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Frederick Douglass to Julia Griffiths, October 13, 1847


FREDERICK DOUGLASS TO JULIA GRIFFITHS1Julia Griffiths (1812–95) first met Douglass during the latter half of 1846 when he lectured in her hometown of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Her father had been a friend of William Wilberforce, who had advocated the abolition of slavery in England, and she herself was active in the British antislavery movement. Charmed by the American, Griffiths followed Douglass back to the United States with her younger sister, Eliza, in 1848. In 1850 Eliza married John Dick, one of Douglass’s printers for the North Star, and the couple moved to Toronto. Julia became a constant companion and partner to Douglass and a leading antislavery organizer in Rochester for the next five years. She contributed to the North Star as copy editor and journalist, also saving the paper from financial ruin by organizing its books and by aggressively pursuing subscribers and donations. She helped to found the Western New York Anti-Slavery Society, acting as its secretary, and organized the Rochester Anti-Slavery Fair. Initially, she lived with the Douglass family, which led to tension in the household and to unsubstantiated rumors that Douglass and Griffiths shared more than a business relationship. In 1853 the Vicious attacks upon her in abolitionist newspapers drove her from the Douglass home and finally forced her in 1855 to return to England, ostensibly to raise funds for the North Star. In 1859 she married a Methodist minister from Halifax, Henry O. Crofts (?–1880), who acted as an agent for Frederick Douglass’ Paper. Through the Civil War, she continued to organize and revitalize ladies’ antislavery societies and to lecture against slavery. After the war and her husband’s death, she ran a boarding school and worked as a governess. Her friendship with Douglass continued in frequent correspondence, and she welcomed him and his second wife, Helen Pitts Douglass, when they visited England in 1886. Maria Diedrich, Love across Color Lines: Ottilie Assing and Frederick Douglass (New York, 1999), 179–84; Martin, Mind of Frederick Douglass, 40–41; Erwin Palmer, “A Partnership in the Abolition Movement,” University of Rochester Library Bulletin, 26:1–17 (Autumn/Winter 1970–71).

Lynn, Mass. 13 Oct[ober] 1847.


Please accept my warmest and sincerest thanks, and extend the same to the many kind friends who co-operated with you in presenting to me the most excellent and valuable collection of books, pamphlets, tracts, and pictures, which, through your own persevering industry, have just come to hand.2The gift to Douglass from his supporters in England included “the sum of £400” and “a case of books.” Griffiths wrote, “The books sent have been entirely collected by myself and are tokens of esteem and regard given by many eminent authors, publishers and friends to Mr. Douglass.” Julia Griffiths to Francis Jackson, 17 July 1847, Anti-Slavery Collection, MB.

Words are too weak and insipid to express the depth or intensity of my gratitude for this valuable and appropriate testimonial. I am as well pleased with the manner as the matter of your noble present. Free from all embarrassing compacts and agreements, it comes the free gift of free and confiding hearts. Such a gift, in my estimation, outweighs millions, all girt about with provisions, importing a bargain. If it be more blessed to give than to receive,3Acts 20:35. you have your reward, and it must be great to exceed mine.

You will the more readily understand my pleasure at receiving such a gift, when I tell you that but a few years ago, the fingers now penning this note of thanks, were used in fishing from the muddy street gutters in Baltimore, scattered pages of the Bible, that I might learn its precious contents. Had any one given me a Testimonial then, I should have felt myself blest, indeed. What a contrast is my present with my former condition? Then a slave, now a free man; then degraded, now respected; then ignorant, despised, neglected, unknown, and unfriended, my name unheard of beyond the narrow limits of a republican slave plantation; now, my friends and benefactors, people of both hemispheres, to heaven the praise belongs!

Again, dear Friend, accept my thanks, and in a very especial manner extend them to William and Mary Howitt,4William Howitt (1792–1879) and Mary Botham Howitt (1799–1888) were among the foremost authors and publishers in Victorian Britain. From a partnership that began with their marriage in 1821, the Howitts produced several jointly authored books and the short-lived Howitt’s Journal (1847–48). Both also continued to write separately, with selections of their poetry appearing in various antislavery newspapers. Mary in particular became known for her translations of the works of Hans Christian Andersen and Frederika Bremer. Throughout their careers, the Howitts supported radical movements in both politics and literature, including abolition, women’ s rights, and the Romantic poets. Their daughter, Anna Mary Howitt Watts, became a Pre-Raphaelite artist and writer in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Barbara Onslow, Women of the Press in Nineteenth-Century Britain (New York, 2000), 228; Mitchell, Victorian Britain, 145, 382, 848; DNB, 10:122–25. Serjeant Talfourd,5Thomas Noon Talfourd (1795–1854), commonly addressed as “Serjeant” after holding the office of Serjeant-at-Law in 1833, was best known for his introduction of a copyright bill to Parliament in 1837 on behalf of his friend Charles Dickens. Talfourd represented Reading in Parliament from 1835 to 1841 and 1847 to 1849. He also pursued a successful literary career as an editor, writer, and dramatist. Charles Dickens, The Letters of Charles Dickens, ed. Madeline House and Graham Storey, 12 vols. (Oxford, Eng., 1965–2002), 1:290; DNB, 19:343–45. Dr. Bowring,6In 1847 John Bowring (1792–1872) held a seat in Parliament after having established himself as a businessman, linguist, and political journalist. He was instrumental in commercial reform and free trade agitation in England and Europe throughout the 1820s and 1830s, and became active in the Anti–Corn Law League in 1838. Bowring also participated in the British abolitionist movement, attending the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention in 1840 and working with the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society. Appointed governor of Hong Kong in 1854, Bowring received a knighthood in 1855. For the next three years he developed commercial ties between Britain and the Far East, including the negotiation of the first treaty with Siam in 1855. In his later years, he wrote and translated poetry, history, and natural science. His three sons also became well known as politicians, translators, and scientists. “Minutes of the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society,” American Antislavery Collection, UkOxU-Rh, 429; Sir John Bowring and Lewin B. Bowring, Autobiographical Recollections of Sir John Bowring (London, 1877); Joyce A. Youings, Sir John Bowring, 1792–1872: Aspects of His Life and Career (Plymouth, Eng., 1993); Douglas H. Maynard, “The World’s Anti-Slavery Convention of 1840,” MVHR, 47:458 (December 1960); DNB, 2:984–88. Mrs. Gilpin,7Mrs. Gilpin may have been the wife of Charles Gilpin, a British printer who published antislavery tracts and pamphlets, including the English editions of the narratives of Elihu Burritt, William Wells Brown, and J. W. C. Pennington. William Wells Brown, Narrative of William Wells Brown, An American Slave (London, 1849); James W. C. Pennington, The Fugitive Blacksmith (London, 1850); Burritt, Learned Blacksmith. to Messrs. Chambers,8Robert and William Chambers. and others, who kindly contributed to assist you in making me this valuable present. With my best thanks, also, receive my humble assurance that the cause on behalf of which you have become interested in my welfare, shall never be deserted nor betrayed by me.

With sincere gratitude, I am very respectfully yours,


PLSr: Howitt’s Journal, 2:319 (13 November 1847). Reprinted in NASS, 13 January 1848. PLe: PaF, 20 January 1848.




Douglass, Frederick (1818–1895)




Yale University Press 2009



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