Thursday, September 20, 2018

1838 Baltimore: Anna Murray and Frederick Bailey Douglass and the World They Left Behind

1838: The Baltimore

Anna Murray and Frederick Bailey Douglass

Left Behind

©Dr. Edward Papenfuse, Maryland State Archivist, retired

Baltimore City, 1838, available as an image from:

Frederick Douglass, ca. 1841

Onondaga Historical Association (


On September 3, 1838, disguised as a sailor and carrying borrowed seaman’s protection papers, twenty year old Frederick Bailey, escaped from slavery to New York where he began calling himself Frederick Johnson. By the time of his death he would be the best known African American at home and abroad and “the most photographed American of the nineteenth century”.[1] The same cannot be said of his partner and mother of his children, Anna Murray, a free black from Caroline County.[2]

Anna Murray Douglass in her later years, the only known images of

Frederick Bailey Douglass’s wife who died in 1882.1


A little over a week later he was joined by Anna Murray, who had sold one of her two feather beds to help pay for their escape and carried with her the extent of their shared personal belongings.[4] They were married in New York on September 15 by another escaped slave from Maryland, The Reverend James W. C. Pennington who was the first African American to write a Textbook of the Origin and History, Etc. Etc. of the Colored People in 1841, which “served as a further challenge to notions of African American inferiority”.[5]

Caulking and Caulker’s tools

Source: composite from web derived images


On the advice of their host in New York, David Ruggles[6], Anna and Frederick left for New Bedford, Massachusetts, where Frederick was to seek work as a caulker, following the trade in which he had been trained in Baltimore. They arrived on September 18.[7] They had no money and could not pay the $2 fare on the stage coach from Newport to New Bedford. The driver took their baggage as security, including ”three music books [published in Baltimore] , two of them collections by Dyer, and one by Shaw, and held them until I was able to redeem them by paying to him the sums due for our rides.”[8]


The music books, two of which are still in the library of Frederick’s last home, Cedar Hill in the District of Columbia, contain the music and the words to the program of a concert by the first Colored Musical Association, advertised as a repeat performance to be held at 8 p.m. on the evening of April 30, 1838 at the Repository on Pratt Street (lately Mr. Charles H. Bacon’s Circus).[9] It is likely that Anna and Frederick were members of the Colored Musical Association, perhaps even participants in the concerts.

1879 Sanborn Insurance Map showing the locations of Sharp Street Methodist Church, the Slatter/Campbell Slave Pen, and the Repository/Circus as of 1838

The Repository, on the southside of Pratt Street, between Sharp and Howard streets, not far from the colored Sharp Street Methodist Church, had been lately refurbished by Mr. Bacon and was alternatively referred to as the Circus. It may have resembled Astley’s circus in London.

Astley’s amphitheater or circus, 1808 from:


The Repository or Bacon’s Circus could accommodate “with comfort” at least 800 people according to a glowing description published in the Sun:

On ascending the flight of steps that conducted me to the boxes, the view that met my eye seemed as ‘twere a magical illusion. Never had I witnessed a greater display of taste in the fitting up of a place of amusement. The seats are cushioned with moreen [an elegant cloth], and a degree of neatness pervades, which must ever be a great desideratum with the gentler sex, whose comfort and accommodation has been the peculiar care of Mr. B[acon]. …

From the dome is suspended a splendid chandelier, brilliantly lighted with gas, the manufacture of the Baltimore Gas Company. The House was comfortably warmed by stoves advantageously situated ... [10]



The program consisted of two parts, and featured the music of Franz Joseph Haydn (from the Creation), Vincenzo Pucitta (Strike the Cymbal), and W. Jackson (Awake, Awake, put on thy Strength, O Zion). Following the Overture, the first piece of the evening, Pucitta’s Strike the Cymbal was in celebration of David’s defeat of Goliath, and could easily be interpreted as a defiant warning to the ruling class of city slave owners: “What are haughty monarchs now low before Jehovah, how pride of princes, strength of kings to the dust Jehovah brings.” [11]

Sun, July 24, 1838

Across Pratt Street from the Repository, a short walk from the Sharp Street Methodist church, was a reminder of a constant threat to the Free Black community of Baltimore. In July 1838, as Anna and Frederick were contemplating fleeing the city, Hope H. Slatter advertised his newly built “large and extensive establishment and private jail for the keeping of Slaves” where ‘cash and the highest prices will at all times be given for the likely slaves of both sexes…. Persons having such property to dispose of, would do well to see me before they sell, as I am always purchasing for the New Orleans market ….”[12] Not only did the demand for slaves in the markets of Charleston, Savannah, and New Orleans, discourage the manumission of slaves, but also encouraged the abduction and sale of free blacks and reneging on contracts for freedom that slaves had entered into with their masters, selling them instead to slave dealers like Austin Woolfolk and Hope Slatter.

