Frederick Douglass: Freedom's Voice, 1818-1845

By Gregory P. Lampe | Go to book overview

Chapter Two
Frederick Douglass' New Bedford Experience: Oratory, Preaching, and Abolitionism September 1838-July 1841

HAVING ESCAPED FROM the grasp of slavery, Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey fled first to New York City, and then to New Bedford, Massachusetts. Although the three years Douglass spent in New Bedford have received relatively little attention from his biographers,1 they were of incalculable importance to his growth as a speaker and his development as an abolitionist. While in New Bedford, Douglass moved primarily within the city's large and thriving black community. Discouraged by the racial prejudice he encountered in New Bedford's white churches, he joined the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, in which he became a class leader, an exhorter, and a licensed lay preacher. Simultaneously, he became involved in the movement to abolish slavery by attending and participating in the meetings of New Bedford's black abolitionists. Eventually, he addressed their gatherings and rose to a position of power and influence. He also became exposed to the abolitionist doctrines of William Lloyd Garrison, which helped prepare him for the rhetorical work he would begin as a lecturer for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society in 1841.


I

When Douglass stepped off the train on Tuesday, 4 September 1838, in New York City, he had passed, in fewer than twenty-four hours, from slavery to freedom. He later recalled his feelings at that moment: "A free state around me, and a free earth under my feet! What a moment was this to

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