Frederick Douglass: Freedom's Voice, 1818-1845

By Gregory P. Lampe | Go to book overview

Chapter Nine
Douglass the Imposter: I Am a Slave, September 1844-August 1845

SINCE THE GENESIS of his career as a lecturer for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society in 1841, Frederick Douglas s' fame as an eloquent fugitive slave had steadily increased and his oratory had constantly advanced in sophistication and power. It is no surprise, then, that people began to question whether Douglass had ever been a slave. How, they wondered, could anyone who had been a slave and deprived of a formal education speak so eloquently and conduct himself with so much dignity and grace on the platform? Growing public skepticism about his past compelled him to devote a large portion of his time from October 1844 through April 1845 to committing his slave experiences to paper. His literary efforts culminated in May 1845 with the publication of his autobiographical Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written By Himself.

Because the Narrative has become such an important historical and literary document, most scholars have overlooked Douglass'oratorical activities from September 1844 through August 1845.1 Although Douglass reduced his speaking schedule while he was writing the Narrative, he continued to participate in local, county, and regional abolitionist meetings, delivered numerous antislavery lectures, and participated in two out-of- state lecture tours. After his autobiography was published in May 1845, he traveled alone through Massachusetts and New York lecturing at antislavery meetings, promoting the Narrative, and raising funds for his trip to Great Britain. He remained on tour through the first week of August. On August 1845, he and James N. Buffum boarded the steamer Cambria in Boston harbor bound for Liverpool, England, thereby closing the curtain on the early stage of Douglass' career as an orator and an abolitionist.

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