‘That hard hearted man said he must die’
Born in Rochester in 1849, Annie Douglass (1849-1860) was Anna Murray Douglass (1813-1882) and Frederick Douglass’s (1818-1895) youngest daughter. From a very young age, she was an impassioned antislavery activist and social justice campaigner.
On 7 December 1859, Annie wrote a letter to her father in which she protested against the execution of John Brown (1800-1859), the white freedom-fighter who had led the unsuccessful campaign to arm enslaved people and capture Harper’s Ferry’s arsenal in Virginia in October. She lamented: ‘Poor Mr. Brown is dead. That hard hearted man said he must die and they took him in an open field and about half a mile from the jail and hung him.’
Annie Douglass herself died tragically of a brain haemorrhage very shortly afterwards. As Rosetta Douglass (1839-1906) remembers, ‘The poor little girl suffered greatly before she left us, being unable to speak or hear her deafness was great and mother was all she could say.’ At the time of Annie’s unexpected death, Frederick Douglass was thousands of miles away. On the run from the US government for his suspected role in John Brown’s revolutionary raid, Douglass was in Ayr, Scotland, when he received the devastating news that the ‘light of my house’ was no more.
Writing to a family friend only months after her sister’s death, Rosetta confided, ‘My darling sister is now an angel and her happiness in Heaven is to me a consolation and I would not if I could recall her back to earth amidst all the sin and suffering that we are to bear.’ She was poignantly candid regarding Frederick Douglass’s unbearable sorrow: ‘We heard from dear father last week and his grief is great. I trust the next letter will evince more composure of mind.’
My Dear Father
I am proceeding in my German very well for my teacher says so. I am in the first reader and I can read. I expect that you will have a German letter from me in a very short time. I have learned another piece and it is Anti-Slavery I am going to speak it in school, my piece is this.
O he is not the man for me
Who buys or sells a slave
Nor he who will not set him free
But send him to his grave
But he whose noble hearts beats warm
For all men’s life and liberty
Who loves alike each human form
O that’s the man for me
It is in the Garland of Freedom and for four verses of it. My letter will not be very long. Poor Mr. Brown is dead. That hard hearted man said he must die and they took him in and open field and about half a mile from the Jail and hung him. The German children like me very much but I have gone a head of them and they have been there longer than me too. They all send their love.
From your affectionate
Two a life of labor I am