Yesterday evening, feeling bored, I was poking around the digital copies of Mathew's work for the 1846 New Orleans "Daily Delta." I had already determined that he was working as a spy for the cause of Abolitionism, with his cover being that of a reporter. He was doing the same sort of journalistic work he had once done as a young man, in New York. The style of his reports for the blotter, i.e., the "Safety Office," are unmistakable, and they are signed with his middle initial, "F."
But on the same page which contains one of these reports, I noticed two humorous anecdotes, unsigned "fillers." One of them is entirely innocuous--but the vague feeling kept nagging me, that the second one was actually code. When I say "code," I am referring to hidden meanings in the text, not that it is literally coded. (I told someone, once, that Mathew wrote in "code," and he suddenly got very interested until he realized that I meant it this way.)
I'm going to reproduce the piece in full, below, so I don't need to summarize it. But I'll tell you what I think has happened. Mathew was supposed to meet an abolitionist from Washington at a restaurant, and the man would identify himself by ordering several plates of sausages. Mathew had a "Tyler nose," so this character represents Mathew, himself. (He has identified himself by his nose in other pieces.) Seeing a man ordering plate after plate of sausages and bologna slices, he assumes this is his contact, and not being a professional spy, he inadvertently gives his contact's real name to a stranger. Now, he has to alert everyone concerned as quickly as possible, that this has occurred. Hence the sketch. Publishing a veiled communication in a newspaper, in 1846, is faster and safer than writing letters to dozens of people, which would arouse suspicion at the post office.
I can't prove this--but I have quite a few strong pieces of evidence supporting my interpretation (this story isn't the only one).* So if you have noticed me claiming that Mathew worked undercover as an abolitionist spy--and you thought to yourself, "What else will this nutcase claim?", you may as well know that I am once again just reporting my findings. Honesty and scientific rigor demand it.**
When I first encountered a few samples of Mathew's work in 2005, I sensed immediately that he embedded hidden meanings in his humorous sketches (something no other commentator has guessed). However, awareness of his role as an agent only came to me very slowly. I began to suspect it, and then would run across another clue, and another. I didn't start out, at the beginning of the study, with any suspicion of that. But it makes sense. What happened is that Mathew liked to be helpful from behind the scenes. When he got involved in the Abolitionist cause, they discovered he had certain talents, and began to use him, accordingly. He had a way of disarming people with his humor, and he had the habit of hiding his true feelings. Given his raw talent as a humorous writer, and his conversational abilities (which are documented in a statement by his daughter), they began using him as a liaison, and he began reporting his contacts through the newspaper, hidden behind his trademark humor. As said, in the same page as the piece I've reproduced, below, are one of his "Safety Office" reports, and a completely innocent anecdote about an Irishman bragging on his large family. Then, there is this:
City Scenes--Drawing an Inference.
While taking a hasty cup of coffee in the Restaurant yesterday morning, we noticed at the table opposite us a gentleman discussing a beef steak and reading the morning papers, most of which he had on the table before him. He was a thin man, with a Tyler-nose; he read through an eye glass suspended round his neck by a faded black ribband, when he ate he dropped the glass. Shortly after we sat down the messenger returned from the postoffice, bringing word that the mail had failed from Charleston, though he was told that some members of Congress and others had come directly on from Washington. The failure of the mail seemed to annoy the man with the Tyler-nose considerably.
Many minutes had not elapsed when a fat plethoric-looking person entered, whose unadjusted dress bespoke the traveller.
"Waiter," said he, "bring me a plate of pork sausages fried, and a plate of Bolgona sausages sliced."
"A plate of pork sausages fried and a plate of Bologna sausages sliced, yes, sir," repeated the waiter. "Any thing else, sir?"
"A roll and a cup of coffee," said the plethoric gentleman.
"A roll and a cup of coffee, yes, sir," echoed the waiter.
The sausages fried and sliced were soon before him, and they were quickly despatched. We noticed that the Tyler-nosed man would frequently glance at the sausage man through his glass and then turn his eyes to the paper.
The plethoric gentleman called to the water for another plate of pork sausages fried and a plate of Bologna sausages slided and broiled.
The Tyler-nosed man, hearing the order given to repeat the dose, looked at the fat man, then at us, and then at the ceiling. Astonishment was evidently his pervading feeling at the moment, though it shortly seemed to settle down to satisfaction. Shortly after the waiter had brought in the second course, or the third and fourth, plate of sausages, the man with the fiddle-bridge nose politely moved over to where the gentleman sat who was operating on them, when the following colloquy occurred. Tyler-nose suddenly jerking up his head and looking for a moment through his glass at the live patent sausage consumer, "Sir!"
Tyler-nose.--"May I take the liberty?"
Sausage-consumer.--(Still continuing, rather ravenously, to bestow away the sausages)--"That, sir, depends upon what nature of the liberty is which you propose to take."
Tyler-nose.--"You are, sir, from Washington?"
Sausage-consumer.--"No, sir, Mobile."
Tyler-nose.--"Yes, sir, I understand; you are from Mobile last: that is, sir, you are immediately from Mobile, but from Washington recently.--Ah, Mr. Sawyer," added the Tyler-nose, accompanied with what was meant for an affable smile, but which was freely dashed with a sardonic grin. "Ah, Mr. Sawyer, your person and peculiarities are too well known for you to think to travel incog.--Now----"
Sausage-consumer.--Throwing down his knife and fork with a kind of reveille rattle on the plate, and looking at Tyler-nose as if he was doubtful of his own identity, ejaculated--"Mr. what did you say?"
Tyler-nose.--"Sawyer, sir, Sawyer, M.C."
Sausage-consumer.--"O, d--n your sawyers, I had like to be drowned by one of them on the Mississippi six years ago, and I can't bear to hear the name mentioned since. Swanson, sir, Swanson is my name; I'm connected with the victualling department of the army. But why do you take me for Sawyer, M.C., as you call him, do I look like Sawyer, M.C.?"
Tyler-nose.--"Excuse my mistake, sir, I can't say you do look exactly like him--fact, sir, I have never seen him, but from your partiality for sausages I was under the impression that you could'nt be any one else!"
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
*Returning to New Orleans in 1848, Mathew interviewed slaves and attended a private slave market, by pretending to be an interested buyer. He then published a scathing, anonymous account of the slave market in the liberal Boston "Chronotype." It would appear that the ruse of pretending to be a buyer protected the agent from the risk of being turned in by the slave him- or herself (not out of loyalty, but due to fear of being punished if caught colluding with an abolitionist). The experience of attending the slave market came up forcefully in one of my hypnotic regression sessions, before I found the evidence for it.
**You will note that I have corrected two typos, rather than to reproduce them verbatim with the notation in brackets, "[sic]." Typographical errors in newspapers weren't uncommon, and I made the decision to correct obvious ones, rather than to pepper Mathew's archived works with this scholastic convention. However, I have also preserved a great many photographic (and/or physical) copies of the originals, against which my digital copies may be compared.
Music opening this page: "Follow the Drinkin' Gourd,"
sung by Richie Havens, from the album "Songs of the Civil War"