, and those who were wise enough to do so now reap the benefit of their wisdom. In the winter of 1867 the bank was moved to Seventh Street, between E and F, where it remained for fourteen months, until finally it was located in the new building opposite the Treasury Department, to which I have referred. There are few bankinghouses in America equal to it, and yet, large, commodious, and beautiful as it is, it is to be still further extended, inasmuch as the company has purchased the whole of the western portion of the lot, and are even now ambitious to buy out Corcoran & Riggs, so that the entire square may be given up to them. It may be called a tree of many branches, extending through the South and the Southwest. They have fine buildings, with capable officers engaged in the good work of collecting the savings of the freedmen, and so hoarding and investing them as that in the course of time the institution will be second to none on the continent. The Washington depositors are from one hundred and fifty to two hundred a day, and the daily amount of business varies from six to twenty thousand dollars. In four weeks these deposits have exceeded the drafts by sixty thousand
dollars. No discounts are made for the public or for any of the officers of the bank, and advances are made only on security of real estate. It is unnecessary to give further details. The concern itself stands first among financial institutions. Its future may be judged from its present. With ordinary care and integrity it must distance all competitors, inasmuch as it has secured the confidence of the great race which, united for one object, can accomplish almost any thing. Imagine these millions of colored men, women, and children, all resolved upon hoarding their earnings in one banking institution, and then contrast this unity of action with the savings banks in other cities and States which have grown rich because they have been preferred by only a portion of the whites, and you have the story in a nutshell. The architect of all this prosperity is William J. Wilson, the cashier, an earnest, hard-headed, true-hearted man, with the intelligence, vigor, and the directness of a John W. Garrett or a George Law, and the conviction of an Oliver Cromwell. As a Pennsylvanian I am proud to record the fact that perhaps the most efficient and persevering of the coadjutors of Mr. Wilson in the administration of the affairs of this magnificent institution is Colonel D. L. Eaton, of Pittsburgh. But Wilson is the W. W. Corcoran of the colored men of the South, successfully emerging from a deadlier struggle, fighting against sterner obstacles, and perhaps surer of a grander future. Who knows but that in the years that lie beyond, a reputation as pure, a credit as high, may await the posterity of the colored banker as that which has a thousand times rewarded the white capitalist? I said at the beginning that Christmas is that holiday on which childhood looks joyously forward, and when manhood solemnly looks backward; and, as I conclude this striking contrast, may not both child and man be instructed by its lessons, and alike anticipate the glorious destiny of our country?
[December 24, 1871.]
NEW-YEAR's calls had their origin in Continental Europe. The custom was brought to New Y by the Dutch and Huguenots as one of their peculiar institutions. It has never been naturalized, until recently, in towns of a more purely English origin or population. Christmas is the favorite holiday all through the Middle States, especially in districts originally settled by the English and the Germans. New-year's receptions have latterly become universally fashionable, but the cities of New York and Washington are more particularly abandoned to this growing and pleasant custom. On Friday, the first of January, 1790, the Government of the young United States, then located in the city of New York, the first President, George Washington, was waited upon by the principal gentlemen of the metropolis. Mrs. Washington held her levee as on other Friday evenings, but this special reception was one of unusual elegance. The weather was almost as gentle as May, and the full moon shone brightly into the chambers of the President's stately mansion. It was not the general custom for visitors to the President to sit, but on this particular evening, as I learn from a diary of the period, there were chairs in the rooms where Mrs. Washington met her friends, and, after they were seated, tea and coffee and plum and plain cake were served.' Mrs. Washington afterward remarked that none of the proceedings of the day so pleased "the General" (by which title she always designated her husband, differing in that respect from Mrs. Grant, who nearly always speaks of our present President as “Mr. Grant") as the friendly greeting of the gentlemen who had called upon him. Washington asked if New-year's visiting had always been kept up in New York, and when he was answered in the affirmative, he paused a moment and said, “The highly favored situation of New York will in the progress of years at