Dr. Frederick Douglass maintained a dignified presence equally with peasants and presidents. His name was, and is, known the world over.
Dr. Frederick Augustus Washington (Bailey) Douglass is America’s Pharaoh from the Tuckahoe to the Choptank to the Patapsco to the Thames to the Genesse to the Potomac to the old Eastern Branch to the Seine to the Nile River.
The Bailey Tribe of the Eastern Shore from whence Dr. Douglass emerged, son of Harriet, grandson of Isaac and Betsy, have affirmed their existence in this country for centuries. Today, the Bailey name is hundreds, if not thousands, deep in communities throughout the Shore counties. The Baileys have been in this country for longer than the combined years of the Kennedy and Drumpf (Trump) families.
Documentation confirming the birth year of Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey and his siblings discovered by Douglassonian scholar Dickson Preston at the Maryland State Archives in the 1970s has henceforth provided infinite intrigue for speculation.
No newspapermen, preachers or biographers
No matter the investigatory efforts of researches the history of the family of Dr. Douglass will always remain beyond the reach of newspapermen, preachers and biographers.
The history of the family of Frederick Douglass is sacred. Douglassonian biographers and historians have a responsibility to protect and, when necessary, correct the public record from the dangerous blasphemy of speculative historians and salesmen.
Folklore and family lore are not the same. In the journalism industry there are some stories which can never be confirmed and thus responsible editors will not allow their publication. There may be, and often is, an oral tradition which floats above, below, behind, in front of and in-between a story. Special care and attention is required and mandatory when uplifting fallen history.
Questions Douglass grappled with his entire life over the identity of his father have mis-directed the conversation for decades.
In telling the story of Douglass his sisters and older brother have largely evaded mention by biographers. Records, private letters, newspaper accounts and forgotten books provide fleeting accounts.
The relationship between Frederick and his older brother Perry Bailey, also known as Perry Downs and Perry Douglass, is known within the family, staff of the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, Grahams Alley Douglassonians and W Street Douglassonians but largely ignored by present-day Douglass scholars.
Scholarship on the family is reportedly being undertaken by respected William Wells Brown-scholar Ezra Greenspan. The scrap books owned by antiquarian and Douglassonian Dr. Walter O. Evans have allowed for review of newspaper articles and family letters previously unknown to modern biographers.
We anticipate his scholarship and the upcoming publication of material in the Evans Collection giving a fuller account of the Douglass family.
Perry Bailey, older brother of Dr. Frederick (Bailey) Douglass
SPECIAL COLLECTIONS (Mary A. Dodge Collection), Anthony Ledger A, MSA SC 564. (Page 2) — The older brother of Frederick, Perry Bailey, is known to Douglassonians in indigenous communities of Easton & Old Anacostia but *largely ignored in existing body of Douglassoniana Studies.
Perry mentioned in My Bondage and My Freedom (1855)
In his second autobiography Frederick Douglass recalled raw memories of seeing his older brother assaulted.
In contemplating the likelihoods and possibilities of our circumstances, I probably suffered more than most of my fellow servants. I had known what it was to experience kind, and even tender treatment; they had known nothing of the sort. Life, to them, had been rough and thorny, as well as dark. They had–most of them–lived on my old master’s farm in Tuckahoe, and had felt the reign of Mr. Plummer’s rule.
The overseer had written his character on the living parchment of most of their backs, and left them callous; my back (thanks to my early removal from the plantation to Baltimore,) was yet tender. I had left a kind mistress at Baltimore, who was almost a mother to me. She was in tears when we parted, and the probabilities of ever seeing her again, trembling in the balance as they did, could not be viewed without alarm and agony.
The thought of leaving that kind mistress forever, and, worse still, of being the slave of Andrew Anthony–a man who, but a few days before the division of the property, had, in my presence, seized my brother Perry by the throat, dashed him on the ground, and with the heel of his boot stamped him on the head, until the blood gushed from his nose and ears–was terrible!
This fiendish proceeding had no better apology than the fact, that Perry had gone to play, when Master Andrew wanted him for some trifling service. This cruelty, too, was of a piece with his general character.
After inflicting his heavy blows on my brother, on observing me looking at him with intense astonishment, he said, “That is the way I will serve you, one of these days;” meaning, no doubt, when I should come into his possession. This threat, the reader may well suppose, was not very tranquilizing to my feelings. I could see that he really thirsted to get hold of me. But I was there only for a few days. I had not received any orders, and had violated none, and there was, therefore, no excuse for flogging me.
Bailey Brothers reunite after 40 years
Frederic May Holland first biographer to mention Perry Bailey
Materials now at Howard University, Library of Congress and in the collection of Dr. Evans were originally in possession of the living and breathing Dr. Douglass and thus made available to original Douglassonian biographers.
Frederic May Holland, an overlooked and under-valued Douglassonian biographer, worked with Dr. Douglass to research and write his 1891 biography, The Colored Orator.
Douglass provided Holland special access to these scrapbooks. Within the materials were private letters, including one from educator and abolitionist Sallie Holley telling of a lecture offered by Frederick Douglass in which he introduced his older brother.
Sallie Holley wrote a letter describing an 1867 lecture in which Frederick Douglass introduced his older brother, Perry Bailey.
Holland quotes directly from the letter:
Frederic May Holland account
The first day of August, 1867 I joined a party of ladies and gentlemen to hear Frederick Douglass. It was an open air meeting, with an audience of two thousand people. ….
Douglass then introduced his newly arrived, dear brother, Perry, from whom he had been separated forty years. He had often tried to find him ; had sent agents down South again and again, but never could get any trace of him. Slavery hid him away forty years — whelmed him in its loathsome, bitter floo’d.
