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Frederick Douglass to William Lloyd Garrison, March 6, 1844

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FREDERICK DOUGLASS TO WILLIAM LLOYD GARRISON

Sudbury, [Mass.] 6 March 1844.

FRIEND GARRISON:

In the absence of some one better qualified for the task, I take it upon me to inform you as to the character of the Conventions held since we parted at Lowell—the first of which was held at Groton, Feb. 24th.1Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison both attended a One Hundred Conventions tour meeting in Lowell on Thursday and Friday, 22–23 February 1844. While Garrison remained in Lowell, Douglass, William A. White, Parker Pillsbury, and Lunsford Lane left for Groton to conduct another antislavery meeting. Lib., 8, 15 March 1844. Your are doubtless aware, that this place has, in by-gone days, been considered quite famous for its anti-slavery character, as well as for its inflexible opposition to sectarian and clerical domination. It was in this place that Rev. Silas

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Hawley2A native of Amherst, Massachusetts, Silas Hawley (1815–88) grew up in central New York, where he entered the ministry in the Congregational church. Although his father supported the American Colonization Society, Hawley became an abolitionist after reading an English physician’s account of slavery in Jamaica. In 1839 his acquaintance, Gerrit Smith, recommended Hawley to the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society as a lecturer, which assigned him to Middlesex County. There, he stayed in the Groton home of Amos Farnsworth and organized a nondenominational evangelical Christian congregation. After leaving Groton in 1841, Hawley traveled west and eventually settled in Wisconsin. Silas Hawley, “Reminiscences of Groton during the Years 1839, 1840, and 1841,” Groton Historical Series, 11:1–24 (1886); Elias S. Hawley, The Hawley Record (Buffalo, N.Y., 1890), 586; Merrill and Ruchames, Garrison Letters, 2:695n. (formerly an anti-slavery lecturer, but now a Second Advent minister) used to preach. Here, too, a convention was held, a few years ago, for the promotion of Christian Union.3On 12 August 1840, a meeting, called “by the friends of Christian Union” and chaired by Amos Farnsworth, convened in Groton. Many prominent antislavery figures also attended, including Gerrit Smith, John A. Collins, Oliver Johnson, and Maria Weston Chapman. The meeting aimed “to examine the scriptural grounds of Christian Union, devise measures for its promotion, and secure harmonious action among its friends.” Of particular interest to participants was the question: “Is the outward organization of the Church a human or a divine institution?” Lib., 7, 21 August 1840; Garrison and Garrison, William Lloyd Garrison, 2:421; Hawley, “Reminiscences of Groton,” 9–11, 15–17. Such was the onward march of our cause in this place, that a Hall was built in early anti-slavery times, and consecrated to the cause of the slave.4Sometime before 1839 a building had been erected in Groton where audiences heard lectures on a wide variery of topics. In this hall, one antislavery speaker later recalled that “the cause of the slave could have a hearing, when no church was open for the purpose. Indeed, I was assured that the place was specially erected on this account.” Hawley, “Reminiscences of Groton,” 1, 9.

With these evidences of anti-slavery feeling in Groton, the slaves' friends elsewhere had good reason to look to that quarter as the last to relinquish its hold on the cause—the last to quit the moral battle field for freedom—the last to give up the contest. The truth, however, is, and ought to be told, that Groton abolitionism is not where it once was. The holy spirit that once warmed its bosom has measurably departed. The minds of many, who were once ardently and diligently engaged in discharging the obvious duties of to-day, are turned to the doubtful duties of to-morrow. Instead of living for the present, they are living for the future. Instead of laboring to reform the world, they are laboring to convince the world that it cannot be reformed. Instead of looking for Christ as the regenerator of the world, they are looking for him as the destroyer of the world. The consequence of all this is, a virtual abandonment of all moral and religious reform on their part. It was truly chilling, on the mornng of our meeting, to look around on the empty seats in that hall, once thronged with warm hearts and cheerful faces. One could not but cry out, ' An emeny has done this!' But few of those who used to attend such meetings were present on the morning of our meeting.5Douglass had spoken in Groton on 31 March 1842, and he seems to be comparing the audiences on these two occasions. Douglass directly attributed the decreased audience to the religious fervor surrounding Millerism, a contemporary popular belief that Jesus Christ would return to earth for a 1,000-year reign beginning in 1843 or 1844. Lib., 8 November 1844; Sydney E. Ahlstrom, A Religious History of the American People (New Haven, Conn, 1972), 478–81. I should scarce have felt myself in Groton, but for the presence of Dr. Farnsworth6An 1813 graduate of Harvard Medical School, Amos Farnsworth (1788–1861) practiced medicine in Boston before returning to his hometown of Groton in 1832. He allied himself with William Lloyd Garrison early in Garrison’s career and was present at the 1835 riot against Garrison in Boston. Farnsworth was a founding member of the Middlesex Anti-Slavery Society, becoming its first president from 1834 to 1844. He subscribed to the Liberator and financially backed the launching of the National Anti-Slavery Standard in 1840. Farnsworth served on the executive committee of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society and later acted as honorary vice president of the organization. He also helped fugitive slaves move along their route to Canada. Liberator Subscription List, Anti-Slavery Collection, MB; Lib., 6 December 1844; Wilbur H. Siebert, The Underground Railroad in Massachusetts (Worcester, Mass., 1936), 16; Hawley, “Reminiscences of Groton,” 6–8; Merrill and Ruchames, Garrison Letters, 2:168–69n. and our friends the Needham family.7The Needhams were prominent residents of Groton. Members of Groton’s Christian Union Church, which Silas Hawley shepherded in 1840, they also embraced its antislavery position. Daniel Needham, a young attorney, was especially active in the 1840s. Hawley, “Reminiscences of Groton,” 10–11.

