Peoria, Illinois, In Search of Robert G. Ingersoll, Frederick Douglass, and Abraham Lincoln, Part 2

Etching of the old Peoria County Courthouse on a granite wall at the new one, Peoria, IL. It shows the portico from which Lincoln delivered his famed Peoria Speech of October 16th, 1854

Peoria, Illinois, July 28th, 2017, continued

~ Dedicated to Shannon Harrod Reyes

I leave the library and begin my afternoon’s site searches at the Peoria County Courthouse. Abraham Lincoln visited this courthouse many times over the years, on some occasions in his capacity as a lawyer and other times in association with his political career. There’s a statue of Lincoln here commemorating a particularly notable occasion: his delivery of a speech from the front portico of the old courthouse on October 16, 1854. This speech was composed and delivered in opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act, co-authored by Stephen A. Douglas. The Peoria Speech, as it’s now known, was part of a series that took place during that legislative election season where Douglas and Lincoln addressed and rebutted each other’s arguments, sometimes during the same event, sometimes separately. Their exchange would be revived four years later, notably in the series of seven formal debates of 1858. Douglas won that year’s Senate election with 54% of the vote, but Lincoln distinguished himself so well in that campaign season that he won the larger prize two years later. He was elected President in 1860, handily defeating his closest rival Douglas with a 10%+ lead.

The Peoria County Courthouse as it appears today, Peoria, Illinois

It was this 1854 speech delivered here in Peoria, however, that’s widely credited with first putting Lincoln on the political map in a big way. Lincoln had mostly withdrawn from politics, having served many years in the Illinois state legislature but only winning one term in higher office in 1846 in the United States House of Representatives. The furor over the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which effectively repealed the Missouri Compromise and opened the door to the expansion of slavery, drove Lincoln back into politics, by his own account. He had always been rather reticent about the slavery issue, concerned that too much controversy over it would destabilize the country. The recent passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act was only one of the many major events that revealed the controversy was unavoidable.

The Trial of John Brown by Horace Pippin, 1942 at the De Young Museum, San Francisco, CA. John Brown was one of those who led abolitionists into Kansas territory to combat pro-slavery advocates, and in the process, indiscriminately killed pro-slavery settlers. He led the unsuccessful raid on Harper’s Ferry in 1859 and was executed for treason.

For one thing, Kansas-Nebraska Act’s underlying political doctrine of popular sovereignty, where the states could decide on the legalization of slavery themselves by vote, led to such extreme regional disputes as Bleeding Kansas. People flooded into the territory (Kansas was not yet a state) to push the vote one way or another through violence as well as numbers. Those on the pro-slavery side wanted to preserve the political power of the slave states and to be able to settle in Kansas with their slaves if they so chose. Those opposing slavery wanted to keep slavery out of Kansas as a matter of principle and, more often, to make it a place where people could make a new life for themselves without having to compete with slaves for jobs and with wealthy slave-plantation owners for land.

Secondly, while attractive to many from both sides at first glance, the principle of popular sovereignty revealed its weaknesses over time and proved deadly to Douglas’ political career. Abolitionists and other free state citizens did not want to abide by fugitive slave laws which required that free states return escaped slaves, and did not want to protect the right of visitors to own slaves within their borders. They saw this as an imposition of slavery into territories that abolished it. Slave states regarded the refusal to return escaped slaves as an attack on their property rights, and an unfair limit on their right to travel freely from state to state. Popular sovereignty turned out to harm, not help, the cause of preserving the Union.

Statue of Abraham Lincoln outside the Peoria County Courthouse commemorating his Oct 16, 1854 speech here

The Peoria speech was Lincoln’s second public delivery of his first detailed and straightforward denunciation of slavery on moral grounds. While the speech did not promote the national abolition of slavery, Lincoln made the historical case that Thomas Jefferson was a reluctant slave-owner caught up in a social institution that he abhorred, but like slave-owners of Lincoln’s day, he felt trapped in it. So, Jefferson hoped and planned for its gradual dissolution. He used his influence to make sure the Northwest Ordinances of 1787 and ’89 banned slavery in all new territories of the United States, shifting the balance of political power away from the slave states and towards those states whose prosperity resulted from the industry of free people. Lincoln argued that continuing to prevent the spread of slavery was the only way to realize Jefferson’s hope while doing what was politically possible to assuage the evils of slavery until it faded away naturally. Though we, with Frederick Douglass, might be scornful of and impatient with Lincoln’s apparent have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too attitude towards slavery as a terrible moral evil but allowable in the South if it held the Union together, the speech contains the outline of the basic moral principles underlying Lincoln’s increasingly anti-slavery platform as his presidency and the Civil War progressed.

The version of the Peoria speech that’s come down to us was transcribed by Lincoln himself for publication in Springfield’s Illinois Daily Journal, in seven issues on October 21st, then the 23rd-28th, 1854. This is lucky for us as few transcripts of that series of exchanges between Douglas and Lincoln survive. Lincoln had delivered the first version of this speech in Springfield and had clarified and refined it, as well as making a few changes to tailor it to the Peoria audience.

Commerce Bank at the approximate site of old Rouse’s Hall at Main St and Jefferson Ave, Peoria.

Frederick Douglass ambrotype, 1856, by an unknown photographer, image public domain via Wikimedia Commons. He spoke in Peoria in Rouse’s Hall about three years after this picture was taken.

Then I head to Jefferson and Main, to the site of Rouse’s Hall. Frederick Douglass lectured here on February 25th, 1859, and according to the Peoria Daily Transcript newspaper, his speech was so well received that Douglass decided to add a follow-up one a few days later. The Transcript reported that ‘appreciative and intelligent’ audience braved the weather in large numbers to hear this famous orator speak.

In the first speech, Douglass presented his argument that all human races had a common origin, supporting his views with ‘history, philosophy, and science’. He was not making a Darwinian case since On the Origin of Species would not be published until the fall of that same year. The Transcript also reported that the speech included an argument about slavery which ‘he had not yet exhausted,’ so presumably Douglass was presenting the larger case that since all human beings belong to a common natural family, there can be no claims of superiority that would justify one branch of this family oppressing another.

In their notice of the second speech scheduled for March 1st, the Transcript predicted that the crowd would be even larger, given the enthusiasm of the audience during the last one and the fact that this one was better advertised. They also confirmed that Douglass revealed the true ‘heinousness of Slavery’ by showing how black and white people belonged to the same human family, with the same ‘inherent faculties of the soul.’ Douglass, proclaimed the Transcript, was living proof that natural genius is to be found in all races in equal measure, and all it takes for the black race to achieve its potential and improve their faculties is to enjoy equal access to all that culture has to offer. One of the ways for his fellow black citizens to do so, Douglass said, was self-improvement: since they were not given equal chances to improve themselves, they must take their chances into their own hands as far as possible until legal and social equality was achieved.

Writing about ‘Our Recent Western Tour’ in Douglass’ Monthly, published the next month of April, 1859, Douglass spoke optimistically of the future, based on the mostly warm welcome he and his fellow speakers had received during the tour. In years past, he had often been subject to humiliation and rude treatment by audience members and people of the towns he traveled to. This time, he wrote, they were usually treated with courtesy, respect, and friendship, and the number of committed abolitionists seemed to be ever-increasing. As Douglass wrote, ‘We think a Negro lecturer an excellent thermometer of the state of public opinion on the subject of slavery…’ Though he found the overall temperature warming, he still encountered some chill between-times, as the next story will reveal.

Rouse’s Hall, image courtesy of Peoria Public Library

Robert Ingersoll in 1868. This photo would have been taken around the time that Frederick Douglass would have called on him in Peoria, when Ingersoll was about 35 years old, a married father of two, and the Attorney General of Illinois.

This also happens to be one of my favorite stories about Robert Ingersoll. It likely occurred during one of Frederick Douglass’ return visits here for an 1867 speech at Rouse’s Hall. This year is consistent with Douglass’ account: it must have happened in the late 1860’s since Douglass wrote it was ‘a dozen years ago or more’ in his final autobiography, 1881’s The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. For all of the Transcript’s glowing review of his speeches and the audience’s enthusiasm, Douglass recalled finding little welcome offstage here on his first visit, so he dreaded going back. Perhaps he wouldn’t even be able to find a hotel that would accommodate him at all! Douglass mentioned this to a friend who he was staying with in Elmwood, a previous stop on his speaking tour. This friend said to him, ‘I know a man in Peoria, should the hotels be closed against you there, who would gladly open his doors to you – a man who would receive you at any hour of the night, and in any weather, and that man is Robert J. Ingersoll.’ (He got the middle initial wrong.) Douglass expressed concern about disturbing his family and was glad he didn’t have to since the ‘best hotel’ gave him a room. But he was intrigued his friend’s description of Ingersoll’s hospitable and unbiased personality, and about his ‘infidel’ views (these quotes are Douglass’ own, presumably tongue in cheek. Douglass was a religious skeptic in many ways himself). So Douglass went to call on the Ingersoll family at home the next morning. Douglass went on to describe the warmth of his welcome in fulsome terms, and to point out that this ‘infidel’ gave him a more Christian welcome than anyone who would define themselves that way ever had. His impression of Ingersoll’s face with its expression of ‘real living human sunshine’, I notice as I reread Douglass’ story, accords with the one I wrote in the first part of this account: ‘He has the face of a ready and kindly friend.’

In that March 6th, 1867 speech at Rouse’s Hall, Douglass spoke of the temperature dropping once again. The Civil War had ended just under two years before, and the North had not yet sorted out what they perceived as ‘the Negro problem.’ Even many of the most ardent Abolitionists were not ready to accept black people as equal members of their own communities. Like Lincoln had for most of his life, they considered slavery wrong but didn’t think that black and white people were fully if at all compatible as friends, coworkers, fellow politicians, and so on; certainly not as romantic partners. And many still thought condescendingly of freed black people as some kind of amorphous mass of downtrodden creatures that should be humbly grateful for the new freedoms that were bestowed on them, and therefore not demand too much. Douglass, of course, rejected this view. Black people had fought, and fought hard, for their own freedom, and those who fought with them, while brave and often motivated by sincerely held moral beliefs, were also acting in their own interests. The test of whether the emancipation of the black race was a true one, consistent with our American principles laid out in our founding documents, was to see how well the United States protected the rights of black people from there on out.

Parking lot where Robert Ingersoll’s mansion and then the National Hotel used to stand, at the north corner of Jefferson Ave and Hamilton St, kitty-corner from the Peoria County Courthouse

Period view of Robert Ingersoll’s grand house at Jefferson and Hamilton, image from the Robert Ingersoll Birthplace Museum webpage

In 1876, Robert Ingersoll took his law practice solo and moved his office into his third and final Peoria home at the corner of Jefferson Avenue and Hamilton Street. The Ingersoll family lived here until they returned to New York in 1877. All three locations of Ingersoll’s homes, by the way, are taken from Edward Garstin Smith’s The Life and Reminiscences of Robert G. Ingersoll. Smith provides street corners and some landmarks, but since he gives us no street numbers, doesn’t specify north, south, east, and west, and most of the landmarks have changed, I don’t always know just where to photograph. He does tell us that the National Hotel was later built on the site of this home, and Ingersoll’s ‘splendid mansion,’ a four-story affair, was ‘moved to the side of the lot’ of the hotel. Then, with further digging, I find an old postcard of the National Hotel site on the Local History and Genealogy Collection of the Peoria Public Library’s website. Once again, they come through admirably!

