Seventh Day, Saturday March 26th
I drive from Boston to Lynn, Massachusetts, only about 25 minutes north by car.
Not long after Frederick Douglass began his public speaking career, he and his family moved here to Lynn from New Bedford. They lived here from the fall of 1841 through about November 1847. Well, actually, for much of that time, it was mostly Anna and the kids who lived here. First, Douglass was often on tour as a speaker, which took him away from home for long stretches. Secondly, he was away on a tour of the British Isles from 1845-1847, which is why many sources say Douglass himself only lived here until 1845. He returned only briefly to Lynn before moving himself and his family to Rochester near the end of 1847. His ‘industrious and neat companion‘ Anna took care of the household while he was away, and often took in piecework from Lynn’s thriving shoemaking industry to make sure the kids were always cared for and the bills paid on time.
Douglass wrote his Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave here in Lynn, and it was published by the Boston Anti-Slavery Society on May 28th, 1845. It sold well, and he became more than a bit nervous: he enjoyed freedom so much, of course, and now he had a family, he had even more to lose if he was to be captured and returned to slavery. After all, as discussed, he had said some not too nice things in his Narrative about his former master (who legally, still was), and who knows how badly Thomas Auld wanted to have him back in bondage! So, to avoid capture now that he publicly named his master and his whereabouts were more widely known, he sailed to England on August 6th, 1845, and embarked on an 18 month lecture tour of England and Ireland. Eventually, his abolitionist friends raised enough money to buy his freedom, or, as he conceived of it, to pay his ransom, and he was able to return home, arriving back in Lynn on April 20th, 1847. Though he was away so much, Lynn still played a significant role in his life.
Lynn proves to be a Douglass treasure trove for me, primarily thanks to the Lynn Museum and Historical Society. Thank you so much to Nicole Breault for arranging my visit, Britt Bowen who gave me access to historical artifacts for study, the kind ladies who greeted me and showed me around, and to everyone else there who make this place a beautiful place to visit and a great resource! In fact, my visit to the museum was so full of wonderful discoveries that it needs its own separate piece, which will follow shortly.
After I tear myself away from the museum (if it wasn’t closing just then, I don’t know how I’d tear myself away and get to visiting the sites on my itinerary!) and go eat a bit of lunch, I head for my first destination. On the way, my attention is caught by this vibrant mural on the side of the Lynn Arts Building at 25 Exchange St, where a portrait of Douglass presides over images of Lynn’s historical figures and creative and curious children (and other people) of today.
I’m heading for the site of the old Central Square train station. Downtown Lynn is not easy for a first time visitor to navigate: no two streets seem to join at right angles. It takes me a few go-rounds to orient myself generally, yet I still often find myself often a little lost among the tangled streets. A man who tends a little restaurant called Capitol Diner, which looks like an old red train car, helps confirm that the place where the elevated tracks run above where Central Square meets Union and Exchange Streets is just about directly over the site of the early 1800’s train depots (there was a series of them), across the street from the mural on the side of the Arts Building.
According to Wikipedia, ‘The first depot at the Central Square location, built in 1838, was a small wooden building. It was replaced in 1848 with a brick building with a 2-track train shed.’
So it was in that smaller wooden incarnation that an incident occurred at this stop of a train between Boston and Portland. Douglass resisted being forced into a Jim Crow segregated car on September 28, 1841, while he was riding the train with his friend James N. Buffum, who would later become mayor of Lynn and who had inspired him to move to Lynn in the first place. Douglass simply refused to leave his seat, and when employees of the railroad company tried to remove him by force, he hung onto the seat until they were ripped and torn out of place. As Edward Covey the slavebreaker had discovered some years earlier, Douglass was physically strong and no pushover.
Over time, he ended up doing this sort of protest often, to raise awareness. His letter about this experience was published in the newspaper, and local indignation and protests over this incident helped lead to the eventual end of segregated train cars in New England. It’s hard to imagine, to a modern reader in such an interconnected world, that there would be such a patchwork of racial sentiment in a geographic area that it took me only a few hours to cross by car. In Maryland, he was a slave; in New York City, he was free but in danger of being beaten or captured; in Boston, his Narrative was published in the same city where he was denied entry to the menagerie on Boston Common because ‘We don’t allow niggers in here!’ (as he reported); in Lynn, the trains were desegregated over rude treatment of a black customer. Amazing.
