Frederick Douglass in Edinburgh, Scotland, Part 1: Strike for Freedom Exhibit at the National Library of Scotland

Strike for Freedom Frederick Douglass exhibit poster, National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh, 2018, featuring an 1853 engraved portrait by John Buttre

Thursday, October 4th, 2018

This afternoon’s an exciting one: it’s the opening day of the Strike for Freedom exhibit at the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh, Scotland. It features photos, letters, books, memorabilia, and more relating to Frederick Douglass and his family, friends, and colleagues, who spoke and worked for the abolition of slavery and equal rights in the antebellum United States and beyond.

Frederick Douglass is featured here at the NLS because he became an especially well-known abolitionist speaker in Scotland. Douglass traveled to the British Isles in August of 1845 following the publication of his Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. He planned to kill two birds with one stone when he crossed the Atlantic: one, he would escape the danger of re-capture by his legal owner with the help of the information contained in the Narrative and two, he would add his voice to the growing antislavery movement in Britain. After touring Ireland, Douglass arrived in Ardrossan, Scotland on January 10th, 1846. Not long after his arrival, Douglass became involved in the ‘Send Back the Money!’ campaign, which called on the newly formed Free Church of Scotland to return donations from American congregations who supported slavery. Though the campaign did not succeed in persuading the Church to return the funds, Douglass’ speeches were immensely popular and he garnered a huge amount of support for the various causes he spoke for, including abolition, temperance, and equal access to public modes of transport and accommodations regardless of race.

Frederick Douglass items in Strike for Freedom exhibit, National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh, 2018. At bottom left is the first Irish printing of Douglass’ Narrative, published by abolitionist Richard Webb, with a frontispiece portrait signed ‘B. Bell.’ Douglass hated the portrait, and though Webb took offense at Douglass’ reaction to it, he duly replaced it with another in subsequent printings. This is the very same copy from the NLS’ collection I consulted this summer when researching my master’s dissertation.

The Strike for Freedom exhibit’s opening is kicked off today with a fascinating and rousing talk by Celeste-Marie Bernier, who was instrumental in arranging this exhibit. The focus of her talk was how Douglass did not become the great man he was alone. His wife Anna Murray; his daughters and sons Rosetta, Lewis Henry, Frederick Jr., Charles Remond, and Annie; and his mother and grandmother Harriet and Betsy Bailey were all instrumental in helping him become the man he was. They functioned as inspirations, teachers, helpmeets, companions, consciences, correctives, encouragers, amanuenses, and above all, sources of love, pride, and joy for Frederick in every stage of his growth from slave child, to self-emancipated young man, to husband and father, to activist and author, to American statesman and moral leader.

The Strike for Freedom exhibit centers around Douglass family artifacts (mostly original with occasional facsimiles) from the Walter O. Evans collection. Dr. Evans and his wife Linda are major collectors of African-American art, but Dr. Evans has also gathered a massive collection of African-American documents, photos, and other artifacts throughout the course of his life. The exhibit also includes at least one item from the NLS’ own collection, and images from the Maryland State Archives, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the Library of Congress, the Central Library of Rochester & Monroe County in New York, and the National Park Service’s Frederick Douglass National Historic Site in Washington, D.C.

Frederick Douglass in Edinburgh map, Strike for Freedom exhibit, National Library of Scotland, 2018

As I head for the exhibit after the talk, I pass by a large glass case with a map laid out, marked with pins and labels. It shows the location of Edinburgh sites associated with Douglass’ visits to Scotland. I’ll be covering these Edinburgh sites as I take my own journey through Edinburgh following Douglass, stay tuned!

Here are just some of the artifacts I saw in the exhibit. No doubt, I’ll be sharing more with you throughout my Douglass in the British Isles series as they relate to the stories.

Jesse Glasgow’s book on Harper’s Ferry and John Brown and a ‘Send Back the Money!’ anti-slavery meeting pamphlet at the Strike for Freedom exhibit at the NLS, 2018. Glasgow was a classics student at the University of Edinburgh and unfortunately, died young in 1860, at only age 23, having already become a published author and an award-winning scholar.

Lewis Henry and Helen Amelia Longuen Douglass photos and letter, Strike for Freedom exhibit at the NLS, 2018. Lewis was Douglass’ eldest son, and Amelia was a member of a prominent abolitionist family. The love letters between Lewis, away fighting in the Civil War, and his beloved Amelia tell a revealing and fascinating story of love among war and the fight for equality.

Frederick Douglass’ Family Story photos and artifacts at the Strike for Freedom exhibit at the NLS, 2018. At the top, from left to right clockwise, are pictured Rosetta, the Douglass’ eldest daughter; Anna Murray, Douglass’ first wife and mother of all of his children; the Douglass’ middle child Frederick Douglass, Jr.; Douglass with his second wife Helen Pitts (sitting) and her sister Eva (standing); and Douglass with his grandson Joseph (standing), a famous violinist. The four-page document is a speech written by Charles Remond Douglass titled ‘Some Incidents of the Home Life of Frederick Douglass’ in which he describes Douglass’ civil rights work as a family affair.

Frederick Douglass’ Family Story photos and artifacts, Strike for Freedom exhibit at the NLS, 2018

After a good long visit to the exhibit and chatting with some fellow attendees at the talk (including an all-too-brief chat with Dr. Evans), I depart, inspired, happy with the new things I’ve learned, and excited to continue my journey through texts and physical places following Douglass in the British Isles.

The National Library of Scotland’s Strike for Freedom exhibit will be continuing through February 16th, 2019.

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Sources and Inspiration:

Bernier, Celeste-Marie, and Andrew Taylor. If I Survive: Frederick Douglass and Family in the Walter O. Evans Collection. Edinburgh University Press, 2018

Delatinerjan, Barbara. ‘Interest in Black Art Just Grew and Grew.New York Times, Jan 30, 2000

Jesse Ewing Glasgow, Jr. (c. 1837-1860)‘, Falvey Memorial Library at Villanova University website

Murray, Hannah Rose. Frederick Douglass in Britain and Ireland

Our Bondage and Our Freedom: An international project celebrating the 200 year anniversary of the birth of African American activist and author, Frederick Douglass. School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures, University of Edinburgh website

Pettinger, Alasdair. Frederick Douglass and Scotland, 1846: Living an Antislavery Life. Edinburgh University Press, 2018

Pettinger, Alasdair. ‘Douglass in Scotland‘ series for

Frederick Douglass, Rochester NY Sites Day 2

Douglass scholarship articles and posters, Dr. David Anderson's office, Nazareth College Rochester, 2016 Amy Cools

Articles, posters, and mementos of Frederick Douglass scholarship and events, Dr. David Anderson’s office, Nazareth College of Rochester

Tenth day, Tuesday March 29th

I begin my day with an early visit to Dr. David Anderson, a Frederick Douglass scholar, visiting professor at Nazareth College, founding member of Blackstorytelling League, and an all around delightful and fascinating man! He is kind enough to grant me an interview of an hour or so, which ends up turning into a much longer conversation than that.

