Friday, November 17, 2017

Kenneth B. Morris, Jr., named to the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Commission

Next year is Douglass's Bicentennial! Many forces have been at work to have the federal government recognize this landmark year for one of the most famous and important black men in the history of our nation, and prospects seemed bleak given that the current occupant of the White House seemed unaware that Douglass died back in 1895 and that he has been getting quite a bit of recognition for 199 years. Fortunately, the forces of good prevailed and Congress created a Douglass Bicentennial Commission, naming Douglass descendant Kenneth B. Morris, Jr., as one of its leaders. Eleanor H. Norton, who represents the voice of the unrepresented residents of Washington, D.C., sponsored the bill and will serve alongside Morris.

Morris's grandfather was Frederick Douglass, III, who was the son of Joseph Douglass, the violinist, who was son of Charles Douglass, a Civil War veteran of the Massachusetts 54th Infantry and 5th Cavalr, who was son of Himself, Frederick Douglass. His grandmother, by the way, was granddaughter of Booker T. Washington. (You can find a family tree here: --or, you know, in the appendix of Women in the World of Frederick Douglass.) Morris himself carries on the work of Douglass through the Frederick Douglass Family Initiative, raising awareness about modern day human trafficking.

Eleanor H. Norton and Kenneth B. Morris, Jr.,
will lead the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Commission.
Image Source:

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Recent Sitings of "Women in the World of Frederick Douglass"

Alas, the best laid plans of bloggers and women were derailed last week by a blood drive. Although I don't consider myself particularly small nor particularly anemic, my weight, height, and iron counts just barely clear the bar for a blood donation. The result? I felt much as if I had contracted Lucy's wasting illness in Dracula for a week. Fortunately, no vampires were involved, and steak rather than stakes are involved in the cure. Steak, iron pills, big salad with spinach, and Dinosaur barbeque. I'm feeling much better; but my doctor says my days of blood donation are over -- or my day of donation, since this was the only time I've ever done this.

Meanwhile, recent and upcoming events on the book front.;

This one is a little older, but is a contribution to the blog The Page 99 Test. As the header explains, page 99 of a book is supposed to reveal the quality of the book. This blog, like My Book, The Movie, is associated with The Campaign for the American Reader. :

Lillian Calles Barger interviewed me about the book for her podcast on New Books Network. She was a fantastic host. I always love talking with someone who has read the book and can ask questions that delve deeper into the material.:

Jonathan Lande reviewed the book for The Civil War Monitor, and I owe him a drink or chocolate or the ambrosia of his choice for such a glowing praise. He gets what I was trying to say in the book better than I do!

During this week of anemia, I spoke to the Binghamton Civil War Round Table. While they apologized for the size of the crowd, I thought the room was full. On top of that, they asked great questions and bought books.

Then, the Onondaga Historical Association's book group had chosen my book for this month, so they invited me in for a discussion. They had so many great questions and admired all of these women who supported Douglass just as much as they found him fascinating. We had a lovely time -- an hour and a half if I was keeping track correctly -- just chatting about some amazing and quite human figures from the past.:

This may sound silly, but any indication that someone read and understood the book is such a thrill. When you write a book, you spend years feeling like you are sounding your barbaric yawp into the wilderness. Meanwhile, you spend your everyday life teaching, punctuated by paper presentations at conferences. Between the answers on exams and the questions at panels, all of which seem only vaguely related to what you actually said, you begin to doubt your ability to communicate in any verbal form. So, when people do understand -- ah! The joy!

In a few weeks, the British American Nineteenth Century Historians (BrANCH) will hold their annual meeting in Warwick, England, and I will be presenting a paper on Douglass's Grand Tour (hence, the blog posts about it). One of my fellow panelists, Daniel Joslyn, will be giving a paper on Douglass in Egypt. Like Douglass, I am an unashamed Anglophile, so a visit there always gives me a little thrill.

Later, on October, a play about abolitionists, The Agitators, will be having a run in Rochester, New York. On the 24th, the theater will host a panel of historians to discuss the context of the play's events. I'll be participating and provide more information when I have it.

In November, I'll be down in Houston, Texas, to give a talk at Houston Community College. (Since I'll be down there, if anyone wants to bring me in to their school, contact me and I'll be happy to oblige.)

Then, on December 11, the Brooklyn Historical Society will be having me in to talk about the book. Tickets are only $5.:

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Tuesday, 14 September 1886: “And the mighty vessel moves quietly”

New York Times, 12 Sept 1886
So tired was Helen that the loading of cotton, iced beef, and all sorts of other freight outside her porthole throughout the night did not disturb her. She had arisen, prepared herself for the day, and arrived on deck at 5:30 a.m. When Frederick joined her eventually, he was impressed to learn that, “like a true Yankee,” she had already met the pilot and seen the captain. Then, with a shriek of the whistle, the “mighty vessel” got underway.

For the next three hours, tug boats pulled the great ship out of port and harbor, sending her off to sea. Helen marveled that” the ocean is as smooth as any river, and about 4 hours out takes on the dark, exceedingly dark blue hue that have never before seen.” Frederick noted “little wind and a remarkably Smooth Sea, less ruffled than I ever saw the sea before.” Helen, the less experienced, gazed out for an hour. “It has an anxious mottled appearance that for some time I study in vain,” she puzzled over the surface, “but finally conclude to be due to millions of little waves or ripples receiving the sunlight at different angles.”

“I had thought to cross the ocean quietly and without being recognized by any body I ever saw before,” Frederick confided to his diary, “but this notion was soon dispelled.”