In Central Square, I’m close to the site of Sagamore Hall where John Brown, fiery abolitionist, and friend and hero of Douglass, used to speak. Sagamore Hall was close and to the west of the depot, between Union and Mt Vernon Streets north of Exchange, also where that part of the elevated track structure now stands. If you look closely at the photo of the mural we looked at earlier, you’ll see the image of a burning building just under Douglass’ portrait: that’s Sagamore Hall burning down on November 25th, 1843. I’ll tell more about how John Brown figured in Douglass’ life, which was very significantly, before long. You’ve likely heard of him: he led the unsuccessful raid on Harper’s Ferry from October 16th -18th 1859, in hopes of jump-starting a slave insurrection by providing them with a source of arms, and was hanged as a traitor for his trouble.
But when Douglass lived here throughout the early- to mid- 1840’s, he had not yet met John Brown, though they were here in Lynn contemporaneously. As Douglass tells it in his Life and Times, they would meet later, when Douglass lived in Rochester NY.
Then I head to the corner of Broad and Market Streets near the site of Harrison Court, where the first of the three Douglass family homes in Lynn used to stand. (I’m visiting the three Douglass home sites in chronological order).
There’s not much of historical interest here now: commercial buildings, broad highways, the big train station, and the iron skeleton of some new structure under construction. There are some great old photos of the area near Market and Broad Street at the Longyear Museum website’s Mary Baker Eddy photo gallery page; she lived a few blocks east of here at 8 Broad Street, and that home still stands. And if you look at these maps of Lynn from 1852 and from 1872, you can see where Harrison Court used to stand (I include both because, though the older one is closer to the Douglasses’ time here and more accurate for our purposes, the later one shows more detail when you zoom in). Look to the center bottom, just above the waterline and a little to to the right where two large streets come together in the point of a wedge. Click on that part to zoom in, and Harrison Court stood between the point of the wedge and the next main street running north and south to the left (Market), below Harrison St. Though none of the buildings from that time remain today, in any case, the modern openness of this place with the grassy Carroll Parkway, bright blue sky, and sea breeze is nice.
Then I take a brisk walk to my next destination, briefly east on Broad St then left (north) up Union St, then left again on Baldwin to the corner of Baldwin and High Streets. This is near the place where the Douglass family’s second home in Lynn used to stand. There are no street signs at all at this corner; missing street signs here and there is another reason I’ve been having a little trouble finding some places, hooray for GPS!) There’s now a tire and car care business, a white house with solar panels on its sharply pointed roof, and a three floor red brick building with arched windows. High and Baldwin streets meet here to make a ‘v’. The house, owned by Abel Houghton Jr., and where the Douglasses lived only briefly, stood somewhere near this corner. If you look at that 1872 map again), you can see the area where this house used to stand by following Union St from the point of that wedge where it meets Market to the northwest, then see where Pearl St (now Baldwin), meets it, running north and south with a crooked angle like a bent arm (Baldwin), High Street meeting it at the angle (inner elbow). Referring to the 1852 map, I don’t find the name of Abel Houghton Jr., or his Horticultural Society listed there, but it’s hard to read some of the names, or it may have changed hands in the approximate decade between between the time the Douglasses lived here and the time the map was drafted.
Then I head southeast on Silsbee St, which turns into Newhall St. I follow Newhall south to a stretch between Sagamore and Sechem Streets, where the third Douglass family home in Lynn once stood. This is where he wrote his Narrative, where his family lived while he was in the British Isles from August 1845 to April 1847, and where he returned home (after arriving in Boston on April 20th). When she saw me looking around and taking photos, a lady named Crystal (‘born and raised here!’) helpfully confirmed that the parking lot on Newhall between Santo Domingo liquor store and Sechem Streets, where Amity St ends, is the site where the Douglass home stood. As the old maps show, it’s where or about where someone named Chase lived. As the Douglass home placard in the Lynn Museum (see above) describes, it was moved once to Sagamore St nearby but eventually demolished.
Then I return to the car and drive just over 5 minutes away to Lynn Commons, which runs between the one-ways streets of North and South Common, and park along South Common near Shepard St. I walk east on S. Common a little ways and turn left on the path that cuts across the park and ends at Harwood St on the other side. Halfway across the commons, before I would reach Harwood St, to my left, there’s a white raised gazebo surrounded by benches to create a little amphitheater, and on my right stands a stone and brass monument to Frederick Douglass.
The raised gazebo is the Frederick Douglass Bandstand, built in 1887 near the site where Douglass used to deliver many anti-slavery speeches here from an earlier structure, which was perhaps on or near the spot where the memorial is now.
So ends my eventful day in Lynn, Massachusetts, but really, there’s much more to come. Remember, I haven’t yet finished telling the whole story of today’s journey which includes a couple fascinating hours in the Lynn Museum and Historical Society this morning (soon to follow), and I’m only halfway through my trip, there are still seven days to go!
*Listen to the podcast version here or on iTunes
~ Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!
