|"A battle lost or won is easily described, understood, and appreciated, but the moral growth of a great nation requires reflection, as well as observation, to appreciate it."|
~ Frederick Douglass
He did not know the date, or even year, of his birth; it was either 1817 or 1818. He adopted February 14 as his birthday because his mother used to call him her "little valentine." He began his autobiography with the following:
I was born in Tuckahoe, near Hillsborough, and about twelve miles from Easton, in Talbot County, Maryland. I have no accurate knowledge of my age, never having seen any authentic record containing it. By far the larger part of the slaves know as little of their ages as horses know of theirs, and it is the wish of most masters within my knowledge to keep their slaves thus ignorant. I do not remember to have ever met a slave who could tell of his birthday. They seldom come nearer to it than planting-time, harvest-time, cherry-time, spring-time, or fall-time. A want of information concerning my own was a source of unhappiness to me even during childhood. The white children could tell their ages. I could not tell why I ought to be deprived of the same privilege. I was not allowed to make any inquiries of my master concerning it. He deemed all such inquiries on the part of a slave improper and impertinent, and evidence of a restless spirit.
Talbot County, Maryland
The first experience of life with me that I now remember--and I remember it but hazily--began in the family of my grandmother and grandfather. Betsey and Isaac Baily. They were quite advanced in life, and had long lived on the spot where they then resided. They were considered old settlers in the neighborhood, and, from certain circumstances, I infer that my grandmother, especially, was held in high esteem, far higher than is the lot of most colored persons in the slave states. She was a good nurse, and a capital hand at making nets for catching shad and herring; and these nets were in great demand, not only in Tuckahoe, but at Denton and Hillsboro, neighboring villages. She was not only good at making the nets, but was also somewhat famous for her good fortune in taking the fishes referred to. I have known her to be in the water half the day. Grandmother was likewise more provident than most of her neighbors in the preservation of seedling sweet potatoes, and it happened to her--as it will happen to any careful and thrifty person residing in an ignorant and improvident community--to enjoy the reputation of having been born to "good luck." Her "good luck" was owing to the exceeding care which she took in preventing the succulent root from getting bruised in the digging, and in placing it beyond the reach of frost, by actually burying it under the hearth of her cabin during the winter months.
Fred, his grandmother and his mother belonged to Aaron Anthony, but Harriet was hired out to another farm.
I never saw my mother, to know her as such, more than four or five times in my life; and each of these times was very short in duration, and at night. She was hired by a Mr. Stewart, who lived about twelve miles from my home. She made her journeys to see me in the night, travelling the whole distance on foot, after the performance of her day's work. She was a field hand, and a whipping is the penalty of not being in the field at sunrise, unless a slave has special permission from his or her master to the contrary--a permission which they seldom get, and one that gives to him that gives it the proud name of being a kind master.
I do not recollect of ever seeing my mother by the light of day. She was with me in the night. She would lie down with me, and get me to sleep, but long before I waked she was gone.
Very little communication ever took place between us. Death soon ended what little we could have while she lived, and with it her hardships and suffering. She died when I was about seven years old . . .I was not allowed to be present during her illness, at her death, or burial. She was gone long before I knew any thing about it. Never having enjoyed, to any considerable extent, her soothing presence, her tender and watchful care, I received the tidings of her death with much the same emotions I should have probably felt at the death of a stranger.
Called thus suddenly away, she left me without the slightest intimation of who my father was. The whisper that my master was my father, may or may not be true; and, true or false, it is of but little consequence to my purpose whilst the fact remains, in all its glaring odiousness, that slaveholders have ordained, and by law established, that the children of slave women shall in all cases follow the condition of their mothers; and this is done too obviously to administer to their own lusts, and make a gratification of their wicked desires profitable as well as pleasurable; for by this cunning arrangement, the slaveholder, in cases not a few, sustains to his slaves the double relation of master and father. . . . They are a constant offence to their mistress. She is ever disposed to find fault with them; they can seldom do any thing to please her; she is never better pleased than when she sees them under the lash, especially when she suspects her husband of showing to his mulatto children favors which he withholds from his black slaves.
The master is frequently compelled to sell this class of his slaves, out of deference to the feelings of his white wife; and, cruel as the deed may strike any one to be, for a man to sell his own children to human flesh-mongers, it is often the dictate of humanity for him to do so; for, unless he does this, he must not only whip them himself, but must stand by and see one white son tie up his brother, of but few shades darker complexion than himself, and ply the gory lash to his naked back
|"The Captain's House"|
My first master's name was Anthony . . . He was generally called Captain Anthony--a title which, I presume, he acquired by sailing a craft on the Chesapeake Bay. He was not considered a rich slaveholder. He owned two or three farms, and about thirty slaves. His farms and slaves were under the care of an overseer. The overseer's name was Plummer. Mr. Plummer was a miserable drunkard, a profane swearer, and a savage monster. He always went armed with a cowskin and a heavy cudgel. I have known him to cut and slash the women's heads so horribly, that even master would be enraged at his cruelty, and would threaten to whip him if he did not mind himself. Master, however, was not a humane slaveholder. It required extraordinary barbarity on the part of an overseer to affect him. He was a cruel man, hardened by a long life of slaveholding. He would at times seem to take great pleasure in whipping a slave.
I have often been awakened at the dawn of day by the most heart-rending shrieks of an aunt of mine, whom he used to tie up to a joist, and whip upon her naked back till she was literally covered with blood. No words, no tears, no prayers, from his gory victim, seemed to move his iron heart from its bloody purpose. The louder she screamed, the harder he whipped; and where the blood ran fastest, there he whipped longest. He would whip her to make her scream, and whip her to make her hush; and not until overcome by fatigue, would he cease to swing the blood-clotted cowskin.
I remember the first time I ever witnessed this horrible exhibition. I was quite a child, but I well remember it. I never shall forget it whilst I remember any thing. It was the first of a long series of such outrages, of which I was doomed to be a witness and a participant. It struck me with awful force. It was the blood-stained gate, the entrance to the hell of slavery, through which I was about to pass.
Capt. Anthony was not considered a rich slaveholder, but was pretty well off in the world. He owned about thirty "head" of slaves, and three farms in Tuckahoe. The most valuable part of his property was his slaves, of whom he could afford to sell one every year. This crop, therefore, brought him seven or eight hundred dollars a year, besides his yearly salary, and other revenue from his farms.
My master's family consisted of two sons, Andrew and Richard; one daughter, Lucretia, and her husband, Captain Thomas Auld. They lived in one house, upon the home plantation of Colonel Edward Lloyd. My master was Colonel Lloyd's clerk and superintendent. He was what might be called the overseer of the overseers.
I spent two years of childhood on this plantation in my old master's family . . . The plantation is about twelve miles north of Easton, in Talbot county, and is situated on the border of Miles River. The principal products raised upon it were tobacco, corn, and wheat. These were raised in great abundance;so that, with the products of this and the other farms belonging to him, he was able to keep in almost constant employment a large sloop, in carrying them to market at Baltimore. . . . My master's son-in-law, Captain Auld, was master of the vessel; she was otherwise manned by the colonel's own slaves. . . .
Colonel Lloyd kept from three to four hundred slaves on his home plantation, and owned a large number more on the neighboring farms belonging to him. . . . If a slave was convicted of any high misdemeanor, became unmanageable, or evinced a determination to run away, he was brought immediately here, severely whipped, put on board the sloop, carried to Baltimore, and sold to Austin Woolfolk, or some other slave-trader, as a warning to the slaves remaining. . . .
There were no beds given the slaves, unless one coarse blanket be considered such . . . This, however, is not considered a very great privation. They find less difficulty from the want of beds, than from the want of time to sleep; for when their day's work in the field is done, the most of them having their washing, mending, and cooking to do, and having few or none of the ordinary facilities for doing either of these, very many of their sleeping hours are consumed in preparing for the field the coming day; and when this is done, old and young, male and female, married and single, drop down side by side, on one common bed,--the cold, damp floor,--each covering himself or herself with their miserable blankets; and here they sleep till they are summoned to the field by the driver's horn. At the sound of this, all must rise, and be off to the field. . . . Mr. Severe, the overseer, used to stand by the door of the quarter, armed with a large hickory stick and heavy cowskin, ready to whip any one who was so unfortunate as not to hear, or, from any other cause, was prevented from being ready to start for the field at the sound of the horn.
Killing a slave, or any colored person, in Talbot county, Maryland, is not treated as a crime, either by the courts or the community. Mr. Thomas Lanman, of St. Michael's, killed two slaves, one of whom he killed with a hatchet, by knocking his brains out. He used to boast of the commission of the awful and bloody deed. I have heard him do so laughingly, saying, among other things, that he was the only benefactor of his country in the company, and that when others would do as much as he had done, we should be relieved of 'the d--d niggers.'
The wife of Mr. Giles Hick, living but a short distance from where I used to live, murdered my wife's cousin, a young girl between fifteen and sixteen years of age, mangling her person in the most horrible manner, breaking her nose and breastbone with a stick, so that the poor girl expired in a few hours afterward. She was immediately buried, but had not been in her untimely grave but a few hours before she was taken up and examined by the coroner, who decided that she had come to her death by severe beating. The offence for which this girl was thus murdered was this:-- She had been set that night to mind Mrs. Hick's baby,and during the night she fell asleep, and the baby cried. She, having lost her rest for several nights previous, did not hear the crying. They were both in the room with Mrs. Hicks. Mrs. Hicks, finding the girl slow to move, jumped from her bed, seized an oak stick of wood by the fireplace, and with it broke the girl's nose and breastbone, and thus ended her life. I will not say that this most horrid murder produced no sensation in the community. It did produce sensation, but not enough to bring the murderess to punishment. There was a warrant issued for her arrest, but it was never served. Thus she escaped not only punishment, but even the pain of being arraigned before a court for her horrid crime.Leigh Fought, in her blog, Frederick Douglass's Women, writes
Between 1825 and 1826, a series of events happened to women in Douglass's autobiographies. First, Harriet Bailey, Douglass's mother, most likely gave birth to her final child, also named Harriet, and then died. Second, their master, Aaron Anthony, beat Frederick's teen aged cousin Hester (aka Esther)to a bloody pulp because she favored a young slave, Ned Roberts. She also gave birth to a child.
First of all, I believe that Aaron Anthony did father all of Harriet Bailey's children. At least, I believe that he is the most likely of the known candidates for the position since he had the most constant and complete access to her throughout her childbearing. If that was true, then when Bailey died, the widowed Anthony found himself without an outlet for his sexual urges. Of his property, the sexually mature women included Betsy Bailey (age 51, a grandmother of 19 children); Aunt Katy (about age 35, mother of three); Harriet's older sister Milly (age 37, mother of six); Harriet's younger sisters Jenny (of the runaway ad, age 26 mother of three), Betty (age 24, mother of two), Maryann (of the sale, age 19, no children), and Hester (about age 15, no children).
Douglass makes clear, in his Victorian way, that he believed that Anthony beat Hester because she refused his sexual advances. He probably did not understand that at the time, being only about seven years old. . .
In spring 1826, Frederick sailed to Baltimore to live with Hugh and Sophia Auld as a babysitter or nanny to their two-year-old son Thomas. In the fall of 1826, Lucretia Auld inherited part of the extended Bailey family upon the death of her father, Aaron Anthony. The part of the family included Frederick, his older sister Eliza, his aunts Milly and Hester, several cousins, and a baby who was probably his youngest sister, Harriet, only about a year old. Between Anthony’s death in November and the inventory of his estate in December, Frederick returned to Talbot County for appraisal as part of Anthony’s estate. The list showing the valuation of Frederick and his family, the people owned by Anthony, bears the date 26 December 1826. The list demonstrating the division of the people to the three heirs bears the date 27 Sept 1827. Their value totaled $935.00 -- that's $17,783 in 2010 dollar amounts.
Lucretia died in July 1827. Her husband, Thomas Auld, inherited her property and thereby became the master. In 1828, he married Rowena Hambleton.
Douglass treated Lucretia Auld very well in his autobiographies. When a cousin wounded him in the forehead, leaving the permanent scar above the bridge of his nose that added to the intensity of his gaze in photographs, Lucretia bound him up. When he grew hungry, he discovered that, if he sang under her window, she would give him bread. She gave him his first pair of pants for his trip to Baltimore to stay with her in-laws, Hugh and Sophia Auld. He contrasted Lucretia with Aunt Katy, the cook in the kitchen, who was his grandmother's niece. Katy, roughly his own mother's age, he described as starving and otherwise abusing him.
Mr. and Mrs. Auld were both at home, and met me at the door with their little son Thomas, to take care of whom I had been given. And here I saw what I had never seen before; it was a white face beaming with the most kindly emotions; it was the face of my new mistress, Sophia Auld. I wish I could describe the rapture that flashed through my soul as I beheld it. It was a new and strange sight to me, brightening up my pathway with the light of happiness. Little Thomas was told, there was his Freddy,--and I was told to take care of little Thomas; and thus I entered upon the duties of my new home with the most cheering prospect ahead.
. . . My new mistress proved to be all she appeared when I first met her at the door,--a woman of the kindest heart and finest feelings. She had never had a slave under her control previously to myself, and prior to her marriage she had been dependent upon her own industry for a living. She was by trade a weaver; and by constant application to her business, she had been in a good degree preserved from the blighting and dehumanizing effects of slavery. I was utterly astonished at her goodness. I scarcely knew how to behave towards her. She was entirely unlike any other white woman I had ever seen. . . But, alas! this kind heart had but a short time to remain such. The fatal poison of irresponsible power was already in her hands, and soon commenced its infernal work. . . . Very soon after I went to live with Mr. and Mrs. Auld, she very kindly commenced to teach me the A, B, C. After I had learned this, she assisted me in learning to spell words of three or four letters. Just at this point of my progress, Mr. Auld found out what was going on, and at once forbade Mrs. Auld to instruct me further, telling her, among other things, that it was unlawful, as well as unsafe, to teach a slave to read. To use his own words, further, he said, "If you give a nigger an inch, he will take an ell. A nigger should know nothing but to obey his master--to do as he is told to do. Learning would spoil the best nigger in the world. Now," said he, "if you teach that nigger (speaking of myself) how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master. As to himself, it could do him no good, but a great deal of harm. It would make him discontented and unhappy."
These words sank deep into my heart, stirred up sentiments within that lay slumbering, and called into existence an entirely new train of thought. It was a new and special revelation, explaining dark and mysterious things, with which my youthful understanding had struggled, but struggled in vain. . . From that moment, I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom. . . . It gave me the best assurance that I might rely with the utmost confidence on the results which, he said, would flow from teaching me to read.
What he most dreaded, that I most desired. What he most loved, that I most hated. That which to him was a great evil, to be carefully shunned, was to me a great good, to be diligently sought; and the argument which he so warmly urged, against my learning to read, only served to inspire me with a desire and determination to learn.Fred finished teaching himself to read, using old school papers and The Columbian Orator, a textbook on oratory which used many of history and literature's greatest speeches, most of which dealt with the rights of freedom and democracy.
Every little while, I could hear something about the abolitionists. It was some time before I found what the word meant. It was always used in such connections as to make it an interesting word to me. If a slave ran away and succeeded in getting clear, or if a slave killed his master, set fire to a barn, or did any thing very wrong in the mind of a slaveholder, it was spoken of as the fruit of abolition.
Hearing the word in this connection very often, I set about learning what it meant. The dictionary afforded me little or no help. I found it was "the act of abolishing;" but then I did not know what was to be abolished. Here I was perplexed. I did not dare to ask any one about its meaning, for I was satisfied that it was something they wanted me to know very little about.
After a patient waiting, I got one of our city papers, containing an account of the number of petitions from the north, praying for the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia, and of the slave trade between the States. From this time I understood the words abolition and abolitionist, and always drew near when that word was spoken, expecting to bear something of importance to myself and fellow-slaves.
The light broke in upon me by degrees. . . . I looked forward to a time at which it would be safe for me to escape. I was too young to think of doing so immediately; besides, I wished to learn how to write, as I might have occasion to write my own pass. I consoled myself with the hope that I should one day find a good chance. Meanwhile, I would learn to write.
. . . I lived on Philpot street, Fell's Point, Baltimore, and have watched from the wharves the slave ships in the basin, anchored from the shore, with their cargoes of human flesh, waiting for favorable winds to waft them down the Chesapeake. There was, at that time, a grand slave mart kept at the head of Pratt street, by Austin Woolfolk. His agents were sent into every town and county in Maryland, announcing their arrival through the papers, and on flaming hand-bills, headed, "cash for Negroes." These men were generally well dressed, and very captivating in their manners; ever ready to drink, to treat, and to gamble. The fate of many a slave has depended upon the turn of a single card; and many a child has been snatched from the arms of its mothers by bargains arranged in a state of brutal drunkenness. The flesh-mongers gather up their victims by dozens, and drive them, chained, to the general depot at Baltimore. When a sufficient number have been collected here, a ship is chartered, for the purpose of conveying the forlorn crew to Mobile or to New Orleans.
From the slave-prison to the ship, they are usually driven in the darkness of night; for since the anti-slavery agitation a certain caution is observed. In the deep, still darkness of midnight, I have been often aroused by the dead, heavy footsteps and the piteous cries of the chained gangs that passed our door. The anguish of my boyish heart was intense; and I was often consoled, when speaking to my mistress in the morning, to hear her say that the custom was very wicked; that she hated to hear the rattle of the chains, and the heart-rending cries. I was glad to find one who sympathized with me in my horror.
. . . In about two years after the death of Mrs. Lucretia, Master Thomas married his second wife. . . . Not long after his marriage, a misunderstanding took place between himself and Master Hugh; and as a means of punishing his brother, he took me from him to live with himself at St. Michael's. . . . I have now reached a period of my life when I can give dates. I left Baltimore, and went to live with Master Thomas Auld, at St. Michael's, in March, 1832.
It was now more than seven years since I lived with him in the family of my old master, on Colonel Lloyd's plantation. We of course were now almost entire strangers to each other. He was to me a new master, and I to him a new slave. I was ignorant of his temper and disposition; he was equally so of mine. A very short time, however, brought us into full acquaintance with each other. I was made acquainted with his wife not less than with himself. They were well matched, being equally mean and cruel. I was now, for the first time during a space of more than seven years, made to feel the painful gnawings of hunger-- a something which I had not experienced before since I left Colonel Lloyd's plantation. . . .There were four slaves of us in the kitchen--my sister Eliza, my aunt Priscilla, Henny, and myself; and we were allowed less than a half of a bushel of corn-meal per week, and very little else, either in the shape of meat or vegetables. It was not enough for us to subsist upon. We were therefore reduced to the wretched necessity of living at the expense of our neighbors. This we did by begging and stealing, whichever came handy in the time of need, the one being considered as legitimate as the other. A great many times have we poor creatures been nearly perishing with hunger, when food in abundance lay mouldering in the safe and smoke-house, and our pious mistress was aware of the fact; and yet that mistress and her husband would kneel every morning, and pray that God would bless them in basket and store!
. . . In August, 1832, my master attended a Methodist camp-meeting held in the Bay-side, Talbot county, and there experienced religion. I indulged a faint hope that his conversion would lead him to emancipate his slaves, and that, if he did not do this, it would, at any rate, make him more kind and humane. I was disappointed in both these respects. It neither made him to be humane to his slaves, nor to emancipate them. If it had any effect on his character, it made him more cruel and hateful in all his ways; for I believe him to have been a much worse man after his conversion than before. Prior to his conversion, he relied upon his own depravity to shield and sustain him in his savage barbarity; but after his conversion, he found religious sanction and support for his slaveholding cruelty. He made the greatest pretensions to piety. His house was the house of prayer. He prayed morning, noon, and night. He very soon distinguished himself among his brethren, and was soon made a class-leader and exhorter. His activity in revivals was great, and he proved himself an instrument in the hands of the church in converting many souls. His house was the preachers' home. They used to take great pleasure in coming there to put up; for while he starved us, he stuffed them. We have had three or four preachers there at a time.
While I lived with my master in St. Michael's, there was a white young man, a Mr. Wilson, who proposed to keep a Sabbath school for the instruction of such slaves as might be disposed to learn to read the New Testament. We met but three times, when Mr. West and Mr. Fairbanks, both class-leaders, with many others, came upon us with sticks and other missiles, drove us off, and forbade us to meet again. Thus ended our little Sabbath school in the pious town of St. Michael's.
. . . My master resolved to put me out, as he said, to be broken; and, for this purpose, he let me for one year to a man named Edward Covey. Mr. Covey was a poor man, a farm-renter. He rented the place upon which he lived, as also the hands with which he tilled it. Mr. Covey had acquired a very high reputation for breaking young slaves, and this reputation was of immense value to him. It enabled him to get his farm tilled with much less expense to himself than he could have had it done without such a reputation. Some slaveholders thought it not much loss to allow Mr. Covey to have their slaves one year, for the sake of the training to which they were subjected, without any other compensation. He could hire young help with great ease, in consequence of this reputation. Added to the natural good qualities of Mr. Covey, he was a professor of religion--a pious soul--a member and a class-leader in the Methodist church. All of this added weight to his reputation as a "nigger-breaker." I was aware of all the facts, having been made acquainted with them by a young man who had lived there. . . .
I was now, for the first time in my life, a field hand. . . . I had been at my new home but one week before Mr. Covey gave me a very severe whipping, cutting my back, causing the blood to run, and raising ridges on my flesh as large as my little finger. . . . This whipping was the first of a number just like it . . . I lived with Mr. Covey one year. During the first six months, of that year, scarce a week passed without his whipping me. I was seldom free from a sore back. My awkwardness was almost always his excuse for whipping me.
I left Master Thomas's house, and went to live with Mr. Covey, on the 1st of January, 1833.
. . . Mr. Covey was a poor man; he was just commencing in life; he was only able to buy one slave; and, shocking as is the fact, he bought her, as he said, for a breeder. This woman was named Caroline. Mr. Covey bought her from Mr. Thomas Lowe, about six miles from St. Michael's. She was a large, able-bodied woman, about twenty years old. She had already given birth to one child, which proved her to be just what he wanted. After buying her, he hired a married man of Mr. Samuel Harrison, to live with him one year; and him he used to fasten up with her every night! The result was, that, at the end of the year, the miserable woman gave birth to twins. At this result Mr. Covey seemed to be highly pleased, both with the man and the wretched woman. Such was his joy, and that of his wife, that nothing they could do for Caroline during her confinement was too good, or too hard, to be done. The children were regarded as being quite an addition to his wealth.
. . . I was somewhat unmanageable when I first went there, but a few months of this discipline tamed me. Mr. Covey succeeded in breaking me. I was broken in body, soul, and spirit. My natural elasticity was crushed, my intellect languished, the disposition to read departed, the cheerful spark that lingered about my eye died; the dark night of slavery closed in upon me; and behold a man transformed into a brute!
. . . On one of the hottest days of the month of August, 1833, Bill Smith, William Hughes, a slave named Eli, and myself, were engaged in fanning wheat. Hughes was clearing the fanned wheat from before the fan, Eli was turning, Smith was feeding, and I was carrying wheat to the fan. The work was simple, requiring strength rather than intellect . . . About three o'clock of that day, I broke down; my strength failed me; I was seized with a violent aching of the head, attended with extreme dizziness; I trembled in every limb. Finding what was coming, I nerved myself up, feeling it would never do to stop work. I stood as long as I could stagger to the hopper with grain. When I could stand no longer, I fell, and felt as held down by an immense weight. The fan of course stopped; every one had his own work to do; and no one could do the work of the other, and have his own go on at the same time.
Mr. Covey was at the house, about one hundred yards from the treading-yard where we were fanning. On hearing the fan stop, he left immediately, and came to the spot where we were. He hastily inquired what the matter was. Bill answered that I was sick, and there was no one to bring wheat to the fan. I had by this time crawled away under the side of the post and rail-fence by which the yard was enclosed, hoping to find relief by getting out of the sun. He then asked where I was. He was told by one of the hands. He came to the spot, and, after looking at me awhile, asked me what was the matter. I told him as well as I could, for I scarce had strength to speak. He then gave me a savage kick in the side, and told me to get up. I tried to do so, but fell back in the attempt. He gave me another kick, and again told me to rise. I again tried, and succeeded in gaining my feet; but, stooping to get the tub with which I was feeding the fan, I again staggered and fell. While down in this situation, Mr. Covey took up the hickory slat with which Hughes had been striking off the half-bushel measure, and with it gave me a heavy blow upon the head, making a large wound, and the blood ran freely; and with this again told me to get up. I made no effort to comply, having now made up my mind to let him do his worst. In a short time after receiving this blow, my head grew better. Mr. Covey had now left me to my fate.
