Frederick Douglass Lynn, Massachusetts Sites

John Hutchinson Song Dedicated to Frederick Douglass Cover Page from Lynn Museum ExhibitJohn Hutchinson Song Dedicated to Frederick Douglass Cover Page, 2016 Amy Cools

Jesse Hutchinson song dedicated to Frederick Douglass, cover page print from Lynn Museum exhibit (a fanciful illustration: in real life, he wore shoes and escaped by train and ferry)

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.

Three Portraits of Frederick Douglass at the Lynn Museum & Historical Society

Three portraits of Frederick Douglass at the Lynn Museum & Historical Society

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.

Mural on wall of Lynn's greats on the side of Lynn Arts Building, crowned by portrait of Frederick Douglass Portrait, Lynn MA

Mural on wall of Lynn’s greats on the side of the Arts Building, crowned by portrait of Frederick Douglass Portrait

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.

Newspaper clipping from the Lynn Museum and Historical Society about Frederick Douglass' train car sit-in

Old newspaper clipping from the archives at the Lynn Museum and Historical Society about Frederick Douglass’ Rosa Parks moment

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.

Old Lynn Central Square and depot, photo by William T. Webster, via Wikimedia Commons

Old Lynn Central Square and depot, photo by William T. Webster, via Wikimedia Commons

Central Square Train Station raised platform

Central Square Train Station raised platform where the old train depot and Sagamore Hall once stood, to the right of the photo

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.

Clipping from Lynn Historical Society about Douglass' life in Lynn and Sagamore Hall

Clipping from Lynn Historical Society about Douglass’ life in Lynn and Sagamore Hall

A row of buildings on Central Square in Lynn, MA

A row of buildings on Central Square in Lynn, MA; the elevated train tracks at the right pass over the site of the old depot, and Sagamore Hall stood just beyond the tall white-faced brick building

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.

Market and Broad Streets near site of 1st Douglass family home in Lynn, 2016 Amy Cools

Market and Broad Streets, near the site of the first Douglass family home in Lynn, MA; their house would have been somewhere to the right of the iron structure

Manufacturing center of Lynn, Mass, by Bailey, O. H. (Oakley Hoopes) & J.C. Hazen Publisher: Bailey, O. H. & J.C. Hazen, 1879

Manufacturing center of Lynn, MA, 1879, by Bailey, Oakley Hoopes & J.C. Hazen

Douglass family homes in Lynn, MA, Lynn Museum & Historical Society placard

Douglass family homes in Lynn, MA, Lynn Museum & Historical Society placard

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.

The unmarked V intersection at High and Baldwin Streets, near site of Frederick Douglass' second home in Lynn, MA

The unmarked V intersection at High and Baldwin (formerly Pearl) Streets, near site of Frederick Douglass’ second home in Lynn, MA

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.

Newhall St between Sagamore and Sechem Streets, 3rd of Douglass family homes in Lynn MA, where Douglass wrote his Narrative

Newhall St between Sagamore and Sechem. The third Douglass family home in Lynn, from 1843-47, used to stand here where the parking lot is now. Douglass wrote his Narrative here in 1845

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.

Lynn Commons Frederick Douglass Bandstand and Ampitheatre near Frederick Douglass memorial

Lynn Commons Frederick Douglass Bandstand and Ampitheatre near Frederick Douglass memorial

 Frederick Douglass Memorial plaque in Lynn Commons

Frederick Douglass Memorial plaque in Lynn Commons

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.

Frederick Douglass Memorial across from the gazebo in Lynn Commons

Frederick Douglass Memorial across from the gazebo in Lynn Commons

Boston Sunday Globe article about Douglass mentioning plaque on Lynn Commons, Lynn Museum, photo 2016 by Amy Cools

Boston Sunday Globe article about Douglass which mentions his plaque on Lynn Commons, clipping from the archives at Lynn Museum

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!

