Posts Tagged New National Era

Sgt. Lewis Henry Douglass (U.S. Army, ret.) serves as pall bearer for Osborne Perry Anderson (U.S. Army, ret.), only surviving Black American member of 1859 Harpers Ferry raid

As time now passes over the 163rd anniversary of the failed raid on Harpers Ferry of October 1859 by John Brown and his twenty or so raiders collective memory, emotion and interest in the history and particulars of this event remain as strong as ever.

In studying Frederick Douglass over the years I’ve slowly become more familiar with his relationship to John Brown, Storer College and Harpers Ferry and areas of West Virginia. In the early 1870s Douglass first began to present a lecture on John Brown that would culminate in his delivery of a version of this address at a commencement / benefit / building dedication for Anthony Hall on the campus of Storer College in 1881. (Presently, there is no historical marker or interpretive sign for Douglass’ 1881 speech at Harpers Ferry National Historic Park.)

Lewis Henry Douglass (1840 – 1908)

The connections of the 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry to Frederick Douglass and his family were personal. The Douglass family knew John Brown and John Brown knew the Douglass family. As well, the Douglass family knew other members of John Brown’s revolutionary army.

In late 1872 Osborne Perry Anderson died in Washington City. His funeral was held at the Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church with notable pall bearers William E. Matthews, Robert Purvis of Philadelphia, Dr. Charles B. Purvis of Howard University Medical School, United States Congressman Josiah T. Walls (R-FL), and Lewis Henry Douglass, eldest son of Frederick Douglass.

A death notice for Anderson ran in the New National Era, edited by Frederick Douglass and his sons. In its eulogy the paper offered:

“Osborne P. Anderson was truly a noble and devoted lover of freedom for all mankind and proved his devotion in a way that many other decided and earnest friends of freedom really had not the courage to pursue, of of which they failed to see the utility. Yet the course pursued by John Brown, and Osborne P. Anderson, was the entering wedge to rive the chains from the Southern Slave.”

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Brief note on Henry Muller & Germanic American community of Baltimore City & Frederick Douglass

Germanic American Henry M. Muller was a well-known merchant in antebellum and post-War Baltimore City. During his youth in Baltimore City Frederick (Bailey) Douglass knew Muller.

On a recent walking tour of Fell’s Point we were joined by a fellow “Muller,” although of no known relation. In briefly speaking with Julia Muller of the Living Classrooms Foundation I shared that in 1871 Frederick Douglass published an explanatory Erratum in the New National Era recognizing his personal acquittance with a “Mr. Muller” in Fell’s Point.

Although not explicitly included as a fellow member of the “Point Boys,” Douglass alludes to knowing “this man in his youth and early manhood.” Following the war, records indicate Muller was active within the labor movement, including serving as a member of the Junior Order of United American Mechanics.

While not as prevalent a surname in Baltimore as it was (is) in New York City, by the early 1870s there were several dozen “Mullers” listed in the city directory.

How many of these Mullers only spoke German and how many of these spoke English and German? The Germanic population in Baltimore City following the Civil War was significant enough to support multiple German-language newspapers. (Der Deutsche Correspondent regularly reported favorably on Frederick Douglass.)

While advocating for the Freedman community Frederick Douglass cultivated and maintained relationships with members of disparate ethnic groups including Jewish Americans, Irish Americans, Asian Americans and Germanic Americans.

Recent scholarship has redundantly focused on Douglass and his speech, “Our Composite Nationality,” without a closer examination of the nationalities Douglass worked with during his lifetime. We advance that Frederick Douglass had a lifelong and unique relationship with Germanic Americans that has yet to be properly explored, studied and citied.


New National Era, 1871.


Our article narrating our visit to the old ship-yard on Philpot street contained several important errors as to names, one or two of which certainly require correction. It was not HENRY “MILLER,” but HENRY MULLER who behaved so humanely to the colored caulkers when they were compelled to flee the ship-yards in Baltimore. Mr. Muller seeing their destitution, not only sold them his yard that they might go to work, but gave them accommodations as to conditions, which prove him one of nature’s noblemen. It is not easy for a white man to be just and humane to colored men in the North, and such as triumph over prejudice there are entitled to a large measure of respect and gratitude; but in Baltimore – on Fell’s Point – among a people whose abhorrence of the colored race often took the form of murderous assaults. Mr. MULLER’s course was almost heroic.

We knew this man in his youth and early manhood, long before we made our escape from slavery. He was then, as he is now, remarkable for his gentle spirit and manly firmness. Agit, it was not “Rawley’s” wharf, but Ramsey’s that we meant in speaking of the crew-dock which now belongs to Mr. JOHN ABURNS, who so fully recognized the ability and worth of the late SAMUEL DOUGHERTY.

