Posts Tagged Domestic Life

Frederick Douglass reads for “Shylock” with the Uniontown Shakespeare Club [December 1877]

Scholars and independent researchers of Frederick Douglass have all most likely come across a reference or two in their reading of the Uniontown Shakespeare Club, in which Douglass independently participated at least twice. During his second reading with the group, in late 1877 Douglass performed the role of “Shylock” in The Merchant of Venice.

In an unfinished letter dated December 21, 1877 to “My dear Friend” Douglass writes, “I spoke to a very [illegible] and elegant audience at Mt. Pleasant Wednesday night, and read with the Uniontown Shakespeare Club last night.

The play was the Merchant of Venice and my part [was] Shylock. This is my second meeting with the Club. I find it very pleasant and entertaining and I have no one at my home to go with me and I often fancy that I am losing one half of the happiness of such occasions because in all such matters I am alone.”

For anyone who has taken a tour of Cedar Hill and paid close attention they have most likely seen (or heard a Ranger point it out) the large print of Othello and Desdemona, from Shakspeare’s Othello, prominently displayed just above the mantle in the living room.

Tireless advocate of the cause and public intellectual C.R. Gibbs knows from personal experience Douglass’ love of Shakespeare. Decades ago Gibbs had the unique pleasure of reading from Douglass’ personal Shakespeare collection.

[ED Note: In speaking with friends in Anacostia I have mentioned this club and Douglass’ involvement with it. The near uniform response is, “We need to start the club up again!” Huh, man.]

 

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Frederick Douglass enjoyed playing “Swanee River” on his violin for friends & family

From the hills of Frederick Douglass’ home in Anacostia the strings of a violin could often be heard wafting through the country air. Self-taught as a young man, Frederick Douglass delighted in playing songs for his many guests. In later years his grandson’s study and performance of the violin would take him across the world.

One of the many songs Frederick enjoyed playing was “Swanee River.”

Note: This is the best we could find on YouTube.

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Death knocked on the door of the Frederick Douglass family too often, Douglass outlives his wife, two children, and numerous grand-children

Death knocked at the door of the family of Frederick Douglass all too frequently. When a parent buries a child the natural evolutionary order of life is upset. Frederick Douglass buried two of his children. Just nine of Douglass’ twenty-one grandchildren lived to adulthood.

When his youngest daughter Annie died in March 1860, less than two weeks short of her 11th birthday, Douglass was in Glasgow, Scotland, having fled the country after he was implicated in John Brown’s failed raid of the Federal Arsenal at Harpers Ferry in November 1859.

Anna Murray Douglass passed away on August 4, 1882 and nearly ten years later, as a heat wave swept through the city, on July 26, 1892 Douglass’ middle son and namesake, Frederick, Jr. died. He was fifty years old.

From the National Tribune, 4 August, 1892.

Tuesday, July 26. – Frederick Douglass, jr., a son of the noted colored man of that name died at Hillsdale, a Washington suburb, today. Mr. Douglass was for some time employed in the office of Recorder of Deeds in the District of Columbia, having gone there while his father was the Recorder, but for the past five years has been a clerk in the Pension Bureau.

And from the Washington Post, 5 November, 1887.

Death in Fred. Douglass’s Family

Charles R. Douglass, son of Frederick Douglass, is at present sadly afflicted in the loss of his two elder children, Chas. F. and Julia A. Douglass, of typhoid fever. The disease was first taken by the son about five weeks ago and by the daughter about two weeks ago, since which time the three other children have been attacked and one of them is now lying at the point of death. Charles was about twenty years of age and the daughter about fifteen. The son’s death took place Wednesday night and the daughter’s the following night. The two bodies will be interred at Greenwood this afternoon.

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Frederick Douglass monthly statement from Robert F. Martin, dealer in groceries, provisions, feed, & C. at Cor. of Monroe & Harrison Streets, Uniontown, DC [Nov. 6, 1881]

Library of Congress, FDP

During his quarter century of living, working, and paying taxes to the District of Columbia Frederick Douglass was not an abstract, impersonal, aloof resident. He walked the streets, he attended meetings organized to advocate for District suffrage, he mentored students at Howard University, he went to church, and he went to the store.

Viewing the personal receipts available on the Library of Congress’ Frederick Douglass Papers collection you can see Douglass had a collection of favorite tailors, a favorite fine tea shop, a favorite house painter, and a handful of favorite grocers. Throughout his years in DC, even if these merchants would change locations Douglass’ business would follow their move.

Historians have analyzed Douglass’ relationships with President Lincoln, William Lloyd Garrison, Martin Delany, Ottilie Assing, Ida B. Wells Barnett, and other notable men and women of his era, but his interactions and relationships with the “little guy” have evaded investigation.

One of the men in Uniontown Douglass knew and was friendly with was Robert F. Martin, a man of many hats and influence in old Uniontown. Martin was at one time or another the Postmaster for Anacostia (Uniontown), the proprietor of the infamous Farmers and Drovers Hotel, and a dealer in groceries, provisions and feed at the prime time corner of Monroe & Harrison Street, today the corner of Good Hope Road & Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue.

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1886 bill from the tailor, Douglass buys new pants, relines his frock coat, and gets old pair of pants repaired and cleaned

Library of Congress

In spring 1886 Frederick Douglass was keeping it conservative. According to a receipt on the Library of Congress’ collection Douglass paid Louis Kettler $20 for a fresh pair of English pantaloons, relining one black cloth frock coat, and repairing, cleaning & pressing an older pair of pantaloons.

Ketter was a tailor at 1222 F Street NW, downtown.

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