Frederick Douglass recalls playing violin in Dublin, Ireland [“HE PREACHED THEN: Early Career of Fred Douglass, Orator and Reformer.” by I. D. Marshal. 24 November, 1894.]

Fred & Joseph Douglass

Frederick Douglass alongside grandson Joseph Douglass. (Library of Congress)

“I went into a music store in Dublin and asked to look at violins. The proprietor handed me one with seeming reluctance. He appeared to be afraid that I would break it. His whole attitude was one of amazement. He had heard of negroes, no doubt, but very likely I was the first one he had actually seen.

I took the instrument from his hand and played the “Rocky Road to Dublin.”

He was speechless for a moment or two. Then he ran to the door connecting the shop with the living room and called to his wife.

“‘Norah! Norah!’ he cried, ‘come here! There’s a naygur here playin the fiddle. Come quick!”

“So Norah came and stood by her husband quote as amazed as that individual. Then I played ‘The Irish Washerwoman,” and they danced for me. Then I asked the price of the violin for I liked it. But the dealer snatched it out of my hand.

“‘It’s not for sale, sorr. Money won’t buy it.”

Then he turned to his wife and said, ‘The naygur played on that fiddle and we’ll kape it.’

“He sold me another violin, though, really a much better one, for half a crown, but I did not play upon this instrument. I did not want him to conclude that he must keep it also because a ‘naygur’ had played on it.”

Mr. Douglass may not play the violin now, but during those time which he always speaks of “as trying men’s souls” his violin was one of his chief sources.

He has a grandson now, of whom he is very fond, to whom has descended the musical faculty, and who has shown so much talent as a violinist that he is to be sent abroad in order that his musical education may be finished.

“HE PREACHED THEN: Early Career of Fred Douglass, Orator and Reformer.” by I. D. Marshal. 24 November, 1894.

*This article was published in newspapers across the country. Marshall was apparently Managing Editor of The American Press Association.*

Dickson Preston knew. Others have, too.

It is quite possible Frederick Douglass had a photographic memory. Me bets there’s not an infinitesimal chance if a researcher looked through the Dublin City Directories, or the equivalent, from 1844 thru 1848 for violin shops and one owned by someone with a wife named “Norah,” that this store could be identified. Unless, Douglass’ mind was playing a trick on him and this memory actually occurred in Scotland.

My instinct is there is something here and Douglass’ recollection of Dublin is clearer than other times he shared memories of his early days violining.

And, unless Harvard’s John Stauffer pulls a rabbit out of his hat his violin story is a complete and unnecessary lie based in his own imagination not scholarship.

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