Sunday, May 21, 2017

Frederick Douglass -- Harriet Beecher Stowe
The published writing of Harriet Beecher Stowe, in particular “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” in 1852, did more to galvanize the general population of the North against slave owners than all the words of the abolitionists together.  Yet they had built the stage upon which the social drama of the next decade would be performed.
Harriet Beecher was the daughter of a Connecticut clergyman.  She lived in Cincinnati, Ohio, eighteen years were her father presided over a seminary school.  In 1836 she married Calvin Ellis Stowe, one of the professors.  Separated from a slave community by the Ohio River, she had contact with fugitives and learned about life in the South from them, from friends, and from her own visits.  In 1850 she and her husband moved to Brunswick, Maine, he having received a professorship at Bowdoin College.  Following the serial publication of her novel in the National Era, an anti-slavery newspaper in Washington, D. C., “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was published as a book and was eventually translated into twenty-three languages.  In 1852 she and her husband moved to Andover, Massachusetts, where he was now a professor in the Theological Seminary.  The following year she wrote “A Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” a large number of documents and testimonies against slavery in defense of the accuracy of the contents o her novel.
Frederick Douglass’s first conversation with her occurred in 1853, after he had received an invitation from her to visit her in Andover.  Following a warm greeting she explained the purpose of the invitation.
“… I wish to confer with you as to what can be done for the free colored people of the country.  I am going to England and expect to have a considerable sum of money placed in my hands, and I intend to use it in some way for the permanent improvement of the free colored people, and especially for that class which has become free by their own exertions.  … In any event I desire to have some monument rise after Uncle Tom’s Cabin which will show that it produced more than a transient influence.”
… The author went on to mention ideas that had been suggested to her, including the establishment of a school (Bontemps 202).
Douglass suggested instead a series of workshops in which colored people could learn handicrafts, iron, wood and leather work, while acquiring a simple English education.  “Poverty keeps them ignorant and their ignorance kept them degraded.  We need more to learn how to make a good living than to learn Latin and Greek.”  Mrs. Stowe agreed to propose the idea to friends in England.
Douglass sponsored the idea of founding a “work college” for free blacks at the Rochester Colored People’s convention that year and encountered surprising opposition.  Some thought that a system of apprenticeships would be better.  Other said that the venture would be too costly to consider.  Douglass discovered in the months afterward that white abolitionists in general did not support the plan either.  Mrs. Stowe in England received little encouragement.  She gathered a trifle more than five hundred dollars, abandoned the plan, and gave the money eventually to Douglass to use as he saw it to benefit his own people.
Mrs. Stowe also made an attempt to stem the malicious gossip about Douglass and Julia Griffiths that the Garrisonian abolitionists in particular had circulated.  She had invited Douglass to her home also to judge the man.  Afterward, in a letter to Garrison, she reported,
“I am satisfied that his change of sentiment [his support of political action in attacking slavery] was not a mere political one but a genuine growth of his own conviction.”    Then she continued, warming to the real point, “where is this work of excommunication to end?  Is there but one true anti-slavery church and all others infidels?” … she made no bones about the need for Garrison to stop the gossip about Douglass’s “family concerns” and other allusions “more unjustifiable still.”  She was “utterly surprised” by Garrison’s indulgence in such talk.  … She sternly advised that he make no further contributions to the “controversial literature,” the swirl of malicious letters sailing through the antislavery mail slots: “Silence in this case will be eminently—golden.”  … “What Douglass is really, time will show” (McFeely 178).
Works cited:
Bontempts, Arna, Free at Last, the Life of Frederick Douglass, New York, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1971.  Print
McFeely, William S.  Frederick Douglass.  New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1991.  Print.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Frederick Douglass -- Fugitive Slave Law
Frederick Douglass’s participation increased as the flow of fugitives through Rochester and into Canada during 1849 multiplied.  The end result was the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, federal legislation designed to reduce tensions between the slave owning Southern states and what was perceived by them more increasingly to be an anti-slavery North.
The fugitive slave act was part of a large compromise put together by Congress to persuade Southern states not to succeed from the Union.  The South had been particularly concerned about the slave status of future states formed from territory recently obtained following the successfully concluded war with Mexico.  Would these states permit or prohibit slavery?  Southern Congressmen had threatened succession if slavery were to be excluded.  The compromise offered was that California would be admitted immediately as a free state but future states would be slave or free based upon the voted upon wishes of local citizens.  Southern slave owners wanted more; they wanted a tough fugitive slave law that would not only bring back to them their property but would also punish those who had so effectively assisted fugitives in their escape.  The Fugitive Slave Law gave them that.  Then and only then were they willing to accept legislation that ended the buying and selling of slaves in the nation’s capital.  These four measures became known as the Compromise of 1850.  Threats of succession subsided.  Southern states would remain in the Union ten more years.
Ironically, attempted enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law intensified the bitterness of slave owners for it helped solidity anti-Southern attitudes of Northern citizens, who resented the shady practices, well-publicized in newspapers, of slave-catching agents sent north to retrieve runaways.  Free blacks had to prove their status; if they could not, they could be seized on the charge of being runaways.  The Law provided judges the compensation of ten dollars for each individual they deemed a fugitive and five dollars for each they declared to be free.  Some free black men were simply kidnapped and sent South into slavery.  So had several white people, who were not able to furnish immediate proof of their color.  The Fugitive Slave Law was the first of several events during the 1850’s that would turn the minds and emotions of a majority of citizens in the North against the threats and practices of the slave-owning South.  One of those events would involve John Brown, at the federal arsenal in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, in 1859.
Frederick Douglass and other black leaders in and about Rochester were fearful of their own safety after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act.  Several black ministers and their entire congregations crossed over the border into Canada.  Douglass chose, however, to remain where he was, and to continue his aid to fugitives.  He reasoned that anti-slavery whites would begin to resist and eventually thwart the practices of the slave-catchers and kidnappers.  His prediction proved to be correct.
Perhaps inspired by the spirit of John Brown, he took into his home a group of fugitives led by a slave named Parker.  News over telegraph wires had preceded Parker’s arrival.  Pursued into Pennsylvania and confronted by his master, the man’s son, and officers of the law. Parker had opened fire upon them with a pistol.  One shot killed the master, a second wounded the son, and a third sent the others into retreat.  A widespread search of the Pennsylvania mountains began, as the news of the confrontation spread from town to town.  Parker and his two companions were more than fugitives now; they were murderers.  They arrived at Douglass’s home soon after Douglass learned of their deed.  Parker had decided against taking refuge in the mountains but had pressed onward without stopping for two days and night.  Now Douglass had to decide what to do about him.
As they slept, he sent Julia Griffiths to the Genesee Rover landing, three miles away, to inquire casually about boats leaving that night for Canadian ports.  A steamer was scheduled to sail for Toronto that night.  Several hours later Douglass hitched the horses to his family carriage.  The men were seated at his table and hurriedly consumed a meal cooked by Anna Douglass.  No doubt Douglass wondered if agents would be waiting for them at the dock, alerted by those whom Julia Griffiths had spoken to earlier.  The four of them waited fifteen minutes in the carriage as the steamer prepared to depart.  At the last possible moment the four of them hurried to the dock and walked up the gang plank.  When the order was given for the plank to be hauled in, Parker clasped Douglass’s arm and slipped something into his hand.  It was the pistol.  With it Douglass returned to his carriage and drove homeward.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Non-Fiction Book Review
Victory at Yorktown: The Campaign that Won the Revolution
Richard M. Ketchum
What many people find disturbing about the general populace today is their lack of knowledge of our country’s past. Certainly an understanding of how our country came to be is essential for us to be clear-sighted citizens.

