Posts Tagged Lewis Douglass

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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Arson attempt on the offices of Frederick Douglass’ The New Era? [Baltimore Sun, May 1871]

On Thursday January 13, 1870 The New Era made its appearance in Washington, DC with the backing of Frederick Douglass, a newspaperman lest we forget.

The paper’s name was derived from the abolitionist newspaper The National Era which was published weekly in Washington from 1847 to 1860 under the editorship of Gamaliel Bailey and John Greenleaf Whittier. From 1851 to 1852 it published Uncle Tom’s Cabin in serial form. During the Pearl Affair, the largest planned escape of slaves in American history, in 1848 a mob almost destroyed their offices.

Plans to start up a “colored paper” in Washington, DC were in the works in the immediate years after the Civil War with folks like George T. Downing urging Frederick Douglass to take a leading role. Douglass, after running three previous papers, has been described as the reluctant editor. This is true.

A couple days after The New Era paper appeared on the city’s streets, the Baltimore Sun‘s “Washington Letter” ran a paragraph acknowledging the launch of the “colored people’s paper.”

“The New Era made its appearance this morning. As heretofore state, it is to be the organ of the colored people of the country. The editor is Rev. Sella Martin; corresponding editor Frederick Douglass. The first issue contains a card from Douglas, stating that pressure of his business prevented him from sending an editorial this week. Three white and one colored printer perform the work of composition.” [The colored printer being Fred, Jr.]

By the end of the year the paper had problems. Promises were made to Frederick Douglass that were apparently not kept and Douglass ended up going all in, anteing up his hard-earned dollars to ensure the paper’s survival.

In February 1871 the District of Columbia Organic Act become law, consolidating the governments of the city, Georgetown, and Washington County. As a Republican man in what was then a Republican city, Douglass was considered a leading candidate for the position of non-voting Delegate. Douglass wasn’t sitting on his hands.

Before moving to Washington Douglass was widely known on both sides of the Atlantic for his outspokenness on the page and lecture stage. However influential in political and literacy circles, not everyone agreed with Douglass’ advocacy and the positions his paper, The New Era / New National Era took in demanding equal rights under the law for freedmen and women. Douglass, a man who came up in the streets of 1830s Jacksonian Baltimore but came of age in Rochester, New York, would often remind folks, “Washington was an old slave city.”

That said, I find Douglass involvement with the New Era/New National Era/New National Era-Citizen another overlooked dynamic of his time in Washington, DC. Foner, Quarles, and Deidrich give it a fair shake. McFeely’s gross negligence and slothful treatment of the paper is downright blasphemous. (About a decade ago there was a panel at the DC Historical Studies Conference on Douglass and his DC paper but at the time I was still a teenager on my own come up so I missed it. I have been unsuccessful in contacting one of the panel’s participants to find out what was said and presented.)

In all the treatments of Douglass and his DC paper in books, academic journals, and other published material looking backwards I’ve never come across what looks to be an arson attempt on the paper’s offices.

In late May 1871 this item shows up in our trusted Baltimore Sun “Washington Letter” column…

“About noon to-day the printers in the office of the New Era newspaper, on Eleventh street, near Pennsylvania avenue, saw smoke coming up through the floor from the pawnbrokership of Issac and Lehrman Abrahams, on the floor below. The police were at one notified, and broke open the doors, when the discovered a large pile of rags and other light material piled up on the floor and burning. The material has been previously saturated with kerosene. The fire was extinguished, and as the two Abrahams were seen to leave the shop a few minutes previously, they were at once arrested on the charge of arson.”

Whew. OK. What does this say? Were the Abrahams trying to arson their own business to collect insurance, trying to burn down the offices of the New Era, or just crazy pyromaniacs?

A quick review of my own files of the the May 25th, June 1, and June 8th editions of the New Era didn’t reveal any mention of this failed arson attempt. But that doesn’t mean it’s not there and I overlooked it. I will do another review soon and will see what I can find in the Evening Star from May 1871 down at the Washingtoniana Division.

All in all, this might be not be nefarious but as they say where there’s smoke there’s fire.