Sources and Inspiration:
Bailey, Oakley Hoopes & J.C. Hazen, 1879 map of Lynn from the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center of the Boston Public Library
Blassingame, J. (Ed.). The Frederick Douglass Papers, Series One: Speeches, Debates, and Interviews. 4 volumes, and The Frederick Douglass Papers, Series 2: Autobiographical Writings. 3 volumes. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1979-1999
D.G. Beers & Co., 1872 map of Lynn from the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center of the Boston Public Library
Douglass, Frederick. The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. Re-published 1993, Avenal, New York: Gramercy Books, Library of Freedom series.
Douglass, Frederick. My Bondage and My Freedom: 1855 Edition with a new introduction. Re-published 1969, New York: Dover Publications, Inc.
Fichter, David. Lynn Mural Project: Stories of Lynn, 50 ft. X 60 ft. Lynn, Massachusetts [Acrylic paint and mosaic]. From davidfichter.com
Foner, Philip S. The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass, Vol. 1-4. New York: International Publishers, 1950.
‘Frederick Douglass Chronology‘. From Frederick Douglass National Historic Site District of Columbia, National Park Service website
Levine, David. ‘Lynne, MA: Frederick Douglass Bandstand‘. History Stands Still: The Background of Bandstands Throughout New England blog
Lewis, Alonzo. The History of Lynn: Including Nahant. (p. 257) Boston: Samuel N. Dickinson, 1844.
‘Lynn (MBTA Station)‘. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.
McFeely, William. Frederick Douglass. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1991.
McIntyre, Henry. Plan of the City of Lynn Mass. from Actual Surveys, 1852. From the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center of the Boston Public Library
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. Central Square and Depot: 1848 Central Square station in Lynn, Webster, William T., Publisher
Rosenberg, Steven A. ‘City Embraces its Civil War Connections. May 31, 2012. TheBostonGlobe.com
Walker, G.H. City of Lynn, Massachusetts, 1891. Atlas Map. Pub. Geo.H. Walker & Co. From David Rumsey Historical Map Collection at davidrumsey.com
‘Rededication of the Frederick Douglass Bandstand and Marker‘. General Orders, Issue 68, Sep 2015, Published at 58 Andrew St, Lynn MA
The Register of the Lynn Historical Society, Volumes 8-12, by Lynn Historical Society
Pingback: Frederick Douglass, Rochester NY Sites Part 2 | Ordinary Philosophy
Pingback: From Oakland to Maryland, New York, and Massachusetts I Go, in Search of Frederick Douglass | Ordinary Philosophy
Pingback: Frederick Douglass, Chambersburg PA Sites | Ordinary Philosophy
Pingback: Frederick Douglass Washington DC Sites, Last Day | Ordinary Philosophy
Pingback: Frederick Douglass Lynn Sites, Part 2: Historical Society & Hutchinson Scrapbook | Ordinary Philosophy
Pingback: New Podcast Episode: Frederick Douglass Lynn, Massachusetts Sites | Ordinary Philosophy
This is awesome and amazing. Thank you for writing this.
Thanks for this. I grew up in Lynn from the time I was just born in Boston in 1939 until I left in 1964 and moved to NYC with stops along the way in California and Washington, DC. I remember discovering Douglass’s Lynn speeches in the main library near the Lynn Commons when I first went to college at Northeastern University. I had attended Lynn English High School. I was touched by what I read. It influenced my eventual involvement in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. He was a great man with a great mind and great vision. I knew about John Brown, too, but I only read about him years later on my own. Funny how none of this stuff was taught in the public schools in the 40s and 50s. If it was, it was a momentary reference. Next time you visit, you should learn about the area around Collins Street and Fayette Hill where I lived most of my teen and early adult years. Starting in the 30s and 40s, it was a “mixed” race neighborhood of black and white people. I was privileged to live there, to have black friends, for them to have me as a friend, to visit and eat at each other’s houses and apartments, and to play sports and go to the local schools together. It was a very small community, but the integration was almost profound. I learned that race was and is a joke except to those who think skin color is something other than skin color. My early experiences made it easy for me to love diversity and integration and to also respect black separatism ideas although I firmly believe we should all live, learn, laugh, and love together in a more sensible, less hateful world.
Thank you very much for your comments, Don, and I’m so glad you enjoyed this piece!
Fascinating article. I live very close to Newhall St., where his third home once stood. I wonder why a plaque was never erected to indicate what once was at this very sight.
Good idea. Invite the city to put one up.
Thanks for this; may I source this piece in my chapter on social reforem in Essex County? Thanks. Donald W. Beattie 245 Main Street, Winthrop, Maine 04364s
Dear Donald – absolutely! I’d be honored, thanks for reading!