In recent months I’ve come across the Douglassonian field work of local historian E. Joseph Murphy in Northeast Pennsylvania. In February 2022 Murphy presented on the connections of Frederick Douglass to persons, places and communities of Northeast Pennsylvania.
At the 10:05 mark Mr. Murphy says: “I do not know if they ever met or had a relationship. Again, they were both heavily involved in the Free Soil Party so I don’t want to assume anything but they probably met a couple of times.”
Mr. Murphy’s intuition is prescient.
Upon hearing this mention I thought back to many yesteryears ago, while in the classroom of Honorable Master Educator Mr. Robert J. Washek (U.S. Army, ret.), where I recall discussing the Wilmot Proviso.
The unsuccessful legislative proviso was introduced to Congress by Pennsylvania Congressman David Wilmot in 1846, a year before the launch of the North Star. Generations of American school children have learned about the Wilmot Proviso as one of many events gradually foreshadowing the oncoming Civil War.
Who was the proviso’s namesake? Wilmot, similar to Abraham Lincoln who served in Congress for his lone term alongside Wilmot, studied and practiced law before entering Congress. Upon the resignation of United States Senator Simon Cameron from Pennsylvania to serve as Lincoln’s Secretary of War, Wilmot served in the U.S. Senate from 1861 to 1863. In March 1865 President Lincoln nominated Wilmot to serve on the United States Court of Claims to which he was confirmed. Wilmot served as a judge in Washington, D.C. for three years until his death in March 1868.
This brief background gives context to how and where Frederick Douglass and David Wilmot shared the same space and/or met on at least one occasion.
Although Frederick Douglass did not purchase property in Washington City until 1872 and edit a newspaper in the capital city until 1870 he was a frequent presence in Washington City during the administrations of presidents Lincoln, Johnson and Grant.
So where and how may have Douglass and Wilmot met?
Friendly with members of the federal judiciary, including the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States S. P. Chase, prominent local and national clergy and members of Congress, among other associates, Frederick Douglass in all likelihood recognized David Wilmot in the audience of a lecture he delivered in Washington City in February 1866 at Minister Sunderland’s Presbyterian Church.
We dare not speculate on the extent and dynamics of the possible connections, associations, and relationship of Douglass and Wilmot but we kindly offer to Mr. Murphy, and all other local scholars of Frederick Douglass, that if you seek the local history you will likely find the local history right where you stand.
We kindly ask and humbly request of Mr. Murphy, and other respective scholars, when discussing Douglass and Wilmot this blog and its author are properly cited and credited. This complimentary research is offered in good faith and goodwill that we hope will be returned in kind. This blog is not supported by any public dollars or local, state and/or federal grants. This blog is supported by the spirit of the late William Alston-El to uplift fallen humanity with the consequence of lost history.