Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
“Going to Baltimore laid the foundation, and opened the gateway to all my subsequent prosperity”
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave
Written by himself
Boston: Antislavery Office, 1845.
Frederick Douglass wrote his first autobiography as a means to prove that he was who he claimed he was, a fugitive slave. As an agent for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society he toured the country giving speeches. He was a natural born orator and his skills improved in a short period of time. Because of his eloquence and intellect people started to doubt if Frederick had ever been a slave or if he was just an impersonator.
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass describes and analyzes his life since his early years as a slave in Maryland until he settled in New Bedford as a fugitive slave. It is considered one of the best written and most read slave narratives. The publication of this book gave Douglass credibility and gained the admiration of those who had previously doubted about his story.
The book includes a preface written by William Lloyd Garrison and a letter by Wendell Phillips, Esq.on behalf of Douglass. Both were white men and this was required in order to give the book public credibility.
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Douglass started writing his first autobiography in 1843. The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass was published in Boston in 1845 by the Anti-Slavery Office. It was the best selling of all fugitive narratives, selling 5,000 copies within four months of its publication and 30,000 by the beginning of the Civil War in 1861.
After the publication of his Narrative, Douglass found himself in danger of being recaptured by his owner, Hugh Auld. In his book he had named people who were powerful and had the means to recapture him. Many people knew him in Baltimore and the return of fugitive slaves was highly rewarded. He fled to Britain in exile while his family stayed in New Bedford.
During his stay in Britain he gave many speeches, his objective was to arouse the sentiment of its people against slavery in America and in Ireland where an edition of his book was published. While in exile he met many abolitionists who were willing to help. The Richardsons conceived a plan to raise funds to buy Douglass’ freedom and for $710 Douglass was manumitted which gave him immunity from the fugitive slave law of 1793 and 1850.
The publication of his book reached a wider audience and with it, the power to advocate for the freedom of African American slaves. In his effort to communicate his struggle to a wider mass, he managed to raise $2,500 to start his own publication “The North Start”. Later, Douglass published two versions of his autobiography: My Bondage and My Freedom in 1855 and The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass in 1881.
Preface by William Lloyd Garrison
Garrison was an abolitionist, founder of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society and editor of the Liberator, an antislavery newspaper published in Boston. Garrison was a supporter of Douglass and in order to give public credibility to his book he wrote the preface on behalf of Douglass.
He first met Douglass in an anti-slavery convention in Nantucket in 1841. His colleague, abolitionist William Coffin who had heard him speak in church, asked Douglass if he would be willing to share his first hand experience of his life in bondage with the audience. Douglass’ speech had a powerful impression on the audience and on Garrison who offered him a job as an agent with the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society.