The historical information that “Victory at Yorktown” provides is targeted for adult readers more than it is people of high school age. Reading the book and appreciating its content require a discipline that I believe high school age readers have not yet sufficiently developed. They would benefit more from reading accurate historical fiction.

If the reader is patient, if he reads each chapter after a sufficient time has elapsed to allow him to return to “Victory at Yorktown” refreshed, he will be rewarded.

The book takes up the narrative of the military struggle between American and British forces in 1780, five years after redcoat soldiers and Massachusetts militiamen had fired at each other at Lexington and Concord. Ketchum must set the stage for what is to follow, a difficult task because he has so much to cover. I found the first two chapters and Chapter 4 rather dull, mainly because Ketchum had to present so much diverse information.  I wanted him to focus on two, three, or four aspects of all the information he presented. For instance, I wanted him to expand upon the civilian population’s "shocking indifference" toward the war.  A large segment of the American people had sided neither with the rebels nor with the British, finding fault with both. 
After Chapter 4, Ketchum’s narration became more concise and detail-oriented.
In Chapter 5 Ketchum did a fine job presenting Nathanael Greene’s and Daniel Morgan's backgrounds, essential detail that makes more believable the two Americans' successes as military leaders. Morgan's triumph at Cowpens is very well narrated. Detail like Cornwallis leaning too heavily on the tip of his sword and breaking it while listening to the news of Tarleton's defeat added interest.
Chapter 6 makes the important point that Washington and the French were willing to act, to take risks, while the British (General Clinton in particular) were not. Clinton was content to stay in New York rather than risk an engagement while Washington and Rochambeau were crossing the Hudson River on their way to Virginia. He could have destroyed Washington before Washington linked up with the French army, but he stayed put. To use a football saying, "He played not to lose." Admiral de Grasse was willing to risk encountering the British fleet by sailing from the West Indies to the Chesapeake. The French government upon Ben Franklin's prodding was willing to double down and contribute essential supplies and currency at a time when investing more in America could logically be viewed as wasting valuable resources. Washington was indeed a gambler, out of necessity, yes; but being a gambler was also, apparently, part of his nature, as he had demonstrated earlier in the war. As Ketchum points out, so many variables had to come together. Had they not, Washington's plan to defeat/capture Cornwallis's army would have failed.
Highlights of Chapter 7 were Rochambeau loaning Washington 20,000 dollars, the French impression of Philadelphia, the lines on page 166 about Philadelphia merchants wanting the war to continue and Americans showing "a certain deference to those with money," the importance of the West Indies, the crucial element of luck (favoring the French), and the sluggish Admiral Graves (whom General Howe had despised in 1775) being in command of the British fleet when it engaged de Grasse's ships. Not to be overlooked was the incredible ineptitude of the British high command.
In Chapter 11, his final chapter, Ketchum is at his best both in his selection of historical information and in the quality of his narration.  Ketchum's criticism of the British high command and George III was spot-on. Washington's special qualities shine through especially in this chapter. His farewell to his officers in New York was especially well written.
My appreciation of the author grew as I advanced through the book.  I took away a better appreciation of the extreme hardships suffered by those who served their states and their united cause, the absolute necessity of France’s assistance, George Washington’s indefatigability, integrity, and willingness to take chances, and the Continental Congress’s utter incapacity to govern. My awareness of the amazing incompetency of the British military leaders and the extreme obduracy of George III was reinforced.  I appreciated as well the role that chance played in the outcome of events, be it who lived or died or what broad opportunities were utilized or wasted. If no other conclusion stays with the reader, the one that should remain is that our forefathers were extremely fortunate to have won their independence. I wish most Americans today had that appreciation.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Frederick Douglass -- John Brown
Douglass attended the national convention of free men of color in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1848 and was elected its president.  During the several days of his stay he received a message written by John Brown, a white man whom some of the delegates knew by sight, who was known to have advised free blacks to carry guns, who would stop a black man on any street and mesmerize him with his powerful eyes as he spoke.  Brown wanted Douglass to visit him at his home in Springfield, Ohio.  Douglass delivered lectures in the Town Hall of Springfield October 29 and November 18.  Sometime between those two engagements he called upon the man at his place of business, the firm of Perkins & Brown, wool merchants.
… Lean, somewhat under six feet, the merchant … gave an immediate impression of sinewy strength.  Mixed gray hair, close cropped, grew low on a gloomy forehead.  About fifty years old, Douglass guessed.
Light came up in the man’s blue gray eyes when he talked, and Douglass knew instantly that he was in an unusual presence. …
On the street, a little later, Douglass noticed his companion’s stride and was reminded on the long, springing step of a race horse.  Brown’s intense absorption in his own thoughts also fascinated Douglass.  He seemed neither to seek nor shun the observation of those they passed. …
The house they entered. … Plain as was the outside, the inside was plainer.  Spartan was not the word; the appointments in John Brown’s house suggested destitution.  But the wife, the sons and the daughters of the host received the guest with great cordiality. 
Whenever John Brown spoke in the course of the meal, his family listened gravely or sprang to obedience.  His language was flavored with biblical phrases, and the attitude of his children toward his utterances was unfailingly reverent.  Observing this, Douglass began to feel uneasy.  When he questioned one of his host’s remarks, ever so slightly, he became aware of the family’s astonishment.  To them John Brown’s words were gospel. …
How John Brown had gotten that way, he could only guess, of course, but Douglass could tell when a man had been through torment. 
His house in Springfield was still full of children, but John Brown had not forgotten the ones who were dead.  He had not forgotten Dianthe, the wife of his youth.  … Mary had given him more children, many more, the number was finally to reach thirteen, but tragedy had dogged his life with her as with Dianthe.  [Four children died of illnesses during 1843, another infant in 1846] …
The enslavement of Negroes had been a crushing hurt to him since his childhood, and one of the things that impoverished him now was gifts to fugitive slaves.  But he had also lost money in the panic of 1837 and gone into bankruptcy in 1842.  Always he had been on the move.  From Connecticut to Ohio, from Ohio to Massachusetts, from Massachusetts to Ohio, from Ohio to Pennsylvania, from Pennsylvania, back to Ohio, from Ohio to Virginia, from Virginia-always on the move. 
Brown spoke with caution at first.  He had followed Douglass’s career in the abolition movement.  He knew Garrison’s doctrine, which Douglass had advocated, and he knew about the split and the founding of The North Star. 
Slaveholders had forfeited the right to live, John Brown blurted suddenly.
Douglass’s eyes must have brightened, for John Brown began talking freely.  Enforced slavery was a state of war.  A slave had a right to free himself by any means whatever.  Garrison and the preachers of moral suasion were getting nowhere.  Nor would the political action advocated by Gerrit Smith and the western abolitionists ever put an end to slavery.
That was strong talk.  What did Brown propose?
It was to answer that question, Brown confided, that he had invited Douglass to his home.  He had a plan-a most secret plan.
… the strangely tortured man unfolded a map of the United States.  With his finger he pointed to the Alleghany mountain range and traced it back and forth from the borders of New York to the Southern States.
“These mountains,” said John Brown, “are the basis of my plan.  God has given the strength of the hills to freedom.  … They were placed here for the emancipation of the Negro race.  They are full of natural forts, where one man for defense will be equal to a hundred for attack.  They are full also of good hiding places, where large numbers of brave men could be concealed and baffle and elude pursuit for a long time.  … I know these mountains well and could take a body of men into them and keep them there despite all efforts of Virginia to dislodge them.
“My plan … is to take at first about twenty-five picked men and begin on a small scale, supply them with arms and ammunition and post them in squads of five on a line of twenty-five miles.  The most persuasive and judicious of these shall go down to the fields from time to time, as opportunity offers, and induce the slaves to join them, seeking and selecting the most restless and daring.”
… They would run off slaves in large numbers, sending the weak and timid ones northward via the Underground Railroad and retaining the brave and strong ones to reinforce the guerillas in the mountains.  As his forces grew, Brown proposed to expand his operations.
… he was convinced that forces sent to trap his trained men would find it extremely difficult to keep his bands from cutting their way out.  If worse came to worst, he shrugged, the enemy could do no more than kill him, and he could think of no better use for his life than to lay it down in the cause of the slave (Bontemps 173-180).
The austerity of Brown’s home, Douglass realized, was the result of the man’s saving of money to carry out his grand plan.  Brown’s ideas appealed to him; Douglass did not endorse them-he doubted the chances of their success-but, without question he approved of black men actively encouraging and helping slaves escape their bondage.  Douglass had already become a part of the escape process, his house in Rochester a stopping place for fugitives to be sent across the water to Canada.  John Brown was a man to be watched; he realized that Brown would likely communicate with him again.
Work cited:
Bontempts, Arna, Free at Last, the Life of Frederick Douglass, New York, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1971.  Print

