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Detroit Daily Post, February 23, 1875

Death of George De Baptiste

George DeBaptiste died a few minutes before 11 o'clock yesterday after a long and painful illness, which both he and his friends knew several months ago must prove fatal. His disease is said to have been cancer of the stomach. Though conscious that he was losing strength daily, he preserved a cheerful demeanor, was glad at any time to see his friends, and viewed his approaching fate with equanimity. He was about 57 years of age.

Mr. DeBaptiste was born in Fredericksburg, Va. His parents were free at the time of his birth, and he was never a slave. His boyhood was spent in his native town, and in early youth he went to Richmond, where he was apprenticed to learn the barber trade with Lomax Smith, who is still living in that city. After learning his trade he traveled through all the Southern States as the body servant of Amos Smith, a gentleman well known at the South in those days. Returning from his travels he married Miss Lucinda Lee, of Fredericksburg, and soon thereafter removed to Southern Indiana, where he commenced business as a barber. Living in the vicinity of Gen. Harrison he attracted the attention of the latter, who engaged him as a body servant. In that capacity he enjoyed the most intimate personal relations with that distinguished soldier during the exciting Presidential campaign of 1840, probably the most exciting that the country ever witnessed. Gen. Harrison traveled considerably, attended mass meetings and was constantly in the midst of stirring scenes. During all this time it was the business of Mr. DeBaptiste to look after the personal wants of the General, who obeyed the behests of his bright and intelligent servant in all matters relating to personal comfort and health as implicitly as a child. Upon the inauguration of President Harrison Mr. DeBaptiste became an inmate of the White House, and acted in the capacity of steward until the death of Gen. Harrison. Mr. DeBaptiste used to delight in narrating incidents of the campaign of 1840 and he had a fund of anecdote from which he was wont to draw for the entertainment of his friends on festive occasions.

After the death of his patron Mr. DeBaptiste returned to Indiana and resumed his barber business. He staid but a short time, however, and finally removed to Michigan, and settled in Detroit in 1849. He first engaged here as chief clerk in the store of Robert Banks, a colored man, who was then the leading wholesale clothier in the city. His store was on the present site of the Strong block, opposite the Michigan Exchange. Banks failed and then DeBaptiste bought out Wm. Lee and engaged in the baking business. Subsequently he sold this out and bought the steamer Whitney, which, with Capt. Atwood as master and DeBaptiste as clerk and manager, ran first to up river ports and afterward on the Sandusky route. He finally traded the steamer off for city real estate, and in the fall of 1863, when the colored regiment was raised in this city, he, with J. D. Richards, got the appointment as its sutler. He followed the fortunes of the regiment in its South Carolina and other campaigns, and after the close of the war returned to this city and set up as a caterer, which business he continued to follow in one location or another until his health failed.

Although never a slave, Mr. De Baptiste felt deeply the woes of his race, and was throughout his life active in their amelioration. He was prominently connected with the underground railroad in the days of the fugitive slave law, and was instrumental in forwarding many slaves to Canada and freedom. His friends recall many instances of personal daring and self-sacrifice in this work. We are assured that the John Brown raid was concocted in Detroit. After his Kansas campaign Brown, with 11 Negroes whom he had rescued from slavery, came to Detroit and put his men safely across the river, where some of them yet live. Here he met Fred Douglass and other kindred spirits, prominent among whom was Mr. De Baptiste, and among them the scheme was considered which resulted in the incursion upon Virginia soil, the capture and execution of John Brown at Harper's Ferry, the precipitating of civil war and the speedy emancipation of every slave in the United States. The expedition was armed here and started from here, and there are still living in Detroit several colored men who helped arrange the plan, and are familiar with it from its first inception.

Mr. De Baptiste led a rather eventful life, saw much of men and things, and always showed himself a bold, uncompromising advocate of right and justice, a firm friend of the poor and oppressed, and in every station an honorable, high minded gentleman. He was remarkably free from selfishness. He accumulated considerable property at one time or another during his life, but it is said he was more generous to others than just to himself. He was twice married, his second wife surviving him. His first wife bore to him 10 children, all of whom are dead except a son and daughter, now in their teens. He was throughout his residence in this city a member of the Baptist Church, and a most liberal contributor to all its needs. He was a strong man and strongly attached to himself many personal friends. In spite of early disadvantages he obtained a fair education, was a great reader for one of his opportunities, and was well posted on current events throughout the world and in the political affairs of the country. He was an ardent Republican and a vigorous advocate of his political principles.

The funeral will take place on Wednesday afternoon at the Croghan Street Baptist Church. The procession will leave his late residence, 134 Larned street east, at 2 o'clock.

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Updated 08/30/2010

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