Peoria, Illinois, In Search of Robert G. Ingersoll, Frederick Douglass, and Abraham Lincoln, Part 1

Abraham Lincoln portrait head, cast of Gutzon Borglum model for Mount Rushmore at Tower Park, Peoria Heights. Other versions of this sculpture are at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, the Lincoln Tomb, and the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.

Peoria, Illinois, July 28th, 2017

I awake in a spotlessly clean, perfectly comfortable, aggressively unimaginative Motel 6 hotel room on the north end of Peoria, Illinois. I’ve noticed that Motel 6’s are much better than they used to be when I was a child and young adult, at least in terms of cleanliness and amenities. They were never glamorous, but they now have less character. For many years, for example, the beds sported these wonderfully colorful blankets printed with stylized images of famous cities and landscape features all over the United States. Now, the rooms and draperies are beige highlighted with rust-orange, furnished with the plainest of midcentury-style designs, angular objects only occasionally relieved by a sleek curve here and there.

My term for this sort of accommodation is ‘people storage’: strictly utilitarian, uninspired, and uninspiring. Perhaps that’s a good thing for my purposes: I fled the room as soon as I could to place myself in a more interesting environment. Still, I’m irritated as I so often am with modern architecture and interior design. Why have we stopped bothering to go on artistic flights of fancy, then directing the inspirations found there towards making these beautiful?

Abraham Lincoln portrait head near the Gold Star Memorial at Tower Park, Peoria Heights, IL

My first destination is a quick stop to see a bust of Abraham Lincoln at Tower Park in Peoria Heights, IL. It’s a cast bronze derived from a plaster model by sculptor Gutzon Borglum for his most famous work, the Mount Rushmore National Memorial sculpture in the Black Hills. Here, it’s mounted on a grooved stony concrete pedestal near a Gold Star Memorial dedicated to the families of slain soldiers. I’ll be visiting the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield soon so I’ll see the original plaster cast there. More about this sculpture to follow.

Courthouse Square, Peoria, Illinois, ca. 1845. Peoria Public Library. Peoria would have looked like this for most of the years Lincoln visited. It had grown and changed quite a bit, however, by the time Robert Ingersoll moved here in 1857 and Frederick Douglass spoke here for the first time in 1859.

Lincoln was a regular visitor to Peoria, first visiting in 1832 to buy a canoe on the way home to New Salem from serving briefly as a captain the Black Hawk War (his election to this position by the men of his company was among the proudest moments of his life), and many more times throughout his legal and political career. His first campaign speech was also in Peoria, in 1840, during a Whig rally for Presidential candidate William Henry Harrison. There’s no record of what he said there that day, but many accounts of his early speeches describe a man initially hesitant and shy, whose eloquence increased as his confidence did. Peoria is the site of one of his greatest oratorical triumphs; I’ll tell the story once I reach the site where it occurred.

Plaque at the base of a flagpole dedicated to veterans in Glen Oak Park, Peoria, Illinois. Glen Oak Park is at the site of Camp Lyon, a Union recruitment and training camp for the Civil War

My second destination is pretty Glen Oak Park, lush with trees and large green lawns. I enter the park via the west entrance at Prospect Road and McClure Ave and park under the trees along the large oval central green. It’s hot and humid today, but there’s just a little breeze in addition to the plentiful shade, which helps a lot. There are two things that bring me here, both associated with the life of one man.

Robert G. Ingersoll, 1833 – 1899 was a colonel in the Civil War, a lawyer, a politician, and most famously, an orator. Born in Dresden, New York, he lived in Peoria from 1857-1877. Ingersoll was often called ‘The Great Agnostic’ for his trenchant and eloquent critiques of religion. He was also an abolitionist, women’s rights advocate, and promoter of the memory of Thomas Paine as a great American hero. Thomas Paine made a clear and eloquent case for the cause of American independence from Britain in his best-selling 1776 pamphlet Common Sense, then as the Revolutionary war struggled on, helped inspire patriotism and perseverance with his The American Crisis series. Paine’s once-stellar reputation suffered over time, especially after his publication of The Age of Reason, an attack on orthodox religion, and his vociferous criticism of diplomat Silas Deane and George Washington.

Ingersoll agreed with Paine’s criticism of Washington. He thought that Paine was right to be aggrieved with Washington’s decision to do nothing to deliver him from his captivity and sentence of death by the radical French Revolutionaries under Robespierre. After all, Paine was condemned for opposing the execution of King Louis XVI, who had been an ally of the American Revolution and who had provided invaluable aid to Washington in the war. Paine also criticized Washington’s support for the institution of a state church in Virginia, which, of course, Ingersoll would oppose as well. Ingersoll used his own eloquence to help rescue Paine’s memory from disrepute and reinstate him as one of the moral and intellectual founders of the United States of America. Lincoln shared Ingersoll’s enthusiasm for Paine: in his twenties, he wrote an essay defending Paine’s freethinking and his deism. Lincoln was a religious skeptic himself, a nonbeliever as a young man who became a non-denominational theist over time.

