The slave who ran away to London: African American escapee’s incredible journey through Victorian Britain

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  • Irish academic Laurence Fenton has written a new book on Frederick Douglass
  • Douglass, who escaped slavery in Maryland travelled to Liverpool in 1845
  • His freedom and the trip were paid for by British  anti-slavery activists 
  • The revered anti-slavery orator spent two years touring Britain and Ireland 

Frederick Douglass escaped slavery in Maryland aged 20 and became a powerful orator in the battle to abolish slavery including a two-year trip , arriving in Liverpool on August 16, 1845 having been advised to leave the US following the publication of his autobiography - Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave' 

Frederick Douglass escaped slavery in Maryland aged 20 and became a powerful orator in the battle to abolish slavery including a two-year trip , arriving in Liverpool on August 16, 1845 having been advised to leave the US following the publication of his autobiography – Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave’

A new book on Frederick Douglass, the runaway slave who became a highly influential abolitionist, about his two-year tour of Britain and Ireland has been published.

In the summer of 1845 Douglass published the first of three autobiographies chronicling his amazing life.

After publishing Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave in 1845, he was advised to leave the United States. The book caused a sensation and led to fears for his safety as it provided a first-person perspective on the evils of slavery.

Arriving in Liverpool at the start of a two-year tour of Victorian Britain, Douglass was feted as a hero.

The new book, ‘I Was Transformed’ Frederick Douglass An American Slave in Victorian Britain, was written by Irish academic Laurence Fenton.

His trans-Atlantic trip was funded by supporters in Britain and Ireland, who had earlier raised funds to buy his freedom.

During his tour, he addressed huge crowds in London, Liverpool, Manchester, Bath, Ayr, Kilmarnock, Preston, Darlington, Swansea, Exeter and Norwich.

In Dublin, The Great Liberator Daniel O’Connell described Douglass as ‘The Black O’Connell’.

Douglass was astounded by O’Connell’s ability to address a crowd of tens of thousands of people.

During his trip to London, he met with Danish author Hans Christian Andersen.

Douglass wrote about the encounter at the home of two English authors: ‘William and Mary Howitt were among the kindliest people I ever met. Their interest in America, and their well-known testimonies against slavery, made me feel much at home with them at their house in that part of London known as Clapton. Whilst stopping here, I met the Swedish poet and author – Hans Christian Andersen. He, like myself, was a guest, spending a few days.

‘I saw but little of him, though under the same roof. He was singular in his appearance, and equally singular in his silence… possibly his bad English and my destitution of Swedish, may account for the fact of our mutual silence, and yet I observed he was much the same towards everyone.’

During his two-year tour, Douglass met with Danish author Hans Christian Andersen at the London home of English authors William and Mary Howitt. Douglass described the meeting: 'He was singular in his appearance, and equally singular in his silence… possibly his bad English and my destitution of Swedish, may account for the fact of our mutual silence'

During his two-year tour, Douglass met with Danish author Hans Christian Andersen at the London home of English authors William and Mary Howitt. Douglass described the meeting: ‘He was singular in his appearance, and equally singular in his silence… possibly his bad English and my destitution of Swedish, may account for the fact of our mutual silence’

Three British anti-slave activists, Eliza Wigham, left, Mary Estlin, centre and Jane Wigham, right, worked with the American Anti-Slavery Society and funded Douglass's tour of Britain, having first paid for his freedom. The Wighams were based in Edinburgh while Ms Estlin was in Bristol

Three British anti-slave activists, Eliza Wigham, left, Mary Estlin, centre and Jane Wigham, right, worked with the American Anti-Slavery Society and funded Douglass’s tour of Britain, having first paid for his freedom. The Wighams were based in Edinburgh while Ms Estlin was in Bristol

Douglass described his trip to Britain as a ‘liberating sojourn’.

He has been described as ‘the most influential African American of the nineteenth century’ and was in favour of many human rights causes in addition to the abolition of slavery.

