Frederick Douglass's Women
I provided information about Julia Griffiths’s involvement in Frederick Douglass’s life in my April 13, 2017, post, “Frederick Douglass – Julia Griffiths.” http://authorharoldtitus.blogspot.com/search/label/Frederick%20Douglass?updated-max=2017-09-23T14:48:00-07:00&max-results=20&start=9&by-date=false I encourage you to review its content before you read this post.
prohibited the institution of
slavery in 1834. Eleven years later a young Negro orator and abolitionist, named
Frederick Douglass, went there as a protégé of the Garrisonians and spent
nearly two years lecturing before many groups. One of these organizations … was
the Women's Anti-Slavery Society of Great
Several members of the Society were to play very important parts in Douglass'
life. Two of them, especially, identified by Douglass as Mrs. Ellen Richardson
and Mrs. Henry Richardson, members of the Society of Friends, were driving
forces in collecting enough money (150 pounds or $711.60) to buy him from
Captain Hugh Auld of Maryland to whom his ownership had been transferred by his
old master, Thomas Auld, the Captain's brother. The two London ladies manumitted him in December
of 1846, thus legalizing the freedom he had conferred upon himself by his
flight from slavery (Palmer 1). Richardson
Douglass met another influential, passionate
Griffiths, during his 1845-1847 tour. She
gave him “a valuable collection of
books, pamphlets, tracts, and pictures as a starter for educating him in the
cause of abolition” (Palmer 1). Fired
with zealous hopes, Douglass returned to American in the spring of 1847 intent
upon founding an anti-slavery newspaper
in London .
Rochester, New York
His dream, he explained, was to fight prejudice among whites and to demonstrate to the African American the potential for equality available "by disproving his inferiority and demonstrating his capacity for a more exalted civilization than slavery and prejudice had assigned him" (Fee 1).
William Lloyd Garrison and his followers strongly opposed Douglass’s plan “on the grounds that no such paper was needed and Douglass could do more for the cause as a speaker” (Palmer 1). It was not until December that Douglass printed his first issue.
Early the following year he returned to his family in
Massachusetts, to prepare to move them to . Almost immediately the paper experienced
financial difficulties. In May, Douglass
“appealed to his readers from the editorial page: ‘We are reluctantly compelled
to call upon you for pecuniary assistance.’ Rochester
If, as he believed, publishing a newspaper would create white esteem for the black race while encouraging blacks to higher attainment, closing the North Star would be a devastating refutation of all that he believed about himself and about black ability and potential (Fee 1).
Douglass mortgaged his home on
for five hundred dollars to help meet expenses.
… Evidently in response to Douglass' expression of distress and to an
earlier letter in which he despaired of publishing a paper,” Julia Griffiths “immediately
made a quick round trip to the United States, and returned to stay in 1849,
accompanied by her sister, Eliza” (Palmer 1).
Years later, of Julia Douglass wrote: Rochester
But to no one person was I more indebted for substantial assistance than to Mrs. Julia Griffiths Crofts. She came to my relief when my paper had nearly absorbed all my means, and was heavily in debt, and when I had mortgaged my house to raise money to meet current expenses; and by her energetic and effective management, in a single year enabled me to extend the circulation of my paper from 2,000 to 4,000 copies, pay off the debts and lift the mortgage from my house. Her industry was equal to her devotion. She seemed to rise with every emergency, and her resources appeared inexhaustible (Palmer 2).
The English ladies landed in
early in May, 1849, and Douglass
met them. Julia and her sister soon displayed the seriousness of their
convictions when they cancelled their registration at the New York
on learning that Negroes could not register there. During their stay in this country the sisters
suffered various indignities and criticisms because of their free association
with Douglass, a Negro and ex-slave. The worst fracas, probably, in which they
were directly involved, occurred on the trip up the Franklin Hotel Hudson
from New York to Albany
on their way to .
When Douglass and the two sisters entered the dining room of the LIDA, on
Thursday, May 8, 1849, he was ordered to get out, first by the steward, then by
the mate, and finally by the captain, who succeeded in convincing Douglass to
leave. The sisters, in protest, followed him out of the dining room. As a
consequence, the party had nothing to eat until they reached Rochester . Their trials and tribulations did not appear
to faze Julia very much, however. To her, these disturbances were all a part of
the calculated risk she had undertaken in coming to the Albany
to fight slavery. To Douglass they were part of his everyday life as a black
man in United States . Once in America ,
Julia plunged with fervor into the work of putting The North Star on its feet
financially (Palmer 2). Rochester
Julia seems quite conscious of her role in assisting Douglass, particularly in her position as guardian of the exchequer. In a letter to Gerrit Smith she says, "Remember, Dear Sir, I am the Banker for the paper -- I know, always, PRECISELY, how the accounts stand -- ." The note of calm assurance evident here and present in most of her correspondence of this period must have been most helpful in sustaining Douglass in his project in the face of his self-doubts, his fears, and the various material obstacles of all kinds that he had to overcome (Palmer 3).