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Frederick Douglass -- Julia Griffiths
Douglass was aided considerably by the administrative talent of Julia Griffiths, whom he had met during his stay in England.  She was an articulate, intelligent anti-slavery worker and they quickly developed a friendship that became intense and that lasted until they died, almost a half century later.  On May 7, 1849, she arrived in Rochester, accompanied by her sister Eliza, to help him edit the newspaper.  His unending lecturing trips, and his inclination not to focus upon the practical aspects of publishing made it necessary for someone else to make the operation efficient.  The two worked opposite each other daily at a table and a desk in the newspaper’s office.  But she and her sister resided in Douglass’s home.  This, and that Julia Griffiths was a young woman and that she was white and that she was forthrightly assertive and that Douglass openly appreciated her immediately fueled the thoughts of the suspicious.  Vicious gossip soon abounded, despite the fact that Eliza always accompanied Julia and Frederick when they traveled together.  Frederick, in fact, seemed to enjoy the stir they created.
… simply the sight of a black man escorting white women on the street was enough to raise hackles.  Walking along the Battery in New York City after attending the 1850 May meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society, the three were accosted by a gang of white men; shouting obscene racial epithets, the men dragged Douglass away and beat him, until a policeman, hunted up by the women, drove the attackers off (McFeely 165).
Surely he did not relish this incident but he did make use of it.  Asked by a reporter of the London Times afterwards to comment, he said that his offense was not that he had walked with white people but that he had walked with them “on terms of equality.  Had I been with those persons simply as a servant, I should have been regarded with complacency by the refined, and with respect by the vulgar class of white persons.”  The American “aristocracy of Skin” insulted “a colored man with the most perfect impunity” (Bontemps 184).
Gerrit Smith and his wife were undaunted by the interracial nature of the friendships and welcomed Douglass and the Griffiths sisters to Peterboro.  Most of their colleagues in the movement, however, were far from welcoming the new editorial team, and when Eliza Griffiths hitherto always present as chaperone, was no longer available for the assignment, the criticism of the two candidly unorthodox friends grew.  Late in the summer of 1850, romance had bloomed elsewhere in the office; John Dick … married Eliza and took her off to Toronto, where, in time, he would work on another antislavery paper.  … Now Julia Griffiths and Douglass had no protection against the gossips (McFeely 165-166).
Julia continued to live with the Douglasses.  Anna Douglass had been accepting of her husband’s friendship with the eccentric Englishwoman at first, but her resentment of Julia’s presence and of the favored attention Frederick gave her surfaced and intensified.  Julia’s habit of reading to him at night must have been especially galling to the illiterate women.
Julia did make friends with some of the townspeople.  She became secretary of the local antislavery society.  Her closest friends, aside from Douglass, probably were the Gerrit Smiths, whom she visited frequently and with whom she corresponded.
With the Smiths, Julia let her hair down.  Anna was giving the unblemished Douglass a hard way to go.  Poor man, only Julia knew what trials he suffered behind the brick walls of his home.  Her fire was not to be quenched by the stupid suspicions and jealousy of an illiterate woman whose capacity for intellectual growth and new horizons was so limited.  Certainly the mission of Frederick Douglass was too clear and bright to be allowed to bog down in that way.  Certainly the crusade for freedom was the main thing, and the help that Julia Griffiths could give should not be withheld because of petty irritations (Bontemps 186).
Friends of Douglass began to urge that he end his friendship with Julia.  Douglass refused to listen.  His right to her friendship was a part of his right to be liberated.  In January 1852 he wrote to Samuel Porter, with whom he had worked in moving fugitives into Canada.
“Individuals have rights not less than society.”  … Douglass chided Porter for writing to him of the “scandalous reports” instead of speaking to him directly.  “Miss Griffiths—is a free woman—and [acknowledging that they had indeed felt the sting of criticism], of her own free will” had moved out of his house to board elsewhere two months earlier …
He would not allow Porter or anyone else to undercut his friendship by making fun—“speaking lightly” – of Julia, whose forthright ways and eccentric clothes made her an easy target.  “She has a just claim upon my gratitude, respect, and friendship,” he declared.  Julia Griffiths had built something like a satisfactory relationship with Anna Douglass, sharing tea with her in the kitchen, and had even, unsuccessfully, tried to teach her to read.  Douglass … insisted that “when she was in my family—I was necessarily in her society—our walking and riding together was natural.  Now we are separated and meet at my office at business hours and for business purposes—where we are open to the observation of my printers and the public.”
… By 1855, the criticism had become so shrill that the two could no longer withstand its pressures.  Julia packed her bags and went back to England, where she continued her anti-slavery activities.  Later, she wrote a regular column … for Douglass’ Monthly, … which appeared as a separate publication starting in January 1859.  … In time, Julia married the Reverend H. O. Crofts, a stolid clergyman with whom she moved from parsonage to parsonage in England.  After he died, she conducted, for twenty years, a school for young women in St. Neots.  Until the death of Frederick Douglass, three months before hers, she never ceased corresponding with her “beloved friend.”  But she was never again to sit with him in his parlor (McFeely 170-171, 182)
Works cited:
Bontempts, Arna, Free at Last, the Life of Frederick Douglass, New York, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1971.  Print
McFeely, William S.  Frederick Douglass.  New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1991.  Print.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Non-Fiction Book Review
Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War
Nathaniel Philbrick
I highly recommend that any person interested in early American history read Nathaniel Philbrick’s "Mayflower, a Story of Courage, Community, and War." Philbrick is a skilled writer. He is both informative and expressive. His information is well researched. He is objective in his interpretation of the significance of major events and skillful in his portrayal of prominent historical figures.

His narrative of the people and events of the time alters the image that most Americans have about the Pilgrims and their Native American neighbors. What I was left with at the end of the book was reaffirmation of the seemingly universal truth that while individual people are capable of acts of kindness, groups of man invariably act upon their selfish interests and punish if not destroy those who stand in their way.

What did I learn that I had not known?

The Pilgrims were exceedingly lucky settling both where they did and when they did. A virulent disease had wiped out the Pokanokets settlement at Plymouth and much of the tribe elsewhere. The disease had been brought to New England by European adventurers, some of whom had taken captives. Two, who had returned, had learned to speak English. One of them, Squanto, served the Pilgrims as a translator.

For nearly 50 years the Pilgrims and the Pokanokets lived adjacent to each other in relative harmony. This was mostly because each had a strong need for the other. The Pilgrims needed the Pokanokets as a protective barrier. The Pokanokets, because of their reduced population, threatened by more populous neighboring tribes, needed the Pilgrims’ military assistance. During those 50 years a certain intimacy developed. A certain amount of cross-cultural exchange occurred. Each adopted certain ways of the other.

