Frederick Douglass’ story began when he was born into slavery on a plantation in Talbot County, Maryland in 1818.
He lived most of his younger years working on “slave state” plantations but, in secret, taught himself how to read and write, learning from white children in the neighbourhood and observing the writings of other workers.
During his teenage years in a Baltimore plantation, Douglass was whipped so regularly he said they “broke his body, soul and spirit”.
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But in 1837, a 19-year-old Douglass met and fell in love with Anna Murray, a free black woman in Baltimore about five years older than him.
Her free status strengthened his belief in the possibility of gaining his own freedom and she encouraged and supported his efforts by aid and money.
Having previously failed to escape from horrid prospector William Freeland, a 20-year-old Douglass successfully escaped in September 1838 and boarded a northbound train of the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad.
Young Douglass travelled through a number of slave states disguised in a sailor’s uniform, provided to him by his beau Anna, who also gave him part of her savings to cover his travel costs.
As further protection he carried identification papers he had obtained from a free black seaman.
Douglass arrived in Delaware and then travelled by steam boat to a safe house of noted abolitionist David Ruggles in New York City.
His entire journey to freedom, incredibly, took less than 24 hours.
Writing in his memoirs he said: “I have often been asked, how I felt when first I found myself on free soil.
“There is scarcely anything in my experience about which I could not give a more satisfactory answer.
“A new world had opened upon me.”
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Once Douglass had arrived, he married Anna Murray in New York on September 15, 1838.
Upon gaining freedom Douglass became an internationally renowned abolitionist leader and statesman, speaking on the immorality and brutality of slavery both in America and abroad.
In 1845, he published his autobiography ‘Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave’, which sold over 30,000 copies in the US and Britain and was acclaimed worldwide.
Following its publication Douglass became aware of his vulnerability and the possibility of recapture within the state of Maryland to which he had escaped.
He resolved to travel throughout Britain to undertake a series of speaking engagements and arrived in Liverpool in August 1845. Douglass came to Scotland to challenge the Free Church of Scotland who, since its break from the Church of Scotland in 1843, had been receiving funds from the Presbyterian churches of the southern slave holding states in America – essentially money being made from slavery.
And as part of his visit he arrived in Perth on January 23, 1846 and, along with activist Henry Wright and travelling companion James Buffum, held a speech at Perth City Hall. His powerful words drew on many of his own experiences as a slave and fuelled his passionate desire to force his listeners into action.
The public addresses Douglass made in Perth and elsewhere helped greatly to keep the anti-slavery issue alive in Scotland.
Douglass and Buffum made their second visit to Perth two months later following a similar campaign rally in Dundee.
On the afternoon of Thursday, March 12, 1845 according to a notice in the Perthshire Advertiser that day, Douglass was scheduled “to address the.....of Perth....on the subject of American slavery”.
It was announced that Douglass and Buffum, Esq of Massachusetts, would also attend an anti-slavery soiree at Perth City Hall that evening.
Around 400 people attended, many of whom were esteemed local representatives, with Douglass as the principal speaker. Several Scottish newspapers covered the event
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The Rev Dr David Young, the united secession minister of Perth North Church, also spoke on the occasion condemning the American system of “Negro Slavery” – but expressed Douglass’s cause should not mix up the Free Church people so much with his campaign.
Douglass countered the Reverend Doctor’s speech saying the Free Church should resolve to ‘send back the money,’ which would symbolise a huge blow and discouragement to the slavery system in the US.
Douglass also put on a visual performance for the crowd, impersonating the Free Church minister George Lewis and Douglass’s own master Thomas Auld in Maryland, inviting the audience to imagine an encounter between them, where Frederick himself was the next day sold at a slave auction in order to raise funds to provide a donation for Lewis’ own means.
The Perthshire Constitutional wrote that the performance was met with “much applause, laughter and cheering”, but another paper said the “mimicry.... [was] in very bad taste”.
The Northern Warder, which had for some weeks derided the visiting abolitionists Douglass and Buffum, chose to portray the pair as “strolling players”, claiming they attracted an unsavoury audience.
But his great influence had been felt by many in the region and beyond, helping the growing campaign of slavery abolishment become a feature in the public eye in Scotland.
Throughout his two-year stay in Ireland and Great Britain, Douglass’s influence grew beyond Perthshire, dictating speeches and lectures at institutions up and down the country.
He even received enough funding from friends and supporters to buy his freedom, therefore avoid the danger of recapture in Maryland, and start his first abolitionist newspaper, The North Star.
He returned to America in April 1847 to continue his abolishment campaign and became a key supporter of the Union cause, recruiting African-Americans to the service of the Union army and ensured that Abraham Lincoln was won to the cause of emancipation as an objective of the Civil War. His role helped President Lincoln sign the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863.
Douglass would then be instrumental in drafting the 13th (abolition of slavery), the 14th (granting of citizenship) and the 15th (enfranchisement) amendments to the United States Constitution.
Although the abolition of slavery and the demand for rights for African-Americans dominated the life of Frederick Douglass, he also supported and became an advocate of women’s rights.
Douglass also became the first African-American nominated for vice president of the United States as the running mate and vice presidential nominee of Victoria Woodhull, on the Equal Rights Party ticket.
He remained at his home in Cedar Hill near Washington DC until his death in February 1895.
One of his defining quotes reads: “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favour freedom and yet avoid confrontation, are people who want crops without ploughing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning; they want the ocean without the roar of its waters.”