Take for example, the case of the bootblack and entrepreneur, Beverly Dowling who lived and had his bootblack business at 38 north Gay street.[13] He was the slave of Sophia, the sister of the Chancellor of Maryland who resided with her brother in Annapolis. Beverly negotiated to purchase his freedom from Sophia Bland for $200. He even had his ‘contract’ noted in writing, but when it came time for him to pay his last installment in 1835, she refused it and sold him Austin Woolfolk who incarcerated him in his slave pen on Pratt street, prior to sending him south to New Orleans. Beverly sued Sophia and Woolfolk for his freedom. The court would not recognize the contract as slaves had no right to make such arrangements, but Beverly won his freedom on a technicality. Sophia had not objected to his traveling to New York where he was a waiter on board a steamboat, which made him a free man under Maryland law upon his return to Baltimore.[14] Not all slaves were as fortunate and the fear of Free Blacks being kidnapped and sold back into slavery was not without foundation.

"One Hundred Dollars Reward." Baltimore Sun 23 December 1848

Free Blacks could also lose their freedom for harboring, aiding and abetting slaves. If discovered, Anna Murray could have been sent to prison or sold into slavery, much like Cinderella Brogden, a slave from Anne Arundel County who fled to Baltimore to be with her husband, Abraham, when it appeared she was about to be sold. She was discovered, incarcerated, and died before being sold South. Her husband, a free black, was sent to prison.[15]

It was the fear that he might be sold to the New Orleans market, along with the attack of a white mob on the Sharp Street Methodist Church in late August that probably spurred Frederick Bailey and Anna Murray to plot their escape from Baltimore in 1838, leaving behind many friends and acquaintances in the Free Black community who helped and encouraged them on their way.[16]

TCredit Veronica Volk / WXXI

This daguerreotype is one of the earliest known images of Frederick Douglass. It was given to the
Suffragist Susan B. Anthony and was on exhibit at the University of Rochester ( N. Y.)

Credit: Veronica Volk / WXXI

In his autobiographies and in his later years, Frederick remembered especially the East Baltimore Mental Improvement Society, an association of caulkers, that met at James Mingo’s frame house on Happy Alley (now South Durham), between Bank and Wilks (now Eastern Avenue) streets in Fells Point. James Mingo remained in Baltimore, raising two sons who also became caulkers like their father.[17]

Baltimore American, May 22, 1817


Frederick Bailey was not the first well educated caulker to flee Baltimore. Joshua ran away from Edward Booth, a white Ship Carpenter who lived on Apple Alley in May of 1817. He was described as being 19, about the same age as Frederick when he left, five feet 2 or three inches tall, able to read and write, wearing a roundabout, pantaloons of blue cloth and a white waistcoat. Booth offered a reward of up to $20 depending on how far away he was captured. It is not known whether or not he was.

Frederick Bailey’s decision to flee to freedom with Anna close behind was a difficult one which he recounts in his autobiographies.

I had the painful sensation of being about to separate from a circle of honest and warm hearted friends, in Baltimore. The thought of such a separation, where the hope of ever meeting again is excluded, and where there can be no correspondence, is very painful. [18]

Who were these “honest and warm hearted friends” that Anna and Frederick left behind? In later years he would name a few, once the fear of reprisal was largely removed by the Civil War. By choosing a family name for himself and Anna of Douglass, he was not only demonstrating his literary interests in the Black Douglas (one ‘s’) of Sir Walter Scott fame, but also his appreciation of the John Fortie school at the corner of Douglass and East Streets where he may have taught night school. Reverend John Fortie was long associated with Asbury Church at Douglass and East Streets in Old Town, and a school at that location (shown as no. 20 on Thomas Poppleton’s 1821/22 wall map of Baltimore). Along with Reverend Joseph P. Wilson, who also maintained a grocery and cake shop at the corner of Sharp and German (now Redwood) streets, Reverend Fortie sold tickets to the April 1838 concert of the Colored Musical Association. Frederick Douglass never mentions in print John Fortie who died in 1859, but could easily have referred to him in the several unrecorded speeches he gave at the churches associated with Fortie when Douglass returned to Baltimore in the years after 1864. He does mention fondly the eloquence of Reverend Wilson in his published remarks at Bethel Church in 1864, as well as falling under the oratorical spell of the Reverend William Douglass, another compelling reason for choosing the double ‘s’ spelling of his new name.[19]

It is important to remember that Frederick Douglass believed that prior to the Civil War in their actions and speech, blacks, slave and free in the slave states, needed to hide themselves in plain sight, in speaking in terms that would have a private meaning for blacks and a harmless one for white listeners. When Douglass returned to Baltimore in May of 1870 to lead the parade in celebration of the adoption of the 15th amendment giving black males the right to vote, he spoke without notes of the days of slavery when slaves

invented a vocabulary of their own so that they would not be understood as saying, but the most harmless things. They were talking of liberty, in fact they were the original abolitionists. The old aunty would ask a slave “Sonny do you see anything of the pig’s foot coming? That was the way we talked about emancipation.”[20]

In choosing the surname ‘Douglass’ for himself and Anna, Frederick Bailey was telling the community of Friends back home that he had not forgotten them.[21]

What then do we know of the community of honest and warm hearted friends the Douglass’s left behind?

Locations in Fells Point associated with Frederick and Anna Douglass with Poppleton map (1822) superimposed on Google Earth. Derived from author’s kmz file of Poppleton’s map superimposed on Google Earth. See:

For the most part the community life of the Free Blacks in Baltimore in the Baltimore days of Anna and Frederick was centered on the religious institutions, Catholic and Protestant. The Douglass associations were mostly protestant and specifically Methodist in origin. Their names can be found associated with the four prominent black churches in 1838, Asbury (East Side of town on, Douglass Street), Strawberry Methodist (East Side of Town, on Strawberry Alley, now South Dallas Street), Bethel Methodist, (West Side of Town on east Saratoga Street near the Jones Falls) , and Sharp Street Methodist (West side of town on Sharp street north of Pratt). Bethel was by far the largest congregation and had just suffered a devastating flood or freshet of the Jones Falls that destroyed its significant Sabbath School library in 1836 said to be over 1,000 volumes.

