Tours to be offered at three historic buildings
During the Charles W. Morgan Homecoming, three of the city’s oldest historic buildings will be open to the public.
From 1 to 4 p.m. on July 3, volunteer members of each organization will be offering free tours of the Nathan and Polly Johnson House, the Spring Street Friends Meeting andThe First Unitarian Church in New Bedford, according to a press release.
The Nathan and Polly Johnson House at 21 Seventh St. was a destination on the Underground Railroad that became “the first free home of Frederick Douglass” when he and his wife, Anna Murray, a free woman, arrived in New Bedford in September 1838. The Johnson house now belongs to the New Bedford Historical Society, which was founded to preserve and celebrate the history and culture of the city’s diverse people of color.
Nathan and Polly Johnson were free African Americans who worked as live-in cooks and caterers for Charles W. Morgan and his family. After the Johnsons moved to 21 Seventh St., they sheltered fugitives from slavery and helped them find employment and lodgings of their own. Polly’s delicious cakes and candies made with “free labor sugar” were very popular with New Bedfordites, many of whom were opposed to slavery and protective of both free and self-emancipated persons.
New Bedford offered social and economic opportunity to ambitious African Americans in the whaling industry and in professions whose practitioners offered apprenticeships to conscientious workers. Frederick Douglass started out doing menial jobs such as shoveling coal for Unitarian minister Ephraim Peabody and subsequently became a lay preacher at one of the city’s African churches. Douglass also sold subscriptions to William Lloyd Garrison’s antislavery newspaper The Liberator before he was hired as a paid lecturer for the Massachusetts Antislavery Society.
Diagonally across the street from the Johnson House is the Spring Street Friends Meeting House (No. 83). Built of brick in 1828, it replaced the old wooden Meeting House at 17-19 Spring St. and is still the city’s gathering place for Quakers, who were – and still are – staunch foes of slavery, war and all forms of oppression and injustice.
When a schism divided the New Bedford Friends during the 1820s, many Quakers – birth-right Quaker Charles W. Morgan included – joined The First Congregational Society (Unitarian) whose wooden building later became Liberty Hall. Thanks to Morgan and other wealthy members of the Unitarian Society, the impressive stone building housing the First Unitarian Church in New Bedford at Union and County streets opened for worship in 1838.
Visiting the Nathan and Polly House, the Spring Street Friends Meeting, andThe First Unitarian Church in New Bedford July 3 will inspire you to learn, imagine and experience the city’s illustrious history in places where that history was made.
Nathan and Polly Johnson were free African Americans who worked as live-in cooks and caterers for Charles W. Morgan and his family.
AAA Southern New England
February 2014 / In Your Backyard
By Poornima Apte
Visitors to New Bedford, Mass., might give the Frederick Douglass monument a passing glance, but the city’s vibrant history actually includes its role as a major hub on the Underground Railroad.
Frederick and Anna Douglass, a newly married couple at the time, came to New Beadford in September 1838. “The Nathan and Polly Johnson House was Douglass’ first home in freedom after his escape from the Wye Plantation in Maryland,” said Lee Blake, president of the New Bedford Historical Society.
The home is part of the city’s Black History Trail; other highlights include the Lewis Temple Statue, Sgt. William Carney Memorial Homestead and Paul Cuffe Park. “The Black History Trail includes about 24 stops of importance to the history of African-Americans and Cape Verdeans in New Bedford,” Blake said.
Underground Railroad tours are held on a regular basis. Every February, the society hosts a Frederick Douglass Community Read-a-Thon, which is a continuous reading of “The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave Written by Himself.” Selections of the book are given out to readers, and anyone can participate; this year’s reading is scheduled for Feb. 9.
Blake encourages the public to learn more about the rich history of the city. “New Bedford was well-known for creating a welcoming environment and protecting freedom seekers. The city had a large free African-American population that was actively involved in the abolition movement and the activities around the country to end enslavement,” Blake said. “Additionally, the city had a number of Quaker merchants who believed that enslavement was a sin and organized antislavery organizations.” New Bedford Historical Society, 21 Seventh St., New Bedford: www.nbhistoricalsociety.org, 508-979-8828. To read more about other educational attractions, click here.
Frederick Douglass will soon be getting his due in the city’s public school curriculum.
Beginning next year, students in Grades 8-10 will study the “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave,” the autobiography written by the then-young future abolitionist who arrived in New Bedford in 1838.
Students in the middle and high school grades will also read Douglass’ “What to the slave is the Fourth of July?” — one of the renowned former-slave-turned-abolitionist’s most admired speeches. read full story
Some 6,000 American slave narratives exist, and one of the best of the genre is the 1845 “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself.”
It is a short, powerful, accessible and inspiring book written by the greatest, most eloquent and best-known self-educated individual ever to have lived in New Bedford. Learning how an enslaved and viciously beaten youngster became a free man by learning to read and write (largely on his own and despite serious obstacles), and having the opportunity to discuss the first and shortest of his three first autobiographies with their classmates and with informed and insightful teachers might actually give disaffected, struggling students the courage to stay in school. read full story
By James Sullivan
Globe Correspondent / June 24, 2011
NEW BEDFORD — Jim Lopes’s great-grandfather was a New Bedford whaler who emigrated from Cape Verde in 1873. Lopes’s grandfather also worked on the ships in the waning days of whaling prominence in this coastal city.
For him and others with similar backgrounds, he recalled, “It was not a welcoming place.’’Yet Lopes, who grew up four blocks from the New Bedford Whaling Museum on Johnny Cake Hill, remembers feeling little connection to the city’s chief cultural institution, chronicler of his ancestors’ livelihood. In those days, the museum emphasized the industry’s Yankee captains and financiers, not its diverse crews.
That impression has changed dramatically in recent years, with the staff of the 107-year-old museum working diligently to honor those from other cultures — the backbone of an industry that made New Bedford the wealthiest city on earth, per capita, in the mid-19th century.
A new exhibit opening July 5 will focus on Cape Verdean heritage and the island nation’s contributions to New Bedford whaling. To kick off the exhibit, the museum will host several cultural events next week.
Lopes, an entertainment lawyer and professor at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, now serves as the museum’s vice president of education and programming. He was instrumental in soliciting the Cape Verdean community for donations of family keepsakes — photos, uniforms, logbooks — for the new exhibit, which opens on Cape Verde’s Independence Day. For more than a decade, he has been filming interviews about Cape Verdean whaling in America.
NEW BEDFORD — In an upstairs room at the Main Library, in the midst of July’s swelter, 80 students searched for new friends after they were instructed by their teacher to form groups for a reading activity. read full story