Frederick Douglass, A Free Man


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As a slave in Baltimore, Frederick Douglass worked as a ship caulker. It was suggested to him by David Ruggles that the best place for him to settle would be New Bedford, Massachusetts as it had a flourishing ship building industry.

In New Bedford they were received by Nathan Johnson and his wife. The couple helped Frederick and Ana get settled and taught them how to make an honest living. Starting a new life as a free man required a new name. Nathan Johnson had been reading the Lady of the Lake and suggested he took the name of its main character and so, he was renamed Frederick Douglass.

During the first months after his arrival at New Bedford he took any job that came to hand. He applied for jobs as a ship caulker but prejudice was still strong in the north, he was informed that if he was allowed to work all the workers (white) would walk away. He found work on the wharfs, loading and unloading vessels and cleaning their cabins, shoveled coal, dug cellars, cleaned backyards and took any odd job that would be offered to him. This system was very inefficient because a lot of time was wasted looking for work and it was not reliable. After six months he found a more dependable job in an oil refinery factory and then in a brass foundry. For the first three years he worked very hard to make ends meet and he had very little time for reading and learning.

The Liberator newspaper

The Liberator was an abolitionist newspaper founded by William Lloyd Garrison. It was published on a weekly basis in Boston from 1831 until 1866.

In 1840 he subscribed to the Liberator, a newspaper edited by abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison. He started attending antislavery meetings and understanding the principles of the antislavery movement. The following year Frederick attended one of the largest antislavery gatherings in Nantucket sponsored by Garrison and his group of abolitionists. Douglass was in the crowd and was approached by William Coffin. He had heard him speak in church and wanted him to say a few words about his first hand experience as a slave. This was his first of themany speeches in his career. Little did he know that the opportunity would open the doors to him to be part of force that liberated his race from slavery. That opportunity would also launch his career as a public speaker and as an abolitionist and civil rights leader.

Douglass was offered a job as an agent for the Massachusetts Antislavery Society. His job was to tour the state to secure subscribers to the Liberator and to give lectures. He did not stop his abolitionist activities until the day Lincoln declared all slaves free in 1861. After that date his goal was civil rights and equality for all African Americans.

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