Brief note on Rev. Lucius C. Matlack, radical abolitionist and author with close connections to Frederick Douglass and the Delmarva

Periphery yet central to the work of uncovering the lost history of Frederick Douglass on the Eastern Shore is uncovering the lost history of the abolitionist movement on the Delmarva.

While Quakers are most commonly valorized and identified with the abolitionist movement in the popular consciousness of the lay historian, the establishment and growth of the Methodist movement on the Eastern Shore is consequential to a more thorough understanding and fluency of the American Antislavery Movement.

Riding throughout the western expanse of the state of Maryland and the Delmarva Peninsula Francis Asbury carried forth a message, while although not abolitionist in nature was antislavery, consistent with the 1784 conference formalizing the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States which declared slaveholders ineligible for Methodist membership.

Out of this tradition emerged Lucius C. Matlack. Born a Quaker in Baltimore City in 1816, Matlack was educated in Philadelphia where he converted to Methodism. Due his proclivity for radical abolitionism he was expelled from the Philadelphia area in the late 1830s. Setting up in the area of Lowell, Massachusetts Matlack was admitted to the New England Conference where he became involved in publishing enterprises.

In 1849 Rev. Matlack wrote an introduction to Henry Bibb’s Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, an American Slave, Written by Himself.

Henry Bibb (1815 – 1854)

During the Civil War Rev. Matlack served as a chaplain for a Union outfit out of Illinois. In 1867 the Philadelphia Conference, which had rejected Matlack in 1837 when he was foaming at the mouth with abolitionist fervent, unanimously admitted him and assigned him to the Elkton (Cecil County, Maryland) Charge.

In the early 1870s Rev. Matlack married a woman from Port Deposit, Maryland with the last name Stephenson, with whom one child was born. (Rev. R. K. Stephenson was Matlack’s brother-in-law.)

At the time of his death in June 1883 Rev. Matlack, formerly the presiding elder of the Wilmington Conference, was serving as pastor in Cambridge, Maryland down the Penninsula in Dorchester County. His funeral was held in Port Deposit.

Frederick Douglass and Rev. L. C. Matlack, associates across more than forty years

As a radical abolitionist minister, newspaper man and author Matlack and Douglass shared many overlapping connections and associations throughout New England, Philadelphia, Baltimore and the Delmarva.

An early adherent of the Garrisonian School of Abolitionist Thought, Dr. Frederick Douglass broke with his early benefactors in their departure from political life by supporting the Liberty Party and Free Soil Party. Whereas Garrison adopted a policy of political pacifism his disciple Douglass adopted a policy of radical political agitation.

National Era (Washington, D.C.) 20 September, 1855. P. 4

In 1855, after a meeting of the “General Convention of Radical Political Abolitionists” was held in Syracuse, New York a secondary meeting was organized in Boston, Massachusetts for the “purpose of discussing the Illegality and Unconstitutionality of Slavery, and the Power of the Federal Government over Slavery in the States.”

Advertised as “those expected to be in attendance and take part in the proceedings are Gerritt Smith, Lewis Tappan, S. S. Jocelyn, Frederick Douglass, A. Payne, L. C. Matlack, A. G. Beman,” and “others who may be announced hereafter.”

Contemporary scholarship has largely forgotten Rev. Matlack in fleeting mention and in totality of his life’s work, let alone his friendship and connections with Frederick Douglass across many decades.

In 1895 Dr. Douglass was one of the last old world abolitionists living, standing on the shoulders of thousands upon thousands, such as Rev. Matlack, who had preceded him in death but not memory.

To uplift the lost history of Douglass on the Shore we must uplift the lost and consequential local history.