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Frederick Douglass to Ruth Cox, August 18, 1846



London, [Eng.] 18 Aug[ust] 1846.

MY DEAR HARRIET,1Harriet Bailey, the name of Douglass’s sister, was an alias used by Ruth Cox.

Your Dear letter has just reached me and as you may well suppose its contents shocked and surprised me.2The letter from Cox to Douglass, announcing her plans to marry, has not been located. Is it possible. that you are are engaged to be married?3On 11 November 1847, in Lynn, Massachusetts, Ruth Cox married Perry Frank Adams (1822–68). Adams was born in Talbot County, Maryland, to free black parents, Joshua and Matilda Adams. By the time of his marriage to Cox, Adams lived in Springfield, Massachusetts, where he worked in various manual-laboring jobs. In 1853 he began working at Rumrill and Shumway, a Springfield company manufacturing gold chains, Where he remained intermittently for the next fifteen years. He was associated with the League of Gileadites, a group of free blacks and fugitives organized in self-defense after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850. The League garnered the endorsement of John Brown, who gave Adams a dagger to protect his family. In 1854 Adams served as vice president in the Massachusetts State Council, part of the black conventions movement. Although he opposed emigration at that time, he and his family moved to Haiti with the Haitian Emigration Bureau in 1861. Like many others involved in that venture, they returned within the decade. Perry Adams died of typhoid fever in Springfield on 20 March 1868. 1830 US. Census, Maryland, Talbot County, 23; 1840 US. Census, Maryland, Talbot County, 41; 1850 US. Census, Massachusetts, Hampden County, Springfield, 8; 1860 US. Census, Massachusetts, Hampden County, Springfield, 205; 1870 US. Census, Massachusetts, Hampden County, Springfield, Ward 3 (n.p.); Jay Mack Holbrook, Massachusetts Vital Records: Springfield, 1640–1894, 121:157; M. Bessey, Bessey’s Springfield Directory for 1853–1854 (Springfield, Mass., 1853), 63; Vital Records of Lynn, Mass., 1:15, 31. From what you say I suppose the whole thing is determined upon[.] [E]ven the time is fix[ed]—and I am invited to attend and all this without my knowing who your lover is, what his name—or where he lives—how long he has visited you or any thing about it. Whether he is good—bad or indifferent. This is strange—passing strange something I cannot understand or account for. I am not however disposed to censure you for not mentioning to me the name of your intended husband—as I suppose you withheld it from mere modesty or bashfulness. I should cirtainly like to know something about your lover previous to your getting married. I think this much due to me. But hercken Dear Harriet I will not throw a single straw in the way of your Marraige. If I were absolutely cirtain that you were on the brink of distraction I might warn you—if you asked my advice. But you don’t honor me so much as to ask my advice. No—no. My Dear you not even say brother do you think it is best. All you wish from me is a dress a light silk dress—a wedding Dress. A dress to marry some body in—but who I don’t know nor you don’t tell me who it is. Now My Dear Harriet—this is not treating me well—it is not treating me as a sister ought to treat a brother. Now let me tell you—so far as this dress is concirned, I am perfectly willing to give one—or any thing else within my power but before you ought expect this, you ought to let me know who you are about to Marry—giving you a dress to marry some one I do not know—and have no means of knowing is asking me to take a leap in the dark4The phrase “a leap in the dark” dates to the seventeenth century. Daniel Defoe attached the phrase to marriage in Moll Flanders, in which he writes, “like matrimony, like death, a leap in the dark.” Daniel Defoe, The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders (1722; New York, 1949); Stevenson, Book of Proverbs, 1374–75. such as I am not prepared for. I can not do any thing that looks like favoring a thing which I know nothing about—especially a thing envolving so grave a matter as that of marraige. It is a solemn Matter. I wish I had time to write you such a letter as the solemn importance of the subject demands. Marriage—is one act of our lives—once performed It cannot be undone. It is not a thing which may be entered into to day and given up to morrow—but must last so long as life continues. I therefore counsel that you sereously consider before you take the step—it may lead to a life of misery and wretchedness—for which you alone must be responsible. Think of it. But my Dear Harriet—and you are Dear to me and never Dearer than at this moment—Do


not understand me to be opposed to your getting married—not at all. Although I love to have you in my family and it will be a soar trial for me to part with you—yet I should rejoice to see you married to morrow if I felt you were marrying some-one worthy of you. It would indeed spread a dark cloud over my soul to see you marry some ignorant—idle wortheless person unable to take care of you or himself ether. I would rather follow you to your grave than to do that. You ought not to marry any ignorant and unlearned person. You might as well tie yourself to a log of wood as to do so. You are altogether too refined and intelegent for any such marraige. But I have no time to continue this subject further. What I have said I have said as a brother—as one having no object in vew but your own good—and this I will always seek whether you be married or single. The man who marries you should remember he takes you from a brothers house and a brothers home—and he should at least see that you have as good a home after marraige as before marraige. God bless you Dear Harriet—and remember that whether married or single, you are still my sister. Remember you need never be out of Doors while I have a house to shelter my self and family. I shall come home before you are married—if you are not in too great haste. But dont wait for me unless you wish to do so. You are of age and must be your own judge as to what is best. Upon your own shoulders rests the responsibility. May God bless—My Dear Harriet—and guide you in the path of happiness—a path you may not be sorry for in time come—is the sincerest wish my heart.

Your Affectionate Brother,


ALS: Correspondence File, Additions II, FD Papers, DLC.



August 18, 1846


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