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The text face used here (as well as elsewhere) is Broadsheet™. The home page letters are set in Emily Austin™ & Lamar Pen™. All typefaces referenced on this website—Abigail Adams™, American Scribe™, Antiquarian™, Antiquarian Scribe™, Attic Antique™, Austin Pen™, Bonhomme Richard™, Bonsai™, Botanical Scribe™, Broadsheet™, Castine™, Douglass Pen™, Emily Austin™, Geographica™, Geographica Hand™, Geographica Script™, Houston Pen™, Lamar Pen™, Military Scribe™, Old Man Eloquent™, Remsen Script™, Schooner Script™, Terra Ignota™ & Texas Hero™ (as well as all other fonts in the Handwritten History™ Bundle)—are the intellectual property of Three Islands Press (copyright ©1994–2015). For site licensing contact:

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Posts Tagged ‘Frederick Douglass’
Looking Back at Texas Hero
Sunday, October 21st, 2018
Stephen F. Austin’s prison diary.

Stephen F. Austin’s prison diary.

Last February I released Austin Pen, my 14th typeface simulating real historical handwriting—and my 33rd overall. Soon after, I decided it would be my last original type design. Making a modern font takes hundreds of hours over a span of several months. At least for me it does. Probably I’m slow, or overly painstaking, or merely perfectionistic (considering I’m never entirely satisfied with the end result).

But I’ve reached an age where I feel compelled to spend time creating other things I’d like to make while there’s still time. Which is no doubt why I haven’t polished off a new Antique Penman post since February. I apologize for that.

Thomas J. Rusk’s lament on the death of his son.

Thomas J. Rusk’s lament.

Just yesterday I got to looking back at Texas Hero, my very first old pen font, which I started working on pretty much exactly 25 years ago. Texas Hero was, I’m pretty sure, the first typeface designed to replicate the look of genuine old handwriting, warts and all. I was new at the font game back then, having made three eclectic faces earlier in 1993. Didn’t know what I was doing at first, and certainly had no idea what I was getting myself into.

I recall one day hunting around for a font that looked like 18th century handwriting—and finding none. For not the first time, I decided to fill a void. My indispensable partner in this enterprise was my late ma, Jeanne R. Willson, a historical librarian who then worked at what is now the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas (my alma mater). I knew she had long studied historical letters and documents and would certainly be able to supply examples of old cursive script.

Emily Austin Perry’s hand.

Emily Austin Perry’s hand.

And she did. I got photocopies of letters from several famous Texans (naturally) dating back to the time of the Republic. I got to see the handwriting of folks like Sam Houston, Mirabeau B. Lamar, Stephen F. AustinEmily Austin PerryDavid Burnet (I think), and Thomas J. Rusk. All their hands were distinctly different—fancy, flowery, bold, intricate, and/or a bit messy—but one had just the balance of legibility and period authenticity: Rusk’s.

When people think of Texas heroes, they don’t usually think of Thomas Jefferson Rusk. But he served as a general at the Battle of San Jacinto, as the fledgling Republic’s first Secretary of War, and in 1846 was elected one of the new state’s first U.S. Senators (the other being Houston). He died in 1857, at age 53, by self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Frederick Douglass’s penmanship.

Frederick Douglass’s penmanship.

I remember vividly having to look extremely closely at Rusk’s handwriting, getting intimately familiar with his loops and curves, reading and rereading several of his official letters—and one sad, oft-folded lament of the death of his two-year-old namesake son. It was the first of many times I found myself both deeply moved and somehow changed by the words and penmanship of a person who’d died more than a century ago.*

Over the next two and a half decades, I’d go on to replicate the hands of Stephen Austin, his sister Emily, Lamar, and Houston—along with such other famous pen-wielders as Abigail Adams, her son John Quincy, Frederick Douglass, Timothy Matlack (engrosser of the Declaration of Independence) and a few lesser-known writers of old. It all still seems implausible and crazy and sort of wonderful.

And still I think often of the closeness, familiarity, and nuance we stand to lose in this era of keyboards and texting and speech-to-text. We might even end up communicating like we did before the age of literacy: verbally or visually or via smoke signal.

I hold out hope, though, that writing by hand will remain a thing—even if only a sort of calligraphic art form.

*So moved, in fact, that I wrote this novel.


» Handwriting the Constitution: Hand-copying produces “an intimate connection to the text and its meaning.”

» Royal Archives, Hamilton, and King George III: “Pieces of paper with old handwriting on [it].”

» Big Trouble in Canada: “‘I can’t read writing. We didn’t do it in school.’”

» The Magic of Handwriting: I’m truly sorry I missed this exhibition at The Morgan Library & Museum.