As they strolled about deck and gained their sea legs, a tall man of about sixty, “totally without appearance of affectation” and wearing “a dark blue woolen suit including cap” according to Helen, approached them along with his younger companion. The tall man introduced himself as the Reverend Heman Wayland, son of the former president of Brown University (and brother to a former lieutenant governor of Connecticut, but he left that part out), and his younger companion as – well, Helen and Frederick never could spell his name in the same way twice, but it was George Blelock or Brelock or something sounding like that. Frederick had met both before, although George Blelock Brelock Bullock or Whatever had been a child at the time. He had his own daughter along on the trip now. At breakfast, a young couple, George and Izora Chandler – “she very pretty and gentle in appearance and he low in voice but with an air of quiet authority that commends him as a man not to be trifled with,” Helen observed – sat across from them. George let Frederick know that he had never forgotten hearing him speak after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination now two decades earlier.

As it turned out, Frederick was glad of the Reverend’s company for he proved to be “a remarkable clever talker, and a man very free from pretenses.” Helen listened in on their chats and determined that Wayland had “the smell of mugwumpery on his mental garments,” adding “but it might have been ship smell.” Frederick thought the same, but nonetheless admitted “I like him."

Page from Helen Douglass's Diary
As the hours passed, the couple retired to the saloon to write in their travel diaries. Another tourist, travelling over twenty years earlier, observed his fellow passengers writing in their journals for hours upon hours at the start of their trips. “Alas that journals so voluminously begun should come to so lame and impotent a conclusion as most of them did!” he lamented. “I doubt if there is a single pilgrim of all that host but can how a hundred fair pages of journal concerning the firth twenty days voyaging in the Quaker City, and I am morally certain that not ten of the party can show twenty pages of journal for the succeeding twenty thousand miles of voyaging!”

So it shall be with Helen and Frederick.

She describes the saloon with its oak paneling and columns, its portholes and long writing table, her fellow travelers scribbling in their own journals, the plush green upholstery, the near-empty tables, the organ (where, Frederick complains, “a young man is persistently boring our ears”), the piano in the drawing room, the hanging plants, the canaries, the rails, the sties, the carpet, and so on and so forth.

Frederick seems pleased with the meals and worried about the possibility of seasickness, hoping that the smooth sailing of the ship will persist even if they run into foul weather. He observes the few ladies on the ship relaxing in steamer chairs with books lying open on their laps “more as ornaments than for use,” and men solemnly walking the deck as they “smoke, smoke, and smoke.” He notes the reserve of the passengers toward one another at this stage of the voyage, and that “everything between officers and men seems to go on very smoothly.”

What else is there to do but read and await landfall?

Helen Pitts Douglass Diary, 14 September 1886, and Frederick Douglass Diary, 15 September 1886, Family Papers, Frederick Douglass Paper, Library of Congress.

Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad (1869; New York: Signet Classics, 2007), 22.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Monday, 13 September 1886: The Steamer Called the City of Rome

At 1:00 pm the hansom cab picked the couple up at the Grand Central Hotel and drove them the few blocks where they boarded the massive steamer bustling with activity. They ensured that all of their luggage had arrived and was in order. Helen, probably suspecting that she might find herself confined to quarters revisiting more a meal or two, admitted to being “eager to see our room.” She described it as:

“a very comfortable little place, the space opposite the berths and under the window a port hole, a round eye of glass, is occupied by the couch. Over it and over each berth is a wall pocket and over the stationary wash bowl, between it and the mirror a fresh linen pocket for brushes, fresh water bottle, pneumatic bell call, and altogether a nice cosy little place.”

She claimed the top bunk. Then, they returned to the deck to watch the activity and local friends seized the opportunity of seeing them off to take a tour of this modern marvel.

The last of these, the only one of which she took note by name, was Gustav Frauenstein. This Jewish doctor had known Douglass for decades as part of Ottilie Assing’s circle of German ex-patriates in Hoboken. She, of course, was not far from their thoughts, and Helen noted, “we talked of Miss Assing.”

What a bittersweet reminder of one of Frederick’s oldest friends, dead now these five years, who would have enjoyed seeing him finally cross the ocean to visit the Continent. Even if she could not have been his tour guide, if her letters are any indication of her personality, she would have given him detailed instructions of what to see and what to do.

The hour grew late. “As the genial Dr. left,” Helen wrote, “he threw his arms around Frederick’s neck in a good old fashioned hug & kissed him, kissed me, and ran off the steamer.” Such a surprising display of affection, it seemed. As they watched from the ship, Helen reported, he tossed them “a cordial wave of his hat from the dock and he was gone.”

Helen, exhausted from the day, retired to her berth. Frederick stayed behind to stroll t
he deck.

Helen Pitts Douglass Diary, 14 September 1886, Family Papers, Frederick Douglass Papers, Library of Congress

Image from

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Sunday, 12 September 1886: "Society Topics of the Week"

New York Times, 12 Sept 1886
From the New York Times:

“The American colony abroad which began to break up a fortnight ago is now pretty well scattered and its members are returning home by every steamer. Every stateroom and berth in the fleet homeward-bound ocean liners up to Dec. 1 are said to be engaged, and many people after waiting days in hopes of something being given up have been and are obliged to return in slower boats. Great as was the Spring exodus to Europe the Autumn return flight seems to be larger.”

Two days later Helen reported the same, with more precision, from aboard the steamer City of Rome:

"Only 71 passengers lose themselves in the spaces of this mighty ship that one week ago landed at New York hundreds of home returning travelers, and we are told that in London are many waiting passage, as the books of all the steamers westward bound are filled till into November."

The Douglasses travelled in the off-season, then, possibly economizing, possibly avoiding the pitfalls of his celebrity, possibly planning to arrive in southern latitudes at a more amenable time of year.

"Society Topics of the Week," New York Times, 12 September 1886.