The only known image of Ingersoll addressing an audience, Robert Green Ingersoll Birthplace Museum, public domain via Wikimedia Commons. Note the Thomas Paine banner hanging above Ingersoll.

Lincoln held similar sentiments to Ingersoll about Paine. In his twenties, he wrote an essay defending Paine and his deism, which his friend burned so that it could never be found and published. Lincoln had political ambitions already, and his friend, probably correctly, predicted it could derail any run for office he might take. Then, as now, real or at least assumed religious belief is a prerequisite for a successful political career, despite our legal commitments to freedom of conscience and belief. Lincoln was a religious skeptic himself, a nonbeliever as a young man who became a non-denominational believer over time. God entered his writings and discourse ever more often throughout the years though tellingly, not so for Jesus Christ specifically. Lincoln preferred, for the most part, to keep the particulars of his religious beliefs private.

Colonel Robert G. Ingersoll in his uniform, early 1860’s

The West gate of Glen Oak Park is the approximate site of Camp Lyon, where Ingersoll was commissioned as colonel of Union Army in 1861 and where he raised his Union regiment. His first experience in battle was in the Battle of Shiloh, a particularly bloody engagement and a Union victory. He conducted himself well and was commended for his excellent service in many battles during the next year and a half. He resigned on June 30th, 1863; he had been captured then placed in charge of a camp of paroled prisoners who could not fight as a condition of their parole unless they were exchanged for Confederate prisoners. This system of conditional parole and prisoner exchange was common practice at the time, I’m guessing because it saved a lot of money and resources for both sides in feeding and housing prisoners. Ingersoll waited for months for an exchange to happen so he could return to active service, but this exchange never came. So, he went home. Ingersoll thought he could be more returning to his law practice and entering politics than continuing to wait around for something that might never happen.

While he was still in the field, Ingersoll wrote some very compelling, descriptive accounts of the battle, as did his fellow soldier who fought at the battle of Shiloh, Ambrose Bierce. Ingersoll’s contemporary accounts were in letters to his brother; Bierce’s account ‘What I Saw of Shiloh’ was written when he had become an experienced writer, published in 1881. If you haven’t read Bierce’s Shiloh account, I very, very highly recommend it. Bierce was a journalist and prolific writer in many genres. He’s also the author of The Devil’s Dictionary and many other wonderful and skeptical satirical works, I think sometimes on the level of as well as in the spirit of Voltaire. He was a great admirer of Ingersoll, as was poet Walt Whitman, who was also Ingersoll’s personal friend. I’ll return to Ingersoll and Whitman’s relationship in the next installment of my Ingersoll account. Bierce included Ingersoll in his delightfully irreverent poetic definition of the term Decalogue:

Thou shalt no God but me adore:
’Twere too expensive to have more.
No images nor idols make
For Robert Ingersoll to break.
Take not God’s name in vain; select
A time when it will have effect.
Work not on Sabbath days at all,
But go to see the teams play ball.
Honor thy parents. That creates
For life insurance lower rates.
Kill not, abet not those who kill;
Thou shalt not pay thy butcher’s bill.
Kiss not thy neighbor’s wife, unless
Thine own thy neighbor doth caress.
Don’t steal; thou’lt never thus compete
Successfully in business. Cheat.
Bear not false witness— that is low—
But “hear ’tis rumored so and so.”
Covet thou naught that thou hast not
By hook or crook, or somehow, got.

Robert Ingersoll statue in Glen Oak Park, Peoria, Illinois

Plaque on the sculpture of Robert G. Ingersoll at Glen Oak Park, Peoria, Illinois

I continue south and a little east through the park on winding paths and roads, past playgrounds, fields, and a lagoon. I’m headed toward the statue and monument to Ingersoll near the southernmost end of the park at Abington Street and Perry Avenue.

It’s a handsome statue, portraying Ingersoll in his maturer years as a portly man with a very round belly. As far as I could tell from photos, Ingersoll was never particularly slim, though he was more so when he was younger and I think when he was in his last year or so, based on facial portraits. His fleshiness gave him a very youthful look for most of his life, and I think a cheerful one. Especially then, being on the fatter side indicated that you led a happy life of plenty. The face of his statue, tilted slightly downwards, appears more serious than any photo I’ve seen of him in his later years. This, with his arms-akimbo stance, can at first glance seem an almost stern portrayal, as if he’s looking at you or something just beyond you reprovingly. But after studying the sculpture, I think it’s meant to convey Ingersoll in deep thought, perhaps walking back and forth with his hands on his hips as so many of us do when we’re working out some problem in our own minds, or when trying to recall some important fact or idea. Most photos of Ingersoll show him with a little smile on his lips, highlighted by his somewhat dimpled mouth and cheeks. He has the face of a ready and kindly friend.

