Posts Tagged Rosetta Douglass Sprague
Diary tells of evening of tea & music at Rochester home of Frederick Douglass family in March 1861 on the eve of the Civil War [Never before published full account from diary of Julia Ann Wilbur, friend of Dr. Douglass from Rochester to Washington City]
Women in the World of Frederick Douglass published last year by Oxford University Press has done much to advance an understanding of the consequential and expansive networks Dr. Frederick Douglass ran with, largely overlooked in existing scholarship.
Prof. Leigh Fought’s work is one of the most substantive and important books to join the canon of Douglassoniana Studies since Dickson Preston’s groundbreaking Young Frederick Douglass in the early 1980s.
Douglass’ associations and relationships with women propelled his life and elevated his worldly education from the first recollections of his widely-respected grandmother Betsy Bailey to the last conversation he ever had with his second wife Helen Pitts.
While Prof. Fought’s work places many women in the Douglass network, in documenting the collaborative working relationships and associations in the liberation struggle from the abolitionist movement to suffragist movement there are, of course, many more women to be uplifted in the pages of our fallen history.
Last fall, A Civil Life in an Uncivil Time: Julia Wilbur’s Struggle for Purpose, was published by Potomac Books, an important addition to the periphery family of Douglassoniana Studies.
According to the publisher:
In the fall of 1862 Julia Wilbur left her family’s farm near Rochester, New York, and boarded a train to Washington DC. As an ardent abolitionist, the forty-seven-year-old Wilbur left a sad but stable life, headed toward the chaos of the Civil War, and spent most of the next several years in Alexandria devising ways to aid recently escaped slaves and hospitalized Union soldiers. A Civil Life in an Uncivil Time shapes Wilbur’s diaries and other primary sources into a historical narrative sending the reader back 150 years to understand a woman who was alternately brave, self-pitying, foresighted, petty—and all too human.
Wilbur’s diary makes numerous mentions of Douglass, including March 1861 evening at the Douglass family home
Throughout Whitacre’s work there are several references to Douglass. The author alludes to the development of Wilbur’s friendship with Douglass from attending lectures to visiting Douglass in his Rochester home for an evening spent with his family listening to music and having tea.
A Civil Life cites Wilbur’s diary as the source for the anecdotal visit to the Douglass home but the full text has never been published before nor included in existing Douglass biography and scholarship. (Please correct me if in error.)
We thank the municipal government of Alexandria, Virginia for making this incredible resource available to scholars and in the same radical spirit of ladies who ran with Dr. Douglass the militant scholarship — never before published material slowly putting together the millions upon millions of pieces of the puzzle — continues like chatterboxes holding the thrown seat on the all-night 70 bus.
This P.M. Mrs. Coleman went with me to Frederick Douglass’ & we took tea with all his family & spent the evening. It was a very pleasant & interesting visit. Mrs. Watkyes & Mrs. Blackhall & Gerty C. were there.
There was sensible and lively conversation & music. Mrs. D. although an uneducated
black woman appeared as well, & did the part of hostess as efficiently as the generality of white women.
The daughter Rosa is as pleasant & well informed & well behaved as girls in
general who have only ordinary advantages of education. The sons Lewis, Freddy, & Charles, aged 21, 19 & 17 respectively, are uncommonly dignified & gentlemanly young men.
They are sober & industrious & are engaged in the grocery business. F. Douglass is away from home much of the time engaged in lecturing. He continues a Monthly Paper & of course it takes a part of his time. It will be one year tomorrow since his little daughter Annie died under such painful circumstances, & they all feel her loss very much.
Apprehensions for her father’s safety, & grief for his absence caused her death. She was a promising child. She was 11 years of age.
h/t Douglassonian Candace Jackson Gray
Unanswered questions abound about Anna (Murray) Douglass … “The First Mrs. Frederick Douglass,” Colored American, May 12, 1900.
Historically, historians have neglected, overlooked and speculated about Anna (Murray) Douglass. A new book by Honorary W Street Douglassonian Prof. Leigh Fought has advanced research on the women in the world of Dr. Douglass, yet there is still much work to be done.
- What do we know about Anna’s siblings?
- What do you we know about her parents?
- Did Betsey Bailey know Anna and her family?
- Did Betsey deliver Anna?
