Rev. Robert Douglas

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The subject of this sketch, was one of eight brothers, distinguished for their height, their erectness, their handsome personal appearance, and their manliness. The smallest of this fraternal band, was six feet one and a half inches tall — the largest, six feet four inches. Born in the northern part of Ireland, but of immediate Scotch descent, they were in physical stature and bearing the very type of the historic family of" Black Douglas," to which they belonged, and in their uncompromising spirit they seemingly embodied much of that courage and independence which kept the hills of Scotland so long free, and to whose keeping, in the person of James Douglas, Robert Bruce bequeathed his heart in trust.

Robert Douglas was tall and stately, with dark complexion, black hair, brilliant dark hazel eyes, and a mouth denoting firmness of purpose ; which, added to the dignity of his carriage, made up the measure of a very handsome man. In his boyhood he was conspicuous for his swiftness of foot, for daring horsemanship, and for various kinds of manly accomplishments. In the northern part of Ireland, a ditch which was the scene of a fearful leap by him when a school-boy, still bears his name. Robert, full of the spirit of adventure, left home at the early age of sixteen, and parting from his father and mother, and brothers, he determined to seek that fortune and freedom in America which the oppression of England denies the youth of Ireland. Reared in comfort by a father of respectable means, and cared for fondly by an affectionate mother, his natural independence and self-reliance had been nurtured and not smothered, and it must have been strong indeed when it impelled him to abandon the home he loved, to go so far away as America seemed then, and among a people to whom he was an entire stranger. But he came. Three of his brothers afterward followed him. One of them fell, it is believed, at Buena Vista, in command of a company of infantry ; another died of yellow fever. But two of the eight now remain : one in Mississippi, the other in Ireland.

As soon as his feet touched the shores of the United States, Robert Douglas sought employment ; at first as a store-hoy, afterward as a clerk, and then as a merchant. He was always busily occupied, and yet he did not neglect the cultivation of his mind. He was a great reader of books, and held frequent intercourse with the muses. His poetical effusions, which would have made a volume, and which disappeared mysteriously a few years ago, doubtless by the incendiary hands of their author, evinced an imagination of the chivalric and heroic kind rather than the sentimental. " Scotland and Scottish Chiefs," the "Black Douglas," " Masters of Scottish Kings," Ireland and her wrongs, evidently occupied much of the young poet's thoughts. Although these poems as a whole were scarcely worthy of the press, sometimes his youthful pen, at the mention of the distant home and kindred from whom he was separated, would express the outpourings of a warm and deeply moved heart, in very tender and beautiful verse. After a while, Mr. Douglas determined to prepare himself for the practice of law, a profession for which he was eminently adapted, and in which he must have attained the highest rank. In pursuance of this purpose, he commenced reading with his uncle, the Hon. Samuel Douglas, Attorney General of Pennsylvania, and continued in the preparation for nearly two years. He then suddenly concluded to turn his attention to the ministry, and gave up the study of law. As he was not a man of weak purposes, it is difficult to account for the change, and it is useless now to speculate upon it. He went to the Theological Seminary at York, Pennsylvania, and after a due season was admitted to the ministry in the German Reformed Church. In this calling he continued literally to the day of his death, never neglecting an appointment nor a duty, and never wearying in well-doing. After having preached to a number of congregations, he removed in 1850, to his farm on the Potomac, in Washington County, Maryland, the birthplace of his last wife, who was the daughter of Colonel John Blackford. He did not, however, retire from the ministry, but undertook the charge of four different congregations. And as these were widely separated, his whole time was occupied in attending to his parochial duties. Holding himself aloof from politics, he rarely went to the polls.

"When the war burst over the Union in 1861, Mr. Douglas saw the horrors of it inaugurated, by the burning of the beautiful bridge over the Potomac. War continued to pour blood freely over the land. Excitement and bitter feelings raged along the border. The troubled times and advancing age rapidly whitened the gray head of the preacher of the Gospel. Yet he willingly permitted no interruption to his duties ; he went his regular rounds, comforting the sick, burying the dead, and spreading the Gospel. But soon the iron hand of persecution was laid upon him ; sentinels and spies lurked about his house and dogged his footsteps.