Peoria National Hotel postcard, pre-1911, courtesy of US Genealogy Express. This hotel was built on the site of the Ingersoll family’s third and final home in Peoria.

Another image of the New National Hotel at the former site of Robert G. Ingersoll’s home at the northeast corner of Jefferson & Hamilton. It was built 1883 and razed in 1970, having suffered a fire. It’s now a parking lot. Local History and Genealogy Collection, Peoria Public Library, Peoria, Illinois

Corner of Main and Jefferson, Peoria, IL, pre-WWI, Local History and Geneology Collection, Peoria Public Library, IL.

The first home of Ingersoll in Peoria, which he rented, was in the 100 block of North Jefferson Ave, between Main St and Hamilton Blvd, and at the time Smith wrote his biography of Ingersoll, the site was occupied by the YMCA building. This site would likely be across the street from the Courthouse square; it’s my understanding that no other buildings ever occupied the square, based on all the old photos and atlases I could find of Peoria. That would place it somewhere near the Rouse’s Hall site, perhaps to the north of it where the tall building next to Commerce Bank is now. (See the Commerce Bank at Main St and Jefferson Ave photo above.)

N Jefferson Ave between Hamilton & Fayette, Ingersoll's house stood about where the 1st building on left does now 2017 Amy Cools

N. Jefferson Ave between Hamilton and Fayette. Ingersoll’s second house in Peoria stood about where the first building on left does now

Ingersoll’s second home, which he also rented, was on North Jefferson Ave as well, on the 200 block between Hamilton and Fayette. It was still standing when Smith wrote his biography in 1904. This may be where Ingersoll lived when he met and married his wife, and perhaps where they lived when their daughters were born; Smith doesn’t provide a timeline for their moves between each house. Ingersoll married Eva Amelia Parker in February 1862, and his daughters Eva Robert Ingersoll and Maud Robert Ingersoll were born in 1863 and 1864, respectively. So he had already completed his time of service in the Civil War then he settled down to make a family with Eva.

As I’ve written before, Ingersoll was a dedicated family man. He spoke eloquently and movingly of the joys of family life. It was a home filled with love and mutual respect, by all accounts. No wonder Ingersoll’s face almost invariably looks so amiable and friendly in photos! There’s a card I discover among the digital archives from the Robert Ingersoll Papers in the collection of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library which includes a photograph of Ingersoll cuddling two of his grandchildren over a poem he wrote titled, simply, ‘Love.’ I’ll leave you with this as I end this part of my account of my day in Peoria, and I’ll pick up the rest of the tale very soon

Farrell, C. P., “Robert Ingersoll, Love,” Chronicling Illinois, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library

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Sources and inspiration:

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

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.

East, Ernest E. Abraham Lincoln Sees Peoria: An Historical and Pictorial Record of Seventeen Visits from 1832 to 1858. Peoria, 1939

Electoral history of Abraham Lincoln‘. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

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

Garrett, Romeo B. Famous First Facts About Negroes. New York: Arno Press, 1972

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

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

Insurance Maps of Peoria, Volume 1. Sanborn Map Company of New York, 1927. (Showing the street numbers before they changed in 1958)

Kelly, Norm. ‘The Hall That Rouse Built‘, Peoria Magazines website, Feb 2015

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 Draws the Line’, Peoria, IL – posted by KG1960 on

Lincoln, Abraham. ‘Peoria Speech, October 16, 1854.’ via the National Park Service’s Lincoln Home National Historic Site website and ‘Abraham Lincoln’s speech at Peoria, Illinois: [Oct. 16, 1854] in reply to Senator Douglas‘. Seven numbers of the Illinois Daily Journal, Springfield, Oct. 21, 23-28, 1854. [Peoria, Ill.: E. J. Jacob]

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

MacMillan, Lois. ‘Close Reading: Speech at Peoria, October 16, 1854‘, published at Quora: Understanding Lincoln

Peck, Graham. ‘New Records of the Lincoln-Douglas Debate at the 1854 Illinois State Fair: The Missouri Republican and the Missouri Democrat‘. Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, Volume 30, Issue 2, Summer 2009, pp. 25-80

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

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

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

History As A Communal Act: The History of Black History Month, by Stephen G. Hall

Frederick Douglass as US Recorder of Deeds, Library of Congress image, sign at D.C. Court of Appeals

Frederick Douglass as US Recorder of Deeds, Library of Congress image, sign at D.C. Court of Appeals

African Americans have always imagined and constructed history as a communal act. At the inception of the African American historical enterprise in the early 19th century, Jacob Oson’s Search for Truth (1817), one of the first examples of a textual African American historical production, offers insights into these communal sensibilities. Oson delivered the address in New Haven and New York, the locations of two dynamic free black communities, addressing communal concerns such as the African past, contemporary treatment, and identity. He also received help in publishing the address from Christopher Rush, Bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, one of the largest black church organizations in the country. From inception to publication, history existed not as the purview of the few, but as a communal product.

Oson’s work was no mere isolated incident. Writers were largely community advocates: ministers, abolitionists, autodidacts, and bibliophiles. James W.C. Pennington’s A Textbook of the Origin and History of the Colored People (1841)  offered important insights into African American history. Maria Stewart’s speeches blended piety with calls for communal action and awareness of racial injustice. Robert Benjamin Lewis’s interracial heritage (Native American and African) served as a springboard for his humanistic and universal history of African-descended people titled Light and Truth (1844). Black writers also envisioned their community as transnational. They engaged the African past as well as the complexities of the African Diaspora. They ruminated on the history of Haiti and Latin America. For these writers, African Americans were more than mere products of North American slavery. Their history was intertwined with the social, political, and cultural fabric of Africa and the Diaspora. In short, African American intellectuals understood their unique role as African-descended people whose history shaped the global experience.

Communal engagement proved central in dramatizing and reflecting the sentiments of historical periods. As African Americans laid the groundwork in the nation’s transition from slavery to freedom, Black history heralded these changes. William Wells Brown’s The Black Man (1863) and The Negro in the American Rebellion (1867) provided the first blueprints for the future. William Still’s The Underground Railroad (1871) reconstructed black heroism in the fight to end slavery. Black remembrance of the past focused less on individual achievements and more on the community’s collective ability to overcome obstacles to achieve clear goals. Freedom’s advent emanated from and served communal purposes.

Sculpture of John Brown by Edmonia Lewis

Sculpture of John Brown by Edmonia Lewis

Black history’s communal manifestations were not merely textual. West Indian Independence Day and Juneteenth and Emancipation Day Celebrations, to name a few, permeated the communal landscape throughout the 19th and into the 20th centuries. Artistic representations, especially the work of Edmonia Lewis and Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller, were very important. Both of these women used sculpture to powerfully reconstruct the black past. Lewis’s John Brown (1864–65) and Robert Gould Shaw (1867–68, marble) depict historical figures subsequently revered in black communities. Her communal representation, Forever Free (1867, marble), celebrated the ratification of the 13th Amendment. The original title of the piece was “Morning of Liberty.” Fuller’s Ethiopia Awakening (1914), Mary Turner (Silent Protest Against Mob Violence) (1919) and Ethiopia Awakening (1930) highlight themes of racial pride, cultural awareness, and awakening and resilience in the face of adversity.

The outgrowth of these communal sensibilities naturally impacted the growth of the professionalized African American history project. Carter G. Woodson’s establishment of the Association of the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH) in 1915, the Journal of Negro History (1916), and the Associated Publishers in 1916 built on preexisting traditions of communal engagement and representation. These traditions were already extant in the African American historical enterprise for at least a century prior to their professionalization. Woodson used the “Documents” and “Notes” sections of the JNH to present communal offerings, the living and breathing history found in the attics and basements of African Americans around the country. Due to the small number of professionally trained historians, Woodson understood that the African American historical project must embrace the larger community as well as the professional and lay classes. Woodson utilized the broadest cross-section of the black community, drawing on everyone from K-12 educators and administrators to physicians, politicians, and pastors and ordinary people who displayed an interest in the historical past.Black literary and historical societies, bibliophiles, and collectors were also prominent in this regard. Groups such as the American Negro Academy, the Negro Society for Historical Research, and the Mu-So Lit Club played a prominent role in promoting the study of history. Their efforts were complimented by bibliophiles such as Arthur Schomburg and Jesse Moorland. Schomburg, a Puerto-Rican immigrant, collected books about the global black experience in his Harlem apartment. His extensive collection was purchased by the New York Public Library in 1925. Today it comprises the nucleus of the Schomburg Collection in Harlem, New York. Jesse Moorland, an avid bibliophile, YMCA activist, and close friend of Carter G. Woodson, donated his sizable collections to the institution, which today are housed at Howard University’s Moorland-Springarn Room.

Abraham Lincoln's walking stick, Mary Todd Lincoln's gift to Frederick Douglass

Abraham Lincoln’s walking stick, Mary Todd Lincoln’s gift to Frederick Douglass

Given more than a century of deep engagement with history in black communities in textual, commemorative, artistic, organizational (literary and historical societies and libraries and repositories), and professional projects, it is not surprising that Negro History Week (1926) and later Black History Month (1980) emerged. Instituted as a communal celebration of black possibility and reality, Negro History Week continued earlier themes of accentuating black communal achievements, charting communal possibility and using institutional spaces to shape historical understanding within black communities and more important, in the national and global spheres. Its celebration in February acknowledges its communal roots. February is the birth month of two revered figures in African American life and history in the 19th and early 20th centuries: Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Douglass and Lincoln loomed large in the black imagination because of their associations, tangible and symbolic, with Emancipation. The commemorative celebrations of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment, as well as the long communal struggle to eradicate slavery from the order of things, resonated in the chords of memory in African-descended populations well into the 20th century.

In 1926, the Annual Meeting of the ASNLH was held at Morgan State College (now university) in Baltimore. A “Negro History Week Roundtable” featured educators primarily from the State of Maryland and the District of Columbia. Given the prominence and activism of the black communities in these two locales, they serve as a representative sample for how “the movement,” as it was commonly labeled, impacted black communities. The comments of the educators, one of whom was Dr. Otelia Cromwell, Head of the Department of History and English in the public schools in the District of Columbia, emphasized the importance of the work. They also highlighted the impact of the celebration on young people in urban and rural communities. According to Cromwell, the observance of Negro History Week not only proved of great interest to students, faculty, and staff in the District of Columbia, but it also “had the effect of improving the tone and atmosphere of the school room.” The summation of Cromwell’s remarks unquestionably demonstrates the immeasurable nature of history’s communal reach. The report read: “These results which cannot be easily set forth in words or mathematically measured she believed to be the most important of all.” Cromwell knew that history’s import and meaning transcended the solidarity of a single moment in time. It permeated the classroom and seeped into the collective strivings of untold generations. It informed one hundred years of historical engagement and interrogation. It gave rise to textual writing, commemorative celebrations, artistic representations, literary and historical societies, black bibliophiles and collectors, and finally the professionalization of African American history in the first half of the twentieth century.

These same communal sensibilities informed the rise of the African American museum movement in the 1960s: The DuSable Museum of African American History (1961), the International Afro-American Museum in Detroit (1965), the Anacostia Community Museum in Washington (1967), and the African American Museum of Philadelphia (1976). Other community-inspired projects include The Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore (1983) and the National Afro American Museum and Cultural Center in Wilberforce, Ohio (1987). All of these museums used history and historical artifacts to dramatize the black past and present it to the community. These efforts culminated in the creation of the National African American Museum on the National Mall in 2016.