- What do we know about the friendships, relationships and associations Anna had in Caroline County, Baltimore, New Bedford, Lynn, Rochester and Washington City?
- What do we know about Anna’s travels back to Baltimore to visit what can be presumed to be her friends and family?
- Did Helen and Anna know each other?
- Why do we largely judge Anna, who lived in the 1800s, with a modern temperament and prejudices?
Due to shoddy Douglass scholarship at nearly every turn and recent visits to the Eastern Shore I’ve decided to expand the areas of my research to include everything, including — since this “historical memory” thing is big — the historical memory of Anna Douglass.
The foundational document historians have relied upon for information about Anna is her daughter’s lecture, “My Mother as I Recall Her.” But if we look we can find much more, such as this article from the Colored American which details an event held by the Anna Murray Douglass Union.
Colored American, 12 May 1900, page 11.
LECTURE: Our Bondage and Our Freedom: Frederick Douglass and Family in the Walter O. Evans Collection (1818-2018) [Annapolis, Feb. 23, 2:00pm – 3:00pm]
While there have been many Frederick Douglasses – Douglass the abolitionist, Douglass the statesman, Douglass the autobiographer, Douglass the orator, Douglass the reformer, Douglass the essayist, and Douglass the politician – as we commemorate his two-hundred anniversary in 2018, it is now time begin to trace the many lives of Douglass as a family man.
Working with the inspirational Frederick Douglass family materials held in the Walter O. Evans Collection, this talk will trace the activism, artistry and authorship of Frederick Douglass not in isolation but alongside the sufferings and struggles for survival of his daughters and sons: Rosetta, Lewis Henry, Frederick Jr., Charles Remond and Annie Douglass.
As activists, educators, campaigners, civil rights protesters, newspaper editors, orators, essayists, and historians in their own right, Rosetta, Lewis Henry, Frederick Jr., Charles Remond and Annie Douglass each played a vital role in the freedom struggles of their father. They were no less afraid to sacrifice everything they had as they each fought for Black civic, cultural, political, and social liberties by every means necessary. No isolated endeavor undertaken by an exemplary icon, the fight for freedom was a family business to which all the Douglasses dedicated their lives as their rallying cry lives on to inspire today’s activism: “Agitate! Agitate! Agitate!”
Guest speaker: Dr. Celeste-Marie Bernier
Celeste-Marie Bernier is Professor of Black Studies and Personal Chair of English Literature at the University of Edinbourgh and she is Co-Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of American Studies published by Cambridge University Press. Dr. Bernier is an esteemed international scholar, having won many notable awards. In 2010. she was the recipient of a Philip Leverhulme Prize in Art History while in 2011 she was awarded an Arts and Humanities Research Council Fellowship. In 2012 she was given a Terra Foundation for American Art Program Grant for an international symposium on African Diasporic art which was held at the University of Oxford. In 2010, she was awarded a University of Nottingham Lord Dearing Award for “Outstanding Contribution to the Development of Teaching and Learning.”
In addition to supervising large numbers of PhDs and MRes to completion, she has held visiting appointments and fellowships at Harvard, Yale, Oxford, King’s College London and the University of California, Santa Barbara, in addition to her recent position as the Dorothy K. Hohenberg Chair in Art History at the University of Memphis (2014-15) and her appointment (2016-17) as the John Hope Franklin Fellow at the National Center for the Humanities in Durham, North Carolina.
Dr. Bernier is a world renowned Frederick Douglass scholar and prominent author. In 2015, she published Picturing Frederick Douglass: An Illustrated Biography of the Nineteenth Century’s Most Photographed American. For the bicentenary of Frederick Douglass’s birth in 2018, she is preparing a new scholarly edition of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave in addition to numerous other publications and activities that will include an exhibition as well as international symposia and public workshops. In 2018, she has numerous forthcoming books about Douglass’s life including, “Struggles for Liberty:” Frederick Douglass’s Family in Letters, Writings, and Photographs; Living Parchments: Artistry and Authorship in the Life and Works of Frederick Douglass; If I Survive: Frederick Douglass and Family in the Walter O. Evans Collection; and “I am the Painter:” Imaging and Imagining Frederick Douglass.