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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

New Podcast Episode: Frederick Douglass New Bedford, Massachusetts Sites

Nathan and Polly Johnson House (and adjoining) at 21 Seventh St, New Bedford MA, 2016 Amy Cools

Nathan and Polly Johnson House (and adjoining) at 21 Seventh St, New Bedford MA, 2016 Amy Cools

Listen to this podcast episode here or subscribe on iTunes

Fifth Day 5, Thursday March 24th

When I arrive in the old whaling town of New Bedford, Massachusetts, it’s overcast and very chilly. I had so enjoyed the respite from the cold in New York City’s balmy weather I was already a little spoiled. But I’m wearing lots of wool and my shearling boots, so I think I’m prepared. I start with the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park visitor center, run by the National Park Service. Several of the town’s buildings of historical interest are also preserved by the NPS, including one of particular interest for my journey today. The visitor center is housed in the Old Third District Courthouse constructed in 1835, a handsome Greek Revival building.

I’m assisted by the kind and knowledgeable Diane Altman Berube, and when I describe the purpose of my trip, she immediately supplies me with information, advice, a map, some pamphlets about Frederick Douglass, the town’s Underground Railroad and abolitionist history (a strong one!), and another about the 54th Regiment of the Union Army and an accompanying collection of cards, like baseball cards, with images and stories of men involved…

… Read the original account here

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, entirely supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

Frederick Douglass New Bedford, Massachusetts Sites

The New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park visitor center

The New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park visitor center

Fifth Day, Thursday March 24th

When I arrive in the old whaling town of New Bedford, Massachusetts, it’s overcast and very chilly. I had so enjoyed the respite from the cold in New York City’s balmy weather I was already a little spoiled. But I’m wearing lots of wool and my shearling boots, so I think I’m prepared. I start with the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park visitor center, run by the National Park Service. Several of the town’s buildings of historical interest are also preserved by the NPS, including one of particular interest for my journey today. The visitor center is housed in the Old Third District Courthouse constructed in 1835, a handsome Greek Revival building.

I’m assisted by the kind and knowledgeable Diane Altman Berube, and when I describe the purpose of my trip, she immediately supplies me with information, advice, a map, some pamphlets about Frederick Douglass, the town’s Underground Railroad and abolitionist history (a strong one!), and another about the 54th Regiment of the Union Army and an accompanying collection of cards, like baseball cards, with images and stories of men involved. The 54th Regiment plays an important role in Douglass’ life in many ways, more on that shortly.

Cafe Mocha at Tia Maria's with Frederick Douglass tour materials, New Bedford MA

Cafe Mocha at Tia Maria’s with Frederick Douglass tour materials, New Bedford MA

After discussing the history of New Bedford, especially history pertaining to my trip, Diane directs me to a nearby coffeeshop and cafe, where I go to study the materials she gave me, do some additional research following what we’ve discussed, and arrange my tour for the day. Tia Maria’s is a sweet little Portuguese establishment, and serves me a beautiful cafe mocha topped with a cookie. What a nice way to warm up!

Pier at the old whaling town of New Bedford, MA

Pier at the old whaling town of New Bedford, MA

I’m here in New Bedford because the newly married Douglasses wanted a safer haven than New York City, which as we’ve seen was not, at that time, exactly a secure or safe place for escaped slaves or black people in general. New Bedford was an abolitionist stronghold and besides, being a seafaring town, Douglass expected it to be easy for his to get a good job in his trade as a ship’s caulker. The large population of free black people of that town, and their allies the Quakers, Unitarians, and others who believed strongly in universal human rights and dignity, were united and fierce in the defense of their freedom. Would-be fugitive slave catchers were loath to attempt captures there, since they were promptly driven out of town upon discovery, often accompanied by a good beating.

Seaman's Bethel in New Bedford Massachusetts, featured in Melville's Moby-Dick

Seaman’s Bethel in New Bedford Massachusetts, featured in Melville’s Moby-Dick

I decide to tour my New Bedford sites in order of location rather than chronology for two main reasons: I don’t have the luxury of extra time so I need to travel efficiently without much zigzagging around, and it’s really, really cold, to which this California gal is not acclimated, so I don’t want to stay outside for long wandering stretches.