Bradley & Rulofson, “Robert Green Ingersoll,” Chronicling Illinois, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library

I drive next to Peoria Historical Society’s Flanagan House Museum at 942 NE Glen Oak Ave. I had emailed their office yesterday in hopes of making an appointment but haven’t heard back yet. My research revealed that they have a portrait of Ingersoll on display. Since it’s close enough to being on my way to my next destination, I swing by to see if someone happens to be around. No such luck.

I continue on to the Local History and Genealogy Collection at the Peoria Public Library, 107 NE Monroe street. There’s a manuscript there by Romeo B. Garrett called The Negro in Peoria, I believe the only or one of very, very few copies, in which I’m seeking more details than I have about Frederick Douglass’ visits to Peoria. This manuscript served as Garrett’s doctoral dissertation, I believe. Dr. Garrett was the first African-American professor at Bradley University.

The people who work in this collection are very helpful, particularly Chris Farris, who is there most of the time I am. I find nearly everything I’m seeking and more that I didn’t know to look for. Thank you, Chris, for all the help and interesting conversation! You’re the best.

I spend several fascinating hours here and discover much about Ingersoll, Lincoln, and Douglass in Peoria. My time in this city is a rich one, and I visit so many places linked to interesting stories that I’ll break this up into a two- or three-parter. The next will begin with the sites I visit once I leave the library. To be continued…

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:

Bierce, Ambrose. ‘What I Saw of Shiloh.’ 1881

Blassingame, J. (Ed.). The Frederick Douglass Papers, Series One: Speeches, Debates, and Interviews. 4 volumes, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1979-1999

Burlingame, Michael. Abraham Lincoln: A Life, Volume 1. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, November 2012

Bust of Lincoln – Peoria Heights, IL – Abraham Lincoln‘, posted by NoLemon on Waymarking.com

Carwardine, Richard. Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power. New York: Random House, 2003

Donald, David Herbert. Lincoln. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995

Douglass, Frederick. The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, 1881.

Garrett, Romeo B. The Negro in Peoria, 1973 (manuscript is in the Peoria Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Collection)

Herndon, William H. and Jesse W. Weik. Herndon’s Lincoln: The True Story of a Great Life. 1889

History of Dr. Romeo B. Garrett.‘ Bradley University website.

Hoffman, R. Joseph. ‘Robert Ingersoll: God and Man in Peoria‘. The Oxonian, Nov 13, 2011

Jacoby, Susan. The Great Agnostic: Robert Ingersoll and American Freethought. New Naven: Yale University Press, 2013.

Kelly, Norm. ‘Peoria’s Own Robert Ingersoll‘, Peoria Magazines website, Feb 2016

Leyland, Marilyn. ‘Frederick Douglass and Peoria’s Black History‘, Peoria Magazines website, Feb 2005

Lehrman, Lewis E. Lincoln at Peoria: The Turning Point. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2008.

Lincoln Home National Historic Site, Illinois. Website, National Park Service

Mcmillan, Brad. ‘Lincoln’s Strong Ties to the Peoria Area‘, Peoria Magazines website, Feb 2012

Nelson, Craig. Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations. New York: Viking Penguin, 2006.

Peoria City‘ from Peoria County Atlas 1873, Illinois. Published by A. T. Andreas in 1873, posted in Historic Map Works

Peoria Speech, October 16, 1854‘. Lincoln Home National Historic Site, Illinois website, National Park Service

Robert Ingersoll Collection. From Chronicling Illinois, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library

Robert Green Ingersoll Family Papers, 1854-1970 (bio)Chronicling Illinois, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library

Simon, Paul. Lincoln’s Preparation for Greatness: The Illinois Legislative Years. University of Illinois Press, 1971

Smith, Edward Garstin. The Life and Reminiscences of Robert G. Ingersoll. New York: The National Weekly Publishing Co, 1904

Swaim, Don. ‘The Blasphemer Robert G. Ingersoll and Why He Mattered to Ambrose Bierce.’ 2012, Donswaim.com

Wakefield, Elizabeth Ingersoll, ed. The Letters of Robert Ingersoll. New York: Philosophical Library, 1951

The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer, W. Virginia, July 24th, 1899. From Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress

Happy Birthday, Amy Cassey!

Joseph and Amy Cassey historical marker, Old Town Philadelphia, 2015 Amy Cools

Amy Cassey, anti-slavery and civil rights activist, was born in New York City on August 14, 1808. Born Amy Williams to an elite family, she married a wealthy Philadelphia businessman named Joseph Cassey in 1825. This partnership was very happy and fruitful, and the Casseys used their wealth and prestige to do much good, particularly in the antislavery movement. She outlived her husband, who was twenty years her senior, and married Charles Lenox Remond, a mutual friend and co-activist of herself and Frederick Douglass (and namesake of one of his children), continuing her work until her death on August 15, 1856, just one day after her birthday.