This all began to change when second generation Pilgrim and Pokanokets leaders took positions of authority. Late in his life William Bradford lamented that the material rewards of this life rather than those of the afterlife had become the focus of the second and third generations. Scarcity of land became the inevitable consequence of growth of population. Indians were viewed increasingly as an impediment. Indians, in turn, resented their loss of land due both to its purchase by the English and confiscation.

Massasoit, sachem of the Pokanokets, friend of the Pilgrims, had died. His older son, Alexander, summoned by the magistrates of Plymouth Colony to appear before them to renew the covenant of peace that had existed between the two people, died suddenly of an unexpected illness. Tribal members suspected that he had been poisoned. Massasoit’s younger son, Philip, became the tribe’s sachem.

His tribe squeezed of territory, increasingly impoverished, forced to turn over its weapons, three of his tribal members executed for crimes they had not committed, Philip began to seek out the support of neighboring tribes to push back against the English. War eventually broke out. All Indians, even those who tried to stay neutral, were perceived as “children of the devil.” Many neutral Indians were given no choice but to go to war.

For awhile, the Indians seemed to be winning. Had Philip been able to forge an alliance with the French in the Hudson River Valley, the outcome of the war would have been quite different. Ultimately, lack of food diminished Philip’s forces. The alliance of the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay Colonies outlasted them. Desertions resulted. Treated more humanely by some of the English leaders, certain tribes switched sides. The war ended when the sachems of the warring tribes, including Philip, were taken and killed.

King Philip’s War was costly for both sides. During the 14 months of the war Plymouth Colony lost close to 8 percent of its men. Due to death in battle, starvation, and being sold into slavery and exported to the West Indies, the Native American tribes of southern New England lost between 60 to 80 percent of their population.