Our contemporary moment has witnessed the continuation of these communal projects. It has spawned the use of digital spaces (Internet and social media such as Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, Snapchat, Instagram) to present African American history and historical ideas in new and dynamic ways. The construction of syllabi to educate diverse publics about contemporary events is a direct outgrowth of this communal focus. These efforts are too numerous to name them all, but a few examples will suffice: Dr. Marcia Chatelain’s #Ferguson Syllabus and the work of Drs. Chad Williams, Kidada Williams, and Keisha Blain with the #CharlestonSyllabus, The D.A.TT Freedom Summer 2015 Syllabus, the #BlackPantherSyllabus, the #The Baltimore Syllabus, the BlackLivesMatter Syllabus, the Welfare Reform Syllabus, the Trump Syllabus 2.0, and the Trump Syllabus 2.0: Supplementary List.

Black History Month, then, is more than a month-long celebration or an obligatory relic of an outmoded past. Rather it is and continues to serve as the catalyst for the transmission of a dynamic historical memory embedded in the collective striving of a global people to celebrate their historical past, affirm their humanity, and share the richness and vibrancy of their history as a communal act.

This piece was originally published at The African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS) blog

Stephen G. Hall is the Program Coordinator of History at Alcorn State University. He is the author of A Faithful Account of the Race: African American Historical Writing in Nineteenth-Century America (UNC Press, 2009).  He is currently completing an edited book entitled History as A Communal Act: African American Historians and Historical Writing Past and Present (Routledge Press, forthcoming). His second book project is entitled Global Visions: African American Historians Engage the World, 1885–1960. (Bio credit: AAIHS)

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Frederick Douglass Washington DC Sites, Day 1, Part 2

Frederick Douglass standing in front of his home at 320 A Street NE, Washington, DC, in 1876. Public domain via NPS

Frederick Douglass standing in front of his home at 320 A Street NE, Washington, DC, in 1876. Public domain via NPS

Thirteenth Day, Friday, April 1st, continued

I leave the approximate site of Helen Pitts-Douglass’ onetime home at 913 E St NE, and head southwest to 316-18 A Street NE.

In 1872, Douglass moved his family here to Washington, DC. Since his beloved farm home on the hill in Rochester had burned to the ground on June 2, 1872, probably by arson, Douglass was bitter and in the mood to shake the dust of that city from his feet. He had already been considering a permanent move to Washington since his work with the New National Era newspaper (more on that to come), his political work, and his efforts to obtain a good government appointment often took him there, sometimes for lengthy stays. In fact, he was in Washington when he received a telegram notifying him of the fire.

Frederick Douglass house at 316-320 A St, Washington DC, photo 2016 by Amy Cools

Frederick Douglass house at 316-318 A St and the museum dedicated to him next door, in Washington, D.C.

So Douglass brought his family here, and after a stay in rented rooms, the Douglass family moved into this pretty Queen Anne brick house, likely in late 1872. I haven’t yet found a more exact timeline for where the Douglasses lived and when during their first months in Washington: sources vary on this. The plaque I find here at the house, placed in 1966, says that Douglass lived here from 1871 to 1877, though many other sources say 1872 and 1878, respectively. Perhaps Douglass had purchased this already as a second or investment home in 1871. In any case, the Douglass family lived here for about six years until they moved across the Anacostia River to Cedar Hill in 1878, though Douglass retained ownership of this house. I find an entry in John Muller’s Lion of Anacostia blog showing that Douglass applied for a permit to build onto this property in 1879, and his son Charles was living here when he died in 1920.

The restored house and the adjacent building at 320 A St now make up The Frederick Douglass Museum and Caring Hall of Fame, which is available for tours by appointment.

AME Methodist Church at 1518 M St NW

The Metropolitan A.M.E. Church at 1518 M St NW, Washington D.C.

Then I head northwest across town, a cross-wise route via Massachusetts Ave to the Metropolitan A.M.E. Church at 1518 M St NW. This historic church has many associations with Douglass, but I’ll focus on three main ones. In 1889, the Bethel Literary Society held a surprise 71st birthday celebration for Douglass here. Actually, the party would have been held at the church hall next door, since that’s where the Society met, where the ugly office building now stands to the right of the church. He was called upon to speak, and speak he did, of course, that was his specialty. The speech was written down by hand then typed; it’s at the Library of Congress today.

Douglass delivered another speech here five years later on January 9th, 1894. It was one of his greatest, called ‘The Lessons of the Hour’. In it, he speaks out against the lynching which had become rampant in the South. As you may remember from my New York account, Douglass was inspired by Ida B. Wells’ investigative journalism into the true nature and extent of lynching in the South, and had joined her in campaigning against it in 1892. Douglass blamed the accusations of rape used to excuse the lynchings as a new method of slandering black people and inciting white people to hate and fear them, since they could no longer use the excuse of a fear of slave uprising or black domination of white people through the vote. If it was true that black men were actually suddenly going around raping white women right and left, which mind you, hadn’t happened much in the South historically, why resort to mob violence instead of proving these cases in court? Because, Douglass charged, the lynchers and their apologists knew these accusations were lies. Metropolitan A.M.E. Church sign, Washington D.C. photo 2016 by Amy Cools

Photo of AME Metropolitan Church by Charles Frederick Douglass, 1900, via NPS website

Photo of AME Metropolitan Church by Charles Frederick Douglass, circa 1900, public domain via the National Park Service website.

One year later, Douglass’ funeral service was held here, on Feb 25th 1895, the first of two; the second was held in Rochester, where he was buried. This funeral was attended by huge numbers of mourners and dignitaries, including Susan B. Anthony and Justice John Marshall Harlan, the great Kentucky-born Supreme Court justice who had reversed his views on slavery to become a champion of civil rights. (A factoid of personal interest: Justice Harlan’s family home was in Harrodsburg, a town founded by an ancestor on my mother’s side; she’s a Harrod.) Justice Harlon famously dissented in the Court’s decisions in the Civil Rights Cases of 1883 and Plessy v. Ferguson of 1896, which set back the cause of black rights for over half a century. Douglass, who believed in the perfectibility of humankind, would have welcomed Harlan’s moral evolution warmly, just as he welcomed Lincoln’s.

Obamas on Inauguration Day 2013 by P. Souza, Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

United States President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama attend a church service at Metropolitan A.M.E. Church in Washington, D.C., on Inauguration Day, Sunday, 20 January 2013, by Peter Souza, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

I don’t enter the church because there’s a man standing outside clearly discouraging drop-in guests, as they appear to be setting up for an event; I have the impression it’s a funeral. I curb my curiosity with some effort, out of respect, though I really, really want to see the inside of this great historic place. President Bill Clinton’s inaugural prayer service was also held here, and Barack and Michelle Obama attended a service here on the occasion of Obama’s inauguration in 2013 as well. What excitement for Douglass, if he were there that day! Well, I’ll make it inside next time I’m in D.C., I hope.

US Treasury Annex renamed the Freedmen's Bank Building, 1503 Pennsylvania Ave

US Treasury Annex renamed the Freedmen’s Bank Building, 1503 Pennsylvania Ave

Freedmen's Bank building plaque, on entrance of the building facing onto Madison Pl.

Freedmen’s Bank building plaque, on entrance of the building facing onto Madison Pl.

I find I need to move my car, so I head down the way a bit and find a good parking spot and walk south towards the Mall, to 1503-1505 Pennsylvania Ave NW. My destination is the U.S. Treasury Annex building, a marble edifice with classical columns off the pedestrian-only section of Pennsylvania Ave where it joins the southeast corner of Lafayette Square. It stands across from the north end of the main U.S. Department of the Treasury building to the left (west) of the PNC and Bank of America building.

I’m here because the Annex building stands on the site of the original headquarters of the Freedman’s Bank, and has recently been renamed the Freedman’s Bank Building to commemorate that institution’s 150th anniversary. Though the bank was headquartered here in 1867, the first branch had opened over a year earlier in Baltimore, Maryland, the site of which, as you may remember, I sought in Baltimore on my way back from the East Shore of Maryland. The 1874 newspaper article I referenced lists the Baltimore location as a branch office of the main one in Washington, though it still likely predates the main office.

Freedman's Savings Bank Building, Pennsylvania Ave, Washington DC, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Freedman’s Savings Bank Building in 1890 not long before it was razed, at about 1503 Pennsylvania Ave, Washington DC. In his Life and Times, Douglass wrote of this handsome, exquisitely appointed building devoted to the well-being of his people, ‘The whole thing was beautiful’.

In March 1874, Douglass was named President of the Freedman’s Bank. It was a private bank chartered by the U.S. government with Lincoln’s support, with Congressional oversight. It was supposed to help freed slaves and their families gain economic independence as well. The Bank opened to widespread popular support and for many years did just what it set out to do, and Douglass was a passionate fan of the project, depositing $12,000 of his own money. However, over time, poor management and corruption left it heavily in debt and on the verge of collapse. Douglass was asked to take over the Bank in hopes that his reputation would buttress the Bank’s own. But Douglass found he just couldn’t save it. Not only did he lack expertise as a banker, he learned only after he accepted how deeply the Bank was in trouble. Even a personal loan of $10,000 could do little to contribute to the Bank’s solvency. From this experience, as Douglass told it, he learned a great deal about how corrupt the political system had become as well as the unfortunate selfishness and greed of too many people.

Douglass also learned that he was not particularly adept as a businessman in many ways. He well understood the importance of economic independence for achieving full political and social equality, and succeeded financially due to his hard work, his prudent investments in safer ventures such as real estate, and his prodigious array of skills in other areas. As he admitted, however, he lost a lot of money when he helped found the New National Era paper and could not save the Freedmen’s Bank because, in both ventures, he failed to look into and secure their financial underpinnings himself before putting his own money in. In both cases, he simply took other people’s word for it, for how the venture was doing or likely to do, and his advisors were not disinterested parties. So the New National Era and the Bank failed as his North Star had nearly done before Julia Griffith’s tenure there, through poor financial handling. In business matters at least, Douglass’ idealism tended to win out over his more pragmatic approach in other areas.

The White House, Washington D.C.

The White House, Washington D.C., looking across the South Lawn and President’s Park fountain

Next, I head south on 15th St, and turn right on the pedestrian walkway that E St becomes as it passes between President’s Park and the South Lawn of the White House, and the Ellipse.

Late in July of 1863, Douglass visited the White House for the first time when he requested, and was granted, an audience to address President Abraham Lincoln directly. His mission was to obtain better treatment of black soldiers. When they were first admitted to the Union Army, black soldiers received less pay and less and poorer quality equipment than their white compatriots. This, though they faced greater danger at the hands of hostile Southerners, especially if they were captured.

Lincoln told Douglass, regretfully, that he could not yet guarantee equal treatment of black soldiers given the strength of Northern opposition to enlisting black soldiers at all. He agreed, however, that Douglass’ demands were just and he would do as much as he could as the opportunities presented themselves, including signing off on Secretary of War’s commissions for black soldiers. Though he had often considered Lincoln a ‘vascillator’, not a consistent or even principled champion of black rights, Douglass left this audience with an impression of Lincoln as ‘an honest man’ and, personally, ‘entire[ly] free… from prejudice against colored people’. On the basis of this meeting, Douglass decided to resume recruitment of black soldiers into the Union Army, which he had stopped for awhile in protest over their treatment. However, over time, he still found himself often frustrated at the slow pace of reform in the President’s administration, and his old doubts about Lincoln stayed with him, enough for him to join in an effort of Radical Republicans to replace Lincoln in the next election. Douglass met Lincoln a second time about August 25, 1864; Lincoln had asked to meet Douglass again since he heard Douglass was unhappy with his policies. As I described in my Chambersburg account, Lincoln and Douglass concocted a plan for the latter to lead efforts to help slaves flee north behind Union lines, a plan very like John Brown’s original one before Harper’s Ferry. Douglass agreed to this plan but it never materialized.

