What evidence is there of a black presence in Britain and north west England?

Frederick Douglass anti-slavery activist

Anti-slavery tour of Britain

Frederick Douglass visited the north west of England in 1846 while on a tour of Britain giving lectures about his experiences of slavery. Enslaved, he had experienced whippings and near starvation. However, he successfully escaped slavery and became an agent and lecturer for the American Anti-Slavery Society. He also raised funds while in Britain to start the first anti-slavery newspaper, the North Star.

Escape from slavery

Douglass was born Frederick Washington Bailey, the son of a white man and an enslaved African woman, in Maryland, USA in 1817. He never knew his father and was separated from his mother when very young. He lived with his grandmother on a plantation until the age of eight. He was then sent to work for the Auld family in Baltimore. There he was taught to read, even though it was against the law. He was returned to his Maryland plantation when Auld died in 1833. In 1838 he escaped to New York City and changed his name to Frederick Douglass.

American Anti-Slavery Society agent

Douglass became an agent and lecturer for the American Anti-Slavery Society after speaking at a meeting in 1841. He was a great success and the society supported the 1845 publication of his autobiography, 'The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass'.

Frederick Douglass in the north west

Douglass visited the Lancashire towns during his first visit to Britain in 1845-6. He was able to speak of the evils of slavery from first-hand experience. He spoke in many cotton towns, including Bolton, and at a meeting of the Anti-Slavery League in the Free Trade Hall in Manchester in 1846. Such meetings were largely a gathering of sympathisers though their message reached a wider public through reports of the meetings printed in local newspapers. Although Douglass noted that he was generally well treated during his nineteen months stay in Britain, he must have experienced some of the prejudices that faced other former enslaved Africans who had settled in Britain. However he only recorded one notable incident. Organising his return from Liverpool to the United States in 1847, he recalled that having purchased a ticket on the steamship, Cambria, and been assured that that there were no distinctions between passengers, he was told that he would not be allowed to travel:

‘... unless I agreed to take my meals alone and not to mix with the saloon company, and to give up the berth for which I had paid’. Manchester Times, 9 April 1847.

Civil rights campaigner 

During the American Civil War Douglass tried to persuade President Abraham Lincoln that former slaves should be allowed to join the Union army. After the war Douglass campaigned for full civil rights for former slaves.

Douglass held several public posts including Assistant Secretary of the Santo Domingo Commission (1871), Marshall of the District of Columbia (1877-1881) and US Minister to Haiti (1889-1891). In 1881 he published 'The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass'. He died in Washington on 20 February 1895.

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