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    Chapter 23

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    Chapter 24
    Previous Chapter
    _Introduced to the Abolitionists_

    FIRST SPEECH AT NANTUCKET--MUCH SENSATION--EXTRAORDINARY SPEECH
    OF MR. GARRISON--AUTHOR BECOMES A PUBLIC LECTURER--FOURTEEN YEARS
    EXPERIENCE--YOUTHFUL ENTHUSIASM--A BRAND NEW FACT--MATTER OF MY
    AUTHOR'S SPEECH--COULD NOT FOLLOW THE PROGRAMME--FUGITIVE
    SLAVESHIP DOUBTED--TO SETTLE ALL DOUBT I WRITE MY EXPERIENCE OF
    SLAVERY--DANGER OF RECAPTURE INCREASED.

    In the summer of 1841, a grand anti-slavery convention was held
    in Nantucket, under the auspices of Mr. Garrison and his friends.
    Until now, I had taken no holiday since my escape from slavery.
    Having worked very hard that spring and summer, in Richmond's
    brass foundery--sometimes working all night as well as all day--
    and needing a day or two of rest, I attended this convention,
    never supposing that I should take part in the proceedings.
    Indeed, I was not aware that any one connected with the
    convention even so much as knew my name. I was, however, quite
    mistaken. Mr. William C. Coffin, a prominent abolitionst{sic} in
    those days of trial, had heard me speaking to my colored friends,
    in the little school house on Second street, New Bedford, where
    we worshiped. He sought me out in the crowd, and invited me to
    say a few words to the convention. Thus sought out, and thus
    invited, I was induced to speak out the feelings inspired by the
    occasion, and the fresh recollection of the scenes through which
    I had passed as a slave. My speech on this occasion is about the
    only one I ever made, of which I do not remember a single
    connected sentence. It was GARRISON>with the utmost difficulty that I could stand erect, or
    that I could command and articulate two words without hesitation
    and stammering. I trembled in every limb. I am not sure that my
    embarrassment was not the most effective part of my speech, if
    speech it could be called. At any rate, this is about the only
    part of my performance that I now distinctly remember. But
    excited and convulsed as I was, the audience, though remarkably
    quiet before, became as much excited as myself. Mr. Garrison
    followed me, taking me as his text; and now, whether I had made
    an eloquent speech in behalf of freedom or not, his was one never
    to be forgotten by those who heard it. Those who had heard Mr.
    Garrison oftenest, and had known him longest, were astonished.
    It was an effort of unequaled power, sweeping down, like a very
    tornado, every opposing barrier, whether of sentiment or opinion.
    For a moment, he possessed that almost fabulous inspiration,
    often referred to but seldom attained, in which a public meeting
    is transformed, as it were, into a single individuality--the
    orator wielding a thousand heads and hearts at once, and by the
    simple majesty of his all controlling thought, converting his
    hearers into the express image of his own soul. That night there
    were at least one thousand Garrisonians in Nantucket! A{sic} the
    close of this great meeting, I was duly waited on by Mr. John A.
    Collins--then the general agent of the Massachusetts anti-slavery
    society--and urgently solicited by him to become an agent of that
    society, and to publicly advocate its anti-slavery principles. I
    was reluctant to take the proffered position. I had not been
    quite three years from slavery--was honestly distrustful of my
    ability--wished to be excused; publicity exposed me to discovery
    and arrest by my master; and other objections came up, but Mr.
    Collins was not to be put off, and I finally consented to go out
    for three months, for I supposed that I should have got to the
    end of my story and my usefulness, in that length of time.

    Here opened upon me a new life a life for which I had had no
    preparation. I was a "graduate from the peculiar institution,"
    Mr. Collins used to say, when introducing me, _"with my
    diploma written on my back!"_ The three years of my freedom had
    been spent in the hard school of adversity. My hands had been
    furnished by nature with something like a solid leather coating,
    and I had bravely marked out for myself a life of rough labor,
    suited to the hardness of my hands, as a means of supporting
    myself and rearing my children.

    Now what shall I say of this fourteen years' experience as a
    public advocate of the cause of my enslaved brothers and sisters?
    The time is but as a speck, yet large enough to justify a pause
    for retrospection--and a pause it must only be.

    Young, ardent, and hopeful, I entered upon this new life in the
    full gush of unsuspecting enthusiasm. The cause was good; the
    men engaged in it were good; the means to attain its triumph,
    good; Heaven's blessing must attend all, and freedom must soon be
    given to the pining millions under a ruthless bondage. My whole
    heart went with the holy cause, and my most fervent prayer to the
    Almighty Disposer of the hearts of men, were continually offered
    for its early triumph. "Who or what," thought I, "can withstand
    a cause so good, so holy, so indescribably glorious. The God of
    Israel is with us. The might of the Eternal is on our side. Now
    let but the truth be spoken, and a nation will start forth at the
    sound!" In this enthusiastic spirit, I dropped into the ranks of
    freedom's friends, and went forth to the battle. For a time I
    was made to forget that my skin was dark and my hair crisped.
    For a time I regretted that I could not have shared the hardships
    and dangers endured by the earlier workers for the slave's
    release. I soon, however, found that my enthusiasm had been
    extravagant; that hardships and dangers were not yet passed; and
    that the life now before me, had shadows as well as sunbeams.

