Monday, July 13, 2015

Graham Crackers

Speaking of Douglass family foods, Frederick himself liked Graham crackers.

In 1874, he wrote to his disreputable son-in-law, Nathan Sprague, who was working hard to stay in the Douglass family's good graces:

My dear Nathan:I know your heart is full of trouble and care and I feel for you. But you are a brave man and while you will do all that a true man can, you will bear up under whatever other trouble which may be added to your present trials and griefs. My own health is not good – but I hope soon to grow better. I shall be very glad when the Graham Crackers come. They usually serve me a very good purpose. I have written to Louisa more about our house affairs and she will tell you. While Rosa is down, I will write all the more to Louisa –Your father in Law
Fredk Douglass[i]

My dear Nathan:
                I am obliged by your letter and also by a box of my favorite crackers. Matters are proceeding here about as usual. The boys are struggling manfully to keep their paper afloat. They had no notion of letting the paper fail, but I fear they will have to. If they do not, and make a success they will be entitled to a large measure of praise. I have got myself in a hard place in this Freedman’s Bank and shall consider myself fortunate if I get out of it as easily as I got into it. I was wanted to bolster up the credit of the concern and to get through some legislation in its favor. When this is done as I hope it will be soon, I may separate myself from it, and go on with my literary work which I should have never abandoned.
                Love to Dear Rosetta, and the children.
                Truly yours,
                Fredk. Douglass[ii]

These Graham crackers were not at all like the sort made by Nabisco that you can buy today. They were a heftier, grittier cracker made with coarse graham flour and less sugarSylvester Graham invented them as part of his special diet. His followers ate them to control certain, carnal urges that might lead to self-abuse, but they probably found that the crackers increased the urge to clean out their colons. Which was not necessarily a bad thing in an age of overly boiled vegetables and high fat meat.

Incidentally, "the boys" were Douglass's sons, whose newspaper, The New National Era, closed operation that October. Douglass had been editor of the paper for a while, but had too much else to do and was losing money at too fast a rate to stay part of the business. The newspaper competition was stiff, and more so for black papers, so this was not some failure of character or laziness on the part of the sons, as many of their father's biographers would have it. The same for Douglass's involvement in the Freedman's Bank, especially in the economically risky years of the 1870s. 

[i] Frederick Douglass to Nathan Sprague, [n.d.], [n.p.], Addition I, FDP, DCL

[ii] FD to Nathan Sprague, Washington, D.C., 30 May 1874 [typescript]

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