Monday, December 31, 2018

Amy Post visits John W. Hurn

NOTE: This post has been updated in the June 5, 2019, post "The Chair in the Photographs."

First of all, now that I have read the entire book, let me recommend Nancy Hewitt's fantastic biography of Amy Post, Radical Friend. The full review will be out whenever it gets published within the year; but just know that Post is lovely and this is a biography that she deserves.

Second, Hewitt threw in an interesting detail on page 241, mentioning that Post wrote a letter to her husband from John and Sarah Hurn's photography studio. Here is the letter from the Isaac and Amy Kirby Post Family Papers Project at the University of Rochester, written by Amy Post to her husband, Isaac, on 8 Dec 1863, from Philadelphia.:

…and now I am standing at John & Sarah Hurns shoe case surrounded by constant comers and goers, and bargain makers for pictures.

John W. Hurn was an African-American photographer and the telegraph operator who helped Frederick Douglass flee Philadelphia when news of the Harpers Ferry raid broke. Hurn received the message and, instead of bringing the news straight to the authorities, he went to Thomas and Louisa Dorsey's home, where Douglass was staying, and told them, first. "You, no doubt, saved my life," Douglass later wrote to Hurn.

Hurn also took this quite famous photograph of Douglass in about 1862.:

Head and Shoulders of Frederick Douglass

Incidentally, that picture is dated to January 1862 because that was when he was in Philadelphia giving a speech and would have had the opportunity to visit Hurn's studio. You know what else he was doing in Philadelphia then? Dropping Rosetta off with the Dorseys -- the same Thomas and Louisa Dorsey -- to stay while she searched for a teaching job. (She did not enjoy her time with the Dorseys, but that is Chapter 7.)

That got me thinking about these three pictures of Amy Post, Rosetta Douglass, and Anna Douglass.:

Note the chair, its carving, the upholstery, the finials. That's the same chair, right? These three photographs were clearly taken in the same studio. That's not a stretch to say so, don't you think? No photographer has been attached to these images, and the most reasonable guess would be a photographer in Rochester. A good flip through a Rochester City Directory wouldn't hurt, but I confess to having not gone that far just yet. (This is only a blog post.) 

Still, if Douglass was at the Hurn studio in 1862, and Rosetta was with him, it is within the realm of possibility that she also had her picture made. Then, later Amy Post passed through and sat for her own portrait. As for Anna, she's a cipher, but if they were dropping off Rosetta for an indeterminate amount of time, could she perhaps have gone down with them and also been persuaded to sit? 

Of course, all of the question marks put this well within the realm of speculation, one for further research. Nevertheless, wouldn't that be cool if the Hurns also photographed the two Douglass women and Post? It's certainly fun to think so.

Also, note how Post says that the studio belongs to both John and Sarah?

Friday, November 30, 2018

DAY 5: AAIHS Frederick Douglass Roundtable

Black PerspectivesAAIHSFrederick Douglass Forum, 26-30 Nov 2018
The AAIHS Frederick Douglass Roundtable in Black Perspectives concludes today with Christopher Shell's interview of Kenneth B. Morris, Jr. Morris heads the Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives and, as the title of the organization suggests, is a direct descendant of Frederick Douglass. His mother was Nettie Douglass, who was the daughter of Frederick Douglass III, who was the son of Joseph Douglass, who was the son of Charles Douglass, who was the son of Frederick Douglass. That's not all! His mother's mother, who married Frederick Douglass III, was Booker T. Washington's granddaughter.

The posts this week have all spoken to the past and present, describing Douglass's life, vision of the United States, and its connection to the state of our nation today. Morris, whose family is rooted in that past, tells of the ways that he sees his role in taking that legacy forward, into the future, through his work against human trafficking, today's trade in human bodies and lives, and educating children.

Morris is also a wonderful, generous man. He came to speak at Le Moyne a few years ago and our African American students lined up just to shake his hand and have him sign fliers, posters, anything they could find. One professor brought his son, who was about ten (maybe), who sat entranced. He feels the history, too, it is real for him, a live, electric wire from the past, through him, and into the future.

The craft of history is a collective endeavor, really, the study of different aspects of an individual's life, placing that individual within the context of others. It's like turning a kaleidoscope or circling around a statue or playing with the lenses on a camera. To be able to contribute a piece or perspective to that study, and to have others find that piece or perspective useful are two thrills of doing history. This has really been such an honor to be included among this group in this forum.

Indeed, it has been an honor, over this past year, to be part of so many events that bring people together who approach Douglass from so many different angles, disciplines, and ages. I've spoken in libraries, National Parks, elementary schools, Ivy League Universities, liberal arts colleges, community colleges, to children, adults, librarians, teachers, rangers, students of all sorts, people of all sorts. I've spoken in the west, the north, the south, the east, in England, in France. My book won two prizes and been nominated for a third (which I will not win and have no business winning, but it's still nice to have your work recognized). I feel that my fifteen minutes of fame are coming to an end, but the book is out there and will work its magic into the scholarship and interpretations over time. That's how historiography works.

