Archive for July 25th, 2012

“Fred Douglass Helps A Church” in Baltimore [New York Times, March 1892]

FRED DOUGLASS HELPS A CHURCH.

Baltimore, March 5. – Some weeks ago Frederick Douglass visited Baltimore in company with his son for the purpose of paying off the mortgage on the Centennial Colored Methodist Episcopal Church. The church is the one in which Mr. Douglass first received his religious education, and, finding that it was in financial straits, he came to the rescue and lifted the mortgage.

In the presence of 1,300 persons the Rev. J.L. Thomas, the pastor, burned the mortgage papers. Sunday has been set aside as a day of special service. Fred Douglass will deliver an address.

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Frederick Douglass & his sons lived in greater Anacostia area in early 1870s; before Frederick Douglass purchased Cedar Hill in the fall of 1877

When Frederick Douglass moved to Uniontown, horse thieves, wild animals, and escapees from the Government Hospital for the Insane roamed the pastoral roadways. In just over twenty years since its founding the suburban subdivision of Uniontown, and the adjoining villages, had seen the erection of school houses, churches, stables, new homes and businesses, and meeting halls. Douglass was no stranger to this community.

The next neighborhoods over from Uniontown were known as Potomac City, Hillsdale, and Barry Farm (developed by the Freedmen’s Bureau); the last two names remain in currency today.  With more than $50,000 set aside by General Oliver Otis Howard, head of the Freedmen’s Bureau, in a trust to develop “normal collegiate institutions or universities” these funds were used to purchase 375 acres from the descendents of James D. Barry in 1867. Sitting just beneath the Government Hospital for the Insane, which saw its first patient in 1855, the sale of lots would help relieve “the immediate necessities of a class of poor colored people in the District of Columbia.” Within two years, more than 260 families had made Barry Farm their home, the Douglass boys included.

Writing in his autobiography General Howard recalled, “Some of those who bought one acre or two-acre lots were fairly well off. I found it better to have a few among the purchasers who were reasonably educated, and of well-known good character and repute, to lead in the school and church work, and so I encouraged such to settle alongside the more destitute.” Howard would often bring government officials to Barry Farm to show them the self-sufficient community, largely made up of freedmen. “Everyone who visited the Barry Farm and saw the new hopefulness with which most of the dwellers there were inspired, could not fail to regard the entire enterprise as judicious and beneficent.”

Testifying before a Congressional Committee in 1870, Edgar Ketchum offered a sketch of a Barry Farm homestead. “You may see another (man) some thirty-six years of age, very black, very strong, very happy, working on his place. His little house cost him $90. You see his mother; that aged ‘aunty,’ as she raises herself up to look at you, will tell you that she has had eleven children, and that all of them were sold away from her.” Ketchum continued, “She lived down in Louisiana. The man will tell you that he is one of those children. He went down to Texas, and when he came up through Louisiana and Alabama he found his old mother and brought her up with him, along with his wife and son. And there they live.”

And there, all three of Douglass’s sons initially settled upon moving to Washington in the late 1860s, a testament to the family’s creed and commitment to being on the front lines of uplifting their race. Charles and Lewis would move across town while Frederick, Jr. would spend the rest of his life on nearby Nichols Avenue, today Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue. In the early years of the 1870s, when in Washington to run The New National Era and serve on the Legislative Council, records indicate Frederick was living in the Anacostia area with one or all of his sons.

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