Death of Fred Douglass
By THE NEW YORK TIMES
ASHINGTON, Feb. 20--Frederick Douglass dropped dead in the
hallway of his residence on Anacostia Heights this evening at 7
o'clock. He had been in the highest spirits, and apparently in the best of
health, despite his seventy-eight years, when death overtook him.
This morning he was driven to Washington, accompanied by his wife. She
him at the Congressional Library, and he continued to Metzerott Hall, where
he attended the sessions of the Women's Council in the forenoon and the
afternoon, returning to Cedar Hill, his residence, between 5 and 6 o'clock.
After dining, he had a chat in the hallway with his wife about the doings of the
council. He grew very enthusiastic in his explanation of one of the events of
the day, when he fell upon his knees, with hands clasped.
Mrs. Douglass, thinking this was part of his description, was not alarmed,
as she looked he sank lower and lower, and finally lay stretched upon the
floor, breathing his last. Realizing that he was ill, she raised his head, and then
understood that he was dying. She was alone in the house, and rushed to the
front door with cries for help. Some men who were near by quickly
responded, and attempted to reassure the dying man. One of them called Dr.
J. Stewart Harrison, and while he was injecting a restorative into the patient's
arm, Mr. Douglass passed away, seemingly without pain.
Mr. Douglass had lived for some time at Cedar Hill with his wife and one
servant. He had two sons and a daughter, the children of his first wife, living
here. They are Louis H. and Charles Douglass and Mrs. Sprague.
Mr. Douglass was to deliver a lecture tonight at Hillside African Church,
his home, and was waiting for a carriage when talking to his wife. The carriage
arrived just as he died.
Mrs. Douglass said to-night that her husband had apparently been in the
of health lately, and had shown unusual vigor for one of his years. No
arrangements, she said, would be made for his funeral until his children could
It is a singular fact, in connection with the death of Mr. Douglass, that
last hours of his life were given in attention to one of the principles to which he
has devoted his energies since his escape from slavery. This morning he drove
into Washington from his residence, about a mile out from Anacostia, a
suburb just across the eastern branch of the Potomac, and at 10 o'clock
appeared at Metzerott Hall, where the Women's National Council is holding
its triennial. Mr. Douglass was a regularly-enrolled member of the National
Women's Suffrage Association, and had always attended its conventions. It
was probably with a view to consistency in this respect that he appeared at
Although it was a secret business session of the Council, Mr. Douglass
allowed to remain, and when the meeting had been called to order by Mrs.
May Wright Sewall, the President of the Council, she appointed Miss Susan
B. Anthony and the Rev. Anna H. Shaw a committee to escort him to the
platform, where most of the delegates, not more than fifty in number, were
sitting. Mrs. Sewall presented Mr. Douglass to the Council, and contenting
himself with a bow in response to the applause that greeted the
announcement, he took a seat beside Miss Anthony, his lifelong friend.
Nothing to indicate that he was not in his usual good health was remarked at
the time, and to-night, after his death was made known, nobody could recall
anything in his appearance or actions out of the ordinary, except, according to
the statement of a lady present, that he rubbed his left hand constantly with his
right, as though it were benumbed.
The morning session lasted until after 12 o'clock, and just before that
informal discussion was started on the proposition that has been mooted for
some time, to divide the National Council into an upper and a lower house.
Mr. Douglass became much interested in this discussion, so much so, in fact,
that, when the Council reconvened at 4 o'clock to give further consideration
to the matter, he was again present, although it had been his intention to return
to his home earlier in the day. He left the hall on the adjournment of the
session, about 5 o'clock, and had been at his home but a short time when his
When Miss Susan B. Anthony heard of Mr. Douglass's death, at the evening
session of the council, she was very much affected. Miss Anthony has a
wonderful control over her feelings, but to-night she could not conceal her
emotion. Despite her seventy-five years, she immediately announced her
intention of going to the Douglass homestead, near Anacostia, and had
actually started, when some of her friends, fearful that the journey, with its
quota of bad roads, and the excitement of a visit to the presence of death
would have a bad effect on her, used persuasion to such an extent that she
finally consented to defer the trip until to-morrow. She was very much averse
to returning to the stage in Metzerott Hall, contending that it would appear
unfeeling for her to do so, but as a number of the more distinguished members
of the council were absent, she agreed to take her accustomed place to the
right of the presiding officer.
Miss Anthony and Mr. Douglass formed an intimate friendship when both
resided in Rochester, N.Y., and that friendship had continued for many
decades. One incident in connection with her relations with Mr. Douglass was
recalled by Miss Anthony. During the early days of the anti- slavery agitation
Miss Anthony and her venerable associate, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, appeared
at an anti-slavery meeting in which Frederick Douglass was taking a
prominent part. Women were not welcome as public speakers in those days,
and Mr. Douglass had agreed to read an address prepared by Mrs. Stanton.