I couldn’t find any images of Amy Cassey or her first husband, but there are many of Remond who, by the way, had particularly awesome hair.

Amy and Joseph Cassey House at 243 Delancey Street, Philadelphia, PA

Learn more about this great woman:

Amy Matilda Cassey Album – a treasure trove of poetry, drawings, and various writings by herself and many famous human rights activists of her time, from the collection of The Library Company of Philadelphia

Cassey, Amy Matilda Williams (1808-1856) – by Janine Black for Black Past

A Fragile Freedom: African American Women and Emancipation in the Antebellum City (selections) – Erica Armstrong Dunbar, Yale University Press, 2008

Cassey House – in Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

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!

Interview with Ken Morris, Anti-Slavery Activist

Ken Morris, image credit Kenneth Morris.jpgListen to this podcast episode here or on Google Play, or subscribe on iTunes

I’m honored and excited to introduce my next guest for Ordinary Philosophy’s 58th podcast episode, Ken Morris.

Ken Morris is closely linked to Frederick Douglass, the subject of my most recent history of ideas travel series, and carries on his legacy by working in a noble and very important cause, anti-slavery activism. He has an incredible family history and personal life story and array of accomplishments which you’ll be sure to find as impressive and fascinating as I do, but I’ll stop here and let him tell you all about it….

For more about Ken Morris and his work, please visit:

The Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives website
Bio: http://fdfi.org/ken
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FrederickDouglassFamilyInitiatives/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/kmorrisjr
and Picturing Frederick Douglass, to which Mr. Morris contributed and sales of which benefit the FDFI: http://fdfi.org/book

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!

Frederick Douglass Lynn Sites, Part 2: Historical Society & Hutchinson Scrapbook

3 Portraits of Frederick Douglass at Lynn Museum, 2016 Amy Cools

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

Seventh Day, Saturday March 26th

As I mention in the first part of my account of today’s journey, Lynn proves to be a Douglass treasure trove for me, especially the Lynn Museum & Historical Society.

While I’m waiting to meet with a representative of the museum to look at some materials from the archives, I visit the  ‘Abolitionist Lynn’ exhibit upstairs. As discussed in the first part of today’s account, Lynn had a particularly active and vocal abolitionist community. As I also discussed in the first part of today’s account, that’s what brought Douglass, laborer turned abolitionist speaker, here to Lynn.

Abolitionist Pitcher at Lynn Museum, front and back, 2016 Amy Cools

Anti-Slavery Pitcher showing a slave auction at front, a slave mother and infant escaping on the back, and a praying manacled figure on the handle

Fugitive Slave Act poster, Lynn Museum, detail, 2016 Amy Cools

Among the many interesting exhibits I see are two posters, similar in format and general style but strikingly different in message and tone. One shows a man with an angry face, wearing a crown made of finger bones and brandishing a chain and whip, seated upon a throne and supported by three mournful slaves, three skulls, a Bible, and a copy of the Fugitive Slave Bill (Act) of 1850. A man in a white robe (perhaps a clergyman’s robe, since a judge’s robe would be black) is pouring an offering from a small cask into a fire on a small altar emblazoned ‘Sacred to Slavery’, while Daniel Webster, a leading Senator at the time famed for his eloquence, gestures to the throne, proclaiming ‘I propose to support that bill …to the fullest extent…’ and a bearded man behind him hangs his head in sorrow, lowering a crown labeled ‘Freedom’ from his head. Behind these figures, a barefoot escaping male slave wrestles with a pack of snarling dogs as two slavecatchers on horses gallop after him, a black woman and her children run into the open arms of an abolitionist white woman, and a statue of Minerva, goddess of wisdom and trade, topples from her pedestal on the hill.

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was meant to put an end to a deeply divisive issue between the Northern and Southern states. Southern slaveowners were enraged that northern abolitionists, grown into an energetic movement and potent political force by this time largely due to the efforts of William Lloyd Garrison starting in the late 1820’s, were aiding slaves escaping to the North. The Act would not only force all Northern officials to cooperate in the capture and return of escaped slaves, it would force private individuals to do so too, on pain of fines and imprisonment. Northerners, especially abolitionists, saw this as an intolerable intrusion on personal conscience by forcing them to participate in a deeply immoral system, while Southerners saw this as a simple enforcement of property rights.