» A Tribute to the Fountain Pen: “No one writes like Abraham Lincoln anymore.”

» Apple Patents Handwriting Recognition System: This just seems so wrong.

» The Tragic Death of the Handwritten Message: Survey shows people age 25–34 prefer emojis to words.

Transcending Time
Sunday, September 14th, 2014
Frederick Douglass circa 1874. (Photo by George K. Warren.)

Frederick Douglass (circa 1874).

Sharing your handwriting with others is a way of sharing part of yourself.

When I read that sentence—written by Gina Logue, a columnist with The Murfreesboro Post, in a piece today on Tennessee’s return to teaching cursive handwriting to grade-schoolers—I found myself smiling in agreement. No keyboarded words will ever compare to those applied with pen to paper.

My mother died eight years ago, but whenever I come across her handwritten words on a note or an envelope or the back of an old photo, her face springs at once to mind. How instantly we recognize the penmanship of a loved one, its size and slant, those familiar quirks and curls.

And without even thinking we catch more subtle signs that add depth and context to the message. The pressure of the pen. A hurried look. Unusual neatness. A pause to reflect.

A page from a Frederick Douglass lecture on John Brown.

A page from Douglass’s lecture on John Brown and Harper’s Ferry. (Click any image for larger view.)

Handwritten words, transcending time, move directly from mind to pen to mind.

This idea got me thinking of the many penned words left us by Frederick Douglass, the nineteenth-century American abolitionist and orator. I modeled a font after Douglass’s compact, legible script—Douglass Pen, it’s called—and in the process, more than a century on, he managed to change my mind.

Specifically, Douglass changed my mind about John Brown.

From what I’d learned in school in the 1960s, Brown’s 1859 raid on Harper’s Ferry was the equivalent of domestic terrorism. That his abolitionists crept in by night and killed innocent people in a crazy scheme that was sure to fail. That Brown himself was a wild-eyed crazy man.

But when I read, in his handwritten words, what Douglass had argued so eloquently—that Brown, whom he knew, was an idealistic hero who gave his life for the cause of freedom—I began to research further.

Letter to former owner Hugh Auld (The Gilder Lehrman Collection on deposit at the Pierpont Morgan Library.)

Letter to Hugh Auld (The Gilder Lehrman Collection on deposit at the Pierpont Morgan Library.)

Turns out Henry David Thoreau, too, knew and supported Brown. And most modern historians are gentler on his reputation than those of the twentieth century. Most credit his Harper’s Ferry raid with hastening civil war and the death of slavery—his mission all along.

Still, it was Douglass’s neat, true penmanship in a draft of a Harper’s Ferry lecture that proved, to me, most convincing.

Though fourteen years have passed between us and the tragedy that closed his life, we may yet stand too near to his life and times—to properly weigh and measure the man, or to set a just value upon what he did and attempted in the world. Like the great and good of all the ages the men born in advance of their times—and whose blood stained footprints attest the immense cost of reform, and show us the slow pace of human progress, our grandest American hero and martyr, may have to await the pollishing [sic] wheels of after coming centuries, to give to his great qualities and deeds full effect and glory!

I’ve also got a copy of a letter Frederick Douglass addressed to one of his owners when he was a slave, written two decades after he’d run away. A polite, respectful, forgiving letter, written in 1857. He used one page of lined paper. You could see the care he’d taken in the composition. “I love you,” he wrote, “but hate slavery.”

Douglass letter to Zion Church.

Douglass letter to Zion Church.

And another note, a reply to a letter asking for money to help build a church, includes pithy sentences that communicate a lot. “My purse is light,” he wrote, “and the demands upon it heavy. I give when I can and refuse when I must.” The man had a classic orator’s way with words.

In working so many long hours recreating Douglass’s penmanship, I’ve come to be able to recognize his hand. As I do my parents’—or past loves who broke my heart.

A lot more gets said through handwriting than merely words.

* * *

Recent links…

» LOGUE: Tennessee putting cursive back in handwriting in 2015The Murfreesboro Post

» Pens for Better Penmanship: Don’t Forget (How) to Write!—The Wall Street Journal

» In The Age of Keyboards, Don’t Neglect Your PenmanshipBig Think

» Handwriting reveals kids’ inner anxietyThe Times of India

Abigail Adams American Scribe Austin Pen Bonhomme Richard Botanical Scribe Douglass Pen

Emily Austin Houston Pen Lamar Pen Military Scribe Old Man Eloquent

Remsen Script Schooner Script Texas Hero Antiquarian Antiquarian Scribe Bonnycastle Geographica

Geographica Hand Terra Ignota Attic Antique Bonsai Broadsheet Castine

Historical Pens Old Map Fonts Texas Heroes Set Geographica Set Antique Texts Modern Hands

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