Archive for May 15th, 2012

George Alfred Townsend to Frederick Douglass, April 29, 1880

Townsend on the left, Twain in the middle.

Before embarking on this mission to uncover Frederick Douglass in D.C, George Alfred Townsend aka “Gath” was one of my favorite journalists of the 19th century. Come to find out that Douglass and Townsend corresponded… and Townsend wrote an 1875 profile of Washington for Harper’s that features Douglass. Small world, huh man?

Here’s the transcription of an 1880 letter Townsend sent to Douglass.

Mr. Douglass 

Dear sir, With this I send you a book I have recently published where you will find some sketches of the Eastern Shore of Maryland. I have often read your book on your youth in the country with delight.

I wish you would send me your autograph letter, so I can put it in your book.

With very much esteem

Your friend

George Alfred Townsend

242 W. 23rd Street

New York City 

April 29, 1880 


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Frederick Douglass’ “Application for Permit to Build” for 316 & 318 A Street NE

Leaving a paper trail in this city can be ruinous, as ads on the Metro stations in and around Capitol Hill have reminded us. For a historic researcher discovering a paper trails is auspicious.

Last week, researcher and cartographer Brian Kraft shared some of the data he’s tediously gathered over the past decade on the city’s building permits.

With his help, this building permit from September 1879 to “erect two brick buildings” in the alley behind 316 & 318 A Street NE will have a life beyond his database and the microfilm at the Washingtoniana Division of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library.

According to City Directories, letters, and Douglass biographers, Anna and Frederick Douglass began living at this address in the early 1870s. I am planning on taking a trip back to the DC Archives to gather more information about this home, Douglass’ first home in Washington.

When Charles Douglass died in December, 1920 he was living at 318 A Street NE.

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Frederick Douglass tells President Lincoln the four keys to successfully enlisting colored troops in the Union cause

In the past five years there have been nearly a half dozen books published examining the lives and relationship of Frederick Douglass and President Lincoln, largely centering on the two documented meetings between these titans of 19th century American history.  (Special shout out to Paul and Stephen Kendrick’s must-read Douglass and Lincoln: How a Revolutionary Black Leader & a Reluctant Liberator Struggled to End Slavery & Save the Union.)

One of the first books to merge these two self-made men was Allen Thorndike Rice’s 1886 work, Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln by distinguished men of his time.

Contributors include former congressmen, a former Vice President, journalist Benjamin Perley Poore, Walt Whitman, General Benjamin “Spoons” F. Butler, General / President Ulysses S. Grant, Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, and many others including Frederick Douglass, who was denoted as “Ex-United States Marshal of the District of Columbia.”

Douglass tells of his first interview with President Lincoln “in the summer of 1863, soon after the Confederate States had declared their purpose to treat colored soldiers as insurgents, and their purpose not to treat any such soldiers as prisoners of war subject to exchange like other soldiers.”

To “make [the colored troops] branch of the service successful” Douglass told President Lincoln he “must do four things:

“First – You must give colored soldiers the same pay that you give white soldiers. 

“Second – You must compel the Confederate States to treat colored soldiers, when prisoners, as prisoners of war.

“Third – When any colored man or soldiers performs brave, meritorious exploits in the field, you must enable me to say to those that I recruit that they will be promoted for such service precisely as white men are promoted for similar service.

“Fourth – In case any colored soldiers are murdered in cold blood and taken prisoners, you should retaliate in kind.”

Before phrases such as “go hard” or “go ham” were introduced into our vernacular, Frederick Douglass told President Lincoln what time it was.

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