I made a few remarks as to the state of our cause in that place, and a song being sung by our friends, the Hutchinsons,8Although Polly and Jesse Hutchinson had at least thirteen children, the family name often identified the musical quartet composed of Judson (1817–59), John Wallace (1821–1908), Asa (1823–84), and Abigail Jemina (1829–92). The Hutchinsons lived near Douglass’s home in Lynn, Massachusetts, and he inspired them to join the abolitionist movement. They lraveled with him aboard the Cambria in 1845 and occasionally performed at meetings where he spoke. John W. Hutchinson, Story of the Hutchinsons (Tribe of Jesse), 2 vols. (Boston, 1896), 1:6, 40, 70–71, 146, 187–89; Carol Brink, Harps in the Wind: The Story of the Singing Hutchinsons (New York, 1947). the meeting adjourned to meet again in the afternoon at 2 o'clock.

We met according to adjournment. Our meeting was considerably larger than in the forenoon, but made up principally of those, I had good reason to believe, who came merely to hear the singing. Bro. White9Born into a prominent family in Watertown, Massachusetts, William Abijah White (1818–56) graduated from Harvard University in 1838, then studied law. He abandoned a legal career to advocate such reforms as abolition and temperance. In 1843 Douglass, club in hand, charged the platform at Pendleton, Indiana, when a mob assaulted his speaking companion, White, and lacerated his scalp. On behalf of the temperance cause, White owned and edited the New Englander, the Excelsior, and the Washingtonian. In 1854 White migrated to Wisconsin, where he became an ardent Republican party leader. Lib., 5 June 1857; Garrison and Garrison, William Lloyd Garrison, 3:101; Ripley, Black Abolitionist Papers, 3:422n. addressed the meeting in a speech of an hour and a half; after which, I said a words, and was followed by our friend James Boyle.10James Boyle was born a Roman Catholic in Upper Ontario, but by the early 1820s, he became a Methodist minister noted for his fiery preaching. Throughout the 1820s he served at various churches, including posts in Ohio, Michigan, and upstate New York, where he became acquainted with Charles Grandison Finney. In 1831 the young John Humphrey Noyes heard Boyle in Brattleboro, Vermont. Greatly moved by Boyle’s conviction and oratory, Noyes recommended Boyle for the pastorate of the Free Church in New Haven, Connecticut. Boyle took this position in spring 1833, and he and Noyes became close. Together they developed some of the earliest tenets of perfectionism. In spring 1834 they launched a biweekly periodical, the Perfectionist, to highlight this new religions teaching. Soon, however, they parted ways as Boyle found himself increasingly unable to embrace Noyes’s more radical positions such as the possibility of actual human perfectibility through the removal of any trace of sin. By early 1835 Boyle had complete control of the Perfectionst and proceeded to contest Noyes’s teachings while espousing the free-love creed of Theophilus Gates. In 1836 Boyle left New Haven and moved to Newark, New Jersey, to live closer to Gates. In 1837 he allied himself with William Lloyd Garrison and immediate abolitionism. Boyle then relocated to Ohio, where he served as an antislavery agent and lecturer for the Ohio Anti-Slavery Society and wrote occasional articles for the Liberator. In the 1840s, he became interested in socialism and joined a Fonrierist community in Northampton, Massachusetts. At the same time, he embraced the New Covenant movement, which eschewed all formal religions organization and ritual. Boyle later followed Swedenborgianism and experimented with faith-healing. Lib., 2 August 1839, 31 March 1843; Whitney R. Cross, The Burned-Over District: The Social and Intellectual History of Enthusiastic Religion in Western New York, 1800–1850 (New York, 1950), 189–91; Robert David Thomas, The Man Who Would Be Perfect: John Humphrey Noyes and the Utopian Impulse (Philadelphia, 1977), 43–44, 70–71, 76–77; George Wallingford Noyes, Religious Experience of John Humphrey Noyes, Founder of the Oneida Community (New York, 1923), 59, 165–69, 178–85, 202–07, 253, 255, 298–301.

