Friars Honor Frederick Douglass in Nantucket

by The Cowl Editor on September 27, 2018


By Hannah Langley ’21

The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave is not only a major work of literature in American history, but it is prevelant in the Development of Western Civilization and the American Studies curriculums at Providence College as well.

This past weekend, Dr. Darra Mulderry, director of the National and International Fellowships and Center for Engaged Learning, along with six PC students, visited Nantucket, Massachusetts in commemoration of Frederick Douglass’ 200th birthday.

Nantucket, Mulderry explained, was a large outpost for escaped slaves and other African Americans during the early to mid-1800s.

It was on Nantucket where Douglass gave his first speech to a white and African American crowd, a momentous occasion in the pre-Civil War era.

In honor of Douglass’ birth 200 years ago, the Nantucket Historical Association, the Nantucket Atheneum, and the African Meeting House of the Museum of African American History in Nantucket held an afternoon of events, including a recitation of Douglass’ speech in Nantucket performed by Guy Peartree.

Mulderry explained that she joined the Nantucket Historical Society this past summer, and when she heard about this event, she knew she wanted to present it to the PC community. Mulderry reached out to several groups of students who read the book as a requirement for a class and to other groups on campus, such as the Board of Multicultural StudentAffairs (BMSA).

Knowing she only had six funded spots, students Kevin Cranney ’19, Elana Glover ’20, Shannon Moore ’20, Analise David ’20, Catherine Brewer ’20, and James Manning ’20 attended the trip with Mulderry.

The group left on Saturday morning and drove to New Bedford, Massachusetts, which was where Douglass resided most of his life after escaping slavery, and then took a ferry to Nantucket, mimicking the trip Douglass would have taken in the 1800s.

“Overseas travel was quick back then,” Mulderry explained, “I want the students to get the sense of what it was like to live in a coastal area.”

The group then went through a day full of events in Nantucket, beginning with the speech given by Peartree as Douglass at the Athenaeum, where Douglass gave his original speech in 1841. The students then got to participate in a Q&A session with Peartree and attend a jazz concert at the African American Meeting House.

Mulderry wanted the students to experience the culture and history of Nantucket itself, as well, so she required the students to read “The Other Islanders: People Who Pulled Nantucket’s Oars”in order to broaden the students’ awareness of Nantucket’s rich history.

Mulderry explained that the book not only included information about the African American culture and society of Nantucket, but of other groups, such as the Wampanoag Indians.

She also took the group on tours of various museums and historical sites throughout the day on Sunday. “We went on a one-hour historical walking tour of the town where we learned about the rise and fall of Nantucket’s 18th and early-19th century whaling industry and its impact,” recounted Mulderry.

Talking about the attractions they visited, Moore said, “My favorite part of the trip was visiting the museum and art exhibit at an older house called Greater Light.” She explained that the house was owned by two sisters during the early-to-mid-1900s, and included eccentric window art, iron gates, photos, and even a plate once owned by one of Brigham Young’s wives.

Moore mentioned how appreciative she was of Mulderry’s expertise and guidance, saying, “Dr. Mulderry was so organized and knowledgeable about the island and its history.” She continued, saying, “She made sure to point out all the most important attractions while providing anecdotes and facts that really enriched our experience.”

Along with the culture of Nantucket, Cranney commented on the educational aspect of the trip, saying, “The events on Saturday complemented the autobiography of Frederick Douglass I had to read in DWC, so it was a great learning experience.”

Mulderry was extremely pleased with the outcome of the trip, and would like to thank the PC departments who sponsored the trip and James Russel, executive director of the Nantucket Historical Association.