Helen Pitts Douglass Diary, 14 September 1884, Family Papers, Frederick Douglass Papers, Library of Congress.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Saturday, 11 September 1886: Dinner at the Wendell Phillips Club

The Wendell Phillips Club gathered at Boston’s Revere House for a dinner in Frederick’s on the evening of the eleventh. This illustrious hotel was not the North End address of the famed Revolutionary patriot, but nearer to sites dear to the early days of the American Antislavery Society. Boston’s black community, the African American Joy Street Church, the society’s Antislavery Office, the home of militant black abolitionist and former state representative Lewis Hayden, and the offices of the Liberator all lay in the neighborhood to the west of the hotel. The town home of the Shaw family, under whose son, Robert Gould Shaw, Douglass’s son Lewis had served in the Massachusetts 54th and fought in that fateful assault on Battery Wagner in the Civil War could be found further south along the edge of Boston Common. Indeed, the 54th had marched along Beacon Street past the home as Douglass stood on its balcony. He had followed the men – that great hope for their people – to the docks to see them off to “thunder at the gates.”

Veterans of the American Antislavery Society dominated the dinner, of course. Douglass had parted ways with them quite acrimoniously in the 1850s, but decades had passed, slavery had ended, alliances had shifted, participants had died. Garrison had passed away in 1879 and when Wendell Phillips followed him five years later, Frederick and Helen attended the funeral despite having just married.

Francis Jackson Garrison, William Lloyd’s son, planned to attend the September 11th dinner, but he had also organized “an informal gathering” a few days later on the 13th or 14th,“say between 4 & 7 P.M.” He hoped to “bring together all the old ‘original’ antislavery friends in this vicinity” to meet both Douglass and his guest from out of town. Alas! Douglass would be boarding the City of Rome on the thirteenth and unable to join the soiree at the Garrison home. Garrison’s get-together seemed more a sentimental and private occasion to reminisce. The Club dinner clearly had a public purpose considering its location and its illustrious guest list.

First, true to the name of the organization, such longtime abolitionists as James N. Buffum of Lynn, who had accompanied Douglass on his first voyage overseas, Dr. Henry Ingersoll Bowditch, whom he credited as his first host in Boston, newspaper editor Oliver Johnson, and former state representative Lewis Hayden took seats at the table. Douglass noted each along with the departed in his remarks. “If I have done anything for the colored people,” he declared, “it is in a great measure due to my having had the good-fortune, when I escaped from slavery, to become acquainted with William Lloyd Garrison, and with Wendell Phillips, and with our friend Oliver Johnson, and with Dr. Bowditch.”

Like the bon voyage party at Cedar Hill, this one also implicitly highlighted the accomplishments of African Americans. Hayden had sheltered many escaping slavecatchers and served in the Massachusetts legislature. The first black graduate of Harvard Law School, Judge George Lewis Ruffin, also joined the company.

While Douglass continued to insist his Grand Tour would be a private visit, others seem to have made particular requests of him. “I am not going as an advocate,” he reminded his audience. Nevertheless, should he have reason to speak in England, “I shall not hesitate to declare my own entire sympathy with that grand old man, Mr. Gladstone, in his endeavors to remove the reproach of oppression from England and to extend the desired liberty to Ireland.” The urging here to pressure the British Prime Minister to support Irish Home Rule probably came from the dinner’s most prominent guest, Boston’s first Irish Catholic mayor, Hugh O’Brien.

Hayden, too, made a request. He asked that Douglass write to him, and he seemed most curious as to the racial attitudes toward people of African descent in other countries. The Irish, English, and Scots had all amazed Douglass before with their absence of prejudice against his race and, indeed, their embrace of him as something akin to beautiful. Only Americans abroad had shown hatred.

As the Wendell Phillips Club raised their alcohol-free glasses to toast Douglass’s upcoming trip, African Americans elsewhere worried about their futures. The Supreme Court no longer considered their civil rights worth protecting when it overturned the Civil Rights Act in 1883. Lynchings went unprosecuted and often undocumented. White audiences laughed themselves silly at the grotesqueries of minstrel shows. The Lost Cause and reconciliation narratives began to dominate not only popular but academic histories of the Civil War and Reconstruction. Remembering abolition had importance for current events. Knowing that another way of living – visiting a place where one could be free from the noise of racism to simply think and be – meant hope. Thus began Douglass's reporting of the African diaspora in Europe.

Account of the Wendell Phillips Club dinner, including excerpts of Douglass's speech and people in attendence:  Frederic May Holland, Frederick Douglass: The Colored Orator (1891; New York: Funk and Wagnalls Company, 1895), 362-63.

Francis Garrison to FD, Boston, 2 Sept 1886, General Correspondence, Frederick Douglass Papers, Library of Congress:

FD to Lewis Hayden and "Watson" [I haven't identified him, yet], Paris, 19 Nov 1886, in Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass, ed. Philip Foner (1955; New York: International Publishers, 1975), 4: 444-47.

Revere House Records, Massachusetts Historical Society:

Revere House images: Revere House, Wikipedia, 9 Sept 2017:

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Friday, 10 September 1886: To the Broadway Grand Central Hotel

With the last of the "modern zinck covered Rochester made trunks" packed and final instructions issued to Cedar Hill's caretakers, Helen now set out for New York City where she checked into the Grand Central Hotel to await the arrival of her husband from Boston.

The hotel, incidentally, was located at 671 Broadway, occupying the block between Bond and Third Streets. Anyone today who knows anything about that part of Manhattan probably already suspects, first, that a massive Victorian-era building no longer stands in that spot and, second, that the real estate has been absorbed by the sponge that is New York University. Both suppositions are, of course, correct. The hotel structure became apartments, that became low-income apartments, which meant they fell into disrepair. A section collapsed in the 1970s, leading to the demolition of the site. NYU dorms now occupy the property.