According to most scholars, Frederick had left Bethel to join Sharp Street because of the influence of Reverend John Fortie, but they have overlooked the fact that Fortie was also the minister at Asbury and possibly preached at Strawberry Alley, both of which were closer to where Anna and Douglass lived. It is not certain, however, where Anna and Frederick met. An educated guess would be the Strawberry methodist church on South Dallas Street, and/or the first Colored Musical Association. Anna had encouraged him to take up the violin and in all likelihood carried their treasured music books to meet Frederick in New York where they were married by another fugitive slave from Maryland, Reverend James W. C. Pennington. [22]

Baltimore City, 1838, available as an image from:

Between 1790 and 1840 the free black population of Baltimore grew from 323 to 17,982 while the white population expanded to 102,513. In that period the city boundaries were increased and by 1840 the city was divided into twelve wards, five on the East side including Fells Point, and seven on the West with the Jones Falls the dividing line. There were slightly more free blacks on the western side (10,174 as opposed to 7,808). There were also more slaves on the West side (1925 versus 1244, for a total of 3,169, while the white population was almost evenly divided between West and East (41, 548 to 40,295).[23]

Free Blacks tended to live in clusters of families, largely in the narrower streets generally referred to as Alleys.[24] Black ownership of property apparently was centered mostly on the west side of town where developers like John Eager Howard (a Revolutionary War general and later governor of Maryland) leased lots for building on ground rents to Free Blacks (Honey and Chestnut Alleys for example). There was some black ownership in the older settled parts of town such as Fell’s Point, but it was infrequent. Most Free Blacks in Fell’s Point listed in the directories were renters of housing to which they did not hold title, including in a number clustered in alleys Apple (36 directory entries for 1842) , Strawberry (90 directory entries for 1842), Happy (85 directory entries for 1842 with 9 caulkers concentrated there in 1841), Argyle (19 directory entries for 1842), and Star (8 directory entries for 1842).

Most Free Blacks were employed as laborers or in service occupations. The city directory for 1842 provides a reasonable survey of their principal occupations. Of the approximately 2930 entries, 20% (587) were listed simply as laborers. Fully 16% were women listed as washers (432 with one running a boarding house and a wash house) and laundresses (48). Clearly they kept the laundry of their families and of the white population clean.

A contemporary view of a New York drayman from the Augustus Kollner (1812-1896) Sketchbook,

location and ownership unknown


In terms of numbers, draymen (157), carters (108), stevedores (56), hackmen (41), and coachmen (18), involved in transporting people and goods were the most numerous, while sawyers (119), whitewashers (44), caulkers (54), and blacksmiths (29) were not far behind. Shoemakers (37) and barbers (74) kept the hair trimmed and the feet shod, while the former also bled the living and buried the dead. Hucksters (38) sold goods from their carts, while waiters (75) and cooks (24-mostly women) worked in the eating places of the city. Most black sailors from Baltimore were at sea, but 21 were resident, one of whom may have lent his papers to Frederick Bailey for his flight to freedom. In all there were at least 6 teachers and 6 reverends to attend to the educational and religious needs of the community. One of the teachers, Richard Bradford doubled as the conductor of the first Colored Musical Association, while a tobacconist, Garrison Draper (Forest street north of Draper), doubled as a teacher at the St. James’s Episcopal Sabbath school on the West side of town.

It was not an easy journey for those who stayed behind, especially in the face of the increasing distrust of the white slaveholding majority that held the reins of political power. They were certain that the Free Blacks were ever ready to aid and abet escaping slaves. They were also eager to profit from the offers of cash for slaves sent South from Ramsey’s and Jackson’s wharves in Fell’s point. Free Blacks, including members of the East Baltimore Mental Improvement Society lived close by the slave traders and captains engaged in the domestic slave trade, not to mention working in the shipyards that built fast ships for the clandestine and illegal transatlantic slave trade. For example Captain Massicot lived on Albemarle street only a few blocks away from Anna and Frederick just East of Jones Falls.[25] He was the captain of the Caledonia that carried a number of slaves from Ramsey’s wharf to New Orleans.[26]

Frederick caulked ships that were destined for the illegal transatlantic slave trade in Gardiner’s and Price’s shipyards, but it should also be noted that in the 1850s the black caulkers may have been responsible for the sabotaging of new slave ships caulked by exclusively white labor imported from New York for the purpose.[27]

The black community was not without the usual domestic quarrels and neighborhood crime found in every city. Congregations quarreled with their ministers and the treasurers of black associations refused access to the association’s accounts. The wife of the Conductor of the first Colored Musical Association left him and he advertised that he would not be responsible for her debts. Serious crimes involving free blacks and slaves were regularly reported in the newspapers and the trials were recorded among the records of the courts. In 1838 11 criminal cases were transferred to Anne Arundel County causing the legislature to re-think the rules governing the change of venue. Three were cases involving Free Blacks from Baltimore City. All got harsher sentences than whites for similar crimes. Giles Price got transportation for 15 years for stealing $600 from another free black. David York, alias David Fell was convicted of stealing 100 yards of carpet and was sentenced to transportation for fifteen years. Hughes dick was convicted for stealing assorted goods and he too was transported for fifteen years. All three sentences meant being sold south to slavery.

