In 1846 the former slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass
came to Greenock. He gave a talk at the
Blackhall Street Chapel (now Pyper’s Furniture Store, Gray Place, Greenock).
Frederick (Bailey) Douglass was born into
slavery on the Aaron Anthony Plantation, Maryland in 1818. A later owner was a Captain Thomas Auld of
Baltimore. In 1834 he was sold to a
farmer in Talbot County, Maryland known as a “slave-breaker”. In 1838 Douglass escaped to New York City. That same year he married Anna Murray and
they lived in New Bedford, Massachusetts.
The couple had five children.
Still classed as a “fugitive slave” Douglass toured Britain
and Ireland in 1845-46 talking about his experiences of slavery and espousing
He was accompanied by James Needham Buffum
(1807-1887), American abolitionist and George Thomson
British anti-slavery activist.
seems to have been a great orator and won many supporters in Britain.
Another aspect of Douglass’ speeches in Scotland was to
encourage the newly formed Free Kirk to return money it had received from
churches in the American south.
In Scotland 1843 was the year of the “Disruption
” in the Church
Many ministers and members
of the Church were demanding that congregations be allowed to choose their own
In many parishes it was the
local landowner who had the power to choose the minister, often against the
wishes of the local people (patronage).
by Dr Thomas Chalmers
, many protestors walked out of that year’s General
Assembly in Edinburgh.
They set up their
own church – the Free Church of Scotland.
However, the new church needed money to support its activities and so a SustenationFund
was set up to receive donations – mostly from its new congregations.
As a fundraising exercise, representatives from the new Free
Church were sent to America to raise money.
Donations of about £3000 were raised from churches – some from congregations
in the South which included slave owners.
“Send back the money
” became a popular campaign to encourage the Church
to send this money back because of its associations with slavery.
The money was never returned.
In 1847 money was raised by his British supporters led by AnnaRichardson
(Quaker and abolitionist) to buy Douglass’ freedom from slavery.
He returned to the United States.
He became editor of the “North Star” newspaper
and gained a reputation as an abolitionist and supporter of emancipation. He later edited his own "Frederick Douglass' Paper
In 1858/59 John Brown
tried to involve Douglass in his
planned raid on the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia.
Douglass declined to take part but was
He set sail for
Britain on a speaking tour.
Douglass returned to Scotland and spoke again in Greenock in
January 1860 (just before the American Civil War).
He had been invited to Greenock by the Young
Men’s Christian Union.
A report in the Greenock Telegraph stated –
“Last night, Mr Frederick Douglass, the celebrated champion
of the rights of his enslaved brethren, delivered a most eloquent lecture, in
the New Town Hall, on the various aspects of American slavery, showing its
intensely criminal nature, and its blighting and degrading influence, not over
the slave alone, but over the political and religious systems of the Americans
themselves. The hall was well filled,
and ex-Baillie Grey occupied the chair.
Douglass again returned to America where he had meetings with Abraham Lincoln
His wife, Anna died
In 1884 he married Helen Pitts
an American suffragist (1838-1903).
Douglass died in 1895.