The Journal of Charles Rawn
August 1, 1847 to August 31, 1847 (Book 17)

Edited by Judy L. Marinucci

This transcription of a section of Charles Rawn’s journals presents the month of August 1847. August is of particular interest to historians as William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass made their way through Harrisburg as part of a larger eastern tour for the two abolitionist speakers (Westbrook 155). The two men were inexorably linked for a period of time, as Garrison was the "country’s leading white Abolitionist" (Westerbeck 155) and Douglass the abolitionist voice of black Americans. Westerbeck goes so far as to call Garrison Douglass’s "mentor" (155), although, by 1849 Douglas began to read the Constitutional restrictions on slavery more ambiguously than did Garrison (Dorsey 446), causing the two to drift apart. By 1851, Douglass’s separation from Garrison became more formal as Douglass declared, "’[N]ot one word can be found in the constitution to authorize’ slavery" (Douglas qtd. in Dorsey 447).

Nevertheless, during their 1847 tour when the two were very much united in their lectures, Douglass’s own record reported that communities received their message equivocally. Douglass wrote, "We have been laughed at and ridiculed … much" (Douglass 729). Garrison himself wrote to his wife on August 7, 1847, the same day Rawn referenced in his diary, that "Harrisburg, … though [it is] the capital of the State, is very much under the influence of Slavery. I do not anticipate a quiet meeting, but we shall bear our testimony bold, nevertheless" (Garrison 190). As Rawn revealed, it was an unpleasant visit with "rotten [e]ggs...[and] torpedoes" being thrown and "fired" (see Rawn’s August 7—7 entry). The newspaper, The Age, echoed Rawn, but added that Garrison and Douglass: "were severely handled at … Harrisburg, Penn…" (3). The Age says of the incident:

Several volleys of "unmerchantable eggs" [sic]… were poured through the windows, filling the room with the most disgusting and stifling stench, which [Douglass] calls "slavery’s choice incense," and one struck friend Garrison on the back, sprinkling its essence all "over his honored head." A pack of fire-crackers was also exploded, causing much excitement and alarm. Cries of "throw-out the nigger" were shouted by the mob outside, and stones and brickbats were hurled when, [Douglass] left the house, protected by some of his colored friends. Douglass himself escaped without injury. (The Age 3)

Rawn fails to comment on the racial epithets thrown at Douglass, though this omission may not indicate anything more than a cultural toleration for common, albeit disrespectful, language in its day.

A more harrowing account of the event exists from Garrison’s hand as he wrote for The Liberator on August 20, 1847. Garrison reported that the lecture tour had been peaceable between Boston and Philadelphia and its surrounds prior to Harrisburg: "Our meetings were not molested in any manner, excepting one evening, when Douglass and I held a meeting after dark, when a few panes of glass were broken by some rowdy boys while D. [sic] was speaking. It was a grand meeting, nevertheless…" ("Philadelphia" 135). However, Garrison’s prescience about Harrisburg’s more volatile nature would prove true almost immediately as the entourage headed west. As they loaded the travel cars, a white man with a female companion accosted Douglass, seeking his seat for her. Garrison reported that whites typically sat by the windows during these lecture tours and blacks sat near the doors ("Harrisburg" 135). Douglass, taking exception to the stranger’s tone, "quietly replied, that if [the accosting man] would make his demand in the form of a gentlemanly request, [Douglass] would readily vacate his seat" (Garrison "Harrisburg" 135). Garrison’s rhetorical pitch ascended: "[Douglass’s] lordly commander at once laid violent hands upon [Douglass], and dragged him out…" and culminates in a threat that "[the assailant] would knock D.’s teeth down his throat" (Garrison "Harrisburg" 135). Ironically, the offending man, like Rawn, was a Harrisburg lawyer (John A. Fisher by Garrison’s account).

Fisher was "undoubtedly under the influence of intoxicating liquor" (Garrison "Harrisburg" 135), and the incident primed Garrison’s rhetoric almost equivalently. He reported that Dr. Rutherford and his sister-in-law (Agnes Crane) greeted the tour at the Harrisburg depot, and Garrison noted that the pair were "true and faithful … in the midst of a perverse and prejudiced people" ("Harrisburg" 135). Garrison and Douglass spoke in the interior of the Dauphin County Court House in Harrisburg, receiving more attendees than they had anticipated. Garrison sensed "that mischief was brewing" and said that the crowd treated his opening oratory with "marked attention and respect, though my remarks were stringent, and my accusations severe" ("Harrisburg" 135).

