Skip to main content

Hawtin: Displaying a Collection: Examining a Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

6 different areas in a collection.

Frederick Douglass: A Life in a Book

Frederick Douglass (1818 - 1895) was an African-American abolitionist, orator and writer, statesman and social reformer. He was born into slavery as Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey in Maryland. Sophia Auld taught Frederick Douglass the alphabet when he was about 12 but her husband Hugh Auld forbade her giving additional lessons. Teaching slaves how to read and write was banned at that time. However Douglass continued to learn how to read and write and whilst still a slave taught others to do so. 

Between 1836 and 1838 Douglass attempted to escape from various owners and succeeded in September 1838. It was at this time that he took the name Frederick Douglass. Douglass joined several organisations in New Bedford where he and his wife, Anna Murray, had settled. He also subscribed to William Lloyd Garrison's weekly journal The Liberator. In 1841 Douglass delivered his speech at the the Massachusetts' Anti-Slavery Society annual convention in Nantucket.

In 1845 his first autobiography Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave was published. This described his experience as a slave. It was published multiple times and was influential in promoting the cause of abolition, as was his second autobiography, My Bondage and My Freedom (1855). In 1847 in Rochester, New York, Douglass started publishing his first abolitionist newspaper, The North Star which in 1851 merged with Gerrit Smith's Liberty Party Paper to form Frederick Douglass' Paper. Frederick Douglass' Paper continued being published until 1860.  In 1848 Douglass was the only African-American to attend the Seneca Falls Convention which was the first women's rights convention. Douglass' speech at it was instrumental in influencing the assembly to pass a resolution asking for women's suffrage. In July 1852 Douglass addressed the ladies of Rochester's Anti-Slavery Sewing Society. This speech became known as "What to the slave is the 4th of July?"

Upon the outbreak of the American Civil War Douglass and other abolitionists argued that African-Americans should be allowed fight for their freedom. Three of Douglass' sons participated in the war. In 1865 the ratification of the 13th Amendment outlawed slavery. After the Civil War Douglass continued to pursue equality for African Americans. He continued to tour for speaking engagements in the US and abroad. In February 1895 shortly after his 77th birthday Douglass had a massive heart attack and passed away.

After the publication of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass Douglass was advised to leave the US for fear of being recaptured by Auld. Between 1845 and 1846 Douglass toured Ireland and Great Britain. While he was in Ireland the Dublin abolitionist printer Richard D Webb published a number of editions of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Fionnghoula  Sweeney discusses these various printings in her PhD thesis 'Frederick Douglass: Mask or Maroonage?: Atlantic Sites and the Politics of Representative Identity.' 

When Douglass was in Cork he stayed with the Jennings family of Brown Street. The Jennings were Unitarians and were known abolitionists. The Misses Jennings were involved with the Cork Anti-Slavery Society. On this visit Douglass also met with Fr Theobald Mathew and was introduced to the temperance movement which he supported.

In 2012 a plaque as unveiled in the Imperial Hotel, Cork to commemorate Frederick Douglass' visit. 

Within the Hawtin Collection is a Dublin printing of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American SlaveWhen I examine one of the Dublin printings of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave what can I learn? When I engage in object-based learning how can I use the other sources in Special Collections to find out more? Check out the gallery box on the right to see how I used the sources.

'G Bellew Binder Dublin' is blind-tooled on the bottom edges of the front and back binding. 

The front endpapers have a Gillian Hawtin donation label indicating that this item is part of the Hawtin Collection. On the front endpapers there is also handwritten note 'Cork Library November 13th 1845' and 'Cork Library' is repeated in the same hand on the back endpapers. 

The title page has publishing information: 'Dublin: Webb and Chapman, Gt. Brunswick-Street. 1845.'

On the title page verso is a note from the Meeting of the Committee of the Hibernian Anti-Slavery Society, held the 20th September 1845.

This printing of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave contains:

  • a preface written by Frederick Douglass detailing why he undertook the tour of Great Britain and Ireland. 
  • the preface written by William Lloyd Garrison (Boston, May 1, 1845) for the American edition of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave
  • a letter from Wendell Phillips (Boston, April 22, 1845)
  • the narrative text
  • information 'To the Friends of the Slave' about abolitionist activities in the US and how funds may be sent to these activities. This names the Misses Jennings of Brown-street as being the Cork contacts for such donations. 
  • critical notices or reviews about Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave from Philadelphia Enquirer, Boston Courier, Boston Transcript, N.Y. Tribune and Practical Christian.
Loading ...