Among many other things too numerous to describe in full here (I’ll bring more details of our talk into the discussion of my subsequent discoveries), we talk about the Douglass family as a whole, and especially, Frederick Douglass’ wife Anna.

As discussed in the account of my day in Lynn, Anna took in piecework from Lynn’s thriving shoe industry, attaching uppers to soles, to help support the family. According to Anderson, she brought in enough money doing this to put all of the money which Douglass sent home from his 1845-1847 British Isles tour into the bank. This is but one example of Anna’s hard work and skill as a household manager. The extent of Anna’s contributions to Frederick’ life is often overlooked, Anderson says: if people understood the degree to which Frederick relied on Anna, emotionally as well as logistically, people would understand much more about him too. From the beginning of their relationship, Anna supported his efforts to better himself and to make his escape, selling some of her belongings to fund it and helping him to plan it all out. Anna made the Douglass family home a happy one, and for many stretches especially in Douglass’ earlier years as a traveling speaker, she was often the sole financial support of the family. And when Frederick away on his innumerable meetings and lecture tours, she sent clean clothes ahead to wherever he was traveling, so he was always ready to appear in public neat, tidy, and comfortable.

Anna Douglass circa 1860, image from the Library of Congress collection

Anna Douglass circa 1860, image from the Library of Congress collection

Anna did all of this though she could not read or write. As Anderson points out, people often confuse illiteracy with lack of intelligence, and this simple fact, in addition to the general reticence of her personality, has long caused many to write her off as an influential or even very significant figure in Frederick’s life. In fact, she was resourceful, orderly, dignified, creative, and kept their ever-changing and complex life as the family of a traveling speaker and activist together, all while taking care of their constant flow of house guests, including Underground Railroad refugees. As she had been in Lynn, Anna was initially a member of the local Anti-Slavery Society but withdrew at some point. Anderson says it was because of apparent disdain of some of the members for Anna, perhaps because of her lack of education. I ask Anderson if the Society was elitist, but he thinks while this is a possibility on the part of some members, he doesn’t see J. P. Morris, a successful barber and leader of the black contingent of the Rochester Society, this way at all. Presumably, Morris would have set the tone for Society meetings. Whatever or whoever the source of Anna’s discomfiture, she was a dignified person, and it’s easy to see why she would withdraw if she did feel her dignity under attack in any way.

Amy Cools and Frederick Douglass scholar David Anderson at Nazareth College. Pro

Amy Cools and Frederick Douglass scholar David Anderson in his office at Nazareth College.

For more about Anna Douglass, please listen to my conversation with Leigh Fought, who has made a study of Anna for her upcoming book on the women in Frederick Douglass’ life.

Among the many things I discuss with Anderson, I ask him where Rochester’s City Hall was in 1865; when I had looked for it, I found that the first official one, now called Irving Place / Old City Hall, was built in 1875 at 30 West Broad Street. He thinks it was probably on Broad St because that was the city center, but to make sure I have the exact location, he directs me to the Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County, to the City Historian’s office in the Rundel Building at 115 South Avenue. So that’s where I head next.

Rundell Building, Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County

Rundel Building, of the Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County, at 115 South Ave

Index references to Old City Hall and Peck Estate, City Historian's Office of Rochester Public Library, 2016 Amy CoolsThe Rundel building is a handsome structure built spanning the years from the 19-teens through the 1930’s, and its pale gray-brown stone walls are punctuated with inscriptions, including this paraphrase of a John Dewey quote: ‘Education is more than preparation for life, it is life itself’. I’m sure Frederick Douglass would heartily concur, as much as he stressed the practical importance of education as well.

Librarian Cheri Crist, so knowledgeable and so generous with her time, proceeds to help me find what I’m looking for. Not long ago, she made a far more exciting discovery: a previously unknown Frederick Douglass photograph, taken in about 1873 and lost in the depths of the archives for over a hundred years. Today, Crist provides me with sources to help me track down the 1865 location of City Hall, starting with a search of the index card files, though we don’t find any that indicate the right time period there. We decide to cross reference some index entries with old newspapers, and Veronica Shaw helps me find old microfiches of the Rochester Daily Union. (*A clarification from Cheri Crist since this account was published: ‘The resources that we consulted at the Rochester Public Library are from the collection of the Local History & Genealogy Division, which is the department I worked for [as opposed to the City Historian’s office, which is a different entity]’. Thank you for the clarification, Cheri!)

Plat Book of the City of Rochester New York, 1888, Rochester Public Library

Plat Book of the City of Rochester New York, 1888, Rochester Public Library

Print of old article, Rochester's Evening Union on sale of Peck Building-City Hall and my notes

Print of old article, Rochester’s Evening Union on sale of Peck Building-City Hall and my notes

Our initial hunt leads us, after many twists and turns among newspaper accounts and old atlases, to an early location of City Hall. I’m all excited about the discovery until a careful rereading of the evidence shows this was in fact Old-Old-Old City Hall, prior to 1856, too early for the historical event I’m following today. Though we first find the wrong place after much searching and end up having to start over again, I find the wild goose chase to be lots of fun: it involves searching through pages and pages of old newspapers facsimiles and city atlases, getting a good glimpse of the history and layout of the city that I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the level of historical detective work this Douglass journey has led me into all along! We do subsequently find Old-Old City Hall, which, funnily enough, turns out to be much simpler search, it’s just that the right clue doesn’t turn up first: we had started with the index card files rather than old city atlases. More on that soon when I get to the site. In any case, I hope this search leads to a new index card in the City Historian’s files for City Hall between 1856 and 1875.

I realize, as soon as we find the site I seek, that the day’s really getting on, since I spent such a long, absorbing time with Anderson at Nazareth College and Crist at the City Historian’s office. I skeddadle to my next destination, the same place I start my tour of Rochester yesterday. It’s the Susan B. Anthony House at 17 Madison Street.