At this moment I resolved, for the first time, to go to my master, enter a complaint, and ask his protection. In order to this, I must that afternoon walk seven miles; and this, under the circumstances, was truly a severe undertaking. I was exceedingly feeble; made so as much by the kicks and blows which I received, as by the severe fit of sickness to which I had been subjected. I, however, watched my chance, while Covey was looking in an opposite direction, and started for St. Michael's. I succeeded in getting a considerable distance on my way to the woods, when Covey discovered me, and called after me to come back, threatening what he would do if I did not come. I, disregarded both his calls and his threats, and made my way to the woods as fast as my feeble state would allow; and thinking I might be overhauled by him if I kept the road, I walked through the woods, keeping far enough from the road to avoid detection, and near enough to prevent losing my way. I had not gone far before my little strength again failed me. I could go no farther. I fell down, and lay for a considerable time. The blood was yet oozing from the wound on my head. For a time I thought I should bleed to death; and think now that I should have done so, but that the blood so matted my hair as to stop the wound. After lying there about three quarters of an hour, I nerved myself up again, and started on my way, through bogs and briers, barefooted and bareheaded, tearing my feet sometimes at nearly every step; and after a journey of about seven miles, occupying some five hours to perform it, I arrived at master's store. I then presented an appearance enough to affect any but a heart of iron.
From the crown of my head to my feet, I was covered with blood. My hair was all clotted with dust and blood; my shirt was stiff with blood. My legs and feet were torn in sundry places with briers and thorns, and were also covered with blood. I suppose I looked like a man who had escaped a den of wild beasts, and barely escaped them. In this state I appeared before my master, humbly entreating him to interpose his authority for my protection. I told him all the circumstances as well as I could, and it seemed, as I spoke, at times to affect him. He would then walk the floor, and seek to justify Covey by saying he expected I deserved it. He asked me what I wanted. I told him, to let me get a new home; that as sure as I lived with Mr. Covey again, I should live with but to die with him; that Covey would surely kill me; he was in a fair way for it.
Master Thomas ridiculed the idea that there was any danger of Mr. Covey's killing me, and said that he knew Mr. Covey; that he was a good man, and that he could not think of taking me from him; that, should he do so, he would lose the whole year's wages; that I belonged to Mr. Covey for one year, and that I must go back to him, come what might; and that I must not trouble him with any more stories, or that he would himself get hold of me. After threatening me thus, he gave me a very large dose of salts, telling me that I might remain in St. Michael's that night, (it being quite late,) but that I must be off back to Mr. Covey's early in the morning; and that if I did not, he would get hold of me, which meant that he would whip me.
I remained all night, and, according to his orders, I started off to Covey's in the morning, (Saturday morning,) wearied in body and broken in spirit. I got no supper that night, or breakfast that morning. I reached Covey's about nine o'clock; and just as I was getting over the fence that divided Mrs. Kemp's fields from ours, out ran Covey with his cowskin, to give me another whipping. Before he could reach me, I succeeded in getting to the cornfield; and as the corn was very high, it afforded me the means of hiding. He seemed very angry, and searched for me a long time. My behavior was altogether unaccountable. He finally gave up the chase, thinking, I suppose, that I must come home for something to eat; he would give himself no further trouble in looking for me. I spent that day mostly in the woods, having the alternative before me,--to go home and be whipped to death, or stay in the woods and be starved to death. That night, I fell in with Sandy Jenkins, a slave with whom I was somewhat acquainted. Sandy had a free wife who lived about four miles from Mr. Covey's; and it being Saturday, he was on his way to see her. I told him my circumstances, and he very kindly invited me to go home with him. I went home with him, and talked this whole matter over, and got his advice as to what course it was best for me to pursue. I found Sandy an old adviser. He told me, with great solemnity, I must go back to Covey; but that before I went, I must go with him into another part of the woods, where there was a certain root, which, if I would take some of it with me, carrying it always on my right side, would render it impossible for Mr. Covey, or any other white man, to whip me. He said he had carried it for years; and since he had done so, he had never received a blow, and never expected to while he carried it. I at first rejected the idea, that the simple carrying of a root in my pocket would have any such effect as he had said, and was not disposed to take it; but Sandy impressed the necessity with much earnestness, telling me it could do no harm, if it did no good. To please him, I at length took the root, and, according to his direction, carried it upon my right side. This was Sunday morning.
I immediately started for home; and upon entering the yard gate, out came Mr. Covey on his way to meeting. He spoke, to me very kindly, bade me drive the pigs from a lot near by, and passed on towards the church. Now, this singular conduct of Mr. Covey really made me begin to think that there was something in the root which Sandy, had given me; and had it been on any other day than Sunday, I could have attributed the conduct to no other cause than the influence of that root, and as it was, I was half inclined to think the root to be something more than I at first had taken it to be.
All went well till Monday morning. On this morning, the virtue of the root was fully tested. Long before daylight I was called to go and rub, curry, and feed, the horses. I obeyed, and was glad to obey. But whilst thus engaged, whilst in the act of throwing down some blades from the loft, Mr. Covey entered the stable with a long rope; and just as I was half out of the loft, he caught hold of my legs, and was about tying me. As soon as I found what he was up to, I gave a sudden spring, and as I did so, he holding to my legs, I was brought sprawling on the stable floor. Mr. Covey seemed now to think he had me, and could do what he pleased; but at this moment--from whence came the spirit I don't know--I resolved to fight; and, suiting my action to the resolution, I seized Covey hard by the throat; and, as I did so, I rose. He held onto me, and I to him. My resistance was so entirely unexpected, that Covey seemed taken all aback. He trembled like a leaf. This gave me assurance, and I held him uneasy, causing the blood to run where I touched him with the ends of my fingers. Mr. Covey soon called out to Hughes for help. Hughes came, and, while Covey held me, attempted to tie my right hand. While he was in the act of doing so, I watched my chance, and gave him a heavy kick close under the ribs. This kick fairly sickened Hughes, so that he left me in the hands of Mr. Covey. This kick had the effect of not only weakening Hughes, but Covey also. When he saw Hughes bending over with pain, his courage quailed. He asked me if I meant to persist in my resistance. I told him I did, come what might; that he had used me like a brute for six months, and that I was determined to be used so no longer. With that, he strove to drag me to a stick that was lying just out of the stable door. He meant to knock me down. But just as he was leaning over to get the stick, I seized him with both hands by his collar, and brought him by a sudden snatch to the ground. By this time, Bill came. Covey called upon him for assistance. Bill wanted to know what he could do. Covey said, "Take hold of him, take hold of him!"
Bill said his master hired him out to work, and not to help to whip me; so he left Covey and myself to fight our own battle out. We were at it for nearly two hours. Covey at length let me go, puffing and blowing at a great rate, saying that if I had not resisted, he would not have whipped me half so much. The truth was, that he had not whipped me at all. I considered him as getting entirely the worst end of the bargain; for he had drawn no blood from me, but I had from him.
The whole six months afterwards, that I spent with Mr. Covey, he never laid the weight of his finger upon me in anger. He would occasionally say, he didn't want to get hold of me again. "No," thought I, "you need not; for you will come off worse than you did before."
This battle with Mr. Covey was the turning-point in my career as a slave. It rekindled the few expiring embers of freedom, and revived within me a sense of my own manhood. It recalled the departed self-confidence, and inspired me again with a determination to be free. The gratification afforded by the triumph was a full compensation for whatever else might follow, even death itself.
. . . I now resolved that, however long I might remain a slave in form, the day had passed forever when I could be a slave in fact. I did not hesitate to let it be known of me, that the white man who expected to succeed in whipping, must also succeed in killing me. From this time I was never again what might be called fairly whipped, though I remained a slave four years afterwards. I had several fights, but was never whipped.
It was for a long time a matter of surprise to me why Mr. Covey did not immediately have me taken by the constable to the whipping-post, and there regularly whipped for the crime of raising my hand against a white man in defence of myself. And the only explanation I can now think of does not entirely satisfy me; but such as it is, I will give it. Mr. Covey enjoyed the most unbounded reputation for being a first-rate overseer and negro-breaker. It was of considerable importance to him. That reputation was at stake; and had he sent me--a boy about sixteen years old--to the public whipping-post, his reputation would have been lost; so, to save his reputation, he suffered me to go unpunished.
My term of actual service to Mr. Edward Covey ended on Christmas day, 1833. . . . On the first of January, 1834, I left Mr. Covey, and went to live with Mr. William Freeland, who lived about three miles from St. Michael's. I soon found Mr. Freeland a very different man from Mr. Covey. Though not rich, he was what would be called an educated southern gentleman. Mr. Covey, as I have shown, was a well-trained negro-breaker and slave-driver. The former (slaveholder though he was) seemed to possess some regard for honor, some reverence for justice and some respect for humanity. The latter seemed totally insensible to all such sentiments.
Mr. Freeland had many of the faults peculiar to slaveholders, such as being very passionate and fretful; but I must do him the justice to say, that he was exceedingly free from those degrading vices to which Mr. Covey was constantly addicted. The one was open and frank, and we always knew where to find him. The other was a most artful deceiver, and could be understood only by such as were skillful enough to detect his cunningly-devised frauds.
Another advantage I gained in my new master was, he made no pretensions to, or profession of, religion; and this, in my opinion, was truly a great advantage. I assert most unhesitatingly, that the religion of the south is a mere covering for the most horrid crimes,--a justifier of the most appalling barbarity,--a sanctifier of the most hateful frauds,--and a dark shelter under, which the darkest, foulest, grossest, and most infernal deeds of slaveholders find the strongest protection. Were I to be again reduced to the chains of slavery, next to that enslavement, I should regard being the slave of a religious master the greatest calamity that could befall me. For of all slaveholders with whom I have ever met, religious slaveholders are the worst. . . .
Very near Mr. Freeland lived the Rev. Daniel Weeden, and in the same neighborhood lived the Rev. Rigby Hopkins. These were members and ministers in the Reformed Methodist Church. Mr. Weeden owned, among others, a woman slave, whose name I have forgotten. This woman's back, for weeks, was kept literally raw, made so by the lash of this merciless, religious wretch. He used to hire hands. His maxim was, Behave well or behave ill, it is the duty of a master occasionally to whip a slave, to remind him of his master's authority. Such was his theory, and such his practice. Mr. Hopkins was even worse than Mr. Weeden. His chief boast was his ability to manage slaves. The peculiar, feature of his government was that of whipping slaves in advance of deserving it. He always managed to have one or more of his slaves to whip every Monday morning. He did this to alarm their fears, and strike terror into those who escaped. His plan was to whip for the smallest offences, to prevent the commission of large ones. . . .
But to return to Mr. Freeland, and to my experience while in his employment. He, like Mr. Covey, gave us enough to eat; but, unlike Mr. Covey, he also gave us sufficient time to take our meals. He worked us hard, but always between sunrise and sunset. He required a good deal of work to be done, but gave us good tools with which to work. His farm was large, but he employed hands enough to work it, and with ease, compared with many of his neighbors. My treatment, while in his employment, was heavenly, compared with what I experienced at the hands of Mr. Edward Covey.
Mr. Freeland was himself the owner of but two slaves. Their names were Henry Harris and John Harris. The rest of his hands he hired. These consisted of myself, Sandy Jenkins, and Handy Caldwell. Henry and John were quite intelligent, and in a very little while after I went there, I succeeded in creating in them a strong desire to learn how to read. This desire soon sprang up in the others also. They very soon mustered up some old spelling-books, and nothing would do but that I must keep a Sabbath school. I agreed to do so, and accordingly devoted my Sundays to teaching these my loved fellow-slaves how to read.
. . . It was understood, among all who came, that there must be as little display about it as possible. It was necessary to keep our religious masters at St. Michael's unacquainted with the fact, that, instead of spending the Sabbath in wrestling, boxing, and drinking whisky, we were trying to learn how to read the will of God; for they had much rather see us engaged in those degrading sports, than to see us behaving like intellectual, moral, and accountable beings. . . .
I held my Sabbath school at the house of a free colored man, whose name I deem it imprudent to mention; for should it be known, it might embarrass him greatly, though the crime of holding the school was committed ten years ago. I had at one time over forty scholars, and those of the right sort, ardently desiring to learn. They were of all ages, though mostly men and women. . . .The work of instructing my dear fellow-slaves was the sweetest engagement with which I was ever blessed. We loved each other. . . I kept up my school nearly the whole year I lived with Mr. Freeland; and, beside my Sabbath school, I devoted three evenings in the week, during the winter, to teaching the slaves at home. . . . I loved them with a love stronger than any thing I have experienced since. It is sometimes said that we slaves do not love and confide in each other. In answer to this assertion, I can say, I never loved any or confided in any people more than my fellow-slaves, and especially those with whom I lived at Mr. Freeland's. I believe we would have died for each other. We never undertook to do any thing, of any importance, without a mutual consultation. We never moved separately. We were one; and as much so by our tempers and dispositions, as by the mutual hardships to which we were necessarily subjected by our condition as slaves.
At the close of the year 1834, Mr. Freeland again hired me of my master, for the year 1835. But, by this time, I began to want to live upon free land as well as with Freeland; and I was no longer content, therefore, to live with him or any other slaveholder. I began, with the commencement of the year, to prepare myself for a final struggle, which should decide my fate one way or the other.
I was now getting, as I have said, one dollar and fifty cents per day. I contracted for it; I earned it; it was paid to me; it was rightfully my own; yet, upon each returning Saturday night, I was compelled to deliver every cent of that money to Master Hugh. And why? Not because he earned it,--not because he had any hand in earning it,-- not because I owed it to him,--nor because he possessed the slightest shadow of a right to it; but solely because he had the power to compel me to give it up. The right of the grim-visaged pirate upon the high seas is exactly the same.Fred met Anna Murray, a resourceful young black woman. By the age of 17 she had established herself as a laundress and housekeeper. Fred and Anna met at a meeting of the East Baltimore Improvement Society. She encouraged him to seek his freedom and, according to family legend, sold a feather bed to buy his train ticket.
In the early part of the year 1838, I became quite restless. I could see no reason why I should, at the end of each week, pour the reward of my toil into the purse of my master. When I carried to him my weekly wages, he would, after counting the money, look me in the face with a robber-like fierceness, and ask, "Is this all?" He was satisfied with nothing less than the last cent. He would, however, when I made him six dollars, sometimes give me six cents, to encourage me. It had the opposite effect. . . .My discontent grew upon me.
. . . It is impossible for me to describe my feelings as the time of my contemplated start drew near. I had a number of warm-hearted friends in Baltimore,--friends that I loved almost as I did my life, --and the thought of being separated from them forever was painful beyond expression. It is my opinion that thousands would escape from slavery, who now remain, but for the strong cords of affection that bind them to their friends. The thought of leaving my friends was decidedly the most painful thought with which I had to contend. The love of them was my tender point, and shook my decision more than all things else.
It was life and death with me.Disguised as a sailor, Fred Bailey walked onto a train in Baltimore on September 3, 1838, and escaped north to freedom.
On the third day of September, 1838, I left my chains, and succeeded in reaching New York without the slightest interruption of any kind. . . I had been in New York but a few days, when Mr. David Ruggles sought me out, and very kindly took me to his boarding-house at the corner of Church and Lespenard Streets.
David Ruggles (center)
Douglass was 43 years old when the Civil War began; he had escaped from slavery more than 20 years earlier.
Once Fred had arrived in New York, he sent for Anna; they were married on September 15, 1838, by a black Presbyterian minister eleven days after his arrival in New York. At first, they adopted Johnson as their married name. The couple moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts, where they stayed with Nathan and Mary Johnson.
On the morning after our arrival at New Bedford, while at the breakfast-table, the question arose as to what name I should be called by. . . . When I got to New York, I changed my name to "Frederick Johnson" . . . but when I got to New Bedford . . .there were so many Johnsons in New Bedford, it was already quite difficult to distinguish between them. I gave Mr. Johnson the privilege of choosing me a name . . . Mr. Johnson had just been reading the "Lady of the Lake," and at once suggested that my name be "Douglass." From that time until now I have been called "Frederick Douglass" and . . . , I shall continue to use it as my own.
New Bedford, Massachusetts
I had very strangely supposed, while in slavery, that few of the comforts, and scarcely any of the luxuries, of life were enjoyed at the north, compared with what were enjoyed by the slaveholders of the south. I probably came to this conclusion from the fact that northern people owned no slaves. I supposed that they were about upon a level with the non-slaveholding population of the south. I knew they were exceedingly poor, and I had been accustomed to regard their poverty as the necessary consequence of their being non-slaveholders.
I had somehow imbibed the opinion that, in the absence of slaves, there could be no wealth, and very little refinement. And upon coming to the north, I expected to meet with a rough, hard-handed, and uncultivated population, living in the most Spartan-like simplicity, knowing nothing of the ease, luxury, pomp, and grandeur of southern slaveholders. . . .
In the afternoon of the day when I reached New Bedford, I visited the wharves, to take a view of the shipping. Here I found myself surrounded with the strongest proofs of wealth. Lying at the wharves, and riding in the stream, I saw many ships of the finest model, in the best order, and of the largest size. Upon the right and left, I was walled in by granite warehouses of the widest dimensions, stowed to their utmost capacity with the necessaries and comforts of life. Added to this, almost every body seemed to be at work. . . I heard no deep oaths or horrid curses on the laborer. I saw no whipping of men; but all seemed to go smoothly on. Every man appeared to understand his work, and went at it with a sober, yet cheerful earnestness, which betokened the deep interest which he felt in what he was doing, as well as a sense of his own dignity as a man.
To me this looked exceedingly strange.
From the wharves I strolled around and over the town, gazing with wonder and admiration at the splendid churches, beautiful dwellings, and finely-cultivated gardens; evincing an amount of wealth, comfort, taste, and refinement, such as I had never seen in any part of slaveholding Maryland.
Every thing looked clean, new, and beautiful. I saw few or no dilapidated houses, with poverty-stricken inmates; no half-naked children and barefooted women, such as I had been accustomed to see in Hillsborough, Easton, St. Michael's, and Baltimore. The people looked more able, stronger, healthier, and happier, than those of Maryland. . . .
But the most astonishing as well as the most interesting thing to me was the condition of the colored people, a great many of whom, like myself, had escaped thither as a refuge from the hunters of men. I found many, who had not been seven years out of their chains, living in finer houses, and evidently enjoying more of the comforts of life, than the average of slaveholders in Maryland. I will venture to assert that my friend Mr. Nathan Johnson (of whom I can say with a grateful heart, "I was hungry, and he gave me meat; I was thirsty, and he gave me drink; I was a stranger, and he took me in") lived in a neater house; dined at a better table; took, paid for, and read, more newspapers; better understood the moral, religious, and political character of the nation,--than nine tenths of the slaveholders in Talbot county, Maryland. Yet Mr. Johnson was a working man. His hands were hardened by toil, and not his alone, but those also of Mrs. Johnson.
I found the colored people much more spirited than I had supposed they would be. I found among them a determination to protect each other from the blood-thirsty kidnapper, at all hazards. Soon after my arrival, I was told of a circumstance which illustrated their spirit. A colored man and a fugitive slave were on unfriendly terms. The former was heard to threaten the latter with informing his master of his whereabouts. Straightway a meeting was called among the colored people, under the stereotyped notice, "Business of importance!" The betrayer was invited to attend. The people came at the appointed hour, and organized the meeting by appointing a very religious old gentleman as president, who, I believe, made a prayer, after which he addressed the meeting as follows: "Friends, we have got him here, and I would recommend that you young men just take him outside the door, and kill him!" With this, a number of them bolted at him; but they were intercepted by some more timid than themselves, and the betrayer escaped their vengeance, and has not been seen in New Bedford since. I believe there have been no more such threats, and should there be hereafter, I doubt not that death would be the consequence.
I found employment, the third day after my arrival, in stowing a sloop with a load of oil. It was new, dirty, and hard work for me; but I went at it with a glad heart and a willing hand. I was now my own master. It was a happy moment, the rapture of which can be understood only by those who have been slaves. It was the first work, the reward of which was to be entirely my own. . . I worked that day with a pleasure I had never before experienced. I was at work for myself and newly-married wife. . . There was no work too hard--none too dirty. I was ready to saw wood, shovel coal, carry the hod, sweep the chimney, or roll oil casks,--all of which I did for nearly three years in New Bedford, before I became known to the anti-slavery world.Anna Douglass helped support the family financially, working as a laundress and learning to make shoes. The Douglasses joined a black church and regularly attended abolitionist meetings. Frederick Douglass subscribed to William Lloyd Garrison's weekly anti-slavery journal, The Liberator.
|Frederick Douglass, ca. 1840|
I had not long been a reader of the "Liberator," before I got a pretty correct idea of the principles, measures and spirit of the anti-slavery reform. I took right hold of the cause. I could do but little; but what I could, I did with a joyful heart, and never felt happier than when in an anti-slavery meeting.
While attending an anti-slavery convention at Nantucket, on the 11th of August, 1841, I felt strongly moved to speak, and was at the same time much urged to do so by Mr. William C. Coffin, a gentleman who had heard me speak in the colored people's meeting at New Bedford. It was a severe cross, and I took it up reluctantly. The truth was, I felt myself a slave, and the idea of speaking to white people weighed me down. I spoke but a few moments, when I felt a degree of freedom, and said what I desired with considerable ease.Douglass was inspired by Garrison and later stated that "no face and form ever impressed me with such sentiments [of the hatred of slavery] as did those of William Lloyd Garrison." Garrison was likewise impressed with Douglass and wrote of him in The Liberator. At the urging of Garrison, Douglass became a lecturer for the American Anti-Slavery Society and traveled widely in the East and Midwest lecturing against slavery and campaigning for rights of free Blacks.
|William Lloyd Garrison|
William Lloyd Garrison later wrote in the preface to Douglass' 1845 autobiography:
IN the month of August, 1841, I attended an antislavery convention in Nantucket, at which it was my happiness to become acquainted with FREDERICK DOUGLASS, the writer of the following Narrative. He was a stranger to nearly every member of that body; but, having recently made his escape from the southern prison-house of bondage, and feeling his curiosity excited to ascertain the principles and measures of the abolitionists,--of whom he had heard a somewhat vague description while he was a slave,--he was induced to give his attendance, on the occasion alluded to, though at that time a resident in New Bedford.
. . . I shall never forget his first speech at the convention--the extraordinary emotion it excited in my own mind--the powerful impression it created upon a crowded auditory, completely taken by surprise--the applause which followed from the beginning to the end of his felicitous remarks. I think I never hated slavery so intensely as at that moment; certainly, my perception of the enormous outrage which is inflicted by it, on the godlike nature of its victims, was rendered far more clear than ever. . . . A beloved friend from New Bedford prevailed on Mr. DOUGLASS to address the convention. He came forward to the platform with a hesitancy and embarrassment, necessarily the attendants of a sensitive mind in such a novel position. After apologizing for his ignorance, and reminding the audience that slavery was a poor school for the human intellect and heart, he proceeded to narrate some of the facts in his own history as a slave, and in the course of his speech gave utterance to many noble thoughts and thrilling reflections. . . .
It was at once deeply impressed upon my mind, that, if Mr. DOUGLASS could be persuaded to consecrate his time and talents to the promotion of the anti-slavery enterprise, a powerful impetus would be given to it, and a stunning blow at the same time inflicted on northern prejudice against a colored complexion. I therefore endeavored to instill hope and courage into his mind, in order that he might dare to engage in a vocation so anomalous and responsible for a person in his situation; and I was seconded in this effort by warm-hearted friends, especially by the late General Agent of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, Mr. JOHN A. COLLINS, whose judgment in this instance entirely coincided with my own. . .
Let the calumniators of the colored race despise themselves for their baseness and illiberality of spirit, and henceforth cease to talk of the natural inferiority of those who require nothing but time and opportunity to attain to the highest point of human excellence.
. . . So profoundly ignorant of the nature of slavery are many persons, that they are stubbornly incredulous whenever they read or listen to any recital of the cruelties which are daily inflicted on its victims. They do not deny that the slaves are held as property; but that terrible fact seems to convey to their minds no idea of injustice, exposure to outrage, or savage barbarity. Tell them of cruel scourgings, of mutilations and brandings, of scenes of pollution and blood, of the banishment of all light and knowledge, and they affect to be greatly indignant at such enormous exaggerations, such wholesale misstatements, such abominable libels on the character of the southern planters!
. . . As if it were less cruel to reduce a human being to the condition of a thing, than to give him a severe flagellation, or to deprive him of necessary food and clothing!
. . . As if, when the marriage institution is abolished, concubinage, adultery, and incest, must not necessarily abound; when all the rights of humanity are annihilated, any barrier remains to protect the victim from the fury of the spoiler; when absolute power is assumed over life and liberty, it will not be wielded with destructive sway!