His rendition of her written remarks did not suit that lady, and, stepping
forward, she took the paper from his hands with the remark, "Here,
Frederick, let me read it." And she did so, thus marking the initiative in the
appearance of women as actors in public gatherings.
At to-night's meeting of the Women's Council Mrs. May Wright Sewall
announced the death of Mr. Douglass. There was a murmur expressing
surprise and sympathy, and then the council settled down to the business of
The Slave Who Ran Away
Career of the Most Representative African America Has Produced
Frederick Douglass has been often spoken of as the foremost man of the
African race in America. Though born and reared in slavery, he managed,
through his own perseverance and energy, to win for himself a place that not
only made him beloved by all members of his own race in America, but also
won for himself the esteem and reverence of all fair-minded persons, both in
this country and in Europe.
Mr. Douglass had been for many years a prominent figure in public life.
was of inestimable service to the members of his own race, and rendered
distinguished service to his country from time to time in various important
offices that he held under the Government.
He became well known, early in his career, as an orator upon subjects
relating to slavery. He won renown by his oratorical powers both in the
northern part of the United States and in England. He had become known
before the civil war also as a journalist. So highly were his opinions valued
that he was often consulted by President Lincoln, after the civil war began,
upon questions relating to the colored race. He held important offices almost
constantly from 1871 until 1891.
Mr. Douglass, perhaps more than any other man of his race, was instrumental
in advancing the work of banishing the color line.
Mr. Douglass's life from first to last was filled with incidents that gave
to it a
keen flavor of romance.
The exact date of his birth is unknown. It was about the year 1817. His
mother was a negro slave and his father was a white man. Mr. Douglass's
birthplace was on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, in the Tuckahoe district.
He was reared as a slave on the plantation of Col. Edward Lloyd. He was
sent, when ten years old, to one of Col. Lloyd's relatives in Baltimore. Here
he was employed in a shipyard.
Douglass, according to his own story, suffered deeply while under the bonds
of slavery. His superior intelligence made him conscious of his wrongs and
rendered him keenly sensitive to his condition. The manner in which he
acquired the rudiments of his education has become a familiar story. He
learned his letters, it is said, from the carpenters' marks on planks and timbers
in the shipyard. He used to listen while his mistress read the Bible, and at
length asked her to teach him to read it for himself. All the while he was in the
shipyard he continued to pick up secretly all the information he could.
It was while here, too, that he heard of the abolitionists, and began to
formulate plans for escaping to the North. He made his escape from slavery
Sept. 3, 1838, and came to New-York. Thence he went to New-Bedford,
where he married. He supported himself for two or three years by day labor
on the wharves and in the workshops.
He made a speech in 1841 at an anti-slavery convention, held at Nantucket,
that made a favorable impression, and he became the agent of the
Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. He then traveled four years through
New-England, lecturing against slavery.
He went to England in 1845, where his lectures in behalf of the slave won
great deal of attention. He also visited Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. Mr.
Douglass's friends in England feared that he might be captured and forced
back into slavery, and so they raised 150, by means of which he was
afterwards formally manumitted.
Mr. Douglass often met with many unpleasant experiences while traveling
about, owing to the prejudice that was felt against his race. On one occasion,
when the passengers on a boat would not allow him to enter the cabin, his
friend Wendell Phillips, refused to leave him, and the two men spent the night
together on deck.
William Lloyd Garrison had also become interested in young Douglass, and
before Douglass went to England had done all he could to assist him in gaining
an education. Throughout the anti-slavery agitation, Mr. Douglass's efforts in
behalf of the slaves was unflagging.
On returning from England Mr. Douglass founded Frederick Douglass's
Paper, a weekly journal, at Rochester, N.Y. The title was changed to The
North Star. He continued its publication for several years.
Mr. Douglass and John Brown were friends, and had the same objects in
view. Douglass, however, did not approve of Brown's plan for attacking
Harper's Ferry, and the men parted some two weeks before the attack was
made. Douglass was in Philadelphia the night the Harper's Ferry episode
occurred. It became plain to him immediately afterward that he could scarcely
hope to escape being implicated in the trouble, and at the earnest solicitation
of his friends he made his escape to Canada. United States Marshals
appeared in Rochester to apprehend him a few hours after his flight. He
discovered, many years later, that a requisition for his arrest had been made
by the Governor of Virginia. He went to Quebec, and thence to England,
where he remained six or eight months. He afterward returned to Rochester,
and again took charge of his paper.
Mr. Douglass urged upon President Lincoln, when the civil war began, the
employment of colored troops and the proclamation of emancipation.