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Did Frederick (Bailey) Douglass know Henry Van Meter, who saw Washington and served in the War of 1812?


New National Era. (Washington City): Feb 23, 1871. (3). editor: FREDERICK (Bailey) DOUGLASS

As an intellectually curious child in tow with his grandmother travelling colonial dirt roads of the Tuckahoe the attention of Frederick Bailey was attuned to the history, customs and culture of his community.

Raised in his grandparents cabin, Isaac Bailey served as the first male father figure for a young Frederick. Throughout his life and across his public career, Douglass acknowledged and recognized the contributions of his elder forefathers.

Accustomed and acclimated to the company of Black American Patriots of the Revolutionary War and the Black Defenders of Baltimore, Frederick (Bailey) Douglass stepped forged and formed onto the national and international stage precipitously and deliberately influenced by men whose stories of sacrifices and contributions to the founding of this country history have mostly been forgotten today.

Frederick (Bailey) Douglass made sure America never forgot the contributions of these Black American Patriots while he had a say about it.

In February 1871, under the editorial guidance of Douglass, the New National Era ran an obituary for Henry Van Meter, “a Black Hero of the Revolution.”

A minor celebrity in his own time, due features in Harper’s Weekly and Benson J. Lossing’s Pictorial Field Book of the War of 1812, Henry Van Meter was reportedly 110 years old or thereabouts when he passed in Bangor, Maine following the Civil War. 

In a footnote to Lossing’s brief feature on Van Meter, there is this interesting note:

Henry remembered seeing Washington many times.

When Governor Nelson’s estate was sold after the war to pay his debts, Henry became the property of a planter beyond the Blue Ridge, on the extreme frontier.

He was discontented, and wished to leave, notwithstanding his master was kind. He wished Henry to marry one of his slave girls, and raise children for him, offering, if he would do so, to order in his will that he should be made a free man at his death. “I didn’t like the gals,” said Henry, “and didn’t want to ‘wait for dead men’s shoes.’

So master sold me to a man near Lexington, in Kentucky, and there was only one log house in that town when I went there.” He was soon sold to one of those vile men engaged in the slave-trading business, who treated him shamefully. Henry mounted one of his master’s horses one night, and fled to the Kentucky River, where he turned him loose, and told him to go home if he had a mind to, as he didn’t wish to steal him. Some benevolent white people helped him on to the Ohio, and at Cincinnati, then a collection of houses around Fort Washington, he took the name of Van Meter, borne by some of the family of his kind master of the Shenandoah Valley.

Henry became a servant of an officer in St. Clair’s army, and served in the company, in the Northwest, with that commander and General Wayne. After the peace in 1795, he was living in Chillicothe, and came East with some Englishmen with horses, by way of Wheeling, to Philadelphia.

In the latter city some Quakers sent him to school, and he learned to read and write. When the war broke out he shipped as a common sailor in the privateer Lawrence, having previously been to Europe several times in the same capacity, and when cast into Dartmoor he held a prize ticket which was worth, when he got home, one thousand dollars. He let a captain have it as security for sixteen dollars. The man died of yellow fever in the South, and Henry never recovered his ticket.

Is it possible Henry Van Meter took his name from the Henry Van Meter (and the Van Meter family) that housed and corresponded with George Washington? We think so. 

Prior to the Civil War, Maine was an active state for the anti-slavery movement, as well as other reform efforts. Some notable citizens of Maine whom Douglass knew and/or worked closely with include, but not limited to, General Oliver Otis Howard, Secretary of State James G. Blaine and the politically influential Fessenden family.

While in bereavement over the death of Anna Murray Douglass, Frederick spent time in the summer of 1883 in the resort community of Poland Spring, Maine. (You’ve likely had a bottle of water bearing its namesake.)

Douglass was a frequent presence in the state of Maine before and after the Civil War. According to the public record, Bangor was a city he visited and formally addressed before and after the war. 

The decision of Douglass to run an obituary for Henry Van Meter is a deliberate recognition of the tradition and history of Black American Patriots who served and saved this country throughout its founding decades. 

Henry Van Meter "

Henry Van Meter, with signature. This image was reproduced in Harper’s Magazine while Van Meter was living. Douglass was frequently featured in Harper’s and in 1883 was placed on the popular magazine’s cover.

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Jonathan Clarkson Gibbs, contributor to New National Era

Jonathan C. Gibbs - rc00407.jpgFor nearly the past decade I have written for and contributed to several Washington area print and online publications including but not limited to The Washington Times, Washington City Paper, Washington InformerEast of the RiverGreater Greater Washington, DCist, Huffington Post and The Washington Post.

In this time I’ve come to know many local journalists and local editors.