. . . Reader! are you with the man-stealers in sympathy and purpose, or on the side of their down-trodden victims? If with the former, then are you the foe of God and man. If with the latter, what are you prepared to do and dare in their behalf? Be faithful, be vigilant, be untiring in your efforts to break every yoke, and let the oppressed go free. Come what may--cost what it may--inscribe on the banner which you unfurl to the breeze, as your religious and political motto--"NO COMPROMISE WITH SLAVERY! NO UNION WITH SLAVEHOLDERS!"Anna Douglass gave birth to their second son, Frederick Douglass, Jr., in 1842
In 1843, Douglass participated in the American Anti-Slavery Society's Hundred Conventions project, a six-month tour of meeting halls throughout the Eastern and Midwestern United States.
During our stay at Rochester we were hospitably entertained by Isaac andDuring this tour, he was frequently heckled and accosted. At a lecture in Pendleton, Indiana, he was chased and beaten by an angry mob before being rescued by a local Quaker family, the Hardys. His right hand was broken in the attack; it healed improperly and bothered him for the rest of his life. Levi Coffin witnessed the fracas in Richmond, Indiana.
Amy Post, two people of all-abounding benevolence, the truest and best of Long Island and Elias Hicks Quakers. They were not more amiable than brave, for they never seemed to ask, What will the world say? but walked straight forward in what seemed to them the line of duty, please or offend whomsoever it might. Many a poor fugitive slave found shelter under their roof when such shelter was hard to find elsewhere, and I mention them here in the warmth and fullness of earnest gratitude.
From Ohio we divided our forces and went into Indiana. At our first meeting we were mobbed, and some of us had our good clothes spoiled by evil-smelling eggs. This was at Richmond, where Henry Clay had been recently invited to the high seat of the Quaker meeting-house just after his gross abuse of Mr. Mendenhall, because of the latter presenting to him a respectful petition, asking him to emancipate his slaves.
At Pendleton this mobocratic spirit was even more pronounced. It was found
impossible to obtain a building in which to hold our convention, and our friends, Dr. Fussell and others, erected a platform in the woods, where quite a large audience assembled. Mr. Bradburn, Mr. White and myself were in attendance. As soon as we began to speak a mob of about sixty of the roughest characters I ever looked upon ordered us, through its leaders, to "be silent," threatening us, if we were not, with violence. We attempted to dissuade them, but they had not come to parley but to fight, and were well armed. They tore down the platform on which we stood, assaulted Mr. White and knocked out several of his teeth, dealt a heavy blow on William A. White, striking him on the back part of the head, badly cutting his scalp and felling him to the ground. Undertaking to fight my way through the crowd with a stick which I caught up in the mêlée, I attracted the fury of the mob, which laid me prostrate on the ground under a torrent of blows.
Leaving me thus, with my right hand broken, and in a state of unconsciousness, the mobocrats hastily mounted their horses and rode to Andersonville, where most of them resided. I was soon raised up and revived by Neal Hardy, a kind-hearted member of the Society of Friends, and carried by him in his wagon about three miles in the country to his home, where I was tenderly nursed and bandaged by good Mrs. Hardy till I was again on my feet; but, as the bones broken were not properly set, my hand has never recovered its natural strength and dexterity.
|Charles Lenox Remond|
The following year, Douglass published his autobiography, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave. Within four months of publication, five thousand copies had been sold. (By 1860, almost 30,000 copies were sold.)
I FIND, since reading over the foregoing Narrative that I have, in several instances, spoken in such a tone and manner, respecting religion, as may possibly lead those unacquainted with my religious views to suppose me an opponent of all religion.
To remove the liability of such misapprehension, I deem it proper to append the following brief explanation. What I have said respecting and against religion, I mean strictly to apply to the slaveholding religion of this land, and with no possible reference to Christianity proper; for, between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest, possible difference--so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. . . . I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land.
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity. I look upon it as the climax of all misnomers, the boldest of all frauds, and the grossest of all libels. . . We have men-stealers for ministers, women-whippers for missionaries, and cradle-plunderers for church members. The man who wields the blood-clotted cowskin during the week fills the pulpit on Sunday, and claims to be a minister of the meek and lowly Jesus. The man who robs me of my earnings at the end of each week meets me as a class-leader on Sunday morning, to show me the way of life, and the path of salvation. He who sells my sister, for purposes of prostitution, stands forth as the pious advocate of purity. He who proclaims it a religious duty to read the Bible denies me the right of learning to read the name of the God who made me. He who is the religious advocate of marriage robs whole millions of its sacred influence, and leaves them to the ravages of wholesale pollution. The warm defender of the sacredness of the family relation is the same that scatters whole families,-- sundering husbands and wives, parents and children, sisters and brothers, leaving the hut vacant, and the hearth desolate.
Douglass' friends feared that the publicity would draw the attention of the Aulds, who send kidnappers to return him to slavery. In August 1845 he traveled to England to lecture on American slavery and the anti-slavery movement.
We see the thief preaching against theft, and the adulterer against adultery. We have men sold to build churches, women sold to support the gospel, and babes sold to purchase Bibles for the poor heathen! all for the glory of God and the good of souls!
On applying for a passage to England, on board the "Cambria," of the Cunard line, my friend, James N. Buffum, of Lynn, Massachusetts, was informed that I could not be received on board as a cabin passenger. American prejudice against color triumphed over British liberality and civilization, and erected a color test and condition for crossing the sea in the cabin of a British vessel. The insult was keenly felt by my white friends, but to me, it was common, expected, and therefore, a thing of no great consequence, whether I went in the cabin or in the steerage. Moreover, I felt that if I could not go into the first cabin, first-cabin passengers could come into the second cabin, and the result justified my anticipations to the fullest extent. Indeed, I soon found myself an object of more general interest than I wished to be; and so far from being degraded by being placed in the second cabin, that part of the ship became the scene of as much pleasure and refinement, during the voyage, as the cabin itself.
In Ireland, the Dublin edition of the book was published by the abolitionist printer Richard D. Webb to great acclaim. Douglass would write extensively in later editions very positively about his experience in Ireland. He met Daniel O'Connell, the Irish nationalist, who was a great inspiration to him. In England, Douglass met with Thomas Clarkson, the British abolitionist who had persuaded Parliament to abolish slavery in Great Britain and its colonies.
The Hutchinson Family, celebrated vocalists--fellow-passengers--often came to my rude forecastle deck, and sung their sweetest songs, enlivening the place with eloquent music, as well as spirited conversation, during the voyage.
The Hutchinson Family
My visit to England did much for me every way. Not the least among the many advantages derived from it was the opportunity it afforded me of becoming acquainted with educated people and of seeing and hearing many of the most distinguished men of that country.
. . . It would detain the reader too long, and make this volume too large, to tell of the many kindnesses shown me while abroad, or even to mention all the great and noteworthy persons who gave me a friendly hand and a cordial welcome; but there is one other, now long gone to his rest, of whom a few words must be spoken, and that one was Thomas Clarkson--the last of the noble line of Englishmen who inaugurated the anti-slavery movement for England and the civilized world--the life-long friend and co-worker with Granville Sharpe, William Wilberforce, Thomas Fowell Buxton, and other leaders in that great reform which nearly put an end to slavery in all parts of the globe. As in the case of George Combe, I went to see Mr. Clarkson in company with Messrs. Garrison and Thompson. They had by note advised him of our coming, and had received one in reply, bidding us welcome.
We found the venerable object of our visit seated at a table where he had been busily writing a letter to America against slavery; for though in his eighty-seventh year, he continued to write. When we were presented to him, he rose to receive us. The scene was impressive. It was the meeting of two centuries. Garrison, Thompson, and myself were young men. After shaking hands with my two distinguished friends, and giving them welcome, he took one of my hands in both of his, and, in a tremulous voice, said, "God bless you, Frederick Douglass! I have given sixty years of my life to the emancipation of your people, and if I had sixty years more they should all be given to the same cause." Our stay with this great-hearted old man was short. He was feeble, and our presence greatly excited him, and we left the house with something of the feeling with which a man takes final leave of a beloved friend at the edge of the grave.Douglass spent two years in Ireland and Britain, where he gave many lectures in churches and chapels. Douglass remarked that in England he was treated not "as a color, but as a man." While in England, he gained supporters who paid $710.96 to purchase his emancipation from his legal owner. British sympathizers led by Ellen Richardson collected the money needed.
Miss Ellen Richardson, an excellent member of the society of Friends, assisted by her sister-in-law, Mrs. Henry Richardson, a lady devoted to every good word and work, the friend of the Indian and the African, conceived the plan of raising a fund to effect my ransom from slavery. They corresponded with Hon. Walter Forward of Pennsylvania, and through him ascertained that Captain Auld would take one hundred and fifty pounds sterling for me; and this sum they promptly raised and paid for my liberation, placing the papers of my manumission into my hands before they would tolerate the idea of my return to my native land.
To this commercial transaction, to this blood-money, I owe my immunity from the operation of the fugitive slave law of 1793, and also from that of 1850. The whole affair speaks for itself, and needs no comment, now that slavery has ceased to exist in this country, and is not likely ever again to be revived.
Papers for Sale of Frederick Douglass
Some of my uncompromising anti-slavery friends in this country failed to see the wisdom of this arrangement, and were not pleased that I consented to it, even by my silence. They thought it a violation of anti-slavery principles--conceding a right of property in man--and a wasteful expenditure of money. On the other hand, viewing it simply in the light of a ransom, or as money extorted by a robber, and my liberty of more value than one hundred and fifty pounds sterling, I could not see either a violation of the laws of morality, or those of economy, in the transaction.
It is true, I was not in the possession of my claimants, and could have easily remained in England, for the same friends who had so generously purchased my freedom, would have assisted me in establishing myself in that country. To this, however, I could not consent. I felt that I had a duty to perform--and that was, to labor and suffer with the oppressed in my native land.
Considering, therefore, all the circumstances--the fugitive slave bill included--I think the very best thing was done in letting Master Hugh have the hundred and fifty pounds sterling, and leaving me free to return to my appropriate field of labor. Had I been a private person, having no other relations or duties than those of a personal and family nature, I should never have consented to the payment of so large a sum for the privilege of living securely under our glorious republican form of government. I could have remained in England, or have gone to some other country; and perhaps I could even have lived unobserved in this. But to this I could not consent. I had already become somewhat notorious, and withal quite as unpopular as notorious; and I was, therefore, much exposed to arrest and recapture.Many tried to encourage Douglass to remain in England to be truly free, but he left England in spring of 1847 to return to the anti-slavery movement in the United States. They moved their family (8 year old Rosetta, 7 year old Lewis, 5 year old Frederick, and 3 year old Charles) to Rochester New York. Prejudice forced the Douglass' children to be educated elsewhere.
A seminary for young ladies and misses, under the auspices of Miss Tracy, was near my house on Alexander street, and desirous of having my daughter educated like the daughters of other men, I applied to Miss Tracy for her admission to her school. All seemed fair, and the child was duly sent to "Tracy Seminary," and I went about my business happy in the thought that she was in the way of a refined and Christian education. Several weeks elapsed before I knew how completely I was mistaken. The little girl came home to me one day and told me she was lonely in that school; that she was in fact kept in solitary confinement; that she was not allowed in the room with the other girls, nor to go into the yard when they went out; that she was kept in a room by herself and not permitted to be seen or heard by the others. No man with the feeling of a parent could be less than moved by such a revelation, and I confess that I was shocked, grieved, and indignant.
I went at once to Miss Tracy to ascertain if what I had heard was true, and was coolly told it was, and the miserable plea was offered that it would have injured her school if she had done otherwise.
I told her she should have told me so at the beginning, but I did not believe that any girl in the school would be opposed to the presence of my daughter, and that I should be glad to have the question submitted to them. She consented to this, and to the credit of the young ladies not one made objection. Not satisfied with this verdict of the natural and uncorrupted sense of justice and humanity of these young ladies, Miss Tracy insisted that the parents must be consulted, and if one of them objected she should not admit my child to the same apartment and privileges of the other pupils. One parent only had the cruelty to object, and he was Mr. Horatio G. Warner, a democratic editor, and upon his adverse conclusion my daughter was excluded from "Tracy Seminary." Of course Miss Tracy was a devout Christian lady after the fashion of the time and locality, in good and regular standing in the church.
My troubles attending the education of my children were not to end here. They were not allowed in the public school in the district in which I lived, owned property, and paid taxes, but were compelled, if they went to a public school, to go over to the other side of the city to an inferior colored school. I hardly need say that I was not prepared to submit tamely to this proscription, any more than I had been to submit to slavery, so I had them taught at home for a while by Miss Thayer. Meanwhile I went to the people with the question, and created considerable agitation. I sought and obtained a hearing before the Board of Education, and after repeated efforts with voice and pen the doors of the public schools were opened and colored children were permitted to attend them in common with others.
Starting the North Star marked the end of Douglass' dependence on Garrison and other white abolitionists. The paper allowed him to discover the problems facing blacks around the country. Once the North Star began to circulate, Douglass's friends in the abolitionist movement rallied to join in praising it.
Along with the good will of Rochester's abolitionist and female political activists, Douglass received encouragement from the local printer's union. The North Star received a number of glowing reviews, but unfortunately the praises did not translate into financial success. The cost of producing a weekly newspaper was high and subscriptions grew slowly. It was not long before the paper began to experience financial difficulties. In May following the appearance of his paper, Douglass appealed to his readers from the editorial page: "We are reluctantly compelled to call upon you for pecuniary assistance." Douglass mortgaged his home on Alexander Street in Rochester for five hundred dollars to help meet expenses.
Help came in the person of Julia Griffiths. Evidently in response to Douglass' expression of distress and to an earlier letter in which he despaired of publishing a paper,she immediately made a quick round trip to the United States in 1848 and returned to stay in 1849, accompanied by her sister, Eliza. Years later it was of Julia that Douglass wrote:
But to no one person was I more indebted for substantial assistance than to Mrs. Julia Griffiths Crofts. She came to my relief when my paper had nearly absorbed all my means, and was heavily in debt, and when I had mortgaged my house to raise money to meet current expenses; and by her energetic and effective management, in a single year enabled me to extend the circulation of my paper from 2,000 to 4,000 copies, pay off the debts and lift the mortgage from my house. Her industry was equal to her devotion. She seemed to rise with every emergency, and her resources appeared inexhaustible. I shall never cease to remember with sincere gratitude the assistance rendered me by this noble lady, and I mention her here in some humble measure to 'give honor to whom honor is due'
|The North Star|
After 1851, it was titled Frederick Douglass' Paper. The paper provided a forum for black writers and highlighted the success achieved by prominent black figures in American society.
I went to Rochester, N. Y., among strangers, where the local circulation of my paper--"THE NORTH STAR"--would not interfere with that of the Liberator or the Anti-Slavery Standard, for I was then a faithful disciple of Wm. Lloyd Garrison, and fully committed to his doctrine touching the pro-slavery character of the Constitution of the United States, also the non-voting principle of which he was the known and distinguished advocate. With him, I held it to be the first duty of the non-slaveholding States to dissolve the union with the slaveholding States, and hence my cry, like his, was "No union with slaveholders." With these views I went into western New York, and during the first four years of my labors there I advocated them with pen and tongue to the best of my ability.
After a time, a careful reconsideration of the subject convinced me that there was no necessity for dissolving the "union between the northern and southern States"; that to seek this dissolution was no part of my duty as an abolitionist; that to abstain from voting was to refuse to exercise a legitimate and powerful means for abolishing slavery; and that the Constitution of the United States not only contained no guarantees in favor of slavery, but, on the contrary, was in its letter and spirit an anti-slavery instrument, demanding the abolition of slavery as a condition of its own existence as the supreme law of the land.
This radical change in my opinions produced a corresponding change in my action. To those with whom I had been in agreement and in sympathy, I came to be in opposition. What they held to be a great and important truth I now looked upon as a dangerous error. A very natural, but to me a very painful thing, now happened. Those who could not see any honest reasons for changing their views, as I had done, could not easily see any such reasons for my change, and the common punishment of apostates was mine.
. . . Among my friends in this country, who helped me in my earlier efforts to maintain my paper, I may proudly count such men as the late Hon. Gerrit Smith, and Chief-Justice Chase, Hon. Horace Mann, Hon. Joshua R. Giddings,
Hon. Charles Sumner, Hon. John G. Palfry, Hon. Wm. H. Seward, Rev. Samuel J. May, and many others, who though of lesser note were equally devoted to my cause. Among these latter ones were Isaac and Amy Post, William and Mary Hallowell, Asa and Hulda Anthony, and indeed all the committee of the Western New York Anti-Slavery Society. They held festivals and fairs to raise money, and assisted me in every other possible way to keep my paper in circulation. . .
Of course there were moral forces operating against me in Rochester, as well as material ones. There were those who regarded the publication of a "Negro paper" in that beautiful city as a blemish and a misfortune. The New York Herald, true to the spirit of the times, counselled the people of the place to throw my printing-press into Lake Ontario and to banish me to Canada, and, while they were not quite prepared for this violence, it was plain that many of them did not well relish my presence amongst them. This feeling, however, wore away gradually, as the people knew more of me and my works.
. . . Looking back to those nights and days of toil and thought, compelled often to do work for which I had no educational preparation, I have come to think that, under the circumstances, it was the best school possible for me. It obliged me to think and read, it taught me to express my thoughts clearly, and was perhaps better than any other course I could have adopted. Besides, it made it necessary for me to lean upon myself, and not upon the heads of our Anti-Slavery church, to be a principal, and not an agent. I had an audience to speak to every week, and must say something worth their hearing, or cease to speak altogether. There is nothing like the lash and sting of necessity to make a man work, and my paper furnished this motive power. More than one gentleman from the South, when stopping at Niagara, came to see me, that they might know for themselves if I could indeed write, having, as they said, believed it impossible that an uneducated fugitive slave could write the articles attributed to me. I found it hard to get credit in some quarters either for what I wrote or what I said. While there was nothing very profound or learned in either, the low estimate of Negro possibilities induced the belief that both my editorials and my speeches were written by white persons. I doubt if this scepticism does not still linger in the minds of some of my democratic fellow citizens.
. . . One important branch of my anti-slavery work in Rochester, in addition to that of speaking and writing against slavery, must not be forgotten or omitted. . . . I was on the southern border of Lake Ontario, and the Queen's dominions were right over the way--and my prominence as an abolitionist, and as the editor of an anti-slavery paper, naturally made me the station-master and conductor of the underground railroad passing through this goodly city. Secrecy and concealment were necessary conditions to the successful operation of this railroad, and hence its prefix "underground." My agency was all the more exciting and interesting, because not altogether free from danger. I could take no step in it without exposing myself to fine and imprisonment, for these were the penalties imposed by the fugitive-slave law for feeding, harboring, or otherwise assisting a slave to escape from his master; but, in face of this fact, I can say I never did more congenial, attractive, fascinating, and satisfactory work.
True, as a means of destroying slavery, it was like an attempt to bail out the ocean with a teaspoon, but the thought that there was one less slave, and one more freeman--having myself been a slave, and a fugitive slave--brought to my heart unspeakable joy. On one occasion I had eleven fugitives at the same time under my roof, and it was necessary for them to remain with me until I could collect sufficient money to get them on to Canada. It was the largest number I ever had at any one time, and I had some difficulty in providing so many with food and shelter, but, as may well be imagined, they were not very fastidious in either direction, and were well content with very plain food, and a strip of carpet on the floor for a bed, or a place on the straw in the barn-loft.Susan B. Anthony's family lived in Rochester and were active in the antislavery movement. Antislavery Quakers met at their farm almost every Sunday, where they were sometimes joined by Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison. Later two of Anthony's brothers, Daniel and Merritt, were anti-slavery activists in the Kansas territory.
|Elizabeth Cady Stanton|
Rochester had a reputation for being pro-abolitionist. Julia Griffiths was one of six founding members of the influential Rochester Ladies Anti-Slavery Society. Rochester's women were active in antislavery societies, and through them Douglass kept in close contact with the leaders in the fight for women's rights, among them Lucretia Mott, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a cousin of his friend, Gerrit Smith.
Foremost among these noble American women, in point of clearness of vision, breadth of understanding, fullness of knowledge, catholicity of spirit, weight of character, and widespread influence, was Lucretia Mott of Philadelphia.
Great as this woman was in speech, and persuasive as she was in her writings, she was incomparably greater in her presence. She spoke to the world through every line of her countenance.
In her there was no lack of symmetry--no contradiction between her thought and act. Seated in an anti-slavery meeting, looking benignantly around upon the assembly, her silent presence made others eloquent, and carried the argument home to the heart of the audience. The known approval of such a woman, in any cause, went far to commend it.
I shall never forget the first time I ever saw and heard Lucretia Mott. It was in the town of Lynn, Massachusetts. It was not in a magnificent hall, where such as she seemed to belong, but in a little hall over Jonathan Buffum's store, the only place then open, even in that so-called radical anti-slavery town, for an anti-slavery meeting on Sunday. But in this day of small things, the smallness of the place was no mater of complaint or murmuring. It was a cause of rejoicing that any kind of place could be had for such a purpose. But Jonathan Buffum's courage was equal to this and more. The speaker was attired in the usual Quaker dress, free from startling colors, plain, rich, elegant, and without superfluity--the very sight of her, a sermon. In a few moments after she began to speak, I saw before me no more a woman, but a glorified presence, bearing a message of light and love from the Infinite to a benighted and strangely wandering world, straying away from the paths of truth and justice into the wilderness of pride and selfishness, where peace is lost and true happiness is sought in vain. I heard Mrs. Mott thus, when she was comparatively young. I have often heard her since, sometimes in the solemn temple, and sometimes under the open sky, but whenever and wherever I have listened to her, my heart has always been made better and my spirit raised by her words; and in speaking thus for myself I am sure I am expressing the experience of thousands.
Lucretia Coffin Mott
Kindred in spirit with Mrs. Mott was Lydia Maria Child. They both exerted an influence with a class of the American people which neither Garrison, Phillips nor Gerrit Smith could reach. Sympathetic in her nature, it was easy for Mrs. Child to "remember those in bonds as bound with them;" and her "appeal for that class of Americans called Africans," issued, as it was, at an early stage in the anti-slavery conflict, was one of the most effective agencies in arousing attention to the cruelty and injustice of slavery. When, with her husband, David Lee Child, she edited the National Anti-Slavery Standard, that paper was made attractive to a broad circle of readers, from the circumstance that each issue contained a "Letter from New York," written by her on some passing subject of the day, in which she always managed to infuse a spirit of brotherly love and good will, with an abhorrence of all that was unjust, selfish and mean, and in this way won to anti-slavery many hearts which else would have remained cold and indifferent.
|Advertisement for Women's Rigts Convention|
One of the most interesting events of the past week, was the holding of what is technically styled a Woman's Rights Convention at Seneca Falls. The speaking, addresses, and resolutions of this extraordinary meeting were almost wholly conducted by women; and although they evidently felt themselves in a novel position, it is but simple justice to say that their whole proceedings were characterized by marked ability and dignity. No one present, we think, however much he might be disposed to differ from the views advanced by the leading speakers on that occasion, will fail to give them credit for brilliant talents and excellent dispositions. In this meeting, as in other deliberative assemblies, there were frequent differences of opinion and animated discussion; but in no case was there the slightest absence of good feeling and decorum.
Several interesting documents setting forth the rights as well as the grievances of women were read. Among these was a Declaration of Sentiments, to be regarded as the basis of a grand movement for attaining the civil, social, political, and religious rights of women.
. . . A discussion of the rights of animals would be regarded with far more complacency by many of what are called the wise and the good of our land, than would be a discussion of the rights of women. It is, in their estimation, to be guilty of evil thoughts, to think that a woman is entitled to equal rights with man. Many who have at last made the discovery that the negroes have some rights as well as other members of the human family, have yet to be convinced that women are entitled to any. Eight years ago a number of persons of this description actually abandoned the anti-slavery cause, lest by giving their influence in that direction, they might possibly be giving countenance to the dangerous heresy that woman, in respect to rights, stands on an equal footing with man. In the judgment of such persons, the American slave system, with all its concomitant horrors, is less to be deplored than this wicked idea.
It is perhaps needless to say, that we cherish little sympathy for such prejudices. Standing as we do upon the watch-tower of human freedom, we cannot be deterred from an expression of our approbation of any movement, however humble, to improve and elevate the character of any members of the human family.
. . . In respect to political rights, we hold woman to be justly entitled to all we claim for man. We go farther, and express are conviction that all political rights that it is expedient for man to exercise, it is equally so for woman. All that distinguishes man as an intelligent and accountable being, is equally true of woman; and if that government only is just which governs by the free consent of the governed, there can be no reason in the world for denying to woman the exercise of the elective franchise, or a hand in making and administering the laws of the land. Our doctrine is that "right is of no sex." We therefore bid the women engaged in this movement our humble Godspeed.In September 1848, Douglass published a letter addressed to his former master, Thomas Auld, berating him for his conduct, and enquiring after members of his family still held by Auld. In a graphic passage, Douglass asked Auld how he would feel if Douglass had come to take away his daughter Amanda as a slave, treating her the way he and members of his family had been treated by Auld.