Back then, Helen could look forward to her first trip abroad in relative luxury. While much of this trip has the focus on Frederick, remember that Helen came from a modest background. She grew up in rural New York. While not poor, and certainly among the upper class of her town and now elevated in social class in her marriage to one of the most recognizable black men in the country, Norfolk, Virginia, Washington, D.C., Iowa, and Connecticut were probably as far away from the place she had been born. Unlike her husband, she had never been overseas. Furthermore, she was not just going to see the exiting places that everyone went to see on the Grand Tour. She was also going to see the places that Douglass had visited and wrote about during his younger, feistier abolitionist days, back when she herself was a mere child presumably being fired to action by his autobiographies and speeches.

Indeed, the abolitionist movement played a "now and then" harmony through the first leg of their journey.

Image from Frederick Douglass National Historic Park Flickr:

Quote about trunk: FD to H.C. Kudlich, Cedar Hill, Anacostia, D.C., 14 Sept 1887, General Correspondence, Frederick Douglass Papers, Library of Congress.

Hotel: Helen Pitts Douglass Diary, 14 Sept 1886, Family Papers, Frederick Douglass Papers, Library of Congress.

Hotel: Michael Pollack, "Broadway Central Hotel's Heyday Before a Fatal Collapse," New York Times, 6 Nov 2015.

Hotel (any of my students reading this, don't do this at home!): Grand Central Hotel, Wikipedia, 10 Sept 2017:

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Sunday, September 5, 1886: Bon Voyage!

Washington Bee, 11 Sept 1886
In the afternoon, the guests arrived. Former Senator Blanche K. Bruce escorted his socialite wife, Josephine. The black Congressional Medal of Honor winner, Milton M. Holland, and his wife, Virginia, made their way up to the Hill, too. John Smythe, who had returned from his second term as U.S. minister to the black republic of Liberia, a position he had gained through Douglass's influence, joined them, as did Dr. John F. Cook and Dr. Furman Jeremiah Shadd of Howard University.

These lights of the capital's black bourgeoisie were only those named by the Washington Bee. This leading African American paper assured its readers that "many others" attended. So, too, did Lewis, Frederick, Jr., Charles, and Rosetta, along with their spouses. The grandchildren roamed the grounds; and, while the Bee did not specifically mention croquet, most knew that the wickets had become a
fixture of the Douglass back yard during any gathering.

This would be the last of such gatherings at Cedar Hill for some time. Literary societies, Shakespeare clubs, calling hours all would be suspended for the coming year or two. Upstairs, except for the baggage that Frederick would take with him the next day for a scheduled engagement at the Wendell Phillips Club in Boston, the trunks awaited packing. Otherwise, Lewis had been granted power of attorney, Charles left in charge of Cedar Hill, and caretakers left to oversee its daily care.  In a week, Frederick and Helen would rendezvous at the Broadway Grand Central Hotel in Manhattan, then board the steamer City of Rome for their Grand Tour of Europe.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

"My Free Life Began on the Third of September, 1838"

He "finally resolved upon the third day of September, as the day upon which I would make a second attempt to secure my freedom." For three weeks he prepared, seeming to go about business as usual. Finding employment for himself, turning over his wages to his de facto master, Hugh Auld, lulling Auld into believing that Frederick had once more submitted to the conditions of his enslavement. "My object in working steadily," Douglass later confessed, "was to remove any suspicion he might entertain of my intent to run away; and in this I succeeded admirably."

(I call him "Frederick" throughout this post for he was shedding Bailey, would not take up Douglass for another week or two, and had perhaps not yet assumed the name "Johnson" that he used when he married Anna a few days later.)

Those three weeks had their moments of apprehension. He knew that he would be severing the ties that he had with the community he had formed in Baltimore that had helped him develop his mind and sense of self. "The love of them was my tender point," he admitted, "an shook my decision more than all things else." Furthermore, while he had failed in a previous escape attempt, he felt certain that a failure this time would doom him to slavery forever. "I could not hope to get off with any thing less than the severest punishment," he knew, "and being placed beyond the means of escape."

(Imagine, for a moment, an alternate history in which he was discovered, punished, and sold into a coffle to New Orleans. What mischief would he have wrought on the Mississippi? Would he have led a school? A revolt? A maroon community in the swamps? Would he have survived another Covey-like encounter? Would he have found a wife and had children and died an early death of overwork or stroke or heart attack from containing the rage to preserve their lives?)

He was not entirely alone, however. Anna planned to join him, and she was among those helping him prepare. She and their future life and children were also a reason to make this escape succeed. He protected her respectability just as he protected his Baltimore friends' identities by not mentioning them by name in the planning in his first two autobiographies lest the "underground railroad" become and "upperground" one.

Decades passed before he told the details of his escape, and you can find an account in the first chapter of the second part of his third autobiography, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. He begins by telling of the dangers in telling the tale before the end of slavery, "for publication of details would certainly have put in peril the persons and property of those who assisted." The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 was still in the country's future when he lit out for freedom in 1838, but aiding a fugitive was still a crime and federal law sided with slaveholders.

He told his audience that he would have shared his story much earlier "had there been anything very heroic or thrilling in the incidents connected with my escape." How to top Harriet Tubman's multiple missions to retrieve her family from Maryland, or the Crafts' ingenious disguise of master and "man servant" when they boarded a train in Savannah, or Henry "Box" Brown mailing himself north, or the "Jerry Rescue" in Syracuse? "My success was due to address rather than courage;" he demurred, "to good luck rather than bravery."

