Friday, September 7, 2012

Two New Books on Frederick Douglass

Two new books are out on Frederick Douglass, each taking a look at different aspects of his life.

First up, L. Diane Barnes's Frederick Douglass: Reformer and Statesman (click on title to order), part of the Routledge Historical Americans series. From the website:
Frederick Douglass was born a slave in Talbot County, Maryland, in February, 1818. From these humble beginnings, Douglass went on to become a world-famous orator, newspaper editor, and champion of the rights of women and African Americans. He was the most prominent African American activist of the 19th century. He remains important in American history because he moved beyond relief at his own personal freedom to dedicating his life to the progress of his race and his country.

This volume offers a short biographical exploration of Douglass' life in the broader context of the 19th century world, and pulls together some of his most important writings on slavery, civil rights, and political issues. Bolstered by the series website, which provides instructors with more images and documents, as well as targeted links to further research, Frederick Douglass: Reformer and Statesman gives the student of American history a fully-rounded glimpse into the world inhabited by this great figure.
I worked with Diane on the Frederick Douglass Papers correspondence series, and she is both a fabulous researcher and writer.

The second book is Frederick Douglass in Washington, D.C.: The Lion of Anacostia, by John Muller (click on title to pre-order) and published by The History Press. From the website:
The remarkable journey of Frederick Douglass from fugitive slave to famed orator and author is well recorded. Yet little has been written about Douglass’s final years in Washington, D.C. Journalist John Muller explores how Douglass spent the last eighteen years of his life professionally and personally in his home, Cedar Hill, in Anacostia. The ever-active Douglass was involved in local politics, from aiding in the early formation of Howard University to editing a groundbreaking newspaper to serving as marshal of the District. During this time, his wife of forty-four years, Anna Murray, passed away, and eighteen months later, he married Helen Pitts, a white woman. Unapologetic for his controversial marriage, Douglass continued his unabashed advocacy for the rights of African Americans and women and his belief in American exceptionalism. Through meticulous research, Muller has created a fresh and intimate portrait of Frederick Douglass of Anacostia.
John is a journalist in D.C. and has combed through previously untapped sources to reconstruct Douglass's life in the nation's capitol, both at home and in the halls of power, in ways that no other biographer has done.

In bypassing a traditional, born-lived-died, biography of Douglass in order to focus on a particular aspect of his life, both Muller and Barnes will enrich understanding of the Big Man's life, providing detail and nuance that can shift perceptions of Douglass with seismic force.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Sir Walter Scott Memorial, Edinburgh

Frederick Douglass to William A. White, Edinburgh, Scotland, 30 July 1846:

"You will perceive that I am now in Edinburgh. It is the capital of Scotland -- and is justly regarded as one of the most beatuful [sic] cities in Urope [sic]. I never saw one with which for beauty elegance and grandeur to compare it. I have not time even had I the ability to describe it. You must come and see it if you visit this country. You will be delighted with it I am sure. The monument to Sir Walter Scott -- on pinces street , is just one conglomeration of architectural beauties.

The Calton Hill -- Salsbury Craggs and Arthur Seat give the city advantages over any City I have ever visited in this or your country.

I enjoy every thing here which may be enjoyed by those of a paler hue -- no distinction here."

I confess that I have wanted to see the Scott monument since I read this letter over a decade ago. I also confess that the main reason that I wanted to see it had nothing to do with Douglass or with Scott or with the architectural wonders of Edinburgh.

No, the main attraction of this monument was this:

Not Scott, but the furry companion next to him.:

Although he said nothing about the inclusion of the faithful companion, Douglass probably had a fondness for the monument that went beyond his own appreciation for Scott's poetry. After all, remember Nellie Grant?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

A "Douglass" in the Jefferson "Family"

It's been a while because it's been a short, busy summer. The book is still moving forward, now with access to more secondary sources. I will be giving a talk on Anna Douglass at Villanova University on September 29, 2012, (that's a Wednesday) at 4 pm, sharing the program with Prof. M. Nzadi Keita, who has written poetry about Anna. Then,  in October, off to Northumbria University for the BrANCH conference where I will give a paper on the Douglass marriage on a panel with the fabulous Angela Murphy, who will be talking about the marriage of Jermain Loguen. More on both as details develop.

Meanwhile, for your amusement, I found this at the Smithsonian Museum of American History in their exhibit on Jefferson's slaves. This is a tree for the enslaved family of Joseph Fossett and Edith Hern, who lived on the Monticello hilltop. Originally, I took this picture because I liked the way that it represented the generations -- much better than the standard tree shape.:

Then, I noticed the grandson there at the bottom of the circle. His name?:

Frederick Douglass Issacs (1851-1904).

As I always joke with my students, all things lead to Frederick Douglass.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Suicide in the Bois de Boulogne: Ottilia Assing's Death

Henry Berg Esq.
President S.P.C.A.
Dear Sir,

It is my painful duty to inform you of the death of our dear friend, Miss Ottilia Assing. She died in Paris on the 21st of August being about to start on a journey to Spain. I have reason to believe that Miss Assing took poison (which she always carried wither) in the Bois de Boulogne where she fell suddenly dead to the ground. The body was taken to the morgue, where it remained sometime for identification. A fortnight after I was notified of it and have taken care that she was suitably buried in the cemetery de la morgue a’ lory. Had I not been timely informed the body would have been delivered to the medical students for dissection.

Miss Assing was suffering from a cancer in the breast and it is supposed that being convinced of the incurableness of the disease she committed suicide in a moment of despondency.

She had in the Post Office Savings Bank here 3000 francs bequeathed to the servants of her defunct sister. I was made executor of the will and have taken steps accordingly. So far I have not succeeded in obtaining possession of her papers and effects she had with her in Paris. Most of these according to the report of the American Consul, Mr. George Walker, appear to have been lost and those left here cosist (?) (consist) of a few trifling ornaments not worth sending to New York. Besides the exportation from Italy of articles “used” is at present prohibited on account of the cholera.

I have received from the American Consul Mr. George Walker, the sum of 1260 francs in cash which Miss Assing had with her. This amount, however, was not sufficient to pay all expenses.

I would, therefore request (1) that the funeral charges (331 francs 50 c) be refunded to me; (2) that provisions be made for placing a plain cross slate, in memory of Miss Assing, on her grave in the cemetery (?) (cemetery) de la Morgue a’ lory pres Paris. (See French receipt)

As agents I can recommend to you Messrs Curtin & Rivoire H rue Beaurepaire in Paris who will furnish the funeral certificate necessary for the opening of the (extrait mortuaire) will you have in hand.

I should not have delayed informing you, dear sir, of the death of our beloved friend had I not hoped to received more papers, documents, valuables etc. from Paris. This hope having vanished I will no longer defer to officially convey to you the mournful intelligence.

I have the honor to be, dear sir,
Your most obedient servant
Rinaldo Kuntzel

Source: Rinaldo Kuntzel to Herman C. Kudlich, Florence, Italy, 27 Oct1884 , copy of a translation, General Correspondence, Frederick Douglass Papers,  Library of Congress.