LETTER TO HIS OLD MASTERThe Douglass' last child, Annie, was born in 1849.
To My Old Master, Thomas Auld
SIR--The long and intimate, though by no means friendly, relation which unhappily subsisted between you and myself, leads me to hope that you will easily account for the great liberty which I now take in addressing you in this open and public manner. The same fact may remove any disagreeable surprise which you may experience on again finding your name coupled with mine, in any other way than in an advertisement, accurately describing my person, and offering a large sum for my arrest.
In thus dragging you again before the public, I am aware that I shall subject myself to no inconsiderable amount of censure. I shall probably be charged with an unwarrantable, if not a wanton and reckless disregard of the rights and properties of private life.
. . . I will frankly state the ground upon which I justify myself in this instance, as well as on former occasions when I have thought proper to mention your name in public. All will agree that a man guilty of theft, robbery, or murder, has forfeited the right to concealment and private life; that the community have a right to subject such persons to the most complete exposure. However much they may desire retirement, and aim to conceal themselves and their movements from the popular gaze, the public have a right to ferret them out, and bring their conduct before the proper tribunals of the country for investigation.
. . . I will not therefore manifest ill temper, by calling you hard names. I know you to be a man of some intelligence, and can readily determine the precise estimate which I entertain of your character. I may therefore indulge in language which may seem to others indirect and ambiguous, and yet be quite well understood by yourself. I have selected this day on which to address you, because it is the anniversary of my emancipation; and knowing no better way, I am led to this as the best mode of celebrating that truly important events. . . .
You, sir, can never know my feelings. . . . I have often thought I should like to explain to you the grounds upon which I have justified myself in running away from you. . . . When yet but a child about six years old, I imbibed the determination to run away. The very first mental effort that I now remember on my part, was an attempt to solve the mystery--why am I a slave? and with this question my youthful mind was troubled for many days, pressing upon me more heavily at times than others. . . .
At one time, your first wife, Mrs. Lucretia, heard me sighing and saw me shedding tears, and asked of me the matter, but I was afraid to tell her. I was puzzled with this question, till one night while sitting in the kitchen, I heard some of the old slaves talking of their parents having been stolen from Africa by white men, and were sold here as slaves. . . . Very soon after this, my Aunt Jinny and Uncle Noah ran away, and the great noise made about it by your father-in-law, made me for the first time acquainted with the fact, that there were free states as well as slave states.
From that time, I resolved that I would some day run away.
. . . In leaving you, I took nothing but what belonged to me, and in no way lessened your means for obtaining an honest living. . . . It is true, I went off secretly; but that was more your fault than mine. Had I let you into the secret, you would have defeated the enterprise entirely; but for this, I should have been really glad to have made you acquainted with my intentions to leave. . .
I have never forgotten you, but have invariably made you the topic of conversation--thus giving you all the notoriety I could do. I need not tell you that the opinion formed of you in these circles is far from being favorable. They have little respect for your honesty, and less for your religion. . . .
So far as my domestic affairs are concerned, I can boast of as comfortable a dwelling as your own. I have an industrious and neat companion, and four dear children--the oldest a girl of nine years, and three fine boys, the oldest eight, the next six, and the youngest four years old. The three oldest are now going regularly to school--two can read and write, and the other can spell, with tolerable correctness, words of two syllables. Dear fellows! they are all in comfortable beds, and are sound asleep, perfectly secure under my own roof. There are no slaveholders here to rend my heart by snatching them from my arms, or blast a mother's dearest hopes by tearing them from her bosom. These dear children are ours--not to work up into rice, sugar, and tobacco, but to watch over, regard, and protect, and to rear them up in the nurture and admonition of the gospel--to train them up in the paths of wisdom and virtue, and, as far as we can, to make them useful to the world and to themselves. Oh! sir, a slaveholder never appears to me so completely an agent of hell, as when I think of and look upon my dear children. It is then that my feelings rise above my control. . . . The grim horrors of slavery rise in all their ghastly terror before me; the wails of millions pierce my heart and chill my blood. I remember the chain, the gag, the bloody whip; the death-like gloom overshadowing the broken spirit of the fettered bondman; the appalling liability of his being torn away from wife and children, and sold like a beast in the market. . .
At this moment, you are probably the guilty holder of at least three of my own dear sisters, and my only brother, in bondage. These you regard as your property. They are recorded on your ledger, or perhaps have been sold to human flesh-mongers, with a view to filling our own ever-hungry purse. Sir, I desire to know how and where these dear sisters are. Have you sold them? or are they still in your possession? What has become of them? are they living or dead?
And my dear old grandmother, whom you turned out like an old horse to die in the woods--is she still alive?
Write and let me know all about them. If my grandmother be still alive, she is of no service to you, for by this time she must be nearly eighty years old--too old to be cared for by one to whom she has ceased to be of service; send her to me at Rochester, or bring her to Philadelphia, and it shall be the crowning happiness of my life to take care of her in her old age.
. . . You have kept them in utter ignorance, and have therefore robbed them of the sweet enjoyments of writing or receiving letters from absent friends and relatives. Your wickedness and cruelty, committed in this respect on your fellow-creatures, are greater than all the stripes you have laid upon my back or theirs. It is an outrage upon the soul, a war upon the immortal spirit, and one for which you must give account at the bar of our common Father and Creator.
. . . How, let me ask, would you look upon me, were I, some dark night, in company with a band of hardened villains, to enter the precincts of your elegant dwelling, and seize the person of your own lovely daughter, Amanda, and carry her off from your family, friends, and all the loved ones of her youth--make her my slave--compel her to work, and I take her wages--place her name on my ledger as property--disregard her personal rights--fetter the powers of her immortal soul by denying her the right and privilege of learning to read and write--feed her coarsely--clothe her scantily, and whip her on the naked back occasionally; more, and still more horrible, leave her unprotected--a degraded victim to the brutal lust of fiendish overseers, who would pollute, blight, and blast her fair soul--rob her of all dignity--destroy her virtue, and annihilate in her person all the graces that adorn the character of virtuous womanhood?
. . . Your treatment of my beloved sisters is in all essential points precisely like the case I have now supposed. Damning as would be such a deed on my part, it would be no more so than that which you have committed against me and my sisters.
I will now bring this letter to a close; you shall hear from me again unless you let me hear from you. I intend to make use of you as a weapon with which to assail the system of slavery--as a means of concentrating public attention on the system, and deepening the horror of trafficking in the souls and bodies of men. I shall make use of you as a means of exposing the character of the American church and clergy--and as a means of bringing this guilty nation, with yourself, to repentance. In doing this, I entertain no malice toward you personally. There is no roof under which you would be more safe than mine, and there is nothing in my house which you might need for your comfort, which I would not readily grant. Indeed, I should esteem it a privilege to set you an example as to how mankind ought to treat each other.
I am your fellow-man, but not your slave.
While living in Rochester, Douglass met John Brown:
Clad in plain American woolen, shod in boots of cowhide leather, and wearing a cravat of the same substantial material, under six feet high, less than 150 pounds in weight, aged about fifty, he presented a figure straight and symmetrical as a mountain pine. His bearing was singularly impressive. His head was not large, but compact and high. His hair was coarse, strong, slightly gray and closely trimmed, and grew low on his forehead. His face was smoothly shaved, and revealed a strong, square mouth, supported by a broad and prominent chin. His eyes were bluish-gray, and in conversation they were full of light and fire.
When on the street, he moved with a long, springing, race-horse step, absorbed by his own reflections, neither seeking nor shunning observation. Such was the man whose name I had heard in whispers; such was the spirit of his house and family; such was the house in which he lived; and such was Captain John Brown, whose name has now passed into history, as that of one of the most marked characters and greatest heroes known to American fame.
. . . He denounced slavery in look and language fierce and bitter, thought that slaveholders had forfeited their right to live, that the slaves had the right to gain their liberty in any way they could, did not believe that moral suasion would ever liberate the slave, or that political action would abolish the system.
He said that he had long had a plan which could accomplish this end, and he had invited me to his house to lay that plan before me. He said he had been for some time looking for colored men to whom he could safely reveal his secret, and at times he had almost despaired of finding such men; but that now he was encouraged, for he saw heads of such rising up in all directions. He had observed my course at home and abroad, and he wanted my coöperation.
His plan as it then lay in his mind had much to commend it. It did not, as some suppose, contemplate a general rising among the slaves, and a general slaughter of the slave-masters. An insurrection, he thought, would only defeat the object; but his plan did contemplate the creating of an armed force which should act in the very heart of the South. He was not averse to the shedding of blood, and thought the practice of carrying arms would be a good one for the colored people to adopt, as it would give them a sense of their manhood. No people, he said, could have self-respect, or he respected, who would not fight for their freedom.
He said, "The true object to be sought is first of all to destroy the money value of slave property; and that can only be done by rendering such property insecure. My plan, then, is to take at first about twenty-five picked men, and begin on a small scale; supply them with arms and ammunition and post them in squads of fives on a line of twenty-five miles. The most persuasive and judicious of these shall go down to the fields from time to time, as opportunity offers, and induce the slaves to join them, seeking and selecting the most restless and daring." . . . When I asked him how he would support these men, he said emphatically that he would subsist them upon the enemy. Slavery was a state of war, and the slave had a right to anything necessary to his freedom.
. . . He observed that I might have noticed the simple manner in which he lived, adding that he had adopted this method in order to save money to carry out his purposes. This was said in no boastful tone, for he felt that he had delayed already too long, and had no room to boast either his zeal or his self-denial. Had some men made such display of rigid virtue, I should have rejected it, as affected, false, and hypocritical, but in John Brown, I felt it to be real as iron or granite. From this night spent with John Brown in Springfield, Mass., 1847, while I continued to write and speak against slavery, I became all the same less hopeful of its peaceful abolition. My utterances became more and more tinged by the color of this man's strong impressions.
Speaking at an anti-slavery convention in Salem, Ohio, I expressed this apprehension that slavery could only be destroyed by blood-shed, when I was suddenly and sharply interrupted by my good old friend Sojourner Truth with the question, "Frederick, is God dead?" "No," I answered, "and because God is not dead slavery can only end in blood." My quaint old sister was of the Garrison school of non-resistants, and was shocked at my sanguinary doctrine, but she too became an advocate of the sword, when the war for the maintenance of the Union was declared.In 1850 he published an attack on the Compromise of 1850 and the new fugitive slave law.
|Daguerreotype taken at the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law Convention, Cazenovia, New York. Frederick Douglass is seated, with Gerrit Smith behind him; Abby Kelley Fost is probably the person seated on Douglass's left.|
Even colored people who had been free all their lives felt themselves very insecure in their freedom, for under this law the oaths of any two villains were sufficient to consign a free man to slavery for life.
While the law was a terror to the free, it was a still greater terror to the escaped bondman. To him there was no peace. Asleep or awake, at work or at rest, in church or market, he was liable to surprise and capture. By the law the judge got ten dollars a head for all he could consign to slavery, and only five dollars apiece for any which he might adjudge free.
Although I was now myself free, I was not without apprehension. My purchase was of doubtful validity, having been bought when out of the possession of my owner and when he must take what was given or take nothing. It was a question whether my claimant could be estopped by such a sale from asserting certain or supposable equitable rights in my body and soul.
. . . A decided check was given to the execution of the law at Christiana, Penn., where three colored men, being pursued by Mr. Gorsuch and his son, slew the father, wounded the son, and drove away the officers, and made their escape to my house in Rochester. The work of getting these men safely into Canada was a delicate one. They were not only fugitives from slavery but charged with murder, and officers were in pursuit of them. There was no time for delay. I could not look upon them as murderers. To me, they were heroic defenders of the just rights of man against manstealers and murderers. So I fed them, and sheltered them in my house. Had they been pursued then and there, my home would have been stained with blood, for these men who had already tasted blood were well armed and prepared to sell their lives at any expense to the lives and limbs of their probable assailants. What they had already done at Christiana and the cool determination which showed very plainly especially in Parker, (for that was the name of the leader,) left no doubt on my mind that their courage was genuine and that their deeds would equal their words. The situation was critical and dangerous. The telegraph had that day announced their deeds at Christiana, their escape, and that the mountains of Pennsylvania were being searched for the murderers. These men had reached me simultaneously with this news in the New York papers. Immediately after the occurrence at Christiana, they, instead of going into the mountains, were placed on a train which brought them to Rochester. They were thus almost in advance of the lightning, and much in advance of probable pursuit, unless the telegraph had raised agents already here. The hours they spent at my house were therefore hours of anxiety as well as activity.
Print of the "Christiana Riot"
I dispatched my friend Miss Julia Griffiths to the landing three miles away on the Genesee River to ascertain if a steamer would leave that night for any port in Canada, and remained at home myself to guard my tired, dust-covered, and sleeping guests, for they had been harassed and traveling for two days and nights, and needed rest. Happily for us the suspense was not long, for it turned out that that very night a steamer was to leave for Toronto, Canada.
This fact, however, did not end my anxiety. There was danger that between my house and the landing or at the landing itself we might meet with trouble. Indeed the landing was the place where trouble was likely to occur if at all. As patiently as I could, I waited for the shades of night to come on, and then put the men in my "Democrat carriage," and started for the landing on the Genesee. It was an exciting ride, and somewhat speedy withal. We reached the boat at least fifteen minutes before the time of its departure, and that without remark or molestation. But those fifteen minutes seemed much longer than usual. I remained on board till the order to haul in the gang-plank was given; I shook hands with my friends, received from Parker the revolver that fell from the hand of Gorsuch when he died, presented now as a token of gratitude and a memento of the battle for Liberty at Christiana, and I returned to my home with a sense of relief which I cannot stop here to describe.
The bulk of the money raised by the Society was used in the important task of keeping Frederick Douglass' paper solvent, but money was also used to help support a school for freedmen in Kansas and for the publication and distribution of anti-slavery literature in Kentucky. The Society played a crucial support role in one stretch of the Underground Railroad, providing small cash gifts directly to fugitive slaves to aid them on the last leg of their escape to Canada. The Society's annual reports for 1855 and 1856 listed 136 fugitives who had passed through Rochester with the Society's help, and by the following year, they had begun to develop a connection with veteran conductor, Harriet Tubman. On July 5, 1852, Douglass delivered an address to the Ladies of the Rochester Anti-Slavery Sewing Society, which eventually became known as "What to the slave is the 4th of July?" It was a blistering attack on the hypocrisy of the United States in general and the Christian church in particular.
WHAT TO THE SLAVE IS THE FOURTH OF JULY? at Rochester, July 5, 1852
Fellow-Citizens--Pardon me, and allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day?
What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence?
Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us?
. . . Would to God, both for your sakes and ours, that an affirmative answer could be truthfully returned to these questions!
. . . But, such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you this day rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me.
This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. . . . Fellow-citizens, above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions, whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are today rendered more intolerable by the jubilant shouts that reach them. . . .
There are seventy-two crimes in the state of Virginia, which, if committed by a black man (no matter how ignorant he be), subject him to the punishment of death; while only two of these same crimes will subject a white man to the like punishment. . . .
What to the American slave is your Fourth of July? I answer, a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass-fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy--a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour. Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the old world, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the every-day practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.Harriet Beecher Stowe's book, Uncle Tom's Cabin, was published in 1852:
In the midst of these fugitive slave troubles came the book known as Uncle Tom's Cabin, a work of marvelous depth and power. Nothing could have better suited the moral and humane requirements of the hour. Its effect was amazing, instantaneous, and universal. No book on the subject of slavery had so generally and favorably touched the American heart. It combined all the power and pathos of preceding publications of the kind, and was hailed by many as an inspired production.
Mrs. Stowe at once became an object of interest and admiration. She had made fortune and fame at home, and had awakened a deep interest abroad. Eminent persons in England, roused to anti-slavery enthusiasm by her "Uncle Tom's Cabin," invited her to visit that country, and promised to give her a testimonial. Mrs. Stowe accepted the invitation and the proffered testimonial. Before sailing for England, however, she invited me from Rochester, N. Y., to spend a day at her house in Andover, Mass. Delighted with an opportunity to become personally acquainted with the gifted authoress, I lost no time in making my way to Andover. I was received at her home with genuine cordiality. There was no contradiction between the author and her book. Mrs. Stowe appeared in conversation equally as well as she appeared in her writing.
She made to me a nice little speech in announcing her object in sending for me. "I have invited you here," she said, "because I wish to confer with you as to what can be done for the free colored people of the country. I am going to England and expect to have a considerable sum of money placed in my hands, and I intend to use it in some way for the permanent improvement of the free colored people, and especially for that class which has become free by their own exertions. In what way I can do this most successfully is the subject about which I wish to talk with you. In any event I desire to have some monument rise after Uncle Tom's Cabin, which shall show that it produced more than a transient influence."
She said several plans had been suggested, among others an educational institution pure and simple, but that she thought favorably of the establishment of an industrial school; and she desired me to express my views as to what I thought would be the best plan by which to help the free colored people. I was not slow to tell Mrs. Stowe all I knew and had thought on the subject. As to a purely educational institution, I agreed with her that it did not meet our necessities. I argued against expending money in that way. I was also opposed to an ordinary industrial school where pupils should merely earn the means of obtaining an education in books. There were such schools, already.
What I thought of as best was rather a series of workshops, where colored people could learn some of the handicrafts, learn to work in iron, wood, and leather, and where a plain English education could also be taught. I argued that the want of money was the root of all evil to the colored people. They were shut out from all lucrative employments and compelled to be merely barbers, waiters, coachmen, and the like, at wages so low that they could lay up little or nothing. Their poverty kept them ignorant and their ignorance kept them degraded. We needed more to learn how to make a good living than to learn Latin and Greek. After listening to me at considerable length, she was good enough to tell me that she favored my views, and would devote the money she expected to receive abroad to meeting the want I had described as the most important; by establishing an institution in which colored youth should learn trades as well as to read, write, and count.Julia Griffiths and her sister, Eliza, resided with the Douglass family at their home at 297
|Anna Murray Douglass|
When the city, which you allege to be full of scandalous reports implicating Miss Griffiths and me, shall put-those 'REPORTS' into a definite shape and present a responsible person to back them it will be time enough for me to attempt to refute them.
Hence I am about as unpopular with the ultra-Garrisonians, as with ultra-proslavery people: especially, as when I have heard Mr. Garrison nearly deified I have said that you in Congress, were fighting a far harder battle than he, and needed even a greater amount of moral courage to sustain you--.
In what condition his vision now is - and whether slumbering in the lap of a prejudiced sectarian Delilah, he has not at last enabled the proslavery Philistines to ascertain the secret of his strength, cut off his locks, and rejoice over his downfall we leave our readers and the uncompromising friends of the anti-slavery cause to judge.
|James McCune Smith|
During the mid-1850s, James McCune Smith, the first university-trained African-American physician in the United States, worked with Douglass to establish the National Council of Colored People, one of the first permanent black national organizations, beginning with a three-day convention in Rochester, New York. At the convention in Rochester, Smith and Douglass emphasized the importance of education for their race and urged the founding of more schools for black youth. Smith wanted choices available for both industrial and classical education.
Douglass valued Smith's rational approach and said that Smith was "the single most important influence on his life." Smith tempered the more radical people in the abolitionist movement and insisted on arguing from facts and analysis. He wrote a regular column in Douglass' newspaper, published under the pseudonym, 'Communipaw.'
Douglass wrote a second autobiography, My Bondage and My Freedom, which was published in 1855. Douglass recorded this song, commenting that "This is not a bad summary of the palpable injustice and fraud of slavery, giving -- as it does -- to the lazy and idle, the comforts which God designated should be given solely to the honest laborer."
|Frederick Douglass, 1856|
|Peter Humphries Clark|
Peter Humphries Clark was a Cincinnati abolitionist publisher, editor, writer, and speaker. He edited and published his own weekly abolitionist paper, The Herald of Freedom. Along with his Uncle John, he participated in the Ohio Conventions of Colored Men. He was appointed secretary of the 1853 National Convention of Colored Men, by Frederick Douglass. In 1856, he moved to Rochester, New York to serve as Douglass's assistant on Frederick Douglass' Paper (formerly the North Star). He, his wife, and their infant daughter lived with the Douglass family in Rochester. Clark performed his editorial duties, gave abolitionist speeches throughout the midwest, and, as one of Douglass' assistants, attended national abolitionist meetings. At one time, he contemplating moving to Liberia because of discrimination in the United States.
We deem it a settled point that the destiny of the colored man is bound up with that of the white people of this country. ... We are here, and here we are likely to be. To imagine that we shall ever be eradicated is absurd and ridiculous. We can be remodified, changed, assimilated, but never extinguished. We repeat, therefore, that we are here; and that this is our country; and the question for the philosophers and statesmen of the land ought to be, What principles should dictate the policy of the action toward us? We shall neither die out, nor be driven out; but shall go with this people, either as a testimony against them, or as an evidence in their favor throughout their generations.
~ Frederick Douglass, November 1858
What was my connection with John Brown, and what I knew of his scheme for the capture of Harper's Ferry, I may now proceed to state. From the time of my visit to him in Springfield, Mass., in 1847, our relations were friendly and confidential. I never passed through Springfield without calling on him, and he never came to Rochester without calling on me. He often stopped over night with me, when we talked over the feasibility of his plan for destroying the value of slave property, and the motive for holding slaves in the border States. That plan, as already intimated elsewhere, was to take twenty or twenty-five discreet and trustworthy men into the mountains of Virginia and Maryland, and station them in squads of five, about five miles apart, on a line of twenty-five miles; each squad to co-operate with all, and all with each. They were to have selected for them secure and comfortable retreats in the fastnesses of the mountains, where they could easily defend themselves in case of attack. They were to subsist upon the country roundabout. They were to be well armed, but were to avoid battle or violence, unless compelled by pursuit or in self-defence. In that case, they were to make it as costly as possible to the assailing party, whether that party should be soldiers or citizens. He further proposed to have a number of stations from the line of Pennsylvania to the Canada border, where such slaves as he might, through his men, induce to run away, should be supplied with food and shelter and be forwarded from one station to another till they should reach a place of safety either in Canada or the Northern States. He proposed to add to his force in the mountains any courageous and intelligent fugitives who might be willing to remain and endure the hardships and brave the dangers of this mountain life. These, he thought, if properly selected, could, on account of their knowledge of the surrounding country, be made valuable auxiliaries. The work of going into the valley of Virginia and persuading the slaves to flee to the mountains was to be committed to the most courageous and judicious man connected with each squad.
. . . After the close of his Kansas work, Captain Brown came to my house in Rochester, and said he desired to stop with me several weeks; "but," he added, "I will not stay unless you will allow me to pay board." Knowing that he was no trifler and meant all he said, and desirous of retaining him under my roof, I charged three dollars a week. While here, he spent most of his time in correspondence. He wrote often to George L. Stearns of Boston, Gerritt Smith of Peterboro, N. Y., and many others, and received many letters in return. When he was not writing letters, he was writing and revising a constitution which he meant to put in operation by means of the men who should go with him into the mountains. He said that, to avoid anarchy and confusion, there should be a regularly-constituted government, which each man who came with him should be sworn to honor and support. I have a copy of this constitution in Captain Brown's own handwriting, as prepared by himself at my house. . .
His whole time and thought were given to this subject. It was the first thing in the morning and the last thing at night, till I confess it began to be something of a bore to me. Once in a while he would say he could, with a few resolute men, capture Harper's Ferry, and supply himself with arms belonging to the government at that place; but he never announced his intention to do so. It was, however, very evidently passing in his mind as a thing he might do. I paid but little attention to such remarks, though I never doubted that he thought just what he said. . . .
While at my house, John Brown made the acquaintance of a colored man who called himself by different names--sometimes "Emperor," at other times, "Shields Green." He was a fugitive slave, who had made his escape from Charleston, South Carolina; a State from which a slave found it no easy matter to run away. But Shields Green was not one to shrink from hardships or dangers. He was a man of few words, and his speech was singularly broken; but his courage and self-respect made him quite a dignified character. John Brown saw at once what "stuff" Green "was made of," and confided to him his plans and purposes. Green easily believed in Brown, and promised to go with him whenever he should be ready to move. About three weeks before the raid on Harper's Ferry, John Brown wrote to me, informing me that a beginning in his work would soon be made, and that before going forward he wanted to see me, and appointed an old stone-quarry near Chambersburg, Penn., as our place of meeting. Mr. Kagi, his secretary, would be there, and they wished me to bring any money I could command, and Shields Green along with me. In the same letter, he said that his "mining tools" and stores were then at Chambersburg, and that he would be there to remove them. I obeyed the old man's summons. Taking Shields, we passed through New York city, where we called upon Rev. James Glocester and his wife, and told them where and for what we were going, and that our old friend needed money. Mrs. Glocester gave me ten dollars, and asked me to hand the same to John Brown, with her best wishes.