His sermons were reported, and the very prayers that he offered over the graves of those he buried were searched for words of treason.

Before destruction began its red carnival with fire and blood in the valley of the Shenandoah, the torch was applied to his property, and one dark night his handsome barn blazed up against the heavens, casting an ominous glare over the Potomac, and then sank into ashes and a mass of ruins. The fences of his farm were in time taken down and burned, and his horses and cattle passed from his presence into the hands of the soldiers, to assist in the suppression of the Rebel lion.

Mr. Douglas soon became a prisoner in his own house ; and if he walked out upon his land, he was either halted at his outer gate, or followed by a suspicious sentinel. His life became almost unendurable ; he was turned back when he went out to perform the Last rites to the dying ; armed squads searched his house at the pleasure of each new commander : invading the chambers of his wife and daughters — looking through the contents of their bureaus and wardrobes, and tuning their beds upon the floor with their bayonets ; each member of his family was insulted by the brutal soldiery ; and finally, he was ordered to close the shutters of all the windows that looked out upon Virginia.

The battle of Sharpsburg was fought on the 17th of September, 1862. The Confederate lines extended to within about three miles of the residence of Mr. Douglas, and their line of retreat, on the 19th, into Virginia, was through his farm. The Federal army followed to the Potomac, was repulsed at Blackford's Ferry, and then stretched itself in camp along the river. One corps was encamped on Mr. Douglas's farm(2), " Ferry Hill Place," and immediately his fences, wheat, corn, and every thing destructible was swept away, until that beautiful plantation became as bald and unprotected as a common.

All the crops of the season were taken without compensation, and without the pretence of military seizure. Tents were pitched in the yard, cannon planted about the house, and the inmates were in a state of sieo;e. The battle havine: increased the animosity among citizens of opposite sympathies, frequent reports were made to headquarters of the rank disloyalty of that " Old Eebel preacher" — that he was in underground and treasonable communication with the Confederate General ; and it was a subject of suspicion and complaint that one of his sons (Henry Kyd Douglas)  was on the personal staff of General " Stonewall " Jackson. It was a period credulous of evil report, and although the Federal officers, -to whom these reports were made, would have concluded upon a moment's reflection that the scanty information of which Mr. Douglas, a prisoner in his own house, was possessed, would be of little value to the enemy, yet they acted in accordance with their prejudiceo.

About the latter part of October, on a dark and rainy night, one of the shutters, which had been kept closed by order, was forced open by the storm. Mrs. Douglas, in going to her chamber with a lamp, unfortunately passed by this window, and a slender stream of disloyal and sympathetic light was poured over the Potomac into the Confederacy. The watchful sentinel upon the bank of the river saw the terrible flash, and made haste to report to an eager officer that a signal light had been given from the house of that " Old Rebel." It was a grievous charge, and most grievously did Mr. Douglas answer for it. Here was treason, if not stalking abroad, at least alive and active in the camp of loyalty. It must be sorely punished.

On the next evening, without warning or reason given, the venerable gentleman was taken from his home and family, and marched to the quarters of General Fitz-John Porter. He requested an interview with the General, but that was refused. This man, charged with disloyalty, had no rights which the Federal commander was bound to respect, and unheard, he was committed to the vulgar treatment of such soldiers as generally composed the provost guard. Had not such wrongs become common, it would seem both shameful and cruel that an aged gentleman of high social position, a minister of the Gospel, well known throughout all that country, should be dragged so suddenly from his family and condemned to prison, without an opportunity for explanation. And how simple was the explanation, and how easily refuted the charges upon which Mr. Douglas was arrested! General Porter thought little of the bitter draught he was forcing upon that unoffending civilian. Perhaps he thought of it afterward, when in retributive justice the poisoned chalice was commended to his own lips by that very Government in whose, behalf he was doing the cruel wrong. The wheel was turning which was to drag General Porter down.

" Though the mills of God grind slowly,
Yet they grind exceeding small."

