Today in History

Today in History: September 3

Frederick Douglass

"On Monday, the third day of September, 1838, in accordance with my resolution, I bade farewell to the city of Baltimore, and to that slavery which had been my abhorrence from childhood."

Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (external link), 1881.

Portrait of Frederick Douglass
Portrait of Frederick Douglass,
Title page,
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, (external link)1845.
North American Slave Narratives (external link)
First-Person Narratives of the American South, 1860-1920

On September 3, 1838, abolitionist, journalist, author, and human rights advocate Frederick Douglass made his dramatic escape from slavery—traveling north by train and boat—from Baltimore, through Delaware, to Philadelphia. That same night, he took a train to New York, where he arrived the following morning.

Born into slavery on a plantation in Tuckahoe, Maryland, circa 1817, he was the son of a black mother and an unidentified white father. He never knew the date of his birth, but celebrated his birthday on February 14 in memory of his mother, who had brought him a heart-shaped cake on the night that he last saw her.

Only a small boy when his mother died, Douglass, born Frederick Bailey, lived with his grandmother in the slave quarters until he was eight years old, when he was "hired out" and sent to work in the home of Hugh Auld. While working for the Auld family in Baltimore, Frederick began to acquire a formal education. Mrs. Auld broke Maryland state law in order to teach the young boy to read, and Frederick later tried to learn all he could from schoolboys he met on the streets of Baltimore.

Seaman's Protection Certificate for Samuel Fox
Seaman's Protection Certificate for Samuel Fox,
August 12, 1854.
Documenting Freedom
Free Blacks in the Ante-Bellum Period, Part I
The African-American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship

After an earlier unsuccessful attempt, Frederick escaped from slavery in 1838 by posing as a free sailor wearing a red shirt, a tarpaulin hat, and a black scarf tied loosely around his neck. He boarded a train bound for Philadelphia.

On sped the train, and I was well on my way…when the conductor came into the negro car to collect tickets and examine the papers of his black passengers. This was a critical moment in the drama.

Chapter of Frederick Douglass's Draft Manuscript of His Autobiography, Page 4, circa 1880.
Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (external link) published 1881.
Words and Deeds in American History: Selected Documents Celebrating the Manuscript Division's First 100 Years

Frederick had to be able to sound, as well as look, like a sailor:

My knowledge of ships and sailor's talk came much to my assistance, for I knew a ship from stem to stern, and from keelson to cross-trees, and could talk sailor like an 'old salt.'

Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (external link), 1881

Overjoyed at being free when he reached New York City, Frederick immediately had to face feelings of loneliness and fear as a stranger in a strange land. Fortunately, he was soon given assistance by free black abolitionist and activist David Ruggles.

Two weeks after reaching a free state, Douglass married Anna Murray, a free black woman whom he had met in Baltimore. He settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts, where his experience as a ship caulker enabled him to find work on the docks. In New Bedford, Frederick gave a friend the privilege of choosing for him a new name, since he might be sought under the old name as a runaway:

I gave Mr. Johnson the privilege of choosing me a name, but told him he must not take from me the name of "Frederick." I must hold on to that, to preserve a sense of my identity. Mr. Johnson had just been reading the Lady of the Lake, and at once suggested that my name be "Douglass."

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (external link), 1845.

Three years later, Frederick Douglass began to give lectures on behalf of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. Douglass wrote Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (external link) in part to refute charges that it was impossible that someone of his accomplishments could have been a slave.

Chapter from Frederick Douglass's draft manuscript of his autobiography, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, circa 1880
Chapter of Frederick Douglass's Draft Manuscript of His Autobiography, circa 1880.
Words and Deeds in American History: Selected Documents Celebrating the Manuscript Division's First 100 Years

"My Escape from Slavery (external link)," by Frederick Douglass, was published in November 1881 in The Century Illustrated Magazine. His fully revised autobiography was published as Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (external link), also in 1881. In this section of his revised autobiography, Douglass describes in vivid detail his escape by train from Maryland, where he was legally a slave, north to New York City. Douglass omitted the details of this story from his first autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (external link) out of concern for the safety of those who helped him escape and for others still held in slavery.

With proceeds from the Narrative and the aid of money and a press provided by British philanthropists, Frederick Douglass and Martin Delany began in 1847 to edit and publish a newspaper, The North Star, based in Rochester, New York.

North Star
The North Star,
Frederick Douglass and Martin Delany, editors,
June 2, 1848.
Free Blacks in the Ante-Bellum Period, Part Two
The African-American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship

The goals of the newspaper were to:

Abolish slavery in all its forms and aspects, advocate universal emancipation, exalt the standard of public morality, and promote the moral and intellectual improvement of the colored people, and hasten the day of freedom to the Three Millions of our enslaved fellow countrymen.