When I reached Chambersburg, a good deal of surprise was expressed (for I was instantly recognized) that I should come there unannounced, and I was pressed to make a speech to them, with which invitation I readily complied. Meanwhile, I called upon Mr. Henry Watson, a simple-minded and warm-hearted man, to whom Capt. Brown had imparted the secret of my visit, to show me the road to the appointed rendezvous. Watson was very busy in his barber's shop, but he dropped all and put me on the right track. I approached the old quarry very cautiously, for John Brown was generally well armed, and regarded strangers with suspicion. He was then under the ban of the government, and heavy rewards were offered for his arrest, for offenses said to have been committed in Kansas. He was passing under the name of John Smith. As I came near, he regarded me rather suspiciously, but soon recognized me, and received me cordially. . . . His face wore an anxious expression, and he was much worn by thought and exposure. I felt that I was on a dangerous mission, and was as little desirous of discovery as himself, though no reward had been offered for me.
We--Mr. Kagi, Captain Brown, Shields Green, and myself--sat down among the rocks and talked over the enterprise which was about to be undertaken. The taking of Harper's Ferry, of which Captain Brown had merely hinted before, was now declared as his settled purpose, and he wanted to know what I thought of it.
I at once opposed the measure with all the arguments at my command. To me such a measure would be fatal to running off slaves (as was the original plan), and fatal to all engaged in doing so. It would be an attack upon the federal government, and would array the whole country against us.
Captain Brown did most of the talking on the other side of the question. He did not at all object to rousing the nation; it seemed to him that something startling was just what the nation needed. He had completely renounced his old plan, and thought that the capture of Harper's Ferry would serve as notice to the slaves that their friends had come, and as a trumpet to rally them to his standard. . . . Of course I was no match for him in such matters, but I told him, and these were my words, that all his arguments, and all his descriptions of the place, convinced me that he was going into a perfect steel-trap, and that once in he would never get out alive; that he would be surrounded at once and escape would be impossible.
He was not to be shaken by anything I could say, but treated my views respectfully, replying that even if surrounded he would find means for cutting his way out; but that would not be forced upon him; he should, at the start, have a number of the best citizens of the neighborhood as his prisoners and that holding them as hostages he should be able, if worse came to worse, to dictate terms of egress from the town.
I looked at him with some astonishment, that he could rest upon a reed so weak and broken, and told him that Virginia would blow him and his hostages sky-high, rather than that he should hold Harper's Ferry an hour. Our talk was long and earnest; we spent the most of Saturday and a part of Sunday in this debate--Brown for Harper's Ferry, and I against it; he for striking a blow which should instantly rouse the country, and I for the policy of gradually and unaccountably drawing off the slaves to the mountains, as at first suggested and proposed by him.
When I found that he had fully made up his mind and could not be dissuaded, I turned to Shields Green and told him he heard what Captain Brown had said; his old plan was changed, and that I should return home, and if he wished to go with me he could do so. Captain Brown urged us both to go with him, but I could not do so, and could but feel that he was about to rivet the fetters more firmly than ever on the limbs of the enslaved.
In parting he put his arms around me in a manner more than friendly, and said: "Come with me, Douglass; I will defend you with my life. I want you for a special purpose. When I strike, the bees will begin to swarm, and I shall want you to help hive them." But my discretion or my cowardice made me proof against the dear old man's eloquence--perhaps it was something of both which determined my course. When about to leave I asked Green what he had decided to do, and was surprised by his coolly saying, in his broken way, "I b'leve I'll go wid de ole man."
Here we separated; they to go to Harper's Ferry, I to Rochester.
. . . On the evening when the news came that John Brown had taken and was then holding the town of Harper's Ferry, it so happened that I was speaking to a large audience in National Hall, Philadelphia. The announcement came upon us with the startling effect of an earthquake. It was something to make the boldest hold his breath. I saw at once that my old friend had attempted what he had long ago resolved to do, and I felt certain that the result must be his capture and destruction.
As I expected, the next day brought the news that with two or three men he had fortified and was holding a small engine-house, but that he was surrounded by a body of Virginia militia, who, thus far, had not ventured to capture the insurgents, but that escape was impossible. A few hours later and word came that Colonel Robert E. Lee with a company of United States troops had made a breach in Capt. Brown's fort, and had captured him alive, though mortally wounded.
Robert E. Lee
His carpet-bag had been secured by Governor Wise, and it was found to contain numerous letters and documents which directly implicated Gerritt Smith, Joshua R. Giddings, Samuel G. Howe, Frank P. Sanborn, and myself. This intelligence was soon followed by a telegram saying that we were all to be arrested. Knowing that I was then in Philadelphia, stopping with my friend Thomas J. Dorsey, Mr. John Hern, the telegraph operator, came to me and, with others, urged me to leave the city by the first train, as it was known through the newspapers that I was then in Philadelphia, and officers might even then be on my track. To me there was nothing improbable in all this. My friends for the most part were appalled at the thought of my being arrested then or there, or while on my way across the ferry from Walnut street wharf to Camden, for there was where I felt sure the arrest would be made, and asked some of them to go so far as this with me merely to see what might occur; but, upon one ground or another, they all thought it best not to be found in my company at such a time, except dear old Franklin Turner--a true man.
The truth is, that in the excitement which prevailed my friends had reason to fear that the very fact that they were with me would be a sufficient reason for their arrest with me. The delay in the departure of the steamer seemed unusually long to me, for I confess I was seized with a desire to reach a more northern latitude. My friend Frank did not leave my side till "all ashore" was ordered and the paddles began to move. I reached New York at night, still under the apprehension of arrest at any moment, but no signs of such an event being made, I went at once to the Barclay street ferry, took the boat across the river, and went direct to Washington street, Hoboken, the home of Mrs. Marks, where I spent the night, and I may add without undue profession of timidity, an anxious night. The morning papers brought no relief, for they announced that the government would spare no pains in ferreting out and bringing to punishment all who were connected with the Harper's Ferry outrage, and that search would be made for papers as well as persons. I was now somewhat uneasy from the fact that sundry letters and a constitution written by John Brown were locked up in my desk in Rochester. In order to prevent these papers from falling into the hands of the government of Virginia, I got my friend, Miss Ottilia Assing, to write at my dictation the following telegram to B. F. Blackall, the telegraph operator in Rochester, a friend and frequent visitor at my house, who would readily understand the meaning of the dispatch:
"B. F. BLACKALL, Esq.: "Tell Lewis (my oldest son) to secure all the important papers in my high desk."
I did not sign my name, and the result showed that I had rightly judged that Mr. Blackall would understand and promptly attend to the request. The mark of the chisel with which the desk was opened is still on the drawer, and is one of the traces of the John Brown raid.
Having taken measures to secure my papers, the trouble was to know just what to do with myself. To stay in Hoboken was out of the question, and to go to Rochester was to all appearance to go into the hands of the hunters, for they would naturally seek me at my home if they sought me at all. I, however, resolved to go home and risk my safety there. I felt sure that, once in the city, I could not be easily taken from there without a preliminary hearing upon the requisition, and not then it the people could be made aware of what was in progress. But how to get to Rochester was a serious question. It would not do to go to New York city and take the train, for that city was not less incensed against John Brown conspirators than many parts of the South. The course hit upon by my friends, Mr. Johnston and Miss Assing, was, to take me at night in a private conveyance from Hoboken to Paterson, where I could take the Erie railroad for home. This plan was carried out, and I reached home in safety, but had been there but a few moments when I was called upon by Samuel D. Porter, Esq., and my neighbor, Lieutenant-Governor Selden, who informed me that the governor of the State would certainly surrender me on a proper requisition from the governor of Virginia, and that while the people of Rochester would not permit me to be taken South, yet, in order to avoid collision with the government and consequent bloodshed, they advised me to quit the country, which I did--going to Canada.
Governor Wise, in the meantime, being advised that I had left Rochester for the State of Michigan, made requisition on the governor of that State for my surrender to Virginia.Douglass escaped to Canada to avoid being arrested and then travelled to England:
On the 12th of November, 1859, I took passage from Quebec on board the steamer Scotia, Captain Thompson, of the Allan line. My going to England was not at first suggested by my connection with John Brown, but the fact that I was now in danger of arrest on the ground of complicity with him made what I had intended a pleasure a necessity, for though in Canada, and under British law, it was not impossible that I might be kidnapped and taken to Virginia. England had given me shelter and protection when the slave-hounds were on my track fourteen years before, and her gates were still open to me now that I was pursued in the name of Virginia justice.
I could but feel that I was going into exile, perhaps for life. Slavery seemed to be at the very top of its power; the national government, with all its powers and appliances, was in its hands, and it bade fair to wield them for many years to come.
Nobody could then see that in the short space of four years this power would be broken and the slave system destroyed. So I started on my voyage with feelings far from cheerful. No one who has not himself been compelled to leave his home and country and go into permanent banishment can well imagine the state of mind and heart which such a condition brings. The voyage out was by the north passage, and at this season, as usual, it was cold, dark, and stormy. Before quitting the coast of Labrador we had four degrees below zero. Although I had crossed the Atlantic twice before,I had not experienced such unfriendly weather as during the most of this voyage. . . but after battling with the waves on an angry ocean during fourteen long days I gratefully found myself upon the soil of Great Britain, beyond the reach of Buchanan's power and Virginia's prisons.
Upon reaching Liverpool I learned that England was nearly as much alive to what had happened at Harper's Ferry as was the United States, and I was immediately called upon in different parts of the country to speak on the subject of slavery, and especially to give some account of the men who had thus flung away their lives in a desperate attempt to free the slaves. My own relation to the affair was a subject of much interest, as was the fact of my presence there being in some sense to elude the demands of Governor Wise, who, having learned that I was not in Michigan, but was on a British steamer bound for England, publicly declared that "could he overtake that vessel he would take me from her deck at any cost."
While in England, wishing to visit France, I wrote to Mr. George M. Dallas, the American minister at the British court, to obtain a passport. The attempt upon the life of Napoleon III about that time, and the suspicion that the conspiracy against him had been hatched in England, made the French government very strict in the enforcement of its passport system. I might possibly have been permitted to visit that country without a certificate of my citizenship, but wishing to leave nothing to chance, I applied to the only competent authority; but, true to the traditions of the Democratic party, true to the slaveholding policy of his country, true to the decision of the United States Supreme Court, and true, perhaps,to the petty meanness of his own nature, Mr. George M. Dallas, the Democratic American minister, refused to grant me a passport, on the ground that I was not a citizen of the United States.
I did not beg or remonstrate with this dignitary further, but simply addressed a note to the French minister in London asking for a permit to visit France, and that paper came without delay. I mention this not to belittle the civilization of my native country, but as a part of the story of my life. I could have borne this denial with more serenity could I have foreseen what has since happened, but under the circumstances it was a galling disappointment.
. . . I should have now gratified a long-cherished desire to visit France, and availed myself for that purpose of the permit so promptly and civilly given by the French minister, had not news reached me from home of the death of my beloved daughter. Annie, the light and life of my house. Deeply distressed by this bereavement, and acting upon the impulse of the moment, regardless of the peril, I at once resolved to return home, and took the first outgoing steamer for Portland, Maine. After a rough passage of seventeen days I reached home by way of Canada, and remained in my house nearly a month before the knowledge got abroad that I was again in this country.
Great changes had now taken place in the public mind touching the John Brown raid. Virginia had satisfied her thirst for blood. She had executed all the raiders who had fallen into her hands. She had not given Captain Brown the benefit of a reasonable doubt, but hurried him to the scaffold in panic-stricken haste. She had made herself ridiculous by her fright and despicable by her fury. Emerson's prediction that Brown's gallows would become like the cross was already being fulfilled. The old hero, in the trial hour, had behaved so grandly that men regarded him not as a murderer but as a martyr. All over the North men were singing the John Brown song. His body was in the dust, but his soul was marching on. . . .Captain Brown implicated nobody. Upon his own head he invited all the bolts of slaveholding vengeance. He said that he, and he alone, was responsible for all that had happened. He had many friends, but no instigators. In all their efforts this committee signally failed, and soon after my arrival home they gave up the search . . .His youngest daughter, 11-year old Annie Douglass, died in March 1860 while he was in England. Douglass returned from England the following month. He took a route through Canada to avoid detection.
Slavery was forever forcing itself into prominence. Unconscious, apparently, of its own deformity, it omitted no occasion for inviting disgust by seeking approval and admiration. It was noisiest when it should have been most silent and unobtrusive. One of its defenders, when asked what would satisfy him as a slaveholder, said he "never would be satisfied until he could call the roll of his slaves in the shadow of Bunker Hill monument."
Every effort made to put down agitation only served to impart to it new
strength and vigor. Of this class was the "gag rule" attempted and partially enforced in Congress; the attempted suppression of the right of petition; the mobocratic demonstrations against the exercise of free speech; the display of pistols, bludgeons, and plantation manners in the Congress of the nation; the demand shamelessly made by our government upon England for the return of slaves who had won their liberty by their valor on the high seas; the bill for the recapture of runaway slaves: the annexation of Texas for the avowed purpose of increasing the number of slave States, and thus increasing the power of slavery in the Union; the war with Mexico; the filibustering expeditions against Cuba and Central America; the cold-blooded decision of Chief Justice Taney in the Dred Scott case, wherein he states, as it were, a historical fact that "negroes are deemed to have no rights which white men are bound to respect"; the perfidious repeal of the Missouri compromise when all its advantages to the South had been gained and appropriated, and when nothing had been gained by the North; the armed and bloody attempt to force slavery upon the virgin soil of Kansas; the efforts of both of the great political parties to drive from place and power every man suspected of ideas and principles hostile to slavery; the rude attacks made upon Giddings, Hale, Chase, Wilson, Wm. H. Seward, and Charles Sumner; the effort to degrade these brave men and to drive them from positions of prominence; the summary manner in which Virginia hanged John Brown; in a word, whatever was done or attempted with a view to the support and security of slavery, only served as fuel to the fire, and heated the furnace of agitation to a higher degree than any before attained. This was true up to the moment when the nation found it necessary to gird on the sword for the salvation of the country and the destruction of slavery.
From the first, I, for one, saw in this war the end of slavery; and truth requires me to say that my interest in the success of the North was largely due to this belief.
True it is that this faith was many times shaken by passing events, but never destroyed. When Secretary Seward instructed our ministers to say to the governments to which they were accredited that, "terminate however it might, the status of no class of the people of the United States would be changed by the rebellion--that the slaves would be slaves still, and that the masters would be masters still"--when General McClellan and General Butler warned the slaves in advance that, "if any attempt was made by them to gain their freedom it would be suppressed with an iron hand"--when the government persistently refused to employ colored troops--when the emancipation proclamation of General John C. Fremont, in Missouri, was withdrawn--when slaves were being returned from our lines to their masters--when Union soldiers were stationed about the farm-houses of Virginia to guard and protect the master in holding his slaves--when Union soldiers made themselves more active in kicking colored men out of their camps than in shooting rebels--when even Mr. Lincoln could tell the poor negro that "he was the cause of the war," I still believed, and spoke as I believed, all over the North, that the mission of the war was the liberation of the slave, as well as the salvation of the Union; and hence from the first I reproached the North that they fought the rebels with only one hand, when they might strike effectually with two--that they fought with their soft white hand, while they kept their black iron hand chained and helpless behind them--that they fought the effect, while they protected the cause, and that the Union cause would never prosper till the war assumed an anti-slavery attitude, and the negro was enlisted on the loyal side.
In every way possible--in the columns of my paper and on the platform, by letters to friends, at home and abroad, I did all that I could to impress this conviction upon this country.
But nations seldom listen to advice from individuals, however reasonable. They are taught less by theories than by facts and events.
There was much that could be said against making the war an abolition war--much that seemed wise and patriotic. "Make the war an abolition war," we were told, "and you drive the border States into the rebellion, and thus add power to the enemy and increase the number you will have to meet on the battlefield. You will exasperate and intensify southern feeling, making it more desperate, and put far away the day of peace between the two sections."
"Employ the arm of the negro, and the loyal men of the North will throw down their arms and go home."
"This is the white man's country and the white man's war."
"It would inflict an intolerable wound upon the pride and spirit of white soldiers of the Union to see the negro in the United States uniform. Besides, if you make the negro a soldier, you cannot depend on his courage; a crack of his old master's whip will send him scampering in terror from the field."
And so it was that custom, pride, prejudice, and the old-time respect for southern feeling, held back the government from an anti-slavery policy and from arming the negro. Meanwhile the rebellion availed itself of the negro most effectively. He was not only the stomach of the rebellion, by supplying its commissary department, but he built its forts, dug its intrenchments and performed other duties of the camp which left the rebel soldier more free to fight the loyal army than he could otherwise have been. It was the cotton and corn of the negro that made the rebellion sack stand on end and caused a continuance of the war. "Destroy these," was the burden of all my utterances during this part of the struggle, "and you cripple and destroy the rebellion." It is surprising how long and bitterly the government resisted and rejected this view of the situation. The abolition heart of the North ached over the delay, and uttered its bitter complaints, but the administration remained blind and dumb. Bull Run, Ball's Bluff, Big Bethel, Fredericksburg, and the Peninsula disasters were the only teachers whose authority was of sufficient importance to excite the attention or respect of our rulers, and they were even slow in being taught by these.
An important point was gained, however, when General B. F. Butler, at Fortress Monroe, announced the policy of treating the slaves as "contrabands," to be made useful to the Union cause, and was sustained therein at Washington, and sentiments of a similar nature were expressed on the floor of Congress by Hon. A. G. Riddle of Ohio.
And now, on this day of January 1, 1863, the formal and solemn announcement was made that thereafter the government would be found on the side of emancipation. This Proclamation changed everything. It gave a new direction to the councils of the Cabinet, and to the conduct of the national arms. I shall leave to the statesman, the philosopher, and historian, the more comprehensive discussion of this document, and only tell how it touched me, and those in like condition with me at the time.
I was in Boston, and its reception there may indicate the importance attached to it elsewhere. An immense assembly convened in Tremont Temple to await the first flash of the electric wires announcing the "new departure." Two years of war prosecuted in the interests of slavery had made free speech possible in Boston, and we were now met together to receive and celebrate the first utterance of the long-hoped-for Proclamation, if it came, and if it did not come, to speak our minds freely; for in view of the past, it was by no means certain that it would come. The occasion, therefore, was one of both hope and fear.
. . . Although the conditions on which Mr. Lincoln had promised to withhold it had not been complied with, yet, from many considerations, there was room to doubt and fear. Mr. Lincoln was known to be a man of tender heart, and boundless patience; no man could tell to what length he might go, or might refrain from going in the direction of peace and reconciliation. Hitherto, he had not shown himself a man of heroic measures, and, properly enough, this step belonged to that class. . .
But would it come?
. . . A line of messengers was established between the telegraph office and the platform of Tremont Temple, and the time was occupied with brief speeches from the Honorable Thomas Russell of Plymouth, Miss Anna E. Dickinson (a
lady of marvelous eloquence), the Reverend Mr. Grimes, J. Sella Martin, William Wells Brown, and myself. But speaking or listening to speeches was not the thing for which the people had come together. . .
Anna E. Dickinson
Eight, nine, ten o'clock came and went, and still no word. A visible shadow seemed falling on the expecting throng, which the confident utterances of the speaks sought in vain to dispel. . . .
About twelve o'clock, seeing there was no disposition to retire from the hall, which must be vacated, my friend Grimes (of blessed memory), rose and moved that the meeting adjourn to the Twelfth Baptist Church, of which he was pastor, and soon that church was packed form doors to pulpit, and this meeting did not break up till near the dawn of day. It was one of the most affecting and thrilling occasions I ever witnessed, and a worthy celebration of the first step on the part of the nation at its departure from the thraldom of ages.
There was evidently no disposition on the part of this meeting to criticize the Proclamation; nor was there with anyone at first. At the moment we saw only its antislavery side. But further and more critical examination showed it to be extremely defective. It was not a proclamation of "liberty throughout all the land, unto all the inhabitants thereof," such as we had hoped it would be; but was one marked by discrimination and reservations. Its operation was confined within certain geographical and military lines. It only abolished slavery where it did not exist, and left it intact where it did exist. It was a measure apparently inspired by the law motive of military necessity, and by so far as it was so, it would become inoperative and useless when military necessity should cease. there was much said in this line, and much that was narrow and erroneous.
For my own part, I took the Proclamation, first and last, for a little more than it purported; and saw in its spirit a life and power far beyond its letter. Its meaning to me was the entire abolition of slavery, wherever the evil could be reached by the federal arm, and I saw that its moral power would extend much further. It was in my estimation an immense gain to have the war for the Union committed to the extinction of slavery, even from a military necessity. It is not a bad thing to have individuals or nations do right though they do so from selfish motives.
. . . The proclamation itself was like Mr. Lincoln throughout. It was framed with a view to the least harm and the most good possible in the circumstances, and with especial consideration of the latter. It was thoughtful, cautious and well guarded at all points. While he hated slavery, and really desired its destruction, he always proceeded against it in a manner the least likely to shock or drive from him any who were truly in sympathy with the preservation of the Union, but who were not friendly to emancipation. For this he kept up the distinction between loyal and disloyal slaveholders, and discriminated in favor of the one, as against the other.
In a word, in all that he did, or attempted, he made it manifest that the one great and all commanding object with him was the peace and preservation of the Union. His wisdom and moderation at this point were for a season useful to the loyal cause in the border states, but it may be fairly questioned whether it did not chill the Union ardor of the loyal people of the North in some degree, and diminish rather than increase the sum of our power against the rebellion: for moderate cautions and guarded as was this Proclamation, it created a howl of indignation and wrath amongst the rebels and their allies. the old cry was raised by the copperhead organs of "an abolition war," and a pretext was thus found for an excuse for refusing to enlist, and for marshalling all the Negro prejudice of the North on the rebel side. Men could say they were willing to fight for the Union, but that they were not willing to flight for the freedom of the Negroes; and thus it was made difficult to procure enlistments or to enforce the draft.Confederate President Jefferson Davis responded to the proclamation by telling the Confederate Congress:
We may well leave it to the instincts of that common humanity which a beneficent creator has implanted in the breasts of our fellow men of all countries to pass judgment on a measure by which several millions of human beings of an inferior race, peaceful and contented laborers in their sphere, are doomed to extermination, while at the same time they are encouraged to a general assassination of their masters by the insiduous [sic] recommendation to abstain from violence unless in necessary defence. Our own destestation of those who have attempted the most execrable measures recorded in the history of guilty man is tempered by profound contempt for the impotent rage which it discloses. So far as regards the action of this government on such criminals as may attempt its execution, I confine myself to informing you that I shall, unless in your wisdom you deem some other course expedient, deliver to the several State authorities all commissioned officers of the United States that may hereafter be captured by our fores in any of the States embraced in the Proclamation, that they may be dealt with in accordance with the laws of those States providing for the punishment of criminals engaged in exciting servile insurrection.
In 1863, Congress authorized black enlistment in the Union army. The Massachusetts 54th
Regimate was the first black unit to be formed, and the governor of the state asked Frederick Douglass to help in the recruitment. Douglass wrote an editorial that was published in the local newspapers. In "Men of Color, to Arms," he urged blacks to "end in a day the bondage of centuries" and to earn their equality and show their patriotism by fighting in the Union cause. His sons Lewis and Charles were among the first Rochester African Americans to enlist.
Later that year, Douglass visited President Lincoln to protest discrimination against black troops. He later recalled:
I shall never forget my first interview with this great man. I was accompanied to the executive mansion and introduced to President Lincoln by Senator [Samuel] Pomeroy. The room in which he received visitors was the one now used by the President's secretaries. I entered it with a moderate estimate of my own consequence, and yet there was to talk with, and even to advise, the head man of a great nation. Happily for me, there was no vain pomp and ceremony about him.
I was never more quickly or more completely put at ease in the presence of a great man, than in that of Abraham Lincoln. He was seated, when I entered, in a low arm chair, with his feet extended to the floor, surrounded by a large number of documents, and several busy secretaries. The room bore the marks of business, and the persons in it, the president included, appeared to be much overworked and tired. Long lines of care were already deeply written on Mr. Lincoln's brow, and his strong face, full of earnestness, lighted up as soon as my name was mentioned.
As I approached and was introduced to him, he rose and extended his hand, and bade me welcome. I at once felt myself in the present of an honest man whom I could love, honor and trust without reserve or doubt. Proceeding to tell him who I was, and what I was doing, he promptly, but kindly, stopped me, saying, 'I know who you are, Mr. Douglass; Mr. Seward has told me all about you. Sit down. I am glad to see you.'
I then told him the object of my visit; that I was assisting to raise colored troops; that several months before I had been very successful in getting men to enlist, but now it was not easy to induce the colored me to enter the service, because there was a feeling among them that the government did not deal fairly with them in several respects.
