Frederick Douglass visits Maine
In 1855, the great African American abolitionist Frederick Douglass wrote to Josiah H. Drummond—secretary of the Waterville Library Association, a group dedicated to fighting for social causes—asking him to contact Amory Battles, pastor of the First Universalist Society of Bangor, in order to schedule lectures for Douglass during an upcoming stay in Maine. Thanks to the efforts of Drummond and Battles, Douglass did indeed speak at both Bangor and Waterville in 1855.
In Waterville Douglass spoke at the Baptist Meeting House, and according to reports in the Eastern Mail (predecessor of the Morning Sentinel) and elsewhere, he was generally well-received. Moreover, Douglass would return to Maine on at least three more occasions throughout his career. He spoke in Augusta in 1857 as part of a larger New England lecture tour, and he returned to Waterville in 1864. Douglass also spoke at Bates College in Lewiston as part of a larger college lecture tour in 1873.
The original letter Douglass wrote to Drummond is now in Colby’s Special Collections archives. The research we did in order to understand the letter and place it in the context of Colby’s own history included such primary sources such as the local newspapers, original published obituaries, and the minutes of organizations such as the Waterville Library Association.
In the end, we learned a great deal about Drummond, who graduated from Colby in 1846 and who was an abolitionist, mathematician, and lawyer and later became one of the College’s most distinguished alumni. In addition to bringing Douglass to Waterville, Drummond was active in state and local politics and did many wonderful things for the state of Maine and several organizations throughout the country.
He was also the attorney general of the state for several years, city solicitor of Portland, clerk and solicitor for the Maine Central Railroad, and vice president and general counsel of the Union Mutual Life Insurance Company. A seat on the state’s Supreme Bench was offered to him several times, but he declined due to his devotion to his family; he could not bear to be apart for them due to work for too long.
It is clear that Drummond was one of the most respected and esteemed residents of Maine. He also believed that slavery was an evil. Originally a Democrat, he became a Republican when the party was created in 1854 by anti-slavery activists. Once the party was established, it dominated politics nationally for most of the period 1860 to 1932. Drummond was considered one of the prominent Republican leaders of his time in Maine.
Thus, Josiah Drummond stands out among the many alumni whom Colby students today can be proud of in the College’s history. Drummond was a man who stood up for what was right and looked to spread his message to everyone he could.
We can also be proud of Reverend Armory Battles, the pastor of the First Universalist Society of Bangor who helped Drummond bring Douglass to Maine. Although he ended up transferring to Harvard, Battles had also attended Colby from 1846 to 1847.
An examination of the letter from Frederick Douglass to Josiah Drummond proves that even in the mid-nineteenth century, there were Colby alumni like Drummond who worked tirelessly to better the community, seeking to educate neighbors and friends on the importance of racial equality, which is still a Colby value today.
Without Josiah Drummond’s efforts Frederick Douglass might never have come to Maine to present his straightforward and honest perspective on the issues of slavery and American racism in the years before the Civil War.