Our evening meeting was quite well attended, and was somewhat interesting. We sold some books and collected a little money; and our meeting adjourned sine die.11Literally translated “without a day,” the Latin phrase “sine die” indicates the final adjournment of a legislative session without definitely fixing a day for reconvening.

On Sunday evening, I was invited to lecture in the Baptist meetinghouse. I accepted the invitation, and gave them a lecture almost solely with reference to their connection, as a Baptist church, with slavery.

Notwithstanding I have drawn a somewhat dark and despondent picture

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of the state of our cause in Groton. It is but just to say, that the slave is not yet without a friend in that place. There are some there, to whom we may look with confidence, that they will stand while there is one slave in our land to need their aid; and to such, I think, if to no others, our convention in Groton has been a blessing.

I have alluded to the effects of Millerism in Groton,12Millerism affected turnout at the convention presumably because many abolitionists in Groton had become enthralled by this separatist religious movement. At the time Millerites were awaiting the Second Advent of Jesus Christ; they therefore paid attention to little else, including the abolition of slavery. The founder of the movement, William Miller (1782–1849), first calculated the date of Christ’s return as March 1843, but altered his prediction to March 1844 and finally to 22 October 1844. This dramatic prophecy originally swept up hundreds of thousands in the Northeast, but faded when Christ did not appear as predicted. Generally abolitionists excoriated the movement. In early November 1844, William Lloyd Garrison wrote that the Millerites “have been led, not by the Spirit of Truth, but by a deplorable fantasy of the brain, now plainly demonstrated to be such.” Lib., 8 November 1844; Ahlstrom, Religious History of the American People, 478–81; David T. Arthur, “Millerism,” in The Rise of Adventism; Religion and Society in Mid-Nineteenth-Centary America, ed. Edwin S. Ganstad (New York, 1974), 154–71. not because of any religious bias of my own, with which it conflicts, but because it has, to some extent, thrown itself across the path of anti-slavery. I have, indeed, the most unbounded regard for those who have adopted the doctrine of the speedy destruction of the world by fire. They have maintained the[i]r ground amidst storms of ridicule, floods of abuse, and flames of malicious persecution, and are certainly entitled to all the credit attaching to deep and abiding sincerity of heart.

On Monday, friend White, Lane,13Originally a North Carolina slave, Lunsford Lane (1803–c. 1863) purchased his freedom and entered the tobacco trade near Raleigh. He began raising funds to purchase his wife and six children, but local authorities forced Lane to leave the state. Lane moved to Massachusetts, where he appealed to abolitionists for help in acquiring his family. In 1842 he was arrested and nearly lynched when he returned to Raleigh to complete the transaction. Lane settled his emancipated family in Massachusetts, where he became an active abolitionist. Lunsford Lane, The Narrative of Lunsford Lane, Formerly of Raleigh, N.C. (Boston, 1842); William G. Hawkins, Lunsford Lane, or Another Helper from North Carolina (1863; New York, 1969); W. Sherman Savage, “The Influence of John Chavis and Lunsford Lane on the History of North Carolina,” JNH, 25:20–24 (January 1940). and myself, went to our next appointment, at Townsend.14There is no further discussion of this meeting in the Liberator, but the One Hundred Conventions calendar in the Liberator on 23 February 1844 indicated that Douglass was scheduled to speak at Townsend on Monday and Tuesday, 26–27 February 1844. Bro. Pillsbury,15Parker Pillsbury (1809–98), an outspoken abolitionist orator, editor, and author, proved more demanding than Garrison himself regarding the necessity for purifying abolitionism of all tendencies toward compromise and expediency. An interest in theology and temperance led this onetime farmer to study at New Hampshire’s Gilmanton Theological Seminary. During an additional year of study at Andover, he made the acquaintance of John A. Collins, who exposed Pillsbury to the abolitionist movement. By 1840 his sharp attacks on the complicity of churches with slavery led to the revocation of his license to preach. For the next two decades, Pillsbury lectured for the New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and American antislavery societies. He edited the Concord (N.H.) Herald of Freedom during the late 1840s and the National Anti-Slavery Standard in 1866. During the Civil War, Pillsbury criticized Union war aims, especially before the Emancipation Proclamation. In 1865 he broke with Garrison over the necessity for continued activity by the American Anti-Slavery Society. After the war Pillsbury became active in the woman suffrage movement and the Free Religious Association. James M. McPherson, The Struggle for Equality: Abolitionists and the Negro in the Civil War and Reconstruction (Princeton, N.J., 1964), 59–60, 100–102, 305–07; Stacey M. Robertson, Parker Pillsbury: Radical Abolitionist, Male Feminist (Ithaca, N.Y., 2000); Mabee, Black Freedom, 112, 221–23, 329; Louis Filler, “Parker Pillsbury: An Anti-Slavery Apostle,” NEQ, 19:315–37 (September 1946); DAB, 14:608–09. much to our regret, felt it his duty to remain behind: believing that, as there were three of us, we did not need him to help carry on the conventions.