If you search for Ottilie or Ottilia Assing in Google, you would think that she killed herself because Frederick Douglass had broken her heart by marrying Helen Pitts, another white woman, twenty years their junior. Online sources say this because her biographer, Maria Diedrich, painted a tragically romantic portrait of her despite evidence to the contrary. All sources, which Diedrich cites, say that Assing had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Despite the 21st century image of breast cancer being pink ribbons and survival narratives, the disease is still dreadful and deadly today, even with treatments. Indeed, treatment is still heroic, involving surgery and essentially poisoning the woman just enough to eliminate the cancer without killing the woman. This is progress. In the nineteenth century, radical mastectomy was the only treatment; and, in an age without mammograms or other early detection technologies, by the time surgery took place, the cancer was already in the lymph nodes, coursing throughout her body. If you are curious about how this disease corroded a woman's body, search in Google Images. You would understand the horror. Suicide was a your own merciful exit, even when you had a family, doctors and wealth to take you through the longer death.

This is a late nineteenth century depicting of a mastectomy procedure.:

Assing had no family when she learned of this diagnosis. Sure, she had friends, but they had families or were elderly, none equipped to take on the last months or years of a dying woman's life. Douglass himself was out of the question because he was a man. Men did not do that. Women did, and she did not know the new Mrs. Douglass. This ordeal she faced, she faced alone; and, even had she not been alone, she still faced the ordeal. Suicide allowed her control and dignity in her dying.

This is the Bois de Boulonge, the green strip just below the horizon, as seen from the Arc de Triomphe.:

I anticipated a cultivated park, much like Central Park in New York City; but, really, it is a Bois -- a forest. At least, the part into which I wandered was very wooded, silent but for the distant hum of traffic.:

I have no idea where she died in the park. As  you can see from the map, it sprawls over a large space.:

Park benches were difficult to find, as well. Not that I could say, "here. Here is where she passed her last moments." I just wanted to imagine what she did, where she did it, and what she faced, in order to understand her with more sympathy and accuracy than I have read.

The police gathered her body, unidentified, and took her to the city morgue to lie with the victims of murderers, the indigent who passed away unnoticed and unnamed, and the bloated bodies fished out of the Seine. At the time, the Paris morgue displayed the bodies, unclothed, but with their private parts covered, for people to identify the unknown dead. The procedure became a draw for tourists (Victorians were such ghouls -- says the woman who visits cemeteries on vacation) and the newer morgue building had a design that served that purpose better. It sat on the Ile de Cite, behind Notre Dame and not far from the Prefecture of Police. You can see its location in this image, taken from the Bell Tower of Notre Dame (no, I saw no hunchbacks), down by the point at the end of the bridge, about where the greyish white building stands.:

The site is now part of the memorial for the Jewish deportees from Paris. Assing, incidentally, was also part Jewish, but professed atheism. Perhaps she would have found this use of the space fitting, and would not have minded so much her body being slated for scientific research. Or not.:

I don't know where she is buried. I can find no record of a cemetery on the verge or on the edge of town or for the morgue. I don't even know if Douglass visited her grave. His diary for his journey doesn't include Paris.

So, I leave her here, with this view of her last identified resting place, the site of the morgue and the deportee memorial at night from a boat on the Seine:

Sunday, April 29, 2012

That's The Way They Take Us In: Proto-Marxist Consciousness on the Plantation

For National Poetry Month, a worksong:
We raise the wheat, 
Dey gib us the corn;
We bake de bread,
Dey gib us the curss;
We sif de meal,
Dey gib us de huss;
We peal de mean,
Dey gib us de skin,
And dat's de way
Dey takes us in.
We skim de pot,
Deb gib us the liquor,
And say dat's good enough for a n-----

Walk over! walk over!
Tom butter and de fat:
Poor n----- you can't get over dat;
Walk over!

Douglass recorded this song in his second autobiography, My Bondage and My Freedom, commenting that "This is not a bad summary of the palapable injustice and fraud of slavery, giving -- as it does -- to the lazy and idle, the comforts which God designated should be given solely to the honest laborer." (1855; Yale edition, 2003, p. 144). 

This reminds me of an incident on Louisa McCord's plantation, Lang Syne, in Reconstruction-era South Carolina. McCord's son-in-law Augustus Smthye* had taken over the plantation and decided to raise potatoes. All year long, the former slaves, now tenant laborers, raised the crop of potatoes while Smythe lived in Columbia, SC. At harvest time, Smythe rode out to Lang Syne to divide the potatoes and divy out to the laborers their share. He met with a wall of workers who refused to hand over the crop. They told him that they had done all of the work, and he hadn't a thing to do with it, so the crop was theirs and they would give him his share.

You can imagine that Smythe found this reversal insolant and "uppity." He, a former Confederate South Carolina officer, found the local union officer in charge of the district and demanded assistance in forcing the workers to hand over the crop. The officer told Smythe to put on his Confederate uniform, then the officer, Smythe, and handful of other soldiers all marched to Lang Syne took control of the crop.

The definition of property put forward by the slaves that Douglass recounted in the song and the Lang Syne freedpeople articulated to Smythe was dangerously close to the concept of workers controlling the means of production, and idea put forth by Karl Marx. 

When the slaves singing the song recorded by Douglass became freedpeople almost thirty years later, they found that the land that they once worked was not for sale to them, no matter how much money they had nor how badly the seller needed it.  That's how Reconstruction went -- but then, I hear there is a book about that, published by Bloomsbury press and written by Douglas Egerton, coming out in the summer of 2013.

*Augustus Smythe was the son of Thomas Smyth. When both toured Britain in 1846, Thomas Smyth tried to create a scandal to silence Douglass's critique of southern churches and their support of slavery by accusing Douglass of visiting a brothel in Manchester. Douglass filed suit and Smyth backed off. I wrote a book about Louisa McCord, Smythe's mother-in-law, now I'm writing one about Douglass, thus proving that all things lead to Frederick Douglass.

Images: Wye House plantation, Summer 2009, taken by Leigh Fought.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Brother Perry in Texas

Fred Douglass Rochester N.York

Perry Downs knowing that he is a brother of yours endeavoring to inform you where I am at. I am also a son of Harriet Baileys, Grandson of Elisabeth & Isaac Bailey, Talbert Co. Maryland, Lees Mill Hill near Hillsborough & to show you farther we all used to belong to R. & A. Emteney who was a clerk for Col Lloyd. I want to see a letter which you wrote to sister Alice since that John P. Emteney has sold my wife and for that reason I am in that State. I have found my wife and am still living with her. I am doing pretty well here and get treated pretty well also & I am getting $15.00 gold wages a month.

I have a great desire to see you if it is possible to make arrangements to bring me to you. I am 55 years of age now. Do you recollect the time I brought uncle harry Dons which was the last time I seen you.

I remain truly Brother
Perry Downs.

