IN A SMALL provincial city on the periphery of a society foreign to him, Frederick Douglass caught sight of a center for his life. He was only a house guest, but for a month in the fall of 1845 he was at home with a family innocent of those particular prejudices that had cut him to the quick almost everywhere he had stopped before. In Cork, with the Jenningses (six weeks after his arrival in Ireland), he sampled the special brand of equality, of social comfort that he was to champion for the rest of his life.
The Jenningses, Thomas and Ann, and their eight children were members of the Church of Ireland in a city of Roman Catholics whose English masters were, in the main, members of the Church of England. The hospitality of the house on Brown Street included the comfort Frederick could take from the realization that his hosts also knew what it was like to be thought odd. This awareness was coupled with the reassuring sense that, as they put right foot before left, the Jenningses had the self‐ confidence to assume that everyone else was out of step. In a household bustling with collisions and contradictions, theirs was an oddity that would have delighted an Austen or a Trollope, and did delight Douglass.
Jennings was a prosperous merchant of vinegar and mineral oil. The family firm had been in existence since 1797 in Cork, a market and port town from which preserved farm goods were shipped. Although Jennings was in trade, he provided for a gentle house in which music, talk of reform, and gossip easily mingled. At his hearth, his too many unmarried sons and daughters were their own companions, and therefore eager to stretch and take in a stranger. "We are," Jane Jennings wrote Maria