No Higher Law Abolitionist Poster, Lynn Museum, 2016 Amy Cools

No Higher Law Abolitionist Poster, from the Abolitionist Lynn exhibit at the Lynn Museum & Historical Society, March 2016

Senator, statesman, and orator Daniel Webster personified the central conflicts between North and South at that time. A Northerner hailing from Massachusetts, he irreparably damaged his political career through his support for the Fugitive Slave Act, the final and most sweeping of many such acts passed over the decades. Northerners who admired him for his commitment to preserving the Union and for promoting the modernization of the United States into a center of finance and industry from the mostly agrarian economy it had long been, hated this cession of state and personal autonomy to Southern interests. And however much the South loved the bill, their economy was almost entirely based on agriculture and capital investment in slaves, so Webster’s economic policies were intolerable to them regardless of this compromise to preserve the Union. As Abraham Lincoln recognized from the beginning, though he too tried to find a way, peace between the states could never be attained so long as the law, founded on certain conceptions of human rights, tried to accommodate that intrinsically incompatible ‘peculiar institution‘ of slavery.

Haitian Ambassador Poster detail, Lynn Museum, 2016 Amy CoolsThe second poster is a nasty (despite the author’s snarky claim that it’s ‘respectful’) caricature of the abolitionist women of Lynn and of black people in general. Addressed in the subtitle to the ‘500 ladies of Lynn who wish to marry black husbands, it’s basically an elaborate telling of that schoolyard jibe ‘if you love…. so much, why don’t you marry …?’ As you can recognize in the quotes of the ladies in the ballroom oohing and awing over the visiting Haitian ambassador, the author plays on many stereotypes of black people and of women at the time. And unfortunately, most of us ‘get’ the twisted jokes in these quotes because these stereotypes persist to this day.

The person who created this poster in 1839 could not have foreseen that one of Lynn’s future black residents, Frederick Douglass, would go on to to become one of Lynn’s and America’s most loved and admired citizens, and would be appointed to the high office of United States Consul General to Haiti in 1889. I, for one, would get some satisfaction out of time-traveling to visit the author and inform him of these historical developments, just to see the look on his face. Douglass was too dignified a man himself to engage in such a prank if it were possible; throughout his life, he practiced great self-discipline in keeping to the moral high ground.

Johnny Q and Haitian Abassador Poster, Lynn Museum, 2016 Amy Cools

Poster caricaturing Lynn’s abolitionist movement, 1839, from the ‘Abolitionist Lynn’ exhibit at the Lynn Museum & Historical Society

Politics of the Needle, Lynn Museum exhibit, 2016 Amy CoolsA seamstress and textile artist myself, I enjoy the exhibit of needlework artifacts here, created by the girls and women of Lynn’s abolitionist community to raise money for the abolitionist cause.

The sampler is a basic design, the only thing differentiating it from other samplers of the period is the cause it raised money for. The other pieces, through words and images, remind their owners not to forget the slaves’ plight while enjoying the freedom and comfort of their own daily lives.

The exhibit is filled with many more interesting artifacts and information, but to keep this account from becoming too long, I’ll refocus my attention on the main object of my visit here today.

Sampler by Julia Ann Boyce at Lynn Museum

Abolitionist needlework exhibit, Lynn Museum

Abolitionist needlework exhibit, Lynn Museum & Historical Society

Piano with John Hutchinson sheet music, Abolitionist Lynn exhibit, March 2016

Piano with John Hutchinson sheet music, Abolitionist Lynn exhibit, March 2016

The Hutchinson Family Scrapbook at the Lynn Museum & Historical Society

The Hutchinson Family Scrapbook at the Lynn Museum & Historical Society

Britt arrives (she so kindly takes time out of her day off to come in and meet me!) and greets me with a cart of artifacts: one is a folder filled with ephemera relating to Douglass, mostly newspaper clippings, and the other is an old scrapbook entitled: ‘Memorabilia of the Hutchinson Family’. She reminds me of what Nicole Breault, Education and Research Specialist, had informed me by email: the Lynn Museum’s archival materials are now housed at the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum. She encourages me to visit and I long to do so, of course, but as I’ve been telling you, more and more to my regret, I only have two weeks for this trip and have no time to go! I hope to be able to follow up in future, and now have yet one more good resource for original sources.

So knowing time is short this morning, too, I begin with the exciting artifact here before me, the Hutchinson family scrapbook.

Hutchinson Family Singers Poster, Lynn Museum, 2016 Amy Cools

Hutchinson Family Singers Poster at the Abolitionist Lynn exhibit, March 2016, Lynn Museum & Historical Society

Portrait of John Hutchinson from the Hutchinson Family Scrapbook at the Lynn Historical Society. He's quite a handsome man, I think, with beautiful eyes

Portrait of John Hutchinson from the Hutchinson Family Scrapbook at the Lynn Historical Society. I think he’s very handsome, with beautiful eyes

It opens with a portrait of John Hutchinson. Douglass traveled on board with the Hutchinsons, the ‘sweet singers of anti-slavery and the “good time coming,”‘ (Life and Times) when he sailed to the British Isles on August 6th, 1847, on self-imposed exile when he felt the information contained in his newly published Narrative endangered his freedom.