I have had some significant pain and sadness in my life this past year, too, that overshadows the good more often than not. Still, I've been scrappy in spite of myself, to a certain degree charmed, and very very lucky. Definitely lucky.

From what I understand, Black Perspectives will continue with more Frederick Douglassness next week, publishing pieces from the conference that took place in Paris in early October. (I know this because eminent historian Douglas Egerton will have a post on Black Reconstruction from the concluding roundtable in which he and Manisha Sinha participated.)

Thursday, November 29, 2018

DAY 4: AAIHS Frederick Douglass Forum (Anna Douglass Day!)

Black PerspectivesAAIHSFrederick Douglass Forum, 26-30 Nov 2018
Anna Douglass, Frederick's first wife, takes center stage (probably to her chagrin) in today's Frederick Douglass Forum in AAIHS's Black Perspectives.

I'd summarize, but that might defeat the purpose of sending readers over to read the post there. Suffice to say that I wanted to place Anna Douglass at the center of the story, to explain the difficulties of knowing her, and to consider ways to understand her as her, not as a projection of what she should be.  As I said on the book of face, one of her key features is that she was not and is not anything anyone else wants her to be. She was and is herself, Anna. If she did not read, let her not read. If she got frustrated and angry with her husband, let her be frustrated and angry with her husband. He probably was a lot of work on a daily basis from her point of view. If she did not want to be known -- well, I'm not letting that one go, but I do realize that was her choice. 

She will, of course, be waiting on the Other Side -- if there is an Other Side -- to smack me. Although, I sense that a withering stare was more her style. 

In any case, thank you to Keisha N. Blain, Brandon R. Byrd, and their staff for putting together this fantastic roundtable and for inviting me to be included in such illustrious, smart company. May this piece do all involved (including Anna Douglass) justice!

Tomorrow, Christopher Shell will interview Kenneth B. Morris, Jr..

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

DAY 3: AAIHS Frederick Douglass Roundtable

Black Perspectives, AAIHSFrederick Douglass Forum, 26-30 Nov 2018
Today's entry in the AAIHS Black Perspectives Frederick Douglass Forum comes from Noelle Trent, Director of Interpretation, Collections, and Education at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee. If you ever get the chance to visit that museum, bring Kleenex. The experience will astound you, taking you through the narrative of the Movement and the people who made it happen. No surprise, then, that someone who works there has also written a dissertation on Douglass and American exceptionalism, which I hope she publishes quite soon.

In "Frederick Douglass and the United States Constitution," Trent traces Douglass's interpretations and reinterpretations of the Constitution. She also pulls out a great quote from the Revolution that makes defending Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton very difficult during the late 1860s and early 1870s, a legacy that still haunts feminism to this day. More importantly, Trent reveals the ways that, even after the Reconstruction amendments passed, African Americans remained marginal in this idea of an American nation. The Liberty Party's vision of abolition may have passed, but the Garrisonian vision still had -- has -- a long way to go.

Tomorrow, I'm up, hoping to evoke sympathy for Anna Douglass as she was rather than as so many people then and now wanted and want her to be.

By the way, the mural there, as the caption on the AAIHS website note, is from Belfast. Here is the full mural from 2011, when I lived in Ireland for the year.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

DAY 2: AAIHS Frederick Douglass Roundtable

Black Perspectives, AAIHSFrederick Douglass Forum, 26-30 Nov 2018

In "Frederick Douglass's Vision of America," which has previously appeared in Public Seminar as "This is Your America: Why Frederick Douglass Still Matters," Roberts addresses his fellow American citizens with the same stinging indictment of hypocrisy that Douglass did in his own time. He points out the yawning gap between the ideal of "America" and its reality. 

I may actually have my students read this piece in the next week because Roberts gets at an idea that I've been trying to impress upon them this semester in teaching the first half of the U.S. history survey. I'm teaching another course with a philosopher, and she has introduced me to some theory that has given me the tools to shape some of what I already know through history. The ideas of racial projects, hegemony, and counter-hegemony have helped to organize this story that I'm helping these students learn. 

Hegemony is that ideal, the story that some Americans like to believe about the country, the history that they learned in high school that bored the crap out of most of them. Counter-hegemony -- or counter-narrative, as I'm often calling it -- is the push-back, the Douglasses and Turners and Veseys and Truths and Tubmans and Tecumsehs and Fanny Wrights and so on and so forth. The ones forcing America to live up to this ideal. The whole thing, the whole mess and conflict becomes a racial project, or a series of competing racial projects that are, in the end, a national project. What is race? What does that mean? Who decides? What does it look like? What forms of power, institutionalize and otherwise, are involved? What forms of resistance? 