Nathaniel Philbrick’s book offers the reader much to think about.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Frederick Douglass -- Separation from Garrison
When he placed his feet upon American land he had already decided he would separate himself from the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society and establish himself as an independent voice.  He had the financial backing of new friends in England that would allow him to buy a printing press.  He would move his family again, this time to a location along the route of escaped slaves escorted to Canada, the last stop along the underground railroad, Rochester, New York, a prosperous manufacturing center of fifty thousand people, near Lake Ontario.  He would name his newspaper North Star.
The Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society leaders were not pleased.  Douglass had been their most effective spokesman; they had sponsored him, and while with moderate success they had controlled him they had also expanded him.  Now, seemingly, he considered himself too important for them; his ingratitude grated them.  To keep him within the fold, they sought to placate him.  He could now write regularly for the society’s official publication, the National Anti-Slavery Standard, published in New York City.  He also was invited to be a co-speaker with William Lloyd Garrison on an important speaking tour through Pennsylvania and Ohio.  To be granted equal status on the podium with the legendary white abolitionist was an honor Douglass appreciated.  He accepted both invitations and put aside temporarily his future, independent ambitions.
The tour with Garrison began well but in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, a hostile element of the audience became violent.  Eggs, firecrackers, and stones were hurled up onto the stage.  “Throw out the nigger, throw out the nigger,” accompanied the fusillage.  Garrison, refusing to lose his dignity, solemnly declared the meeting adjourned, and was permitted to leave the building untouched.  Douglass, however, was the focus of the mob’s thirst for punishment.  He was able to reach the rear of the courthouse where a group of Negroes were huddled.  He took one by the arm and the others formed a wedge about him and advanced upon the door to the street.  Towering above the others, he could not hide his identity.  Another volley of rocks coursed through the air, one past his ear, another striking him in the back.  Two of the protectors behind him caught most of the punishment.  One staggered, but regained his balance.  The wedge reached the door; when they reached the street they scattered in separate directions.
Garrison and Douglass resumed their tour.  They shared a stage to Chambersburg on their way to Pittsburgh.  Ill, Garrison stayed temporarily at Chambersburg while Douglass continued the slow journey the next day.  Alone, he undoubtedly reflected upon the significance of his Harrisburg experience.
… While Garrison had all the dedication a man could possibly have to a cause, while he was sensitive to the very shadow of injustice and had proved more than once that he would not hesitate to give his life in the fight for freedom, the fact remained that the Harrisburg mob had not objected to his speaking while it had objected to Douglass’s.  The fact remained that Garrison had left the courthouse unnoticed and unmolested while Douglass had been saved only because his Negro friends shielded him with their bodies.  Eventually he and they had been forced to scurry into the darkness like rabbits chased by dogs
No, it had not been the same with his friend Garrison.  And it would not be the same with him as he journeyed by stage to Pittsburgh.  He [Garrison, unlike Douglass] would miss no meals at watering places along the way on account of his abolitionist sentiments.  Clearly there was a difference.  White men were converted to the principle of abolition.  Negroes were the natural abolitionists.  There was a certain dark section of the forest into which the hunted black man fled alone, into which his white antislavery friend could not follow.  Accordingly there was an area of his thought not shared by Garrison and the other white abolitionists (Bontemps 156-157).
That he should publish his own newspaper, be an independent spokesman against slavery, be completely free to express his doctrinal differences seemed more imperative than before.  Yet he was reluctant to break with his friend, who joined him in Pittsburgh a day later.  He said nothing to Garrison of his intended break.  Garrison, in turn, did not see the separation coming until it occurred.  The tour concluded in Cleveland, Ohio, and Garrison remained there for some time recuperating from the illness that overwork had induced.  Eventually, to his wife, from Cleveland, Garrison wrote,
“Is it not strange that Douglass has not written a single line to me … inquiring after my health, since he left me on a bed of illness?  It will also greatly surprise our friends in Boston to hear, that, in regard to his project for establishing a paper … he never opened to me his lips on the subject, nor asked my advice in any particular whatever.”
Most of those friends would not have been the least bit surprised.  They had already closed their minds to him.  Neither they nor Garrison were able to see how hard it was for Douglass to break with a mentor who had meant so much to him, but who, by his every encouragement, had made it impossible for him to remain in a subservient role.  Sadly, like many a father and son, the two men found no way to talk about the painful rift that had developed between them.  Instead, Garrison simply offered a lament: “Such conduct grieves me to the heart.  His conduct … has been impulsive, inconsiderate, and highly inconsistent with his decision in Boston [not to start his own paper] (McFeely 149).
Douglass had returned from England with $4,000 and the promise of further support from friends there, which he eventually received, 445 pounds from one individual alone.  He printed the first issue of North Star December 3, 1847.  Always, however, he would have difficulty keeping the enterprise solvent.  Anti-slavery newspapers had a limited circulation.  Even Garrison’s Liberator had to be sustained by various fundraisers conducted by the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society.  Douglass had to continue his lecture career to remain a printer.
The financial contributions of philanthropist Gerrit Smith, a subscriber, helped.
