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(1845) Frederick Douglass, “My Slave Experience in Maryland”

Frederick Douglass described his early life in an address titled, “My Slave Experience in Maryland, in a speech delivered in New York City on May 6, 1845. The speech, which was reprinted in the National Antislavery Standard on May 22, 1845, appears below. Douglass had just completed his first autobiography called The Narrative of Frederick Douglass one week earlier. It is believe that this is the first time in public he divulged specific facts about his life as an enslaved person. Douglass was introduced to the audience by William Lloyd Garrison.

Frederick Douglas[s] was next introduced to the audience, Mr. Garrison observing that he was one who, by the laws of the South, had been a chattel but who was now, by his own intrepid spirit and the laws of God, a man. He proceeded: I do not know that I can say anything to the point. My habits and early life have done much to unfit me for public speaking, and I fear that your patience has already been wearied by the lengthened remarks of other speakers, more eloquent than I can possibly be, and better prepared to command the attention of the audience. And I can scarcely hope to get your attention even for a longer period than fifteen minutes.

Before coming to this meeting, I had a sort of desire I dont know but it was vanity to stand before a New York audience in the Tabernacle. But when I came in this morning, and looked at those massive pillars, and saw the vast throng which had assembled, I got a little frightened, and was afraid that I could not speak; but now that the audience is not so large and I have recovered from my fright, I will venture to say a word on Slavery.

I ran away from the South seven years ago passing through this city in no little hurry, I assure you and lived about three years in New Bedford, Massachusetts, before I became publicly known to the anti slavery people. Since then I have been engaged for three years in telling the people what I know of it. I have come to this meeting to throw in my mite, and since no fugitive slave has preceded me,