But, I digress, having just read Roberts piece after teaching that class and the Crisis of the 1850s. 

David Blight turns to "Frederick Douglass's Childhood of 'Extremes," looking at both the violence that characterized the young Frederick's youth and his process of remembering it. Blight has that ability to tell a story so simply that you don't realize just how complex and layered it is until you reflect. When I look at the young Frederick, I think of a child who was profoundly abused down to his very soul. That fueled his sense of justice and his rage and, I think, a need for love, just as a man and a human. Blight's piece highlights that in no uncertain terms.  

At the end of his piece, he imagines Douglass taking up his pen to delve into his pain and set down his autobiography, but I would like to add in two figures who could easily have helped him in the process. The first was his wife, Anna, who grew up to age sixteen in Caroline County and then lived in the same part of Baltimore as Frederick. The other was their friend and "adopted sister" (her term, historians would call this part of a fictive kin network, and Ezra Greenspan intends to include her in his study of the extended family), who went by the names Harriet Bailey, Ruth Cox, Harriet Adams, and Ruth Adams (Adams being her married last name). She hailed from Easton, where she lived into her twenties, in Talbot County. While Douglass' memory was prodigious, as I imagine people's memories were in those days moreso than now, there is certainly no reason that these two women did not help him along with some details of their own. Indeed, Douglass mentions a cousin of his wife who was beaten to death by Mrs. Giles Hicks, suggesting that Anna gave him some material herself. 

Tomorrow, Noelle Trent's piece will appear, followed by mine about Anna Douglass on Thursday. Friday, Christopher Shell will interview Kenneth B. Morris, Jr

Once again, the comments there (and here) are moderated in order to weed out verbally-abusive trolls desperate for attention. The AAIHS has had more than their share of problems in that department, as you can imagine.

Monday, November 26, 2018

DAY 1: AAIHS Frederick Douglass Roundtable

Black Perspectives, AAIHS, Frederick Douglass Forum, 26-30 Nov 2018

This week Black Perspectives, the online journal of the African American Intellectual History Society, will be running a round table on Frederick Douglass. This forum will feature a series of historians expounding on topics of their research and specialty as they relate to our favorite subject, Frederick Douglass. On the final day, Christopher Shell will interview Kenneth B. Morris, Jr., descendant of both Douglass and Booker T. Washington, and head of the Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives.

Today, Manisha Sinha traces the theme of fugitivity -- the state and experience of being a fugitive --- through Douglass's life, showing the ways it informed his criticism of the United States and his vision for its future. Sinha delivered this piece as part of a roundtable on Douglass at the Paris conference in October. The roundtable there asked each participant to choose a word to describe Douglass, thus the framing of her contribution here. As always, her thoughtful consideration of the theme illuminates and connects various points in Douglass's long life.

Christopher Bonner turns to that latter point, discussing the ways that Douglass helped Americans imagine, in specific terms, a racially-just nation. Naturally, all African Americans wanted, demanded, a nation that included them as free and equal citizens. Yet, distilling millions of peoples' hopes into a crystalline set of goals and actions requires a man of electric vision. Bonner sketches the means by which Douglass accomplished that task.

Contributions from David Blight and Neil Roberts appear tomorrow, Noelle Trent's will appear on Wednesday, a post about Anna Douglass by yours truly receives Thursday's spot, and the interview with Morris ties the whole week up on Friday.

You may, of course, engage with the authors in the comments section on their posts at the forum. Don't be alarmed if your comment doesn't appear immediately, however, because they are moderated (just as comments here on this blog are moderated). There are, after all, quite a number of rude, irrational, racist bullies out there who just want to use someone else's platform to call attention to themselves and feel powerful.


Also, not the point of this post, the Prof. Bonner's post, or the painting, but I do love that the illustration of "Frederick Douglass's Radical Imagination" depicts him wearing a shawl. I am sure that there are about a thousand different textual interpretations to make of that, but my thoughts go in two directions. First, who did the artist envision as making him the shawl? Anna, perhaps, or Rosetta, or even a granddaughter? Second, as someone who knits and crochets, I want to make Douglass a shawl. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

David Blight Off the Deaton Path

Two of my favorite gentleman discuss yet a third of my favorite gentlemen.

Stan Deaton, Senior Historian and the Dr. Elaine B. Andrews Distinguished Historian at the Georgia Historical Society, interviews David Blight, author of Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, on his podcast "Off the Deaton Past."

Stan organized a fantastic NEH Seminar on African American history ages ago that took us throughout Savannah and onto the Sea Islands. (If you are a teacher at any level, I highly encourage you to look into these seminars and institutes.) He also introduced me to Walter O. Evans, who allowed me to research in the collection that David Blight describes here and portions of which have been published by Celeste Marie-Bernier and Andrew Taylor in If I Survive: Frederick Douglass and Family in the Walter O. Evans Collection. Stan does a great job as an interviewer, just prompting David and letting him tell his stories. You just sit there rapt, listening to his insights.

