Posts Tagged Fells Point
Video: “Reading ‘Columbian Orator’ was turning point in Frederick Douglass’ life” -> WBAL TV (February 5, 2021)
VIDEO: “Baltimore’s Point Boys helped Frederick Douglass learn to read” -> WBAL TV (February 4, 2021)
To make sense of history we often turn to books to help illustrate life in the past. But today we talk with someone who brings history alive by taking it to the streets — of Baltimore.
Historian and author John Muller gives us a preview of his walking tour: The Lost History of Frederick (Bailey) Douglass.
He believes the well-worn stories of the abolitionist’s loftier accomplishments don’t portray the true scope of the man he was.
“Frederick Douglass walking tour highlights the history of Baltimore,” (Johns Hopkins News-Letter, September 12, 2019)
Frederick Douglass walking tour highlights the history of Baltimore
John Muller, a local historian and author, organized and led a walking tour titled “The Lost History of Frederick (Bailey) Douglass in Baltimore, 1824-1895” on Friday. The tour departed from the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park, and highlighted various locations in Fell’s Point that Douglass frequented during his time in Baltimore.
The tour’s emphasis on Baltimore’s history and Douglass’ relationship to the city helped attract students. Junior Bonnie Jin said that she participated in the tour because she was curious about the history of Baltimore.“I was really interested in Baltimore history, and I felt like I needed to learn more, especially about African American history, which is oftentimes overlooked,” she said. “It’s interesting to compare the history of Baltimore with the history of Boston, which is where I’m from, especially in regards to the abolition movement.”
The tour first stopped on Thames Street. Muller explained that Frederick Douglass first came to Baltimore when he was around eight or nine years old, enslaved to former Maryland Governor Hugh Auld.[*]
Muller began by describing Douglass as a child. He explained that Douglass was the playmate of Auld’s son, Thomas Auld, and as a result, spent a lot of time with a gang of Irish kids called the Fell’s Point Boys.
“Douglass is a very sophisticated person. He was the friend of the governor’s son, but he also could run the streets,” Muller said. “In the movie Glory, he’s portrayed as very stoic and stiff. Frederick Douglass was not stoic and stiff. He’s a very easygoing free-flowing person.”
Muller then pointed out 28 Thames St., where Nathaniel Knight, a bookseller, sold Douglass the first book he ever owned, a copy of The Columbian Orator.
At the time, Knight was a justice of the peace in Maryland, a role in the state judiciary.
Muller explained the risk that Douglass took when buying the book.
“Douglass buys [The Columbian Orator], which at that time, of course, is an illegal action,” he said. “This means that when Douglass is buying this book, the person he’s buying it from is trusted, confirmed by the senate of Annapolis, to enforce the various laws [of a justice of the peace].”
The tour then turned onto Bond Street. Muller shared another anecdote from Douglass’ life, explaining that in the 1830s, financial instability in Baltimore led to tensions between Irish and free black and enslaved workers. Muller said that Frederick Douglass was assaulted by a white dock worker, and Hugh Auld sought redress in court, going to see a lawyer on Bond Street. But the law at the time did not allow Frederick Douglass, an enslaved person, to speak in court, and did not allow anyone of African descent to bear witness.
Next, the group stopped on Dallas Street, formerly known as Strawberry Alley. When he was still enslaved to Hugh Auld, Frederick Douglass worshiped at a Methodist church on Strawberry Alley, Muller pointed out.
“When Methodism is formed as a religious denomination in America in 1784, one of the stipulations is that you cannot be a member in good standing in the Methodist church if you own slaves,” he said. “[Douglass] attended services here [on Dallas Street] at Strawberry Alley Methodist Church.”
In 1892, Douglass bought property on Strawberry Alley. He reopened the church, which had since closed, and built five homes. Muller noted that throughout his lifetime, Douglass invested in various other properties.
“He never attended a single day of formal school in his life, yet he had an in-depth, complex understanding of economics. He was an investor in real estate in Rochester, [Washington, D.C. and] Baltimore,” Muller said.
He elaborated on the benefit that Douglass’ purchase of the properties on Strawberry Alley had on the Baltimore community.
“When Douglass is building these homes, they are going to be open to all nationalities, with potentially a preference for blacksmiths, carpenters, educators from this community… Just like today, Baltimore has housing issues. Frederick Douglass didn’t just stand on the sidelines. He put his money where his mouth was and opened these properties,” Muller said. “Frederick Douglass gave back to his community.”
Vrshank Ravi, class of 2019, said that he was particularly interested in Muller’s stories about Douglass’ involvement in real estate.
Muller added that Frederick Douglass taught night school on Dallas Street, and explained that he was very involved in the Baltimore school system. “I was like, ‘how did that work back then?’ Especially because Baltimore and real estate, and the whole history of redlining and more modern problems,” he said. “I do a lot of work on urban economics and that really stood out to me.”
“In Baltimore, Frederick Douglass advocated one, that black children should be taught by black teachers, and two, that black teachers should receive equal pay,” he said.
