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Frederick Douglass letters

Identifier: 2047

Scope and Contents

This collection consists of two letters by Frederick Douglass, and a reproduction of a third letter.

Correspondence includes a November 1890 letter written from the Anacostia neighborhood of Washington, D.C. to his friend Lucy N. Coleman. In it Douglass mentions his role in "putting an end to that barbarian under Zion church." Douglass also laments being "on the wrong side of seventy."

Also included is an eight-page letter written from the Hotel Britannique in Paris in November 1886 addressed to "friends Hayden and Watson." Douglass describes the Ethiopian Singers, who distort their language, manners, and physical features to appear "more akin to apes than to men." Douglass contrasts the attitudes toward people of color in Europe with those in the United States, which wield a great influence, saying "the leprose distillment of American prejudice against the Negro is not confined to the United States." He talks about meeting French abolitionist Victor Schoelcher, who was then writing a biography of Toussaint L'Ouverture. They spoke of American and French slavery, and of the unwillingness of Alexander Dumas to speak out on behalf of the enslaved: "I have not yet seen his statue here in Paris. I shall go to see it, as it is an acknowledgement of the genius of a colored man, but not because I honor the character of the man himself." Douglass notes that the abundant art in Paris have influenced his understanding of ethnology and would have better fortified his knowledge against pro-slavery agitators such as Josiah C. Nott and George Glidden. He also remarks on his visit to the French House of Deputies: "I saw no one squirting tobacco, smoking, or his feet above the level of his head as is sometimes seen in our National Legislature." He reports that he saw in the current day's news cable of the death of President Chester A. Arthur, and, while regrettable, "there is nothing in his career as President of the U.S. that proves him to have had any sympathy with the oppressed colored people of the South." Douglass also remarks on the assumed candidacy of James G. Blaine for presidency in 1888. He remarks on the Republican Party: "We have not gained all that we had a right to expect under it, but under it we gained all that we have."

The copy of a letter, written to John W. Hurn in 1882, mentions how Frederick Douglass' friendship and prior support of John Brown "could have been sufficient to hang me" and credits Hurn with saving his life during this period. All three letters in this collection are accompanied by typed transcriptions.


  • Created: 1882-1890
  • Other: Date acquired: 01/01/1966


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright to these papers has not been assigned to the Amistad Research Center. It is the responsibility of an author to secure permission for publication from the holder of the copyright to any material contained in this collection.

Biographical Note

Abolitionist, civil rights activist, reform journalist, and former fugitive slave, Frederick Douglass is best remembered as an orator and author of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Written by Himself.

As a young slave, Douglass taught himself to read and organized secret schools for slaves, though these were discovered and broken up by a mob of local Whites. His wife-to-be, Anna Murray, encouraged and facilitated his escape from slavery. They settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Douglass' remarks at an 1841 convention of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society brought him to the attention of William Lloyd Garrison and other leading abolitionists. Douglass then worked as an antislavery lectured under the auspices of the Society.

After the publication of the Narrative, his popularity grew. He lectured in Europe to enthusiastic audiences. In 1847, Douglass moved his family to Rochester, New York, where he launched his antislavery and reform journal, North Star. Douglass' growing independence also signaled his move away from Garrisonian antislavery rhetoric. He also began exploring the possibilities of abolitionist violence. His interest in violence appears in his 1852 novella, The Heroic Slave, and he was involved in planning and raising funds for John Brown's 1859 raid at Harpers Ferry.

During the Civil War, Douglass pressed President Lincoln to make emancipation a goal of the war and to allow black enlistment in the Union army. Douglass served as a recruiter for the Massachusetts Fifty-fourth Infantry. After the war, Douglass became a vocal critic of President Andrew Johnson because of his unwillingness to support full suffrage rights for African American men.

In 1872, an arson fire destroyed Douglass' Rochester home, and his family moved to Washington, DC. Douglass was named president of the Freedman's Savings Bank, and he purchased the publication New National Era. His wife, Anna, died in 1882, and he married Helen Pitts, his White former secretary and a abolitionist, in 1883. He was appointed the United States minister to Haiti from 1889 until he resigned in disgust in 1891. Douglass appealed to Harrison for an antilynching law and used his position as the only African American official at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition to bring that issue to an international audience. Douglass died at his Washington estate, Cedar Hill, in 1895.


1.00 folders

Language of Materials


Custodial History

Some materials removed to vertical file; the typescript radio drama written by Rae Dalven was removed to form an autonomous collection.

Source of Acquisition

Race Relations Department

Appraisal Information

The Frederick Douglass letters consist of original correspondence and one photocopied letter from Douglass, which depict his opinions on an array of topics, ranging from eugenics to his own legacy as a historical figure.

Related Materials

Other primary resources on Frederick Douglass can be found in the American Missionary Association archives and the Paul and Gracia Hardacre collection.

Related Publications

The 1886 letter to friends Hayden and Watson has been reproduced partially or fully in numerous works on Douglass and various anthologies of correspondence.

Processing Information

Collection processing in May 2012.

Frederick Douglass letters
Andrew Salinas
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Repository Details

Part of the Amistad Research Center Repository

6823 Saint Charles Avenue
Tilton Hall, Tulane University
New Orleans LA 70118 US
(504) 862-3222