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On This Day September 3, 1838: Frederick Douglass Escapes Slavery

Douglass escaped slavery by boarding a train to Havre de Grace, Maryland. He was dressed in a sailor’s uniform, provided to him by Anna Murray, (he married her 12 days later, she was a free black woman in Baltimore) she also gave him part of her savings to cover his travel costs, and carried identification papers which he had obtained from a free black seaman.

September 3, 1838: Frederick Douglass Escapes Slavery

He crossed the Susquehanna River by ferry at Havre de Grace, then continued by train to Wilmington, Delaware. From there he went by steamboat to “Quaker City” (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) and continued to the safe house of abolitionist David Ruggles in New York; the whole journey took less than 24 hours.

Frederick Douglass later wrote of his arrival in New York:

“I have often been asked, how I felt when first I found myself on free soil. And my readers may share the same curiosity. There is scarcely anything in my experience about which I could not give a more satisfactory answer. A new world had opened upon me. If life is more than breath, and the ‘quick round of blood,’ I lived more in one day than in a year of my slave life. It was a time of joyous excitement which words can but tamely describe. In a letter written to a friend soon after reaching New York, I said: ‘I felt as one might feel upon escape from a den of hungry lions.’ Anguish and grief, like darkness and rain, may be depicted; but gladness and joy, like the rainbow, defy the skill of pen or pencil.”

Frederick Douglass first tried to escape from Freeland, who had hired him out from his owner Colonel Lloyd, but was unsuccessful. In 1836, he tried to escape from his new owner Covey, but failed again.

In 1837, Douglass met and fell in love with Anna Murray, her freedom strengthened his belief in the possibility of his own.

Once he had arrived, he sent for Murray to follow him to New York; she arrived with the necessary basics for them to set up home. They were married on September 15, 1838, by a black Presbyterian minister eleven days after his arrival in New York.

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