‘We were a happy family in this work for the enslaved of our race.’
Born in Lynn, Massachusetts, in 1844 Charles Remond Douglass (1844-1920) lived many lives in one. He was a printer, editor, essayist, orator, government employee, Civil War combat soldier, civil rights campaigner, historian, and political activist.
Charles Remond served a distinguished military career: first in the 54th Massachusetts Black combat regiment, with Lewis Henry Douglass (1840-1908), and subsequently in the 5th Massachusetts Black Cavalry regiment.
From the frontlines, Charles Remond Douglass told harrowing stories of Black combat soldiers suffering from starvation: ‘It don’t seem to you that are home true that this can be but upon honor it is the truth and to day there are men dying out to camp.’ Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) listened to his son: from that point onward, he refused to recruit Black men to suffer these body-and-soul destroying conditions at the hands of white racist and persecutory authorities.
On the one-hundred year anniversary of his father’s birth, Charles Remond Douglass told untold stories of the ‘sacrifices of my father’s family’ in a speech. The speech, titled, ‘Some Incidents of the Home Life of Frederick Douglass,’ is excerpted here below. Charles Remond remembered their labours as Underground Railroad conductors’, ‘We have often had to get up at midnight to admit a sleighload, and start fires to thaw them [the fugitives] out. Every member of the family had to lend a hand this work and it was always cheerfully performed.’
For Charles Remond as for Rosetta (1839-1906), Lewis Henry (1840-1908), Frederick Jr. (1842-1892) and Annie Douglass (1849-1860), the burden was doing justice not to the life of their father Frederick Douglass but to the many lives of the Anna Murray Douglass (1813-1882) and Frederick Douglass Family. Working together, they replaced Frederick Douglass’s single narrative of ‘My Bondage and My Freedom’ with their many narratives as they fought against ‘Our Bondage’ by undertaking a collective pursuit of ‘Our Freedom.’
Excerpt from, ‘Some Incidents of the Home Life of Frederick Douglass’:
‘The first home of my father as a freeman was at New Bedford Mass. in 1839. His first employment was as a Stevedore unloading ships of Whale oil that were brought to that port from their long whaling voyages. My father earned nine shillings ($1.12 ½) a day for that labor, and I have often heard him relate that after a hard days toil, he would come home, eat his supper, and then go to the Preachers house a few doors away in answer to his summons and saw a half cord of wood before bed time without remuneration. The ante-bellum colored preacher never performed manual labor, and very little mental labor. His vocation during the week was in visiting the homes of the good sisters and partaking of the well cooked meals provided in his honor. He came into entered the pulpit on Sundays with no prepared sermon, and brought to his congregation no coherent teaching of religion.
The next home of my father was in Lynn, Mass. This home a small frame located on Union St. of that village was built by him and became his first property. It was in this home Oct. 21. 1844 that I was born. One year after my birth, 1845, my father made his first trip to England in the interest of the Anti-Slavery cause. During his absence my mother took up shoe-binding as a partial means of support of the family which consisted of my sister Rosetta, my brothers Lewis, and Frederick and myself. Shoebinding by the women of the town was quite a popular and remunerative profitable employment at that time, as there were no sewing machines in those days, and Lynn then as now was a prosperous shoe-manufacturing town. After remaining abroad for about two years, lecturing in England Ireland, Scotland and Wales on Slavery and its evils, and in assisting in the organization of several anti-Slavery societies, he returned to his home in Lynn Mass. fully determined to establish a paper of his own through which to continue the agitation of abolition sentiment throughout the North. To carry out this latest determination a change of residence was decided upon. In 1847 he removed with his family to Rochester N.Y. where he at once set about the publication of “The North Star” a copy of the 4 number of which dated Jan. 23 1848 I hold up before you. To maintain this paper every effort was put forth by every member of the family to keep it alive. Unlike the Negro press of to-day every column of this paper was original matter devoted to the cause of those in bondage, and the Underground R.R., my fathers home in Rochester being the last Station on that road before reaching Canada the goal of the fleeing slaves ambition. Canada was but 40 miles away, across Lake Ontario.’