Douglass returned again to the White House many times. On March 4th, 1865, he attended the reception held here following Lincoln’s second inauguration. When Douglass tried to enter, he was stopped by two policemen who tried to trick him into leaving. He stood his ground and got word in to Lincoln, who ordered that Douglass be allowed in. When Douglass entered, Lincoln strode across the room, shook his hand, and loudly greeted him as ‘my friend Douglass’.

Andrew Johnson in 1860. Yes, I agree, he looked a lot like Tommy Lee Jones

Andrew Johnson in 1860. Yes, I agree, he looked a lot like Tommy Lee Jones

On February 7th, 1866, Douglass arrived here again with a delegation, which included his son Lewis, to meet President Andrew Johnson. They discussed and debated Johnson’s Reconstruction policies. Johnson protested that his South-friendly, anti-black-suffrage policies were designed to prevent race wars, while Douglass argued that since his policies perpetuated the same old hatreds and bigotries, they would result merely in prolonging the conflicts. The year before, on the Capitol steps just before he delivered his Second Inaugural Address, Lincoln pointed Douglass out in the crowd to then Vice President Johnson. Douglass noticed that Johnson looked at him with ‘bitter contempt and aversion’ when he didn’t know Douglass was looking. But when Douglass caught Johnson’s eye, his faced smoothed into a friendlier expression. Douglass would go on to write that he knew then that Johnson was not a sincere friend of the cause for black rights.

Douglass returned to the White House more than once in the mid-to-late 1880’s at the invitation of Grover Cleveland. But likely not to dinner, as some had said, despite what alcoholic-turned-prohibitionist preacher Sam Small wrote. Small was also quite the racist, and used the rumor to try and discredit Cleveland, writing ‘[he] invited that leader of niggerdom, Fred Douglass, to his dinner table. I might excuse him…, but when he invited the low wife to go there, it is more than I can stand’. (What a creep!) Douglass himself wrote in his Life and Times that he and Helen were invited to many receptions by the Clevelands but didn’t mention a dinner with them. Douglass expressed approval of Cleveland as a person, though they were divided over politics, because Cleveland treated the Douglasses with courtesy and respect despite Douglass’ efforts against him in the presidential race. Perhaps Douglass was more disposed to friendliness because of his disillusionment with the Republicans and their abandonment of the black rights cause at this time, and as always, he was very proud that he was now a man that presidents rub shoulders with. But I don’t find evidence that Cleveland did much of anything to show he cared about black rights either. In later years, he even took to protesting to the House of Representatives that he had never done such a thing as invite a black person to dinner at the White House. Douglass’ flattering picture of Cleveland, sadly, appears to show a weakness. Always a proud man, Douglass let his personal pride overcome his convictions somewhat in this instance.

J. Edgar Hoover Building at 925 Pennsyvania NW, Washington DC

J. Edgar Hoover Building at 925 Pennsylvania NW, Washington DC

Metzerott Hall, 1873, 925 Pennsylvania Ave, public domain via LOC, and the Hoover Bldg today

Metzerott Hall in 1873 at 925 Pennsylvania Ave, public domain via Library of Congress (above), and the Hoover Building today (below)

I head southwest along Pennsylvania Ave to 925 NW, the former site of Metzerott Hall now occupied by the humongous and hideous J. Edgar Hoover Building. Once called Iron Hall, its facade collapsed in 1894, presumably due to the massive weight of its iron portions.

On February 20th, 1895, Douglass addressed a meeting of the National Council of Women here. This address was his last act of public service: at about 7 that evening at home, as he described the events of this meeting to Helen, he fell to his knees and died suddenly of heart failure. Douglass’ friend Mark Twain also spoke here, and as we can see from the postcard at the left, the Equal Rights Association met here too. As you may remember, Douglass was a member. On May 15th, 1871, Douglass was appointed to the brand new Legislative Council of the Territorial Government of the District of Columbia by Ulysses S. Grant, who both Twain and Douglass admired. However, Douglass only kept the post for a little over a month. He resigned on June 20th, citing pressing engagements elsewhere, but I suspect Douglass might have suspected this legislature was flawed. Exactly 3 years after his resignation, the Territorial Government was abruptly disbanded for financial irresponsibility. As you may remember, while Grant was personally honest as far as historians can tell, his administration was infamous for its corruption and waste.

The Capitol Building with its dome under reconstruction

The Capitol Building with its dome under reconstruction

Inauguration of Mr. Lincoln, March 4, 1861, photographer unknown, public domain via LOC

First inauguration of President Lincoln, March 4, 1861, photographer unknown

I continue east on Pennsylvania Ave to the Capitol Building, and go around to its east facade off East Capitol St NE and First St SE.

On March 4th, 1861, Lincoln delivered his first inaugural address on the steps of the not-quite-finished Capitol Building. Douglass did not attend but he read the Address and critiqued it sharply in Douglass’ Monthly, the successor to the North Star and Frederick Douglass’ Paper. He described the address as ‘double-tongued’ and ‘…but little better than our worst fears, and vastly below what we had fondly hoped it would be’. Douglass viewed Lincoln’s refusal to take a strong stance against slavery as a betrayal of principle. He accused Lincoln of being as cowed by the slaveowners as previous administrations had been, as Lincoln stated his intention not to interfere with slavery where it already existed and promised to uphold fugitive slave laws in the North. Over time, Douglass realized that Lincoln personally hated slavery and that this conciliatory stance was a pragmatic way of attaining the presidency so he could save the Union and reform it gradually. But Lincoln’s caution and reticence went too far even for the pragmatic Douglass, who had lost his faith that slavery could be ended without force.

Abraham Lincoln delivering 2nd inaugural address as President of the U.S., Washington, D.C., photo Public Domain via LOC

Abraham Lincoln delivering his Second Inaugural Address on the steps of the Capitol Building, Washington, D.C.. This photo was made especially famous when historian Ronald C. White identified John Wilkes Booth among those standing on the platform above and to the right of Lincoln, to the right of the statue and just to the left of the tall man with the bowler hat

As we have already seen, however, Douglass did attend Lincoln’s second Inaugural Address, held here on the steps of the then-finished Capitol Building on March 4, 1865. Douglass was far, far, better pleased with this one, to say the least. Lincoln, at last, had taken a firm stance against slavery, and the line ‘every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword’ surely resonated with Douglass’s sense of justice. He was ambivalent about violence throughout his life, but had come to believe it was sometimes both justified and necessary. Later that day at the White House reception, Lincoln asked Douglass what he thought of this Address, presumably because he knew Douglass had so thoroughly and publicly excoriated Lincoln’s first.

Douglass was here at the Capitol Building one last time on the morning of his death. According to his obituary in the New York Times, he was dropped off at the Congressional Library (Library of Congress) which was located in this building until it was moved across the street to the beautiful new Jefferson Building two years later, in 1897. More on that in tomorrow’s account.

The Jefferson Memorial on the Tidal Basin among the cherry blossoms

The Jefferson Memorial on the Tidal Basin among the cherry blossoms

It’s a beautiful early evening when I end my Douglass explorations for the day here at the Capitol Building. I make my way to the Jefferson Memorial to watch the sun set over the Tidal Basin through the cherry blossoms now in full bloom. Tomorrow will be my last day in D.C., and my last day following Douglass on this tour. To be continued….

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Sources and Inspiration:

Baist’s Real Estate Atlas of Surveys of Washington, District of Columbia: Volume 2, Plate 21. By Baist, George William, William Edward, and Harry Valentine Baist, 1909. Via Library of Congress website

Blight, David W. ‘Lincoln, Douglass and the ‘Double-Tongued Document’’. New York Times Opinionator blog, May 6, 2011.

Blight, David W. ‘“Your Late Lamented Husband”: A Letter from Frederick Douglass to Mary Todd Lincoln‘. In The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History website

Death Of Fred Douglass: Obituary‘, February 21, 1895, The New York Times from On This Day,

Douglass, Frederick. Address … January 9th, 1894, on the Lessons of the Hour. Press of Thomas and Evans, Baltimore, Maryland. From the Library of Congress website.

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.

Douglass, Frederick. ‘Speech at a Surprise Party on Douglass’ 71st Birthday. 1889‘. Manuscript/Mixed Material. Retrieved from the Library of Congress website

Douglass, Helen, 1838-1903, ed. In Memoriam: Frederick Douglass. Philadelphia: J.C. Yorston & Co, 1897

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

Gayle, Margot and Carol Gayle. Cast-iron Architecture in America: The Significance of James Bogardus. WW Norton & Co: New York, 1998.

Harris, Gardiner. ‘The Underside of the Welcome Mat‘, The New York Times, N0v. 8, 2008

Jefferson’s Legacy: A Brief History of the Library of Congress‘, Library of Congress website

King, Gilbert. ‘The Great Dissenter and his Half-Brother‘. Dec 20, 2011,

McFeely, William. Frederick Douglass. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1991.

Muller, John. ‘Francis Grimke tells story of “The Second Marriage of Frederick Douglass” [The Journal of Negro History, 1934]’ In Frederick Douglass in Washington, D.C.: The Lion of Anacostia blog

Muller, John. ‘Frederick Douglass’ “Application for Permit to Build” for 316 & 318 A Street NE’. In Frederick Douglass in Washington, D.C.: The Lion of Anacostia blog

Muller, John. Frederick Douglass in Washington, D.C.: The Lion of Anacostia. Charleston: The History Press, 2012.

Quarles, Benjamin. Frederick Douglass. Washington D.C.: The Associated Publishers, 1948.

Roberts, Kim. ‘The Bethel Literary and Historical Society‘. Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Literary Organizations Issue.

Roe, Garrett W. Frederick Douglass’ ‘Homecoming’: Funeral and Burial, visual presentation, May 23rd 2014

Stiller, Jesse. ‘The Freedman’s Savings Bank: Good Intentions Were Not Enough; A Noble Experiment Goes Awry‘. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, U.S. Treasury Department website

Treasury to Commemorate 150th Anniversary of Freedman’s Bank,’ 12/29/2015 press release of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Press Center

Veroske, Ariel. ‘The Feather Duster Affair of 1874‘, June 20th, 2013, from

The Washington Times. (Washington, D.C.), 18 Feb. 1895. From Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, Library of Congress.

New Podcast Episode: Frederick Douglass Chambersburg and Gettysburg PA Sites

Poster of Shields Green in David Anderson's Nazareth College office, photo 2016 Amy Cools

Listen to this podcast episode here or on Google Play, or subscribe on iTunes

Twelfth Day, Thursday March 31st

It’s breezy, overcast, and warm the day I drive south from Rochester to Washington D.C., with a first stop in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania to visit two sites of special interest for my Frederick Douglass journey.

The first is a two story clapboard house at 225 E. King St, where John Brown rented a room in Mary Ritner’s boarding house in the summer of 1859, and where he planned his doomed raid on the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry. Unfortunately, I’m visiting during the off-season: the house is closed until the tourist season starts in May, but I find a blog with two nice photos of the interior posted. It happens to be a blog dedicated to Fredrick Law Olmsted, the great landscape architect who designed Highland Park, site of Frederick Douglass’ statue and memorial in Rochester…. Read the written 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 Chambersburg and Gettysburg PA Sites

A view of the John Brown House in Chambersburg, PA

A view of the John Brown House at 225 E. King St, Chambersburg, PA

Twelfth Day, Thursday March 31st

It’s breezy, overcast, and warm the day I drive south from Rochester to Washington D.C., with a first stop in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania to visit two sites of special interest for my Frederick Douglass journey.