To be continued…

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READ! “The Government Printing Office in Swampoodle” by Streets of Washington

Courtesy of National Park Service

Over at “Streets of Washington” writer-researcher-historian John DeFerrari discusses a well-known example of racism, as experienced by Lewis Henry Douglass, in postbellum Washington, DC. With a detailed history of the Government Printing Office, DeFerrari gives mention to the Columbia Typographical Union’s 1869 refusal to admit Lewis Douglass, thus lowering his wages.

Douglass, a veteran of the Civil War who had stormed the beaches at the famed Second Battle of Fort Wagner, was no slouch as a typesetter, having apprenticed as a young lad with his brothers, Frederick, Jr. & Charles, in their father’s printing offices for The North Star, Douglass’ Weekly, and Douglass’ Monthly.

Receiving discriminatory treatment while working at the GPO, Lewis left soon thereafter to work with his younger bother, Frederick, Jr., and his father Frederick, on the The New Era, which first hit the streets of Washington on Thursday, January 13, 1870.

Lewis and Frederick, Jr. would form their own printing company, the Douglass Brothers.

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Lewis H. Douglass appointed a Notary Public by President Harrison [Cleveland Gazette, July 27, 1889]

Library of Congress

The ups and downs, comings and goings, rumors and speculations of Frederick Douglass and his family were widely reported not just in the pages of The Washington Bee, and other black newspapers in the city (as well as every “mainstream” city daily and weekly), but also black press outlets throughout the country from Indianapolis to Huntsville, Alabama to New York City. Invaluable information not widely known about Douglass and his family is captured in print, as well as a perspective that can be unflinchingly laudatory one week and harshly critical the next.

“Lewis H. Douglass, son of Frederick Douglass, has been appointed a Notary Public for the District of Columbia by President Harrison. There are two of three more of the Douglass family to be provided for and then other colored men will stand a chance. Perhaps Fred has some white relatives – on his wife’s side – who wish office.”

The news item directly below…

“There were fifty-six new police appointed in Washington, D.C., July 1, and not withstanding many colored men applied all were rejected. The colored people are about one-third the population of the District and pay taxes on $10,000,000 worth of real estate. The same thing was done recently in both Detroit and Cleveland.”

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Metropolitan A.M.E. Church presents Frederick Douglass with Bible before departing to Haiti [Cleveland Gazette, September 7, 1889]

Library of Congress

Cleveland Gazette, September 7, 1889

“The members of the Metropolitan A.M.E. Church of Washington, D.C. presented Frederick Douglass a Bible last Sunday morning after the pastor, Rev. J. G. Mitchell, formerly of Ohio, had finished up his special sermon relating to Douglass’ ability and labor. He and his son Lewis worship at this church.”

Soon thereafter receiving the Bible Douglass would depart the country to present his credentials in Haiti as President Harrison’s U.S. minister resident and consul general, Republic of Haiti, and charge’ d’affaires, Santo Domingo.

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Family of Frederick Douglass acknowledgement of “letters and telegrams of condolence,” Cedar Hill, Anacostia, D.C., March 4, 1895

Courtesy Library of Congress, Frederick Douglass Papers

To the many friends whose letters and telegrams of condolence have been most gratefully received, and which have been sent in such numbers as to forbid an immediate personal reply, we, the family of the Frederick Douglass, desire to tender our heartfelt acknowledgement and thank them for their expressions of sympathy for our sorrow and especially for the testimony they have thus rendered of their reverent regard for the great soul gone.

HELEN DOUGLASS

ROSETTA DOUGLASS SPRAGUE

LEWIS H. DOUGLASS

CHARLES R. DOUGLASS

 

CEDAR HILL,

ANACOSTIA, D.C.

MARCH 4, 1895

 

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1873 Washington, DC City Directory – New National Era, editor Frederick Douglass

Along with two of his sons, Frederick Douglass published and edited the New Era / New National Era in Washington in the 1870s. Look for his paper in the 1873 City Directory list of city newspapers.

1873 Washington, City Directory - New National Era.

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