Our meeting at Townsend was quite timely. New Organization16Individuals who seceded from the Massachusetts Anti–Slavery Society in 1839 composed the Massachusetts Abolition Society, referred to as the “New Organization” or the “New Society.” The Reverends Amos Phelps and Charles Torrey formed the New Organization after longstanding disputes with William Lloyd Garrison and his supporters regarding the proper role of women, the church, and politics in the struggle against slavery. Since the inception of the American Anti-Slavery Society in the early 1830s, clerically minded members, centered around Lewis Tappan and James Birney, had argued that women should have no role in antislavery societies, that established Protestant churches could be used effectively against slavery despite their inclusion of slaveholders, and that antislavery political parties should be organized. Garrison and his supporters, on the other hand, condemned any fellowship with those in organized politics or religion who endorsed slavery or compromised a full commitment to immediate abolition. Garrisonians also believed that women should participate officially in antislavery societies and speak publicly against slavery. After this schism, members of the New Organization launched an aggressive and bitter public campaign against Garrison and the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. Lib., 7, 14 June, 19, 26 July, 23 August 1839, 31 March 1843; John R. McKivigan, The War against Proslavery Religion: Abolitionists and the Northern Churches, 1830–1865 (Ithaca, N.Y., 1984), 61–63; Mayer, All on Fire, 267–69; Garrison and Garrison, William Lloyd Garrison, 2:352–54. had well nigh completed its work of lulling the people to sleep in their church relations. Rev. Mr. Stowell,17David Stowell (1804–?) was the pastor of the Townsend Orthodox Congregational Church from 1837 to 1843. Luther Sheldon succeeded Stowell, serving as minister from 1844 to 1856. Samuel Adams Drake, History of Middlesex County, Massachusetts: Containing Carefully Prepared Histories of Every City and Town in the County, 2 vols. (Boston, 1880), 2:388; Henry C. Hallowell, ed., Vital Records of Townsend, Massachusetts: Town Records to 1850 with Marriage Intentions to 1873 and Cemetery Inscriptions (Boston, 1992), 184–85, 188–89. a man of some note among new organizationists, a great hater of yourself and old organizationists, generally, formerly preached in this place, and his influence against us remains to some extent, though he has been convicted of improper conduct, and dismissed. I think our meeting did much to set our cause right in that place. Before we left, signs of life were given, and Townsend will yet do good service to the cause. Our meeting lasted two days, and was quite well attended. There was a goodly number from the neighboring towns. Fitchburg sent her delegation of forty! Groton sent her faithful few after us. Ten or twelve of our N.H. friends leaped down from their Granite hills to join us in our struggle for freedom. We held our meeting in an old fashioned, odd shaped meeting-house, owned, I believe, by the town—one reason why we got it, perhaps. It was built in 1804, and bears upon it marks of the negro-hating religion it was built to promote. Upon entering the house, I was pointed, to a hole left in the wall about twelve feet long, on the right hand side of the pulpit. For a time, I was at a loss to know for what it was intended. I got friend White to ask an old gentleman, whom I supposed to be a resident of the place, what that hole was for. He answered very promptly, ‘It was what they called a nigger’s seat.’ I immediately made my way up to it. I had to go out of the house to find the stair-way—I ought to say, the ladder-way,

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leading to it. But for the sexton, who kindly offered to conduct me, I should have had greatly difficulty in finding it. With his assistance, after many windings up the steps, I was ushered into this hole, peeping over the side of which, I had a commanding view of nearly all parts of the house. So high was I above the rest, my head became dizzy as I gazed down upon them. I soon descended from my lofty elevation, and gave place to our friends, the Hutchinsons, who took possession of the “nigger pew.” They broke upon us with one of their most inspiring songs, in condemnation of the unhallowed prejudice against color existing in that. town, as indicated by the pew they then occupied. The audience, with amazement, gazed up to the place from whence the heavenly melody emanated, and, for a moment, stood charmed by the enchanting sounds; at the close of which, they shook the old house with applause. The minister of the church, worshipping in the house, took early opportunity to inform us, that the pew question had gone out of use—that colored people could now sit where they pleased; another evidence of the progress of our cause. Our meetings were interesting to the last.

