Frederick Douglass to Readers of the Ram's Horn, August 13 or 14, 1847
FREDERICK DOUGLASS TO READERS OF THE RAM’S HORN
[New Brighton, Pa. 13 or 14 August 1847].
Many interesting incidents have occurred to me since I wrote you from Harrisburg1The letter, addressed to Sydney H. Gay and dated 8 August 1847, appears in this volume.—some of them of a very pleasant character, and others far otherwise, but all useful and instructive. I hardly know where to begin, to unfold them. They have come upon me in such rapid succession that it was impossible to record them as they passed. On Sunday, 8th of August, in company with our illustrious pioneer, William Lloyd Garrison, I delivered two discourses—morning and afternoon—in the Colored Methodist Church, Harrisburgh.2Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison spoke in Harrisburg on 7 and 8 August 1847. The evening speeches took place at the courthouse, where the two were intimidated by a mob. Douglass relayed the events surrounding the attack in his first letter to Gay as a corresponding contributor of the Ram’s Horn, dated 8 August 1847. That letter also appears in this volume. Lib., 20 August 1847. The audience was mostly composed of our own people, and a more interesting array of faces I have seldom looked upon. For order, neatness and gentility, they exceed any congregation of our oppressed brethren, I have seen for a long time. Considering their contiguity to a slave state, and the infernal spirit of slavery with which they have to contend, their readiness to engage in the anti-slavery cause, with the most obnoxious of its advocates, is as astonishing as the fact is gratifying. The ladies here, as in most other places, are fully equal, if not in advance of the gentlemen. They have several benevolent societies, and among the number is one called the “Douglass Union,” formed to promote Temperance, Virtue, and the general
improvement and elevation of our long abused race. They have enrolled nearly forty members, and are rapidly increasing. I had the pleasure and the privilege of addressing this goodly company of friends and sisters, and giving them a word of cheer and encouragement in their laudable efforts to improve each other, and bless mankind.
On Monday morning, 9th inst., I left Harrisburg for Chambersburg, en route to Pittsburgh.3Douglass spoke in Harrisburg on 8 August 1847, Pittsburgh on 11 and 16 August 1847, and New Brighton on 13 August 1847. Pittsburgh Gazette, 13 August 1847; Lib., 20 August 1847; Merrill and Ruchames, Garrison Letters, 3:508–09. The train was taken across the beautiful Susquehanna by a team of horses—guided by the steady hand of our strong armed friend, Bostwick,4Isaac Bostick (1808–?) was a mulatto teamster who had been born in Maryland. Sometime before 1850, he moved to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where he lived with his wife Sarah, who was born in Virginia. 1850 U.S. Census, Pennsylvania, Dauphin County, Harrisburg, 44. whose kindness I shall not soon forget. Here we were taken by the fiery iron steed, and hurried toward our destination. Nothing of interest occurred till we reached Carlisle, where a man-hunter from Maryland recently lost his life, while engaged in the republican business of kidnapping.5On 2 June 1847 a crowd attempted to rescue three alleged fugitive slaves outside the Carlisle, Pennsylvania, courthouse, severely injuring one of the slaveholders and a local boy. The attack occurred as the accused fugitives, a man, a woman, and a small girl, left the courthouse. A crowd of mostly African Americans hurled stones and attacked the constables and slaveholders with clubs and canes. One of the slaveholders, a Mr. Kennedy of Hagerstown, Maryland, was badly wounded, but did not die. A local boy received a life-threatening blow to the head. The woman and the girl managed to escape, but authorities took the man back to Maryland and arrested twenty of the rioters. Antislavery supporters retaliated by filing a writ against the judge in the case for illegally jailing the alleged fugitives. Washington (D.C.) National Era, 10, 17 June 1847. The crowd about the station in this place, by some means ascertained that Mr. Garrison and myself were in the train, and it was easy to observe a general feverishness at once among them. Some expressed the wish that we would stop; on being asked why, the answer was, “we want to use them up.” The intelligence of our presence soon reached a number of our colored friends, and they came as we sat in the cars, and gave us hearty shakes of the hand, and many blessings. The approbation of these dear brethren, was grateful to the heart of him who has devoted seventeen years of his life to their cause. When we reached Chambersburgh, in consequence of a mistake in Mr. Garrison’s ticket, he was compelled to remain till the next stage, while I was compelled to go on, or lose my fare. I went on alone, and now commences a series of brutal insults and outrages, such as I have not experienced for years before. The infernal spirit of Slavery pursued me with unabated ferocity until Wednesday morning, when I reached Pittsburgh. I was two days and two nights subjected to insults and brutal jeers, while in the stage, and at each stopping place. I could not get a decent meal, during the whole way, and was compelled to fast, excepting that I bought a few water crackers at a store in a place among the mountains called McConnellsburgh.6The farming community of McConnellsburgh lies in Fulton County, Pennsylvania, west of Chambersburg. Settled in 1730, the town claims to be the birthplace of James Buchanan, president of the United States from 1857 to 1861. Cohen, Columbia Gazetteer, 2:1931. My complexion was the cause of this. Not being of the right color to sit down at the first table, I must wait till the white passengers took their meals, and by that time the horses were harnessed and the stage ready to start, and thus I was cheated out of my meals during the whole way from Chambersburgh to Pittsburgh. I arrived at Pittsburgh between 3 and 4 o’clock on Wednesday morning, and was met at the stage office by our warm-hearted and energetic friend, J. B. Vashon, who took me immediately to his hospitable home. Just before
reaching his door, my ear was saluted by the eloquent music of a band, who had met at that late (early) hour to give Mr. Garrison and myself a musical welcome to Pittsburgh. On reaching the house of Mr. Vashon, I was surrounded by a large company of gentlemen constituting a committee of reception. These all seemed warm and fully alive to our common cause.
