Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Remembering Tyneside's Proud Role in Aiding Plight of America's Escaped Slaves; PLAQUE UNVEILED TO MARK 200TH BIRTHDAY OF ABOLITIONIST

Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Remembering Tyneside's Proud Role in Aiding Plight of America's Escaped Slaves; PLAQUE UNVEILED TO MARK 200TH BIRTHDAY OF ABOLITIONIST

Article excerpt

Byline: TONY HENDERSON Reporter ec.news@ncjmedia.com

HOW Tyneside came to the rescue of two escaped American slaves has finally been celebrated.

A commemorative plaque has been unveiled at Summerhill Grove in Newcastle, on the 200th anniversary of the birth of Frederick Douglass, who escaped in 1838 after being born into slavery in Maryland.

Frederick, who addressed public meetings across the North East in the cause of the abolition of slavery, became close friends with the Richardson family - Henry, his wife Anna and her sister Ellen, who were Quakers and lived at Summerhill Grove.

They raised the money to buy Frederick's freedom.

Another escaped slave, Mary Ann Matcham, ended her flight to freedom from Virginia when she stepped off a ship docked in the Tyne.

She managed to cross the Atlantic and arrived in North Shields on board the ship Atlas on Christmas Day in 1831.

Her unmarked grave has been identified in Preston cemetery in North Shields by history enthusiast Steph Towns, who lives in Wallsend.

After reading about the North East's links with slavery, Steph carried out her own research in archives at North Shields library and local cemetery records.

Now she is appealing for help in raising funds for a gravestone or plaque for Mary Ann's burial plot.

In North Shields, Mary Ann was taken in by the Spence family, who were local Quakers.

Later, she married ropemaker James Blyth and they lived in Howard Street in North Shields.

When he died, she moved to Benwell in Newcastle to live with his relatives. She died in 1893 and was buried next to her husband in North Shields.

"It is a part of the history of North Shields that an escaped slave made her home in the town and a region which played a big part in the abolition of slavery," said Steph, who is an academic mentor at Tyne Met College. "People like Mary Ann did remarkable things and I think she should be commemorated by a gravestone or plaque.

"I wonder who was the first person she talked to when she stepped off the ship? Was the Spence family waiting to welcome her? What were the social attitudes to her in the town?" Steph is convinced that Mary Ann would have been among the packed audience at the Albion Assembly Rooms in Norfolk Street in North Shields on February 22 1860, to hear a speech by Frederick Douglass.

He toured Britain, giving speeches in support of the slavery abolition movement at venues like the Nelson Street music hall in Newcastle - one of many venues for his appearances in the region.

Douglass, the 19th century's most famous African-American leader, abolitionist and social reformer, stayed with the Richardson family in Newcastle in 1846.

Northumbria University's Professor Brian Ward, working with Northumbria American Studies graduate Adam Sharp, from the Friends of Summerhill, and Simon Parkin, at Newcastle City Council, led the call for a commemorative plaque to be installed recognising the association of Douglass with Newcastle. …

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