He was a supporter of women’s rights, temperance, peace, land reform, free public education and the abolition of capital punishment.

According to Laurence Fenton, who relied on sources from both sides of the Atlantic researching his latest book: ‘Tall, strong and – most importantly – black, Frederick Douglass, the twenty-seven-year-old runaway slave recently catapulted to fame by the publication of his incendiary autobiography stood out among the crowd of passengers pressed against the railings of the Cambria on the afternoon of Saturday, 16 August 1845.

‘He was sailing from Boston to Liverpool, having been advised to leave the country until the furore over his book, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, died down.’

At the end of his tour, a party was held for Douglass in London – with Charles Dickens sending his regrets.

Charles Dickens, pictured, was invited to attend a final celebration of Douglass shortly before his return to the United States. Dickens wrote a letter expressing his regret that he could not attend, but said: 'I trust I need hardly say that I feel a warm interest in any occasion designed as a denunciation of slavery and mark of sympathy with anyone who has escaped from its tremendous wrongs and horrors’

Charles Dickens, pictured, was invited to attend a final celebration of Douglass shortly before his return to the United States. Dickens wrote a letter expressing his regret that he could not attend, but said: ‘I trust I need hardly say that I feel a warm interest in any occasion designed as a denunciation of slavery and mark of sympathy with anyone who has escaped from its tremendous wrongs and horrors’

Charles Dickens wrote: ‘I beg to acknowledge the receipt of your obliging letter and to express my regret that a particular engagement will prevent me attending the Soiree in honour of Mr Douglass.

‘I esteem the invitation of the Committee as an honour; and I trust I need hardly say that I feel a warm interest in any occasion designed as a denunciation of slavery and mark of sympathy with anyone who has escaped from its tremendous wrongs and horrors.’

Following the party, Douglass returned to Boston.

According to Mr Fenton: ‘The large number of supporters gathered to see him off singing and cheering until the sound of the ship’s bell rang out loud across the harbour, the good spirits giving way to tears and a final frantic clasping of hands.

‘Britain, indeed, held a special place in the minds of American abolitionists, having long led the way in the movement to abolish the international slave trade, one of the first great milestones of which was the passage of legislation banning British vessels from the trade in 1807, the result of a decades-long campaign headed by storied figures like William Wilberforce and Thomas Clarkson.

‘In what was seen as another mighty moral gesture – one that placed the iniquity of America’s continued slaveholding in ever-starker relief – it had also abolished slavery in the British West Indies in 1833, a move that freed more than 800,000 slaves.’

The book is available from Amberley Publishing.

Who was William Wilberforce and how did he Abolish slavery across British Empire

William Wilberforce, the most famous of abolitionists, spearheaded the movement's campaign that ultimately culminated in the Slave Trade Act of 1833

William Wilberforce, the most famous of abolitionists, spearheaded the movement’s campaign that ultimately culminated in the Slave Trade Act of 1833

The Slave Trade Act 1807 abolished the slave trade in the British Empire, in particular the Atlantic slave trade, and also encouraged British action to press other European states to abolish their slave trades.

By 1807, abolitionist groups had a very sizable faction of like-minded members in Parliament – at their height, they controlled 35 to 40 seats.

The most famous of abolitionists was William Wilberforce, who lead the movement to stop the slave trade.

He was born in Kingston Upon Hull, Yorkshire, before his political life began in 1780. Wilberforce spearheaded the parliamentary campaign against the British slave trade for 20 years, until the passage of the Slave Trade Act.

He went on to campaign for the complete abolition of slavery. While the 1807 Act outlawed the slave trade, it not not abolish slavery itself.

Wilberforce’s campaign led to the Slave Trade Act of 1833, which abolished slavery in most of the Empire.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5463401/Frederick-Douglass-1845-UK-tour-features-new-study.html#ixzz58uY4PtEO
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