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Coming Home: An Address Delivered in St. Michaels, Maryland, on June 17, 1877



Baltimore Sun, 19 June 1877. Other texts in Syracuse (N.Y.) Journal, 19 June 1877; New
York Times, 20 June 1877.

At the invitation of a black friend, Charles Caldwell, Douglass returned to St.
Michaels, Talbot County, Maryland, on 17 June 1877 after a forty-one-year
absence. Upon his arrival, the newly appointed U.S. marshal of the District of
Columbia received word that his former owner, Captain Thomas Auld, re-
quested a visit. Douglass, who had desired such a meeting, saw the bedrid-
den, eighty-two-year-old man at the home of Auld’s son-in-law, William H.
Bruff. During this brief reunion Douglass struck a conciliatory posture with
Auld, explaining later that “I regarded him as I did myself, a victim of
circumstances of birth, education, law, and custom.” According to the Wash-
ington Evening Star, both men wept when they parted company that day. It
had already been announced that Douglass would speak at a nearby picnic
grove in the afternoon, and a large audience of blacks and whites, including
many prominent local personages, attended the event. Douglass’s speech was
partly inspired by what he had seen on his overnight trip from Baltimore
aboard the steamer Matilda: the boisterous, somewhat unrefined behavior of a


group of black excursioners on their way to spend Sunday in St. Michaels. At
the close of his remarks, which Harper’s Weekly said were “worthy of
attention from every person, of whatever race or color,” many well-wishers
sought Douglass out. The Baltimore Sun thought Douglass had made “a very
favorable impression” during his visit and commended him for “avoiding
everything like cringing or servility on the one hand, and ostentation or an
offensive thrusting of himself forward on the other.” The newspaper also
noted that “the speech was well received, especially by the white part of the
audience; they probably appreciated it more highly and liked it better than his
colored hearers.” The visit was widely publicized. Many blacks, especially
younger ones, disapproved of both Douglass’s meeting with Auld and the
statements he made about it, especially the widely quoted Sun report that he
had replied to Bruff’s greeting by saying, “I am Marshal Douglass in Wash-
ington, here let me be Fred. Douglass again.” According to Douglass, that
account “was in some respects defective and colored.” Rather, when Auld
addressed him as “Marshal Douglass,” he “instantly broke up the formal
nature of the meeting by saying, ‘not Marshal, but Frederick to you as
formerly.’ ” Washington Evening Star, 19 June 1877; Harper’s Weekly, 7 July
1877; Douglass, Life and Times, 483-87; Quarles, FD, 342-43; Holland,
Frederick Douglass, 342-43; Preston, Young Frederick Douglass, 180-89.

Mr. Douglass began his speech evidently with some embarrassment,
which, however, wore off as he proceeded. He began by adverting to the
difficult and embarrassing position in which he was placed. He said he did
not come here to make a speech, and did not expect this call. He was not
here to fan the flames of sectional animosity, nor to create ill-feeling; nor
yet to recount the wrongs inflicted on his race for 200 years; nor to go into
antiquity for matter to stir the blood and rouse the passions; nor to indulge
in a political harangue; nor to expound the constitution of the United States.

“I come, first of all,” he said, “to see my old master, from whom I
have been separated for forty-one years; to shake his hand, to look into his
kind old face, and see it beaming with light from the other world.1Thomas Auld. I have
had great joy in shaking that hand, in looking into that face, stricken with
age and disease, but aglow with the light that comes from an honest heart,
and reflecting the glory from the spirit world, upon whose border he is,
and where we shall soon again meet. Forty-one years ago I left him. I left
him, not because I loved Caesar less, but because I loved Rome more.”2Julius Caesar, act 3, sc. 2, lines 21-22.


Mr. Douglass then referred briefly to his escape, and to the motive that
actuated him.

