Frederick Douglass' Newspapers

The North Star was the name of the first newspaper Douglass started in Rochester, NY. The first issue was dated December 3, 1847.

Image of the masthead of early issues of The North Star Image from Vol I  No. I of The North Star

The North Star was well received. The following are from the first issue.

On December 18, 1847 the Rochester Daily Advertiser wrote,

THE NORTH STAR: The first number of this paper - conducted by Frederick Douglass the distinguished refugee from slavery - appeared some days since, but, owing to some mishap, we did not get hold of it until yesterday. A glance is all that we have been able to bestow upon it, but its mechanical appearance is exceedingly neat and its leading article indicates a high order of talent. Mr. Douglass, it will not be denied, is a man of much more than ordinary share of intellect and, having himself experienced the sweets of the "institution": it is not to be wondered at that he is an enthusiastic abolitionist. As we have plenty of professing abolitionists among us we trust they will depart 'from their usual' liberality and sustain Mr. Douglass' paper."

The December 21, 1847 issue of the Advent Harbinger, published by Joseph Marsh in the Talman building, has an article about the first issue of The North Star on page 5.

The December 3, 1847 issue states, "The NORTH STAR, is published every Friday, at No. 25 Buffalo Street, (Opposite the Arcade.)"   VOL. I. NO. II, however, didn't appear until January 7, 1848, over a month later. The explanation is found in a brief column on the second page of the December 3rd issue.

Image of clipping that discusses pricing and circulation.  Text below.



    We send this number of our paper to a great number of persons at a distance, as a Specimen number, some of whom have ordered it, and some have not. Those wish- ing to continue the paper will forward two dollars, otherwise it will not be sent again. Our next issue, No.2, will be on the first Friday in January, and regularly every Friday of each week thereafter.

It appears Douglass was trying to build his subscriber base before moving ahead.

Image of the masthead of later issues of The North Star Image of the center portion of the masthead

From the masthead of the North Star:
"Right is of no Sex - Truth is of no Color - God is the Father of us all, and we are all Brethren."

The first issue of the North Star indicates it was published every Friday, at No. 25, Buffalo Street, opposite the Arcade. The publication day changed from Friday to Thursday beginning May 2, 1850. A copy of the May 2, 1850 North Star and the reason for the change were not found. The banner of the May 9th paper has an error. The date is listed as Thursday May 10, 1850. May 10th was a Friday but it appears the issue was published on Thursday.

Image of the first North Star masthead Newspaper clip showing The North Star is published every Thursday, at No. 25, Buffalo Street
The first issue lists John Dick, Printer. He appears to be the printer until he marries Eliza Griffiths in June, 1850 and leaves Rochester. His name last appears in the North Star Ledger book on June 1, 1850. Wm. B. Clough appears in the ledger as printer from June 12, 1850 to May 18, 1852. The 1851 city directory lists Clough, Wm. B. printer over 25 Buffalo. Wm. B. Clough died of consumption in March, 1853 and was buried in Mt. Hope cemetery. He is replaced in the ledger by William Oliver from May 27, 1852 to December 2, 1853, which was the end of the 1850 - 1853 ledger. The 1853 city directory lists, Oliver, William, foreman 25 Buffalo, b. Leopold. An article, "Anti-Slavery Days in Rochester", Rochester Historical Society Publication Series, Vol. XIV, page 127, points out that William Oliver was an apprentice in the North Star office when the first issue was printed and returned to the North Star from a paper in Cincinnati. In a remembrance written upon Douglass' death, William Oliver states the printing was eventually taken over by the Jerome's, publishers of the Rochester Daily American.

In, Two Episodes of Anti-Slavery Days, Rochester Historical Society Publication Series, Vol. IV, p. 219, Horace McGuire, a Douglass employee, relating an 1859 event states, "When the forms were locked up we carried them into the office of the Democrat, where the edition was printed".