I’m diverted at the outset by Seaman’s Bethel, since I pass by it at the crest of on Johnny-Cake Hill (charming name!) on my way from my car to my first destination. This old clapboard church to my left is featured in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, so of course I’m interested. I’ve long loved Melville, and I read his short stories, especially Billy Budd, over and over again as a young girl. While connections other than New Bedford itself, where Melville signed up to work on the whaler Acushnet and the fact that each wrote a story about a slave revolt on a ship never occurred to me, some writers have found many links between the lives and ideas of Douglass and Melville, as explained and described in Frederick Douglass and Herman Melville: Essays in RelationI’m intrigued by this book which I only just discovered through my research for this trip, I’ll certainly return to give it a good read.

Historical sign for Seaman's Bethel, New Bedford MA

Historical sign for Seaman’s Bethel, New Bedford MA

Fifty-Fourth Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Plaza, New Bedford MA

Fifty-Fourth Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Plaza, New Bedford MA

I begin with the Fifty-Fourth Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Plaza on William St. between S. Second St and Acushnet Ave. This is where men signed up to serve as soldiers in the 54th Regiment as the first black troops of the Union Army in March of 1863. Douglass was a fierce advocate for the right of black men to enlist, and thought it not only their responsibility to fight for their own freedom, he thought it an invaluable tool for attaining better social standing and an opportunity to learn invaluable skills that a life of slavery often robbed them of. Two of the men to enlist in the 54th were the Douglasses’ own two sons, Lewis and Charles. Lewis saw combat with the 54th and was wounded in the assault on Fort Wagner on July 18th of that year; Charles fell ill and couldn’t serve at the time, but he later became a sergeant in the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry. More on the 54th Regiment coming up in another post soon.

Here I pause in my account of today’s journey. As I mention in the tale of my day in Easton, I occasionally miss places or photo opportunities that I kick myself for afterword. This happens nowhere else on this trip more than here in New Bedford. In this case, I’m particularly hard pressed for time, and to be honest, a little distracted by the cold. Turns out I’ve way underestimated the time I’d need here. So I’m going to do something a little differently for this day’s account: when you see a paragraph that begins with an asterisk, it’s an account of a place that I discover in my fact-checking and editing for this day’s journey, but that I overlook or don’t photograph adequately. I’m doing this so that if you want to use this account as a guide for your own Douglass trip here, you won’t miss anything important.

Liberty Hall illustration from NPS Underground Railroad - New Bedford Brochure*Where I should go next, but miss though I’ve marked it on my map (as my friend Alex likes to say, ‘derp!’), is a little further west on William St just past Purchase St, where there’s a plaque commemorating Liberty Hall. The original hall burned down in October 1854, and burned so hotly it melted the bell; the plaque contains a piece of its twisted metal.

Douglass first heard William Lloyd Garrison speak at this hall in May or June 1839. Garrison preached that ‘prejudice against color was rebellion against God’, because all manner of sectarianism and prejudice went against God’s will that everyone be united into one body in Christ’s kingdom. Douglass was enthralled, read every issue of the Liberator enthusiastically, and attended every antislavery meeting held in this and nearby towns. He returned to Liberty Hall many times as a speaker himself over the next two decades in the 1840’s and 50’s.

Frederick Douglass Way, formerly Ray St where the Douglasses lived at number 111, New Bedford MA

Frederick Douglass Way, formerly Ray St where the Douglasses lived at number 111, New Bedford MA

From the 54th Regiment Plaza, I continue west on William very briefly, then head up Acushnet Ave to its north end. This street ends rather abruptly; though it had once continued north for quite a while, it was razed at some point, likely to make way for the freeway that runs there. It used to be Ray St, where Douglass and Anna moved to a house at number 111; their family was growing and they needed more space. The street there, and their third house in New Bedford, used to be closer to the wharves where Douglass worked for a time. Acushnet becomes Frederick Douglass way north of Elm St. Diane at the NPS told me that I would find a street up this way named Frederick Douglass Way. She wishes that either a grand or more main street was named after him, or that this street were more decorative and well landscaped. Since it’s fitting that this street be named for Douglass since he once lived here, I hope for my part it’s her second wish that will come true.

