Life of Frederick Douglass

Life of Frederick Douglass

Life of Frederick Douglass

As a runaway slave, Douglass had written his "Narrative..." book. He had previously resisted the temptation to disclose much of his slave identity, including his master's name or his place of birth, for fear of recapture. But he now decided to defend himself against these charges and to compose a narrative of his experiences that would conclusively prove the authenticity of his identity and validate his status as a representative slave. The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave (1845) became an instant success, selling 4,500 copies between the months of May and September, and 30,000 copies in both Britain and America by 1850. Praised by reviewers all over the country — one in the Lynn Pioneer declared, "It is the most thrilling work which the American press ever issued—and the most important"—the story of Douglass's early life became our country's most important slave narrative, and a seminal work of 19th century American literature. Its popularity, however, was something of a mixed blessing for Douglass; with his identity fully revealed, the risk of recapture increased dramatically.

His old master, smarting over his treatment in the Narrative, would have liked nothing better than to bring that ungrateful slave back home. Concerned for his safety, Douglass's friends urged him to pursue a course he had been considering, and that had become even more attractive after the strain of composing the Narrative: to travel overseas, and commence an antislavery tour of England. Douglass was reluctant to leave his family—he was now the proud father of four children—but the threat of recapture was overpowering. Because of the Fugitive Slave laws, Frederick knew that he needed to leave America. On August 16, 1845, Douglass left from Boston with an antislavery traveling companion, James Buffum, a wealthy, if slightly insipid, Garrisonian from Lynn. They boarded the Cambria and sailed for Liverpool.
Never one to shy away from the good fight, Douglass did not go quietly across the waters. Indeed, controversy followed his transatlantic voyage from its very beginning. Accompanied by Buffum, Douglass attempted to purchase a cabin passage, but was told that since "it would give offense to the majority of the American passengers," he would have to accept a berth in the steerage compartment. Douglass complied; perhaps he suspected that there would be ample opportunity for agitation in the immediate future. Indeed, once on board, Douglass quickly ruffled some pro-slavery feathers by distributing copies of his Narrative, the sale of which was his principal means of financing his trip, as well as by venturing into the first-class sections to dine with sympathetic fellow passengers.

If the ship simmered, it did not come to a boil till the night of the 27th. As Douglass began to speak on deck, the several hecklers around him became more violent, forming what Douglass called "a real American, republican, democratic, Christian mob." And when Douglass countered their accusations of abolitionist fabrications by reading some of the more severe state slave laws, the pro-slavery members of the crowd became even more incensed. As one rather partisan witness explained, the passengers refused to let Douglass "vomit his foul stuff any longer on the quarter deck." Several suggested throwing Douglass overboard, others rushed to his defense, and the two sides fought it out on deck. The brawl was temporarily broken up when the captain threatened to put the pro-slavery men in chains if they continued to disrupt Douglass (a gesture that Douglass, all too familiar with chains and possessing a keen sense of irony, readily appreciated). However, the fighting continued, and the captain eventually suggested that for safety's sake, Douglass retire to his cabin. The incident, heavily publicized in the British and Irish press, served Douglass as instant publicity material, and made him into a sort of celebrity before he even set foot on British soil.

Frederick Douglass arrived in Liverpool on the Cambria on 28 August 1845 and departed from Liverpool on the same ship in April 1847. In over 18 months he traveled extensively in Britain and Ireland, giving lectures in dozens of cities and towns. He was in Scotland for most of the first half of 1846, returning again in July, September and October the same year. Home to some of the more radical anti-slavery sentiment in Britain, Scotland gave Douglass a warm welcome. The Edinburgh and Glasgow Emancipation Societies had been formed in 1833 and - in the wake of the abolition of slavery in the British West Indies - they called for the abolition of slavery in other parts of the world, especially the United States. Douglass received the money on this trip from Anna Richardson in UK to purchase his freedom from his former master, Thomas Auld. When the American abolitionist movement began to split in the late 1830s, the Scottish Societies tended to take the side of William Lloyd Garrison, whose uncompromising followers stood aloof from party politics and held radical views on women's rights. Douglass spoke at public meetings across the country. Among the venues we know he appeared at were: Glasgow City Hall; Abbey Church, Arbroath; George's Chapel, Dundee; Abbey Close United Presbyterian Church, Paisley; Cathcart St Church, Ayr; Secession Church Paisley; Music Hall, Edinburgh; and the Bridge St Chapel, Edinburgh. Many of these meetings drew large crowds.. On the 1 May at the Music Hall, Edinburgh, an audience of 2000 had bought tickets at sixpence each.

Douglass was not always the only speaker on these occasions, but undoubtedly the main attraction. Other anti-slavery campaigners with whom he shared the platform included:
  -- James Buffum
, an abolitionist and financier. James Needham Buffum was born in North Berwick, Maine, to Quaker parents. Buffum trained as a carpenter and established his own business as a house contractor in Lynn, Massachusetts. He grew wealthy through his business pursuits, which he expanded to include activities as a real estate speculator and financier. Dissatisfied with Quaker positions on reform, Buffum became an advocate of immediate abolition and a strong supporter of William Lloyd Garrison. Having independent means, Buffum traveled widely in the company of Garrison, Frederick and others...
  -- Henry Clarke Wright
, the American activist who had been in Britain since early 1843.(see his book below)
  -- William Lloyd Garrison
, the leader of the American Anti-Slavery Society and editor of its influential magazine, The Liberator - who toured Britain in 1846.
  -- George Thompson
, an English militant who had long been associated with the Glasgow Emancipation Society.

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