(Also, so he won't feel left out, my #1 favorite gentleman is Douglas Egerton.)

Link here:

Monday, November 12, 2018

Upcoming AAIHS Online Forum

The African American Intellectual History Society will be hosting an online forum "Frederick Douglass @ 200" from Monday, 26 November, to Friday 30 November, 2018. That's the week after Thanksgiving. Vanderbilt professor of history, Brandon R. Byrd, whose specializes in Haiti, organized the roundtable, and invited this illustrious group of scholars to participate:

Oh, yes, and they invited me, too. My piece will be on Anna Douglass. I originally wanted to go in a different direction about Douglass and women's rights, but Carol Faulker did a much better job in her paper at the Paris conference, so I'm hoping that she publishes that. Then, after reading all of the reviews of David Blight's book, in which the reviewers still could not seem to understand Anna as more than a cliché of the long-suffering woman-behind-the-man (which is not how Blight portrays her, and certainly not how I wrote about her), I thought that I'd grant her some dignity by discussing some of the difficulties and the importance of understanding her as an historical actor.

I also confess that I am the reason that this roundtable was not published sooner. As mentioned at the beginning of my talk in Paris, my father died in September, which threw many things off the rails and required many an extension of deadlines, this being one. So, my apologies to the participants, organizers, and audience who anticipated this forum sooner. My gratitude also to Keisha N. Blain, the senior editor of Black Perspectives, as well as her staff, for being so patient with me.

This should be an exciting and interesting week of essays to read, given the different directions each scholar approaches our subject. Douglass is an endlessly fascinating man engaged in an endlessly fascinating era.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

"The Book I Did Not Write: Other Approaches," Paper in Paris, 12 October 2018

Last Friday, 12 October 2018, I delivered one of the three keynote addresses at the Frederick Douglass Across and Against Times, Places, and Disciplines conference held in Paris (yes, THAT Paris -- the one in Europe, not the one in Texas). The whole event was a spectacular gathering of scholars working in philosophy, political science, literature, history, and all sorts of humanities from all types of schools and engaging with Douglass's world with about as many different sensibilities and sympathies as there were people in attendance. Helene Quanquin, one of the organizers, said that the conference was filled to capacity, and certainly all of the sessions that I attended had very few empty seats. (Like in our classrooms, those empty seats tended to be front and center -- indeed, people would rather sit on the floor than sit in the front row!)

I'm posting the video of my keynote here, but one of the papers that I heard and that I want to highlight is Rhae Lynn Barnes's digital history project, "Frederick Douglass in the City of Lights: Walking Tour," which is part of a large project, U.S. History Scene. She did this project with undergraduate students of all levels, and used Douglass's experience, among others, as a means of engaging with issues of race and class in Paris today. It's quite spectacular and similar to some of the work Amy Cools has been doing in her posts on her blog, Ordinary Philosophy. Next time I'm in Paris, this will be on my itinerary!

Now, on to my paper, "The Book I Did Not Write: Other Approaches to Women in the World of Frederick Douglass."

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

"Engendering Douglass: The Women Who Shaped a 'Self-Made Man'" by Our Earnest Struggle

Frederick Douglass is often described as a self-made man. Yet his life was profoundly shaped by the women around him--both those who helped and loved him, and those who used and opposed him. Our guests introduce us to some of them, and discuss the challenges of recovering their stories.

Professor Leigh Fought (LeMoyne College) is author of Women in the World of Frederick Douglass (2017). She paints an intimate portrait of Douglass’s wife, Anna; searches the record for his grandmother, Betsey; demystifies his relationship with “fr'enemy” Susan B. Anthony; and explains how Ida B. Wells rekindled his activist fire.
Annette Daniels Taylor, a Buffalo-based poet and performer with Young Audiences of Western New York, talks about the art of conjuring the past. She discusses her soundwalk through the Douglasses’ Rochester and brings Anna Douglass and neighbor Jenny Marsh Parker to life.

Image: "Anna Murray Douglass" mural by Shawn Dunwoody, School 12, Rochester, NY
This interview with poet Annette Daniels Taylor and me highlights Anna Douglass from two different directions and disciplines. Imagination plays a different but crucial role in both of our work, too, as we both try to reconstruct her world within our specific crafts and with our particular goals. Although our interviews were conducted separately, we seem to be in a conversation with one another, touching on similar ideas (partly through the skill of the interviewer).

Annette Daniels Taylor's work can be found here at the Frederick Douglass Experiment. It's a beautiful and fascinating combination of poetry, history, and tourism, revealing the veils that layer a place.

