Frederick Douglass's Visits to Northampton and Florence
Frederick Douglass (1818 – 1895) was born enslaved on Maryland’s eastern shore. He barely knew his mother and was not certain of the identity of his father. At age twenty, in 1838, he escaped slavery and arrived in New York City, where he was assisted in freedom, and later mentored by, David Ruggles, an African American activist.
Just a few years after Douglass’s 1838 escape from slavery, he became one of the abolition movement’s greatest orators on slavery and abolition, speaking to large and small audiences across the country, to both praise and violent attacks.
In April 1842, an abolitionist community named the Northampton Association of Education and Industry was founded. In November 1842, David Ruggles, in declining health, came to live at the Association and began to establish a water cure. As Douglass advocated for abolition and reconnected with his friend and mentor David Ruggles, he visited Northampton and Florence at least six times (though he never lived here). Newspaper articles, letters and personal reminiscences provide these accounts.
Frederick Douglass speaks at Northampton's (old) Town Hall and at the Northampton Association
Douglass’s first known visit to Northampton came on April 27, 1844. The famous Hutchinson Family Singers, with whom he occasionally toured, were passing through town and staying at the “Community.” The “Community” was a utopian and abolitionist society, formally called the Northampton Association of Education and Industry, on Nonotuck Street in Florence. While Community members and the singers were napping after a game of Bat Ball, an early form of baseball, they heard: "a rap at the door, and Frederick Douglass entered. Then came shaking hands, pulling, and hauling, loud talking, laughing, embracing, etc. We had not seen Fred in a year. He was in good health, full of anecdotes."
The following morning Douglass spoke to members of the Community bringing many to “tears of real grief, tears for suffering humanity.“ That evening he gave a spirited talk at the town hall on Main Street in Northampton (where the Courthouse is now) and was criticized by the local press. A rock thrown at him during the speech became a treasured souvenir of Stetson family, who were Community members.
"The Hutchinsons’ Visit." by John W. Hutchinson.
Published in The History of Florence, Massachusetts.
Edited by Charles A. Sheffeld, Florence, MA, 1895.
PDF Copy of Article
Excerpt from "When I Was a Boy," by George R. Stetson. Published in The History of Florence, Massachusetts. Edited by Charles A. Sheffeld, Florence, MA, 1895, pp. 118-123.