Friday, June 16, 2023

Fan Mail

Frederick Douglass protrait, Frontispiece to My Bondage and My Freedom
Slipped into our copy of Frederick Douglass' My Bondage and My Freedom (New York and Auburn, 1855) is a memento of the author's fame. It's a letter, dated May 1, 1856, addressed to Passmore Williamson. Williamson was an abolitionist lawyer from Philadelphia. In 1855, he was charged under the Fugitive Slave Act for assisting a woman and her two sons escape from their enslavement. He served a 100-day jail term for contempt of court and his case brought renewed energy to the abolitionist movement and created a flurry of news coverage.

Less than five months after he was freed from jail, Williamson wrote to Frederick Douglass requesting his autograph for a friend. Douglass replied with a short, but passionate letter:

Letter from Douglass to Williamson
Passmore Williamson Esq. Please tender my thanks to your friend, the gentleman who honors me by wishing an Autograph letter from me. I comply with your request with very great pleasure--and all the more since I have again glanced at the Authentic history of the prosecution and persecution to which you have been subjected by the aggression and murderous Spirit of American Slavery.

On the back of the letter is a brief postscript: "This note was forgotten after writing it and therefore the delay in sending it--F. D."

First, we love the idea of Douglass forgetting the mail on his desk--busy as he was. It makes him even more human and real.

Postscript to letter from Douglass to Williamson

But what gets us is that he was being pursued by autograph hounds who used the leverage of their famous friends to get a note to the great man. Our copy of the book was presumably owned by the unnamed person Passmore Williamson passed this letter onto. The letter has been safely tucked inside for nearly 170 years.

Celebrate Juneteenth by coming in and taking a look. Ask for Rare E499 .D738 1855.