Living in a city where slavery was the law, where slaves like Frederick Bailey worked in the shipyards, and Free Blacks like Anna were domestics in the homes of the rich and politically powerful, presented difficulties for those Free Blacks who chose to remain in the city and not be transported back to Africa or to flee northward. To remain meant a significant degree of accommodation to the institution of slavery, and an outward manifestation of resistance to the rhetoric of abolitionism. Frederick Bailey would be strongly influenced by abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison who began his militant career in Baltimore and he would join Garrison’s crusade after leaving the city. Those that remained were placed in a delicate position. In 1835, two years before Frederick Bailey’s return to the Auld household on Block street, Three black ministers including Reverend Nathaniel Peck of Bethel Methodist Episcopal Church and Reverend John Fortie, minister of the Methodist Episcopal Churches at Sharp Street on the West Side and Douglass on the East, responded to “A White Citizen” who called upon them to continue “the great mental improvement” of the colored people and to “avoid the commotions that have taken part in different parts of the country,” that followed Nat Turner’s bloody rebellion in Southside Virginia.[28]

The response artfully avoided mentioning abolitionists, but instead stressed the peaceful accomplishments of the colored population to date including their weekday and sabbath schools and

Thirty-five to forty benevolent institutions, both male and female, for mutual relief, each of which numbers from thirty-five to a hundred and fifty members, and much of the money thereof is in some of the savings institutions, of this city -- and, also among us there are various mechanics and others, who have by industry and frugality purchased houses and lots of grounds, horses, drays, carts and carriages all of which are sustained and protected by the laws of the community.

Specifically they noted “the efforts that have been made to facilitate the condition of the colored population of this city and also the great mental improvement that has resulted from them.”

The same month (April 1838) that the Colored Musical Association concert was advertised for performance at the Repository on Pratt Street, Breckinridge and Cross in their virulently anti-catholic Baltimore Literary and Religious Magazine published a lengthy article on The Condition of the Coloured Population of the City of Baltimore which focused on the state of religion and education, and advocated support for the removal of the black population to Africa through the efforts of the Maryland Colonization Society.[29] The article is generally disparaging, citing the lack of attendance at church and the extent of poverty and crime among Free Blacks, but does stress the efforts of William Watkins, John Fortie, and Reverend Darius Stokes to provide schools during the week in which 200 young men and children are instructed and that “there are also night schools kept by them. English grammar, reading, writing and arithmetic are taught in these schools.”

Reverend Stokes and his Bethel Congregation so appreciated Breckinridge’s support of the black community while pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church, and editor of the magazine, that when he left Baltimore in 1845 to be president of Jefferson College, they presented him in absentia with a gold snuff box. The resulting print of the occasion is the only known image of a congregation and interior of a black church prior to the Civil War.[30]

While Breckinridge was honored by the the Bethel congregation in 1845, the largest black church in the Antebellum city, his 1838 magazine article was disdainful of the prevailing religious practices of the black community.

Particularly disturbing to the Presbyterian minister was the lack of decorum in public worship both on the Sabbath and at weekly prayer meetings.

A degree of fanaticism, and wildfire, and religious enthusiasm, perhaps, in some cases, prevail among others of the coloured people in some places in the city, when they meet together. The excitements at the meetings in Sharp street, Bethel and Asbury are sometimes considerable; and much noise prevails occasionally among the people assembled together at night meetings. Shoutings, singing, clapping of hands, and stamping with the feet, and exercises producing excitements and commotions prevail at some of these meetings as we have heard. --Curiosity, idleness and love of excitement and noise, draw crowds of people together, while they neglect instruction and will not apply with spirited activity and exertion to regular forms of worship….

Still the article reported favorably on 30 institutions that served the colored population, 7th among them was the “Young Men’s Mental Improvement Society, for the discussion of moral and philosophical questions of different kinds,” It is possible that this was the East Baltimore Mental Improvement Society that Frederick Bailey, soon to be Frederick Douglass, left behind on that fateful September day in 1838.

The increasingly racial conflict between Whites and Blacks in the shipyards of Fells point in the late 1830s is passionately and disturbingly portrayed in Frederick’s autobiographies. Conflict became so intense at Gardiner’s ship yard that Frederick and four white workers, Ned Hays, Bill Stewart, Tom Humphreys, and Ned North, came to blows with North ending up in the water and Frederick badly bruised. North lived at 93 AliceAnna street just east of Wolf, a short walk away from James Mingo’s frame house on Happy Alley where the East Baltimore Mental Improvement Society welcomed Frederick Bailey, a slave, into a membership composed principally of free fellow caulkers, but including a labourer/sawyer. When Anna and Frederick visited Fell’s Point and the streets of their youth in July of 1870, Frederick began to talk more openly of the friends he and Anna left behind. He recalled that the East Baltimore Mental Improvement Society consisted of six members of which he first thought only one, William E. Lloyd, was still living and still working at his old trade as a caulker. Dickson Preston in his Young Frederick Douglass was able to identify three of the deceased, William Chester, Joseph Lewis, and Henry Rolles. In a letter written in June of 1870, William E. Lloyd reminded Frederick of other living members including John Locks who by then was a prosperous businessman and would himself own four brick houses on Wolf street, and James Mingo who debated with the others in “the old frame house in Happy Alley.” Others Douglass failed to mention in print as members included Daniel keith, Enoch Cummins, and John or James Jackson.

