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Garrison and Douglas at New Brighton: Milestones Special Issue

Milestones Vol 30. No. 2


It might be interesting to take a snapshot of what an abolitionist meeting was like. Such a snapshot is available in the correspondence of William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglas who visited New Brighton in 1847 to offer lectures on slavery.

William Lloyd Garrison

William Lloyd Garrison (December 10, 1805-May 24, 1879), who grew up in poverty, was born in Newburyport, Massachusetts.

He is best known as the founder and publisher in Boston of the Liberator, his antislavery weekly, which he edited from 1831 until the end of the Civil War. There was strong opposition to the Liberator; In 1835 Garrison was mobbed, dragged through the streets of Boston, and nearly killed. His press was destroyed.

Although he had almost been lynched in 1835, he still adhered to absolute nonresistance, which he considered the only Christian response to violence. His pacifist views did not, however, indicate that he was weak in his antislavery stance. On the contrary, he was a radical abolitionist. He demanded that the slaves be emancipated at once. As early as 1831 the Georgia legislators proposed to offer a $5000 reward for anyone who would kidnap the man and deliver him for trial

In 1833 he was one of the founders of the American Anti-Slavery Society and was its president from 1843-65.

After the Civil War, Garrison threw his energies into campaigns against liquor, prostitution, and injustice in the treatment of Indians as well as continuing to support the women's rights movement.

Garrison's New Brighton Account

Garrison made his first trip west in response to Abby Kelley Foster's and Milo Townsend's prodding. As a result, in August of 1847 Garrison, Frederick Douglass, and some abolitionists from Pittsburgh, where Garrison and Douglass had been speaking, went to New Brighton, Pennsylvania, to lecture. Among those from Pittsburgh who accompanied them were the black abolitionists, J.B. Vashon, George B. Vashon (J.B.'s son), Dr. Peck, and Dr. Delaney.

These people were met in New Brighton by Milo and Elizabeth Townsend, Milo's parents (Talbot and Edith Townsend), Dr. Weaver, Timothy White, and some others who were not named.

From Youngstown, Ohio, on August 16, 1847, Garrison wrote to his wife, Helen, about the visit to New Brighton.

Garrison in describing New Brighton stated that it was a small village, the home of only eight hundred people. He noted, however, that there were several other villages nearby. He stated that a good many lectures had been given in New Brighton by the leading antislavery speakers, among whom he included Stephen and Abby Kelley Foster, Charles C. Burleigh, Parker Pillsbury, and Frederick Douglass. Garrison also noted that the Hicksite Quakers, who had a meetinghouse in New Brighton, were generally pro-slavery.

The only place that could be obtained for the meetings was the upper room of a large store. This was overcrowded with several hundred people both in the afternoon and in the evening. Many others were unable to get in due to lack of space. There was in the evening, according to Garrison, some rowdyism by pro-slavery supporters. Young men and boys were the hecklers, whose yelling outside the building constituted the only active opposition. Above their meeting room barrels of flour were piled across the beams; and during the lectures mice nibbled at them, whitening the clothes of those below. Garrison suggested that the mice may have done so because they thought the speeches should "be a little more floury - (flowery)".
Douglass and Garrison spoke at length, and Dr. Delaney discoursed wittily and energetically on prejudice in the matter of color.

Sara Jane Clarke was present. Accompanied by Frederick Douglass and Milo Townsend, Garrison spent an hour at the home of her father, Dr. Thaddeus Clarke, whom Garrison said suffered terribly from very poor health.

On Saturday morning Milo, Dr. Peck, Dr. Weaver, Charles Schiffas, and Garrison climbed the three hundred foot heights across the Beaver River from New Brighton, enjoying the view. They descended under the Alum Rocks, which Garrison found "very wild and picturesque."

When they reached Milo's house, Garrison was exhausted and thoroughly wet with perspiration. He noted that he had perspired so copiously during this lecture tour that he was amazed to find that he had any solid matter left.

Garrison, Douglass, and Dr. Peck left New Brighton on Saturday afternoon at four via canal boat on the Beaver Division Canal to travel the forty miles to Youngstown. They arrived at 4 a.m. Sunday, and Garrison probably got some sleep, for he had not been able to sleep in the confined space of the berth provided on the boat.

Frederick Douglass

As noted on the previous pages, Frederick Douglass also spoke in New Brighton in 1847.

Frederick Douglass (c. February,1817- February 20,1895) was the son of a black mother, who was a slave, and a white father. He was born in Talbot County, Maryland, and was self-taught. He escaped from slavery September 3, 1838.

He then settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts, married, worked for a time as a day laborer, and became interested in the antislavery movement through reading Garrison's Liberator.

In August, 1841, he addressed the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society's convention in Nantucket. Almost immediately he proved to be one of the most effective and most powerful speakers for abolition.

He was sent to Europe as the society's representative, lecturing for about two years in England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. While Douglass was in England in 1846, English friends paid for his freedom, giving the required £150 to Douglass' former owner, Thomas Auld.

In 1845 he published his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: an American Slave. This book made the plight of the enslaved concrete and real for Northerners, who had been led to believe that slaves were treated kindly and were contented with their lot.

In 1847 Garrison and Douglas became directly involved in the antislavery movements in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Garrison accompanied Frederick Douglass to Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, New Brighton, and various Ohio towns beginning with Youngstown.

By the time of Garrison's trip to New Brighton, Douglass, Stephen S. Foster, Abby Kelley Foster, and other abolitionist speakers had already given a number of lectures there.

In August of 1847 Garrison and Douglass arrived in New Brighton. Douglass was by this time very worn down by the arduous journey and the number of lectures he had given.

On Saturday afternoon Douglass, Garrison, and Dr. Peck set out by canal boat on the forty-mile journey to Youngstown, Ohio.

Even on a canal boat black passengers were not usually permitted to eat at the table during regular meals, so some trouble was expected. The captain came to them at supper time to say that he had no objection to Douglass' eating at the table, but he was not sure of the passengers' attitude. Fortunately all went well, as the letter below from Douglass to Milo makes clear.

The Douglas Letter to Milo Townsend

Transcription of the letter

My Dear Milo,
Dr. Peck thought you would like to know how we have been treated on this Boat. I therefore hasten to inform you that both Captain and crew have treated us with the utmost kindness --- and politeness. We were all seated at the table together and took tea without the slightest objection from any one of the passengers. The steward was exceedingly kind and obliging. In haste.
Yours sincerely,

With best regards to all the Dear New Brighton friends

Canal Boat "Ocean," Aug. 15, 1847 Frederick Douglass