Mr. Lincoln asked me to state particulars. I replied that there were three particulars which I wished to bring to his attention. First that colored soldiers ought to receive the same wages as those paid to white soldiers. Second, that colored soldiers ought to receive the same protection when taken prisoners, and be exchanged as readily, and on the same terms, as any other prisoners, and if Jefferson Davis should shoot or hang colored soldiers in cold blood, the United States government should retaliate in kind and degree without dely upon Confederate prisoners in its hands. Third, when colored soldiers, seeking the 'bauble-reputation at the cannon's mouth,' performed great and uncommon service on the battlefield, they should be rewarded by distinction and promotion, precisely as white soldiers are rewarded for like services.
|Print of the 54th Massachusetts|
"Storming Fort Wagner"
His son, Frederick Douglass Jr,. also served as a recruiter and another son, Lewis Douglass, fought for the 54th Massachusetts Regiment at the Battle of Fort Wagner.
In 1864, Commissioner of Indian Affairs William P. Dole sent a note to President Lincoln on August 18. "Mr Fred Douglass was expected on the 11 oclock train . . . I will send him to you when he comes". The next day, Lincoln met with Douglass to discuss ways of encouraging Southern slaves to escape and enlist. Lincoln wanted Douglass to organize efforts to let Confederate slaves know that they and emancipation would be endangered if a compromise peace were achieved. The two men discussed a letter President Lincoln had written three days earlier to the Democratic editor of the Green Bay Advocate in which the President made the case for relationship among emancipation, black soldiers and Union victory:
Wisconsin Governor Alexander Randal visited the President the same day and reportedly told Lincoln: "I was in your reception room to day. It was dark. I suppose that clouds & darkness necessarily surround the secrets of state. There in a corner I saw a man quietly reading who possessed a remarkable physiognomy. I was rivetted to the spot. I stood & stared at him He raised his flashing eyes & caught me in the act. I was compelled to speak. Said I, Are you the President. No replied the stranger, I am Frederick Douglass."
Why should they give their lives for us, with full notice of our purpose to betray them? Drive back to the support of the rebellion the physical force which the colored people now give, and promise us, and neither the present, nor any coming administration, can save the Union? Take from us, and give to the enemy, the hundred and thirty, forty, or fifty thousand colored persons now serving us as soldiers, seamen, and laborers, and we can not longer maintain the contest. The party who could elect a President on a War & Slavery Restoration platform, would, of necessity, lose the colored force; and that force being lost, would be as powerless to save the Union as to do any other impossible thing. It is not a question of sentiment or taste, but one of physical force, which may be measured, and estimated as horsepower, and steam power, are measured and estimated. And by measurement, it is more than we can lose, and live. Nor can we, by discarding it, get a white force in place of it. There is a witness in every white mans bosom that he would rather go to the war having the negro to help him, than to help the enemy against him. It is not the giving of one class for another. It is simply giving a large force to the enemy, for nothing in return.
The American people have always been anxious to know what they shall do with us... I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us! If the apples will not remain on the tree of their own strength, if they are worm-eaten at the core, if they are early ripe and disposed to fall, let them fall! ... And if the negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall also. All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone! If you see him on his way to school, let him alone, don't disturb him! If you see him going to the dinner table at a hotel, let him go! If you see him going to the ballot box, let him alone, don't disturb him! If you see him going into a work-shop, just let him alone, — your interference is doing him positive injury.
~ Frederick Douglass, speech in Boston Massachusetts, January 26, 1865The war ended in April 1865, followed soon after by the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Douglass spoke at a memorial meeting on life and death of Lincoln called by Negroes of New York City after the New York Common Council refused to permit African Americans to participate in the funeral procession when Lincoln's coffin passed through the city. Later Mrs. Lincoln sent him the president's favorite walking stick.
Mrs. Abraham Lincoln
Dear Madam: Allow me to thank you as I certainly do thank you most sincerely for your thoughtful kindness in making me the owner of a cane which was formerly the property and the favorite walking staff of your late lamented husband -the honored and venerated President of the United States. I assure you, that this inestimable memento of his presidency will be retained in my possession while I live -an object of sacred interest - a token not merely ofthe kind consideration in which I have reason to know that the President was pleased to hold me personally, but as an indication of his humane interest [in the] welfare of my whole race.With every proper sentiment of Respect and Esteem, I am, Dear Madam, your obedient, Frederick DouglassAfter the war, Douglass found it neccessary to re-evaluation his life's work:
Outside the question of slavery my thoughts had not been much directed, and I could hardly hope to make myself useful in any other cause than that to which I had given the best twenty-five years of my life. A man in the situation in which I found myself has not only to divest himself of the old, which is never easily done, but to adjust himself to the new, which is still more difficult.
. . . This question, however, was soon decided for me. I had after all acquired (a very unusual thing) a little more knowledge and aptitude fitting me for the new condition of things than I knew, and had a deeper hold upon public attention than I had supposed. Invitations began to pour in upon me from colleges, lyceums, and literary societies, offering me one hundred, and even two hundred dollars for a single lecture. I had, some time before, prepared a lecture on "Self-made Men," and also one upon Ethnology, with special reference to Africa. . . .
Here, then, was a new vocation before me, full of advantages mentally and pecuniarily. When in the employment of the American Anti-Slavery Society my salary was about four hundred and fifty dollars a year, and I felt I was well paid for my services; but I could now make from fifty to a hundred dollars a night, and have the satisfaction, too, that I was in some small measure helping to lift my race into consideration, for no man who lives at all lives unto himself--he either helps or hinders all who are in any wise connected with him.
I never rise to speak before an American audience without something of the feeling that my failure or success will bring blame or benefit to my whole race. But my activities were not now confined entirely to lectures before lyceums.
Though slavery was abolished, the wrongs of my people were not ended. Though they were not slaves, they were not yet quite free. No man can be truly free whose liberty is dependent upon the thought, feeling, and action of others, and who has himself no means in his own hands for guarding, protecting, defending, and maintaining that liberty. . . . The government felt that it had done enough for him. It had made him free, and henceforth he must make his own way in the world. Yet he had none of the conditions for self-preservation or self-protection. He was free from the individual master, but the slave of society. He had neither money, property, nor friends. He was free from the old plantation, but he had nothing but the dusty road under his feet.
. . . The American Anti-Slavery Society under the lead of Mr. Garrison had disbanded, its newspapers were discontinued, its agents were withdrawn from the field, and all systematic efforts by abolitionists were abandoned. Many of the society, Mr. Phillips and myself amongst the number, differed from Mr. Garrison as to the wisdom of this course. I felt that the work of the society was not done and that it had not fulfilled its mission, which was, not merely to emancipate, but to elevate the enslaved class. But against Mr. Garrison's leadership, and the surprise and joy occasioned by the emancipation, it was impossible to keep the association alive, and the cause of the freedmen was left mainly to individual effort and to hastily-extemporized societies of an ephemeral character; brought together under benevolent impulse, but having no history behind them, and, being new to the work, they were not as effective for good as the old society would have been had it followed up its work and kept its old instrumentalities in operation.
From the first I saw no chance of bettering the condition of the freedman until he should cease to be merely a freedman and should become a citizen. I insisted that there was no safety for him or for anybody else in America outside the American government; that to guard, protect, and maintain his liberty the freedman should have the ballot; that the liberties of the American people were dependent upon the ballot-box, the jury-box, and the cartridge-box; that without these no class of people could live and flourish in this country; and this was now the word for the hour with me, and the word to which the people of the North willingly listened when I spoke. Hence, regarding as I did the elective franchise as the one great power by which all civil rights are obtained, enjoyed, and maintained under our form of government, and the one without which freedom to any class is delusive if not impossible, I set myself to work with whatever force and energy I possessed to secure this power for the recently-emancipated millions.
. . . The enfranchisement of the freedmen was resisted on many grounds, but mainly on these two: first, the tendency of the measure to bring the freedmen into conflict with the old master-class and the white people of the South generally; secondly, their unfitness, by reason of their ignorance, servility and degradation, to exercise over the destinies of this great nation so great a power as the ballot.The American Equal Rights Association (AERA) was formed in 1866. The new organization
|Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton|
Disagreement was especially sharp over the proposed Fifteenth Amendment, which would prohibit the denial of suffrage because of race. In practice it would, theoretically at least, guarantee suffrage for virtually all males. Anthony and Stanton opposed passage of the amendment unless it was accompanied by a Sixteenth Amendment that would guarantee suffrage for women. Otherwise, they said, it would create an "aristocracy of sex" by giving constitutional authority to the belief that men were superior to women.
In the autumn of 1868, Douglass declined an invitation to speak to a women’s suffrage meeting in Washington. He justified his decision in a letter to Josephine Griffing:
The right of woman to vote is as sacred in my judgment as that of man, and I am quite willing at any time to hold up both hands in favor of this right. It does not however follow that I can come to Washington or go elsewhere to deliver lectures upon this special subject. I am now devoting myself to a cause [if] not more sacred, certainly more urgent, because it is one of life and death to the long enslaved people of this country, and this is: negro suffrage. While the negro is mobbed, beaten, shot, stabbed, hanged, burnt and is the target of all that is malignant in the North and all that is murderous in the South, his claims may be preferred by me without exposing in any wise myself to the imputation of narrowness or meanness towards the cause of woman. … She is the victim of abuses, to be sure, but it cannot be pretended I think that her cause is as urgent as … ours. I never suspected you of sympathizing with Miss Anthony and Mrs. Stanton in their course. Their principle is: that no negro shall be enfranchised while woman is not.
dressed in a cap and great circular cape of wolf skins. He really presented a most formidable and ferocious aspect … As I had been talking against the pending amendment of ‘manhood suffrage,’ I trembled in my shoes and was almost as paralyzed as Red Riding Hood in a similar encounter. But unlike the little maiden, I had a friend at hand and, as usual, in the hour of danger, I fell back in the shadow of Miss Anthony, who stepped forward bravely and took the wolf by the hand. His hearty words of welcome and gracious smile reassured me … Our joy in shaking hands here and there with Douglass, Tilton, and Anna Dickinson, through the West was like meeting ships at sea; as pleasant and as fleeting. Douglass’s hair is fast becoming as white as snow, which adds greatly to the dignity and purity of his countenance … We had an earnest debate with Douglass as far as we journeyed together, and were glad to find that he was gradually working up to our ideas on the question of Suffrage. … As he will attend the Woman Suffrage Anniversary in New York in May, we shall have an opportunity for a full and free discussion of the whole question.”
The majority of the attendees supported the pending Fifteenth Amendment, but debate was contentious. Douglass said, "I do not see how anyone can pretend that there is the same urgency in giving the ballot to woman as to the negro. With us, the matter is a question of life and death, at least in fifteen States of the Union." Anthony replied, "Mr. Douglass talks about the wrongs of the negro; but with all the outrages that he to-day suffers, he would not exchange his sex and take the place of Elizabeth Cady Stanton."
Lucy Stone disagreed with Douglass' assertion that suffrage for blacks should have precedence, saying that "woman suffrage is more imperative than his own." Referring to Douglass' earlier assertion that "There are no KuKlux Clans seeking the lives of women," Stone cited state laws that gave men control over the disposition of their children, saying that children had been known to have been taken from their mothers by "Ku-Kluxers here in the North in the shape of men". Stone supported the Fifteenth Amendment and at the same time stressed the importance of women's rights by saying, "But I thank God for that XV. Amendment, and hope that it will be adopted in every State. I will be thankful in my soul if any body can get out of the terrible pit. But I believe that the safety of the government would be more promoted by the admission of woman as an element of restoration and harmony than the negro."
After the war, Douglass heard from one of his brothers: Perry Downs was Frederick Douglass's older brother by four years.
Fred Douglass Rochester N.York
Perry Downs knowing that he is a brother of yours endeavoring to inform you where I am at. I am also a son of Harriet Baileys, Grandson of Elisabeth & Isaac Bailey, Talbert Co. Maryland, Lees Mill Hill near Hillsborough & to show you farther we all used to belong to R. & A. Emteney who was a clerk for Col Lloyd. I want to see a letter which you wrote to sister Alice since that John P. Emteney has sold my wife and for that reason I am in that State. I have found my wife and am still living with her. I am doing pretty well here and get treated pretty well also & I am getting $15.00 gold wages a month. I have a great desire to see you if it is possible to make arrangements to bring me to you. I am 55 years of age now. Do you recollect the time I brought uncle harry Dons which was the last time I seen you.
I remain truly
Brother Perry Downs
Douglass did remember Downs, and mentioned him twice in his autobiographies, first as one of the stranger siblings he encountered when his grandmother dropped him at Wye House, and, second, just before the division of the Anthony estate when Andrew Anthony kicked the living daylights out of Downs. Douglass arranged for passage of his brother and his family to Rochester.
In the spring of 1871, Douglass delivered a speech at Arlington Cemetery. He included it in his last autobiography, saying: "My speech, delivered at Arlington, near the monument to the "Unknown Loyal Dead," on Decoration Day, 1871, was delivered under impressive circumstances, in presence of President Grant, his Cabinet, and a great multitude of distinguished people, and expresses, as I think, the true view which should be taken of the great conflict between slavery and freedom to which it refers."
We are sometimes asked, in the name of patriotism, to forget the merits of this fearful struggle, and to remember with equal admiration those who struck at the nation's life and those who struck to save it, those who fought for slavery and those who fought for liberty and justice.
I am no minister of malice. I would not strike the fallen. I would not repel the repentant; but may my 'right hand forget her cunning and my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth,' if I forget the difference between the parties to that terrible, protracted, and bloody conflict.
If we ought to forget a war which has filled our land with widows and orphans; which has made stumps of men of the very flower of our youth; which has sent them on the journey of life armless, legless, maimed and mutilated; which has piled up a debt heavier than a mountain of gold, swept uncounted thousands of men into bloody graves and planted agony at a million hearthstones--I say, if this war is to be forgotten, I ask, in the name of all things sacred, what shall men remember?
The essence and significance of our devotions here to-day are not to be found in the fact that the men whose remains fill these graves were brave in battle. If we met simply to show our sense of bravery, we should find enough on both sides to kindle admiration. In the raging storm of fire and blood, in the fierce torrent of shot and shell, of sword and bayonet, whether on foot or on horse, unflinching courage marked the rebel not less than the loyal soldier.
But we are not here to applaud manly courage, save as it has been displayed in a noble cause.
We must never forget that victory to the rebellion meant death to the republic.
We must never forget that the loyal soldiers who rest beneath this sod flung themselves between the nation and the nation's destroyers. If to-day we have a country not boiling in an agony of blood, like France, if now we have a united country, no longer cursed by the hell-black system of human bondage, if the American name is no longer a by-word and a hissing to a mocking earth, if the star-spangled banner floats only over free American citizens in every quarter of the land, and our country has before it a long and glorious career of justice, liberty, and civilization, we are indebted to the unselfish devotion of the noble army who rest in these honored graves all around us.A short time later, Douglass's Rochester home went up in flames. None of his family was hurt, but irreplaceable volumes of his newspapers were destroyed. Although friends urged him to rebuild in Rochester, Douglass decided to move his family to the center of political activity in Washington, D.C.
The 2d of June, 1872, brought me a very grievous loss. My house in Rochester was burnt to the ground, and among other things of value, twelve volumes of my paper, covering the period from 1848 to 1860, were devoured by the flames. I have never been able to replace them, and the loss is immeasurable. Only a few weeks before, I had been invited to send these bound volumes to the library of Harvard University, where they would have been preserved in a fire-proof building, and the result of my procrastination attests the wisdom of more than one proverb.Douglass was named Marshal for the District of Columbia by President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1877. He was the first African American to be appointed a U.S. Marshal. This was the first appointment of an African American to require United States Senate confirmation. By occupying this post and distributing jobs, Douglass continued and strengthened the hold of black civil servants on minor government positions.
In 1877, Douglass visited Thomas Auld, who was by then on his deathbed. Douglass had met
An incident occurred which excited some interest . . . and was noticed by the press at the time. . . It was my meeting Mrs. Amanda Sears, the daughter of my old mistress, Miss Lucretia Auld, the same Lucretia to whom I was indebted for so many acts of kindness when under the rough treatment of Aunt Katy, at the "old plantation home" of Col. Edward Lloyd.
Mrs. Sears now resided in Baltimore, and as I saw her on the corner of Ninth and Chestnut streets, I hastily ran to her, and expressed my surprise and joy at meeting her. "But what brought you to Philadelphia at this time?" I asked. She replied, with animated voice and countenance, "I heard you were to be here, and I came to see you walk in this procession." The dear lady, with her two children, had been following us for hours. Here was the daughter of the owner of a slave, following with enthusiasm that slave as a free man, and listening with joy to the plaudits he received as he marched along through the crowded streets of the great city.
. . . Seven years prior to our meeting, as just described, I delivered a lecture in National Hall, Philadelphia, and at its close a gentleman approached me and said, "Mr. Douglass, do you know that your once mistress has been listening to you to-night?" I replied that I did not, nor was I inclined to believe it. I had four or five times before had a similar statement made to me by different individuals in different States and this made me skeptical in this instance. The next morning, however, I received from a Mr. Wm. Needles a very elegantly written note, which stated that she who was Amanda Auld, daughter of Thomas and Lucretia Auld, and granddaughter to my old master, Capt. Aaron Anthony, was now married to Mr. John L. Sears, a coal merchant in West Philadelphia. The street and number of Mr. Sears' office was given, so that I might, by seeing him, assure myself of the facts in the case, and perhaps learn something of the relatives whom I left in slavery. This note, with the intimation given me the night before, convinced me there was something in it, and I resolved to know the truth. I had now been out of slavery twenty years, and no word had come to me from my sisters, or my brother Perry, or my grandmother. My separation had been as complete as if I had been an inhabitant of another planet. A law of Maryland at that time visited with heavy fine and imprisonment any colored person who should come into the State; so I could not go to them any more than they could come to me.
Eager to know if my kinsfolk still lived, and what was their condition, I made my way to the office of Mr. Sears, found him in, and handed him the note I had received from Mr. Needles, and asked him to be so kind as to read it and to tell me if the facts were as there stated. After reading the note, he said it was true but he must decline any conversation with me, since not to do so would be a sacrifice to the feelings of his father-in-law. I deeply regretted his decision, spoke of my long separation from my relations and appealed to him to give me some information concerning them. I saw that my words were not without their effect. Presently he said, "You publish a newspaper, I believe?" "I do," I said, "but if that is your objection to speaking with me, no word of our conversation shall go into its columns." To make a long story short, we had then quite a long conversation, during which Mr. Sears said that in my "Narrative" I had done his father-in-law injustice, for he was really a kind-hearted man, and a good master. I replied that there must be two sides to the relation of master and slave, and what was deemed kind and just to the one was the opposite to the other. Mr. Sears was not disposed to be unreasonable and the longer we talked the nearer we came together.
I finally asked permission to see Mrs. Sears, the little girl of seven or eight years when I left the eastern shore of Maryland. This request was at first a little too much for him, and he put me off by saying that she was a mere child when I last saw her and that she was now the mother of a large family of children and I would not know her. He, as well as she, could tell me everything about my people. I pressed my suit, however, insisting that I could select Miss Amanda out of a thousand other ladies, my recollection of her was so perfect, and begged him to test my memory at this point. After much parley of this nature, he at length consented to my wishes, giving me the number of his house and name of street, with permission to call at three o'clock P. M. on the next day. I left him, delighted, and prompt to the hour was ready for my visit. I dressed myself in my best, and hired the finest carriage I could get to take me, partly because of the distance, and partly to make the contrast between the slave and the free man as striking as possible.
Mr. Sears had been equally thoughtful. He had invited to his house a number of friends to witness the meeting between Mrs. Sears and myself. I was somewhat disconcerted when I was ushered into the large parlors occupied by about thirty ladies and gentlemen, to all of whom I was a perfect stranger. I saw the design to test my memory by making it difficult for me to guess who of the company was "Miss Amanda." In her girlhood she was small and slender, and hence a thin and delicately-formed lady was seated in a rocking-chair near the center of the room with a little girl by her side. The device was good, but it did not succeed. Glancing around the room, I saw in an instant the lady who was a child twenty-five years before, and the wife and mother now. Satisfied of this, I said, "Mr. Sears,if you will allow me, I will select Miss Amanda from this company." I started towards her, and she, seeing that I recognized her, bounded to me with joy in every feature, and expressed her great happiness at seeing me. All thought of slavery, color, or what might seem to belong to the dignity of her position vanished, and the meeting was as the meeting of friends long separated, yet still present in each other's memory and affection.
Amanda made haste to tell me that she agreed with me about slavery, and that she had freed all her slaves as they had become of age. She brought her children to me, and I took them in my arms, with sensations which I could not if I would stop here to describe. One explanation of the feeling of this lady towards me was, that her mother, who died when she was yet a tender child, had been briefly described by me in a little "Narrative of my life," published many years before our meeting, and when I could have had no motive but the highest for what I said of her. She had read my story and had through me learned something of the amiable qualities of her mother. She also recollected that as I had had trials as a slave she had had her trials under the care of a stepmother, and that when she was harshly spoken to by her father's second wife she could always read in my dark face the sympathy of one who had often received kind words from the lips of her beloved mother.
. . . It will be noticed that when I first met Mr. Sears in Philadelphia he declined to talk with me, on the ground that I had been unjust to Captain Auld, his father-in-law. Soon after that meeting Captain Auld had occasion to go to Philadelphia, and, as usual, went straight to the house of his son-in-law. He had hardly finished the ordinary salutations when he said: "Sears, I see by the papers that Frederick has recently been in Philadelphia. Did you go to hear him?" "Yes, sir," was the reply. After asking something about my lecture he said, "Well, Sears, did Frederick come to see you?" "Yes, sir," said Sears. "Well, how did you receive him?" Mr. Sears then told him all about my visit, and had the satisfaction of hearing the old man say that he had done right in giving me welcome to his house. . . .
Four years ago, after a period of more than forty years, I visited and had an interview with Captain Thomas Auld at St. Michaels, Talbot county, Maryland. . . . My return, in peace, to this place and among the same people, was strange enough in itself; but that I should, when there, be formally invited by Captain Thomas Auld, then over eighty years old, to come to the side of his dying bed, evidently with a view to a friendly talk over our past relations, was a fact still more strange, and one which, until its occurrence, I could never have thought possible.
To me Captain Auld had sustained the relation of master--a relation which I had held in extremest abhorrence, and which for forty years I had denounced in all bitterness of spirit and fierceness of speech. He had struck down my personality, had subjected me to his will, made property of my body and soul, reduced me to a chattel, hired me out to a noted slave breaker to be worked like a beast and flogged into submission, taken my hard earnings, sent me to prison, offered me for sale, broken up my Sunday-school, forbidden me to teach my fellow-slaves to read on pain of nine and thirty lashes on my bare back and had, without any apparent disturbance of his conscience, sold my body to his brother Hugh and pocketed the price of my flesh and blood.
I, on my part, had traveled through the length and breadth of this country and of England, holding up this conduct of his, in common with that of other slaveholders, to the reprobation of all men who would listen to my words. I had by my writings made his name and his deeds familiar to the world in four different languages, yet here we were, after four decades, once more face to face--he on his bed, aged and tremulous, drawing near the sunset of life, and I, his former slave, United States Marshal of the district of Columbia, holding his hand and in friendly conversation with him in a sort of final settlement of past differences preparatory to his stepping into his grave, where all distinctions are at an end, and where the great and the small, the slave and his master, are reduced to the same level.
Had I been asked in the days of slavery to visit this man I should have regarded the invitation as one to put fetters on my ankles and handcuffs on my wrists. It would have been an invitation to the auction-block and the slave-whip. I had no business with this man under the old regime but to keep out of his way. But now that slavery was destroyed, and the slave and the master stood upon equal ground, I was not only willing to meet him, but was very glad to do so. The conditions were favorable for remembrance of all his good deeds, and generous extenuation of all his evil ones. He was to me no longer a slaveholder either in fact or in spirit, and I regarded him as I did myself, a victim of the circumstances of birth, education, law, and custom. Our courses had been determined for us, not by us. We had both been flung, by powers that did not ask our consent, upon a mighty current of life, which we could neither resist nor control. By this current he was a master, and I a slave; but now our lives were verging towards a point where differences disappear, where even the constancy of hate breaks down and where the clouds of pride, passion and selfishness vanish before the brightness of infinite light. At such a time, and in such a place, when a man is about closing his eyes on this world and ready to step into the eternal unknown, no word of reproach or bitterness should reach him or fall from his lips; and on this occasion there was to this rule no transgression on either side.
As this visit to Capt. Auld has been made the subject of mirth by heartless triflers, and by serious-minded men regretted as a weakening of my life-long testimony against slavery, and as the report of it, published in the papers immediately after it occurred, was in some respects defective and colored, it may be proper to state exactly what was said and done at this interview. It should in the first place be understood that I did not go to St. Michaels upon Capt. Auld's invitation, but upon that of my colored friend, Charles Caldwell; but when once there, Capt. Auld sent Mr. Green, a man in constant attendance upon him during his sickness, to tell me he would be very glad to see me, and wished me to accompany Green to his house, with which request I complied.