Garrison saw the event as "the first time that a ‘nigger’ had attempted to address [them] in public, and it was regarded by the mob as an act of unparalleled audacity. They knew nothing at all of Douglass, except that he was a nigger" ("Harrisburg" 135). On Douglass’s reputation in Harrisburg, Rawn remained ambiguous. He refered to Douglass as "a colored man of some note," but whether or not Rawn knew of Douglass’s reputation prior to the incident is uncertain.

More problematically, Rawn’s is a truncated account of the incident when compared to Garrison’s. The latter writes that the crowd "came equipped with rotten eggs and brickbats, fire-crackers and other missiles, and made use of them somewhat freely—breaking panes of glass, and soiling the clothes of some who were struck by the eggs. One of these bespattered my head and back somewhat freely…. [T]here was a great deal of yelling and shouting, and of violent exclamation—such as "Out with the damned nigger," &c, &c [sic]" ("Harrisburg" 135). Rawn only notes the thrown eggs and firecrackers and either was not aware of the broken glass or found it unworthy of note.

The incident is of particular interest to historians because Rawn was often a defense attorney, representing runaway slaves and accused runaways in Harrisburg. Rawn’s commitment to the abolitionist cause is uncertain: Was he a committed abolitionist himself, or was he a legal opportunist? Perhaps he was not interested in the antislavery cause so much as he was a proponent of adversarial justice. Unfortunately, his account fails to guide us in a clear judgment. Rawn’s journal focuses on the daily affairs of living, acting more as ledger than an emotional touchstone. In a century filled with social and personal anxieties, where people were painfully aware of the tight-wire act that navigating public and private spheres required, Rawn’s entries are ironically quiet. His affections are rhetorically tame—in fact, when moments of emotional height creep into the monologue, they often revolve around expenditures. That Rawn records his visit to the Ralph Waldo Emerson lecture at the Court House just two days before the Garrison/Douglass visit might provide readers with some hope that Rawn was enrolled in the abolition movement. Disappointingly, it is likely that Emerson did not speak about abolition at all during his visit to Harrisburg, as Emerson scholar Marjory Moody reports that "from October, 1847, to August, 1848 … [Emerson’s] public and private comment on slavery both in significance and extent was negligible" (12). Though Emerson's Harrisburg trip precedes Moody’s timeline by two months, it is unlikely he spoke about slavery. His public compulsion to do so developed slowly and hesitatingly, as Moody outlines, and despite his own equivocation, it seems unlikely that he would have preempted his slow turning toward proclaimed abolition by discussing it in Harrisburg.

Every effort has been made here to present Rawn’s record-keeping verbatim. His idiosyncratic shorthand and abbreviations are preserved as much as possible. Indecipherable writing is indicated with empty brackets, rather than with a good faith estimate of his intent. Rawn’s abbreviations are glossed when they first appear, but not continuously so, as the focus of this transcription is to preserve the literal rendering of the diary. His records provide information about climate more than culture and prices more than people. Nevertheless, they are an invaluable telescope looking upon the land of Harrisburg’s and America’s increasingly distant past.

The Journal

Transcriptions for this section of the journal begin August 1, 1847 and end August 31, 1847. Click on a date to begin reading.

List of Names Mentioned

A list of names for this section of the journal has not yet been compiled.

Works Cited

Dorsey, Peter A. "Becoming the Other: The Mimesis of Metaphor in Douglass’s "My bondage and My Freedom." PMLA 111.3(1996): 435-450. 07 May 2008.

"Douglass and Garrison Mobbed." The Age. XVII.36 (10 Sept. 1947):3. America’s Historical Newspapers. 05 May 2008.

Garrison, Wendell Phillips and Francis Jackson Garrison. William Lloyd Garrison, 1805-1879: The Story of His Life Told by His Children. NY: The Century Co., 1889. GoogleScholar. 08 May 2008.

Garrison, William. Lloyd. "Philadelphia: Aug. 7, 1847." The Liberator XVII.34 (20 Aug. 1847):135. America’s Historical Newspapers. 05 May 2008.

--. "Harrisburg: Aug. 1847." The Liberator.

Moody, Marjory M. "The Evolution of Emerson as an Abolitionist." American Literature. 17.1 (Mar. 1945): 1-21. 08 May 2008.

Scudder, Townsend 3rd. "A Chronological List of Emerson's Lectures on His British Lecture Tour of 1847-1848." PMLA. 51.1 (Mar. 1936):243-248. 08 May 2008.

Westerbrook, Colin. "Frederick Douglass Chooses His Moment." Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies. 24.2 (1999):144-161; 260-262. 07 May 2008.

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