Former Methodist Church at Elm and County Streets, New Bedford MA

Former Methodist Church at Elm and County Streets, New Bedford MA

From Frederick Douglass Way, I head straight east on Elm all the way to the corner of Elm and County Streets. Diane at the NPS visitor center identified this as the old Methodist Church, which is no longer active at this site; it’s currently up for sale. The engraving in one of the pointed arches in the center front of the bell tower notes it was built in 1858, twenty years after Douglass would have begun attending. This may then be a new location, or it may have been rebuilt on this original site; Douglass specifically refers to its being on Elm St.

The Douglasses were seeking religious community and comfort, and hadn’t yet fully realized the degree to which the mainstream Methodist church, the religion of his youth, was a powerful supporter of slavery. Its ministers taught slaves that their salvation was to be attained through obedience to the worldly masters the Lord had placed over them, that their virtue was to be found in submission and hard work, and that their reward was to be in heaven rather than on earth. Unfortunately, many religious sects throughout history have used this tactic to exploit the poor and oppressed, teaching them that resignation to their plight is a virtue and a sure ticket to a better life in the hereafter, thereby avoiding the necessity, and responsibility, of making life on earth a happy and just one for all.

In addition, the segregation of black people into the back of the church, serving them communion only after the whites had been served, disenchanted Douglass and he promptly left, never to return. After all, as Douglass believed, the quality of a faith is revealed in the teachings of its ministers and the beliefs and behavior of its congregation, especially in matters of justice and kindness to one’s fellow human beings. He later joined a small faith community called the Zion Methodists, not only as a congregant, but as a licensed preacher. (There is a church building that housed the Frederick Douglass Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, no longer extant, at William and Eighth, but it’s uncertain whether it’s a continuation of Douglass’ congregation though it was named for him.)

The Peabody house site at Union and 7th, New Bedford MA, 2016 by Amy Cools

The Peabody house site was about where the gray house now stands at Union & 7th Sts, New Bedford MA

Then I head south down Eighth St, turn left on Union, and stop at Seventh. There were two locations of interest in the life of Douglass here. One, on the southeast corner of Union and Seventh, once stood the house of the Peabodys, at 174 Union St, about where the gray house is now. This is where Douglass picked up his first odd job here when Mrs. Peabody paid him two silver dollars to put away a load of coal. This seemingly insignificant moment in a life felt very significant to the newly escaped Douglass, because it was the first money he ever earned that no one at that moment had the right or the inclination to take from him. It was one small job for a man, but one huge step in feeling like a free one.

Site of Joseph Ricketson's house on the north side of Union at 7th St, New Bedford MA

Site of Joseph Ricketson’s house on the north side of Union at 7th St, New Bedford MA

Nathan and Polly Johnson House at 21 Seventh St, New Bedford, MA

Nathan and Polly Johnson House at 21 Seventh St, New Bedford, MA

Also on Union and Seventh, where this parking lot is now on the north side of the street, across from where Seventh begins, lived a man, or rather two men, named Joseph Ricketson. One of the the two men Douglass named in his narrative who picked up the newly married Douglasses when they arrived at Newport and took them to New Bedford was Joseph Ricketson (probably referring to Sr). The Ricketson house was a busy and particularly well documented stop on the Underground Railroad.

Then, Ricketson and the Douglasses would have taken the same route as I do now (assuming they stopped at his house first), heading south on Seventh Street to Nathan and Polly Johnson’s house at number 21.