Clarke & Dowzen
Millecan Tex

Perry Downs was Frederick Douglass's older brother by four years. Douglass did remember Downs, and mentioned him twice in his autobiographies, first as one of the stranger siblings he encountered when his grandmother dropped him at Wye House, and, second, just before the division of the Anthony estate when Andrew Anthony kicked the living daylights out of Downs.

Downs dictated this letter to someone, as you can see by the phonetic spellings and the way that the syntax runs in a stream with little punctuation. The writer, for instance, rendered "Anthony" as "Emteny," suggesting Downs' pronunciation.

Downs verified his identity by recounting specific information that demonstrated a shared history. Anyone who read Douglass's autobiographies knew some of these details, but an unlettered, rural, former slave like Downs probably did not know that his brother had two autobiographies published.

I actually have not done enough research on the specifics of this letter. I'm not sure of Downs's fate after his valuation in 1826. He mentions John P. Anthony, who was the son of Andrew Anthony, suggesting that Andrew must have inherited Perry, who then became the property of John when Andrew died. Yet, he doesn't say that John was his own master, just his wife's. I don't know the identity of Downs's wife. "Sister Alice" could mean "sister Eliza" or a fictive "sister." ("Fictive" not meaning "imaginary" but one of their peers in their community.) Either way, she was someone they both had known. "Uncle Harry" we have seen in the inventory, the possible brother of their grandmother Betsey, who became the property of Richard Anthony. If they last saw one another in connection with Harry, then their last meeting took place in late 1826 or early 1827, forty years earlier.

By the way, I originally thought that "Millecan" was also a phonetic spelling. So I used the trusty Google maps to see if anything similar appeared in the county. Take a look:

Millican lies between Prairie View and College Station -- real, "separate but equal," aggie territory.

The answers to some of the questions might lie in the court records of Brazos County, Texas. I would suggest that as a research paper to a student if I still taught in east Texas.

By the way, Texas has a town called "Paris," up toward Dallas. You may have seen the movie. Maybe not (I haven't). Anyway, that bit of information is apropos of nothing except that, at the time you read this post, this Douglass scholar will be in the other Paris. You know. The one in France. Rest assured, I will be looking for Ottilie Assing's grave, the Bois de Boulogne where she committed suicide, and the location of the Paris morgue, which was located conveniently next to Notre Dame. Postings to follow, if there is anything to see -- and evenif there is not.

Source: Perry Downs to Frederick Douglass ("copied from original letter"), Millican, Brazos County, Texas, 21 Feb 1867, Frederick Douglass Collection, Manuscripts Division, Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Valuation and Division; or, Where is Perry?

Much of Douglass's genealogy appears in two documents that I have mentioned before. The first is the December 19, 1826, valuation list of the slaves in Aaron Anthony's estate. The second is the distribution list, dated September 17, 1827, showing the division of Douglass's extended family among the three Anthony heirs, Richard Anthony, Andrew Anthony, and Lucretia [Anthony] Auld's widower Thomas Auld.

Recently, I noticed details between these lists that literally did not add up. Perhaps because this involves math, I'm having difficulty puzzling it all out.

Here is the valuation list giving the name, age, and value of each of the family members:
  1. Betty, 53 - $20
  2. Harry, 40 - $275
  3. Kate, 38 - $60
  4. Milly, 37 - $100
  5. Betty, 26 - $200
  6. Arianna, 25 - $200
  7. Mary, 22 - $200
  8. Hester and child, 17 - $220 [my guess: $200 for her and $20 for the child]
  9. Perry, 14 - $160
  10. Jerry, 14 - $180
  11. Sarah, 13 - $135
  12. Tom, 13 - $160
  13. Phill, 12 - $150
  14. Eliza, 11 - $120
  15. Prissa, 11 - $120
  16. Henny, 11 - $50
  17. Frederick, 9 - $110 (marginal note on document: "later known as Fredk Douglass")
  18. Nancy, 9 - $90
  19. Henry, 7 - $85
  20. Kitty, 7 - $70
  21. Stephen, 8 - $100
  22. William, 5 - $75
  23. Arianna, 5 - $5
  24. Caroline, 2 - $25
  25. Angelina, 2 - $25
  26. Maria, 1 - $20
  27. Harriott, 1 - $10
  28. Charles, 5 - $70
  29. Tom, 2 - $30

Neither this list nor the distribution list give any clues to the relationships among these slaves, although other documents do.

Here is the distribution, with each heir receiving slave property valued at $935. I've added in their ages and values:

Andrew S. Anthony:
  1. Betty, 53 = $20
  2. Young Betty, 26 = $200
  3. Stephen, 8 = $100
  4. Angelina, 2 = $25
  5. Jerry, 14 = $180
  6. Sarah, 13 = $130
  7. Kitty, 7 = $70
  8. Little Arianna, 5 = $5
  9. Caroline, 2 = $25
Total: $755 -- $180 short of $935

Thomas Auld:
  1. Negro Milly, 37 = $100; and infant [not identified, apparently included in her valuation]
  2. Tom, 13 = $160
  3. Nancy, 9 = $90
  4. Henny, 11 = $50
  5. Harriott, 1 = $10
  6. Frederic, 9 = $110
  7. William, 5 = $75
  8. Hester and child, 17 and [unknown] = $220
  9. Eliza, 11 = $120
Total: $935 - matches with the total on the division

Richard Anthony:
  1. Arianna, 25 = $200
  2. Maria, 1 = $20
  3. Harry, 40 = $275
  4. Prissa, 11 = $120
  5. Kate and child, 35 and [unknown] = $60
  6. Phill, 12 = $150
  7. Henry, 7 = $85
Total: $910 - $25 short of $935

Notice that Charles, Frederick's brother Perry, Mary, and the 2 year old Tom do not appear in the division. At first I thought that Mary may have been Maria, but at $200, she puts that group over $935. I thought perhaps that the 2-year old Tom might be included as Kate's child. At $30 he fits, but put them over by $5. I also thought that Charles or Tom might be Hester's child, but Auld's list adds up, and her child was included with her on the valuation list, while Charles and Tom were valued separately.

So, what am I missing? What are the documents missing?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Ella D. Barrier: White, Black, or Mulatto?

In reconstructing the life of Frederick Douglass as it intersected with women -- or even in reconstructing the less "important" and famous parts of his life, the paparazzi types of information -- I often find myself chasing down details that sometimes become important, sometimes become unimportant, and sometimes illustrate interesting tidbits about life in 19th century America.

Writing to her father in the 1870s, Rosetta Douglass Sprague mentioned several women, including  "Miss Barrier." From this letter I knew that Barrier was unmarried and that she lived somewhere around Rochester. Scanty enough details but they can sometimes take you pretty far in (seriously, the best investment I ever made for research). To narrow the search, I guesstimated her age about 20, since Rosetta called her "Miss" and I could assume that the number of of women designated "Miss" declined rapidly as they aged. I've been wrong there before, finding that Miss Julia Wilbur had about two more decades on her than I anticipated -- but that's another story for another time.