First, he borrowed a Seaman's Protection Certificate from a black sailor friend. who clearly trusted him to return it. (Mystic Seaport has a database of many.) After all, that sailor was vulnerable to kidnapping or arrest during the time that he did not have the papers upon him. Then, he purchased a ticket with the money that he had saved and the money donated by Anna Murray from the sale of a featherbed. Black hackman Isaac Rolls brought his baggage to the train station, timed to arrive just as the train departed. Frederick, dressed in a sailor's uniform sewn by Anna, grabbed his belongings and hopped on the train as it began moving. His life in a maritime community allowed him to fit into his role well-enough to evade detection, "for I knew a ship from stem to stern, and from keelson to cross-trees, and could talk sailor like an 'old salt.'" Even his cocky attitude toward the conductor asking to see his free papers suited the part.

The train sped through Maryland, and while fast for the time, not as quickly as Frederick would have liked. They crossed into Delaware, which he reminded his readers was still "another slave State, where slave catchers generally awaited their pray, for it was not in the interior of the State, but on its borders, that these human hounds were most vigilant and active." At Havre de Grace, he boarded a ferry, where a black boat hand hoped to trade sea stories and nearly blew his cover. The same nearly happened again after the crossing when, on his second train of the trip, he spied a white captain from Baltimore on the opposite platform and a blacksmith "whom I knew well" on the same train as himself. The blacksmith, Frederick was sure, recognized him, "but had no heart to betray me."

This second train took him to Wilmington, Delaware, where he transferred to a steamship. The steamship took him upriver to Philadelphia. In Philadelphia, he found his way to the Willow Street train station, and too his third train trip to New York. The whole business took place in the space of twenty-four hours.

When you drive I-95 or take Amtrak from Baltimore to New York City, you follow roughly the same path (but not exactly). I used to call it the Frederick Douglass Freedom Route when I lived down that way. At the end of this chapter he wrote that the end of this journey was "the end of my experience as a slave" and began the next chapter by declaring that "my free life began on the third of September, 1838. So, I like to call September 3rd "Frederick Douglass Freedom Day."

Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, ed. Blassingame, et al (1845; paperback, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001).

Frederick Douglass, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, ed. McKivigan, et al (1882; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012).

Seaman Protection Certificates, and Register of Seaman Protection Certificates, G.W. Blunt White Library, Mystic Seaport.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Obtaining The Passport

The man stood six feet tall, or so Newton Benedict, the passport clerk, estimated. Hair gray. Dark skin. Bearded, oval face. Forehead of medium height. Nose prominent. Eyes dark, too. If he was born in February1817 and this year was 1886 now August -- Benedict worked a quick calculation on the bottom corner of the application -- then the applicant was sixty-nine years old. Would the gentleman be travelling alone? "Wife" Benedict dashed down, in the middle of the page, amid the descriptive features. No affidavit nor witness testimony of the applicant's citizenship would be needed. Anyone who had lived in the nation's capital at any time in the past decade knew that the man who signed the form "Fred'k Douglass" was a legal American.

That had not been the case twenty-six years earlier.

Citizens of the United States passed across the ever changing global borders with very little documentation during the nineteenth century. Indeed, that held true until 1941. Therefore, in spite of being a fugitive slave in the eyes of the law on his first trip to England in 1845 and a person of interest in a federal case on his second in 1860, Douglass made the passage fairly easily in terms of State Department bureaucracy.

That is, until he decided to visit France during that second trip. As he recounted in his memoir, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, "The attempt upon the life of Napoleon III about that time, and the suspicion that the conspiracy against him had been hatched in England, made the French government very strict in the enforcement of its passport system." Sarah Parker Remond and Caroline Putnam, sisters to Douglass's first African American lecturing partner, Charles Lenox Remond, had also made an application for a visa a few months earlier. They were turned down.

Although the details of both cases differed, ultimately the Dred Scot decision had rendered them non-citizens unentitled to passports. He did not go to France, although he did receive permission to visit from the French minister in London. Remond and Putnam did go, but only after publically embarrassing Benjamin Moran, the assistant secretary who had denied them their visas.

Still, in 1886, Douglass did not need a passport. As in 1860, he may have wanted to "leave nothing to chance." Nevertheless, this is a public document, issued by the Department of State and held by the National Archives, that implies that Frederick Douglass, specifically, is a citizen of the United States.

Helen Douglass, "wife," on the other hand, like all other married women, had a legal identity covered by her husband's.

National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington D.C.; NARA Series: Passport Applications, 1795-1905; Roll #: 285; Volume #: Roll 285 - 01 Aug 1886-30 Sep 1886,
Frederick Douglass, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, ed. John R. McKivigan, et al (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012) 1: 252.
Sarah Parker Remond's passport incident: “Sara Parker Remond and the Passport Issue,” Black Abolitionist Papers, ed. C. Peter Ripley (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1985), I: 469-73; Sirpa Salenius, An Abolitionist Abroad: Sarah Parker Remond in Cosmopolitan Europe (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2016), 105-110

Friday, July 7, 2017

The Arts Fuse Review of Women in the World of Frederick Douglass and other Links

I've been lazy and not keeping up with Douglass on the Grand Tour or much of anything, really. Meanwhile, the Arts Fuse has published a stunning review of Women in the World of Frederick Douglass

Roberta Silman, I don't know you, but I adore you! You read the book, you get the book, you get what I was trying to say probably  more than I did. Plus, I'm not sure anyone has eover called anything I have done "fierce" and meant it seriously or as a compliment. Thank you!

Thank you also to Amy Cools of Ordinary Philosophy for your favorable mention. I'm so glad that you enjoyed reading the book after so long a wait. Amy is a fellow Douglassonian (to adopt a term coined by another Douglassonian, John Muller, author of Frederick Douglass in Washington, D.C.) interviewed me about the book last year.