Susan B Anthony House (left) and Museum (right), at 17 Madison, Rochester

Susan B Anthony House (left) and Museum (right), at 17 Madison, Rochester

I visit the Susan B. Anthony House today for many reasons. I know Douglass and Anthony were friends (at least sometimes, and of different degrees and kinds when they were). Henry Louis Gates’ timeline in his Douglass Autobiographies compendium and history mentions Douglass visiting her at her Rochester home more than once in 1850, and other sources describe their visits as a regular occurrence around that time. And since they were sometimes friends and always activists in the same causes and lived in the same city for so long, Douglass must have visited Anthony here, right? Well, I find out early in the tour that while Douglass may have visited Anthony at this house and there are many good reasons to think he had, there’s no actual documentation of this. Anthony moved into this house 15 years after that particular 1850 documented visit, and other visits on several occasions while she was living in the family farmhouse now on the outskirts of Rochester, near the airport; more on that in a future account. Douglass lived in Rochester until 1872, and Anthony was among his many friends who pleaded with him to stay. So they must have been on good terms at that time, and she had been living in this house for 7 years by this time. I consider it likely, given all this, he would have visited her here at some point.

 Front Parlor of Susan B Anthony House in Rochester. I snap this photo before I see the 'no photography' sign, thinking the policy was the same here as in the museum. But the deed was done, and I'm not one to let a good photo go to waste

Front Parlor of the Susan B Anthony House in Rochester. I snap this photo before I see the ‘no photography’ sign, thinking the policy was the same here as in the museum. But the deed is done, and I’m not one to let a perfectly good photo go to waste

 Parlor of Susan B. Anthony House, photo of photo at museum exhibit

Parlor of Susan B. Anthony House as it looked in her time, this is my photo of the photo at the museum exhibit

Susan B Anthony House Museum plaque telling the story of her arrest for voting in 1872

Susan B Anthony House Museum plaque telling the story of her arrest for voting in 1872, and a brief timeline of her life

I have a most delightful visit, in a quiet moment between tours, with Linda Lopata, the Visitor Center manager, and Carolyn, Mary, and another kind woman whose name I can’t recall at the moment; if you read this, please excuse my forgetfulness, and I would be delighted to be reintroduced! They have a wealth of information to share and couldn’t be more kind, and are so sweet in their interest in my project and willingness to help. We talk some about Douglass, about whom they’re quite knowledgeable, and a lot about Anthony, including her arrest at this house for voting in the 1872 presidential election along with fourteen other women. Try as I might in an hour-plus-long search, I can’t find their names listed anywhere. It bothers me somehow to leave them anonymous, as all the sources I’ve found so far do, when they acted as bravely and with as much conviction at the polls as Anthony did! (I would be grateful, dear reader, if you happen to know how where to find their names and can pass the word along. Unless, of course, these women desired their names to remain anonymous, as was their right, to avoid scandal or censure. UPDATE: the always delightful and helpful Paige Sloan sent me a link to a page where the names of these brave voters are listed: their names are Charlotte Bowles Anthony, Mary S. Anthony, Ellen S. Baker, Nancy M. Chapman, Hannah M. Chatfield, Jane M. Cogswell, Rhoda DeGarmo, Mary S. Hebard, Susan M. Hough, Margaret Garrigues Leyden, Guelma Anthony McLean, Hannah Anthony Mosher, Mary E. Pulver, and Sarah Cole Truesdale.) The officials who allowed them to register to vote likely sympathized with their cause, and were certainly convinced by her interpretation of the 14th and 15th Amendments, that the first strongly, and the latter less so, implied that women had the right to vote.

Douglass, the ardent feminist and advocate of universal suffrage, must certainly have approved of this bold move, and the fact that all save one voted for his preferred candidate Ulysses S. Grant would have pleased his too. But he was no longer in town to lend his support in person, since he and his family had already moved to Washington D.C. that July.

S. Main and Fitzhugh Sts, site of Rochester's City Hall in 1865

Monroe County Executive Office building at S. Main and Fitzhugh Streets. The north of the building, where Patrick Printing is now, covers the site of Rochester’s City Hall in 1865. Pindle Alley runs through that little space you can see between the MCEO building and the Powers Building next door

My next destination is less than a mile almost directly east, at S Fitzhugh St just a little south of Main, to the site of the City Hall in 1865 we had searched for so assiduously this morning. The digitized 1863 map we found on the Monroe County Library System’s website shows that it stood where the Monroe County Executive Offices stand at 39 West Main is now. The long red brick building’s north end covers the site. As you can see from the ‘Reference’ (legend) at the top right of the map, #55 identifies that City Hall location, just across the street from that Old-Old-Old City Hall site we discovered at the corner of Main and tiny Pindle Alley, and just a little north from the Irving Place Old City Hall built in 1875, all three within a two-block radius.

Abraham Lincoln with his son and 2 views of his tomb, from Hutchinson scrapbook at Lynn Museum

Abraham Lincoln with his son and 2 views of his tomb, photos from the Hutchinson family scrapbook at the Lynn Museum

I seek this site today because Douglass gave an impassioned, impromptu eulogy here in remembrance of his hero and friend Abraham Lincoln. A crowd had gathered here on April 15th, 1865 to mourn Lincoln’s death that morning, and they called upon Douglass to speak. He did so, delivering by all accounts one of the most moving addresses he ever gave. As Douglass sadly told them, ‘It was only a few weeks ago that I shook his brave, honest hand, and looked into his gentle eye and heard his kindly voice.’ That occasion was on March 4th of that same year, when Douglass went to the White House to congratulate Lincoln on his second inauguration and the excellence of his address. A you may remember, Douglass was critical of Lincoln’s first inaugural address, with its weak stance on slavery. The second, besides its sheer eloquence and beauty, was unapologetically anti-slavery, so of course Douglass heartily approved of it. Douglass went to the White House on his own account and was turned away at the door by two officers who said they were instructed by Lincoln not to admit black people. Douglass accused them of lying, which they were, and insisted on entering. He was ultimately successful, and when Lincoln spotted Douglass across the room, he called out ‘Here comes my friend Douglass’ and shook his hand. This was a moment of great triumph and validation for the proud, dignified Douglass, and he would treasure it for the rest of his life.

Downtown United Presbyterian Church and adjoining hall with 1848 Rochester Women's Rights Convention commemorative plaque. The sun was sinking low behind the church when I took this photo

Downtown United Presbyterian Church and adjoining hall with 1848 Rochester Women’s Rights Convention commemorative plaque.

1848 Rochester Women's Rights Convention plaque, Downtown United Presbyterian Church

1848 Rochester Women’s Rights Convention plaque at the Downtown United Presbyterian Church.

My next destination is just two long blocks north, Downtown Presbyterian Church at 121 Fitzhugh St. It’s a lovely building with beautiful stained glass windows. It takes many, many attempts to snap any photos I can use since the sun is sinking low right behind the church, and still, I can’t quite color-correct the photos enough to do it justice. In the process, three ladies on separate occasions stop to exclaim something to the effect of ‘isn’t it beautiful?’ and to invite me an event going on there that evening. On an adjoining building to the left of the church, there’s a plaque commemorating the 1848 Rochester continuation of the Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention, which we’ll discuss in my next day’s account of this journey. This used to be the Unitarian Church, and the meeting was held in the church building itself. Douglass spoke at this convention as well, according to Ms. Lopata at the Susan B. Anthony House. In his remarks, he reiterated his conviction that he could not deny a woman any right he claimed for himself, nor could any just individual do so.