The first is a two story clapboard house at 225 E. King St, where John Brown rented a room in Mary Ritner’s boarding house in the summer of 1859, and where he planned his doomed raid on the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry. Unfortunately, I’m visiting during the off-season: the house is closed until the tourist season starts in May, but I find a blog with two nice photos of the interior posted. It happens to be a blog dedicated to Fredrick Law Olmsted, the great landscape architect who designed Highland Park, site of Frederick Douglass’ statue and memorial in Rochester.

Douglass had met Brown in September of 1847 while he was on a speaking tour, on the recommendation of other abolitionists. Brown had already developed a reputation as an especially fierce and dedicated one. In 1837, he had declared publicly “Here, before God, in the presence of these witnesses, from this time, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery.” By the time Brown met Douglass in 1847, he had already been engaged in activism for several years; for example, as you may remember from the account of my day in Lynn, MA, Brown used to speak at that town’s Sagamore Hall, which burned down in 1843, though there’s no evidence of their ever having met in Lynn. Brown invited Douglass to have dinner with him and his family in his plain, working-class Springfield Massachusetts home. He had started out as a tanner by trade, and after some financial failures, had become a successful merchant at that point. Douglass was at first surprised by the disparity between Brown’s ‘Spartan’ home, in such contrast to his prosperous-looking business office downtown, and then impressed by the fiery, righteous, single-minded, Biblically-minded (in the Old Testament sense) radical.

Douglass was still a pacifist Garrisonian at that time, but was as convinced as Brown that the political system was incapable of ending such an embedded, prejudice-ridden, and profitable (in certain contexts, such as the heavily agricultural South) system as slavery. Douglass and Brown likely had a lively discussion that evening in Springfield and on many occasions to follow, how slavery might be ended outside of the political system, and debated the relative merits of war and peace in reform. Brown visited Douglass at his South Avenue Rochester home on more than occasion and stayed with Douglass there awhile in early 1858 writing up a constitution for his planned mountain community of self-freed ex-slaves.

John Brown House (2) in Chambersburg, PA

Another view of the house where John Brown boarded in Chambersburg, PA

Douglass quoted Brown in his Life and Times as saying ‘God has given the strength of these [Alleghany] hills to freedom; they were placed here for the emancipation of the negro race; they are full of natural forts… The true object to be sought is first of all to destroy the money value of slave property… by rendering such property as insecure.’ So in 1847, he had already been planning to help slaves escape and remain free. In his remarks to Douglass, Brown displayed the fanaticism of the zealot in proclaiming that God not only ordained his plan, but placed just the right landscape right there where he could carry it out. But he also revealed his pragmatism and his business sense, which allowed him to astutely identify one of the bulwarks of slavery, the financial interests of a predominantly agricultural economy, then come up with a practical solution for undermining that bulwark. Slaves not only provided the necessary labor for these large farms, especially for labor-intensive crops like cotton, but were the dominant form of investment for Southern capitalists and living collateral for debt endemic to an agricultural economy. But if the financial incentive for slavery was removed by removing investment security, Brown thought, the institution would wither away.

Poster of Shields Green in David Anderson's Nazareth College office

Poster of Shields Green in David Anderson’s Nazareth College office

But as you may have thought many times up to this point, it’s time I stop referring to the Harper’s Ferry plan and raid before explaining what it was and how it all went down.

Douglass and Brown’s mutual friend Shields Green accompanied Douglass from Rochester to Chambersburg in August of 1859, in response to John Brown Jr’s appeal for personal and financial support for Brown Sr’s soon-to-be-enacted operation. It had been postponed the year before due to an opportunist who volunteered his services to the venture then blackmailed potential supporters with threats of reporting the conspiracy, which in the end, he did. Douglass, now a longtime supporter and friend of Brown’s and sympathetic to his overall project of helping slaves escape, wanted to find out how the plan was progressing, how it may have changed, and how much support it had gathered. Along the way, Douglass gave some lectures as a cover for the purpose of his trip to Chambersburg and collected funds for the venture.

Quarry site historical marker where Douglass and Brown met, Chambersburg, 2016 Amy Cools

Quarry site historical marker where Douglass and Brown met in Chambersburg, PA, in August of 1859

The old Quarry site is generally listed as the place where Southgate Mall now stands at W. Washington St, but that’s not quite where you find the historical marker, though it is nearby. To find the marker, go to the east end of the bridge where Lincoln Highway (30) crosses over Conococheague Creek, between Cedar Ave and S. Franklin St. Loudon St is the next street to the north of W. Washington, and a broad open parking lot runs along the creek between the two, behind what’s currently a Rent-A-Center.

Portrait of John Brown by Born Torrington in National Portrait Gallery

Portrait of John Brown by Ole Peter Hansen Balling, 1872, at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC

Douglass met with Brown here, who was outfitted as a fisherman, a perfect disguise for a creekside meeting. They, along with Green, and Brown’s secretary John Kagi, sat on the rocks and discussed and argued about Brown’s plan for the raid, apparently all night, and continued to meet and discuss the raid over the next couple of days. Brown intended to seize and occupy the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, with the small force of 22 men he had convinced to fight with him, and hold it as a symbol of righteous revolt against an evil government which had betrayed and oppressed so many of its people. This, in turn, was intended to inspire courage and anger in the slave population, and spark a mass exodus from bondage. It’s easy to picture Brown, of the deepset eyes, lined face, and flowing beard, playing the part of the angry Moses. From what he heard of the plans now, which had come to sound very much like an outright rebellion, Douglass thought the raid would certainly fail by provoking an aggressive military response. He also feared that its failure would set back the abolitionist cause in the long term by provoking a political response to increase legal protections of slavery as well.

By this time, Douglass’ view on violence had shifted: he had come to accept that violence is sometimes necessary and justified if great enough injustices or harms are being done and if other means have been tried and failed. So it wasn’t the proposed violence alone that made him oppose the plan, it’s just that he thought this particular plan would fail. Though he refused to join the raid, he later spoke of John Brown as a martyr, and always had a high opinion of his moral integrity and courage. As David Anderson of Nazareth College discussed with me in our interview, Shields Green stayed behind to join Brown in the raid. Douglass described Green in his Life and Times as ‘a man of few words, and his speech was singularly broken; but his courage and self-respect made him quite a dignified character.’ ‘Dignified’: high praise from Douglass, who valued that quality so much and took great care to nurture and project it in his own person. Shields Green survived the raid, but was captured and executed ten days later. 

Both Brown and Douglass, as you can see if you read Brown’s own speech at his trial, and as you can gather from Douglass’ Life and Times discussion of Brown, insisted that the Harper’s Ferry plans all along were only to encourage individual slaves to escape, then provide the means to defend themselves and other escapees along the route east and north. They claimed that a general slave insurrection was never part of the plan. But as was the government’s position, it all looked very much intended to spark a rebellion. I would add, it would have been a justified one if one ever could be, far more justified than the United States’ original rebellion against the British. Systematized forced labor, wage theft, rape, child-stealing, complete disenfranchisement, imposition of hunger and thirst, beatings, and enforced ignorance is a more dire set of provocations than unpopular taxes imposed without sufficient representation, in my view.

Chambersburg Map of 1894, Old Jail, Franklin County Museum, 2016 A Cools

Chambersburg Map of 1894, from the Franklin County Museum in the Old Jail, 175 E. King St.

I make a brief stop in the Franklin County Museum in the Old Jail building right down the street from the John Brown house at 175 East King Street, where I find a nice map of old Chambersburg. The town was burned by a rogue contingent of the Confederate army on July 30, 1864 (some soldiers were horrified at the senselessness of this attack against civilians and did their best to help save lives and possessions), but the Old Jail and the John Brown House both survived.

I grab a cup of coffee and jot down some notes, then continue on my way east to Washington D.C. via (you may have guessed it) Gettysburg, about 35 minutes away. Though this place is central to the legacy of Douglass’ friend and hero Abraham Lincoln, the link to Douglass’ life and ideas is a little more indirect. But I find this fascinating essay by David Blight, noted Douglass scholar. It’s a perfect accompaniment for this account, since it so well explains how Lincoln’s and Douglass’ ideas converged ever more closely as the Civil War continued, and really ties the places and themes I explore in this day’s journey together very well. Here’s a selection from that essay:

‘…Lincoln asked Douglass to lead a scheme reminiscent of John Brown and Harpers Ferry. Concerned that if he were not reelected, the Democrats would pursue a negotiated, proslavery peace, Lincoln, according to Douglass, wanted “to get more of the slaves within our lines.” Douglass went North and organized some twenty-five agents who were willing to work at the front. In a letter to Lincoln on August 29, 1864, Douglass outlined his plan for a “band of scouts” channeling slaves northward. Douglass was not convinced that this plan was fully “practicable,” but he was ready to serve. Because military fortunes shifted dramatically with the fall of Atlanta, this government-sponsored underground railroad never materialized. But how remarkable this episode must have been to both Douglass and Lincoln as they realized they were working together now to accomplish the very “revolution” that had separated them ideologically in 1861. Garry Wills has argued that Lincoln performed a “verbal coup” that “revolutionized the revolution” at Gettysburg. By 1864, that performance reflected a shared vision of the meaning of the war. Ideologically, Douglass had become Lincoln’s alter ego, his stalking horse and minister of propaganda, the intellectual godfather of the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural.’ – from ‘“Your Late Lamented Husband”: A Letter from Frederick Douglass to Mary Todd Lincoln

I arrive at Gettysburg, and it’s cloudy, a bit gusty, and dropping scattered rain, but not cold. The air feels soft, and the light’s getting a bit low.

Gettysburg National Military Park, Gettysburg, PA

Gettysburg National Military Park, Gettysburg, PA

David Wills House where Lincoln stayed, Gettysburg PA, 2016 Amy Cools

David Wills House where Lincoln stayed in Gettysburg, PA, the night before he delivered his address

David Wills House historical marker, Gettysburg PA, 2016 Amy CoolsThe drive through the park is lovely, the grass is green, the park and its structures are beautifully maintained. I stop for a map, then head straight to the David Wills House. I arrive too late to go inside, however, though I do find another excellent blog, packed with photos of every part of the interior; scroll to the bottom of the page to find links to all of the posts in the series. Thanks, good people of the Gettysburg Daily!

Lincoln stayed the night before delivering the Gettysburg address, and likely gave it a final edit here. The house was packed with dignitaries and visitors here for the great event, the dedication of a national cemetery at the site of the bloodiest battle of the Civil War. Lincoln’s host David Wills was an attorney who had overseen the effort to recover the hastily buried bodies from the battlefield and re-inter them with more care at a specially dedicated Soldier’s National Cemetery to the east of the battlefield. This was no mean feat, as over 3,000 soldiers were killed in the Battle of Gettysburg, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863.

Lincoln’s address was not the only one delivered that day; orator Edward Everett’s was two hours long and well-received. But Lincoln’s brief speech, with its readily memorizable brevity and eloquence, made it the one that not only made it into most of the newspapers first, people could quote from it and recite it to one another straight away. And Lincoln’s high-pitched voice carried very well. Short but eloquent speeches had become a hallmark of Lincoln’s style, as had religious and dramatic themes which were very familiar to the public, references that resonated with them and could convey volumes in only a few well-chosen words. Lincoln had become, at this point, a masterful rhetorician, and his address transformed, for so many distraught and angry Americans, a senseless slaughter into a noble sacrifice.