These are the results for a search including "Barrier," "Monroe County, New York, USA," and birth year 1850.:

1860 U.S. Census, Sweden, Monroe County, New York:

Here we see (or could see if we could enlarge the image)the household of Anthony Barrier, a 34-year old barber born in Pennsylvania, with a total estimated $2,500 worth of property. With him live Harriet, age 25; George, age 11; Ellen, age 9; Frances, age 6; [illegible -- and I've tried very hard to lege -- maybe Pesmilie]Prince , age 24; and Alfred L. and Susan [Hombalk]. Prince was a servant, possibly the Barrier's. The [Hombalks] appear to be boarders, with Alfred also working as a barber. If the children belong to both Anthony and Harriet, then Harriet began having babies at age 14. While not entirely unusual, motherhood at 14 meant Harriet started awfully young. Perhaps she appeared younger than she was to the Census taker. Certainly Anna Douglass's age varied wildly in the census for such a reason.

In any case, the column labeled "Race" interested me. The census taker designated all as "M" -- Mulatto. The reason that their race interested me? Well, first, I am desperately trying to reconstruct the black women who worked around Douglass. Most of the abolitionist women seem to be white and I have to work harder to find his associations with black women. Second, I had actually encountered the next document first.

1870 U.S. Census, Sweden, Monroe County, New York:

Same place, slightly different household composition. Anthony Barrier, now 46 and still a barber born in Pennsylvania, has a net worth of $4000. Harriet, now 36, still keeps house. George has become "Gio" (the abbreviation for George was "Geo"). Now 20-years old, Gio works as a barber like his father. Ella, 18, attends school, making her quite well-educated for a young, black woman of her time. Francis, called "Fanny," two years younger than Ella, also attends school. Nothing unusual, right?

Except, if you look at the race column, the census taker identified them as "W" -- white.

So, did the Barriers "pass"? That is, were they so light that they could pass for white? More importantly, did they try to pass?

Ella being my primary focus, I followed her into 1880:

1880 U.S. Census, Washington, D.C. (Massachusetts Avenue):

Ella has moved to Washington, D.C., putting her education to use as a teacher. She, now age 28, and her sister Fanny live in the household of Henry Tilghman, a 70-year old caterer from Maryland. The Tilghman family includes Henry's wife, Margaret, and daughters, Jerusha and Amelia, a dressmaker and teacher respectively. They also have a servant, Lilly Cross.

Tilghman, by the way, was a common last name in Talbot County, Douglass's birthplace.

In this case, the census taker identified all but Cross as "M." Cross was "B."

Damn fire for taking the 1890 census!

In 1900, however, I came across this little anomaly:

1900 U.S. Census, Washington, D.C. (17th Street):

Here I've found Ella D. Barrier. Ella in 1870 has a middle initial "D," but the age of the other Ellas all place her birth about 1852. This Ella, also from New York and also a teacher, says she was born in February 1860. Her passport application says the same thing, and also placed her birth place more specifically in Brockport, NY. (If you look back up at the link to Sweden, New York, you might notice that Sweden encompasses Brockport.) An 8 year difference seems significant, if not unheard of (again, Anna Douglass had a wide range of ages). Still, a consistent age for three censuses, then she shaves off 8 years?

Here, too, she lives with four other teachers and two students, all from North Carolina, as well as a dressmaker from Virginia. They or the census taker all identified as "B" -- black.

The head of this household of educated black women and their domestic? Anna J. Cooper. That is, Anna Julia Cooper, former slave, Sorbonne-educated professor and activist.

What does this all mean? Right now, I have no idea, and this exemplifies the ways that I range far afield from my primary research focus and book narrative. Nonetheless, this ranging produce an "ah-hah!" insight.

As I wrote above, I'm having a difficult time pulling together Douglass's interactions with black women. The earlier, abolitionist period of his life and the familial relationships have preoccupied my attention thus far. My weakness lies in the later, public part of his life. From the Civil War onward, from the rhetoric of manhood in recruiting black soldiers to the patronage positions awarded him, he moved in a much more masculine world than the one of his early career. Sure, he tangles with the suffragists over the 15th Amendment, and supports woman's suffrage afterward; but I think he gets too much credit for being a "woman's rights man." He certainly is not as analytical about women's issues as he is about African American issues.

Then, again, I'm hampered by the old "all the women are white and all the blacks are men." Where are the brave ones?

They are teaching. In this latter period of his life, the woman's suffrage is not the only place where he interacts with women. Black education, the cornerstone for a better future for African Americans, the bedrock of his own sense of self since Sophia Auld taught him the alphabet, black education was the field in which he and women, black women, worked together. How could I be so blind?

At least, for now, this has become my hypothesis. As in science, I must now test it with evidence.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

National Poetry Month: "Beyond the Fog," by Langston Hughes

To Perry Jones, young pioneer of the air

Beyond the fog
There is no mist at all:
Only the great heart of God
Where children never fall.

Beyond the fog no mortal flight,
No mortal danger there:
Only ever-shining space
And vast eternal air.

So do not grieve for one who soars
On everlasting wings
Into the heart of sun and stars
And all immortal things.

O, let there be not mist of tears---
But only eyes of joy
To follow ever the spirit flight
Of this immortal boy.
---Langston Hughes
Kansas City, Missouri
March 16, 1932

What does this have to do with Frederick Douglass? Thomas Perry Jones was his grandson. Jones's parents were Dr. Thomas A. Jones and Rosabella M. Sprague. Rosabella Sprague was the daughter of Nathan Sprague and Rosetta Douglass. Rosetta Douglass was the daughter of Anna Murray and Fredrick Douglass.

According to a biographical sketch written in his memory, the name Perry came from the Perry Sanitarium where his father worked and he was born. Maybe that was coincidence because Perry was also the name of Frederick Douglass's brother, whom Rosetta met when he lived with the Douglasses for a time in Rochester after the Civil War. The memorial oddly did not make the connection between his mother and his great-grandfather.

What of all of the imagery of flight in the poem? Hughes did not simply invoke a metaphor. Perry Jones was a pilot, one of the few black pilots of the 1920s and 1930s. Born in 1911, he came into flight about a decade after the earliest pioneers like Bessie Coleman. A crash in 1931 cut short his career and his life.

Source: Jones, Thomas Perry, “Beyond the Fog” by Langston Hughes,Box 28-4, Folder 100, Frederick Douglass Collection, Manuscripts Division, Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University.

Saturday, April 14, 2012


Here are a couple of oddities

Frederick had a younger sister named Arianna, born around October 1822, four years after himself, two years after the sister between them, and three years before their youngest sister. He also had a cousin named Arianna, who was about a decade younger than his mother.*

In late 1826 or early 1827, Lucretia Auld gave birth to a little girl. The little girl was named Arianna.

Lucretia, as you may remember, was the daughter of Aaron Anthony, Frederick's first master, and the wife of Thomas Auld, Frederick's second master.