 American Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Douglass family congregation Rochester

American Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in the historic Corn Hill neighborhood of Rochester. The Douglass family were members of this congregation who worshiped in one of the church’s earlier incarnations nearby, no longer standing

Son House apartment building site on Greig St, Corn Hill, Rochester NY, photo 2016 Amy Cools

Site of apartment building on Clarissa at Greig St where the great Son House once lived.

I zigzag my way a little over half mile east to the historic Corn Hill District, where the Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church now stands at Favor and Clarissa Streets, just off Ford. According to Cindy Boyer, Rochester’s Landmark Society director of public programs, ‘Clarissa Street was once the business and cultural heart of Rochester’s African American community… In the 1950’s, it became a jazz and entertainment hub.’ Exploring Clarissa St on my way from the current location of the AME Zion Church at 549 Clarissa St to the old site, I notice one of those distinctive blue historical marker signs and discover that the great bluesman Son House lived on Clarissa at Grieg St in the 1960’s. Cool.

The original site of the AME church was just a little east of this one, on the northeast corner where Spring and Favor streets once intersected, near where the 490 freeway now passes through. Anderson directs me here in our discussion this morning, as the Douglass family belonged to this progressive congregation, dedicated to reform and the education of black children. The church was also an important stop on the Underground Railroad. It had been reorganized and rebuilt by Thomas James, a former slave who became a minister and educator who founded new congregations in several cities. James was the one, according to Anderson, who had licensed Douglass, many years ago, to preach in New Bedford.

According to Michelle Finn, Deputy Historian of the City of Rochester, ‘The third church building, which is depicted in this photograph, featured memorial windows dedicated to Douglass, Anthony, Harriet Tubman and others’. I wonder why ‘featured’ is in the past tense: the photos reveal it’s the same building that stands today, and it appears there’s stained glass within the outer panes I can see from where I’m standing. Perhaps the stained glass windows are no longer intact; the church is all closed up, padlocked and surrounded by chain link fence so I can’t approach it to make sure.

I continue on, crossing over the Frederick Douglass-Susan B. Anthony Memorial Bridge, which carries Interstate 490 over the Genesee River in downtown Rochester, to my next destination.

Rosetta Douglass home at 271 Hamilton Street at Bond

Rosetta Douglass home at 271 Hamilton Street at Bond

 Another view of Rosetta Douglass home at 271 Hamilton Street

Another view of Rosetta Douglass home at 271 Hamilton Street

At 271 Hamilton Street at Bond, there’s a two story blue house which was not long ago discovered to be a home owned by Douglass and his daughter’s family. This makes it the first house that Douglass owned and stayed in for any length of time that’s still standing, so I’m very excited to discover it too! Anderson’s colleague and fellow historian Jean Czerkas made the discovery of the deed for the house that had Douglass’ name on it. ‘She’s serious!’ said Anderson to me this morning. Czerkas has made many other important discoveries in local history over the years, including sites associated with the life and work of Austin Steward, one of Douglass’s fellow black abolitionists and Underground Railroad operatives and a successful Rochester business owner. ‘[Czerkas] helped me in another way’ Anderson continued. ‘She found out Austin Steward had children buried in Rochester.’ Steward is a fascinating figure, I’m very glad to learn about him and encourage you to so as well; like Douglass, he wrote a narrative of his life first as a slave, then as a free man and anti-slavery activist.

Douglass’ daughter Rosetta and her husband Nathan Sprague lived in this house for several years before following her father to Washington D.C. Douglass kept the house, however, listing himself as a boarder. Since he had fought so long for the right to vote and residents of Washington D.C. could not vote in presidential elections at the time, he retained that precious right for himself by keeping an official residence in Rochester.

James P. Duffy School at site of Frederick Douglass Rochester farm home, under construction

James P. Duffy School, which stands on the site of the Douglass family home and farm, then on the outskirts of Rochester, on South Avenue. The school is being remodeled and improved.

Fredrick Douglass Community Library at James P. Duffy School, site of South Ave Douglass home

Fredrick Douglass Community Library adjacent to the Duffy school, original site of the Douglasses’ South Ave home

I head south on Alexander St and turn left on South Avenue, which continues to take me south toward Highland Park. I look for the historical marker which I read is located at the site now occupied by James P. Duffy School at 999 South Ave near Highland Park, and for the community library now named after Douglass. Anderson said he and other local historians and citizens are making good headway in getting the school renamed after Douglass too. I easily find the school, which is being rebuilt. But I find no historical marker, though I circle the building slowly and scan the area carefully. Perhaps it’s been taken down until the construction is done, or it’s obscured by the large quantity of construction equipment and materials here now. (Update: fellow Douglass enthusiast and Rochester resident Paige Sloan comes to the rescue again and does a little more searching, locating the historical marker at this site. See the photos below.)

Frederick Douglass South Ave home site, photo 2016 by Paige Sloan

Frederick Douglass South Ave home site near the school under construction, with the historical marker now visible from this angle just beyond the red sign since it’s now leaning to the left. Photo 2016 by Paige Sloan

Frederick Douglass South Ave home site marker, 2016 Paige Sloan

Frederick Douglass South Ave home site marker, 2016 Paige Sloan

In 1852, Frederick Douglass moved his family here from that urban red brick house on Alexander Street to a hill top farmhouse on what was then the outskirts of the city. It was private, with no near neighbors, plenty of land surrounding it, and fruit trees galore: a perfect setting for five growing children and for sheltering runaway slaves. Both Douglass family homes in Rochester were Underground Railroad institutions.

Douglass loved his South Ave home and farm. He built a cozy office and library upstairs, he loved to ride his large white horse on the grounds, he planted trees with his own hands, his sons worked the land, and Anna kept a beautiful and orderly home. They lived here for twenty years, until June 2 1872, when it burned to the ground. The family escaped unharmed, and friends helped the family save many of their personal goods and all of the animals, but many of Douglass’ important papers and bound volumes of every issue of the North Star were burned. We suffer their loss too, as copies of very many have never been found elsewhere. Douglass was of town the day the house burned, and returned the next day having heard the news. He believed the fire was purposely set; the fire insurance company agreed with him. He had continued to struggle with elements of racism even in this relatively tolerant city, the city he said he felt most at home in, enough to believe the worst. He was so bitter over it that he decided to move his family to Washington D.C. for good. Their daughter Annie had died here in 1860 at only 10 years old; perhaps Anna’s unabated grief made her more amenable to moving from the place they had called home for twenty five years.