The same evening of his arrest, Mr. Douglas was hurried on to Berlin, below Harper's Ferry. Here, in the open air, without shelter or any covering but the cloak he wore, and forbidden the use of fire, the old prisoner passed that cold and dreary night upon the frozen ground, while his family, ignorant of the cause of his arrest or his fate, passed the same night in tearful grief and fear. But greater than all the prisoner's personal sufferings was the thought of the manifold trials and sorrows that his arrest would bring upon his family, left alone and unprotected in the midst of his enemies. It was to him a night of wrestling between outraged honor and the Christian forgiveness and forbearance which he had been wont to preach throughout the land. And when, after the long night, the light of day appeared again, it witnessed the sad spectacle of the white hair of the old man mingling with the snow that lay all about him. A second and a third night was spent in the same manner, except that a subordinate officer, whose heart was not steeled against compassion, declared his treatment was a disgrace, and offered him oue of his own blankets to lie upon. "We care not to dwell upon the sorrows that were inflicted upon Mr. Douglas during these days, or the gloom and wretchedness that prevailed in his household. After a few clays he was taken before General Burnside, where the oath of allegiance was offered him as the price of his release. This he declined, and demanded an investigation of the charges against him. Had he taken the oath under such circumstances, he must first have crushed out the spirit of independence he inherited from his ancestors. His request was in turn disregarded, and he was hurried away to Fort McHenry.

The fate of many who went within the walls of this Bastile suggests that over the gate should have been written, as over the entrance of Dante's Hell:

"He who enters here, leaves hope behind."

For a while after Mr. Douglas reached Fort McHenry, he was shut up in what had been a horse-stable, with deserters, criminals in ball and chain, and prisoners of the lowest grade, in all his experience, never had he seen such a mass of wretchedness, wickedness, and despair. A proper respect for decency, forbids a minute description of the scene in the midst of which he passed those miserable days and more miserable nights. And yet his age, appearance, and character had their effect even upon the wretches who surrounded him. They soon began to regard him with kindness and consideration. A fellow-prisoner thus describes Mr. Douglas's situation at this time and in this place :

" A large number of prisoners, perhaps four hundred, occupied the hay-loft, and a larger number the stables below. After having seen Captain Barlow in regard to my quarters, and securing certain privileges for myself, he remarked to me that they wqre having a lively time in the front stable. An old gray-haired man was in there preaching to the soldiers, and he seemed to understand his business. He added that it was a bitter shame to have that old Christian gentleman in there, but that he could not help it. He was charged with giving signal-lights to the rebels ; he (Captain B.) did not believe it, but General Morris did, and there was no use in trying to get him out. He asked me to look through the bars and see if I knew the prisoner. He was holding service. At its conclusion, I looked in and saw him seated upon a board, and when he arose and approached, I at once recognized him, and we shook hands. We had some conversation, and as we parted he said, (in a full, earnest voice,) ' They may put me in prison ; they may confine my body ; but they cannot imprison my spirit and my soul. I have plenty of work in here for my Master, and, by his grace, I intend to do it.' He constantly held prayer in that stable, and his fellow-prisoners, as far as I could ascertain, exercised toward him the greatest affection and reverence." Soon after, by the kindness of the Provost Marshal, Mr. Douglas was taken from the horsestable and placed in somewhat more comfortable quarters, with his young friend and other state prisoners.

The record of the imprisonment of Fort McHenry is too well known to make it necessary to add that his exposure and sufferings were still great, too great for one of his age and failing health to endure very long. "While he remained with those kind gentlemen, they resolved that he should be as their guest, and should perform none of the duties of their prison-life. His health, however, rapidly declined. His white hairs became fewer ; the fire in his eye began to burn dimly, and his body to bend. Always unwell, at one time he was very ill. He attributed the beginning of his sickness to the severe cold he had caught when lying out upon the ground the several nights after his arrest. He grew weak and cold ; the poor covering of a quilt and a flimsy blanket were not sufficient to keep him warm. " He had prayers morning and evening with his room-mates. He prayed always for universal humanity, for his enemies and his friends. His conversation was mostly upon religious subjects, and thrice only he joined the little band in a war of wits." His illness increased, and at one time he thought he was dying. He said his spirit was strong enough, but his body was growing weak; yet weak as his body became, his spirit never deserted him. The ladies of Baltimore, as usual, ministered kindly unto him, and did much to assuage his sufferings. To " Father Douglas," as they called him, they brought cheerfulness and material comfort. He had nothing to offer in return but his blessings and his prayers.'

