Frederick Douglass Gerrit Smith, March 30, 1849
FREDERICK DOUGLASS TO GERRIT SMITH
Rochester, [N.Y.] 30 March 1849.
Gerrit Smith, Esq.
MY DEAR SIR,
You kindly enquired if the North Star is well supported. I am sory to say that it is not.1From the outset of its publication, the North Star faced financial difficulties. Although British supporters donated approximately two thousand dollars to start the newspaper, Douglass spent a significant portion of the amount on a printing press that his partner, John Dick, deemed unusable after only a single issue. The regular operation costs, compounded by the printer’s fee, a lack of subscriptions, and infrequent or insufficient payment from existing subscribers, led to a crisis by early 1849. Only through generous donations from antislavery organizations, the intervention of a committee organized by Isaac and Amy Post, and the energetic efforts of Julia Griffiths to organize the paper’s financial books and raise the number of subscribers did the North Star survive. McMillan, “Mr. Editor,” 22–30. I will explain the reasons. Many of my best friends especially in the east, look upon it as an unnecessary, if not a useless intrumentality for promoting the cause of the slave and believe, I would be far more servicible as a public speaker than I can be as an editor. I started the paper against their wishesm—and against their advice, they feel therefore little or no interest in its support. Besides this, the paper is not a party paper—and looks with grateful friendship upon all classes of abolitionists and is not disposed to denounce as knaves those who believe that voting is a duty. The failure to do this is perhaps the most greivious omission of which the paper is Guilty in the eyes especially of my Boston friends. On the other hand the paper is not enough of a liberty party paper or in other words it is too strongly Garrisonion to be looked upon with much favor by Liberty party men. In a word there does not appear to be charity and magnamimity enough among the two classes of Antislavery friends to support a paper that can see good in each party.
My friends in England gave me two thousand Dollars with which to commence, and I very foolishly laid out more than one half the money in printing matereals such as press, types cases, stands, &c. instead of contracting with some experienced printer to publish the paper for so much per week, until I could see if the paper could be sustained. This has proved to be quite a serious mistake. My money is now all gone—where as if I had kept the two thousand dollars—and only paid it out as necessity required
—I should have a much longer time allowed me in which to establish the paper than I now have. I am now about two hundred dollars in debt—and mean to leave the paper in the hands of my friend Nell2William C. Nell.—while I go out and get the money with which to pay it.3Douglass announced a week of antislavery speaking appointments for himself for 4 through 11 April 1849 in the region between Syracuse and Rochester. NS, 30 March 1849. The paper shall be sustained if any effort of mine can sustain it, or cause it to be sustained. Whither the paper is doing good or not, perhaps is not for me to say but I believe it is doing good. The simple fact that such a paper exists is serviceble to the cause of my dispised and maligned race.
I thank you sincerely for the kind invitations you have given me to visit you at Peterboro’, and hope the day is not distant when I shall have the pleasure of seeing you under your own roof. Please to remember me kindly to Mrs. Smith4On 2 January 1822, Ann Carroll Fitzhugh (1805–75), sometimes called “Nancy,” became the second wife of Gerrit Smith. She was born in Hagerstown, Maryland, where her father, William Fitzhugh (1761–1839), was a prominent planter connected to elite families. In 1800 Fitzhugh entered into a real estate venture with his neighbors Charles Carroll and Nathaniel Rochester. The three purchased land in upstate New York and established the town of Rochester, where Fitzhugh moved his family in 1815. He became a prominent resident and philanthropist, contributing to the growth of the town into a City. Gerrit and Ann Smith had eight children, including Elizabeth Smith Miller (1822–1911), who followed in her father’ s footsteps to become an activist and reformer in her own right. Octavius Brooks Frothingham, Gerrit Smith: A Biography (New York, 1909), 27; Harlow, Gerrit Smith, 16; Robert McNamara, “Charles Carroll of Belle Vue: Co-founder of Rochester,” RH, 42:1, 13 (October 1980). who though I never saw her but once and that in a public meeting I yet remember with so much distinctness, that I should know her again if I should meet [her] many years hence.
I am Dear Sir Most truly yours,
[P.S.] The dear little boy of ours of whom I spoke in the paper of today as being sick seems much better this morning.5Douglass cut short an antislavery lecturing tour in central New York at the end of February to return home because of an illness in his family. NS, 9 March 1849. We have also a dear little girl under our roof—only one week old.6Annie, the Douglasses’ fifth child and second daughter, was born in Rochester on 22 March 1849. She lived not quite eleven years, dying on 13 March 1860 after a lengthy illness. McFeely, Frederick Douglass, 161, 207. Mrs Douglass is doing very well—up nearly all day yesterday.
ALS: Gerrit Smith Papers, NSyU. PLSr: Foner, Life and Writings, 1:369–70.