As of today, a piece I wrote for the My Book: the Movie blog, which is part of the Campaign for the American Reader and edited by Marshal Zeringue, went up. Actually, I got very carried away with the assignment to cast the movie version of my book and wrote several pages, casting at least half of the figures who appear. They just wanted 600 words, so this represents only a fraction of a much longer version. Needless to say, I've been playing this game for a very long time.: 

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Poland Springs , 1883

Douglass spent the month of July 1883 in Poland Springs. He let his daughter, Rosetta, know that he was on his way there on 9 July:

My dear Rose: the journey in prospect gave me more trouble than in realization. It was extremely warm, but I suffered much less than I expected from smoke dust & heat. All turned out well as to making connections at New York, reached Providence promptly Sunday morning – went straight to Mrs. Greene’s & after breakfast to Miss Eddy, who without Sabbath day scruples went to work on my portrait which has been much improved since I left here five weeks ago. I shall probably leave here tomorrow for Poland Springs Please let the children at home know that I am in good care – I will write to them soon – You know when I am away from home, I am as much a part of my surroundings that I can do but very little in writing letters so you may consider as usual, no news, good news. But if anything should happen to me out of the common way it will be speedily make known through the newspapers. I shall however keep you pretty well informed as to how I am getting along. Don’t forget to tie up my daily letters & keep them securely –
                You may write to me if you please at Poland Springs.
                Love to the children all –
                Affectionately –
                Fredk. Douglass[1]

This was his destination as it would have appeared when he arrived:

Here is how it appeared in the early 20th century:

[1] Frederick Douglass to Rosetta Douglass Sprague, Providence, 9 July 1882, FDP, DHU-MS

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Douglass Visits the Vatican and is Unimpressed

Although the cost of a ticket and the size of the crowds today causes a visitor to cram a visit to the Vatican into a single day, leaving her overwhelmed and fatigued by closing time, the Douglasses spread their visit out over three days. Art seems not to have been something that moved him to great effusion except when the subject offended him (of course, I'm now going to have to go back and search for his writing on art a little more methodically, but he did not strike me as a great art aficionado, leaving that to Helen). Usually, the offense was in the depiction of people of African descent, such as his tirade against the crouching emancipated slave at Lincoln's feet in a statue erected in Washington, D.C. near his home on Capitol Hill.  In the Vatican, the work that awakened his criticism was this:

"Saw among other great pictures a modern one proclaiming the new dogma of the emasculate conception of the Virgin, the Mother of Jesus. "

To be perfectly honest, I did not expect to actually see this painting, thinking that it was much smaller and would not be highlighted amid the works of Rafael, Botticelli, Michelangelo, and the anonymous artists of antiquity. How little did I know! As Douglass wrote, "The announcement of this fresh tax upon the credulity of the faithful in this picture is well calculated to impress favorably the devout Catholic[.]" Indeed, this picture three walls of an entire room, with a statue of the virgin in the center. The photo above is the typical tourist photo: walk into the room, say "oh, wow!" and snap a picture. This one below is on the wall to the left of the main image.:

 This one is on the right side of the main image:

Douglass then describes his impression of the figures in the painting: "The face of Pope Pius was given by the artist a celestial expression surpassing any modern attempts in that direction I have seen."

"Some of the faces of the Cardinal's seemed to be a little doubtful and have been brought to consent to the new dogma under external pressure rather than internal conviction."

Well, is he wrong? Some of those officials seem less than enthusiastic. This doctrine had been declared in 1854, followed by papal infallibility in the 1870s, all of which took place against a backdrop of Italian nationalism and unification that reduced the political power of the church in Italy. Douglass's detection of political expediency rather than faith probably did not miss the mark.
Douglass, secular and devoted to republicanism, had a difficult time refraining from mocking such ideas. I wonder if he held back around his hosts. He and Helen had been able to see parts of the Vatican through the influence of Gertrude Putnam's connections with one of the Cardinals (although I'm not certain if she knew him personally of if this was a matter of simply writing and asking for permission). That and her lodgings so close to the Vatican might suggest that she was sympathetic to Catholicism if not a believer herself (I would have to research this a little further).

Douglass, of course, never shied from expressing his opinion, and loved lively debate, including and perhaps especially with intelligent women. The Remond sisters were well aware of his propensity for debate and probably warned Putnam. Certainly, the lunch afterward with Gertrude, Edmund, and Caroline Putnam along with Maricha Redmond, Dr. Sarah Pinter, and Christine Sargent, the daughter of a Unitarian minister, must have been lively and fascinating. After all, as he looked around at the Remond sisters, Caroline, Maricha, and Sarah, he thought "in all of them I saw much of the fire of their eloquent Brother Charles;" and Charles had helped Douglass stoke his own flame so many decades earlier.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

More Sightings of "Women In the World of Frederick Douglass"

In a Houston bookstore:

That one is really quite groovy because I spent a good twenty-five(ish) years of my life in Houston.

In a Saratoga Springs, NY, bookstore:

At the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians, aka "The Big Berks," with credit to my arkie pal Digger, editor of LGBTQ America: A Theme Study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer History  for the National Parks Service.:

Also at the Berks, among some embarrassingly great company:

Number 1 New Release in Civil War Women on Amazon!:

Also, part of "A Double-Dip of History" at the Seward House Museum in Auburn, New York, with the eminent historian, Douglas R. Egerton (aka "Mr. Leigh Fought") tonight, June 8, 2017, at 7 pm.

Riding high on Fortuna's Wheel!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Douglass Visits the Vatican, part 1

During their first week at in Rome, the Douglasses visited the Vatican three times. On their first full day, January 20, 1887, they went to the Dome of St. Peter's Basilica.:

I stood where until recently I never expected to stand, under the Dome of St. Peters, the largest Cathedral in the world, and around which clusters a larger interest perhaps than any other so called Christian edifice. In looking at its splender, one could not help being deeply impressed by its gorgiousness and perfection despite of its utter contradiction to the life and lessons of Jesus. he was meek and lowly, but here was little else than pride and pomp. It is well for the world that the age that could rear this wonderful building so perfect in architectural grace has past. Yet in view of what it speaks of architectural skill of man and of his possibilities we may rejoice that this marvellous building was erected and that it will long stand to pleas the eye of man.