Part of her responsibilities lay in getting subscriptions. She wrote continually to such leading figures as Gerrit Smith and William H. Seward. It is a bit amusing to observe with what tenacity she followed each promise of a subscription. She wrote to Seward, for instance, reminding him of his pledge and that he was "receiving his paper constantly," and therefore should send in his five dollar pledge. Upon at least two occasions, Douglass was a bit abashed by Julia's aggressiveness in his behalf. Julia was aware of Douglass' feeling, for she relayed it to Gerrit Smith in a letter, July 10, 1851: "Our friend Frederick is rather disturbed at my having troubled you . . . as he feels . . . claims before you to be too heavy." At another time Douglass acknowledged Julia's interest and energy when he wrote to Smith, "Your letter to my friend Miss Griffiths in which you send 25 dollars to be used in publishing my 4th of July speech makes me uneasy. The zeal of my friend is great and I fear she sometimes seems too urgent in my behalf" (Palmer 4).
To improve the financial base of The North Star and of her co-founded, local anti-slavery society, Julia set out to raise a thousand dollars from the sale of a gift book, Autographs for Freedom. “In the book appeared material of various types from prominent abolitionists and sympathizers over their autographs printed in facsimile. Jay, Greeley, Whittier, Seward, Stone, Beecher, Willard, and, of course, Gerrit Smith and Frederick Douglass, among others, sent selections for the book” (Palmer 5). It “sold so well that a second edition was prepared the following year.”
also sponsored its first annual lecture
series, bringing in renowned speakers. Once again, the Society found a large
and receptive audience for their message. Colleagues in British antislavery
societies provided an important and regular source of funds through bazaars
held on behalf of the Rochester
Society. By the late 1850s, the annual receipts of the Society surpassed $1,500.
The bulk of the money raised by the Society was used in the important task of keeping Frederick Douglass' Paper solvent, but money was also used to help support a school for freedmen in
and for the publication and distribution of anti-slavery literature in . The Society
played a crucial support role in one stretch of the Underground Railroad,
providing small cash gifts directly to fugitive slaves to aid them on the last
leg of their escape to Kentucky .
The Society's annual reports for 1855 and 1856 listed 136 fugitives who had
passed through Canada
with the Society's help …
(Cox 1). Rochester
Julia did not confine all of her efforts to The North Star, Autographs for Freedom, and the like. When there were items left over from the bazaars, she frequently bundled them up and took them across the lake to
to sell. She was also involved in the underground railroad, an activity she
seemed to experience with considerable relish. Douglass described how he
"dispatched" Julia to the landing on the Canada Genesee
River to arrange for the passage to of three
fugitives he was helping at the time. … in escaping, one, William Parker,
killed their master. Julia wrote to Gerrit Smith : "We have had great
excitement in our house since we parted with you on Friday - on Saturday, THREE
FUGITIVES (conducted by a reliable colored man) came to Alexander Street to ask
aid … We secreted them for 8 or 9 hours . . . Mr. Loguen and I drove to the
LANDING - to make necessary inquiries concerning Canada, Boats, etc. --
Frederick consulted with Mr. S. D. Porter first. . . ." The men at first
proposed driving the fugitives to Canada
by night, but she "felt that the unusual mode would attract
attention." She added that if a boat at the landing proved to be an
"English boat it would be safer to put them on board." Luckily, there
was an English boat at the landing, and she made arrangements with the black
who kept the landing to give a special signal should any trouble occur at their
approach. Nothing did happen, and the party reached the landing and boarded the
boat safely (Palmer 6). Lewiston
All day, she worked with him at the newspaper and in the evening they returned home, retreating into his study to share a writing table while working on speeches and editorials. They shared an intellectual companionship in their work, activism, and love of literature, which began with her first gift to him of books in 1847, but their camaraderie shut out the rest of the family. …
… To a certain extent, Anna [Douglass] tolerated Julia because Julia had been the salvation of the newspaper and all that it represented for the Douglasses and abolition, and she held the mortgage on their home until 1853. The family, therefore, owed quite a bit to the Englishwoman. Yet, as an intrinsic part of
’s work life who
also lived in his home, Julia took him away from his family in the evenings
when Anna could have reasonably expected his time to herself (Fought 1). Frederick
From time to time discontent in
York, Albany, Boston,
was expressed concerning Douglass' free association with Julia and Eliza. This
criticism was to be expected from proslavery and rough elements, but it was
heightened for others by the fact that the two sisters resided with Douglass ….Julia's
removal to another location after three years' residence there helped to
confirm the suspicion in some minds that all was not well with the Douglass
Julia wrote to Smith, ever a real confidante, about the "home trials" which Douglass suffered. In order to comfort him and to ease his tribulations, she read to him evenings. She nursed him in sickness. She was constantly at his side in his office, at home, and at the paper. In view of the closeness of Julia and Frederick, Mrs. Douglass would of necessity occupy the background on perhaps too many occasions. This no doubt rankled Mrs. Douglass deeply. The rising chorus of public comment, in addition to his home situation, caused Douglass as early as 1849 to castigate editorially those who "artfully and deliberately manufacture lies and insidiously circulate them with no other motive than to blast the fair name of another." … Mrs. Gerrit Smith wrote from
to her husband that Julia Griffiths "took tea with us. We had a long talk
alone in which she poured out her sorrows. I will tell you when we meet. She is
deeply afflicted with this 'strife of tongues'" (Palmer 6). Rochester
Garrisonians had not liked Douglass' initial show of independence and they liked even less his changing ideas. Julia Griffiths certainly played a considerable part in this estrangement. … Douglass had demonstrated his independence of Garrison by establishing a paper and by the gradual adoption of views unpleasing to his former mentor, culminating in the beliefs that anti-slavery action should be expressed by political and not merely moral means, that the Union need not be sundered, and that the churches were not necessarily supporters of slavery. All of these points of difference led to a growing estrangement between the former friends and to increasing attacks on Douglass and Julia Griffiths. Several papers like the Pennsylvania Freeman and The Liberator and particularly The Anti-Slavery Standard of September 24, 1853 which spoke of Julia as a "Jezebel" finally provoked Douglass to devote a large part of the December 9, 1853, issue of his paper to a rebuttal. This in turn caused Garrison to attack Douglass and Julia openly in an editorial in The Liberator of December 16, 1853, heading it with the caption, "The Mask Entirely Removed" and excoriating Douglass for his defection from Garrisonianism and blaming a ". . . bad advisor in Mr. Douglass' printing office," whom he accused of exerting "a pernicious influence upon him" (Palmer 7).