Slave babies sometimes received the names of members of the white family, but the reverse seems unusual. So, how to account for a baby in the white family being given the same name as a slave baby?  A popular name? Since masters could exercise control of the naming of slave babies, was Arianna a favorite name of Anthony, so he gave the name to the eldest Arianna and his grandchild, with Frederick's sister being named for her cousin? Was this a name in the Skinner family -- the family of Anthony's wife -- that I have not yet discovered?

Both enslaved Ariannas appear on the Anthony inventory and division documents, the elder Arianna valued at $200 and the younger at $5. The other women of Arianna the elder's age received the same appraisal. Arianna the younger, however, was appraised $70 lower than two of other five year olds and $65 lower than yet another five-year old on the list, $25 lower than the two year-old boy and $20 lower than each of the two-year old girls, $15 lower than one of the one-year olds, and even $5 lower than her younger, one year old sister. In other words, what about her made her so unattractive to the appraisers and at such an early age?

In the division of the Anthony estate, the elder Arianna went to Richard Anthony and the younger Arianna went to Andrew Anthony, whom Frederick dreaded for his intemperance

*I'm actually uncertain of the exact relationship, and have to get back to the U.S. to look at the Dodge Collection with greater precision. Dickson Preston did not go that wide in his genealogy tables in Young Frederick Douglass. Right now, I think she was probably sister to Katy, the cook, since their parents comprised one of the two families included in Ann Skinner Anthony's dowry.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Quibbling With Details: Helen Pitts Seems Not To Have Worked at Hampton

Helen Pitts had a career long before she took advantage of the patronage system and went to work for her uncle's neighbor in the Recorder of Deeds office. Like many genteel and educated young ladies, both black and white, she became a teacher. The advent of the Civil War allowed her to put both her education and her reform impulse to work by joining the American Missionary Association in educating newly freed African Americans in the south.

All primary sources -- that is, the AMA records and her alumna file at Mt. Holyoke College -- say that she went to Norfolk, Virginia, in 1863 and remained there until 1864. Disease ran rampant, and she fell to typhoid or some similar infection. She convalesced through the following year back at her home in Honeoye, New York, south of Rochester.

If you look in Douglass's biographies, you find very little written about her until the past 20 years. In the more recent books, you find her mentioned, but, outside of a quite good and well-documented 1995 Shippensburg dissertation by Julie R. Nelson, most Douglass biographers have expressed little curiosity about her as a living person and an actor in Douglass's life. (This was one of the factors that led me to conceive of this book in the first place.) Lack of curiosity often leads to the repetition of unverified information, and I came across this in piecing together Pitts's life.

As an aside to the uninitiated: historians will look at secondary sources -- books written by other historians -- in order to see what those other historians say about a subject, to gain some insight into the subject, and to find clues pointing toward primary sources -- contemporary records documenting the events in question. As a rule, it is best to cite the secondary sources in matters of interpretation and only the primary sources for points of fact. Otherwise, you must place trust in someone else's reading of those primary documents and that is not always the wisest thing to do. This is a case in point.

William McFeely, in his well-written but weakly-researched biography Frederick Douglass, wrote, "In the 1860s, following the Civil War, Helen Pitts taught at Hampton Institute, later Booker T. Washington's alma mater. Ill-health, perhaps coupled with discouragement, sent her back to Honeoye, where she remained for several years." [p. 310] Maria Diedrich, in her extremely flawed Love Across Color Lines, wrote, "She was a well-educated woman who had graduated from Mount Holyoke Seminary in 1857 and had taught at Hampton Institute." (Actually, Pitts began in 1857 and graduated in 1859 -- but that's not the detail about which I am quibbling right now.) Diedrich cites MeFeely for that information, as does about every website mentioning Pitts, and McFeely has no source. That alone should be cause for consternation.

Hampton Institute was formed by the American Missionary Association, for whom Pitts did work as a teacher; but the Institute did not open until 1868, four years after she left Virginia. I don't have clear documentation for Helen's whereabouts between 1866 and her arrival in Washington, D.C., a decade later, so I wondered if this were true. McFeely's narrative resembles that of her experience in Norfolk, and he fails to mention Norfolk at all, so maybe he got his sources mixed up, or maybe he thought that, because she worked for the AMA and the AMA opened Hampton, then she must have taught at Hampton (hence his avoidance of specific dates). Maybe she worked in Norfolk, but after she recovered and after the war, she went back into the classroom, this time at Hampton. That could be an interesting layer to the story, and certainly Hampton might like that connection, as well.

So, I contacted Hampton University's archives. They responded with great efficiency. Not only did the school not open until after the period in which Pitts taught for the AMA, but the school has no record of her attending or teaching at the school. So, no connection with Hampton.

Still, her story will be fascinating to write because, aside from Nelson, Pitts only appears in conjunction with the death of Anna Douglass, the suicide of Ottilie Assing (the fallacy of the last is for another post), and the controversy that her interracial marriage caused. Like I said, no one but Nelson has attempted to understand her and she held a complicated place in Douglass's life, both while he was living and in commemorating him after he had died.

Image source: National Parks Service,

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Jenny, Hester, Harriet, and Maryann

Remember Jenny and Noah? I have another suspicion about the motivation for their escape.

Between 1825 and 1826, a series of events happened to women in Douglass's autobiographies. First, Harriet Bailey, Douglass's mother, most likely gave birth to her final child, also named Harriet, and then died. Second, their master, Aaron Anthony, beat Frederick's teen aged cousin Hester (aka Esther)to a bloody pulp because she favored a young slave, Ned Roberts. She also gave birth to a child. Third, Jenny and Noah escaped. Fourth, Douglass's aunt Maryann, cousin Betty (daughter of his Aunt Milly), and both of Jenny and Noah's children were sold to slave traders. Only the escape and sale have precise dates. The valuation document from December 1826 and Douglass's sequencing in his narratives allow an estimation of the other dates. The three events may have no direct relationship to one another, but I wonder if they do.

First of all, I believe that Aaron Anthony did father all of Harriet Bailey's children. At least, I believe that he is the most likely of the known candidates for the position since he had the most constant and complete access to her throughout her childbearing. If that was true, then when Bailey died, the widowed Anthony found himself without an outlet for his sexual urges. Of his property, the sexually mature women included Betsy Bailey (age 51, a grandmother of 19 children); Aunt Katy (about age 35, mother of three); Harriet's older sister Milly (age 37, mother of six); Harriet's younger sisters Jenny (of the runaway ad, age 26 mother of three), Betty (age 24, mother of two), Maryann (of the sale, age 19, no children), and Hester (about age 15, no children).

Douglass makes clear, in his Victorian way, that he believed that Anthony beat Hester because she refused his sexual advances. He probably did not understand that at the time, being only about seven years old; and most studies on the subject have found that enslaved adults did all that they could to keep enslaved children relatively ignorant of sex. At the time, the incident made beating a reality rather than a rumor, something that he witnessed in all its savagery rather than something heard about from others. Later, he put together the beating with the ways that masters sexually exploited their female slaves.