He spoke of his unspeakable joy in his being restored to him again. The sight of those two long-parted brothers standing side by side — one with his culture and courage, the other in his truth and affection — moved the audience to tears.
It seemed a picture for an artist. It was the first time Perry ever heard Frederick make a public speech; it was a great event to him.
Perry said he was in Texas when emancipation was proclaimed, and overheard his master say he had run his property into Texas and then he could run it into Cuba. Then Perry said he knew something was wrong about master, and he made up his ‘ mind never to go on the water.’
Perry was older than Frederick, and smaller and darker. He went to reside in Rochester near his brother.
His honest face won interest and confidence at first sight, which his good-sense and religious trust confirmed.
Account of the Bailey Brothers in Sallie Holley’s book
In 1899, six years after her death, the letters of Sallie Holley were published under the editorial care of John White Chadwick.
Included in the collection of letters is the same primary source Holland quotes from, with some small variations.
TO MISS PUTNAM
ELMIRA, Aug. 1, 1867.
To-day was spent at Watkins. In the morning we visited the Glen, so wildly beautiful, and in the afternoon we heard Frederick Douglass in a grand speech before three thousand people, a third coloured, at an open-air meeting. Amelia Tyler says, ‘Douglass is no negro; I wouldn’t mind being his complexion.’
“When Douglass was demanding for the negro equality before the law that government should know no black, no white a man cried out, ‘That ‘s a damnable sentiment.’
Douglass said, ‘ The Copperheads are saying I am no negro! Then, as a white man, I declare I have no objection to negro equality before the law. I do not believe it will lessen my chances for the Presidency! The negro would not refuse to vote for me on that account.’
He introduced his newly arrived brother Perry, from whom he had been separated forty years.
He had often tried to find him, sent agents down South again and again, but could get no trace of him. Slavery had whelmed him in its bitter flood. He spoke of his unspeakable joy in being restored to him.
It was a tender and beautiful sight. Those two brothers, standing there side by side, moved the audience to tears of glad sympathy. Perry’s honest face won, at first sight, confidence and interest, which his words of good sense and religious trust deepened. It was the first time he had ever heard his brother speak in public.
Frederick invites big brother to live at Cedar Hill; cares for him upon his death
Following their first meeting in nearly forty years Frederick invited his older brother to live with him in Rochester. After living for some time in Rochester Perry moved, reportedly, back to the Eastern Shore.
In 1878, while speaking at a church in Old Easton, Frederick again met his older brother. He invited him to come back to Washington City.
On June 1, 1880 an enumerator for the United States Census counted Perry Bailey as “Perry Downs” living in an accessory dwelling, a guest house, on the grounds of Cedar Hill
Perry was listed at 67, putting his birthday in 1813, which records at the Maryland State Archives confirm. Frederick, the United Sates Marshal for the District of Columbia, is listed as being 60.
Perry was recorded in Census records as a widowed laborer born in Maryland. Within his household was his sister, “Kelly Barrett,” aged 58 and his 33-year old nephew.
1880 Census Record for households of Frederick Douglass and Perry (Bailey) Downs. Washington, District of Columbia.
According to accounts confirmed by staff of the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site and within local and family folklore, during the last months of Perry’s life his younger brother, Frederick, cared for him in the upstairs room adjacent to his own.
Within the walls of Cedar Hill, the mansion overlooking the United States Capitol and the neighborhood of Old Anacostia, Frederick Douglass comforted his older brother upon his last breathe.
No mention of the 1867 story of Frederick and Perry standing side by side and addressing an audience nor an account of the care Frederick provided his older brother upon his last days exists within the current canon of Douglassonian Studies.
A Life for Liberty Anti-Slavery and Other Letters of Sallie Holley. 1899. p. 202 – 203.
Frederick Douglass: The Colored Orator. Holland, Frederic May. 1891. p. 318 – 319.
1880 United States Census. Washington, District of Columbia. Roll: 121; Page: 143C.
Anthony Ledger A, MSA SC 564. Maryland State Archives, SPECIAL COLLECTIONS (Mary A. Dodge Collection).
Special thanks to staff at the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, Grahams Alley Douglassonians, W Street Douglassonians and Liberation Douglassonians who contributed their time and shared their unique insights for this article.
In correspondence with Prof. Leigh Fought it was suggested in my critique of existing scholarship I should include thine own work. Because Prof. Fought is the Omar of Douglassonian Studies I give respect when it is given and where do.
In truth, Prof. Fought’s collaborative and public scholarship on Frederick Douglass over the past decade or so has done more to advance and expand scholarship than many institutions have over their entire existences.
As an investigatory historian Prof. Fought posted research notes and subsequent questions into the unexplored history of the family of Frederick Douglass, which should be acknowledged for its pursuit of truth in scholarship as an example henceforth all researchers should aspire. Dr. Fought’s research has been acknowledged by descendants of Perry Bailey as being a precedent uplifting family history.
With respect in scholarship to Dr. Fought we offer a a quick review of existing Douglassonian books for inclusions / exclusions of information on Perry Bailey.
Frederick Douglass, The Orator, James Monroe Gregory
Frederick Douglass: The Colored Orator, Frederic May Holland
see blog post above
Frederick Douglass, Benjamin Quarles
Frederick Douglass, Philip Foner
Young Frederick Douglass, Dickson Preston
Frederick Douglass, William McFeely
Douglass’s brother Perry, and Perry’s daughter, who had come to Cedar Hill to live. Perry was dying; Douglass told Amy Post, “He is a dear old fellow, and I am glad to have a shelter for him.”
[p. 297, paperback]
Love Across Color Lines, Maria Diedrich
Frederick Douglass in Washington, D.C.: The Lion of Anacostia, John Muller