Dr. Frederick Douglass was a journalist and editor emeritus for a half-century. Before launching the North Star in December of 1847 Douglass contributed reportage and commentary to several newspapers.

Dr. Douglass ran with them all. In the pages of Dr. Douglass’ various papers are the bylines of legions of journalists, historians, activists and radicals that have been forgotten in the pages of history due the incessant genuflecting and mythologizing.

To understand and body forth the scholarship that is needed to truly uplift the history of Dr. Douglass and all those he ran with will take generations.

The work must be done. Dr. Douglass did the work and all those he worked with did the work.



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Senator Timothy Howe subscribed to the “New National Era”

800px-Timothy_O._Howe_-_Brady-HandyOn Jan. 30, 1871 an annual subscription to the New National Era of $2.50 was paid to editor Fred Douglass on behalf of the office of Wisconsin Senator Timothy Howe.


The Miscellaneous Documents of the Senate of the United States for the Second Session of the Forty-Second Congress (GPO, 1872), p. 37.

(Hannibal Hamlin, Lincoln’s first Vice President, also subscribed to the New National Era through the Senate’s newspaper contingency, as did Missouri Senator Carl Shruz. See p. 38 of cited document.)


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Lewis H. Douglass profiled in William Wells Brown’s 1874, “The Rising Son: Or, The Antecedents and Advancement of the Colored Race”

Courtesy of National Park Service

Courtesy of National Park Service


The senior editor of the “New National Era” is the eldest son of Frederick Douglass, and inherits a large share of the father’s abilities. He was born in Massachusetts, has a liberal education, is a practical printer, received excellent training in the office of “The North Star,” at Rochester, New York, and is well calculated to conduct a newspaper. Mr. Douglass distinguished himself at the attack on Fort Wagner, where the lamented Colonel Robert G. Shaw fell. His being the first to ascend the defences surrounding the fort, and his exclamation of “Come, boys, we’ll fight for God and Governor Andrew,” was a the time commented upon by the press of Europe as well as of our own country.

Mr. Douglass is an active, energetic man, deeply alive to every interest of his race, uncompromising in his adherence to principle, and is a valuable citizen in any community. He has held several important positions in Washington, where his influence is great. He is a good writer, well informed, and interesting in conversation. In asserting his rights against the pr0scriptive combinations of the printers of Washington, Mr. Douglass was more than a match or his would-be superiors. As a citizen, he is highly respected, and is regarded as one of the leading men of the district. He is of medium size, a little darker in complexion than his father, has a manly walk, gentlemanly in his manners, intellectual countenance, and reliable in his business dealings. His paper, the “New National Era,” is well conducted, and should received the patronage of our people throughout the country.


Brown, William Wells. The Rising Son: Or, The Antecedents and Advancement of the Colored Race. A.G. Brown & Company, 1874, p. 543 – 544.

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Richard T. Greener’s “Young Men, To the Front!” [National Era, April 24, 1873]

Richard T. GreenerFrederick Douglass is known for running away from slavery. In his nearly 50 years as a free man Douglass ran with fugitive slaves, militant abolitionists, suffragists, journalists, authors, presidents, senators, freedmen and the next generation of civil rights leaders from Ida B. Wells to Mary Church Terrell to Richard T. Greener, the first black graduate of Harvard University.

Douglass mentored Greener, a frequent guest at Douglass’s Capitol Hill home and later Cedar Hill. The two men knocked heads in public debates at Douglass Hall, formerly at the corner of Howard Road and Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE. Greener was an intellectual of the first order. In some of the earliest editions of the New Era (later re-named the New National Era) Greener’s byline is seen. Greener would later purchase an ownership stake in the New National Era when it merged with a smaller Washington weekly.

Recently Greener has been in the news. With his name in the news let us reprint one of his most well-known essays, “Young Men, to the Front!,” first published in the National Era.

Young Men, to the Front!

The adage which was once so common, if not so thoroughly axiomatic as to gain universal credence – “Old men for council and young men for war” – assumes additional notoriety to-day, when the old men are quarreling in the council chamber and the young men are kept outside the door. While the young men are willing to allow much to the school of experience; many of them are the followers of Locke, and believe in the doctrine of innate ideas. They believe, to continue the comparison, that experience and wisdom do not always spring from length of years, nor does ignorance appertain to youth as a necessity. They dare assert that, as there are those who would never be men, lived they to be as old as Methuselah, so there are some whose minds are as well filled, whose judgments are as mature at twenty-five and eight, and their energy as decisive as though they were in their tenth lustrum. Conscious of this fact, it is the absurdity of folly for the young colored men of the country to sit idly by and see the grandest opportunities slipping away, the best cases lost by default because of the lack of energy displayed by many of our so-called leaders who have been longer on the field. With some very few exceptions, honorable as they are rare, they have done well for their day and generation; but with regard to the needs and policy of the negroes of the present hour they are as innocent as babes. Men for the most part of excellent temper and good working capacity, they lack that which is the handmaid and often the indispensable auxiliary of knowledge and all effective work – judgement. Unconscious puppets often, they dance to unseen music, moved themselves by hidden wires.