The Gettysburg Address on the Wills House wall

The Gettysburg Address on the Wills House wall

David Wills House sign, Gettyburg, PA, photo 2016 by Amy Cools

Gettysburg Train Depot, built in 1859, where Lincoln arrived on August 18th, 1863

Gettysburg Train Depot, built in 1859, where Lincoln arrived on November 18th, 1863

I head two blocks north to 35 Carlisle St, where the old Gettysburg Railroad Station still stands. Built in 1859, it also served as a field hospital and military transport during the Civil War. The Gettysburg Daily blog also includes a wealth of detailed photos of the Gettysburg depot and the original location of the tracks that Lincoln’s train rolled in on near dusk on November 18th, 1863.

Gettysburg Address historical marker at Gettysburg National Cemetery

Gettysburg Address historical marker at Gettysburg National Cemetery

My last site to visit for the day takes me about a mile south, from Baltimore Street to Steinwehr Avenue to Taneytown Rd, aka Highway 134. There’s a handsome but simple old stone wall, originally built in 1864 and restored in 1980. There’s a gate about three quarters of the way down on my left, and a parking lot across the street on my right. I’m so glad I’m not continuing my drive yet, it’s just too nice outside to be content in a car. The clouds have cleared a little, and the setting sun makes quite a show on the clouds still there on the horizon, and the rain has gone.

I enter the gate and find that Gettysburg National Cemetery is one of the most moving and beautiful monuments I have ever visited, more than I expected. The flowering trees are in bloom, in every shade of pink, white, and cream, among the evergreens and those which are still bare of leaves or buds. It’s peaceful in the low warm light of the evening.

Headstones in Gettysburg National Cemetery

Headstones in Gettysburg National Cemetery

Headstones in Gettysburg National Cemetery (2), photo 2016 Amy Cools

Soldiers National Monument, Gettysburg National Cemetery, photo by Henry Hartley, shared under Creative Commons Lic. 2.0

Soldiers National Monument, Gettysburg National Cemetery, photo by Henry Hartley, shared under Creative Commons License. 2.0

The sun in sinking fast, and the gates will be closing soon. I could continue my way down the path which winds around to my left to the tall white stone Soldiers National Monument, near the site where Lincoln delivered his address. But it’s a ways down and in the interests of time, I decide to start with a closer monument, to the right after you enter the gate. It’s a monument dedicated to the Gettysburg Address itself. The taller central stone is fronted by a strongly executed bust of Lincoln, flanked by two large plaques on the curved sides carved with stars and ceremonial hatchets. One plaque contains the Address, the other contains a selection from David Will’s letter to Lincoln, inviting him to participate in the dedication ceremony and to make some remarks. The letter was sent to Lincoln only 17 days before the ceremony, and scholars debate on the significance of the last-minute invitation. National cemeteries were a new thing, run by the states, and their dedications were usually officiated over by more local dignitaries; Wills may have thought it unlikely that the President, burdened with war cares, would be able to make it, only fully realizing Gettysburg’s true political significance as the event day drew near. In any case, Lincoln did grasp it, and contrary to popular mythology, prepared his remarks very carefully, as was his wont.

Lincoln's Gettysburg Address Memorial at Soldier's National Cemetery

Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address Memorial at Soldier’s National Cemetery

I find I’ve been lingering for awhile, and it’s closing time. I’m reluctant to go, but I suppose it’s for the best. I’m hungry and I don’t want to be searching for my lodgings late at night. So I continue the two hours further south to Washington D.C., looking forward to my next day’s adventures after a good night’s sleep.

Listen to the podcast version here or on Google Play, or subscribe on iTunesLooking out of the Gettysburg National Cemetery gate, photo 2016 by Amy Cools

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:

An Official Invitation to Gettysburg.’ American Treasures of the Library of Congress online exhibition

Blight, David W. ‘“Your Late Lamented Husband”: A Letter from Frederick Douglass to Mary Todd Lincoln‘. In The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History website

Brown, John. ‘Address of John Brown to the Virginia Court…‘, Boston, Massachusetts, circa December, 1859. On The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History website

Burning of Chambersburg Historical Marker.Explore PA History website

The Cotton Economy in the South‘. American Eras, 1997, c. Gale Research Inc, via

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.

Franklin County Historical Society: ‘Old Jail‘ and ‘John Brown House (Ritner Boarding House)‘, website

Gettyburg Daily, assorted articles on the David Wills House, Abraham Lincoln, and Gettysburg (scroll down to see list)

Gettysburg Lincoln Railroad Station‘, Destination Gettysburg Philadelphia website

Gettysburg National Cemetery‘. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

John Brown (abolitionist)‘. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Linder, Douglas. ‘The Trial of John Brown: A Chronology.’ Famous Trials, an educational and non-commercial site maintained at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Law School

McFeely, William. Frederick Douglass. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1991.

The Register of the Lynn Historical Society, Volumes 8-12, by Lynn Historical Society

Resisting Slavery: St. John’s Congregational Church.’ in Our Plural History, a project of Springfield Technical Community College, MA

Rodríguez, Arlene. ‘Resisting Slavery: John Brown‘. in Our Plural History, a project of Springfield Technical Community College, MA

Shields Green‘. In Ohio History Central

The United States v. John Brown (all articles), 2010. University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law website

Wills, Garry. ‘The Words That Remade America: The Significance of the Gettysburg Address.’ Adapted from his book of the same name for The Atlantic, 2012

Frederick Douglass Seneca Falls, Canandaigua, Honeoye, and Mt Hope Cemetery Sites

Women's Rights National Historical Park headquarters, Seneca Falls NY

Women’s Rights National Historical Park headquarters, Seneca Falls NY

Eleventh day, Tuesday March 30th

It’s a beautiful, clear sunny day, and the chill of the morning gives way to a balmy afternoon. I drive about an hour east and slightly to the south, through the lovely Finger Lakes region of New York to Seneca Falls.

I’m here to visit what’s now the Women’s Rights National Historical Park, which is headquartered at 136 Fall Street in Seneca Falls. I begin with the reconstructed Wesleyan Church next door at Fall and Mynderse Streets, the site of that momentous occasion which brings me here. I’ve long wanted to visit this place and had hoped to do so during my history of ideas travel series about Elizabeth Cady Stanton, but didn’t have enough time during that trip to make the journey, about a five hour drive from New York City one-way. But here I am at long last.

Wesleyan Chapel, site of 1st Women's Rights Convention, Seneca Falls NY, 2016 A Cools

Wesleyan Chapel, the site of the Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention of 1848

Interior of the rebuilt and restored Wesleyan Church. It went through several remodels and incarnations as various businesses, but much of the original brickwork remained, including some of the original plaster underneath layers of paint and later interior walls

Interior of the rebuilt and restored Wesleyan Church where the Convention was held. It went through several remodels and incarnations as various businesses, but much of the original brickwork remained, including some of the original plaster underneath layers of paint and later interior walls, now preserved beneath sheets of plexiglass

On July 19th and 20th of 1848, Frederick Douglass attended the Women’s Rights Convention here, the first women’s rights convention in the United States. This convention grew out of the abolitionist cause, directly and indirectly, to which Douglass had dedicated his life.

1848 Seneca Falls Woman's Rights Convention commemorative plaque in the Wesleyan Chapel

1848 Seneca Falls Woman’s Rights Convention commemorative plaque in the Wesleyan Chapel, placed here on the 60th anniversary of the Convention in 1908

Directly, Stanton and her fellow abolitionist Lucretia Mott were incensed that they were forced to sit in a segregated balcony at the 1840 World Anti-Slavery Convention in London, along with all of the other female attendees. To make matters worse, women were not allowed to speak during the proceedings at all. Stanton and Mott planned to do something about the injustice that pervaded even this supposed haven of enlightened humanity. At Seneca Falls, they did, though Stanton’s activist efforts had been delayed, as would continue to be the case for many years, by frequent childbearing and resulting family responsibilities, to Susan B. Anthony’s dismay.

Indirectly, the women’s rights movement had, for many, come to be identified with the abolitionist movement, as many realized that many of the same and similar arguments for the liberation of black people applied to the liberation of women. If all human beings were equal in that they shared the same basic human nature and dignity (which according to many, was bestowed by God), they were entitled to the same political rights as any other person and had the same moral claim to just and kind treatment by their fellow human beings. If this were true for black people and for people of other races, how could this not be true for women? Women’s consciousness of their subjugated status had been growing for a long time, but it was the reform era of Stanton and Douglass that saw the first serious efforts to enact more substantial, comprehensive laws to protect and establish the political and social rights of women.

Frederick Douglass and Elizabeth Cady Stanton sculptures at the Women's Rights National Historical Park museum, part of the 'First Wave' sculpture group by Lloyd Lillie

Frederick Douglass and Elizabeth Cady Stanton sculptures at the Women’s Rights National Historical Park museum, part of the ‘First Wave’ sculpture group by Lloyd Lillie

It was here that Douglass met Stanton in 1848, and they became lifelong friends, though their relationship was deeply strained at times by the same disagreements and racist rhetoric over the 14th and 15th Amendments that had marred his friendship with Susan B. Anthony. (You may remember the story of Stanton’s bad behavior in my earlier account of visiting other New York sites.) I like to imagine the tiny 5′ 3″ Stanton and the over 6′ tall Douglass, both indomitable, both intellectually gifted, sometimes deep in conversation, and sometimes delivering speeches in their very different yet forceful and convincing rhetorical styles. Douglass was the only black person in attendance at the Convention, and not only was he the only man who stood in favor of Stanton’s initial motion for a resolution calling for women’s suffrage, he was the only one to do so at first. It was initially too controversial even for most of the attendees, who were calling for better property and child custody rights. He delivered one of his trademark eloquent speeches in favor of Stanton’s motion, and it was so convincing that it passed by a narrow majority, though unfortunately, the resulting storm of media criticism caused many to withdraw their names afterwards.

Douglass’ feminism was inspired by gratitude as well as his sense of justice and intellectual commitment to logical consistency. As he wrote in his Life and Times ‘Observing woman’s agency, devotion, and efficacy in pleading the cause of the slave, gratitude for this high service early moved me to give favorable attention to the subject of what is called “woman’s rights” and caused me to be denominated a women’s-rights man. I am glad to say I have never been ashamed to be thus designated. Recognizing …moral intelligence and the ability to discern right from wrong, good from evil, and the power to choose between them, as the true basis of republican government, to which all are alike subject and all bound alike to obey, I was not long in reaching the conclusion that there was no foundation in reason or justice for woman’s exclusion from the right of choice in the selection of the persons who should frame the laws…’ (Autobiographies 906-07).

Soujourner Truth statue and plaque at the Women's Rights National Historical Park, and 'The Truth Sings' quilt by Alice Gant, on temporary display

Soujourner Truth statue and plaque at the Women’s Rights National Historical Park, and ‘The Truth Sings’ quilt by Alice Gant on temporary display

Among the varied and fascinating exhibits I see at the museum, I find two of Sojourner Truth: one a statue with a plaque telling of her momentous ‘Ain’t I a Woman?’ speech, and another a quilt, which warms my heart because as you may already know, I’m a quilter myself. Douglass referred to Sojourner Truth as his ‘good old friend’ and like Douglass, though she hoped for a peaceful end to slavery, she came to believe that war would be necessary. In an instance that he relates in his Life and Times, Truth asked him: ‘Frederick, is God dead?’ He answered: ‘No, and because God is not dead slavery can only end in blood.’ Douglass’ answer reflects sentiments found in Thomas Jefferson’s remark on slavery ‘I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just’ and in Abraham Lincoln’s words from his Second Inaugural Address: ‘Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue …until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, ….so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether’.