Nathan and Polly Johnson House (and adjoining) at 21 Seventh St, New Bedford MA, 2016 Amy Cools

Nathan and Polly Johnson House at 21 Seventh St and adjoining Quaker meetinghouse (in yellow), New Bedford MA

Historical Plaque at Nathan and Polly Johnson House, New Bedford MA

Historical Plaque at Nathan and Polly Johnson House, New Bedford MA

This was the first home Douglass and Anna lived together, from the day they arrived here on September 17th 1838 until they moved into their own first home in 1839. It’s the only New Bedford home of the Douglasses still standing. Nathan and Polly were an inspiration to the Douglasses, a free, successful black couple who spent much of their time and money to help their people achieve the same.

Actually, to be perfectly accurate, it was the newly married Johnsons who arrived here, since the former Frederick Bailey (Douglass) had renamed himself Frederick Johnson, making himself and Anna two more of the already too many Johnsons in the town! Most of the escaped slaves here had taken the same last name, a friendly but over-done tribute. Johnson suggested the surname Douglass instead, after a hero in the Sir Walter Scott novel he was reading at the time, and Frederick accepted.

 1838 Whale Oil Refinery Building near Leonard's Pier, MacArthur St

1838 whale oil refinery building at 185 MacArthur Dr where Frederick Douglass may have worked

Then, as it’s I’m getting colder by the minute and hardly able to move my fingers (the wind chill has pushed the ‘feels like’ temperature down at this point to near freezing), I return to my car, and drive to 185 MacArthur Drive near Leonard’s Pier. This is the site of New Bedford’s first whale oil refinery, built in 1838. In his autobiographies, Douglass wrote of visiting the wharves to find work, described the granite warehouses there, told of loading casks of oil onto ships, and said he worked for a time in an oil refinery in the south of the city, for the same Joseph Ricketson just spoken of earlier. It would make sense that this is the same oil refinery, since it is indeed south of old New Bedford (where all the sites visited today were) and the year is early enough. If it isn’t Ricketson’s refinery, it could still be one of the ones Douglass delivered casks of oil to the ships from, and as you can see, it is made of granite.

Another, closer view of 1838 oil refinery, New Bedford, MA

Another, closer view of 1838 oil refinery, New Bedford, MA

Douglass was amazed at the level of social equality black people enjoyed there with its integrated schools and many other institutions, but there was still segregation in many of the public buildings and competition and prejudice among working people. It was for the same reason that caused Douglass’ bad experiences working on the docks, especially at Gardiner’s shipyard, when he was still enslaved in Fell’s Point, because free whites had to compete for wages with black workers who would accept lower wages and therefore drive them down. In the end, Douglass couldn’t find a good job as a caulker here, so he worked as a common laborer, on the docks, in an (this?) oil refinery, and at a brass foundry among other things, averaging about a dollar a day instead of the two dollars he could earn as a caulker. Though he was poor and worked long hours (which, as he said, was not at all conducive to mental improvement for the lack of time), he obtained a free subscription to Garrison’s The Liberator (which led him to Garrison’s talk at Liberty Hall), attended as many abolitionist meetings as he could, and continued to educate himself. As he became more informed, he became a more passionate believer in the cause of human rights.

The delightfully names Cuttyhunk Ferry at New Bedford, which does not take you to Nantucket, unfortunately

The delightfully named Cuttyhunk Ferry at New Bedford which does not take you to Nantucket, unfortunately

I head a little north along the piers, and stop for a bit to look across the water in the general direction of Nantucket. The ferries don’t run there until later in April. On Aug 11, 1841, Douglass was invited to tell the attendees of his experiences as a slave at a large antislavery convention there at Atheneum Hall. Abolitionist William Coffin had overheard him talking with friends in a ‘little schoolhouse on Second St’ (which, though scouring all the sources I can find up to this point, I don’t find a location for) and was so impressed by his eloquent style of speaking, he was sure the convention would be too. It was likely one of the places the Zion Methodists met, for whom Douglass preached). Douglass first met William Lloyd Garrison there in person following this talk (as you remember, he had already heard him speak at Liberty Hall) and as Douglass’ telling of his story was so effective, he was solicited by another abolitionist leader John Collins to become a member and speaker of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. Thus began Douglass’ lifetime career as a human rights activist.