Monday, October 15, 2018

2018 Harriet Tubman Prize Finalists Announced

Many an unfortunate and amazing thing has happened since my last blog post. Some are worthy of posts of their own, such as the fascinating Douglass conference in Paris this past weekend and the Douglass in Paris walking tour website created by one of the speakers, Rhae Lynn Barnes and her students. Today, however, this appeared in my "In Box" wholly unexpectedly:

The Lapidus Center for the Historical Analysis of Transatlantic Slavery is pleased to announce the finalists of the annual Harriet Tubman Prize. In December, the prize of $7,500 will be awarded to the best nonfiction book published in the United States on the slave trade, slavery, and anti-slavery in the Atlantic World in 2017.

A Readers Committee of scholars and librarians selected the three finalists: Leigh Fought’s Women in the World of Frederick Douglass (Oxford UP); Tiya Miles’ The Dawn of Detroit: A Chronicle of Slavery and Freedom in the City of the Straits (The New Press); and Tamara J. Walker’s Exquisite Slaves: Race, Clothing, and Status in Colonial Lima (Cambridge UP).

In Women in the World of Frederick Douglass, Leigh Fought illuminates the life of the famed abolitionist off the public stage. She begins with the women he knew during his life as a slave as well as Douglass’s varied relationships with white women who were crucial to the success of his newspapers, were active in the antislavery and women’s movements, and promoted his work nationally and internationally. By examining the circle of women around Frederick Douglass, this work brings these figures into sharper focus and reveals a fuller and more complex image of the self-proclaimed “woman’s rights man.”

Tiya Miles’ The Dawn of Detroit pieces together the experience of the unfree—both native and African American—in the frontier outpost of Detroit, a place wildly remote yet at the center of national and international conflict. Miles introduces new historical figures and unearths struggles that remained hidden from view until now. The result is fascinating history, little explored and eloquently told, of the limits of freedom in early America, one that adds new layers of complexity to the story of a place that exerts a strong fascination in the media and among public intellectuals, artists, and activists.

In Exquisite Slaves, Tamara J. Walker examines how slaves used elegant clothing as a language for expressing attitudes about gender and status in the wealthy urban center of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Lima, Peru. Drawing on traditional historical research methods, visual studies, feminist theory, and material culture scholarship, Walker argues that clothing was an emblem of not only the reach but also the limits of slaveholders’ power and racial domination. Even as it acknowledges the significant limits imposed on slaves’ access to elegant clothing, Exquisite Slaves also showcases the insistence and ingenuity with which slaves dressed to convey their own sense of humanity and dignity.

Congratulations to the finalists! The winner will be chosen by a Selection Committee and announced in December.

What an honor to be in the company of such incredible historians who do work of such complexity. I confess to being a particular fan of Miles's Haunted South, so I'm kind of rooting for her; but then Exquisite Slaves also sounds like a fascinating study. Women has no chance here, but so what? Look at the company it keeps and look at the committee that honored it this way. Thank you!

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Frederick Douglass Freedom Day: What Was Anna Doing?

Still trying to make Frederick Douglass Freedom Day a Thing. After all, in Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, at the very beginning of Second Part, Chapter 2, he said, "My free life began on the third of September 1838." (A year before the Amistad saga began, incidentally.)

Last year I wrote about Frederick Bailey donning a sailor suit and hopping a northbound train, ticket and borrowed protection papers in hand.  In his autobiographies, he told of his first few days, uncertain of whom to trust or where to turn, until directed to David Ruggles on Lispard Street. At some point during that time, he wrote to "Anna, my intended wife," who arrived from Baltimore, "to share the burdens of life with me." The Rev. J.W.C. Pennington, himself a former slave, now minister, married them in the presences of witnesses on September 15, "a few days after her arrival."

September 3, the day that Frederick left Baltimore, to September 15, the day that Frederick Bailey and Anna Murray were married. Considering the time for the letter to reach Murray and that she arrived a few days before the wedding, let's say ten days elapsed there between his departure and the news that he had arrived safely. Think back before then. He said that he had decided to take his own fate into his hands three weeks earlier. That makes a month in which Anna's life hung in the balance along with her future husband's. What did she do during this time?

The one source for her side of the story comes from their daughter, Rosetta Douglass Sprague, who wrote a memoir in the early twentieth century, My Mother As I Recall Her. The similarities between this story of her mother and those told by her brothers suggest that this was the family origin story and was, therefore, of great importance to all of the Douglasses. Rosetta's emphasis on her mother's role in the origin, along with the domestic details absent from the brothers' accounts, tells quite a bit about Anna's role in the family from the very beginning.

"The three weeks prior to the escape were very busy and anxious weeks," Sprague related, going on to point out that Anna Murray had saved her earnings and that "The little that they [her mother and father] possessed was the outcome of the industrial and economical habits that were characteristic of my mother." She detailed the "feather bed with pillows, bed linen, dishes, knives, forks and spoons, besides a well filled trunk of wearing apparel for herself," and, as most brides (and their little girl daughters) would remember, "a new plum colored silk dress was her wedding gown."