Frederick Douglass Memorial Square at Highland Park, at South Ave and Robinson Drive

Frederick Douglass Memorial Square at Highland Park, at South Ave and Robinson Drive. You can just make out Frederick Douglass’ monument / statue in the background just to the right of the signpost.

Then I continue up the hill, just a short stroll continuing south on South Ave to Robinson Dr, to end my day’s explorations at beautiful Highland Park. It was designed in 1890 by another Frederick, Frederick Law Olmsted, designer of Manhattan’s Central Park and Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. Olmsted is famous for creating some of the world’s most beautiful parks, with landscapes designed to look as natural as possible while maximizing their utility as public spaces.

Frederick Douglass Monument Statue in Highland Park, Rochester NY

Frederick Douglass Monument and Statue in Highland Park, Rochester NY. It’s the first monument erected to memorialize an African American in the United States.

Frederick Douglass Monument Statue in Highland Park, Rochester NY, closer, 2016 Amy CoolsI cross Robinson Dr. to my right at an angle, then into the park down to Highland Bowl, the natural amphitheatre between Robinson Dr and Reservoir Ave with an Art Deco look open air theater built at its west end. Across the large grassy depression that makes the bowl, halfway up the hill on the other side from Robinson and to the left (or east) of the theater, there stands an 8 foot statue of Frederick Douglass on a tall columnar pedestal, with four plaques curved around it, three containing Douglass quotes. First erected in front of Rochester’s New York Central Train Station in 1899, it was moved to Highland Park in 1941, to place it in a more beautiful, dignified natural setting instead of the dust and bustle of the street corner it had been on. It’s also fitting that it’s placed near the site of his beloved South Ave home.

As you can see from the photos (though I’ve brightened them quite a bit so you can see the details), it’s growing late: dusk is drawing near. It’s been a long and fascinating day, I learned so much it will take some time to process it all, and I’m tired. The park is soft and lovely this evening, the trees bare and gray and lacy with their delicate veiny branches, the grass beetle green in the lowering light. I gaze at the statue awhile and reflect, then I sit in the grass and rest, lazily typing up a few notes. I like the way the statue’s hands are outstretched, palms up, as if Douglass is inviting you to draw near and hear what he has to say. So I’ll let him close this day account’s with his own words, until we meet again in the story of the next day of my Douglass journey:

Frederick Douglass quotes on his monument pedestal

Frederick Douglass quotes on his monument pedestal. There are many more powerful, original, and memorable Douglass quotes than these ones here that I wish they’d included instead. But these were chosen for popularity’s sake no doubt, as they express godly and patriotic sentiments

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

~ With special thanks again to Paige Sloan, who heads and teaches a writing program for international students at the University of Rochester and, like me, is a big Fredrick Douglass fan! She provided me with an additional source for my Corinthian Hall research and a photo I neglected to take for my account of my first day in Rochester, and a link to a list of the women who voted with Susan B. Anthony for this day’s account.

~ 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:

28. Frederick Douglass Rural Homesite‘. The Freethought Trail website

Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass‘. Lehrman Institute: Abraham Lincoln’s Classroom

Austin Steward, 1794-1860‘. From The Back Abolitionist Papers: Vol. II: Canada, 1830-1865 ed. by C. Peter Ripley, et al, 1992 by the University of North Carolina Press, via Documenting the American South

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

Cornell, Silas. Map of the City of Rochester, 1863, Rochester Images, Monroe County Library System website

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.

Dr. David A. Anderson/Sankofa‘, Blackstorytelling League of Rochester

Finn, Michelle. ‘The Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church‘. Democrat & Chronicle: Retrofitting Rochester series

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

Highland Park Conservancy: ‘History of the Park‘ and ‘Park Map and Audio Tour

History & Political Science Directory: David Anderson. Nazareth College website.

History of the Federal Judiciary: The Trial of Susan B. Anthony- Biographies-Other indicted voters. From the Federal Judicial System website

Irving Place‘. In RocWiki, The People’s Guide to Rochester.

Linder, Doug. The Trial of Susan B. Anthony for Illegal Voting, 2001

McKelvey, Blake. ‘Lights and Shadows in Local Negro History‘. Rochester History, Vol 21, No. 4, 1959

Meives, Caitlin. ‘Recognition For a Forgotten Frederick Douglass Site‘. Landmark Society of Western New York website.

Memmott, Jim. Don’t Ignore Douglass StatueDemocrat & Chronicle, July 1, 2015

Morry, Emily. ‘Frederick Douglass Home on Alexander Street’. Democrat & Chronicle: Retrofitting Rochester series

Morry, Emily. ‘Frederick Douglass Monument’. Democrat & Chronicle: Retrofitting Rochester series

Rediscovering Frederick Douglass‘. City of Rochester website

Rundel Memorial Library Building‘. In RocWiki, The People’s Guide to Rochester.

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.

Steward, Austin. Twenty-two Years a Slave, and Forty Years a Freeman. Rochester, 1857.

Susan B. Anthony Home & Museum website, all articles linked to on Her Story page

University of Rochester Library Bulletin: Report of the Woman’s Rights Convention, 1848, Volume IV · Autumn 1948 · Number 1. University of Rochester River Campus Library website

Wemett, Laurel. ‘Austin Steward: A Forgotten Figure in Abolitionist Movement‘. Canandaiga Daily Messenger, Feb. 4, 2013.

Frederick Douglass Rochester NY Sites, Day 1

Susan B. Anthony Square, Rochester NY, photo 2016 by Amy Cools

At Susan B. Anthony Square

Ninth day, Monday Mar 28th

On a cold, gray, and blustery spring morning, I drive from Syracuse to Rochester NY, and head straight for a certain house very near Susan B. Anthony Square. As I suspect might be the case, the house is closed to the public today so I’ll return tomorrow; I head here first anyway to scope things out in person because, as it turns out, I have more free time to explore Rochester this morning than I thought I would. Hooray!

For the moment, I leave my car in the Madison St parking lot adjacent to the house and head to the square just around the corner, going east through Yack Alley, not the only or even necessarily the shortest way but I choose it because the name makes me smile. Susan B. Anthony Square, at 39 King St, is a little park crisscrossed with meandering paths and dotted with benches and neatly trimmed shrubbery, in the center of pretty blocks of well-maintained early 19th century houses. The square is dominated by a life-size sculpture of Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony by Pepsy Kettavong, called ‘Let’s Have Tea’, installed in 2001.

Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony statue by Pepsy Kettvong, Rochester NY, 2016 by Amy Cools

Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony sculpture by Pepsy Kettvong in Susan B. Anthony Square, Rochester NY

The sculpture presents an idealized picture of Douglass’ and Anthony’s friendship, a view I had long held myself and never really questioned, I suppose because I admire them both and wish it were true! As my research for this series reveals, however, the real relationship between Douglass and Anthony was a long, complicated, often troubled one over the years. (I should have known something was up given that Douglass doesn’t write about her in his autobiographies except for a brief mention of her as one of the authors of History of Woman Suffrage.) Sometimes they were real friends, such as when they first met; at other times, they were estranged co-activists in a shared cause, presenting a united front solely for practical, political reasons. For all her admirable work in promoting women’s and black rights over her long career as a social reformer, Anthony, as you may remember from my Albany account, resorted to using racist language in her campaign against the 15th Amendment’s granting voting rights only to men, regardless of race, and also sadly, she was among those spreading rumors that Douglass’ friendship with North Star colleague Julia Griffiths might be …ahem, less than respectable. (For more about the troubles in Anthony’s and Douglass’ relationship, listen to the second part of my interview with Douglass scholar Leigh Fought, starting at about 9:30).

Historical Marker and plaque for site of Amy and Isaac Post's house, Rochester NY, 2016 by Amy Cools

Historical Marker and plaque at 50 Plymouth St, marking the site of Amy and Isaac Post’s house

Douglass began the move to Rochester near the end of 1847, and brought the rest of his family here in February of 1848. Douglass said the move was ‘for motives of peace’. He wanted to start his own newspaper independently of the Garrisonians, who were centered in Boston (Lynn, where Douglass was living, is very close to Boston) and who disapproved strongly of his new pro-Union, pro-Constitution political views and newfound independence of thought and decision-making. Besides the fact that his good friends Amy and Isaac Post lived here, that it was an important stop on the Underground Railroad, and that it was a center for the feminist movement where the Post’s and his (then) friend Susan B. Anthony lived, Douglass listed all manner of other reasons for his move to Rochester in his autobiography Life and Times. ‘[Rochester] …is the center of a virtuous, intelligent, enterprising, liberal, and growing population… It is on the line of the New York Central railroad – a line that, with its connections, spans the whole country. Its people were (were? I wonder why he wrote this, in 1881, in the past tense)  industrious and in comfortable circumstances – not so rich as to be indifferent to the claims of humanity, and not so poor as to be unable to help any good cause which commanded the approval of their judgment’.

Post house site and old Central Prebyterian, now Hochstein Music School, 2016 by Amy Cools

Site of Douglass friends Amy and Isaac Post’s house (plainer front building to the left, with the blue Post house sign in front) and of the Central Presbyterian Church (center) where Douglass’ second funeral service was held in 1895. It’s now the Hochstein Music School.

I drive east on Main St and turn north on Plymouth Ave N, where there’s a historical marker for the site of Amy and Isaac Post’s home, just under a mile from Susan B. Anthony Square. It’s in front of the handsome brick buildings which now house the Hochstein Music School.

A gray sky and freezing gusty wind follows the milder temperature, scattered clouds, little rainbursts, and blue sky of the morning. The fine raindrops pepper my face like icy Lilliputian buckshot as I take photos of the front of the historical marker and the school. I can hardly hold my camera still between the wind and the shivering of my hands, fingers stiffened with cold. Ah, early spring in northern New York!

Amy and Isaac Post Historical Plaque at 50 Plymouth St, Rochester NY, 2016 Amy Cools

Amy and Isaac Post Historical Plaque at 50 Plymouth St, Rochester NY

Amy and Isaac Post were long-time friends of Douglass. He met them while passing through Rochester in 1842 or 1843 (depending on the source) on a marathon antislavery speaking tour early in his career. He described them in his Life and Times as ‘two people of all-abounding benevolence, the truest and best’. They were members of the Hicksite Quaker sect, the more progressive branch of the Society of Friends which emphasized the importance of the ‘inner light‘, which God places in all individuals for spiritual guidance. This, in turn, led to an emphasis on the moral, and hence to some, the social and political equality of all human beings. The Posts were emblematic of the brand of Quakerism that inspired so many activists in the abolitionist, women’s rights, temperance, and other human rights and social reform movements of the time. Yet even this brand of Quakerism was ultimately too conservative for the socially conscious Posts, who eventually became Spiritualists.

Old Central Presbyterian Church Plaque, Funeral of Frederick Douglass, 2016 Amy Cools.JPG

Old Central Presbyterian Church historical plaque with a photo of Frederick Douglass’ funeral service

Old Central Presbysterian Church sanctuary as Hochstein Music School theater today, 2016 Amy Cools.JPG

Old Central Presbysterian Church sanctuary in today’s incarnation as the Hochstein Music School theater

Stained glass window in Old Central Presbyterian Church building, now Hochstein Music School Theater

Stained glass window in Old Central Presbyterian Church building, now Hochstein Music School Theater

Hochstein not only stands on (or near, according to the Freethought Trail website, though I don’t think they’ve necessarily got it right: the house was at number 36 Sophia St, which was what Plymouth used to be named north of Main, which in turn was originally named Buffalo St, and the numbering may have changed along with the street name) the site of the old Post house. It’s also partly composed of the former Central Presbyterian Church where Douglass’ 1895 (his second, the first was held in Washington DC) and Anthony’s 1906 funeral services were held.

I enter the front door and am assisted by a helpful lady in the front office to the right. In response to my inquiries, she gives me permission to go inside and photograph the sanctuary of the old church building, now the school’s main performance hall. The man at the front desk takes me inside, and finds himself interested in the history of the old church too. ‘I’ve worked here five months,’ he says, ‘and I’ve never looked at these before!’ He’s referring to the plaques on the walls, with their photos and history of the building and of the school’s founder.

After admiring and photographing the theater, and learning what I can from these plaques and photos, I head east on Main again, a third of a mile closer to the Genessee River, to the site of the old Corinthian Hall, which, according to a couple of sources, was near the end of Corinthian Street behind the Reynolds Arcade, where the parking garage is now. Originally called The Athenaeum, as were so many public halls of the time, it was renamed Corinthian Hall after the style of the classical columns on its stage, and the building was widely famed for its beauty. Corinthian Street was also renamed, and most internet sources I find say it was originally named Exchange Place.  However, I discover that these two pieces of received internet wisdom appear to be a bit off. Poring over old maps in Rochester Library’s online images database, I find one published in 1851, two years after the hall was built in 1849. For one, I find that while the street was named Exchange Place before it was named Corinthian, it was named Work Street at the time the hall was built. Secondly, I find that it was not actually under the parking garage at the end of the street. It was actually directly across from the back entrance of the Reynolds Arcade, where a parking lot and a glassy midcentury office building now stand. The 1851 map was a little behind the times: Corinthian Hall and Exchange Place had already received their new names in 1850, but the map retains their original designations.