From his father, Peter Smith, Gerrit Smith had acquired land in all but six of New York’s counties.  Smith in 1846 had asked three prominent antislavery people to help him place 1,985 (of a projected 3,000) landless blacks, each upon from forty to sixty acres of land.  At the time Douglass was locating his enterprise in Rochester, Smith gave Douglass and three black associates forty acres of land each, with the message, “I welcome you to New York.”  What Douglass did with his land, which was not in the vicinity of Rochester, we do not know.  He probably sold it.  Smith also established a black community, North Elba, in the remote country in back of the Adirondack Mountains.  Additionally he gave grants of land to various black leaders to have them settle in upstate New York cities; as property owners they would be eligible to vote.
Douglass’s developing friendship with the wealthy New York landowner and rival anti-slavery advocate to William Lloyd Garrison widened the breech between Douglass and the Boston group.  Eventually, in retaliation, Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society leaders tried to persuade their, and Douglass’s, friends in Great Britain not to continue their support of Douglass’s newspaper.
Gerrit Smith and William Lloyd Garrison differed about how the assault upon slavery should be waged.  Garrison believed fervently that government was corrupt, that the Constitution protected slavery and should be condemned, and that only by the use of unrelenting moral persuasion could slavery be eradicated.  Smith believed that slavery could be ended only by the action of government.  The Constitution, instead, was an instrument that should protect the black man.  Advocates of slavery had, in the past, interpreted it incorrectly.  Abolitionist, like Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, should apply political pressure to affect change.  Although Frederick Douglass never deviated publicly from the Garrison position while he was in their employ, during the last several years of his association with the Boston group he had begun to alter his personal opinion.
In May 1851 Douglass went to Syracuse, New York, for the annual meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society, which Garrison also attended.  During a debate chaired by Garrison, Douglass stated that the constitution might indeed be a useful instrument.  Two weeks later in the North Star he declared openly that the Constitution “might be made consistent … with the noble purposes avowed in its preamble” and should “be wielded in behalf of emancipation” (McFeely 169).  Soon afterwards, Douglass merged the North Star with the Liberty Party Paper, whose financial backer was Gerrit Smith.  Douglass’s new paper, called Frederick Douglass’ Weekly, was political in nature, and with it Douglass openly criticized not the man but the anti-political stance of his former friend and patron.  Their separation was now irreparable.
Works cited:
Bontempts, Arna, Free at Last, the Life of Frederick Douglass, New York, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1971.  Print.
McFeely, William S.  Frederick Douglass.  New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1991.  Print.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Frederick Douglass -- A Free Man
As the time for his departure neared, Frederick had thoughts of staying in England permanently.  His anti-slavery hosts had invited him to remain; profits from the sale of his book in Europe were already providing him a comfortable income.  Most importantly, in the British Isles he had been treated as a respectable human being.  During his tour of Ireland he had written Garrison that in Ireland, “I breathe, and lo! The chattel becomes a man.  … I employ a cab--I am seated beside white people--I reach the hotel--I enter the same door--I am shown into the same parlor--I dine at the same table--and no one is offended.  No delicate rose grows deformed in my presence” (Bontemps 116).
Fortunately, his British friends had already set in motion an attempt to obtain his freedom.
One of his hosts had been Ellen Richardson and her brother and sister-in-law, Quakers with whom Charles Remond, another black abolitionist, had stayed in 1841.
… Ellen Richardson, about a decade older than the twenty-eight-year-old Douglass, was the headmistress of a girls’ school.   She had long been active in the antislavery cause, and cognizant of the personal problems that ex-slaves faced.  She and her brother took Douglass to the seaside, and there, “sitting on the sand,” he may have begun to see that moving his family to Britain could not work.   … Looking out at the water, he pondered … if “it would be safe for me to come home” now that he was so notorious and so easy for the Aulds to find.  “Observing his sadness,” Ellen Richardson made up her mind to arrange to buy him his freedom.
By the time Douglass was to go back, Ellen Richardson’s campaign had worked.  Her plea for money to buy his freedom had brought a check for fifty pounds from John Bright; she knew that with this money, and the prestige of Bright’s support, her efforts would succeed. 
With John Bright’s check in hand, Richardson confided in her sister and her sister’s husband, a lawyer.  … Exactly how the negotiations proceeded is not clear, but we do know that Douglass wrote about the problem to William A. White, who could find those in Boston who could get things done.  The man in the American Anti-Slavery Society who got the job was Ellis Gray Loring. 
Loring engaged the services of a New Yorker, Walter Lowrie, who in turn arranged for a Baltimore lawyer to ask Hugh Auld, the brother available in the city, for a price—or, more probably, to suggest one to him.  … The figure agreed upon was 150 pounds sterling—roughly $1,250—and when Hugh consulted him, Thomas Auld agreed to it.  In December, the transaction was completed: Hugh passed the money to Thomas Auld, who in Talbot County on November 30, 1846, had filed a bill of sale of “Frederick Baily or Douglass as he calls himself” to Hugh Auld; Hugh, in turn, on December 12, 1846, had formally registered a deed of manumission in the Baltimore County courthouse for “Frederick Bailey, otherwise called Frederick Douglass.”  The lawyers had made sure that there could be no misunderstanding about who was being set free (McFeely 137, 143-144).
