Blog post

Frederick Douglass in Europe

Transatlantic perspectives on American abolitionist and anti-slavery campaigner

Adrian Murphy (opens in new window) (Europeana Foundation)

The name Frederick Douglass is known around the world today, synonymous with the abolition of slavery in the United States.

Frederick Douglas was born in Maryland in February 1818. His birthname was Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, and he was born into slavery.

His childhood and adolescence were shaped by slavery: he was separated from his family, educational opportunities were denied to him, he was whipped and beaten.

In 1838, Douglass escaped, travelling via train, steam-ferry and safe-houses to New York City, and later settled in Massachusetts. This began a new chapter in Douglass' life in which he became a noted abolitionist, speaker and social campaigner.

Douglass wrote several autobiographies, detailing his life and experiences. The most-known of this is Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave which was first published in the United States in 1845.

Within a few years, it was published in Europe, and had been translated into Dutch and French.

A number of Douglass's autobiographies can be found on Europeana - Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass is available in English, along with a German translation of My Bondage, My Freedom.

In the wake of its publication, Douglass travelled to Europe. He visited the United Kingdom and Ireland, with thousands of speaking engagements in dozens of cities and towns.

In all, Douglass spent nineteen months on this tour. He remarked that he was treated not 'as a colour, but as a man' there. In Ireland - where his visit coincided with the Irish Famine - he said that, 'I seem to have undergone a transformation, I live a new life'.

Today, this journey to Europe is remembered by a number of commemorations.

The website Frederick Douglass in Britain and Ireland by Dr Hannah-Rose Murray details all of Douglass' speaking engagements and events, as well as those of other abolitionists.

Plaques in both Ireland and the United Kingdom remember his visit, as well as websites, events and festivals, some of which are listed here:

All of these commemorations ensure that the Frederick Douglass' legacy of abolitionsim, social reform and justice remains into the 21st century.

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