Date and Time: Friday, February 23, 2:00pm – 3:00pm
Location: Legislative Services Building, Joint Hearing Room, 90 State Circle, Annapolis, Maryland
Please note: a valid photo ID is required to enter the Legislative Services building.
Event sponsor: The Honorable Delegate Cheryl D. Glenn
Program is presented by the Maryland State Archives.
[Editor’s Note: In September 2014 we attended a lecture by Dr. Celeste-Marie Bernier in the Annapolis State House on the exhaustive research she and Prof. Zoe Trodd conducted in archives throughout the United States and world tracking down photographs of Douglass.]
Brooklyn Historical Society hosts Douglass Minister Leigh Fought, Dec. 11, 2017 _ Book Talk:”Women in the World of Frederick Douglass”
Historian and professor of American History at Le Moyne College, Leigh Fought, paints an alternative portrait of abolitionist and social reformer Frederick Douglass by examining the lives of the women around him. In this latest work, Fought sheds light on Douglass’s relationships to his mother, grandmother, slave mistresses, wives Anna Murray and Helen Pitts, and many other women who nurtured, challenged, and united with him in shared struggles for emancipation, the right to vote, and equality.
Book Talk: Women in the World of Frederick Douglass
Monday, December 11
Doors: 6:00 pm
Event: 6:30 pm
$5 General Admission / Free for Members
BHS Members: to reserve tickets at the member price, click on “Tickets” and enter your Member ID on the following page after clicking on “Enter Promotional Code.”
REFUND POLICY Brooklyn Historical Society requires 24 hours notice before the date of the event to refund a ticket. No refunds are provided after that point. No refunds are provided on the day of the event and all subsequent days.
Founded in 1863, Brooklyn Historical Society (BHS) is a library, museum, and urban education center dedicated to the people of Brooklyn, providing opportunities for civic dialogue and thoughtful engagement.
According to the standard and accepted lore in Douglassonian Studies, Frederick Douglass met Anna Murray, a free person of color, in Baltimore, Maryland in the 1830s. This telling has maintacined in all known and existing works of scholarship.
A seminal fact may be missing, evading the preceding investigations of all amateur and lettered Douglass historians equally.
In a conversation a couple years back with a decades-long Douglass scholar it was discussed that Anna may have met Frederick while he was still under the care of his grandmother on the Tuckahoe. The memory of their childhood connections in the Maryland backroads and creeks were still strong in both Anna and Frederick when they then met again as adolescents in the city of Baltimore. To this fact, Anna’s lifelong bond to her husband, Frederick, was first forged in the Maryland countryside and helps explain the depths of her commitment to him over nearly forty-four years of marriage, the scholar suggested. The scholar is a long-time Douglass re-enactor. To here him to describe, in person as Douglass, the feeling he had upon seeing Anna, his childhood friend, in Baltimore and the accompanying overwhelming rapture of emotion was powerful.
“Wait, wait,” I said. “Where did you hear this story? Where is this from?”
Two sources, the scholar said. Back in the late 1980s or early 1990s, he toured Talbot County with some locals. They tromped through the old land holdings of Col. Edward Lloyd to locate the presumed birthplace of Douglass. While trekking through the brush, some locals shared with the scholar the long-known story that Frederick and Anna had met as children on this hallowed ground. His senior, Anna had babysat Frederick, the local legend holds. Struck by this, the scholar asked more questions and was benefited to further stories confirming that Frederick and Anna were well acquainted before meeting in Baltimore.
Anna Murray was the first of her parent’s children born free. Anna’s eldest daughter recalled her mother was from Denton in Caroline County, Maryland. Anecdotes and official documents have confirmed Anna’s genesis.
In Douglass’s 1855 bio he writes:
“The first experience of life with me that I now remember – and I remember it but hazily – began in the family of my grandmother and grandfather, Betsey and Isaac Baily. They were quite advanced in life, and had long lived on the spot where they then resided. They were considered old settlers in the neighborhood, and, from certain circumstances, I infer that my grandmother, especially, was held in high esteem, far higher than is lot of most colored persons in the slave states.
He also recalled his grandmother’s trade and travel. “She was a good nurse, and a capital hand at making nets for catching shad and herring; and these nets were in great demand, not only in Tuckahoe, but at Denton and Hillsboro, neighboring villages.”