Permission for organizing such troops was granted in 1863, and Mr. Douglass
became active in enlisting men to fill the colored regiments, notably the
Fifty-fourth and the Fifty-fifth Massachusetts.
Mr. Douglass returned to the lecture field after slavery had been abolished.
He attracted great crowds wherever he went. His appearance on the platform
was imposing. His height was over 6 feet and his weight was fully 200
pounds. His complexion was swarthy rather than black. His head was
covered with a great shock of white hair. A large head, low forehead, high
cheekbones, and large mouth, with gleaming white teeth, were some of the
noticeable characteristics of his appearance. As a speaker he was
characterized by his earnestness. He made but few gestures and used simple
He became the editor in 1870 of The New National Era, in Washington,
which was afterward published by his sons, Lewis and Frederick.
He received the appointment in 1871 as Assistant Secretary to the
commission to San Domingo, and on his return from that mission President
Grant appointed him one of the Territorial Council of the District of Columbia.
He was elected Presidential Elector at Large for the State of New York in
1872, and was appointed to carry the electoral vote of the State to
Mr. Douglass was appointed United States Marshal for the District of
Columbia in 1876, and retained that office till 1881, when he became
Recorder of Deeds in the District of Columbia. President Cleveland removed
him from that office in 1886. In the Autumn of that year he made a third visit
President Harrison made Mr. Douglass Minister to Haiti in 1889. He resigned
this office in August, 1891. Mr. Douglass's administration in Haiti was not
entirely satisfactory, and for some time previous to his resignation unfavorable
repots of the affairs of his office had reached Washington. Mr. Douglass went
to Haiti just after the revolution that put Hippolyte in power, and that country
was still in an unsettled condition. The Haitians did not take kindly to Mr.
Douglass, because of his race, and failed to give him the respect to which his
office should have entitled him. It was recognized when President Harrison
appointed him that it was an experiment, the outcome of which was very
uncertain. Some one in commenting on Mr. Douglass's actions in Haiti said
that he seemed to consider himself rather the representative of the negro race
than the representative of the United States Government. Admiral Gheradi,
who visited Haiti while Mr. Douglass was there, brought back to Washington
very unfavorable reports of the condition of affairs there. There was a great
deal of comment in one way and another, and Mr. Douglass thought best to
resign. He said, however, that the reports about his having been snubbed by
Haitian officials had been grossly exaggerated.
Mr. Douglass wrote several books that have met with considerable sale.
Among them are "Narrative of My Experience in Slavery," 1844; "My
Bondage and My Freedom," 1855; "Life and Times of Frederick Douglass,"
Of recent years he has always been prominent in all movements having in
the social and political advancement of women, and no later than yesterday
afternoon was a welcome attendant at the session of the Women's National
Council, where he was honored with a seat on the platform.
Fred Douglass was married twice, his second wife being Miss Pitts, a white
woman from New- York State, who was a clerk in the Recorder's office
while he held that position. For a time this lost him some case among the
people of his own race, but his personal standing and over- powering
intellectuality quickly dissipated the sentiment that some sought to disseminate
to his discredit. He was one of the most distinguished-looking men that
appeared on the thoroughfares of the capital. He was kindly disposed to all,
courteous, and of gentle bearing, and by all alike, white and black, or of
whatever creed, religion, or race, the news of his death will meet only with
There is no end of stories about Mr. Douglass. One of his most marked
characteristics was his intense dislike to being addressed or spoken of as
Fred Douglass. It is told of him that one day, when in the East Room of the
White House, on overhearing a woman say, "There's Fred Douglass," he
turned to her, made a courtly bow, and said, "Frederick Douglass, if you
In addressing a colored school, March 24, 1893, at Easton, Md., near his
birthplace, Mr. Douglass said:
"I once knew a little colored boy whose mother and father died when he
but six years old. He was a slave and had no one to care for him. He slept on
a dirt floor in a hovel, and in cold weather would crawl into a mealbag head
foremost and leave his feet in the ashes to keep them warm. Often he would
roast an ear of corn and eat it to satisfy his hunger, and many times has he
crawled under the barn or stable and secured eggs, which he would roast in
the fire and eat.
"That boy did not wear pantaloons, as you do, but a tow linen shirt. Schools
were unknown to him, and he learned to spell from an old Webster's spelling
book and to read and write from posters on cellar and barn doors, while boys
and men would help him. He would then preach and speak, and soon became
well known. He became Presidential Elector, United States Marshal, United
States Recorder, United States diplomat, and accumulated some wealth. He
wore broadcloth and didn't have to divide crumbs with the dogs under the
table. That boy was Frederick Douglass.
"What was possible for me is possible for you. Don't think because you
colored you can't accomplish anything. Strive earnestly to add to your
knowledge. So long as you remain in ignorance so long will you fail to
command the respect of your fellowmen."