What would Anna's story of September 3, 1838 look like?

Had she saved her trousseau in hopes of some unknown but much desired future with a husband and family of her own, long before she had known of this young caulker with so much swagger? Had she begun to accumulate it when she met him probably earlier that year? (Had meeting her been his inspiration for the arrangement of pseudo-freedom that he had with Hugh Auld between May and August?) Had she purchased it in those three weeks when they made their plans to go north? Had she waited until she arrived in the city and then went on a shopping spree? Perhaps not the last, since Sprague does say "brought with her." Did she sew that plum silk dress herself, knowing that it would be her wedding dress?

What was the conversation between them when he told her that he had resolved to leave? "Miss Murray, I am going. Come with me and be my wife." "Miss Murray, we cannot stay here and have a life worth living. We must go north where I -- we -- can be free." "Mr. Bailey, let's go north." "Mr. Bailey, how much longer must you put up with this?" "Mr. Bailey, we shall not have a family where you can be taken away. We shall go north were you -- we -- can be free." "Are you thinking what I'm thinking? Then, let's go."

Think also of what she, too, risked as they planned the journey. She lived in the house of a white family. As satisfied with her work as they may have been, would they have kept her on if they discovered she had helped a slave run away? Those preparations that Sprague mentioned. She must have done them in private, quietly, not arousing suspicion that anything unusual was afoot. Her mask must remain firmly in place, not showing anxiety nor joy nor trepidation nor hope.

What of that letter that she received from Frederick, notifying her of his safe arrival in New York?How many days did she have to wait for it to arrive? To whom was it addressed? Certainly not her nor her employers. Did he wait until he found the safety of Ruggles' home to send it, or did he post right away? What subterfuge did they use?

How did she herself get away? She had the money to buy the ticket. Did she have to call upon friends to hold her trousseau until she could slip away, pretending to go to market or church or on some other errand, then meet her friends to collect her baggage before she caught her own train north? How did her employers react when she did not return? What friends did she leave behind who, as her husband said of his own, "I loved almost as I did my life, -- and the thought of being separated from them forever was painful beyond expression"?

Did the people she left behind include family? Remember that she had eleven brothers and sisters, perhaps some in Baltimore. Indeed, Frederick's outing of his own identity in his Narrative, while placing them all in danger of his return to slavery, allowed Anna the opportunity to reconnect with her own family, if she had not already done so. Her younger sister Charlotte began appearing in the records after this point, and moved in with the Douglasses in Rochester in the 1850s. Was she among those whom Anna left behind in Baltimore? How did they find one another again?

As she travelled, did she worry that she might encounter some visitor to her employer's home who might recognize her and ask questions? Did her heart break for the people she left behind? Or did she rejoice that she travelled toward a husband, maybe a baby in a year or so, a home to call her own? Did she feel that she was off on a great adventure? If she did, she had no idea how much of an adventure the next forty-four years would be.

What, too, would an older, Anna, further along on that adventure, advise that younger woman, sitting on that train, speeding toward the young, unemployed and penniless man with so much potential, waiting to marry her and "share the burdens of life"?

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Amistad Marker in New London

This past Wednesday, August 29th, was the 179th anniversary of the Amistad's capture by the U.S. Coast Guard. I meant to post these photographs right after I returned from Mystic, but life got a little complicated and I ended up in Houston. There is no Douglass connection to Houston except perhaps his brother's brief time in Millican, which is northeast of the city; but I've covered that. That meant catching up, and the semester started, and blah blah blah excuses. So, here we are, pictures about the Amistad from New London. 

The Custom House, where the U.S. Coast Guard first brought the Amistad  and the rebels.
The Thames River and the New London docks lie just beyond the railroad tracks, behind it. 
Up the river you can find the Coast Guard Academy. The Custom House is now a museum.

Marker to the rebels featuring Cinque. The text says:

ON THIS SITE, August 29, 1839 ---
A federal investigative inquiry indicted 38 enslaved Mende Africans accused
of revolt on the high seas and murder of the captain and cook of the Spanish 
slave ship Amistad which was captured and brought into New London by U.S.
Revenue Cutter Washington. Lt. Gedney commanding.

This first step to Freedom revealed resources which ultimately through trials
in Hartford and New Haven, and an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court by former
President John Quincy Adams, won their liberty as persons to return home by
missionary ship to Sierra Leone in 1841.

Thames River Waves lapped against the white-striped low black hull of Amistad
for 14 months until it was refurbished and sold for salvage nearby at Joseph 
Lawrence's dock. The cargo of silks, satins, and other treasures were auctioned
off at this custom house on these front steps.

Amistad had unjustly held leader Joseph Cinque and his people as slaves in 
its hold before it became the vehicle for their passage to freedom. Never
before, or since, has there been record of such freedom won.