612-614 Wolf Street, courtesy of

In 1838 all of these men were young, and a number lived in Happy Alley, today known as Durham Street that runs behind 610-14 Wolfe Street. James Mingo’s house in which he and his family lived until at least 1860 was on Happy Alley north of Wilks Street now Eastern Avenue and as a frame house, may have closely resembled the two surviving frame houses at 612/14 Wolf street. In 1838 James Mingo was married with two small children. He is variously listed in the directories as a labourer and caulker when he hosted the East Baltimore Mental Improvement Association that welcomed Frederick as a member even though he was a slave. Daniel Keith, another member was 28, unmarried, and lived on Happy Alley south of Bank. William E. Lloyd was 23 and unmarried. The addresses for William Chester, Joseph Louis, and Henry (Hy) Rolles (Roles) are as yet unknown, but they are all present on the census for 1840 in the first Ward which encompasses Happy Alley and Wolf street. As Frederick explained in his autobiographies, “Many of the young calkers could read, write, and cipher. Some of them had high notions about mental improvement ….”[31]

Frederick Douglass’s account of how he learned to read and write focuses on the role his master’s wife played in teaching him how to read, and the white boys he played with who helped read newspapers in exchange for food. Indeed, Frederick may have been one of the first graffiti artists in Baltimore from his accounts of chalking up the fences practicing his letters and word formation. While there is no reason to doubt his account of the ways in which he learned to read and write, it is also clear from his narratives and biographies that like other slaves and Free Blacks he was nurtured and taught in the church schools run by Free Blacks. During the time he was returned to the Eastern Shore (1832-36) where he was subjected to unsuccessful attempts to break his spirit of resistance and rebellion, he even surreptitiously conducted his own classes for fellow slaves.[32]

Anna and Frederick’s visit to Fell’s point in July of 1870 was in many respects a depressing one. The bustle of the shipyards was gone, most of the remembered friends had passed away or had left for Canada, the far west, and places unknown, and restrictions on the civil rights of black citizens remained onerous.

New National Era, July 6, 1871


Still there was hope, in the leadership of two of the members of the old East Baltimore Mental Improvement Society, Daniel Keith and John W. Locks, even if, in Douglass’s opinion, the living conditions for blacks in the city had deteriorated beyond redemption:

New National Era, July 6, 1871


Following Anna’s death in 1882, Frederick decided that it was worth investing in the inner city after all. In 1892 He bought up the site of the Strawberry Methodist Meeting on South Dallas street where he built substantial brick rental properties, still in existence today.[33] Perhaps he did so in memory of Anna who at the time they fled together was living with the Wells family two blocks to the northward on Caroline Street as a domestic servant, while Frederick lived, at least for part of the year in 1838, on Block street with the Aulds, a street that once paralleled Philpot Street where Frederick first lived when he came to Baltimore as a small boy.[34] By 1892, except as a supportive helpmate and a disciplinarian of her children, Anna had been relegated largely to a back seat as far as Douglass’s intellectual life and public career was concerned. Most scholars, including Leigh Fought in Women in the World of Frederick Douglass, have accepted the assessment made of Anna in 1893 by James Monroe Gregory:

His wife, Anna Murray, came originally from the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and lived for seven or eight years in Baltimore, where Mr. Douglass first met her. While she did not have the advantages of education in her childhood days, she was a woman of strong character, with much natural intelligence. As a housekeeper, she was a model, and the practical side of her nature made her a fitting helpmate to her husband in his early struggles and vicissitudes. In manner she was reserved, while he, as is well known, is of a jocose disposition.

She was the financier of the family. It was a settled principle with Mr. and Mrs. Douglass never to incur debts. If an addition was to be made to their home, or if they had under consideration any matter requiring the expenditure of money, they first counted the cost, and then made sure that the means were in hand before entering upon their plans.[35]

Because of the loss of Annie at the age of 10 in 1860, the serious medical problems of her later years including what may have been a debilitating stroke, the loss of any personal papers in the devastating Rochester fire (including Frederick’s correspondence with her while he was away in Ireland and England), and the disdain of the many white women intellectuals who adored Douglass in his later life, Anna’s intellectual partnership with Frederick has been overlooked. It is very likely that she could and indeed did read and write, having been brought up in a free black community on the Tuckahoe on the Eastern Shore that had its own church school, and when she came to Baltimore in 1832 she lived and worked most of her time with a Methodist family (the Wells) who included Elizabeth, a teacher, close by on Caroline Street. While it will never be known for certain, in 1838, Anna and Frederick probably did attend John Fortie’s church on what is today Dallas Street in Fells Point where they studied together and shared their love of both learning and music. I suspect that at the time of their escape in September of 1838, they were true and equal partners in love, love of learning, music, and intellect. Only the material and physical hardships of the future would prevent Anna from keeping pace with her husband’s quest for knowledge, although it is clear that their love for each other remained undiminished until her death at the age of 69 in 1882.