Gerit Smith, Theodosia Smith, and Frederick Douglass share an antislavery podium. This photo reproduction is on display at the Seneca Fall WRNHP

Gerit Smith, Theodosia Smith, and Frederick Douglass share an antislavery podium. This photo reproduction is on display at the Seneca Fall WRNHP

An interesting fact I learned at the Seneca Falls museum: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Gerit Smith, Douglass’ great friend, mentor, and political ally, were cousins, and she met her future husband at Smith’s house. Smith was a philanthropist, radical politician, reformer, and activist, and a profound influence on Douglass, whose shift in views on the role of politics in reform and the correct interpretation of the Constitution brought them in closely in line with Smith’s own. Smith provided financial and moral support for Douglass’ North Star and rallied his friends to do the same, and Douglass threw his support behind Smith’s successful run for Congress in 1852, though not his unsuccessful run as a Radical Abolitionist presidential candidate against Republican Abraham Lincoln in 1860. Douglass’ pragmatism ruled in this instance, and he supported the candidacy of the latter.

Smith was also a supporter of John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry, a story which we’ll return to in my next travel account.

Gerit and Ann Smith, photos from the Hutchinson family scrapbook at the Lynn Museum and Historical Society

Gerit and Ann Smith, photos from the Hutchinson family scrapbook at the Lynn Museum and Historical Society

Elizabeth Cady Stanton's house in Seneca Falls, NY

Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s house in Seneca Falls, NY

An interior view of Elizabeth Cady Stanton's House, Seneca Falls

An interior view of Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s House, Seneca Falls

After a thorough tour of the exhibits, I continue to Stanton’s house. Though it’s on the other side of the river, it’s officially part of the park, which includes other locations of significance in the women’s rights movement here in Seneca Falls and one in neighboring Waterloo. It appears now a very simple clapboard affair, though I learn from the Park Service historical sign that it had been about twice the size that it is now and the Stantons had a lot of work done to make it a comfortable and lovely home, naming it ‘Grassmere’ after poet William Wordsworth’s place. But Stanton was restless here, missing the busy social life she had enjoyed in Boston and bored with full-time housekeeping and child-rearing. The convention revived her spirits, as did traveling to speak at subsequent women’s rights conventions in Rochester and elsewhere, and her collaboration with Anthony, which lasted for the rest of her life. They met here in Seneca Falls three years after the 1848 convention, introduced to each other by Amelia Bloomer, for whom the early-feminist long-puffy-pants were named and which Stanton and Anthony could not be persuaded to adopt. They wanted to be taken seriously and felt the strange pants would distract from the message of their cause. They were right.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton house historical marker, with the Seneca River in the background

Elizabeth Cady Stanton house historical marker, with the Seneca River in the background

Main St, Canandaiga, NY

Main St, Canandaigua, NY

Canandaigua Courthouse, site of Susan B. Anthony Trial

Canandaigua Courthouse, site of Susan B. Anthony Trial

 Canandaiga's City Hall, NY

Canandaiga’s City Hall, NY

I continue my travels east toward my next destination via Canandaigua, a town which had come up in my discussion with Douglass scholar David Anderson and my visit to the Susan B. Anthony House in Rochester.

I find myself first at the Ontario County Courthouse on Main St at Ontario, where Susan B. Anthony was put on trial for voting in 1873. As I speculated in the account of my second day in Rochester, Douglass must have been proud.

Douglass was a keynote speaker at the August 4th, 1857 celebration here, of the West Indies Emancipation of August 1st, 1834, when the approxomately 750,000 slaves of the British West Indies were freed, at least formally. Douglass addressed his remarks to ‘Mr. President’, by whom he meant Austin Steward. Steward was a friend and important influence on Douglass, and according to David Anderson, the Douglass scholar I talked with yesterday, he asked, if Britain can separate from slavery, why not the United States?

Steward fled slavery and gained his freedom in 1813. He become a successful Rochester businessman, a writer of one of the great slavery narratives Twenty-Two Years a Slave, and Forty Years a Freeman, and was President of the Board of Managers for the Wilberforce colony in Canada, founded as a haven for black people fleeing oppressive laws in Ohio.

Excerpt from speech at Canandaigua, NY, 1857 on Frederick Douglass statue in Rochester

Excerpt from speech at Canandaigua NY in 1857, on the pedestal of the Frederick Douglass monument / statue in Rochester’s Highland Park

I haven’t been able to uncover the exact location where Douglass gave his famed speech here, the speech that yielded one of his most famous quotes: ‘If there is no struggle, there is no progress’. According to the sources I do find, there were parades. I’m guessing they would have happened on Main Street, perhaps beginning or ending at City Hall as many public celebrations of civic events do.

Austin Steward is buried in here in Canandaigua. I’m rapidly running out of time for the day and I still have several places to visit and many miles to drive, so I press on and don’t seek his burial site today, as much as I wish to. But if you have the chance to visit, he was buried at West Avenue Cemetery in 1860. Please pay my respects for me until and if I have the opportunity to do so myself.

I continue east, a lovely drive of one hour on Highway 20A to where it turns into West Main St in Honeoye. My destination is the Pitts mansion, located just west of Church St which t-bones northward off W. Main. On the north side of the street, there’s a two-story white house with a pointy roofed little front door porch, and a prominent historical marker out front.

Gideon Pitts House, Honeoye, NY, home of the father of Helen Pitts Douglass

Gideon Pitts House, Honeoye, NY, home of the father of Helen Pitts Douglass

Near the end of January in 1884, the newly married widower Douglass and his wife Helen Pitts Douglass traveled to Honeoye to visit her father and his old acquaintance and fellow abolitionist, Gideon Pitts. They had known each other since the 1840’s, and Helen may even have met Douglass when she was a child. Despite his abolitionist beliefs and old ties to Douglass, Pitts did not allow Douglass to enter the house. Pitts was far from the only one of Douglass’ friends and colleagues to disapprove of their marriage; interracial marriage was widely seen as a step too far even by many of the most committed abolitionists. But some stood by him, as you may remember from my earlier accounts. This was Stanton’s opportunity to stand by him as he had stood by her 36 years ago at Seneca Falls, and she did so by writing him a letter of congratulations, which was kept out of the press only at the urging of Susan B. Anthony, always on the defense against anything that might hurt the women’s suffrage cause. Stanton had become more radical and nonconformist by this time, and had discarded the racist rhetoric and attitudes she had adopted in the fight over the 14th and 15th Amendments.

Anthony Family Farm photo, Susan B. Anthony House Museum, Rochester NY

Anthony Family Farm photo reproduction in an exhibit at Susan B. Anthony House Museum, Rochester NY. The photo is flipped from the original digitized on the University of Rochester website, see links below.

Brooks Ave and Thurston Rd, near Anthony farm site in Rochester NY

Brooks Ave and Thurston Rd near Anthony farm site in Rochester NY

Looking down a private road toward the Anthony family lands and farm site, Thurston, Genessee Park and Brooks, Rochester, 2016 A Cools

Looking south from Brooks Ave down a private road, between Thurston Rd and Genessee Park Blvd, toward the Anthony family farm and general direction of the house site

I return to Rochester by continuing east on 20A, then the 390 north, to the easterly outskirts of town near the airport where the Anthony family land and farmhouse used to be. The house stood on a rise not far from Brooks Ave, somewhere between Genessee Park Blvd and Thurston Rd, on an elevation south of Brooks. Susan B. Anthony lived here until 1862; she moved into the house I visited on my second day in Rochester in 1865, with her sister Mary and her mother Lucy.

Douglass was a regular visitor at this house around 1850, where friends and fellow reformers would gather. Anthony ran the farm at this time while her father was away working in Syracuse, and took care of her ailing mother; the next year, she would meet Stanton and they would begin their lifetime partnership as women’s rights activists, which took her away from home for long periods. Daniel and Lucy Anthony, Susan’s parents, were progressive Hicksite Quakers like Douglass’ close friends Amy and Isaac Post, and like the Posts, were proponents of women’s rights and ardent abolitionists. Their farmhouse here, then in the town of Gates, and Susan’s cousin Asa’s house not far away at 446 Post Ave (I don’t make it to this house today), were stops on the Underground Railroad. Douglass told of one occasion around this time of a warning that they received about a slave catcher pursuing three escapees, one of whom was sheltering at the Douglasses’, one at Asa Anthony’s farm, and another in Farmington 18 miles away. The Rochester abolitionists helped spirit the men away to freedom in Canada via Lake Ontario, as they helped so many others escaping through here.

Mt Hope Cemetery Gate, photo 2016 by Amy Cools

Entrance to Mt. Hope Cemetery

My last destination of the day, and the last Douglass site I’ll visit in Rochester, is Mt Hope Cemetery just a couple miles west of here off Mt Hope Avenue. It’s lovely, warm, gently breezy, and just a little cloudy when I arrive at the cemetery. I park in front of the administrative offices at the Mt Hope entrance, which is the southernmost entrance on Mt Hope Ave north of Elmwood Ave, between Stewart and Langslow Streets. Heading east into the cemetery, I take the first little road to the right, called Fifth Ave, passing two crossroads and a pond to the left. I come to a little gravel path on my right marked with a historical marker, and take that path to a tall obelisk gravestone on the left (the kind that looks like the Washington Monument). There’s another little gravel path at that corner that turns left, helpfully marked with a pointer sign. The path ends at the Douglass family plot. When I arrive, I’m alone, and it’s peaceful.

Historical marker en route to gravesites of Frederick Douglass and his family at Mt Hope Cemetery in Rochester NY

Historical marker en route to gravesites of Frederick Douglass and his family at Mt Hope Cemetery in Rochester NY

Douglass’ own large central gravestone is prominently marked with brass letters and two rosettes that have weathered to a bright pale green. The taller stone monument behind reads, on the front: ‘To the Memory of Frederick Douglass, 1817 – 1895, erected by his sons Lewis H. and Charles R….’. These are the two sons that fought with the Union Army which their father was so instrumental in integrating. Douglass’ other son, Frederick Jr, had died about two and a half years before Douglass, on August 4th, 1892. On the left side, the monument reads: ‘Anna, Wife of Frederick Douglass, Died 1882’ and on the right, ‘Annie Douglass, Daughter, Died 1860′. She died nine days before her 11th birthday, while Douglass was in Glasgow following his flight from possible arrest in connection with the John Brown case. Douglass hurriedly returned, and he and Anna grieved together.

The return of Anna’s remains to Rochester to be buried next to Annie and her husband is a fascinating story which is generally left out or told incorrectly in Douglass biographies; to hear the story, please listen to my interview with Douglass scholar Leigh Fought.

Gravestones and burial monument of Frederick and Anna, Douglass and their children, and of second wife Helen Pitts Douglass

Gravestones and burial monument of Frederick and Anna, Douglass and their children, and of second wife Helen Pitts Douglass

His second wife, Helen Pitts Douglass, is buried to his left. On her stone, under her name, is engraved ‘…Widow of orator and statesman Frederick Douglass. Through her vision his greatness was memorialized at Cedar Hill in Washington D.C., Mrs. Douglass was the founder of the Frederick Douglass Historical and Memorial Association.’ For the next eight years of her life, following Douglass’ death on February 20th of 1895, she made it her life’s work to preserve and promote his memory and those of his family.

