My Experience and My Mission to Great Britain

Frederick Douglass

Citation Information:  Frederick Douglass, “My Experience and My Mission to Great Britain: An Address Delivered in Cork, Ireland, on October 14, 1845.” Cork Examiner, October 15, 1845. Blassingame, John (et al, eds.). The Frederick Douglass Papers: Series One–Speeches, Debates, and Interviews. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979. Vol. I, p. 36.

My Experience and My Mission to Great Britain: An Address Delivered in Cork, Ireland, on October 14, 1845

Cork Examiner, October 15, 1845.

  1. Mr. Douglas[s] rose in compliance with the wishes of the company, and proceeded to address them with the ease and grace of a gentleman—a gentleman of nature and society. Evidently, from his colour and conformation, descended from parents of different racers, his appearance is singularly pleasing and agreeable. The hue of his face and hands is rather a yellow brown or bronze, while there is little, if anything, in his features of that peculiar prominence of lower face, thickness of lips, and flatness of nose, which peculiarly characterize the true Negro type. His voice is well toned and musical, his selection of language most happy, and his manner easy and graceful.
  2. He said that it afforded him great pleasure to meet the ladies and gentlemen by whom he was surrounded, and who cheered him by their presence that morning. He occupied a position for which he was unprepared, the habits and customs of his previous life having quite unsuited him for that position in which he found himself placed by a combination of unforeseen circumstances.
  3. However he would in simple terms state the objects and aim of his visit. He then continued—First, you will remember that I was a slave, that I am still a slave, that I am still a slave according to the law of the State from which I ran, and according to the general government of the States of North America. About seven years ago I was spoken of as a slave, and was considered in the same light as a beast or a creeping thing—I was the same as a chattel, a thing of household property, to be bought and sold, or used according to the will of my master. I was subject to all the evils and horrors of slavery—to the lash, the chain, the thumb-screw; and even as I stand here before you I bear on my back the marks of the lash (sensation).
  4. Mr. Douglas[s] then related how he attempted to escape from bondage, and aided by the hand of God, how he succeeded in reaching a State where slavery had been abolished. But even there he was not free from the danger of pursuit, for all States of the Union, even though slavery does not exist within them, concede to the Slave States the right of coming on their soil, and taking run-a-way slaves wherever they find them. When he saw how liable he was to be arrested—how the bloodhound might be placed upon his track—when this danger prevented his speaking openly of the place from whence he came, and of the name of his master, and other details, he avoided disclosing them. He remained in the State of Massachusetts for the last five years, where, from the tone of public feeling upon the question of Slave-abolition, it would be difficult to take him, that is, at least, by any open means; for where legal proceedings are adopted to recover a slave, he is generally either let off, or liberated by purchase.
  5. For the last four years he (Mr. Douglas[s]) had lectured there on slavery, thinking himself safe. At the same time from concealing the place of his master and his name, as well as other particulars, suspicion was aroused, and mistrust created in many minds; for many supposed that he had not been a slave—he was so different from all their notions of what a slave was or could be. Had he at first given those particulars, some meanly-disposed person might have written to his master, disclosing to him his whereabouts; and the result would have been his capture by some one of the many means put in force by slave owners, when he would be doomed to an interminable and cruel bondage. However, to free himself from the suspicion which was most painful, he resolved on publishing a little narrative, in which he exposed the place of his slavery, the name of his master, the crime of slavery, and all the circumstances of its perpetration. By this means he silenced doubt; but his danger increased, and on the advice of friends he undertook a mission to Great Britain, where he might be enabled to arouse that horror of slavery which would have a great effect on the public mind of America.
  6. Mr. Douglas[s], after some other observations, concluded by alluding to Mr. Buffum, as a gentleman who had been a consistent advocate of freedom, and who had been subjected to much personal indignity and injury on account of his zeal in the cause of the suffering Negro. Mr. Buffum did not come on any mission; he came for the purpose of improving his mind by Foreign contact, and was ready to bear his testimony on the subject of Slavery. Mr. Douglas[s] sat down amidst applause.