Much more can and should be done to document the lives of the Black Community in Baltimore before the civil war. Through cooperative group sourcing with interested local historians and genealogists using web based resources, supplement with as yet unscanned resources in local archives and historical societies it is possible to give insight and substance to the lives of those African Americans who labored to build the city of Baltimore in the years before the Civil War despite enormous roadblocks to their economic and educational advancement placed there by the white community. For example, little has been done to address the lives of the black property owners of the city and their holdings, beyond the pioneering efforts of Betty Gardner with the black property holders of the 1850s and 60s, and the work published recently by Donna Hollie and Noreen Goodson on the 1813 and 1818 Baltimore City tax lists. Admittedly it is a difficult assignment given the labyrinth of ground rents in Baltimore City and the unevenness of the surviving tax records, but it can be done if enough volunteers collaborate to undertake the assignment. Honey Alley on the West Side of town is but one example where a careful review of all the records identified a probable Black revolutionary war soldier who owned and occupied his house there for more than 40 years.

While it is likely that after the Civil War the influx of the rural poor and the immigrant contributed considerably to the housing decay in the alleys of city, we ought not to forget that the modest frame and brick houses were once new, and lived in by an optimistic and hopeful people who chose not to flee, but to remain to carve out a life of mental improvement and cultural awakening of their own. Frederick and Ann Douglass would go north to fight long and hard for the rights of those left behind, while those that remained attempted to lead respectable lives with the resources they could command.

By far the most important and time elusive goal for the Black community prior to the Civil War was providing universal access to education. Not long after Anna and Frederick fled, the Reverend John Fortie and 122 others, including husbands and wives, formed The Baltimore Association for the Education of Colored Children, depositing their contributions with their treasurer, Mary Ridgely, who opened a savings account at the Baltimore Savings Bank. Almost all the members with the exception of Fortie lived in West Baltimore and probably were associated with the Sharp Street Methodist Church of which Reverend Fortie was pastor. The membership provides remarkable insight into members of the Free black community committed to improving education in their community. Among them were the Reverend Joseph P. Wilson, relatives of a future Medal of Honor winner, and Moses Small.


Moses Small was a newsvendor and house or “body” servant for most of his adult life. He, probably was well known to Frederick and Anna. He died on the eve of the takeover of Baltimore by Federal Troops in 1861. It is perhaps worth noting that a notorious Baltimore Slave Dealer, Joseph S Donovan, died the same week. Neither lived to see slavery abolished in Maryland which would not happen until November of 1864.

Unfortunately the treasurer of The Baltimore Association for the Education of Colored Children decided to keep the money of the Baltimore Association for the Education of Colored Children, and not return the funds collected. As Free Blacks did not have the right to incorporate legally as an association, they fought a losing court battle to retrieve the funds to which Mary Ridgely and the Savings Bank of Baltimore had denied access. Legally the money was hers and hers alone.

Old Hagar, 1834 by Samuel Smith, artist, Hamilton row, Hamilton street, Baltimore, courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, and Moses Small, Newsvendor, 1858 by Thomas Waterman Wood, courtesy of the

San Francisco Museum of Fine Arts

In addition to Moses Small, it is also likely that Old Hagar was known to both Anna and Frederick. By 1835 when she died at the age of 105 in a fire that consumed her alley house, Hagar was a well-known character who obituary appeared as far north as New York:

New-York Spectator, March 23, 1835

It is probable that Hagar could not read nor write. The struggle for better educational opportunities for Free Blacks in Baltimore and elsewhere before the Civil War was an uphill battle that continued after the war until in Baltimore, the city agreed to better public schools with black teachers beginning in the 1890s. Even then the equality and the quality of education for both the African American and the white population was far from achieved and remains a major problem for Baltimore today.

Hagar may not have been able to read nor write, but Black women could and did avail themselves of the limited education opportunities that the Black Community at considerable sacrifice, provided themselves without public funding, even though they were taxed for support of the all White public schools. The successful impact of the Black Schools on Black women is the career of Frances Ellen Watkins Harper.

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper from

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper studied with her uncle at the Watkins School in West Baltimore and published her first poetry in the city in 1849. The Watkins school (along with the Fortie School in East Baltimore) were founded by Free Blacks for Free Blacks in Anna and Frederick’s day. Frances was thirteen when Anna and Frederick fled Baltimore and probably attended the concert at the Repository in April 1838 along with them. She and her Uncle would leave Baltimore, she to teach in Ohio, and he to Canada to avoid being arrested for his work with the Underground Railroad. Following the adoption of the Fugitive Slave Law in 1850 the increased efforts to stem the flow of slaves to freedom sanctioned by heavy fines and prison terms made life for Free Blacks in Baltimore increasingly difficult. The Free Black population stagnated between 1850 and 1860, while racist calls for the elimination of the Free Black population altogether by forcing their migration back to Africa or into slavery became intensified.

Anna and Frederick left behind a Black community in Baltimore that continued to sustain its identity and resist as best it could an increasingly racist repression of their aspirations and dreams for a better life. The Civil War would open many doors of opportunity but the return to power after the war in Maryland and the City of those who had left to fight for the South, or who sympathized with the advocates of slavery, would result in a long and at times bitter struggle for equality and opportunity in the workplace and education, a struggle that today, as in Anna and Frederick’s day, is far from over.