No doubt all this public clamor not only affected Douglass' peace of mind but also aggravated the various physical ailments from which he suffered. In a number of letters to Seward and particularly to Smith, Julia reported on Douglass' health and urged that they write to him. What was apparent was that Douglass was in a profound state of depression over his situation at a time when his speaking tours were so demanding. … there is no doubt that pressures of all kinds were building strongly during this period. Any doubts or fears he might have had were magnified several fold by these pressures and sure to depress him at times. …
By 1855 the paper was more than usually in need of substantial help. Julia, who, as director of its finances, had exhausted her resources locally and who, no doubt, by this time was anxious to see her native land, decided to return to
for the purpose of raising more money for the paper from sources which had
proved fruitful in the past. She
returned to England ,
formed a number of additional anti-slavery societies, and began to write for Frederick Douglass' Monthly as well as to abstract Douglass' letters
for the London Mercury. She did not
return to the England ,
but she continued her interest in this country, first, of course, by
maintaining a correspondence with Douglass (Palmer 8). United States
Julia married Reverend H. O. Crofts in 1859. He died in 1876. Douglass and his second wife visited Julia while on a European tour in 1886.
Julia's life apparently was not pleasant in her latter years. She supported herself for some time by running a boarding school for girls; but the project rather played out as she wrote from St. Neots to Douglass, "I have only 11 boarders this term -- and about the same number of day pupils -- and I NEED 4 or 5 MORE GOOD boarders to make all right . . . but if I gave up I should have nothing. . ." Later, she became a governess, but lost that position just before Christmas. She wrote, "I have not the least idea what will become of me . . . Oh, it is terrible to be homeless in this cold, selfish, world! . . . The mother of my pupils intimated to me that her husband did not want the governess of his children to have many friends -- in the town -- especially so many dissenters!" Julia's lifelong intellectual independence now endangered her livelihood at a time when she was unable to fight back with much strength .Within a few years an even more distressing eventuality came about. In a letter to Douglass in which there were scrawled only four or five words (in huge letters) to the line, with only eight or nine lines to the page, Julia wrote, "I have been under the care of a first class oculist since last January -- for a singular affection of the eyes, termed 'Hemoraged (sic) arteries' -- It greatly interferes with my correspondence. .. ." She concluded by begging Douglass to write, as she usually did (Palmer 8).
Cox, Rob S. “
Anti-Slavery Society Papers, 1851-1868.”
William L. Clements Library, Rochester . Net. https://quod.lib.umich.edu/c/clementsmss/umich-wcl-M-2084roc?view=text University
Fee, Frank E. “To No One More Indebted: Frederick Douglass and Julia Griffiths, 1849-63.” Academic journal article. Questia: Trusted Online Research. Net. https://www.questia.com/library/journal/1P3-2367401191/to-no-one-more-indebted-frederick-douglass-and-julia
Fought, Leigh. Women in the World of Frederick Douglass.
Press. Net. https://books.google.com/books?id=l9xKDgAAQBAJ&pg=PA131&lpg=PA131&dq=Julia+Griffiths,+Frederick+Douglass&source=bl&ots=-AG368e6ZD&sig=xyPiUYbBqBRcp-z8xpr5-e0eDKI&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjC84mPv7PZAhUC9WMKHR-HDRw4FBDoAQhJMAg#v=onepage&q=Julia%20Griffiths%2C%20Frederick%20Douglass&f=false Oxford
Palmer, Erwin. “A Partnership in the Abolition Movement.”
Library Bulletin. River Campus Libraries. Net. http://rbscp.lib.rochester.edu/3476 University of Rochester