Towards the end of the tour, Muller discussed Douglass’ political views.
“Frederick Douglass was very much a committed Republican, and it’s very important to understand the context of political patronage and how he used his connections within the system to help out African Americans, which, historians have not really told that story,” he said.
Muller clarified that Douglass was still an ardent abolitionist, who believed that political agitation was necessary to create change.
To illustrate his point, Muller told the story of Douglass once publicly refusing to shake hands with Baltimore Chief of Police and former Confederate Cavalry Officer Harry S. Gilmor.
“Frederick Douglass has that visceral vision, that prophesy. He understands that political agitation is the one way to make change,” he said. “He does not serve in the Civil War, but he essentially served in the abolitionist war.”
Like Jin, Ravi also appreciated the fact that Muller focused on aspects of Douglass’ life which are often overlooked by historians.
“There’s a lot of stories that aren’t told or are told wrong, and getting original research is really difficult,” he said. “It made me wish I took more history at Hopkins.”
Jin also said that she appreciated the situated context of the tour, since they walked around the locations of importance.
“We were walking along the same place that so many historical things were happening,” she said. “Him telling the story, added on with the fact that we were walking through, it made it really vivid for me.”
Lion of Anacostia Editor’s Note:
I left the article in tact, as it appears online, but there are one or two corrections.
* Such as, before arriving in Baltimore to the Hugh Auld household Frederick Bailey had been a playmate of Daniel Lloyd, the youngest son of former Governor and United States Senator Edward Lloyd V.
“The Lost History of Frederick (Bailey) Douglass in Baltimore” @ Enoch Pratt Central Library –> Thurs, February 28, 2019 at 6:30 PM
John Muller, author of Frederick Douglass in Washington, D.C.: The Lion of Anacostia and Mark Twain in Washington, D.C.: The Adventures of a Capital Correspondent, will present “The Lost History of Frederick (Bailey) Douglass in Baltimore” using newly discovered information found in the Baltimore City Archives, Maryland Historical Society, Enoch Pratt Free Library, and private archives. Muller has presented widely throughout the DC-Baltimore metropolitan area at venues including the Library of Congress, Newseum, Politics and Prose, American Library in Paris and local universities. He is currently working on a book about the lost history of Frederick Douglass on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
John Muller will be in conversation
with Dr. Ida E. Jones, Morgan State University Archivist.
Writers LIVE programs are supported in part by a bequest from The Miss Howard Hubbard Adult Programming Fund.
Thursday, February 28 at 6:30pm
Central Library, African American Department
400 Cathedral Street
Baltimore, MD 21201
Video: JHU Professor Martha S. Jones discusses “Birthright Citizens: A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America” and Editor’s Note
Johns Hopkins University Professor of History Martha S. Jones has been around the corner and across the world uplifting lost history as of late.
In her groundbreaking work, Birthright Citizens: A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America (Cambridge University Press, 2018), Prof. Jones documents the legal declarations and assertions of citizenship made by the antebellum black community of Baltimore City in radical opposition to the Maryland state legislature supporting African colonization as a matter of long-term public policy. Colonization was supported with a capital budget.
As a street historian I have picked up old maps of Africa which show “Maryland” as a state or county of Liberia. I eventually learned in 1832 the state of Maryland funded a census of all free black folks in the state to better inform its policy efforts in the colonization of black Marylanders.
The era and epoch of Baltimore community history in which Prof. Jones chronicles is from whence Dr. Frederick (Bailey) Douglass emerges and escapes in September 1838.
I suggest scholars take the lead of Prof. Jones and get to studying and researching. There is much work to be done to correct generations of incomplete scholarship and lies.
P.S. I will be referencing Prof. Jones work on Thursday, February 28, 2019 at the Central Branch of the Enoch Pratt Library in the presentation of “The Lost History of Frederick (Bailey) in Baltimore.” Morgan State University archivist Dr. Ida E. Jones will offer remarks and moderate.
Follow Prof. Jones on her blog: http://marthasjones.com/blog/
Headstone for Nathaniel Knight, radical bookseller, located in Baltimore’s Loudon Park Cemetery.
“The Maryland Justice: Containing Approved Forms for the Use of Justices of the Peace of the State of Maryland: With a Compilation of the Acts of the General Assembly Relating to their Office and Jurisdiction, and to the Office and Duties of Constable.” (1825)
On a recent visit to the Maryland Historical Society we were kindly assisted by legendary reference librarian Francis O’Neal and support staff in discovering documents which are meticulously allowing for the careful construction of who was the radical book seller and Justice of the Peace Nathaniel Knight.
All images are courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society.
Cummins, Ebenezer Harlow. The Maryland Justice: Containing Approved Forms for the Use of Justices of the Peace of the State of Maryland; With a Compilation of the Acts of the General Assembly Relating to their Office and Jurisdiction, and to the Office and Duties of Constable. Baltimore: Printed by Benjamin Edes, 1825.
Will Old Anacostia & Washington, D.C. join Fell’s Point, Baltimore and Easton, Maryland in hanging banners to honor Frederick Douglass Bicentennial celebration?