The Hutchinson Family Singers vocal group was founded by John Hutchinson with his brothers Asa, Jesse, and Judson. The Hutchinson family was originally from New Hampshire, as Douglass described, but had many connections to Lynn: John saw a concert of a European singing troupe and was inspired to form his own in that style; the family later performed in Lynn; and John and his wife Patch settled here, on High Rock at the north part of the city, not far from the second Lynn home of the Douglass family. When Jesse became musical director of the group he stopped singing as often, but all of the brothers and sisters, as well as many spouses and other extended family members, joined in as full-time or occasional members. The group broke up into two ‘tribes’ since the brothers didn’t always get along (like so many brothers in bands together, like the great Kinks and maybe not the quite as great Oasis), but both groups were always billed as the ‘Hutchinson Family Singers’.

Civil War free pass and letter from Lydia Marie Child to John Huchinson, Lynn Museum & Historical Society

Civil War free pass and letter from Lydia Maria Child to John Hutchinson, Lynn Museum & Historical Society. The Hutchinson family would sing for the troops, by special permission of the Secretary of War, to cheer and inspire them. The great human rights activist and author Child applauds this in her letter to John of January 19th, 1862.

There are so many wonderful artifacts here, new thrills every time I turn the page! There’s a letter from Susan B. Anthony, great abolitionist, woman’s rights leader, and friend of Douglass, who I’ll discuss at greater length in a later account:

Susan B. Anthony Letter to John Hutchinson

Letter from Susan B. Anthony to John Hutchinson, December 9th 1892, sending condolences for the death of his sister Abby, an especially talented member of the group and also, as Anthony says here, dedicated to the women’s rights cause

Abby Hutchinson's tribute to Jesse upon his death on May 15, 1853

Abby Hutchinson’s tribute to her brother Jesse following his death on May 15, 1853. She replaced him as fourth member of the quartet when he stopped singing to become manager, then took over as manager when he died

There’s a note from Julia Ward Howe:

Note from Julia Ward Howe

Note from Julia Ward Howe, who wrote ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic’, which consisted of new lyrics to the tune of ‘John Brown’s Body’, a song about Douglass’ fiery abolitionist friend who led the raid on Harper’s Ferry. Both songs were popular Civil War hymns, for the Northern side, of course

Tremont Temple Abolitionist Poster, 2016 Amy Cools

Poster for Second Abolitionist Reunion at Tremont Temple in Boston, September 22nd 1890. As you may remember from my account of my day in Boston visiting Douglass sites, he spoke here often, and as you can see from the poster, he shared the stage with John Hutchinson and his daughter Viola, who donated the scrapbook to the Lynn Historical Society (see cover photo above). They close the meeting with Howe’s ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic’

Hutchinson Family Paper celebrating 25 years as a group, with ringing endorsement by Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Hutchinson Family Paper celebrating over 25 years as a group, with a ringing endorsement by feminist leader and Douglass’ friend Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Two portraits of Frederick Douglass from the Hutchinson Family scrapbook

Two portraits of Frederick Douglass in the Hutchinson Family scrapbook

John Hutchinson Song Dedicated to Frederick Douglass Cover Page from Lynn Museum Exhibit

Jesse Hutchinson Song dedicated to Frederick Douglass, cover page print from Lynn Museum Abolitionist Lynn exhibit

As with the Lynn Museum exhibit, I find there are so many interesting things here to share and I can continue on, but this account would grow meandering and very long (it’s going to be pretty long regardless!). So, I’ll return to the central subject of this account, publishing more photos of artifacts I find here today in later accounts as they pertain to the story, and tell you about my most exciting discovery of the day.

Do you remember this drawing on the left from the first part of my Lynn journey account, of the cover page for ‘The Fugitive Song’, written by Jesse and dedicated to Frederick Douglass?

In 1874, Douglass wrote a letter to John Hutchinson mentioning Jesse (the group was often called ‘The Tribe of Jesse’ even long after his death), and it’s here in this scrapbook. Yes, I’m holding an original letter written by Douglass himself, in my own two hands! Well, archivist-gloved hands anyway, and of course I don’t remove it from the scrapbook, just carefully turn it over to read both sides. Like I’ve said many times before, artifacts and physical sites have a very strong effect on me emotionally, which is what keeps me from being just an armchair history enthusiast and drives me out on the road. So, of course, I get the chills all over again, and feel more than a bit teary-eyed!