Lucille M. Showalter -- The Day.

On the wall, to the side of the entrance to the Custom House, 
you also find a marker to another, later claim of freedom:


On this site, September 30, 1859, Police Court Judge
Augustus H. Brandegee and Customs Collector John
 Perkins Mather freed a stowaway slave known as "Joe"
by applying Connecticut's Personal Liberty Law
against the federal Fugitive Slave Act, Judge Brandegee
asked the stowaway, "Do you want to be slave or free?'
The slave replied, "Free!"

This plaque was erected to celebrate the blessings of freedom
The Day
February 24, 1991

Learn more about the Amistad rebellion from Marcus Rediker's The Amistad Rebellion: An Atlantic Odyssey of Slavery and Rebellion.

By the way, the organizations formed to aid the defense of the rebels eventually became the American Missionary Association. During the Civil War, before the formation of the Freedman's Bureau but after Emancipation, the AMA was one of the largest organizations to mobilize to meet the basic needs of the formerly enslaved who had become displaced by the conditions of war. Among the first teachers were Helen Pitts and Edmonia Highgate.

Helen Pitts, of course, later became the second Mrs. Frederick Douglass. Edmonia Highgate was a friend of the Douglasses' children and of Jermain Loguen's children. As with Pitts, working in the conditions of Norfolk, Virginia, made her very ill both physically and from what was likely traumatic shock. She returned to Syracuse for a break, during which time Douglass made sure that she testafied about the conditions of the freedpeople to the 1864 "Colored Men's Convention," as they set an agenda for Reconstruction. When she recovered, she returned South to continue her work. She's buried here in Syracuse.

1844 - 1870

She devoted the labors of her brief
life to educating the freed slaves
in the South and her eloquence
enlightened the North to their plight.

For how inspiring the thought that 
these dear souls are "Forever Free."

Friday, August 17, 2018

Mystic, Connecticut

I'm off to Mystic, Connecticut, today for the roundtable on Mystic history at Groton Public Library tomorrow.

Douglass actually spoke in the area a few times, mostly in 1868. That makes complete sense, 1868 being an election year and Connecticut tending toward Republican. On December 19, 1867, he spoke in New London, the city that first harbored -- or would that be incarcerated? -- the Africans on the Amistad. The old Customs House even has a marker to the incident. Steven Spielberg filmed many of the outdoor, dock scenes of Amistad at Mystic Seaport; and if you want to see stars in the eyes of shipbuilders, ask the guys down at the Seaport shipyard about building the replica. The pure joy that would come over their faces!

To give you an idea of how close the two places are, when I worked at Mystic Seaport, I lived in New London and the commute was maybe 30 whole minutes from my front door to my desk, with stop lights and a bad attitude.

Douglass did not go home for Christmas that year, because he traipsed through parts of Massachusetts then back to Mystic on January 4, 1868. He went up the Connecticut River to Suffield, Connecticut, then over to Bridgeton, New Jersey, and Newburyport, Massachusetts, (birthplace of William Lloyd Garrison) after that. Such a wide range, all on rivers and near coasts, all within a week, suggest he travelled by boat. Then -- boom! -- Bath, New York, in the Finger Lakes seven days later and westward to the Old Northwest. A shift to the train.

He turned back to New England the following autumn, speaking to the YMCA at Armory Hall in Westerly, R.I., on November 30, which is really just right next door to Mystic, and then back to New London the next day and just north to Norwich on December 2. Norwich, he may or may not have known, was the birthplace of David Ruggles, his savior in New York City during his first 24 hours of freedom.

(I want to say that I've been to the Westerly Armory Hall, I think to watch that Billy Goat Boyfriend practice with his band in the basement, so I tried to block it all out.)

Douglass did not go back to that part of Connecticut until December 30, 1875, not an election year, but on the eve of a very important one, the one that ultimately ended Reconstruction in the South. I don't have much evidence that he travelled that way before the Civil War, but then the Stonington line was the last stretch of the coastal railroad line built, completed in 1858. Most of his attention in southern New England stayed around Providence and New Bedford before he shifted to New York. He was very strategic in the use of his powers.

Going where Douglass went, however, is always quite nice. I wonder what he saw and where he stayed, what he thought of a seaside town, himself having spend so much time among shipbuilders in his youth. This sort of attachment to a subject is one of the reasons I am so at loose ends now that this book is done, leaving me too jangled to settle into the next and feeling a bit like I have a post-partum depression (not that I know what that actually is like).

One last story about Douglass and Mystic: Mystic Seaport was the first place where I saw caulking, the job Frederick Bailey trained to do in Baltimore. Loud, smelling of pine pitch and hemp rope (no, not hemp like that!) and watery air, the moment seemed a bit like time-travel, seeing this old skill in practice with period tools on a ship old enough that Douglass himself could have worked on the original boards, and thinking of him doing the same.

