May 1, 2016

Recovered History: Frederick Douglass writes Harriet Tubman

Watch the Yard

Dear Harriet:

I am glad to know that the story of your eventful life has been written by a kind lady, and that the same is soon to be published. You ask for what you do not need when you call upon me for a word of commendation. I need such words from you far more than you can need them from me, especially where your superior labors and devotion to the cause of the lately enslaved of our land are known as I know them. The difference between us is very marked. Most that I have done and suffered in the service of our cause has been in public, and I have received much encouragement at every step of the way. You, on the other hand, have labored in a private way. I have wrought in the day – you in the night. I have had the applause of the crowd and the satisfaction that comes of being approved by the multitude, while the most that you have done has been witnessed by a few trembling, scarred, and foot-sore bondmen and women, whom you have led out of the house of bondage, and whose heartfelt, “God bless you,” has been your only reward.


PS:  Frederick Douglass had another advantage. As the National Park Service explains: A growlery is literally a place to growl. Charles Dickens coined the word in "Bleak House," and Frederick Douglass apparently liked the word enough to apply it to a tiny stone cabin that sat at the back of Cedar Hill. The Growlery contained a single room with a fireplace. Douglass kept it simply furnished with a desk, stool, and couch. He retreated here to do some of his deep thinking, writing, and reading in seclusion.One reporter who was lucky enough to gain entry to the "peculiar little house" in 1895 found a cozy fire burning in the fireplace and the desk "literally filled with books and paper." Today, visitors can view a reconstruction of the Growlery, built by the National Park Service in 1981, from the exterior.

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