The envelope is addressed: 'John W. Hutchinson, Lynn Mass' from 'Fred'k Douglass'

The envelope is addressed: ‘John W. Hutchinson, Lynn Mass’ from ‘Fred’k Douglass’

But anyway, here’s the full text of the letter:

‘Biddeford, Nov. 18, 1874

My dear John,

I have only time while on the wing as I am, to tell you that you made me very much obliged to you for the little pamphlet you kindly put into [sic] hands night before last in Lynn, containing biographical sketches of the several members of your remarkably musical family. No apology was needed for its publication. All who have listened as I have done, to the ‘Concord of Several Sounds’ from members of the ‘Tribe of Jesse’ want more of the music and wish to know more of the persons from whom it comes. I especially have reason to feel a grateful interest in the whole Hutchinson family for you have sung the yokes from the necks & the fetters from the limbs of my race, and dared to be true to humanity against all danger to worldly prosperity and reputation. You have dared to sing for a cause first and for cash afterward. I know of few instrumentalities which have done more for liberty and temperance than have your voices. But I only took this moment simply to thank you for the pamphlets and not to speak in the praise of the dear family.

Yours very truly, Fred’k Douglass.’

Frederick Douglass letter to John Hutchinson, dated 1874, Lynn Museum & Historical Society

Frederick Douglass letter to John Hutchinson, dated 1874, Lynn Museum & Historical Society

At long last and with little time to spare, I finish looking at the scrapbook and turn to the other clippings and ephemera I find in the Douglass file folder.

George Latimer article, Lynn Museum Archives

George Latimer article, Lynn Museum Archives

I find an old newspaper clipping here that’s very interesting, unique in its details yet generally characteristic of how high the tensions were between abolitionists and supporters of slavery, and how tight-knit abolitionist communities were. New Bedford, as discussed earlier in this series, was one such community. Lynn and Boston both have a strong history of abolitionism as well (John Adams, a Bostonian of many years, was the only one among our first several presidents who not only didn’t own slaves, but consistently regarded it a great wrong).

Detail of George Latimer article

Detail of George Latimer article

The clipping tells the story of George Latimer, a former slave who escaped with his wife Rebecca to Baltimore, than onto Boston, where George was arrested; after Latimer’s freedom was finally purchased, he and his wife settled in Lynn. I had read this story in my research on Douglass; it was disputes over slaves escaping north, such as the Latimers, that led to the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act, since the slavecatchers had pursued Latimer into a free state. And as you can see in the newspaper account (you can open the image in a new tab and zoom in to read), Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, and Wendell Phillips were champions for Latimer’s cause and held meetings in Boston’s Faneuil Hall, where I visited yesterday. You’ll also see that Jesse and John Hutchinson were among the activists protesting Latimer’s treatment, that the pastor of Tremont Temple Samuel Caldwell paid the $400 that purchased his freedom (paid his ransom?), and that Latimer and his wife were taken in by people on Joy Street, on Beacon Hill in Boston; I walked that street just yesterday as well.

I find many other old newspaper clippings in this folder, some of which I’ve shared with you already in the first part of my account of today’s visit to Lynn, others which I’ll share with you as they relate to my further discoveries on my Douglass journey, and still others I’m happy to share upon request. But I’ll go ahead and end this account here for time’s sake, and soon follow this with the tale of my next day’s discoveries.

Again, my heartfelt thanks to all at the Lynn Museum & 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 makes this place a beautiful place to visit and a great resource!

~ 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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John and Patch Hutchinson from Family Scrapbook

John and Patch Hutchinson from Family Scrapbook

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

Daniel Webster‘. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Douglass, Frederick. Autobiographies (includes Narrative…, My Freedom and my Bondage, and Life and Times). With notes by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Volume compilation by Literary Classics of the United States. New York: Penguin Books, 1994.

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

Frederick Douglass Chronology‘ from the National Park Service – History & Culture: People

Fugitive Slave Act of 1850‘. from Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Fugitive Slave Law‘, from The African American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship online exhibit from the Library of Congress.

Hutchinson Family Singers‘. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

The Hutchinson Family Singers: America’s First Protest Singers‘. Amaranth Publishing website

Lewis, Alan. ‘Abby Hutchinson Patton‘ and ‘John Wallace Hutchinson‘, Hutchinson Family Singers Web Site (archived)

Peculiar Institution.” Dictionary of American History, 2003, from Encyclopedia.com

Weatherford, Doris. ‘Lydia Maria Child‘, via National Women’s History Museum website

William L. Garrison‘. Ohio History Central website

William Lloyd Garrison‘. From Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Traveling Philosophy Series: Frederick Douglass Edition, Prologue, Oakland, CA

 

Frederick Douglass’s Traveling Philosophy series will begin in earnest when I arrive on the East Coast. But behind every Traveling Philosophy series is research, and I have some excellent resources here where I live in Oakland, California. It’s still a little up in the air as when I’ll actually be able to make it to the East Coast for a long enough period to cover the ground I’d like to, since I intend this series to be the most comprehensive I’ve done yet. So, I’ve decided to do something a little different this time, to start the account of my journey with my discoveries and thoughts on the acts and ideas of Douglass I encounter while researching his life.