The Baedeker's guide doesn't mention a fee for entering the Basilica at the time, but today here are a number of different ticket packages for self-guided tours, audio tours, and guided tours that include various parts of Vatican City including the Basilica, the Vatican Museum, gardens, palace, and so on. You can also wait in line for hours and hours. Scalpers -- yes, like at rock concerts -- will definitely offer to sell you "jump the line" tickets at highly inflated prices. They wear official looking tags that say "Vatican Information," but have no actual affiliation with the Vatican at all from what I could tell. Douglass seemed not to have encountered any of this. Still, I wonder if he stood in line at all and what the procedure for admittance was. This will take a little more scrutiny of the Baedeker's and more research into the Grand Tour.

Frederick's initial impressions of the contradiction of great worldly beauty and power in celebration of the humility of a carpenter's son who championed the poor and downtrodden continued when he and Helen were able to get a private tour of "the interior treasures of St. Peter's." This tour came through the connections of Mrs. Edmund Quincy Putnam. Mrs. Putnam was Gertrude [Elliston] Putnam, the daughter-in-law of Caroline Putnam. 

Caroline Putnam was born Caroline Remond, and she was the sister of Sarah Parker Remond and Charles Lenox Remond. We'll get back to Sarah Parker Remond, but Charles Lenox Remond was Frederick's first black companion on the antislavery lecturing circuit and Frederick derived quite a bit of courage in standing up to his white allied while travelling with Remond. The American Anti-Slavery Society Collection is filled with letters in which Maria Weston Chapman despairs at their independence and their failure to be what she deemed appropriately deferential. They went their separate ways quite acrimonously in the 1840s, but that was four decades earlier by the time the Douglasses arrived in Italy, and Remond had died in 1873. 

The Putnams also had a very convenient address to the Vatican. They lived at Hotel Palazzo Moroni, 165 Borgo Vecchio. You won't find Borgo Vecchio on the map today, nor its companion Borgo Nuovo. Google Maps turns up neither except as restaurant names. A "Find" search in the Baedeker, however, turns this up:
The Castle S. Angelo is adjoined by the Piazza Pia, whence four streets diverge to the W.: in the centre, on both sides of the fountain, which like the two adjacent facades was erected by Pius IX, are the streets called the Borgo Vecchio (l.) and Borgo Nuovo (r.); to the left, by the river, the Borgo S. Spirito; to the right is the Borgo S. Angelo.....The usual route to the Vatican is by the BORGO NUOVO. 
Using these clues and Google Maps:

I realized that the two have since been merged into the Via della Conciliazione.:

Indeed, they were merged and the layout all designed in the 1930s. Let the date sink in. Yes, by the Fascists; but that lay fifty years in the future. The Putnams' Borgo Vecchio address lay somewhere along the line of buildings on the left. On their second trip back through Rome later in the spring, the Douglasses also stayed there for nearly three weeks.

The day that Gertrude Putnam gave them a private tour of St. Peter's, the Douglasses went to lunch there where they were joined by not only Caroline Putnam but her two sisters, Maritcha Remond, and "she that I knew forty years and more ago as Miss Sarah Remond," now a doctor working in Florence and married to painter Lazzaro Pintor Cabras. On their second trip back through Rome, the Douglasses visited her where she lodged at 6 Piazza Barberini. 

I would not be surprised if she accompanied them on their journey to Florence or at least gave them recommendations on where to stay. 

The last that Frederick had, in fact, seen Sarah Remond, the two had met in England in 1860 as he promoted his second autobiography and lay low after being implicated in the Harpers Ferry raid. They both had hoped to visit France at the time, but both were denied passports under the argument that they were not U.S. citizens under the Dred Scot decision and therefore not entitled to one. Douglass turned back, and then returned to the U.S. after learning of the death of his daughter, Annie. Remond continued on defiantly, never returning to the country that had rejected her. After the Douglasses departed Rome for the last time, she sent along her love, telling Gertrude that "she treasures the pleasant memory of you both."

But, alas, this post is entering the range of TLDR ("too long didn't read") and must leave you hanging for the next entry. What did Douglass see in the Vatican and what did he think of it? 

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Arriving in Rome

The Douglasses visited Rome twice in the winter and spring of 1887. The first time they arrived on January 19, "the day of days in our tour" Frederick proclaimed to his journal. "Like the mysterious lodestone to steel," he told a later audience, anyone with any love for history "is attracted by an invisible power and the attraction increases with every step of his approach" to Rome.

That was certainly the case for me. I chose Rome for my 50th birthday trip because, when I was in my early twenties and not so much living as existing in Houston, where everything was ugly and not allowed to stand for longer than 30 years, I wanted to see something that had endured longer than my own nation -- longer than Christ. I wanted to see beauty.

Unfortunately, the Douglasses arrived in Rome in the evening and, Frederick sighed, "we must curb our curiosity till morning." Waking added to their disappointment. "We were landed in the new part of the city which contradicted all our dreams of the Eternal City," he lamented, "To all appearances we might have been dropped down at any railway station in Paris, London or New York, or at some of the grand hotels at Saratoga or Coney Island."  I think that the young folk these days call that "humble bragging." Still, you can almost hear his crest fall as he describes a bustling, contemporary train station in which "all was more like an American town of the latest pattern than a city whose foundations were laid nearly a thousand years before the flight of Joseph and Mary into Egypt."

Perhaps all travelers experience that sort of clash between the imagined place and the city in which people actually live. For instance, on our first full day, we went to see the Colosseum, and a fundraiser for breast cancer research was taking place on the streets around the ancient center of the city.