The convention was the favorite resort of the leading negro of ten years ago. He convened and resolved, resolved and unconvened – read his own speeches, was delighted with his own frothy rhetoric, and really imagined himself a leading man. He talked eloquently then it must be granted, because he spoke of his wrongs; but when the war overturned the edifice of slavery “Othello’s occupation” was “gone,” indeed The number who have survived and held their own under the new order of things may be counted upon one hand. They survive through that grand old law so much combated but ever  true – the survival of the fittest. They alone give character and reputation to the Negro. They make for him a fame which begets respect where his wrongs only excited pity. The field is comparatively clear now some of the older hacks have fallen by the way or lie spavined at the roadside. The question is, Will the young men of color throughout the country resolve to begin now to take part in public affairs, asserting their claim wherever it is denied, maintaining it wherever contested, and show that they young may be safe in counsel as well as good for war?

There are some who arrogate to themselves wisdom because of their years, just as some equally absurd people think they are wise because they never went to a high school or an academy – men, Heaven save the mark! who pride themselves on having never slaked their thirst at the fount of knowledge. It is not our purpose to disparage age. We remember what Cicero has written, so delightfully, of its pleasures; what Cephalus and Socrates thought of it in the Republic. We look “toward sunset” with reverences and respect; but it its with a reverence that makes us conscious of our own duty. The young men are now studying, working some, alas! idling away their time who ought to be the active, earnest men in the next Presidential campaign; young men who are to control the destinies of their race. Many of them are of marked ability and decidedly energetic in character. Not so fluent, perhaps, as their fathers, they are more thoughtful. They are found throughout the country. We feel that, if  like Roderick Dhu, we should put the whistle to our lips and blow a stirring blast, they would spring up in every part of the country ready with voice, pen or muscle to do their share in any honorable work. In spirit we do this, as young men ourselves, willing to blow a blast which, would that the young men of the country would hear and heed! Young men, to the front! Young men, rouse yourselves! Take the opportunities; make them where they are denied! “Quit you like men; be strong.”



New National Era, Vol. 4, No. 16, 24 April, 1874, p. 2


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Happy (belated) 172nd birthday to Lewis Henry Douglass, Frederick Douglass’s eldest & most trusted son, b. Oct. 9, 1840 d. Oct. 9, 1908

L-R_Charles Douglass, Joseph Douglas, Lewis Douglass. Courtesy LOC

Apologies about the lack of recent posts as we’ve been on multiple assignments and deadlines of late. But I wanted to take a moment to wish a Happy (belated) 172nd Birthday to Lewis H. Douglass, Frederick Douglass’s eldest and most trusted son. (Thanks to the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site for the b-day reminder!)

Lewis fought for his country. He was a newspaper man. He was a labor man. He was a good uncle. He was also a member of the Legislative Council of the District of Columbia, appointed by President Grant.

Lewis also worked with the Bethel Literary and Historical Society at the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church at 1518 M Street NW. He was the only one of Frederick Douglass’s four children who grew to adulthood not to have his own children, as I understand. He lived on 17th Street NW for many years. He worked closely with his father throughout their years together in Washington. He also was born and died on the same day of the same month.

While Lewis Douglass did not reach the heights that Robert Todd Lincoln did, Lewis was much the same in that he was a man on his own. An ambitious young scholar could gather enough material quite easily to write a full book on Lewis and/or Douglass’s children. We hope to see Lewis given his full measure one day.

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Incorporation Certificates filed for “The New National Era and Citizens Publishing Company” [New National Era, April 17, 1873]

Incorporation Certificates.

Messrs. Lewis H. Douglass, James Storum, and Richard T. Greener yesterday filed in the office of the Recorder of Deeds a certification of incorporation of “The New National Era and Citizen’s Publishing Company,” the capital stock of which is fixed at $20,000, with the following trustees: L. H. Douglass, R. W. Tompkins, George D. Johnson, R. T. Greener, John H. Cook, Charles R. Douglass, and Frederick Douglass, Jr. – Daily Morning Chronicle.

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Frederick Douglass, editor of The New National Era, explains newspaper’s name change [September 8, 1870]

In the fall of 1870 The New Era, which had launched January 13, 1870 as the first national paper for black Americans, rechristened itself The New National Era. On September 8, 1870 the paper, edited and published by Frederick Douglass, ran a small note explaining the name change.

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