ETA: Read more here, including a link to tomorrow's podcast of the event.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Douglass at the 2018 State Fair

Beginning next Wednesday, August 22, 2018, the Gerrit Smith Estate National Historic Landmark, John Brown Lives, the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum, and the Underground Railroad Consortium of New York State will host a series of events at the New York State Fair here in Syracuse, the "Convention City" of the nineteenth century.

One set of programs commemorates the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial:

Wed., Aug. 22, 3:00 p.m.:  1850 Fugitive Slave Convention: Douglass and Smith, Hugh C. Humphreys.

Sat., Aug. 25, 2:00 pm: Drama: A Time in the Life of Frederick Douglass, Shields Green, and a Woman Called Moses, Akwaaba Players.

Sun., Aug. 26, 2:00 pm: Equality Day: Women in the World of Frederick Douglass, Leigh Fought (me!) -- Cancelled due to out-of-town family emergency.

Mon., Aug. 27, 2:00 pm: The Innocence of Experience: Fanny Seward in Her Own Words, Maria Coleman

Tues., Aug. 28, 2:00 pm: Conserving Frederick Douglass, Tom Hunter

Wed., Aug. 29, 2:00 pm: 1850 Cazenovia Fugitive Slave Convention: Douglass & Smith, Hugh C. Humphreys

Thurs., Aug. 30, 2:00 pm: Frederick Douglass in Chautauqua County: Researching the Underground Railroad in NYS, Karen Livsey

Fri., Aug. 31, 2:00 pm: Frederick Douglass and Other Friends of Timbuctoo, Martha Swan

Sat., Sept. 1, 2:00 pm: Frederick Douglass, Quakers, and Reform in Upstate New York, Judith Wellman

Sun., Sept. 2, 2:00 pm: Frederick Douglass and Quakers, and the 1816 Farmington Quaker Meetinghouse, Reginald Neale

Mon., Sept 3, 2:00 pm: Frederick Douglass, Quakers, and Reform in Upstate New York, Judith Wellman

All events will be held in the Empire Theater in the Arts & Home Center, circled in blue below.:

The Underground Railroad Consortium program has scheduled these events:
I confess that I haven't been to a State Fair since the 1986 Texas State Fair, although I've been to smaller county fairs once or twice since then. (I went to one with a boyfriend of the time who seemed a bit too fascinated with the billy goats, which should have been my first clue that something wasn't right about him, like attracting like and all. He's someone else's problem now, thank heavens!) I'm kind of excited to see what it is all about, what with my memories of quilts and Cinderella's carriage-sized pumpkins and such. I hope to see butter-making, or sculptures, anyway. 

I digress. 

The State Fair hails the beginning of the semester, which means anything not involving the classroom falls by the wayside from lack of time and lack of energy. My energy has been sorely taxed of late already, too. Still, the Paris conference beckons in early October, as well as a pass through London that includes Othello. With luck, I shall have the data to post on those from there. Otherwise, the next post may not appear for yet another year. 

Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Douglasses in Venice, 18-19 May 1887

Douglass's glide past the "house where Desdemoni resided when wooed by Othelo," came amid a two days, and a quick passage in his travel diary, of Venetian splendors. He visited the city on May 18-19, 1887, and wrote on May 21st, while in Milan.:

"The ride from Florence to Venice was delightful. The weather was neither too hot nor too cold, and bright sunshine gave a lustre to the snow crowned Appenines and set them off attractively and imposingly."

"As to Venice itself I can only say it surpassed all the ideas I had formed of it."
"It is a city by itself."
"I had read of its canals,..."
"...its Gondolas,..."
"...its Rialtos,..."
"...its palaces,..."
"...and its wonders of art,..."
"...and its churches,..."

"...and was prepared to look upon all with admiration,..."
"...but had after small comprehension of its charms..."

"The Square in front of St. Mark..."

"...that monarch..."

"...of churches..."
"...flancked by the Doge's Palace..."
"...and arcades on the other..."

"...once seen will never be forgotten, and will always fill the mind with peculiar pleasure."

"In looking at Venice as it is, with the marks of decay upon it,..."
"...though still in many respects the most beautiful of cities..."
"....but we easily think of what it must have been in the days of its [glory]...."
"...when it was the city of Merchant Princes,..."
"...and had control of the rich commerce of all the East,..."
"...when it was a free Republic."

"I saw its Biblotyc containing acres of volumes, and precious manuscripts. Among these I saw letters from three great Americans, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamen Franklin." 

"On the great canal, I saw the house where Desdemoni resided when wooed by Othelo." 

"No where else than in Venice is glass manufactured into more perfect forms of beauty."

"Where climate, sea and sky are so beautiful..." is not strange...
"…that they should suggest beauty to the artificers..." all kinds of works."

Source: Frederick Douglass, Travel Diary, Frederick Douglass Papers, Library of Congress.