Having been in confinement about six weeks, Mr. Douglas was brought before the Provost Marshal. By this gentleman he was treated with much courtesy, and he ascertained, after having undergone an examination, that there was no evidence against him, and that no written charges had ever been preferred. He had been arrested and imprisoned on suspicion, prejudice, and the vaguest rumors. Feeble and sick, but the shadow of his former self, he was released and graciously permitted to return to his home.

But imprisonment had done its fatal work. The seeds of disease had taken deep root, and they continued to grow. He resumed his parochial duties, but he appeared among his people as one stepping along the confines of. the grave ; and that deep-toned voice which they knew so well, and which had. often thrilled them with its power, was weakened and unsteady. The succeeding years of war, bringing with them new trials and difficulties, aggravated his ailment. His sons were wounded in battle, and false rumors of their death reached his ears time and again. On one occasion, when he went to Hagerstown to seek for news of his eldest son, whose obituary he had read in the papers, he was not permitted to alight from his buggy, his horse was seized and turned toward home, and he was ordered to leave the town. These wrongs were too much for his proud soul and his failing health, and he fast grew wan and weary. A few years had done the usual work of a score. Mr. Douglas was spared to the ministry for a few years longer, but nothing could arrest the fatal disease which had taken hold of him in Fort McHenry. He seemed to know that his end was approaching, but he continued his labors. His family entreated him to retire, and leave his unfinished work to others, but he replied that he would die at his post. He still hesitated in strange unwillingness to cease his ministerial labors ; but, on the next Sunday, started to take leave of his people. At • Mount Moriah he preached a morning sermon, which his devoted parishioners still speak of as full of truth, humility, and resignation. At Keedysville, on the same day, his congregation looked with surprise on his feeble frame, and listened attentively to the words which impressed them with more than usual solemnity. The venerable man seemed to be conscious that he was speaking to them for the last time, and while they were silent, his earnestness rose for a time above his bodily weakness, and triumphed. The effort was too great : toward the end of his sermon his voice trembled and his sight grew dim, and at its close he sank exhausted into his seat. It was a solemn scene. He had spoken as Elijah might have spoken just as he was raised from earth to heaven. The people dispersed, and their aged pastor was taken to the house of a friend, where he lay for several clays, attended by his wife and physicians. He was then removed to his home, where, after lingering a few days longer, he, on the 20th of August, 1867, passed to God, under whose banner he had fought for more than thirty years, and faithfully even unto the end.

A sentinel on the watch-tower of Zion, he fell at his post.

Family
Robert may be the son of Joseph Douglas, Samuel's brother. In addition to be referred to as a teacher, he is also referred to as Rev Joseph Douglas. Samuel and Joseph were sons of Henry Douglas and his wife Jane Blair. Henry was a resident of Limavady, in Northern Ireland, but was probably born in Scotland. Samuel received his education in Scotland.

Robert married twice. His first wife was Helena, daughter of Col John Blackford (1772-1839). Col Blackford married three times and as Helena's birth date is unknown, it is not possible to identify her mother. Robert's second wife was Mary Robertson (born circa 1814) (sometimes recorded as Robinson), daughter of John Robertson (Robinson) and his wife Mary Harry, who married on 7 Jan 1812 in Hagerstown, Maryland.

Robert and Mary had at least two children, Henry Kyd Douglas and Nancy Cowan 'Nannie' Douglas (1844-1930). She married John McLeod Beckenbaugh. Robert is known to have had 'sons' and 'daughters' (see above), but who their mother(s) was/were, I am unsure.

Notes:
1. ...Mrs. Douglass was the wife of the Reverend Robert Douglass, a Presbyterian minister. Douglass purchased Ferry Hill Plantation in 1848 from Franklin Blackford who had inherited it at his father's death in 1839.
2.  Douglass (sic) purchased Ferry Hill Plantation in 1848 from Franklin Blackford who had inherited it at his father's death in 1839.



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