In this week’s edition of The Washington Informer is an article I wrote, “Activists Call for Douglass Banners in Old Anacostia to Hail Bicentennial Celebration,” with quotes from Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, Honorable Ken B. Morris, Jr., Chuck Hicks and Duane Guatier of the Anacostia Arts Center.
The article has precipitated discussions as to how to make the presence of banners a reality. In order to advance the conversation I share a couple ideas:
Throughout the neighborhoods of Washington City a residual spirit of Dr. Frederick (Bailey) Douglass touches extant churches, schools, cemeteries, bridges, landmarks and buildings. Both local and national activism efforts required Dr. Douglass to remain familiar with the Federal City, as well. The United States Capitol, White House and Treasury are all places Dr. Douglass was no stranger.
Therefore distinctive Douglass banners could be placed in minimally three (3) separate locations throughout NW, NE and SE Washington:
- Lower Georgia Avenue & upper 7th Street NW — Frederick Douglass and Howard University
- Capitol Hill Historic District — Frederick Douglass and Reconstruction (editor of the New National Era & relationship with Congress)
- Anacostia Historic District — Frederick Douglass and Family; Frederick Douglass and local activism
For the installation of Douglass banners in Washington City to occur there must be a sense of purpose and urgency upon a number of elected officials, bureaucrats and community partners.
Washington City has the collective sophistication and enough collective coin to make this easily happen and happen quickly. Ideally, installation before July 4th would have been poetic but as we are in mid-June that won’t happen.
It appears there needs to be coordination on the Douglass Bicentennial between the offices of Mayor Muriel Bowser and Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton. With the municipal support of Bowser and the federal support of Norton the placement of banners can be achieved.
I can personally attest, and the record reflects, Congresswoman Norton has been a lioness on the Hill advocating and uplifting the legacy of Dr. Douglass for many years now. The relocation of the Douglass statue from Judiciary Square to the Capitol’s Emancipation Hall was largely due Congresswoman Norton’s leadership. Norton is truly a Douglassonian. However, there is only so much she can do as her office has larger issues to contend with under the Trump Administration.
William Alston-EL and I attended the opening of then-Mayoral candidate Bowser’s Anacostia field office many years ago. Other than light conversation I do not know Mayor Bowser and her level of commitment to Douglassonianism and the uplifting of fallen history.
As part of President Trump’s inaugural parade the DC government (city council and Mayor) displayed a Douglass banner across their stand. The convenient ceremonial pageantry is not what is needed now.
What is needed is leadership and coordination between local ANC Commissioners (Wards 1, 4, 6 and 8), Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), DC Office of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA), DC Commission on Arts & Humanities (DCCAH), Office of Planning’s Historic Preservation Office (HPO) and a bevy of community organizations from Shaw to Capitol Hill to Old Anacostia.
It is time for Washington City to join Fell’s Point, Easton and Rochester in uplifting Frederick Douglass.
Below is the image the National Park Service has used to commemorate the Douglass Bicentennial. Potential banners could be two-sided, with this image or a unique image on one side and a geo-specific or thematic design on the reverse side.
Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Banners throughout Fell’s Point; Greedy Reads bookstore at corner of South Ann & Aliceanna Streets maintains centuries-old tradition of radical booksellers
Throughout stone streets and corners a juvenile Frederick Bailey hit running up against and with the Point Boys and Town Boys of 1820s and 1830s Baltimore dozens of commemorative banners affix light poles recognizing the bicentennial birth year of a local legend known throughout all four corners of the Earth.
Baltimore City Mayor Catherine Pugh and partnering organizations Living Classrooms at the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Museum Maritime Museum and Park, Society for the Preservation of Federal Hill and Fell’s Point, Crossroads School and Morgan State Professor Dale Green of the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture must be applauded and acknowledged for uplifting and elevating Dr. Frederick (Bailey) Douglass in such a proper and public way.
In the full spirit of celebration of Dr. Douglass we must also acknowledge his emergence as a lifelong bibliophile began during his time in Fell’s Point.
Parlaying fifty cents earned from “blacking boots for some gentlemen” a defiant adolescent Frederick Bailey purchased The Colombian Orator from radical bookseller Nathaniel Knight’s shop at 28 Thames Street.
During our flâneur through Fell’s Point yesterday we stopped by Greedy Reeds, Fell’s Point only independent book store, at the corner of South Ann and Aliceanna Streets, a tilt Frederick Bailey passed going to and fro.
Julia, the proprietress of Greedy Reads, is a radical bookseller, keeping a local tradition alive that goes back centuries.
We thank all in Fell’s Point for elevating the history and the neighborhood.
We hope leaders within Washington City and the greater Old Anacostia neighborhood can follow the lead of our friends in Easton, Maryland in Talbot County and Fell’s Point by installing bicentennial banners of our own.
It is the least Washington City and Old Anacostia can do to show our respect and appreciation for all Dr. Douglass did for the neighborhood and the city and continues to do with the presence of his benevolent spirit.