Thus, Harriet, the former concubine had died or lay at death's door, and Anthony turned to the next sexually mature, although quite young, woman on his property to replace Harriet. She resisted, having chosen Ned Roberts for her husband, and Anthony beat her in retaliation.

Originally, I had argued that, without children, Hester was the most likely choice as Harriet's replacement because she had no children and Anthony might see no reason to interfere in an already existing liaison that resulted in children such as Jenny's with Noah. Furthermore, my formulation assumed that Hester's beating took place before Jenny ran away and after Maryann's sale.

Maybe I am wrong about that. Maybe all of the women suspected that he would come after any of them when Harriet died? Maybe that was part of the impetus for Jenny and Noah to run away? Maybe Anthony went after Maryann and she resisted, which put her on the auction block? Maybe I am right about that, and he went after both Maryann and Hester, but only them, beat one into submission and sold the other as a threat? There are so many possibilities, none of which have any evidence to make it more plausible than any other -- even in the context of other studies. I'm also making the assumption that Anthony was essentially monogamous in his exploitation of slaves (if not in his marriage).

Still, I think there is something to all of these events occurring in the span of 12-18 months. I just don't have the information to investigate any of it any further than speculation -- not even very well-informed speculation.

What I do see is the fragility of these women's lives, and the range of experiences and responses to that fragility. One bore seven children to her master, with no real option to choose any other father for her children once Anthony had settled on her. One was beaten for refusal. One was sold away from her cousins, sisters, mother and friends, whether or not that was for refusal seems almost beside the point in the sum of her experience. Another ran away, leaving behind two children and the grave of a third. Then, Betsey Bailey, mother to all four women, grandmother to the dead and sold babies, nursemaid to all, for all of the respect accorded to her, could do nothing to mitigate any of this.

Whatever their responses to the conditions of their lives, they had no control over the most basic interactions in their most intimate relationships. Any choices that they had were often between bad and just as bad. The way that Anthony ordered their universe, he forced them to participate in the perpetuation of slavery through their bodies and through their children, both labor as work and labor as childbearing, through child rearing and child abandoning. To begin comprehending Douglass's private life with women -- his marriage, any extramarital liaison that a historian might consider, his daughter and her marriage -- a historian must begin with his Douglass's understanding of this.

In fact, the key to understanding his perception of women and their rights has a connection to this, as well. I just haven't figured out exactly how, yet.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Brown Street, Cork

In October 1845, Douglass went to Cork, Ireland, where he stayed with the Jennings family. The Jenningses lived on Brown Street, which you can see highlighted on this 1830s ordinance survey map:

The map doesn't identify the street as "Brown Street," but you can see the same street labeled as such on this later map from the 1860s:

Also, not the Father Mathew statue labeled on the right side of the image. The train lines don't run along there today, but the statue still stands:

Unlike the his statue on O'Connell Street in Dublin, this one still has all of its fingers. Douglass actually met Mathew on his Irish tour, but he met him in Dublin, not Cork.

As for Brown Street in Cork today, I'm not certain but I think this is it:

That is a loading dock for the shopping center that stands on the block today. This is a picture of the block from the corner of Coal Quay and Market Street, taken in February 2012 (last month):

With the possible exception of the building on the far right, one can probably safely assume that the block did not resemble this image in any way, shape or form when Douglass visited. There are, however, three bookstores on that block. Of that, he would have approved.


Saturday, April 7, 2012

Where Was Douglass Between 1826 and 1827?

In spring 1826, Frederick sailed to Baltimore to live with Hugh and Sophia Auld as a babysitter or nanny to their two-year-old son Thomas. In the fall, Aaron Anthony, Lucretia's father and Frederick's master, died at Lucretia and Thomas Auld’s home in Hillsboro, Talbot County, not too far from where Douglass had lived as a very small child.

Between Anthony’s death in November and the inventory of his estate in December, Frederick returned to Talbot County for appraisal as part of Anthony’s estate. The list showing the valuation of Frederick and his family, the people owned by Anthony, bears the date 26 December 1826. The list demonstrating the division of the people to the three heirs bears the date 27 Sept 1827. In July 1827, Lucretia died.

In his accounts, Douglass wrote that he learned of Lucretia’s death only after he returned to Baltimore. His most recent biographers express perplexity as to the reason he would not have known of her death, since, they presume, he would have been there in the county at the time. William McFeely posits that no one told Frederick about Lucretia's death until later, clearly assuming that Frederick did not see her at all during his time back in the country. All appear to believe that Douglass arrived in Talbot County shortly before the valuation document was created and left after the division document was drawn up.

Douglass himself did not clearly depict what happened during this process. He told of returning to Talbot County. He explained the valuation and, on the heels of that explanation, told of his family’s fears of the division. In reading his autobiographies, an audience could imagine that all of the slaves were, as William McFeely described in Frederick Douglass, gathered in one place on one day, lined up, appraised like livestock, and then separated into various groups and led off to their new masters.

The dates of the documents, however, suggest that both took place at vastly different times, nearly a year apart. Douglass revealed very little about what actually happened at the valuation and division. For instance, although he worried about his grandmother’s fate, he wrote nothing of seeing her. The only relative he specifically noted as encountering was his older brother Perry. He also said nothing specifically of meeting his potential masters or mistress, with the exception of Andrew Anthony, whom he described as beating and kicking Perry in the head then threatening to do the same to Frederick.* The autobiographies served as abolitionist propaganda, meant to describe the violence done to slave bodies, families, and communities, so his description of this episode steps away from the strictly personal to describe a process in general. So, his depiction eliminated the intimacy of his experience in order to focus upon the reduction of humans to property and the violation of kinship ties as a result.

What actually happened, then? My hypothesis is this. Anthony died and his executors called all of his slave property to Talbot County for appraisal. Most of Frederick’s kin seems to have lived within the county on Anthony’s farms or hired out, so the appraisers could go to see them easily and estimate their price on the slave market. Baltimore was probably too far, so they called him back. Once the estate managers had fixed his dollar value -- $110 in 1826, or $2092.15 in 2010 – they had no reason to keep him about since the division itself would first take place on paper and the new masters would decide where to move their new property, if they so chose.

Furthermore, if any cash changed hands for Frederick’s services in Baltimore, he seems to have been oblivious to the transaction; but, if his work brought his master an income, then whether or not he became the property of Thomas Auld or one of Lucretia’s brothers, any time he spent away from Baltimore or not working in some capacity was lost income for the estate. If he was not earning his master an income, he at least was not eating his master’s food or costing his master anything for his upkeep, all of which fell to Hugh Auld, as far as seems reasonable. Therefore, keeping Frederick in the country, doing nothing in particular that he mentioned, was not a prudent financial decision.

