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Frederick Douglass Amy Post, July 17, 1849



Niagara, [N.Y.] 17 July 1849.


Listen to Frederick. When I left Rochester—I resolved that you should hear from me often during my western pilgrimage1According to the published version of Douglass’s western tour schedule, he was to speak at Detroit on 4, 5, and 6 July 1849, then travel to Battle Creek, Michigan, for meetings on 8 and 9 July. From there, the tour was scheduled for Chicago on 12 through 15 July before turning eastward again. The latter part of July was to be spent in Ohio, including meetings at Sandusky on 19, 20, and 21 July, at Green Plain on 22 July, Columbus on 25 July, and finally Cincinnati. Douglass was scheduled to arrive in Cincinnati on 28 July and remain there until after 1 August, but he fell ill with a fever and bodily aches in Detroit on 4 July and was unable to complete the rest of the tour. The intense heat of Detroit forced him to be moved to Windsor, Canada West. Douglass returned directly to Rochester once his health improved. Douglass to Isaac Post, mid-July 1849, Post Family Papers, NRU; NS, 6, 13, 20 July 1849.—but nearly three weeks have elapsed and not a word from my own pen. Do you know the reason? Well, I will tell you. I have been and still am sick, I was attacked upon the very threshold of my journey— and made to feel the weakness of my resolves and the uncirtainties of man’ s promises. I had pictured to myself a most successful and brilliant career in the west. How soon was my picture marred and defaced? But Thank God I am yet alive and on my legs—with my face toward the enemy—and can yet do Battle for the right and true. I shall not in my present weak state venture into Cincinatti—Since my system is just now peculiarly open to an attack of Cholera.2A cholera epidemic swept through midwestern cities, including Cincinnati, in the summer of 1849. This was the second outbreak of the disease in twenty years. Contemporary reports counted as many as 130 burials a day, with a total of 625 deaths in a single week. Bacteria that bred in the open sewers and filthy streets of nineteenth-century cities caused cholera, leading to severe diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and dehydration. Controversy over treatment, which ranged from the water cure to herbal medicines to heroic methods of bleeding and purging, and a general belief that immoral behavior caused the disease curtailed any efforts by Cincinnati city officials to slow the spread of cholera or to prevent a future outbreak. NS,, 13 July 1849; Charles E. Rosenberg, The Cholera Years: The United States in 1832, 1849, and 1866 (1962; Chicago, 1987), 2, 70, 115, 118, 135, 163, 211.

The probability now is that I shall be with the friends in Buffalo on the first of August if I go out at all on that day.3Douglass did not speak in Buffalo at the First of August celebration because he had become sick in Detroit several weeks earlier. NS, 20 July 1849. There will doubtless be a large gathering at that point at that time, and a good work may be done on that day. I find the friends there all alive for the occasion.

When in Detroit I wished much to visit Pontiac agreeably to the kind invitation of Miss Owin.4“Miss Owin” was probably Jane Parton Illendon Owen (1822–?), wife of Dr. Woodland Owen. In 1842 the Owens emigrated from England with their sons, Jane Owen’s mother, Sarah Grant Illendon, and Woodland Owen’s brother, John G. Owen. They first settled in Rochester, New York, then moved to Adrian, Michigan, in 1848. There the family became active in the antislavery and spiritualist movements. 1850 U.S. Census, Michigan, Lenawee County, Adrian Township, 620; Merrill and Ruchames, Garrison Letters, 4:263, 266–67n. But my limbs were all broken. How could I I travel? I wanted to go to Battle Creek—but this I could not do—all was disappointment.

I shall probably reach home by friday. I cannot say possitively. Julia Griffiths continues ill—and Eliza is the only sound one of the company.5In a letter to readers of the North Star, Douglass noted that “friend [Charles Lenox] Remond and two others,” Julia and Eliza Griffiths, accompanied him in his travels. Julia Griffiths had expressed the intention to meet with Douglass when she arrived in the United States. When she and her sister arrived in New York City on 9 May 1849, they located Douglass at the abolitionist convention being held in there. They traveled with him to Boston and then on to Rochester, where they began to provide financial assistance to Douglass, starting with Eliza’s purchase of the mortgage on his home in August. NS, 20 July 1849; Palmer, “Partnership in the Abolition Movement,” 1–5. If you were here—I should feel ocians of happiness on the Dear Girls account. They have need of your tender and affectionate heart to cheer and strengthen them. But we shall have to come to you[.] In consideration of my illness and the necessary expenses to which I have been put, the Girls have just sent thirty dollars more towards holding up the North Star.


I am now at no expense—they sustain me while I am ill—and until I get strong. You will see a somwhat minute account of my illness in the North Star of this week or I would write you out particulars.6In the 13 July 1849 issue of the North Star, John Dick published a notice that Douglass had been “sick of a low fever” in Windsor, Canada West, for three days. My Dear Love to Isaac—Wm. Hallowell and Mary Hallowell—and receive the Lion’s share for your Dear self.

I am most truly yours Always,


[P.S.] Julia and Eliza join me in Love to yourself and family

F. D.

ALS: Post Family Papers, NRU.


Douglass, Frederick




Yale University Press 2009



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