About where 157 Elm St was, site of Frederick and Anna Douglass' first home of their own in New Bedford MA

About where 157 Elm St was, site of Frederick & Anna Douglass’ first home of their own in New Bedford

The last site I visit today is where Frederick and Anna’s first home used to stand at 157 Elm St. I had actually passed by it earlier, on my way from Frederick Douglass Way to the old Elm St Methodist Church, as I had it on my list and in my notes but not on my map (derp! #2). If the street numbers haven’t changed, then it would have been on or near the site of the parking lot across from the yellow house marked 160. There’s not much left in the way of old buildings, so I go up a little ways toward the Methodist church, stopping at Eighth to photograph some of the houses on Elm, but most of them look too new to date to their time here.

1830's houses on Mechanics Lane, off 8th and parallel to Elm St, New Bedford MA

1830’s houses on Mechanics Lane, off 8th and parallel to Elm St, New Bedford MA

1838 home of Pardon T. Skiff, laborer, Mechanics Lane in New Bedford, 2016 by Amy Cools

1838 home of the delightfully named Pardon T. Skiff, laborer, on Mechanics Lane in New Bedford

Then as I head around the corner on Eighth, I spot a little street that runs one next to and parallel to Elm named Mechanics Lane, where most of the houses look of the right vintage, on a cobblestone street. I draw nearer to the houses and sure enough, their dates of original construction in the 1830’s are proudly displayed. So by looking at this street, we can get a good idea of what their neighborhoods looked like while they lived here. The Zion Methodist Church that the Douglasses used to attend may have stood at the corner of Eighth and Mechanics about where I’m standing as I spot this street, though again, that’s uncertain. The congregation met at various places around the town, since they had no permanent place of worship early on.

Thus ends my account of my day in New Bedford, a delightful and interesting day, even if a bit chilly. I need to skedaddle to meet my host in time at the end of my drive to my next destination. Stay tuned!

City Hall and Frederick Douglass monument at 133 William St

City Hall and Frederick Douglass monument at 133 William St

 

* By the way, if you have time to swing by, there’s a small Frederick Douglass monument on the front lawn of City Hall at 133 William St, near Mechanics Street, which you can see at the left of the photo. I don’t stop here since it’s not on my list of sites directly associated with Douglass’ life and as I mentioned, I’m running late and freezing cold so I don’t linger. But it’s a handsome building and a nice monument to visit.

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Sources and Inspiration:

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

Douglass, Frederick. Autobiographies, with notes by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Volume compilation by Literary Classics of the United States. New York: Penguin Books, 1994.

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.

Foner, Philip S. The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass, Vol. 1-4. New York: International Publishers, 1950.

Frederick Douglass and Herman Melville: Essays in Relationedited by Robert S. Levine and Samuel Otter. University of North Carolina Press, 2008.

Herman Melville‘, from Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Hood, James Walker. One Hundred Years of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church: Or, the Centennial of African Methodism. New York, 1895. (p 541)

Janiskee, Bob. ‘Loss of the Historic Baker-Robinson Whale Oil Refinery Rankles Officials at New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park‘. Apr 20th, 2010. National Parks Traveler

National Park Service, New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park publications: The 54th Regiment cards and The Underground Railroad: New Bedford and A Whaling Town brochures.

New Bedford Black History Trail‘. The New Bedford Historical Society website

New Bedford Historical Society publications: Frederick Douglass: Freedom in New Bedford, The 54th Regiment, and Nathan and Mary “Polly” Johnson House brochures.

Walker Lithograph & Publishing Co., 1911. Massachusetts, New Bedford 1911. Atlas. (Plate 14)

Weidman, Budge. ‘Teaching With Documents: The Fight for Equal Rights: Black Soldiers in the Civil War – Preserving the Legacy of the United States Colored Troops‘, 1997. National Archives Teacher’s Resources.

Welker, Grant. ‘New Hotel Latest Sign of a Revived New Bedford‘. Jun 5, 2010. The Herald News.