More likely, Frederick arrived in Talbot County, was appraised, and then was sent back, all lasting a total of a few weeks – which he stated was the length of the duration of his trip. Even if the trip lasted as long as the six months that he said it felt, he would have returned in May or June, before Lucretia’s death in July. Thus, he actually did only learn of her death after the fact.

*Perry, incidentally, was probably inherited by Andrew since he was later inherited by Andrew’s son, Joseph. When I checked on this bit of information for this post, I realized that Perry did not appear on the division list, nor did one or two other men listed in the valuation list. Now, I have some questions for those documents, and will have to analyze them a bit more rigorously. On first glance, they seem to include only the women, older men, and children; but I may be wrong. In any case, why isn't Perry on that list?

Image: Illustration from My Bondage and My Freedom (1855):

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Lucretia Auld and Frederick Bailey/Douglass

Douglass treated Lucretia Auld very well in his autobiographies. When a cousin wounded him in the forehead, leaving the permanent scar above the bridge of his nose that added to the intensity of his gaze in photographs, Lucretia bound him up. When he grew hungry, he discovered that, if he sang under her window, she would give him bread. She gave him his first pair of pants for his trip to Baltimore to stay with her in-laws, Hugh and Sophia Auld. He contrasted Lucretia with Aunt Katy, the cook in the kitchen, who was his grandmother's niece. Katy, roughly his own mothers age (and mistakenly referred to as "Katy Emblem" in some secondary sources), he described as starving and otherwise abusing him.

Some historians have overblown Lucretia's kindness by misunderstanding Douglass's account. They portray Lucretia as interceding for little Frederick. Yet, Frederick never specifically said that she did that. She just bound his bleeding head once, and gave him bread when he entertained her. Sending him to Baltimore had little to do with saving him from Katy or anyone else.

Historians also make much of his alleged special treatment at her hands, but they fail to take into account that he described his own experiences without the context of the other children around him. They attribute this alleged special treatment to their alleged kinship as half-siblings and to Frederick's supposed obvious exceptionalism. No evidence exists to suggest that the kinship would have made her treat him specially, especially if she did not treat his siblings -- who would also have been her half-siblings -- with the same consideration. In fact, he himself suggested that kinship might mean worse treatment when he told the tale of the planter Edward Lloyd's enslaved son whose white brother send him to the auction block. The exceptionalism too comes from Douglass's portrayal of himself in isolation and from biographers' tendency to see backward in time, attempting to pinpoint brilliance at an early age in order to explain the genius as an adult.

Frederick's "special" treatment may simply have been a result of being in the right place at the right time. Sure, he was smart in figuring out a way to manipulate Lucretia to feed him, but she probably just thought he was cute and amusing. When her sister-in-law, expecting a new baby, wanted a young boy to keep watch on her two-year-old son, Lucretia looked out her window and saw an older boy, who had a little cultivation through his association with David Lloyd (another white son of the planter Edward Lloyd), could entertain, and was approaching the age in which he would be sent somewhere for some purpose. Why not send him? Frederick's cousin Henny was probably sent to Baltimore a few years later for the same purpose. Her story did not end so well, but that is for another time.

Meanwhile, Lucretia, from her mother's death, oversaw the home in which both Frederick and Aunt Katy lived. Katy seemed to have had charge of the children sent to live in the kitchen, all between the ages of six and nine, but Lucretia was in charge of Katy. That would mean that the rations given to Katy to feed the children came from Lucretia. Lucretia, as mistress of the house, had the power to intercede and ensure that the children were fed more, if she so chose. She did not.

Illustration from Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1882) depicting Harriet Bailey, his mother, defending him against Aunt Katy.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Obituary for Thomas Auld in the Baltimore Sun, Feb. 12, 1880

Funeral of an Old Marylander -- The funeral of Capt. Thomas Auld, who died near St. Michael's on Sunday last, as stated in t THE SUN, took place yesterday. he was buried by the side of his first wife, who was a Miss Anthony, and in whose right Capt. Auld was some time the owner of Frederick Douglass. Several of the grandchildren of Capt. Auld, daughters of Mr. John L. Sayers, who live in this city, attended the funeral. Capt. Auld was 84 years old, a native of Talbot county, and for many years commanded the Easton packet-boat, running between that place and Baltimore city.. Subsequently he was engaged in farming, and at the time of his death resided with his son-in-law, Mr. John C. Harper. Captain Auld leaves also a daughter living in Texas, Mrs. Wm. Bruff. He was married four times and survived all of his wives, whose maiden names were Miss Lucretia Anthony, Miss Hamilton, Miss Annie Harper and Miss Lucretia Thompson. When he married his last wife Captain Auld was over seventy years of age. He also has a nephew in this city, Lieut. B.F. Auld, of the Baltimore police force. The father of Lieut. Auld, Mr. Hugh Auld, held a bill of sale from his brother, Capt. Auld, for Fred. Douglass, (or Bailey, as he was named when owned by that family,) and when the purchase money was paid for the freedom of Douglass, some time after his escape, it was sheared equally between the two brothers. The father of Capt. Auld was in command of the American troops in Talbot county during the war of 1812, and when the British forces went to land at Bayside, the two youths, Thomas and Hugh, were employed to give intelligence of their movements. Capt. Auld was widely known and greatly respected throughout the county in which he lived.
Thomas Auld may be one of the few former slaveholders whose obituary named one of his former slaves and indicates that he, the owner, was renowned for owning that particular slave.

In 1826, Lucretia Auld inherited part of the extended Bailey family upon the death of her father, Aaron Anthony. The part of the family included Frederick, his older sister Eliza, his aunts Milly and Hester, several cousins, and a baby who was probably his youngest sister, Harriet, only about a year old. Their value totaled $935.00 -- that's $17,783.30 in 2010 dollar amounts. Lucretia died in July 1827. Her husband, Thomas Auld, inherited her property and thereby became the master. In 1828, he married Rowena Hambleton -- not "Hamilton." Both Lucretia and Rowena appeared in his autobiographies, one very favorably and one less so.

Lieutenant B.F. Auld was Benjamin Franklin Auld, son of Hugh and Sophia Auld. He did not appear in Douglass's autobiographies but was born in 1828, during the time that Douglass lived in the Auld household in Baltimore. He and Douglass corresponded in later decades, Douglass asking him for details of the Aulds' fates and of his own childhood.

Mr. John L. Sears -- not "Sayers" -- married Arianna Amanda Auld, daughter of Lucretia and Thomas Auld. Douglass visited Arianna Sears in 1859 when she lived in Philadelphia, just before he learned of the failure of John Brown's raid at Harpers Ferry, which forced him to leave a bit early and much more clandestinely than planned for an English tour. He also visited her again on her deathbed. Neither seemed to have cared for Rowena Auld, who died in the 1840s.

Mrs. William Bruff, as far as I can tell, was Louisa Auld Bruff, the daughter of Thomas and Rowena. In the 1880s, she offered to sell her St. Michael's home to Douglass for a somewhat inflated price. He seems to have declined the offer. Instead, he later bought a summer home in the black middle class community, Highland Beach.

