Black Quaker proved to be ex­tra­or­di­nary

North Penn Life - - Opinion -

One of the most ex­tra­or­di­nary women of 19th cen­tury Philadel­phia was Sarah Mapps Dou­glass (18061882), a black Quaker whose ma­ter­nal Bustill an­ces­tors dur­ing the 1700s likely helped to es­tab­lish a small AfricanAmer­i­can com­mu­nity, Guineatown, and the as­so­ci­ated Mon­tier Ceme­tery that was in what is to­day Chel­tenham.

A neigh­bor­hood of free blacks, which in­cluded the Bustills and Mon­tiers that ex­panded dur­ing the late 1700s along Limekiln Pike, Guineatown was a few blocks be­low Ar­ca­dia Univer­sity in Glen­side in­cor­po­rat­ing the homestead of Cre­mona Mor­rey.

She was a former slave who had in­ter­ra­cial chil­dren with Richard Mor­rey, the son of Philadel­phia’s first mayor, Humphrey Mor­rey (1691), and an orig­i­nal Euro­pean set­tler of Chel­tenham. Richard, his fa­ther’s heir, passed to Cre­mona 200 acres upon his death, per­haps an in­di­ca­tion that Richard truly loved her.

And it is in Chel­tenham where Sarah Mapps Dou­glass — about 170 years af­ter Humphrey Mor­rey’s may­oral ten­ure — would as­so­ciate with white-Quaker icon Lu­cre­tia Mott. She lived in Chel­tenham dur­ing the Civil War just steps from Camp Wil­liam Penn, the largest North­ern-based fa­cil­ity to train some of Amer­ica’s first black fed­eral sol­diers. The 13acre cen­ter was north­west of what’s now the in­ter­sec­tion of Broad Street and Chel­tenham Av­enue.

In fact, Sarah hailed from a very pres­ti­gious and free­dom­fight­ing fam­ily (the Bustills) in the Philadel­phia and Chel­tenham ar­eas. Her cousin, David Bustill Bowser, who painted a por­trait of the white mar­tyr and anti-slav­ery ac­tivist -ohn Brown and Pres­i­dent Abra­ham Lin­coln, de­signed many of the bat­tle flags as­so­ci­ated with the 11 black reg­i­ments (con­sist­ing of about 10,500 sol­diers).

And her ma­ter­nal grand­fa­ther, Cyrus Bustill, baked bread for Ge­orge Washington’s Con­ti­nen­tal Army and co-founded in Philly the first ma­jor civil rights’ or­ga­ni­za­tion in Amer­ica, the Free African So­ci­ety with black the­olo­gians Richard Allen and Ab­sa­lom -ones. Much later, from her ma­ter­nal line, came leg­endary Paul Robe­son, the 20th cen­tury scholar, lawyer, ac­tor, singer and civil rights ac­tivist.

Des­tined as a free black to be­come a cel­e­brated abo­li­tion­ist and ed­u­ca­tor, Sarah Mapps Dou­glass was “the daugh­ter of Robert Dou­glass Sr., a pros­per­ous hair­dresser from the is­land of St. .itts, and Grace Bustill, a milliner,” ac­cord­ing to writer -ulie Winch for the land­mark 2004 book, “African Amer­i­can Lives,” edited by Har­vard pro­fes­sors Henry Louis Gates -r. and Eve­lyn Brooks Hig­gin­botham,

Winch even pointed out that Sarah was also quite “crit­i­cal” of var­i­ous early Quak­ers in Amer­ica for racial bias and keep­ing slaves, de­spite some Quak­ers be­ing early op­po­nents of slav­ery. “Although she adopted Quaker dress and en­joyed the friend­ship of Quaker an­ti­slav­ery ad­vo­cates like Lu­cre­tia Mott, she was highly crit­i­cal of the sect.”

Mean­while, Dou­glass joined Mott in “an in­ter­ra­cial group of fe­male abo­li­tion­ists” by “es­tab­lish­ing the Philadel­phia Fe­male Anti-Slav­ery So­ci­ety,” serv­ing for “al­most four decades,” notes Winch. Af­ter be­ing ed­u­cated in a Philadel­phia school that her mother Grace Dou­glass helped to start with the black phi­lan­thropist and wealthy sail-maker -ames Forten Sr., Sarah taught briefly in New York City be­fore re­turn­ing to Philadel­phia “to take over the school.”

She also be­came a prolific writer against slav­ery with works pub­lished in such news­pa­pers as Wil­liam Lloyd Gar­ri­son’s Lib­er­a­tor, based in Bos­ton.

By 1852, af­ter clos­ing her lo­cal school due to fi­nan­cial pres­sures, Dou­glass be­came su­per­vi­sor of “the Girls’ Prepara­tory De­part­ment of the Quaker-spon­sored In­sti­tute for Col­ored Youth,” that would evolve into to­day’s his­tor­i­cally black col­lege, Cheyney Univer­sity, in Thorn­bury, Pa. Other no­table educators and so­cial ac­tivists at the orig­i­nal South Philly in­sti­tute in­cluded Oc­tavius V. Catto and Prin­ci­pal Fanny Cop­pin.

How­ever, Dou­glass’ re­la­tion­ship with two white sis­ters — Sarah and An­gelina Grimke — who had fled their fa­ther’s slave-hold­ing plan­ta­tion in South Carolina, was eye­brow-rais­ing, ac­cord­ing to Ray­ford W. Lo­gan in his renowned 1982 book with Michael R. Win­ston, “Dic­tionary of Amer­i­can Ne­gro Bi­og­ra­phy.”

The bold Grimke sis­ters “were cen­sured in 1837 for sit­ting be­side Mrs. Dou­glass and her daugh­ter in the Arch Street [Quaker] Meet­ing,” one of sev­eral in­ci­dents that led to the burn­ing by non-Quaker racists of Philadel­phia’s Penn­syl­va­nia Hall, a haven for an­ti­slav­ery ac­tivists.

Although Sarah mar­ried Philadel­phia’s Rev. Wil­liam Dou­glass in 1854 and helped to raise his nine chil­dren, the “mar­riage proved an un­happy one,” ac­cord­ing to Winch. One ac­count sug­gests Dou­glass, who died in 1861 as the Civil War erupted, was very strict and over­bear­ing.

Yet, Dou­glass found the strength to con­tinue to help black women, even giv­ing lec­tures about their health is­sues, of­ten la­beled taboo dur­ing the 1800s. And she also “stressed the need for African Amer­i­can women to ed­u­cate them­selves.”

Sarah Mapps Dou­glass died in Philadel­phia on Sept. 8, 1882, re­mem­bered for “a ca­reer in the class­room that lasted more than a half-cen­tury,” wrote Winch, while re­main­ing an un­re­lent­ing critic of racial in­jus­tice, even if it meant vig­or­ously chastis­ing her fel­low Quak­ers.

Don “Og­be­wii” Scott, a Mel­rose Park res­i­dent, can be reached at

A Place in His­tory Don­ald Scott

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