His second reason for making the visit, he said, was that he loved
Maryland and the Eastern Shore. Eastern Shore com and Eastern Shore
pork had given him his muscle. He claimed to be an Eastern Shoreman,
with all that that name implies. Mr. Douglass then passed into a eulogy of
the white race and its achievements, and said to the colored people that they
were in contact with the most favored, the most indomitable, the most
energetic race in the world, and that he would be false to his own race if he
did not tell them just where they stood—what an immense distance they
were behind the white people. He did not believe the colored people were
fundamentally and eternally inferior to the whites, but they are, neverthe-
less, practically inferior. “We must not talk about equality until we can do
what white people can do. As long as they can build vessels and we cannot,
we are their inferiors; as long as they can build railroads and we cannot, we
are their inferiors; as long as they can found governments and we cannot,
we are their inferiors.” Coming down on the boat last night he noticed that
the 100 colored people aboard made as much noise as 500 whites would
have done, and as long as they do these things they are inferior to the

“If twenty years from now the colored race as a race has not advanced
beyond the point where it was when emancipated it is a doomed race. The
question now is, will the black man do as much now for his master (him-
self) as he used to do for his old master? Do you, my colored friends, get up
as early now to work for yourselves as you used to do to work for that stem
old Roman, Samuel Hambleton?”3Born into one of the prominent families of Talbot County, Maryland, Samuel Hambleton (1777-1851) was a businessman in the District of Columbia until 1806, when he embarked on a career as purser in the U.S. Navy. During the War of 1812 he served first in Newport, Rhode Island, and then with Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry on Lake Erie, where he designed the battle flag bearing the slogan “Don’t Give Up the Ship” that flew from Perry's flagship during the Battle of Lake Erie on 10 September 1813. Although wounded in that engagement, for which he received a medal, Hambleton continued in naval service until the 1830s. In 1812 he had purchased an estate outside St. Michaels, Maryland, known as Perry Cabin Farm. After his retirement from the navy he lived there as a gentleman farmer with his brother, John Needles Hambleton, and sister, Louisa Hambleton. Also living and working at Perry Cabin during and after Hambleton‘s lifetime were Douglass's sister and brother-inlaw, Eliza and Peter Mitchell. Oswald Tilghman, comp., History of Talbot County, Maryland, 1661-1861, 2 vols. (Baltimore, 1915), 1: 455-76; Dickson J. Preston, Talbot County: A History (Centreville, Md., 1983), 167-69; idem, Young Frederick Douglass, 108, 164-65. For the encouragement of the colored
people, and to show them what energy and will could do, he pictured the


condition of the English-speaking race five hundred years ago, and com-
pared it with the condition of that race now. He illustrated this part of his
argument by quoting the instances of well-known black men who had risen
to eminence, and was quite severe upon Professor John M. Langston for
maintaining that the mulatto is the superior of the black man intellectually.
He told the colored people that they must get money and keep it if they
wished to elevate themselves. One trouble with them is that they always
want to be going somewhere, and do not stay in one place or at one thing
long enough to accumulate. A poor people are always a despised people.
To be respected they must get money and property. Without money there’s
no leisure; without leisure no thought, without thought no progress. Their
preachers should tell them more about what to do and less about what to
feel. They should cultivate their brains more and their lungs less. They
should not depend upon being helped, but should do for themselves. He
was tired of Ethiopia’s holding out her hands.4Douglass adapts Ps. 68: 31. The man that can get up
would be helped to do it. They should not depend upon the Lord for
everything. The Lord is good and kind, but is of the most use to those who
do for themselves. No man has a right to live unless he lives honestly, and
no man lives honestly who lives upon another.

He gave the colored part of his audience some of the best advice and
soundest instruction they have had for many a day. The only political
allusion he made in his speech was in saying that the Southerners could
control the votes of the negroes in the Southern States far more completely
than Northerners could. The colored man turned instinctively for advice
and assistance to those who had been raised with him and who are of his


Douglass, Frederick, 1818-1895


June 17, 1877


Yale University Press 1991



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