I think I had prepared myself for that, or was used to the experience. Indeed, back when I was in my twenties, that was part of what I wanted to see: the juxtaposition of the ancient with the modern. You can find that around every corner in Rome, where every scratch on the earth's surface opens a layer of the past and half of the buildings seem held up by a wall built in the Middle Ages on a foundation build before Christ was born. As in this picture of the Teatro Marcello, which became part of a Medieval Villa, which is now apartments.

Here, the walls of an Etruscan temple lie under the Capitoline Museum, which is an edifice from the Renaissance, in a room built in the past decade to contain and preserve a bronze statue of Augustine dating to his own era.

The Douglasses checked into the Hotel Du Sud, located at 56 Via Capo le Case, which he pronounced "a very comfortable Hotel." I will confess that I did not do meticulous research before this particular trip because it was meant to be vacation with a little Douglass thrown in (I'm intending another that will be all Douglass), so I did not scope out the Hotel Du Sud's location before hand. Here is the Via Capo le Case according to my best friend, Google Maps.:

The heck of it is, I walked near there several times.

The Douglasses stayed in Rome until January 27, when they departed for Naples. In town for only a week, they saw the two major sites that draw most people to Rome: the ruins of the Roman Empire and the Vatican. 

This was the juxtaposition that fascinated Frederick. He later ruminated:
Here can be seen together the symbols of both Christian and pagan Rome; the temples of discarded gods and those of the accepted Savior of the world -- the Son of the Virgin Mary. Empires, principalities, powers and dominions have perished; altars and their gods have mingled with the dust; a religion which made men virtuous in peace and invincible in war, has perished or been supplanted, yet the Eternal City itself remains. 

Bearded Zeus becomes Jupiter becomes Michaelangelo's Creator. The Emperor becomes the Pope. Hadrian's Masoleum become the Pope's fortress becomes the Pope's palace. The statues of religious reverence become the statues of artistic reverence, but serve as the models for new objects of religious worship. The old myths become the metaphors for the new morality. The city regenerates.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Following Helen Douglass following Nathaniel Hawthorne on Capitoline Hill

Helen told her sister that, in the room with the "Dying Gladiator" in the Capitoline Museum, she and Eleanor Lewis "looked out of the same window Hawthorne mentions -- out over the old Roman Forum with the Colesseum at the farther end of it, and the beautiful Roman sky visible through one of its arches as he himself saw it."

Hawthorne, of course, having more time to revise and polish toward literary ends, and without the need to think of postage cost, described the scene further:
From one of the windows of this saloon, we may see a flight of broad stone steps, descending along side the antique and and massive foundation of the Capitol, toward the battered triumphal arch of Septimus Severus, right below.
Since Hawthorne's time in the American antebellum era, and indeed since the Douglass's time in the 1880s, the steps have been replaced with a driveway, somewhat visible in the picture above. The old, blown glass with its bubbles and waves makes a nice artistic rendition, but not so much a clear picture of the image, and my poor old digital camera (no, I do not own an iPhone) could not do much better. This model in another part of the museum shows the steps. The building containing the "Dying Gladiator" room is just northeast of the center of the picture and the steps run straight down, just to the right of that large building.:

That large building can be seen here in this picture. It is not the whit building topped with winged statues at either end that you can see in the distance. I actually mistook that one for the Capitoline Museum when we first arrived, but soon corrected. Not after we took a ride to the roof for a spectacular view of the city, however!

Septimus Severus's arch is the full triumphal arch there just above and to the right of the center of the picture. It is not quite so beat up as Hawthorne would have you believe, given what you see around it. The Roman Senate is the plain building to the right, with the forum opening out before both there on the right side of the picture.

Indeed, Hawthorne as more to say of this view from his and Helen's vantage in the museum:
Farther on, the eye skirts along the edge of the desolate Forum (where Roman washerwomen hang out their linen to the sun), passing over a shapeless confusion of modern edifices, piled rudely up with ancient brick and stone, and over the domes of Christian churches, built on the old pavements of heathen temples and supported by the very pillars that once upheld them. 
 At a distance beyond -- y et but a little way, considering how much history is heaped into the intervening space -- rises the great sweep of the Coliseum, with the blue sky brightening through its upper tier of arches. 
 Far off, the view is shut in by the Alban Mountains, looking just the same, amid all this decay and change, as when Romulus gazed thitherward over his half finished wall.
 We glance hastily at these things, -- at this bright sky, and those blue distant mountains, and at the ruins, Etruscan, Roman, Christian, venerable with a threefold antiquity, and at the company of world-famous statues in the saloon, -- in the hope of putting the reader into that state of feeling which is experienced oftenest at Rome. It is a vague sense of ponderous remembrances; a perception of such weight and density in a bygone life, of which this spot was the centre, that the present moment is pressed down or crowded out, and our individual affairs and interest are but half as real here as elsewhere.
These last pictures, I confess, were not taken from the Capitoline Museum but from the top of the Palatine Hill and the top of that gigantic white museum. You can see the domes, and the Colosseum. You see the forum and the ruins. No washerwomen hang laundry there any longer. They are now closed off as a protected park for which you must buy a ticket for admittance and in which archaeologists continue to ask questions of the stones.

Crowded with tourists now, and entrepreneurs selling hats, water, and selfie sticks -- oh, my god! the ubiquitous selfie sticks!-- between this park and the Colosseum, this heart of the Roman Empire still beats. Every language and every skin color: all roads still lead to Rome.

I also confess that this trip was in celebration of my own half-century mark, which occurs this July. Although I am riding up Fortuna's Wheel at this moment, Hawthorne was correct, "the present moment is pressed down or crowded out." The history, the city's, the world's, the Douglasses', Hawthorne's, my own, all walk together like ghosts. If you don't want to feel old, go somewhere that is much older.