The paper also advanced women's rights, a cause that Douglass had championed since his participation in the first women's rights convention of 1848 at Seneca Falls, where he spoke out eloquently in support of the Declaration of Rights and Sentiments. Douglass was one of the original signers of this manifesto of women's rights, drafted by Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

A Letter from Charles Douglass (Son) to Frederick Douglass
A Letter From Charles Douglass (Son) to Frederick Douglass,
July 6, 1863.
Soldiers and Missionaries,
Civil War,
The African-American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship

Charles wrote this letter from Camp Meigs in Readville, Massachusetts. The younger Douglass relates an encounter with a pugilistic Irishman, who began heckling him while he was rejoicing over "the news that Meade had whipped the rebels [at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania]." Before a fight could begin, a policeman led the Irishman away.

During the Civil War, Douglass advised President Lincoln, urging him to allow the enlistment of African-American soldiers and to frame the conflict as an assault on slavery. He was responsible for recruiting African Americans to fight for the Union, and his own two sons, Charles and Lewis, enlisted in the 54th Massachusetts Regiment.

After the war, Douglass held several appointed government positions, including U.S. marshal of D.C. He continued to fight for the civil rights of African Americans and women. He was U.S. minister and general consul to Haiti from 1889-91.

After Douglass' death in 1895, the Frederick Douglass Memorial Association purchased "Cedar Hill," Douglass' home for the last eighteen years of his life. The association donated the site to the National Park Service which restored the home in 1971-72 with information obtained from the Built in America: Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record, 1933-Present collection.

Frederick Douglass House
Frederick Douglass House,
Washington, D.C., 1977.
HABS/HAER Highlights in
Built in America: Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American and Engineering Record, 1933-Present

Find out more about Frederick Douglass in American Memory:

The Fugitive's Song
"The Fugitive's Song,"
Ephraim W. Bouvé, lithographer, 1845.
Prints & Photographs Online Catalog
A sheet music cover illustrated with a romanticized portrait of Frederick Douglass' escape. In this fictionalized version, Douglass flees barefoot from two mounted pursuers who appear across the river behind him with their pack of dogs. Ahead, to the right, a signpost points toward New England.

The cover's text states that the song was "composed and respectfully dedicated, in token of confident esteem to Frederick Douglass…for his fearless advocacy, signal ability and wonderful success in behalf of His Brothers in Bonds…and to the Fugitives From Slavery…by their friend Jesse Hutchinson, Jr."

Louis H. Sullivan

Is there anything that does not reside in function and form? Not that I have been able to discover.

Louis H. Sullivan, Kindergarten Chats 1

Architect and writer Louis Henri Sullivan was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on September 3, 1856. Sullivan spent much of his youth on his grandparents' small farm. At age sixteen, he entered the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to study architecture. A pioneer in the design of skyscrapers, Sullivan not only contributed to Chicago's role as a center of architectural innovation, but inspired generations of architects with his core philosophy that "form ever follows function." Among them was Prairie School icon Frank Lloyd Wright, for whom Sullivan served as a mentor.  

aerial view of Chicago
Bird's-Eye View,
Chicago, 1912,
Kaufmann, Weimer & Fabry Co., 1912.
Taking the Long View: Panoramic Photographs, 1851-1991

Having worked briefly as a draftsman in Philadelphia, in 1873 Sullivan moved to Chicago, then in the midst of a building boom following the great Chicago Fire of 1871. After a stint in the office of William Le Baron Jenney and a study trip to Europe, Sullivan first worked for and then joined in partnership with Dankmar Adler, a well-connected architect and engineer.

During the next fourteen years, the firm of Adler and Sullivan produced over 100 landmark buildings, including public and commercial projects as well as private residences. Their first large-scale commission, the multi-use Auditorium Building (1886-90), became one of their most widely renowned efforts. As described in Rand, McNally & Company's 1893 Guide to Chicago,

This celebrated and magnificent structure, the chief architectural spectacle in Chicago…covers 1 ½ acres, and the height of the main building is 145 feet, with 10 stories and a basement.  The spacious tower, however, is 17 or more stories in height, and measures 270 feet from the ground. The walls are of granite and Bedford stone to the top, and the interior is of steel, terra cotta, and other non-combustible materials. A hotel (to which the Extension belongs), the largest theater in the world, a recital hall, 4 stores, and 136 offices go to make up the building…There are 13 passenger elevators, and 3 entrances to as many parts of the structure.  It is estimated that in the mosaics of this great fabric are 50,000,000 pieces of marble, all placed by hand…The Republican National Convention of June, 1888, was held in the theater, and the finished building was dedicated by President Harrison during the holidays of 1889-90. Cost, $3,200,000.2