Did young Frederick travel to Denton with his grandmother as she sold these nets? Would her grandmother’s patrons have included the Murray family?
According to James Monroe Gregory’s 1893 work, Frederick Douglass the Orator: Containing An Account of His Life, complete more than a decade after Anna had died, tells:
“His wife, Anna Murray, came originally from the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and lived for seven or eight years in Baltimore, where Mr. Douglass first met her. While she did not have the advantages of education in her childhood days, she was a woman of strong character, with much natural intelligence. As a housekeeper, she was a model, and the practical side of her nature made her a fitting helpmate to her husband in his early struggles and vicissitudes. In manner she was reserved, while he, as is well known, is of a jocose disposition.
She was the financier of the family. It was a settled principle with Mr. and Mrs. Douglass never to incur debts. If an addition was to be made to their home, or if they had under consideration any matter requiring the expenditure of money, they first counted the cost, and then made sure that the means were in hand before entering upon their plans.
In her death, which occurred in Washington in 1881, husband and children suffered a great loss and a severe trial, for she was a good mother and a faithful wife.”
In the primary document historians have used to mine information about Anna Murray, Rosetta Douglass’s 1900 address to the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, the telling of Anna meeting Frederick in Baltimore holds true.
“Anna Murray was born in Denton, Caroline County, Maryland, an adjoining county to that in which my father was born. The exact date of her birth is not known. Her parents, Bambarra Murray and Mary, his wife, were slaves, their family consisting of twelve children, seven of whom were born ill slavery and five born in freedom. My mother, the eighth child, escaped by the short period of one month, the fate of her older brothers and sisters, and was the first free child.
Remaining with her parents until she was seventeen, she felt it time that she should be entirely self-supporting and with that idea she left her country home and went to Baltimore, sought employment in a French family by the name of Montell whom she served two years. Doubtless it was while with them she gained her first idea as to household management which served her so well in after years and which gained for her the reputation of a thorough and competent housekeeper.
On leaving the Montells’, she served in a family by the name of Wells living on S. Caroline Street. Wells* was Post-master at the time of my father’s escape from slavery. It interested me very much in one of my recent visits to Baltimore, to go to that house accompanied by an old friend of my parents of those early days, who as a free woman was enabled with others to make my father’s life easier while he was a slave in that city. This house is owned now by a colored man. In going through the house I endeavored to remember its appointments, so frequently spoken of by my mother, for she had lived with this family seven years and an attachment sprang up between her and the members of that household, the memory of which gave her pleasure to recall.
The free people of Baltimore had their own circles from which the slaves were excluded. The ruling of them out of their society resulted more from the desire of the slaveholder than from any great wish of the free people themselves. If a slave would dare to hazard all danger and enter among the free people he would be received. To such a little circle of free people-a circle a little more exclusive than others, Frederick Baily was welcomed. Anna Murray, to whom he had given his heart, sympathized with him and she devoted all her energies to assist him. The three weeks prior to the escape were busy and anxious weeks for Anna Murray. She had lived with the Wells family so long and having been able to save the greater part of her earnings was willing to share with the man she loved that he might gain the freedom he yearned to possess. Her courage, her sympathy at the start was the mainspring that supported the career of Frederick Douglass. As is the condition of most wives her identity became so merged with that of her husband, that few of their earlier friends in the North really knew and appreciated the full value of the woman who presided over the Douglass home for forty-four years.”
[* In the 1837 Baltimore City Directory Peter Wells of “69 Caroline st.” is identified as a “letter carrier.”]
If Douglass and Anna knew each other before their mutual time in 1830s Baltimore, wouldn’t their eldest and outspoken daughter know and retell this key article of import? Why doesn’t Frederick Douglass mention Howard University in Life and Times? In the field of Douglass studies these questions, among many others, have not thoroughly studied.
Wait, what about Young Frederick Douglass: The Maryland Years, one of the most thorough and original Douglass biographies yet published? What does Dickson J. Preston write?
On page 149, Preston writes that Frederick met Anna in Baltimore, citing Rosetta’s claim.
Case closed? What if all of these previous works, for more than one hundred years, have obscured and overlooked one vital source?
Though not a man of the cloth, Frederick Douglass was frequently addressed as Reverend. He was a disciple of Charles Lawson. His earliest public orations were in the church. He knew the leading theologians of his day, of all denominations – both of European and African descent. (Douglass’s relationship with the church and its leaders is another subject severely understudied.)