Purists among the American Anti-Slavery movement were horrified.  Frederick Douglass and his supporters had engaged in the business of slave trafficking.  Garrison doctrine held that “any man who had another in bondage and paid him no wages on his
labor was a thief.  Those who bought and sold slaves were pirates, kidnappers and thugs.  It was a righteous thing for a free man to help a slave escape.  It was no crime for a slave to attack and destroy his enslaver if he got a chance.  The purchase of the slave was the first crime.  And no one had argued these matters more effectively in America or Britain than the young runaway Frederick Douglass.  How then could he turn around and meet the villainous breed on their own grounds?  How could he let himself be a party to a legal transaction which recognized the whole wicked machinery (Bontemps 136)?
... Presumably he [Douglass] would have been beyond criticism—and they would have wept over his fate—if he had gone back to Covey’s fields or had been shot while struggling to escape from those dragging him there.  Douglass, who responded to the attacks with more dignity than they deserved and more patience than were to be expected, preferred to be a free antislavery worker rather than a martyr.  To his credit, William Lloyd Garrison shared his viewpoint, and helped defuse the criticism (McFeely 144-145).
Frederick Douglass boarded the Cambria for American March 31, 1847.  Although he had purchased a first-class ticket, he was told that there would be conditions attached to his boarding of the ship.
… He would have to agree to take all his meals alone.  He would have to promise not to mix with the saloon company. 
As always on such occasions, Douglass spoke his piece.  He argued.  He denounced.  And he made sure that spectators, including newspaper reporters, heard what he said (Bontemps 138).
When the Cambria docked in Boston, Frederick Douglass, ignoring his luggage, “lept” onto the wharf, and scarcely nodding as he ran through a crowd of admirers, he raced for the train to Lynn [where his family now lived].  “In twenty-five minutes, I reached Lynn, the train passing my door from which I saw my family five minutes before getting home.”  Having waited impatiently for the train to finally stop, he rushed out of the station: “When within fifty yards of our house, I was met by my two bright-eyed boys, Lewis and Frederic, running and dancing with joy to meet me.  Taking one in my arms and the other by the hand, I hastened to my house” (McFeely 145).
Frederick Douglass had returned to his native land, to his family, and to his home, at last a free man.
Works cited:
Bontempts, Arna, Free at Last, the Life of Frederick Douglass, New York, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1971.  Print.
McFeely, William S.  Frederick Douglass.  New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1991.  Print.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Book Review
"The Town"
by Conrad Richter
What distinguishes a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel from well-written novels that do not win prestigious awards?  I would assert a deeper exploration into the psyche and behavior of the human species.  I would also suggest an undertaking of far greater depth and scope than the attention-gaining, quick-moving, character-conflict- resolution-end of story kind of novel.   I believe “The Town” meets these conditions.
I appreciated these three themes. 
The accomplishments that one generation achieves and the people who achieve them are too frequently discounted by people of succeeding generations tempted to believe, because their lives have been made easier, that they are more enlightened, superior.
Every child born of the same parents is different from his/her siblings, but all, usually, adopt the broad values inculcated during their upbringing. But there can be outliers that parents may never direct.
Great harm can be done to innocent children by cruel attitudes and acts of adults who adhere to rigid moral codes.
Intertwined in the revelation of these themes are two important characters: Chancey Wheeler, the youngest of Sayward and Portius Wheeler’s ten surviving children, and Rosa Tench, Portius’s illegitimate daughter.
Chancey Wheeler is the outlier of the Wheeler children.  Unlike his siblings, he is born with a delicate constitution.  He is sickly, physically weak, and seemingly handicapped by a weak heart.  During his first several years of life he is frequently carried to places in and close to the family house rather than be expected to walk.  Deprived of normal activity, he spends most of his time inert.  Much of that time he fantasizes. 
He resents his siblings’ robustness.  In his late teens he acknowledges the reasons for his dislike of them.  They were so sufficient to themselves, he thought.  That was it.  Nothing stopped them.  Any one of his people could go it alone, ask for no quarter, do without your help.  … If only there had been another in the family puny, lazy and cowardly like he!  Just the thought of having such a brother or sister, perhaps one even worse than he was, lifted him up, made him feel better.  But his mother wouldn’t admit he was puny or cowardly or anything else that wasn’t good.  He was strong as anybody else, she claimed.  … But nobody could make that much out of him, Chancey told himself, for none understood him save Rosa. 
He believes his mother resents him.  He convinces himself that Sayward and Portius are not his parents and he longs for the day when his real parents will take him away.  He tells fantastic stories – for instance, he rode in to town once on the back of a red cow – and insists that they are true.  As he matures, he resists doing menial work. In his middle teens he meets Rosa Tench and finds her to be an unthreatening, accepting soul.  Eventually, he leaves the home and start a career as a newspaper editor.  He is harshly critical of Sayward’s generation and of his oldest brother, Resolve, who has become governor of the state.  He steadfastly believes that his mother is cruel to him by insisting that he not be soft and lazy.  Eventually, Sayward blames herself for his shortcomings.  Where she made the mistake was letting a little sickness coddle him.  Had she brought him up rough and tumble like his brothers and sisters, he’d know how to call back worse names than he got, and then the others would be glad to leave him alone. 
He rejects everything Sayward values -- especially the virtue of hard work -- which he believes are old-fashioned, out-of-date.  In his late teens he and Sayward have this conversation.