On reaching the house I was met by Mr. Wm. H. Bruff, a son-in-law of Capt. Auld, and Mrs. Louisa Bruff, his daughter, and was conducted by them immediately to the bedroom of Capt. Auld. We addressed each other simultaneously, he calling me "Marshal Douglass," and I, as I had always called him, "Captain Auld." Hearing myself called by him "Marshal Douglass," I instantly broke up the formal nature of the meeting by saying, "not Marshal, but Frederick to you as formerly." We shook hands cordially, and in the act of doing so, he, having been long stricken with palsy, shed tears as men thus afflicted will do when excited by any deep emotion. The sight of him, the changes which time had wrought in him, his tremulous hands constantly in motion, and all the circumstances of his condition affected me deeply, and for a time choked my voice and made me speechless. We both, however, got the better of our feelings, and conversed freely about the past.
Though broken by age and palsy, the mind of Capt. Auld was remarkably clear and strong. After he had become composed I asked him what he thought of my conduct in running away and going to the north. He hesitated a moment as if to properly formulate his reply, and said: "Frederick, I always knew you were too smart to be a slave, and had I been in your place, I should have done as you did." I said, "Capt. Auld, I am glad to hear you say this. I did not run away from you, but from slavery; it was not that I loved Caesar less, but Rome more."
I told him that I had made a mistake in my narrative, a copy of which I had sent him, in attributing to him ungrateful and cruel treatment of my grandmother; that I had done so on the supposition that in the division of the property of my old master, Mr. Aaron Anthony, my grandmother had fallen to him, and that he had left her in her old age, when she could be no longer of service to him, to pick up her living in solitude with none to help her, or, in other words, had turned her out to die like an old horse. "Ah!" he said, "that was a mistake, I never owned your grandmother; she in the division of the slaves was awarded to my brother-in-law, Andrew Anthony; but," he added quickly, "I brought her down here and took care of her as long as she lived."
The fact is, that, after writing my narrative describing the condition of my grandmother, Capt. Auld's attention being thus called to it, he rescued her from her destitution. I told him that this mistake of mine was corrected as soon as I discovered it, and that I had at no time any wish to do him injustice; that I regarded both of us as victims of a system. "Oh, I never liked slavery," he said, "and I meant to emancipate all of my slaves when they reached the age of twenty-five years." I told him I had always been curious to know how old I was and that it had been a serious trouble to me, not to know when was my birthday. He said he could not tell me that, but he thought I was born in February, 1818. This date made me one year younger than I had supposed myself from what was told me by Mistress Lucretia, Captain Auld's former wife, when I left Lloyd's for Baltimore in the Spring of 1825; she having then said that I was eight, going on nine. I know that it was in the year 1825 that I went to Baltimore, because it was in that year that Mr. James Beacham built a large frigate at the foot of Alliceana street, for one of the South American Governments.
Before I left his bedside Captain Auld spoke with a cheerful confidence of the great change that awaited him, and felt himself about to depart in peace. Seeing his extreme weakness I did not protract my visit. The whole interview did not last more than twenty minutes, and we parted to meet no more. His death was soon after announced in the papers, and the fact that he had once owned me as a slave was cited as rendering that event noteworthy.In 1877, Douglass bought the family's final home in Washington D.C., on a hill above the
In the first narrative of my experience in slavery, written nearly forty years ago, and in various writings since, I have given the public what I considered very good reasons for withholding the manner of my escape. In substance these reasons were, first, that such publication at any time during the existence of slavery might be used by the master against the slave, and prevent the future escape of any who might adopt the same means that I did.
The second reason was, if possible, still more binding to silence--for publication of details would certainly have put in peril the persons and property of those who assisted. Murder itself was not more sternly and certainly punished in the State of Maryland than was the aiding and abetting the escape of a slave. Many colored men, for no other crime than that of giving aid to a fugitive slave, have, like Charles T. Torrey, perished in prison. The abolition of slavery in my native State and throughout the country, and the lapse of time, render the caution hitherto observed no longer necessary.
But, even since the abolition of slavery, I have sometimes thought it well enough to baffle curiosity by saying that while slavery existed there were good reasons for not telling the manner of my escape, and since slavery had ceased to exist there was no reason for telling it. I shall now, however, cease to avail myself of this formula, and, as far as I can, endeavor to satisfy this very natural curiosity. . . .
My success was due to address rather than to courage; to good luck rather than to bravery. My means of escape were provided for me by the very men who were making laws to hold and bind me more securely in slavery. It was the custom in the State of Maryland to require of the free colored people to have what were called free papers. This instrument they were required to renew very often, and by charging a fee for this writing, considerable sums from time to time were collected by the State. In these papers the name, age, color, height and form of the free man were described, together with any scars or other marks upon his person which could assist in his identification.
This device of slaveholding ingenuity, like other devices of wickedness, in some measure defeated itself--since more than one man could be found to answer the same general description. Hence many slaves could escape by personating the owner of one set of papers; and this was often done as follows: A slave nearly or sufficiently answering the description set forth in the papers, would borrow or hire them till he could by their means escape to a free state, and then, by mail or otherwise, return them to the owner. The operation was a hazardous one for the lender as well as for the borrower. A failure on the part of the fugitive to send back the papers would imperil his benefactor, and the discovery of the papers in possession of the wrong man would imperil both the fugitive and his friend. It was therefore an act of supreme trust on the part of a freeman of color thus to put in jeopardy his own liberty that another might be free. It was, however, not unfrequently bravely done, and was seldom discovered.
I was not so fortunate as to sufficiently resemble any of my free acquaintances as to answer the description of their papers. But I had one friend--a sailor--who owned a sailor's protection, which answered somewhat the purpose of free papers--describing his person and certifying to the fact that he was a free American sailor. The instrument had at its head the American eagle, which at once gave it the appearance of an authorized document. This protection did not, when in my hands, describe its bearer very accurately. Indeed, it called for a man much darker than myself, and close examination of it would have caused my arrest at the start. In order to avoid this fatal scrutiny on the part of the railroad official, I had arranged with Isaac Rolls, a hackman, to bring my baggage to the train just on the moment of starting, and jumped upon the car myself when the train was already in motion. . . . I had on a red shirt and a tarpaulin hat and black cravat, tied in sailor fashion, carelessly and loosely about my neck. My knowledge of ships and sailor's talk came much to my assistance, for I knew a ship from stem to stern, and from keelson to cross-trees, and could talk sailor like an "old salt."
On sped the train, and I was well on the way to Havre de Grace before the conductor came into the negro car to collect tickets and examine the papers of his black passengers. This was a critical moment in the drama. My whole future depended upon the decision of this conductor. Agitated I was while this ceremony was proceeding, but still, externally at least, I was apparently calm and self-possessed. He went on with his duty--examining several colored passengers before reaching me. He was somewhat harsh in tone and peremptory in manner until he reached me, when, strangely enough, and to my surprise and relief, his whole manner changed. Seeing that I did not readily produce my free papers, as the other colored persons in the car had done, he said to me in a friendly contrast with that observed towards the others: "I suppose you have your free papers?" To which I answered: "No, sir; I never carry my free papers to sea with me." "But you have something to show that you are a free man, have you not?" "Yes, sir," I answered; "I have a paper with the American eagle on it, that will carry me round the world." With this I drew from my deep sailor's pocket my seaman's protection, as before described. The merest glance at the paper satisfied him, and he took my fare and went on about his business. This moment of time was one of the most anxious I ever experienced. Had the conductor looked closely at the paper, he could not have failed to discover that it called for a very different looking person from myself, and in that case it would have been his duty to arrest me on the instant and send me back to Baltimore from the first station. When he left me with the assurance that I was all right, though much relieved, I realized that I was still in great danger: I was still in Maryland, and subject to arrest at any moment. . . .
Though I was not a murderer fleeing from justice, I felt, perhaps, quite as miserable as such a criminal. The train was moving at a very high rate of speed for that time of railroad travel, but to my anxious mind, it was moving far too slowly. Minutes were hours, and hours were days during this part of my flight.
. . . The last point of imminent danger, and the one I dreaded most, was Wilmington. Here we left the train and took the steamboat for Philadelphia. In making the change I again apprehended arrest, but no one disturbed me, and I was soon on the broad and beautiful Delaware, speeding away to the Quaker City. On reaching Philadelphia in the afternoon I inquired of a colored man how I could get on to New York? He directed me to the Willow street depot, and thither I went, taking the train that night. I reached New York Tuesday morning, having completed the journey in less than twenty-four hours.In June 1881, Douglass returned to Wye House Talbot County, Maryland, for the first time since his boyhood. He was received by the then-owner's 18-year-old son and given a glass of wine in the house.
My visit to the town of Easton, county seat of Talbot County . . . to deliver an address in the Court House . . was made interesting to me, by the fact that forty-five years before I had, in company with Henry and John Harris, been dragged behind horses to Easton, with my hands tied, put in jail and offered for sale, for the offense of intending to run away from slavery . . . There stood the old jail, with its white-washed walls and iron gratings, as when in my youth I heard its heavy locks and bolts clank behind me. Strange too, Mr. Joseph Graham, who was then sheriff of the County, and who locked me in this gloomy place, was still living, though verging towards eighty, and was one of the gentlemen who now gave me a warm and friendly welcome, and was among my hearers when I delivered my address at the Court House. There too in the same old place stood Sol. Law's Tavern, where once the slave traders were wont to congregate, and where I now took up my abode and was treated with a hospitality and consideration undreamed of by me in the olden time as possible.
When one has advanced far in the journey of life, when he has seen and traveled over much of this great world, and has had many and strange experiences of shadow and sunshine, when long distances of time and space have come between him and his point of departure, it is natural that his thoughts should return to the place of his beginning, and that he should be seized with a strong desire to revisit the scenes of his early recollection, and live over in memory the incidents of his childhood. At least such for several years had been my thoughts and feeling in respect of Col. Lloyd's plantation on Wye River, Talbot County, Maryland; for I had never been there since I left it, when eight years old, in 1825. While slavery continued, of course this very natural desire could not be safely gratified; for my presence among slaves was dangerous to the public peace, and could no more be tolerated than could a wolf among sheep, or fire in a magazine. But now that the results of the war had changed all this, I had for several years determined to return, upon the first opportunity, to my old home. Speaking of this desire of mine last winter, to Hon. John L. Thomas, the efficient collector at the port of Baltimore, and a leading republican of the State of Maryland, he urged me very much to go, and added that he often took a trip to the eastern shore in his revenue cutter Guthrie, (otherwise known in time of war as the Ewing,) and would be much pleased to have me accompany him on one of these trips. I expressed some doubt as to how such a visit would be received by the present Col. Edward Lloyd, now proprietor of the old place, and grandson of Governor Ed. Lloyd, whom I remembered. Mr. Thomas promptly assured me that from his own knowledge I need have no trouble on that score. Mr. Lloyd was a liberal-minded gentleman, and he had no doubt would take a visit from me very kindly. I was very glad to accept the offer. The opportunity for the trip however did not occur till the 12th of June, and on that day, in company with Messrs. Thomas, Thompson, and Chamberlain, on board the cutter, we started for the contemplated visit.
In four hours after leaving Baltimore we were anchored in the river off the Lloyd estate, and from the deck of our vessel I saw once more the stately chimneys of the grand old mansion which I had last seen from the deck of the Sallie Lloyd when a boy. I left there as a slave, and returned as a freeman; I left there unknown to the outside world, and returned well known; I left there on a freight boat, and returned on a revenue cutter; I left on a vessel belonging to Col. Edward Lloyd, and returned on one belonging to the United States.
As soon as we had come to anchor, Mr. Thomas dispatched a note to Col. Edward Lloyd, announcing my presence on board his cutter, and inviting him to meet me, informing him it was my desire, if agreeable to him, to revisit my old home. In response to this note, Mr. Howard Lloyd, a son of Col. Lloyd, a young gentleman of very pleasant address, came on board the cutter, and was introduced to the several gentlemen and myself. He told us that his father had gone to Easton on business, expressed his regret at his absence, hoped he would return before we should leave, and in the meantime received us cordially, and invited us ashore, escorted us over the grounds, and gave us as hearty a welcome as we could have wished.
I hope I shall be pardoned for speaking with much complacency of this incident. It was one which could happen to but few men, and only once in the life time of any. The span of human life is too short for the repetition of events which occur at the distance of fifty years. That I was deeply moved and greatly affected by it can be easily imagined. Here I was, being welcomed and escorted by the greatgrandson of Colonel Edward Lloyd--a gentleman I had known well fifty-six years before, and whose form and features were as vividly depicted on my memory as if I had seen him but yesterday. He was a gentleman of the olden time, elegant in his apparel, dignified in his deportment, a man of few words and of weighty presence; and I can easily conceive that no Governor of the State of Maryland ever commanded a larger measure of respect than did this greatgrandfather of the young gentleman now before me.
In company with Mr. Howard was his little brother Decosa, a bright boy of eight or nine years, disclosing his aristocratic descent in the lineaments of his face, and in all his modest and graceful movements. As I looked at him I could not help the reflections naturally arising from having seen so many generations of the same family on the same estate. I had seen the elder Lloyd, and was now walking around with the youngest member of that name. In respect to the place itself, I was most agreeably surprised to find that time had dealt so gently with it, and that in all its appointments it was so little changed from what it was when I left it, and from what I have elsewhere described it. Very little was missing except the squads of little black children which were once seen in all directions, and the great number of slaves in its fields. Col. Lloyd's estate comprised twenty-seven thousand acres, and the home-farm seven thousand. In my boyhood sixty men were employed in cultivating the home farm alone. Now, by the aid of machinery, the work is accomplished by ten men.
I found the buildings, which gave it the appearance of a village, nearly all standing, and I was astonished to find that I had carried their appearance and location so accurately in my mind during so many years. There was the long quarter, the quarter on the hill, the dwelling-house of my old master Aaron Anthony, and the overseer's house, once occupied by William Sevier, Austin Gore, James Hopkins, and other overseers. In connection with my old master's house was the kitchen where Aunt Katy presided, and where my head had received many a thump from her unfriendly hand. I looked into this kitchen with peculiar interest, and remembered that it was there I last saw my mother.
I went round to the window at which Miss Lucretia used to sit with her sewing, and at which I used to sing when hungry, a signal which she well understood, and to which she readily responded with bread. The little closet in which I slept in a bag had been taken into the room; the dirt floor, too, had disappeared under plank. But upon the whole the house is very much as it was in the old time . . .
From this we were invited to what was called by the slaves the Great House--the mansion of the Lloyds, and were helped to chairs upon its stately veranda, where we could have full view of its garden, with its broad walks, hedged with box and adorned with fruit trees and flowers of almost every variety. A more tranquil and tranquilizing scene I have seldom met in this or any other country.
. . . Leaving the Great House, my presence became known to the colored people, some of whom were children of those I had known when a boy. They all seemed delighted to see me, and were pleased when I called over the names of many of the old servants, and pointed out the cabin where Dr. Copper, an old slave, used, with a hickory stick in hand, to teach us to say the "Lord's Prayer." After spending a little time with these, we bade good-bye to Mr. Howard Lloyd, with many thanks for his kind attentions, and steamed away to St. Michael's . . .
In 1883, the Supreme Court held that Congress lacked the constitutional authority under the enforcement provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment to outlaw racial discrimination by private individuals and organizations, rather than state and local governments. More particularly, the Court held that the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which provided that "all persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges of inns, public conveyances on land or water, theaters, and other places of public amusement; subject only to the conditions and limitations established by law, and applicable alike to citizens of every race and color, regardless of any previous condition of servitude" was unconstitutional.
The Court, in a 8-1 decision by Justice Joseph Bradley, held that the language of the 14th Amendment, which prohibited denial of equal protection by a state, did not give Congress power to regulate these private acts, because it was the result of conduct by private individuals, not state law or action, that blacks were suffering. Private acts of racial discrimination were simply private wrongs that the national government was powerless to correct. The Court also acknowledged that the 13th Amendment does apply to private actors, but only to the extent that it prohibits people from owning slaves, not exhibiting discriminatory behavior. The Court said that "it would be running the slavery argument into the ground to make it apply to every act of discrimination which a person may see fit to make as to guests he will entertain, or as to the people he will take into his coach or cab or car; or admit to his concert or theatre, or deal with in other matters of intercourse or business."
Justice John Harlen was the lone dissenter, and challenged the Court's narrow interpretation of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments in his dissent. As he noted, Congress was attempting to overcome the refusal of the states to protect the rights denied to African-Americans that white citizens took as their birthright. Among other things, Harlan mentioned that private railroads are by law public highways, and it is the function of the government to make and maintain highways for the conveyance of the public; that innkeepers have long been held to be "a sort of public servants" that had no right to deny to anyone "conducting himself in a proper manner" admission to his inn; and that public amusements are maintained under a license coming from the public.
Harlan thus noted that permitting discrimination in those areas would affect public, not private, interests, and argued that permitting such discrimination would impinge upon the black citizens' freedom of travel, a fundamental aspect of liberty: "What I affirm is that no state.. nor any corporation or individual wielding power under state authority for the public benefit or the public convenience, can.. discriminate against freemen or citizens... The rights which congress, by the act of 1875, endeavored to secure and protect are legal, not social, rights."
Douglass wrote in response to the Supreme Court decision:
In further illustration of the reactionary tendencies of public opinion against the black man and of the increasing decline, since the war for the Union, in the power of resistance to the onward march of the rebel States to their former control and ascendency in the councils of the nation, the decision of the United States Supreme Court, declaring the Civil Rights law of 1875 unconstitutional, is striking and convincing. The strength and activities of the malign elements of the country against equal rights and equality before the law seem to increase in proportion to the increasing distance between that time and the time of the war. When the black man's arm was needed to defend the country; when the North and the South were in arms against each other and the country was in danger of dismemberment, his rights were well considered. That the reverse is now true, is a proof of the fading and defacing effect of time and the transient character of Republican gratitude.
From the hour that the loyal North began to fraternize with the disloyal and slaveholding South; from the hour that they began to "shake hands over the bloody chasm;" from that hour the cause of justice to the black man began to decline and lose its hold upon the public mind, and it has lost ground ever since.
The future historian will turn to the year 1883 to find the most flagrant example of this national deterioration. Here he will find the Supreme Court of the nation reversing the action of the Government, defeating the manifest purpose of the Constitution, nullifying the Fourteenth Amendment, and placing itself on the side of prejudice, proscription, and persecution.
Whatever this Supreme Court may have been in the past, or may by the Constitution have been intended to be, it has, since the days of the Dred Scott decision, been wholly under the influence of the slave power, and its decisions have been dictated by that power rather than by what seemed to be sound and established rules of legal interpretation.
Although we had, in other days, seen this court bend and twist the law to the will and interest of the slave power, it was supposed that by the late war and the great fact that slavery was abolished, and the further fact that the members of the bench were now appointed by a Republican administration, the spirit as well as the body had been exorcised. Hence the decision in question came to the black man as a painful and bewildering surprise. It was a blow from an unsuspected quarter. The surrender of the national capital to Jefferson Davis in time of the war could hardly have caused a greater shock. For the moment the colored citizen felt as if the earth was opened beneath him. He was wounded in the house of his friends. He felt that this decision drove him from the doors of the great temple of American Justice. The nation that he had served against its enemies had thus turned him over naked to those enemies. His trouble was without any immediate remedy. The decision must stand until the gates of death could prevail against it.
. . . Far down the ages, when men shall wish to inform themselves as to the real state of liberty, law, religion, and civilization in the United States at this juncture of our history, they will overhaul the proceedings of the Supreme Court, and read this strange decision declaring the Civil Rights Bill unconstitutional and void. . . .
The lesson of all the ages upon this point is, that a wrong done to one man is a wrong done to all men. It may not be felt at the moment, and the evil may be long delayed, but so sure as there is a moral government of the universe, so sure as there is a God of the universe, so sure will the harvest of evil come.
Color prejudice is not the only prejudice against which a Republic like ours should guard. The spirit of caste is malignant and dangerous everywhere. There is the prejudice of the rich against the poor, the pride and prejudice of the idle dandy against the hard-handed workingman. There is, worst of all, religious prejudice, a prejudice which has stained whole continents with blood. It is, in fact, a spirit infernal, against which every enlightened man should wage perpetual war.
They were married on January 24, 1884 by the Reverend Francis Grimké, who was also of mixed ancestry. Despite the fact that Helen's parents, Gideon and Jane Pitts, were abolitionists, they were against the marriage because Douglass was the son of a white father and a black mother. The couple faced a storm of controversy with their marriage, since Pitts was both white and nearly 20 years younger than Douglass (he was 60, she was 46 years old.) Her family stopped speaking to her; his children felt his marriage was a repudiation of their mother. Pitts was a direct descendant of John and Priscilla Alden and a cousin to Presidents John and John Q. Adams. As a result, the marriage of a Mayflower Daughter to a former slave was yet another source of outrage to those who opposed the inter-racial
No man, perhaps, had ever more offended popular prejudice than I had then lately done. I had married a wife. People who had remained silent over the unlawful relations of white slave masters with their colored slave women loudly condemned me for marrying a wife a few shades lighter than myself.Friends said that the marriage was not only one of affection but also one that emerged from their principles. Douglass responded to the criticisms by saying that his first marriage had been to someone the color of his mother, and his second to someone the color of his father. Helen Pitts Douglass later wrote: "Love came to me, and I was not afraid to marry the man I loved because of his color."
Douglass attended Metropolitan A. M. E. Church in Washington, D. C. In June 1886, Theophilus Gould Steward became pastor of the church; Gould "had heard that he was not a believer in Christianity; and it was further said by some that he had little respect for ministers or religion." Gould inquired by a letter to Douglass, who responded:
Anacostia, D. C., July 27, 1886.
I do not wonder, therefore, in view of the frequency of such utterances, you should be surprised to find me a regular reader of your church organ, a supporter of your church over which you preside. My line of conduct in this matter is not determined by my approval of the theological dogmas often promulgated from the pulpit. In respect to many of those dogmas I should, perhaps, differ very widely from yourself and others, while I yet find ground entirely satisfactory to my judgment and conscience for contributing my mite to the treasury of your church, and that of others.
You, yourself, in asking for contributions last Sunday stated in theological form the philosophical ground upon which, in this respect, I justify my conduct. You called upon us to give for the glory of God and for the good of man: and in giving, I did both.
As to my infidelity, so-called, it has never denied any attribute of the Deity. To me, God is good! God is light! God is truth! God is love! and to glorify God is to lead a life in harmony with these attributes.
. . . Christianity is nothing to me, except as it stands as the representative of the sigh of the soul for a noble life; for herein is the true glory of God. Now looking at the church, apart from what is purely theological and abstract, I see in it means of promoting honorable character and conduct; and, as I have said, for this reason, I contribute my mite towards its support.
I have still another reason for this action, though not one of equal weight with that already given. It is because I would have colored people enjoy advantages for assembling themselves together, for moral and spiritual improvement, equal to those enjoyed by others. A large, commodious and well-appointed church, in pulpit, choir and architecture, is attractive to the people who assemble, and commands respect from the outside world. The African Methodist Episcopal Church (the name by the way is altogether too long and stilted for my taste) is such a church, and therefore, I want to see it flourish.
I notice what you say of the Bible, but I have neither time nor inclination to go into questions in respect of its plenary or other inspiration; for if it contains the will of God to man, it is vastly more important to know what that will is, than to know precisely how that will has been communicated--whether by man or by angels, by voices in the air, or by the out breathings and higher aspirations of the human soul. For, if the Bible contains the will of God to man, it contains it in that sense in which God meant it to be understood, and in no other; for it would be absurd and monstrous to suppose an all-wise God to reveal His will and His law in a sense in which He did not mean to be understood. Hence, as a practical man, I hold it to be much more important to know what the Bible really means, than to know how it was composed, and what degree of inspiration we shall accord to it. And here we are met by a confusion of tongues, and by endless contradictions, each man and sect drawing from it that meaning which commends itself to his or her judgment, and a purely human judgment withal.
Whether this interpretation be for peace or for war, for love or for hate, for charity or for bigotry, for men of all races and colors at the same communion table, or whether it excludes a part and sends it off to a little kind of kitchen communion table by itself, like your church--whether the Christian religion is for one race, or for all races; whether free salvation or predestination, is the true meaning of the Bible; whether the Roman Catholic Church is the true Church, or the innumerable Protestant sects, constitute the true Church.