A prominent theologian of Douglass’s day, who has been lesser remembered by history, was Bishop Alexander Walker Wayman. Wayman, like Anna, was born free, in Tuckahoe Neck, Caroline County, Maryland in 1821. Wayman and Anna knew each other as children. In adulthood, Wayman and Douglass attended events and camp meetings together. In January and April 1894, Wayman wrote a letter to Douglass addressing him as “My Dear Old Friend.”
How long did Wayman and Douglass know each other?
In 1881 Wayman wrote an autobiography. In the first pages he reveals a clue as to the origins of Frederick and Anna.
“The first A. M. E. Minister, that I heard of, who visited the Eastern Shore of Maryland, was Rev. Shadrack Bassett. He came over from Baltimore and went to the town of Easton, in Talbot County, and preached under some trees, selecting for his pulpit a cart. He read for his opening hymn, “Oh! tell me no more of this world’s vain store.”
And when he came to that verse:
“To dwell I’m determined on that happy ground,” he pointed in a certain direction. The people thought that he intended to say, there was the place for him to build his Church. And upon that very spot the first A. M. E. Church of that region was built.
From Easton Rev. Shadrack Bassett passed up to Caroline County, and stopped at my father’s house. Learning that there was a certain local preacher by the name of Samuel Todd, living in another part of the County, and if he could get him (Todd) to join his Church, he would have a strong man, my father gave him the direction where to find him. Mr. Bassett started, and after walking some miles he reached Todd’s house, and inquired for him. His wife suspected what Mr. Bassett wanted with her husband. She reluctantly told him he was out in the field ploughing, and he moved off in that direction. When he drew near to Mr. Todd, he said, “Turn out those oxen;” and by the time he was up to where Mr. Todd was the oxen were unharnessed, and he was ready to go to the house.
Samuel Todd then and there agreed to unite with the African M. E. Church. He subsequently filled Baltimore City station, Washington, D. C., and New York. When stationed in Baltimore City, on one New Year’s Eve, while singing “My soul would leave this heavy clay, At that transporting word,”
I heard the late Rev. Robert Collins, of Philadelphia, say he was converted.
In the autumn of 1837 he died in Philadelphia. My father was on a visit to that city at the time, and when he returned home was speaking of being present at the funeral of his old friend and brother, Rev. Samuel Todd. How long Rev. Shadrack Bassett remained in that part of Maryland I have no means of knowing.
The next minister that I recollect hearing them speak of was Rev. J. G. Bulaugh. How long he remained there I do not know. The first minister that I recollect seeing was Rev. William Richardson. He was very kind to children, and therefore they all loved him. During his stay he held a camp-meeting at a place called Dick’s Old Field. Miss Anna Murray, now Mrs. Frederick Douglass, came and kept house for my mother while she was attending this camp-meeting.
There was one thing about this meeting that was very disagreeable, as I heard those who were there speaking of it. Several attempts were made to kidnap colored men; one man was seized by them, but he cut his way out.
This must have been about 1824 or 1825; for I recollect hearing the old people speaking about persons going to Hayti. There occurred one circumstance that makes me think it was about that date. A white man named George Calahan owned a slave who was called Moses. On account of bad treatment he ran away and went to the free country. After he was gone some time a colored woman went to Philadelphia, and when she returned home, Bamberry Murray, Mrs. Frederick Douglass’ father, told Mr. Calahan that this woman was just from Philadelphia, and perhaps she had seen Moses. He made haste and rode up to her house and called to her, and said, “I hear you have been to Philadelphia?” She answered, “Yes, sir.” Then she said, “I had a boy by the name of Moses, that went away for no cause.”
This excerpt is not as revealing as one might hope but it does establish, firmly, that Anna Murray and Frederick Bailey were both in the Tuckahoe at the same time in the early / mid 1820s.
So, what does this mean?
(To be continued…)
Family of Frederick Douglass acknowledgement of “letters and telegrams of condolence,” Cedar Hill, Anacostia, D.C., March 4, 1895
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.
ROSETTA DOUGLASS SPRAGUE
LEWIS H. DOUGLASS
CHARLES R. DOUGLASS
MARCH 4, 1895