[1] John Stauffer, Zoe Trodd, and Celeste-Mariie Bernier, Picturing Frederick Douglass, New York: Liveright Publishing Company, 2015, p. ix.

[2] What is believed to be Anna’s certificate of freedom that permitted her to move to Baltimore in the fall of 1832 was brought to the attention of Douglass scholars by Kate Larson, author of a nationally acclaimed biography of Harriet Tubman. See the original on line at: Kate Larson detailed her findings in an email:

While researching the family background of William Still, the famous Underground Railroad agent in Philadelphia who worked with Tubman, I stumbled upon Anna Murray's 1832 Certificate of Freedom in Caroline County. It looks like she and her siblings requested the certificate as they were preparing to move to Baltimore, in which case she needed proof of free status. I am not the first person to find this record. I learned recently that other researchers have found it, too.

The Certificate of Freedom is from the Caroline County court records. The page includes the certificates for Anna (it says Anny, but the index says Anna), aged 17, and her siblings Charlotte (aged 16), Phillip (aged 22) and Elizabeth (aged 19), all paying for and receiving their certificates in May 1832. Because at least two of Anna’s older siblings were born free, that means that Anna’s mother achieved her freedom by 1810 or earlier.

I also found certificates for Daniel Murray aged 23 (certificate dated October 1829) and Allen Murray aged 44 (manumission dated January 1827, certificate dated May 1828), which I did not post. I am not sure if Allen is part of Anna Murray’s family, but you never know.

I suspect there more records like these, but because I have other research priorities, I have not done much more digging. I tried looking for manumission records in Caroline Co. before 1810 (because Philip was born free circa 1810), but the land records - where the manumissions back then were recorded - are so voluminous, and without knowing who Anna Murray's parents were enslaved by, I can't easily discover when they were set free. I think that Rosetta Douglass may have mis-remembered the names of her grandparents, because there is no Mary or Bamabara Murray in any records that I have seen. Bambara may have been a nickname, and Mary, well, I don’t know, but maybe it is just simply a transliteration of Murray. Census records starting in 1810 show free black Murrays in Caroline Co. Surely one of them is Anna’s family. I am sure the information is there for anyone willing and able to do the work.

Jerry Hynson’s transcription of the Caroline County Free People of Color Census in 1832 shows that Anna and her siblings are still in Caroline County as of August 1832. Here are the Murrays who were in Caroline County at that time:

This group is listed together (they live next to the Fountain family and the Wayman family (as in Rev. Alexander Wayman) :

Anny, 50

Phillip, 26

Elizabeth, 24

Charlotte, 18

William, 12

Luther, 10

And in another area, these Murrays are clustered [they are surrounded by Smith, Kinney, and Phillips families]:

Phillip, 40

[unknown name] Murray, 35

Charlotte, 18 [probably the same Charlotte as noted above]

Ann, 17 [probably the same as Anny as noted above]

[3]The National Park Service at Cedar Hill, Frederick Douglass National Historical Site, Washington, D. C., FRDO 246, has the later copy of the first image that emphasizes the broach Anna Murray Douglass is wearing altered to a rectangle bearing a mysterious figure in military uniform? Might she be related to Alexander Murray of American Naval Officer fame ( who was also from the Eastern Shore of Maryland (Chestertown)? Does the family still have the broach (oval in the only known original photograph; rectangular in the National Park Service copy). Broach in NPS copy, possibly Alexander Murray (1755-1821), . There is no known image of Anna in her youth at the time she married Douglass. The later images of her and her difficult daughter’s much later reminiscences of her mother provide an unfair characterization of Anna and her personal intellectual accomplishments. Affected by strokes in her later life following the difficult birth and then early death of her last beloved daughter Annie, probably greatly affected her faculties, or at least her ability to express herself. That Frederick also had many strong willed white women friends (see Fought on Women in teh World of Frederick Douglass) who resented her and wrote disparaging about her has not helped the image of Anna who Anna was in the early years of her marriage, and in the much later comparisons of her to her famous husband.

[4] Apart from the memories of her daughter Rosetta, the only serious effort at a biographical sketch of Anna Murray Douglass are chapters in Leigh Fought, Women in the world of Frederick Douglass, 2017,

[5] David Bailey Warden was the first in America to translate and publish a treatise on the intellectual equality and promise of slave and free blacks in America. See: An enquiry concerning the intellectual and moral faculties, and literature of negroes; followed with an account of the life and works of fifteen negroes & mulattoes, distinguished in science, literature and the arts by Grégoire, Henri, 1750-1831; Warden, David Bailie [sic], 1772-1845, tr, Brooklyn, Printed by Thomas Kirk, Main-street, 1810. Warden spent time in Baltimore before he left for France and was friends with Eliza Crawford Godefroy, the expatriate wife of the Baltimore Architect, Maximilian Godefroy, as well as Betsy Patterson Bonaparte, the wealthy social gadfly of Baltimore whose very wealthy merchant father owned a wharf on Philpot Street where Douglass played with his white boyhood friends who helped teach him to read and write.