Wm. Oliver also mentions Rochester seed man, James Vick, was involved with the early North Star. Newspaper clip mentioning Vick's involvement
From James Vick's obituary in the Democrat and Chronicle May 27, 1882. Newspaper clip of James Vick's obituary
The banner of the early North Star lists William Nell publisher and John Dick printer. The only primary reference found to date is in Douglass' North Star Ledger 1847-1849 Page 12 or Library of Congress Image 13. The relationship between Vick and Douglass is not clear. James Vick ledger

Regarding the Ledger, a University of Rochester student paper using information found in the Ledger states, "evidence by the scribbling that appears atop many of the pages. It seems Douglass was practicing his penmanship years after the book's use." Douglass may not be the writer.

The words Penmanship and Chapman's Commercial College appear several times along with the dates March 19, 1860 (p94), January 24, 1859 (p109) and June 9, 1859 (p 130). At least one person was practicing penmanship. Chapman's Commercial College appears first in the 1859 Rochester City Directory. Chapman, J.V.R., Commercial College, over 55 Main. By the early 1860's the College had merged as shown by an ad in the 1864 Rochester City Directory.

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Bryant and Stratton was still in operation in 2021.

The writing is largely the names of the Douglass men, Frederick, Frederick Jr., Charles and Lewis: boys Douglass had taken into the family (, Preston Jackson and Jeremiah Perkins: newspaper employees, William Oliver, Benjamin Morgan and William James Watkins.

An entry on page 64 may give a clue to some of the writing. Wm. Oliver, Headman in F. Douglass Office Rochester. N.Y.

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This is not just a name being practiced it expresses an idea and some pride. It was likely written by Oliver. Penmanship may have been important to him. He was secretary of the Rochester Light Guards, secretary of the Typographical Union and Deputy Collector at Charlotte. From 1871 to 1888 he was clerk of the Board of Supervisors and from 1888 to 1891 Monroe County Clerk.

For examples of Douglass family penmanship see If I Survive Frederick Douglass and Family in the Walter O. Evans Collection by Bernier and Taylor. The most elaborate writing style was that of the youngest son, Charles Remond Douglass. An example from a letter on page 221 follows. From Camp Hamilton, City Point, Virginia, near Bermuda Hundred, May 31, 1864.

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From Frederick Douglass by Benjamin Quarles, Atheneum 1970 page 110, "In April 1865, he asked Sumner to aid his son Lewis in securing a clerkship in the newly created Freedmen's Bureau. Charles, who wrote a beautiful hand, was placed in the Bureau."

The student paper also mentions that the name Theron P. Hawkins appears several times but does not identify him. In the 1861 City Directory he was listed as steward, Protectives b. 38 Edinburgh St. and in 1863 as porter, bds. 38 Edinburgh St. His father was George Hawkins and the family is listed in the 1850 and 1860 U.S. Census. The entire family is listed as mulatto. In 1860, Theron's occupation is listed as printing so it is likely he was involved with Frederick Douglass' Paper. He was born in 1842.

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He is listed in the Civil War Draft Registration Rolls completed in July 1863 , which means he enrolled for the draft, but there is no evidence he ever enlisted or was drafted.

From the 1850 - 1853 ledger, the largest expenses were printing paid to John Dick, William B. Clough and William Oliver: paper paid to the Fisher account; and rent paid to Lee, Mann and Co. From the 1851 city directory Fisher is likely Fisher, William. Printer, over 35 Buffalo, h 15 Gibbs. Also from the 1851 city directory, Lee, Mann and Co. proprietors Rochester Daily and Weekly American, and Book and Job Printers, 2nd and 4th stories American Buildings, opposite Arcade; Lee, Daniel, proprietor Genesee Farmer, and Rochester Daily and Weekly American, h. 7 Chestnut; Mann, Alexander, editor and proprietor Daily and Weekly American.

At this time there was an attempt to rename the Talman Building as the American Building.

The ledger also indicated payment was often in arrears. An example is on Image 100.

