A Brattleboro Words Trail Site

Frederick Douglass:

Downtown Brattleboro

Brattleboro’s old Town Hall auditorium, where Frederick Douglass spoke on Jan. 4 1866.

Before and during the Civil War, former slave and black orator Frederick Douglass traveled the speakers’ circuit for the anti-slavery movement. By January 1866, the nation faced new challenges. The war had ended. Lincoln had been killed. Vice President Andrew Johnson had taken over the helm. Many newly freed black people found themselves homeless, hungry and unemployed. Douglass had new issues to address.

On Jan. 4, 1866, Douglass spoke at Brattleboro’s town hall. Before a full house, he stressed the importance of voting rights for the black population. He eulogized Abraham Lincoln for his signing the Emancipation Proclamation, winning the war against slavery and supporting the Freedmen’s Bureau. He criticized Johnson, who opposed the black vote and supported southern states that instituted racist laws (called Black Codes). Johnson also restored to former Rebels land that the Freedman’s Bureau had promised to newly freed blacks.

A newspaper clipping from 1866 announcing Frederick Douglass’ lecture in Brattleboro.

Both Brattleboro papers supported Douglass’ praise of Lincoln, but sidestepped his criticism of Johnson. The Vermont Phoenix descibed him as “modest in demeanor, quiet in manner,” while expressing “his thoughts with grace and force.” The *Vermont Record* noted “his sentiments were. . .endorsed by hearty applause.” It also remarked that Douglass was a “radical,” wanting too much too fast, “but radical men are useful in preparing the public mind for great questions and great changes.”

The above text was originally published in the Brattleboro Reformer on February 8, 1994. Courtesy of the Brattleboro Historical Society.

Site research in progress. Check back soon for more of the story.

On The Map

Main Street & High Street, Brattleboro, VT

Site of the Old Town Hall

About the Research sites

The Brattleboro Words Project is working with the community to identify specific sites and themes significant to the study of words in Brattleboro and surrounding towns. Research Teams – classrooms/teachers, amateur historians, veterans, writers, artists and other community members — will produce audio segments and other work to be incorporated into audio walking, biking and driving tours tours.

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