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Frederick Douglass


On September 18, 1838 Douglass and his wife settled into New Bedford, where Douglass was able to find various odd jobs to support him and his wife. Much of the work was back-breaking, but as he would later write: “I was now my own mater. It was a happy moment, the rapture of which can be understood only by those who have been slaves. It was the first work, the reward of which was to be entirely my own….I was at work for myself and newly-married wife. It was to me the starting-point of a new existence.” (p. 28) At the suggestion of Nathan Johnson, a mentor for Douglass in New Bedford, he changed his last name to Douglass in order to help hide him from those who would return him to slavery. The name was taken from a heroic character in Sir Walter Scott’s book Lady of the Lake. From henceforth Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey would be known to the world as Frederick Douglass.


Douglass would continue his self education and became a devoted follower and sometime preacher in the Zion Methodist congregation. He need to question and explore the slave issue was further enhanced by discovering the abolitionist newspaper Liberator, published by the leading abolitionist of the day, William Lloyd Garrison. To Garrison, slavery was a sin and blight on the conscience of Americans. Contrary to many other abolitionists, Garrison believed that all slaves should be immediately emancipated and incorporated into American society instead of being sent back to their fathers’ homeland. Douglass found himself caught up in this movement and began attending, and later addressing himself, antislavery meetings. The fact that Douglass was a fugitive slave, along with being a very eloquent one at that, made him a centerpiece for the Garrisonian abolitionists to utilize for their cause. What could be better to fight the inhumanity of slavery than to have one who had experienced it firsthand and could put it in words that the general population could find truth within. Because of his eloquence in the fight against slavery, he was asked to bring the cause to Great Britain as a lecturer. Between August 1845 and April 1847, Douglass found a place for himself among people who treated him as an equal, not just a free individual who was of lower rank. The citizens of Britain found him to be engaging and a face for the need to enact change. There was concern that when Douglass returned to America, he would be targeted for recapture into slavery. Two Quaker women of Newcastle, Ellen and Anna Richardson, contacted Douglass owner, Hugh Auld, and paid him $711.66 for the transfer of ownership, making Douglass now legally a free man. As stated in the deed: “my NEGRO MAN named FREDERICK BAILEY, otherwise called DOUGLASS…to be henceforth free, manumitted, and discharged from all manner of servitude.” (p. 53) The papers were filed in Baltimore on December 13, 1846, making Douglass now a legally free man.

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