This gratifying reception was more than compensation for the dastardly insults to which I was subjected during my rough journey to that place. To make up for the starving to which I had been subjected, friend Vashon soon introduced me to his table ladened with the good things of this life.7A reference to Gen. 45:23.
On Wednesday afternoon I spoke to a large audience in the Temperance Hall,8Douglass spoke at Pittsburgh’s Temperance Hall twice on 11 August 1847, once on his own, and later sharing the platform with Garrison, who arrived in Pittsburgh late as a result of confusions over tickets in Harrisburg. Merrill and Ruchames, Garrison Letters, 3:508–09. and I trust a good impression was made in behalf of our righteous cause. The press of Pittsburgh has treated us with great respect, and while it does not agree with us, it has indulged in none of the low, mean, and filthy slang, so common on the part of a portion of the press in your city respecting such meetings.9The National Anti-Slavery Standard reprinted two articles from the Pittsburgh Gazette concerning Douglass’s visit to western Pennsylvania. The ﬁrst account noted that “Mr. Douglass spoke eloquently,” and offered a summary of his afternoon remarks arguing that the actions of northerners helped to support slavery. The newspaper gave similar attention to Garrison’s account of the history of antislavery activity in the North. The second article was less charitable to the abolitionists. Reprinted in the “proslavery” column of the National Anti-Slavery Standard, the remarks of Erastus Brooks explained the treatment of Douglass and Garrison in the previous article as journalism that would “enable the public to judge of the men by the creeds they publish.” Brooks’s editorial then moved to condemn Douglass and Garrison as extremists, “equally dangerous men” as compared to the “ultra school of pro-slavery men.” NASS, 26 August 1847.
The enclosed, though a very imperfect report of our meetings, may be inserted as showing the character of our meetings and the spirit of the press in that city. If it does not agree with us, it does not caricature us, and as
From Pittsburgh we came to New Brighton12Douglass spoke in New Brighton, Pennsylvania, on 13 August 1847. Lib., 20 August, 10 September 1847. and held a meeting here, in the afternoon and evening. We were accompanied to this place by a number of friends from Pittsburgh; among the number was our friend Delany,13Born to a free mother and a slave father in Charlestown in western Virginia, Martin Robinson Delany (1812–85) was an editor, physician, and leading advocate of black emigration. In 1822 Delany and his mother moved to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, where his father later joined them, and the young Delany attended a local school. In 1831 he moved to Pittsburgh, where he worked as a barber, attended a school run by a black Methodist minister, and studied medicine. Between 1843 and 1847 Delany was editor of the Mystery, a black Pittsburgh newspaper. For the next two years he served as coeditor of Douglass’s North Star and lectured extensively to gain new subscriptions for that paper. In 1850 and 1851 Delany attended Harvard Medical College, but as a result of protests from white students the school denied him admission to the final term needed to complete his medical degree. The following year he wrote The Condition, Elevation, Emigration, and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States, Politically Considered, in which he argued that emigration was the only remedy for the oppressed condition of black Americans. When many black abolitionists, including Douglass, rejected Delany’s position, he organized a series of National Emigration Conventions that met in 1854, 1856, and 1858. These assemblies created a permanent National Board of Commissioners, of which Delany was president and chief propagandist. In 1856 Delany moved to Chatham, Canada West, and three years later he explored the Niger River Valley in Africa looking for possible emigration sites. His novel Blake was serialized in the Weekly Anglo-African from November 1861 through May 1862. During the Civil War Delany served the North first as a recruiter and examining surgeon and eventually as a major of the 104th U.S. Colored Troops. From 1865 to 1868 Delany was a Freedmen’s Bureau officer in South Carolina and later was active in that state’s politics, running unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor on the Independent Republican ticket in 