Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass was born in 1817. “I have no accurate knowledge of my age, never having seen any authentic record containing it. . .I do not remember to have ever met a slave who could tell of his birthday. They seldom come nearer to it than planting-time, harvest–time, cherry-time, spring-time, or fall-time. . .The white children could tell their ages. . .”

His mother was a black slave and his father a white farmer. “I never saw my mother, to know her as such; more than four or five times in my life; and each of these times was very short in duration, and at night. . . She died when I was about seven years old, on one of my master's farms, near Lee's Mill.”

By the time he was 8 years old, Frederick was sent to work at a slave plantation for the Auld family. Despite the state law against teaching a slave to read and write, Ms. Auld taught Frederick to read. Mr. Auld was less kind, and often beat and abused his slaves, including Frederick. “He would at times seem to take great pleasure in whipping a slave. I have often been awakened at the dawn of day by the most heart-rending shrieks of an own aunt of mine, whom he used to tie up to a joist, and whip upon her naked back till she was literally covered with blood. No words, no tears, no prayers, from his gory victim, seemed to move his iron heart from its bloody purpose. The louder she screamed, the harder he whipped. . .”

Auld called in a “slavebreaker” named Mr. Covey. “. . .he ordered me to take off my clothes. I made him no answer, but stood with my clothes on. He repeated his order. I still made him no answer, nor did I move to strip myself. Upon this he rushed at me with the fierceness of a tiger, tore off my clothes, and lashed me till he had worn out his switches, cutting me so savagely as to leave the marks visible for a long time after.” After several whippings, Douglass turned on Covey, knocked him to the ground and grabbed his throat. He chose not kill him.

Douglass escaped to the North using the papers of a freed, black seaman. He was forced to do odd jobs for 3 years until he became involved with the anti-slavery movement. Douglass protested segregated seating on northern trains by sitting in “whites only” cars. When a group of white men tried to throw him off, he hung onto his seat until they pulled the seat out of the floor with Douglass hanging on to it and threw him out.

William Lloyd Garrison heard Douglass speak (“His was a “voice like thunder”) and sponsored Douglass to speak for antislavery organizations. “I appear this evening as a thief and a robber. I stole this head, these limbs, this body from my master, and ran off with them.” Douglass hoped that abolition could be achieved without violence. In 1847, Douglass began his own antislavery newspaper, The North Star. He also worked on the Underground Railroad with Harriet Tubman. He often led escaped slaves all the way to safety in Canada.

However, by 1859, Douglass began to doubt that peaceful means could end slavery. Frederick Douglass met secretly with abolitionist John Brown who was planning to attack Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Brown planned to capture 100,000 guns, free slaves, and start a war. Douglass decided not to join Brown, saying the attack would be a mistake. “Here we separated; he to go to Harper’s Ferry, I to [New York].” Being a part of the conspiracy, not the attack, Douglass himself had to flee to Canada.

Douglass returned to not only continue his work as an abolitionist, but eventually as the advisor to President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War.

 

John Brown

In 1800, John Brown was born into a deeply religious family in Connecticut. His father believed that you must do “right” or you will answer to God. His father strongly opposed slavery. When he was 12, John Brown saw a young slave boy beaten terribly with a shovel and wondered, “If he has no mother or father, was God his father?”

Later, Brown worked in the Underground Railroad to protect escaped slaves from slave catchers. When his friend Elijah Lovejoy was murdered for writing against slavery, Brown stood up in church and said, “Here before God, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery.” He even dreamed he was sent by God to end slavery.

In 1856, John Brown and his sons carried out an attack on proslavery settlers in Kansas. His sons dragged five men from their homes, brutally beat them, murdered them, and cut off their heads. He became an abolitionist hero as a result. A play about him was written and performed in New York City.

For the next few years Brown traveled to raise money and collect guns to bring his war against the injustice of slavery to the South. He started planning an attack.

In 1859 Brown planned to attack the federal arsenal that contained 100,000 guns and rifles at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. He planned to capture the guns, free slaves to join him, and start a war. He met with Frederick Douglass at a nearby farm house. Douglass argued against this violent plan. He decided not to join Brown, saying the attack would be a fatal mistake. Douglass wrote, “Here we separated; he to go to Harpers Ferry, I to Rochester [New York].”

With 21 men Brown attacked Harpers Ferry. His men cut the telegraph wires, captured the armory, and rounded up hostages. However, the townspeople took “potshots” at them until the next morning when the U.S. Marines arrived and surrounded them.

The next day, the Marines made an offer: if the raiders surrendered, their lives would be spared. Brown refused. The Marines stormed the building, broke down the door. A Marine tried to run Brown through with his sword but the blade hit the old man’s belt buckle. He was wounded.

John Brown was taken to jail for trial. His statements from prison reached the nation and he inspired others to rally against slavery to fulfill the promise of the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal.” His trial took a week. The jury reached a verdict: guilty of murder, treason, and inciting a slave rebellion.

On December 2, 1859, Brown was led to a wagon where he took a seat next to his own coffin. Brown was taken to the gallows. He climbed up and a noose was put around his neck. A white linen hood was placed over his head. The sheriff cut the rope with a single blow, the platform fell away, and Brown dropped through. The wind blew his lifeless body to and fro.

A song was written to honor Brown's death. It was called John Brown's Body.

John Brown's body lies a-mold'ring in the grave
John Brown's body lies a-mold'ring in the grave
John Brown's body lies a-mold'ring in the grave
His soul goes marching on

Glory, Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory, Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory, Glory! Hallelujah!
His soul is marching on

He captured Harper's Ferry with his nineteen men so true
He frightened old Virginia till she trembled through and through
They hung him for a traitor, themselves the traitor crew
His soul is marching on

Glory, Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory, Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory, Glory! Hallelujah!
His soul is marching on

John Brown died that the slave might be free,
John Brown died that the slave might be free,
John Brown died that the slave might be free,
But his soul is marching on!

Glory, Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory, Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory, Glory! Hallelujah!
His soul is marching on