This spring he tried every excuse to get out of working in the lot and garden.  When she held him to it, he cried out it was a disgrace.  She was thunderstruck though she tried not to show it.
“Why is honest work a disgrace?” she wanted to know.
“It’s all right for those who have to,” he told her.  “But you’re the richest woman in Americus and I’m your son and yet we have to go out and work like hired men in the field.”
It came to her mind to say, I thought you said you weren’t my son, but never would she cast that up to him.
“Work’s the best thing we can do, Chancey,” she said.
Caught up with fanciful notions of an enlightened society – justification to excuse his aversion to work -- he responds this way.
… progress will do away with all toil and labor in time.  … There’ll be no rich people and no poor people, just brothers and sisters.  And everybody will have security and happiness.”
Sayward answers.
“Making a body happy by taking away what made him unhappy will never keep him happy long.  The more you give him, the more he’ll want and the weaker he’ll get for not having to scratch for hisself.”
Chancey is an unsympathetic character throughout the novel.
Rosa Tench is the consequence of Portius’s marital infidelity with the town’s school mistress, Miss Bartram, who marries a local laborer, Jake Tench, prior to Rosa’s birth.  These events occur in Conrad Richter novel, “The Fields.”  Neither Rosa nor Chancey know of their blood relationship.  Mrs. Tench, following Rosa’s birth, becomes an isolate, never leaves her house, is slovenly, lives only to identify with characters in novels.  Rosa is an entirely different child than are her brothers, who are ordinary and rather crude.
We meet Rosa initially in a fascinating scene fairly early in the novel.
Portius, suffering a high fever, is being nursed back to health.  Rosa’s father, in a drunken state, wanting to prick Portius’s conscience, sends Rosa to the Wheeler house with a batch of flowers.  Sayward answers a gentle knock on the front door.
Her slender legs looked like they never belonged in that coarse gray calico dress she had on, and her white face had the singular shape of one of her blossoms.  Washed and rightly dressed and combed, she would be oddly beautiful, Sayward thought. Now the little girl just stood there, not saying a word.
Sayward gets Rosa to identify herself.
The sound of the name gave Sayward a turn.  For a minute she just stood looking.  So this was the child conceived in sin by the pretty school mistress who, they said, looked like a hag now, and would not set foot out of her house since the babe was born, nor would she wash or comb!  Why, the girl was no bigger than Chancey, though she must be a year or two older.  And now Sayward knew, with the feel of knife in her side, who the girl looked like.
Did the girl know it, too?  Her face quivered.
“I brought some flowers for Mr. Wheeler,” she said, very low, holding out her handful.
“I’m sure he’ll be much obliged to you,” Sayward told her, sober as could be, taking them from her, steeling herself, hardening her hand toward the soft clinging feel of those fingers,  Now how much did the child know, she wondered.  “Did you bring those your own self or did somebody tell you to?” she asked.
“My father told me.”  The girl’s eyes were like the most ethereal of wide slaty gray liquid curtains that threatened to be torn down.
Sayward recognizes Jake Tench’s intent.
just the trick Jake would play on some highly respectable bigwig …, send a bastard child to him with flowers when he was sick, but Jake would have to be might tipsy to play it on his own foster child and Portius.  Why, he had threatened death on any who told Rosa that she was not his own, or so she heard.
Sayward has to leave to tend Portius.  She instructs Rosa to sit just inside the front door to wait.  When Sayward returns, Rosa is gone.  Her daughters Huldah and Libby were at the door.
“Where is she?” she asked them.
“Do you know who that was?” Huldah leered at her.
“Of course I know.  What did you do to her?’
“We didn’t do anything,” Libby said.  “We just looked at her, that’s all.”  But her face said, “We sent her home a flying.”
“I can imagine how you looked at her,” Sayward said sternly.
This scene foreshadows Sayward’s difficulty accepting Rosa’s existence and the Wheeler children’s and Porticus’s rejection of Rosa throughout the novel.  It also foreshadows Rosa’s victimization by her mother, Jake Tench, and others in the community.
By accident Chancey and Rosa meet in town.  They discover that each feels estranged from their families.  Rosa takes Chancey for walks in the woods to enjoy the beautiful isolation of nature that she craves.  Chancey sees in her a sanctuary from his feelings of inadequacy and the resentment he feels toward his mother and siblings.  They grow older, continue to meet; their meetings become know to their families; they are forbidden by them to meet.  Portius has the sheriff warn Rosa and Chancey of the consequences of their continued meetings. After a subsequent meeting, Rosa’s mother says awful things to her.
“Don’t all right me, Miss Rosa!  If you don’t want to tell your own mother, I can’t make you.  But don’t tell her either, when the law brings your sin out in court.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.  Never did I dream I would have a daughter such as you!”
Their meetings are not sexual, as the public and family members suspect.  Each provides the other emotional release.  Unlike Chancey, Rosa is a sympathetic, almost beloved character.  We respond to her anguish when she looks through the windows of the Wheeler mansion and marvels at the advantages the Wheeler children have compared to what she must endure.
Wasn’t it the saddest thing in this world that you always had to be yourself, that you couldn’t be somebody else, that never, never, never could you be the person you most wanted to be?
I was furious at the outcome of her conflict.
I valued also other aspects of this novel.  For instance, the story, covering many years, mirrors real life.  Tragedies occur, challenges must be met, characters age, children are born, “progress” happens.  At the end of the novel the town is nothing like what the land had been when Sayward, a child, was brought into the deep forest by her father and mother at the beginning of the novel “The Trees.”  All three of Conrad Richter’s three novels about the Lucketts and Wheelers have an authentic feel about them that causes their readers to believe such a place existed.