History Nebraska Blog

Ruth Cox

This box belonged to Ruth Cox who was born a slave on December 18, 1818 in Talbot County, Maryland. After escaping from slavery around the age of 21 she attended a meeting held by Frederick Douglass, the famous African-American Abolitionist and orator. It is told that, upon initially seeing Ruth, Frederick believed she was his long lost sister although he soon realized she was not. Nonetheless, he invited her to come and live with his family in Lynn, Massachusetts. Ruth lived with the Douglass family as an adopted sister for a number of years . She helped Douglass's wife Anna with the children and with correspondence because Ruth was literate and Anna was not. When Douglass was away, he would send letters for Ruth to read to Anna, along with letters to Ruth directly.

Ruth Cox's box [11940-2]

Ruth Cox's box, closed [11940-1]

Ruth Cox tintype [11941]



In 1847, Ruth married Perry Francis Adams and had three children. In 1884, after the death of her husband, Ruth moved to Nebraska with her daughter and son-in-law. Although they lost touch over the years, Douglass never forgot Ruth and later in his life began to search for her. In the early 1890s, he found word of her in a Norfolk, Nebraska newspaper which noted that the VanDerZee family had left their farm (her son-in-law's name) and moved to Lincoln. In 1893, Douglass traveled to Nebraska to look for her but was unsuccessful in his search. He eventually regained contact with her via letter and they corresponded until his death in 1894. Ruth died in 1900 in Lincoln and is buried in Wyuka cemetery.

This box was a gift to Ruth from Frederick Douglass. An 1847 letter to Ruth, postmarked in Belfast, describes the "beautiful work box" he bought for her in London.


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