Auditorium
Auditorium Building,
Photograph 1: Exterior from Southeast,
Chicago, Illinois,
Cervin Robinson, photographer, 1963.
Built in America: Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record, 1933-Present

Wainwright Building
Wainwright Building,
Photograph 4: Exterior, General View,
St. Louis, Missouri,
Paul Piaget, photographer, 1967.
Built in America: Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record, 1933-Present

Other significant buildings by Adler and Sullivan include the Wainwright Building (1891) in St. Louis, the Guaranty (later Prudential) Building (1895) in Buffalo, New York, and in Chicago, the Stock Exchange (1894), Gage Building (1898-99), and Transportation Building for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. This last building, a polychrome structure with an arched and gilded entranceway, presented a radical departure from the Exposition's otherwise neoclassical architecture as coordinated by Sullivan's competitor, Daniel H. Burnham.

One of Sullivan's great contributions came in articulating the form of the developing skyscraper building type. As pioneered by Jenney with his Home Insurance Building, skyscrapers were constructed using steel frameworks faced with lightweight curtain walls, rather than traditional load-bearing masonry. This new technique (combined with elevators for upper-floor access) allowed buildings to grow taller while incorporating more open space and larger windows on each floor.

Sullivan's striking designs were an acknowledgment of verticality. In an article titled "The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered"3, he explained the importance of matching each part of a building's exterior to its function:

The lowest stories should articulate a building's entrance, attracting the eye and drawing the visitor in; the upper tiers of identical office floors should all look alike because they are alike; the cornice and roofline should broadly proclaim that the building's great height has reached its full extent.

Sullivan's other great achievement was the rich ornamental work that adorned many of his buildings. Whether in stone, brick, terra cotta, plaster, brass, cast iron, wood, or paint, his lushly intertwining embellishments—based in nature or in the designs of cultures from around the world—were integral to the success of his overall designs.

Ornamental cast iron
Schlesinger & Mayer Department Store,
Photographs 5: Exterior Detail of Cast Iron Ornament Above Northwest Corner Entrance,
Chicago, Illinois,
Richard Nickel, photographer, 1967.
Built in America: Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record, 1933-Present

After his association with Adler ended in 1895, Sullivan went on to design Chicago's Schlesinger and Mayer Department Store (1899-1904), soon renamed the Carson, Pirie, Scott and Company Department Store, his last large-scale project. Facing financial hardship, Sullivan turned to designing a series of small-town bank buildings across the Midwest, which came to be known as his "jewel box banks" for their striking use of multiple colors and textures. These buildings include the Merchants' National Bank (1914) in Grinnell, Iowa, the National Farmers' Bank (1906-08) in Owatonna, Minnesota, the Farmers' and Merchants' Union Bank (1919) in Columbus, Wisconsin, and the People's Savings and Loan Association (1917-18) in Sidney, Ohio.

Sullivan was a prolific writer throughout his life. In addition to Kindergarten Chats, first published serially in Interstate Architect & Builder in 1901-02 and later revised, he published numerous articles and drafted a book about architecture, nature, and democracy. In his memoir, Autobiography of an Idea (also serialized and then printed as a whole in 1924, the last year of his life) Sullivan expressed his architectural philosophy as it had developed across a lifetime of practice.

The American Memory collections contain a wealth of information on American architecture:

1. Louis H. Sullivan, Kindergarten Chats and Other Writings (New York: Dover Publications, 1979), 124. (Return to text)
2. Rand, McNally & Co's Bird's-Eye Views and Guide to Chicago (Chicago and New York: Rand McNally, 1893), 64. (Return to text)
3. Louis H. Sullivan, "The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered," Lippincott's Magazine 57 (March 1896), 403-09. (Return to text)

Treaty of Paris Signed

Declared themselves INDEPENDENT
The Manner in Which the American Colonies Declared Themselves Independant [sic] of the King of England…,
engraving by William Hamilton,
of a sculpture by George Noble,
1783?
Prints & Photographs Online Catalog

On September 3, 1783, the Treaty of Paris was signed, bringing the Revolutionary War to its final conclusion. Nearly two years had passed since British General Cornwallis' surrender at Yorktown, Virginia, which had effectively ended the fighting.

With this treaty, Great Britain recognized American independence and agreed upon borders for the new nation. The Continental Congress had ratified preliminary articles of peace on April 15.

Dunlap Broadside: Declaration of Independence
George Washington's Personal Copy of the Declaration of Independence,
Fragment of the John Dunlap Broadside,
July 4, 1776.
American Treasures of the Library of Congress

Explore American Memory collections to learn about the United States at the time of the Revolution: