Posts Tagged Barry Farm

Black Women in the World of Frederick Douglass — Dr. Georgiana R. Simpson (pt. 1)

As I walk in, out, around and through neighborhoods, communities and thoroughfares of Southeast Washington, knowingly or not, I re-trace routes Dr. Frederick (Bailey) Douglass trode walking his community as he built community.

Known throughout the four corners of the earth, Dr. Douglass was known and respected on the muddy street corners of old Barry Farm. The Douglass boys, specifically Charles and Frederick, Jr., commanded equal and independent respect as local community activists. Nothing changes but the weather; gun play exists today on the K, gun play existed on the streets and in backyards of old Barry Farm lots off Nichols Avenue.

Within the freedman community of Barry Farm the Douglass family invested themselves to uplift fallen humanity and assist families and their young children, many being the first born free, in education liberation.

The children of Old Barry Farm include Frederick Douglass Patterson, Garnet C. Wilkinson and Dr. Georgiana R. Simpson.

Dr. Georgiana R. Simpson was welcome in the home of not only Frederick Douglass but Frederick Douglass, Jr. who lived on Nichols Avenue, today Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue SE, until his death, before his time, in 1892.

Dr. Georgiana R. Simpson was a playmate with the grandchildren of Dr. Douglass.

Radical black women scholars and educators who ran with Dr. Douglass are legion.


We will no longer let historians whitewash this history. We will no longer allow historians tell “White Man Lies” on Dr. Douglass and the young women of African descent he looked out for, mentored and counseled.

I must admit I am complicit in allowing the lies of history, or rather an incomplete history, to be advanced. I played nice for years. I continue to play nice as that is my natural disposition, but I was granted permission by W Street Douglassonians to ratchet up the radical and guerrilla tactics in uplifting fallen humanity through history.

If Prof. Leigh Fought had stayed in her lane I may not have had impetus and mandate to come through the country roads and seek counsel of descendants of neighbors of Larkin Johnson and Emily Edmonson Johnson.

I was told to not forget the country roads from whence we come, the country roads of Zion, Brookeville, Gregg, Sundown, Goldmine, Brooke, Howard Chapel and Sunshine Burger.

We, guardians of the ground that raised us up, will not knowingly allow Ivory Tower academics to disgrace the community history of Dr. Frederick (Bailey) Douglass for one second longer.


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Charles Douglass; advocate and educator in the early years of Barry Farm / Hillsdale (pt. 1)


The Anacostia Story (p. 78)

In the course of exploring archival collections and canvassing the community I was often told the connection between Frederick Douglass and his children to the Barry Farm / Hillsdale neighborhood was more intimate than explained in the existing bibliography of Douglass Studies.

To investigate the association a number of sources were consulted including city directories, Census records, The Anacostia Story: 1608 – 1930 and government documents.

For the Lion of Anacostia I did not have a chance to fully explore several leads I received and expand upon the contents of letters between Charles and his father that document the happenings and growth of the new community.

From what I discovered and what is reflected in the existing contemporary record of Barry Farm it is beyond speculation and question that Charles Douglass was an educator in the early Barry Farm / Hillsdale community.

According to The Anacostia Story:

Before the consolidation of city and county schools, Charles R. Douglass ([third*] son of Frederick Douglass) served as secretary and treasurer of the county board of trustees, and as a school trustee, from 1871 to 1874.

It was in the latter position that Charles Douglass was instrumental in securing the first appointment of colored teachers in the county, and it was largely through his efforts that the equalization of pay for black women teachers was accomplished.

[*Original text says “second son” while Charles was the “third son.” Thank you to a member of the Douglass family for the close copy edit.]

Edited by Yale-educated U.S. Commissioner of Education and noted reformer Henry Banyard, according to a detailed report in The American Journal of Education (Vol. 3, 1870):

District 7, No. 2 – The Howard schools. – The Barry Farm, comprising about 375 acres, adjoining the estate of the St. Elizabeth Insane Asylum, south of the Eastern Branch, was purchased in the early part of 1868, by the Freedmen’s Bureau. It was divided into house lots of one acre each and offered to the freedmen at cost, the Bureau furnishing each lot owner a portion of the lumber for a house. The payment for the lot was to be made within two years, and in equal monthly installments, with an express stipulation that the lot is forfeited by failure to comply with these terms.

The estate was purchased with funds which the Freedmen’s Bureau, in pursuance of an act of Congress, March 2, 1867, deposited in the hands of three trustees for that purpose. The object of establishing such a fund was, as expressed in the special order of the Bureau, “to relieve the immediate necessities of a class of poor colored people in the District of Columbia by rental of land by sale, with deferred payments, or in such other way as their trustees judgement shall direct for this purpose, provided all proceeds, interest, or moneys received from rental or sale over and above necessary expenses shall be annually transferred” to said institutions.

The trustees are O. O. Howard, John R. Elvans, and S. C. Pomeroy, and they paid for the farm $52,000. The estate made 359 lots, of which 300 had been sold prior to October 1868, and 40 of these had been forfeited. The lumber for 185 houses had been at that date issued by the Bureau and the most of the dwellings built. The enterprise, designed to stimulate these poor people with courage and industrious habits, has proved eminently successful.

The freedmen have entered with great ambition into the idea of securing a home, and have formed on this farm an enterprising, industrious village. They have built a Baptist Church, and have purchased the lot upon which they are about to build a Methodist church. They also bought one of the acre lots upon which the Bureau erected in the closing months of 1867, a large one story school house, at a cost of some $1,500, about 75 feet long and 25 wide, comprising two excellent school rooms and capable of accommodating sixty scholars, with the requisite ante-rooms.

There is also a flourishing night school in operation, for some time under the instruction of Charles Douglass, a son of Frederick Douglass. The proceeds of this property are to go ultimately to the colored schools of the District, of Virginia, and of North Carolina, one third part to each.

The complex and various lives of the Douglass children has yet to receive much scholarly attention and investigation. It is our understanding Prof. Ezra Greenspan, author of William Wells Brown: An African American Life, is working on a book about the children and family of Dr. Frederick (Bailey) Douglass. The forthcoming scholarship will be well received as an important addition to the field of Douglass Studies.

In limited research I’ve come across fleeting references and source material related to the community leadership of Charles Douglass. For example, Charles wrote to President Grant advocating federal recognition of April 16 as the anniversary of the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act. Today, April 16 is a District holiday.

In future posts we will explore the role of Charles Douglass as an educator in Barry Farm and after many-a-years-delay investigate the location and a potential oral history account of the school in which Charles was an instructor.

To be continued …

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Bowdoin Wins NHPRC Grant to Digitize Howard Collection

Bowdoin Wins NHPRC Grant to Digitize Howard Collection
March 11, 2014 by Abby McBride.

Bowdoin continues to be a magnet for illustrious awards, with several major grants totaling more than $1.6 million awarded to faculty and programs at the College in recent months.

Christmas letter written by Howard to his son, Guy, in 1861.

Christmas letter written by Howard to his son, Guy, in 1861

Bowdoin received a grant award of $150,000 from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission’s “Digitizing Historical Records” program to support a three-year project to digitize the college’s Oliver Otis Howard Papers.

Based in Bowdoin’s George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives, the project will reproduce the entire contents of the O.O. Howard Papers (which occupy more than sixty linear feet of shelf space) for online viewing and downloading. The 150,000 high-quality scanned pages will be freely available world-wide.

Howard was a Maine native who graduated in the Bowdoin class of 1850 and went on to become a Union general, awarded a Medal of Honor for his service in the war. His later activities included becoming head of the Freedman’s Bureau and superintendent of West Point, participating in Indian wars in the western United States, and serving for many years on Bowdoin’s Board of Trustees. Over the course of his life, Howard exchanged letters with more than 14,000 people, including notables involved in social reformation, the military, politics, law, religion, education, literature, journalism, and the arts. The luminaries with whom he corresponded included Henry Ward Beecher, Andrew Carnegie, Dorothea Dix, Frederick Douglass, James A. Garfield, Sojourner Truth, and Theodore Roosevelt.

O. O. Howard's 1854 commission as an officer, signed by then-Secretary of State Jefferson Davis

O. O. Howard’s 1854 commission as an officer, signed by then-Secretary of State Jefferson Davis

Howard’s trove of letters, scrapbooks, speeches, diaries, and photographs attracts researchers in a wide range of disciplines. The documents not only provide insight into the events of Howard’s varied career, but also reflect his personal life as a member of a distinguished Maine family, his active social involvement, and his progressive ideas on topics such as African-American welfare and education for disadvantaged populations.

For reasons such as these, the Howard papers are already Bowdoin’s most in-demand collection. But thanks to the digitization project, ”we think the collection will become even more heavily used,” said Richard Lindemann, director of the George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections and Archives. “Digitization makes more people come to see the originals, to inspect them more carefully,” he said. “It actually increases traffic to the original collection.”

Obtaining large-scale funding was critical for the success of this labor-intensive project, which requires many hours of scanning images (a task that will be performed by students) and an important element of quality control, as well as specialized equipment. Bowdoin’s proposal to the NHPRC demonstrated a cost-effective digitization plan, which included the innovative technique of integrating the newly digitized material with the Howard collection’s electronic finding aid – an existing resource that provides descriptive and organizational information about the collection. “Rather than creating metadata, we’re applying metadata that’s already been created,” Lindemann said, noting that this time-saving method provides a model for future digitization projects. Electronic finding aids are not only ubiquitous within Bowdoin’s collections but also commonplace at other institutions.

Lindemann noted that the digitization project dovetails with the College’s active interest in exploring the digital humanities. “The digitized archive will be an opportunity for students and faculty to interrogate the collection in ways that they haven’t been able to before,” Lindemann said.

News and updates for the digitization project are viewable on the project website.

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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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“a smart village,” Anacostia in 1878 Washington, DC City Directory

1878 Washington, DC City Directory, Washingtoniana MLK Library

Anacostia, a smart village on the south bank of the Anacostia has post office, churches, stores, hotel and quite a population, in rear of this is a large colored population and a very thrifty community 

Anacostia in 1878 Washington, DC City Directory, Washingtoniana



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