Corinthian St, north of Main, around the site of old Corinthian Hall

The rear of the Reynolds Arcade facing onto Corinthian St, north of Main, across from the site of old Corinthian Hall

View from west end of Corinthian St, showing site of old Corinthian Hall at right where the glassy midcentury building now stands, photo 2016 by Paige Sloan

View from west end of Corinthian St, showing site of old Corinthian Hall at right where the glassy midcentury building now stands, photo 2016 courtesy of Paige Sloan. Note the Corinthian columns on the First National Bank of Rochester-Old Monroe County Savings Bank Building, built in 1924, in the rear of the photo.

Douglass spoke frequently at what he referred to as ‘the beautiful Corinthian Hall’ in the 1850’s. In fact, he  ‘lectured [there] every Sunday evening during an entire winter’ as he wrote in his Life and Times. He delivered a speech here on Aug 21, 1852 at the Fugitive Slave Convention, in opposition to the Fugitive Slave Act. Then in July 1853, Douglass presided over the National Convention of Colored Men in Rochester, which became a center for the antislavery movement; his biographer Philip S. Foner called this convention ‘the most important’. This is where the pressing problem of lack of unification between various factions of the antislavery movement were identified and discussed, as well as the relative lack of black leadership. Though this Rochester convention still failed to bring about a unified black political movement, like the previous one in Troy discussed in an earlier account, it sent a powerful message that all black Americans had a powerful champion in Douglass.

Drawing of Corinthian Hall, image credit Rochester Public Library Local History Division (note it's also called The Atheaneum in the subtitle)

Drawing of Corinthian Hall, image credit Rochester Public Library Local History Division (note that it’s still titled The Athenaeum)

But the single most important Douglass moment in this hall happened on July 5, 1852, when he delivered his powerful ‘What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?‘ speech for the first time. He delivered it on the 5th instead of the 4th, he said, because the latter was a day of mourning, for himself and his people. This speech was Douglass’ Gettysburg Address, his Second Inaugural, his ‘To Be or Not to Be?’, where his powers of oratory and his eloquence were in full force. The speech is long, opening with a reflection on the history of the United States’ founding and its promise of renewed freedom for all. Then he pours out his lament:

‘I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. — The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn….

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.’

If what he had to say that day didn’t make people ashamed to celebrate liberty for themselves while denying it to others, no words could.

Talman Building at 25 E Main St, Rochester NY, where Douglass published the North Star

Talman Building, across from the Reynolds Arcade at 25 E Main St (formerly 25 Buffalo St), Rochester NY, where Douglass published the North Star

Lobby of the Talman Building. Frederick Douglass' North Star offices were on the second floor

Lobby of the Talman Building. Frederick Douglass’ North Star offices were on the second floor

So the first issue of Douglass’ first very own newspaper the North Star came out on Dec 3rd, 1847. Rosa O’Keefe, on page 29 of her 2013 book Frederick and Anna Douglass in Rochester, New York, writes that the first edition was printed in the basement of the A.M.E. Zion church (a site we’ll return to in my next account); however, the first edition lists the Talman building address as its place of publication on the upper left-hand corner. Perhaps the Talman office was all lined up as the North Star‘s permanent home but still needed to have its press moved in. After all, it’s no joke hoisting a mid-nineteenth century printing press up to the second floor.

As described above, William Lloyd Garrison and the Boston abolitionists tried to dissuade Douglass from leaving the Boston area and starting his own paper. They wanted him to continue on in his role as one of their most famous lecturers, and warned that his lack of experience and formal education would likely lead to the paper’s ultimate failure, talented as they knew him to be. But he had reached a new level of confidence after his successful British Isles lecture tour and was determined to strike out on his own. He ascribed to himself ‘motives of peace’ in the wish to avoid competition with Boston’s The Liberator, but as the people who knew him longest observed, Douglass was always strong of personality, self-willed, and enjoyed taking charge. Many friends and supporters donated money to fund the paper, including $4,000 donated by British supporters of his cause (British friends had also purchased his freedom), and subscribed, encouraged others to do the same, and in many other ways supported his endeavor.

Talman Building's old Post Office, where Douglass published his North Star, image credit Rochester Public Library

Talman Building’s old Post Office, where Douglass published his North Star, image credit Rochester Public Library

And no other single person did more to make the North Star a personal and financial success than Julia Griffiths, an English abolitionist he had met in December 1846 in Newcastle upon Tyne. They hit it off right away, and stayed good friends for the rest of their lives. When she heard he had founded his newspaper only to have it run into financial and editorial difficulties, this energetic woman came to Douglass’ rescue in the spring of 1849. She quickly took over some of the editing and most of the bookkeeping and finances, and within a year, doubled the number of subscribers and lifted the paper, and Douglass with it, out of debt. At first, she lived with the Douglass family; later on, she moved to her own place, as the rumor mill never stopped grinding out malicious gossip, much to the ever-respectable, ever-private Anna Douglass’ dismay.

Site of old Seward Seminary, Alexander at Tracy St, Rochester NY

Near site of Seward Seminary, east side of Alexander a little south of Tracy St, Rochester NY. The historical marker used to be near the bench and the tree

I head further east, over the Genessee to Alexander St, a little north of Tracy St and on the same side, by the old Genessee Hospital. There’s a vacant lot here, with a distinctive tree and a bench, near where there used to be a New York historical marker for the site of the old Seward Seminary.

Seward Seminary, Alexander St Rochester NY, image credit Rochester Library Historical Images

Seward Seminary, Alexander St Rochester NY, image credit Rochester Library Historical Images

I know I’m at the right place by the map coordinates, and it’s easy to recognize the bench, tree, and buildings on the background in the photos of this location I found online posted just a few years ago. But the sign is now gone, stolen, or being repaired or repainted, who knows? I hope it will be reinstalled, because it marks the site of an important social movement in the United States that Douglass took part in way back before it was really a thing.

In 1848, Douglass enrolled his daughter Rosetta in Seward Seminary, the fashionable girls school which stood here. Likely having accepted Rosetta in the first place because her father was a well-known man, the school’s principal Lucilia Tracy, in deference to the school’s trustees, made Rosetta learn her lessons in a separate room from the other students. Rosetta, no surprise, was the only black student enrolled. When Rosetta tearfully told her father of this, Douglass was enraged. He confronted Tracy, who tried to evade responsibility by putting it to a student vote: who would object if Rosetta would sit next to them? One after the other, every student in the room said they were not only willing, but many requested that Rosetta be placed next to then. As is so often the case, these children proved themselves more fair-minded and far more progressive than even most of the adult citizens in Rochester, where racism was still rife. Yet in response to the notes that Tracy sent home with the students reporting the situation, every parent voted in tandem with their children, except one, the editor of the Rochester Courier. As he had with train car segregation in New England, Douglass took this battle to the public, castigating this H.G. Warner in the North Star and other papers, and all those like him in front of the the School Board of Education.