200th birthday of Frederick Douglass and Black History Month

To commemorate Frederick Douglass' 200th birthday and as part of Black History month a worldwide Transcribe-a-thon of the Freedmen's Bureau Papers was coordinated by the Colored Conventions Project and the Smithsonian Archives on 14 February 2018. As he was born into bondage  Douglass never knew when he was born and chose to celebrate his birthday on 14 February. Dr Donna Alexander, DARIAH Ireland Postdoctoral Researcher at UCC organised the Cork event. 

On 15 February 2018 the Smithsonian Transcription Centre released the outcome of the worldwide #DouglassDay Transcribe-a-thon:

  • 779 pages transcribed
  • 402 pages reviewed and approved
  • 600 new registered #volunpeers

Note: A transcribe-a-thon is a mass transcription of a particular set of resources in order to make them accessible to more users.

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave

Blind-tooling of G Bellew - Binder - Dublin on Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave.

Thom's Irish Almanac for 1845 showing Bellew listed among the Dublin bookbinders (p.849). There were 31 bookbinders in Dublin in that year. There is a separate entry for booksellers and stationers.

Provenance information for this copy of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave showing Gillian Hawtin's donation information and a handwritten note about Cork Library. 

Entry in Thom's Irish Almanac for 1845 for Cork Library (p.602).

Entry in Thom's Irish Almanac for 1845 for Webb & Chapman. Richard Davis Webb founded the printing works in 1828 and in 1832 took on Richard Chapman as a partner when the business moved to a larger premises. Webb and Chapman were known for publishing items from philanthropic, social and political organisations such as Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. Richard Davis was also a member of the Hibernian Anti-Slavery Society. For further information on Webb and Chapman see Jennifer Regan-Lefebvre "The Webb Family and Quaker Printing" in The Oxford History of the Irish Book: The Irish Book in English, 1800-1901 Vol 4.

A map showing Dublin in Macdonald's Irish Directory and Gazetteer for 1907. Bellew's bookbindery were at 79 Grafton Street. Webb and Chapman, the publishers of the Irish editions of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave were at 177 Great Brunswick Street. Great Brunswick Street is now Pearse Street. 

Resolution from the Committee of the Hibernian Anti-Slavery Society and the first page of the preface for the Irish edition of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave.

Preface used in the American edition of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. The pages refer to Daniel O'Connell.

Information 'To Friends of the Slave' contained in the Irish printing of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave showing the list of ladies who have consented to receive donations for the American Anti-Slavery Society and contributions for the Annual Bazaar auxiliary to it. The Misses Jennings of Brown-street are the Cork contact. 

Entry in Thom's Irish Almanac for 1845 for Cork Ladies Anti-Slavery Society (p.603). Miss Isobel Jennings of Brown-street is a secretary. 

Entry in Thom's Irish Almanac for 1845 for Cork Anti-Slavery Society (p.603). There was a separate Anti-Slavery Society in Cork for Ladies. 

A map showing Cork in Macdonald's Irish Directory and Gazetteer for 1907. Brown Street runs between the Coal Quay and Paul's Street. The car park for Paul's Street Shopping Centre now occupies the space where Brown Street was. 

Portrait of Frederick Douglass from his second autobiography My Bondage and My Freedom (1855). My Bondage and My Freedom is dedicated to Gerrit Smith. The preface contains a letter written by Douglass on July 2, 1855 in Rochester, New York. James McCune Smith has written the introduction. Also contained within the volume are a number of appendices. The volume also contains various publishers' advertisements from Miller, Orton and Mulligan the publishers of My Bondage and My Freedom. 

Dedication from Frederick Douglass to Lydia R Putnam on the front endpapers of his second autobiography My Bondage and My Freedom (1855). It is probable that this Lydia R Putnam is the same Lydia R Putnam who was a committee member on Salem Female Anti Slavery Society (Adams, George. The Salem Directory and City Register 1846 p.149). For more information on Salem Female Anti-Slavery Society see this entry on BlackPast.org. My thanks to Kieran Cronin, Developmental Officer in WIT Library for locating the correct Lydia R Putnam and providing links to Salem Female Anti Slavery Society.