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Frederick Douglass, 1847
Frederick Douglass, 1847SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION/1847

Massachusetts was a hub of activism at the height of the abolitionist movement in the mid-1850s.

Frederick Douglass, one of the most famous activists, made many ties in Boston and across the state. On his adopted birthday of Feb. 14 (most slaves didn’t know their exact day of birth), here are five places in Massachusetts with connections to Douglass.

A taste of freedom in New Bedford: Douglass was born a slave in Maryland in 1818. With the help of his future wife, Anna Murray, he escaped in 1838. The couple married and settled in New Bedford shortly afterward.

New Bedford was a Quaker area and sympathetic to abolitionists. He and his wife started their family and became involved in several organizations in the city. Douglass began to hone his skills as an orator as he became more involved in local churches and abolitionist groups.


Turning point in Nantucket: Douglass quickly made a name for himself among black abolitionists because of his involvement with the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and his impressive oratory skills. But it wasn’t until his now-famous speech on Nantucket, in 1841, that he spoke in front of a white crowd.

“This is an era when being good at public speaking is like being a celebrity. People were so profoundly impressed by him,” said John Stauffer, professor of African and African American Studies at Harvard University. Stauffer is the author of “Picturing Frederick Douglass.”

After the speech, Douglass was asked to become a travelling lecturer for the American Anti-Slavery Society.

Nearly a decade in Lynn: Douglass and his family settled in Lynn while he traveled as a lecturer for the American Anti-Slavery Society from 1841 to 1848. Trains ran through Lynn, making it easy for him to travel from city to city.

While living in Lynn, Douglass wrote the first of several autobiographies, “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave.”


A friend in Springfield: Douglass was good friends with John Brown, the abolitionist who believed slavery should be ended with force. He would often visit Brown in Springfield, where Brown lived from 1846 to 1849, and the two frequently exchanged letters.

Douglass edited the provisional constitution Brown wrote before his raid on Harper’s Ferry, then in Virginia, Stauffer said. Brown asked Douglass to join him on the raid, but he declined.

“Douglass was a prudent revolutionary,” Stauffer said. “He didn’t go with Brown on the raid because he suspected he was entering danger. He recognized that his greatest contribution to the movement was through the brilliance of his language.”

Connections to abolitionists in Boston: The prominent Massachusetts abolitionist, William Lloyd Garrison, became a mentor to Douglass and, through him, Douglass became intimately involved with the antislavery community.

When Douglass’s former master threatened to find him, Boston residents raised the money to send him to Europe to avoid recapture.

“Boston was the cultural center of the country at the time, so while Douglass is in Boston he begins to see himself as a true intellectual,” Stauffer said.

“He would go on to do great things, but his years in Massachusetts were indispensable.”

Zipporah Osei can be reached at zipporah.osei@globe.com.