For the last several weeks, I’ve been gathering materials at my local library branch, the main branch near beautiful Lake Merritt on 14th St. But for many happy afternoons this early December, I’m on the other side of downtown, still on 14th St, in my new favorite study space, the lovely African American Museum and Library in Oakland.

The AAMLO is a local Beaux Arts gem, the original main library building from 1902 until it moved to its current much larger location in the early 1950’s. (See the photo, right, of the museum’s green plaque for a brief history of the library and museum; you can click on the image to enlarge it for ease of reading, if you like.)

The AAMLO is a new discovery for me this December, and as I enter, I’m greeted, to my delight, with a handsome (if rather stern) sculpture of the hero of my series. It’s this effigy of Douglass, in fact, which inspires me to just jump right in and start his Traveling Philosophy series here in Oakland.

So I’ll begin, as I mentioned, with stories and reflections on his life and work. My trip to the East Coast, tentatively planned for late winter / early spring, and the stories of that journey will be followed by a second series of essays inspired by my discoveries in the course of my travels. I hope you enjoy this new format, and as always, welcome any feedback you wish to offer!

The AAMLO is a reference library only, so all materials I use must stay here. That’s perfectly fine with me, it’s such a lovely place to work, and lucky for me, it’s quite close by to where I live and work. Since I’ll be returning here a lot, I pick a quiet, cozy corner, and get to work…

One afternoon, after reading and making notes for quite some time, I feel the need to stretch my legs and rest my tired eyes. I go upstairs to the museum, a long gallery which runs the length of the building and which used to be the main reading room.

Crowning the main stairway which leads to this upper gallery, there’s a huge collage of great figures in African American history. It just so happens that the image of Douglass is under the name of Spinoza, among the list of names of great thinkers of the past which embellishes the frieze. Cool. Baruch Spinoza is next on my list of great thinkers to follow, but that’s a story for another time. I’d bet they’d have the most fascinating conversations, though, if they could speak the same language. Though they were very different in their histories, their particular beliefs, and their personalities, yet they were both lovers of reason, and they both lived authentically, true to their beliefs, models of intellectual integrity as they refused to obey the unjust rules of the societies they lived in.

The museum tells the story of the African American people who did so much to make Oakland the vibrant and diverse city it is today, and how America’s legacy of laws and practices both helped and harmed the African American community here and throughout California. The African American community in Oakland grew by leaps and bounds throughout the 1900’s, much of it made up of refugees from the Old South, and through hard work, came to make up a significant proportion of its thriving middle class. Oakland’s economy centered around its busy port and manufactures, and as the work dried up after the stock market crash of 1929, it was no surprise that the economic woes hit African Americans the hardest: when jobs become more scarce, it was not the favored demographics that suffer from it most, as you may expect: Oakland’s working black population lost well over a third of their jobs.

Douglass himself experienced job discrimination in his time working on the Maryland docks as a caulker, hired out as a wage earner in the Baltimore shipyards for his master before he escaped to freedom. In his Narrative, Douglass relates the story of a severe beating he received at the hands of white shipbuilders who resented the competition of low-paid black labor, both slave and free. Douglass was driven from his job by violence; in 20th-century Oakland, it was a combination of job discrimination, rules and laws which prevented black people from joining or forming unions, and differential treatment by law enforcement. Not everything had changed since Douglass’s day.

So as black Oaklanders suffered many of the worst effects of the economic downturn, the ills of poverty hit black communities the hardest, and harsh, unjust policing practices and drug policies exacerbated the problems that they may have been meant to alleviate. Many, however, passionately believe that there was no honest intent to help, just to oppress and destroy the black community. Whatever the case may be, the desperation of so many of Oakland’s black people makes it no wonder that the Black Panther Party was founded here in Oakland in the 1960’s. Then as now, a strong cultural tradition of racial justice activism and civic unrest flourished, sometimes, as again to be expected in an environment where so many felt disenfranchised and disrespected, to excess.

If he were alive to witness it, Douglass may have disapproved of many of the Black Panther Party’s militant tactics, but like the B.P.P. and Malcolm X after him, he came to believe that some kind of armed resistance may be necessary to achieve liberty and full equality for black people, and that if violent resistance was necessary to change the laws, it was just, given the depth of oppression and injustice black people suffered. He was, for example, an admirer of John Brown, a passionate abolitionist who unsuccessfully tried to start an armed slave rebellion and was hanged for treason as a result.

What Douglass thought about whether or not it’s right to use violence in the cause of furthering human rights, and if so, how much, against whom, and when, is a big topic, one for another essay in this series. Stay tuned!

* Listen to the podcast version of this piece here or on iTunes

* Follow in the footsteps of Frederick Douglass with me… 

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

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Sources and Inspiration

Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Originally published in Boston by the Anti-Slavery Office, May 1st, 1845.