    Among the first duties assigned me, on entering the ranks, was to
    travel, in company with Mr. George Foster, to secure subscribers
    to the _Anti-slavery Standard_ and the _Liberator_. With MATTER OF THE SPEECH>him I traveled and lectured through the
    eastern counties of Massachusetts. Much interest was awakened--
    large meetings assembled. Many came, no doubt, from curiosity to
    hear what a Negro could say in his own cause. I was generally
    introduced as a _"chattel"--_a_"thing"_--a piece of southern
    _"property"_--the chairman assuring the audience that _it_ could
    speak. Fugitive slaves, at that time, were not so plentiful as
    now; and as a fugitive slave lecturer, I had the advantage of
    being a _"brand new fact"_--the first one out. Up to that time,
    a colored man was deemed a fool who confessed himself a runaway
    slave, not only because of the danger to which he exposed himself
    of being retaken, but because it was a confession of a very _low_
    origin! Some of my colored friends in New Bedford thought very
    badly of my wisdom for thus exposing and degrading myself. The
    only precaution I took, at the beginning, to prevent Master
    Thomas from knowing where I was, and what I was about, was the
    withholding my former name, my master's name, and the name of the
    state and county from which I came. During the first three or
    four months, my speeches were almost exclusively made up of
    narrations of my own personal experience as a slave. "Let us
    have the facts," said the people. So also said Friend George
    Foster, who always wished to pin me down to my simple narrative.
    "Give us the facts," said Collins, "we will take care of the
    philosophy." Just here arose some embarrassment. It was
    impossible for me to repeat the same old story month after month,
    and to keep up my interest in it. It was new to the people, it
    is true, but it was an old story to me; and to go through with it
    night after night, was a task altogether too mechanical for my
    nature. "Tell your story, Frederick," would whisper my then
    revered friend, William Lloyd Garrison, as I stepped upon the
    platform. I could not always obey, for I was now reading and
    thinking. New views of the subject were presented to my mind.
    It did not entirely satisfy me to _narrate_ wrongs; I felt like
    _denouncing_ them. I could not always curb my moral indignation
    for the perpetrators of slaveholding villainy, long enough
    for a circumstantial statement of the facts which I felt almost
    everybody must know. Besides, I was growing, and needed room.
    "People won't believe you ever was a slave, Frederick, if you
    keep on this way," said Friend Foster. "Be yourself," said
    Collins, "and tell your story." It was said to me, "Better have
    a _little_ of the plantation manner of speech than not; 'tis not
    best that you seem too learned." These excellent friends were
    actuated by the best of motives, and were not altogether wrong in
    their advice; and still I must speak just the word that seemed to
    _me_ the word to be spoken _by_ me.

    At last the apprehended trouble came. People doubted if I had
    ever been a slave. They said I did not talk like a slave, look
    like a slave, nor act like a slave, and that they believed I had
    never been south of Mason and Dixon's line. "He don't tell us
    where he came from--what his master's name was--how he got away--
    nor the story of his experience. Besides, he is educated, and
    is, in this, a contradiction of all the facts we have concerning
    the ignorance of the slaves." Thus, I was in a pretty fair way
    to be denounced as an impostor. The committee of the
    Massachusetts anti-slavery society knew all the facts in my case,
    and agreed with me in the prudence of keeping them private.
    They, therefore, never doubted my being a genuine fugitive; but
    going down the aisles of the churches in which I spoke, and
    hearing the free spoken Yankees saying, repeatedly, _"He's never
    been a slave, I'll warrant ye_," I resolved to dispel all doubt,
    at no distant day, by such a revelation of facts as could not be
    made by any other than a genuine fugitive.

    In a little less than four years, therefore, after becoming a
    public lecturer, I was induced to write out the leading facts
    connected with my experience in slavery, giving names of persons,
    places, and dates--thus putting it in the power of any who
    doubted, to ascertain the truth or falsehood of my story of being
    a fugitive slave. This statement soon became known in Maryland,
    and I had reason to believe that an
    effort would be made to recapture me.

    It is not probable that any open attempt to secure me as a slave
    could have succeeded, further than the obtainment, by my master,
    of the money value of my bones and sinews. Fortunately for me,
    in the four years of my labors in the abolition cause, I had
    gained many friends, who would have suffered themselves to be
    taxed to almost any extent to save me from slavery. It was felt
    that I had committed the double offense of running away, and
    exposing the secrets and crimes of slavery and slaveholders.
    There was a double motive for seeking my reenslavement--avarice
    and vengeance; and while, as I have said, there was little
    probability of successful recapture, if attempted openly, I was
    constantly in danger of being spirited away, at a moment when my
    friends could render me no assistance. In traveling about from
    place to place--often alone I was much exposed to this sort of
    attack. Any one cherishing the design to betray me, could easily
    do so, by simply tracing my whereabouts through the anti-slavery
    journals, for my meetings and movements were promptly made known
    in advance. My true friends, Mr. Garrison and Mr. Phillips, had
    no faith in the power of Massachusetts to protect me in my right
    to liberty. Public sentiment and the law, in their opinion,
    would hand me over to the tormentors. Mr. Phillips, especially,
    considered me in danger, and said, when I showed him the
    manuscript of my story, if in my place, he would throw it into
    the fire. Thus, the reader will observe, the settling of one
    difficulty only opened the way for another; and that though I had
    reached a free state, and had attained position for public
    usefulness, I ws{sic} still tormented with the liability of
    losing my liberty. How this liability was dispelled, will be
    related, with other incidents, in the next chapter.
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    Chapter 24
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