Frederick Douglass -- A Free Man
As the time for his departure neared,
had thoughts of staying in
permanently. His anti-slavery hosts had
invited him to remain; profits from the sale of his book in England Europe
were already providing him a comfortable income. Most importantly, in the British
Isles he had been treated as a respectable human being. During his tour of Ireland
he had written Garrison that in ,
“I breathe, and lo! The chattel becomes a man.
… I employ a cab--I am seated beside white people--I reach the hotel--I
enter the same door--I am shown into the same parlor--I dine at the same
table--and no one is offended. No
delicate rose grows deformed in my presence” (Bontemps 116). Ireland
Fortunately, his British friends had already set in motion an attempt to obtain his freedom.
One of his hosts had been Ellen Richardson and her brother and sister-in-law, Quakers with whom Charles Remond, another black abolitionist, had stayed in 1841.
… Ellen Richardson, about a decade older than the twenty-eight-year-old Douglass, was the headmistress of a girls’ school. She had long been active in the antislavery cause, and cognizant of the personal problems that ex-slaves faced. She and her brother took Douglass to the seaside, and there, “sitting on the sand,” he may have begun to see that moving his family to
could not work. … Looking out at the water, he pondered … if
“it would be safe for me to come home” now that he was so notorious and so easy
for the Aulds to find. “Observing his
sadness,” Ellen Richardson made up her mind to arrange to buy him his freedom. Britain
By the time Douglass was to go back, Ellen Richardson’s campaign had worked. Her plea for money to buy his freedom had brought a check for fifty pounds from John Bright; she knew that with this money, and the prestige of Bright’s support, her efforts would succeed. …
With John Bright’s check in hand,
confided in her sister and her sister’s husband, a lawyer. … Exactly how the negotiations proceeded is
not clear, but we do know that Douglass wrote about the problem to William A.
White, who could find those in Richardson
who could get things done. The man in
the American Anti-Slavery Society who got the job was Ellis Gray Loring. … Boston
Loring engaged the services of a New Yorker, Walter Lowrie, who in turn arranged for a Baltimore lawyer to ask Hugh Auld, the brother available in the city, for a price—or, more probably, to suggest one to him. … The figure agreed upon was 150 pounds sterling—roughly $1,250—and when Hugh consulted him, Thomas Auld agreed to it. In December, the transaction was completed: Hugh passed the money to Thomas Auld, who in Talbot County on November 30, 1846, had filed a bill of sale of “Frederick Baily or Douglass as he calls himself” to Hugh Auld; Hugh, in turn, on December 12, 1846, had formally registered a deed of manumission in the Baltimore County courthouse for “Frederick Bailey, otherwise called Frederick Douglass.” The lawyers had made sure that there could be no misunderstanding about who was being set free (McFeely 137, 143-144).
Purists among the American Anti-Slavery movement were horrified. Frederick Douglass and his supporters had engaged in the business of slave trafficking. Garrison doctrine held that “any man who had another in bondage and paid him no wages on his
labor was a thief. Those who bought and sold slaves were pirates, kidnappers and thugs. It was a righteous thing for a free man to help a slave escape. It was no crime for a slave to attack and destroy his enslaver if he got a chance. The purchase of the slave was the first crime. And no one had argued these matters more effectively in
America or than
the young runaway Frederick Douglass.
How then could he turn around and meet the villainous breed on their own
grounds? How could he let himself be a
party to a legal transaction which recognized the whole wicked machinery (Bontemps
... Presumably he [Douglass] would have been beyond criticism—and they would have wept over his fate—if he had gone back to Covey’s fields or had been shot while struggling to escape from those dragging him there. Douglass, who responded to the attacks with more dignity than they deserved and more patience than were to be expected, preferred to be a free antislavery worker rather than a martyr. To his credit, William Lloyd Garrison shared his viewpoint, and helped defuse the criticism (McFeely 144-145).
Frederick Douglass boarded the
Cambria for American March 31, 1847.
Although he had purchased a first-class ticket, he was told that there
would be conditions attached to his boarding of the ship.
… He would have to agree to take all his meals alone. He would have to promise not to mix with the saloon company. …
As always on such occasions, Douglass spoke his piece. He argued. He denounced. And he made sure that spectators, including newspaper reporters, heard what he said (Bontemps 138).
When the Cambria docked in
Frederick Douglass, ignoring his luggage, “lept” onto the wharf, and scarcely
nodding as he ran through a crowd of admirers, he raced for the train to [where his family
now lived]. “In twenty-five minutes, I
reached Lynn, the train passing my door from which I saw my family five minutes
before getting home.” Having waited impatiently
for the train to finally stop, he rushed out of the station: “When within fifty
yards of our house, I was met by my two bright-eyed boys, Lewis and Frederic,
running and dancing with joy to meet me.
Taking one in my arms and the other by the hand, I hastened to my house”
(McFeely 145). Lynn
Frederick Douglass had returned to his native land, to his family, and to his home, at last a free man.
Bontempts, Arna, Free at Last, the Life of Frederick Douglass, New York, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1971. Print.
McFeely, William S. Frederick Douglass.
, W. W. Norton & Company, 1991. Print. New