The father of Hugh and Thomas -- and Arian, Edward, Zepporah, Willison, Washington, Sarah and Haddaway -- was Hugh Auld, Sr. He was in the militia in Talbot County during the War of 1812. He also appears to have owned slaves for a period of time in the first decade of the 1800s, but did not keep them. Dickson Preston says that he freed them, but gave no source for that information.  He also says that the land owned by the Auld, Sr., was sold by him to Thomas Kemp (no relation to my grandfather, as far as I know, whose ancestors were in southern Mississippi at the time), but the documents that he cites near that statement say that the property was sold at a Sheriff's Sale on the order of Auld's creditors.  The Aulds with which I am concerned, both Hughs and Thomas, as well as an Edward (probably the brother of the older Hugh), were all involved in maritime trade on the Chesapeake -- the packets from Baltimore to Talbot County -- and in shipbuilding.

I've been trying to piece all of this together in the past week because there is more to Lucretia, Sophia, and Rowena Auld than Douglass himself let on or his biographers have investigated.

Image of Thomas Auld from
Dickson J. Preston,Young Frederick Douglass, the Maryland Years
(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980), 109.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A Curiosity From the Baltimore Sun, June 6, 1843

AN OUTRAGE -- The Boston Post says that George Latimer and Frederick Douglass, formerly slaves, and Charles Lennox Redmond, a negro citizen of Salem, are on the committee appointed to wait on President Tyler, during his visit to Boston, to request him to emancipate his slaves. It is to be hoped that the Bostonians will allow no such outrage to be perpetrated.

This is not a particularly interesting news item. George Latimer and Frederick Douglass were, indeed formerly slaves. In fact, by law, Douglass himself was still a slave since the U.S. Constitution protected masters' ownership in their slave property through the Fugitive Slave Clause. Charles Lennox Remond -- not "Redmond" -- was probably more famous than Douglass at this point, being the premier black abolitionist speaker. Tyler did not bring any of his slaves to Boston in order to avoid just such a confrontation.

Note the date of the item: June 6, 1843. Note also the location of the publication: Baltimore, Maryland. Douglass had run away from that city only four years and nine months earlier (almost to the day). He did not published his Narrative, in which he identified details of his life as a slave, until May 1845, almost two years after this item appeared in the Sun. Do you think that the editors of the Sun yet knew that he had been Frederick Bailey, the enslaved caulker living in ship carpenter Hugh Auld's house?

Not an important point, but a curiosity that I came across in my research nonetheless.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Story of Jenny and Noah

Jenny and Noah ran away in August 1825. Jenny was Frederick Douglass's aunt, the sister of his mother, Harriet. Noah was her husband. Aaron Anthony, Douglass's master, owned them all. Douglass, who was approximately seven years old at the time, heard about their escape and the news affected him profoundly. This was, he later wrote, the first time that he had heard that there was such a thing as free states and that, if a slave could get to them, the slave would be free. (Legally speaking, that was not true, but that was not how enslaved people perceived or even lived the situation.)

The story, however, had more parts to it than Douglass may have known at the time or found useful for his autobiographies. Eleven days after their flight, Jenny and Noah’s children also left Maryland, but they went in the other direction. Anthony sold Mary and Isaac, ages 7 and 6 respectively, along with their first cousin, fourteen year old Betty, and their aunt, nineteen year old Maryann, to slave traders in September 1825. If my theory about childrearing under Anthony’s ownership is true, then Douglass knew the two children and the two children, like him, did not know their mother.

From what I can surmise, Anthony allowed the women he enslaved to keep their children with them for about two years. Then, the babies went to live with their grandmother, Betsy. Betsy kept her own youngest children as well as these grandchildren until they reached about the age of five or six. Douglass, for instance, wrote that he had been taken from his mother before he could remember her and that his grandmother kept him until he was approximately six years old. When they reached that age, Betsy did what Anthony ordered, and took the child – be it her own or her grandchild – to Anthony’s house on the Lloyd plantation on the far side of the county. In 1825, Douglass himself was seven, the same age as Mary, and had been at Wye house for a year. That would mean that he, Mary, and Isaac had been kept together at Betsy’s cabin, and that the two were either still there or also at Wye House with him.

Jenny and Noah, however, lived elsewhere. According to Dickson Preston, author of Young Frederick Douglass, the Maryland Years, they worked at one of Anthony’s Tuckahoe plantations. In fact, Preston last mentions the specific location of Jenny’s employment as being in the Hillsboro home of Elinor Maloney, Anthony’s elderly widowed sister, where Douglass’s mother Harriet had also worked for a time. In other words, Jenny and Noah had been separated from their children for several years; and if their children had already been sent to Wye House, then the distance of the separation had grown further.

This is not to say that Jenny and Noah callously ran away and abandoned their children. In fact, this is the difficult part of writing about enslaved people and attempting to explain their situation to a twenty first century, American audience. Enslaved people faced choices that are alien to our experience today, and historians have to convey the logic of those choice with sympathy and without judgement. Thus, when Jenny and Noah ran away, thereby abandoning their children, they did so for specific reasons that might seem callous, but made the most sense to their particular situation.

So, what options did Jenny and Noah have? They had already lost a child who had died in infancy in 1821, when Mary was three and probably just removed to Betsy’s cabin, and when Isaac as two and on his way there, too. Thus, three babies had been taken from them in as many years, one forever. Since most of Jenny’s sisters and her mother had children approximately every two years, Jenny could have lost others to miscarriages or still births between 1821 and 1825, or she may have found out that she was pregnant about the time that she and Noah ran away. The separation from their children may have been the impetus for their flight. Their “Sophie’s Choice” decision may have followed a logic in which they thought, “these two children are lost for now – we can come back for them, we might buy them, we can get them, but the next ones will be ours to have and to raise.”

Then came the sale. Preston suspected that Jenny and Noah’s flight was a response to the impending sale, a logical conclusion if they suspected that they themselves would be sold. Would they do the same if they suspected that their children faced the auction block, or would they have know that the situation was desperate and had the same conversation about which I have speculated above? Perhaps, because of their children’s youth, they assumed that they would be immune from sale. In 1825, young women like Maryann and Betty, or their male counterparts, would get a higher price than two children.

The sale of the children, however, strikes me as retaliation. In the ad that Anthony posted in a Baltimore paper on the day before the sale, he wrote that he had planned to give Jenny and Noah their freedom. Given that he had already slated at least two young women for sale, and threw in two more children, he was hardly in the mood to let two grown, healthy, slaves, one bearing children, get away for free. The next day, he sold their children.

I wish I knew what happened to Jenny and Noah, to Mary and Isaac, to Maryann and Betty. So many others on the Lloyd and Anthony farms probably did, too.

Image from Dickson J. Preson, Young Frederick Douglass, the Maryland Years (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980), 66.

Preston, Young Frederic Douglass, 64-66.
Aaron Anthony Return Books, Lloyd Family Papers, Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore, Maryland.