Robert Douglass Jr.

Robert Douglass Jr. (1809-1887) was a leading activist and artist in Philadelphia and was the son of abolitionists Robert Douglass Sr. and Grace Bustill Douglass.1 Although it was extremely rare for the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts to admit Blacks, Douglass Jr. was formally trained there. He was personally instructed by painter Thomas Sully whose portraits of famous elites were world-renowned.2 While he spent the majority of his lifetime in Philadelphia, Douglass Jr. travelled to Haiti and Great Britain where he received additional training at the Royal Academy of Arts.

Douglass Jr. played a leading role in the National Colored Conventions and served as a secretary at the 1855 Convention. In 1841, he helped establish The Gilbert Lyceum, the first organization created to foster intellectual development among both Black men and women. A number of Black activists and scholars joined the organization including Robert and Harriet Purvis and Robert Douglass's sister Sarah Mapps Douglass.3 Douglass Jr. was close to abolitionist Benjamin Lundy who spoke highly of him in his 1832 periodical The Genius of Universal Emancipation.4 Douglass Jr. also created portraits of prominent abolitionists including William Lloyd Garrison and James Forten in 1834. An earlier painting created by Douglass Jr. in 1832 influenced the now famous painting “Washington Crossing the Delaware.”5

Douglass Jr. was a proponent of emigration, and true to his word, he did emigrate to Haiti in 1824 through the Haitian Emigration Society of Philadelphia, an organization created by Richard Allen and James Forten. Douglass Jr. also emigrated to Jamaica in the late1840s, though he would soon return to Philadelphia.6 Because Douglass left behind few written records, it is unclear why he moved back to Philadelphia shortly after arriving in Jamaica. Robert Douglass Jr. was a well-known figure among contemporary Black activists; nevertheless historians have largely overlooked Douglass Jr.’s contributions both as an artist and an activist.


Submitted by Michael Dickinson, English 634, Spring 2013. Taught by Professor P. Gabrielle Foreman, University of Delaware.

Edited by Jake Alspaugh, ENGL 641, Spring 2016. Taught by P. Gabrielle Foreman, University of Delaware.

Edited by Samantha de Vera, University of Delaware.


[1], "Robert Douglass," Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Death Certificates Index, 1803-1915, Operations, Inc., 2011;, "Robert Douglass," 1850 United States Federal Census, Operations, Inc., 2009; Phil Lapsansky, "Afro-Americana: Meet the Dickersons," In Library Company of Philadelphia: 1993 Annual Report (Philadelphia: The Library Company of Philadelphia, 1994), 18-21; "Black Founders: The Free Black Community in the Early Republic," The Library Company of Philadelphia (2011), Link ;

[2]Phil Lapsansky, "Another View of A Famous Scene," last modified Feb. 24, 2012, Link ; Lapsansky, "Afro-Americana," 18-20.
[3] "Proceedings of the 1855 National Colored Convention" (Salem: National Standard, 1856), 8; Dorothy B. Porter, "Education The Organized Educational Activities of Negro Literary Societies, 1828-1846," Journal of Negro Education, 5, no. 4 (1936): 563; Julie Winch, "You Have Talents--Only Cultivate Them: Philadelphia's Female Literary Societies and the Abolitionist Crusade," in The Abolitionist Sisterhood: Women's Political Culture in Antebellum America, Jean Fagan Yellin and John C. Van Horne eds., (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1995), 103.

[4] Benjamin Lundy, "Robert Douglass Jr.," in The Genius of Universal Emancipation, vol. 3, (Washington D.C.: 1832-1833), 59; "Black Founders: The Free Black Community in the Early Republic,"The Library Company of Philadelphia; Benjamin Quarles, Black Abolitionists (New York: De Capo Press, Inc, 1969), 22.

[5] Philip Lapsansky, "Black Founders: The Free Black Community in the Early Republic," The Library Company of Philadelphia, 2011, Link ; Lapsansky, "Afro-Americana," 20-1.
[6] "Timeline: The Life and Times of William Still (1821-1902)", Temple University Library;, "Robert Douglass," Philadelphia Passenger Lists, 1800-1945, Operations Inc, 2006; "Letter from Robert Douglass," The North Star, 1, no. 23 (June 1848), America's Historical Newspapers, 1; "1850 United States Federal Census," Operations, Inc., 2009.