The site, now a parking lot, of the Douglass home at 4 Alexander St, Rochester NY, 2016 Amy Cools

The site, now a parking lot next to a restaurant, of the Douglass family home at 4 Alexander St, Rochester NY

In his vigorous expose of the injustice and harm in such undignified treatment of children, Douglass’ campaign to integrate the public schools in Rochester was ultimately successful: the public schools were integrated in 1857. This was a century before Brown vs. Board of Education! Though Douglass’ campaign here was successful, the principle that all children should receive fair and equal treatment in America’s schools was not to be enshrined in law in most of the United States for over a century. Hate can certainly be intransigent.

Douglass home at 4 Alexander St in later incarnation as a shop, image Rochester Public Library Local History

The Douglass family home at 4 Alexander St in a later incarnation as Vogue Furniture shop, image c. 1936, credit Rochester Public Library Local History Division. The building was torn down in 1954.

Just a little farther north at 297 Alexander St, close enough for little Rosetta to have walked to Seward Seminary without breaking a sweat, there’s now a parking lot next to a restaurant simply called ‘Mex’. There’s nothing indicating this as the site where the Douglass family moved into their first house here in Rochester in April 1848, at what was then 4 Alexander St. It took some time for the Douglasses to find a house to buy in Rochester; Douglass’ family had followed him here in February and boarded until a local abolitionist sold them the 9 room brick house that once stood on this spot. By 1850, Douglass had became the leader of Rochester’s Underground Railroad, which was among the work he was most proud of, and this house became one of the most important stops. Rochester was one of the last way stations on the way to Canada. Since the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, even the northern states had become too dangerous for escaped slaves to remain in, so many chose to press farther north in their quest for freedom.

Paganini's Violin at the Municipal Palace in Genoa, image public domain via Project Gutenberg

Paganini’s Violin at the Municipal Palace in Genoa, image public domain via Project Gutenberg

But it wasn’t all work and no play for Frederick Douglass, even with all his writing, speaking, campaigning for justice for his children, and aiding fugitives from slavery. This house was accumulating a large library for the literary Douglass, and as you may remember, he loved to play the violin. At least one occasion in 1850, he played an impromptu concert for the neighborhood children here in this house. Anna had encouraged him to take up the violin in the early days of their relationship in Fell’s Point, and he never stopped playing. In his Life and Times, he devotes a whole page to the moving experience of seeing Niccolò Paganini’s violin on display in a museum in Genoa, Italy in 1886. Music was very important to the Douglasses: Rosetta would accompany her father on the piano, and Douglass’ love of the violin would continue on in his progeny, which we’ll return to in a later account. 

Thus ends my first day in Rochester New York, but I’ll be here in this area following Douglass’ life and ideas for awhile longer and having many more exciting historical adventures. Stay tuned!

*Listen to the podcast version here or subscribe on iTunes

~ With special thanks to Paige Sloan, who heads and teaches a writing program for international students at the University of Rochester and, like me, is a big Fredrick Douglass fan! She provided me with an additional source for my Corinthian Hall research and a photo I neglected to take.

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

27. Frederick Douglass Newspaper Office‘, The Freethought Trail website

30. Post Home / Western New York Anti-Slavery Society‘, The Freethought Trail website

33. Corinthian Hall / Academy of Music‘, The Freethought Trail website

Colored National Convention (1853 : Rochester, NY), “Proceedings of the Colored National Convention, Held in Rochester, July 6th, 7th, and 8th, 1853.,”

Corinthian Hall (venue)‘, under ‘Charter Inductees’, Rochester Music Hall of Fame website

Cornell, Silas, ‘Map of the City of Rochester‘, 1863. From Rochester Library Digital Collections, Monroe County Library System website.

Death of Frederick Douglass‘. Feb. 21, 1895 obituary, reprinted in the New York Times: On This Day

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.

Douglass, Frederick. “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?”, July 5, 1852. Teaching American History (website)

The Era of Academies in Monroe County‘, From Rochester Library Digital Collections, Monroe County Library System website.

First National Bank of Rochester-Old Monroe County Savings Bank Building. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

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

Fought, Lee. ‘The Musical Douglasses: Rosetta‘. Frederick Douglass’s Women: In Progress blog,

“Let’s Have Tea” by Pepsy M. Kettavong‘, Rochester Public Art Catalog (website)

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

McKelvey, Blake. ‘Historic Antecedents from the Crossroads Project‘. From the Rochester History Journal, Oct 1864, Vol. 26, No. 4.

Many Roads to Freedom: The Underground Railroad in Rochester and Vicinity‘. Article, Rochester Digital Collections, Monroe County Library System website.

Morry, Emily. ‘Frederick Douglass Home on Alexander Street’ and ‘Talman Building‘, Democrat & Chronicle: Retrofitting Rochester series

The North Star: Abolitionist Newspaper Founded By Frederick Douglass‘, Maryland State Archives (website)

O’Keefe, Rose. Frederick and Anna Douglass in Rochester, New York: Their Home Was Open to All
Charleston: The History Press, 2013.

Post House‘, New York Historic website

Quaker Influence‘, National Historical Park New York page of the National Park Service website

Seward Seminary‘ – New York Historical Markers on

Smith, Marcus. ‘Plan of the City of Rochester, N.Y. [Southwest Quadrant]‘ and ‘Southeast Quadrant‘, 1851. From Rochester Digital Collections, Monroe County Library System website.

Southwest Quadrant – Susan B. Anthony‘, article from the City of Rochester website

Interview with Leigh Fought on Anna and Frederick Douglass

Leigh Fought image Le Moyne College, Anna Douglass image Library of CongressI’m pleased and honored to present my third interview guest, Leigh Fought, Anna and Frederick Douglass scholar and assistant professor at LeMoyne College in Syracuse. We’ll be talking about Anna Douglass, about whom I believe too little is known, and most historical presentations of her range from woefully incomplete to inaccurate and even unfair. Ms. Fought is doing significant work in righting this with her upcoming book about the women in the life of Frederick Douglass, the most significant of which, of course, is Anna.

Interview with Leigh Fought, Part One

Interview with Leigh Fought, Part Two

Find out more about Ms. Fought and her work at her blog Frederick Douglass’s Women: In Progressfaculty page for Le Moyne College, and Amazon author page, and here are some other articles and papers she’s written / co-authored; there are many others not available online, please contact the author:

Globalizing Protest in the 1980s: Musicians Collaborate to Change the World‘, The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History

Commentary: Frederick Douglass and Interracial Marriage‘, blog

~ 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!