Wednesday morning, friend Lane and myself started for Acton, the place at which we were to hold our next meeting. The roads being next to impassable, rendered so by a heavy fall of snow the night before, prevented our getting to this place till between 8 and 9 o’clock, Wednesday night. We found our friends, Dr. Cowdry18Harris W. Cowdry (1802–?) of Acton, Massachusetts, had long been a member of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. He supported William Lloyd Garrison against the “New Organizationists” during the summer of 1839 at the height of the crisis. Lib., 26 July 1839; Vital Records of Acton, Massachusetts, to the Year 1850 (Boston, 1923), 30. and wife, as ready as ever to help the cause along. We passed the next day with our friend Cowdry, and was kindly provided by him with a conveyance to Bedford, the place of our next meeting. Of this meeting, I will not speak, as I suppose you will have some account of it by a friend in that place.

Sunday evening, I lectured to a good audience in Concord.19There is no further discussion of this meeting in the Liberator, but the One Hundred Conventions calendar in the Liberator indicated that Douglass was scheduled to speak at New Bedford on Friday and Saturday, 1–2 March 1844. Lib., 23 February 1844. Monday, I came to this place; of all the dark places in Massachusetts, this is the darkest. They have been holding their town meeting these two days past. The contending parties are divided into two—‘rum,’ and ‘temperance.’20Like many towns, Sudbury, Massachusetts, experienced the first wave of the temperance movement between 1835 and 1840. Although no record of a specific incident has been located, the temperance movement probably faced resistance from various Sudbury residents. Apples and malt, among the staple crops of the area, supplied the many cider mills and breweries in and around Sudbury. The movement against the consumption of liquor hurt the various farmers and businessmen involved in this local industry. Alfred Sereno Hudson, The History of Sudbury, Massachusetts, 1638–1889 (Boston, 1889), 605–11. The contest was warm and desperate. Rum, it seems, has triumphed. I went into the vestry of the Orthodox church,21Formed in 1640 as the first parish in Sudbury, the Sudbury Congregational Church experienced a schism in 1839, similar to many other New England parishes, over theological issues. The conservative faction of the church broke away from the parish and formed the Sudbury Evangelical Union Society, an orthodox Congregational church. Hudson, History of Sudbury, 98, 476–79. where they were holding their meeting. It was like going into a menagerie of wild beasts. They snorted, sneezed, and howled as if they wished to pounce upon me, at once. Such a set of rum-faces, rum-noses, and rum-heads, I think I never saw congregated in town meeting any where.

It was impossible to get us a meeting in this place. The clergy here bare almost entire sway. They decide for the people what they shall hear, and what they shall not hear. Each of the ministers of this place (Rev. Mr.

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Ballard22The Reverend Josiah Ballard (1806–63) was minister of the Sudbury Evangelical Union Church from 1841 to 1852. He was born in Peterborough, New Hampshire, and attended the Munson Academy in Wilbraham, Massachusetts, and Yale University. He began his ministerial career in New Hampshire, where he returned after leaving Sudbury. D. Hamilton Hurd, History of Middlesex County, Massachusetts, 3 vols. (Philadelphia, 1890), 2:403; Hudson, History of Sudbury, 480, 522–23. and Rev. Mr. Weeks23The Reverend G. W. Weeks was minister of the Sudbury Methodist Episcopal Church from 1843 until 1845. Hudson, History of Sudbury, 474.) devoted a good part of the last Sabbath in warning their congregations against attending our meeting! The consequence is, that a mob is threatened, if we should attempt to hold the meeting according to notice. We should not, however, be intim[id]ated by that, if we could get the people out. But this we cannot do, and must, therefore, pass this place by, at least for the present.

It was not a little amusing to see the harmony and perfect agreement of the Rabbies and Rummies of the place, in their opposition to our meeting. The absence of friend White is my apology for troubling you with this letter.

Yours, in the cause of the One Hundred Anti-Slavery Conventions,

FREDERICK DOUGLASS.

PLSr: Lib., 14 March 1844.

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Date

March 6, 1844

Type

Publication Status

Published