About these and other endless contradictions I might write interminably, but I lay them aside in that spirit of charity which leaves each to stand or fall to his own master, and justify myself in contributing my mite to the support of your church and the other individual churches, because, upon the whole, I think they contribute to the improvement and moral elevation of those who come within the reach of their influence; because I hold that the pulpit is capable of being a powerful agent in the dissemination of truth, and I hold that truth is the power of God for the salvation of the world, and I do not limit truth to mere spiritual matters, but to man in all his relations in the family, in the church, in the government, in the world.In the fall of 1886, Frederick and Helen Douglass traveled to Europe for a speaking tour that would take them through England, France, Italy, Egypt and Greece.
September 1886, was quite a milestone in my experience and journey of life. I had long desired to make a brief tour through several countries in Europe and especially to revisit England, Ireland and Scotland, and to meet once more the friends I met with in those countries more than forty years before. I had twice visited England, but I had never been on the continent of Europe, and this time I was accompanied by my wife.
I shall attempt here no ample description of our travels abroad. For this more space would be required than the limits of this volume will permit. Besides, with such details the book-shelves are already crowded. To revisit places, scenes, and friends after forty years is not a very common occurrence in the lives of men; and while the desire to do so may be intense, the realization has to it a sad side as well as a cheerful one. The old people first met there have passed away, the middle-aged have grown old, and the young have only heard their fathers and mothers speak of you. The places are there, but the people are gone.
. . . In Dublin, the first city I then visited, I was kindly received by Mr. Richard Webb, Richard Allen, James Haughton, and others. They were now all gone, and except some of their children, I was among strangers. These received me in the same cordial spirit that distinguished their fathers and mothers . . What was true of the mortality of my friends in Ireland, was equally true of those in England. Few who first received me in that country are now among the living. It was, however, my good fortune to meet once more Mrs. Anna Richardson and Miss Ellen Richardson, the two members of the Society of Friends, both beyond three-score and ten, who, forty-five years before, opened a correspondence with my old master and raised seven hundred and fifty dollars with which to purchase my freedom. Mrs. Anna Richardson, having reached the good old age of eighty-six years, her life marvelously filled up with good works, for her hand was never idle and her heart and brain were always active in the cause of peace and benevolence, a few days before this writing passed away. Miss Ellen Richardson, now over eighty, still lives and continues to take a lively interest in the career of the man whose freedom she was instrumental in procuring. It was a great privilege once more to look into the faces and hear the voices of these noble and benevolent women . . .
Aside from the great cities of London and Paris, with their varied and brilliant attractions, the American tourist will find no part of a European tour more interesting than the country lying between Paris and Rome. Here was the cradle in which the civilization of Western Europe and our own country was rocked and developed. The whole journey between these two great cities is deeply interesting and thought-suggesting . . . As the traveler moves eastward and southward between those two great cities, he will observe an increase of black hair, black eyes, full lips, and dark complexions. He will observe a Southern and Eastern style of dress; gay colors, startling jewelry, and an outdoor free-and-easy movement of the people. . .
Cairo with its towers, minarets and mosques presents a strangely fascinating scene, especially from the citadel, where away off in the distance, rising between the yellow desert and the soft blue cloudless sky, we discern the unmistakable forms of those mysterious piles of masonry, the Pyramids. According to one theory they were built for sepulchral purposes; and according to another they were built for a standard of measurement, but neither theory has perhaps entirely set aside the other, and both may be wrong. There they stand, however, grandly, in sight of Cairo, just in the edge of the Libyan desert and overlooking the valley of the Nile, as they have stood during more than three thousand years and are likely to stand as many thousand years longer, for nothing grows old here but time, and that lives on forever.
One of the first exploits a tourist is tempted to perform here is to ascend to the top of the highest Pyramid. The task is by no means an easy one, nor is it entirely free from danger. It is clearly dangerous if undertaken without the assistance of two or more guides. You need them not only to show you where to put your feet, but to lift you over the huge blocks of stone of which the Pyramids are built, for some of these stones are from three to four feet in thickness and height. Neither in ascending nor descending is it safe to look down. One misstep and all is over. I went, with seventy years on my head, to the top of the highest Pyramid, but nothing in the world would tempt me to try the experiment again. I had two Arabs before me pulling, and two at my back pushing, but the main work I had to do myself. I did not recover from the terrible strain in less than two weeks. I paid dearly for the venture. Still, it was worth something to stand for once on such a height and above the work and the world below. Taking the view altogether--the character of the surroundings, the great unexplained and inexplicable Sphinx, the Pyramids and other wonders of Sakkara, the winding river of the valley of the Nile, the silent, solemn and measureless desert, the seats of ancient Memphis and Heliopolis, the distant mosques, minarets, and stately palaces, the ages and events that have swept over the scene and the millions on millions that lived, wrought and died there--there are stirred in the one who beholds it for the first time thoughts and feelings never thought and felt before. While nothing could tempt me to climb the rugged jagged, steep and perilous sides of the Great Pyramid again, yet I am very glad to have had the experience once, and once is enough for a lifetime.
I have spoken of the prevalence and power at Rome of the Christian Church and religion and of the strange things believed and practiced there in the way of religious rites and ceremonies. The religion and church of Egypt, though denounced as a fraud and their author branded throughout Christendom as an impostor, are not less believed in and followed in Egypt than the church and Christianity are believed in and followed at Rome. Two hundred millions of people follow Mahomet to-day, and the number is increasing. Annually in Cairo twelve thousand students study the Koran with a view to preaching its doctrines in Africa and else-where. So sacred do these people hold their mosques that a Christian is not allowed to enter them without putting off his shoes and putting on Mahometan slippers. If Rome has its unwashed monks, Cairo has its howling and dancing dervishes, and both seem equally deaf to the dictates of reason. The dancing and howling dervishes often spin around in their religious transports till their heads lose control and they fall to the floor sighing, groaning, and foaming at the mouth like madmen, reminding one of scenes that sometimes occur at our own old-fashioned camp-meetings.
It is not within the scope and purpose of this supplement of my story to give an extended account of my travels or to tell all I have seen and heard and felt. I had strange dreams of travel even in my boyhood days. I thought I should some day see many of the famous places of which I heard men speak, and of which I read even while a slave. During my visit to England, as I have before said, I had a strong desire to go to France, and should have done so but for a Mr. George M. Dallas, who was then minister to England. He refused to give me a passport on the ground that I was not and could not be an American citizen. This man is now dead and generally forgotten, as I shall be; but I have lived to see myself everywhere recognized as an American citizen. In view of my disappointment and the repulse I met with at the hands of this American minister, my gratification was all the more intense that I was not only permitted to visit France and see something of life in Paris; to walk the streets of that splendid city and spend days and weeks in her charming art galleries, but to extend my tour to other lands and visit other cities; to look upon Egypt; to stand on the summit of its highest Pyramid; to walk among the ruins of old Memphis; to gaze into the dead eyes of Pharaoh; to feel the smoothness of granite tombs polished by Egyptian workmen three thousand years ago; to see the last remaining obelisk of Heliopolis; to view the land of Goshen; to sail on the bosom of the Nile; to pass in sight of Crete, looking from the deck of our steamer perhaps as it did when Paul saw it on the voyage to Rome eighteen hundred years ago; to walk among the marble ruins of the Acropolis; to stand upon Mars Hill, where Paul preached; to ascend Lycabettus and overlook the plains of Marathon, the gardens of Plato, and the rock where Demosthenes declaimed against the breezes of the sea; to gaze upon the Parthenon, the Temple of Theseus, the Temple of Wingless Victory, and the Theatre of Dionysius.
To think that I, once a slave on the eastern shore of Maryland, was experiencing all this was well calculated to intensify my feeling of good fortune by reason of contrast, if nothing more. A few years back my Sundays were spent on the banks of the Chesapeake Bay, bemoaning my condition and looking out from the farm of Edward Covey, and, with a heart aching to be on their decks, watching the white sails of the ships passing off to sea. Now I was enjoying what the wisest and best of the world have bestowed for the wisest and best to enjoy.
Whatever the future may have in store for us, one thing is certain — this new revolution in human thought will never go backward. When a great truth once gets abroad in the world, no power on earth can imprison it, or prescribe its limits, or suppress it. It is bound to go on till it becomes the thought of the world.
Such a truth is woman’s right to equal liberty with man. She was born with it. It was hers before she comprehended it. It is inscribed upon all the powers and faculties of her soul, and no custom, law, or usage can ever destroy it. Now that it has got fairly fixed in the minds of the few, it is bound to become fixed in the minds of the many, and be supported at last by a great cloud of witnesses, which no man can number and no power can withstand.In 1889, Douglass was appointed minister-resident and consul-general to the Republic of Haiti. In 1892, the Haitian government appointed Douglass as its commissioner to the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition.
Contemplating my life as a whole, I have to say that, although it has at times been dark and stormy, and I have met with hardships from which other men have been exempted, yet my life has in many respects been remarkably full of sunshine and joy.
Servitude, persecution, false friends, desertion and depreciation have not robbed my life of happiness or made it a burden. I have been, and still am, especially fortunate, and may well indulge sentiments of warmest gratitude for the allotments of life that have fallen to me. While I cannot boast of having accomplished great things in the world, I cannot on the other hand feel that I have lived in vain.
From first to last I have, in large measure, shared the respect and confidence of my fellow-men. I have had the happiness of possessing many precious and long-enduring friendships with good men and women.
In 1894, Wells embarked on another speaking tour through England. On her return, she published A Red Record: Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Causes of Lynchings in the United States, 1892-1894. This 100 page book expanded on her earlier research and documented the history of lynching since the Emancipation Proclamation. In order not to be accused of exaggeration, Wells took her information from a white source. She tabulated the number of lynchings reported in the Chicago Tribunal and tallied the various charges given. Her findings documented the alarming high occurrence of lynchings and the rather ridiculous charges filed against black men. For example, she found that in 1894 "197 persons were put to death by mobs who gave the victims no opportunity to make a lawful defense." Furthermore, she found that over two-thirds of lynchings were for incredibly petty crimes such as stealing hogs and quarreling with neighbors.
According to The Oxford Frederick Douglass Reader:
Before the 1890s, lynching was almost entirely confined to the American West, where it was used by whites to administer instant punishment to other white lawbreakers.
But in the 1890s lynching became a predominantly southern phenomenon exploited by whites to intimidate blacks.
Between 1889 and 1899 the United States witnessed the lunching of someone every other day; two-thirds of the victims were African Americans. The unprecedented racial violence reached its apex in 1892, when 156 African Americans were executed by lunch mobs, often in a manner characterized by an appalling sadism.
. . . Southern defenders of lynchings explained away and often justified mob violence by claiming it was the only way to punish and prevent the rape of white women by "black brutes" who, in the absence of the restraints of slavery, had supposedly reverted to sexual savagery.
More impartial studies later revealed that only about one-third of the lynchings in the South proceeded from even the accusation of a rape. Ida B. Wells, whose pioneering antilynching journalism led to threats on her life in the South, was among the first African American writers to argue publicly that lunching was actually a terror campaign unleashed to threaten any black man whose pride or achievement might challenge the status quo.In 1894, Douglass published his speech, "The Lessons of the Hour", as a pamphlet:
I have waited patiently but anxiously to see the end of the epidemic of mob law and persecution and prevailing at the South. But the indications are not hopeful, great and terrible as have been its ravages in the past, it now seems to be increasing not only in the number of its victims, but in its frantic rage and savage extravagance. Lawless vengeance is beginning to be visited upon white men as well as black. Our newspapers are daily disfigured by its ghastly horrors.
. . . If permitted to go on it threatens to destroy all respect for law and order not only in the South, but in all parts of our country--North as well as South. For certain it is, that crime allowed to go on unresisted and unarrested will breed crime. . . . Prison walls and iron bars are no protection to the innocent or guilty, if the mob is in pursuit of negroes accused of crime. Jail doors are battered down in the presence of unresisting jailers, and the accused, awaiting trial in the courts of law are dragged out and hanged, shot, stabbed or burned to death as the blind and irresponsible mob may elect.
We claim to be a Christian country and a highly civilized nation, yet, I fearlessly affirm that there is nothing in the history of savages to surpass the blood chilling horrors and fiendish excesses perpetrated against the colored people by the so-called enlightened and Christian people of the South. It is commonly thought that only the lowest and most disgusting birds and beasts, such as buzzards, vultures and hyenas, will gloat over and prey dead bodies, but the Southern mob in its rage feeds its vengeance by shooting, stabbing and burning when their victims are dead.
Now the special charge against the negro by which this ferocity is justified, and by which mob law is defended by good men North and South, is alleged to be assaults by negroes upon white women.
This charge once fairly started, no matter by whom or in what manner, whether well or ill-founded, whether true or false, is certain to subject the accused to immediate death. It is nothing, that in the case there may be a mistake as to identity. It is nothing that the victim pleads "not guilty." It is nothing that he only asks for time to establish his innocence. It is nothing that the accused is of fair reputation and his accuser is of an abandoned character.
It is nothing that the majesty of the law is defied and insulted; no time is allowed for defence or explanation; he is bound with cords, hurried off amid the frantic yells and cursing of the mob to the scaffold and under its shadow he is tortured till by pain or promises, he is made to think he can possibly gain time or save his life by confession, and then whether innocent or guilty, he is shot, hanged, stabbed or burned to death amid the wild shouts of the mob.
When the will of the mob has been accomplished, when its thirst for blood has been quenched, when its victim is speechless, silent and dead; his mobocratic accusers and murderers of course have the ear of the world all to themselves, and the world generally approves their verdict. Such then is the state of Southern civilization in its relation to the colored citizens of that section and though the picture is dark and terrible I venture to affirm that no man North or South can deny the essential truth of the picture.
Now it is important to know how this state of affairs is viewed by the better classes of the Southern States. I will tell you, and I venture to say if our hearts were not already hardened by familiarity with such crimes against the negro, we should be shocked and astonished by the attitude of these so-called better classes of the Southern people and their lawmakers. With a few noble exceptions the upper classes of the South are in full sympathy with the mob and its deeds. There are few earnest words uttered against the mob or its deeds. Press, platform and pulpit are either generally silent of they openly apologize for the mob. The mobocratic murderers are not only permitted to go free, untried and unpunished, but are lauded and applauded as honorable men and good citizens, the guardians of Southern women. If lynch law is in any case condemned, it is only condemned in one breath, and excused in another.
. . . And now comes the sweet voice of a Northern woman, of Southern principles, in the same tone and the same accusation, the good Miss Frances Willard,
Such then is the crushing indictment drawn up against the Southern negroes, drawn up, too, by persons who are perhaps the fairest and most humane of the negro's accusers. But even they paint him as a moral monster ferociously invading the sacred rights of women and endangering the homes of the whites.
The crime they allege against the negro, is the most revolting which men can commit. It is a crime that awakens the intensest abhorrence and invites mankind to kill the criminal on sight. This charge thus brought against the negro, and as constantly reiterated by his enemies, is not merely against the individual culprit, as would be in the case with an individual culprit of any other race, but it is in a large measure a charge against the colored race as such. It throws over every colored man a mantle of odium and sets upon him a mark for popular hate, more distressing than the mark set upon the first murderer. It points him out as an object of suspicion and avoidance.
Now it is in this form that you and I, and all of us, are required to meet it and refute it, if that can be done. In the opinion of some of us, it is thought that it were well to say nothing about it, that the least said about it the better. In this opinion I do not concur. Taking this charge in its broad and comprehensive sense in which it is presented, and as now stated, I feel that it ought to be met, and as a colored man, I am grateful for the opportunity now afforded me to meet it. For I believe it can be met and successfully met. I am of opinion that a people too spiritless to defend themselves are not worth defending . . .
But I want to be understood at the outset. I do not pretend that negroes are saints or angels. I do not deny that they are capable of committing the crime imputed to them, but I utterly deny that they are any more addicted to the commission of that crime than is true of any other variety of the human family. In entering upon my argument, I may be allowed to say, that I appear here this evening not as the defender of any man guilty of this atrocious crime, but as the defender of the colored people as a class.
. . . It is the misfortune of the colored people in this country that the sins of the few are visited upon the many, and I am here to speak for the many whose reputation is put in peril by the sweeping charge in question. . . . I am here also to say, let no innocent man be condemned and killed by the mob, or crushed under the weight of a charge of which he is not guilty. . . .
I can and will show that there are sound reasons for doubting and denying this horrible and hell-black charge of rape as the peculiar crime of the colored people of the South. My doubt and denial are based upon two fundamental and invincible grounds.
The first is, the well established and well tested character of the negro on the very point upon which he is now violently and persistently accused. The second ground for my doubt and denial is based upon what I know of the character and antecedents of the men and women who bring this charge against him. . . .
At the outset I deny that a fierce and frenzied mob is or ought to be deemed a competent witness against any man accused of any crime whatever. The ease with which a mob can be collected and the slight causes by which it may be set in motion, and the elements of which it is composed, deprives its testimony of the qualities that should inspire confidence and command belief. It is moved by impulses utterly unfavorable to an impartial statement of the truth. At the outset, therefore, I challenge the credibility of the mob, and as the mob is the main witness in the case against the negro, I appeal to the common sense of mankind in support of my challenge. It is the mob that brings this charge, and it is the mob that arraigns, condemns and executes, and it is the mob that the country has accepted as its witness.
Again, I impeach and discredit the veracity of southern men generally, whether mobocrats or otherwise, who now openly and deliberately nullify and violate the provisions of the constitution of their country, a constitution, which they have solemnly sworn to support and execute. . . .
Again I arraign the negro's accuser on another ground, I have no confidence in the truthfulness of men who justify themselves in cheating the negro out of his constitutional right to vote. The men, who either by false returns, or by taking advantage of his illiteracy or surrounding the ballot-box with obstacles and sinuosities intended to bewilder him and defeat his rightful exercise of the elective franchise, are men who are not to be believed on oath. That this is done in the Southern States is not only admitted, but openly defended and justified by so-called honorable men inside and outside of Congress.Just this kind of fraud in the South is notorious. I have met it face to face. It was boldly defended and advocated a few weeks ago in a solemn paper by Prof. Weeks, a learned North Carolinian, in my hearing. His paper was one of the able papers read before one of the World's Auxiliary Congresses at Chicago. Now men who openly defraud the negro by all manner of artifice and boast of it in the face of the world's civilization, as was done at Chicago, I affirm that they are not to be depended upon for truth in any case whatever, where the rights of the negro are involved. . . .
I do not believe it and utterly deny it, because those who bring the charge do not, and dare not, give the negro a chance to be heard in his own defence. He is not allowed to explain any part of his alleged offense. He is not allowed to vindicate his own character or to criminate the character and motives of his accusers. Even the mobocrats themselves admit that it would be fatal to their purpose to have the character of his accusers brought into court. They pretend to a delicate regard for the feelings of the parties assaulted, and therefore object to giving a fair trial to the accused. The excuse in this case is contemptible. It is not only mock modesty but mob modesty. . . .Again, I do not believe it, and deny it because if the evidence were deemed sufficient to bring the accused to the scaffold through the action of an impartial jury, there could be, and would be, no objection to having the alleged offender tried in conformity to due process of law.
Any pretence that a guilty negro, especially one guilty of the crime now charged, would in any case be permitted to escape punishment, is an insult to common sense. Nobody believes or can believe such a thing as escape possible, in a country like the South, where public opinion, the laws, the court juries, and the advocates are all known to be against him, he could hardly escape if innocent. I repeat, therefore, I do not believe it, because I know, and you know, that a passionate and violent mob bent upon talking life, from the nature of the case, is not a more competent and trustworthy body to determine the guilt or innocence of a negro accused in such a case, than is a court of law . . .
I do not believe it, and deny it, because the charge is not so much against the crime itself, as against the color of the man alleged to be guilty of it. Slavery itself, you will remember, was a system of legalized outrage upon the black women of the South, and no white man was ever shot, burned, or hanged for availing himself of all the power that slavery gave him at this point.Upon these grounds then,--grounds which I believe to be solid and immovable--I dare here and now in the capital of the nation and in the presence of Congress to reject it, and ask you and all just men to reject this horrible charge so frequently made and construed against the negro as a class.
. . . They care no more for a negro's right to live than they care for his rights to liberty, or his rights to the ballot. Chief Justice Taney told the exact truth about these people when he said: "They did not consider that the black man had any rights which the white men were bound to respect." No man of the South ever called in question that statement and they never will. They could always shoot, stab and burn the negro without any such remorse or shame as other men would feel after committing such a crime. Any Southern man who is honest and is frank enough to talk subject, will tell you that he has no such idea as we have of the sacredness of human life and especially, as I have said, of the life of the negro.
. . . What I contend for, and what every honest man, black or white should contend for, is that when any man is accused of this or any other crime, of whatever name, nature, or extent, he shall have the benefit of a legal investigation; that he shall be confronted by his accusers; and that he shall through proper counsel, be able to question his accusers in open court and in open day-light so that his guilt or his innocence may be duly proved and established. . . .
When a white man steals, robs or murders, his crime is visited upon his own alone. But not so with the black man. When he commits a crime the whole race is made to suffer.
. . . When some of us at the North questioned the ethics of this conclusion, we were told to mind our business, and our Southern brethren asserted, as they assert now, that they alone are competent to manage this, and all other questions relating to the negro.
In fact, there has been no end to the problems of some sort or other, involving the negro in difficulty.
Can the negro be a citizen? was the question of the Dred Scott decision.
Can the negro be educated?
Can the negro be induced to work for himself, without a master?
Can the negro be a soldier?
Time and events have answered these and all other like questions.
We have amongst us, those who have taken the first prizes as scholars; those who have won distinction for courage and skill on the battlefield; those who have taken rank as lawyers, doctors and ministers of the gospel; those who shine among men in every useful calling; and yet we are called "a problem;" "a tremendous problem;" a mountain of difficulty; a constant source of apprehension; a disturbing force, threatening destruction to the holiest and best interests of society.
. . . I would call to to mind the sublime and glorious truths with which, at this nation's birth, it saluted a listening world. Its voice then, was as the tramp of an archangel, summoning hoary forms of oppression and time honored tyranny, to judgment. Crowned heads heard it and shrieked. Toiling millions heard it and clapped their hands for joy. It announced the advent of a nation, based upon human brotherhood and the self-evident truths of liberty and equality. Its mission was the redemption of the world from the bondage of ages. Apply these sublime and glorious truths to the situation now before you. Put away your race prejudice. Banish the idea that one class must rule over another. Recognize the fact that the rights of the humblest citizen are as worthy of protection as are those of the highest, and your problem will be solved; and, whatever may be in store for it in the future, whether prosperity, or adversity; whether it shall have foes without, or foes within, whether there shall be peace, or war; based upon the eternal principles of truth, justice and humanity, and with no class having any cause of compliant or grievance, your Republic will stand and flourish forever.
On February 20, 1895, Douglass attended a meeting of the National Council of Women in Washington, D.C. During that meeting, he was brought to the platform and given a standing ovation by the audience.
Shortly after he returned home, Frederick Douglass died of a massive heart attack or stroke. He had celebrated his birthday the week before; he was approximately 77 years old.
His funeral was held on February 25 at the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church, where thousands passed by his coffin paying tribute. As news of Douglass's death spread throughout the country, crowds gathered at the Washington church where he lay in state to pay their respects. Black public schools closed for the day, and parents took their children for a last look at the famed leader.
Susan B. Anthony read a letter from Elizabeth Cady Stanton, highly eulogistic of the deceased. On Wednesday the 20th, as Anthony sat with Frederick Douglass on the platform of the Woman’s Council, she had told him that he must be present at the home of Elizabeth Cady Stanton on November 12 next, to congratulate her on her 80th birthday. “I shall be there,” he said, “and I shall be ready with my words.”
Douglass' wife and children accompanied his body back to Rochester, where he was laid to rest. Douglass was buried in the Douglass family plot at Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester, New York.
Frederick Douglass left Cedar Hill to Helen, his wife of eleven years, but due to a technical glitch -- there were only two witnesses to the will and three were required -- she shared the inheritance with Douglass' children. Helen suggested to his children and their spouses that they agree to set Cedar Hill apart as a memorial to their father and deed it to a board of trustees. The children declined, insisting that the estate be sold and the money divided among all the heirs. With borrowed money, Helen bought the place for $12,000, and then devoted the rest of her life to planning and establishing the Frederick Douglass Memorial and Historical Association. Besides effecting passage of the law incorporating the association, she worked to raise funds to maintain the estate. For eight years, she lectured throughout the northeast.
During the last year of her life, Helen was ill and unable to lecture, as well as discouraged by the falling off of contributions for her cause. She begged Reverend Francis Grimke not to let her work fall by the wayside in her absence. He suggested that if the mortgage on Cedar Hill should not be paid off in her lifetime, money from the sale of the property should go to two college scholarships in her and Frederick's names. She agreed, on the condition that the scholarships be in Douglass' name only.
The property was added to the National Park system on September 5, 1962 and was designated a National Historic Site in 1988. The Frederick Douglass National Historic Site is located at 1411 W Street, SE in Washington, D. C. and it is open to the public.