1874. Martin R. Delany, Blake; or, The Huts of America, ed. Floyd J. Miller (Boston, 1970), ix; Thomas Holt, Black over White: Negro Political Leadership in South Carolina during Reconstruction (Urbana, Ill., 1977), 74–75, 176–77; Dorothy Sterling, The Making of an Afro-American: Martin Robinson Delany, 1812–1885 (Garden City, N.Y., 1971); Victor Ullman, Martin R. Delany: The Beginnings of Black Nationalism (Boston, 1971); Miller, Search for a Black Nationality, 115–33, 171–83; DAB, 5:219–20. of the “Mystery,” Mr. I. B. Vashon, Dr. Peck,14David Jones Peck (c. 1827–?), an African American physician, was the son of Pittsburgh wigmaker and reformer John C. Peck. He was the first African American graduate of a U.S. medical school, completing his degree at Chicago’s Rush Medical College in 1847. Following graduation Peck brieﬂy accompanied Douglass and Garrison on their western tour of Ohio. In 1848 Peck moved to Philadelphia, where he established a medical practice but faced opposition because of his race. He abandoned medicine in the 1850s and joined Martin R. Delany in an unsuccessful attempt to form a black republic in Nicaragua. NS, 4 February 1848; Merrill and Ruchames, Garrison Letters, 3:510–14, 514n; Leonard W. Johnson, “History of the Education of Negro Physicians,” Journal of Medical Education, 42:440 (May 1967); ANB, 17:222–23. Mr. Furguson,15Garrison described the same group, listing the same companions with the exception of Mr. Furguson. He did, however, note that the entourage included “others” from Pittsburgh. Merrill and Ruchames, Garrison Letters, 3:510–12. and George Vashon, Esq.16George Boyer Vashon (1824–78), the son of abolitionist John Bethune Vashon, was an African American attorney and educator. In 1838, upon the family’s move from Carlisle, Pennsylvania, to Pittsburgh, Vashon became secretary of the first youth-oriented abolition organization, the Juvenile Anti-Slavery Society. At sixteen he entered Oberlin College in Ohio and became the ﬁrst African American to receive a bachelor of arts degree from that school upon his graduation in 1844. Then, from 1845 to 1847, Vashon studied with Pittsburgh lawyer Walter Forward. When denied admission to the bar in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, because of his race, Vashon moved to New York and became the ﬁrst African American admitted to that state’s bar. In February 1848 Vashon emigrated to Haiti, where he became a regular correspondent to Douglass’s North Star, and taught Latin, Greek, and English at several schools and colleges. He returned to the United States to practice law in the fall of 1850. From 1854 to 1857, Vashon taught belles-lettres and mathematics at New York Central College in McGrawville, New York. Following the Civil War, he was the ﬁrst African American teacher at Howard University and a solicitor for the Freedmen’s Bureau. In 1878, while teaching at Alcorn University in Rodney, Mississippi, Vashon died during a yellow fever epidemic. Washington (D.C.) National Era, 15 April 1847; Catherine M. Hanchett, “George Boyer Vashon, 1824–1878: Black Educator, Poet, Fighter for Equal Rights, Part One,” Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine, 68:205–10 (1985); DANB, 617. The last named gentleman bids fair to be of great service to his race. He is a man of good natural ability and a finished scholar. He is now about ready for the bar, having read law with one of the first lawyers of Pittsburgh, and here, to the everlasting shame of the professedly free State of Pennsylvania, be it spoken, this gentleman cannot be admitted to the bar on the ground that colored persons are not citizens of the State. Such infernal proscription ought to be handed around for universal execration.
My visit to Pittsburgh, gave me the first opportunity of seeing that truly noble specimen of a man, Mr. Delany. He is one of the most open, free,
generous and zealous laborers in the cause of our enslaved brethren, which I have met for a long time.
You shall hear from me again soon.
PLIr: PaF, 2 September 1847. Reprinted from the Ram’s Horn.17In introducing this letter, the Pennsylvania Freeman stated, “Frederick Douglass, who has become the corresponding editor of the Ram’s Horn, gives in that paper the following sketch of his experience after leaving Harrisburgh, where he and Mr. Garrison were so infamously used.” The issue of the Ram’s Horn containing Douglass’s letter has not been located, and the reprint "of the letter in the Pennsylvania Freeman serves as copy-text.