May 8     pd  Lee and Manns ?? ??? - bill to 30 - March	$45.00 
          pd  Fisher's bills to the end of March --     $94.84  

The first issue of Frederick Douglass' Paper was published June 26,1851 meaning the last issue of the North Star would have been published the previous June 19, 1851.

Newspaper clippings reporting the first issue of the Frederick Douglass Paper and an explanation of articles being signed F. D.

A June 10,1851 letter from Douglass to Gerrit Smith found in McKivigan, The Frederick Douglass Papers: Series Three: Correspondence, Volume1: 1842 to 1852 Yale University Press, confirms the June 26 date.

Letter from Frederick Douglass to Gerrit Smith June 1851

With both papers having difficulty enrolling subscribers, in June 1851, the North Star merged with the Liberty Party newspaper, printed in Syracuse, and became Frederick Douglass' Paper. In Life and Times, page 707, Douglass explains the name change,

During the first three or four years the paper was published under the name of the North Star. It was subsequently changed to Frederick Douglass's Paper, in order to distinguish it from the many papers with "Stars" in their titles. There were "North Stars", "Morning Stars", "Evening Stars," and I know not how many other stars in the newspaper firmament, and naturally enough some confusion arose in distinguishing between them; for this reason, and also because some of these stars were older than my star, I felt that mine, not theirs, ought to be the one to "go out."

To save money on mailing costs, in the late 1850's Douglass began printing a monthly to be sent overseas. The Paper and Monthly coexisted for a while. The latest issue of the Paper found is in the collection of St. John Fisher College and dated May 11,1860. The website states,

Douglass' Monthly was published continuously from January, 1859 to August, 1863 with a continuous pagination from 1- 864. Although the January, 1859 issue carries the designation "Volume I, Number VIII," the first seven issues were undoubtedly published as supplements to or within Frederick Douglass' Paper. Since there is no file of the Paper in existence (see American Newspapers, 1821 - 1936; A Union List of Files Available in the United States and Canada), it is not possible to verify this assumption.

The last issue of the Monthly is August 1863. The hathitrust site has a largely complete run of the Monthly. A Valedictory appears to be printed separately, not as part of an August issue. Douglass' August 16, 1863 Valedictory explains why he is stopping publication.

Image of the Frederick Douglass Paper masthead Another image of the Frederick Douglass Paper masthead

June 8, 1855 is the first issue of Douglass' Paper found with the new masthead. DEVOTED TO THE RIGHTS OF ALL MANKIND, WITHOUT DISTINCTION OF COLOR, CLASS OR CLIME.

The Douglass Monthly masthead read

Image of the Douglass Monthly masthead


Fort Sumter was shelled on April 12 - 13 1861, leading to the start of the Civil War. Douglass' Monthly carried a graphic of an eagle and a flag with the motto FREEDOM FOR ALL, OR CHAINS FOR ALL. on its May, June and July 1861 covers.

Image of  the Douglass Monthly masthead with the eagle and flag graphic Image of an eagle flying with ribbon and flag used in the Douglass Monthly masthead

In Life and Times, p708 Douglass writes,

There were times when I almost thought my Boston friends were right in dissuading me from my newspaper project. But looking back to those nights and days of toil and thought, compelled often to do work for which I had no educational preparation, I have come to think that, under the circumstances, it was the best school possible for me. It obliged me to think and read. It taught me to express my thoughts clearly. And was perhaps better than any other course I could have adopted. Besides it made it necessary for me to lean upon myself and not upon the heads of our Anti-Slavery church, to be a principal and not an agent. I had an audience to speak to every week, and must say something worth their hearing, or cease to speak altogether. There is nothing like the lash and sting of necessity to make a man work, and my paper furnished that motive power.

Newspaper Links

The North Star and Frederick Douglass' Paper

Douglass' Monthly - 5 volumes

On the top left click on view full catalog record.- Scroll to the bottom of the page - Under Viewability there are two links which say Full View - one is for Volumes 1-3 and the other volumes 4-5.