Frederick Douglass, the self-emancipated orator and writer, was the nation’s most famous Black abolitionist. After the Civil War, he continued until his death in 1895 as a prominent intellectual and the nation’s leading advocate demanding justice for Black citizens. Douglass was a frequent visitor to New Hampshire from his first visit, an 1841 speech in Dover, to his appearance 51 years later at the unveiling of a statue in Concord.
In between, Douglass made at least 17 other trips to New Hampshire, sometimes traveling for days from town to town to give anti-slavery lectures. Douglass was also a correspondent and collaborator with New Hampshire abolitionists including Parker Pillsbury, Stephen Foster, and Nathaniel P. Rogers. (They later split over involvement with electoral politics, which the New Hampshire radicals shunned.)
Among the towns he visited were Bradford, Claremont, Concord (at least 7 times), Cornish, Dover, Exeter, Henniker, Lancaster, Manchester, Mason, Milford, Nashua, Newmarket, New London, Peterborough, Pittsfield, Portsmouth, Rochester, Somersworth (then called Great Falls), and Wilton. He is also known to have stayed with families in Amherst, Ashland (then part of Holderness), and Weare.
In her autobiography, The Rebel Girl, Concord-born Elizabeth Gurley Flynn says her mother, Annie Gurley, was among those who heard Douglass lecture in Concord.
Douglass described his 1842 trip to Pittsfield in his third autobiography, The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. In it, he recalls that despite his invitation from local abolitionists, his reception was quite chilly. Even his hosts, subscribers to The Liberator, refused to give him a ride in their carriage. Finding his way on foot to the town hall for the Sunday morning lecture, “There was no one to introduce me,” Douglass wrote, “and I proceeded with my discourse without introduction. I held my audience till twelve o’clock – noon – and then took the usual recess of Sunday meetings in country towns, to allow the people to take their lunch. No one invited me to lunch, so I remained in the town hall till the audience assembled again, when I spoke till nearly three o’clock, when the people again dispersed, and left me as before.”
After being turned away at the local tavern due to what he called “colorphobia,” Douglass visited the local cemetery, the only location he could find “where there was an end to all distinctions between rich and poor, white and colored, high and low.” There, he was surprised to meet a prominent pro-slavery politician, Representative Moses Norris, who invited him home. Although Mrs. Norris initially recoiled against having a Black person in her home, she apparently calmed down and warmed to her guest. After Douglass’ next lecture, both his original hosts and the Norris family offered him a place to stay.
In what may have been his final visit to New Hampshire, the aging Douglass was among the speakers at the dedication of Senator John P. Hale’s statue on the State House Lawn in 1892. There, he recalled sharing a platform with Hale at anti-slavery events in the lead-up to the Civil War. He also referred to the destruction of Noyes Academy, the inter-racial school in Canaan, and addressed the importance of securing full voting rights for Black citizens.
The Pittsfield incident is marked with a plaque, where the local Historical Society includes the event in materials for their self-guided walking tour (which mistakenly refer to Norris as “anti-slavery”).