I linger here awhile, to reflect and to rest, I don’t know for how long. After some time, I rouse myself: the cemetery is only open for a little while longer and I have a little more seeking to do.

Historical marker en route to Susan B. Anthony's gravesite

Historical marker en route to Susan B. Anthony’s gravesite

Susan B. and Mary S. Anthony headstones, with Daniel and Lucy Anthony family monument behind and to the right

Susan B. and Mary S. Anthony headstones, with Daniel and Lucy Anthony family monument behind and to the right

His friend Susan B Anthony is also buried here. I return to the main path and wind my way up north and to the left. The path continues to curve around, going up to a rise above a chapel-like structure. A little ways down, just past a tall stone monument on the right crowned with a figure of a young woman holding two tablets propped on her lap, there’s another historical marker and a pointer sign directing you down a gravel path that soon turns right. I follow it where it leads back down parallel to the way I came. A little ways before you see another tall obelisk to the left, there’s a modest little white gravestone on the same side of the path with a rounded top. It’s engraved, simply, ‘Susan B. Anthony, February 15, 1820, March 13, 1906’. Next to her stone is that of her sister Mary, who lived with her in the Rochester house I visited yesterday on Madison St. She was a teacher and in many other ways a wonderful and fascinating woman in her own right. For example, she insisted on equal pay to accept a school principle’s job and stood her ground, refusing to take the job until they agreed, making her the first female teacher to receive a salary equal to a man’s in the state of New York. The Anthony sisters are buried next to their parents, Daniel and Lucy, who instilled the Quaker belief in their daughters that women and men are equal in moral worth and insisted on their receiving the full education generally only given to men. Many other members of the Anthony family are buried here too.

 Amy and Isaac Post headstones at Mt Hope Cemetery, Rochester NY

Amy and Isaac Post headstones at Mt Hope Cemetery, Rochester NY

Amy and Isaac Post sign at site of their house, now the Hochstein School, 2016 A Cools

Amy and Isaac Post sign at site of their house, which is now occupied by the Hochstein School, Rochester NY

While walking back toward the front gate in hopes of finding one last burial place, the security officer driving by tells me it’s just past six, and the cemetery is closed. The time had flown so fast! He’s kind and lets me stay a little longer, since there’s a car broken down in the cemetery waiting for a tow anyway and he has to wait to close up. So I hurry on. I return to the split road entrance to the cemetery from the parking lot at the Mt. Hope entrance, and this time, take it left for just a bit, then take the first right turn onto Evergreen. I pass Second Ave and go about halfway down the next plot to my left. I wander a little and get a little lost, but I’ll skip that part and tell you where I find the easy route: looking to the left from (south of) Evergreen into area 2, you can see a very tall pillar topped with a robed figure pointing to the sky, and just beyond that, what looks like a little stone house. Head straight between the two into the rows of stones, and pretty much directly east of the little stone house, you’ll find a taller, older stone marked just ‘Post’ and one row to the east of that, two stones side by side reading ‘Isaac Post, 1800-1872’ and ‘Amy Kirby Post, 1803-1889’. As you may remember from my account of my first day in Rochester, Douglass and progressive reformers Amy and Isaac Post were very close friends, from the mid 1840’s until their deaths. I was touched the other day when I read this quote from a letter Douglass wrote in April  of 1846, posted on the wall of the Hochstein school at the former site of the Posts’ home:  ‘Amy your family was always dear — very dear to me, you loved me and treated me as a brother before the world knew me as it now does’. It is a rare and precious thing to find such friends.

The cemetery is closed, and I must leave. But my journey is not over…

*Listen to the podcast version here or on Google Play, or subscribe 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:

Austin Steward‘. Find a Grave website

Douglass, Frederick. Autobiographies (includes Narrative…, My Bondage and My Freedom, 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.

Douglass, Frederick. ‘Two Speeches, one on the West India Emancipation, the other on the Dred Scott Decision.‘, published in 1857 by C.P. Dewey, Rochester NY, digitized by the Central Library of Rochester

DuBois, Ellen. ‘Reconstruction and the Battle for Woman Suffrage‘. The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History website

Elizabeth Cady Stanton‘. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Fought, Leigh. ‘Honeoye, Part 2‘. Frederick Douglass’s Women: in Progress blog

The Frederick Douglass Encyclopedia, ed Julius E. Thompson, James L. Conyers Jr., Nancy J. Dawson. Greenwood Press.

Frederick Douglass Project Writings: West India Emancipation.’ From the University of Rochester Frederick Douglass Project, River Campus Libraries website

Gerrit Smith‘. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Heritage Documentation Programs: Wesleyan Chapel‘. National Park Service website

Jaschik, Sue. ‘Lucy Read Anthony and Daniel Anthony‘. Epitaph, by the Friends of the Mount Hope Cemetery, Vol 26 No. 1, Winter 2006, found the University of Rochester website

Lewis, David. ‘Steward, Austin (1793-1869)‘.

Morry, Emily. ‘Susan B. Anthony’s Rural Roots‘. Local History Rocs! blog by Rochester’s Public Library Local History and Genealogy Division

Muller, John. ‘Death Knocked on the Door of the Frederick Douglass Family Too Often…’ Frederick Douglass in Washington, D.C.: The Lion of Anacostia blog

Pierce, Preston E. ‘Main Street Guided History Walk: Special Walking Tour of Lower North Main Street Cannadaigua.’ Ontario County website

Pitts Mansion – Honeoye, NY‘.

Schmitt, Victoria Sandwick. ‘Rochester’s Frederick Douglass Part One‘ and ‘Rochester’s Frederick Douglass Part Two‘. Rochester History journal, Vol. LXVII Summer 2005 No. 3 and Vol. LXVII Fall 2005 No. 4. McFeely, William. Frederick Douglass. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1991.

Seneca Falls Convention‘. In The Encyclopedia of New York State (from selected entries published online)

Truth, Sojourner. ‘Ain’t I A Woman?’ Delivered 1851, Women’s Rights Convention, Akron, Ohio.  National Park Service website

Wellman, Judith. ‘The Seneca Falls Convention: Setting the National Stage for Women’s Suffrage.’ The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History website

The West Indian Colonies and Emancipation‘. From the Living Heritage: Parliament and Empire series, at

The Trial of Susan B. Anthony: A Short Narrative‘. History of the Federal Judiciary, Federal Judicial Center website

Women’s Rights National Historical Park website, National Park Service

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 following the pioneering abolitionist work 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!


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

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.

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!


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

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.

Walker, G.H. City of Lynn, Massachusetts, 1891. Atlas Map. Pub. Geo.H. Walker & Co. From David Rumsey Historical Map Collection at

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

Frederick Douglass the Pragmatist

Frederick Douglass House Parlor, Washington, D.C.

Douglas is a fiery orator, an uncompromising abolitionist and proponent of universal human rights, and even an advocate of using violence if the cause is just, the harms too great, and other means prove ineffective (more on that in an upcoming piece). He criticizes those who ‘shamefully abandon their principles’. And very often, when he encounters discrimination in a hotel, restaurant, or other public place, he reports the incident to the local press.

Yet for all his energetic activism, uncompromising rhetoric, and devotion to principle, Douglass is also a pragmatist, in matters large and small.

To be sure, many of his activist tactics are as idealistic, and plainly appear so, as they are as practical. Douglass’ reports of discrimination, for example, fire up public support for the cause of equal rights by arousing a storm of protest and in turn, raising consciousness and providing examples for use in the political arena.

He’s a pragmatist when it comes to making a living as well: after a decades-long successful career lecturing and publishing, a house fire and an attempt to rescue the Freedman’s Bank from collapse leave Douglass’ finances in disarray. So he takes to the lecture circuit again full time in the 1870’s. In the pre-Civil War era, he makes his living doing what he believes in most: lecturing, debating, and arguing for abolishing slavery and expanding human rights. But in the post-Civil War era, he finds that morals, politics, and rights issues are no longer such profitable topics. So he goes ahead and lectures on the profitable ones, so long as it he can make the talks instructive and wholesome, and link them to more important issues. ‘People want to be amused as well as instructed’ he writes.

He’s a pragmatist when it comes to tactics and the importance of crafting an image. For example, Douglass considers photography a very important, modern tool for engendering mass support through empathy: if people can see and recognize the face of the person behind the ideas, and of one who is a member of a suffering and oppressed people, people will feel the visceral need for change. So, he takes care to become one of the most photographed men in American history.

Douglass’ practicality holds sway in larger issues too. He does not hesitate to change tactics or switch allegiances between organizations or parties if he thinks it would help the cause in the long run. In fact, he is convinced that true, unswerving, uncompromising allegiance to the cause itself requires a reformer to use whatever means necessary, so long as they are not morally wrong, even if they are imperfect or less inspiring or exciting to others than the more uncompromising choice. He has been criticized throughout the years for splitting with the Garrisonians, for siding with Captain John Fremont against Abraham Lincoln in the latter’s recall of Fremont’s emancipation proclamation in Missouri early in the war, for refusing to support or join in on the raid on Harper’s Ferry (though he supports John Brown’s ideas about the validity of armed resistance in general), for evading arrest and possible execution for charges of co-conspiracy in the Harper’s Ferry raid by fleeing to Canada, and for abandoning the Radical Abolitionist Party in favor of the newly formed Republican Party. His critics contend that his practice of often siding with moderate tactics and candidates reveal a lack of commitment and moral courage.

Yet he defends all of these practical choices on the grounds that commitment to the tactics or politics in and of themselves are actually a distraction, since the practice of committing to the ‘pure’ choice in the short run is often an impediment to achieving the ultimate goal in the long run. For example, if he throws his support behind his friend and hero Gerit Smith, uncompromising political candidate of the Radical Abolitionist Party, instead of Abraham Lincoln, the Republican candidate who ran on the more moderate goal of preventing the spread of slavery to the new states, he might be more admired as an uncompromising leader. But he understands what a risky move this would be. The Radical Abolitionists had little chance of winning, but the Republican Party was off to a very successful start, losing its first presidential campaign by a relatively small margin. Since the moderate goals of the Republican Party had a good chance of realization while those of the Radical Abolitionists little to none, Douglass sides with the former. The stakes are simply too high for Douglass to risk losing at this point, even if the risk appears nobler.

In sum, Douglass argues that the truly committed reformer is free to choose the more modest, practical, sure-bet option over the less apparently compromising, more radical option when it appears to be more effective in the long run. That’s because true faithfulness to the mission does not require appearing an effective reformer, it requires actually being as effective as possible. No small part of Douglass’ greatness as an activist and as a person is his willingness to forgo short-term public approval or personal glory in favor of acting in the long-term best interests of his cause. And it appears that history not only validates him as an astute tactician, but as a heroic figure, in part because in hindsight we can more easily recognize the wisdom, integrity, and strength in his pragmatism.

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!


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. 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.

Varon, Elizabeth. ‘Most photographed man of his era: Frederick Douglass’, the Washington Post, Jan 29, 2016.

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

African American Museum and Library, 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.)

Sculpture of Frederick Douglass, AAMLO

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!

An interior view of AAMLO

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.

An interior view of AAMLO, Oakland, CA, 2015 Amy Cools

A view of AAMLO’s main gallery on the upper floor

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.

A view of an exhibit in AAMLO's main gallery, upper floor, AAMLO, 2015 Amy Cools

A view of an exhibit in AAMLO’s main gallery

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!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 ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!


Sources and Inspiration

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