THIS DAY IN NEW YORK CITY HISTORY
Thanks to our friends at the New-York Historical Society for reminding us, via Twitter, that today marks the anniversary of Frederick Douglass’s arrival in New York City after his escape from slavery. He was followed shortly by his fiancee, Anna, and the two were married by the Reverend James Pennington. Though he ultimately decided it was too dangerous to remain in New York — he was warned by a fellow fugitive that slave-catchers roamed New York’s streets and no one, black or white, was to be trusted — his descriptions of the city and his reaction to arriving there remain one of my favorite passages in his 1855 book My Bondage and My Freedom:
The flight was a bold and perilous one; but here I am, in the great city of New York, safe and sound, without loss of blood and bone. In less than a week after leaving Baltimore, I was walking amid the hurrying throng, and gazing upon the dazzling wonders of Broadway. The dreams of my childhood and the purposes of my manhood were now fulfilled.
And yet, he continues, the feelings are complicated, and not simply because a fugitive slave knows no safety. He also found himself, amidst Broadway’s dazzling wonders, newly homeless:
I was soon taught that I was still in an enemy’s land. A sense of loneliness and insecurity oppressed me sadly. … It takes stout nerves to stand up, in such circumstances. A man, homeless, shelterless, breadless, friendless, and moneyless, is not in a condition to assume a very proud or joyous tone; and in just this condition was I, while wandering about the streets of New York city, and lodging, at least one night, among the barrels on one of its wharves. I was not only free from slavery, but I was free from home, as well.
In 2007, a portion of Chambers Street near the West Side Highway, where Douglass arrived on a New York wharf, was co-named “Frederick Douglass Landing.”
The other relevant Douglas sites worth mentioning are lispenard between broadway and church where David ruggles boarding house and print shop, both adjuncts to and fronts for the new York committee on vigilance stood (and in which Frederick Douglass was wed in the presence of the press which produced the mirror of liberty) and the new Frederick Douglass statue at 110th street which depicts him as a young man.