Abolition Families Join Forces in Rochester, NY

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In 1847,  two prominent abolition families became neighbors when Frederick Douglass settled in Rochester, NY near the Anthonys. There, he began publishing his abolitionist paper The North Star (later called Frederick Douglass’ Paper).

Douglass established his writing and speaking career in New Bedford (near Boston). Eventually, however, his rising fame threatened or inspired jealousy in some of the luminaries of the movement—most notably William Lloyd Garrison—so he set out in search of a new home.

According to Rochester writer Victoria Sandwick Schmitt, the upstate New York city seemed like a good place for Douglass to settle because:

  • It was a young and fast-growing city suitable for a new venture for the following reasons:
  • It was home to an active, enterprising, free African American community.
  • It was a hotbed of reform movements, including abolitionism.
  • It was home to a community of Quakers who embraced abolition and racial equality.
  • Its location near Canada made it a critical site on the Underground Railroad.”

(See Victoria Sandwick Schmitt, “Rochester’s Frederick Douglass” in Rochester History, 8/28/05, p. 12.)

The city had a beneficial water feature, as well. Frederick Douglass’s office in the Talman Building provided two water routes for fleeing slaves to approach Rochester. His North Star offices occupied the southwest corner of that building, and two floors below him the back door opened onto the water. Douglass’ son recalled that many mornings when his father went into work, he would find fugitives resting on the steps of the building.

Across the street from the Talman Building sat the Reynolds Arcade, one of America’s first indoor shopping malls. There, you could get everything from a haircut and a cup of coffee to dry goods and the latest news from the telegraph. The Rochester City Directory lists both Daniel Anthony Sr. and his son Daniel Read Anthony as selling insurance on the ground floor of the Arcade. About two blocks away lived Amy and Isaac Post, one of the most active abolition families in the city of Rochester.

Next time: more on the Talman Building

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