[6] HODGES, GRAHAM RUSSELL GAO. David Ruggles A Radical Black Abolitionist and the Underground Railroad in New York City. CHAPEL HILL: The University of North Carolina Press, 2010.

[7] Douglass, Frederick. Autobiographies. New York, N.Y.: Literary Classics of the United States, 1997, Chronology, p. 1053.

[8] Ibid., p. 353 and p. 651.

[9] Baltimore Sun, April 30, 1838.

[10] Baltimore Sun, December 18, 1837.

[12] Baltimore Sun, July 14, 1838.

[13] Baltimore City Directory for 1833.

[14] Maryland State Archives, Special Collections 4239-3-5, Court of appeals (Judgments, Western Shore) No. 110, Sophia Bland and Austin Woolfolk vs. Negro Beverly Dowling, June Term 1836.

[16] Frederick alludes to his concern that Hugh Auld would find him work in the deep South in his autobiographies, Douglass, Frederick. Autobiographies. New York, N.Y.: Literary Classics of the United States, 1997, p. 345. “This threat I confess had some terror in it …”

[17] Phillips, Christopher. Freedom's Port: The African American Community of Baltimore, 1790-1860. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997, p. 58 and p. 279, n. 45. Phillips’s book, along with those of Steve Whitman and Seth Rockman provide an excellent overview of the history of the Free Black community in Baltimore. See: Rockman, Seth. Scraping by: Wage Labor, Slavery, and Survival in Early Baltimore. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009, and Whitman, T. Stephen. The Price of Freedom: Slavery and Manumission in Baltimore and Early National Maryland. University Press of Kentucky, 2015.

[18] My bondage and my Freedom, p. 346.

[19] Frederick much admired Reverend William Douglass’s preaching. William Douglass was born free in Baltimore. See: Douglass, Frederick, and John R. McKivigan. The Frederick Douglass Papers. Series 3, Volume 1, Series 3, Volume 1. New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press, 2010, p. 336 and footnotes for a biographical note and a long letter from Reverend Douglass to Frederick in 1848. It was a very unhappy letter in which Reverend Douglass took issue with his friend, but that did not seem to diminish Frederick’s admiration for Reverend Douglass’s preaching.

[21] The mythology around how Frederick Bailey ultimately chose the name of Douglass takes Douglass at his word that he chose it because he enjoyed reading Sir Walter Scott, even though Scott’s hero spelled his name with one ‘s’.. In light of his remarks in 1870 in Baltimore, it is clear that Frederick was also paying homage to his Baltimore origins, his admiration for Reverend Douglass, and the fact that Reverend Fortie may have indeed employed him as a teacher at his school for Free Blacks on Douglass street in Baltimore.

[22] McFeely, William S. Frederick Douglass. New York, N.Y.: W. W. Norton, 1991, pp. .73, 65, 82..

[23] Based on the author’s compilation from the original census returns found on The census takers often made mathematical errors in their summary tables which required correction.

[24] The clusters of families are easily identified on the manuscript census returns for 1840, but connecting those clusters with streets and alleys is difficult as the heads of households on the census (black or white) do not necessarily appear in the city directories but instead are represented as statistics within households. Nor is there an easy correlation among the census, tax, and directory entries. In addition, the 1838/39 property tax lists for a portion of Fells Point have disappeared into private hands or were destroyed.

[25] Massicott Capt William, 54 Albemarle st, 1837/38 city directory

[26] Ralph Clayton, Cash for Blood, p. 627. Two of the entries for the Caledonia are for Captain Massicot, not Captain Marriott.

[27] Article forthcoming on the “James Cheston” built in Baltimore and abandoned in the Atlantic.

[28] For the impact of Nat Turner’s rebellion on Baltimore see Phillips, pp. 113, 191-193, 222, 295n60., and Rothman, p. 12, 232, 248-249.

[29] Morrow, Diane Batts. Persons of Color and Religious at the Same Time The Oblate Sisters of Providence, 1828-1860. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002. <>, p. 252. The Condition of the Coloured Population of the City of Baltimore, The Baltimore Literary and Religious Magazine (1835-1841), vol. 4, 1838, p. 168 ff. See the appendix for a transcription of the article.

[30] For a discussion of the print see: Laura Rice, Maryland History in Prints, 1743-1900. Baltimore, Md: Maryland Historical Society, 2002, p. 214. Breckinridge had left for his new post by the time the gold snuff box was ready for presentation. His portrait was prominently displayed behind the pulpit as it was accepted by the Reverend robert Dunlap of Aisquith Street Presbyterian church. Reverend Stokes abandoned Baltimore for the Gold Rush and the Free State of California in 1852, when it became increasingly evident that the future of the Free Black population in Baltimore was bleak as long as slavery existed embedded in the laws of Maryland and the Nation. For Stokes in California see:

[31] Life and Times, p. 633

[32] See Preston, D. J. Young Frederick Douglass: The Maryland Years. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996, and Quarles, Benjamin. Frederick Douglass. New York: Da Capo Press, 1997, for details, along with McFeely’s biography.

[34] In 1838 The Aulds lived on Block Street, variously known as Falls Street and Falls Avenue. Block Street ran from the bridge over the Jones Falls eastward to Thames Street. It was one street above Philpot where Douglass lived when he first came to Baltimore. For example see the Auld entries in the Matchett’s city directories for 1837/38 and 1841/42.,